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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
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The Velvet Podcast, Episode 008: Don’t Pull My Hair Unless You Mean It
Posted 25 September 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Study (the world/the craft)

Episode #008 of The Velvet Podcast is now live!

You don’t have my handsome voice to fluff your ear chubs this time, but I promise you won’t be disappointed by the talent here. Featuring three brand new voices to The Velvet Podcast. Make them feel welcome.

Writers Richard Thomas (Transubstantiate), Nik Korpon (Stay God), Pela Via and Nic Young grind out the topic of sex and violence in fiction and their complex relationship to sadistic bedfellows, love and shock..

Please, give it a listen. Subscribe via Feedburner, Podcast Alley, or iTunes.

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Meta-fiction for babies.
Posted 19 September 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Study (the world/the craft)

Or is it meta-non-fiction? Is all non-fiction meta? Are there any examples of non-meta-non-fiction? If we were introduced to an author who wrote a historical account of Indian bread and Greek cheese that constantly pulled from the text to state bluntly, “I am no expert. This history is just my opinion,” would we have met a non-meta-feta-naan-non-fiction author? Okay, that last one was dumb.

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White covers and isolated imagery: Why the trend?
Posted 6 September 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Marketing/ Study (the world/the craft)

I have noticed that over the past decade readers have been subjected to a trend in non-fiction book cover design. I am referring to the use of a white background to frame a single, striking element. For example:

 

I understand the appeal from a marketing perspective. As online book buying grows in popularity, the book spine is becoming less important to shoppers. Instead, the idea with white-framed covers is to create as much visual distance and isolation with a book so as to set it apart from its surrounding mosaic. An added benefit for non-fiction books in particular is the sense of authority that comes with a single image. This says, “I am an expert on this topic. I am not going to stray into superfluous details. Prepare to learn.”

I like the look, but I dislike the trend. I am a grump, though, and dislike most trends. I refuse to tell my wife that I don’t mind listening to her Ingrid Michaelson music simply because it’s on the radio sometimes.

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The future of burning books
Posted 26 August 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Study (the world/the craft)

Below is the list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009 as gathered from the American Library Association website. I completely understand the low priority some place upon books compared to other forms of media. However, I don’t understand why books would need to be burned. Think of it this way, if I had two children, I would probably like one more than the other. That doesn’t mean I should burn one (I’ll let the sun do that, when I allow my least favorite child to play outside all day without sunblock. Blame averted).

Being invested in the publishing industry, I feel I should fight back. Note: I have not read all of these books, nor do I know what many of them are even about. But if I’ve learned anything from the mere existence of a banned books list, it is that arguments don’t have to respect the source material or the material’s context.

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Lessons from a nobody – writing has two anchors
Posted 11 July 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Study (the world/the craft)

I can’t claim to be a master o’ the written word, but I can pretend to be one. With that in mind, I am compelled to push forward any writing-related knowledge I may have in hopes that you too can promote a false sense of superiority.

Today’s lesson: Writing has two ways to keep you grounded in your story, or “anchors,” as I will call them.

  1. The words you’ve already put down
  2. The words you have yet to put down

The first anchor is touched upon in the brilliant book by Ron Carlson, aptly titled Ron Carlson Writes a Story (which I reviewed at the How Publishing Really Works blog). Basically, the idea is that every word you write should be used as a bank of ideas to further the story itself. For example, if I begin a story with the following line:

Greg topped his tank for what he knew would be the last time in many miles, days, perhaps even weeks.

Then I already have a wealth of information to use as I continue the story. Writer’s block be damned. Here I can explore who Greg is, why he is traveling, why it will be the last time for a while, what kind of car does he drive, whose car is it, and so on. This advice seems obvious doesn’t it? Because it is. So many times we simply fail to recognize the simple things. Keeping this bank in mind can literally help sprout a full story from a single, random line.

The second anchor is a reference to story outlines. I am a strong proponent for outlining a story. The concept is scary to many writers, as it implies the structured tiered outline forced upon us in middle school. But, an outline can be something as simple as a numbered list of plot points. The goal is to simply know your general direction so that you are never daunted by infinite possibilities. Believe it or not, restriction is important when writing. The goal isn’t to open you mind to infinite ideas; the goal is to tame those ideas down to a manageable level.

I think it is Max Barry who compares this second anchor to a car’s headlights (if anyone knows the source for sure, please let me know in the comments below). One should write with only a few future plot points in mind, basically the distance that a car’s headlights reach. I agree with this. The headlights allow a story to move in a visible direction while at the same time not allowing the story to wander off the road.

Now, tell your friends that I am a genius.

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Resurrecting the Author Career, Returning to Whisky and Words
Posted 23 June 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / Marketing/ SEO for Authors/ Study (the world/the craft)

Disclaimer: I am far from a career author. I’ve made enough money to buy a few fifths of whisky and some diapers for my baby, so needless to say I’ve got a long way to go. The following plan reflects this outsider (re: possibly ignorant) perspective.

The idealized author spends his time alone, churning out typewritten manuscripts to meet constant deadlines. He drinks. Probably smokes. He’s respected. He vacations in tropical seclusion, but still, even with the changed view, he writes. He has no day job. He is an author. Writing puts his kids through college.

There is a reason this image contains a typewriter. Much like the machine itself, the idealized author is all but extinct. I think a lot of writers would like to go back to this model. Is it possible to not just retain the author career, but to make it thrive?

Given the following set of assumptions, I believe it would be possible to bring back the author career:

  1. Content will continue to outweigh consumption
  2. The marketplace is spoilt by free content, and much of that content will continue to be free
  3. eBooks/eReaders will be a primary content medium within the next decade
  4. The cost to produce and distribute market-quality products will continue to fall

More authors are producing more content than ever, so it’s fair to say the larger onus is on the publishers to bring back the career. The problem is that publishers have no incentive right now to court authors in the way they once did. Publishers have the above items #1 and #2 going for them. A culture of expected free content coupled with an overflow of content, means authors have been trained to work for cheap or free.

But, authors have items #3 and #4 above as important pieces of leverage. If publishers don’t adapt to the changing market, and work with authors to do so, then the publishers will die. Because authors have the ability to create and distribute their own work, and because they have been trained to work for nothing, authors have little to lose by abandoning the publisher. Without authors, publishers die. Without publishers, authors continue.

What can be done?

  1. Consolidate the agent and publisher roles. Basically, this combined entity should act as a time and beaurocracy manager for authors. Today, authors have the ability to publish and distribute their own content without the help of agents and publishers. If this Pub/Agent composite can give authors time to write, then they will ultimately be given the sort of consistent product that the marketplace loves. Marketing thrives on trends. Giving authors time is the way to nurture trends.
  2. Increase author royalties. As media becomes electronic, the savings on overhead and distribution must be passed on. Court your talent, publishers. I’ve read the arguments against electronic media being cost-savers for publishers, and I just don’t believe them.
  3. Embrace the eBook paradigm shift. As a reader, I haven’t yet fallen in love with eBooks. As a writer, I am very excited by the possibilities. Instead of fighting to keep print alive, fight to make eBooks thrive. eBooks have the potential to increase the pool of readers, much as the iPod did for music enthusiasts.
  4. Brand yourselves as independent records labels do. Make fans out of your press, not just out of your authors. I won’t go into much depth here about this, but we do have an episode forthcoming at the Welcome to The Velvet podcast on this topic.

What can writers do?

  1. Provide consistent and brandable content. As Dan Holloway says in the comments at Jane Smith’s How Publishing Really Works blog, “If you are writing for the art, by all means try your hand at getting an agent, but don’t be upset if you don’t get one – and if the feedback is that you should be more commercial in order to get one, then make the decision – do you want to write for the pay packet, or do you REALLY want to do it for the art? And if it’s the latter, don’t expect to be picked up, or blame the publishers when you aren’t.”
  2. Prove that you can provide that content. As Jane Smith says in a response to the above comment, “I think that a big reason that most writers make such a paltry amount is that there are lots of people out there who call themselves writers but who only really dabble with writing: they sell an article every now and then, take several years to write just one book; sure, they’re writers–but not full-time, serious writers.”. A career author must write as though it is a career.

I want to sit alone and write fiction for a living. Help me do that. Make me believe.

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Results of 5,000 words for Father’s Day
Posted 20 June 2010 / By Caleb J. Ross / General News/ Study (the world/the craft)

As far as meeting this goal, I failed. I did not reach 5,000 print-quality words in one day. However, I did learn something very important. I am simply not meant to write all day. I am glad that I can no longer blame my non-productivity on time constraints. In fact, I actually work better given 2-3 hour windows. As you can see by the time-line below, the day started off quite well.

10:08a (1 word) first word (The), first cup of coffee (Soy Chai Latte with an extra shot – It’s like beer: start the night with something exotic so that when you are drunk later you don’t care what brand you are drinking).
11:08a (570 words) went to the bathroom, took in a chapter of Saramago’s The Stone Raft, and gave the dog a treat. She’s been really good about not killing me, considering I am not a daily occupier of this house.
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Books I’ve Written
AsAMachineAndParts-Re-issue-medium-175 Version 3 front cover-175 StrangerWill-reissue-175 CharacteredPieces_1stEdition-175 Version 2 front cover-175