Friday, December 16, 2011

Special Effects in Book Publishing

On December 5, 2011, the “New York Times” published an article on how book publishers are trying to jazz up their books in order to improve sales of hard cover books. Publishers are feeling the pinch of e-books, self-publishers, electronic readers and the increasing use of public libraries (the latter due to harder economic times.) “Convenience" aka electronic reading is moving at warp speed. It is anticipated that there will be many more e-readers and gift certificate for e-books under the Christmas tree including the iPad Santa is bringing me than paper books .

I like having a book in my hands; I’ve been reading that way for decades. That is not to say I am not willing to change when there is a choice between publisher-manipulated print books versus less expensive, easy and fun to use, ever evolving e-books.

Julie Bosman in a “New York Times” article, 12/5/2011, titled “Selling Books by Their Gilded Covers” writes “New releases have design elements” that “…push the boundaries of bookmaking.” These are ordinary books with an attitude. Some books on the market now have embossed covers, higher quality paper, deckle edges, colored end papers and silk page markers.

Books by Stephen King, 11/25/63 (about the assassination of JFK), Haruki Murakame’s anticipated 1Q84 and Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded are examples of gilded books. Robert S. Miller, publisher of Workman Publishing states, “It (a special effect book) is like sending a thank-you note written on nice paper when we’re in an era of e-mail correspondence.” A senior VP of Spiegel and Grau was quoted as saying, “We’re rethinking the value in certain cases of special effects and higher production standards. Now in some cases, creating a more beautiful hardcover or paperback object is warranted.” (NYT 12/5/11)

All this means to me is publishing houses are still in the stone tablet-chisel mode of thinking. They do not understanding that e-publishing is the selling mode of the now and increasingly, the future. They continue to protect their monopolized fiefdom. Their answer besides embellished books is to use wide margins, bigger font, shorter chapters, fewer words and more books per season by popular authors. For a run-of-the-mill paperback book the prices have gone from $3.99 to $8.99 or $11.99. We spend more money for less content, plot, ink, and changing covers for the same books so you think you haven't read it.

Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury publishers states that they hope readers will say, “…well there’s convenience reading and then there’s book owning and reading.” Special effects books like a gilded copy of The Iliad have always been around. Embellished effects books by a rapper or a movie star are not in the same category as a classic or “coffee table” book. Books we want to keep regardless of quality or looks, we keep. We give away, donate or sell at garage sales a greater percentage than we keep.

Publishing houses remain working at their physical desks seemingly sans computers, blinders in place while refusing to acknowledge technology has changed not only the industry but also the reading public. Libraries of the future will be computer inventoried with librarians specializing in information retrieval for the patrons. E-books will evolve into something we cannot imagine. Will traditional publishing houses continue to think “Customers want a print book in their hands” while most of us will be saying, “Did you see the new XYZ book reader that is out?”

Writing North Idaho will be in hiatus for two weeks. We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a joyful Kwanzaa, or plenty of time to enjoy the end of the year. We will be back on-line January 2, 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Setting Up A Space for Writing Memoirs

Our guest blogger, Joan Hust, is sharing how to make the ideal setting for writing your memoirs. Her background will make for a best selling memoir. She attended 25 elementary schools by 5th grade, earned university degrees in elementary and secondary education, business administration and library science. She continues to take several classes a year.

Joan's work resume is enviable: taught K-junior college classes, ESL and numerous courses at the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia and led safaris for nine years there. She wrote and produced TV shows for children and women and ran a printing company, "Printing for Jesus". She served as the librarian in DeArmond Library in Coeur d'Alene, ID. She credits her mother who read aloud encyclopedias during car trips, and faith in the Lord. Now Joan travels on missions to start or add to libraries to Guatemala, Cuba, China India and Africa. She lives in Coeur d'Alene with her husband and one of their three children.

Joan is an prolific writer. She has written numerous articles (travel, religious, health oriented, learning in all forms) for a variety of sources. I read her articles frequently in the IWL newsletter and the newspaper "Goodwill." Joan's interesting web site is Writer's Roost (http// Thank you, Joan, for this guest post. Here is Joan when she isn't writing or traveling.

Every writer has a favorite place where they like to write. Some are most fortunate and have a room of their own or a place they have made for themselves under the upstairs steps.
All writing areas should have the basics: thermos of coffee, tea or water, tissues, pens and paper, computer or typewriter, waste paper basket, dictionary and extra cartridge of toner for the printer.

Biography writers will need inspiring memorabilia:

* Photographs, posters or postcard paintings of the subject of the biography.

* Items which relate to the subject such as an elephant wood carving from Africa

* Other biographies on the subject

* Reference guides to the times, cultures or places of the subject

* Newspaper and magazine articles

Autobiography writers will need some more personal items:

* Boxes and albums of family photos

* Contact numbers of relatives for help in remembering names and dates

* A notebook for writing down dates and times

* Diaries or journals

* Autobiography software

* Birth, marriage and death certificates

* Diploma and degree certificates

* Newspaper clippings (birth announcements, etc)

* School photos

* A cork board, push pins and cards to write thoughts and memories on

* Collectables from the life being written about figurines, badges, tickets from events attended

Memoirs often call to mind the exact emotions of the exact time in the individual's life. Photographs of that same time in your life:

* Wedding bouquet, childhood toys

* Pictures and items that bring to mind the emotions most common in the memoir

* Music, Perfumes, Scents to suggest memories

* Books and movies that bring back memories

For the writers that do not have a special writing room or corner it is ok. Here are a few ways to have a practical writing space:

* Have a bag or suitcase to keep your writing materials

* Have a computer desktop that has links to all of your inspiration music, scan in your family photos, use journaling or autobiography software

* Give yourself time every day to browse the internet for information and inspiration.

Limit Distractions

* If it is the internet turn it off. It can be very distracting.

* Don't listen to music if it sidetracks you.

* Get inspired and that

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tips for Writing A Stand-Out Holiday Letter

Jennifer Lamont Leo's post on Friday, December 9, touched on this same subject of writing Christmas tomes. I decided that since most people receive 30-40 Christmas letters during the holidays, two post from WNI bloggers on the same subject would not be too (or two) unwelcoming.

JLL's post had some excellent ideas. Most of you are writers and others expect writers to compose everything well and correctly. Here are more ways to make your letter sparkle and be enjoyed.

1.Keep it short. Most people are not interested in the minutiae of your life.

2. Don’t brag (unless your book was published!)

3. Do talk about the highlights of the year not the lowlights. Avoid whining about illness and injury. People want to hear happy news at this time of year.

4. Avoid regional jargon.

5. If you include pictures, choose a few good ones and make them big enough so people can discern the subject matter. Seven pictures of your daughter’s dance recital are six too many.

6. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly and my pet peeve: do not use more than one (1) exclamation point! Use spell check and grammar check often.

7. Be creative:

  • turn it into a multiple choice quiz.
  • make a crossword puzzle
  • use bullet points
  • follow David Letterman’s example and make a Top Ten List: 10: Terry hit a hole in one at Pebble Beach 9: Sarah learned to barrel race on her horse Magic.
  • use the word C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S to tell about events:

C-California road trip in June was the most fun vacation in years.

H-happily (?) our garden was voted the "most unusual garden" according to my garden club.

R-rescued a puppy now named "Colossus"; he turned out to be a St. Bernard.

8. Read your letter aloud. You will catch grammatical errors and awkward phrasing.

9. Have fun. Your goal is to entertain and inform not B & B (brag and bore.)

10. Add a personal note at the end in your handwriting. It shows you are thinking specifically of the receiver of your letter.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Family Christmas Letter: Your Annual Literary Masterwork

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it will be interesting to see if the family Christmas* letter--the impersonal kind that's printed in quantity and mailed with (or in place of) greeting cards--will begin to fade away as a tradition.

I hope not. Which may be surprising, coming from someone who has been known to refer to such letters as "Brag-o-Grams." Jokingly, of course. Usually.

I guess I should confess up front that I rarely write them. My husband and I lead a fairly quiet life and figure that those who are truly interested in the details pretty much know them already. Individual, personal letters take care of the rest--no need for a mass mailing.

The exception to this was the year we moved from the suburbs of Illinois to the mountains of Idaho. That year, it took a mass-produced letter to notify people of our new address, share photos of the place, and reassure loved ones that we hadn't completely taken leave of our senses. But for the most part, writing a mass-produced Christmas letter is one holiday task that I happily sidestep.

That doesn't mean, however, that I don't enjoy receiving them, "Brag-o-Gram" remarks aside. Whether snail-mailed or e-mailed, mass-produced letters do make a great deal of sense for those of you with extensive families and wide, far-flung circles of friends--so many that trying to write personal letters would be tedious and wildly inefficient. Believe it or not, not everyone is on Facebook and Twitter. And for those with children and grandchildren who grow and change a great deal from year to year, annual letters are a great way to update people who don't see them regularly. Just be sure that your letter reads like a letter, not like a public relations puff piece or an annual report to shareholders.

Here, then, are a few highly subjective suggestions for writing a lively, fun-to-read, non-cringe-inducing Christmas letter. (Keep in mind that these are simply one reader's observations of what makes a good letter; as with most advice, take it or leave it as you wish.)

Include photos. Digital photography makes this easier than ever before, and the cliche is true: a picture is worth a thousand words.

Be succinct. Try to fit everything onto one or two pages. Stick to the highlights and don't try to chronicle exactly what happened each month of the year.

Keep your audience in mind. The wider circle your letter reaches, the more general it needs to be. Details of a visit to "Mimi and Bobo" will mystify people outside your family, while "the kids enjoyed visiting their grandparents" will be understood by all. Also realize that if you include "insider" jokes without explanation, you've just assigned a segment of your audience to "outsider" status--not the warmest holiday feeling.

Share your happy news in a cheerful, matter-of-fact way. Be appropriately proud, but don't gush or exaggerate. The line between sharing and boasting is a fine one. You want the result to be "Please share in our happiness," not "Be impressed by what great parents we are" or "Be envious of my fabulous life."

Share your not-so-happy news, if you must, briefly and dispassionately. This goes for medical news. "I had gall-bladder surgery in August" is fine. "The doctors found a gall stone the size of a baseball" is not. "And here's a picture" breaks every rule of Christmas-letter etiquette there is, my earlier point about photos notwithstanding.

Make sure the news you share is your news. "We welcomed Aunt Cleta home from rehab. Sure hope third time's the charm" may not be news Aunt Cleta wants shared with the world.

Write naturally, as if you were writing to a friend. After all, you are!(If they're not friends, why are you sending them a letter?) Use words you would normally use. If you're naturally funny, be funny. If you're naturally no-nonsense, be no-nonsense. Let your own voice shine through. That's the voice your family and friends want to hear.

Proofread for spelling and grammar. No, you're not being graded, and it's not the end of the world if you misspell a word. Still, it's easier on your reader, and reflects nicely on you, if you use proper spelling and punctuation.

For more great tips on writing Christmas letters, visit And have yourself a merry little writing session!

*(Substitute late-year observance of your choice.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing for Radio

I'm fascinated by local history and spend a lot of time with the good folks at the Bonner County Historical Society and Museum ( Sometimes I get to write my research up into magazine articles aimed at other folks who care about such things. Recently I've had the opportunity to rework some of this historical research into 60-second radio spots. (This is a great example of repurposing your writing . . . more on that in a future post.)

Writing for radio is very different from writing for print. Since you're writing for listeners rather than readers, a different set of guidelines comes into play. Here are some things I've learned about writing to be heard rather than read:

It's all in the timing. Radio spots are usually 30 or 60 seconds long. Not 32 seconds. Not 55 seconds. 30 or 60 seconds (or whatever the client or station tells you). Know your time limit, read your piece aloud--a gazillion times if necessary-- and tweak it as much as possible to hit that exact length while reading at a natural pace (not super-fast or -slow). Sitting with a microphone in your face and a harried engineer at the controls is no time to be doing edits.

Write for smooth vocal delivery. Because your words will be read aloud, either by you or someone else, avoid tongue-twisters or awkward turns of phrase. These will become apparent soon enough as you read your piece aloud for timing. Take sandpaper to the rough spots.

Write simply. Your radio listener may be driving, working at their desk, washing dishes, or doing any number of things that will cause them to listen with half an ear. If you want your words to be heard, use simple language and a concise, clear message.

Of course, the same rules that make for good writing in print apply to other media as well: clarity, precision, organization. I hope these few simple tips will help you when you're writing specifically for radio (or stage, or any other aural medium).

And if you want to hear some examples of what I'm talking about, tune to KSPT Sandpoint (1400 AM) and listen for the "Bonner County History Mystery." That's yours truly you're hearing!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Writer's Wish List

By now you've probably let your friends and family know, through hints both subtle and strong, which items you'd most welcome under your Christmas tree: maybe an iPad, a Kindle, a stack of fresh notebooks, refills for your writing implement of choice. (If you can't think of anything writerly to ask for, December issues of writing magazines are replete with suggestions. This year, the Writer's Clock pictured above, available from Linda Rohrbough, is at the top of my list. Just in case you were wondering.)

But sometimes what we writers really want is something that can't be put in a box and wrapped. After all, a tee shirt or mug (or, ahem, a clock) with "Writer" printed on it does not make us a writer. Only writing does that!

With that in mind--and with apologies to Christmas-carol lyricists everywhere--here are some gifts that hardworking writers would really appreciate:

Peace on (at least our little corner of) Earth. Sometimes what we most need is uninterrupted time and a quiet space in which to do our creative work. For example, parent of young children might appreciate a promise of babysitting for a few hours a week so they can devote themselves to writing.

Glad tidings of great joy. Such as, "Your novel has been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize." Or, perhaps a bit more realistically, "Your informative article, 'Top Ten Reindeer Games for 2011,' has been accepted for publication in Tundra Living."

Deep and dreamless sleep to give our overtaxed brain cells time to recuperate. Or, if we must have dreams, let them plant the seeds of our Next Major Masterpiece. And if that is the case, let us remember them in the morning!

Mercy mild from editors when, despite our best intentions, we miss a deadline or overlook a typo. (Not that you would ever do this. I'm sure I'm the only one.)

What are some other gift ideas--both tangible and intangible--that would help you succeed as a writer?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meeting of the Mines: Finding the gems in your first draft

WNI Guest Blog by T. Dawn Richard

Not long ago I was struggling with my latest writing project. I knew what I wanted to say, I knew how I wanted my readers to feel while reading each scene, and yet I wasted a lot of time shuffling words, rearranging sentences, and deleting junk that didn’t add anything at all to the story. The task looked like a mountain I didn’t have the strength to climb. To put it mildly, I just wasn’t in love with the monster I’d created. The thoughts that played in my head went something like this: This is awkward, disjointed, fluffy, puffy, and unclear. I’m rambling. I’m not able to find the right words. Will I ever write this book?

So what to do when you can’t find the answers? Speed-dial little sister.

My sister is always good for a story and a laugh. In fact, I’ve never known anyone who has led a more interesting life. There’s never a dull moment in her schedule and I just wanted to let her talk so I didn’t have to think about my problems. Her latest adventure? Hunting sapphires in the mountains near her Montana home.

“What we do,” she said, “Is drive up to this place where they hand you a bucket of dirt.”

“Dirt?” I responded, shaking myself from my depressed fog. “And you pay for this?”

“Yes. Then you pick up a metal tray, but the bottom of the tray is a screen used for sifting the dirt. You dump the dirt in and lower the bottom of the tray into a trough which contains water. You move the dirt around, just letting the water flow through. You turn it, rock it, shake it flat, and then flip the tray upside down. And if you’ve done it right, nestled in the middle of the pile of mud you’ll see these little things that look like small chunks of glass.”

“Glass? And how much do you pay for that?”

“Wait. Not glass; they’re uncut, unpolished sapphires! They’re beautiful!”

“They’re beautiful?”

“Well, it doesn’t end there. After you dig them out, they need to be cut and polished, and then you’ve got some extremely gorgeous gems.”

After that phone call I reflected on what I’d learned about mining for sapphires. The gems are in there, you just have to sift through a lot of dirt to find them. And once you have them in your hand, there’s still work to do. Polish, cut, and voila! Beautiful.

Back to work. Somewhere in that big pile of dirt I called a novel were gems waiting to be mined.

So, fellow writers, when you feel disappointed with a first draft don’t worry about the clutter - that will get sifted out in rewrites. Find the gems, polish them, and cut the facets. See the beauty and shine, and at the end of the day you’ll have something precious in your hands.

And what are these gems we’re looking for in our writing? A brilliant turn of phrase, a sentence that captures a landscape perfectly, a unique metaphor, a spot-on character description. Save what works, toss the rest.

Spokane author T. Dawn Richard is a full time writer and author of the May List Mystery Series. We know how busy she is and appreciate her taking the time to share her writing experiences with us. Her first book in the Amateur Sleuth series, Death for Dessert, was published in 2003, followed byDigging up Otis, and A Wrinkle in Crime. Dawn completed two screenplays in 2009 and has several other projects in the works.

Her books are available on