Duotrope?

So, here’s something interesting: a platform that helps you scope out something over 6100 markets for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays. It’s called Duotrope.

The intriguing aspect of this resource is that it goes well beyond a simple Writer’s Markety listing of potential publishers for your golden words. It provides access to a database of statistics that can tell you, for example, the acceptance rate of given publications, markets most liked by Duotrope respondents, and search statistics showing what other people look for.

It also has a tool to help you keep track of submissions (you don’t have a calendar on your computer??), a collection of editor interviews (always useful for getting a sense of the readers targeted by a publication and how the editors try to reach them), and market listings showing what editors are looking for, acceptance rates, and pay rates.

Unfortunately, it has a paywall: a $5/month membership fee. But that’s not unreasonable: all you’d need is one paid article to more than cover that. In reviewing Duotrope over at Juggling Writer back in 2012, Bartleby Snopes founding editor Nathaniel Tower concludes that its statistics are reasonably accurate, and, if you intend to use the site seriously as a tool to locate markets for your literary maunderings, it’s worth the cost.

There are some free alternatives, BTW, but none seems to cover the number of publications listed by Duotrope.

New Pages Literary and alternative magazines
Ralan Speculative and humor
Every Writer Literary journals
Fiction Factor Wide range of genres; e-publishers & print

Me? I think I probably will subscribe to Duotrope, after taking advantage of their seven-day free trial. Funny about Money, my main blog, occasionally emits something that might interest a wider audience — this morning I found about a half-dozen posts that could be reworked and sent to various small journals. Why not?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Image: Depositphotos: © ginasanders

Hassle Central, reporting in…

It’s been awhile since I posted here, more out of laziness and general harassment than intent. “Upgrading” both my Macs to OS X El Capitan was a big mistake. It’s a buggy program and has almost disabled the little MacBook Pro — the machine I use most of the time because sitting at a desk makes the aged back hurt. A lot.

So bad is it that I’m seriously considering buying a PC to replace the laptop. Big step backward for me: I really, really don’t want to relearn Windows (ugh!), nor do I want to have to “upgrade” to Office 365 so as to work on a Windows machine.

Actually, though, getting a lightweight Windows laptop to use only for Word and Excel tasks would probably make sense. You can still buy a standalone copy of Office 2016, and it will run fairly trouble-free on Windows.

Not so much on a Mac. The reason I did not update to the latest operating system, Sierra (don’t those cutesy names aggravate you?), is that my version of Word will not run at all on Sierra. Neither will Office 2016, at least not without endless bugs.

And the reason I do not want to sign up for Office 365? How can I count the reasons?

Foremost are these three:

1. It’s a rip-off. Renting the damn program with a monthly payment will quickly cause the cost to add up — and up, and up, and up — to way more than the cost of a program resident in your own computer. I resent that more than I can say.

2. Much of the work I do is proprietary. I do not want to be working on my clients’ projects in the flickin’ CLOUD! Indeed, sometimes I have to sign an agreement that I will not allow anyone else to see the client’s research or to put it at risk of being seen by anyone else. Sticking some scientist’s paper on a Microsoft server could put me at risk of liability. Even if I wanted to do that. Which I don’t.

3. Functionality of documents created or edited in non-365 versions may be limited. So it’s questionable whether I’d even be able to work on a document using more than one of my computers, even if one were a Windows machine.

Truly, this is a mess. I don’t know which way to jump and am truly furious that Apple has turned my computers from “it just works” to “it just doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, in saner realms:

Delivered a presentation yesterday:Structure of Feature Articles.”

People in the audience wanted to buy the new book, The Complete Writer. It’s still in page proofs — I need to cut the back cover copy some and adjust the design accordingly, and need to check the second proofs AGAIN. But by the next meeting, I hope to have a carton of hard-copy paperbacks to tote out to the group.

Incoming paid work has…come in. Read about 17,000 words of academicese compiled by a pair of ESL co-authors.

These people hold me in awe. They’re required to publish in English-language journals. And they do it — with panache.

Can you imagine an American academic writing a dissertation or a scholarly paper in Chinese? Fat chance! It’s all we can manage just to stumble through a PhD program in English…and many US universities have quit requiring a second and third language for the PhD.

I could probably write a journal article in French and have it come out about on a par with what the Chinese authors produce in English. But folks…as an undergraduate I majored in French! Not in math, not in economics, not in communications, not in political science…. Criminey!

And as for the novel: ça va, lentement.

Weirdly, drafting scenes in ink with a real pen is one of the things that’s making me resent the computer hassles as passionately as I have come to do.

A pen and a piece of paper do not go offline. They do not crash and shut down everything you’re working on

Well, OK: the pen can run out of ink. But when it does, you do not lose any of the words you’ve just written. The two other documents you’re working on do not disappear into the ether. The spreadsheet you’ve been wrestling with does not lose an hours’ or a day’s worth of data.

You can carry a pen and a notebook around, and it will work anywhere you choose. You do not have to sign a pen and paper into a coffee house’s network, thereby rendering it and all your private information open to hackers.

Nobody is interested in stealing a pen and a notebook, so you do not have to lock up your draft behind a deadbolt or hide it under a pile of blankets when you put it in the back of the car.

You do not have to plug a pen and a notebook into anything. Their battery never runs out of juice.

They do not waste hour after hour of your time in techno-hassles.

And they never, ever, EVER need a new goddamn operating system!

So How’s That Pen & Ink Workin’ for Ya?

Very well, thank you!

As those of you who’ve been following my Facebook pages know, I’ve been wrestling with the start of a new magnum opus, yet another of those “other world” novels. Not the same world as Kaybrel and Tavio’s — quite a different one, indeed — but still, another time, another place, another culture.

“Wrestling” could be translated as “spinning my wheels.” The first few scenes will require some significant rewriting. However… 🙂 About eight scenes in, a new character entered, and she has taken over the whole enterprise.

Where the other figures have been tripping along like marionettes, Siji is dancing across the stage. And what a dancer she is! Athletic, we might say.

And I’ve come to really enjoy writing with a fountain pen and ink. You know those reminders of ideas that spring to mind as you’re writing? Since (thanks to a sampler set from  Iroshizuku) I have several colors at hand, I’ve started scribbling those with a different color from the draft narrative. So in the middle of a passage of dialogue, we have this:

What’s a construction manager called? Supervisor? Captain, chief, head? Look it up!

Just now the draft is in blue and the Notes to Self are in brown. All of this has reminded me of something I knew as a matter of course when I was a young thing and Steve Jobs was a twinkle in his dad’s eye:

About half the fun of writing is writing. The physical act of writing.

Now that my fingers have remembered how to write in longhand (it took awhile), I’m finding it really is fun to write this stuff in pen and ink. Since computers have been my work tool for more years than I can count, drafting on a keyboard is a great deal more like work than like fun.

Along the way, I discovered that the paper marketed for sketching is wonderful for writing with a fountain pen. You want to get a sketch book, not a drawing book or pad. Drawing paper, designed for use with pencils or charcoal, is too absorbent. With sketch paper, the pen fairly flies along, and the paper doesn’t soak up ink like some sort of flat white sponge. One load of ink in the pen seems to last, comparatively, forever when you use sketch paper. And the pen’s nib glides more smoothly and easily across the surface.

The brand called “Artist’s Loft” comes bound in a cool canvas cover that you can decorate with your own drawing (if you use colored pencils, as I do, you’ll want to spray with fixatif to keep it from wearing off during use). At Michael’s, a book of 110 sheets is relatively inexpensive; at Amazon, the same item’s price is exorbitant, so don’t buy it there. Look in artist supply stores for it.

So. If you’re writing your bookoids for fun and you would like not to feel like you’re slogging through a task or back on the job, try drafting them with a pen.

What Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

Gutenberg rocks!

A friend who’s active in a lively writer’s group sends along an infographic showing what Reedsy, an ambitious outfit providing services to self-publishing authors, estimates to be the cost of self-publishing, based on its own internal data

It’s pretty interesting. After many little pictures and much self-promotion, the authors conclude that the cost of a self-published book runs from $2,500 to $4,000.

I’m not going to argue with their figures, except to say that if they’re charging less than two cents a word for their contract editors, then their editors, who presumably split the fee with the referring company, are not earning market rates. Not by a long shot. This would mean many or most of them are in Third World countries — India, for example, does a brisk business in providing editorial and design services at less than US minimum wage. Reedsy’s site features editors living in the UK, but without signing up for their service, you can’t see more than two or three bios.

What I will argue with, though, is the assertion that the costs they’ve included add up to “how much it costs to self-publish a book.”

The figures they offer do not include marketing, distribution, or fulfillment. And truth to tell: if no one knows about your book, no one is gonna buy it.

Marketing is and should be a major line item in your self-publishing business plan budget.

And once you’ve sold the book to a customer or two, getting it to them isn’t free, either. Although some people will tell you that CreateSpace will print and distribute your hard-copy book for free, that is not true.

Amazon itself takes a cut of 20% to 40% of sale price. CreateSpace then takes its cut: a fixed charge and a per-page charge. These depend on the length and design of the book:

Fixed Charges

Fixed charges vary depending on your book’s page count and whether your book’s interior is black and white or full-color.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages $2.15 per book
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.85 per book
Full-color books with 24-40 pages $3.65 per book
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.85 per book
Amazon Europe
Books printed in Great Britain £0.70 per book
Books printed in continental Europe €0.60 per book

Per-Page Charge

Books with higher page counts may also have a per-page charge.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages None
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.012 per page
Full-color books with 24-40 pages None
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.07 per page
Amazon Europe
Black and white books printed in Great Britain £0.01 per page
Full-color books printed in Great Britain £0.045 per page
Black and white books printed in continental Europe €0.012 per page
Full-color books printed in continental Europe €0.06 per page

That is not free, especially when Amazon (of which CreateSpace is a creature) constantly exerts downward pressure on pricing.

Let’s take a look at what some other folks say about the cost of a self-published book.

Over at The Creative Penn, a pretty credible and dependable site, proprietor Joanna Penn ticks off a list of standard services:

Editing: $300 to $2,000
Cover design: $50 to $300
Formatting: $50 to $200

That gives a range of $400 to $2,500…again not counting marketing, printing (for hard copy), and fulfillment. (“Fulfillment” in publishing means the process of delivering a book, magazine, or newspaper.)

The Write Life got four writers to report costs for editing; cover design; interior layout, formatting, and ebook conversion (odd, because these are three different things); printing; sales and distribution costs (most of the writers mistakenly believed these were free through Amazon or Smashwords), and launch and marketing costs.

The results here, I’m afraid, reflect the respondents’ naiveté. Sales and distribution, as explained above, are not free services: you pay a cut of the sales price to Amazon and (for print books) to CreateSpace. The so-called “royalty” you receive (more properly termed “net revenue”) reflects these cuts.

Additionally, some of the respondents did one or more of the publishing tasks themselves. This is fine if you’re an editor and a trained designer; otherwise…well, you’re in “where angels fear to tread” territory.

The four authors self-report their costs:

Hope: $250 for cover design; all other aspects DIY
Catherine: $1,250 for ebook conversion, cover design, and editing
Joanna: $1,650 for “editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, plus BookBub ad fees”
Dana: $150 for editing and illustration, and “$5 per month for distribution”

That’s a far cry from $2,500 to $4,000. On the other hand, with that much amateur editing and design, you can be sure the low-end books looked like their authors spent next to nothing on them. Nothing but their time, that is.

Let’s visit one more site: MediaShift. There we find a different set of estimates for what is described as “a high-quality book” of about 70,000 words.

Developmental editing: $2,520 to $18,200
Copyediting: $840 to $7,000
Cover design: $150 to $3,500
Formatting for print and digital conversion: free to $2,500
ISBN: $125 for one (if you buy in bulk the per-item price is much lower)
Distribution: free (again, this is questionable)
Printing: depends on length and design (I pay $6 to $8 per book, give or take)
Pre-publication reviews: Kirkus, $425; BlueInk Reviews, $396; PW Select, $149
Marketing and PR: $100 to $5,000

Since the other websites neglect to mention the cost of marketing, selling, and distribution, by way of comparing apples and oranges let’s pull out the editing, design and e-book conversion, then add up the cost of peddling the thing, and then tote up all the costs.

  • Editing, copyediting, cover design, and formatting: $3,510 to $31,200
    ISBN, distribution, printing (for, let us say, 100 books), reviews (low end: one review on PW Select, high end, all three outlets), and marketing and PR: $974 to $6,895
  • Total: $4484 to $38,095

Holy sh!t.

Welp, I’d advise that you are screaming crazy if you pony up $39,000 to self-publish your book.

On the other hand, you’re not much less crazy if you try to do most or all of the job yourself —  unless, of course, you’re an expert in writing, editing, design, layout, book marketing, and fulfillment.

The problem is, some of us may indeed be expert in some of these areas. If you know how to do page layout or cover design, you can save some dollars in book production. If you’re a really good writer (in reality, not in your own mind) and you have some copyediting skills, maybe you can cut some costs there, though you should at least have a proofreader go over the manuscript before taking the thing to press. But most of us are not expert in all the areas.

In my experience — which is now considerable, for I have self-published five books and published three others through real, mainline presses — the Creative Penn’s estimates for editing, cover design, and formatting are about right. Though I think MediaShift’s low-end guess for all the rest of the necessary services is too low, as a start-up cost for printing, distribution, and marketing, $975 is about right. Seven grand for those services seems a little high, unless you’re making money on the book; probably a realistic figure is $2,000 to $5,000. If you’re not turning a profit by the time you’ve spent that much, it’s time to cut your losses.

So, what does it cost to self-publish a book? You can do it on the cheap, if you don’t care how the product looks or how many copies you sell: maybe $150 to around $1,250. If you’re serious about selling it, probably something upward of $4,000.

Exploring the Amazon for Obscene Riches…

“Obscene” may be the operative term, all right. “Riches” certainly ain’t.

The S-corporation’s May bank statement came in and then sat on the desk for some time waiting for the proprietor to get around to examining it.

Lo! Here are not one, not two, nay not three but four deposits from Amazon: Two from what I assume is the US branch of the empire and one from Deutschebank, whose provenance I do not understand and do not want to understand. All I know is that both sources reflect book sales.

The grand total of all four deposits? $14.06

Wowsers. At $14 a month, the annual revenues of my little company’s book sales would come to all of $168. A year. Yeah. Such a deal!

Let’s see…how many books does P&S press have up on Amazon right now?

If you enter my name as author, you get a series of books whose titles read “Have Victory” in Spanish. Then you find four books I edited but have no author’s credit. Then you come to Math Magic, which I cowrote with Scott Flansburg (actually, I wrote it, but it’s his story and his profits). Then one of my books and then another that I edited. Finally, near the bottom of the first of 8 pages of hits, you come to the Plain & Simple tomes: Slave Labor, 30 pounds/4 Months, and the second of the boxed Fire-Rider sets (???). Then ONE of the short out-takes of Fire-Rider. (??? I thought I took all of those down!).

Second page of hits: not one of them has anything to do with  me or with anything I’ve written or edited. Third page: the third volume of Fire-Rider followed by the second volume of Fire-Rider, followed by 9 of the 18 short out-takes that I thought had been removed, all of them listed “for sale” at $0.00. Isn’t that cute? Fourth page: a bunch more of those plus two old editions of Math Magic. The rest of it, far as I can see, all irrelevant.

How annoying. No wonder I can’t sell anything at that place.

At any rate: We have five full-length books with Slave Labor, 30 Days, and the three installments of the Fire-Rider saga, plus 18 throwaway segments of Fire-Rider as shorties. That’s TWENTY-THREE PUBLICATIONS. On average, on 23 books and bookoids, then, Plain & Simple Press has earned 61 cents a piece.

Talk about your minimum wage…

Banner image of the day: DepositPhotos, ©-stokato

“Free” Writing Workshop Pays for Itself!

Check out the guy's books!

Check out the guy’s books!

Okay, so the fiscal truth is…what I paid to listen to Mr. Sam Sykes hold forth in yesterday’s writing workshop was the cost of a quarter-tank of gasoline (about five bucks, I’d guess) and four and a half hours of my time (two of them spent driving to and from the venue). That would come to about $275 worth of time and gasoline.

He talked about developing a plot line, and in the course of doing so presented a visualization of a plot’s forward momentum that I had not heard before. It was good: essentially what he said is that the old model of rising action, climax, and falling action is only one of several ways to look at a fictional work’s architectonics. He suggested one that resembles a graph showing short bursts of rising tension topped by decisions that lead to change, causing changes in circumstances that lead to new rising tension, and so on.

I like this way of visualizing what happens among characters in a work of fiction. And better yet, in passing he remarked that one need not and probably should not map out a plot line to follow religiously. And right there, I think, he solved the problem of why moving forward with the Varnis story has become such a PITA.

The Fire-Rider books got a few rave reviews, but very few. Indeed, they elicited almost no response from Amazon’s canny readers…I would like to imagine because where marketing is concerned, I share Bartleby’s sentiments (“I would prefer not to”), and so few canny readers have found the damn things. But more probably, no one has felt moved to write any comments.

Meditating upon this state of affairs, I speculated that the problem may be that I did not construct a cast-in-plaster plotline for Fire-Rider. Maybe it was too organic. After all, I just started writing and let the characters do their thing. I rather like the result, but maybe nobody else does. Maybe readers expect a classic plotline, not a soap opera.

But amazingly, Sykes remarked that a good genre novel may be a soap opera.

There’s also the problem that my writing doesn’t fit into any genre format, but rather floats between literary fiction and genre writing. But that’s another tale.

When he said these things, I thought Oh God! That’s it! Get rid of the stultifying plotline and just let the characters live!

Since leaving his precincts I haven’t had a minute to return to the Fire-Rider story. But I will. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this squib and posting it all over Heaven and Hell, I will return to the magnum opus at hand. Only this time, the characters — not some arbitrary design — will drive the action.

Old Lady: New Tricks? Writing courses for wannabe authors

Tomorrow, the second of the two workshops I signed up for this summer will start.

The first was a MOOC through Iowa Writer’s Workshop. I must say…that was a bust. First off, you’re invited to listen to an introductory video. This consists of two Iowa faculty members sitting at a desk reading the welcome and the desiderata for the course.

No kidding. They have their notes laid flat on the table — apparently Iowa can’t even afford to provide a plywood podium so they don’t have to look down to deliver their remarks. They’re sitting in front of a videocam with their faces staring DOWN at the desk, reading the stuff as if they’ve never seen it before themselves. TED Talkers, these two are not.

When they do look up, their strained politeness toward each other is of the sort that reminds one why one is glad to have exited academia. University faculties are all the same — whether they’re at some prestigious school or at Podunk State. And lo! There’s that familiar expression on their faces, the one that tells you it’s all they can do to hold it together without lunging at each others’ throats.

Yeah. I do know the look. 😀

That seemed inauspicious. And as it developed, the omen was tryin’ to tell us something. The theme of this summer’s workshop was examining social issues in your writing. All very intellectual-sounding. But when you get into it, what you find is that it’s set up much like a series of virtual dorm-room bull sessions. Some broad topic is presented: it’s the sort that undergraduate students like to “philosophize” about as they’re hashing through the challenges of entering adulthood. You’re asked to read some stories, and then you’re supposed to go online and “discuss.” Presumably the insights gained will inform your writing, and some of you — maybe at least one of you? — will disgorge Lit’rachure.

In the “been there, done that” department…ugh. It was fun when I was 19, but I think I’m past it now.

The truth is, I don’t want to contribute to the literature of the 21st century. I just want to tell a good story. Any good story.

It need have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Certainly not high-minded qualities. Let’s just write some fun stuff, some interesting stuff, some inspirational stuff, some depressing stuff, some detective stuff, some urban fantasy stuff, some sci-fi stuff, even some romantic stuff…but spare me the middle-brow dorm room bull sessions.

So that dropped off my computer after Week 1.

In lesser precincts: Maricopa County, home of the fifth-largest city in These United States, has a library system. Can you imagine? Yes. Flyover states got libraries. And the county managed to dig up some cash to offer residencies to actively publishing writers of various stripes. Some of them are genre novel writers, some nonfiction writers, whatEVER. All have contrived to get their emanations published through real publishing houses, a mark of distinction in this game.

Some of the resident writers have allowed themselves to be got up to offering writers’ workshops at their respective libraries. And lo! One such resides at the city library where my favorite group of tyro writers meets each month.

It’s a bitch of a long drive out there, but there are only two meetings a month, spread over three months. So I figure what the heck: I can afford the gas to make an extra couple trips a month out there. Also I figure a guy who’s writing genre novels for what he hopes will be a living is not likely to fill my ear with high-minded socially correct post-adolescent palaver.

So that starts tomorrow. It should be interesting.

In my experience, writing classes and workshops for would-be Writers with a Capital W are pretty much hit & miss. There used to be a workshop in Santa Fe that was truly outstanding. I don’t think it’s still extant, unfortunately. But when it was going, they would have real, publishing writers direct groups of 15 or 20 wannabes in reading and critiquing their work. The people who ran the groups knew what they were doing, and they were very, very good. They had sit-down meals in the retreat where they met, so you got to know people; they had authors’ readings; and they invited real, nonfraudulent working literary agents who would speak to you and if they felt inclined to do so would agree to let you send your proposal to them.

One of the neat things about the Santa Fe conference was that it attracted a lot of attendees who were already publishing or who were real-world writers. I took up with a woman whose day job was technical writing and editing, for example. On the side, she was a pretty creditable fiction writer.

And that’s the thing: I’m a little past the wannabe stage. I’ve been a paid, working writer. Granted, what I wrote was (mostly) nonfiction (though my poetry has been published in Puerto del Sol). I spent 20 years as a journalist, which is the reason I wangled a full-time NTT university job teaching upper-division and graduate-level writing.  My eyes are not wide and starry, my heart is flinty, and my skepticism is heightened. And I do know how to write a simple sentence.

So a lot of writers’ workshop endeavors are lost on me. They’re as much a waste of my time as palavering online about topics that my friends and I hashed out in the dorm fifty years ago.

And yeah: I know that sounds snobby and elitist and dismissive. But truth to tell, I don’t have so much time left on this earth that I can afford to waste it.

Image: DepositPhotos, © kasto

MacUpdate: If ain’t broke, dammit…

Caslon 540

Caslon 540, close but no cigar…

DON’T FIX IT, Dear Apple!

So I was finally forced to update the operating systems on my aged MacBook Pro and iMac to “Yosemite” (is it really necessary to give the software annoyingly cutesy names?), the highest level of Apple’s operating system the machines will accept.

This was a major hassle that required me to pay about $300 to hire a tech to come figure out how to do it, install a new hard drive on the laptop, and absorb several hours of my time in the process.

So now these wonderful (no irony) machines are “updated” to the extent possible. If I want to keep up with the times (which I do not, especially), next I need to buy new computers. Like I have nothing else to do with my money…profoundly limited in the post-layoff era.

Okay, so I’m proofreading, online, the content of a book I’ve uploaded to the PoD supplier. I used the most recent PDF I had on hand, which presumably is about as good as I’d gotten it before I became distracted by the 14 weeks of respiratory ills.

Naturally, I find a minor glitch: a series of elllipsis points breaks at the end of a line. Videlicet:

Blah blah blah.
. . .

Shee-ut. I need to fix that in the Wyrd document, then save to PDF and upload the corrected PDF. The book’s layout is done in a Wyrd template purchased from Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Templates enterprise. I like these templates, because they come with the margins correctly installed for your desired trim size, the heads and subheads and body copy and all their iterations set in stone using Word’s “Styles” function, and overall they’re easy to use and yield a pleasing product.

When I open the most recent Word iteration of this book — this 468-page book — I find that every word I set in italic is now set bold-face italic!

Holy sh!t. And WTF? I don’t know what’s caused this, but I figure…okay, I can fix it with a search and replace:

Search > format font > boldface italic
Replace with > format font > italic

I try this. It doesn’t work. Word does not see these characters as boldface italic. Word sees them as plain italic.

I try manually changing the things. And guess what? I CAN’T change any of these distortions to plain italic. Or even to plain roman. The best I can do is change them to boldface. And I don’t want the damn things b.f. I want them effing italic.

To cut a long and frustrating story short, eventually what I and Friedlander’s designer discover is that somehow the conversion to effing Yosemite has corrupted the template’s font on the MacBook and the MacBook only. If I open the file on the iMac, it looks OK. Even a PDF made on the MacBook and sent to the designer looks OK on his computer. WTF?

He suggests we should delete the font from my MacBook and replace it with a new set of fonts, which he sends over.

I google “how to delete a font Mac OS X 10.11.4” and find you have to get into something called a Font Book, but no clue is given as to what “Font Book” is or where to find it. I call Apple Support. The tech who responds also has never heard of a “Font Book.” Finally we discover it, not surprisingly, in Applications.

I delete the font from “Font Book,” reboot, and, following instructions, install the new version of the designer’s font, which is called “Alegreya.” It’s in the Times family. It’s nothing special, but it’s inoffensive and it has a kind of airiness that works for some kinds of books.

When I reboot again and open the files…you got it! All italic is rendered as boldface italic.

So, you ask, why don’t I just do all my work henceforth on the iMac? That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

Except the reason I’m sitting here in an overstuffed living-room chair with my feet propped up is that my back went out several years ago and I can no longer sit in a desk chair. No. Not in any desk chair (believe me: I’ve tried. Expensively!) So that turns the iMac into an expensive video-streaming device. There’s no way I can sit in front of a desk long enough to render an entire book into print-ready copy.

While Friedlander’s designer is sweltering over this problem, I begin to realize that I’m going to have to change the font in this template. And to do it in the 468-page writing text, which, goddamn it, has an index that goddamn it I’ve already had to do over once and I absolutely  positively do NOT want to recompile from scratch again because again the goddamn pagination gets changed.

Holy ess aitch aye.

The problem is that of course these fonts have variable widths, like any serif font in the Times family. This means that different designs yield different line lengths. So if you were to type a line in Alegreya and a line in, say, Callisto MT, you would find they come out in different lengths. Like this:

Alegrey&CallistoMT

Over the course of 468 pages — actually, over the course of something like 10 or 20 pages — this would change line lengths, change paragraph lengths, change chapter lengths, and screw up the pagination that has been so time-consumingly recorded in the index.

While I’m waiting for the designer to come up with a new idea, if he can, I go through every serif font in goddamn OS 10.11.4 — there are a LOT of them. Along the way, I discover that Big Caslon — Big Caslon, can you imagine? — is overall about the same size as Alegreya, except for the numerals.

BigCaslon

It’s close. In fact, it’s SO close that when you change the style for the body copy from Alegreya 11 pt to Big Caslon 11 pt (which you see in the second lines here), you come out with the same number of pages. It looks like the wraps from page to page are consistent, and so if the index is screwed up, it’s probably not so much that anybody is gonna notice. Upper-case is larger in Caslon, but you could fix that by searching format > font > upper case 11 pt and replacing with format > font > small caps 12 pt. As it turned out, though, this was not necessary.

Big Caslon. Who’d’ve thunk it? Well. If it’s good enough for the Harvard Crimson, it’s good enough for Plain & Simple Press. I guess.

Can anybody remember when writers wrote? When we did not have to screw around with amateur typesetting and amateur printing and amateur publishing and amateur marketing and amateur fulfillment? When you wrote an article or a book and you forked it over to an editor and you were done except for maybe a little proofreading or demands that you answer some question that came up in fact-checking?

Damn. I do hate this Brave New World.

Image: Caslon 540 (which no, is not Big Caslon, but…), James Puckett – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Ballad of Pen & Paper

Pens&Notes{chortle!} Well, this may not rise to the level of ballad, since its author still has to clean the pool this afternoon. There are only so many minutes in the day. But by way of resisting work, here I am with another little rave.

You’ll recall that one of my scribbling acquaintances and I rediscovered the joy of writing with actual fountain pens and actual ink. Since that revelatory day, I’ve taken to drafting the current chapter of the current (increasingly challenging…) novel this flat stuff called paper, using these sticks that hold ink, which leaks out when you run the pointed end of the stick across the paper.

What a discovery!

Its main benefit is escape from the tyranny of technology.

  • A pen frees you from the addictive temptations of news feeds, social media, email, online games.
  • It provides a site where your creative work (at least) is saved in a form that cannot disappear into the ether.
  • It can’t be attacked by a virus.
  • It can’t be rendered obsolete and unreadable by yet another arbitrary “update.”
  • It does not have to be password-protected.
  • No burglar is likely to steal it.
  • It does not cost upwards of $1,300; it does not even cost $470. One of these pens set me back all of $13, and it writes nicer than the classy $85 Waterman I bought back in the day when I had a job and could afford such indulgences.

Who’d’ve thunk it?

Another of my writing acquaintances reported that her system went down and she had to have the hard drive rebuilt. She was in a sweat, since she’s been laboring long and hard to produce her next book. Fortunately, she succeeded in saving most of her draft. But it sounds like she did so on a wing and a prayer.

Holy shit! The scribbler’s worst nightmare.

Truth to tell, whatever you have on paper is likely to be just a draft of whatever you end up with in your computer. If you’re like me, you revise during the act of typing, and then you go over and over your MS copy, revising and touching up and adding and deleting.

But at least if you have a first draft in pen & ink, it’s not going to be utterly gone when your computer is gone. And as you know, the computer going down is not a matter of “if”; it’s a matter of “when.”

It also has another advantage: it takes you away from an environment rife with distraction. Writing with a pen, I’m finding myself a lot more likely to sit still and finish a scene — or at least to mock it up roughly — than I am when I’m on the computer. With no recourse to Google, I don’t waste time cruising the Internet in pursuit of the answer to some irrelevant question. I don’t ease my aching brain by loading up a Mah Jongg game. I don’t kill time in the voracious timesuck that is Facebook. I don’t check the email every three or four minutes, or kill some more time writing an email answer that could wait for awhile.

Even if all you intend to do is process words or enter bookkeeping entries, computer technology reaches out its tentacles to take over your life. One could speculate that it has the potential to strangle creativity.

When I was a young pup, all those years ago, I was an early adapter of PC technology. I made my husband buy me one of the first marginally affordable desktop IBMs, and I learned to write online in WordPerfect and XyWrite. I became proficient in DOS and fumed at being herded into windows and rodents.

The thing seemed like such a miracle! In those days, I felt it cultivated creativity, caused it to bloom — it made writing so fast and so easy, your thoughts and ideas flowed right out through your fingertips.

But in those days we didn’t have an Internet. There was no Google, no Wikipedia to look up facts and search for ideas and find new words for you. News was borne into your house on sheaves of paper laden with — yes! — ink. A game was something you played with another human being. If you wanted to communicate with friends from the comfort of your home, you called them on the phone. “Social” had to do with a club meeting or a cocktail party.

Wonderful as the Net is, as many amazing benefits as offers, it nevertheless presents a pernicious distraction. I find it almost impossible to get through a writing task — any writing task, or, for that matter, any editing job — without interrupting myself to cruise the Web, fiddle with the email, or relieve my fevered brain with an online game.

If anything, the ease with which you can barf out copy represents another assassin of creativity. Look at all that self-published stuff on Amazon: fiction and memoir and how-to and inspiration and rant and pop history and wild-eyed theories and this and that and the other are gushing like…dare one say it?…like a sewer. We pour out all this formerly unpublishable stuff, largely unedited. It appears on Amazon because no profit-making publisher in its right collective mind would take it to press. And we’re drowning in it.

The fact that you can toss out content without really thinking about it means…well, it means that what you’re tossing out is “content.” Not art. Not even real craft.

Writing is not a no-sweat endeavor. By its nature, it’s contemplative. And writing by hand is contemplative.

It may be that slowing down to form the characters on the paper fosters creativity by giving the writer a slight edge in time: a few milliseconds and then a few seconds and then a few minutes in which to think about what’s coming out of the fingers.

I don’t know that’s true. But I suspect it.

Writing with the Palmer method

Writing with the Palmer method

Creative Process as Wrestling Match

Alien City © SpinningAngelThis new noveloid, which I thought would fly on the wings of a lark, has turned into something out of WrestleMania. Lordie! I cannot BELIEVE how difficult the traveling is.

As I mentioned awhile back, on a whim I decided to try writing with a fountain pen and…you know, that flat stuff…paper? Interestingly, the break from the computer does help speed things along a bit. No Spider Solitaire link, no Bookworm link, no Mah Jongg link, no Washington Post Outspell link, no New Yorker cover jigsaw puzzles, no Google News link, no Huffington Post link, no CNN link, no Fox News link, no SciNews.com link, no Smithsonian link, no Astronomy Picture of the Day link, no…none of that stuff: the attention span extends over a slightly longer period.

Not much longer, but enough longer to be helpful. But still, I’m struggling to get the characters, the setting, and the action down on paper.

After some reflection, it occurred to me that the problem is lack of visualization. The setting is not clearly imagined: it’s fuzzy and lacks detail. The characters are ur-characters: I kind of know these people, but some of them are only passing acquaintances and even those at the center of the story have never settled in as my bosom buddies. The action is imagined, the series of crises and the main character’s “journey” is there, but these two are not well envisioned.

And that surprises me.

I like to build imaginary worlds. My fantasy life is full of them — hence, Fire-Rider. The specific imaginary world under construction just now has been around for a long time. When I first dreamed up the characters and the premise, I was about 10 or 12 years old. Off and on over the years, I’ve concocted stories involving these characters. Since I’m now in my early 70s, you can figure for yourself about how many years are involved.

So, sitting down to write this tale, I figured I knew the time, the place, and the people well. Yes. I knew the place like I know my neighborhood. The people like I know my friends and family. The time, in elaborate completeness.

Well, no. When I start to write about thus-and-such a venue, suddenly I realize I don’t know what this damn place looks like. Not at all.  When I think about the social customs of this or that set of characters, I realize they’re really not very detailed or convincing.

To complicate matters, new characters quietly pop to life. Yesterday, one Eylla came on the scene, previously unimagined and so, undeveloped. And characters who have been around for a long time turn out to have unsuspected whims and traits — one has a dual allegiance; another is secretly in love.

All this vagueness, all this malleability is slowing things way down. I’m having to stop and picture what does this person look like? what does that place look like? what explains the behavior of that group of people? how did this situation come to be? when did that series of events begin, and why? And that stuff is time-consuming.

Weird.

How can you dream up a whole empire of other worlds and a dozen characters and still not know what they look like?

Images: Depositphotos,
Alien city: © algolonline
Water planet: © artcasta
Alien worlds in space: © mozzyb
Snowy planet: © algolonline