Monthly Archives: September 2011

Vocbulism

A few weeks ago, I was reading an online article, which I don’t remember the address of. I had no problem reading it, but when I got to the comments, I was surprised to hear, “Who does the writer think he is?” and “He’s just trying to use big words to make himself sound important.”

I re-read the article. I didn’t see any words that I don’t use on a regular basis. This got me to thinking a little about vocabulary, and the importance of reaching your audience through your words.

True Story

I was once recruited by a man named Gary Cooper, who owned a drinking establishment named the “Coopacabana.” I was tasked with assisting him in the task of moving a shuffleboard style bowling game into his establishment. When I was finished he offered me a beer. The conversation went like this.

Gary: Are you over 21?

Me: Yes (it was actually true.)

Gary: You want a beer?

Me: Sure.

Gary: What would you like?

Me: Sam Adams.

Gary: What?

Me: Leinenkugel?

Gary: What?

Me: Pabst? (I was trying to re-gain some cred.)

Gary: Sure.

I had lacked the vocabulary to order a beer in a neighborhood bar.

So, you have to be careful not to use too many “big” words. Well, that kind of sucks, but there are some tricks I like to play to vary things up a bit. Often complex words share roots with simple words, and you can get away with using them. in context.

For instance, I would never use the word Nosferotic in a memo, but in a vampire book, where people are used to reading Nosferatu, it’s a pretty easy sell. At worst, some people might think I made up the word, which considering the popularity of it’s use, I might as well have. I found it in a dictionary once. It may have been a typo, but I’m sticking with it. Another word you can find in lots of writing is rivulet, three whole syllables and a word I’ve never heard spoken aloud, but similar to river and having a common suffix meaning “small,” so pretty much everyone can get it. Gentrification is another good example.

Then there are fun words that just sound like the mean, a sort of accidental onomatopoeia. Discombobulated is a great example of this.

Also, I never hesitate to make up my own words. It was good enough for Shakespeare.

Unfortunately, some words are just awesome and hard to learn via context. To me, at first glance, Messianic has more to do with messes than with messiahs. Of course, depending on your own personal outlook, maybe that’s not too bad.

Another problem I run into is words which have a common usage different from the traditional usage. See sodomy.

What the hell, Comma Police?

Over on the Kindle Boards, indie author Robert Bidinotto talks about how his book Hunter was pulled by Amazon for editing errors, most of which were his use of the serial comma or Oxford comma. To save you reading the thread, Amazon did eventually offer his book for sale again, but it did take some mailing back-and-forth, and frighteningly, it seems their ebook QA team had never heard of the Chicago Manual of Style.

For the uninitiated, the Oxford comma is the comma at the end of sequences.

Without the Oxford comma:
To my parents, Keifer Sutherland and The Captain and Tennille
I had a can of oil, bacon and eggs and tuna for breakfast.

With the Oxford comma:
To my parents, Keifer Sutherland, and The Captain and Tennille
I had a can of oil, bacon and eggs, and tuna for breakfast.

I’ll be honest. The biggest reason this makes me mad is the most grossly unedited ebook I’ve gotten on my Kindle, The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann, published by Tor Books. To me, it looked like Tor’s software screwed up and no human being bothered to take a look at it afterwards. But seriously, why can’t Tor be held to the same standards as indies?

Now, back on topic. I know some people hate that little comma as much as they hate taxes and confusing road tar with hot fudge. Personally I don’t think it’s really a big deal. I like to use it, because of the times that it does add clarity, and because when I’m speaking, I tend to pause at that point in a sequence.

In a world where there are dozens of style guides, dialects, and regional conventions, what’s one little comma between friends? I mean seriously, there’s even an Oxford comma Facebook fan page. Sure, it’s a nice place for a comma, but there’s not reason to get worked up about it.

A good one.

From time to time, I write a line which I really like. This is one of them:

I wanted to assure her that I hadn’t done anything stupid or illegal, that I hadn’t joined a group that Homeland Security and the FBI considered a terrorist organization, but I couldn’t lie to my mother.

‘Nuked’ might be a tad bit strong.

Somebody set up us the bomb.

Over at the Self Publishing Review, I found an interesting article entitled, “Why I Nuked My Writing Career Before it Even Started.” The author of the article, Andrew Van Wey, talks about how, in addition to offering his paranormal mystery for $2.99 on the Kindle and Nook platforms, he also uploaded a copy to the Pirate Bay.

Also, earlier in the week, I read an article by a self-styled “Social Media Expert,” who was offering his non-fiction books for $9.99, and seemed offended that authors would sell their books for less and make his book look overpriced. I would link to include a link, so you can decide for yourself whether or not the guy was an idiot, but I really don’t want to waste your time or give him free advertising.

So, let’s put aside the fact that non-fiction books have always commanded higher retail prices, and profit margins, than fiction books, and how much larger the pool of competition is for fiction books, and how I feel about anyone who give themselves the title, “Social Media Expert,” and doesn’t run a website with thousands of viewers.

First, I want to address the idea that self-published ebooks shouldn’t be sold at the $0.99 to $2.99 price point. I think what most self-publishing authors are forgetting or maybe not realizing is that when a major house publishes an ebook for $7.99, or a hardcover for $20, a newbie author is only going to see $1-$3 for each sale. To put this in perspective, I’m going to offer these numbers by J A Konrath, who is very forthcoming about how much money he makes.

A Zen Parable

Once an economist traveled to the office of a major music corporation. He offered charts, charts figures, reams of paper showing how, if the company lowered the price of its digital music from $1.00 to $0.05, the company could double it’s profits within a year.

The President of the company considered this for a moment and then said, “But, if I lower the price to $0.10, I can quadruple my profits in a single year,” and smiled, secure in the knowledge that he knew more about running his company than any economist.

Okay, so here’s where I go off the numbers game and talk about something more important than profit per unit: your relationship with your readers. Fiction is not created by words alone, it is a relationship between author and reader. Sure, at the end of the day, publishing is a business, but good customer relations may be the most important part of doing business in the twenty-first century. This is perhaps the reason for the whole social media boom. After decades of technology making us feel less and less connected to other people, the needle seems to have suddenly swung the other direction. Sure, we might want to still buy cheep shoes online, but we want to do through the company that seems to more genuinely care.

Play the long game. Don’t worry about how much money you can make on one book. Think of how many readers who will want to buy the next book. Look at Amanda Hocking’s pricing model. $0.99 for the first book in a trilogy, $2.99 for each additional book. By the time you’re done, she’s grossed $6.97 instead of the $8.97 she would have made from selling all the books at $0.99. But, how many more people picked up that first book because it was just $0.99?

This is a link to the Cory Doctorow book, Little Brother. It is available for free on Doctorow’s website, just like all his other books. I have bought two trade paperback copies of this book. The first I bought for Cory Doctorow to sign. The second, I bought for a Christmas present for Tony Burroughs,  a friend who I thought would benefits from the descriptions of technology. I like Doctorow enough that I wanted to buy a book for Tony, rather than just giving him a download link.. The purchase both supported Cory, and showed Tony that I saw value in our discussion of technology.

So, this might have turned into a bit of a rant, but who doesn’t like a good rant.

I guess it’s not different than what I talked about the other day. Is a wide readership or a higher profit margin more important? Personally, I think that a larger readership is ultimately better business in our weird, post-paper world, but only time will decide.

Fatigue

My wrists are on fire

I never imagined writing would be taxing on my body, but between working on my stories and working at a keyboard all day long, I experience a good amount of wrist pain in addition to the mental burn-out. I can only imagine this is an indicator that I should slow down in doing one activity or the other. At the moment the computer work is the more lucrative, so I’m going to have to slow down a little on my novel.

Actually, this might be a good opportunity. I have been lax in my second job as a writer, being a good reader. On the non-fiction side, I’m still working on Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. And, for fiction, I’ve been wanting to read The Exodus Gate by Stephen Zimmer, who I met this year at Demicon.

Even with all this cool stuff to work on, I hate to lose momentum on the current novel. Maybe I should take some time off from work.

Wine tasting last night.

I have to admit, being a socially awkward farm boy, I don’t usually like tastings. There are lots of people to bump into. My ineptitude for foreign language and knowledge of varietals is pushed to its limit just to ask for the next wine. And eventually, the vino loosens my tongue and I end up having a stilted conversation with a complete stranger. They are, however, one of the better opportunities to learn about wines.

Last night’s tasting at Vineria was a nice change. Things were a little slow and relaxed, probably not so good for their bottom line but much better for my nerves. I got a chance to talk a little more with the experts, which is always fun. I’m even getting a little better at asking for “the Petite Sirah” vs. “that one,” so I don’t feel like a complete cretin.

I hate taking lots of notes while I’m busy drinking wine, but I’ll do my best to remember what I tried.

 

The first wine I tried was this Callia Alta Torrontes 2010, Argentina. I found it subtle for a Torrontes, a little less floral with more fruit. There was some nice melon in the nose.

 

By far, my favorite white was this Frisk Prickly Riesling 2010, Australia. Prickly is the right word for this wine. It had a nice complexity for a sweet Riesling. I’ll probably be buying this one.

 

I guess I wasn’t very imaginative when it came to reds. The two I liked the most were both wines which I’ve bought before.

 

I probably like this Senda 66 Tempranillo 2008, Spain because it tastes like cherry cola, and I grew up on cherry cola. Still, if you like a semi-sweet cherry flavor, this is definitely one to try.

 

This Allegrini Palazzo De La Torre 2007, Italy has a lot going on for it. It is not only enjoyable to drink, but also, it’s partially made with dried grapes, so it has the novelty of being made with a different process. Still, if it weren’t drinkable, I wouldn’t care how they made it.

 

As things were winding down, Jose pulled out this Gulfi Nerobaronj Nero d’Alvola 2006, Italy. This was my first time trying nero d’alvola grapes, which are the “most important red wine grape in Sicily.*” This is a beautiful wine, good enough to make me consider upping my wine budget.

*Wikipedia

The results are in.

Being critiqued, especially peer review, is an odd experience.

I have to admit that I went into my critique last night with a bit of anxiety. Did I get too experimental? Was my protagonist unlikable?

On one hand, I want everyone to like my work, but on the other, I need an honest critique to make my work better. Basically, I want the person who does my critique to find everything but have nothing to find.

I was really happy to discover than everyone liked my protagonist and enjoyed my chapter. Or maybe, they weren’t being critical enough.

WYSIWYG vs. Markdown

Currently, at work, I’m writing a knowledge base and ticket system. If you’re not familiar, a ticket system is a way to ask for assistance from your IT department, or a way for them to talk to each other.  Why am I doing this, when there are several commercial products available? Because my boss would rather pay my paycheck than give the money to a vendor. I think this is a fine plan.

So, in my knowledge base, which is basically a speed bump on the user’s way to writing a ticket, I wanted to do some simple rich formatting, bold, italics, bullet lists, and hyperlinks. However, the other employees in my tiny IT department are not as familiar with HTML as I am. So, I want to use some kind of intermediary plugin to help them write it.

The first solution I looked at was Markdown. Markdown is a simplified syntax used in site like the Reddit and Stack Exchange for rich formatting. If you are at all into computers and don’t know about Stack Exchange, you should take a look. Markdown looks kind of like this:

**bold text ** _emphasis_  [html link (url)]

Markdown might not be the easiest syntax in the world, but if you goof it up, you don’t have broken HTML in the middle of your page. For this application, I’d probably use a jQuery Markdown interpreter and keep the Markdown in the database.

The other solution I looked at was, and I have a feeling you’ve already guessed, WYSIWYG, or What You See Is What You get. WYSIWYG editors have a high comfort level for users, as they can literally see what the page will look like. However, that doesn’t always work so well. WYSIWYG interfaces have to deal with anything the user throws at them, so if a user plays around with the formatting, you can easily get some weird, leftover markup hiding in the background. Still, some of these WYSIWYG editors do very nice things, I’m nearly happy with TinyMCE, the editor used in WordPress. It looks like this:

In the end, I think I’m going to move ahead with Markdown. It might mean a little more learning curve for the staff developing the knowledge base, but I think will ultimately be the better user experience for the people using the knowledge base. Also, having used some WYSIWYG editors in the past, I think I want to try something different.

I really want people to read my books.

Okay, time to be controversial. I want people to read my books. I want people to read my books much more than I want them to actually pay for them. I would rather have 1000 people pay for my book and 100,000 read it, than have 10,000 people pay for it and 10,000 read it.

Now, I understand how that logic falls apart. Publishing is a business, and my future publisher (ha, how’s that for optimism) will need to move X number of units to remain profitable. I might have even have to compromise a bit to stay in print. However, in the end, the readership is more important than my wallet. I don’t consider that an irrational idea, just one that might not be for everyone.

I guess the reason this came into my head is because of the post I did yesterday about book group. I’d embedded a YouTube video of a pertinent clip from NTSF:SD:SUV. If you go there and click on it, you’ll see that embedding is disabled and you have to go to YouTube’s page.

Now, I always thought you put clips on YouTube because you wanted people to watch them, so they maybe got to like your show. Of course, if you force people directly to the YouTube page, you can get a few hundredths of a cent from ad revenue, which I’m sure Turner broadcasting really needs, but wouldn’t not pissing off potential fans of the show go a lot farther? Maybe someone at Turner Broadcasting thought my readers might be confused and for some reason think that I produce that show?

I also found out that that particular clip is disabled for mobile devices. There is another policy that makes me scratch my head. Say I’m out with my friends (this is hypothetical, ya) and I say, “you have to watch this cool clip.” Then the clip turns out to be a piece of text reading, “This Video Disabled for Mobile Devices.” Isn’t that the same as giving the middle finger to a group of potential viewers?

Then again, don’t ask me. I obviously have skewed morals. I want people to see and like what I do.