Tag Archives: marketing

Writing: The Cover Art Process

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks getting Embers Amongst the Fallen ready for publication. I decided to go the electronic reader route first and chose Smashwords, which will format it for different ereaders, PDFs and html. While formatting a story is relatively easy (I have a couple of stories I will be putting up) the formatting of a book with titles, footnotes and table of contents took far more time. And even then I had to keep correcting items. Eric Warren of Creative Touch Design Group did the cover for the book. I’ve never had control of the cover before and the process was an interesting one.

cover art, writing, publishing, book covers, speculative fiction, Smashwords

One of our first tries, before I changed the title.

Eric is a friend, a writer and a great photographer. I told him that I wasn’t sure what I wanted but it needed to be darkish and smeary, with red, brown, green in it. He read a couple of stories and I filled him in on what some of the others were about. The images that caught him were ghost children, a woman being swarmed by insects and a funeral pyre. He sent me the version on the left. I liked the image of the person but I didn’t like the glaring white of the shirt. I liked the blurred features but felt the background was too indistinct. When I stood back and looked at this book there was nothing that really said fantasy or horror and it could just as easily be a book on spiritual inspiration.

writing, publishing, epublishing, speculative fiction, books, Smashwords, cover art, book covers

Version two did not have “speculations” but we thought this would help clarify the category though it has confused a few of my friends.

So we talked about it. One problem is finding enough images in the public domain where there isn’t copyright infringement. Sometimes you can change a picture enough. I liked Eric’s ideas and said can you add a wing behind one shoulder of the person? After all, there is a tale of angels in the book as well. With some hunting Eric found the right wings. Sandra Kasturi suggested I go with Embers Amongst the Fallen, taken from the title of one of my stories and much more imagistic than Temptations and Transformations. I also used Facebook to poll people.

Version 4 with image toned down and bugs added.

Version two was significantly closer. It had the blurb from Wayne Sallee, and the new title, flames and wings. But it was still too white. I didn’t like the white. And I liked the blurry androgynous figure better. This one looked like a man. To me it didn’t mesh. I was happy with the font. We decided the blurb was too busy so we dropped it.

Eric sent me a blurry and a non-blurry version because sometimes our brains envision other than reality. I also said, how about a swirl of insects coming over the body and up under “Embers.” Like an S curve, Eric asked. Yeah that’s it. Okay, it was getting better but it was still too white for me. And the font was a little too subtle in color.  I suggested taking the yellow color from the fire and using that on the font instead. The bugs looked more like ships from Star Trek and I wanted some contrasting color. I asked Eric to put a mask on the shirt and make it green and put a slash of green into the background. I also asked for one version with a cursive script just to see how it would look. Eric added a screen to the background, which also helped in texturing.

cover art, publishing, ebooks, book covers, art, design, composition

Version 7 is getting much closer. There is more depth between the background and the font and the bugs look better.

Version 7 was getting closer. But the cursive font didn’t work. Too light to be seen in a thumbnail image that Smashwords puts up on their site. Eric added in some bees and beetles that helped define the swarm better.  The flames also stood out from the background, and the greens were helping. But the shade on the shirt wasn’t right, too opaque. I asked him to make both like the background color.  Then I was fooling around in Picassa when I downloaded one of his versions and I hit one of the screens. It turned the whole thing a bit more yellow but it made the wings creamy. That’s what I wanted, no white except my name. I also suggested putting a dark green drop-shadow behind the title to differentiate it a bit more.

cover art, cover design, book covers, publishing, Creative Touch Design

Version 10, with many tweaks. At this point I posted it for comments.

We went back to the other font and added Aurora Nominee above my name. He suggested Two-Time Aurora Nominee but I thought that was too much and would be cluttered. We decided to try a few bugs over top of the font. At version 10 I asked for opinions. Overall positive, but I’d already noticed that the beetle over the “L” in Fallen cut the word too much. People said it looked like an “I”. We moved it down but it was still cutting it too much so I said, try a bee instead. We also dropped “Speculations” down a bit to differentiate it as a subtitle. Embers had also been too close to the border so I had Eric bring that down as well.

I’m quite please with how the cover turned out. Eric’s happy with it too. The important thing in designing a cover is to allow for some artistic interpretation and know your first design probably won’t stay.

writing, publishing, cover design, art concepts, cover art, book covers

Embers Amongst the Fallen available through Smashwords

Your ideas may not come out exactly as you envisioned: I know what I had in my head but it probably would have involved an illustrator. Still, this works well and I let Eric actually begin the process. Bugs and flames and wings speak of more than one thing and it references the 16 tales in this book. So here is the final version and if you would like to order an ecopy go to Smashwords. I should have a print version by the end of August and will post that when I do. Now I’m off to Alberta to the When Words Collide convention where I will be on several panels, do a reading and see if I win the Aurora Award.

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Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, fairy tales, fantasy, horror, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Sexual Segregation in Food

cannibal, man pies, cooking, meat pies, food, culture, bad advertising, marketing gone wrong

Would Hannibal like his man pies with a side of fava beans?

There are brilliant marketing ideas and then really bad ones, such as lingerie football. The newest one that caught my attention was “Man Pies.” I’m afraid that when I first heard this term I thought of something akin to cowpies but made by humans. Then I thought of some delicacy that Sweeney Todd would make and a cannibal would like, manpies. Yum yum.

But no, this isn’t some wacky horror tale; it’s story tale of marketing gone wrong. But hey, maybe I’m wrong, maybe these man pies are made by men and someone thought that was a good idea for a name. The team of man pie makers consists of creator Bryce Sharp, Amy Burn and Daniel Henry. People often think some names are great without really sounding them out or looking at them from different perspectives. Besides the unfortunate associations of this name, there is a worse undercurrent to the reference.

man pies, food, meat pies, cooking, savory, cannibals, meat, bad marketing

What a man pie really looks like.

But what, I’m sure you’re asking, exactly are man pies? They’re meat pies, plain andsimple. The company is out of Bellingham and uses locally raised ingredients. These pies include such delectables as Indian Curry, Spicy Pork and Beans and Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant pies, to name a few. While the site shows healthy and the mouth watering pies, I’m a little aghast at the suggestion here that these pies have to be so named to get men to eat them. I first heard about this company on the radio and at least that’s the thrust the announcers gave. Make manly pies for manly men, because you know, men are just not gonna want to eat cream pies or lemon meringue. Really? Really? What, are these pies too girly and fluffy for real men to eat?

While I’m sure this company is doing really well with their wholesome and delicious pies, I really wonder at the need to bring the genders into food. Next we’ll see Girl Cakes, Woman Waffles, and Boy Burgers. Yikes! Seriously, folks, while you’re making a great product, you probably want to keep the cannibals away. Tasty food is great, but marketing in poor taste doesn’t help.

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Filed under Culture, food, humor

Procter & Gamble and the Man in the Moon

The original Procter & Gamble logo.

Once upon a time two men, William Procter and James Gamble, formed a business. It’s genesis began in 1837 with the sale of candles and soap. The US was in a financial crisis and was rumored to be broke but the men persevered with what would have been essentials at that time. Electricity was still in the future.

Dock hands, handling shipments of the candles, would mark the boxes with a crude star to differentiate them from other merchandise. It seems this mark bloomed into the Star Candles brand and eventually the stars appeared in a semi-official capacity as the company grew (or maybe they marked the Star Candles boxes with a crude star). By 1859 the company was making a million dollars, a quite substantial amount for those days.

As Procter & Gamble grew the stars on the candle boxes solidified and a logo was born in 1851, with thirteen stars and a man in the moon with luxuriant curling beard. If you know anything of the art styles of the period, you will understand that this logo, shown above, was as precursor to the stylized, swooping swirls of the Art Nouveau period. Part of the Romantic period in art, the design is not unusual for the time in style. My guess (as it’s hard to find out what the founders originally intended) is that the stars played significantly in the company’s brand evolution. From those stars, they became stylized and it’s said that there are 13 to represent the 13 original colonies of the United States.

Procter & Gamble, Satanic symbols, logos, branding

The new P&G logo.

Considering that Procter & Gamble supplied soap and candles to the Union army during the Civil War, it seems likely that they had some form of patriotism and pride for their roots in the United States. Shortly after this, they began making Ivory soap, among many other products. The logo was a longstanding icon for Procter & Gamble, and if you have ever used Crest, Crisco, Downy, Bounce, Charmin, Duracell, Gillette, Olay, Pampers, Tide or a host of other products, then chances are you might have noticed the little man in the moon with the stars on the back of the packaging. In fact, today Procter & Gambler (more commonly called P&G now as we’ve reached the age of abbreviation and acronyms) is the 6th most profitable corporation in the world and 5th in the US with only a few like Exxon, Microsoft, Apple and Walmart ahead of it.

Consider that this logo existed from the 1850s to to the 1980s before some latent ruckus arose. And what was it in the era that spawned supposed Satanic messages in rock n roll records played backwards that got people up in arms over Procter & Gamble? The stars numbered 13. Good lord! It’s the devil’s number and if you reverse the beard you see 666 and if you get drunk and draw lines from one star to the next you see more sixes. It’s more bizarre that the US dollar bills have an eye in a pyramid (Masonic ties and there’s a secret society there) than the man in the moon and the 13 stars.

But rumors spread and Procter & Gamble battled defamation and slander suits for many years. Interestingly, most of these rumors of the Satanic relationship stemmed from Amway distributors, who in fact have been accused of having cultlike activities, running pyramid schemes and being tied closely with the very conservative far Christian right. Now who seems more likely to have suspicious dealings?

Personally I find this logo has personality as opposed to modern and very sterile logos, including the new P&G logo. Branding is a powerful thing. Procter & Gamble had been in business far too long with their logo to bow to a bunch of superstitious nut jobs wanting to tarnish their image. Probably Amway’s true reason was to knock down P&G’s position in the corporate hierarchy. It might have made a dint but not that much and Amway, though powerful, has had to ride more waves of trouble than P&G. Unlike Starbucks who seemed to bow to public pressure (of a few) and kept changing their logo, P&G did not, until they hit an era of modernization. Did the logo changes or stasis affect these companies? Probably not much because they both have very strong products that hold up against the people with too much time on their hands.

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Filed under consumer affairs, Culture, history, myth, religion, shopping

Judging the Book by the Cover

On my “About Colleen” page I allow comments but do not approve them for viewing. I had to laugh at the very long comment I received in which I was told that I don’t take “good enough care of yourself and your career” with my hair going every which way. I was told I look a bit “balmy” but I’m not even sure what that means. Is that British slang? So let’s start with my image, which coincidentally I was going to change but I just can’t now. My hair is in what we call here in North America an up-doo. Most of the hair is pinned up in looping curls with a few curls hanging down. The every which way this person commented on is actually something on the wall behind my head and possibly the chopsticks that were in my hair. The rest of the cropped out photo had me in long white gloves and a lace shawl, wearing a corset and holding three books in which my erotic writing has been published.

But it’s nice to know someone can psychologically analyze me from one picture alone. I have revealed aspects of my past life on here and talked openly about the fact that I was abused. But not every abused person is an emotional wreck nor a slob. So although this person decided that I was uh, balmy from one photo, one photo does not a person make. Think costume, folks. I like to dress up. And should you ever interview people who know me they will almost all say I have a strong sense of style. But maybe I can use this when I sell my novel: by the balmy writer, Colleen Anderson.

I was also told to “join Debtors Anonymous if I were you, where you will find others of the creative type who refuse to acknowledge that they need to make a living with their art and remain scattered and disorganized.” Hmm, Debtors Anonymous is not where one goes to make a living but where one goes to manage debts out of control. I’m sure I’ve said little about my monetary lifestyle and I am happily making a living. At times I have made a living off of my writing and at other times it supplements my income. If I surveyed most of the members of SF Canada (where I was once president to help organize things) there would be less than 5% who make their living off of writing. Even when selling a novel, chances are that unless you’re doing three a year you may not make a living. We all can’t be as lucky as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. 🙂 I would also like to say that people who have debts are not just artists. All sorts of people end up in huge debt-owing situations, especially with the economy of the past couple years. Let’s not stigmatize artists as all owing money and being scattered and disorganized. Try writing a blog five days a week for two years and see how scattered that makes you.

Now she did give some advice for artists though some of these points go against the ability of a debt-owing artist and are a little too all-encompassing. “If you can write poetry, draw, write and edit and sculpt, why not establish yourself in an art gallery that you start with others cooperatively, while maintaining control of the exhibits and publicity?” Writing is pretty hard to display in a gallery and where would a scattered and disorganized artist get the money to rent or buy a gallery? These things can be done but running a gallery is a different ball of wax from creating art. Still, it’s not a bad idea if I was doing more than writing. Better to own a bookstore than a gallery if you’re a writer.

Craft a career with real direction instead of wandering about aimlessly, hoping to ghost write other peoples’ lives.” Errr…really? Ghost write other people’s lives? I don’t think I’ve done this except for the lives I’ve made up. Ghost writing, if done properly, can be very lucrative. I would never ghost write for anyone who didn’t pay professional wages. I kinda wish I could wander aimlessly. Writing can only be accomplished by…writing and that takes solitary time and dedication. As I’ve said before, perseverance is a large part of the recipe.

You can then properly exhibit all your creations, package and market your poetry books and novels and short stories and articles properly while helping other creative artists to get their own products out there for sale.” Oof, when I do this I hope to be editing a magazine or part of a publishing house. I can package and market my books but it is infinitely better if they’re not all self-published. There are some very good self-publishing ventures these days that some of my friends have decided to go for as the publishing market gets tighter.  I may look at this option in the future but it does take a certain amount of capital to begin, not something a person in Debtors Anonymous could afford though.

Hosting a weekly party with fresh invites out each time can bring new audiences into the space to expand your reputations and putting flyers on windshields to announce your openings which occur regularly can bring in people, too. Everybody will show up for a bit of juice and food, especially if music is playing. Put out a tip jar in front of the musicians, so a variety of musicians will do the honors for your entertainments.” Don’t forget that juice and food, and gallery space, and flyers all take money. They are not heaven sent. But to put out flyers if you have a reading or send invites is a good thing to do and of course, galleries should have invite lists when they’re starting.

If I thought my mother read the internet I would thank her for her opinion. Likewise, I thank this person for concern in my welfare, even if based on a lot of assumptions. Still, brainstorming on ways to publicize and suggestions as she gave are not bad and can always be used by someone.

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The Kiss of Death

One might think this is a euphemism for a vampire’s love bite, or perhaps the last sarcastically sensual act of a femme fatale. However I’m talking about the kiss of death as a writer. Now it can be interpreted several different ways but I have managed to be the kiss of death quite a few times.

What I mean is this: you get an acceptance from a publisher/editor for a piece in their magazine and then you either find out that the magazine is folding with the issue before the one that would have your story/poem in it, or they say, “We loved this story and would have published it, but we are closing down the magazine.” And then the story never ever sells to anyone ever.

If I had a credit list of all the publications that have said they would take the story but so long, I would have sold another six pieces of fiction. Perhaps the worst/best example of this was a new SF magazine to which I sent a story for their inaugural issue. I received a letter back saying my story had been “excepted.” As opposed to “accepted” which means to include, except means to exclude. I thought the story had been rejected but as I read through the letter, the opposite was true. I guess that was the first sign of a doomed publication.

I signed a contract, and they sent me a cheque, and…the first issue never came out. But I still had a contract that said it was theirs until printed. After a year I contacted SFWA and asked the contract committee to help. So they told me to send a letter to the publisher indicating that since the magazine seemed to have ceased to exist that I was withdrawing the story. It was worded differently but didn’t leave my story in limb forever.

When there was a spate of magazines that said they would have published this or that but they were closing down I began to wonder if I was the kiss of death and by accepting my piece they had doomed themselves. Of course, that is nothing but ego and the belief in a power I don’t have. The truth is that many writers would have found themselves in the same boat and that many magazines come and go like the flow of the tide.

Funding disappears, editors get sick, quit or get different jobs (since often editing a magazine is a part time job or a labor of love), or are disorganized, and reader interest may flag for any number of reasons. These all affect the longevity of a magazine, whether it’s online or in print.

A successful magazine takes constant advertising, through ads in other magazines, books, websites as well as promotions: buy a subscription and get a discount, buy this magazine at this convention or launch and get two for the price of one, etc. Magazines have to become known and that means more than just by word of mouth though reviews and other editors, writers, readers or publishers may help, a magazine can’t become complacent because there is always more competition.

Of course a magazine has to deliver what readers want as well but the ongoing, marketing, advertising, printing and distribution is a constant issue to  deal with. These aspects are truly what can be the kiss of death to a magazine, not the author with eldritch power.

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Harlequin Begins Vanity Press

Anyone who knows anything about vanity presses knows that they’re not respected on several levels when it comes to publishing and being published. A vanity press is called thus because it caters to a would-be writer’s vanity. In other words, a work may be published without any editorial process taking place. This means any piece of drek, shopping list, or untethered ramblings will be printed if one has the funds to bring it to fruition.

Vanity presses often take advantage of unsuspecting new writers who aren’t aware of the full process. For a fee the press will publish your book. Or you have won a contest and your poem/story will appear in the lovely print edition and you can order a copy for $34.95. The publisher doesn’t pay you for your work and basically puts your work, no matter how bad, into the volume so that you, your friends and family will buy copies to show that you’re a published author, not realizing that this isn’t the real realm of publishing.

What happens is that writers are paying the publisher and that’s who buys the books. It isn’t readers interested in the story, just a very small group or just the writer. Little to nothing is spent on marketing and what is, is aimed at the person who submitted the work.

In the past I submitted poems to a poetry contest, only to find out I had “won” and that it was a vanity press. I withdrew my pieces and never looked at those “publishers” again. Self-publishing is also considered vanity press even if someone else (a printer or book packager) puts the book together. A person who pays on their own (as opposed to so-called winners) to have a book edited, laid out, printed and bound is usually considered to be vanity publishing unless they’re trying to put out other books besides their own. They might still have to go through the very hard work of marketing and distribution. Without these important elements, the books sit in the basement.

Small presses should not be confused with vanity publishing. Those who venture on their own to publish their books do so for a variety of reasons. The book may have been turned down by agents and publishers, or the person may want to get a message out there or just sell on their own for whatever reason. Sometimes a self-published book is picked up by a major publisher. But that is a very rare thing. Otherwise, a person makes a cost outlay of anywhere from $1000 to $10,000-plus for editing, production and publishing of their book and if they’re lucky, they may recoup what they put into it. Often they don’t make back their cost so the pay to play.

It is alarming and very odd when a  well-established publisher decides to start another imprint whose sole purpose is to be a vanity press. Harlequin is the biggest romance publisher in the world and has a huge sell-through rate on their titles. They shouldn’t be hurting for money. But they decided to team up with a print-on-demand vanity press call Author Solutions. After outcries from the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Harlequin has taken the name of Harlequin Horizons off of the imprint.

Harlequin reported amazement and as of today changed the name to DellArte Press Book Publishing Services. However, RWA said Harlequin books would not be eligible for any awards and SFWA said all Harlequin books/stories would not count as eligible as a membership fulfillment unless they removed themselves from self-publishing. I doubt the name change will be enough for RWA and SFWA.

I can’t help but wonder why Harlequin even needs to get involved. They’ve been branching out into supernatural and SF romance and shouldn’t need to dupe dewy-eyed writers into parting with money to see their names in print and in hopes of getting to be a Harlequin author. Letting a would-be author think they have a chance of getting their story picked up by first self-publishing it is disingenuous. I checked out DellArte, which has little price packages that start at $599 to $1,599, but that only gets you 5 to 25 free copies, and after that you’re paying extra. That doesn’t cover a full edit at all either and even at $342 (editing services)  it will give you a partial review of a chapter or two. You’ll pay for other copies and I’m sure by the time you’re done you’ll have forked out at least $5,000. If the cover price of a trade paperback (the size they’re advertising) is $14.99 (very cheap and probably higher) and you get it at say, 40% off of cost (the regular retailer discount), that means you make $6 and would need to sell around 833 copies to break even.

Not that many if you’re marketed like Stephen King. But chances are there is little marketing and you’ll have to do most on your own. DellArte offers in the upper end of prices a standard publicity program, which really amounts to a written press release. You still have to do the marketing and distribution is probably all in your lap. So you’re in the same seat as if you went out and found a printer on your own. I’d be interested to know why Harlequin even thought they needed to do this. For various takes on this, follow the links.

 http://www.sfwa.org/2009/11/sfwa-statement-on-harlequins-self-publishing-imprint/

http://www.dellartepress.com/

PublishersWeekly

I also wrote them as if I was a new author with my book ready to publish in 1-3 months. They said someone would get back to me and what I received was a computer generated reply, which follows:

Congratulations on starting a new chapter of your life by exploring self-publishing. We are glad you contacted DellArte Press to start your publishing journey.
 
DellArte Press is designed to help aspiring romance and women’s fiction writers publish their books and achieve their dreams. No matter what the end goal for your book is we have the resources and staff to help you reach that goal. Our professional support team will walk with you every step of the way, so please let us know how we can assist you.
 
Your first chapter in publishing is to explore our Standard and Specialty Publishing Packages. Please visit our Publishing Packages page on our Web site to see how each package uniquely meets your publishing needs. We also offer additional services you can add to your package to give your book the professional and polished edge it deserves.
 
We’re here to help you select the best package for you, and we’ll be in touch soon to discuss your specific book and your goals. If you are ready to get started right away, you can call us at(877) 217-3420 or e-mail
customersupport@dellartepress.com.
 
Publishing with DellArte Press offers several advantages:
Discovery Opportunities – Titles published through DellArte Press will be monitored for possible pickup by DellArte’s traditional imprints
Global Distribution – Extensive distribution networks through Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com and others ensure that your book can be purchased by anyone, anytime, anywhere
Creative Control – It’s your book from start to finish
Professional Editors – Choose to utilize our editors to ensure your book is error free
Effective Marketing – Hire a publicist, have a video book trailer created, set up an author Web site and more
Accessible Support – Easy access to our professional support staff so you’re never left to answer questions on your own
Next Steps: Define Your Desire
 
Your next step is to define your goals and desires for your book. Whether you want to publish just for fun or to achieve commercial success, we can help. One of our Publishing Consultants will work with you to determine the best options for your publishing needs so your goals are met. In the meantime, if you have questions, please call (877) 217-3420 or visit our Web site at
www.dellartepress.com.
 
We understand that your time is precious and you may not always have a lot of time for yourself. We encourage you to indulge your passion for writing and begin the next chapter of your life as a published author. We look forward to working with you to help make that dream come true.
 
Sincerely,

The Dell Arte Press Team
DellArte Press
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
Phone: (877) 217-3420
Fax: (812) 355-1561

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Writing: The Great Wheel of Publishing

 This wheel is large and ungainly, held together with sweat, tears, slush pile manuscripts, spit, unbought or returned books and elbow grease. It lumbers along, turning ever so slowly, sometimes looking more as if it will tumble over then keep rolling. But roll it does, usually, sometimes losing an author, or a novel, some staff or advertising revenue. It does not turn smoothly but continues until the gap of lost material becomes so big that the wheel must be overhauled.

Such is the case with various publishers along the long road of years. Ten years ago I was trying to get copy editing work with US publishers. This Herculean task met many difficulties. Publishers and the editors in charge are over-busy, always reading and procuring manuscripts and then going through the myriad phases of production. Send a letter and if it isn’t imperative to answer (we want your manuscript, pay our invoice) it never gets answered, not even if you include a SASE and you’re looking for employment. The next stage is to phone and hope you get the right editor in the right department. Should you call and only get their voicemail, presume they won’t return your call. And if you live on the west coast and have a three-hour time difference it will take early hours and a crystal ball to figure out the best time and day to try and catch and editor. Give up on Fridays altogether.

Should you get through these first layers of the publishing house inferno, you will most likely get a copy editing test. Once that’s done you send it back. I did two over two-three years with Tor, where they subsequently lost the test both times. Then said oh well you have to go through St. Martins as they’re our boss. Uh, they didn’t know this beforehand when they gave me the test? And Ace gave me the test; I sent it back and heard nothing. When I queried twice they said, oh we can’t hire Canadians. I didn’t know that when I sent you a test. Great, I’ve had a lot of practice with editing tests.

With Harper Collins, I passed the test. Then they sent me disks because they used a specific computer-based editing system. (This was about ten years ago and I’m not sure Word’s track changes feature was that developed then.) So, I received the disks but then had to buy a new computer because I didn’t have the memory capacity. At that time the guy who was going to train me was on holidays for a month. When he got back, he quit. So they were then trying to find someone else. In that time, they also bought out Avon books.

What ensued was two years of frustration and nary a job out of it. The editor I was dealing with was transferred to a different dept., then let go. Others came and went. I was given various names of people and would call every month. Each time I had to explain the situation who I had talked to, where it had changed, what area of copy editing I specialized in (SF/spec fiction) etc. Each time, it was a different person, a new department, a new system. Two years of calling every month after being told I would be hired as a freelancer and I never got one job out of it. But I had a bigger, better computer.

Over the years I have edited for a few US publishers and Canadian publishers but the sheer frustration of getting New York publishers was enough to stop most people. You really do have to live there. The longest stint I had copy editing with one publisher was three years or so with Byron Preiss book packagers (now gone the way of the dodo). And I got my first job because I was at the World Fantasy Convention standing in the lineup for the hotel. The guy in front told me he had just got a promotion to editor and I said, hey do you need any copy editors. He said send a resume when you get back but before I could he called because he had a rush job. Keith DeCandido gave me my first real break in copy editing. He quit before the company imploded and I had stopped doing work form them before that because getting paid was becoming difficult. He now writes novels. I now think of writing my novel, still copy edit and still write.

Other hurdles in the publishing world are managing editors who ask you to copy edit but don’t clarify by how much. Some publishers (or working on some authors) means that you’re required to only correct typos and punctuation. Copy editing is more than this and includes correcting sentence structure and continuity. It can be structural editing, which looks at the overall structure of chapters, pacing and flow, or very close to proofreading. Over the years I have found most companies who wanted proofreading really wanted more than that.

It’s common for individuals looking for an editor to say they want proofreading when in almost all cases they mean copy editing. It can be confusing for the new writer but just as confusing for the freelance editor. I’ve had publishers cancel a project in the middle (they were moving into movies, but did pay for what I’d ) or wanting a book padded (requiring that one line paragraphs be left in and the worst sentences be reworked but not deleted).

Publishing houses usually have a house style and often a style sheet. If they don’t give me one, I usually ask if they have a house style as it can affect the overall product. I’ve started to see some weird things in some books of late. Tor is an American publisher yet I’ve seen a book or two done with British spellings. In one case it may have been to give it the flavor of an earlier era as it was about a world in the 1800s.

But editing and acquisition of books are just a couple spokes of that great wheel. There is design production, advertising, marketing, distribution, return and paying the employees, artists and authors. Some spokes seem to have more weight, or, if you were looking a wooden wheel, some would be sturdier or decorated, but without all of the spokes the wheel fails. And to carry the analogy to the end the hub of the wheel is the writer and the publisher. Without the writer there is no story to sell. Without the publisher there are still stories but it’s harder to get them out to the public.

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Writing: The Ghettoization of Speculative Fiction?

CBC, ghettoizing SF, bad science fiction, badly written fantasy

From a 50s B-movie. Unfortunately some people think SF novels are still like this.

Yesterday on CBC Radio’s Q, Jian Ghomeshi talked with Clive Thompson about the ghettoization of speculative fiction or whether William Gibson was the next Tolstoy. Thompson was extolling the virtues of SF, sort of. Or damning with faint praise. Below is the response that I sent, which I also put here in case CBC decides they have moral rights on my opinion.

Dear Jian,

 

I’m not quite sure what to make of the speaker Clive Thompson you had on talking about SF, science fiction, or speculative fiction since it encompassed both science fiction and fantasy works.

 

I write here as an individual but also as the president of SF Canada whose members consist of professional writers and others in the speculative fiction community. I missed the first part of Thompson’s conversation but I also express here views of the members of SF Canada.

 

Although Clive was supposed to be regaling the virtues of SF, he sounded uninformed in many ways. As a reader he seemed to exhibit huge gaps in knowledge when he said that most SF is badly written, misogynistic, dominated by men. And he gave Heinlein and Dick as examples. Robert Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick were in their heyday in the 60s and 70s; that’s at least 30-40 years ago. Taken in context, Heinlein was no different than many authors (whether SF or not) of the day, and some of his views on relationships were far reaching for the time.

 

Thompson did mention Cory Doctorow, who is a Canadian but there was a huge gap in between. (Doctorow’s book has been nominated for this year’s Nebula awards.) Some of the bigger names in speculative fiction may be men but there are many women writing and of merit: Ursula Le Guin, Kij Johnson, Pat Cadigan, Pat Murphy (of old, Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Anne McCaffery), Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kris Rusch, Nalo Hopkinson, etc.

 

If he was talking Canadian speculative fiction, then he was all over the map with his observations so I must presume this was about SF in general. There is very little that is published these days that would be misogynistic unless it was showing a particular culture. Much is extremely well written and if you ask Michael Chabon, winner of both SF awards and the Pulitzer, he places more value on his SF awards.

 

Basically Thompson picked some of the worst or most dated examples for his points. It would have been better to see more current knowledge that goes beyond Margaret Atwood.

 

As for ghettoization, well there is good and bad writing in all genres. He spoke about the issue of whether one would place Oryx & Crake on literary or SF shelves and how it was confusing for publishers. I spent 20 years in the book industry as book rep and book buyer (for a store). This doesn’t confuse the publishers as they are the ones that came up with the categories through their marketing departments. A book will be marketed to the group that they think will buy the most copies. The cover will be changed accordingly. So in essence it is the publisher that has ghettoized all genres.

 

As to the attitude toward SF, well it depends. What sells the best in movie theatres, and is often based off of a book? There is indeed a snobby attitude that only literary is real writing and many of those writers who do write speculative stories adamantly say that it is not of that ilk. My creative writing degree did not include speculative fiction because of the attitude at the university that the only good writer was a dead white man. I would argue that erotic fiction and romances have a lower spot in the old world thinker’s eyes of “genre” and ghettoization, even though they may sell better. Harlequin romances have some of the highest sell-through rates of any books. Are they good? I don’t know as I haven’t read one.

 

Thompson also mentioned that SF is doing quite well. On one level yes, on another, not so much. Fantasy still outsells science fiction and in many cases editors are begging for science fiction stories. But sales of speculative fiction? Yes, the Harry Potter series can speak to that.

 

Next time, when talking about SF and whether William Gibson (an expat American living in Canada) is the next Tolstoy, it would be great to have someone up to date on current speculative fiction trends. Heck, try Neil Gaiman who you talked with a couple of weeks ago, or contact SF Canada and we’ll send you a boatload of opinions by Canadians.

 

Regards,

Colleen Anderson

President

SF Canada

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The Idiocy of Retail

On one of the writers’ lists, we ended up discussing shopping experiences this week. It began with someone going into Chapters and being asked no less than twelve times in as many minutes if he was finding what he wanted. Most people decided they’d rather have no service than service that killed any joy in shopping, or more in a bookstore, browsing.

I had the reverse experience in Future Shop where the CDs were so mixed up I could find nothing. The store wasn’t that busy but when I looked for a clerk, he was watching TV. I didn’t buy anything there.

Service has always had its ups and downs. You either have overly helpful clerks who don’t know when to give you space (like the overattentive waiter) to those that are too busy chatting to each other or fixing makeup or watching TV to actually do their jobs. And then there are the ones too clueless to hold the job: they don’t know their stock or as was the case in Calgary at a restaurant, the waitress didn’t know what alcohol was besides beer.

There are the clerks who are truly helpful. They’re visible but they don’t crowd you. They stay alert and notice when you start to look around for help or have that bewildered deer in the headlights look. It seems rarer these days. I’m more likely to go back to a store that has good service and have walked out of stores with no service or bad service.

Like at The Bay. I was looking for skirts and carrying a couple on hangers as I walked around. It seems one was touching the floor and this clerk with no manners came up and said, “You’re dragging the skirts. You’ll ruin them,” and wrenched them out of my hand. Where was the mud? She could have said, “Can I put those in a room for you,” but she didn’t. I turned around and walked out. When I tried to find The Bay’s address/email online so I could write a letter of complaint, could I find anything pertinent or even a customer service line? Nothing. This way The Bay is assured of only having good reports. I didn’t shop there for many months because of the rude behavior. After all, there are plenty of stores.

I might just be a crank but I do expect to be treated with the same attentiveness I would give someone if I had those jobs. And I have, in the past. I’ve been a waitress. I’ve been a store monkey.

Another aspect of idiot retailing is the lengths stores will go to help perpetuate a myth. The myth of the ideal body. Women are supposed to be caricatures of the ideal female. We’re supposed to have large puffy lips, large but not pendulous breasts, narrow waists and boylike hips. Botox will give you the lips and implants will give you the breasts. But should you want the cheaper way of getting the larger bustline, the stores have helped. I’ve not changed in inches but I now wear a C cup because it is far more desirable than a B cup. Bras are also padded in a variety of ways to increase the illusion of bustiness.

Le Chateau has taken sizing to ridiculous heights where no one wants to be seen as wearing large. You’ll be lucky if you find a large in the store but you’ll find medium, small, extra small, extra extra small and extra extra extra small. WTF? I’ve bought an extra small and still found it too big. Petite is better in their books where a small would probably equate to a size 10. Even stores that have numbered sizing have changed it. A size 8 is now larger than it once was. I find that depending where I shop, I can wear anything from a small (or extra extra small) to a large, or a size 3 to a size 12. Perhaps everything should just be a free size these days because the numbers don’t matter.

Starbucks takes this in the other direction. No one wants to pay five bucks for a small coffee so the small is a tall, the medium is a grande and when they ran out of words in common English usage for large, they went to venti. What’s that, Italian? So there is a small English, a medium French and a large Italian. When it comes to food we want grande, super size, mega large, but when it comes to fitting ourselves into clothes we want petite and super extra mini small. Unless you’re a man. Maybe shoulder widths on jackets have expanded as well for those manly, super hero broad shoulders.

But as one person pointed out on the list, there is a plethora of interesting names for condoms including iron grip and super strength. The sizing is hidden but there is never a small.

May all your shopping experiences have medium attention from the clerks and the prices be super extra extra cheap and the bargains be mega uber mondo grande.

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T’is the Season…

…for gross consumerism. Once upon a time it used to be that Christmas began in December and actually meant something spiritual. (I’m picking on the Christian, sort of, holiday because I don’t know if other faiths go mass market this time of year.) Then stores decided it was best to put out all the seasonally afflicted merchandise at the beginning of the month. Soon, it seemed like a smart thing to put out the holiday decorations right after US Thanksgiving. Get all the turkey, fall and feasting goods done with, then there is room on the shelves for the next festivity. But someone decided that Thanksgiving wasn’t big enough or didn’t dent the shelves with related crap, so Christmas decorations and lights and cards started coming out after Hallowe’en. We’re now two months before Christmas and that hasn’t been enough. This year, I saw Christmas related crapola in stores in September. Soon, we’ll have it year round.

This frantic marketing makes me less seasonally cheerful and downright grumpy. A festive occasion is just that, an occasion, not a year-long extravaganza. It takes the specialness of the time away when one is inundated with the same driveling songs for months, though I notice that the stores do hold off on the tunes or their employees would go postal. But seeing the ho ho ho bits and garlands and cards and hats and stockings and lights etc. really kills the feeling for me.

But what is at the root of all this? Obviously it’s greed, and probably the whole fear around the economy has whipped store execs into a froth where they’re pushing everything onto shelves early. Buy buy buy, more more more. Make it super duper very bright, large and festive and red and green. It’s enough to make all the reindeer drink until their noses are red.

The problem is that our society is based on a consumerism that is supposed to always grow. Sell more cars, sell more clothes, sell more everything or we can’t get bonuses and more money to buy more stuff. What happens when the quantity stays the same in consumer purchases? Take cars for example. You can’t price them out of everyone’s pocketbook, but there’s another way around it. Make them so they don’t last as long. A Model T Ford could run for fifty years but we’re lucky now if we get cars that make it to ten years. Planned obsolescence. Printers are the same. They cost less than a hundred bucks to buy but the ink cartridges that you have to keep using (and therefore should be cheaper because of mass consumption) are $60-$80. Not because ink is that expensive but because the company has to make money. Some printers are designed to eat ink every time you turn them on so feasibly you could use up a cartridge without printing a page (I got rid of that one fairly quickly.)

What happens when we have enough, when growth stays the same? Or what happens when the baby boomers stop buying and the next gen buys less? Panic. Maybe the economy fireworks didn’t have to happen right now but it was bound to happen sooner or later. I thankfully, have only worked for one company where “grow grow grow” was their motto mixed with a lack of understanding people. People left on stress leave and others were walked out the door almost regularly. I hear this company was bought by a company wich was bought by a company and that more changes are happening. I’d rather slide down razor blades into a vat of vinegar than work there again.

So be prepared. Those Boxing Day sales have become Boxing week sales and pre-Christmas/Boxing week sales. They’re about to become Christmas month sales and yet there will be more and more and more stuff. Costco has mass Santa suits that you can buy for cheap. Now every little Santa will look the same. How sweet. And if you think that Santa at the North Pole is kept busy with all his elves working over time because of the mass merchandising, think again. The little fellas have been laid off to cut costs and because everything was farmed out to a third world nation where the kids get to toil for twenty hours a day. Ho ho ho, enjoy the consumerism.

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