Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Authors, Write a Good Bio


As someone who has spent the past couple of years working with other authors to help promote their work, I have noticed that bios seem to present a particular challenge.  I have yet to meet an author who loves to write them, but the reality is, a well-crafted bio is essential for publication and promotion. 

I thought I’d put together a little list of dos and don’ts when putting together your own little byline blurb. 

DON’T
Start with your birthdate.  I’m always amazed when people start their bio with, “Jane Author was born in 1961.”  No one cares how old you are. 

Send your resume.  I’ve literally had authors send me pages of work history.  This isn’t a freakin’ job application.  Just give the readers a brief overview of who you are (emphasis on brief).

Include your family history.  I’ve had authors send me bios that include lengthy explanations about parents and grandparents.  Irrelevant.

TMI the audience.  Not to be prudish, but if it involves the bathroom or the bedroom, we probably don’t want to know.  Unless you write erotica and have worked as a dominatrix or something.


DO
If you are submitting to a publication or website that has specific bio guidelines, read them.  Abide by them.  Nothing annoys editors and host bloggers like myself more than having to track down the author and ask them to resubmit something usable—or worse, having to cobble together something ourselves.  It means that you are unlikely to get invited back to that site or publication ever again. 

Keep it short.  Most literary magazines I’ve seen ask that you restrict your bio to a lean, mean 150 words or so.  Magazines mostly do it for spatial reasons, but really, it’s more than enough to hit the pertinent points.

Write in third-person.  Save first-person for your personal website or blog. 

Include information that is germane to your writing career: titles, publications, awards and education. This is the nitty-gritty-- the thing that readers and editors want to know about.  What have you done before?  This is your writerly street cred.  Don’t be afraid to flaunt it.  Everything else is just frills.  

Include a few personal touches, but don’t overdo it
.  Family, pets, city/country of origin, current city/country of residence—these are great humanizing details.  If you are a veteran, have a cool day job, or have a unique hobby like, I dunno, beekeeping, throw that in because it makes you memorable. 

Include other personal touches that are actually relevant to the work.  If you are a cancer survivor writing about cancer, that’s something readers want to know about. 

Be witty, if you can.  I always liked Amanda Hocking’s bio that includes stuff like, “Obsessive tweeter, John Hughes mourner, Batman devotee.”  A little originality goes a long way.          

If you can’t, keep it simple.  Simple is vastly underrated.  Don’t over-think it, just stick to the facts.  “John Writer is the author of This Title and That Title.  He earned his MFA from the University of Iowa.  A lifetime resident of Seattle, WA, he enjoys rugby and playing guitar.”  Boom.  Thirty-two words.  Think of what you can do with the remaining 118.

Read book jacket bios.  See how your favorite professional writers describe themselves.  Follow their example.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

May Book Giveaway

April is coming to a close and it's been a busy month.  I just got back from a vacation in New Orleans, a city that always inspires me.  It's where I got the idea from my forthcoming vampire series, and I also got some ideas for a fantasy-romance I'm working on.

Also, today I went to a book sale/signing event at the Kansas City Writers Place.  My best sellers were The Ice Dragon and The Winter Prince.  Apparently, I need to write more kids' books!

I've decided to start doing a monthly giveaway.  I'm kicking it off with an autographed copy of The Winter Prince.

To enter, drop me an email, laurenscharhag@gmail.com, tweet at me @laurenscharhag, or post on my Facebook wall to let me know you're interested.  The winner will be randomly selected on May 1.

I hope to hear from you soon!







Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Confessions of a Reformed Grammar Nazi

Don’t let the English degree fool you.  I was never quite the Grammar Nazi that many people seem to think all English majors are required to be.  I was never one of those people who bemoaned the poor grammar skills of people on the Internet, and I always understood that abbreviating text messages was a matter of efficiency.  Besides, if people don’t know proper punctuation and usage, that’s job security for me, right? 

But I’ll tell you where I WAS a Grammar Nazi, and that was in regards to self-published authors.  If they couldn’t be bothered to edit their own work, I used to ask, how could they expect people to pay them for it? 



I have come to revise that opinion.  Here’s why:

Everyone makes typos.  Everyone.  Everywhere.  And no, the Internet is not to blame.
I read a lot.  A LOT.  Last year, I read sixty-one books, not including re-reads.  I have a Kindle, a Scribd account, and several reader aps on my phone.  And yet, the majority of my books still come from the library.  (With all due respect to all the great eBook services out there, the library still has the best selection.) 

I spot a lot of typos in print books, and not just new books either.  Last summer, I read a falling-apart, held-together-with-tape 1960 edition of Night by Eli Wiesel.  I was astonished at the number of typos I found in it because I, like so many people, fall prey to the belief that typos are somehow a new thing. 

A few weeks ago, I read a 1986 edition of Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  There was only one typo that I noticed—and why did I notice it?  Because some dickhead actually wrote in the book, in pen, correcting the mistake.  Like, thanks, asshole.  I totally wouldn’t have been able to figure out that sentence if you hadn’t DEFACED LIBRARY PROPERTY.     

My point is, these professionally published and highly regarded works have typos.  These books were published well before the Internet or texting had taken over our lives, so we can’t blame technology for our sudden (re: imaginary) lack of grammar skillz. 

Moreover, I would like to point out that these professionally published, highly regarded works were not just edited by one person, but by a TEAM of editors.  And typos still happen.  That doesn’t mean the writers are stupid or lazy, or that the editors are stupid or lazy.  Our brains just don’t catch typos because science.  But here’s the thing.  Did the typos somehow diminish the power of those works?  No.  No, they did not.  Not even a little.  

So why are we bitching?

Does it seem like there are more typos these days?  Not just in print, but in online publications?  Maybe.  I can’t remember the last time I read an article in one of the big-damn-deal periodicals, like the NYT or Rolling Stone, and it DIDN’T have at least one little typo.  But to be fair, it’s been a long time since I read actual newspapers or magazines, printed on actual paper.  But I do recall a section in the local paper every day that apologized for and corrected errors, both typographical and factual.  So apparently they happened in those long-ago days when reading the paper meant coming away with your fingertips smudged with ink. 

People freak out about this perceived new lackadaisical attitude towards editing and fact-checking.  But they’d freak out a helluva lot more if they didn’t get their content when they want it.  Which is now.  And all the time.  We are in the age of Content Is King, which requires these publications to bust their asses to keep us in new material, as in, MOAR CONTENT, NAO, before we lose interest, to keep us clicking on their sites.  That comes at a cost.  Meticulous editing and fact-checking probably have gone a bit by the wayside.  Not to mention, most journalists now are not full-time employees but freelancers, which makes the back-and-forth of the editing process an even bigger headache. 

So we have a choice to make—more content now/imperfect.  Or less content later/slightly closer to perfect.  Pick one.


eBooks are imperfect.  Deal with it. 
eBooks are a new technology.  We haven’t worked all the kinks out yet.  There have already been dozens of devices on the market for eBooks, and many different eBook subscription services and aps.  Know what that means?

Many formats: .epub, .mobi, PDF, among others.  The writer has written his/her opus in Word, Open Office, Google Docs, or one of the myriad word processing softwares available out there, which means that after they get edited, they have to be converted to as many other formats as possible to reach the maximum audience.

In converting to these many formats, a lot of stuff gets lost.  Font, indentation, line spacing.  What you download from Amazon or Smashwords and see on your phone, tablet or computer probably looks very different from what the author intended.  That’s not their fault.  They’re just trying to deliver their work to as many readers as possible. 

On my Kindle, I have several complete series—Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Vampire Chronicles, Sookie Stackhouse.  Some of them are riddled with issues that some may think are typos, but are probably just a problem with the format conversion.  Letters and punctuation get dropped or transposed.  Again, these are major, best-selling works.  Presumably, they were converted using the best software available.  And once again, even they are not immune to the occasional glitch.

Does that mean J.K. Rowling or Anne Rice are shitty writers, or that their books aren’t enjoyable?  No.  (Your mileage may vary.)  It just means that we don’t have a perfect eBook conversion system yet.    




More books than ever before = more words and more opportunities to fuck up.
As I said, Content Is King.  Books are being published in record numbers every year.  It’s easier than ever to write a book and get it out there.  The conventional wisdom for self-published writers is to publish early and often.  People want to binge-read the way they binge-watch TV shows.

Fine.  We’re dutifully churning out the goods.  The average novel length is supposed to be around 130,000 words.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many keystrokes and characters that amounts to, so, for simplicity’s sake, let's just look at word count. 

A full-length novel means there are at least 130,000 opportunities for the average novelist to make a simple mistake.  Because, God knows, it’s not like the novelist has anything else on his mind, like trying to keep his eye on things like plot, characterization, themes—y’know.  Shit like that.

So let’s say ten typos get left in his manuscript, overlooked by the novelist and by the editors.  Now, I’m not a math genius (English major!), but that comes to .01% margin of error.  What was the last product you bought that had so few defects?  Think about how many insect legs the FDA allows in your peanut butter.  Suddenly, ten typos in a novel don’t seem so bad.

Also, when was the last time YOU did 130,000 things in a row perfectly?  I’m thinking never.  So let’s cut writers a break, huh?


Language has never been a fixed, unchanging law, and neither has grammar. 
People think English grammar is something that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, but I’m here to tell you, it just ain’t so.  Modern English, as we know it, didn’t even come into being until the 16th century.  The demand for grammatical rules came around the same time, but didn't get systematized until the 19th century.

And here we are, still quibbling.  I’m in a constant debate with my co-author as to whether a semi-colon is ever necessary outside of a list.  We’re also in constant debate on spelling—he insists on using the English spelling for words, “colour” instead of “color,” “grey” instead of “gray” and so forth.  I keep telling him I’m a damn American and I don’t want any weird vowels in my words, thank you very much.  But does that mean “grey” is wrong?  No.  I just happen to prefer “gray.”  So much for systemization.  I mean, systemisation.    

Should I be putting one space between these sentences, or two?  That’s a question that has arisen due to new technology.  Two spaces used to be the norm because of the way spacing between letters was set up on typewriters—it made it easier to see the beginning of a new sentence.  That’s no longer necessary with computers, but putting two spaces is a leftover convention.

Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?  Is it ever okay to use the word “I” in an essay?  Should I use an ampersand or spell out the word “and”?  And what about the Oxford comma?

Sorry—this is a glimpse into the things that keep grammar geeks like me up at night.  I could go on, but I’ll spare you. 

I’m not saying grammar doesn’t have a place, because it absolutely does.  We have to have a general agreement on the rules so we can understand each other.  But there’s a reason the dictionary gets updated periodically—because we’re constantly adding new words, and new words mean new ideas. 

Grammar exists to facilitate language and thereby communication.  When the language changes, grammar must do the same.




No other art form gets shit the way that books get shit. 
I have said many times before that writing is the most democratic art form.  If you can (more or less) speak the language, you can write.  Literacy isn’t even a requirement, as long as you can find someone to transcribe your words for you, or transcription software. 

It’s not like music or art, which are intimidating because they require so much specialized skill.  They’re costly to learn, their materials are expensive, and, in the case of music, you have to basically learn a whole different language just to be able to play an instrument, never mind compose. 

So we don’t criticize art and music the way we do books.  I love music and I even know some fancy-schmancy music history stuff like the distinction between Baroque and Classical, but damn if I could tell you if a musician hit a wrong note, or if his beat is off.  Moreover, I don’t care.  If the song is brilliant, I’m willing to forgive imperfection.

In the case of art, people are even more disinclined to give an opinion.  Their main concern is whether something would look good in their living room.  The best most people can do is say, “I don’t get it,” or “It’s ugly.”  They’re not going to stand there and nitpick it to death, “Y’know, I think the artist mixed this color imperfectly,” or “His brushwork in the corner is a bit sloppy.”  But they still respect the artist for doing something they can’t do. 

WHY IS IT NOT THE SAME FOR BOOKS?


Because grammar and Grammar Nazis.
“Oh, look.  A book.  I can read.  That means I can critique it!  Look, here’s a typo!  MWAHAHAHA!  Clearly the author is an idiot and I am brilliant because I found his ONE MISTAKE IN 130,000 WORDS!  GO TEAM ME!  Never mind the other 129,999 words that are arranged just fine.  Never mind the content of the piece.  Never mind the characters, the theme, or the artfulness of his prose.  Let’s just focus on this ONE MISPLACED COMMA!”

Because, yeah, Grammar Nazis.  That’s what you sound like.  That's not a review, that's nitpicking.  It's not constructive.  And it says more about you than it does about the work.  

Now, granted, egregiously bad grammar generally goes with bad writing-- because if a writer cares about good writing, he usually picks up the grammar basics as a matter of course . . . which only means that the Grammar Nazis have less to gripe about.    


I, for one, have learned to gripe less.  


Like this post? Check out The Timeless Appeal of the Anti-Hero, Perchance to Dream, Writing the Human Color Wheel, and other posts labeled "writing."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Get your time-travel groove on: The Summer of Love by Louise Hathaway

                       
Synopsis
This hilarious time-travel fantasy is about two sisters who are magically transported back to the 1968 Newport Pop Festival in Costa Mesa, California--an outdoor concert later described as “Orange County’s Woodstock.” Both sisters had attended the festival when they were teenagers. In this book, Amy morphs into her thirteen-year-old self, wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots; and her sister, Denise, turns into her pregnant eighteen-year-old self, wearing a homemade maternity blouse with peace symbols bordering the hem. Once again, they hear bands such as The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, and The Jefferson Airplane. They hitch-hike back to their childhood home, see and talk to relatives who died years ago, and even run into younger versions of their husbands. In spite of all the fun they’re having, they’re plagued with the question, “How are we going to get back to 2014?”


Excerpt
Do you believe in time travel?  Two sisters didn’t until they went to the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, California one hot, summer afternoon and found themselves transported back 46 years to the 1968 Newport Pop Festival, a hippie extravaganza that was later hailed as “Orange County’s Version of Woodstock.”  Billed as two days of counter-culture rock, the bands that played included The Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Steppenwolf, The Grateful Dead, and many more.  The sisters had gone to this concert when they were teenagers: Amy had been 13 and Denise was 18.  Amy still has the flyer of the concert and was showing it to her sister and their husbands before they all left for the fairgrounds.  Amy tells Denise, “Can you believe I saw this selling on eBay for $500.00?”

Amy is a retired librarian and Denise is a professional musician.  They are both married: Amy married her husband Sandy 40 years ago and Denise married her husband Paul 22 years ago.  Both of their husbands are musicians and former hippies--just like they were.  Right now, their husbands are waiting for them at the wine tasting bar while Amy and Denise continue looking at quilts in the Arts and Crafts building.  Denise looks at her watch and says, “We better go meet up with the guys before they wonder what happened to us.”

They leave the building and head in the direction of the wine bar.  Amy sees an old-fashioned photo booth where you can put coins in a slot and instantly have a roll of four selfies.  “Let’s get our pictures taken real quick,” Amy says.  “I haven’t done this in years.”

Amy pulls back the curtain and they enter the booth.  Denise puts some quarters into the coin machine.  “Quick, Denise.  Make a goofy face,” Amy says as she puts two fingers, formed in a vee, over her sister’s head. The flash as the first picture is taken startles them.  Denise puts her arm around her sister for the second pose.  They touch their heads together for the third pose.  After the last flash, the entire booth starts shaking.  They are practically knocked off the seat.  “Was that an earthquake?” Amy asks her older sister.

“I think it was.  We’d better go find Sandy and Paul,” Denise says.  They walk outside and everything seems different.  There is a loud band playing and it smells like people are smoking pot.  “What’s going on?” Denise says, and looks over at her sister.  She notices that Amy is wearing different clothes.  “How come you’re dressed like that?  When did you change your clothes?”

“What are you talking about?” Amy asks, as she looks down at her outfit and is stunned to see that she’s wearing the blue silk bell bottom pants and a stiff ruffled blouse with blue flowers that she had made in her 8th grade Home-Ec class.  “Why am I wearing these clothes?” she asks her sister and then says, “Look at you!!”  Denise is wearing maternity shorts and a homemade blue blouse with peace symbols made in red rick-rack bordering its hem.  “Oh my God!” Amy says, pointing to her sister’s stomach.  “Are you pregnant?”

Denise lifts up her blouse and sees her tummy.  “Oh my God!  I am pregnant!  What’s going on?”

“I’m scared,” her little sister says.  “Let’s go find the guys.”  As they are walking towards the wine tasting area, they see people walking by who are covered in mud.  They look in the direction from where the people came and see a bunch of teenagers wallowing in mud puddles like pigs.  

“How bizarre,” Amy says.

Just then, they notice that a band sounding very much like The Byrds is playing, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  Denise reaches over and takes her sister’s hand, protectively.

Amy says, “I don’t understand what’s happening?”

Her older sister tells her, “Believe it or not, I think we’ve traveled back to the sixties!”


Purchase The Summer of Love


About the Authors


Louise Hathaway is the pen name of a husband and wife writing team who live in Southern California.  They have been writing books together since 2011.  She is a retired library assistant who has a master’s degree in English and he works for the District Attorney’s office.

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Thank you for reading!  As always, please feel free to leave questions/comments for the authors below.