1. How do you find beta readers? On my website. Personal acquaintances.
2. Should you protect copyright before submitting? When you create it, it is copyrighted. You do not need to register.
3. Advice for a discovery writer who has trouble figuring out where their story is going? Jot down any scenes you do know, then move them around and fill in the holes. Write down all the cool stuff you can think of -- what does this character, technology, or conflict create that you want to see. What is the worst thing that could happen? What is the best thing that could happen? Write, keep going, and then fix it in revision.
4. What is the best way to pay my favorite authors? Buy our books. Buy hardbacks. Pick the format that you like, then loan it to someone else. Say something nice about the book. Buy on the opening day.
5. Can chapters be too short? This is a stylistic choice. How fast do you want to jump viewpoints?
6. How much time do you spend reading? Mostly in airplanes. While eating.
[Howard] This episode has been brought to you by Audible. They've given us four copies of the Steelheart audiobook to give away this week. Listening to an audiobook is a little bit like having the epic power of multitasking, because you can read a book and do something else at the same time. We are going to have our third and final Steelheart twitter contest. Tell us how you would use this power. Here's an example. "Dear Writing Excuses. I wish to listen to Steelheart while piloting my Volkswagen beetle down the Interstate and using my turn signals." You may format these tweets however you like provided they include the @writingexcuses handle and do not begin with the @ sign. Yes, yes, we are requiring you to spam social media in order to play. This is our epic power, and with it, we shall give away four audiobooks sometime on Wednesday. Go ahead and follow @writingexcuses in order to find out whether or not you've won. You may begin your tweeting now.
[Mary] Season Eight, Episode 41.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, micro-casting.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] And we are doing questions sent to us by our listeners.
[Brandon] So, the first one, how do you find beta readers?
[Mary] I find them on my website.
[Brandon] Oh, really?
[Mary] Yeah. I actually will post things on my website in a password-protected drive and I tell people I'm... I have written a X-number of words short story and it's about this, here's a teaser, I'm looking for people who are willing to read and give me feedback. The reason I do that is because I find that if I go to the usual suspects every single time, besides the fact that they don't have time for it, that I tend to get the exact same feedback every time. Or very similar. Everyone has their pet peeves. This gives me a much broader range of people.
[Brandon] Excellent. My beta readers are all people that I know personally. A lot of them nowadays are members of fandom that are... That have been reading my books for a long time and have proven themselves kind of trustworthy and I've interacted with them a bunch. Those are the people I now send my books to for beta reads. Alpha reads are my writing group and my editor and agent.
[Dan] I do similar things. I've started sending books to fans. Not everybody. But like you say, there's some people you just tend to interact with a lot or that you meet in person at multiple conventions and over time, and you're just like, "Hey, okay." Frankly, that is how I met a lot of my friends in publishing anyway, was going to conventions. So even before I was published, that's still was a good place to meet beta readers.
[Howard] My prose really only has alpha readers. That's my writing group.
[Howard] My web comic has 150,000 beta readers. I just shift beta so I don't have to listen to them.
[Brandon] All right. Legal IP issues. Should you protect a copyright before submitting? Are the rules different for short fiction? Any other legal pitfalls to be aware of?
[Mary] In the United States, and actually in Europe, due to the Berne Convention, the moment you create something, it is copyrighted. You do not need to legally register a copyright. The only time you need to do that, for a written work, is... You can send something to the Copyright Office and have it registered. The only time that this is ever in play is if someone violates your copyright by say making a movie and you have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have copyrighted it. However, there are so many other ways to prove that, that this is almost... Like this is not...
[Brandon] You really don't want to do it. You don't have to do it.
[Mary] You don't need to.
[Howard] It's not worth the time or the effort.
[Brandon] The only reason to do it is if you personally are so worried that it prevents you from being able to work or send things out. That you're basically paying 50 bucks for peace of mind you don't really need. I can understand someone wanting to do that. If you want to do that, that's okay. But you really don't need to.
[Mary] Yeah. And basically, the... Is it any different for short fiction? No, not at all.
[Howard] If you are a... If you're an artist, and you're putting your stuff up on the web, the most common place where your IP gets stolen is companies that make T-shirts. Hot Topic has been guilty of this a number of times. There's... I say guilty of this. They bought en mass shirts from companies that were stealing from other people. The good news here is that again copyright is not the thing that you need to register in order to make it work. What you need to do is be friends with other web cartoonist and folks in the community and they will drop the Internet on Hot Topics head. I've seen this happen half a dozen times in the last two years. Every time it happens, the artist wins.
[Mary] Now you do... When you're doing art, you do want to make sure that there is a copyright notice embedded in there somewhere so that when someone lifts it from your site, which they will... It's easy to trace back to you. The other thing to be aware of is that in addition to copyright, there's also something called Creative Commons license. Which could be a... We should get Cory Doctorow on.
[Brandon] We should get Cory on. We can can-of-worms that one for sure. I do want to make mention of... I don't... This advice may not work for screenplays. We're talking about fiction that you're doing in our specific community. This doesn't really need to be done. Keep in mind, editors and agents aren't going to steal your ideas because the chief this person they can get to write your book is you. Your story... When they're buying your story, they're really buying your ability to write. The ideas are not what's going to get stolen. So you really don't need to worry about this a lot, if at all.
[Dan] One thing... I mention this because it's slightly related. If you want to concern yourself with something, with protecting yourself or saving something, one thing to consider is URLs. This is not a big concern, but it's one that I dealt with a lot when I was a corporate writer. When you are naming things, places or spaceships or planets or fantasy lands, it might behoove you to make sure that a URL is available if it's something you want. But again, it's not really a big deal.
[Brandon] Yeah. A lot of these are pretty small. I mean, if you also are worried, you may want to search the trademark registry for the thing that you're naming your book after. Just to be careful. It's searchable, it's free to search. Make sure that your title is not trademarked. There's a difference between trademarks and copyrights. Keep that in mind.
[Howard] Bill Foley shared with me a very amusing anecdote in which a merchandising company came to him and asked if they would like to partner with them on Girl Genius merchandise. What turns out had happened is they had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing a merchandising product of stuff called Girl Genius and then did the trademark search and realized that Phil owns that trademark and that URL lock, stock, and barrel, and that they had nothing. They came to him on hands and knees begging. Phil said, "You are product looks nothing like my product. You need to go find another name."
[Brandon] Yep. When it comes to trademarking... By the way, don't worry about trademarking until... I mean, I...
[Howard] Until you have a property.
[Brandon] Yeah, until you have a property. I'm the only author in my agent's stable who has actually done any trademarking. The only one that he's come to and said, "You probably ought to look at trademarking, you're getting to a high enough level of prominence that you need to worry about it."
[Howard] For something that we were going to can-of-worms, we've...
[Dan] We've talked a lot about it.
[Brandon] All right. Let's go ahead and move on to something a little more writing directly related. Dan, someone asked for advice for a discovery writer who has trouble figuring out where their story is going but can't seem to outline effectively. Any little bits of wisdom?
[Dan] Try again.
[Mary] I actually have something for that one.
[Mary] So what I do with... I realized as I was talking to some of the students at the retreat here that I write linearly, but I don't outline in a linear fashion. So one thing that you can do if you are not sure where the story is going next is just jot down any scenes that you think you know. It's like I've had the scene in my head, and you just put them down on a page or on the computer in kind of a random order, on notecards or whatever, and then move them around until they start making sense and look for the holes that go in between them.
[Dan] Yeah. I was going to mention something very similar to that is, at this conference and at other conferences, I have taught my outlining class and my structure class. I... The feedback that I've gotten from a lot of the people here is not what I expected. They haven't been saying, "Oh, you know, your outlining system you taught us was great." Some of them do say that. But the technique that seems to have hit the most nerves is the cool stuff file. Take a piece of paper and write down all the cool stuff that you think would be good for your book. Something that this character or this technology or this conflict could create that you would love to see. Once you have a list of that, that gives you a really kind of basic outline of I know I want all of these things to happen in the book. Put them in order and go for it.
[Mary] Yeah. Then it's just like alphabetizing.
[Howard] I ask myself a couple of questions. What is... If I'm stuck. What is the worst thing that could logically happen right now? And what is the thing that... The best thing that could possibly happen logically right now? Why will it look like it's almost going to happen but not happen? These don't answer everything, but if I can answer those two questions, I've got more stuff to write, I can start moving.
[Brandon] I would also say, just observing externally, because I don't discovery write a lot, but... Discovery writers having trouble figuring out where the story is going... That happens to a lot of discovery writers. The idea is just write it anyway, keep going, and you'll discover what your story is about as you're wrapping it up. Then in revision, you know where the story is going. The revision is where you really need to know where you are going.
[Brandon] Let's go ahead and stop for the book of the week. We actually have Dan to pitch to us Anna Dressed in Blood.
[Dan] Yes. Anna Dressed in Blood. This is a great... I don't know if you... I guess you'd call it an urban fantasy, but really it's a ghost story from Tor. It's by Kendare Blake. It is the story of a teenage boy who has inherited from his father ghost killing power. So he and his mom travel around the country and sometimes the world to places where they know there's a specific haunting, and he'll find a way to draw that ghost out and kill it. In this one particular case, when he goes after this infamous ghost Anna dressed in blood, they... He and the ghost kind of fall in love with each other. It is a really gruesome, kind of horror ghost story love story. I really enjoyed it.
[Brandon] Excellent. Howard, how can they get that?
[Howard] Head out audiblepodcast.com/excuse. Start a 30-day free trial membership and pick up a copy of Anna Dressed in Blood, which is probably going to be really awesome to have somebody read to you while you sit in the dark.
[Brandon] All right. Interesting question here that I get a lot. I don't know if you guys get it, but it's what is the best way to pay my favorite authors?
[Mary] You mean besides buying our books?
[Dan] Well, even then there's a lot of questions. Buying a hardback, I will get more money from than if you buy a mass-market.
[Brandon] I find it very interesting that people ask this question, because number one I'm flattered that they're asking it, but at the end of the day, the reason that I do all of these different editions is because I want it to be easiest for you to find the format that you want.
[Brandon] The best thing you can do... The best way to pay me is to pick the format that will keep you reading and will make you most excited to get to the book. When people email me... They... I actually get this maybe once a day, email, tweeted, or Facebook, someone comes to me and asks this. My response is always the better thing you can do is loan one of my books to someone else. That's how we get our best word-of-mouth. So the best thing you can do for me to say something nice about the book. The best money that we make honestly is off of the hardcover editions, but at the end of the day, I would much rather you buy the cheapest edition which is the mass-market paperback, but then hand it to somebody else than buy the hardcover.
[Dan] For the price of a hardcover, you could probably buy two or three mass markets.
[Brandon] Yeah. You could buy one mass-market from each of us.
[Dan] And give them to all your friends.
[Brandon] And go read Howard's for free.
[Mary] I will say one thing that people should probably know is that when you're looking at... If you want your favorite author to land on a bestseller list...
[Brandon] Yes, there is that.
[Mary] That the way that those are generated is not by the so much the number of copies but the volume, the speed at which those copies go out...
[Brandon] Yes, the trajectory.
[Mary] So buying the hardcover the first week it comes out is... I mean, that is the nice thing to do.
[Brandon] That is the best thing, particularly if you've got an author that you love that you don't think is nearly as well known as you want them to be. If you buy that opening day, what happens is the bookstore then says, "Oh, wow. This is selling. We better have another one or two in stock next week because people are buying them so quickly." The bestseller lists pick up on that because trajectory gets on the bestseller lists, so it goes on these lists and then when they stock them on the bestseller list shelves, you're... They order extra copies and put them there, and online they climb up the lists so that people see them and the recommendations of people who liked this bought this, that's all trajectory based. How fast it sells as soon as it comes out. So that is the best thing you can do for an author probably if you have an author that you particularly love and want to see good things happen to their books.
[Howard] Or, for me, just by everything from store.schlockmercenary.com until you don't have any money left.
[Brandon] Can chapters be too short? Can a book be too easy to read? Is there a stigma associated with short chapters like Dan Brown?
[Dan] Well, they get a lot shorter than Dan Brown.
[Mary] Oh, yeah. I just listened to Liani Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone which is a brilliant book. She has a chapter that is conservatively I would say 15 words long and it works perfectly in this chapter. It makes complete, complete sense for the book for that moment.
[Dan] One of the...
[Brandon] Compares very interestingly with my 70,000 word chapter.
[Dan] One of the Ender's books... Ender's Shadow or The Hegemon or one of those has a two word chapter where Bean's family has to flee and then chapter 17 or whatever says "They ran." Then it goes into chapter 18.
[Brandon] I think that this is just a stylistic choice and you can't... I mean, if every one of your chapters is a paragraph long, yes, your chapters can be too short. I think that would... But if... I can imagine a book where every chapter is a paragraph and it works. It might work better as a short... Shorter piece, but... I would say it just is what you're comfortable doing. There's no rule of thumb. It depends on how fast you want to jump viewpoints. Terry Pratchett does not put chapters in most of his books. Only his YA books have them and only then because I believe he was forced to by the editors. He just has scenes. So just do what you want to do, what feels natural to you and don't stress chapter length too much.
[Howard] Chapters are a pacing tool.
[Brandon] All right. Let's do one more. How much time do you each spend reading?
[Mary] Okay. So this is the thing that they do not tell you when you get a writing career. That you get less time to read.
[Brandon] Yeah, it's really annoying. But they do... You do spend a lot of time on planes. And reading is...
[Dan] Yes. That is where I do most of my reading now.
[Brandon] That's where I do most of my reading as well. I've been flying a lot lately, so I've gotten through quite a few books. Most of my reading time is planes.
[Howard] I read a lot, a lot, a lot of email.
[Brandon] I feel it's important to read as an author to keep track of what other authors are doing and to be inspired, so I make time for it. There wasn't... I didn't have to used to make time for it, but now I do.
[Mary] Yeah. I had to set a rule for myself that I don't eat at the computer. I used to like get my lunch and take it back to the computer. Now that is reading time.
[Brandon] Oh, that's a good idea. That's a great suggestion.
[Howard] You can't have any food until you've read a book.
[Brandon] You can't being unless you're reading while you're doing it, because when you bring the food back to the computer, you're like, "I'm going to get some work done." But typing one-handed, you're not going to get work done.
[Mary] No, you don't.
[Dan] That's why I eat [garbled]
[Howard] Well, you can get twitter done. That's work.
[Howard] Well, those are very short chapters.
[Brandon] Okay. Let's go ahead and do a writing prompt. Mary, you actually have the writing prompt this time?
[Mary] Yes. For you, I just have three words, and I want you to figure out how this becomes a story. Neon sniper gnome.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.