Wednesday, June 30, 2010

News

Messages to Our Fathers

First, the Pod People would like to congratulate Craig Lancaster on his new book The Summer Son, set to be released early in 2011 by Amazon Encore. Craig is an amazing writer, and we reviewed his 600 Hours of Edward here on the Peeps in its original self-published glory when it was titled 600 Hours of a Life.

To promote his new book, Craig has set up a blog over on wordpress titled Messages to our Fathers: Whether you have a story to share about your father or wish to anonymously post what you’ve always wanted to say to him, we’re here to contemplate these men and the way they shape our lives. Feel free to jump right in.

I was lucky enough to get in as the first post on the site. Submissions are open now, and don't forget to check out The Summer Son available for pre-order now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

News

  • It appears that Publish America has been emailing their authors with the news that they are discontinuing trade paperback production and all of their books will now be available in hardback only.  If anyone has a copy of this email I would love to see it.
  • If you are noticing problems with your Amazon.com listings, and books being listed as "Currently unavailable", it is not just you. Amazon has gone very squirrelly over there last few hours. No news yet as to why. holtaway suggests it might have something to do with the launch of the Android app. [via twitter]

What Does a PodPeep Read -- c.anne.gardner

The Stranger by Albert Camus, one of my personal favorite novellas.

This book has been analyzed to death already - we can say its existentialism or point numerous fingers towards the words of Nietzsche and other great philosophers, and we can even make arguments regarding the virtues of death. Yes, this book does all of those things, but the subtleties of this book warrant our appreciation nonetheless.

This book paints a vivid portrait of extremes. At first, the simplistic so-called American language and writing style, the utter lack of imagery and emotion, not to mention Meursault's complete lack of sensitivity, put me off. Nevertheless, very shortly I came to realize that Merusault is not actually a mere character in a story; he is a mirror, reflecting back all humanity's apathy.

Meursault got used to his life, got used to the mundane, got used to the day to day drudgery, so used to it that "the emptiness of a man's heart becomes an abyss threatening to swallow up society." Meursault is the victim of indifference. Every pleasure in life is meaningless for him, worth less than nothing. And it's only after Meursault is imprisoned for murder and confronted with his own death that he sees all he has taken for granted. Not only does he see the great beauty in the world, he also sees humanity as the world's greatest ugliness. Meursault holds fast to this exposed truth; when confronted with his own impending execution in the end, his only wish is "that there be a large crowd of spectators […] and that they greet me with cries of hate." One wish, and that is to live one moment free from indifference.

Many struggle through this work. Yes, it can be seen as painfully boring in the beginning, but as you read, the story changes pace, the language shifts, and the beauty of the words begins to bloom as the pages turn. Meursault's situation might seem unrealistic, absurd even, but given a longer look ... its truth is glaringly apparent and quite disturbing.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Shameless Promotion Time: In light of the fact that novella month is almost over, I am offering a sale price of .99 cents on all my novellas. You can get them in Kindle format over on Amazon and in ePub format on Smashwords. The sale price is not yet reflected on B&N, Sony, or Kobo Books just yet, but I plan on leaving it in effect until at least the end of the summer. You can read free chapters at any of the sites as well as The Twisted Knickers main site. Happy reading to all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Have A Winner!


Thanks to Random.org, this month's winner of our Free Book Friday is Elleann! Congratulations! I will be emailing her today for a shipping address.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Book Friday - Alembical 2!


It's that time again - time for a Free Book Friday! This month's offering is my Advance Readers Copy of the novella collection Alembical 2. You can read my review of this wonderful collection here.

To win, make a comment to this post, and we will randomly select a winner Monday. Please make sure you put an email address in your post so we can contact you and get a physical shipping address. Good luck!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thoughts on Obscurity -- c.anne.gardner

The internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people—talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the internet that... matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand—tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people. -- Maureen Johnson

I'll tell you, it was really refreshing to read Ms. Johnson's manifesto. I felt relieved that I no longer have to put on that fakey-fake smile and discuss author branding when all the while I really want to stick scorching-hot metal instruments into my eyes.

I am not a brand! Damn it. I am a writer. Some days I might think I am an artist if I am particularly delusional and pleased with the words I have managed to cobble together at that moment, but most often, I am a flawed human being who appreciates the written word and who desperately tries to construct something coherent and meaningful out of the scribbling diatribe I put to paper. My imprint could be a brand. If I were to write to distinctive conventions that were entirely unique to me, well, that might be considered a product line, therefore a brand. But as a writer and an artist, "I" am not a brand:

1.Brand (n.)

a. A trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or a manufacturer.
b. A product line so identified: a popular brand of soap.
c. A distinctive category; a particular kind: a brand of comedy that I do not care for.

So when I hear people say, “You are your brand.” I adamantly have to scream: NO, you are not. If you want a brand, your product is your brand, your imprint is your brand, and just be warned, when you market yourself as a brand, people come to expect a certain thing. And those expectations must be rigidly adhered to. You, the writer, are no longer viewed as a person. If you really want to understand what a brand is, what its limitations are, and the potential pitfalls of being bound and gagged by your brand, see here.

As for the term platform, which means: a body of principles on which a person or group takes a stand in appealing to the public. You could have a marketing plan which will outline when, how, and where you are going to interact with the reading public in order to promote your product, but again, take care here with the hard sales pitch: especially if the idea is to PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE YOUR BRAND. Who in the hell wants to get bombarded with advertising like that: no one. The starving artist and the door to door vacuum cleaner sales pitches don't work, and a marketing plan is not a platform. Some people use Indie Advocacy as their platform, some people, like me, use art as theirs, but whatever it is, it has to mean something to you. Marketing is not a platform.

Readers are people. Readers are also art lovers. They want to connect on a different level. They don't want to hear "Buy my Book." They want to hear: "Come and experience my story with me." They don't want to like your fan page or your product page. Who wants to interact with inanimate objects? Reading is very personal experience on a deeply emotional level. It's not buying socks. They don't want your sales pitch, they don't care about your brand, and they don't give two shits about your marketing plan. They want to connect with YOU. So just get out there and be yourself, well, unless yourself is an internet troll or immature asshole, then you might want to have a professionally designed marketing plan that will limit your exposure to others -- for their sake.

So, to get your work out there and be read, do you really need a marketing plan or a brand? No. You do not. Not really. You need some sort of distribution plan, obviously, so the readers can find your work, but beyond that all you need to do is be willing to share the writing experience and give the reader a little insight into your world. They want your idiosyncratic view of the world. They want to know why you write what you write, where your passion comes from, and how you relate to your art and the world. They want to friend YOU, they want to follow YOU. They want YOUR voice, not some trademark or some arbitrary set of principles.

That is what being Indie is all about. It's about being independent of Big Corporation, including all their marketing clichés. Being an Indie is about organic growth. It's grass roots. It's about really connecting. You can have the most fascinating logo, product line, and marketing plan, but if no one knows YOU, no one is going to stop by your website or blog to see it let alone find you on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, or wherever. Most Indie authors do not have the budget to hype a cold-brand.

Don't muddle your vision with boardroom-speak. Sure, if you want to write for a living, you are going to need to determine what success means to you. Doesn't matter whether or not you want a traditional publishing contract or you want to run your own small press. If success to you means that you want to “be” a business, then you will need to have some sort of long term business plan, as in, how am I, as a businessperson, going to earn back my initial investment, how will I best keep sales trending upwards, how will I sustain that growth over time, and how can I continue to provide my customers with the best quality products on a regular basis while maintaining or lowering my costs. Marketing plans get you sales trends; sound business plans get you the rest. They can include a brand, but brands don't work really well for most writers. Engaging voices and interesting platforms do.

The best advice I can give -- artist or Indie publisher, doesn't matter; this advice is relevant to both -- is to be yourself; give your customers choices, i.e. formats and purchasing options; set a fair price; and connect, connect, connect with the readers, not as a businessperson or a marketing professional, but as a person. Find something you are passionate about and make that your platform. Take Ms. Johnson's words to heart. Make things, contribute to the community. It’s all about give and take. If you expect the Indie world to support you then you need to take equal action to support it. When was the last time you bought an Indie book let alone reviewed one? For me, I buy a lot of books, and my decision making process is about the same for both Indie books and mainstream books: I read reviews, of course, but mostly I base my buying decisions on word of mouth: reviews written by other bloggers I know and thumbs up from the network of readers/writers I have friended along the way. The only path for an Indie author is the path out of obscurity: a post-card, a Facebook ad, spam email, or the die hard sales pitch aren't going to help. You've got to "get known." And the best way to do that is to connect and be part of the literary community. You can always be a business later with a marketing plan and a brand if you want those things, but it’s best to start out with a quality product, a simple distribution plan, a unique voice, and a platform. Get yourself known first.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review -- Pod For Profit

Title: Pod for Profit
Narrator: Aaron Shepard
Genre: Business/DIY/Self-Publishing
Price: $ 16.00
Paperback: 287
Publisher: Shepard Publications
ISBN: 978-0-938497-46-2
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Aaron Shepard's book is a decent read for every Independent self-publisher, even if you don't use Lightning Source. If you are planning to publish under your own imprint/colophon, Mr. Shepard outlines each step of the process very briefly and simply in his new book Pod for Profit.

In the first Chapter: Learning about Lightning, Shepard gives an overview of Lightning Source -- the facts and the advantages -- but he does warn that the demands to working with Lightning Source are high, so if you need help forums and interactive guides, this is not the path for you.

In Chapter Two, Shepard discusses the steps necessary to becoming a publisher. In order to work with Lightning Source, you must be an official publisher, with your own ISBNs. Many authors new to the Indie publishing arena are not aware that there is more to it than buying a single ISBN and making up a name for your publishing company. I have seen many a self-published book listed on Amazon where the publisher of record was simply the author's name, and that smacks of novice self-publisher. Here Shepard deftly addresses the details of how to "become a publisher" including each and every fiddly bit of bureaucracy you will ever need to deal with from setting yourself up as a publisher with Bowkers, to filing your DBA or incorporation paperwork, to setting up with Lightning source, to the CCC, Google Books, and beyond.

In Chapters Three, Four, and Five, Shepard very briefly walks you through working with the Lightning Source Model from setting up your account and dealing with the reps, to setting up your book data. From there in Chapters Six and Seven, we move into how to prepare your files and how to launch your book. These chapters discuss how your book data is transmitted to the various retailers such as Amazon, B&N, and others. There are a lot of useful links in this section on how to correct issues at the various venues. There is also a chapter on how to move your titles to Lightning from another vendor such as Createspace. These chapters of the book get into some of the technical specs for preparing and uploading your files to Lightening Source. These sections are only for the tech savvy, so if you are not, you might want to consider having a professional design and spec out your files. Using cheap or free PDF creation programs will not work well with lightning Source. You have been warned. This book does not include step by step instructions or screen shots to help you distill your PDF files; again, you have been warned. For me, it was information I already understood since I’ve been in desktop publishing since the 90s. I use Adobe 7 Pro to distill my PDFs from postscript files I create using a variety of postscript drivers. As for my covers, I use Microsoft’s version of Photoshop, and I use Word 2007 not Indesign or Quark or any of the other more expensive layout programs.

The remaining Chapters deal briefly with Marketing, specifically online networking and getting reviews as well as social networking pages for your book and actual author websites. Shepard delves into some basic HTML coding here, which all self-publishers should know even if they have professional design their site for them. Shepard is on the fence about author websites, though he does tout the advantages of blogs. IMO, I think every author should have some sort of website, even if it’s just a static site that new readers can hit upon for basic information, and most Internet service providers offer free domain space. It won’t be a dot com, but many authors don’t really need a domain name or hosting. As for blogs and social networking, I agree that it can become a time suck, but in reality, connecting with readers is the only way to get sales, especially for fiction authors.

There is also a short chapter on Copyright, and then the book moves of into Sales Stats, Revisions, and Publishing more books.

The book gives a very unbiased account of what it's like working with Lightning Source, because frankly, for some Indie Authors, the hassle will just not be worth the time and effort, but I'll get more into that later. I found the book very comprehensive. Everything is explained in easy to understand terms so even a newbie self-publisher can at least grasp the concepts, including the myths and misconceptions of setting a discount, i.e. what is the difference between a standard and a short discount and why it matters to bookstores and online retailers. Shepard is not a huge fan of the bookstore model, and I can agree. It’s not really necessary that a book be physically available in bookstores anymore.

All in all, the book is extremely well balanced. Shepard does not try to "sell" you on things that may or may not be cost effective in the long run. He understands that every self-published author/small press is different, and he understands that what methods work for one might not work for another. The main thrust of the book is that Lightning Source has its advantages, but it is not for everyone. That said, the book still has information every self-published author should get acquainted with. For me, Lightning is just not the right option. The set-up costs are too high for my small press. At $117.00 per book to start with and an annual catalogue fee of $12.00 per year after that not to mention the administrivia, well, Lightning is too much of a burden on my time and my wallet. And with Createspace’s new distribution model with Lightening US, we now have a cheaper easier route to take. I have a full time career and need the process to be as simple and cost effective as I can get it. Working with Lightning is more for those Indies who are serious about being a small press and plan to publish a lot more than say 10 books in their lifetime.

I have few complaints about this book. Knowledge is power, and this book definitely has a lot of power behind it. As for the issues, I really had only three:

The fact that the book states that eBook ISBNs are not required is a minor semantics error. Apple requires eBook ISBNs and so does Sony in order to sell in their respective stores. Google Editions will also require its own unique ISBN separate from the eBook ISBN you might have assigned to your epub or your PDF. So be warned: Bowkers is on a campaign to make certain that each edition of a book must have its own unique ISBN, which is excellent for them profit wise, excellent for data collection, but not so excellent for a really small self-publishing operation. Right now Bowkers does not make you define the type of eBook when you assign an ISBN to a digital file. You can select just eBook, but that might change. Amazon does not require an ISBN to use their DTP platform, although if you have an eBook ISBN, it's best to list it on the copyright page, anyway.

My second beef is with the Copyright section, and while I agree that in most cases paying for a Copyright registration is an expense one can live without, it's a bit short sighted. That Copyright registration comes in handy if you ever need to prove that you are in fact the owner of the content in question. Amazon has recently begun asking for proof of copyright when loading content to Kindle in some instances. I was asked personally last year when I loaded one of my Createspace books into Kindle. So my advice to self-published authors is to send off your deposit copy and get registered. The digital publishing and the digital piracy industries are changing so fast that reputable content companies are beginning to rethink the term "validation" as it applies to rights ownership in their Terms of Service contracts.

Lastly, the book's brevity was a sticking point for me. It felt rushed and lacked the comprehensiveness I would normally look for in this type of book. I was hoping for more of a guidebook than a book of guidelines. I wanted a proper textbook with screen shots and some step by step how to sections. In depth explanations and tutorials would have made this book so much more useful. Of course textbooks of this nature have to constantly be revised. Bowkerlink is actually being phased out, but there is no mention of that in the book. However, for a $16.00 price tag, all you're going to get is an overview here and a lot of good advice. Is it enough to make up your mind if you are on the fence about going with Lightning Source directly? Sure. In my opinion, most self-published authors just want to write and get their book out with as little cost and as little administrative grief as possible, and there are plenty of other ways to do that besides Lightning Source, especially now that publishing to eBook is all the rage. Forgoing the dead-tree format is an option worth considering in today's publishing climate, and it’s something every Indie author should think about while they are thinking about their bottom line. This book makes no mention of Lightning’s eBook distribution service. Now, for those Indie authors who are strictly in it for the art of writing and are not at all concerned about the business aspects of self-publishing, you can pass on this book because it just won’t be relevant. However, if you are serious about becoming a bona fide small press and you are dead set on working with Lightning Source, then this book is nice start but by no means is it the definitive work on the subject.

7/10

This book was reviewed from a promotional PDF supplied by the author.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thoughts on Reviewing -- c.anne.gardner

One of the twelve life lessons from Warren Buffet: Lose money and I will forgive you, but lose even a shred of reputation and I will be ruthless. As Warren says, “we will not trade reputation for money.”

Now we here at The Pod People Blog have always been very vocal with regard to the "paid review" scenario, and as I have argued in the past, it's not about ethics really as much as it is about perception. The consumer's perception that is, in this case, the reader's. But we’ve ranted on that enough I think. Today I just want to talk about reputation.

To me Honesty is everything, as it is to most literary critics. We give our honest opinion, and as a writer, I want an honest opinion. I would not have grown as a writer if my readers, critique partners, and editors had not been completely honest with me.

I recently accepted a book for review, which, after 75 pages, I had to turn around and make the decision every reviewer hates to make: Do I continue and review this or not?

But let me back up and explain my selection for review process here, because unlike Emily, I don't feel guilty when I pass on review requests. I am not some literary superhero, and I can't read everything that comes through my in-box nor do I want to. I don't get paid for my reviews and that allows me to remain objective during the critique process. If a reviewer can't detach themselves enough to be a careful, objective reader, then their reviews run the risk of being viewed as suspect and their reputation goes down the shitter.

First, I look at the query and ask myself: Is it well written and engaging, does it have a decent summary of the book so I can determine the genre if it's not specifically stated, and is there a link to a free preview? No preview, no review. After that, if the genre interests me, and the summary intrigued me, I link out to read the preview. When I read a preview, I don't generally start with the first page. I couldn't give a shit less about the first page of a book or if it has a catchy first sentence. I skip around randomly because what I am looking for is style and voice. I find the middle of a book generally gives me a better feel for the writing than the overly orchestrated first page. I am also looking for editorial issues, more specifically, how many and how serious. I normally read 5-10 random pages before deciding whether or not to accept a book.

Now I am a pretty careful preview reader, and I rarely have to decline a book after the fact, but sometimes the occasion does arise, and when it does, it usually has everything to do with the editing and not the actual content. In this case, I do labour over the decision, and I do tend to feel guilty because I accepted the book and the author is probably waiting patiently for a review. So why not just review it, you ask. Well, I have a couple of review rules:

1. If there are editorial issues, I will mention it in the review. Now some people seem to think this is hitting below the belt, but the fact of the matter is: editing is part of the process, and it affects the final product. Readers expect a certain level of editorial proficiency, and if the work is lacking in that capacity, then potential readers need to know about it. As a reviewer, I have to look at everything, cover to copyright page. I cannot endorse a book in a review without being thorough. One or two typos I don't care about; hell that happens to everyone, including mainstream books. What I am taking about are the books that have editorial issues on just about every page. This indicates that the author hasn't mastered the craft of self-editing yet or they paid for a lousy freelance editing job. Either way, the reader needs to know this because it does affect the read. I mean, the reader paid for it, so they should get what they expect at least as far as presentation.

2. If I cannot objectively give the book at least a 3/5 stars on Amazon which equates to at least a 6/10 here with us, I pass on the book. I'll be honest here, like always, I don't like negative reviews. Don't like writing them, don't like reading them, and don't like spending my free time on books that have enough issues to warrant a negative review. I can always find something of value in just about any book, content wise, but when the editorial/technical issues make the read frustrating, I lose all interest in the content, as do most readers. In this case, I will decline a review. A real review focuses on the content not the mechanics. Literary critics want to share their opinion of the content. How the content made them feel, what it made them think about, and how the underlying thesis might be relevant to the human condition. When a review becomes overly focused on the mechanics due to editorial incompetence, it loses sight of the content and the free exchange of opinions and ideas that come with it. I want to write a review not a grammatical/technical critique. That’s what a writing coach is for.

3. If there is interwebz drama surrounding the author in question, I pass on the book. I can't be objective in a review if I am fearful that the author or their friends and family will go ballistic on me should I choose not to praise their genius. I take my reviews very seriously. I read a lot, have studied literature for many years, and I'm no Northrop Frye, but I'm no slacker either. Every Indie book I can endorse in public just helps the cause, so I tend to shy away from drama. Especially drama that gives the impression that Indie authors are all immature vanity writers who have no clue and who whine and pick fights all the time. I much prefer authors who handle themselves professionally even when they are staring down a negative review. Negative reviews hurt. I know that. I subject myself to the critique process on a regular basis, so no one is denying that fact. But a little decorum in the face of adversity goes a long way reputation wise. If you want to rant like a lunatic and cry into a glass of whiskey like I do, it’s best to do that off-line.

4. I don’t review an author twice in a 12 month period. That’s just a fairness thing to me. There are lot of other Indie authors who deserve a shot at a review, and as much as I would like to review my favourite authors more than once, I try to space it out so everyone gets equal opportunity.

That's pretty much it. If I accept a book for review, nine times out of ten, the author is going to get a lengthy balanced review with a score of at minimum 6/10. That's a 3 star Amazon review in case you are wondering. If I can't do that honestly, then I will contact the author by email and give *them* the opportunity to opt out of the review. If it happens to be a book I purchased on my own and not a solicited review then I just stop reading and move on. But like I said, this rarely happens. In the time I have been with The Pod People, I have reviewed over 50 books, and have only had to decline a book after acceptance twice.

The Pod People get on average 10-20 queries a week and most of those are passed over simply because of genre preference. Poorly written queries are the next stumbling block. Think Press release format and you can't go wrong. Beyond that, it's all about the content: the story, the writing style, and the editing. The editing being the biggest concern; because editing is not subjective. A book is either well edited or it's not.

In any case, the author of the book I had to decline had the right attitude about the process. They thanked me for my honesty and moved on. Whatever they choose to do with the editorial commentary I provided is entirely up to them, and I greatly respect the way they handled the issue with such grace. Hopefully they will seek editorial assistance then resubmit the book because the content itself was awesome. The author had quite an imagination and with some polish, the book might prove an incredible journey for any reader.

Editing, just like the writing itself, is a craft that has to be mastered. No author is exempt. I had to learn the hard way just like every other author, and I still make a mess of my early drafts. We are always in learning mode. It's just the nature of the process. Nothing written is perfect before a comprehensive edit, and in today's publishing climate, your manuscript needs to be edited to near perfection before you even submit. Readers expect this, and as a reviewer, I have to tailor my reviews so they are in line with reader expectations. I have to be able to stand behind the books I recommend: my reputation as a reviewer demands it, and my reputation as an Indie Advocate demands it as well.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The art this week is: La Mort de Marat by Jaques Louis David circa 1793

Note: This is my own personal opinion on reviewing, and my review process does not reflect that of the other PodPeople. And the term "perfect" is subjective. Nothing can ever be perfect, but for this article "perfect" simply means a book edited to within an inch of its life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What Does a PodPeep Read -- c.anne.gardner

Silk by Alessandro Baricco

Now, I was completely captivated by this novella. Blown away actually, and yes, I said novella because that is what it is in the truest literary sense of the word as the genre has long been defined. The protagonist of the story, Hervé Joncour, after being sidetracked from the military career his father wanted for him, becomes a silkworm merchant. Our story takes place in 1861, France, in a little town called Lavilledieu. The town’s prosperity is often left to entrepreneur Baldabiou who owns and operates several silk manufacturing factories. He sees nothing but dollar signs woven into the fabric, yet has become concerned with the quality of the silkworm eggs coming into France. So he flat out commissions Hervé with the task of travelling to Japan to procure uncontaminated eggs. It is a treacherous and monotonous journey, and Hervé’s wife Helene is not pleased that they will be separated for so long, but the village’s existence hinges on the silk production, so she cannot argue the matter. She remains dutiful and devoted always in the face of adversity, and adversity comes to her marriage often in the story. I won’t reveal the plot because it is such a sort book.

What I found particularly compelling was the spare use of motivational details and the extensive use of repetition for effect. The novella is written in poetic prose, heavy on narrative summary and thin on dialog, chapters are often less than a page in length, but they pack a powerful punch.

Hervé’s many journeys to Japan are tedious and treacherous as he makes his way through Europe, Russia, the Siberian steppe, and the mountains of China. Every journey is described in exactly the same way using the exact same words every time with only one deviation: each time the locals call the village of Shirakawa something different, which represents their change in attitude over the years, which mirrors the Japanese political state. This is in direct contrast to Hervé’s return trip to France, which is dealt with in exactly the same way, only there is no deviation in the wording. Hervé returns on the same day each time, just in time for mass, and Helen is there to meet him as always. Life in this small town goes on, and Hervé and Helen pick up as if they had not been parted. But emotionally, the chasm between the two lovers becomes wider and deeper with each passing journey.

On Hervé’s first journey, he meets the village chieftain Hara Kei. Kei respects Hervé for his honesty and his business savvy, so he invites him for tea. The tea service is a rather uncomfortable affair and is where Hervé first encounters Kei ‘s mistress: a girl with eyes not the shape of Oriental eyes. They exchange a gaze and a very powerful and telling sip from the same tea cup, and from that moment on Hervé becomes obsessively infatuated with this woman he doesn’t know and will never know.

Hervé never has any kind of physical interaction with the woman and sees her only briefly for the short time he is in the village procuring the silk worm eggs, but the fantasy he has about her cuts deep into this relationship with his wife. In one scene he returns from Japan and makes love to Helene “impatiently” and she is thrown to tears. And this is another interesting bit about the story, we never really know much about Helene other than she is very devoted and very modest. Even though she is in quite a bit of pain, her loneliness, her inability to have children, and her husband’s emotional infidelity wear heavy on her in so few words. Even so, Hervé’s love for his wife and his devotion to her cannot be questioned. When he receives a mysterious letter written in Japanese at the end of the novella, which is sexually charged and nothing less than desperate, we discover that what appeared so simple on the surface -- the marital dynamic of two individuals -- was much more complicated than we had imagined from their life as it is related to us from a distance. The spare writing certainly does not lack emotion, and the fact that the characters are fully actualized in so few words is quite amazing in itself. In this case, less IS so much more. The use of objective detail to articulate the nature of obsession is genius, if you ask me.

As for the movie, don’t bother. You won’t understand the story completely unless you read the author’s words and experience the poetic approach he takes first hand. I highly recommend this to novella fans: the hard-core appreciators of the subtle, the darkly romantic, and the often-overlooked true literary novella form.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

This is a repost for novella month.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. -- Marcel Proust

Isn't that what storytelling is all about when you come right down to it. We've all heard the theory that there are no new stories. The fact that Freytag's Pyramid exists just proves that theory true, and while that might render pretty much every story out there predictable to some degree, it doesn't stop people wanting to read them. So if most plots are predictable, most characters archetypes or caricatures, and all stories more or less cliché then why do we bother writing them and why do readers bother reading them? To answer that question we need to look to Proust because it's all about the Point of View, or rather, having new eyes.

We read stories to experience a point of view different than our own, sometimes it's a point of view we can sympathize with and sometimes it's not. I like my POV to be challenged, so often I read stories with characters that I deliberately cannot sympathize with. Writers do the same thing. We feel passionate about something, and that passion generally becomes the underlying thesis or the moral of the story, if you will -- even if we don't know it at the time -- and so basically we create a parable, of a sort, based on our own point of view, and in doing so, we are able to not only present that point of view to others in a pleasing and safe fictional way, but we are also given the opportunity through the writing process to challenge our own POV and refocus our own eyes.

As writers, each time we refocus our eyes we discover new ways to see, or rather, interpret the world. Every setting, every character, every scenario is basically our subjective interpretation of it. The successful writer has the second sight, and we are always refocusing our eyes so that we don't miss anything in the periphery. That’s the power in the Point of View. It's not just about what the writer sees, it's about what the writer understands and how they choose to express it. It's our idiosyncratic vision the reader is after: our tainted point of view, which affects every single aspect of our writing. If we let it, that is.

We often hear talk of "the authorial voice" and how one finds one's voice? In my opinion, to find one's voice, one has to be quiet and find one's eyes. One has to see clearly, which basically means, you have to find your point of view and not be afraid to express it. I am not talking about character POV with respect to technically narrating the story, I am talking about the Author's OWN POV, which determines the thematic approach and defines the author's writing style. Most of the books I have reviewed highly all have that one thing in common. The author had found their point of view, and they allowed it to hit the page without regret.

Since it's novella month, the cover art today is The Story of The Eye by Georges Bataille a 20th century philosopher and a brilliant writer whose authorial voice was not appreciated in his time due to the transgressive nature of his point of view. Story of the Eye is a psycho-drama of pure genius and reveals considerable psychological and philosophical depth despite the original claim that it was pornography, and while Story of The Eye chronicles the deviant sexual escapades of two young lovers, this is not what I would consider a pornographic novel. Yes, the erotic scenes are quite intense -- intense enough to make the faint of heart put the book down. But the erotica nature of the story is not the point of the story. The deep emotional, psychological, and pathological attachment between the two main characters is what drives this story. Their disdain for the banal is apparent in everything they do. The narration is surreal, slipping in an out of conscious thought and action so fluidly that it's difficult to distance yourself from the story. A word of warning though, the metaphors are quite disturbing and the sexualized violence might be a bit much for some readers. However, if you are not bothered by such things, then this little book is definitely worth the read. Bataille himself might not have fully understood where the imagery came from as he was writing it, but he had a command of his point of view, and that is what makes this story such a compelling read.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

June is Novella Month

As an extension of my rant last Thursday, I thought I would continue the short fiction theme by posting the announcement that June is Novella Month.

Stop on over to The Emerging Writer's Network where they are profiling their favorite novellas this month. Even the LA times has picked up the story.

Don't know what a novella is or how to review them? Well you can read my rather lengthy post on the genre conventions and browse through the list of some of my favorites here.

If any of our followers and fellow authors have a novella to recommend -- even if it's your own -- let us know in the comments section. Of course Emily and I both write novellas, and you can find our work by linking out to our respective websites. I am currently offering my novella The Kissing Room as a free to read over on Smashwords in epub format and over on Scribd in PDF format. Amazon won't let me list anything for free, but if a reader wants a Kindle copy for review, just drop me an email and I will send you a digi-review copy in mobi format. Emily has her novella Journeys End up as a free read in PDF right now over on her website, so check that out too.

Happy Reading Everyone.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thoughts on The Idiocracy -- c.anne.gardner

No, we wouldn’t [be interested], and I suspect you’ll have a really difficult time finding any agency who would. 33,000 words is a novella, it’s not a novel, and from a financial perspective it’s typically not worth a publisher’s time to spend the money to publish a book that’s only 33,000 words. It’s a book they would only be able to price at about $3 or $4 (in paper), and I don’t think it would be a cost-effective move for anyone.

More important, though, I’d be curious what romantic suspense readers think. Do you think 33,000 words might pack the punch you’re looking for, or would you be instantly suspicious that this book is about one-third the length of what you normally read?
--

I found this bit of ridiculousness over on an agent blog, I shit you not, who was queried by an author who had a 33k novella to sell, and I just have to say that this outdated way of thinking is why the traditional publishing industry is in doggy-paddle mode at the moment. Now, with the advent of ebooks, shouldn't this be the time to think outside the box, think innovation, and think new business models. Can a novella pack a punch? Good Lord. Read much do you? I can't believe someone would even ask that question, and I am more astounded that it came from someone in the industry, someone who should know a thing or two about literature. Did Brokeback Mountain pack a punch? How bout Animal Farm, or Of Mice and Men, or Story of The eye, or I am Legend, or Silk, or The Stranger by Camus???? Yea, Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus. So, to think that anything less than 80k words is "suspicious" is beyond absurd to me.

Look, just because novellas have fallen out of favour with the paper-product manufacturing industry does not mean the genre has fallen out of favour with readers, or for that matter, with film-makers. [Think Rights Options in case you have forgotten how many novellas get made into films because they are easier to write screenplays for.]

The ebook industry knows that novellas pack a punch and have not fallen out of favour with the readers. ePublishing houses have been listing novellas in their catalogues since the inception of the ebook, which isn't a recent thing, BTW, ebooks have been available in some form or another since the early 90s, and readers have been snapping them up.

Wake up Traditional Publishing Industry. Now is the time to consider the ebook as a viable option. It might be cost prohibitive to sell a paper book for 3-4 dollars, though Brokeback did sell for 9.99 as do many novellas, but it's not cost prohibitive to sell them as ebook only contracts at that price point. Editorial time would be cut in half because it's a shorter work. eBook covers are also only half the work, author advances would be much smaller for an eContract, and you could expand your catalogue significantly with new voices and new stories tailor-made for people on the go.

But again, this is why the traditional publishing industry is having a hard time right now. Agents could be "change agents" here if they would only step up and embrace the digital age, because if anyone's iceberg is melting, it's theirs. Agents should be talking this up with Industry professionals. I see more and more houses opening up ebook only imprints in the future. Now is the time to be having the discussion about alternative content.

Does short fiction pack a punch? Yup, Cheryl Anne says while shaking her head in disbelief. That question moves to the top of my "Stupidest Shit I have every heard in my life" list. Reason being: it was asked by someone who we automatically trust to be savvy and have expertise, not to mention we trust they have a broad knowledge base when it comes to literature. If they had said, "Sure they can pack a punch, we know that, but with respect to profitability, we just can't sell them." the post might not have rubbed me the wrong way, but they didn't...say it...that way. If I were interested in Traditional Publishing, I don't know how comfortable I would be with an Agent who questioned whether or not a novella could pack a punch. Check Please.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Cheryl Anne Gardner, proud writer, reader, and appreciator of the novella form.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Self-Publish Direct to the iBookstore

Well Apple announced it's launch into the Self-Publishing arena, like we all knew they would. Apparently the announcement was billed as the Sell Your Books Initiative, which lets authors get their books into the new iBooks store without having to deal with publishers and aggregators like Smashwords and Lulu among others. However, Apple is quite restrictive when it comes to adhering to certain criteria for acceptance into the iBookstore, those being:


  1. Books need to have a 13-digit ISBN.
  2. Books need to be in ePub format, validate against epubcheck 1.0.5, and contain no unmanifested files.
  3. Authors need to have a Tax ID number and a credit card on file with Apple.
  4. But here is the big one: Authors must use a Mac running OS X 10.5 or later in order to upload the files.

Well I don't know about you, but I am certainly not going to purchase a new computer just to load books to the iBookstore directly so I can cut out the aggregator split. That just wouldn't be cost effective. I suppose one could rent time on a Mac to upload the files, but that might not be convenient for many either. Course I am speaking for us PC users here. Mac users would have it a bit easier, that is once they get their epub files to validate. For most self published authors, that will be the major hurdle to overcome. ePub files are easy to make, but they aren't easy to get past epubcheck 1.0.5. If you think you can just save your Word doc to an HTML and then run it through Calibre, you are sadly mistaken. Oh you'll get an epub file, and it will probably work on most readers, but it won't pass epubcheck without errors. You can create the epub file directly in Sigil too, or InDesign, but they won't pass without errors either, so unless you are HTML savvy and can fix the errors, going with an aggregator who can properly convert your files is still your best option.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

And the Free Book Friday Winner is ...

This Month's Winner is "Johnnystruckwash."

Congrats and thanks to all who participated in the contest.

Stay tuned for June's Free Book Friday on June 25, 2010.

Happy Reading Everyone.