In this episode, we give the info dump on info dumps, talk about writing reviews and Amazon's culling of "friends and family" reviews.
Works in Progress
[00:00:37] The sixth edition of Mike's Opening Act newsletter went out, and it was about 1000 words. Mike also put out proposals for presentations at Wordcamp Milwaukee. One was accepted! Mike just uses pictures for his slides, so he writes out the content for his presentations beforehand to make sure he has everything he needs to say.
[00:01:21] John is still working on his BattleTech story (working title: Dispossessed). He's at about 6400 total words but needs to stop and edit. The story started as only a single scene that played out as a movie script, but as he put characters to the story, they took the story in a different direction. He thinks he needs to start over with a new second draft.
Eric asked what the target for the story would be, and John thought it should have been about 5000 words. Originally it was supposed to start as a short story, but may be a novella before all is said and done. John's not sure when it would be ready for a beta read?
"I am an artiste! It will be done when its done!"
[00:02:31] Eric is working on the rewrite of Don't Wake Up. He's made some interesting headway, but is unsure if he likes it or not. He has also slapped down a few more words on Faith, Love and Rust on Penflip. It's an open project, so you can find it here.
What's happening online
First Quarter Sales from three U.S. Publishers
[00:03:03] A post on Publishers Weekly showed mixed signals from three of the largest publishing houses.
"First-quarter reports from three of the largest U.S. trade houses gave mixed messages about the state of book publishing at the start of 2015. Sales rose at HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt trade division, but fell at Simon & Schuster, compared to the first quarter of 2014. Revenue at HC, however, fell 5% if sales from Harlequin—which HC bought last summer—are excluded."
A Writing Cheatsheet
[00:04:00] Cheatography is a website for building cheat sheets on any topic you'd like. It has a nice interface for creating multiple section with lists, columns and text.
John created a cheat sheet for writing with quotes, plotting techniques, and crutch words to avoid. His writing cheatsheet
A post over at The Write Practice talks about the value of beta readers. Why Beta Readers can Revolutionize Your Writing The article covers why beta readers are important to your writing, where you can find them, and what you should look for in a beta reader.
29 Awesome Books With Strong Female Protagonists
[00:07:08] Editor Susan Price posted on her facebook page a BuzzFeed article 29 Awesome Books with Strong Female Protagonists. Based on our conversation in Episode 13 on Fantasy novels for people sensitive to humans being horrible, Eric thought this article would be appropriate to share.
A Dark Lure
[00:09:11] Mike finished A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White. His concern that a romantic subplot would get in the way in reading this suspense novel. It turned out to not be the case, however.
How to Make a Living as a Writer
[00:13:03] John is finishing up How to Make a Living as a Writer by James Scott Bell. It has good advice, but it feels a little like an advertisement for all his other writing books. John is in the section right now that discusses the differences between short stories, novellas and novels in terms of plot points and subplots that has been really useful.
The Tears of Jihad
[00:14:10] Eric started The Tears of Jihad by Sean Emerson. This self-published book is a "sword and sandals" story between the Byzantine Empire and the newly-formed Muslim army. It's off to a slow start, but Eric's starting to get into it.
Tech Focus: Penflip
[00:14:53] Penflip is a Git-based writing tool created for writers rather than programmers. You can still track revisions and changes but doesn't have the hard-core coder feel sites like Github does. Projects can be created as either short stories (a single page like Gist), or a full book project (that's more like a Github project). You have the ability with the books to create scenes and folders for chapters. You can share the stories with others to gather feedback and track changes.
[Penflip is] really geared for writers.
You can create open projects for free, or private projects if you subscribe to the service. The site says it costs $10 a month, but I discovered it really charged only $8 a month.
It also has a 30-day money-back guarantee.
When you create a story, you get an edit window similar to Draft or StackEdit that allows you to type in Markdown. Eric really likes the interface and John even plunked down his credit card and subscribed.
"Branches and Tags and Forks, oh my!
When another writer wants to make changes to a document, they get their own branch for their change. Another options would be to create a new branch if you want to keep your original draft intact.
If you'd like to check out Eric's story on Penflip, you can find it here: Faith, Love and Rust and offer your suggestions and edits!
[00:21:34] Information dumps are large sections of prose where nothing is happening because the author is trying to disseminate a large amount of information the reader needs to continue reading the story. In general, this is considered lazy writing.
Good examples of info dumps
Douglas Adams, in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, cheats on info dumps and is able to use the Guide itself as the dump like a Wikipedia page about the topic he needed to describe.
Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon, Reamde, and Seveneves, writes really technical prose that often needs a lot of description to make sense. One example he used in Cryptonomicon was in his description of the workings of the Enigma machine during World War 2. He used a character riding a bike with a faulty chain and broken tooth on the gear as an analogy for how the tumblers in the Enigma machine fell into place. The bike would drop the chain whenever the broken tooth and the broken link in the chain met.
William Gibson, on the other hand, info dumps only at the last possible moment when the reader's curiosity is the highest. In The Peripheral, the characters talked about "The Jackpot" several times, but he never described what it was until the point when the suspense was enough that the reader is screaming for the information and it is no longer a dump that distracted from the story.
Elmore Leonard is a king of the non-info dump as he writes very sparsely.
Bad examples of info dumps
Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the worst offenders of the info dump, so much so it earned its own term: Cabbage Head. Despite being a ranking officer on the ship, someone would always turn into a cabbage head, going dumb so other characters could explain what was going on to the audience.
Another generic example of bad info dumps are dialog as info dump. The amount of information one character would say in a single, uninterrupted block, despite people not talking that way. Sometimes you can get away with this when one character (a mentor) is talking to another character (an apprentice) who honestly wouldn't have any idea about what is going on.
"Well, you know she's our sister" is the worst kind of info dump as dialog. The only reason anyone would say something like this is because the author is lazy and needs to tell the reader something.
Mike brought up some books he's read where the author inventoried the entire contents of a room which not only was boring, but also was never mentioned again.
"That's why people don't use editors. Because they know editors will kill that (info dump)."
[00:30:38] Mike gets books from NetGalley, which is a site that provides books in exchange for a review. Mike would give a bad book a one-star if it meant warning other people of what they might be getting into. He doesn't give many three-star reviews. Generally, he gives four or five star reviews.
John thinks the one-star reviews should get written, but doesn't want to be that harsh. He gets a little leery about writing them. Three stars reviews are those books that are perfectly fine. It's not a bad review. It's average. There isn't anything wrong with the book. A four star review are books that he thinks about after he finished reading. Five star review books are those he'd read again.
Eric has done some reviews, but not nearly as many as he should. For example, Rob Hart's book New Yorked. Eric wants to give a nice review of that book, but hasn't done it. When it comes down to sitting down at the computer and doing some writing, writing the reviews
Eric says, reviews to me are interesting. When he goes to Amazon, he'll see a bunch of 5-star reviews and 1 1-star review. Eric knows immediately that some of those 5-star reviews are friends and family.
Amazon can pull reviews if family or friends do reviews. There's a lot controversy in deciding who is or isn't a relative or friend. What's a really good friend? As a writer, you should be making friends with your readers, they should be mavens for your writing. So what happens when your closest readers are flagged by Amazon as a friend? Eric calls shenanigans on that.
Mike pointed out that we're close friends, so would our reviews get blocked by Amazon because we're too close.
"If I have to give you a 1-star review, that means I didn't do my job as your beta reader or critiquer."
Writing that Pays
[00:37:08] E-Commerce Bytes is looking for articles about online stores. Articles should be between 100 and 500 words. All types of articles about selling online are appropriate.They pay about $20 a story. Knock out a few of those and get some beer money.
[00:37:50] We are having a Twitter contest running from July 27th, 2015 through August 9th, 2015. All you have to do is tweet using the @typehammer Twitter account and you can win a beautiful tulipwood pen carved by Eric.