Sunday, April 19, 2015

As most writers have already figured out, names are an important tool in writing.

The name alone, on first impression, can make a character seem weak or strong, nasty or gentle, or even wise or foolish.

As an example, in the old television series Grizzly Adams (the younger generation of writers may never have heard of it), two of the main characters are Grizzly Adams and Gentle Ben.  As his name suggests, the woodsman Adams is a grizzled sort, a rough looking mountain man.  Contrary to his name, he was also kind hearted and ran around saving everybody.  His name also plays on his role as a mountain man and keeper of a pet grizzly bear.  His co-star’s name, Ben, itself seems gentle and calm, more so with adding the prefix Gentle to the name.  If you haven’t figured it out from the description of Adams, Ben is a gentle and peaceful grizzly bear.
The same first impression applies to the titles we give our works.

As the writer, you may agonize over the names of every character, searching for the perfect name.  You also may find yourself agonizing over the name of the story too.

The title of the story is the first thing a reader sees, aside from the cover art.  A bad title can be just as damaging to the image of the book as bad cover art.  That first impression is what will decide whether or not that potential reader will pick up that book to read the back cover blurb or skim the pages, or bypass it to pick up the book beside it instead.

Here are three books that are on Amazon.  You have only a title and cover art to decide.  Which one would you pick up?




But what about the name of the author?
In the same way the book title is the first impression a reader gets of your story, your author name is the first impression they get of you.

For some, living in obscurity and safe from the prying eyes of their fans is preferable.  After all, not everyone is cut out for a life of being recognized, especially if he or she is shy.

For others, an assumed pen name is all about finding the perfect name for the author image they want to put out there with their books.

Some writers would not hear of using anything but their real name on their writing, after all it is their hard work and they deserve the credit.  Right?

Some may even see writing under an assumed name to be akin to hiding behind a mask, as if afraid to let their true identity be known.

Of course, secret identities are not always a bad thing.  Super heroes do it all the time.

Sometimes it is in an author’s best interest to don that mask of invisibility and watch the world through a pseudonym.

The reasons for using your real name vs. a pen name are as numerous and there are authors.


Good vs. Bad Names
Authors and actors alike work under assumed names for many reason.  For some it is because they do not think their real names will cut it.  Maybe they’ve been made fun of as kids and are embarrassed by their real names.  Or they are just looking for a name that pops.  One that stands out as memorable so it will help them get ahead in a business that is almost impossible to break into.


The many rejections of Stephen King
Even Stephen King wrote under a pen name for a while.  Like many other writers, Stephen King also faced his share of rejections before becoming a household name.  I’ve read repeatedly over the years that he turned to the pen name Richard Bachman after being unable to sell a single novel under the name Stephen King.  Mostly that was around the rumour mill.

However, this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bachman refutes that claim, which puts the former in the category of hearsay and gossip.  According to this article and others like it, writing under the pen name was more about getting more books published than the publishers would allow by one author for fear of saturating the market with a single author.  And, perhaps as the article suggests, it was in part an experiment.  After being outed as Richard Bachman and Stephen King being the same person, he went on to write exclusively as Stephen King.


Oh For the Love of Privacy
Of course, another reason for using a false name is to protect the privacy of the writer.  Some writers may be concerned that if they ever make it big their private lives will be put out there for the entire world to see.  Of course with technology and information sharing the way it is today, this will probably happen regardless of attempts to hide behind an assumed name.

However, there are some steps that can be taken to make it harder to find out who you are.  Such as is outlined here:  U.S. copyright office – pseudonyms


Genre Confusion
It may be advisable for any writer publishing in more than one genre to use pen names.

Readers like consistency and reliability.  When they pick up a book by a certain author, they expect that author to follow through on the promise implied by the quality and nature of their other books the reader has read.

It wouldn’t do for Suzy Homemaker to buy Sally Schoolgirl that new chapter book by her favourite author only to discover through the child’s look of horror and disgust that the book is actually an erotica novel.

And a horror novel lover probably won’t be buying your books ever again if that next one turns out to be a sappy 18th century romance.  The same goes for that romance fan who starts reading to discover to her disgust that the twists and turns are about what brutal way the heroine will be murdered instead of whether or not he will kiss her.

So, for the sake both of not alienating your readers, and for your own reputation, it is probably wise to use a different pen name for each genre you publish in.

Of course this does not apply to sub-genres.  Using a different pen name for your thriller mystery with a touch of romance than the one used for your thriller suspense would possibly push all your many pen name aliases into obscurity.


Picking a Pen Name
Picking a pen name can be as hard as picking that perfect baby name, the character name that gives the right impression, or the story title that sells.

Why do you think actors often choose the stage names they use?  Do you think Vin Diesel would have the career he does with his real name Mark Sinclair Vincent?  Not as catchy, huh?  Definitely not when his target audience tends to be teen boys and like-minded men who want to see boobs, guns, and car chases.  And considering the types of role he plays, the stage name gives the characters the right feel.

Your pen name is perhaps just as important as your character names. After all, the character is a fictitious person in a story and may never even be carried over into another story.  But your pen name is the fictitious YOU.  This is your alter ego, your alias.  This is you and the identity you will be known as for all of those stories.  Of course, pen names can be changed and stories can be reprinted under the new name, but if the book became popular under the assumed name, it may be best to keep it as is, especially if you’ve never succeeded in making a name for yourself as yourself.

The same resources that can help you find the right names for your characters can help you find the right name for your pen name.  Sources like online baby name finders and baby name books (helpful if you want something with certain origins or meaning).



Pen Names and Copyrights
While under both Canadian and U.S. intellectual property copyright law your writing is automatically copyright protected through the act of creating it, it’s still basically a big game of he said – she said when a copyright dispute goes to court.  Without any proof it boils down to who comes off as seeming more believable to the judge.

In Canada and the U.S. you cannot copyright a pen name any more than you can a book title.  But using a well-known name of another author might leave others thinking you are only trying to ride their coattails of fame.
It may be interesting to note that according to this U.S. copyright office – pseudonyms, in the U.S. at least, your work is actually copyrighted longer if you file under a pen name and do not let your real name be known than if you do list your real name.  Of course that will only matter to whoever gets your estate after you pass on, since it counts in years after your death.




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Sunday, April 12, 2015

I’m a Publishing Newbie

I’m pretty new at the publishing game by any successfully published author’s standards.  So far, my publishing credits include a number of flash fiction and short stories published in writing e-zines, one short story in a mystery anthology published by Second Wind Publishing, and a novel also published by Second Wind.  My contribution to publishing them involved writing them, a great deal of editing, and pressing “send” on the email.
While I’ve been writing for years, I’m a publishing newbie and there’s a lot I don’t know. 

With the ever-changing landscape of the publishing world, no matter how much any of us learn there will always be more to learn.

Articles discussing the finer points of how to write fill the internet in droves, but there seems to be very little information on the other side of writing – the business side of writing.

The how-to articles on writing better also tend to be a confusing overwhelming glut of opposing opinions.  Do you listen to the blogger who vehemently insists you must mercilessly gut your writing of all of what they consider unnecessary extra words, streamlining it to a tight bare-bones written masterpiece?  Or do you listen to the blogger who just as passionately says that it is the flow and artistic expression of the writing that matters most and that you must not sanitize it by worrying about gutting it of what another might consider extra words?

The truth is that regardless of the area of the writing advice, what you need to follow will probably lie somewhere in the middle.  It can be difficult to decide which advise to follow and when.  Too much contradicting advice can leave you feeling even more confused and uncertain.  The best writers will take the advice to heart and figure out what is best for their self and each particular story.

Writing is entertaining, can help you explore questions and issues in your life, and can be used as an outlet for the unpleasant emotions we as humans tend to bottle up inside.  But if you want to be published, writing is a business too.

While exploring the answers to my own questions it occurred to me that I’m probably not the only one asking these questions.  So, I decided to share my discoveries.

I make no claims to be an expert.  Actually, I definitely am not an expert.

Like a lot of writers, I’m learning as I go.  Mostly from researching online articles from various sources and comparing notes on what they say.

The first rule of thumb with online information is "take it with a grain of salt".  In other words, never assume the information is accurate and always question the quality of the source.  So with that in mind let us go forth and learn the business together, and be forgiving when I do get something wrong.


Corrections are always welcome.  You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t know you made them.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

ISBNs – The Books All Have Them, But Why?

Why the Heck Would I Need an ISBN?

Okay, so I have never actually asked myself that question, or asked anyone else.  I have always known what an ISBN is since I was old enough to understand that every book had one.  It is that long number that every printed book has, somewhere on the book cover and on the page inside the front cover listing the copyrights.

Yes, there is more to it than that, but that is all I knew and all I needed to know as a lover of reading books that I had always only picked up off the shelf of a library or used bookstore, at a charity run used book sale, or at a garage sale.  That’s how book lovers feed their reading addiction when they don’t have any money.  I spent years playing at writing before ever becoming seriously involved in actually considering publication as a goal.  There was a lot I did not know, and there is still a lot I need to learn.  Being an author, and a published one, is a never-ending journey of learning.  Just when you think you are getting there, the landscape of publishing changes and you have new things to learn.

For today, the focus is on ISBNs.

All books have them, but why?  What are those ISBN numbers on the copyright page and book jacket of every book for?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.

We should get one thing clear first.  Getting an ISBN is not copyrighting your work.  The ISBN has nothing to do with copyrights and does not guarantee your copyright rights.

The ISBN serves one purpose only – it is a marketing tool.  The ISBN is a catalogue number.

Is an ISBN necessary?  By my research, absolutely not.   At least, not if your publishing intentions are very limited.  You can even epublish on some sites without an ISBN; however it limits your markets.

If you are just going to get a few dozen or a hundred copies of your book printed at a printing company (note I say “printing company”, not “vanity press”.  They are two very different kinds of businesses, and for this purpose I would recommend using a printing service that promises only to create a printed product and nothing else) to give to family and friends, or share them in ebook form through emails or on your blog, then the ISBN is unnecessary.

If you plan to publish through a publishing company or self-publish, in print or ebook, and sell your book in the hope of selling many copies, then you will probably need an ISBN.

If a publisher picks up your book they’ll look after the ISBN.

If you decide to self-publish you’ll need to get one yourself.

Some Ebook sites and self-publishing print services, including Amazon, won’t let you put your book up on their site without an ISBN number.  And that goes whether you are charging $6.99 for your book, $0.99, or offering it for free.

Smashwords will allow you to put your book on their site without an ISBN, but they recommend having one.  Sony and Apple require ISBN’s.  I recommend reading Smashwords’ information on ISBNs before deciding whether to use their free one or get your own.  Note: Smashwords’ free ISBN has Smashwords as the registered publisher and should not be used anywhere else.  In other words, you would need a separate ISBN number for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc, rather than to use the free one provided by Smashwords for those sites.  Some of those sites may required their own ISBN number anyway, listing them as the publisher.

Special note:  being listed on the ISBN records as the publisher does NOT make them the publisher.  It just means they are the entity who paid for and registered the ISBN number.

If you are using any kind of a self-publishing printing service or vanity press, they will likely have an option to include the ISBN as part of their services.  But before you go ahead and take their ISBN number you need to answer one question.  Who do you want listed as the publisher?  The printing service or vanity press will most likely be listed as the publisher for the ISBN they provide you.  If you want yourself to be listed as the publisher you have to get the ISBN yourself.


 
What is an ISBN?


ISBN – International Standard Book Number

This basically is just assigning a catalogue number to a book.

The ISBN is broken down into parts.

EAN – Bookland country code.  Apparently books live in a world of their own separate from ours called “Bookland”.  In the land of books, this identifies what country the book comes from.  Luckily for us non-book beings, the numbers also coincide with the countries of our own world.

Group – identifies the language the book is written in

                 Publisher – identifies the publisher of the book (aka the person or business who filed the ISBN number for the book)

            * oddly enough, it seems that when a publisher exhausts its block of ISBNs, instead of receiving an additional block with the same publisher identifying number, they are given a new identifying number for the new block of ISBNs.  I don’t know why this is.

Title – identifies the book title

               Check Digit – this is akin to a spell check for the people assigning ISBNs.  If this number is not what they are looking for, then an error was made.


What the ISBN does is it simplifies a retailer’s search for a particular book.  Making it easier to find your book instead of, say, the same title by another author will make the difference on getting that sale.

You will also need a separate ISBN number for each edition of a book:  one for hardcover, one for paperback, and one for ebook.

If you do minor typographical corrections it is considered a reprint and new ISBNs are not necessary.

If there are major changes, additions, or deletions, then you are publishing a new edition of the book and need a whole new set of ISBNs.



Obtaining the ISBN

Of course, how you obtain your ISBN and what it costs depends entirely on where you are located.

 In the United States, ISBN’s are sold by a commercial company.  Naturally, they charge accordingly.  After all, they aren’t doing it simply to be kind.  After getting your ISBN, it is up to you to have it registered with RR Bowker, the database for the ISBN agency.  www.bowkerlink.com

If you plan to publish a lot, it’s much cheaper per ISBN to get a block of them instead of just one.  Once you have them, you can use them as your books are published, registering the book information at that time.

In Canada, the Canadian government offers the ISBN for free.  Isn’t this just a wonderful country to live in?  Okay, it’s a perk that Canadians enjoy, but it doesn’t make the rest of publishing easier.

Typically, publishers will obtain blocks of ISBNs at a time because of the cost.  This includes small presses and indy publishers, self publishing services, and vanity presses.  In most cases, you can get that ISBN included when you have your book published with them.  It may even be a requirement.



Come and Get Your Free ISBNs!

Some organizations may offer “free” ISBNs or an ISBN as part of a printing package.  One source said that even Bowker, the company in the U.S. where publishers get their ISBN numbers from, offers free individual ISBNs.  However, I haven’t found the Bowker link to confirm this.

AUTHOR BE WARNED:  While it might not cost you a dime for that free ISBN, you are in fact giving up having your own name listed as the publisher.

It sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it?  That is exactly the tone I got from some articles I read on ISBNs.  But it is a tone I disagree with.

You will still be listed on the book as the author.  You are the author and nobody can take that away.  If someone listed themselves as the author of your book, that makes you either a paid ghostwriter by choice, or a victim of plagiarism.  But that is a topic for another day.  You just won’t be listed as the publisher in the records for the ISBN number.  This is a distinction that may be completely unimportant to you since very few people will actually look up your ISBN number to find out who the publisher on record is.  It’s much easier to just read the publisher name on the copyright page at the beginning of the book.

Not being listed as the publisher is entirely to be expected when dealing with an actual paying publisher.  After all, they are the publisher while you are the author, and nowhere in the ISBN is there a number specific to the author of the book.

Publishers are buying the publishing rights to your book, paying you royalties, and will list themselves as the publisher of note.

However, if you are self publishing or publishing through a vanity press (best to be avoided), or through a self-publishing service (different from a vanity press), and are trying to brand yourself as such, then you will probably want to be listed as the publisher.  However, when it comes down to it and nobody except the ISBN people ever see that, it probably really doesn’t matter.


When an organization or individual obtains a block of ISBNs, the publisher digits will be assigned to that organization or individual and are non-transferable.  As I said before, however, being listed in the ISBN records as the publisher really just identifies the company or person who has filed the ISBN, regardless whether they are the actual publishing house, self-published individual, or a publishing provider like Amazon filing on behalf of a publisher or self-published author.

That means, even though you are self-publishing, it will forever be noted in the annals of history within the offices of the ISBN people, aka the records likely no one else will ever see, that for that particular ISBN number XYZ Publisher is the publisher of that book and not you.  Chances are you may end up with multiple ISBN numbers listing various companies as the ‘publisher’ if you a publishing on multiple platforms like Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

On the bright side, you can go through the entire process to get a new ISBN for your book any time you want.

So, while some may argue that you should never to let your self-published book be listed as published by anyone but you on the ISBN records, it really doesn’t matter beyond a personal preference.  All your readers will see is an ISBN number like this, and will never see the information on the paperwork filed away in some dusty filing cabinet:

ISBN 978-1-63066-051-2

(This particular ISBN happens to be for
Where the Bodies Are print edition
published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC.
But you would never know that from just the number)



 ISSN – International Standard Serial Number

This is the same thing as the ISBN, but is for periodical publications (ongoing series), such as magazines or a book series.





 Sources for this article include:



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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Writing Isn’t a Full Time Job (for most)

It struck me when I recently saw some comments on a few social networking sites that there are a lot of different ideas of what a writer is.  Even among writers themselves, there is a wide range of ideas and hopes when it comes to writing.


Myself, I think of being a published author as the book nerd’s  version of the pro athlete dream.  Droves of people around the world sit pounding out words into stories with the dream of someday making it big.  That does not apply to all writers, of course.


The simplest reality of being a writer is that it is damned hard to be published and earn money from it.

With the growth over these last years of accessibility to self-publishing, the very landscape of publishing has changed in leaps and bounds.  Not that long ago just the mere mention of the words “self” and “publishing” together in an online post risked being immediately mobbed, tarred, and feathered by others in the online community accompanied by rants about vanity presses.

For the unpublished, being published was like a secret club that you just could not get into and self-publishing was treated like cheating.  Somehow, you were breaking all the rules if you wanted to self-publish and those who followed them seemed in large numbers to resent that.

For the most part that attitude has changed in these past years, self-publishing is still becoming increasingly more accepted, and has been widely embraced by many who long to be published authors.  You will still encounter those who argue on what actually makes an author, how many books qualifies you, what kind of publishing, how big the publisher has to be, and whatever criteria they personally place on it.  Others will say that if you wrote a book, published or not, however it’s published, you are an author.

No matter what kind of author you are, what genre, how you are published, or the quality of your writing or book cover, there is one reality all writers share.  Making money doing it is damned hard.


Networking is imperative to success, just as it is in any business and many occupations.  Whether you are published by a big publisher or self-published, writing for magazines or business, or any other market, for the large part you have to promote yourself and your writing on your own.  Even the big publishing houses have limited budgets for promoting their writers and books.  There are reasons they tend to stick to publishing guaranteed successes, and that is just one of them.



Sales is also all about supply and demand.  The explosion of self-publishing has over-saturated the book market.  With the glut of books over-saturating the market, you are very small in a big world of books, a single tiny voice in an overwhelmingly huge mob.  To get sales you have to get noticed.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: UnAlive by Kevin J. Fitzgerald

UnAlive is hailed as “Night of the Living Dead meets The Book of Eli.”  I had to watch Book of Eli after reading UnAlive to see if the comparison fits.  I would have to say that UnAlive is better than the comparison to Night of the Living Dead suggests, but The Book of Eli is not a bad comparison.

UnAlive starts with a decent hook; the mysterious character, Cian of the Nomos, the half-lives.  It sets the tone that something unusual is going to happen in a way that leaves you curious to learn more.

Something is happening in the world and, at first glance, it seems to be some kind of an attack.  General Pitman Grady leads the military investigation.  Dr. Kwom Thomas joined them as an unwilling guest brought in at the suggestion of Susan Grey.

Meanwhile Adam Gardner’s world is turned upside down and destroyed during what would have been a peaceful afternoon in the country with his wife and two sons, if not for the sudden withering death of the vegetation around him, followed by the movement of frightening shapes coming from the woods accompanied by terrible noises.  But this seems to be a dream and Adam awakes in prison.  We soon learn that it is memories, not a dream.

UnAlive jumps between the military’s attempts to find out what is going on in a world that seems to be dying en mass, Dr. Kwon Thomas’ The Two Natures study from his attempts to research the strange mass deaths of flora and fauna and worldwide collapse of life, an old priest, and Adam Gardner’s life in jail and flashbacks to his life before.

When the zombies, dubbed the UnAlive, take over the world, it becomes a race for survival and against extinction of the human species.  Meanwhile the Nomos, or half-lives, have their own agenda.  I would describe the Nomos as vampires before I would call them zombies. 

I was wary when I was asked to review a zombie apocalypse book.  I couldn’t help the inward groan.  I hoped for the best and was ready for the worst.  The obsession with zombies since Walking Dead made its debut has resulted in a saturation of bad zombie everything, and there have been too many bad zombie movies and books before that.  For the record, I do not dislike zombies themselves.  It’s just that the majority of zombie movies  and my few attempts at reading a zombie book have been B movie grade at best - B for B.A.D.  I do, however love The Walking Dead.  So you have some idea where my standards lie in the zombie world.  This book was worth the read.

In UnAlive Kevin J. Fitzgerald gives us a zombie vampire apocalypse with some good descriptions of faces eating themselves from the inside and some scenes that would be Walking Dead worthy if they were adapted to film by a good director and film team.  The book has enough suspense to draw you deeper into the story.



UnAlive is self-published by Kevin J. Fitgerald and is available on Amazon and Goodreads.

You can follow Kevin J. Fitzgerald on Goodreads and Facebook.




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