Category Archives: technology

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Powerless

Yesterday, July 16th, 2015, will forever be known as The Day We Had No Internet and No Telephones for More than Half of the Day.

It was very dramatic.

Or was it?

While of course in the modern world in which we live and work, having access to the internet, to emails and the office phone line is very important to carry on business as usual. And it wouldn’t be ideal if this happened all the time or even frequently. But on a quiet Thursday in the dead middle of summer, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, a lot of us here at DGLM were musing on how productive we were without the distractions of constant emails pinging in.

We also had time to catch up on submissions, read manuscripts, vet contracts and edit proposals—things usually reserved for after work hours. The office was calm and quiet…and got very clean and organized, too. When service returned later in the afternoon, all was abuzz and it was a flurry of activity to catch up on those missed hours, and still, productivity and focus remained high.

Maybe it was just the blessing in disguise that we needed, or maybe there’s something to be said about turning off the notifications, closing the browser windows and minimizing email tabs for set periods of time throughout the day. Though all this communication and information technology does have immense benefits in the long run, going back to “the old ways” once in a while certainly doesn’t hurt, and even offers some real perspective.

(and now you know why the blog postings you were dying for yesterday never appeared!)

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

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Out-Amazoning Amazon

Let’s face it: Amazon is convenient. I try hard not to shop at Amazon, just as I avoid Wal*Mart and the like. I shop local and like to support independent business owners. DGLM is a small business, too, and supporting other small businesses is important to me. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to Amazon.com every day. I use it for book research and to track clients’ sales; I’ll also use it to comparison shop prices on other goods. It’s impossible to avoid, even if I rarely purchase anything there.

One of Amazon’s most annoying tactics has been to try to capitalize on other retailers’ brick and mortar stores—releasing apps that allow consumers to go shop for something in the real world, scan the item with their phones, then buy the item for less money through Amazon. Amazon avoids pesky rent in expensive commercial areas, but gets the advantage of the showroom. This, understandably, drives business owners crazy. But now they have a way, of sorts, to retaliate: a Chrome plug-in that allows Amazon UK users to search on Amazon, but gives you the price of the book at your local shop—reverse showrooming, or some such! It’s completely genius! On the one hand, it almost works as a piece of criticism, making the shopper think twice before clicking the buy button. And on the other, it’s actually a great shopping tool, seeing as books are sometime cheaper at your local store than they are at Amazon. Here’s hoping someone gets this to work in the US, too.

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Coming Not-So-Soon

There’s nothing like the excitement when your favorite author announces the pub date of their next book. You can hardly wait! A year, or a year and a half, sounds so far away! You imagine yourself springing out of bed on pub date, running to the local bookstore, seeing the long-awaited cover sitting there on the NEW RELEASES table. Or maybe you set a pre-order alert online and then you’re crouched over your e-reader at midnight, eager for the new file to blip onto your screen.

Well, for Margaret Atwood fans, and the fans of other to-be-announced authors, that excitement is not to be. A library in Norway has announced a new, carefully curated collection of books affiliated with a newly planted forest. The books in this collection will be published on paper coming from the trees in the forest…starting in 2114. That’s right – a hundred years from now!

trees Margaret Atwood, always adventurous in her fiction, is excited to be a part of this experiment, loving the idea of the distance of time between her and the critical reception of the book. She noted, “When you write any book you do not know who’s going to read it, and you do not know when they’re going to read it. You don’t know who they will be, you don’t know their age, or gender, or nationality, or anything else about them. So books, anyway, really are like the message in the bottle.”

But this is most provocative part of this program to me: Its funding grant includes provision for the library to invest in a printing press, to be sure they’ll have the technology to print the books when the pub date finally arrives, next century. Which struck me as a little bit odd – isn’t the important part of a book the story itself? The words, the plot, the characters? If, (a BIG if) in a century, printing presses don’t even exist, and books don’t even use paper…but people are still reading, and still excited for a collection of books from last century’s great authors…isn’t that just fine?!

What do you think?

Is it important for libraries or literary organizations to preserve the technology of physical books printed on paper if society is outgrowing it?

How would you feel if your favorite author were selected for this collection – excited that they were so honored, or upset that you would never get to read this particular work?

How would you feel if you were invited to participate as an author?

 

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Boost your traffic

Today I bring some smart and simple advice on growing your website or blog traffic from the always entertaining Chuck Sambuchino. In his column for thewritelife.com he offers tips for growing your platform. This has become widely applicable not only for nonfiction authors, for whom a large following is mandatory, but also for writers of fiction who need to engage with their audience as well.

It’s also worth paying attention to the comments section of the piece because there’s some good additional advice scattered throughout there as well, both from the editors at thewritelife.com and from authors who’ve tried things not included in Chuck’s list.

From an agent’s perspective as we are considering a new author, it’s so helpful to be able to confirm that the author has a good sense of social media and how to effectively run a website or blog. Even if the numbers aren’t huge, a successful site is one that’s professional, informative, and provides consistently updated content. Good luck, and let us know if you have any tips not included here.

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WELCOME TO THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY, RACHEL

I came crawling out of the Stone Age today and decided to finally, finally purchase a smartphone of my own. I’ll admit, one of the main incentives was the camera feature, but as I started browsing through apps and all the crazy-seeming (to me) functions and capabilities of my shiny new fancy phone, I realized that the options are endless, particularly when it comes to books.

So endless, in fact, that it’s overwhelming. So, I’m reaching out to you—I’ll have the whole weekend to explore and learn how to use my phone, and let me tell you, technologically inept as I am I’ll likely need it. What are your favorite apps for reading? For discovering new titles and authors? Are there any neat functions that I couldn’t even dream of without having seen them first? What ones do you hate, can you not abide? I’d be interested in hearing that, too!

Technology, though it makes many wary about the future of the printed word, can only, in my eyes, serve to broaden audiences and expand the knowledge of those who are already interested in literature, or really, any old subject. So let’s have at it! Teach me something and I’ll report back.

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Better writing through apps?

As loyal readers of this blog know, we sometimes have trouble coming up with topics for posts. And when we’re in the weeds, we often fall back on the Huffpost for a reading list or slideshow to provide a topic. You may note, too, that these posts usually get the “fun” tag, because they tend to be a little frivolous–though I guess “Ten Books to Survive Downton Abbey Withdrawal” might be considered vital “advice” to some…

But today I saw a Huffpost that actually got me thinking, both about the writing process and the role of technology in writing today. To me, the idea that apps can help you finish your novel at first seems counterintuitive–surely a major undertaking like a novel can’t be aided by rinky-dink phone apps? Yet the suggestions here seem pretty darn helpful, and partly because they seem ancillary to the main project, rather than tools that are embedded in your word processor.

Certainly the reading apps are no great revelation for most writers, and a voice memo app seems like a no-brainer. But Evernote and MindNode are far superior tools than the basic memo tool on my old iPhone, and has anyone used Poetreat yet? It seems like a great way to vary your word choice, which can often be a challenge, especially in early drafts.

Most impressive to me, though, is Hemingway, which has the potential to serve as your very own digital copyeditor. Often, when I send edits to an author, I ask them to do Global searches for words that get overused, like “Then”, or adverbs or repeated sentence structures like three or more “I verb” sentences in a row. I’ve always thought it’s a good, schematic way to go over a draft, but it can definitely get tedious. Hemingway seems like a great tool for that kind of analysis without having to spend hours doing individual word and phrase searches.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Huffpost without a little bit of fluff–or cats, which I guess is why they mention Write or Die. Silliness aside, though, procrastination and adhering to daily word counts are certainly struggles that writers know well, and for that SelfControl does seem like a good choice for blocking those pesky distracting websites like… oh, I don’t know… maybe the Huffpost?

Have you ever used any of these apps to help finish a novel? Or any other apps? If so, which ones? 

 

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A techie holiday wish

Hey folks, I could really use your thoughts on this one…

As Sharon noted below, we’ve been doing a lot of work on our computer systems here at DGLM–brand new server, new webmail system, even a new postal meter. And with that, I’ve been trying to figure out what computer configuration makes the most sense for me when I need to do work at home–because I am waaaay out of date.

Right now, I’ve got an ancient Macbook (one of those white ones with the chipped casing not-so-affectionately known as a “crackbook”) that I use for writing, editing, and the internet. The webmail system is fairly good for email, but it’s still a lot clunkier than even my iphone (a 3GS, but can’t do much about that until the contract runs out next summer). And for reading MSS, I use a 2nd generation Kindle, which I’d love to replace as well.

For MS reading, I’m thinking an ipad is the way to go. And from Michael Bourret, I gather that email will be a lot more functional on an ipad than webmail. Certainly the ipad will be better for web surfing than what I have now. But when it comes to writing and editing, it’s hard to imagine using an ipad, even with an external keyboard–so maybe a new laptop makes more sense? I’ve never had problems reading on a laptop, and I guess I could suck it up with the kindle when I’m on the subway. But I’m also a total cheapskate when it comes to tech, so I’d really rather not invest in a laptop unless it’s a vastly superior solution.

Well, since I’m sure you writers out there have similar computing needs, what’s your set-up? Do you use multiple devices? If so, what? Any PC users out there? Ever since my old Dell got overtaken by viruses, I’ve steered clear of PCs, but Mike Hoogland’s been singing the praises of the new Microsoft tablet/computer combo–anyone else tried one of those?

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From Sea to Shining Sea

I like to listen to podcasts on my morning commute. I’m a big fan of Book Riot, Bookrageous, Books on the Nightstand, NPR: Books…oh, did I mention they’re all bookish podcasts? Don’t worry, the newest one to the rotation doesn’t even have “Book” in the title:  The Readers (gotcha!). I enjoy this one because a) one of the hosts is British, and British accents are a pleasant thing to hear when you’re jammed on the subway too early in the morning and b) they often discuss books that aren’t on my radar.

For the most recent episode, Simon and Thomas made lists of the ten books that they felt most represented their countries. Their discussion was lots of fun – I happen to think Thomas had the rougher task, considering how much larger the US is than the UK. But I found Simon’s list the most interesting, because I tend to picture Britain in very broad strokes – London, Dublin, and Edinburgh,  Heathcliffe wailing on the moors and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. I never think about the unique personalities of Bath, Bristol, Manchester, let alone the truth vs. the stereotypes of those reasons. So it was fascinating to hear Simon describe various regions of his country and the books he loves that speak for each.

And, of course, it was fun to analyze and second-guess Thomas’ list of books to for the United States. Sure, there’s some fantastic choices on there, but also some glaring oversights. Hello, Middlesex by Geoffrey Eugenides is not only a classic Detroit book, but also a searing portrayal of the 20th-century immigrant experience! And I don’t know how you can pick two books for California without including John Updike. But I suppose we would all have lists that look very different, because we each have our own unique set of connections to our homeland.

What book best represents your part of the country?

Do you know of an awesome podcast I should add to my lineup?

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“We are in the business of communication!”

The title of this post is a phrase I find myself using all the time.  We “communicate” all day long by texting, by emailing, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc., but I wonder if we are really communicating. Even phone conversations seem to be a dying art.

The other day when I opened my e-mail in the morning, I found a very concerned message from an editor suggesting that one of my clients’ manuscript was deeply flawed and he suggested that he was going to have to reject it.  I reminded him, again by e-mail, of the clause in the client’s contract requiring the publisher to provide a list of the problems and to give the writer a chance to rectify the situation.  Over e-mail the issue certainly sounded dire and unfixable.  But then he and I talked and he suggested that we call the writer together.  He said he was going to tell her that one of her options was to put the current manuscript aside and begin a new one.  This was a person whom he had only e-mailed with and whom I had also mostly communicated with by e-mail, so we had no idea how she would react.

First, the editor e-mailed my client to make a date to talk.  This naturally freaked her out and she e-mailed me and asked what was going on.  I told her a bit about the problem (again by e-mail) and said we would cover the rest in our talk.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure she would participate in the conference call at all.  She did, though, and when she was told on the phone that one of her options was to put the current novel aside and begin again, she was hugely relieved.  She and I had a subsequent lovely and constructive conversation and we all “walked away” feeling good about what had seemed like an unfixable problem at the beginning of the day.  We all felt much more positive and moving forward.

This all goes to prove that picking up the phone and talking can be far more effective and satisfying than e-mailing as this article in Forbes suggests.

It’s true that phone conversations take longer than e-mailing but often they get more accomplished.  I don’t know about you, but I am going to try to talk more and e-mail less from now on and see what happens.  I would be curious to hear what you think about all of this.