Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ooh, pretty!

I'm a geek; I find this beautiful.

Behold the sun glinting off a liquid lake on the only bit of land in our solar system--other than Earth--to have such things. This is Saturn's moon Titan:

Image via NASA and Gawker

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Post For a Day When Your Backpack is Heavy

Okay, this isn't merely an "Oh my stars, how cool!" post, but the discussion starts below the video because the clip is relevant to what I want to say.

So. That looked incredibly thrilling, right?

So. How did those (gender-neutral) guys get to the top of the mountain?

I saw fences up there. It may be they lucked out and there's a gondola or a road that takes them to the top.

Usually however, with these kinds of sports, each of those amazing flights down the mountain involves a lengthy slog up with a backpack full of equipment. And maybe the skiers had to wake before dawn to do this. Maybe they had to camp in the snow to be ready for their moment.

So the connection with writing becomes apparent--it takes a writer one or more years to write a book, but it only takes a reader a few hours to sail through that thrilling ride and alight upon "The End" wanting more.

And this is true of all kinds of endeavours; it takes days to paint a portrait but only an instant to look at one. It takes months to develop a mathematical proof and only a few minutes for your colleagues to read through it.

Which brings me to the idea of motivation. It can be dispiriting to anyone to know their work can be consumed (and forgotten) so quickly by its intended audience.

So why are we writers doing this?

Here's a potential reason: I read an article recently (and am having trouble finding it now, unfortunately) that studied what motivated a group of children to draw with crayons. It found the children were most motivated when they decided for themselves that they were going to draw, and they were least motivated when offered a reward as incentive to prompt them to draw.

This isn't a surprise to me, because I've noticed this tendency in myself regarding a wide range of pursuits. If I decide it would be cool to paint a picture/write a book/create a computer program, then I can work very hard for quite prolonged periods on that project.

I don't find it a huge incentive to consider that I might ever make money doing whatever it is--and an offer of payment beforehand sometimes even sours my enthusiasm. The "ooh, wouldn't that be cool?" factor far outweighs "hmm, could I sell this?" as a reason for me to start working.

The tricky bit is when I don't feel the "ooh, wouldn't that be cool?" incentive. Then I have to substitute in a solid "this would be worthwhile" belief and make myself plug away at the project. It isn't that I've lost the love of the activity; it's just that at a certain point, inspiration gives way and I have to adopt a work ethic.

I've read about many writers who say they don't exactly like writing; they like having written. They're immensely proud of what they create, but they don't find the process itself all that fun.

And again, that's not really a surprise. All they're saying is that the mind-searing, glorious flight down the mountain is often the sole reason for slogging up it in the first place.


Do you like writing, or do you like having written?

What motivates you to write? What spurs you to start, and what spurs you to finish? Are they different things?

And, tangentially, would you climb a mountain if you could fly down it?

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Power of the Sun | Hummingbird in the Snow

The power of the sun: Awesome!

PS - This is why you use telescopes in the daylight only with extreme caution. Even a just-swinging-the-tube-around glimpse of the sun will destroy your retina instantly, and you can also set things on fire pretty darned fast by leaving the telescope pointed in the wrong direction.

Link via Epic Win For the Win

In other news, we have a hummingbird hanging out on our balcony! The proximity of our feeder coupled with shelter from the snowstorm is apparently a winning combination as far as this fellow is concerned:

This shot shows how iridescent-red his face is. You have to catch him at the right angle or he just looks black.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The end of this makes it all worthwhile.

Link via Discover Magazine

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Literary Agents: Finding a Good Fit

Livia Blackburne pointed out, via Twitter, this great article about how five writers got, kept and fired agents. It covers a great range of experience, from "We tried hard but couldn't get the sale and lost the love because of it" to "This agent cared more about keeping the publisher happy."

Livia's link was a nice bit of serendipity because I'd been thinking about a related topic for today's blog post: What questions to ask an agent when you get "the call".

I've got some not-often-suggested questions to ask an agent who offers you representation, but I'll get to those later in this post. First, I consider it a public duty for anyone who talks about this topic to discuss how writers can protect themselves against scam and incompetent agents. Hence:


There exist con artists who use a writer's dreams against them in order to scam money from the writer. These include vanity publishers and predatory editing services, as well as scam literary agents.

However, there also exist literary agents who have no real experience or expertise, i.e. who are incompetent at their job, who can do as much harm to a writer's career as a scammer does.

Always remember Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer.

In other words, people are supposed to pay you to publish your writing; never the reverse.

How this relates to agents is that an agent should never charge you up-front fees. They should work on commission only, with fees (for things like photocopying and the mailing costs associated with sending your book out on submission) deducted only after--and if--they make the sale.

Anything else is a conflict of interest. The agent is parasite if they're making money when you are not. However, if they only make money when you do too, then they are in a symbiotic relationship with you, and that's what you want.

Thus, to protect yourself against scam- or incompetent-agents, you ask the questions:
  • "What have you sold?" or
  • "Since you're a new agent, where have you worked (in the industry) before this?"
The answers to these questions help you determine whether the agent is a legitimate one and how much relevant experience they have. Note! You may need to check out their answers; scammers do lie about these things.

I have to say, however, that here in the internet age, I really think you should have a good idea about whether the agent is legitimate before you talk to them--even before you query them.

AgentQuery screens its listings, and for the most part those agents are legitimate, but don't assume so. Cross-check the agents you want to query at Preditors and Editors, which keeps track of publishing industry scammers of all stripes.

You can also go to the Absolute Write Water Cooler, a writer's forum, and search for the agent's name. You'll often find a thread where someone has asked the questions you want answered, i.e. "Is this agent legitimate? Is this agent okay to work with?"

The important thing is to be aware and educated about the dangers that exist. Reading Writer Beware, created by the SFWA, is a good way to teach yourself what things to watch out for.


All good? Okay. Now I'll talk about a few questions I think are useful to ask when you're certain the agent on the other end of the line is a professional and your only real question is whether they're the right agent for you.

How involved in the writing process will the agent be?

Some agents really like to workshop with their clients during the writing process, and some only want to hear from you when the book is done and polished to (your standard) of perfection.

So what would you, the writer, prefer? Lots of people would sacrifice their teeth to have a publishing expert act as their critique partner, but personally, I get neurotic if I'm soliciting opinions about my writing while I'm still working on it. It's different for everyone.

So what do you want? Once you've decided that, it becomes a useful question to ask the agent where they fall on the spectrum. Do they want to workshop and help you create a fantastic book, or do they want the delight of receiving your polished, final product like an unexpected present in the mail? Their answer will help you determine whether you and that agent are going to be a good fit.

And what if it sounds like you won't be a good fit, at least with regard to this one point?

Thankfully, people are flexible; this doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. Just admit to the agent that you prefer to work a different way, and mention in what ways you'd be willing to be flexible. Then, ask if they'd be willing to be flexible on this point too.

Agents are used to negotiation; most of them will be completely reasonable provided you're not too timid to bring up the matter in the first place. And if they're not, that's a red flag. You might want to re-consider working with them.

How aware of the selling process will the writer be?

One of the most common complaints you hear from writers who have fired their agent is that there was a lack of communication. The agent wouldn't answer emails or phone calls, or did so in a perfunctory, unhelpful manner.

The thing is, a lack of communication might have birthed that problem. Did the writer ever tell the agent what level of interaction they expected?

Stop and consider how often you want to hear from your agent when your book is on submission. Of course if something big happens you want to know immediately, but what about when nothing much is happening? When it's just out there with editors, awaiting their responses?

When I had an agent, I asked her to email me a status report about once a month, and that worked out beautifully. Of course she occasionally got busy and I had to prompt her, but she was always speedy about getting back to me when I did so. I think outlining right from the beginning what I wanted (and my request being a reasonable one) helped keep our relationship smooth and angst-free.

If you suggest the agent touch base with you once every [X] weeks with a brief status report, and then ask the agent whether they consider that request reasonable, the two of you can thereby negotiate a communication schedule both of you consider fair.

This functions as insurance, too. Often, the writer who has complaints about their agent's level of communication spends many months fretting about whether they have a legitimate peeve or not. If you tell your agent from the outset what you expect, then those months of uncertainty can be avoided; if a lack of communication occurs, you have grounds to open a discussion with your agent immediately.


What other questions do you think would useful to ask an agent if you're trying to determine whether the two of you will be a good fit?

Alternately, if there are agented or previously-agented writers who read this blog, what headaches have you encountered with your agent? (Anonymous commenting is on.) Maybe we can brainstorm ways to help prevent those issues from occurring in the first place.

Do you have any other comments on this issue? I'd love to hear them!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snerk, snerk, snerk...

Link via Epic Win For the Win

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Space Porn

Discover magazine has posted a magnificent gallery of satellite images here. Click the image of the Nile river below to get to it:

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Friday, November 19, 2010


You know how there are some things from back in the misty mists of your childhood that just plain make you bound-around-like-a-puppy happy, even now?

This song is one of mine.

How about you? Got a [song/something else] that does this for you? Let us know in the comments! (Yessir, getcher red hot nostalgia right here, folks.)

UPDATE: FairyHedgehog has officially turned this into a meme! Post a video for your nostalgia song on your own blog so we can chair-dance along with you!

If you let me know in the comments here that you've posted, I'll add a link to your blog below.

The Chair-Dance Enablers:
Kate In the Closet
Janet Reid

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Gentle Reminder for Tumultuous Digital Times

Freedom of speech means:
  • you get to say whatever you want.
  • everyone else does too.

Freedom of speech does NOT mean:
  • that anyone is obligated to provide you a forum in which to speak.
  • that no one's allowed to call you an jackhole for what you just said.

Thank you for your attention to this rant that doesn't apply to you, because you are a lovely and sensible person. Unlike some folks on the internet. Snarl. Ahem. Forget I said that.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, November 15, 2010

Free Stuff, Redux

Josh is doing it again!

Prizes, prizes, prizes--freeeeeee books!

All you need to do to enter Josh's contest is get on Twitter and:
"Simply send me (@JRVogt) a tweet with any message and the hashtag #genrebookgiveaway and you'll be entered."
The contest ends at midnight, Mountain Standard Time, this Friday. Good luck!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nine and a Half Thoughts

I've been serious about writing for a few years now, and I've come to a few conclusions. Here's a list of some of the things I've learned on this journey:
1) Complacently allowing yourself to not write may be more dangerous to your dreams than all the publishing industry's pitfalls.

2) Keep your hero worship on a leash. No one has all the answers. An expert, at best, only has the correct answers for themselves. You follow their teachings not to find out what works, but to to discover whether it will work for you. There's no guarantee it will.

3) Despite that, you always benefit from trying to learn something new; no exceptions.

4) The things you think are truisms about your writing style usually aren't. Often, you haven't tested yourself to see whether that 'truism' is true--you're just mentally defending your status quo.

5) All kinds of things work. The writing 'rules' exist to train us out of bad habits. Once you've learned to write according to the rules, you'll have the wisdom to know when it's alright to break them.

6) You always feel least talented and least happy right after taking a step forward in your craft. You only see what's wrong when you're capable of seeing what's wrong. Therefore, never give up: the pain only means you've graduated to the next level of understanding.

7) No amount of hype will turn a mediocre book into a bestseller. Don't go crazy over the wrong things; focus on your writing.

8) Your mental space is your work space. When your mental space is cluttered with anger and angst, you often can't function as a writer. Keep your desk clear. Walk away from those juicy internet fights.

9) You're only competing with yourself. Everyone else is running in a completely separate race.

9b) So don't trip anyone. Just cheer.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I watched this great TED talk recently about how displaying data graphically can really help the audience understand it quickly. I totally recommend you watch the video!

The talk demonstrates how statistics get trotted out because they're shocking, but those same values often imply a different--and more accurate and valuable--picture when you provide their context. As an example, everyone knows China has the largest army in the world, but if you divide the size of the army by the country's population, then China drops to 108th position! Burma has the largest army compared to its population.

So here's another statistic: E-book sales will likely reach $1 billion dollars for 2010. That's a pretty impressive number isn't it? And it's certainly the number being trumpeted in headlines--as is the statistic that e-book sales are up 127%.

But the number that puts these values in proper perspective isn't being trumpeted as loudly, because ONE BEEEEEELLION DOLLARS just sounds so impressive all by itself.

The publishing industry makes about $35 billion dollars a year.

E-books sales are growing enormously, but out of every 100 people who buy a book, only about 3 of them are buying an e-book.

This is an important, growing market, but at the moment, it isn't a large market. Amid all the hyperbole, we need to keep that in mind.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, November 08, 2010

Opportunity to get a Query Critique!

Blog buddy Lynnette Labelle is looking for queries to critique on her blog! If you'd like an extra set of eyes to help you pinpoint how to make your query letter stronger, then read this post and get in touche with Lynnette!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Woot! Free stuff!

Blogging buddy Josh Vogt is holding a book giveaway--the first of several, in fact!

Entering is easy: Just leave Josh a comment on this post. The deadline is one minute before midnight (Mountain Standard Time, I assume), this Thursday (Nov. 11.)

Good luck! Josh's prizes look awesome.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Private Service Announcement

For interested family members, my parental units are now back in the country with lots of kangaroo products stuffed in their baggage.

For everyone else, here's a loldog:

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, November 01, 2010

Oh, No--I Mean, Go, Go, NaNoWriMo!

I've got my pompoms out and my short skirt on for everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year. I am already shouting, "Go, mighty fingers, go!" and "You can do eeeet!" at all you brave souls, for this is a gutsy and inspiring thing you do!

But note where I'm standing? Over here on the sidelines? Yeah, this is where I plan to stay. And quite happily so too, thank you.

As I've told a few of you, I did the Three Day Novel contest once, and as far as I'm concerned, that gives me a lifetime exemption from doing NaNoWriMo.

That said, I'm going to unofficially try to increase my own word count this month, because for the past three, I've kinda been sucking golf balls in terms of my output. I doubt I'll make 50,000 words like you stalwart NaNoers are aiming for, but I wouldn't mind getting an honest ten points from The Koala (which means 22,000 words.)

The NaNoers are free to mock that piddling goal. I shall have my pompoms and my sanity to console me!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: