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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reading This Blog Could Kill You


After reading how my blog light kill you, don’t forget to scroll down to read three great interviews:

*Interview With Author Harvey Stanbrough
*Writing Thoughts by Linda M. Hasselstrom
*Interview With Harlequin Associate Editor Emily Ohanjanians



A study published yesterday in the online journal BMJ Open, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, said that sitting for more than three hours a day cuts one’s life expectancy by several years.

So if you are sitting now, keep reading, but stand up. I don’t want the burden of guilt in thinking I contributed to your hastened demise.

Of course, as with all studies, one must realize this study may be inconclusive. For one, it only reflects data from the past 4 to 14 years. Longer studies will be needed to figure out the long-term effects of prolonged sitting. Further, I wonder: Is it sitting itself that is bad, or all of the other bad habits that sitters tend to have that kill us, such as overeating junk, being indoors, lacking exercise, etc? You really need to analyze other factors as well, but the study strongly shows people shortening their lives by several years due to excessive sitting. But Americans are as sedentary as ever!

So the next time you surf the Net, watch TV, or blog, make sure you are standing. Apparently sitting on your ass all day is not the way to optimum health. Then again, you never see a jogger smile and the people who are on their feet all day, such as blue collar workers, tend to have back problems, arthritis, and other health issues. Maybe just breathing is enough of a tax on the body. But whether you sit or stand – or lie down – keep reading this blog as long as it doesn’t kill you.

Writing Thoughts by Linda M. Hasselstrom

My best advice to a beginning writer is never to give up. If you have an idea for a poem or a book that you think is worthwhile, keep working on it, no matter how long it takes. As you improve your writing, your understanding of your ideas will change as well.

I recently finished and published a poem I had begun writing 38 years earlier. Every year during that time I worked on it a little. Eventually my life changed so much I finally understood more about the people about whom I was writing. What I published in 2012 was a much better poem than it would have been in 1971.

Graham Greene realized early in his writing career that if he wrote just 500 words a day, he would have written several million words in just a few decades. So he wrote two hours a day and stopped–even if he was in the middle of a sentence. Writing two hours a day he published 26 novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, memoirs and travel books.


Interview With Harlequin Associate Editor Emily Ohanjanians

1.      What are the rewards and challenges to editing books? The rewards are varied and plenty. First off—getting to read books for a living! But also, working with talented authors and the thrill of collaboration, seeing the potential in a first draft and helping to bring the story to that point, the feeling of contributing to a story that brings others happiness, those a-ha moments during brainstorming with authors, the growing enthusiasm that builds between us both as we continue to improve the story and get it to the point that we envisioned at the start, proudly reading positive reviews and celebrating successes after a book’s release. The challenges are there, too—not the least of which is having to step back and look at so many factors at once (structure, style, logic and consistency, as well as things like marketability), and those dreaded story holes that can pull a thread and unravel the whole thing—but often the challenges are rewarding, themselves.

2.      What are some of the books you have worked on? For the past year I’ve been working with our flagship single title romance imprint, Harlequin HQN. I’m very lucky to get to work with some terrific authors in all subgenres of romance, including contemporary (such as Christina Skye’s fantastic new Summer Island series), historical (such as Brenda Joyce’s sweepingly romantic Surrender, as well as Delilah Marvelle’s super-sexy Forever a Lady), paranormal (such as Gena Showalter’s amazing, hotly anticipated new Angels of the Dark series), romantic suspense (the wonderful Marta Perry’s Amish-themed Watcher in the Dark series) and erotica (such as Janet Mullany’s tantalizing Hidden Paradise). I also have the privilege of continuing to work with an author I acquired for Harlequin MIRA before that—the lovely Deborah Cloyed, whose women’s fiction debut, The Summer We Came to Life, bowled me over at every stage, from the first time I read it as a slush manuscript to the last edit we did before its release last summer. I also worked on the Spice Briefs line for the past couple of years, where I acquired and worked on digital erotic shorts. Lots of variety—it never gets boring!

3.      How do you make someone's book better? Often the editor’s role is to be an objective second pair of eyes, who is not as close to the work as the author is (thus able to see things in a different way than the author), and who has some insight into the market (and how it will receive the work in question). I try to ensure the story is as strong as it can be, that turns occur at best possible times, pacing is even and has momentum, characters are layered and relatable, etc. My task is relatively easy since I come at the work fresh—authors are the ones who spend months in the story’s world, pouring their hearts, minds and creativity into it, during which time they get very close to the book. In my experience being that close can make it more difficult to spot areas that could use further work. That’s where the editor comes in. 

4.      Which mistakes do most authors commonly make when it comes to their writing? I don’t know about mistakes most authors make. In my experience, most authors are incredibly imaginative, creative and enthusiastic about their writing. It can happen that, in the rush to get their vision on the page, some authors may lose sight of story structure. Now, I have a slight obsession with story structure (McKee and Vogler have prominent spots on my bookshelf) so I may weigh that more heavily than other editors, but I do find that a weak structure is often the ailment behind a whole host of other symptoms—inconsistent character motivations, pacing problems, slow starts and saggy middles, and general lack of emotional connection or impact. In fixing underlying structural problems, a lot of other things start falling into place. Structure doesn’t mean rigidity or putting walls around creativity, it just means considering the story that one’s trying to tell and doling it out in the best possible way. 

5.      What advice do you have for struggling writers? Keep writing, keep reading, keep meeting and greeting. Start at the beginning—make sure your book is good. If it isn’t, make it good. (This is no small task. In my opinion, writing a good book is one of the hardest things in the world to do and I admire anybody who can do it.) Find honest readers for feedback, which may not be family or friends as they will have a harder time being honest, for fear of hurting your feelings. Learn how to apply feedback—revisions are as big a part of being an author as writing, if not bigger. Read constantly, both fiction in your genre and others and non-fiction books about writing. It may seem impossible to fit it in around day jobs, families, obligations and the writing you keep wanting to do, but reading will only ever help you in your craft. And don’t write in a bubble. These days, writing is only half an author’s job—the other half is marketing themselves through various channels. Connect and build relationships with as many people in the industry as you can, published and unpublished authors and industry professionals. Learn how to make the most of your website and social networking sites. Learn about the industry, about all the options available to you. And no matter what, write as much as you can—every day, if possible. Treat it as a job. That’s what the most successful authors do.

6.      What do you enjoy most about being in the book publishing industry? The fact that I get to read books for a living. Sometimes I have to pinch myself!

7.      Where do you see the book world heading? The digital age is exciting, because it seems to be offering up greater opportunity to more people, both to read and to write. As a species, human beings love to tell stories and love to be told stories. That has endured through the ages, through the various historical innovations in technology, and will continue to endure. What is changing is how those stories get distributed, how we are all involved with this distribution, and how those involved will earn money off that distribution. But storytellers will always be able to tell their stories—in one form or other.


Interview With Author Harvey Stanbrough

Harvey is a writer of short stories, nonfiction books, short story collections, and magazine articles. He has two novels in progress. The poet (6 collections, one nominated for the Frankfurt Ebook Award); National Book Award nominee, 2006 is also a freelance editor; writing instructor; eformatting artist; and a cover designer. For more info, see www.HarveyStanbrough.com.

1.      Harvey, what is your blog about and why do you write it? My blog at HarveyStanbrough.com is about the craft of writing. Individual posts most often address one nuts-and-bolts issue (e.g., the use and effect of specific marks of punctuation; what writing instructors mean when they say "Show, don't tell"; the definition and use of tag lines vs. brief descriptive narrative; etc.). I write it to impart a bit of what I've learned and to advertise my writing seminars, writing books and services (WTWServices.com), and my new no-fees, royalty-paying epublishing company (StoneThreadPublishing.com).

2.      What rewards and challenges do you find writers experience today? The biggest challenge today is letting go and just writing the story. Writers today get wrapped around the wheel worrying about formatting, how many rewrites they should do (as if it's a set number) etc. before they've even written the manuscript. It's a process. First they should just write the story; everything else is secondary. The rewards are the same as they've always been: recognition, reception, the ability to make a living doing what you love.

3.      What advice do you have for aspiring authors and struggling writers?
One. Decide whether you're a serious writer. If you write only for therapy or self-gratification or as an avocation, enjoy. If you are a serious writer, meaning you'd like to make your living as a writer
    a. study the craft
    b. study the language
    c. strive for perfection in both
Two. Read your work aloud.
Three. Understand that working as a writer is a business and you're the president. Do due process and make sound decisions. For example,
a. if you decide to seek an agent, send your query and synopsis to your 50 or 80 favorite agents.
        1. throw out the rejections and send the full manuscript to the 20 or 30 who request it.
        2. INTERVIEW (preferably in person) the 3 or 5 or 7 who say they want to represent you.
        3. pick the one you feel best about. (The agent will work for You, not the other way around.)   
b. if you decide to eschew agents and submit your work to publishers yourself, understand that "agent" is a separate job from "writer"
c. if you decide to self-publish, understand that "publisher" is a separate job from "writer"
Four. Don't let anyone or anything dissuade you. Remember, there was a time when even little Willy Shakespeare didn't know he could use two longer lines and a shorter one to create a capital A.

4.      What kind of help do authors need most? From what I've seen over the last 20+ years as a freelance editor, they need to learn to read their work aloud. Doing so enables them to hear glitches in the rhythm as well as awkward constructions, overused or over-repeated constructions, overuse of characters' names, and even punctuation errors. Most of them need a good editor as well, and they need to trust that editor.

5.      Should authors give serious consideration to self-publishing? Absolutely. Why? My own work has been published traditionally beginning in 2003, and has been self-published since January 2011. As I wrote in a blog post here http://www.harveystanbrough.com/2012/05/19/busting-the-myths-of-digital-publishing-redux/, I get a 10% royalty on the print version ($14.95) of Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction, so for every sale I make $1.49. I get a 78% royalty on the ebook version ($5.99), so for each sale I make $4.67. To put this in greater perspective, when I’ve sold 100 paper copies, I’ve earned $149. Of course, from that I have to deduct the cost of gas and the hours of standing around at book fairs, etc. trying to sell them. When I’ve sold 100 ebook copies, I’ve earned $467. Then I have to deduct the cost of about two hours per week online in the comfort of my own desk chair. For more on this, please see http://www.harveystanbrough.com/2012/05/09/self-publishing-redux/. Also, consider the markets. Today when you publish only through Amazon.com (Kindle Direct Publishing program) your book is automatically available in Amazon US, UK, DE, FR and IT with more venues coming. If you also publish through distributor Smashwords.com, once your book is accepted into their premium catalogue, it's distributed to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, Baker-Taylor and others. Your work is in over thirty markets world wide. Traditional publishers don't offer a similar deal.

A side note on "vanity" publishing---again, don't let anyone dissuade you. "Vanity" publishing is a term coined by traditional publishers to maintain their gatekeeper status, which is gone now. If you believed in your abilities as a chef or an auto mechanic enough to invest your own money in a restaurant or a garage, would people call it a "vanity" restaurant or a "vanity" garage? Of course not. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about investing in yourself. That being said, the only subsidy publisher I recommend is Booklocker.com. Most of the others are scams that play on your ego.

6.      Where do you see book publishing heading? To say the technology is amazing is an understatement. I believe print publishing will be around for many years to come, but the electronic book market will continue to expand. I've read that fully 14% of the population now owns a dedicated e-reader (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.). Of course, many more own smart phones, computers, and so on. I have to admit, I only wish this technology had been discovered thirty years ago or so.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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