Steal Like an Artist with Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon encourages you to steal in the name of art. Not plagiarize — nothing so mundane (or illegal), but steal and remake, to borrow from the greats who’ve gone before, to take their ideas and make them your own. In his TED Talk below, he explains precisely how he steals like an artist, and how you can too. Wonderfully inspiring stuff, especially for anyone facing a bit of writer’s block — the circumstance that first led Kleon to steal like an artist himself. Enjoy!

Friday Links: A Diverse Collection for Black History Month

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a terrific week and are looking forward to an even better weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to hunkering down with a good book, because I’ve had a couple of weeks that were pretty much full throttle. A little break is a good thing. Then next week I’ll be working for a few days out of The Knight Agency main office, getting some face-to-face time with my wonderful co-workers.

But plans aside, I’ve got some wonderful links for you this week. With Black History Month upon us, there are some excellent articles on black writers and increasing the diversity of the publishing industry. Of course, those are not things relegated just to February, but it’s an excellent excuse to step up our efforts to read and publish and call attention to more authors of color. And beyond that, I have the usual mishmash of reading recs, bookish goodness, and writing inspiration. There should be a little something for everyone, and I hope you discover something that sends you rushing off to get some writing of your own accomplished. Enjoy!

How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement – A great look at the efforts of one of the (unfortunately) few black editors in New York.

LA Celebrates Science Fiction Legend Octavia E. Butler with a Year of Events – A nice spotlight on this celebration that might inspire you to pick up one of Butler’s books if you haven’t, or revisit her work if you have.

Interview with a Bookstore: The Mysterious Bookshop – Peek inside the world’s oldest and largest mystery-specific bookstore.

The Real Censorship in Children’s Books – Daniel José Older discusses the recent criticism and removal of a children’s books with inappropriate depictions of black characters in history, and the broader problem.

This Year I’m Going to Write that Book – Some writing inspiration for those dreamers who haven’t quite gotten around to doing (or finishing).

How a City in France Got the World’s First Short-Story Vending Machine – I love this idea, and I’d love to find them on random street corners or in transportation hubs. Fun way to discover new or new-to-you authors.

Elizabeth Jane Howard: Hilary Mantel on the Novelist She Tells Everyone to Read – A look at the British author best know for the Cazalet Chronicles.

Fighting Erasure – A look at the importance of understanding the context for the current diversity discussion, which of course is much broader than publishing’s small corner of the world.

150 Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Books to Look Forward to in 2016: Part 1 – A great roundup organized by release month. If you scroll to the end of the page, you’ll find links to the second and third parts of the list.

Writing in Public: Crafting a Professional Image

(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu
(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu

There’s a saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Well, writers often work in comfy sweats or their pajamas, but the underlying concept still holds true. Writing is a business like any other, and even if you can do the job in solitude, you will eventually need to create a network of colleagues and readers in order to advance your career. You want to consider your public image long before people know who you are, because the things you say and do now — whether in the real world or online — set the scene for your future.

Presenting a professional image starts before you sign onto social media. It starts with determining the image you wish to portray in all facets of your writing career, and that’s something you should think about before you have a book deal. Your professional image affects how you interact with your critique partners — even if they’re your friends, the way you portray yourself in a query letter or at a writer’s conference, and how you handle both your successes and your failures.

Some aspects of being professional might seem obvious. We’ve all seen the writer on Twitter who phrases something poorly or offers up an unpopular opinion and finds themselves in a fast-escalating situation because they refuse to apologize or back out gracefully. There might be name-calling and other rude behavior that’s easily pegged as unprofessional. But what about the less obvious aspects of the job? Here are a few things to consider when you’re fashioning your own professional demeanor.

Treat writing as a job, not a hobby. If you reach the stage where you’re sending out queries, you need to present yourself in a professional, business-like manner.

  • Have your own email address using your own name. There’s no reason to use your joint family email account with your spouse’s name in the From: field. Save that for personal communications, and get yourself a gmail or yahoo address that’s just for you.
  • Do your research. Send submissions per an agency’s guidelines. Be sure they’re looking for the sort of material you’re querying. If you’re cutting and pasting your query letter, double check that you’ve updated both the email address and the name of the agent before you hit send. Don’t forget to proofread.
  • Be sure to follow up with an agent if you receive an offer of representation from someone else, and either thank them for their consideration or ask if they can decide on your material within a reasonable window (depending how soon you need to respond to your existing offer). Don’t leave an agent to read your work a few weeks down the line only to discover it’s no longer available for representation.
  • Keep in mind that a writing career can span decades and you are building a community. You may work with a person down the line who initially rejects you, so maintain good relationships even if you’re not teaming up right now.

Use common sense at public events. If you’re attending readings, conferences, lectures, or any other event where you’ll be representing yourself as a writer, keep your business hat on, even if you’re there with friends and being social.

  • If there’s alcohol, don’t over do it. You don’t want to lose control of your actions or what you’re saying.
  • Be prepared to network. Have business cards with you that include your website and email address, and keep a small notebook and a pen or pencil handy.
  • Be aware of any behavioral guidelines set down by the organizing body, and be sure you adhere to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if harassed or put in a vulnerable position. Part of being professional is holding other professionals to the same standard.
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish

Approach social media as if dealing with a group of gossipy teenagers. Understand that as nice and intelligent as everyone might seem, there will always be a few people out there looking to get the dirt, to start an argument simply to gain a higher profile, or just to be mean.

  • Keep the business details of your business to yourself. I don’t mean you shouldn’t announce when you’ve signed a book deal, but be careful not to discuss it before you know it’s finalized. If you’re unsure what’s safe to disclose, you’re better off not sharing it. But you can always talk to your agent or editor to find out when certain information — that you’ve sold the book, what your cover art looks like, your release date, etc. — can go public.
  • Never talk about the who/what/where while things are still in play. When your agent has your manuscript out on submission or is negotiating a deal, you should never discuss the process online: not which agents or which imprints or how you think it’s going. It’s tempting to get excited and want to provide updates, but editors can go online, too, and you don’t want to inadvertently weaken your agent’s ability to negotiate by giving away vital information. So keep it off your blog and Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that the internet rarely differentiates between your private and professional selves. Once you put yourself out there wearing your writer’s hat and people get to know you, it will become impossible to have personal moments online except in spaces you lock down. Take precautions to stay safe.

  • Consider maintaining a friends-and-family-only Facebook page separate from your author page, with security settings that keep anyone else from seeing your photos and vacation chatter. Only “friend” a small, select group of people. This will give you a place to engage with those you love without worrying about policing yourself.
  • Be careful about announcing easily identifiable information about yourself on the internet, such as landmarks near your house, your day job, or where your kids attend school. Most people are lovely and will respect your privacy, but stalkers do exist and you don’t need to be a best-selling author or hugely famous to have someone decide they want to follow you in real life.
  • If you will be traveling for personal reasons — as in, not a conference or book signing, etc. — wait until after the trip to share with your readers/fans. Don’t talk the trip up ahead of time, or announce where you’ll be.

And yes, the internet is forever. Or at least close enough. Things you say and regret, even if you delete them, have a habit of turning up when you least expect it.

  • Apologize if you say something that hurts other people. Whether you phrased something badly and it was misunderstood or you genuinely did not understand what you said was offensive, apologize, and state that you’ll do your best not to make the same mistake. Everyone’s human, and most people will understand if you’re genuinely contrite.
  • Realize that there will always be things that will cause an argument online, and pick your battles. Some issues will be more important to you and you will take a stand. Others will probably still be important but maybe less of a priority. Decide what is worth fighting for and what you’re willing to walk away from, in the interest of having time to write and live your life outside of social media.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions. If something gets you hot under to collar, take a breath or two before you respond. You may change your mind, or you may not, but decide how you’re going to respond (or if you’re going to respond) with a clear head.

 

Welcome to the Writing and Rambling Relaunch!

canstockphoto_WelcomeMat

Welcome to the new home of Writing and Rambling! I’ve been talking about making the move to a self-hosted site for a long time but just never seemed to get around to it. Although I write about topics related to work, this site has always been a labor of love, somewhere I can chat about books and writing and agent life. It lets me reach out in a small way to all the aspiring writers and die-hard readers and the folks who are simply curious about the world of publishing. Moving Writing and Rambling to this new space will allow me a little more flexibility in terms of changing the appearance of the site and adding more features, and I’m excited to have finally taken the leap. So please update your bookmarks and join me!

Those of you coming over from the previous location will note the shiny new look, but rest assured that all the posts have migrated and the links all seem to be working. I’ll be adding new pages and other features to the blog as we go — you might notice a few new social media links to the right — as well as updating existing features, but for now the content remains pretty much as it always was. If you’re looking for a specific post, all you need to do is update the root of the URL to http://nepheletempest.com/ and leave everything after the .com on your old link the same. That should take you to any page you wish to find.

Anyone who previously subscribed to the site at the old location in order to receive an email when I update, please hang tight as I’ve put in a request to the good WordPress people to migrate my subscription list over to this site. As soon as that takes place, notifications shall resume. If you don’t wish to wait, there’s a subscription opt-in at the top right of the navigation section, but you may end up with duplicate notifications if you received them before.

Business as usual will resume here in a day or two, and the old site will begin to redirect to this location. Thanks to all of you have been reading and commenting for the last few years, and welcome, everyone, to this new, relaunched version of Writing and Rambling. Have a wonderful day, and don’t forget to get some writing done.

Friday Links: On Taking Over the (Writing) World

Happy Friday, everyone! As January winds down, it’s a good time to take a quick look at some of those goals you set at the start of the year, just to make sure you’re still on track. I know it can be difficult once the holidays are over to keep your plans in mind, especially when your boss and your family have goals of their own that often involve you. Make it a habit to check in with yourself pretty regularly so you don’t forget that your goals are a priority, too.

And with those words of wisdom, I want to give everyone a heads up that this blog will soon be migrating to a designated URL — one of my goals for the new year (and long overdue). Everything will stay live here until I’m satisfied that the new site is up and running properly, with the links functioning and so on, and then there will be a forwarding message to take you to the new location. So don’t be surprised if things look a little different on a near-future visit.

But enough of all that. It’s time for Friday Links! If there’s a theme this week, it’s world domination — at least the world of books. I hope these encourage you to get out there and read and write great things, ignore the naysayers, and take risks with your career. The only one who can do it is you.

14 Secret Habits Every Book-Lover Is Guilty of Having – I know I am. Particularly the one about buying pretty new editions of books I already own.

Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing – A look at how very white the publishing industry still is behind the scenes, and how that affects the diversity of books.

World’s First Free Online Course Dedicated to the Exploration of Literature and Mental Health – Sounds very interesting. Starts Monday, Feb. 1, so get a move on if you want to join.

CTRL-F, DELETE: Word-Trends, Sneaky Clichés, and Other Turns of Phrase You Should Immediately Delete from Your Manuscript – A look at recent trends in incorrect or overly frequent word usage.

What Was Lost? Why Writers Should Value Their Working Drafts – How digitalization has changed the writing — and rewriting — process and what that means for posterity.

Talking Black History and Love Stories with Romance Writing Pioneer Beverly Jenkins – A great interview looking at historical research, diversity in the romance genre, and how Beverly Jenkins got her start.

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators – An intriguing theory, with a bit of a push for all of you putting off getting your words down.

Opportunities for Writers: February and March 2016 – A list of contests and calls for work with deadlines coming up in the next two months.

Writers and the Social Media Dance

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse for writers, especially those who feel ill at ease when it comes to tackling new technology. But even as it morphs and changes, with new platforms rising to prominence and others becoming less popular, as an overall concept, it is undoubtedly here to stay. And as more and more of the burden of self-promotion falls on a writer’s shoulders, social media remains one of the most important means of getting the word out about new releases, book giveaways, readings, and other bookish events.

The downsides of social media? It can take a lot of time, especially when you’re new to a platform and still trying to get the hang of how to use it. Even once you’re experienced, each form of social media has its own way of sucking you in and eating up hours that might be better spent in writing. Social media can also backfire spectacularly if you say or post the wrong thing; word spreads at monumental speeds online, and never faster than when you’ve put your foot in your mouth. Plus the internet is forever. Deleting a poorly phrased Tweet or taking down a blog post is very much like closing the barn door after the horse has headed for the hills, and in this case the horse loves to gossip.

But the upsides are equally obvious, and not the sort of things a writer can ignore. Social media lets you connect with readers, reviewers, and industry professionals. It lets you talk about your project and build excitement, show off great cover art, announce signings, and squeal publicly when your book hits a major milestone. But it also lets you engage in a community that knows where you’re coming from and what you’re up against, which means you can garner a great deal of knowledge by paying attention to other writers and their experiences through social media.

If social media intimidates you, or if you think you’re fine with just one corner of the internet — your blog, a simple Facebook page — there are still ways to interact that won’t leave you scratching your head in confusion or feeling completely overwhelmed. Here are a few simple tips for tackling new forms of social media and building your online presence:

Start small. Don’t try to master them all at once (though if you have a common name/pen name, you might consider signing up at the same time in order to make sure you can get a consistent handle on all the major platforms). Choose one and play around with it for a couple of months and see how it goes. Keep in mind where your ideal audience likes to hang out. Many YA authors have blogs through Tumblr, for instance. Do a little digging to see where you might want to begin.

Pay attention to how others use the platform, both the good and the bad. Follow a few writers you like on Twitter and see what percent of their Tweets are promotional and what proportion are chatty/sharing more general knowledge/helping out other writers, etc. See how often writers update their blogs or Facebook pages. What do writers share on their Goodreads page? Observe what works, and also what seems to annoy.

Remember your manners. Just because the other person is somewhere behind a far-away computer, doesn’t give you the right to be mean. Try to respond to others in the same way you would in person; the internet doesn’t need any more trolls.

Don’t repeat yourself across platforms. Once you’re engaging in several forms of social media, try not to post the same thing on all of them. Determine what each platform is good for in terms of your own goals, and then stick with those. Twitter might be great for chatting and driving traffic to your blog when you have a post, whereas you might use Facebook for contests/giveaways, and Instagram to post cover art and photos of your work space, books you’ve bought, etc. Keep the medium in mind, and remember that you want your fans to follow you on more than one platform. If they constantly see the same thing everywhere you post, they’ll be less likely to engage with you in multiple places.

Take advantage of the ability to schedule things ahead. Depending on the software you use, you can schedule posts for your blog ahead of time. A number of Twitter platforms, such as TweetDeck and HootSuite, allow you to schedule Tweets days in advance. Tumblr lets you set up a queue for posts. This way you can remain present in social media, even if you’re traveling or under deadline and can’t take the time to post live.

Remember that the key word is social. Yes, you want to share your news and promote your work, but first and foremost, you want to be a member of the social media community, whatever platform you’re using. Engage with people. Ask and answer questions. Comment. Share your excitement about non-career things, like that great movie you just saw or the new recipe you tried. Be a person, not a sales drone.

No doubt social media will continue to grow and change, as will how writers use it. But the sooner you become accustomed to using social media platforms in general, the easier you will find it to adapt with the technology. Start now, start small, and take it one step at a time. And for those of you already adept at using social media, keep your eyes open for the next big thing.

Friday Links: The Visual Side of Book Publishing

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had a wonderful week and are ready for a weekend of reading and writing, or perhaps some creative time to spark your imagination and refill that well. A good chunk of the northeastern U.S. seems to be battening down for the first snow storm of the winter, and all I can say to that is it’s perfect weather for a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. Stay warm, or cool, wherever you are, and take a little time for yourself and your goals.

All of that said, I have a bit of an art theme going on this week for Friday Links. It wasn’t intentional, but sometimes these things just develop over the course of the week. Not all the links are art-related, of course, but I think you’ll see what I mean. It’s a bit of a different look at the world of publishing, so I hope you enjoy.

By the Cover: Meet Will Staehle, Freelance Designer – A look at the work of a freelance book designer, formerly the Art Director at HarperCollins.

A Brief History of Book Illustration – Pretty much what it says.

R.I.P: Select Literary Obituaries from 2015 – A good round-up, and for reference if you’re looking to see whose work you might have missed reading.

Whom Do You Write For? ‘Pandering’ Essay Sparks a Conversation – NPR conversation between Clare Vaye Watkins and Marlon James that follows up on Watkins’s somewhat controversial essay for Tin House. A very interesting look at the writing process, and the audience a writer considers inside their head while they work.

Meet Jill Weber, artist and book illustrator/designer. In this short video (intended as a promo for a recent class at Sketchbook Skool), she shares a tiny handmade book she created to tell the story of her garden. A charming look at one of the amazing, creative forms books can take.

Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Junot Díaz

Last November, Neil Gaiman sat down and had a long chat with author Junot Díaz, one of his final appearances before he takes 2016 off to be just a writer and a father to his new baby with wife Amanda Palmer. This interview kicks off with a great rundown of the history of Sandman, which is well worth watching whether you’re familiar with the comics series or not. If you prefer to just get right to Neil, you can jump to about the 6:30 mark, where the video moves to the interview venue. This is a longish interview — nearly an hour and a half — so be sure to carve out a bit of time to watch.

Friday Links: People and Places Behind the Books We Love

TGIF! It’s been a long, kind of sad week, what with the passing of first David Bowie and then Alan Rickman. The first made me teary; the latter made me cry into my coffee on and off all day. Both were hugely creative individuals who left us with so much to remember them by, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t left a hollow space now they’ve gone, as well.

But as I said, it’s Friday, and time to look forward to the weekend. It’s a long one here in the U.S., as Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which means I can both get work done and also participate in the 24 in 48 Readathon. (There’s still time to sign up if you want to join in!) But before the weekend can kick off, I’ve got this week’s Friday Links to share. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Robert Kilpatrick on The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers – A thoughtful look and review over at the LA Review of Books.

New Map Explores the Streets of Fictional London – Fun map incorporating locations from over 600 books, plays, etc.

Association of American Publishers Partners with United Negro College Fund to Enhance Diversity Recruiting Efforts in Publishing – A new plan to help diversify the publishing world from behind the scenes.

28 Authors on the Books that Changed Their Lives – Pretty much as written.

Alan Rickman’s Best Bookish Roles – I will forever love Colonel Brandon best.

The Time My Grown-Up Novel Was Marketed as Young Adult – A look at shifts in literary genres.

Not Just in Cafés: An L–Z of Places to Write – For those of you who like to write in public and with a little background noise.

Recapturing Momentum: Don’t Let Your New Year Slip Away

Remember that list of writing goals you made at the end of 2015? Is it already starting to feel like a long time ago? In reality, it was probably about two weeks, but time flies when you’re facing the realities of a new year. Your shiny goals tend to get put on the back burner when they come up against your boss’s goals for the new year, or your kid’s flu, or the realization that you have no idea where to put all those books you got with your Christmas gift cards. Whether it’s real life or procrastination or a little bit of both, old habits die hard, and the most stubborn is likely your own inclination to put other things before your own ambitions. But only you can make your writing a priority.

So, I’m here to poke you. Check out that list of goals. Choose something. And do a little bit of work on it today. Whether that means making a point of actually writing, researching an agent, finding a short story contest to enter, or submitting your work to an online magazine. Go for it. One thing, one little step. I dare you to make this year different.