Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beauty of Brevity

I am back from vacation (we have a cabin in the Methow Valley—a beautiful spot).

For some reason, I have been thinking of Hemingway today and how brevity can carry a certain beauty that long winded prose cannot.

I wish that publishers had the luxury of doing more short stories, but we really don’t for economic reasons.  If readers were willing to buy more of them, realizing that a well crafted short story can make you think more than a novel, then publishers would publish more.

Hemingway led me to the apocryphal story that he once won a bet writing a short story in six words: “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.”

He probably didn’t, but I like to think he did. It was probably written by deGroot for his play “Papa,” which was about Hemingway in Cuba.

Wired had a contest, some years ago for other authors to write a six word story. My favorite is Margaret Atwood’s: “Long for him. Got him. Shit.”

Still, the Hemingway story wins by managing to have such imagining of what the story was. It poses the question that the reader wants to know the details. It feels sad.

Can you imagine a book of short stories like that? One story per page?

Now imagine the outrage of the buying public, even for 99 cents on an eBook. Just like our food servings, we want LARGE. Supersize it! Give me a fantasy book that is 400,000 words!

For 99 cents!





No. I prefer well crafted to volume. Sure we all love to stuff ourselves sometimes, but lets sometimes consume a little bit less of something that is special.


- Harry Harrison

Friday, July 13, 2012

The SEO is dead. Long Live the CDO.

It is rare that I agree with almost everything that someone writes (or says). It often gets me in trouble as I argue a small point, or even play devil’s advocate. But a recent article by J.S. McDougall on Content Discovery Optimization is one of those rare cases where I just plain agree.

To put my own spin on his words (give him credit where the idea is good, blame me if it is screwy, because it is probably my spin on it that makes it screwy).

Human users and the tools they use (e.g. Google) have evolved. The ability to discern a gamed website, or blog, or other post has been steadily getting better. The SEO (the Search Engine Optimization) expert was focusing on gaming the system. Not really focused on content. The user and by extension Google, Bing, and others (e.g. users on Facebook) are focused on content.

Content, over time, is king. Wikipedia shows up in searches more often than it used to because the content is winning over SEO. Conversely, Amazon is slowly showing up less in the top ten search results when I am investigating how to, for instance, repair something, not buy it. Amazon was great at gaming the system so that you would click on them for anything resembling a product. They are still good at it (the free content we all add in the reviews helps Amazon in the Content wars), but the SEO aspect has faded slightly.

What does this mean for authors, publishers, and others?

McDougall (@jsmcdougall and catalystwebworks.com) asks five questions that everyone EVER posting on the Internet for anyone other than themselves needs to ask:

1) Will Anyone Care?

This is the question. Really, if you can’t say yes to this, ignore the other five and don’t post it! I like his rephrasing: Is there more content than marketing? We can all smell the marketing. If it is all marketing, we skip it. We scan quickly and decide if it is marketing. We do this especially when searching via search engines, knowing that people try and game the system. This leads to McDougall’s 5th question, but my second.

2) Does it Pass The Scan Test?

Let’s face it. We, the digital public, have attention spans of gnats. Most digital content, including this blog, never get read. People scan looking for tidbits. Make your content EASY to scan. So much digital content is hard to scan.  The beauty of the Google interface (and Bing is getting there) is that it is SIMPLE and EASY TO SCAN. This is why Yahoo faded. Too cluttered. To hard to scan. 

To be honest, it is why Google is so terrible at other things, they don’t follow this philosophy in other things they do (the now defunct Google Books was one example. Impossible to use because it did not scan well for the user trying to use it: publisher, author, bookstore owner, and customer). But, I digress.

3) Does the content lead back to the source?

If the goal of the free content is to get them asking for more, you better make sure that it is easy to trace this back to the source (you). Images should have a link/website on the image itself. This is not being anti-open source, or sharing, this is making sure that if someone likes it, they can get more if they want.

Similar with a book excerpt. Make it clear in the excerpt where this came from, where they can get more, where to find you and the content. Good people will also quote their sources (see how I mentioned McDougall and his company). So make sure it is easy for good people to quote you and list you as a source.

4) Will my title grab anyone’s attention?

This point and number 5 below are fuzzy. It assumes you know your audience to some extent. Did my title grab attention? A lot of authors have no clue about SEO as an acronym. However, authors may get the allusion to “The King is Dead. Long Live the King.” Thus, even if this does not grab anyone’s attention, it was intended to. I thought about it. That is the main point. Think about it. Even if you get it wrong, the effort is worth it.

5) Is this appropriate for my audience?

The content of McDougall’s text is a bit different from the question. Really, by appropriate, he means don’t abuse your audience. He focuses on mailing lists as his example, but the same is true even of a blog, or Facebook post for an author. Don’t go off on wild ass tangents with your content. I do it all the time (Guilty, Guilty, Guilty as the old Doonesbury cartoon caption goes). This blog is on writing, publishing, and to a lesser extent marketing your writing (since small publishers can’t do too much marketing for you). It is a broad brush set of topics, so I get to go on tangents a lot. But, I hope I make it scan-able, so you can skip any individual blog easily!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Heat is On

Within the oppressive heat around the nation the Northwest, where I reside, was an island of coolness. Yet, the heat was still on in many other ways.

The writing life is under constant barrage from so many directions that it is a wonder that any author finds time to finish anything. Summer is the season of distractions. If the weather is not beating you down, then it is begging you to get outside and play. You are a writer, you tell yourself. One of the perks of being a writer is setting your own hours and being able to enjoy a beautiful summer day. Right? RIGHT?! PLEASE?

Every successful author I have ever read about, or had the good fortune to talk to, will tell you that daily discipline is crucial. The 10,000 hours of practice I cited in an earlier blog need to be fairly contiguous. Not random, spread over 20 years. This means on a beautiful summer day you still need to be writing.

But, let’s be reasonable about it. Write five pages, of anything, even the same sentence over and over. Do that early in the morning. Get it done, NOW. Then, go out and play.

Because there is another important aspect to being a writer and that is keeping your brain sharp. To do that requires good health and exercise. You won’t get that sitting in front of a monitor eating junk food. So, write and then play.

After all, the other aspect of being a writer is for most of us the pay is such that your entertainment needs to be cheap. Nothing is cheaper than a nice summer day.