Back from WisCon, Tuesday Blah

Spent the weekend at WisCon and hung out with a number of people and talked on panels. Much of my time was spent talking to new authors and readers, but I did get the chance to hang out with Matt Forbeck, Monte Cook and a few local authors. The show takes on a professional tone; it’s well-organized and gives participants the chance to honor authors like the guest of honor, Nisi Shawl. Finally got the chance to listen to Cat Valente speak (the woman is electricity in a jar!) and ran into Kelley McCullough, who read from the debut book in his new series due out in November, and Brad Beaulieu, who’s celebrating his new book. More to come on that.

Many of the conversations I had involved some element of concern for the state of the publishing industry. There is a lot of uncertainty, but one of the common pieces of advice I continue to hear is to focus on having a volume of published works (regardless of whether or not you’re self-publishing) to ensure a better chance of success.

This advice is no different than what I’ve heard five years ago or even ten. Technology may have changed, but the mantra focus on the work is a solid one. Worrying about the state of the state doesn’t get a short story submitted or sign the next contract. Jobs may come and go — jobs not related to what I want to do — but I remain. I’m an author and an artist, and no matter what I’m doing, that’ll always be there.

And I’m okay with that.

If you’re visiting my site today, you may have noticed I changed the way the categories show up on the home page. I did that, because I’ve been getting back into blogging instead of penning stuffy articles here. I’ve got several places where I’ll be writing on a monthly basis that I’ll be sharing with you, but this’ll be shifting away from the center-left parts of me toward the light. I mean right. Er. Whatever.

Since the con was pretty intense, I needed to decompress. *coughs* Beer! Well, and shooting stormtroopers in the head. Combine and mix vigorously! W00t!

‘Course, margaritas are better. Good margaritas, that is. I loves me some tequila.

Yeah, that was pretty anticlimactic, but decompression is necessary and blargh. I don’t mind conversations taking on a more serious tone, or even going to those types of conventions, but post-con suxx0rs.

The fix? Engage sushi therapy, fifteen minutes of sunlight, obligatory hugs/torments from sleepy cats and, of course, my next story.

The IP Crackdown Cometh

I’d like to call your attention to a piece of legislation floating around the Senate right now. Dubbed the “Protect IP Act of 2011,” this legislation targets the businesses and parties associated with a website that has illegal files. Read Senate Bill 968, the Protect IP Act of 2011 (PDF) here.

Unfortunately, this legislation is not very sophisticated. I understand why it was introduced, but punishing someone for linking to a source means that you’re assuming they know whether or not that content is legal. In many, many cases — they don’t. Hell, that’s even happened to me before and I do my due diligence.

In my experiences, I’ve seen sites that are set up as third parties, where they become a filter for illegal content without actually hosting the files. The DMCA does not apply to sites that “link” to illegal content, and I’m inclined to think that this tries to fill in the gap.

I don’t expect that this legislation would be used for “a” link, but the way that it’s presented makes it difficult to tell how to prosecute. The way this reads — they could. After all, an information location tool isn’t just a search engine, it’s a website. It’s a Twitter feed. Facebook. e-mail. Whatever.

Here’s the legal definition:

According to 47 USCS § 231 (5), [Title 47. Telegraphs, Telephones, and Radiotelegraphs; Chapter 5. Wire Or Radio Communication; Common Carriers; Common Carrier Regulation] the term internet information location tool means “a service that refers or links users to an online location on the World Wide Web. Such term includes directories, indices, references, pointers, and hypertext links.” — Definition of information location tool from US Legal.com

While the word “significant” was tossed in a few places, I don’t think the scope of this bill is apparent. This type of legislation would be extremely difficult to enforce on a link-by-link basis anyhow, unless they were targeting a specific site and tracked the backlinks, to file a class action lawsuit against the “pirate” and all the people who mentioned it. That process could be very time-consuming and, in some cases, result in a lot of detective work to find out where (e.g. which country) the content and website owner lives. What happens if Pirate Site Zimbabwe is linked to by a handful of people in the U.S.? If passed, the prosecution and defense of this bill could get really expensive, very quickly.

I’m concerned about the way this legislation is written and what happens when the law doesn’t work according to expectations. Will we see other, more visible changes to the ‘net dictating what we can access and what we can’t?

Part of the reason why I’m pointing this out to you, is because I feel it’s important for you to know what legislation is shaping the internet and make your own decisions as to what you feel about these laws. Regardless of what you believe, please take the time to follow sites like Wired.com and TechCrunch or net evangelists like Cory Doctorow. You don’t have to agree with everything (or even like) what these sites report, but education is the first step to understanding how you’ll be affected.

Ditching the Ego in Favor of the Basics

One of the things I’ve been doing, is nurturing my inner artist. It’s something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Not because I didn’t make room for it, but because I was hung up on something. I was never sure what that was, until a few weeks ago.

My ideas are sophisticated, but I feel like I could never “get there.” I used to be in graphic design, but I’d reach the point where I couldn’t advance, and then I’d stop. Either out of frustration or because something else, something more important came along. Then I’d meet someone, as I often tend to do, who’s very sophisticated in their craft. Either online or off, I get drawn to people whose styles I enjoy. Drew Pocza. Echo Chernik. John Kovalic. Leanne Buckley. Jeff Preston. Liz Danforth. Michael Whelan. Alex Ross. Keith Haring. Mike Mignola.

And the list goes on.

When it comes to my own artwork — whether that be calligraphy or jewelry making or whatever — I’d freeze up because I’d see these very. awesome. people. do very. awesome. things. Only, I could do those things, one day, if I had the time to practice what was already there. What I had already started to do, but abandoned because I wasn’t “good” enough to move forward.

To get around that? I’ve been going back to the basics. I’ve been focusing on technique and learning about new materials as opposed to worrying about this amazing idea for “X” that’s in my head. I’m not selling it or sharing it or doing anything other than worrying about those fundamentals. So far, I’ve started with jewelry making, but I will be expanding out from there. Each technique I learn I’m gradually moving into more advanced ideas to progress from “simple” to “complex.”

Applying This Principle to Writing


This morning, though, it occurred to me that a lot of writers experience the same thing. You have this awesome idea in your head for a novel or whatever, but you’re worried about the execution. You don’t know how to get the words to flow right on the page, so you write halfway through a story and you stop. Or you become the perpetual fan of another author, admiring what they do, because you don’t think you can do the same thing.

The thing is, dear readers, you can. You really, really can do whatever you want — provided you have the patience to learn. While creativity often has roots in natural aptitude, it’s also about having the right mindset and allowing yourself to be creative in a non-judgmental environment. That frame-of-mind requires you to remove all of your objections, all of those people who told you “I can’t” or “You’re dumb” or “You’ll never be…” and focus on the work. Or, as Christine Merrill once told me: protect the work.

Even if you’re not an experienced author, you still have work to nurture, to protect. It may be unfinished work or developing work or learning-how-to work, but it’s still yours. It’s still your baby. If you can’t write a novel right off the bat, don’t beat yourself up. Would you write a symphony if you just learned how to sing? Sure, you could be a prodigy, but most authors aren’t. Like pianists, practice makes perfect.

Instead of making excuses or apologizing for what you can’t do: remove your ego. Remove the idea that just because you can’t do something, means you’re a failure. You are not. Just get that out of your head. Think of yourself as a student and try working on the basics instead. Grammar. Punctuation. Sentence structure. Action scenes. Love scenes. Description. Etc.

And don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Not right now, not when you’re learning. Accepting criticism, dealing with editors/agents/publishers, revising and applying comments to a story is part and parcel to being a writer, but that comes further down the road. For now? Fall in love with the words. After all, if you don’t love to write, then whatever else happens next is meaningless, because in your heart — you’ve already set yourself up to fail. You’ve said: “I can’t do this because I’m not good enough.” Instead, I’m recommending that you say: “I’m new, so I’m allowed to make mistakes. One day, I will tell the story that I want to write, but right now, I’m going to focus on learning how.”

The nice thing about focusing on my artwork, is that I’ll have examples to share with you further down the road. It’s a lot harder to explain that with writing, which is one of the reasons why I highly recommend you pick up Nascence by Tobias Buckell. If you want writing advice, this is the book to get because it does something that most writing advice books don’t — show you his failures on the story level when he first started out. That, dear readers, is invaluable because that is something that’s not easy to teach. That’s something you often have to learn.

For Businesses, Social Media is Still Marketing

Someone sent me “Why I Will Never, Ever Hire a Social Media Expert” this morning and asked me what I thought. In it, Peter Shankman talks about how he’ll never hire a “social media expert.” It’s a scathing article that touches on what’s happening right now in online marketing. Namely, businesses flock to a “tool” because that’s where the audience is, but they are missing something very, very important — that it is not a replacement for a unified, cohesive marketing plan and that it’s one piece of the puzzle.

There are companies out there who run different tools as channels. Their blog is separate from their newsletter which is separate from their social media. In my opinion, this is a mistake because it’s a lot harder to maintain because often there’s no cohesive message or brand identity. Unless, of course, this is intentional. (Even though, in most cases it’s not.)

The challenge with social media and other tools like it, is the cost of implementing them offers an attractive alternative to more expensive options. Compared to direct mail or other marketing tools, they can be pretty cheap for small businesses to use. However, the ease of using something (or its popularity) to reach customers is not a replacement for a marketing plan.

While Peter’s article is pretty ranty, I can understand his frustration. It’s easy to get distracted by the “shiny,” but no new tools will ever replace the core business principles needed to be successful. Just because you have a business focus doesn’t mean you know how to message it.

The same principles are true for authors, however that is infinitely more complex. Why? Because we’re often individuals who have multi-faceted lives. So, to come up with a marketing plan on our own, without the help of a publisher, marketer or agent, is a lot harder. Right now? I don’t have a marketing plan because I am focusing on production. (e.g. Writing, submitting, revising, etc.) In other words, I’ve decided not to “market” myself, unless it’s a specific project, because it doesn’t make sense for me right now.

Regardless, having a solid marketing plan and all of the details that come with that is something I continue to recommend and encourage business owners — small or large — to do. Having that plan takes the guesswork out of a lot of things and can avoid embarrassing mistakes, poor collaboration, and help channel creativity where it’s needed.

The Hard Question for New Writers

I’ve talked about this a little before, about how we live in an age of immediacy. We have many tools that allow us to instantly connect with anyone, anywhere else in the world. I feel this connectivity is a double-edged sword because of something very simple, yet very important to all creative people.

Before I get to the whys and hows and whats of this post, I’m going to post the question first: Are you ready?

So what does that mean, anyway? Even though that sounds simple enough, there’s a lot more to it. You see, writing it’s just the process of putting words on the page or sticking up a story for readers to buy. It’s a journey. It’s the kind of journey that isn’t exciting or glorious or even fulfilling at first, because it can be very complex and grueling. After all, writing a short story isn’t the same thing as writing a novel. Writing a technical report isn’t a blog post, and it’s not marketing copy. Each form has its own function. Its own purpose.

To go from “new” to “professional” requires something that I feel the internet is obscuring. The steps — some emotional, some not — almost every writer goes through to get from Point A to Point B. The first one, of course, is to figure out what you want to write, and write that. The second is to study that form. I mean, really study it. If you like a genre, read books in that genre. Uncover why you like it. Etc. This process can take a short time or a long time, but the end result will help shift one role away from the other. Instead of being in the position of “receiver” or “consumer,” you will start to steer towards being the “creator.” This philosophical shift is huge, but often difficult to explain because being a creator resonates through every action you take — how much TV you watch, how many books you read, what music you play. The more you learn, the more you’ll go through. Emotionally, physically, mentally and even spiritually.

Where I feel the connectivity is hurting new writers is the way that it obscures and minimizes these processes. The medium facilitates immediate distribution and — in some cases — immediate creation. My blogging software allows me to type quickly and then publish the post with the click of a button. Once you’ve finished a book, all you have to do is go and publish it. Does that make you a creator? You created something and now it’s available for a consumer. So yes, right? Yes, it does — whether or not the work was ready to be published or not.

Earlier in this post, I posed a question. Are you ready? For me, this question means that it’s okay to not submit a finished novel or a short story until I feel it’s ready. It means that if I want to try a new technique, I can write a story and never submit it. I can write trunk novels or trunk passages and use them to experiment, to practice, to freshen up. With deadlines in the mix, it means that I have to gauge my time accordingly.

The idea that not everything you create has to be consumed is a freeing one, because now the decision comes back to you. If one project isn’t ready, then don’t submit it and move on to the next one. Abandon it. Use it as a learning experience. This is crucial, but especially when you’re new. Why? Because when you’re a creator, there is someone else you’re creating for — yourself. Allow yourself that luxury. Recognize it. Revel in it. Then, when you’re ready, take the next step. Whatever that is. Just don’t be afraid to say: “No, I’m not ready yet.”

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