September 13, 2010 — 1,332 words
This is the first in a series of posts offering real, solid, practical advice on how to be a weblit author. They're in no particular order, so get ready for some crazy focus shifting!
Let's say you're going to an event like a convention, and you want to spread the word about your writing. Postcards are good, and bookmarks are useful, but they all depend on someone taking the time to follow through to your URL. You need something more immediate, more directly-useful. They need to see WHY you're worth visiting. That's where the book sampler comes in.
The traditional book sampler usually consists of several pieces of letter-sized paper, folded in half and stapled so they make a booklet. The benefit of this format is that you can cram as much in there as you can afford, and the dimensions are somewhat similar to a proper book. The downside is that they're not always cheap to produce, and the more you pack into them, the harder they are to carry around. The quicker and cheaper alternative is the tri-fold book sampler, made out of a single sheet of paper.
The trifold can hold about 1,000 words of content, as well as a cover and marketing material to help your readers take action. They're thin and light so they're easy to carry, and they pack enough punch to convince people you're the best writer on the planet. Take a look at the two spreads below, which are from the sampler I made for Typhoon...
So how do you make one? Very easy! Open your favourite word processor and let's get started!
Now comes the hard part. Filling it all in.
The cover is in the first column on the first page. Remember that you probably can't print straight to the edge of the page, so when you design the cover for this product, you want to cover up that deficiency (or at least take it into account). Also, the folds in your paper may not be exactly where you expect them to be, so you're either going to have an equal margin on the right side of your cover image, or you're going to want to wrap it around onto the back of the tri-fold somehow (see fold lines below). Make sure your cover is punchy and powerful, and (unlike my version here), put the title near the top. People don't seem to notice it when it's at the bottom.
The action page is in the middle column on this page. I used it to advertise other titles, but it'd be ideal for quotes, URLs or author bio information. This will be the back of the tri-fold, so it's the second-most viewed part of your presentation. Use it well.
The sample itself starts in the third column, and then flows to fill the entire second page. I included a little "read more at..." box at the end of the text, but if you used your action page for that, you wouldn't need to. Put page numbers at the bottom of these pages, because there's a good chance people won't intuitively figure out how to read it, and the numbers may save your life. If your text is too long, I STRONGLY recommend trimming your content, not shrinking your font size. 10-point text in Minion is at the low end of what most people would find readable, and if you reduce it any further, you're asking for trouble. When you pick your text, it doesn't necessarily need to be the first chapter. This is like your textual trailer... it needs to catch the reader's imagination and make them NEED to see more. Don't waste it setting the mood or on contemplative text (unless your whole story is like that). This may be your one shot to convince someone to read more.
Printing and folding can be done by a printer for relatively little money. It's a simple double-sided job, but when the proof is done, make sure you actually measure the margins to ensure they're what you wanted them to be. If you're off by even a few millimetres, it can screw up your folds. You can print a few dozen copies yourself, but I would strongly recommend getting them folded by your local Kinko's or Staples. The price is usually $0.02/sheet, and they do it overnight, which is a much better deal than a thousand papercuts on your fingertips and sloppily-folded samplers. You're folding in a standard tri-fold format, but technically upside-down from the usual approach (you open the sampler on the right, not the left like a regular book).
Here's a little more about book samplers, based on actual experience...
I brought sets of book samplers to FanExpo in Toronto, and watched closely how people interacted with them. The biggest mistake I made was standardized formatting of the cover area. You can see I have "Book Sampler" on the side... despite the fact that it properly identifies what the thing is, a lot of people assumed the five samplers were different parts of the same book. In the top 2/3 of your cover, it's probably best if each of your samplers look entirely unique.
Another important thing to consider is writing "FREE" somewhere on the cover, so people know they can take one. It should be obvious, but I noticed a lot of people passing on taking one, and even more asking me "are these free?" This, despite the fact there was a big label above them that said "TAKE ONE, THEY'RE FREE".
Effectiveness of trifold samplers
Based on my recent experience, I'd say the samplers produced pretty good business. I gave away about 250 of each book (5 books total, so about 1,200 samplers) and it turned into 600 direct-to-book hits on the site. As far as marketing goes, they're far more effective than most banner ads. I created these things at the last minute, and if I'd had half a brain, I would have make trackable URLs to see how many of the visitors actually went on to read more than one page (or buy a copy of a book). You could try that on yours!
So that's trifold samplers. Very easy to make, and highly effective in the right environment. If you make one (or improve on the concept), please let everyone know by leaving a comment below. And hey, if you think it's stupid and won't make one, tell us that too!
Finally, I want to invite anyone in the weblit community to send me their "How To" posts and ideas for this series. If you've done something cool you think other people could use as a foundation, just send me an email and we'll get you hooked up!
September 2, 2010 — 750 words
Arkady and Kain wrapped up two days ago, and because of travel and other commitments, I wasn't able to write anything about it until now. Because of the odd nature of the piece, I wanted to get into the nitty gritty a bit, just to lay out what I was trying to accomplish, and maybe see what went wrong.
But before I do, I want to announce one thing: the story will be going offline in ONE WEEK (September 9, 2010) for an indefinite amount of time, while it is edited and revised into something better. So if you want to read it in its current form, that's how long you have.
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!
From the first version of A&K almost 20 years ago, I had it in my mind that this was a tragedy. I knew there'd be a death at the end, and in the movie version from 1996, I think my favourite moment was when Tev leaves the gun at Kain's feet in the cemetery. But the real question is how to get from where we start — Arkady as a goof — to a place where anyone cares what happens to these people.
When I did my outline, I thought the key was a series of switches. Arkady starts off really obnoxious, quick-witted sarcasm in everything she says. Based on the livewriting feedback, I knew I might be going a bit overboard, but I thought it was a good way to progress. The reason she was so annoying was so you'd be prepared to see more depth the more you knew her. It's like a literary cheat, I guess... you can't come to love someone if you love them already. You want to see that evolution, so I needed her to start somewhere other than where you thought she'd be.
The first BIG switch would be when you realized she was in way over her head. That was going to happen around the time of the first assassination attempt, and in the outline, it seemed like a good place to strike. Unfortunately, the result was really confused. Arkady was shot at, and basically disintegrated on the spot. She probably should have kept up her attitude (to Kain's displeasure) for a lot longer, but slowly revealing cracks in her armour, so that Kain (and the reader) would almost pity her, and want to protect her. As it is, I don't think it worked. Arkady dresses the way she does and lives the way she does because she's trying to make the most of an impossible situation.
And that situation is the other major failing. I don't think it's clear enough that Tev put her into this mess, and left her with almost no way to escape. Pretty much every character gets tremendously emo at the midway point, either lamenting their lot in life, or getting way too philosophical. I think I need to inject some more action (not necessarily fighting action, just actions) into the second half, so it breaks up the philosophy. Tev vs Kain vs the world is a very big part of the story, and how Arkady fits into it, too, but you can't get there from here. I need some more breathing room in there.
Finally, I think the last chapters work well. I may have gone a bit too flowery in the language for the last chapter, but I hope it gets across that Kain has a difficult decision to make, too, now, and just like Arkady, none of the choices are good. I don't usually end with downer endings, but this one was too hard to pass up. What happens next is up to the reader (to some degree), and I'm interested to know what you think Kain will do with that gun.
Really, I could have written another fifty thousand words about Arkady and her relationship with UFIT, and how Tev connects it all together... but I was trying to tell a quick story about a tragedy in the making. I think the revised version of the book will have a lot more in it (probably some great elements I had to cut because they didn't fit in the 31-day structure), but you'll have to wait to see them.
If you have any questions or thoughts about Arkady and Kain, let me know in the comments or by email or Twitter. I'll do my best to answer them, without giving away spoilers about the revised edition and future projects
Thanks for reading!
August 27, 2010 — 151 words
Starting this afternoon, 1889 Labs will be sittin' down at FanExpo in Toronto. We're at table A2, which is remarkably close to the food court area, so I should utterly hate pizza by Sunday night. You will be able to find us because of our trailer-playing TV, the posters for A&K, RollBots and [mystery project], or the 1889 logo hanging off the front of the table.
Hope to see you there! And if you're NOT there... well, I will hopefully be tweeting a few pics of the booth so you can see what's what, and maybe catch a glimpse of [mystery project]!
August 13, 2010 — 695 words
Before reading this article, please print out the page found at this link, find four and a half big bottles of scotch, rum or vodka (and/or several cases of beer), and prepare yourself for a hangover of epic proportions.
The question of our times is this: Will e-books utterly obliterate real books, or only merely relegate them to a niche market serviced only by cretins, political commentators and inbred swine?
"The ebook industry is growing at a staggering rate," said Winston Dogman, an expert on contemporary literature and beekeeping at New York's famed Presbyterian School of Truth. "All indications suggest ebooks will account for a full 122% of the reading market by 2015, eventually supplanting TV, movies, and videogames to own a staggering 55.6% of the media consumption worldwide by 2021. By the middle of the next decade, even cats will have their own Kindles, which they will use to read books by self-published authors who imagine they are experts in killing mice."
However, old-fashioned book advocates are not ready to roll over and die quite yet.
"Real books will never go away, and I expect they will even grow in popularity as time goes on," said Geoffrey Manatee of the publishing house Manatee and Sons. "And the only way ebooks stand any chance of making inroads is with stronger DRM schemes in place, because this is how investments are protected, authors are paid, and, quite frankly, we keep the baby Jesus from crying."
"I totally agree," added Mrs Elaine Harsborough, a housewife in New Jersey. "DRM protects consumers and saves our children from a life of crime. Without DRM, filthy pirates would rule the world, raping a pillaging and... goodness! I've never heard of these DRM people. Are they related to the FBI?"
Still, many experts believe the ebook world is still in its infancy. By most accounts, prices are far too high and will lower within six months, allowing many more people to turn the page on their real book habit and indulge on their iPad and iPhones and Kindles. In fact, according to an Amazon press release, sales of ebooks accounted for 107% of purchases in the first quarter of 2010, meaning Kindles are currently more popular than rice, bread, and lite beer combined.
"The ebook world is just getting its footing," said Dogman. "It's too soon to tell, but we estimate ebook prices are actually too low right now, and will raise in the short term to help buffet the failing publishing industry. No matter what, real books are on their way out. This is a game-changer. Real books? Turn the page. Old-fashioned reading? Turn the page. The game is changed, people. By 2021, you will be cuddling up and snuggling with your Kindle T-800s instead of the old-fashioned, real books. Turn. The. Page."
"That's a load of crap," said Manatee. "I read in the bathtub and on the beach and oftentimes in the range of an electromagnetic pulse caused by a nearby nuclear explosion, and I would just like to remind you that real books will not work in any of those situations. You know when the batteries of a real book fail? When you DIE. Which is the only way you're going to pry my real books out of my cold, dead hands!"
But perhaps most worrying to the publishing industry is the confession of Mrs Harsborough, who said that while she does buy many books for her suburban home, she hasn't read a single word since 1997. "I know my habits might be damaging the book industry — and I do love books — I just can't bring myself to change them. I only buy books to fill the space on my shelves after I threw out all my DVDs and started downloading movies instead. I mean, reading is something you do online, not for recreation!"
So are we ready to turn the page on real books? It's too soon to tell. But one thing is for certain: there is nothing in this world more powerful, important and life-changing as the smell of a real book.
Or so I keep hearing.
August 13, 2010 — 669 words
Yesterday was... madness, really. Not happy to write just another chapter, I used not one, not two, but three different tricks to make my life more difficult. The first trick is secret (you had to be there), the second was taking a very wild and nutty prompt, and the last was setting myself a very unreasonable time constraint. And yet I survived.
But what did I learn? Well, I think if I'm going to write something nutty with one gimmick, I should probably not do two more at the same time. Struggling as I was to write a coherent story, the prompt (which was insanely incompatible with Arkady and Kain in general) pushed me right over into absurdity, which I think was a bit of a mistake for the story at this point. I'm fairly certain this chapter will be replaced with something a bit more "normal" in the final version, probably appearing as a "special deleted scene" later on. It's not that it's not fun, but it's a little too far into the realm of "the art is the experience of making the art", as opposed to something that would make any sense to someone reading the book at a later time. To the impartial observer, this chapter will seem like I lost my mind, and at this point in the story, I don't want to risk that.
So yes. Today's chapter will be much more reasonable. Strategic prompts, not broad ones, and we'll stick a bit closer to reality and sanity and stuff like that. Today we begin the second act of Arkady and Kain, and things start to fall into place a little more snugly.
Photos! Because everyone likes photos. Except me. But never mind.
Stats! Yesterday was 125, which is down from the day before, but not by much. So at least we're not dying or anything. But still, it's not great. I should really put some thought into how to bring in new readers...
Numbers Game... looking at the word count thus far, we're currently at 26,900 words in 13 days. If this keeps up, the book will be 64,000 words in total. Funnily enough, until yesterday, the estimate was over 70,000. I'm happy with either case, but I thought it was interesting to see how one slightly-short chapter can make that much difference. I'm actually predicting the last few chapters will push us way over 70,000 anyway, which would make this one of my longer books, and certainly longer than Typhoon. One thing I'm interested to see is whether writing live-livewriting makes chapters longer across the board, or if it's only this one particular story...
Thoughts? So if anyone has any thoughts on how to get more readers, or to introduce readers to the story, or ways I could make things more fun or less fun or more insane, please let me know. Experimentation is my middle name. Well, not really, obviously. But all the same... help me be nuttier!
August 13, 2010 — 999 words
I think I've said before that I hate doing reviews. You'll see why shortly...
TimeSplash by Graham Storrs is a truly great sci fi novel about the fallout of time travel, but not in the way you usually see it. In a nutshell: when you travel back in time, you can't change history, but you can make "splashes" that ripple through the fourth dimension, causing havoc in the era you came from. The concept is illustrated brilliantly in the first chapter, and from there things go off the rails for the characters. It's tense, actiony and generally a brilliant execution of a brilliant idea.
I was given this book by Anna (gifted PDF! woo!) after she insisted I was being lazy and not reading what she told me to read. She said she'd read it in one sitting (or something, I'm too lazy to look it up) and sure enough, I did pretty much the same thing. This is definitely one of those "can't put it down" books. I was looking for a chance to take a break, because I wanted to prove her wrong, but she was right. It was that good.
The details of the world are really well-articulated and convincing. End of oil, economic collapse, the fact that America is basically a Christian fascist state with the CIA as their religious enforcement agency, the way the world ignored and then suddenly fears time travel... it's all very, very smart. This is not a book where the sci fi technology exists in a vacuum and only pops up when convenient. These characters have been living in this world their whole lives, and it shows.
The big bad guy is a lunatic, and at times he goes a bit over the top, as if to sell his psycho-ness, but it doesn't really detract from the story at all (in fact, it helps sell other characters' motivations). The supporting cast is very good and no one feels like they only exist to serve a function, which is nice in this kind of story.
If you want to read the book and enjoy it without my opinions tainting it for you, stop reading now and just go buy the book. Nothing below this point is really important. I promise.
Update: Before you read this next part, or maybe after, or maybe simultaneously, read this response by the author. It makes a very big difference. I'm leaving my notes below so you know how obsessive I can be when I get on a roll
Now for the part of reviewing I hate. The book isn't perfect, but I can't say it was the book's fault so much as my own prejudices. Here's the thing: the protagonists are very, very young. Sandra, a timesplasher's "bitch" in the first chapter, goes from 15 to 17ish over the course of the book. Jay, a timesplash fan-turned-secret agent, is only 19 when things kick into gear. To me, the two years between the first events and the rest of the book seem too brief for Jay to have gone from half-assed punk to an even semi-capable law enforcement officer. And even so, I can't wrap my mind around the fact that these two are in charge of saving the world.
Here's where I go off the rails, because these things get into my brain in all the wrong ways. I don't have a problem with Sandra being 15 and then 17. I mean, it's a bit young for my tastes (given the things she does in the story), but then I have a teenaged assassin in Arkady and Kain, so obviously I'm not one to criticize. But then you have Jay, who really seems to me should be an early-20s character, say five years, six years after the first chapter, grappling with the demons he witnessed when he was still a kid. But instead, he's STILL a kid, somehow playing in a grown-up world, and every time he engaged with his superior officers in the story, I got this nagging feeling we were slipping into inauthenticity. It seemed like the training he'd go through to join M15 would have to take more than two years to complete, no matter how brilliant he might be (and he never comes across as especially brilliant). And every time I was about to let it go and just enjoy the story, there was some mention of either Jay or Sandra being a teenager, and I got sucked right out.
So then I started wondering who Graham Storrs was, because (and I mean this in a nice way, honest) stories where teenagers take on adult roles like this tend to be written by teenagers. But Storrs isn't a teenager at all, so that theory fell apart. There was just something off about it... it's not that teenagers CAN'T save the world, they'd just have to do it from the outside, not as part of a serious intelligence agency. In the very real world of this book, it seems jarring that this kind of rule would be ignored. Old people don't like young'ns, and they hold them up as much as possible
I obsess on strange things, I know. No other reviewer was bothered by this, so you don't need to listen to me at all. I just wanted to mention the one thing that bugged me. Well, that and the fact that every time a gun was used, we got its make and model. That happens in all kinds of stories, and I still don't understand it.
So yes. TimeSplash: good book. Buy it, read it, love it, and tell me how silly I am.
August 12, 2010 — 549 words
Yesterday was a very key day for the story, and I think I bungled it badly. I had a minor run-in with a stapler, I was being talked to in real life just a little too much, and my brain was in the wrong place, so the first draft of the chapter went off the rails. I wrote a paragraph about the importance of Arkady, but I wrote it too soon, and then ended up having to write in circles to cover my mistake.
So last night, late last night, I rewrote most of the chapter. I removed things, added others, and I think made it make sense. I also added about 500 words to the thing.
So here's the key feature of that chapter, and tell me if it comes across (after reading the new version, I mean): UFIT is an association of terrorists. The founder created the group to allow terrorists to terrorize without actually hurting people. They stage hostage-takings and other attacks with volunteers, drawing attention to their cause without actual bloodshed. The organization took a long time to get going, but now that Arkady is drawing the spotlight, the fragmented coalition is willing to play ball, because they think there might be some value in it.
If that made sense after the latest draft, I did a good job. If not, I may need to recalibrate my brain
Photo! That's a RollBots poster in the background. Penny. Woo!
Stats! Yesterday was 132 visitors, which is down from the day before, but still not too depressing. I should work on promoting this more. Though I feel a strong need to edit what's already up first. Bah, I'll never be satisfied!
Points! Yes! Jan got a postcard yesterday! I missed it earlier, but it is indeed there! Congrats to Jan! Wooo!
Today's Live-Livewriting begins at 3:30PM EDT, and will probably got for 90 minutes. This is a very key chapter, so it'll take some extra thinking to get gone. Please excuse any painful slowness you may encounter
August 11, 2010 — 651 words
Did I miss another day? Oops.
Yesterday was probably my favourite live-livewriting day yet. I started the session without an outline at all... my notes said "Arkady..." and that was it. So I asked where we should go today, and I got "the zoo", and things took off from there. I honestly had no idea where I was going to go with the chapter until the very end, and because people were watching me write, I couldn't craft something clever and pretend it was intentional all along. Thus, Arkady and the polar bears.
Today's will be a lot more restrained, and even treading into the realm of "serious", which brings me to the next big question about livewriting: can it be used for drama, as opposed to comedy? I think having the ability to make jokes about suggestions definitely helps make comedy possible, but at the same time, the sequence yesterday where Arkady and run away and was trapped and in danger... that was, I think, somewhat tense. I think if you had a good enough outline and a strong desire to not be jokey, you could turn livewriting into a really intense experience. Almost a suspense thriller, I think. If, as the writer, you saw the audience NOT wanting the character to do something, you could do it just to annoy them... or drag things out until they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When you write normally, you have to guess that those things... but livewriting lets you see it as it happens.
Photos! I'm mysterious today...
Stats! Yesterday was 260, the day before was 115. We zig-zag a lot on this story. All things considered, I'm happy with these numbers. If I had more time in my day, I'd promote it more... but I'm almost more worried about what'd happen if too many people popped into the Google Docs file as I was writing
Points! Remember, it's not too late to earn some points to get free stuff (like postcards or naming characters etc). All it takes is dropping your email in the side box and getting your personal URL for the story. The rest takes care of itself. Anna is almost at 500 points, but don't let that stop you!
Tomorrow: Tomorrow is the big day for A&K, but I won't say why. But if you had pick a day to stop by and watch, I would pick that day.
August 9, 2010 — 897 words
Yesterday was a pooper of a day, so I'm late. Bah humbug. But anyway, here's my recap for those two days.
But first, observations on live-livewriting! For those of you who haven't seen it, I open a Google doc and share it with the world, and then in the integrated chat, people get to throw ideas at me, and I mix it all together to make a crazy, crazy story. At first, it seemed like a fun gimmick, and something I might do once a week. Then, after the initial trial run, it was too exhilarating to NOT do it again, because of the immediate and unpredictable feedback you get from people as you write.
And then came the realization. Live-livewriting was making me into a panderer. Now I know what you're thinking: he already panders all the time anyway! Yes, it's true, but this is a whole other level of panderization. I imagine improv actors deal with this a lot, but for me, it's very new. You get into a situation where you can SEE people like certain aspects of what you're doing, so you do more and more of it. I don't know if it shows in the text after the fact, but these long rambling bicker-fights that Arkady and Kain are having? Those are completely unplanned. I just get on a roll and can't stop myself from doing more. I think they're generally well-received, but it turns into long sequences where not much happens. Though maybe that's okay. Maybe that's actually BETTER writing than what I normally do, which is try to craft dialogue to be over quickly. Hmm...
Really, the biggest issue I have with this technique is that I find myself 2,000 words deep into a chapter, and realize that I haven't hit on half the key points I needed to make. And then I have to have El sit down with Kain and infodump at him to compensate, which is what I normally try to avoid. I also worry that the characters are coming off nastier than they would otherwise, because the dialogue just runs away ahead of me sometimes.
Hmm. Well, anyway... I think live-livewriting can be good and fun and productive, but it possibly needs a little more thinking before I roll it out into a full-fledged feature. I'd be terrified of writing something like Scarlet Lemming like this. 5,000-word chapters full of evil, vicious sarcasm. Yikes.
Photo Time! Requests still welcome, though I don't have that much facial expression range
Stats! I've decided it's too tiring to hunt for stats, so instead, I'm just going to give you the stats for the A&K main page ever day. Sure, it misses a bunch of sub-page hittage, but most people seem to hit the front page first anyway. Two days ago, we had 23 hits, and then yesterday, 97. To put that in perspective, the big heavy day when Anna got all her points, that was 109 hits that day. So we're not doing too badly, all things considered.
Points! Well, Anna has now won herself a signed A&K postcard. She has nearly 500 points, and is by far in the lead on this one. Everyone, give her a round of applause! And/or plot to overthrow her.
Late Chapters. Today's chapter will be a bit late due to conflicting schedule stuff, and worse yet, TOMORROW's chapter may have to be delayed until Wednesday, because I have a meeting scheduled at 2pm. I will negotiate a new time with the live-livewriting audience, but don't be surprised if you get a double-dose on Wednesday, and nothing on Tuesday.
Nominate Assassinations. Arkady needs more nominations for who to assassinate! Send them my way on Twitter (#killnom) or on Facebook! Anything is good! Go!
That's it, that's all. If you have any questions or want to hurl abuse at me, I'm ready. Do your worst!
August 7, 2010 — 510 words
I don't even remember yesterday. I think it had something to do with watermelons. Not a good sign. The watermelons or the memory loss, that is.
O Photo, Where Art Thou?
The Stats Recap! Yesterday was actually not that great. Fridays. Feh. 40 hits, and none of them seem to be referrers. Although maybe they were referred and it doesn't show up unless they hit a certain threshold. Well, anyway, 40 isn't what I'm aiming for. We must do better!
The Kill Nominations. In the story, Arkady is trying to decide who she's going to assassinate. It's meant to be meaningful, but anything's possible. As part of her campaign for ideas, she's opened up Facebook and Twitter for nominations. So here's the deal: YOU can nominate someone to be assassinated by a celebrity! It can be funny or serious, it's all good with me. Just include the hastag #killnom on Twitter or post it on my Facebook page, and I'll integrate as many as I can into the story!
Linky Linky! Remember to send people to read the story so you can get points and take over the world! So far, nobody has reached the 300-point mark! (though since Jan is back, I'm sure that'll change soon
Live livewriting: I'll be livewriting the next chapter on Google Docs in about an hour (noon EDT), and you're welcome to join in! You can throw suggestions in as we go, and see me spell "Arkady" wrong over and over again! Woo! Watch Twitter and FB for the URL...