How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

Finally, Orson Scott Card’s Hugo award-winning classic on the art and craft of writing science fiction and fantasy is available in paperback!

Card provides invaluable advice for every science fiction and fantasy writer interested in constructing stories about people, worlds and events that stretch the boundaries of the possible…and the magical. They’ll learn: * what is and isn’t science fiction and fantasy, and where their story fits in the mix * how to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world readers will want to explore * how to use the MICE quotient–milieu, idea, character and event–to structure a successful story * where the markets are, how to reach them and get published There’s no better source of information for writers working in these genres. This book will help them effectively produce exciting stories that are both fascinating and market-ready.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy is available at Amazon.com

When do you Need a Copyright?

Many writers take ownership over their work; our writing is our personal treasure stash that we are willing to share with the world. But how do we share it? We need protection, right?

Well, here’s a question that I wish more writers would consider: When do I need a copyright?

First, a caveat. I am not a lawyer, so if you’re looking for definitive “ins” and “outs” of the law, visit Copyright.gov and the nicely spelled out “What is Copyright? from the SFWA.

Onto my point. I think one of the hardest things for inexperienced authors to wrap their minds around is the legal implications of copyright and when they should buy one. Here’s an example: So I was trying to find a group of writers online with some experience when I came across one that bought copyrights for every draft story they posted online. Not one of them would even consider using Creative Commons, which blew me away. When I had broached the subject, I received a flood of comments saying everything from “I don’t know how important copyrights are” to “I have to protect my work.”

I’ve heard so many writers rushing out to “buy their rights” without realizing what they are getting for their money — because once you have rights, shouldn’t you consider what it takes to protect them? If you don’t know what that means, you should probably talk to a lawyer who specializes in copyright law, because believe me, it costs a lot more than $35.

If you’ve read books or watched movies (which I’m assuming all of you do), then you’ve probably made the comment “Oh, that’s a rip-off!” or “Oh, that’s just like Rotten Toasters from the Nebula Verse!” I’ve often heard the “twenty percent” rule floating around whenever I hear pros talk about this sort of thing, that a work only needs to be twenty percent different from the original copyright in order for it to be considered a “new work.” Although I couldn’t find the source of that, I usually don’t concern myself with “copyright infringement” rules on that level, simply because I don’t “go there.” Why?

Simple. It’s too risky, and it could damage your reputation…indefinitely.

Consider those amateur authors who think that they can write within another author’s setting — and believe that they have every right to do so. Yes, I’m talking about “fan fiction.” Probably one of the biggest misunderstandings about copyright that I’ve come across, is the belief that a writer can “write within the world of X” as long as he (or she) doesn’t address the main characters. This is a big “no-no” and was easier to find in the copyright law; it’s under “derivative works.” No matter how much you may love Harry Potter or Aragorn or Lemony Snicket, if you write anything within their setting you are in direct violation of the copyright laws. You need permission.

Don’t believe me? Ask any publisher for any “licensed” product within the Marvel Universe what their rights are. And then ask them how hard it is to actually release their action figure, poster, or deck of cards. “Licensed” means “licensed,” and writing fan fic is not a good way to get your name out there if you don’t have permission. Trust me on this one.

Here are the questions I ask myself whenever I write fiction to cover-my-butt:

    (1) Was I heavily inspired by [insert popular novel title here]? If so, how similar are my characters? Setting?(2) Can I find the name of my book or my primary characters online? If so, change them.

    (3) Where am I posting my drafts? Do I trust the source?

    (4) Do I plan on selling the work? If so, go with Creative Commons until terms are negotiated through my contract. If not, why bother?

    (5) Are my editors bound by non-disclosure agreements until the work is released?

The point I’m trying to make here, is that writers write “to sell.” I have different concerns about copyright, because the rights to my work are often a point of negotiation since I am considered an “unknown” author. It is not uncommon for new writers to make a flat-fee of $5,000 on a first novel; and not retain several of their rights. If you own every copyright flat out, agents and publishing houses will sometimes shy away from you because you appear to be very inexperienced.

So yes, I do think that authors should care about copyright, respecting other’s works, and protecting their own. But I also think that the basic premise of copyright is abused all too often; contracts often cover these rights in print, and there are ways to protect yourself online at no cost to you.

The Hidden Risk Behind Freelancer "Auction" Sites

Type in “freelancing jobs” into your favorite search engine and just watch as a slew of so-called “auction” sites pop up. A lot of fellow writers I know (including myself) have tried these places in the hopes of finding work. While many of these places have legitimate, professional opportunities, there is one major drawback to them. Other writers.

As a freelancer, sometimes you get more work than you can handle, and other times you’re wondering how you could stomach another box of macaroni and cheese. Sometimes, if you’re savings have dried up, you might negotiate for a smaller price–just to get the work. If you do, you’re not alone. It is not uncommon for a less-experienced or desperate writer to underbid everyone else for a number of different reasons; maybe they don’t know how much to charge, maybe they just simply need the money.

What happens when a writer bids too short on these sites, which may or may not charge fees for everyone, is that the buyer’s (i.e. companies and employers) expectations of how much a writer’s work is worth drops considerably. This is especially true if the company was happy with the completion of the project and the quality of the work.

How do you get around this issue? Well, there are a few things that you can do. Explore the site you’re considering thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to ask other pros what they truly think about these sites. Sometimes, another writer’s opinion can be invaluable.

By now you should know how much you’re worth. Review your writer’s portfolio to ensure your samples are in the market you’re targeting. You can check out current salary calculators or ask your references how much they would charge for a particular project, or even check with your local employment agency to help you.

Don’t be afraid to interview your employer. A few questions cannot hurt you; if a company is is afraid to answer them, then your opportunity might be a risk.

After putting all the pieces together, then you’re ready to assess your budget and see whether or not the money you are bidding is realistic. “Realistic” means, a standard rate that includes a certain level of services, which comes through your savvy probing of the employer. Is there editing or several drafts involved? Will the firm provide you with what you need to complete the assignment? Is there research involved? Is this a “group” project?

The key message that I’m trying to convey here is: do not undervalue what you are worth, because you will hurt both your chances, as well as other writers’, to earn a reasonable amount for the services you are providing. One or two projects, sure, because references are invaluable to finding new opportunities and we’ve all been known to do that from time-to-time.

If you want to make it as a freelancer or any other creative in a competitive market, it’s important for you to set standards so you not only use your time more effectively — you get paid for it, too.

Writer’s Depression: Part Two of an Essay

In Part One of this series on writers and depression, I had talked about some of the statistics and surrounding factors on this powerful, mental health topic. I had sent out various emails, trying to get more research on the subject of writing and depression, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get responses to help write this article. So instead, I will take a page from my personal files and share with you some of the things I noticed, in retrospect, that I was dealing with and methods that I, personally, took to help myself. I did find a comprehensive depression guide to help you read some medical tips on the subject.

Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression is a book of essays on the subject from other writers, and I recommend this work for other insights.

Depression, for me, is like looking at myself in the mirror too long. It becomes narcissistic, because the only voice I hear is the one in the back of my head telling me my writing isn’t good enough, or worse. Enchanted with those dark words, it turns into a kind of spell, shrouding me from seeing the bright, shining truth.

The only way, that I know how, to dispel this dark form of mental sorcery is to physically remove myself from whatever is causing my uncontrollable sadness, by remembering what it is that makes me happy, no matter how silly or stupid it may seem to someone else. It could be a new pair of shoes, or a frothing cup of real cappucino. It could be walking in a park, or spending time with your loved ones. Whatever “it” is, that thing, person or event can hold the keys to help you break yourself out of your depression.

Sometimes, yes, it is invaluable to just have someone listen to your woes and share your misery. But that too, can be addicting and, as I’ve learned, can damage friendships if you go too far.

Here are some small, inexpensive ways you can help yourself get out of that rut of “writer’s depression.”

  • Keep a “Writer’s Brag Book” Unlike a “journal,” a brag book contains anything you are proud of as a writer. From meeting word count goals to exquisitely-written passages, it’s your chance to remind yourself how awesome you are as a writer and that you HAVE achieved milestones.
  • Shift your Efforts to Research I know that depression can really put a damper in your writing, so to keep productive I would focus my efforts on research in a library. Not only does it help you get out of the house, it can turn up interesting ideas.
  • Go with What You’re Good at When your mood turns dark, it really helps to do something you’re good at. I usually make a list if I can’t think of anything, then look at my hobby activities. For me, it’s cooking so one of the ways I help myself (and others) is to make someone else a meal.
  • Walk and/or Travel You have to give yourself a break now and then, because writing is a full-time, 24-hour activity some days. Force yourself to go for a walk, or travel to some place new in your area like a coffee shop, restaurant, arboretum, or museum.
  • Teach Writing Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give a little. What better way than to teach? Whether you start a workshop or simply donate your time to your local charity, you can help bolster your confidence and get back in touch with your talents.

The key was, for me, to act–not to continue venting, speaking, and discussing that which ailed me. You see, writers can get caught up in words, because that is what we do. In order to remain healthy, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to do the exact opposite.

If you feel your writer’s depression cannot be solved through behavioral changes, please explore the facilities in your community. There is help, even free, low-cost help, if you truly need it.

Writing for the Web (What it’s Really Like)

Ever since I got my new job in April, I have been exploring another universe of copywriting as it relates to a little something called “organic search.” Organic search is all about a human typing in keywords or search phrases into Google, Yahoo! or any other search engine, and then getting specific results to your request.

The writing that I typically do at work is the idea that by using those same keywords a human types into the search bar, you can help your site get located for its great content when it gets indexed by the search engines and hopefully ranks well. The work that I do is to create readable, keyword-rich copy that’s interesting, because who wants to read crappy copy?

As I’m sure you can imagine, this type of work can get very mechanical, repetitive and very crunchy. There are tons of data tools accessible to help you with your keyword choices, but in many cases online marketers and the people you’re writing for also have their own ideas about what those keywords are. Just how granular can this be?

Think back to your first computer class where you learned about binary. Spaces, odd characters, the singular and the plural can all affect your keywords and the placement of the words on the page. So instead of thinking about themes, you end up obsessing over keywords and their placement, and crafting content around those concepts.

And yes, it can suck the creativity right out of writing…but in a way, it forces you to be more strategic about your writing and, admittedly, more focused.

Keywords and keyword themes, whether or not you write for online publications or off-line, should be tools we can all keep in mind as we write for someone else or promote ourselves. If you’ve written savvy resumes or cover letters before, you probably understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Here’s a free tool from WordTracker you can use to help you factor in some ideas. The tool gives you a rough estimate of the number of searches for the exact phrase or keyword as you type it in their search field.

If you’re interested in learning more about this particular topic, let me know and I’ll be happy to blog about some nifty newsletters and professionals with tons of experience in this area, called “search engine optimization” so you can increase your own knowledge base to help yourself keep up with the changes of the web.

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