Category Archives: technology

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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.

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Collaborating with the best

You’d think that after all this time, the things you can do on the internet would cease to fascinate or greatly amuse me. Highly untrue.

I remember when a friend first introduced the collaboration feature of Google Docs to me. While the technology behind this is probably light-years less complicated than most of what’s out there, the idea that two or more people can write together, edit each other and share ideas on the same word document or spreadsheet at the same time brings a feeling of side-by-side mentorship that is lost in the world of solitary existence in front of computers.

Of course, it can also be used for fun and silliness—I can’t tell you how many ridiculous, probably unreadable stories I’ve “co-authored” with friends using this tool. A bit like Exquisite Corpse, but over the world wide web instead of with pen and paper.

Writing silly stories with your friends is all well and good, of course, but I’ve recently discovered a more…literary…collaboration you can try out. Google has done a demo where you can practice writing stories with the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe. They’ll edit your words to their tastes and chide you if you slack off. I think my favorite is Charles Dickins’ accusation after too long a pause, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

While this is really just a fun game you can play with yourself, I wonder if it also couldn’t be an exercise in trying out various writing styles and formats. Not that writing with Shakespeare’s prose or Nietzsche’s vindications is really anyone’s aim (or maybe it is!), but seeing how a simple word change or structure alteration in your own words can give an entirely different effect to the narrative is certainly eye-opening.

I suggest trying it out, whether for fun or for discipline (okay, it’s going to be fun regardless) and posting your favorite “edits” in the comments!

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

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Changes in Reading

My last blog entry of 2012 focused on a community who refilled the shelves of their recently shut down local library. This heart-warming story illustrated the importance that underscores the presence of a library or a bookstore in a community. Books can be found in and contribute to creating some of the most elegant stores in the world. These are buildings that house a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion that are to be found in books.

Now let me swing to the opposite side for my first post of 2013 and tell you about a building that houses a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion but does not possess a single printed book. Bexar County, TX is set to open the first book-less library this summer. The library will allow its residents to have access to electronic titles and let them check out e-readers. One of the architects behind the BiblioTech has reasoned that “The ever-changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words…Technology is changing the way we read, learn and thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.”

I agree with the sentiments behind this reasoning but I wouldn’t put it so didactically. The development of technology gives us options for how we read. It caters to a whole spectrum of taste, lifestyle, and needs. I don’t think we have to negate one to have the other or have to stand on a particular side of the fence and declare our allegiance. While I am grateful to be able to slip out my slinky e-reader whilst being crushed on the morning subway, I am just as thrilled to be able to ease back in a comfy chair, put my feet up and thumb my way through a hefty print book.

This is why I was intrigued to read this article that highlighted the presence of e-readers in traditional book stores in the UK. Essentially, e-readers sold at the bookstore would see the bookstore take a cut of future e-book sales, giving them an added revenue stream. Not confined to the UK, a number of US indie bookstores are also getting in on the act and through your reading device you are able to purchase e-book titles through independent bookstores.

For me, the development of technology has given us more options in the way we read. I have not been forced to choose one or the other and am excited to see if the conversation about print and electronic versions of books will begin to embrace one another rather than remain diametrically opposed. After all when you mix technology and books together and get this, it’s worth staying optimistic.

Are you embracing the best of both worlds? Or are you set in your reading ways. I’d love to know!

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?