Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: 2012

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

News for the Week of 12.19.12: Continuing Fuzziness, Holiday Travels, and Interviews!

Hello Friends and Readers!

As always, welcome welcome to those of you who are new. Soulwoven has been clipping along nicely, given the time of year. Many thanks to those of you who have been going through and voting for every chapter you liked. It’s made a big difference in the number of votes overall and in Soulwoven’s story ranking. You guys are awesome!

In other news, my head is still fuzzy from getting kicked at Muay Thai. Let that be a lesson to you all: concussions (and even near-concussions) are no joke. I’ve been able to get a little writing done, however, and I’m hoping that by next week I’ll be back to full functionality (although I think I said that last week, too…).

In other news, I’m also kicking off a new series of Wattpad interviews with authors! The first one, conducted with soon-to-be-featured, Curtis Brown (a big U.K. literary agency)-represented Gytha Lodge, will go up on Friday. Sometime shortly thereafter (it was meant to be the next week, but then I got kicked in the head…), the second will go up with Wattpad-featured, independently published author David Alastair Hayden. I’m always open to new interview ideas, so if there’s anyone you’d particularly like to hear from, let me know who and I’ll get in touch with them. :-)

That’s all for now. I’m writing from Boston today, and then tomorrow I get on a bus to Albany, where I meet a car that’s going to drive me to a small town in the Adirondack mountains, where I’ll spend Christmas with my girlfriend and her family. It’s supposed to snow six to eight inches the day after I get in.

I’m quite looking forward to it. :-)

I hope you all have enjoyable holidays of your own, wherever in the world you may be, and whatever you may be celebrating. The solstice is in a few short (or long, in the southern hemisphere) days. Enjoy it!

Season’s greetings, happy thoughts, and fond wishes,

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

News for the week of 12.12.12: Head injuries and subsequent lack of production

Greetings friends and readers!

Less to relate this week than usual, unfortunately. Last week, not too long after I sent out my last newsletter to you all, I went to kickboxing training, as is my wont. During said training, I was struck in the head several times, not particularly hard. Later that night, I developed a headache, dizziness, and nausea.

After several worried phone calls in the middle of the night to ascertain that my brain was not going to swell up and kill me in my sleep, I went to the doctor the next day. He told me that I have suffered a “head injury” (not a concussion, though it sure feels like one). I discovered on my own that that meant that trying to read or write for long periods made my brain think it had gotten on an amusement park ride.

So my last week has been very unproductive, as I’ve been reduced to working in 10-minute stints for a few hours a day while I recover. Trying to push the envelope on that, which I have done several times, has proven unwise.

In short, everything’s on hold except for paid work, until my brain sorts itself out.

Which is too bad, because there are still a lot of exciting things on the horizon. I’ve almost finished the first bit of Soulwoven bonus content for you (an Aleani language primer) and am pondering how best to launch it, and revisions on Nadya and design work on Three Dances were going very well until my injury.

Next week, I travel to the East Coast of the U.S. to spend the Christmas holidays with my girlfriend’s family. Hopefully, by then, I will be back to writing again.

Until then, dear friends, I remain,

Your wounded, dizzy writer,

You can sign up to receive these newsletters via e-mail here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

News for the week of 12.5.12: Falling off the Front Page, Switching Gears on Revisions, and Trying New Things on Wattpad

I've started writing weekly newsletters to my fans on Wattpad, of whom there are now 92. So that those of you without Wattpad accounts can get in on the action, I'm also going post similar updates on my blog. You can also sign up to receive them via e-mail here.

Evening all!

Less than three weeks to the solstice, and in my part of the world, you can sure tell. But the Christmas tree is cut and put up, and I only broke one bulb when putting out the lights this year, and eggnog and peppermint ice cream are freely available in the grocery store, so I figure on the whole, it’s all worthwhile. :-)

Right. News.

I wrote a blog post on NaNoWriMo for the publisher I work for this week. You can find it here. I also put up some advice for college writers on my blog.

Soulwoven notched another 19,000 reads and 60 votes last week, but yesterday, it fell off the front page of Wattpad’s Featured books, where a lot of my readers were finding it. There was a corresponding massive drop-off in the number of reads it’s getting.

So to keep things moving with it, I need some help.

Right now it’s ranked #127 in Fantasy. I think it can hang in the Top 25. Maybe even the Top 10. If those of you with Wattpad accounts can take the time go to through and vote for every chapter you liked, and you share the book with your friends and fans and get them to do the same, I bet we can get it there.

Thanks in advance. :-)

In other news, I experimented this week with doing first-page critiques for people in the Share Your Story club on Wattpad. It was fun, and people seemed to enjoy it, so I plan to do it again. In the future, I’ll reserve some critiques for my Wattpad fans, so if you're interested, fan me there and stay tuned for messages from me announcing upcoming opportunities.

Finally, sequel talk! If you got last week’s newsletter, you know that I finished my NaNoWriMo book, Nadya Skylung and the Cloud Pirates. And despite my advice on the Carina Press blog, I can’t tear myself away from it. I’m going to revise it before I revise Soulwoven: Exile. It’s short, so it shouldn’t take too long, and I’ll still do my best to get up the first chapter of Exile sooner rather than later, but I wanted to be upfront with you guys about what I’m working on.

Thanks for reading, dear friends. Until next week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Letter to a Younger Me

Lately, I've been trying to respond to as many Wattpad readers of mine as possible about Soulwoven, and to interact with them however I can. I do it in part because it's "best practice," whatever that means, and in larger part because I genuinely enjoying connecting with readers. It's the first time in my career I've had a chance to do so, and I'm really having a good time with it.

Yesterday, I ran across a reader of mine who's a college student. He was asking for advice on writing from the Wattpad community. There are several things I would really like to be able to go back in time and say to my college self on the subject, so I told him so and let him know what they were.

It occurred to me later that the advice might be useful to more college writers than just him, so I am now posting it here:

Write every day. Make it a priority. You may have a lot of excuses not to, like classes and college life and trying to remain sane in a high stress environment. You may even tell yourself it will be better to wait until after college to start writing seriously, because you'll be better then. You would be wrong to do so. Write now. Write often. Write whenever you can, on top of everything else you're doing. It will never get any easier to do it, and you will kick yourself down the road if you don't.

An Older Jeff

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guested! Flash Fic on Chris Devlin's Blog

So my friend Chris Devlin is doing a guest blog thing in honor of Halloween, for which she has collected pieces of creepy, very short fiction from other writers to be displayed on her blog. I contributed a little chunk of a dark fantasy story I'm working on in a boundless, formless fantasy universe I'm quite coming to enjoy. I think, eventually, it will become my Dark Tower.

Anyway, the little chunk is from a story called The Chirugeon, and it can be found here.

There is formatting that has been stripped from it by her website, but it looks almost like poetry in the form in which she has posted it, and that's interesting, too. ;-)

Sorry for not updating on The Grand Experiment in a while. Quick stats rundown:

Soulwoven has just over 15,000 reads on Wattpad. It goes featured in a little less than a month. I have learned from reading the success stories of others that there's really a great deal of luck involved in cracking the tops of the rankings. For now, I feel good about the success I've had, and I'm still focusing on making the manuscript as amazing as my hands can make it. It has been difficult, because I have run out of money and had to begin writing part-time and late at night again. It feels like working through touch and muscle memory alone, because my brain is not at its best by then. I am hoping very much that it doesn't show in the final product.

Three Dances is progressing as well. The manuscript is in and I am waiting for copy edits and artwork so that we can move on to the layout stage. I am hoping to have it done by Christmas, but I fear it's going to be a close thing. Everything will have to move as quickly as possible and nothing will be allowed to go wrong, and I'm not betting on that happening.

Monday, September 24, 2012

For the Locker: Making Money in the Digital World

Today I read an article about making money in the digital world, where everything is available for free via BitTorrent. The article didn't say that out loud, but I think that's what it meant. You can read it for yourself below:

As a body who intends to make money selling ebooks at some point, a body who is frequently angry at movie companies (Disney!) who refuse to make their movies available via Netflix, and a body who has always found it interesting at what point he was willing to pay for things, I found it a very, very interesting read.

So into the locker it goes!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Week 14(!)

Holy cow, I can't believe it's been 14 weeks since I started up The Grand Experiment. Results so far:

Book Country: Never got off the ground. Their terms of service smelled rotten to me.

Authonomy: Rank 5,584. Five chapters up. Tabled while I concentrate on Wattpad.

Wattpad: 5,546 reads. 144 votes. 49 comments. 34 chapters up. Ranked #42 in Fantasy and #643 in Teen Fiction. Has been ranked as high as #25 in Fantasy and #15 in Adventure (before I switched its genres). Also, I got an invitation to participate in the site's Writer Partner Program.

So as you can see by the statistics, I've been focusing on Wattpad, in large part because of the promotional opportunity they've extended to me and in large part because it's got the most readers in the audience I want to reach (teenagers and young adults), and also because I just like the community feeling the best.

Also important is that I've accelerated my revision timetable by about 6x in order to get the full manuscript in shape and get it up on Wattpad before it gets promoted. That has severely limited the time I have to do anything that is not either writing or related to paying bills (like keeping up with this blog. Sorry!).

I've been tracking several statistics on Wattpad with the help of a handy spreadsheet, which I will share with you below:

Click on it to make the words and numbers readable sized.

I share it with you because it's an example of a benefit to posting on Wattpad that I absolutely did not expect. I can collect a ton of remarkably granular data on how my book is doing day by day (really, I could track it more often than that, too, and perhaps I should...but that would mean a lot more work and less time for...drumroll...writing). And because I'm collecting all this information, I can track some interesting things. Like, for instance, I can see that my reads are showing exponential growth.

Or I can investigate the relationships between my genre rankings and how many new reads I get every day.

(There's a bad data point on 9/4 that screws that graph up a bit, but I still think it's interesting).

Or I can look at any number of other things. When I change covers or cover copy, I can see if it has a statistically significant effect on my reads. I can see the same for my ranks or my posting patterns. And once I've finished writing the book itself (which is still the most important thing, no matter how many bells and whistles and numbers I put into orbit around it), I'll be able to take a look at all these numbers and see if I can't figure out how to goose them.

And at the very least, that's a new, fun kind of problem to play with.

Speaking of cover changes, I'm playing around with an idea for a new cover for Soulwoven, and I'd love to get some opinions on it. It adds the subtitle of volume one (I am, after all, writing one story in four parts) and a tagline, which I rather like. I've almost made it live on Wattpad several times, but after the horrible, fall-on-its-face failure of cover variant #2 during my last vote-a-thon, I think it wise to consult my readers before doing so.

Said cover to follow. Let me know what you think. I hope to have Soulwoven up on Wattpad in its entirety by the end of the month, at which point I will become a more active blogger once more and begin playing around with all kinds of markety type ideas which should make for interesting blog posts. Thanks for bearing with me, and if you're jonesing to hear from me, I'd suggest you follow me on Facebook, or Twitter, or Wattpad, because it's easier to post tiny things on those sites than sit down and compose blog posts for me right now.

And in the meantime, go read the book! It's more than halfway up, and it won't be online for free forever :-).

New cover here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Look! A domain name!

So if I've done this switch over properly, none of you will notice that the domain name of the blog has changed until I tell you, which I'm doing now. This is part of the run-up to the launch of my debut short story collection, Three Dances, which is looking like it will probably be ready in October(!).

Anyway, I make mention of this in case the blog suddenly begins to exhibit strange behavior. If it does, let me know, and I will do my best to fix it.

Update on The Grand Experiment coming soon! There has been much experimentation and data collection, and there continues to be more.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Grand Experiment: A Brief Musing on Numbers

I've been continuing to noodle the numbers on Soulwoven over the last few days, keeping an eye on things like how many new people have looked at Chapter One (started the book) versus read up through the furthest chapter along ("finished it" even though it's not finished), monitoring my reads, experimenting with posting chapters at different times of the day, and generally starting to engage the marketing part of my brain as I get ready to launch this thing.

I have been mostly successful in pushing this thinking to the ends of the day, after I'm done with the writing, which is what matters most.

But this morning, as I logged into Wattpad to jot down some numbers, I noticed two wonderful, astonishing things: First, I got 170 reads over the last 24 hours (a new record! Hooray!). Second, I got 70 reads overnight (again, hooray!) Third, I think I converted (a word I'm using to designate what happens when a person who starts reading continues reading past the first chapter) every single person who started it last night.

There are 18 chapters up on Soulwoven at the moment. This morning, Chapter One had only 7 new reads. This leads me to believe that those 7 people read multiple chapters (they at least went on to Chapter Two, because it had 8 new reads).

So my writing, I think, is doing its job. People are enjoying the book. My ratio of reads from Chapter One to Chapter Two is as good as any of the highest ranked books on Wattpad, and my ratio of reads to votes is actually significantly higher.

I just need to get more people to open the book up.

And I'm working on that. :-)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 6

It's been far too long since I posted one of these, but I'm nose deep in revisions right now and finding the time to blog has been difficult. Soulwoven's sudden burst of popularity died off last week, which was a little disappointing, but I'm doing my best to just shrug my shoulders and keep working and hoping for the best. Readers are inscrutable, even on Wattpad. :-)

So! Chapter 6 of Soulwoven. Spoilers below, so read it here first.

Chapter 6 of Soulwoven introduces a new point-of-view character in Quay Eldani, Prince of Eldan. We join him as he's packing for a journey, we learn where he's going and why, and we get a hint that someone is going to go with him.

Almost all of of that takes place in a discussion between him and a five-year-old child.

This chapter was hard, for many reasons. First of all, it's a chapter that's primarily dialogue and exposition, and I've always felt that those are the most difficult scenes to pull off. The meat of the scene lies in the information being passed along through the dialogue, but there has to be something else that's interesting going on at the same time to pull the characters along. And there's a fine balance between giving enough information to inform and titillate and so much that the reader gets bored. 

I also have to introduce and build sympathy for Quay, particularly in light of some of his actions later in the novel. It's important that the reader understands at the outset that he's not a bastard. He's just---driven. I'm doing more worldbuilding as well.

In order to accomplish the exposition I need to, I make use of a small, inquisitive child who can ask questions of his older cousin. It helps that Quay is a thoughtful person who is trying to hide something, because when Colin asks a question, Quay responds one way while often thinking about something different. The tension between the two responses helps move the scene along while conveying information about Quay and the world at the same time.

The tension comes from other areas as well. You might recall that I end Chapter 5 with the sentence "Because if the Temple wasn’t going to take the destruction of the heart dragons seriously, she had no idea who would."

The reader then flips the page and finds a new character.

The idea is that the reader will make the assumption that this character must be the person who's going to take the destruction of the heart dragons seriously, because otherwise there doesn't seem to be any reason for him to be in the story. So point of tension #1 is: Who is this guy, and what's he going to do about the heart dragons?

Point of tension #2 is what he's doing. When the chapter opens, he's filling a pack with things that do not belong to him. That is a strange thing to do. One wonders, I hope, why he's doing it.

From there we're off to the races. Quay's cousin keeps asking him what he's going to do, and Quay is evasive, which makes the answer to the question all the more interesting. The heart dragons make an appearance on the second page, and even as Quay tells his cousin that Sherduan must not be real, we see through the book on his shelf, the drawing, and his actions in preparing for a journey that he doesn't believe what he's saying. There's an implication that the only people who wouldn't see that the dragon is real are children (or at least behaving like children). 

Halfway through, we find out that that there is some serious political tension going on in Eldan that's going to complicate things. Close to the end of the chapter, we learn that Quay has seen the dragon, too. And at the very end of the chapter, we get the basic setup for the whole rest of the novel ("Then the journey would begin") and how Quay sees his role in it ("He would do what no one else could"). Hopefully, it's got a bit of an epic feeling to it.

To develop sympathy for Quay, I'm leaning in large part on his relationship with his cousin. He's nice to Colin. He humors him. He takes care of him. These are qualities that we will not see from him often in the rest of the book, so it's important to know that  they're there. There's also a bit of his backstory---he's lost family and been thrust into a very difficult position, and he bears it without complaining. Finally, there's a sense of sacrifice. He and his father are both in life-threatening situations, and they're going to stick them out because they want what's best for the people they're responsible for.

I'm always nervous about how well dialogue-and-exposition chapters work, but I feel pretty good about this one. I like the atmosphere and I like the descriptions, and I think there's enough going on in terms of character development that some readers will just fasten on that and passively absorb the exposition, while others will be interested in the exposition and skim more lightly over the character building.

And hopefully, in the end, it all works.

I'm up through Chapter 17 on Wattpad right now. Go check it out! :-)

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Analytics!

Well, sort of, anyway. I've been taking a look at the statistics of Soulwoven as it stands on Wattpad and want to share a couple of things.

First off, my rankings have dropped off significantly since last week, and I've seen a corresponding drop in reads. I'm averaging more like 40 per day at this point. So it's clear that a lot of people find new stories to read on Wattpad through the rankings.

Beyond that, because Wattpad tracks reads for each chapter individually, I can note the following.

The first chapter of Soulwoven has been viewed 314 times.

About half of those people (156) made it to Chapter 2.

Everyone who read Chapter Two made it to Chapter 3.

134 people made it to Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, 123 reached Chapter 6, 104 reached Chapter 7, and only 69 made it to Chapter 8. Chapter 9 has 64 reads, and by Chapter 10 I'm down to 48. Chapter Eleven has 40 reads.

Chapter 12 just went up yesterday, and it has 29 reads, and in the two hours since Chapter 13 went up, it has 18.

I'm making the major assumption here that my own and other people's views of the chapters mostly cancel each other out (i.e. nobody is repeatedly viewing Chapter Seven and only viewing Chapter Eight once).

I can also see that I've got around 30 or 40 readers keeping pretty on top of the book as it updates. I have a suspicion that that may be mostly traffic from my Facebook links, which would help explain why many of the latest chapters only have votes and comments from people I know.

And, maybe most importantly, these numbers give me a great opportunity to look at where I'm losing people's attention. They're skewed right now because not every chapter has been up for a similar amount of time, but after six months or so that should be much less of a factor, and I may be able to identify problematic chapters (right now it's looking like I may be losing people at Chapter 7, for instance).

In order to see how I'm stacking up, I decided to take a look at the stats on Aaron Kite's A Touch of Poison, which has held the #1 spot in Fantasy on Wattpad for most of the summer. Its stats are as follows: 136,544 reads on the first chapter. 87,910 on the second. 82,017 on the third. 67,771 made it halfway through, and 36,355 finished it.

So viewing things in those terms, I guess I'm doing alright keeping the attention of my readers, though I find the 50% read-through rate of the first chapter a little discouraging. It will be interesting to see how things change when the full book goes up and people have the option of reading all the way through as quickly as they want.

You'll note I've stopped talking about Authonomy. That's because I've been offered a pretty fantastic promotional opportunity on Wattpad, and I want to focus on getting through a heavy-duty revision of Soulwoven in preparation for it. Once that's all in place, I'm going to turn my attention back to Authonomy, and possibly get involved with Figment (a smaller, Wattpad-esque community) as well.

Auf wiedersehen, friendly readers. I hope you're enjoying Soulwoven. :-)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 5

Hmm...this post was supposed to go up over my vacation, during the middle of week in which I had neither Internet nor running water, and was in fact enjoying myself very much swimming and sailing and playing games with my family and writing in the dead of the night, when all was quiet and peaceful. But I failed at Blogger and it didn't happen.

Also, I built a deck that week. A deck!

Anyway, on to the craft breakdown for Soulwoven Chapter 5. Spoilers to follow! Read the chapter here first.

In Chapter 5, we shift back into Ryse's head. Only a little time has passed since we left her preparing to run away from the Temple. In the interim, she has torn like a bat out of hell through the city and ended up at the Jins' house. She enters Litnig and Cole's room through a window and finds Litnig awake and willing to help her. He then leads her up Sentinel Hill to a childhood hiding place of theirs where he thinks she'll be able to sleep safely.

This is another of my favorite chapters. It was a late addition--in most of the early drafts, I left the time between Ryse's departure from the Temple and her later reemergence at Litnig's side unexplained. But the deeper I got into Ryse's character, the more I wanted to explore what happened in those lost hours. And many of my early readers were clamoring to learn more about Litnig and Ryse, and to see the sweet side of their relationship before events that happen later on in the novel.

So I'm doing three major things in Chapter 5: I'm showing Litnig and Ryse's relationship to the reader, I'm deepening Ryse's character, and I'm furthering the mystery around Sherduan and setting up the next chapter. The first happens pretty naturally through the situation. Ryse comes to Litnig for help. That in itself says something about their relationship. So does Litnig's response, and Ryse's response to his response. She needs help. He offers it. She takes it. He offers more, and she turns it down. We see that he wants to be as close to her as possible, but that she has reservations and wants to keep her distance. Though she's comfortable relying on him, there's also a point beyond which she will not accept further aid. Importantly, that point is one at which he would put himself in significant danger for her.

But there's also a matter of atmosphere. I mentioned in my Chapter 4 craft post that I like to weave aspects of other genres into my writing when I can. I'm particularly proud of one short paragraph in Chapter 5 in that respect:  

She looked up into the gray eyes of Litnig Jin. He was shirtless, his hair mussed at crazy angles. His grip was strong as iron.

Romance, eat your heart out.

There are a couple of other places in the chapter where a few sentences accomplish a great deal (I hope). When Ryse explains why she left the Temple, Litnig responds, "So you left because of us," which vastly oversimplifies and misunderstands the situation. At that point, we start to see some of the problems with Litnig's relationship to Ryse. He overestimates his importance in her life, and he fails to understand a lot of the things she says and does.

The setup of the next chapter, on the other hand, takes two sentences. I struggled a bit in my latest draft to link Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, and I eventually had to look back at old drafts of Soulwoven, from before this chapter existed, to remember how to segue from Ryse's point of view into the point of view in the next chapter. I'll talk in the next craft blog about why that was so difficult, but I ended up recalling that I needed to set up a question in the reader's head that would provide an immediate answer for why the book goes where it does next (This is hard to explain without giving things away. My apologies, but Chapter 6 will be up soon, and then hopefully things will be a little clearer).

At any rate, in order for the next chapter's opening to seem connected to the story as a whole, I needed to make the reader wonder who was going to act on the destruction of the heart dragons. So at the very end of Chapter 5, I raise that question in Ryse's mind, which hopefully raises it in the reader's as well.

This is another chapter where I don't see too many weaknesses. It's got tension, it's got romance, it's got character development, it's got a beautiful setting for me to describe, and I think I execute it fairly well. I do worry a little about over- or under-doing the backstory on the legend of Sherduan (I'm feeding it to the reader in bits in pieces over several chapters), but my hope is that there are enough other things going on in the chapter that it feels seamless, and that readers who want the whole story on the dragon get enough to keep them satisfied while those who don't don't get fed up.

So that's Chapter 5! Chapters 6 and 7 are already up, with Chapter 8 to follow tomorrow. More craft blogs soon to come. Also, Soulwoven is notching about 100 reads and 5-8 votes per day this week, and I'm trying to remain calm about the whole thing while my imagination runs wild with possibilities.

Happy reading, dear friends!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Grand Experiment:, update, anyway.

Phew! I am completely and utterly exhausted tonight, with more work ahead of me, but I'm going to try to squeeze in a quick update on The Grand Experiment.

First, the numbers:

There are currently six chapters of Soulwoven up on Wattpad. They have received a total of 434 reads, 23 votes, and 20 comments. As I write this, the book is ranked #25 in Adventure and #26 in Fantasy, out of 168,402 and 330,776 stories, respectively.

More on the ranking system later, but may I say---booyah.

On Authonomy, there are still only five chapters up, because time is short for me right now and updating on the site is a pain. The book's rank is 5543, which I'm fairly certain is where all books are sitting right now that have seen no activity whatsoever. I'm neither surprised nor disappointed---I haven't engaged with the site at all yet, but it's good to know that absolutely nothing is going to happen until I do.

So, my thoughts so far:

First and foremost, I think Wattpad is a much, much better fit for Soulwoven than Authonomy is. I can't say that will be true of all writers, but for me it is. Authonomy, so far as I can tell, is a community primarily of writers. I love writers. They make great books. Every once in a while, one sends me an amazing manuscript and I get to recommend it for publication and help him or her make it better and share in the joy and delight of it getting out to the world.

But writers are no better arbiters of what readers will like than editors and agents are.

Which is to say, they're not bad, but their judgment pales in comparison to that of large groups of readers themselves, which is precisely what Wattpad has. More specifically, Wattpad has large groups of teenage readers, who are the people I wrote Soulwoven for in the first place.

The second reason I prefer Wattpad to Authonomy is its rating system. As far as I can tell, Wattpad's ranking algorithm tallies up the number of people who have either voted for (indicated that a book is good) or added a book to their reading list over a rolling two-week period. And it doesn't take much (right now) to move into the higher rankings. One vote (I think) in the period was enough to push me to around a rank of #100. A few more got me to around #50. Since then it's become much more difficult to keep track, but I still only have 23 votes in total (since I started posting, not in the last two weeks), and I think I'm on fewer reading lists than that.

But because Wattpad places 15 books on each page of its listings when you browse, I'm on page 2, well within standard browsing range, and I'm getting hits, votes, reading list adds, and fans from complete strangers in faraway lands.

A.) That's very, very, cool and helps me keep slogging through revisions even though I'm having near-nightly crises of confidence about my writing skills.

B.) That's what I need to go viral, and I haven't even pulled out everything in my bag of tricks yet. The book isn't complete, which I've heard tends to really boost readership. I haven't added photos, maps, background material, or a soundtrack (I will though---I was planning out which chapters are going to get which songs today) either, which are other things I've been told will help draw attention.

Wattpad doesn't have metrics, and my brain is flying in a thousand directions right now between trying to meet various work-related deadlines and finish a full, three-read revision (more on my shiny new revision process, perhaps, in a later post) of Soulwoven before BIG NEWS in September, but I'm fairly certain that when I posted Chapter 6 of Soulwoven to Wattpad yesterday, I had 314 reads.

I'll leave the math to mathy people, but I'm very, very excited.

P.S. Some of my new readers/fans have mentioned that it was the cover that drew them in initially. Thanks to all who helped me pick it.

P.P.S. In the time it took me to write this blog post, Soulwoven got 7 more reads on Wattpad. Did I mention that I'm excited?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 4

I put up two chapters of Soulwoven this week, to make up for the fact that I'm going to be deep in the woods and out of Internet range next weekend. Unfortunately, Chapter 4 went up a little late, because I spent the weekend being chased off of mountains by thunderstorms and having adventures in automobile repair (if anyone knows what on earth a neutral switch does, other than cause your reverse lights to be on semi-permanently if you confuse it with your reverse light switch while replacing the latter, please let me know).

And with that out of the way, on to the craft breakdown for Soulwoven Chapter 4 (Spoilers to follow. Go read it here first!).

Chapter 4 is one of several of what I think of as "breather" chapters in Soulwoven. We've just had two chapters of pretty intense action, and I want to give the reader time to take a breath, put the book down (I mentioned I was going to break rules, right?) and go grab a cup of tea, walk the dog, do some math homework, talk to a family member--whatever--and process. I do this because a lot of my favorite books have these moments, and because I want my readers to be thinking. Dan Brown writes great page-turners, but I don't remember having a single productive thought while reading The Da Vinci Code. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, writes books that I frequently put down, but I gain much more overall from reading them. Somewhere in the middle falls George R. R. Martin, who can keep seven or eight page-turning plots going in every book, but gives me time to take breaks between them as I switch from character to character.

So. Action is slower in Chapter 4. Litnig has his dream. It's weird, and then it's scary, and that's about it. The chapter is very short, even by my standards. In terms of plot, I'm working mainly on deepening the mysteries surrounding Litnig. We already know that he had a dream and it was weird. We then ran off on a big adventure through two other characters' heads. I want to remind the reader that Litnig had a dream, and it was important, so I bring them back to it in this chapter. Hopefully, the reader understands that Litnig's dream is not an ordinary dream, and will not be surprised when it keeps popping back up throughout the book. I'm not entirely sure if the repetition and positioning of the dream alone achieves this, but I hope that it does.

Because this chapter doesn't have a lot of action, it's also a bit of a litmus test for my writing. I mentioned Martin above. One of the reasons I think he's successful is because he has enough faith in his own abilities to do things like break the tension or kill off major characters and trust that he can keep the reader interested in other ways or develop new characters they'll love just as much. I aspire to that level of writing, and I figure the best way to learn how to get there is to attempt it. In this chapter, I'm counting on two things to keep the reader interested. One is the shock of horror Litnig gets once the dark statue starts moving, but that happens three-quarters of the way through. In the meantime, my writing has to carry the burden alone. For a few pages, my descriptions, my voice, my capability to generate a creepy and threatening atmosphere, are all I'm counting on to carry the reader forward. If I can pull that off, I'll know I'm in a good place as a writer, and the reader, hopefully, will respect the hell out of me. If I can't, the chapter will fail.

I don't think I've talked much yet about taking risks in these posts. But as a writer, as a reader, and as an editor, I love writers who take risks. They may (and in fact do, in my experience reading submissions) fail more often than not. But when they succeed, that's where the magic happens. So I do the same in my writing, and I do my best to make it work, and then I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I want to make a brief mention as well that this chapter is more of a horror story than a fantasy story in my mind. I've structured it that way---I start with a character in a situation that he knows is wrong, then allow him to pull himself deeper and deeper into it against his instincts because he can't rationalize why it's wrong, and finally show him why it's wrong when it's too late for him to get out of it without being scarred. Another thing I respect in other writers is weaving multiple genres together, and I'm trying, briefly, to do that here as well.

So that's it for Chapter 4! As I said, it's a risk-taking, rule-breaking, genre-bending effort, and I'm more than a little nervous as to how well it works. I'd love to get some opinions on it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Uploading on Authonomy

So this week I finally crossed the 10,000 word threshold and was able to start putting chapters of Soulwoven up on Authonomy. My thoughts below:

The website has a clean, slick, step-by-step interface for uploading stories. First, you input a title, your pen name, a 25-word pitch, and a 200-word pitch, each of which is compulsory. Next, you have the choice of either uploading your own cover image or choosing from a range of stock Authonomy covers. I suppose that's a nice enough feature, but really, I can't see a book being successful without a unique cover, and I think Authonomy ought to at least make mention of that during their upload process. Personalized covers must also wait for Authonomy approval before they will be shown.

Once you choose a cover, you get to fill in some metadata. You can select up to four genres in which to classify your book, but there aren't a whole lot of choices. I ended up going with Fantasy, Young Adult, and Fiction for Soulwoven. You can also denote your story's age appropriateness as either Universal, Moderate (which means it has some scenes unsuited for children), or Over 18. I chose Moderate.

Like Wattpad, Authonomy allows uploaders to select tags. Unlike Wattpad, the site offers a tag cloud (and mentions it in its FAQ), though it takes some digging to find it. I ended up choosing "fantasy, magic, dragons, teens, serious, intense, love, romance, young adult, relationships, family, brothers, action, adventure," based in part on my own thoughts and in large part on popular cloud terms that fit my story.

After your metadata is in, you can upload your work itself. You have to upload each individual chapter as a separate document (.doc, .docx., or .rtf), and you need to scrub it of chapter titles or headings, because Authonomy puts those in itself. The conversion process it uses from .doc and .docx, unfortunately, is less than perfect. My chapters ended up with a lot of deleted paragraph tabs, and I hate the way its reader adds blank lines between paragraphs. It took significant, time-consuming tweaking in order to get the formatting to look decent, though the site's FAQs were able to help. And going back in to re-upload chapters or add chapters is needlessly time consuming, because you have to re-approve all your previous steps (title through metadata) before you can return to the "upload a chapter" page.

On a side note, I uploaded in several steps, and I was pleased to notice that Authonomy saves your book even if you don't finish uploading it all at once (I assume it saves when you click "Next" as you progress through the steps, but I didn't check that specifically).

Overall, I'd say Authonomy has a fine, very workable uploading system. It's a bit of a pain to have to wait for your cover image to be approved, and the monkeying around with formatting it required to get my book looking right was a pain, but it could have been much worse.

It took my cover several days to get approved, but now that it has been, and I'm over the 10,000 word mark, Soulwoven is up on Authonomy. We'll see how things go from here! In the meantime, you can keep reading on Wattpad as well. As of this posting, Chapters 1-5 of Soulwoven have 221 reads and 6 votes on the site, which puts my votes-to-reads ratio much higher than some of the most popular books on the site.  I'm pretty happy about that, and we'll see how things progress going forward.

I'll be on vacation next week, but when I get back I'll do a quick roundup of how things have gone on Wattpad and Authonomy so far, and I'm scheduling a couple of craft blog posts to go up while I'm absent.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Chapter 3

Quick update on the cover situation: Cover variant #3 is leading variant #1 by a few votes, so it's most likely to be the one I put up on Sunday when the next chapter of Soulwoven goes up on Wattpad.

But for now, here's what I was trying to do with Chapter 3 (spoilers below! Go read it first!).

Chapter 3 starts off immediately after the events of Chapter 2, but it takes place in Ryse's head instead of Cole's. As it starts off, Ryse is recovering from and trying to remember what exactly happened to her before the brothers Jin arrived. Before she's really got her feet back under her, she starts trying to heal people and save lives, which leads to her seeing a vision of the dragon that's now in danger of being released. Eventually, she leaves the brothers and returns to the Temple, where she gets raked over the coals for seeing the broken heart dragons, lies to protect Litnig and Cole, and decides to run for her life.

The biggest thing I'm doing in Chapter 3 is expanding the narrative. There are other things going on as well (introducing Ryse, introducing soulweaving, continued worldbuilding), but Chapter 3 is the point where the story really starts to balloon in scope. In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, we're following two brothers who are really only concerned with their own lives---they have no reason to be concerned about anything else. In Chapter 3 we get a third p.o.v. character, and we get a powerful one. Ryse is a magic user. She has access to the corridors of power in Eldan, and through that access she and we learn that some weird and dangerous things are happening in the world. Most importantly, Ryse is the type of person to do something about it. When she sees the heart dragons broken, she can't just keep quiet and hope that everything will be alright.

I want to talk briefly about how I introduce Ryse, because in my last revision I learned something about how to do it that might help others as well. The sympathy for Ryse (I hope) comes from two angles: her selflessness in helping people in the graveyard and her identity as an orphan who came from nothing. In the last draft of Chapter 3, neither of those things was apparent right away. Ryse spent the whole first page thinking about herself and what had happened to her in the graveyard, and we didn't learn about her past in the slums until close to the end of the chapter.

So I moved the revelation that she's an orphan up and combined it with her selflessness. It feels a little unsubtle to me, but I think it works---the reader has an immediate reason to care about Ryse. And the reader always needs a reason to care about a character. Without it, his or her interest will wane dramatically.

It's also worth talking about the introduction of soulweaving in the chapter, which was a little difficult to do as well. In my opinion, the easiest way to introduce magic is from the point of view of a character who's just learning it, because then he or she is experiencing everything for the first time. Because the sensations are new, it makes sense for him or her to describe them.

Unfortunately for me, nobody learns soulweaving for the first time in the first book of Soulwoven. So I was left to describe magic through Ryse's eyes. I was able to do that effectively (I hope) because she's in a calm, slow, introspective moment. She's just had a traumatic experience, and she feels a little skittish and nervous, so she moves slowly with her soulweaving and takes her time making sure everything feels okay with it. Then, after something goes wrong (she sees the dragon), she has extra reason to be wary of the magic, and because she distrusts it and there's tension coming from that (both she and the reader are wondering whether she's going to see the dragon again when she soulweaves), it again makes sense for her to be thinking about and describing the magic.

When I'm reading submissions as an editor, I often find that writers go bananas describing their magic as soon as it comes into play, but that doesn't always make sense. Someone in the middle of a fight for his or her life, for instance, is unlikely to have time and headspace to start spouting out elegant descriptions about how they feel. More on action scenes when we finally get to a proper one (Chapter 13, I believe), but for now, that's worth noting.

Finally, themes and tension. I mentioned in Chapter 1 that one thing that drives the tension in the first scene is that Litnig is worried and his father, who's the adult and should be the protector, isn't. The same dynamic comes into play again and again throughout the book, including in Chapter 3. Ryse is worried that the heart dragons are broken. The Twelve, who are supposed to be the responsible ones and the protectors, do not seem to be taking it seriously, and react threateningly when Ryse lets slip that she knows what happened. So that's tension from the same type of dramatic situation, which, I suppose, is one way of describing a theme.

The tension itself comes from several sources, each of which blends seamlessly into the next. First, it's "What happened, and is Ryse okay?" which is a holdover from the last chapter. Then, as that question is answered, it's "What's this dragon? What do these visions mean, and why are the characters so scared of them?" That question is answered as well, and then it's "What is Ryse going to do about this, and what is this Twelfthman going to do with her?" There's a brief interlude of "Will Ryse give up Litnig and Cole?" and the chapter ends with "How is Ryse going to escape? What will she do? Where will she go?"

There are plenty of things I'm not completely certain about in this chapter. The worldbuilding, in particular, I'm just sort of crossing my fingers on. I introduce a lot of new concepts and organizations (the Twelve, Twelfthmen, the heart dragons, the legend of Sherduan) and two antagonists (Aegelden Elpioni and Sherduan itself). Because of that, I run the risk of the reader getting lost, and I find as a writer that it's very hard to figure out where exactly to draw the line on how much information is too much. As a rule of thumb, I try not to do more than one new concept per page, but that's kind of an arbitrary choice and I still worry about how well it works.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Covers!

Late Tuesday night and this morning, I spent several hours that should have been dedicated to other things revamping my Soulwoven covers for Wattpad. I knew I wanted something crisp, modern, and more abstract than concrete, and I eventually settled on the following three finalists:

Cover #1:

Cover #2:
 Cover #3:

Trouble is, I can't decide between them! So I'm reaching out to you all for help. Let me know which design you think is best! I want to get the new one up before I post Chapter 4 on Sunday.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 2

Exciting news! This blog, with 49 posts, has already surpassed my old blog, with 159 posts, in terms of total pageviews. That happened much more quickly than I expected it to. Also, Soulwoven is now RANKED on Wattpad (#94 in Fantasy and #134 in Adventure)! I would eat a gummy worm in celebration, but I decided to be good today and not buy the 3 lb. bag of them that I saw on sale.

Right. On to a breakdown of Chapter Two of Soulwoven, which has now been up on Wattpad for a week. If you missed it, you can find the breakdown of Chapter One here.

Chapter Two is one of my favorite chapters of Soulwoven, mostly because I get to describe Eldan City for the first time, and because we get into Cole's head, which is a place I really like to be.

Spoilers below the fold!

Unlike Chapter One, Chapter Two takes place in one, unbroken scene. We start off in Cole's head as he and Litnig are leaving their house and stick with him as they discover that the Old Temple has been broken into and there's been a slaughter in the graveyard behind it. The chapter ends when the brothers find Ryse lying untouched in the midst of all the grisliness.

I'm doing several important things at once in Chapter Two. First, and most importantly, I'm letting the reader get to know Cole, who shares main character status pretty equally with Litnig in the book. Second, I'm continuing to develop the world. Third, I'm introducing several new sources of tension. And fourth, I'm showing the reader the alternating point of view structure that will continue throughout the book.

The continuing introduction of Cole takes place mostly through his narration. The point of view is very limited third person, so the reader only sees the world through Cole's eyes. And because Cole has opinions about everything, the reader gets to see a lot of them through his internal monologue. This chapter also provides a bit of a crisis point for Cole. On the one hand, he wants to help people, like his brother does. On the other, he's much more realistic about his own capability to do so, and he knows it won't help anyone if he gets himself hurt or killed. The second part of his brain tells him that the chances of he and Litnig doing anything useful are low at best and that they should clear out and keep themselves safe. But that part of him is wrong. Nothing bad happens to them. And Litnig is able to help Ryse. So in the back of his mind, Cole knows that if he had gotten his way, his friend and a bunch of innocent people would be worse off, and he and his brother wouldn't be any better off. Characters being wrong about important things, in my experience, almost always makes for an interesting situation.

At the same time I'm developing Cole, I'm continuing to work on Litnig. One of the reasons I chose the alternating point of view structure is because it offers incredible opportunities for character development. We've just had a chapter where we're in Litnig's head, seeing the world as he sees it. Now we get to see the world, including Litnig, from another point of view. Every time Cole describes Litnig, we learn a little more about both brothers, because we get to compare what we know is going on in Litnig's head with what Cole thinks is going on in Litnig's head, and we get to see what Litnig is doing without seeing his rationalizations on top of it.

The worldbuilding takes place primarily through Cole's descriptions of the city. The fact that Cole loves Eldan City helps with that. The city, and his relationship with it, are a big part of who he is. So it makes perfect sense for him to be thinking about what Temple Hill looks like, or how the River Eld smells, or the festivals and the Temples. Those are the things he thinks about every time he leaves his house. He's also among the smartest characters in the book. He connects old information with new information more readily than his brother, and he has more experience with violence, which makes him better equipped to describe the action in this chapter in particular. Trying to do the same descriptions through Litnig's point of view would be more difficult because he just doesn't see the world in the same way.

As for tension, right off the bat, we have the lingering question of why Cole decided to come with Litnig. That's resolved fairly quickly---we learn that he had a nightmare too, and he wants to get away from it. But he also feels less than convinced that it was a normal, run-of-the-mill nightmare, which continues to build tension around Litnig's dream and the events connected with it in the first chapter.

On the heels of that, the brothers see the murdered guards at the Old Temple, and the tension comes from a new angle, because we know that Ryse is inside and we suspect the brothers are going to go in after her. That question of, "Where is Ryse, and is she ok?" keeps tugging throughout the chapter, but there are other questions that start to crop up around it, like "Where did all these bodies come from?" "Will Litnig and Cole be able to help anyone?" "Are the people who did this gone?" and "Where did they come from and what did they want?" At the end of the chapter, the brothers find Ryse, but the question of whether she's really okay (Cole certainly thinks she isn't, but she and Litnig are acting like she is) remains unresolved, which I'm counting on to get the reader to turn the page again.

On top of all that, there's tension between the brothers. Cole doesn't want to be there, but he won't leave Litnig, and Litnig takes advantage of that to drag him into a dangerous situation. It's one thing to put your own life in danger. It's another thing entirely to feel like you've been dragged into it by someone else. That's a theme that will continue throughout the book.

To be honest, there isn't a lot I don't like about this chapter. On a sentence to sentence level, it's still not perfect. My writing isn't at the level of someone like China Mieville or Neil Gaiman. But the voice holds up okay, I think, and I'm reasonably certain I've done a good job of getting the big things right.

Chapter Three of Soulwoven, in which we get Ryse's point of view and the questions of "Is Ryse okay?" and "What did the people who did this want?" are resolved, goes up on Wattpad tomorrow! Check my Facebook page or Twitter feed for a link sometime in the afternoon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Grand Experiment: My First Week(ish) on Wattpad

So The Grand Experiment has ticked on into its second week now, and I thought it might be a good time for a little progress report. Quick rundown of the stats so far:

On Wattpad, I have posted two chapters of Soulwoven. They have received 80 reads, 1 vote (Still unclear what exactly the voting is for. Investigation to follow), and 5 comments, several of which are from me responding to other comments. I also have three fans, only one of whom I know in real life.

Book Country I gave up on before even starting, because I disliked their Terms of Service.

Authonomy I have not yet posted anything on, because you can't post anything less than 10,000 words in length there, and that's still several chapters of Soulwoven away.

So I've been spending most of my experiment time on Wattpad, exploring the site and trying to get to know the community a bit. There are a lot of people on there, including a rather astonishing number of teenage girls. In my head, I've broken the community into several groups. To wit:

The writers---the people who write and post stories on Wattpad. I think the age skews a little older in this group.

The readers---people who read lots of stories, but don't have any of their own posted.

The socialites---this group skews younger and seems to be on the site mostly to connect and chat with other people.

Wattpad's social scene revolves around its forums (called "clubs"). I poked around a bit on the clubs last week, started a couple discussion threads and participated in a couple of others. None of them really got any traction. The lion's share of my reads have come either immediately after posting a chapter, when my book floats to the top of Wattpad's "What's New" lists in its various categories, or in the day or so following a thread I started in Wattpad's Writers Club about craft elements in Soulwoven.

All things considered, I feel pretty good about my results. My cover, while I like it, is far from eye-grabbing. I have still barely interacted with the community at all, and when you see Soulwoven on Wattpad's search listings, it reads "2 parts, 6 pages" because of how Wattpad breaks things down. Not exactly impressive. It looks half-finished and amateur.

But over time I expect my plan to post one chapter a week to bear fruit, because it makes the most of those What's New lists. The craft thread I started in the Writers Club, which I intend to keep updating, may draw in more people over time in as well. And I've been posting and updating my status and fiddling with the tools Wattpad gives me for communicating with my fans.

I think of everything I'm doing on the site at this point as laying a fire. I'm putting the infrastructure in place that will be necessary to take advantage of my story blowing up if and when it happens. In the meantime, I'm enjoying myself immensely, because I'm actually, honest-to-God connecting with the people I want to read my book. And some of them, at least, like it.

And that's a very gratifying feeling.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 1

Greetings gentle readers. For a while now, I've been kicking around the idea of doing blog posts about Soulwoven, and breaking it down structurally in terms of what happens when, why it does, and what I'm trying to do as a writer in any given chapter. The big problem with the idea has always been that most visitors to this blog probably haven't read Soulwoven, and certainly don't have it front of them to take a look at.

Well, now that I'm posting chapters of it on Wattpad, that's not a problem anymore.

So without further ado, I'd like to inaugurate a series of craft posts about my writing and what I'm trying to do with it. Spoilers and technical writing bits to follow, so be forewarned. :-)

We'll start with Soulwoven Chapter One.

Opening chapters of novels are, I think, the most difficult thing to write in the whole world. I have rewritten this chapter more times than any other piece of writing I have ever produced. It's probably on its 20th or 30th iteration, if you go all the way back to when I started writing the book ten years ago. To be totally honest, I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, and I probably never will be.

So! Big points. There are three sections in Chapter One of Soulwoven, each containing its own scene with its own little arc. I'll break them, and what I'm trying to do in each of them, down below:

Scene One: Litnig, Cole, and their father are delivering groceries. There's someone watching them as they do it, which is weird and makes Litnig uncomfortable.

This scene has to do a lot of heavy lifting. It needs to establish the world, the main character, the voice, and immediate tension. And it needs to hook the reader along into going on to the next scene. To handle the first and the second, I drop us into the middle of a typical day in Litnig's life. He and his family are out delivering groceries, which is what they do. Litnig is curious but a little slow, Cole is sleepy and bored, and their father is grumpy and borderline violent. To handle the tension, I introduce something mildly creepy. There's a person watching Litnig. He's a kind of person Litnig has never seen before. He doesn't stop watching him throughout the whole scene. Litnig's father is dismissive of Litnig's worries. And the person watching has sharp, yellow teeth.

To establish the voice, I break rules. I open with a sentence that falls under several "thou shalt nots" of writing: it's got a cliche ("Once upon a time"), and it's got nothing particularly unique going on in it ("a young man opened his eyes"). It could be (and very well might be) the first sentence in any number of stories.

But it's also a one-sentence summary of this story, and one of my goals with it is to offer the reader the following information: I am going to try to do unusual and difficult things here. I am not going to follow all of the rules. If you're interested in that, and you think I can pull it off, then come along for the ride.

To get the reader to do that, I rely on the tension, and I end with a creepy image of the person watching Litnig smiling at him as he passes by.

Scene Two: Litnig, Cole, and their father return home. Their father starts beating Cole, and Litnig stops him.

By the time we reach this scene, things are hopefully flowing a little easier for the reader. They've made the decision to stick with me to this point, but I still need to hook them. This is the big sympathy scene in the first chapter. Cole does nothing wrong, and his father flies off the handle and starts pounding him. Litnig saves him. We learn a lot about both brothers in this scene---how they handle explosive situations (Litnig tries to defuse them, Cole sticks a firecracker into them), what they're capable of physically (Litnig is big and strong, Cole is not), and how much they think about what they're doing (Cole has a purpose, even when he's goading his father into hitting him. Litnig often just acts). Hopefully, by the end of it, the reader cares about both of them, and finds them interesting enough to continue.

Scene Three: Litnig has the first dream of his life. Something weird happens with the air and there's a scream. Litnig and Cole decide to try to find Ryse.

This scene is where we really start to dig into Litnig's head. I'm still trying to develop sympathy for Litnig, but I'm also sending him on his adventure. In the first scene, there's something weird going on, but it's unclear whether it's going to affect his life. In the third scene, there's something really weird going on, both for Litnig (the dream) and for the world he lives in (the scream), and it affects his life immediately. There's also additional world-building and a brief introduction of Ryse. And at the end, I try to set up a shift to Cole's point-of-view in the next chapter by moving the focus of the narrative from Litnig's actions to Cole's.

There are several things that I don't really like about this chapter. I don't like that it's split up into three scenes, because we won't see that again for another eight or nine chapters, and one thing I feel it's important to do in an initial chapter is to establish the type of structure the reader is going to see. The scenes are short, as well, and the whole just feels a little choppier than I want it to be. But there are distinct arcs to every scene. Combining them just wouldn't work because of that. I also thought at one point about breaking the chapter after scene two and starting Chapter Two with the events of scene three told in Cole's point of view, but Chapter Two feels pretty tight to me the way it is and I don't want to disturb it.

So that's it for Chapter One, really. I want to emphasize that I don't think much about these things when I'm writing. I don't plan this stuff out like this, and this is the first time I've ever written it down (That's one reason, actually, that I'm doing this at all. It's good exercise). When I write, I follow the story. I put characters in a situation, and then I let them react to it.

But when a chapter isn't working, I do think about things like this. It's an editing tool. "What am I trying to do here?" and "What do I need to do here?" are two of the most important questions you can ask yourself, and I'm never comfortable with a chapter until I can answer them.

Chapter Two of Soulwoven goes up on Wattpad tomorrow. I'll break that one down as well a little later on in the week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Cover Imagery on Wattpad

As I think most of you know, I posted the first chapter of Soulwoven on Wattpad this week. Part of that process involved some significant monkeying around with the placeholder cover image I generated for it, but the blog post on putting a chapter up had gotten long enough that I thought I'd post separately about the cover.

Eventually, I hope to have someone from the Wattpad community do me a snazzy, proper cover. There are a lot of forum threads in which people volunteer to make book covers for others, and they're pretty amazing.

But in the meantime, I decided to mock up a cover using a Wordle of the entire manuscript and Microsoft Paint (Yes, I work on a PC. Apple makes lots of nice things, but I abhor them as a company). I came up with the following:

Which is a bitmap of about 700x900 pixels. Now, when you post a story, Wattpad auto-generates a cover for your book that includes its title and your picture. It's actually not that bad, but I wanted my own cover image on there. Wattpad requires a .jpg or a .gif and suggests a resolution of 256x400. So I went into irfanview, which is an awesome, free, image editing program, and resized my cover mockup. Unfortunately, it left things a little stretched out, so I returned to the drawing board and started from scratch. After some fiddling and wrestling (my kingdom for Photoshop!), I got this:

Which uploaded easily as a .gif (when I tried to upload the original bitmap, it just didn't work--no error message, no explanation. The cover just didn't change). I went with a .gif rather than a .jpg because the colors washed out less.

Unfortunately, once uploaded to Wattpad, something terrible happens to your cover image. It gets all blurry and lossy and just generally gross. I made several unsuccessful attempts to fix this, and it seems to have happened to many more covers than just mine.

So my cover is uglier than it should be. But at least I have one. :-)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Posting Soulwoven Ch. 1 on Wattpad

Ladies and gentlemen, we are go for the launch of Soulwoven on Wattpad. After two weeks of needling and noodling and stressing out over the first chapter, I've whipped it into what I think is decent shape, and it's time for it to go out into the world. (If you're just looking for a link to the book, it's here.)

So here's what it's like to post a chapter on Wattpad:

You can start either by clicking the big "Create" button at the top of the main page or selecting "Add a Work" from the "My Works" tab of your account. Either option takes you to a clean, simple writing interface that has a small text box for a title and a big text box for the main body. It also has a text box for inputting tags and gives you drop-down menus for sorting your story into Wattpad's categories, choosing an appropriate age level for your story, and selecting a copyright license and distribution options. Under an "Advanced" tab, you can also include links to YouTube, photos, external links, and toggle the story's visibility between public (readable to anyone) and private (only readable by your Wattpad fans and yourself).

It's a very cool suite of options overall, but the titling confused me straight off the bat. I was uncertain whether I was setting a title for the book or for the specific chapter that I was uploading. It turns out that you're initially doing both. You have to go back and edit some things from the "My Works" tab in order to have separate story and chapter titles.

I started out by copying the text of Soulwoven's first chapter from Microsoft Word and pasting it into the main text box. It worked pretty well, though the formatting got a little garbled. Wattpad doesn't seem to like indents or tabs. It also changes the font into something I don't like very much (I think it's Arial or Calibri. It probably looks good on mobile devices, but not so much on my laptop screen).

After getting the text of the chapter in place, I turned to the "Categories" drop-down menu. It sits next to a link to the site's category descriptions, though the link isn't automatically set to open in a new tab and could cause you to lose a draft when clicking it if you aren't careful (hint hint Wattpad!). After a quick perusal of the options, I chose Fantasy ("Stories in this category are usually inspired by mythology and magic") and Adventure ("Adventure novels involve an exciting and often risky task that the main character must successfully complete") to describe Soulwoven.

When setting tags, you just have to freehand. There's no tag cloud or other way to know what tags are popular on the site. Using my evil day-job powers as an SEO wizard, I tried to think of search terms my ideal reader might pop into a Wattpad or Google search box. I eventually settled on "teens, magic, high fantasy, sword and sorcery, lots of characters, epic fantasy." Wattpad adjusts these to its own format as well, but you can change them later, and I probably will.

After "Tags" comes "Copyright." Your choices are "Not Specified" (the default, which I hope means you are de facto reserving your rights), "All Rights Reserved," "Public Domain," and a wide variety of Creative Commons licenses (which allow others to use or reproduce your work under certain conditions). Wattpad has a not-very-helpful link nearby to explain the options. The page they send you to only describes the Creative Commons licenses, and the nomenclature that Wattpad uses for those licenses doesn't match up with what's on the explanation page. It's therefore difficult to tell which Wattpad options grant which Creative Commons licenses. I chose "All Rights Reserved" anyway, because I do still want to sell this thing someday.

Next comes "Rating." You can choose G, PG, PG-13, or R, and Wattpad provides specific guidelines for each. The last box, "Distribution," offers you a choice between "Keep my story on Wattpad only" and "Help me promote my story on other sites." No helpful link this time, just a tooltip that mentions the possibility of your story being available through Wattpad's "online partners such as Sony eBooks, Google Bookstore, and Scribd." I left it on "Keep my story on Wattpad only," because the thought of my book in an online bookstore without me getting paid is not one I like.

Finally, you need to check an "I have read the terms and conditions" toggle and either "Save" or "Save & Publish." I chose "Save," so that I could make sure my chapter looked reasonable before anyone else saw it.

I'm glad I did, because the formatting got quite garbled when I saved. Wattpad has a button called "Remove spaces" that resolved the problem, but it also got rid of much of my formatting. What I was left with is all left-justified, with no indents. The spaceless draft survived the saving process much better than the original did, however, so that's what I'm going to stick with for now. Once you save as a draft (or publish), you can edit your chapter any time under the "My Works" tab of your account. You can also upload a cover image, name your book, add another chapter, and write a description of your story.

So that's it! On the whole, I give the Wattpad interface a resounding B+. It's good, and its weirder wrinkles can be worked around, but it did leave me scratching my head a few times.

More importantly, the first chapter of Soulwoven is up on Wattpad! This means that those of you who have been clamoring to read it for ages can. It's viewable here, you don't need an account to access it, and I hope that you like it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether on Wattpad, here, on Facebook, on Twitter...wherever suits you.

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that Wattpad went down for most of the day, and its community was distraught. Lots of people, mostly teenagers, posted upset messages on Twitter and Facebook. This place has a real following full of readers who care very deeply about it, and who have chosen to spend their free time there instead of watching movies or playing games or even reading books that have been professionally published.

I think that's very, very cool. If I had spent my teen years doing that instead of sinking hours upon hours into hack and slash video games, I would be a better writer today.

So hats off to them, and hats off to Wattpad, and let's see how this experiment goes! :-)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Wattpad and Moral Rights

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Wattpad in response to my question about moral rights. It reads:

Hi Jeff,
Great question! Moral rights, as we understand them, are rights to protection of the integrity and reputation of the work in question. These rights cannot be assigned to a third party, but by asking authors to waive them we are attempting to protect ourselves from situations where one author's work ends up displayed (for example, in a list based on a search term) along side a set of works which impugns the integrity reputation of the work in question by association, and as a result the author files a suit against us. As previously mentioned, moral rights cannot be assigned to others, but by waiving them you forgo the opportunity to seek compensation from Wattpad if you think your work has been poorly associated in our attempts to display it to others.
Hopefully this makes sense. We're looking to clarify our terms as much as possible. The team at has done a great job of this, we think, and we'd like to follow suit.
Mike Beltzner
Head of Product

So color me impressed by the quickness and thoroughness of their response. It was much more than I expected. I have to say that all of my interactions with the company so far have been positive ones. And now I have a pretty reasonable explanation for why they ask their contributors to waive their moral rights.

First chapter of Soulwoven to go up soon, friends and readers. I've been busy this week with an article I'm writing for Clarkesworld and a short story I'm submitting to Writers of the Future, both of which have deadlines that must be met.

But I still plan to get that chapter up this week, by hook or by crook.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Wattpad

(Standard disclaimer again, since I'm talking terms of service again: I'm not a lawyer. This is not meant as legal advice. If you want legal advice, get it from a lawyer. Nonstandard disclaimer: I am exhausted, but I want to get this up tonight. Apologies in advance for typos and lack of coherent thought.)

So I'm already registered on Wattpad. Have been for several months now. It's the site that gave me the idea for The Grand Experiment in the first place. But in the interest of fairness, I went back through the registration process to see how it matches up to Authonomy and Book Country.

The "Join Now" button on Wattpad was easier to find than Authonomy's, but not quite as prominently placed as the one on Book Country. Once you click it, you're prompted to sign in with Facebook, or, if you desire, with e-mail. Since I'm stingy with my Facebook details, and I try to keep my personal life as separate from my professional online presence as possible, I opted for the e-mail approach.

Wattpad asks for a username, e-mail address, password, date of birth, and gender when you register. In contrast to Authonomy and Book Country, its terms must be clicked through to on a separate page. Once you get there, however, they take up the full page rather than a tiny box.

The Wattpad terms link straightaway to separate pages for its privacy policy and community guidelines. Why they're compartmentalizing their information so much, I'm not entirely sure, but I'll get to those documents later.

Their account terms are pretty standard, except for continual emphasis on being 13 years of age or older and a line about sex offenders not being allowed. Wattpad "may attempt to notify you" when changes are made, but explicitly reserves the right to make changes without notice as well. Users are "encouraged" to only create one account, but the site does allow multiple accounts per person, perhaps because it doesn't have any sort of voting feature.

Wattpad users agree not to distribute user submissions, alter the website, or access user submissions except through the website. Like the other sites, it also bans "commercial use," which includes "sale of access to the Website or its related services on another website; use of the Website or its related services for the primary purpose of gaining advertising or subscription revenue; the sale of advertising, on the website or any third-party website, targeted to the content of specific User Submissions or content; and any use of the Website or its related services that finds, in its sole discretion, to use's resources or User Submissions with the effect of competing with or displacing the market for, content, or its User Submissions." Not quite as stringent as Authonomy's, but leaving plenty of room open for them to object to practices they don't like. They also specifically ban "commercial solicitation."

The site's policies to protect user content are pretty strict as well. Users agree to access other people's submissions only for personal use via normal operation of the website. They are prohibited from tampering with security features as well as from copying or distributing submissions. So if your content gets ripped off of Wattpad, whoever did it at least acted in violation of their agreement with the site, for whatever good that may do you.

The grant of license (quoted in full at bottom) to Wattpad feels pretty standard, except that you explicitly waive your moral rights. After some noodling, and a reexamination of the best definition of moral rights I could find online, I figure this may have something to do with the fact that Wattpad wants to be able to display your story in whatever format they want, as long as you still grant them the license to do so. I suppose they want to avoid lawsuits if they change their site or app design and someone flips their lid. I have contacted them to ask about the clause. We'll see if they respond.

One other thing I dislike about the Wattpad grant of license is that it doesn't contain a term of license. It doesn't say "forever," or the like, which is nice, but it also doesn't specify how you can revoke the grant. There's some wishy-washy language in there about removing or deleting content that I suppose has something to do with it, but it makes me nervous nonetheless.

Which brings me to what I think makes Wattpad stand apart from Book Country and Authonomy, and why I'm willing to sign up with Wattpad and not Book Country even though both have grants of license that make me nervous. I know that Book Country authors have been published by Penguin, the company that owns Book Country, but not that they've been published by anyone else. This is problematic to me because even if the Book Country contract grants it crazy rights, it's no sweat for Penguin to put out the book. Book Country will not compete with them, because they own it. Authonomy (run by HarperCollins) suffers from the same issue.

But a Wattpad author got a contract from Simon and Schuster for a novel she had posted on Wattpad. Three other publishers bid on the same book. That tells me that Wattpad's terms are pretty safe. Four different publishers were willing to buy the right to put the book out, regardless of the grants that had previously been made to Wattpad.

So I trust Wattpad. Maybe that's a bad decision, but at least I'm making it in conjunction with several large publishing houses.

The rest of the terms are pretty standard. Your account can be canceled for breaking the terms, which includes posting anything containing "hate crimes, pornography, obscene or defamatory material, or excessive length." You provide a pretty standard set of indemnifications (if you post something and they get sued, you're liable). The contract can also be transferred to someone else on their end, but not on yours

After reading the terms of service, I clicked through to the privacy policy. It's pretty standard for a website, at least in my experience. They share anonymous, aggregrated information about you ("We have X number of users between the ages of 13 and 21"), and they share your personal information in order to protect themselves or their users and to operate the site. They also promise to inform users (hooray!) if they go through a "business transition" (i.e. they're acquired by another company) and their use of personal information will change as a result.

Finally, the content guidelines. You can't post copyrighted works (again), pornography, or graphic depictions of serious drug use, prostitution, suicide, and all types of abuse. They also ban (again) "any material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially offensive, or is otherwise inappropriate." More interestingly, they rate content G-R. Content that includes but does not graphically depict "serious drug use, prostitution, suicide, and all types of abuse," must be rated R and is not eligible for promotion by Wattpad.

So that's that! To me, Wattpad is interesting in comparison to Book Country and Authonomy for two reasons: First, it's clearly aimed at a teen audience. Second, it's independent of any publisher. I like it for both reasons.

I'm planning to post the first chapter of Soulwoven on Wattpad this week, although I have some questions about where it fits within their content guidelines. More on that, however, as I deal with it.

*As promised, the grant of license: "For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to, you hereby grant a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Registering on Book Country

(Standard disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. You should not act on anything I say when it comes to legal agreements. If you care about your rights, get any legal agreement, including website terms, explained to you by a lawyer before you sign).

Book Country didn't last very long in The Grand Experiment. In fact, I didn't even register for it. I'll go into why at the bottom of the post, but we'll start with a description of the registration process.

It was a lot easier to find Book Country's "Join Now" button than Authonomy's. It's big, red, and in the upper-right-hand corner of the site, where I've been trained to look for such things. Once you click on it, you get a page that's very similar to Authonomy's registration form. Book Country asks for a display name, an e-mail address, and a password. Its Terms and Conditions are displayed in another tiny, hard-to-read box.

The terms open with pretty standard language, but refer specifically to the site being a place where people can self-publish (I remembered later that Book Country offers a variety of self-publishing services that have been panned by prominent self-published authors). The terms also discuss a focus on genre fiction and possible expansion plans, mention that Book Country "may" provide notice of changes to its terms (an improvement over Authonomy, at least), and discuss what users can and cannot do on the site before registering

All submissions to the site are deemed to be nonconfidential information. I'm not sure what that means in practical terms.

The third subheader of the agreement covers content. From the get-go, its terms are not as clear as Authonomy's ("Except as set forth herein, you will retain all rights in your Content"). By the end of the grant of license, they get murky enough that I've decided I don't want to be involved with them.

Grant of license quoted here:

"By posting or uploading any Content on the Website: (i) you understand that if your Work is in a genre included on the Book Country Website, and complies with these General Terms of Use, your Work may be made accessible to users of the Website and members will be able to review, comment on it and rate it; (ii) you represent and warrant that you own or control all rights in your Content, that such Content is original and does not, and will not, infringe the copyright, trademark or any other right of any person or entity, and that any “moral rights” in the Content have been waived; and (iii) you grant to us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable right and license (A) to display the Content on the Website, and (B) with respect to Content other than your Work, to use, display, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, perform, make, sell and export such Content, in whole and in part, on the Website or in any formats and through any media, as we see fit, and you shall have no claims against Book Country for such use or non-use. Although Book Country may maintain copies of your Content, we are not required to do so and we may delete or destroy any such Content at any time."

The grant is pretty vanilla until partway through (ii), when it starts talking about "moral rights," which I have only ever heard discussed in the context of authors/artists/musicians/others who signed bad contracts (They're explained in somewhat clearer terms here). (ii) may be talking about moral rights in the work possessed by people other than the user, but it makes me uncomfortable in its ambiguity.

(iii), however, caused me a serious headache. "Work" is defined in the agreement as "excerpts from your writing," so writing uploaded to Book Country seems to be excepted from the massive rights-grab-forever in (iii). "Content" in the agreement is defined as "Any information, proposals, requests, manuscripts, creative works, pictures, photographs, letters, documents, demos, ideas, suggestions, concepts, methods, systems, designs, plans, techniques or other materials submitted, posted, uploaded, sent or otherwise transmitted to us on or through the Website in any manner, or by email."

I have no interest in providing a perpetual, transferable, and irrevocable right and license to display and/or pimp my book to Book Country. I am reasonably certain that this contract does not actually grant that ("Content other than your Work" in (iii) (B) seeming to mean everything I put up on the site except for my writing). Based upon the rest of the agreement, I think that (iii) is in there to let Book Country do whatever they want with user comments and reviews, which I'm fine with.

But it took me a lot of reading, re-reading, and reasoning to get to that point. And that process left me with a very queasy feeling in my stomach about Book Country.

Some contracts feel like agreements between friends signed for mutual benefit. Other contracts feel like someone trying to take advantage of you. This contract has the latter feel, and I have learned through painful experience to trust my instincts on that.

So, at least for now, I will not be participating in Book Country, and The Grand Experiment has grown slightly smaller.