Thursday

You don't need to be a psychic

By Anthony S. Policastro

With all the buzz around the iPad, you don't need to be psychic to predict that Amazon would sooner or later develop a comparable color screen tablet device.
Kindle color version with touch screen

Well the sooner is here. Amazon is now accepting iPads and other devices as trade-ins for their new touch-screen color tablet at http://amzn.to/jbdaq2

Steve Windwalker reported in the blog Kindle Nation Daily that Amazon is well on the way to preparing to launch the device sometime this summer. Here's what he wrote about the trade-in program.

"It extended its relatively unknown Buyback program, previously associated mostly with textbooks, movies, and video games, to include a  wide range of electronics products including the iPad, the iPhone, the  Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Xoom, and all kinds of other devices that  might — if you could trade them in for a decent sum — prepare the way  for you to buy a Kindle tablet, both in terms of the need to replace  functionality and the financial wherewithal to make the purchase."

They actually want you to own their new Kindle Color version knowing full well that owners of iPads and other color tablet like devices wouldn't buy the new Kindle after shelling out $500+ for their current iPad or similar device.

It's another marketing first for Amazon to grab the lion's share of the  spawning tablet market, and I'm sure it won't be their last.

You can also read Amazon's press release about the trade-in program on Steve's post on Kindle Nation Daily.

Wednesday

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

By Chris Stewart


This may seem beyond obvious, but a piece of writing, whatever it is, has a value system, the level to which the piece holds. The high value parts are the focus, they are what drives the story and why readers read it, the lower value parts get less page time; they are there to support the high value parts.

Another way to look at 'high value' parts is to think of them in terms of them being the spark that will get an editor's and reader's attention. That moment, when reading the book jacket, where your heart beats faster and you know you have to read it.

Unfortunately, all too often, I read work, both from clients and published writers, that focuses too much on the low value and skirts the high.

Why does this happen? Surely it's an easy black hole to avoid? It happens because writers write around the parts they are afraid or nervous to take on, or know they are not skilled enough to take on. Or perhaps are too lazy to take on. So they pay lip service to those parts, write just enough to get away with the basics, and focus on the unoriginal, low value that we can get anywhere to fill the rest of the story.

Poets know this better than fiction writers because it's easier to see in a poem. Anyone who has discovered (or been told) that the real poem is in stanza four, or the poem really starts with the last line, knows what I'm talking about. Poets have lots of practice at recognizing and correcting value issues.

Let me give you an example. A recent client wrote an essay on the history of crying in his family: the first time he could remember crying, who did and didn't show emotion in his family and how that affected him growing up, his relationships with women, etc. It was fairly medium to low value. That was the bar he'd set.

Suddenly, on page five of a seven page essay, he introduced the memory of his father leaving the family, being estranged for years, then how he moved in with his father to reconcile, it didn't work, he moved out again and that was a time when he cried--for the loss of his father a second time and the opportunity for them to be close.

All this in one paragraph. Then back to the regular essay.

Hello?! See the difference there? Once you hit this memory in the essay you don't give a crap about how he cried the day he went to kindergarten but his mother didn't. The dad memory IS the essay, and it's not about crying. High value. And it shouldn't come on page five of seven.

When I pointed this out he told me that he was keeping it as is, he thought it was a good random surprise, that this style of writing always worked for him. I have no idea who told him that, but that person was wrong. Once you've established the value level in a piece of writing, you can shift it, but once you do, the high value level is where it's at. You must shift at the right moment and write to that level. Otherwise you just look like a writer who doesn't know his/her own story.

I'll give you a published example. "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson is a story about a stereotypical older English widower living in a quaint quirky village. I would say this is low to medium value, as the quaint, quirky village is hardly new, nor is it ever really original; by now the characters are rather stock, only the names are different. Anyone who watches PBS or BBC America can get plenty of that action. Or if you've read Austen, Christie, or Barbara Pym, for example.

The high value appears when you find out that Major Pettigrew becomes romantically involved with the local shopkeeper, a Pakistani widow. And this liaison is one of which the village doesn't approve. However, if you buy the book you get a maximum of about 40 pages of Major Pettigrew's and Mrs. Ali's romance, the other 300 or so pages are quirky, quaint village with meddlesome characters that are very recognizable and so rather boring.

The ending is absolutely insane, and not in a good way. It goes completely off the deep end into a serious shift in value at the last moment--lower, this time, which can also happen (there's a crazy auntie with a gun and a suicidal nephew standing on a cliff, it's really laughably bad). This shift is very much unearned and completely at odds with the tone of the book and the characters of the Major and Mrs. Ali.

(Disclaimer: I think Ms. Simonson is a good writer, but the book was poorly structured and had too many themes.)

The take away or moral of this lesson?

You can't toss us into the trenches for a minute, once in a while, then go back to the sandbox and leave us there for the bulk of the piece.

You must be able to catch yourself and see when you are drifting into the low value parts for most of your story, out of fear or nervousness (perhaps ambivalence or absentmindedness too), and STOP yourself.

The best way to do this is to have an outline or list of the significant, hard core high value moments and make sure they are the focus, that they show up at the appropriate time, and that the value doesn't drop too low for too long in between. If the value shifts higher, you must reevaluate and either rethink the piece with this new higher value as the focus, or leave it out. If the value shifts even lower - delete! The middle ground is sloppy, lame, and should be avoided at all costs.

Look, if you're not feeling excited, terrified, and nauseous all at the same time, you're writing to the low value parts of your story and playing it safe. The ideas freaking you out as you write them down--making you sweat and making you high--are why an editor or reader will buy your book.

Anything less and you're cheating yourself and your readers--if you get that far!

Chris Stewart is Program Director for Literary Arts with the Maryland State Arts Council, also known as "The Brutal Cheerleader" by her editing clients! Join her Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/ChrisStewartTheRealWriter

Tuesday

Does the Pitch Tail Wag The Novel Dog?

By Michael Neff

Recently, in a post by Algonkian veteran Liz Brody on her blog, the subject of query letters and pitches came up yet again. What she seems to grasp is that you can't have a good pitch or query without a good novel to back it up. Does that go without saying?  It should.  But if so, why do thousands of writers send out dull or bad queries, and pitch agents or editors with novels that don't stand a chance?

If you follow a model for a good pitch, i.e., a 150-200 word punchy synopsis-like summary that produces the first major plot point but doesn't give away the climax, and you're sufficiently self-critical, you should finally come to an understanding of the worth of your project. Keep in mind that by forcing your story into that specific model, by forcing yourself to "fill in the blanks" so to speak, you're inevitably led to understand the major strengths and weaknesses in the novel itself.

For example, if the body of the pitch, once heard or read, evidences zero plot tension or dramatic complication, it might well be the result of no real antagonist (among other things) available to create one (this is a common failing with new novel writers), and if this condition proves true upon further discussion with the author then we have a case of the pitch tail successfully wagging the novel dog. In other words, the weak or vague pitch led the author to understand why the novel wasn't working, thus strongly encouraging a rewrite from the very first page.

The God of Social Media Approves Our Evolution - Algonkian Goes "Viral"

by Michael Neff

Algonkian has recently undertaken a mission to go viral with the social media tropes of the day. We established a presence on Facebook, of course, and it's rather attractive (as if that matters--it does) and functional (links to worthwhile info for writers). FB, as everyone knows, is a must for credibility these days, and though I had to be dragged into it, I finally gave in and accepted the judgment. Am I sorry?  Not yet.  Then of course, there is the incessant drone of Twitter.Com. I was even more reluctant to engage in bouts of tweeting every week, but the prevailing tribal vibe lured me into it.  Could I have resisted?  Of course, but would it have been worth the resistance?  I can't tell yet. 

Next, and don't hang me for this one, we even joined SQUIDOO.  Yes, it's rather silly, with squids and all, however, the interface for including all types of video, lists, blog rss, and info is top of the line.  If you can just ignore the undersea marketing fluff, you're doing something worthwhile.  Let's hope other people think so. And I did zap those horribly annoying "infolink" adverts in the text--you know, the ones that are green and underlined and when you mouseover them you get a BS pop-up window with an advert that has nothing to do with your purpose in life?

And what is in the future?  Yelp?  Digg?  Wet Paint?  Is it all necessary?  God, I hope not. We would all rather focus on what we're good at: working with writers.  From Social Media Today:
Community is the catchphrase which is connected to the Internet ... 41 percent of users trust the information published on Facebook, and if posted by a friend, the trust level grows to 64%.  Social media is really all about building relationships.
Okay, so there it is. If we can get 64% of people to trust us on Facebook we're building relationships.  But when will real life make a difference?

Maybe a money back guarantee would be better?