Monthly Archives: August 2011

Why You Should Read Bad Books

26 August 2011

Latina Bloggers Connect provides 5 Unconventional Writing Tips:

#2. Get Naked. Did you ever realize that some of your most amazing ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? It isn’t just you – this is a real, well-documented phenomenon. With white noise, no distractions, the flow of cleansing water encouraging the flow of ideas, a feeling of renewal and relaxation – it’s no wonder the shower doubles as a place to brainstorm. Next time you’re stuck, strip down and hop in.

. . . .

#4. Read bad books. Avid readers make good writers but reading poorly written books and blogs once in awhile is just as constructive and worthwhile as reading the classics. This isn’t to boost your own self confidence as a writer, (though it does often have that effect!) – this is a learning exercise. As Catherine Aird once said, “If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.”… Make note of what exactly it is about the blog or book that makes you cringe and then make sure you don’t commit the same sins.

Link to the rest at Latina Bloggers Connect

How to Write 600,000 Books

26 August 2011

Passive Guy has read about unconventional writing techniques.

Philip M. Parker, professor of management science at Insead, a highly-respected business school with campuses in France and Singapore, has developed an approach that is all his own.

Romance authors may find his thoughts on their genre provocative.

Excerpts from The New York Times:

It’s not easy to write a book. First you have to pick a title. And then there is the table of contents. If you want the book to be categorized, either by a bookseller or a library, it has to be assigned a unique numerical code, like an ISBN, for International Standard Book Number. There have to be proper margins. Finally, there’s the back cover.

Oh, and there is all that stuff in the middle, too. The writing.

Philip M. Parker seems to have licked that problem. Mr. Parker has generated more than 200,000 books [PG Note: It’s at least 600,000 now], as an advanced search on Amazon.com under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, “the most published author in the history of the planet.” And he makes money doing it.

Among the books published under his name are “The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea” ($24.95 and 168 pages long); “Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers” ($28.95 for 126 pages); and “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India” ($495 for 144 pages).

. . . .

Mr. Parker . . . has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.

And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

. . . .

It is the idea of automating difficult or boring work that led Mr. Parker to become involved. Comparing himself to a distant disciple of Henry Ford, he said he was “deconstructing the process of getting books into people’s hands; every single step we could think of, we automated.”

He added: “My goal isn’t to have the computer write sentences, but to do the repetitive tasks that are too costly to do otherwise.”

. . . .

His company, the Icon Group International, is the long tail of the bell curve come to life — generating significant total sales by adding up tens of thousands of what might be called worst sellers.

. . . .

“Using a little bit of artificial intelligence, a computer program has been created that mimics the thought process of someone who would be responsible for doing such a study [project the latent demand for antipsychotic drugs around the world, based on the sales figures in the United States],” Mr. Parker says. “But rather than taking many months to do the study. the computer accomplishes this in about 13 minutes.”

An editor picks the years to be covered, but the computer picks the optimum model for extrapolating sales in various countries, and in alphabetical order produces a chart for each country. “It will then open a Word document and export the information into Word just like a real author would out of their minds, so to speak, or spreadsheets,” he says.

Artificial intelligence researchers say computers are far from being what the general public would consider authors.

. . . .

As part of his love of words, and dictionaries in all languages, Mr. Parker said he has taken to having his computers create acrostic poems — where the first letter of a series of words spells a synonym of those words, often to ironic effect.

Of course, one of the difficulties of generating a hundred thousand poems is stepping back and assessing their quality.

“Do you think one of them is Shakespeare?” he was asked.

“No,” he said. “Only because I haven’t done sonnets yet.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The manner of creation raises an interesting question about whether these are spam books.

As facts to consider, PG would point out only three books are for the Kindle and there’s an argument those three use Kindle’s capabilities in an interesting fashion. (More on this below) Additionally, these are not cheap books and the NYT article mentions that his customers include medical libraries.

As always, PG is helpful to his visitors. If you would like to search Amazon for all currently listed Icon Group International publications, click here.

It’s an interesting marketing decision for the company to sell only three Kindle books. Each one is an excerpt from the diaries of Samuel Pepys covering one year. They feature a pop-up Thesaurus for selected words in, respectively, Urdu, Ukrainian and Turkish. The Urdu version is ranked #199,837 on the paid Kindle list. (PG couldn’t get the pop-ups to work in the Urdu sample on either his Kindle or Kindle for the PC.)

 

The Misfit Author

26 August 2011
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From an essay by a young woman who goes by a pen name:

“Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing.”— Flannery O’Connor

“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” – from “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”.

. . . .

In high school AP English sometime between Ralph Waldo Emerson and e.e. cummings, we read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. Her work was unfamiliar to me, but apart from all the major literary works we read in that stifled classroom, her short story was the air I needed to get through high school and impacted me the most of all my high school English reading combined.

. . . .

Many days after school and summers reading were spent soaking in every word, holding onto every story and character, hoping other people’s greatness in storytelling will somehow rub off on me. For years this was my life, but I still felt like I was missing something:

An author I genuinely looked up to.

. . . .

“A Good Man Is Hard To Find” was dark and funny (only to me, I would later find out) when I read it the night before it was due in class. A middle class family along with the husband’s mother set out on a road trip that ends far from their intended destination when they have a car accident in the middle of nowhere and are confronted with escaped convicts led by a man the newspapers called “The Misfit.”

Without spoiling the whole story—although the presence of escaped convicts may already hint at an unhappy ending—I’ve never seen an author be so ruthless with her characters, so deceitful to her reader. I felt helpless, I felt cheated even. “How could she?” and “Where did that come from?” were questions that racked my brain that night when I came to the story’s end. No amount of journal writing before bed could get me to sleep. No author’s work had ever perplexed me like that and it’s unlikely any other author I encounter during my lifetime ever will . . . .

. . . .

“Sitting at the back of the room, silent, Flannery was more of a presence than the exuberant talkers who serenade every writing class with their loudness. The only communicating gesture she would make was an occasional amused and shy smile at something absurd. The dreary chair she sat in glowed.” —Paul Engle, Flannery O’Connor’s teacher at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

For one week in high school, all I read was Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Short Stories and found in that book a kinship with the author. I really connected with Flannery O’Connor because I always felt like a misfit with a different sense of humor. High school for me was a prestigious private Catholic all-girls school. It’s a privileged kind of torture that only a certain few female adolescents can endure and still graduate with their wits about them. At least there’d be college; I’ll find my place in college. I was ostracized, and I was bullied. I’ve spent my lunch hour in the library sneaking bites of my sandwich when the librarian wasn’t looking because it was the safest place to hide. I didn’t belong there until I found Flannery O’Connor.

. . . .

And it felt selfish, and it felt good to finally have the female writer I could aspire to. The spot had been filled; no others need apply.

Link to the rest at A Writer’s Ruminations

Misfits, Rebels and Troublemakers

26 August 2011
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Out of the many stories about Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO, journalist Chandra Steele wrote one of the most interesting.

Passive Guy thinks there are lessons for writers and others obsessed with creating something new.

Excerpts:

Steve Jobs’ life reads like a book. Specifically A Regular Guy, written by his long-lost sister, novelist Mona Simpson. A Regular Guy chronicles the brilliant business life and considerably less organized private life of Tom Owens, a genius biotech company founder and CEO. Not until they were grown did Simpson and Jobs learn of the other’s existence; Jobs was adopted by a couple from California and Simpson was raised by their biological parents in Wisconsin and later Los Angeles.

By the end of Simpson’s book, it’s clear that her fictional recreation of her brother is a normal guy but he’s not really the regular guy of the title. And that’s the real life Jobs, too. He epitomizes the qualities Apple vaunted in their “Think Different” campaign. He’s one of the crazy ones. The misfit. The rebel. The troublemaker. The round peg in the square hole. The one who sees things differently.

. . . .

Steve Jobs tweaked IBM’s iconic “Think” motto to become Apple’s “Think Different” and at the same time brought the world around to do just that.

. . . .

The Mac positioned itself as the computer for the creative class, not the business class. Some of its users fell so under its spell that they’re often derided as a cult with Jobs as their dear leader.

. . . .

Jobs is notoriously obsessed with design. More than an afterthought, it’s the guiding force of Apple products.

. . . .

Simple and instinctual, the Tao of Jobs and, by extension, Apple.

. . . .

Give People What They Don’t Know They Want.

. . . .

Apple didn’t invent smartphones or tablet computers, but it certainly defined them. Tablet computers hit the market countless times before the iPad “created” the category, but they never took off. The iPad sparked the public’s interest and lit up an industry.

. . . .

Apple owns its markets, but also it owns itself. From the A4 chips running the iPad 2 to the look of its stores to its advertising, the Apple image is seamless. No outliers deviate from its product lineup.

. . . .

The drama builds for an Apple event. Rumors start months before and there’s an endless stream of speculation. Jobs plays it out to the end, talking about the last few months in sales and how existing products are doing, in general, the sort of board-room schpiel that leaves the audience bored. Then he “ends” his keynotes with the sly “and one more thing.” Jobs knows how to leave consumers wanting more, as the show biz saying goes, and today is no exception.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

Adding Extra Content When Republishing a Novel as an eBook

25 August 2011

Dyslexic best selling romance novelist Julie Ortolon thinks more is better when you self-pub your backlist as ebooks:

Unlike going to the movies, where the price of the ticket lets you view the movie one time, when someone buys a novel, they can read it as many times as they want. So, what reason would a reader have for buying a novel in ebook form if they already own a print copy? You got it. Extra content!

That’s what I’m working on now with Falling for You. It’s the first of the Pearl Island Trilogy, and a few years have passed since the books came out. So, I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I — and my readers — could check in with the St. Claire siblings and the Pearl Island B&B to see what everyone’s been up to? My characters have had some kids since then, and I’d like to meet them.

In addition to three new chapters, one at the end of each book in the trilogy, I’m going to include notes from me on “The writing of the Pearl Island Trilogy,” with photos of Galveston Island and notes about my trips there to do research.

Link to the rest at Julie’s Journal

I Love Deadlines

25 August 2011

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

Ebook Formatting Red Flags

25 August 2011

YA SciFi author and math teacher R.C. Lewis lists ways your ebook can make you look like a newb:

Here’s R.C.’s personal list of formatting red flags. (And when they show up in “pro” eBooks, I’m really annoyed.)

No Linked Table of Contents. Yes, I know, they’re not required. But why would you not utilize one of the most basic advantages of digital literature? When I bring up the ToC, I should see either chapter numbers or the full chapter title.

Incorrect Justification. Text should be full justified (lining up on both the right and left edges) with hyphenation to avoid the odd case of one longish word spread out to fill a whole line. This is especially important when reading on a smartphone, and annoying when not done properly. Apparently, some people prefer the ragged-right-edge look—I’m not one of them. Most e-reading apps let the reader choose (which can lead to some other issues), but if there’s a “publisher default” option, I prefer that to show up justified.

Missing/Inconsistent Indentation. Paragraphs should be consistently indented. I can live with block paragraph formatting, which is how this blog post is set up—no indentation, and extra space between each paragraph. I have seen eBooks (for which people charge money) with a few paragraphs indented, but many others missing the indent and no space to denote a new paragraph. The only clue that a new paragraph has started is the fact that the last line may have ended a little early (which is hard to spot if the book is left-aligned). Very difficult to read.

No Chapter Breaks. Each chapter should start on a new screen regardless of my chosen text size. You’re not saving paper by starting the chapter a “page” earlier. Some may not think this is important, but when I get the chapter heading sitting at the bottom of the page, I don’t like it.

Weird Margins. This one’s more rare, and I’m not sure what the author/publisher is doing wrong to make it happen, but I’ve occasionally seen eBooks with very wide left/right margins. Again, when reading on a smartphone, this is particularly maddening.

Link to the rest at From the Write Angle

Bad Formatting = Bad Book Reviews

25 August 2011

We continue our review of the many methods of messing up your ebook and the consequences that flow from those mistakes.

From NovelHelp blogger Claudia Jackson:

 Unfortunately, a bad side effect of the eBook’s quickly changing technology is that the reader’s experience is also changing – sometimes not for the good. More importantly, failure to deliver a quality eBook format is now adversely affecting the author’s reviews! The experience disrupted by the fact that we now sometimes are befuddled by where paragraphs end and begin, sometimes having to look over the fact that there is a page number or book title in the middle of a sentence can, and will, change how we feel about the book. The reader has lost patience with reading the book and now finds fault with the story and gives it a bad review. When in reality the reader was unhappy because where there was supposed to be an “escape into the story.” The sloppily formatted eBook has removed that from the reading experience.

. . . .

Below is an example of what an eBook looks like when it is not formatted correctly. Many publishers, even those that advertise that they are specialists in the self-publishing world, just upload the PDF file that they used to have the book printed. The problem is not just limited to little-known authors. Many of the eBooks released today that were written by author super stars suffer these same indignities. Note some of the problems highlighted below:

▪   No paragraph breaks or indents
▪   Page number ends up in the middle of the page
▪   The “center” feature is lost.
▪   “Italics” is lost (red highlight).

. . . .

Link to the rest at BookBuzzr

We Have Reached a Great Spam Milestone, Gold Dust!

25 August 2011

For those who are not WordPress users, the following will take a little explanation:

WordPress comes with a plug-in called Akismet that is a spam filter for comments.

Most of the Jewels in the Spam Bucket have been picked up by the Akismet sieve.

The reason this is an epic moment is because of you, the voluble visitors who share your comments here. As the two red arrows indicate, the number of legitimate comments now exceeds the number of spam comments received by The Passive Voice.

PG would be happy to hear the experience of other bloggers, but he’s never had a blog where the real comments ever outnumbered the spam. All he can say is great job in penning this submit!

The difference between ebook conversion and ebook formatting

25 August 2011

Getting it to show up on a Kindle screen is only the beginning.

With all the discussion about all the ebooks being released with errors, it’s worth looking at what indie author April L. Hamilton says about getting a book to look right on an ereader screen:

I’m getting a lot of emails from authors who tell me this or that company or person is offering to convert their manuscripts into ebooks for some ridiculously low fee, like $50. What the authors don’t know is that conversion of a manuscript to an ebook format takes fifteen minutes or less, is mostly an automated process, and will only deliver a quality ebook at the back end if the file being converted has already been properly formatted for the target ebook format. $50 doesn’t seem like such a bargain when you realize how little work is actually being done for that fee, and when you know it doesn’t include the most time-intensive, labor-intensive, and important part of the ebook creation process: formatting.

. . . .

Where the conversion step is mostly automated, the formatting part is mostly manual. This is because every manuscript is different, and the process of formatting a manuscript for ebook publication is primarily a process of minimizing and standardizing formatting. Here’s my Kindle book formatting to-do list, to give you some idea of what’s involved:

* “Save As” to create Kindle file copy
* Insert cover image on first page
* Remove blank pages
* Remove headers
* Remove footers
* Set margins to 1” all around, remove gutter
* Replace section breaks with page breaks
* Set two carriage returns before each pg break and one after each
* Insert page breaks before each chapter heading, if necessary
* Replace double spaces with single space between sentences
* Standardize body text style
* Turn off auto-hyphenate (Tools > Language > Hyphenation)
* Remove any tab or space bar indents, replace w/ ruler indents as needed
* Set line spacing to 1.5, max 6pt spacing after paragraphs
* Standardize chapter headings
* Standardize section headings
* Remove/replace special characters
* Reformat graphics as needed to 300dpi resolution & optimal size (4×6” or smaller)
* Verify images are “in line” with text
* Insert page breaks before and after full-page images
* Modify copyright page to reflect Kindle edition verbiage
* Add correct ISBN to copyright page
* Insert hyperlinked TOC

Link to the rest at Indie Author

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