Today’s writing links highlight prominent sci-fi author John Scalzi’s new announced project, Redshirts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Redshirt comes from Star Trek lore, referring to the expendable red shirted crewmembers who were always fodder for whatever alien culture they encountered in an episode of the show. If you still have any trouble understanding this phenomenon, go back and watch the original Star Trek episodes. Anyone in red standing next to William Shatner when they arrive on a new planet has a life expectancy of about zero.
Scalzi’s attempt on the subject will humorously explore what would have happened if the new redshirt recruits got together to compare notes and finally took notice of the unusually high mortality rate for their position. More details on the synopsis can be found on the website for the always fantastic publisher, Tor. Redshirts won’t be out until Summer 2012, but it will be worth checking out when it releases. In other news, Happy Halloween and here are some links!
– John Scalzi’s Next Project Revealed, ‘Redshirts’ (io9)
– Av Club Reviews Terry Pratchett’s ‘Snuff’ (avclub)
This is probably worth laminating if you are the janitor in a lab that has a lot of unstable time travel looking machines scattered about. I don’t know who made this chart, but it seems like something the ‘Primer‘ people would have come up with. I’m working on a time travel story now, and just in case there are any NaNoWriMo participants doing a time travel story, I thought I would include this printout for reference.
What would I do if I got stuck in the past? First, I would go looking for H.G. Wells. If he wasn’t alive yet or was already deceased, then I might cry a bit. But a manly cry I assure you. Then I would go the zoo for awhile and then live out the rest of my days in a comfortable fashion betting on the Cubs futility to win anything after the Titanic sank. It’s a plan.
The new poster series for ‘The Hunger Games’ movie shows the first images of characters including Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (pictured above), Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Rue, Haymitch, Effie and Cato, the 80s ski you for your ex-girlfriend’s affection villain equivalent tribute. Via Fandango.
Before we start, let me just get this out of the way. I would never presume to tell anyone that they do not have a good author page. If you have a personal website for your writing and people can extract information on how to contact you, buy your book and attend any appearances you make, I believe you’ve accomplished the major goals of an effective author page. But, since we’re already here, I’ll give you my ten cents on how to craft a great author page.
As I mentioned, I believe the main goals of author pages are to promote your work and give people a means to contact you if they so choose. Also, your site should give readers the chance to learn a bit more about you as a person and provide access to some sort of avenue to find and purchase your work, whether it be a widget or a separate page dedicated to your books, poetry or short stories.
Having said that, I’m not a huge fan of websites that are “busy” design wise, in the sense that they have seven thousand buttons, twelve widgets for cat pictures (maybe trim it down to two), five gifs loading and background music from your self-titled piano and rainstick album from the early 90s autoplaying. If this is your site, this is totally cool, just not my thing. I prefer a simple clean design template that can be easily understood and navigated. Again, a personal preference, but I think a clean look helps first time visitors acclimate themselves better to your page.
Another effective way to orient new visitors to your site is through the use of a splash page. A splash page is essentially a general greeting page that for the most part operates as a bit of a mission statement. Even if you have a blog and other info pages, splash pages do a better job orienting and directing visitors than a blog entry you wrote the day before about how your new blender is your favorite thing in the world. If a blog entry is the first thing they are greeted with, they will judge your site based on the latest entry, and that may not always be the best representation of what your site is about. I don’t personally have a splash page, which again proves that you can do whatever you want with your site, but I plan on getting around to making one some day. For now, I get by because my site is simple enough to navigate and my contact info is pretty easy to extract. So, needless to say, I don’t toss and turn at night and have splash page related nightmares. But if people are finding themselves lost or confused on your page, try out a splash page.
Although I may have come off as anti-widget a couple of paragraphs ago, I should point out that there are a number of them which are very helpful, especially sharing and following widgets. Having a way to easily share your stories through facebook, twitter and other means of reposting is an important way to build exposure, especially when visitors enjoy a particular post you have written. Follow buttons and RSS feeds allow visitors to essentially bookmark your site and be alerted to your updates through the convenience of a feed. This goes a long way toward eliminating the one visit, one comment, disappear forever from your world visitors that may be plaguing your comments section. It will help you build up a dedicated readership and cultivate more of a community on your site.
One of the more effective ways to introduce visitors to your writing is by infusing a little bit of your personality into the site (I didn’t say you had to get rid of all the cat picture widgets). It’s your page, so have some fun with it. If you’re a mystery/thriller writer, have a mystery/thriller oriented theme, just as Da Vinci Code scribe Dan Brown’s website does. Certainly, it is possible to go too far overboard and alienate readers if they feel you are running a forum for your non-writing hobbies, but if you’re too conservative about asserting your personality, you miss a great opportunity to promote your work through the site’s content. If people like reading your posts, they may be more willing to check out your books. Try to find the happy medium between making your site a hobby corner and a sterile contact page.
So, now that you’ve built what you feel is a good author page, will it determine your success as a writer? Absolutely not. Really wildly successful writers have some pretty minimalist/non-existent websites and they do just fine. The late Isaac Asimov’s website is a testament to websites not dictating popularity. But good web pages can help and if they’re really good, not only can they keep your current readers informed and interested, but they can create new readers altogether.
This week’s Monday’s Writing Links highlights libraries, specifically the Chicago Public Library and the proposed cuts it faces. This is an issue that I’m incredibly biased on and will admit openly. Firstly, I live in Chicago and love books. Secondly, I have family who work for the CPL. So, again, not the most objective subject I’m going to tackle, but I’ve stood up for the CPL before (including an incredibly odd incident where I was explaining an arguably anti Chicago libraries piece that Fox News did to people at a grocery store and then was moments later confronted by the anchor who did the piece) and would be happy to do so again.
The Chicago/Illinois budget situation is always a dire one. Every other day it seems like they are hiking public transportation fees to the point that seniors are trying out skateboards or the city is considering turning Navy Pier into a peninsula of gambling and overpriced novelty popcorn stores. I guess I can understand the viewpoint in a budget crisis that libraries, in the eye of a very sterile assessment, would fall under the blanket of being an amenity and therefore not a necessity. This is a point that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with though. Sure, you could funnel money into bloated city salaries and fixing the potholes on North Ave that eat shopping carts, entire bus routes and inquisitive nocturnal animals (supporting city infrastructure is important though, I’m all for that), but if you focus solely on the very sterile necessities of a busted budget, where or what will you be driving to in a few years if Chicago is a land of sports bars, grocery stores, vacant Blockbusters and overpopulated Pizza Hut/Taco Bell hybrids?
Taking this strictly on a city by city basis, I would strongly argue for the CPL’s fate, if not just for their effort to embrace the technological age, improve the educational opportunities and research materials available to lower income neighborhoods such as the former Cabrini-Green and the inspirational events they put on like One Book, One Chicago. So, as mentioned in the linked open letter, it is strange to me that 363 of the 500 city jobs scheduled to be cut are at the Chicago Public Library. This website is definitely not a forum to get preachy, so we’ll move on, but it’s hard enough to find a bookstore in this city anymore, let’s not make it impossible to find a library.
– An Open Letter Against The Proposed Chicago Library Cuts (golibrarians)
– Av Club Reviews Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Damned’ (avclub)
Today’s highlighted link is the official website for National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo to those who speak in internet shorthand and are hated by anyone over the age of 65 for doing it. National Novel Writing Month, which will start November 1, tasks writers with finishing a 50,000 word book by the end of the month. That is a pretty formal guideline though, as finishing an existing project or carving out a chunk of a manuscript collecting dust counts too. Really, it just encourages you to write for the month of November.
Stop by the NaNo website to join groups in your region, meet new writers in your area and participate in write-ins to keep up with your goals. Write-ins have to be at least six times safer than meeting writers on craigslist (don’t hold me to that. I cannot be held accountable for write-ins held in abandon warehouses, vacant lots, haunted bayou mansions or Native American burial grounds). Write-ins sound like a lot of fun though, and I plan on participating in one this year.
– Website For National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo)
So, you’ve finally finished your manuscript. After all the writing, rewriting, revising, proofreading, researching and editing, you’ve completed your masterpiece. Congratulations. It is a feat in itself and you should absolutely be proud of yourself. If your book is coming out on any medium where it can be read, downloaded, listened to or soliloquized, regardless of the presence of a formal publisher or not, it is again something to be very proud of. You wrote a book. Well done, sir or madam, you are now an author. So the question is, what should you do now?
I know you may have already alloted most of your post release time to counting your money, receiving high fives from strangers and paying your kids minimum wage to refresh your Amazon page on the minute for when new reviews get posted, but this may not be the most productive plan of action. Then again, not occupying your time may lead to erratic behavior like anxious baking enough muffins to feed a men’s lacrosse team or riding a roller coaster of emotion that ends with your berating your cat for being lazy and watching too much daytime television. No one benefits when you end your night repeatedly yelling, “You said you were going to change!” at your overweight tabby.
So, what should you do when your book releases? Well, certainly you should try to promote the release, that is a must, but you should be very careful to not go overboard with your promotion and end up ramming the existence of your work down people’s throats. Nothing will turn them off quicker than a marketing strategy that comes off as a constant bombardment of ‘buy my book’ messages. Sure, you should blog about it, do interviews and tell everyone you know it can now be purchased, but be aware that you are treading a fine line. Over marketing is often mistaken for desperation, and this will not help your cause.
How can an author avoid this marketing faux paus? Well, don’t seek people out and push your book in the same sentence that you introduce yourself in. Forge some relationships before your book release and participate in any writing communities you stumble upon. Make sure that these relationships are genuine and not just ends to promote your own materials. You should be interested in the work of others. They are your peers. Form some meaningful relationships with them. These will be the people who will tell family, friends, book clubs and writing groups about your book if they enjoy what you have written.
You must be careful to make the important distinction of informing people about your book release and making them feel obligated to buy it. There is a difference. If you are really confident in your work, nothing displays more confidence than making the public aware of your book, then leaving the rest in the hands of your readers and their word of mouth marketing.
So, as much as fun as it would be to sit on your perceived laurels or stress about the critical reception of your novel, it will do you no good. The single most beneficial thing you can do is get working on the next book. If you want to pursue writing as a profession, it would be to your benefit to not Harper Lee your first book. Self published authors especially tend to find some commercial success when they get a couple of books in circulation. If your first book is destined for success, it will get there, but let it come. And before you know it, people will be asking about the sequel, and you’ll be ready, because you’ll already be writing the sequel, right? Oh, and remember to somewhere along the way enjoy the whole ride. You have a book out. Pretty cool.