Monday, October 25, 2010

Letting Go--Of the Old Ways?

I announced last week I had ePublished a book. Today I'll talk about why I did that, but it's really part of a larger discussion: mentally and emotionally letting go of a book you've written.

I'll start by not talking about that book. I'll discuss the one I wrote before it.

I invested a lot of effort in my first novel, and as a consequence, I had a lot of emotion sunk into it. It took me a while (about twenty-five rejections) to find an agent, and in the meantime, I was still getting feedback on the manuscript from online critiquers.

One suggestion I got from a person (who hadn't read it) was that maybe I should stick that manuscript under the bed and write a new one.

To which my (private) reaction was, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooo...!!"

I couldn't imagine just...letting that book die. Giving up. I had sunk so much time and emotion into it, had twined it so tightly to my dreams, that my mind balked at the possibility.

After I began writing my second book, it became...possible to let the first book go. I still wanted (and continue to want) to get it published, but once I was busy with the next book, I no longer had fits of apoplexy over the thought of setting the first one aside. My eggs weren't all in the same basket anymore.

The book I ePublished last week was my second book, not my first.

And that might seem a bit weird. The truth is I've still mentally got the first one set aside for traditional publishing.

Why not the second book? Because the second book was problematic to write, and I'm not sure I like it--in the sense that it isn't the sort of thing I read, and I thus don't feel comfortable recommending it to others because I don't know how many people are into that sort of thing.

Also, my agent and I parted ways (amicably) over this second book. It wasn't her cup of tea either, and that means the second book carries some emotional baggage for me; trudging back to the start of the road to publication did make me pretty sad.

The result of all that was, after racking up about twenty-five rejections for this second novel also, I decided I wanted to let it go. I was already writing a third book (and enjoying the process again), but the second one nagged like a hangnail. I felt frustrated and impatient with traditional publishing, but at the same time, I didn't think this book would be the one to let me break into traditional publishing. I just wanted to mentally wave goodbye to it and not care so much anymore.

Five years ago, I would have stuffed the manuscript under the bed, dusted my hands, and said, "Mischief managed." However, the publishing landscape has changed rapidly in the past few years, and J. A. Konrath's success with self-publishing has really intrigued me.

For a start, self-publishing an eBook is something you can do for free. This makes it a very different beast from vanity publishing in that you might be a fool to do it, but at least you're not being fleeced by some predator while you do it.

I decided my second book was the perfect one to experiment with. It's unlike the stuff I normally write, so why not release it under a pseudonym and satisfy my curiosity about self-publishing at the same time?

I'll pause here to note that one thing I find off-putting about some people who self-publish is they're zealots. They see themselves as voices crying in the wilderness, or trailblazers struggling against a conspiracy of monolithic traditional publishers, and that insecurity seems to make them desperate to convince everyone (including themselves?) that self-publishing is the way of the future.

I am not a zealot. It's not at all clear to me that self-publishing a book isn't an idiotic thing for me to do.

What I am is a dork and an experimentalist. I want to see what happens; I want to know if this would work for me instead of continuing to wonder about it. (Plus, I can do it on a shoe-string.)

If any of you are curious about my experience with this, feel free to ask at any time. I'll always be honest, I'll try to be objective, and I don't mind telling you the embarrassing stuff.

So here's my as-objective-as-possible opinion of self-publishing thus far:

Trying to do it right, i.e. putting effort into creating a (hopefully) professional-looking cover, copy-editing the text, making a promo, etc., took up about two months of my time and I got very little writing (or reading) done in the meanwhile. I consider that a big negative. Writers must write!

I sold six copies, all in the first two days. Okay, so six is a really teensy quantity, but during those first two days? It was so exciting!

I now believe at least half of those sales were to family members (thanks guys!), which feels a bit like cheating to be honest, although I very much appreciate it.

And I haven't sold any books since, so the emotional roller coaster is officially back in the ground-level station again.

One thing that has hit home to me is just how gruesome and monumental a task self-promotion is--how very invisible you feel, and how very unwelcome you could make yourself by trying too hard. For example, I think it's a completely valid choice for book review websites to exclude self-published books, but it's disheartening for me to finally notice that--my goodness--they all seem to.

The one thing I like is I don't have to stress out over a slow start. This book isn't coming off the market until I decide to take it off, and that means if I hit upon some fabulous marketing plan six months from now, I still get to reap the benefits. If I were traditionally published and my book had a slow start, it would likely be taken off shelves long before it could build any momentum and my career would essentially be finished.

It's a tough road, either way.


Do you have any thoughts to share? Any uncomfortable observations you'd like to point out? There's a lot of talk these days about self-publishing, about the allegedly-oh-so-imminent death of traditional publishing, and about what a serious writer should be trying to do with their career in these digital days. I think there's merit in having an open discussion about it and in being critical of some of the claims made by both sides.

Would you consider self-publishing? Have you already self-published?

Do you think it's dangerous to your writing career to self-publish? Do you consider it a cop-out made by people who aren't talented enough to make it in traditional publishing?

Do you think traditional publishing is dying? What do you think will rise from its ashes?

Do you think all the predictions of doom are just a new spin on the publishing industry's decades-old pessimism and everything will settle out just fine?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Art What You Eat--It's More Fun That Way

Thanks to Adam Heine (who has a very good blog series on query letters right now) for emailing me this link--behold! Pancake art (click the image to see a gallery of photos):

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cult of Conspicous Consumption - now on sale

Okay. Big scary thing is now done.

I've ePublished my novel,The Cult of Conspicuous Consumption, on Smashwords, and under the pseudonym "Jen Deben".

And ooh, look! I figured out how to embed my promo (still no sound, sorry):

By the way, if you want to share this Flash game with others (and naturally I would love it if you did), just copy-and-paste the text below into your website or blog:
<object classid="clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000" codebase=",0,0,0" id="CofCC_Promo" align="middle" height="500" width="600"><param name="movie" value=""><param name="quality" value="high"><param name="base" value="."><embed src="" quality="high" name="CofCC_Promo" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="" base="." align="middle" height="500" width="600"></embed></object>

Finally, just so nobody feels awkward, I firmly believe you should only buy a book if it appeals to you and never out of guilt because that book happens to be written by your internet buddy.

In other words, it's totally fine with me if this sort of novel isn't your cup of tea. You don't have to pretend otherwise; I promise I still like you!

I mean, heck, this is a novel I would emphatically tell my mother not to buy because my mom doesn't appreciate bloodthirsty, cynical books, and oooooh my, yes--this is one such a novel. So it would hardly be sporting for me to strong-arm anyone else into it, would it?

I do hope, however, that you'll all at least take a look at the novel's blurb and free sample and consider it.

Oh, and play the Flash game lots while making "Rawr! Rawr!" noises. :-)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Trolls Left Under the Bridge; We're Seeking New Conquests Now.

The best way to tweak someone's nose about their hubris is to casually--seemingly effortlessly--demonstrate just how small their accomplishment really is.

Mother Nature's an expert at doing this to humanity.

Click the image to see some other amazing images of the goats at the source site. (Click on the thumbnails, once you get there.)

Link via io9

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trees Eating Things

Click for a gallery of images. In my opinion, this is the best one.

Link via FairyHedgehog (And sorry for the original oversight!)

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time to Play!

Happy Canadian Turkey Genocide Day Thanksgiving! Truly, today is "Meaty Monday".

Could I use you as a guinea pig, gentle reader? Please visit the link below, play the game, and would you tell me if you see any glitches?

It's a big game, so it will take a few moments to load. I still want to add sound, but the game-play itself is complete and I want to make sure it works on a variety of systems. Hence, my invitation to you!

Flash Game Promo

So--any problems? Does it play well? Did it do anything odd? Is it too hard/too easy? It is too herky-jerky?

Erm, and yeah. That bit at the end. I am planning to ePub something in the next month or so. I still have to get an ISBN. I will keep you posted!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, October 04, 2010

Using Word to Format a Manuscript for the Web

My apologies, but what you see below hasn't been proof-read. I tried to type it up before work, and now I'm running late for work! I will fix things later today; sorry for the rough state of this.


This week's "meaty" post deals with how to use some of Microsoft Word's more advanced search and replace features. They're useful to understand because you can use them to take (for example) a manuscript and add HTML tags so you can post an excerpt of it on the web. You can also used these features just to quickly hunt for subtle formating errors, like a tab inserted on a blank line.

Unfortunately, this post describes how to do these things for Word 2003 or earlier. Me and the new Word are frenemies, not friends. That said, a lot of what I'll talk about can be done in the new Word if you're familiar with its interface.

Show Non-visible Characters

First, turn on Word's formatting symbols. This inserts a non-printing symbol into your document for "invisible" items like carriage returns, tabs, and spaces. To do this, look on your icons for the pilcrow symbol, which looks like this: ¶, i.e. a backward "p" thingy.

Click that. Ooh, now your manuscript looks ugly, doesn't it? Don't worry; all those new symbols do not print out.

In principle, you can go look for invisible formatting errors now, but a search-and-replace would be easier.

How to Search For Non-Visible characters

Begin the search-and-replace the usual way: Click "Edit", then "Replace...".

Let's say you want to find a tab followed by a paragraph break (or "carriage return", which is where you hit the "enter" or "return" key on your computer to form a new line.)

In the "Search" box, type the following:


What does that mean? The ^t tells Word to search for a tab. The ^p tells it to search for a paragraph. Now type your correction into the "Replace" box. You presumably want rid of the tab, so enter:


Click "Find Next" or "Replace All" as usual to complete your search-and-replace.

A list of useful characters:

^p paragraph break
^l a new-line (these are different than carriage returns and can mess up your formatting in subtle ways, so it's good to know they exist)
^t tab

^- an optional hyphen
^~ a non-breaking hyphen

^+ an em-dash
^= an en-dash

^m a manual page break
^s a non-breaking space

How about searching for extra spaces? You can just type those into the search-and-replace boxes and go hunting. I recommend doing it that way if you're looking for a double space, or want to insert a double space after a period, but it's possible you have a more problematic situation, like a manuscript where the "tabs" were created by typing in a variable number of spaces.

For a situation like that, I recommend using wildcards and regular expressions.

Using Wildcards and Regular Expressions (a.k.a. RegEx Expressions) To Replace Extra Periods

First, let me say I don't recommend using wildcard expressions unless you absolutely need to and have done some research to understand what they are and how they work. You can find more information about them on the web by googling appropriate terms, like "ms word search wildcards" and "ms word search regular expressions". This website is a decent place to start, but is still a bit cryptic.

Never mind that, however; we're going to use just an eensy weensy little bit of this stuff to find multiple periods.

Open your search-and-replace dialogue. See the little box at the bottom that says "More"? Click that, then click the ticky-box beside "Use Wildcards".

Now, in the "Search" box, type:


where • is a space (you might not see a dot in the box; just make sure you typed the space.)

The {3,} means "hunt for 3 or more of the character I typed before this". You can change it to {2,100} and it will search for anywhere from 2 to 100 of the previous character.

Add your ^t symbol to the "Replace" box and complete your search-and-replace as usual to change multiple spaces into a single tab.

Adding HTML tags to the Document

First, I'll note that we're using Word to do this only because its search-and-replace feature is so lovely. When you're finished adding your HTML tags, etc., you need to save your file in .txt format, which is to say as a plain text file. Word adds aaaaall kinds of formatting to documents that will utterly bork your HTML. Plain text is what you want at the end of the day.

Before you start, click "Tools" on the menu bar, then "Autocorrect...". Now, turn off almost all the options on the the "Autocorrect" and "AutoFormat as You Type" tabs. This will save you heartache later.

A really useful trick I found when working in my Word document is to highlight all the things I want to add tags to in another colour so I can spot them easily.

Finding BOLD, ITALIC and CENTRED Text in Word

Open a find dialogue by clicking "Edit" > "Find..."

To search for text in italics, click into the "Find What" box BUT DO NOT TYPE ANYTHING. Instead, hold down the "Ctrl" key and type "i" on your keyboard.

You should see a bit of text appear below the box saying that you're looking for italics text. (You would click Ctrl+i twice more to turn it off.)

Now click the ticky-box for "Highlight all items found in:" and make sure "Main Document" is selected.

When you click "Find All", Word will select all the italics items in the document.

This doesn't add colour, however. To do that, click the highlighter icon and choose a colour.

A list of these useful "hot-keys":

Ctrl+i for italics text (twice more to turn it off)
Ctrl+b for bold text (twice more to turn it off)
Ctrl+e for centred text (once more to turn it off)

Now we're ready to add our HTML tags.

I recommend you add your italics (e.g. <i> and </i>), bold and centering tags before you do your paragraph (<p> and </p>) tags.

To add <i> and </i> tags around all italics text, first open a search-and-replace dialogue.

In the "Search" box, type no text but click Ctrl+i to select italic text.

In the "Replace" box, type <i>^&</i>

You (hopefully) recognize the HTML italics tags. The ^& symbol indicates to Word that whatever text it finds that fits the search criteria (i.e. text in italics) should be left as is between the new <i> and </i> tags.

To add similar tags to bold and centred text, repeat the process by changing the search criteria from italics to bold or centred, and then changing your HTML tags in the "Replace" box.

Once you've finished with the formatting, you want to surround your paragraphs with paragraph tags (<p> and </p>). This is a bit trickier. The way I do it is the following:

I add the <p> tags first. In the "Search" box, I type ^t because I have tabs at the start of all my paragraphs.

In the "Replace" box, I type <p> I complete my search-and-replace as usual.

Next, I do the </p> tags. In the "Search" box, I type ^p to register the ends of my paragraphs.

In the "Replace" box, I type </p>^p where the ^p at the end is there for legibility only. It keeps my paragraphs from running together on the page and won't affect the final HTML document at all.

But WAIT! It would be a very bad thing to just hit "Replace All" at this point, because I use paragraph breaks to add vertical white space to my document. Having a bunch of </p> tags with no <p> tags would make very broken HTML.

So I click into my document and select just my paragraphs, then apply the </p> tags to them only, and not areas of white space.

Helpful hint: You probably know how to highlight a few paragraphs with your mouse, but what you probably don't know is that if you highlight one section of text, then press and hold down the Ctrl key, you can highlight other sections too without highlighting the bits in the middle (which would be areas with white space.) This allows you to highlight just blocks of text and skip over the vertical white spaces around scene breaks or chapter headings.

Replacing "Curly" Quotes, etc., With HTML Entities

Word uses some nice-looking characters, like curving quotation marks or apostrophes, that don't necessarily translate over to HTML well. These characters are the reason why when someone emails you text they cut-and-pasted into their email program from Word, there are sometimes odd characters sprinkled throughout it. The email program couldn't understand what the curly quotes (etc.) were.

Thus, it's a good idea to strip out these characters and replace them with the corresponding HTML entity.

An HTML entity is a code that translates into symbol. For example, if I type "& # 60; p & # 62;" without the quotes and with all the spaces removed into an HTML document (or even into Blogger when I'm typing this post), the result when I look at that document on a web browser is the following collection of characters: <p>. The "& # 60;" gives me a < symbol and the "& # 62;" gives me a > symbol.

Do a simple search-and-replace and switch in the following codes for their corresponding characters. I've left off the &# symbols so the numbers show up. Just remember to sandwich all these numbers between &# and ;

8220 Left-hand-side curly quotes
8221 Right-hand-side curly quotes
8217 Apostrophe (right-hand-side quote
8216 Left-hand-side quote
8212 Em dash
8230 Ellipses

This website provides a more complete list of codes.

Convert to Plain Text

When you've completed all your preparatory work on Word, you want to save your file as plain text. Click "File", then "Save As...", then change the "Save as type:" box at the bottom to "Plain Text (*.txt)" option and save the file.


Open up the file in a text editor like MS Notepad (DO NOT use MS Wordpad.) To make your file an HTML document that can be read on a web browser, add the following code to the very top of the file:


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"

<html xmlns="" lang="en">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html;charset=utf-8"></meta>

<title>YOUR TITLE HERE</title>


and the following code to the very bottom of your file:




Save it, and you should now be able to look at it on a web browser by opening the browser, then clicking "File" > "Open File...".

Now a big fat caveat: It might look great, but there might still be many, many errors in your document. HTML is a very forgiving language in that it will ignore code that it knows is bad.

If you're happy with how your document looks, great, don't worry about the hidden errors. However, if you the reason why you converted it to HTML was so you could (for example) ePublish it on the Kindle, then what you see may not be good enough.

There are many websites that will validate your code, but you have to actually put your manuscript on the internet so they can access it. Obviously, only post your manuscript temporarily and take it down as soon as you're done checking it.

I like this validator (type your manuscript's URL into the box at the bottom of the page), but it is a fussy one. It will require you get every error out.

Don't panic, however, if it gives you several thousand errors at first. What's happening is that there might be one error (say a missing or an extra HTML tag) that makes everything after it into an error also. If you fix the first typo, often a bunch of other ones appear to just evaporate.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Two-fer of Squee

First art. Then science.

The art consists of leaves with hand-cut scenes depicted in them. (Click the image and scroll down the resulting page to see a gallery of other leaf art.)

The science consists of a demonstration of how potassium chlorate reacts to gummy bears (and other forms of sugar.)

Links found via Geekologie

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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