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Thursday, 23 June 2011

How do you keep track of your stories…

… And would you consider using versioning software or a custom database application?

Why do I ask? Well, two reasons really. The first is to find out what other people do and to see if there is a better approach to the one I’m currently using. The second is to find out what others think would be the best way of organising our work-in-progress, and for maintaining a record of our submitted and accepted work. I would now include self-e-published work in this.

Firstly, I currently hold my ideas, WIPs, critique feedback, editing and submissions history, and not forgetting my acceptance and rejection history for each story all as files in a rather complicated directory structure on both my word and home PCs. This structure has grown, rather organically, over time, and means I'm constantly attempting to keep all the documents in both machines at the same revision level, as well as updating/ensuring all the various documents; whether they are story files, critiques, ideas, or the various history file; in the appropriate folders.

My structure is as follows:

I’m sure this is more complicated, and less secure, than it should or needs to be.
Now, I’m a .net applications designer to trade, that’s fancy speak for computer programmer, so I was thinking about writing my own system for keeping better control of my work. I did a bit of research and there doesn’t seem to really be anything out there that does what I want to do. I know some people seem to use spreadsheets to keep track of things. I assume their story files are just saved on their hard Disk, but didn’t find any accounts that went into much detail. There are plenty of versioning solutions out there, some decent ones are even freeware. The thing is, like the spreadsheet, this only provides part of the solution. And it seems a bit overkill to write and maintain spreadsheets as well as some sore of versioned directory structure just for what amounts to a handful of files or such.
So before I start looking at making something of my own, I’d appreciate it if anyone knows of any programs I may have missed, or at least say how you deal with your work and related record keeping.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Harry Potter, Twilight and the forgotten ‘Dark Matter’

Hello dear reader. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me tell you a tall tale of hysteria and skewed perceptions. A tale where all may not be as it seams, where shady men in suits delight is meddling with people’s thoughts…

Ok, I have question for you. As of now, what are the two biggest selling children’s - YA book series?
Answer: you are probably wrong…

That is, you would be wrong if you answered Harry Potter and Twilight. The combined sales for the 7 main Harry Potter books are in excess of 400 million copies. The twilight series have sold just over 100 million. Both very good figures for any book series. But contrary to what the marketing machines would have us believe they are not the only game in town. There are other, perhaps quieter and les controversial, series that are sitting quietly in the background and perhaps chuckling at all the hysteria generated by the, rather vocal, fans of the ‘big two’.

Would it surprise you to know that there is another YA/children’s book series that easily tripled the Twilight sales and has only marginally less that the HP series? I think some people would be surprised by this; others will possibly already have guessed that I’m referring to the good old Goosebumps books. Ok, before the fans even get started, I know I’m comparing 60-something plus books to two relatively small series. And my intention isn’t to deride ether HP or Twilight here. I’m merely trying to show that the majority of pre-teen and YA readers may not be the HP and Twilight only generation that the media/marketing machine would have us think they are. By the way, the Goosebumps series has sold well over 350 million books, and is still climbing.
In the children’s market, Thomas the Tank Engine and Noddy have both doubled the sales of Twilight. Yes I know it isn’t the same audience, again that isn’t my point. The point is that there are other, invisible, things out there, with much larger sales, that don’t appear to be as ‘big’ as the two most hyped/talked about series. The general pubic perception is that vastly more children and young adults are reading these two book series, where in fact the overall sales figures do not bear this out.

So why the current fervour over HP and Twilight, and how do the others sustain their sales without it? What’s the secret? Is it all purely the marketing machines creation? Do people buy a Goosebumps book with a certain, safe, expectation, when their pre-teen, tween, or mid-teen would rather be reading the ‘edgy’ (or should that be ‘cool,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘wicked,’ banging,’ or whatever is in vogue nowadays…) Twilight book that they actually want – based of course of the hyperbole surrounding the series.
Obviously the TV franchise type books (Thomas the Tank Engine & Noddy, etc.) have a distinct advantage here, but it doesn’t explain why the quiet competitors like Goosebumps are still doing so well without the hype machine. And although the vast number of Goosebumps sales is split up between 60+ books, remember that The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies, for one book, and The Lord of the Rings has sold over 150 million. Now, I’m honestly not trying to make this a competition, and granted, those sales are over a longer time-frame. My interest here is in how much of the children’s and YA audience really only have read the HP and/or Twilight books, and how much have read those as well as many from the other major and minor sellers. If all those books are still being sold then surely someone must be reading them?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Franchising and Merchandising…

C.M.O.T. Dibbler would be proud!

I was looking through my straining bookshelves holding my Diskworld collection the other night, and was struck by the amount of off-shoot franchising type books I actually have. There are, of course, all the diaries (bar two) the almanacs and the various guides. But we can’t forget the Diskworld and Anamorphic maps and cook books, as well as the other book-based miscellany. But that isn’t including my moderate collection of ClareCraft Diskworld figurines, far less the postcards, VHS-videos, DVD’s and other memorabilia I have acquired over the years.
The list does indeed go on…

The thing is, and I suspect this holds true for a lot of people, apart from the Novels most of it is no-longer even out on display. The sad thing is much of it never was. So why do I have all of this stuff hoarded away in boxes? Well it’s probably no different from seeing today’s teenagers walking around with Twilight t-shirts on. Oh I have a ‘Death’ Diskworld t-shirt as well; I had it for a while before I decided to actually weir it. Anyway, what was I on about… ah yes the sometimes impressive, if that is the word, collection of stuff, or collectables if you prefer, that we acquire for various franchises. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all this stuff is junk necessarily. Looking through my rather extensive Diskworld collection just got me thinking about the amount of merchandising that is done nowadays.
I think the main thing that says you have made-it doesn’t come from rave-reviews or critical-acclaim anymore. No, the real test of a writer’s metal is whether or not they ever get the action-figures made from their characters. You get the action-figures made and you are a writing-publishing-story-spinning demigod!
Does that sound cynical? It wasn’t meant to be. I think it’s just the way the world we live in works now. Oh, and I said demigod because you need the cartoon-series and the films to lay a clam to true god-dome… pretty sure that isn’t a word, but you know what I mean.

So what do you think? When does the mid-list author, making decent money but by no stretch of the imagination famous, make that break into the world of the uber-author and join the ranks of the household-names? What percentage is talent and how much is marketing?

Again, no bitterness intended here. Personally I think Sir Terry deserves his success based on the merits of his work, others maybe not so much… But hey, good luck to them. They obviously did something very right that propelled their books out of the norm, and into the merchandising machine overdrive.

As I said, Dibbler would have been proud!
Sausage-onna-stick anyone?

Monday, 13 June 2011

YA: Talking horses, throwbacks, self-harming, and underage sex…

What on earth am I talking about?
Well… obviously the Mode Series by Piers Anthony.

So, why the reactionary title, you may ask? Well it’s a reactionary series, and one of the most… interesting works I’ve ever stumbled across… up to a point.
I read my first ‘Mode’ story not long after I was out of my teens, and it was this book that made me want to further explore the strange universe created by Mr Anthony.
There are officially four books in the series. Although some would argue that there are still really only three. The first three books were released one a year from 1991 to 1993. These being: Virtual Mode, Fractal Mode, and Chaos Mode. Eventually DoOon Mode was released in 2001, a full ten years after the original instalment. Why eventually? Well, read on…

Harry Potter; growing with the reader, but now what…

I was recently reading an interesting account of J. K. Rowling’s idea of the characters in the HP series growing up with the readers. On the face of it a very successful strategy, but a thought occurred to me…

How will this affect the long-term saleability and popularity of the books?

Think about it. Whether you like them or not, we are now left with a series of very high profile and popular books that are written for differing age groups; not to mention a set of films that more-or-less do the same. So what will the future hold for the series?
What is the target readership for a set of books all aimed at differing age groups?
Will people still start reading book one aged around eight to ten, and read every other book at the appropriate age? I think not. Although some parents who grew up with the series may indeed attempt to drip-feed the books in this way. Good luck with that!

Many people have already stated a preference for ether the earlier or latter books, depending on their personal tastes. Will this be overlooked in the future, with the entire series eventually becoming a ‘classic’ set, or will this be a major factor in the series fading into obscurity?

Whilst some of the ‘classics’ of today have remained popular from their outset other popular titles of their time have faded to obscurity. Is the very, following the reader, nature of the HP books set to propel them into the latter category? Or are they set to take on the ‘children’s classics’ status of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland?’
I’m not pretending to understand what does or doesn’t make a ‘classic’ book. But if past experience tells us anything, it tells us that contemporary popularity isn’t the overriding factor. Quite a lot of todays ‘classics’ were rather obscure, or even derided, at their time of launch.

So what do you think? What will the future hold for HP?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Clearing out the loft…

My wife has recently re-informed me of my decision to clear out the loft (attic). This means redistributing a lot of old books. We are both fairly practiced readers, although the vast majority of the stuff up there is mine. Ok, I’ll admit it I’m a bit of a hoarder… first step is to admit you have a problem, right?
Anyway, we don’t want to redistribute them to the trash. So that means ebay, charity shops, goodreads, and anybody who wants any of the stuff that is being disposed of really.

The volumes that live in the loft have naturally selected themselves into two distinct camps. The dusty-shelve inhabitants, and the shadowy cardboard-box dwellers. And it is the latter of these who are most in need of population control.
Searching through the various layers of these books is like going on my own personal archaeological dig, and excavating my reading history.
Down in the primordial box section we have the ancient ancestors of today’s YA along with the Comics and their close relatives the Graphic-Novels. One of which I have since discovered is a rare fossil indeed… now ebay bound.
Next came all the horror books. I had no idea how much horror I must have gotten through in my late-teens to early twenties. Closely following the, rather sudden, extinction of this era came a; sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid; evolution. Here we have the Sci-Fi, fantasy, mainstream, and yes even the classics and ‘Literrary Fiction,’ even some poetry has managed to hang on in there.

But there is another creature lurking up there. It is a large shelve-bending, floor-board creaking, beast known to those who know as ‘the wife’s Star-Trek collection,’ and it is a sight to behold… For it is large, and it is mighty.
It’s also strictly off-limits to my clearing effort… see how that works?

So, the question is what should I do with it all? I also have an extensive pile of, retro?, computer manuals. I’m quite happy to give stuff away to a good home. I don’t want to put a list up on my blog, but I am going to put up a rather extensive list on the book-swapping thread over on good reads, once I get things sorted out a little more. I’d be quite willing to ‘swap’ a lot of them for not very much or nothing. So if anyone is interested feel free to take a look.
As I said, most books on the shelves (yes there are quite a lot of them) are relatively safe, but there are some well known as well as some relatively obscure books still lurking in the boxes.

Surely this curious tale isn’t all that unusual a story?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Twilight from outside the demographic

A sort-of review…

Never before has a series of books seemed to polarise opinion so vehemently that the Twilight saga. There are the legions of very loyal ‘Twilight Looovers’ and the equally, what’s the word for anti-loyal, ‘Twilight Haters.’

First of all I have to point out that I only looked at book one, and the grammar used in this is not the same as that used by the vast majority of books I would normally read.
Honestly, my immediate reaction would be to say this has some issues, but as stated in the title I am very much outside the target audience demographic.
It was hard going for me to read this book, but I can see why it would read well to some people.

The three big issues I kept on hearing about with this were the writing style, the simplicity of the story and the message. Ok, it will never be considered as what is generally referred to as ‘literary fiction’ (a whole other rant), and the style won’t be to the taste of most, if not all, avid-readers. Then again, it does appear to appeal to the mainstream target audience, at which it was marketed, as well as quite a few others. So surely this must be doing something right.
I have heard quite a few teenage readers referring to this as ‘The best book ever,’ and in their, sometimes limited, reading experience I believe they truly mean this, and why shouldn’t their opinion be as valid as that of the avid-reader?
Some of my favourite books have often been described as ‘flowery’ and ‘pretentious.’ Everybody has an opinion. As I’ve said before, any book that gets people reading, especially those that may not normally do so, is a good book (in as much as it fits its purpose, it does what it was produced to do).

To me the words did get in the way of the story a little, which brings us to the story… see what I did there …
Yes, the story is simple. So what? Some of the best books have simple stories, and most genre books follow some form of the ‘Hero’s Tale’ concept.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ has very little story when you break it down, as do a fair amount of the ‘classics.’ So simple story, yes. Unimaginative story, well you can see where this tries to be different from the standard vampire story. How successful this was is entirely subjective, but it does follow a fairly predictable pattern. Then that pattern may only be discernable hence predictable to someone who reads a lot! I think it’s fair to say that a major part of the Twilight audience is not hugely well-read: that is not a slight!
And we are now left with the message… Interpreted by many as: teenage girl with low self esteem is used and abused by older ‘sometimes boyfriend.’ OK, I can see where this is coming from. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, I didn’t particularly care ether way… and truth be told ended up skimming the best part of the book. In my defence I had already discerned the writing style, and wanted to understand the story, by this point. From what I gathered, it isn’t as bad as some people make out, and it isn’t as good or morally commendable as others seem to think it is. Of course that assumption is only my own personal thoughts, and as such is entirely subjective.

My quick conclusion… Ok, if you insist…
Personally I didn’t care for it very much, then it wasn’t aimed at me.
I think the story is simple, but that isn’t necessarily a sin on its own.
The message is morally ambiguous at best, again not necessarily a sin.
I didn’t like the way this was written and found it hard to read. I think a large percentage of frequent readers with probably feel the same.
I can see why it has gained favour and scorn where it has.
The solution… As always, don’t read it if you don’t like it. What’s the point of hating?

Friday, 3 June 2011

I’ve just posted a short story to FeedBooks

This is a little bit of an experiment for me. I’ve re-wrote parts of the land Ironclads by H. G. Wells to show a more modern version of the war, this time between a more conventional army and robotic assailants.

I’ve tried to do it in the original style, and much of the original text is still intact, although some was edited for clarity.

I’d appreciate any comments on this.
You can see it here: