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Sarah Hoyt

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.
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Give Me Back My Spaceships and Dinosaurs

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

kansas

Lately I’ve been going through books I’ve been lugging around for 30 years and putting some of them up for sale. Part of this is because we plan to move as soon as possible to a place that’s easier for me to manage and clean while running a fully-time job in writing (and indie publishing.)

Part of it is that I’m allergic to household dust, and paper books are paper magnets.

Notwithstanding which, you couldn’t have pried my books out of my hands save for the Kindle paperwhite, which makes it easy and fun to read books in a format other than paper.

Anyway, I’m digging through a 30 year accumulation of books, some of which I’ve read multiple times, and some I might have read once, twenty three years ago, while on bed-rest with my first pregnancy – a time when I got so desperate for entertainment I sent my husband to the local library/remaindered sales with the largest suitcases we owned and told him ”Just fill it to the top.”

Then there are books I don’t remember having bought at any time and no one in the house admits to having bought. No, not that kind of book. Though one of the sets is a complete series of engineering manuals, and it had a similar effect on my younger son as those other books you were thinking of. He has absconded with them into his bedroom and I expect we’ll see him again when he’s digested the contents and not a minute before.

And then there are other books which, presumably, I bought, but have completely forgotten.

One of these: The Shores of Kansas by Robert Chilson made me stop. The cover shows a man battling two dinosaurs and it says “the mind-boggling epic adventure of a time-traveler torn between two nightmare worlds.”

I have no memory of having read – or bought – this book. And perhaps it is really bad. Don’t care. It’s going to be my bedtime read tonight.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Editor’s Note: This articles was first serialized in four parts here, here, here, and here. What other authors and subjects would you like to see explored in list format in future articles? Let us know in the comments.

Part 1: His Maculate Origin

s9oLeWU

1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
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Click to check out “Murder at CPAC” by Jamie Wilson.

A year or more ago I heard about this project called Liberty Island, supposed to give those of us whose politics make us pariahs with most of traditional publishing — though not Baen Books — a haven where we could meet our fans. I keep meaning to contribute to them, but of course, the last year I spent more time sick than well, and consequently I’m so far behind on books and contracts, I can practically see myself around the corner.

Well, they are up now (and have a story by Frank J. Fleming). And I’ve secured an interview with Adam Bellow, Liberty Island’s publisher and CEO. Bellow is a longtime nonfiction editor, currently running Broadside, the conservative nonfiction imprint of HarperCollins. He is also the author of In Praise of Nepotism, a lively contrarian take on an eternally divisive topic.

And, yep, sure, as soon as I get a weekend to pound it out, I’ll do a novella for Liberty Island.

Sarah Hoyt: I heard of Liberty Island back when it was in the planning stages.  I understand it is an online magazine-cum-community center for writers and readers on the right side of the spectrum.  Is this true?  What do you want to tell us about Liberty Island?

Adam Bellow: We started Liberty Island to help the new wave of conservative storytellers connect with their natural audience. Even before launching the site we’ve discovered dozens of new voices on the right that you won’t find anywhere else. These are talented and creative people who have previously been excluded from mainstream culture because they hold the wrong views and didn’t go to the right schools or attend the approved writing programs. This just confirms our hunch that something like Liberty Island is desperately needed.

SH: Who is the audience for Liberty Island? What is “conservative fiction”? Shouldn’t good stories just stand on their own?

AB: Great literature stands on its own, but the productions of popular culture often carry a hidden freight of ideology that reflects its authors’ biases. Sometimes not so hidden — the evil conservative businessman is essentially the default villain in Hollywood these days. But think about what happens when great stories are told from a conservative perspective: you get Tom Clancy, or Brad Thor, or James Patterson, or Vince Flynn. Mega-bestselling authors with a huge following. Our audience is anyone who loves great pulp writers like those guys. At Liberty Island you will find dozens of stories like these, in genres ranging from humor to thriller to SciFi. These writers aren’t heavy handed in the least – their conservative outlook is sometimes explicit but just as often merely implied or completely submerged. Besides, a case can be made that traditional pulp genres are inherently conservative.

SH: In what way do you intend to distinguish yourself from other online magazines?

AB: Liberty Island combines a magazine, a free range self-publishing platform, and a community of readers and writers who share a commitment to the values of freedom, individualism, and American exceptionalism. It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.

SH: What made you think of the project – and commit to it and work so hard for it?

AB: Two things: first, an impulse to carry the culture war into the field of popular culture. And second, the writers themselves. In 25 years as an editor of nonfiction books I’ve watched the conservative intellectual project thrive and flourish. But like others on the right I’ve been dismayed by the slowness of conservatives to challenge the liberal dominance of popular culture. It’s not enough to carp and criticize the frequently substandard and offensive crap that liberals produce. As Andrew Breitbart used to say, we have to make our own—and it has to be good. But recently we began to notice an exciting development: hundreds, indeed thousands of conservative and libertarian writers were seizing the opportunity afforded by new digital technologies to produce and publish original works of fiction. Others were making music, video, graphics, and other forms of entertainment right on their laptops at home. These were ordinary men and women all over the country, working in isolation, doing their best to hone their art and find an audience. Yet no one seemed to know that they existed. So we started talking about what we could do to help them. Liberty Island grew out of those discussions.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 4: His Happy Destiny

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

HVSPCSTWLL1958

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

Click Here for Part 3: “His Eccentric Education”

16. A lot of people nurtured on Heinlein juveniles went on to make a difference in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.

This effect is still going on with my sons’ generation. (Or at least Have Space Suit Will Travel was a great part of second son’s decision to study Aerospace Engineering.)

Some of the others of us just went on to dye our hair a shade of red and keep too many cats. In my defense, however, the only juvenile I read before my thirties was Have Space Suit Will Travel. I became a fan with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and never looked back. (Interestingly, by the way, I discovered Heinlein among a welter of seventies New Wave books. I still liked Heinlein better. Now that I’m older and know the history of print runs in my field, I know that this is true for most people. New Wave, on the other hand, is much preferred by the intelligentsia.)

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How To Create Fantastic Covers For Your E-Books

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

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Editor’s Note: This supplement to Sarah Hoyt’s Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks series first ran during January and February of 2014. Independent authors and self-publishing entrepreneurs should also check out Sarah and Charlie Martin’s weekly Book Plug Friday series where they can submit their books for inclusion. 

Part 1: How to Judge Good Covers From Bad

Part 2: How to Create Your Covers Affordably

Part 3: The Tools You Need To Get Started

Part 4: A Step-By-Step Guide

20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 3: His Eccentric Education

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Robert A. Heinlein_1973_Time Enough For Love

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

Click Here for Part 2: “His Preposterous Heritage”

11. Heinlein was married three times.

His first wife was named Elinor Curry. Not much is known about her, and their marriage lasted only about a year. Before leaving the Navy, Heinlein married Leslyn MacDonald. She was intelligent, well read and very liberal. Their marriage was ultimately unsuccessful, but it lasted for well over a decade. He was married to his third wife, Virginia, (nee Gerstenfeld), until he died in 1988.

It is believed many of his early heroines resemble Leslyn. Perhaps so, but perhaps Heinlein just liked multi-competent females. Having been privileged to speak to the third Mrs. Heinlein, I can attest she was intimidatingly intelligent and well read, and that I found her echo in many of his female characters. So much for everyone who claims that his women are men with breasts. (Whether he had a male’s naïve view of female sexuality is a wholly different matter. To a certain extent, try as we might, we are all prisoners of that space behind our eyes, and no matter how much talented individuals try to escape it, they’re prone to believing what others wish them to believe.)

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 2: His Preposterous Heritage

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

heinleinorphans

Click Here for Part I: “His Maculate Origin”

6. According to Patterson at least, Heinlein wasn’t particularly popular at Annapolis.

This was an habit he kept up for the rest of his life, choosing to be individual rather than to fit in with the crowd. Also, he was considered a rustic from out West, which would have made fitting in harder. It is tempting to assume that this gave him his pattern for his heroes who don’t always fit in, but always try hard and in the end exceed those with the advantages. If so, these circumstances made him the quintessential American writer and served him well in the end.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 1: His Maculate Origin

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

s9oLeWU

1. When Robert A. Heinlein was a child, his family was so poor that “[H]e slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, ‘A notorious pillow swiper.’”

Most of the writers who, in later years, would apostrophize Heinlein as “too optimistic” and turn their stories into “poverty porn” could probably have benefited from having some idea what true poverty was. Even those of us who were poor as children for some time were never so poor as to have rationed pillows.

Heinlein wrote rags to riches stories, of which those who believe the individual is powerless before his fate disapprove. But Heinlein’s own life is a refutation of their theories, so they can go suck an egg, as far as I’m concerned.

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How To Make Your Book Cover Step-By-Step

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
witchfindercoverfinal

This is the cover of my upcoming novel from Goldport Press. The novel is regency fantasy (alternate world.) The background painting is by John Atkinson Grimshaw, a painter who infuses his paintings with an eerie light. The dragon and the man in the foreground (originally a photograph) are both from dreamstime. Both man and dragon were run through Filter Forge’s oil-painting filter, then tweaked to fit in with the colors, etc.

Now, this is a cover that will work for today’s Amazon KDP and frankly, all online sites, and also for Create Space printing.  (Yes, I need to tweak that tag line, and there’s too much white showing around the space under his arm, but that’s blendable.)

However, the standards weren’t always so high, and the covers I (and others) put up when KDP was young are borderline offensive to the eye now.  Which probably explains why so few of my old stories that are up there sell.

So, we’ll take one — The Blood of Dreams — because I’ve never liked it, and also because I happened to see it the other day and find it offensive.

The Blood of Dreams is a vampire short story set in post-Soviet Russia.  It was published in The Secret History of Vampires, where the conceit was you had to use and historic figure.  (I was invited to contribute and had to come up with something.)  The rights have reverted to me.  So I put it out, I think over a year ago.  And this is what the cover looks like:

bloodofdreams

Is this the most horrible cover I have out there?  Not even close.  And that’s me, and my covers were never the MOST horrible ones out there.  (They were pretty close, though.)  However, seriously, no one could mistake that for a professional cover, either.  Let me count the ways:

It’s two photoshopped together (not convincingly) photos.  The lettering work is Times New Roman, I think.  It’s not even centered.  And it doesn’t in any way signal genre.

In fact, if you considered this as a traditionally published book, you’d expect it to be “my experiences escaping the East in the eighties” or something.

So, let’s give this much abused story a new look, shall we?

So, first I go to Morguefile and let my fingers do the walking (if I can find something in morgue file I don’t need to pay for it.  So I’d like to at least get the background in morgue file.)  My first search term is Russia.  I’m looking for something (like that background) identifiable as “Russian.”

This is the photo I decided on:

It’s by fmfm166 at morguefile.

While I’m running it by Filter Forge, I’m going to look for a photo of a woman. Last resort, I’ll go to Dreamstime.com but the problem is that this limits how much I can show you.  (I.e. picture of a woman pre-manipulation is right out, and in fact, I shouldn’t show you anything but the finished cover. It’s a license thing.) Look, the story involves a woman and vampires, and Moscow and Lenin and Stalin. I could, I grant you, use a drawing of Lenin or Stalin, but a woman on the cover will sell better.

If I go to dreamstime I won’t be able to put the raw picture here, because dreamstime is a specific license, though.  I will put the transformed picture of the background, and then the full cover.  But meanwhile let me look other places.

Success. Wikimedia commons has a photo of a painting by Ferdinand Keller which, since he died in 1922 is fair game.  It’s a highly dystopic looking painting, so perfect.  (It is by the way, photographed by Hampel Auctions.)

 

Since the image is an oil and in a certain style, it restricts what I can do with the background, too.

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Creating Covers for your Indie Works – The Tool Box Post

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

Supplemental Cover Series to Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks — post 3

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction?  Could you use this as a cover?  probably not.  Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre.  This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Start with a cat picture taken from Morguefile, and take it to JASC paintshop and do one step photo correction? Could you use this as a cover? probably not. Most stories that would take a cat on the cover require drawings to signal right genre. This photo is by SimoneSantos btw.

Before we start this, I’d best come clean and explain that I never do things with standard programs or in the standard way.  This is not on purpose.  It’s because my brain seems to be wired backwards and sideways from every other human being on the planet and, if there are aliens, from every other alien too.  No, seriously.  Trying to follow along and do things the exact way I do them is probably a fool’s game.

For instance, for years after everyone was using Microsoft Word for writing, I continued using Corel Wordperfect.  It did what I wanted it to, it was intuitive to me, and I had no intention of changing, much to the despair of my computer-geek husband.

I finally switched to Word only because most conversion programs for ebooks gag at Word Perfect.  I’ve now been using Word for two years, and I’m used to it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore.  BUT the ramp up and changing of my brain’s default settings took me about six months where I couldn’t just concentrate on the writing, because the mechanics of the program kept obtruding.

For me, at least – if not for any sane human being – this is often a reason to stick with outmoded software.  I have very little time and don’t want to spend time retooling my workflow.

Most people doing their own covers use one of two programs: either Photoshop or the free alternative, GIMP.  Me?  Well….

I might be willing to give Photoshop a try, but I’ve seen people use it, and there would be significant retooling.  I’m not willing to invest the time into that retooling.  The fact that the company which makes Photoshop – Adobe – has gone subscription-only and that its website got hacked for subscriber data a few weeks back was just icing on the cake. I don’t see any reason to deal with that.

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Let’s Talk Art: How to Create Affordable Covers for Your Indie Book

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt

There is nothing wrong with this cover, if — read the description — what you’re writing is somewhat “literary” (what the academics consider literary) a little highbrow, and appeals to a limited audience. It would, however, be a terrible cover for your bodice ripper, your sword and sorcery fantasy, your commercial urban fantasy, or anything else not “literary and little.” This is also how most cover designers you can get (i.e. not the ones working for major houses) design covers. And this is why it might be best to learn to do it yourself with resources at hand.

No, don’t run away (yet.)  While my family has a tendency to go through the art museum making fun of things and pretending we think the trash can is an installation (it might have been, now that I think about it) and making all the arty people mad (well, guys, we pay our membership.  We enjoy at as we want to.  We’re not shouting.  Stop getting close enough to us so you can seethe at what we say) that is not the sort of talk I want to have (though a stroll through the art museum with a camera followed by a “the Hoyts desecrate art post might be fun.)

I’m talking of art in its right and proper place and not exactly high art, either. (Yes, I know high art.  During one of the worst depressions of my life, a book with reproductions of Leonardo DaVinci’s paintings and sketches pulled me through.)

The art we want to talk about here, is the sort of art that is needed in a certain place and needs to be good enough to pass muster in that place.

It’s sort of like the wallpaper patterns painted on canvas and mounted on cubes that are used on hotel walls.  As “high art” they fall short of the mark, neither elevating nor communicating any other emotion.  As art for your own home, they’d probably get incredibly tiring (unless you’re one of those people who uses his/her apartment as a crash pad.) But as “hotel art” it does break the monotony of what would otherwise be institutionally bland walls, and doesn’t have anything particularly memorable to offend or confuse a fussy guest.

The type of art we’re going to talk about is sort of the same: book cover art.

You must have something on the cover of your books.  I’ve already talked about signaling and how to make sure your book fits with its genre.  Most designers – and for that matter most artists – you can hire will in fact give you “art” and “cover design” that fits only with the “literary and little” set.  This is because until very recently that was who the artists and cover designers who hadn’t quite made it worked.

The other problem with “hiring the professionals” is monetary.  I’m now making around $500 a month from my indie (mostly backlog of reverted novels and short stories) publishing.  But that is after two years and with my having a lot of backlog.  Yes, it’s also on the low side due to these being reverted novels and my only having about a third of them out. I have friends who are making the same from one or two indie-published-from-the-get-go novels.

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Getting Healthy In 13 Weeks

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
You have to know when to leave them wanting more.

You have to know when to leave them wanting more.

In Which The Writer Takes A Curtain Bow.

You’ve probably noticed a marked lack of updates on the getting healthy in thirteen weeks post.  At least I hope you did, because otherwise I’m going to go in the backyard and eat worms.

Okay, let’s suppose you did notice I was gone (“How can we miss you, if you just won’t go away?) and were wondering where this series had gone.

First let me explain how things have been going: we’re three weeks in.  I’ve lost six pounds, slept better and not gotten sick.  The last is a bit of an achievement.

I’ve cut down on carbs, except for today (there’s a long story behind that, but let’s just say today was a bad day.  Tomorrow is not defined by today and I’ll get back on that horse.)  I’ve taken a walk every day that’s been at least 20 at a time I can walk (unfortunately, that’s about 3 days in the last three weeks.)  I have tried to do stuff around the house that can be considered “exercise.”  This has not included formal exercise, more’s the pity.  And I’ve done exactly zero relaxing/fun activities, though I’ve tried to persuade one of my best friends that doing covers actually falls under that category.  It does, I think, or at least it “pulls from the same side” and is fun – sort of – because I’m learning so much new stuff.  It’s not exactly or fully relaxing though, because it’s stuff that must be done.

And here we come upon the purpose of this post.

I’ve mentioned before that when my husband and I were first married, we were so ridiculously, so profoundly broke that we couldn’t make a budget.  Whenever we made a budget we always came to the same conclusion “there’s no way we can survive this month.”

But we always sort of did.  Because one month when we’d hit rock bottom, had an empty fridge and $5 in the bank, they had a sale on chicken in the nearby supermarket.  We bought two chickens, roasted them, and lived on chicken for a week.  Another time Dan’s company had a party, and he brought back enough sandwiches to last us for two weeks.  (They’d seriously overbought food.)  Another time the store I worked for threw away a whole bunch of candles and knick knacks while clearing a back storage room.  So, I told Dan to drive around back, and we had a garage sale, which allowed us to replenish food AND (very important and how you know we were newly weds) toothpaste until the next pay check.

So we coasted from pay check to pay check, dependent on miracles, until we started making a little more, and we could survive without these harrowing incidents.  Then we budgeted, but it was so tight that if we had to buy saline solution one week, it threw us off.

Anyway, I’ve jokingly said that’s how tightly budgeted I am on time.  This is part of the whole “Taming the workmonster” thing with Charlie.

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A Cover Story

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
Sometimes covers are supposed to create an impression

Sometimes covers are supposed to create an impression

A supplemental series to Selling Your Writing in 13 weeks.  Post 1.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on covers, as a supplemental to my 13 weeks posts on selling your writing, but I couldn’t seem to do it, until I realized that I was in fact trying to cram several posts worth into a single post.  Whenever I do that, I get highly bizarre comments, from people who read their own stuff into what I elided.

Part of this is a problem that I don’t remember what lay people know and don’t know anymore.

By lay people in this case, I mean people outside of publishing.  Even avid readers might never have noticed consciously that covers are meant to signal genre, nor all the other subtle signals they give.

Before I start, I took the cover workshop with WMG publishing, and that made me aware of things even I hadn’t noticed, and I’ve been a professional in the field for several years. For anyone doing indie publishing, if you can afford the workshop take it.  We’re right now scraping up the money to put older son through it.  A I don’t use the same tools they do (I judged it was easier for me to use less professional tools than to spend a lot of time – more important than money – learning InDesign.  So I use tools that I’m used to, the highly outdated but very familiar to me JASC paintshop. The newer versions, by Corel, which I own, aren’t nearly as good, but the last JASC version I can make sit up and sing, because I’ve been using it for ten years.  And what it can’t do GIMP can.  Both programs I’m familiar with and therefore find preferable to a program that I found oddly counterintuitive and would have to learn to use.) But even so, what I learned transferred. I won’t say it made me an awesome cover designer.  That is an actual profession and you need years of practice and usually specialize in one genre.  But it has made me a decent cover designer.

The other thing I should say is that every time I make one of these posts, I get people offering to design my covers.  Most of these people have a background in art and design and usually some experience in tiny presses (or advertising layout.)  All of the offers I’ve had, when I look at their samples, they’re very pretty… and all of them signal “literary and little” which is inappropriate for my books which are, unabashedly genre.  Looking over the covers, I see myself at a con, passing the tables with books for tiny presses with names like Necrophiliac Duck Press.  This is not the image I want to project, since my books were once published by big publishers, and I want the same feel for the re-issue.  Also, I’m still publishing with one major publisher, and don’t want people to think everything I bring indie is “too precious for words.”

Some of it will be, but when it is, I shall so signal.

Fortunately for me, the big houses don’t usually give midlisters like me experienced cover designers.  (I’m not talking of Baen here. They’re always an exception.) They usually hand the job to the first under-designer just hired from community college.  And that level I can imitate.

However, to know where we are and what we’re doing, let’s start with a look at some bestseller covers in some distinct genres.  And pointing out how they signal genre/subgenre.

This is something you should always do before you start designing covers.  Go look at what other people are doing.  Look at the bestsellers under paper (because that’s usually the professional books, that got lavish attention) and their covers, and figure out what to do for yours.

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Getting Healthy In 13 Weeks

Saturday, January 18th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
When you start thinking this would be a rest, something's got to give.

When you start thinking this would be a rest, something’s got to give.

Week 1 — Something’s Got To Give

 

As part of my “taking it easier” with my blog, over at According To Hoyt, I’ve been running ‘blasts from the past’ – i.e. posts a year or more old at least a day a week.  (For instance on Tuesday I posted Jean Pierre Squirrel, from February 2011.)

The interesting thing going through the blog is seeing how many days I curtailed posting or posted briefer or weirder because I was ill.

Now I was aware of having been in indifferent health for the last ten years or so.  It’s nothing really bad or spectacularly interesting, which is part of the issue, because if it were, I could take time off and not feel guilty.  I confess I have found myself at various occasions fantasizing about a stay in the hospital.  Which is stupid, because no one rests in the hospital.  (What I need, of course, is a stay in a remote cottage for a few days. Even if I’m writing.)  And I knew that my health got much worse in the last year.  2013 was the pits, at least since August or so.  But it is not unusual for me to spend every third week “down.” – Usually with an ear infection or a throat thingy or some kind of stomach bug.

My friends have said for years that this is because I don’t listen to my body’s signals to slow down or stop, so it has to bring me to a complete stop by making me too sick to work.

This is part of the reason Charlie Martin and I (in collaboration) are doing a series on taming the work monster.  Part of it is that I have way too much to do, and part of it is that it’s really hard to compartmentalize things when you work from home.  Eventually when we sell the house and move, we’d like to get a place where the office is a distinct area.  It was pretty much all of the attic in our last house, which meant if I came downstairs for dinner (which I did) I didn’t go up again.  But now my office is half of the bedroom (and before someone imagines me cramped in a corner, the bedroom runs the full front of the house.  We just couldn’t figure out what to do with a room that size.  We don’t sleep that much.)  This is convenient in terms of my getting up really early to work, or of my going to bed way after my husband, because I’m right there…  It’s also contributing to a 24/7 work schedule, because I can think “Oh, I should write about that” and roll out of bed, and do so.  There is no “I have to be dressed, as the sons might be roaming the house” and there isn’t (as in the other house) “the attic will be cold.”

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4 Reasons Why Our Entertainment Is Getting More and More Sex Soaked

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
I have nothing against sex in a plotline.  I have problems with all sex and no plot, though.

I have nothing against sex in a plot. I have problems with all sex and no plot, though.

A PJM colleague, who can out herself is she so chooses, posted on Facebook about how Call the Midwife is doing well while Downton Abbey‘s ratings are going down and how this was possibly due to the fact that Call the Midwife doesn’t have plots centered on sex.

I’m the last person to write about TV shows.  I rarely watch TV (or movies); when I do, it’s usually because I’m exercising and it’s something that’s available for free on Amazon Prime.  I know my husband watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey and enjoyed it, but I figured the historical aspect of it would drive me batty, particularly as I’m right now researching that era with a view to writing a mystery series set then.

My colleague made some comment about how we seemed to be increasing the sex in our entertainment exponentially (or perhaps I just read that into her posting), and we had an exchange over what was causing the more and more sex-driven plotting in all our entertainment from TV to books.

Again, I don’t know anything about the internal process of TV and movie plotting. What I see as similarities to the fiction writing field might be completely spurious, and the result of my projection. I do see the same creep in movies and TV, though, as well as a certain amount of repetitiveness and lack of originality.

To make it clear, I don’t have anything against a sex-driven plot in its place — which is mostly, I would assume, in erotica. (Yes, there can be sex-driven literary works — Romeo and Juliet comes to mind — but usually the whole point is not getting it on.  There is a deeper exploration of the human condition.)  And I don’t have anything against sex in books.  Some books need a sex scene or two to advance the plot.

I do have an objection to sex-drive plots, when that seems to be the only thing the writer finds interesting about his characters.  And I’ve been seeing more and more of that in my fiction and — by report — in TV and movies.  I noticed this creep myself in sitcoms, back when I watched a lot of them right after 9/11. (I went through about a year; that’s all I was good for.)  Compared to the last time I’d watched a lot of sitcoms (mid ’80s), all of a sudden every joke/situation/motive was about sex or implied sex.

So what do I think is driving this creep?

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How To Write A Proposal

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
You want to write a novel?  For me?

You want to write a novel? For me?

If you’re going to go through traditional publishing (which might still be feasible at times) or even if you’re submitting to one of the new micro presses, there will come a time, after you’ve done a pitch for the book or after you met an editor at a convention, or even after you sent in a query asking if they wanted to see your idea, where someone will say, “Sure, send me a proposal and three chapters.”

There was a time when these words struck terror in me.  This is because I had clue zero how one wrote “a proposal” or a synopsis, or any of that stuff.  (Technically the “proposal” is three chapters and a synopsis, but half the time the editor asks for a “proposal and three chapters.”  Don’t stress, she really means a synopsis.  Well, sort of. Calm down, all will be revealed.)

Then while I was sitting at a writer’s group meeting, I told the lady next to me I had no idea how to do this, and she sketched it for me in the back of an envelope.  This was not QUITE all that was needed.  The subtleties of the different types of proposal and developing the art of a “selling” proposal took a little longer.

I can’t in a single article propose to teach you all the details of writing a selling proposal, but I can perhaps help you along.

First, remember that a proposal/synopsis is a selling tool.  Unless you’re asked to do a chapter by chapter synopsis, don’t do that.  I thought that was the only form of proposal for the longest time, but if you read a proposal that is written that way, your eyes quickly glaze over.  Yes, it might be a complete picture of your plot, but a book is more than a plot.  First, the person must know why they would care about what your characters are doing.  This is often a mistake of newbie writers, too, when you ask “tell me about your novel.”  They don’t give us what is neat about their novel, or the overarching reason I should care, but (using Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice because even if you haven’t read it – philistine! – you can look up the plot or watch a mini-series – but not the movie, because it sucks) they’ll tell you something like this,

“There’s this family, and they have all these girls see, and then there’s this assembly in town, and then the older one meets this guy and he’s rich and they like each other, but then the younger one meets his friend who is even richer, but he’s all like stuck up and proud.”

A chapter by chapter synopsis is often like that, but at greater length and even more boring.

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Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 13: Bringing It All Together

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
Take notes.  There will be a quiz... only not by me.

Take notes. There will be a quiz… only not by me.

No, this is not actually the last posting, since I still owe you a post on covers and a – long delayed – post on proposals (to traditional publishing houses.)

I do apologize for the delays on those, but I was doing my very best not to die through what might have been the worst health-season I’ve had in a long time.

But, for now, this is my post trying to bring together everything I tried to cover on selling your book in thirteen weeks.  Sort of a summarized version of the entire thing with easy bullet points.  A “selling your writing in thirteen weeks for people who only discovered the series halfway through and are having trouble finding the previous posts (as I did when I tried to direct someone to them.)

So, as briefly as I can make it, here is your “lessons learned” recap.  Get our your number two pencil and a notebook.  There will be a test.  (Actually there will, but not administered by me, but by the world/publishing.  Though my way isn’t the only way and though things change constantly, this will get you some ways towards actually successfully publishing, in whichever mode you choose.)

First –  Traditional or Indie? How should you publish? (For the purpose of this article, indie refers to self publishing or publishing through a micro company in which you have a controlling interest.)

I know the decision I made for me, but I can’t make it for you. Depending on the field you’re working in, the book you’re working on, and your own personal preference, the answer could vary.

If you are writing the sort of book that will need a big-publisher sendoff to do well, and you’re fairly sure that you can get it, then by all means go with a traditional publisher.

If on the other hand you are writing what the publishers would consider a midlist book – your typical genre book: a romance in the style of those already out, or a cozy mystery, a quest fantasy, or a space opera – and you have the resources to self-promote, and you know or can learn your way around a cover you’re probably better off self-publishing/indie publishing.

The truth is that the traditional publishers have been taking resources away from the midlist for some years now, and now are less inclined than ever to spend promotion dollars on “this is also an enjoyable book.”  Also, some of the contracts being written don’t “guarantee” paper publication.

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The Ancient World Was Not What We Think

Saturday, December 28th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Yes, he's a monkey.  But at least he won't grow up to write awful graffiti.

Yes, he’s a monkey. But at least he won’t grow up to write awful graffiti.

As we get ready to say goodbye to another year (and I don’t know about you, but though I’m not triskaidekaphobic, I’m about ready to bid 2013 goodbye) it is important to remember that the world has been going downhill for a looooong time.

If you need proof, here are some colorful phrases from Roman graffiti (with to a link to others, less safe for work.)

Among my favorites:

4. “Oppi, emboliari, fur, furuncle.”

“Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook.”

A clarivoyant graffiti writer would have added “And two thousand years from now, in a land yet to be discovered, you could become immensely wealthy by taking public office.”

5. “Miximus in lecto. Faetor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: quare? Nulla matella fuit.”

“We have wet the bed. I admit, we were wrong, my host. If you ask ‘why?’ There was no chamber pot.” Found inside an inn.

So long as they had a good reason…

9. “Vatuan aediles furunculi rog.”

“The petty thieves request the election of Vatia as adele.” In ancient Pompeii, an “adele” was an elected official who supervised markets and local police, among other things.

Well, okay, so they would have understood American politics — at least in Chicago.

10. “Suspirium puellam Celadus thraex.”

“Celadus makes the girls moan.”

And you should totally believe him, because he’s not self-interested at all in posting this publicity!

So, as the new year approaches, take heart.  The world is not going to heck any faster than it was in ancient Rome, and there’s hope for humanity yet. I mean, look on the bright side — in most of the civilized world you don’t need chamberpots in hotel rooms!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock Copyright: khd

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Making the Most of What You Have

Saturday, December 28th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Selling your writing in 13 weeks, week 12

You can't have everything you want.  Learn to make the most of what you have.

You can’t have everything you want. Learn to make the most of what you have.

My grandmother was a great one for making the most of what you had.  Things got mended and sewn, and made to serve another turn.  In another sense, too, she was one for making the most of what you have.  One of her sayings was “when you lose heart, run on your gut.”

Recently on my blog, I got accused of being Irish for essentially saying the equivalent of “the food is terrible in this establishment, but I keep coming back because the portions are so large.”

The weird thing is that in the world of indie publishing these are good things.

I recently took a marketing class with WGM publishing.  Did it tell me much that I didn’t know?  No.  But sometimes it’s important to get a confirmation of what you know to be true through someone else’s eyes.

We’ll return to this again because there is another point there – that the field is shifting so fast that sometimes you see things changing and you can’t be sure if it’s changing just for you or for everyone else.  And you can’t tell if it’s a trend or a bleep like the ridiculously low sales figures over summer.

So you take classes, or you get together with friends to talk how sales are going, or you throw out an SOS on indie publisher boards – to see how it’s going and what’s worked for other people.

The main thing I learned is that the old ways don’t seem to work.  I was talking to a friend about this and I pointed out that from what I’ve seen, unless you have the kind of money that can blanket the airwaves and tv stations with advertisements; unless you can put an ad up on Time Square, unless you can give your book the send off party to end all send off parties… don’t bother.

It used to be that you could give your book a relatively solid send off by having parties at a few of the larger conventions, or by going to BEA and charming the book sellers.  You still can, to an extent, if you have a publisher behind you, pushing all the way.  (Though I’m not sure how effective that is – and neither is anyone else, because the metrics are slippery.)

To an extent publicity has always bedeviled authors.  Readers approach reading as a personal relationship to the author, and it’s very hard to create those with any sort of one-size-fits-all campaign.

Some people I knew back in the nineties hired publicists.  I tried to hire one.  But even the expensive ones didn’t seem to have any clue how to promote my books.  I remember one in particular who, three years after the Shakespeare Series crashed and burned and just before the last of them was taken off print designed this entire proposed marketing campaign based on… my writing about Shakespeare for Academic journals to promote these books.  Forget that writing for academic journals was a career in itself, and one I didn’t want, I couldn’t seem to get these people to understand the books were out of print, a death more final than that of any mortal body.

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Know When to Hold It

Saturday, December 21st, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
You're in it for the long haul.  Time your game.

You’re in it for the long haul. Time your game.

Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks, Week 11

I’m not recommending any of you give up on indie publishing because you think you hold a bad hand.  This is more a matter of “you’ve got to learn to pace it.”

Look, when I was young, before I got married, I used to run. I was about to say I used to run marathons, but I only ran a few formal ones. Mostly what I did was go for a good run to shake out the stress (as I was going to college, tutoring, writing, and had an active social life, there was a time interning in a newspaper and… well… things got stressful.  Oh, yeah, also I was politically involved.)  But I ran long distances.  I sucked as a sprinter, but I was really good long distance, even in competition, because I knew how to pace myself. I wasn’t that fast over any stretch of road, but I kept going and going and going so that as other people fell (panting) by the wayside, I would be one of the first if not the first across the finish line.

Writing indie is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.

One of my friends who is an indie writer and doing fairly well is accruing her own cluster of “starting out writers looking for advice.”  This is normal. This way of publishing is so new that each of us that goes a little way out of the starting gate will become a “guru” in no time.  It reminds me a lot of computer programing back in the eighties (my husband was a programmer at the time) or even of aviation in World War I or – further back – of “established settlers” in the West.

What all of these have in common is that they are fast-changing landscapes filled with adventure and peril (of a sort.  No.  Really.  No one is going to shoot you for publishing indie.  I hope.  But you can make a fool of yourself very easily.)

And in all of these the space between “newbie” and old man is incredibly short.  If you’ve been around the scene for even a little while, you become one of the “old, trusted ones.”

My friend Cedar Sanderson – two books out, a lot of mistakes made, a lot learned, and her second book selling shockingly well – found herself the guru of a small, starting out group.

Because I’ve been her mentor for about 11 years (during most of which she wasn’t writing, but dealing with life issues – but wanting to write eventually) she comes to me when she doesn’t know QUITE what to do.

One of the problems she brought me was one of her own fledglings, who is just starting out, and who – with a few short stories out – intends to make a living out of this in a couple of years.

She didn’t know how to explain to him that while this can happen, it’s not the most likely way for things to shake out.  (I didn’t either.  I mean, I can say things, but if people aren’t going to believe me…)

So, for those of you who are willing to believe me, before you get the idea that indie publishing (or any publishing) is the fast way to fame and fortune: writing is a business.  More importantly, writing is a craft and a profession.

We all know rich lawyers, rich doctors, rich artists, for that matter (well, I know a few who are very well off.)  However, no one sane has ever made a life plan that consists of the following: week one – graduate law school.  Week two – get a million dollar check.

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Woe Is Obama!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Unexpectedly! Everything going wrong for the most brilliant man in the nation!

Unexpectedly! Everything going wrong for the most brilliant man in the nation!

The InvestmentWatch blog seems puzzled. They ask “Is Obama Depressed?”

The health care website is a bomb. Immigration overhaul is looking more and more like a bust. The allies are aggrieved about surveillance issues. Israel feels betrayed on Iran. The first black president didn’t even bother to go to Gettysburg, where the 150th anniversary of the most important 270-word speech ever given — the 270 words that welded the nation forever to the all-men-are-created-equal doctrine of the Declaration of Independence — would have given him a respite, and maybe a reset.

Puzzling issues indeed.  The least-engaged, most ideologically ambitious president in history messed up a lot of things and now doesn’t know what to do about it. Wasn’t this the man who in his biography said that no one ever punished him or corrected him because his grandparents thought of him as a “poor fatherless boy”? Then he got whisked into the magic-carpet-ride academia and politics reserved for those of a leftist enough bent (he looked for communist professors, after all) with an interesting personal history (for those with oikophobia, a father from a third world country is a bonus). That he also has a hereditary tan doesn’t hurt him at all in those circles, either.

BUT none of that prepared him to be effective or engaged or even to understand the real world.

Ending up in time-out at 52 for the first time in your life is not just difficult. It’s unendurable. He can’t cope with it and he will find excuses, probably excuses that make him a martyr of undeserved failure/reproach.

The fault of course lies in those who deluded themselves into seeing in this non-entity the Light Bringer: academics, political operatives and most of all what used to be the free press of the United States of America. What use is it to be free from governmental control when you will sell your ability to think for a mess of coolness?

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The Permanent Offense Brigade Objects To Norad Tracking Santa

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Or more accurately, they object to military jets escorting Santa’s Sleigh because “military=bad.”

The Chicks On The Right are on the beat for us . (Read the whole thing!)

In response to this commercial:

the left’s brigade of joyless anti-militarists are saying the following:

The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood said the video brings violence and militarism to a beloved tradition. Others had similar criticism. Blogs and Twitter lit up with volleys from both sides.

Josh Golin, the coalition’s associate director, reiterated his criticism in an interview with The Associated Press — but he called the brouhaha “a media-manufactured controversy.” The coalition hadn’t known about the fighter jet video until reporters called, he said. “Nobody in my organization was out there protesting,” he said.

Except the jets are Canadian and unarmed.

We suggest that the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and their allied brigade of scolds-bothered-by-other-people-having-fun take a powder, or they risk their face freezing like this:

Outraged cat is outraged!

Outraged cat is outraged!

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The EU Could Slash Maternity/Paternity Benefit

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Paying for babies never works.

Paying for babies never works.

According to The Telegraph,

Maternity and paternity pay will not be protected from the Government’s new benefits cap, David Cameron has said, fuelling concerns that it could be cut in the future.

The Prime Minister said that the only welfare spending that was exempt from a new overall cap announced in the Autumn Statement last week would be the state pension.

The comments raised speculation that maternity and paternity pay could be cut if spending on benefits threatened to breach the cap once it is in force, although these fears were downplayed by Government sources.

It came as Rachel Reeves, the shadow Work and Pensions secretary, clarified comments she made on national television, which suggested the state pension could also be included in a welfare cap if Labour wins the next election.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, said that a cap on total benefits spending would start from 2015, with the precise limit being set out in spring next year.

This is a sign of the straits the UK finds itself in.  but what I found interesting was this:

New mothers are legally entitled to a weekly rate equal to 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings for the first six weeks of their baby’s life. They receive £136.78 a week for the remaining 33 weeks.

New fathers are presently allowed to take up to two weeks off work to look after their babies. The statutory rate is £136.78 a week, or 90 per cent of the father’s average weekly earnings of that is less.

My question is why this government benefit exists at all.

Paying for babies under “welfare benefits” is of course supposed to give the little mites something to live on.  But why pay people who have jobs to have children?

Either they want to anyway, or they don’t. And if they don’t, you can’t pay them enough.  Sweden has shown that, since they started the most generous parenthood benefits in the world, by my recollection, sometime in the seventies.

Socialism always seems to be the best contraception money can buy, either by removing the central role of the family and replacing it with government, or by removing the hope for a better future that makes people want to have children. Every socialist state has crashing demographics.

So I say remove the parenthood benefits, do. And the welfare benefits too.  And then maybe there will be hope for Britain without taking in a large, indigestible group of immigrants.

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The EU Is Now Selling Citizenship

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Having a fire sale.  Everything must go. Even citizenship.

Having a fire sale. Everything must go.
Even citizenship.

According to the Telegraph, the EU is selling EU citizenship by the euro.

Tiny little Malta recently announced proposals to start selling citizenship rights for €650,000 a pop. Many countries in Europe, including Britain, have similar schemes, but this one breaks new ground. In all other cases, the applicant is obliged to reside in the country for a minimum number of years before being granted a passport, and in Britain’s case, he/she is also obliged to invest in a company.

For Malta, it’s simply a case of pay the fee and get the passport. Now Malta is I’m sure a nice enough place, and no doubt there are some in the world willing to pay this stonking great price to go and live there. But essentially what’s being sold is not the right to Maltese citizenship, but to EU residency. Once in possession of a Maltese passport, you can live and work anywhere in EU.

Of course what they’re REALLY selling is the right to receive the generous EU benefits. But since the reason Malta is selling citizenships is that the high-tax-high-government-benefits model is leading to unemployment and economic collapse all over the world, people buying EU citizenship should take care.

Caveat Emptor: the citizenship you buy might not be worth the money it’s printed on.

Image courtesy of shuterstock, Copyright: Photobac

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