Tag Archives: readers

Demographics of My Blog

Since I’m on a demographics kick I thought I’d post about the countries that have viewed my blog. While I’ve been writing for about 5 years, WordPress only started doing the country demographics in February of 2012. So who reads my blog? The top ten countries might be who you would expect. After all, I write in English, so the Engligh speaking nations are at the top. Plus, I’m Canadian but Canada isn’t number one. This might be because we have a relatively small population for a rather larger land mass. Of course, we modern, pampered people tend to live more toward the southern border because it’s just much nicer than freezing your ass off. And to all the Inuit, I admire the ancestral hardiness that let you survive and prosper in the Arctic, but it’s not for me.

So yes, the US is my number one reading country. We have that close proximity and the masses to bolster the readers. Canada is in second place with the Brits not far behind. Sorry, Scotland, you guys are considered part of Great Britain, but the Republic of Ireland is separate. Fourth most populous readers is India. Not only do India and China have about a third of the world’s population but one of my more popular posts was Betel Nut Adventures.

Fifth place goes to the Ozzies. Hello, Down Under. If you haven’t done so, check out the blogger from New Zealand, Ms Bunny.Eats.Design. Great fun. Next come the Philippines and Brazil. I’m not sure what draws readers to my site but I’ve written about many things so something catches the eye.

The last three spots in the top ten readers fall to Germany, the Netherlands and France. I was in the Netherlands two years ago and loved it, especially Delft and Den Bosch. Germany and France, I’ll be visiting you in about a month and I hope to post about my travels.

From polgeonow.com

From polgeonow.com

As fascinating, at the other end of the demographics are all those countries where one lone soul found me: New Caledonia, Mauritania, Togo, Anguilla, Djibouti, Congo, Malawi, Faeroe Islands, Andorra, Somalia, Swaziland, Palau, Solomon Islands, Turks and Caicos, and Cuba. What’s fascinating is that I haven’t even heard of some of these places:  Marshal Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Kiribati, Gabon. I’ve learned something new about the world.

In fact, I can say almost all of the world has seen my blog. Here are the countries who haven’t found me yet: Greenland, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Then there is a strip in Africa: Zambia, Western Sahara, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Madagascar. I would hazard a guess that Greenland might have issues of connectivity. Whereas the other nations might be too impoverished or in political unrest (or they don’t speak English). It’s just a guess because I’m certainly not up on all the African nations but it’s my best surmise.

I can’t say how accurate WordPress’s map is in showing all countries but it’s interesting to think that we can reach most of the world these days. Even if most of the world doesn’t speak English, there are smatterings everywhere.  I’d be interested in some of the less frequent visiting countries to hear what drew you to my blog. In the meantime, it was fun to see what countries have stopped by. Keep on dropping in.

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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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Writing: The Process of Rejection

Anyone who wants to be a writer should not even bother if they can’t handle rejection. Rejection is a big part of the picture and it’s your work, the very words you may have sweat blood and tears to create that gets rejected. Some people, especially first-time novelists treat their creation and more endearing that Dr. Frankenstein regarded his monster. It is their baby and any time you want to remove a piece or say it is flawed (in a critique) or reject it outright, then you are rejecting their child. Sometimes you’re pulling limbs off of their child and how could that be; it’s perfect and formed from the cerebral loins of your love?

But them’s the breaks. You win some and you lose some. If I had to give a recipe for writing and getting published it would be 30% writing, 50% perseverance and 20% resilience, to withstand the rejections. So it is, that you must withstand the rejection and is probably why many people don’t become successful writers. That and learning to write well of course.

Often when starting out a writer will get a form rejection letter or email from a slush reader. This means the story didn’t make it to the second tier, the main editor or the second round. Some publications run on committee and a piece has to get all yeas or nays to decide which way it goes. The slush reader can therefore reject a story that the editor might actually have liked. But it is not for the writer to circumvent the process and try to get to the editor past the readers.

Depending on how the system is set up, either the editor divvies up the submissions to the slush readers or the readers get them first. There are actually two ways to get past the slush pile…eventually. One is to write exceedingly well, get your stuff noticed and bought. The other is to meet the editor at a convention or other event, chat with them (without being pushy) and see if they will let you/invite you to submit to them. In those cases, you should mention in your cover letter where you met them and something about the conversation.

It won’t guarantee a sale but it might get you a personal rejection. There are also some editors who read everything that comes to them and therefore they will always do the rejections. Ellen Datlow was one and there are others. And sometimes an editor will ask for a rewrite but then reject the piece if the rewrite doesn’t do what they’re looking for. As a reader for Chizine in poetry, we’ve asked some writers to rework their poems and we never hear from them again. Being accepted by Chizine is a rare thing since there are four issues a year and about four poems per issue. I’m surprised that someone would take it so lackadaisically and pass up the opportunity for publication.

The other end of submitting work is the waiting. Most markets list their guidelines and say it takes 3-4 months to reply or 6-8 weeks or something  with an end date. A writer who starts sending query letters before that date just annoys the readers. After that date, it is fair for a writer to query and ask if the piece is still being considered. Sometimes when I do this, I get an immediate rejection, which makes me wonder if it triggers some guilt button with the readers and they just toss it out of their sight.

This happened last night with a college publication that was more than a month overdue so I send a short, are you still considering this. I received within hours, a rejection that said sorry for holding this so long but we’re going to pass. So did they read it, or did they just toss it out of their way? I don’t know and may never know. Queries do sometime prod the editors to take a look.

If a query gets no answer, then it is up to the writer to decide if they want to wait forever or submit their writing elsewhere. I don’t even bother to withdraw a story because if I can’t even get a polite response, then I’m not wasting any more time. I usually send the piece out again, making a note that I never received a response.

Any publication that has taken more than three months past their projected return date without so much as a notice will have to expect that they’ll lose good stories and poems. An editor should never get mad or upset at a writer who has moved on elsewhere because the market didn’t meet its written requirements and expectations. Just as writers should respect the guidelines of each market (even if they’re ungainly and tedious) so should an editor respect the needs of writers and that they can’t leave their story with a market indefinitely.

I have two stories (soon to be three) with markets that haven’t responded in over a year, after several queries. In these cases I’ve submitted elsewhere. Should I hear from them (as opposed to hearing they’ve gone out of business) then I’ll be surprised. Some of these markets used to be reliable but because of the economy or something in the lives of the editors, they have stopped responding. The worst length of time I had for a rejection was seven years: really at that point the editor should have admitted defeat and started afresh.

The fastest I’ve had a rejection was within six hours. Sometimes those are the worst. You don’t even have a chance to build up hopes of a sale. But then maybe they’re the best because you haven’t built up expectations. Still, I’d love to believe that all of my stories are hard choices, held till the eleventh hour, and then accepted, rejected with reluctance. We can all dream, can’t we?

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Writing: The Lovable Bastard

Several editors have said that you have to have a protagonist that the reader can identify with. If the character is a bastard, he has to be a lovable bastard. And in essence this is true. In any story, whether a short story or a novel there has to be some character that the writer can like. Often this will be the main character or one of the viewpoint characters.

The biggest problem, if you make all your characters bastards or despicable murderers, is that no one will identify with them except perhaps the odd psychopath. If no one identifies, then no one cares. The reader is not invested in seeing if the protagonist wins against her personal conflict or not. Does the hero beat the evil overlord or die a valiant death? Who cares if it’s only evil overlords battling each other…unless there is something human about them, a softer side. The evil overlord who has a little puppy that he loves dearly will garner some sympathy from the reader compared to the overlords that eat the puppies.

So why have a  lovable bastard at all? As the realm of speculative fiction writing grew and changed, it began to reflect deeper plots with more well developed characters. It wasn’t just about the giant space ship with a tachyon drive going through space with a man, any man, battling the alien elements. It was now about a specific person, a woman or a man, who was much like you and me, but placed in a different time or world. The “every man” “every woman” aspect means that we can relate to these characters because they are human. They’re flawed. They have good days and bad days, have shining aspects of their personalities and flaws that can be their downfalls.

No one is a hero twenty-four hours a day. Even the most valiant knight must eat, drink, fart, defecate and sleep. He’s human. In spec writing you may have an alien, a god, some other life form and they may be truly alien in their actions or thoughts, but if you don’t have some character that the reader identifies with it will remain too hard to fathom for the average reader. I have a story I wrote a long time ago with alien larval and insectoid creatures. No matter who I sent the story to (even when I stopped rewriting every time), one editor would find the character too alien and the next would find it too human.

Perfume, by Patrick Suskind was  a book about a man born nearly blind but with a sense of smell so acute that he could “see” with it, could tell the past and almost the future. It won the 1987 World Fantasy award and though the world portrayed was vivid and nearly magical, I didn’t like this book. The main reason was that the main character, more an antagonist than a protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was a bastard, and not lovable in the least. He was a murderer bent on procuring the ultimate scent, who had no compassion for his victims. The victims themselves are not with us long enough for the reader to care for them. The movie took a slightly different twist to probably portray a victim long enough (and her father) so that we had someone to relate to and care about.

Stephen Donaldson, many years ago, wrote the Thomas Covenant series (Lord Foul’s Bane, etc.), which encompassed two trilogies. His main character was again a bastard, a reluctant hero. Thomas Covenant, to me, was not lovable either. He was a big whiner. Being a whiner is okay in a story, if it changes, but Covenant whined until he died and then his girlfriend took over whining. The story was of larger scope than Covenant but the whining made him too unlikable.

A main character may be so flawed that they are not likable. Then the writer needs to have the faithful sidekick, the every woman that you and I feel we could be. Lane Robins handled this deftly with Maledicte. Her main character is tempestuous, jealous, vengeful and ridden by a god that darkens the soul.  Maledicte isn’t that likable but then there is Gilly, a human servant, a conflicted man who is just a man. No gods afflict him and he has no special powers. He is the simple unsung hero to Maledicte’s antihero.

Overall Maledicte is more successful as a book than Perfume when it comes to characters and making your reader care. At times I even care for Maledicte and, like any bastard who is the main character, Maledicte should change by the end of the story, and does. Grenouille never changes so that I did not care if he lived or died in the end. With Covenant, I was relieved when he died.

These three books have stuck in my memory, two becaue the characters weren’t likable and one because there was a sidekick who was. You might think this is okay then but Perfume had a unique world and I could never stomach another Donaldson book again. I tried but found the one book I tried had a character too much like Thomas Covenant. I couldn’t put up with any more “poor me” whiners through a complete series.

To have a likable character, whether faithful sidekick or lovable bastard is truly essential to almost all stories. There are exceptions but for a writer starting out, it’s a must. So here is to the lovable bastards out there; may they all have some redeeming qualities.

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The Demise of Bookstores

I spent many many years working as a book buyer in a bookstore. It was a bookstore specializing in science fiction and fantasy, as well as books to do with cartoons, animation, fantasy art and genre films. I used to know every book coming out. The bookstore was mostly a comic book store that had the book area as well as the gaming area, which had started with Dungeons & Dragons.

The comics branched into all sorts of merchandise, made hugely popular by Todd McFarlane and his toys and of course his Spawn comic creation. Dungeons & Dragonsexpanded into numerous other roleplaying games and became predominated by Warhammer. The books, well they went the way of the dinosaurs when the owner decided they weren’t profitable.

Of course the reasoning was faulty because most bookstores keep their regular customers coming in by buying the new monthly releases. All publishers have new releases and most of the major ones have both paperback and hardcovers, with the larger and more popular selections coming out before the seasonal holidays and the second largest for the ending of the school year (usually the college year but coinciding with summer as well).

The owner didn’t pay his bills on time, which meant the mass market monthly releases didn’t come out and though some people were always buying the older books (series) too, many shoppers read all the new books every month. It was a flawed logic but it still killed the book aspect of the store, except for the art books.

Over those years there were fights by many independent booksellers to protect their rights. The megastores like Chapters came along and got super deep discounts from the publisher, which meant they could lower the price of their books. Whereas the small independent bookstore would buy maybe 25 instead of 2500 of a book and couldn’t lower the price. The difference in the two types of store is that the bigger chain stores often had staff who knew nothing about books and a new book remained on the shelf for two weeks only, then was stripped and sent back. (stripping is where the cover is removed from the paperback and returned for credit since returning the cheaply printed books is not economically feasible).

The small bookstore would tend to keep a larger variety of titles on the shelf for longer, perhaps specializing in genres (antiquarian, fantasy/sf, crime/mystery, religious), and the staff would be highly knowledgeable, as well as lovers of reading themselves. But how does a little mom and pop operation compete against a corporation with business men drawing up plans for increasing revenues? They can’t and most bookstore owners do it for love, hoping they can survive, pay the rent and maybe live off the proceeds. You don’t get rich running a bookstore.

The independent booksellers had to band together across Canada to keep themselves from sinking. It worked…to a degree. In Vancouver, of the three bookstores that specialized in science fiction and fantasy (The Comicshop, Granville Books, and White Dwarf Books) only one survives, White Dwarf. Chapters expanded their sections somewhat but you’ll be hard pressed to find something really odd or obscure, or an older series but an other than top list author, unless you go to White Dwarf.

It is a constant threat and on top of the big box stores these days, there is Amazon, with their big discounts. Unfortunately people are looking more for the discounts and saving a buck or two (that they may then pay in shipping) and foregoing service and knowledgeable staff. I’ll always be a champion of the little independent store whether it’s selling pet food or books. To me, the homogenization of our society into sameness and banality will kill individual thought and creativity.

Maybe we are heading toward a completely electronic society, but not yet. With the economic crunch, it will be the demise of some bookstores and this article is worrying. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2009/02/02/bookexpo-cancelled.html This happens again and again and will happen yet again, but a plus note is that booksellers are tenacious and hopefully book lovers will survive. Here’s to the little guy, the underdog and a search for the unique shopping experience in the world of mass merchandising.

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Blog Blog Blog: A Comparison

In the blog world I have tried three different ones: Live Journal, Blogspot and WordPress.

I began Live Journal first as a way to keep track of people I knew and what they were doing, and likewise so they could see what I was doing. Some people have many people on their lists, over fifty or more. If you friend someone, they can read all of your blogs, not just the public ones. This means you can put locks on some of your posts so that no one can read them but yourself (the personal diary format) to certain groups of friended people being able to see them.

When you put someone on your friend list you can also read their posts daily as they come up. So, if you do have many many friends, it could get time consuming. Supposedly there are filters on who you want to read but I never figured them out.

A paid account gives more user account pictures that you can upload, as well as a wider range of templates to use. There is a fair amount of versatility there. You can also screen, block or allow all comments. Some people use it to invite people to teas, parties, etc. However, I didn’t always read my LJ every day and wouldn’t find out about something until after the fact. As a form of communication, when I actually asked for feedback, I would receive few to no answers. I decided it didn’t serve the purpose I wanted (email is still the better form of communication and people really didn’t care about what I posted) and in the end it became quite a time sink for reading endless blogs, often on things I wasn’t interested in either.

I started up Blogspot next and ran them concurrent. Blogspot, I saw as the more public and writerly blog. This was to inform, entertain and just write. LJ had always been the more personal stuff. When I talked to other writers, many use Blogspot/Blogger. Blogger allows some adjustment of some basic templates. LJ has the greatest number of templates, but I’ve seen a fair number of online magazines using Blogspot. Blogger also shows how many hits you’ve had. Searches do not bring up anything from LJ so if you’re looking for posts related to editors, authors or magazines, the only way you’ll find them is through word of mouth or a link on a site.

I wasn’t happy with the limited hits Blogspot received and as a writer wanted my name to be found more easily through internet search engines. I don’t have a website so I needed to somehow bring some traffic in. I had used WordPress when doing a contract blog writing job and thought it would serve that purpose. The templates are fairly basic, like Blogspot. But the traffic is naturally higher.

Blogspot has a limit on the number of tags you can enter for a post, whereas WordPress does not. With the addition of WordPress’s categories, it gives a greater range of ways that people can search topics. I am basically a writer and not that savvy on how all search engines and tags work. If I google my own name, the first two spots are for another Colleen Anderson, a musician and writer. The third spot is Mermaid Tales, which is my Blogspot blog. Fourth spot goes to the “linkedin” website of professionals by any name you search for. And fifth spot is WordPress.

I write five days a week on WordPress and post about once a week on Blogspot (or less), yet WordPress never overtakes the other in the rankings. However, I’ve run Blogger since April of 2007 and the number of hits now equals what I achieved on WordPress in just over three months. So WordPress gets more hits but when I search a topic, often Blogspot comes up first. Are there more WordPress viewers or are there more searches coming in? I’m not sure.

For this reason I’ll continue to blog on both Blogspot and WordPress. I think WordPress’s templates are more limiting but then I have checked out both recently to do a true comparison. WordPress still lets me think that people read my posts, whereas Blogspot might just be a few of my friends. Really what I should do is daily copy my posts from her to the Blogspot forum but I often can’t be bothered. When I do get a web page, I’ll incorporate my blog. LJ however, I’ve pretty much dropped altogether.

And since WordPress has just added the new feature of the poll button, here is one on the blogs.

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