To Blog or Not to Blog? What’s Coming for 2016

Have you ever wished you could clone yourself, so that you could do everything you wanted to do?

Yep, me too.

This is the longest I’ve ever gone without blogging, and it’s amazing how much I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the fun of challenging myself to write creatively about grammar. I’ve missed the conversations I’ve had in the comments. I’ve missed the joy of discovering wonderful new posts written by my fellow bloggers (because I haven’t had time to read, let alone write).

But I’m happy to have had this break, because I’ve been able to avoid missing other things that are important in my life.

And I’ve come to a realization: With everything I’m trying to do right now, it’s just not possible for me to blog every week any more. In fact, I may only be able to blog once a month sometimes.

And that’s okay.

What do you mean, it's okay? I'm having a genuine Shakespearian crisis over this here...

What do you mean, it’s okay? I’m having a genuine Shakespearean crisis over this here…

Like me, you’ve probably run across a zillion articles that might as well have titles like

Start a Blog or Lose All Hope of Ever Selling Yourself!

Blog Every Day or Google Will Rip You to Shreds and Eat You!

Master Building Your Platform if You Don’t Want to Be That Kid Who’s All Alone At Recess!

What a bunch of hooey. (I love that word!)

I firmly believe that writing good, meaningful content is more important than racing on a writing treadmill to stay at the top of the hit list.

My initial goal in blogging was to share what I know about communication in a fun and informative way. I hope I’ve done some of that.

But I’ve discovered along the way that I have gained another complementary goal in blogging that’s just as important – to read and learn from my fellow bloggers and to share their words with others.

So I’ve decided to make a change in my approach this year. I’m still going to write creative posts about grammar, hold conversations about communication with other writers, and let you know about helpful writing resources. But I’m going to do it less often. I’ll be posting on a Monday if I have a post for the week. I’ll also be writing occasional posts about editing on my editing website.

In parallel, I’m going to make more use of Twitter as a tool to share words from other writers and editors.

If you’re interested in learning more about communication from people other than me (as well as from me, I hope!), I invite you to follow me at @dbwcomm. I promise to make it worth your while – no clickbait articles or promotional madness!

Thank you for being so supportive of my blog. I hope to see you here again before January is out!

Cheers,

Sue

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Friday Flashback: Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

I’m sorry that things have been quiet here lately — I’ve had a number of projects on the go, and unfortunately there’s been no time to write a blog post. It’s frustrating, because I want to get going with my upcoming series on Captain Comma and her crew. With the holidays coming up, I suspect she’ll be making her debut in the New Year. Stay tuned!

I’ve been slogging my way through a lot of business writing this week, and it made me think of this story I posted back in July 2014. It feels like the right post for a Friday after a long week. I hope you enjoy it!

Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

As he climbed the marble staircase of the Temple of Empowerment, Perceiveus prepared himself to face his greatest foe: Mesnooza, the Jargon Gorgon. Her confusing words had paralyzed many heroes before him. Perceiveus was determined not to make the same mistake.

He reached the top and found Mesnooza waiting for him in the torchlit chamber. He averted his gaze, catching only a glimpse of her glittering eyes. Her features were hidden behind the wall of writhing serpents that gushed from her head like oil-slick tongues. He didn’t need to see the rest of her to know that she was hideous.

Medusa by Caravaggio

“So, your stakeholders have finally sent you to deliver the goods,” said Mesnooza, affecting boredom. “Well, you may have an impressive body of work, but you’re just the flavour of the month to me.”

“We hope you had a game plan before you took on this stretch assignment,” hissed one of her serpent locks.

“You can fire away, but you’ll never be buzzworthy,” pronounced another serpent.

“You think you’re bleeding edge, but you’ve had your heyday,” taunted a third serpent.

Perceiveus ignored the serpent chorus. He circled Mesnooza with caution as her serpents stretched towards him. He flung a dagger at her heart, but she danced away from it.

“I hope you level-set your tiger team, because a win’s not in the cards for you,” sang Mesnooza. Her serpent speakers echoed her.

“It’s time for you to eat a reality sandwich, and stop chasing butterflies.”

“Should have done your due diligence before giving in to blue-sky thinking.”

“Those red flags might have warned you that this was a career-limiting move.”

Perceiveus struggled to concentrate. He grabbed a torch from the wall and thrust it at the nearest serpent. It cried out in pain and went silent. Enraged, a nearby serpent bit his arm, denting his armour. Another serpent whipped him across the face, and he staggered back.

“I don’t think you’re giving this one-hundred-and-ten percent,” snarled Mesnooza, upset by the fiery attack. “Time to go back to the bush league.”

“Feeling hot under the collar?” sneered a serpent. “You’re on a burning platform, and you’re dealing with a bag of snakes.”

“Face it, you’re behind the eight ball. Time to pay the piper.”

“Too many balls in the air. You can’t hack it,” spat another serpent.

Hack it. Sword! In the confusion of battle, Perceiveus had forgotten his primary weapon. He drew his blade and began slicing through his reptilian enemies.

“You might think you’re making an impact, but I’m not low-hanging fruit,” panted Mesnooza, as she dodged his blows. Her serpents were not faring as well. Their voices became weaker as their numbers diminished.

“You might be gaining traction, but you haven’t moved the needle,” one murmured as it went unconscious.

“You think you have your ducks in a row, but we’re playing hardball,” whispered another faintly.

“Time to…think outside the box!” croaked a wounded serpent, before Perceiveus cut its neck clean through.

Mesnooza was exhausted. No one had ever stood up to her power, and she did not know what to do. Her single remaining serpent seemed to realize the game was up.

“Let’s get down to brass tacks and bottom-line it,” said the serpent. “It’s cut and dry that it’s time to put this to bed. Time to fish or cut bai-”

Perceiveus looked up from the serpent’s severed head. “It’s over, Mesnooza.”

But Perceiveus had made the mistake of looking Mesnooza in the eye. Now that she was no longer hidden behind her jargon serpents, Perceiveus could see her true face. She was the most beautiful woman that he had ever beheld.

“I’m sorry I caused you trouble,” she said. “I feel so free now, like a great weight has been lifted from me.”

Perceiveus was stunned into silence.

While Perceiveus stared, Mesnooza slipped away through a side door and escaped from the temple. Who knew that I could stop men in their tracks without my jargon? she thought. Enough of that ugliness. It’s time for me to start a new life. And I’ll create a new name to go with it. Hmmm. I’ve always liked Helen…

***

Image: Medusa by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed my retelling of Perseus and Medusa. This story was inspired by my difficulties in cutting through jargon in a business environment. What jargon have you heard that brings on your fighting spirit?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Conversation Corner with Alex Hurst, Author and Traveller

When I first ran across fantasy author Alex Hurst’s blog, I was immediately attracted by the quality of her writing (as evidenced in her Archetypes in Fiction series) and her beautiful photos. I soon found that Alex is also a wonderful person who is very supportive of her fellow bloggers. During the April A to Z Challenge, Alex wrote an excellent series of posts about her life in Japan. I asked her if she would like to come by DBW to speak about her experiences communicating in a different cultural environment. Here is our conversation about travelling, introversion, English teaching, and the perils of ferocious kanji.

On your About page, you talk about travelling around the U.S. while growing up “in the wilds of the south.” How did you go from being a local traveller to living in Japan? And did you find your experiences of moving around helped you at all as you made that transition?

Well, that’s a very long story, but I’ll try to keep it short and interesting. I was born close to a bayou in Louisiana, where I spent a lot of my formative years playing outside in the woods around our property. My father collected a lot of Asian art, as well, so when I wasn’t outside pretending I was on some grand adventure with my siblings, I was inside looking at Buddhas, thangkas, and giant calligraphy scrolls. This would become important later, naturally, as my interests shifted from living in the U.S. to studying Japanese, and eventually coming to live in Kyoto.

A few years after my family moved to California, when I was around twelve, my family decided to have a real grand adventure and circumambulate the United States in our car. For 10,000 miles, it was just my father and my three younger siblings, with my mother staying in San Francisco for work. Though there were hard days, I think that was when I caught the travel bug. I need to explore, to go to new places, and often, as with Japanese, I tend to choose things that I know I’m not inherently good at, in order to challenge myself. But yes, moving around so much as a child, and my home life, more than prepared me for the move. When I came to Japan, I didn’t experience any culture shock and settled in quite quickly. However, whenever I visit my U.S. home, I always find myself getting what’s known as reverse culture shock, and that’s a bit uncanny, given how long I lived there!

It’s funny how that happens sometimes. I think it’s wonderful that you challenged yourself to learn Japanese and experience a new culture. I’m curious – what are some of the key differences that you notice when you come back to the U.S.? And what do you like most about the Japanese culture?

If I were to go with the first thing that pops into my head: the noise. U.S. Americans, and Canadians, are just louder, in all things. When I lived stateside before, I never noticed, but in Japan, things are so quiet all the time. On the train or bus, no one talks to each other (it’s considered rude). In restaurants, conversations are carried on as quietly as possible. Even in parks, children are so quiet that you can still hear the small birds in the trees several meters away. My ears have become much more sensitive to sound while I’ve been here, so when I go home, I constantly find myself flinching to regular noises, as if someone is always yelling when they shouldn’t be.

Otherwise, I would say the openness of Westerners is much more pronounced once you’ve been in Asia for a time. People like to keep direct eye contact in the West, shake hands, even hug strangers. There is a certain willingness to bare yourself to another human being in even the most base of interactions. But in Japan, it can take years to get to that point, and not even family members hug one another. It’s actually one of the quickest ways to make a young Japanese person uncomfortable: hug them. However, every now and then I find an old lady who is more than eager to get a hug from the exotic foreigner.

That’s not to say that either extreme of the above two observations are bad. I love both cultures for those things, in different ways. I’m just generally more quiet and reserved, being a low-key introvert, and so coming to Japan and adjusting to their way of things was very easy. But I do miss big bear hugs and people’s general, every day excitement in the West.

Of course, there's excitement here too...

Of course, there’s excitement here too…


As an introvert, I can relate to enjoying the quiet. 🙂 You mentioned that it can take a while to get close to someone in Japan. How did you go about making connections with others? What kind of new communication approaches did you need to learn?

That one’s a bit tougher! To make connections with other people in Japan, I didn’t change much inherently about myself, or my approaches in meeting people. I can’t honestly say that I “cracked the cultural code” in my time here, either. I did have to learn that where Americans are often shown to pigeon hole their friends (golf friends, poker friends, shopping friends), the Japanese people I’ve met are even more intense in their separations. It feels, at times, that my friends will not discuss any family matters with me at all because I am not family, or will only discuss one subject consistently, and it’s usually the topic we met under (like traveling). The only exception to this has been in the relationships I’ve built with my adult students over the years. Because I can decide the topic, I’ve gotten to know so many of them very well through our English conversations in class.

My best example of this is actually also my best friend in Japan. We chatted weekly for about a year, going to various places around Kyoto together and talking all about cultural differences between America and Japan, before I even found out that he was married and had a daughter. A full year! When I asked him why he never talked about them, he said that it was his private life, and not something he shares. And he is the most open person I know!

I’m curious how this type of separation works for the Japanese in the age of social media, where everything ends up online. How are online social platforms used?

Actually, social media is not used in the same way it is used in America, I think. Most Japanese people use Twitter or mixi (the Japanese equivalent of Facebook), but they use it to share photos, mainly, or gush about various things they are interested in. I don’t have a mixi account, but the friends that do use Facebook use it like Instagram, taking photos of food (sometimes adding very detailed explanations of the daily bento they are making for their children every morning). I rarely see a post that discusses anything personal. In that respect, I think Japanese people are still a bit reserved about digital things. The use of credit cards is still quite low (you can’t use a credit card to pay for a lot of things over here – it’s a cash-based society), and I think the mistrust of digital presence is one of the reasons it hasn’t changed (much to the chagrin of international visitors).

I’d love to hear more about your experiences working with your adult (and child) students. Did you find there were aspects of English that were difficult to teach? What helped you?

English has proved a very difficult language to teach, once you move past the stage of simple vocabulary and grammar study. I’ve found that prepositions are the most difficult. Japanese only has a handful of prepositions (は、が、に、を、で、として), which can be combined to create a further meaning, similar to the combination “into” in English. However, as most people know, English has well over a hundred prepositions, and their meanings are quite distinctive. As a native speaker, these meanings are quite clear, but for a Japanese learner, where に [ni] can mean ten different things (screenshot attached!), the idea that prepositions aren’t flexible is a difficult hurdle to overcome.

ni

The other thing that is hard to teach is stress in speech. Take the sentence “I never said she stole my money.” In writing, this is rather simple, and in certain contexts, the meaning is quite clear. But, change the stress on any word, and the meaning actually changes! So, teaching this is also difficult, since in Japanese, there are basically no stresses in a sentence until the very end. Their stresses denote questions, or confirmations, or invitations to respond. Ours are quite trickier, I think!

Teaching these things is difficult, but also fun. I find that doodling on the white board helps a lot, to show the difference between being “at” a place, and being “in” a place, or “on” a place. For intonation, I get my drama on, and exaggerate my delivery in speech, so students can understand the real meaning of a sentence based on how it is spoken.

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in Japan with my readers. It’s been great having you here. One final question: Do you have a favourite kanji or Japanese expression that you’d like to pass along for those of us who may visit Japan someday?

Oh, yes, I do have a favorite kanji. It is not really practical, in the strictest sense, but that is what elevated it to “never forgotten” status in my mind.

The kanji is: 悪循環. It is read aku-jun-kan and means “vicious circle.”

Why is this my favorite kanji? Well, when I was in my third year of studying Japanese, the kanji understandably got way more difficult. And our teachers gave us a lot of kanji to study, many of which we would never need again, like “International Date Line” (don’t ask me why). But akujunkan became this sort of mantra in my class. The students would repeat it all the time, and even start using it as the reply-all to any complaints about the class. So, it’s very much an inside joke, but given the stressful course load and its compounding effects on mental health, it definitely fit.

Plus, it’s just fun to say. Akujunkan. Akujunkan. Akujunkan.

Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Sue! I had a fabulous time! 🙂

***

Images courtesy of Alex Hurst

For more about Alex, I would encourage you to check out her blog or her latest illustrated novella, D.N.A.

Do you have a question for Alex, or a comment on our interview? Please leave your thoughts below – we’d love to continue the conversation with you!

Science Fiction and How Values Shape Communication

As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been posting a little less frequently lately. I’ve been busy working on a personal project that I’m very excited about. It’s still in progress, but hopefully I’ll be able to share it with all of you soon. (How’s that for mystery?)

In the meantime, today I have a guest post by the talented Andrew Knighton from Andrew Knighton Writes. If you haven’t visited Andrew’s blog, you really should — Andrew provides helpful writing advice on his blog as well as incredibly well-crafted flash fiction stories.

Over to Andrew…

Communication is never a neutral act. We use it to shape the world the way we want, from a little kid asking for a cookie to a propagandist selling a political party line.

It’s also a common theme in science fiction. The struggle to communicate with aliens was a feature of classic science fiction, while the growth of communications technology brought communication systems to the forefront of Earth-bound sci-fi. Science fiction stories highlight how, whether intentionally or not, one of the main roles of communication is enacting our own values.

Failure to Share Values – The Sparrow

One of the most haunting and unsettling depictions of first contact with aliens, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow is an account of a mission to an alien world, crewed by a mixture of scientists and Jesuit priests. From the start, we know that something went horribly wrong, and the narrative of the expedition is expressed within another narrative, about a struggle to get the lone survivor to communicate.

Among the many themes and ideas in this book is the difficulty of communication, and the way that cultural assumptions can stand in the way of understanding. The explorers constantly seek to understand the society they find, but there are some gaps in values so huge that they fatally undermine their ability to communicate and comprehend.

In a way, our ordinary, everyday communications enact that same challenge in miniature. Our values are usually different, if only in subtle ways, from the people we communicate with. Making assumptions about those values can lead to miscommunication, and it’s only by opening up to the values of others that we can really understand them.

Communications as a Battlefield – Neuromancer and the Cyberpunks

Cyberpunk science fiction has, from the very start, shown people taking the opposite approach to communication and values. From its popularisation with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, cyberpunk has depicted futures in which communication is conflict.

A lot of this lies in the recurring use of hacking and information technology. The heroes are often hackers, trying to break down the barriers to free communication and the flow of information. Their opponents’ power lies in controlling the flow of communication and knowledge, hiding awkward truths and corporate secrets. Those enemies throw up defences, blocking the information lines through which the hacking takes place. No-one here is trying to achieve the sort of two-way understanding that leads to successful coexistence – they want to understand their opponents to thwart them.

hackers

In our everyday lives, it can be easy to become drawn into treating communication this way. Instead of opening up and discussing our ideas and values we start defending them, and in doing so attack those of others. Communication becomes a battlefield. That lets another value slip in unseen. If we act in this way then we’re implicitly valuing conflict over cooperation, and making the world a less cooperative place.

Communication as Heaven – The Galactic Milieu

Of course, communication can also be used to enact more positive values. In Julian May’s Galactic Milieu series, shared communication becomes an ideal in the form of Unity. This state of mental connection, sharing ideas and feelings, is an almost heavenly state toward which the galaxy’s races aspire. The defiant struggle against it, the throwing up of barriers between people, brings about destruction.

In the Galactic Milieu, communication is depicted not just as a carrier of positive values, but as something of value in itself, bringing people closer together. It highlights why good communication is so important in every sphere of life, reducing conflicts and allowing us to achieve more together.

Think About the Values in Your Communication

Next time you’re talking or writing, take a moment to think about what values you’re enacting in the way you communicate. Are you listening for the values behind what other people are saying, to try to understand them better? Are you letting conflict become part of how you communicate? Or are you using communication to achieve cooperation and closeness?

It may not quite be heaven, but communication needn’t be a cyberpunk dystopia either.

***

Image from the movie Hackers

I hope you enjoyed Andrew’s post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it below. And I’m curious – what books have you read where communication was a major theme? Are there any that you’d recommend adding to the reading list?

Walk the Right Path: Three Tips for Writing Comments

While at the Editing Goes Global conference in Toronto, I had the opportunity to attend a session led by the wonderful Arlene Prunkl, an experienced editor who works with self-publishing clients. During the session, she talked about how to give feedback to writers in a positive and compassionate way. I believe her tips are useful not just for editors, but for anyone who has been asked to provide comments on someone else’s work.

While listening to Arlene, it occurred to me that writers asking for feedback are in a similar situation to the character of Neo at the beginning of the movie The Matrix. They know something is not quite right about the story world they are living and breathing. But they’re not quite sure what the problem is. They seek out an editor, who offers to show them the truth.

That editor needs to be careful when delivering feedback, or the writer is going to regret choosing that red pill.

Matrix Red pill or blue pill

Can I put this off until tomorrow?

 

Here are three simple tips provided by Arlene on how to word your comments positively.

1) Avoid using the word “you” in an accusing way. (“You need to change this.”) Refer to the problem, not the person.

Don’t be like Agent Smith and make your writer feel like a worthless insect.

2) Write your comment in the passive voice. (“This sentence can be tightened.”) This helps you to convey the information in a neutral tone.

Be a calm mentor, like Morpheus.

3) Show flexibility by using words like “perhaps” or phrases like “you may want to consider.”

After all, the writer is the One who wrote the text, not you. Respect the effort that has been put into the text. And remember, you don’t know everything. Sometimes there is no spoon.

If you do your job right, the writer will suddenly see the text in a new way. And they will have the confidence to change things for the better.

Matrix code

“I see…everything.”

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

***

Images from the movie The Matrix

Do you find it difficult to provide feedback to writers? What has worked for you? Have you ever read comments that made you cringe?

Conversation Corner with Lori MacLaughlin, Author of Lady, Thy Name is Trouble

Shortly after I started DBW, I ran across Lori MacLaughlin’s blog Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams. With a blog name like that, how could I resist investigating? At the time, Lori was in the thick of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and I loved following her series of posts on favourite fictional characters.

Since that time, she has chronicled her self-publishing journey, and recently published her first novel, a wonderful sword-and-sorcery adventure called Lady, Thy Name is Trouble. I asked Lori if she would be willing to stop by and share her thoughts on writing and communication. Here is our conversation on finding inspiration, interpreting body language, surviving the self-publishing process, and squawking.

On your About page, you talk about imagining tales while growing up on your parents’ dairy farm. How did your love for story come about? Who or what inspired you?

Lori MacLaughlin

Lori MacLaughlin

I read voraciously while I was growing up. My parents had instilled in me a love of books by reading to me at an early age. They had shelves of books that filled my head with stories and sparked my imagination. Many of them had animal protagonists, like The Poky Little Puppy and other Golden Books, the Thornton W. Burgess Green Meadow series, and one of my favorites, The Wind in the Willows. Another book I found inspirational was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. The idea of traveling through some kind of portal to a magical world fascinated me and inspired me to create my own fantasy worlds and adventures.

I was very much a tomboy and spent a lot of time in the woods and pastures and in the barns with our animals, so it was very easy, by extension, to think of them and other real and imaginary woodland critters as story characters. I’ve always been intrigued by fantastical creatures and wished I could see unicorns and fairies and such in the woods.

There is something magical about animals, isn’t there? I grew up in the suburbs, so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to be around animals. But one house I lived in had a little pond down the street, and I used to love going on toad-catching expeditions and watching for squirrels.

I noticed when reading your book Lady, Thy Name is Trouble that you did an excellent job describing the horses and how they behaved. Did you work a lot with the animals on your parents’ farm? What was that experience like?

Thank you! Yes, I worked with both cows and horses. I had a saddle horse and enjoyed riding. My dad loves horses, and his stories about his experiences both riding and working with horses on the farm where he grew up were inspirational, too. Mostly, though, I worked with the cows and young stock. Interacting with the animals was my favorite part of farming. Each animal had its own personality, and I really got to know them well. Animals have body language and expressions, just like people, and being able to read those allowed for so much better interaction with them. I found I had a way with animals. There were skittish cows and calves that I could do anything with that no one else could get near.

That’s wonderful. My experience with farm animals is largely limited to a pony that stepped on my foot at summer camp. I was quite intimidated, and I’m sure it showed! That’s a true skill to be able to read body language. Non-verbal communication is so important, and yet it’s something that a lot of us have trouble with. Have you found that this skill at observing others has helped you in other areas of your life? Does it affect how you approach your writing?

Ouch. That had to hurt. Yes, I’ve found that it helps immensely in communicating with others. Some years ago I worked as a feature writer for a local newspaper, and the job involved interviewing people from all walks of life for various reasons. By listening to them and watching their visual cues, I was able to find an approach that put them at ease and got them to open up and really talk to me. It was very rewarding to communicate on that level. Just the simple act of listening — giving someone your full attention — works wonders.

Observing body language was also important in a job I had as a clothing salesperson. I was required to greet the customers who came in the store and ask if they needed help with anything. The customer’s tone of voice and body language told me quite clearly if they didn’t want help at all or might want help later and wouldn’t mind being approached again. It also helped tremendously with children. I worked for a number of years as a kids’ shoe fitter. It’s not always easy to get kids, ages 1 to 10, to cooperate during the fitting process. Being able to read them helped me find ways to coax them into cooperating and made the experience a lot more pleasant for everyone involved.

Because non-verbal communication is such an integral part of expressing oneself, I try to include as much as feels natural in my writing. Expressions and gestures say so much more than just words and really bring characters to life.

Speaking of bringing characters to life – you recently published your first novel, Lady, Thy Name is Trouble. Congratulations! I am sure you went through a lot of work to make this happen. How did you come to the decision to self-publish your story? What has the experience been like for you?

Thank you! Yes, it took a LOT of work. I began writing this story as a hobby many years ago. As I began to get more serious about my writing, I read how-to books on improving my craft and joined a writer’s group to get feedback, which was so helpful. Eventually, I hired a freelance editor and proofreader, whom I met through the League of Vermont Writers group. She loved my story and understood my writing style. Her suggestions brought the story out from under a pile of extraneous words and really helped it shine. From going through this process, I learned how to self-edit, so my work is much cleaner from the start.

I began sending out queries to agents in the traditional manner, hoping to land representation that would keep me out of the publishing houses’ slush pile. I garnered some interest, but no takers. Some responses came right away. Others took months. To wait that long, only to receive a standard rejection letter was discouraging, to say the least.

Lady Thy Name is Trouble book coverAfter a couple of years of not getting anywhere, I decided to re-evaluate. It seemed like there were fewer and fewer opportunities for unpublished writers in the traditional publishing world, and the books that were coming out in my genre were mostly young adult and paranormal/urban fantasy. My novel, I think, would be described best as sword and sorcery, with the emphasis on the sword. It’s action and adventure with romance thrown into the mix.

Not wanting to spend many more months or even years waiting for acceptance from an agent, I chose to go the self-publishing route. My decision was also influenced by the fact that if I did it myself, I would have control over every aspect of the publishing process. Having heard and read about problems other writers had encountered with publishers, this aspect particularly appealed to me.

I have learned so much since taking the plunge. I started building my social media platform. I researched the pros and cons of Amazon’s CreateSpace vs. publishing under my own imprint and decided if I was going to do it myself, I was going to do it my way, to quote an old Frank Sinatra song. I started my own company, Book and Sword Publishing, and registered it with the state, going through a lawyer to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. I bought my own ISBN numbers. I learned about book layout and cover design, book reviews, and blog tours. I taught myself how to edit music and make book trailers. So many things. I made a list at the beginning of this process of all the things I’d need to do. It seemed a very daunting list, but as long as I took things one step at a time, it was doable. I’ve had my share of frustrations. My successes, though, have blown them all away. There are no words to describe how it feels to hold my own book in my hand or to read it on my Kindle.

Wow, you have been busy! I’ve seen your book trailer, and it’s fantastic. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve tackled all the different aspects of publishing your book. Do you have any advice for writers who are thinking of going the self-publishing route? Are there any resources that you found to be particularly helpful?

Thanks! Yes, the book trailer was a lot of work, but it was fun to make. I think the most important thing for anyone who decides to self-publish is to hire professionals to edit and proofread your work. I know it’s expensive, but it will be worth every penny. A professional-looking cover is also a must. The only way self-publishing will lose its stigma is if everyone who goes that route puts out a quality product. The second-most important thing is to get on social media. Blog, Facebook, Twitter — use whatever works for you to connect with people. It’s the best way to get the word out about your book, and you get the added benefit of meeting and making friends with some wonderful people. Get on Goodreads and network with people there. You don’t have to jump in all at once. Start slow and build up as you feel comfortable.

There are a ton of online resources for self-publishers. I’ve found answers to almost every question I’ve had just by doing a search on a few keywords. Two sites that have been really helpful for me are the Insecure Writer’s Support Group at www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com and The Book Designer at www.thebookdesigner.com.

I’ve also had good luck with Audacity music editing software and Calibre e-book conversion software, both free downloads off the Web. I purchased a template from the Book Designer specifically tailored for MS Word files that would be uploaded to the distributor Ingram/Spark, and that worked well. I used www.istockphoto.com for images for my book trailers. Their one-month subscription worked fine for me, and I had no problems with them, whatsoever. I found great music at www.freestockmusic.com. Font Squirrel has a good selection of fonts that are free for commercial use. I discovered not too long ago, in my naiveté, that even fonts must be licensed for commercial use before they can grace the pages of your books. Always be sure to obtain the necessary permissions and/or licenses for anything you use before publication.

Yes, it’s always good to be on the right side of the law. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your advice with DBW readers. I have one final question, just for fun. I noticed in your bio that you are a pilot. (From horses to planes – you really know how to go places!) I’ve written in the past about the perils of nonsensical corporate jargon. Have you encountered any weird or funny piloting jargon while learning to fly?

Thanks so much for having me here, Sue! Well, it has been a long time since I piloted an aircraft, but one thing that stood out to me was the constant use of abbreviations. For instance, I was licensed with a VFR, or visual flight rules, rating, which meant that I could fly using outside visual cues, such as the horizon, the landscape, buildings, etc. In other words, I could see where I was going. I was not IFR, or instrument flight rules, rated, so I couldn’t fly in places or at times when I couldn’t see outside and would have to rely solely on the instrument panel for altitude, pitch, direction, and so forth. All airports, in the U.S. anyway, are identified by a three letter code: Los Angeles, CA — LAX; Newark, NJ — EWR; my local airport in Burlington, VT — BTV.

Deciphering a weather report was like reading some kind of weird shorthand. Here’s an example of a PIREP (pilot report) out of my old Manual of Flight book:

DEN 275045 1745 F330/TP B727/SK 185 BKN 220/280 – OVC 290/TA -53/WV 290120/TB LGT-MDT CAT ABV 310

This means: “Denver VOR (very high frequency omnidirectional range) 275 radial 45 NM (nautical miles) at 1745Z (zulu time). Flight level 330 (33,000 ft.). Type of aircraft Boeing 727. Sky cover consists of two layers: first layer base at 18,500 ft., broken top at 22,000 ft., second layer base at 28,000 ft., thin overcast top at 29,000 ft., outside air temperature minus 53 degrees Celsius, wind 290 degrees true at 120 knots, light to moderate clear air turbulence above 31,000 ft.”

And here’s an example of radio communication from a student pilot ready to leave the airport:

Pilot: Ground Control, Cessna 69210 at Montair — going to the north practice area with information Alpha.

Ground Control: 210, taxi to runway 19. Departure on 121.1; Squawk 0325.

(This means turn your radio to frequency 121.1 so you can talk to Departure, and enter 0325 in your transponder so the air traffic controller can identify your aircraft on the radar screen.)

Pilot: Roger 210.

Sometimes it felt like I was speaking a completely different language. It was quite the experience.

That is definitely a different language. And I thought corporations used a lot of abbreviations! Thank you for giving me an inside view into the life of a pilot. And thank you for sharing all your helpful advice with DBW readers today. It’s been a great pleasure to chat with you.

***

Image courtesy of Lori MacLaughlin

For more about Lori, I encourage you to check out her blog or pick up her debut novel, Lady, Thy Name is Trouble.

Do you have a question for Lori, or a comment on our interview? Please continue the conversation below. We’d love to chat with you!

Reader Poll Results: Blog Changes for Year 2

Circle_question_markThanks to everyone who participated in my reader survey. I’d like to share the results with you and talk about some upcoming changes to my blog. (Don’t worry – things aren’t going to change that much!)

Poll Question 1: I love sci-fi/fantasy, but I’m thinking about expanding to include references to other genres I enjoy, like mystery or romance. What say you?

73% of you said expand away. The rest of you are not big sci-fi/fantasy fans, so you would be happy if I wrote about other things.

I expect I will still be using a lot of sci-fi and fantasy references in my posts, but I am going to leave the door open for other inspirations to come to me as I write.

My tagline now says “Communication tips with a creative twist.” It’s official. Time to explore!

Poll Question 2: I’m thinking about occasionally posting some short stories / flash fiction. What do you think?

92% said of you said to go for it. Thank you for your faith in my capability to write good fiction stories! For those of you who like things the way they are, I’m not planning on going crazy with writing fiction. I see it as a once-in-a-while thing where I post something that I feel my readers would like. It may not happen right away, but stay tuned!

Poll Question 3: I’m thinking about posting on a regular weekly schedule. Which time of the week works best for you?

This one kind of surprised me. 75% of you said any time, any day, random goodness is fine with you. Only 8% of you wanted a consistent day. In a way that’s reassuring, since most of you will find me regardless of when I post. To keep myself honest and help me write consistently, I will pick a standard post day, with the idea that there may be the occasional extra posts thrown in. I’ll announce the new posting day after the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Poll Question 4: Which of these post types would you like to see more of in the future? (You can pick as many as you like. Hopefully, there’s at least one!)

Here’s what you asked for:
Grammar and writing tips with a creative twist     38%
Conversation Corner: interviews with tips from others 19%
Personal stories about communication         19%
DBW Reviews: Reviews of writing resources     16%
Tips on presenting and public speaking          6%
Observations on building relationships          3%

This fits nicely with what I’ve already been doing. I’ll continue to focus on creative tips, with (hopefully) regular interviews and resource reviews added in to the mix, along with some of my personal stories about communication.

Thanks again for letting me know what you think. I hope you enjoy the second year as much as I’ve enjoyed writing the first.

All the best,

Sue

 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons