Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review site up and running

Well, 300+ recoded buttons later, I think I've fixed all the Explorer glitches in

I'm disappointed I had to change the programing of the menu buttons because they don't look or work as well this way, but one cannot have a site that is incompatible with explorer, whatever the cost. So that's done.

I also fixed a lot of other little errors I noticed while I was at it, and then spent the last couple of days bringing up to date. I know the review site probably won't attract a lot of visitors, but then it wasn't a lot of work to put together, and may generate some traffic for, NeoOpsis, and the various authors/publishers mentioned. At the very least, gives the reviews a second life as I doubt many copies of the print version will find their way to new readers, whereas anything on line can be found by relevant audience.

With the site, I just have a few articles on the thesis page and a 'tips for writers' section to finish, and then that site will be ready to launch. This may take a couple of months though, as Monday is back to teaching and research full time and back to editing part-time, so I'll just have the odd hour here and there to work on the site. No hurry as I already have as much editing on my desk as I can reasonably handle.

Priority for Sept is a paper I am presenting in Toronto in October on the history of schooling in Alberta over last 75 years. I'm hoping that this paper will be the culmination of about 25 years of research for me, so hopefully following feedback and revision from the conference, I can send it off for publication in an 'A' journal. Then that's that for that particular line of research.

Approached by an author/academic to work on particularly interesting line of research...Opens up a new line of research for me, but one much more relevant to and future direction I wanted to move, so pretty exciting. So that's lined up for October.

And am doing NaNoWriMo in November; wife is already booking a retreat for November for me. She is a genius at finding fantastic retreats for a fraction of the price of what most people consider when they think of writing retreats — real outside the box thinking.

And sometime this week, have to pitch another major project, tentatively slotted in for May 2011, to my publisher.

Exciting times.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Technical problems

Annoyed today by news that buttons on my site don't work in PC version of explorer. I've been developing the site in Firefox on my Mac, but have been careful to check that everything also worked in Safari, Explorer and Chrome, but it now appears that the buttons only work in the Mac version of Explorer, but not the PC version. Stupid PCs. Why can't the world just use Macs?

So back to the drawing board. Wish I'd found the problem before building 31 different pages all using the same nonfunctional structures -- looks like I'll have to recode something on the order of 300 links before they will work for Explorer PC.

I still code everything by hand. It makes for tiny files that load instantly, and they are (usually) compatible with everything because I keep things basic. Given the purpose of the site, doesn't require flash or java or anything very sophisticated, just plain old text. And they are similarly easy to maintain and update. And if something goes wrong, it is usually easy for me to figure out because I know what all the code I wrote does. Using something like Dreamweaver never really worked that well for me because when the program did something unexpected, one can never really figure out what the hell the software thinks it's doing.

I have noticed a trend to try to make many of the commands I use obsolete and to make web building more complex so that the professionals can exclude the kid in their parent's basement from competing. A classic example of Ivan Illich's deskilling hypothesis. But most of what I've written over the years is still up and still viewable even in the latest browsers, so I'm still good. [My site on test design still gets 600-900 hits a month a good decade after I last touched it; my curriculum site on the Acadians still gets about 2,500 grade 2 students (or about 100 Grade 2 classrooms) a year using it, so I'm pretty pleased with that.]

Anyway, back to re-coding.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sent three manuscripts back to their authors so far this month; had three more come back in. Considering I'm supposed to be holidays until Sept, more than I really want to deal with. But of course, my grad students (all of whom are classroom teachers) are also off this week and scrambling to get their theses off their desks before they have to return to teaching; and authors just send me stuff whenever they happen to finish the current round of revisions.

Did enjoy editing the last three manuscripts, though, all of which were by professional, full-time authors. It is a pleasure dealing with professionals because when you say "this has to go" (and explain why) they say, "okay, right, how about this instead?"

In contrast, many beginning writers / grad student argue back and try to explain why I don't understand their 'vision', that their mom and fiancee thought it was really good the way it was, and that making the revisions I'm suggesting would take, you know, a lot of work. For example, guy a while back wanted to self-publish a collection of short stories, and when I pointed out flaws in about half the stories, he explained that I had obviously missed the point of the story. Okay, in one case that was even true -- but if I miss the point, is that because I'm dense, or because he hadn't written the story clearly enough to get the point across? (I am inclined to the latter interpretation.) He also pointed out that all the stories in the collection had been previously published, so obviously those editors had loved those stories. Okay, well and good, and its true that all the stories showed talent and promise. But getting published in ezines and small press lit mags is not the same as getting paid for your stories, so if you actually want to sell books (to someone other than your Mom and fiancee) you have to up your game. The only people reading ezines are other aspiring authors; if you want to reach actual readers, have to move up to the next level. Stories good enough for non-paying markets may not be good enough for paying markets; for every hundred writers getting published in Ezine Monthly, there is only one making a sale to a pro market. Helping authors move from 'good enough to get published' to 'good enough to get paid' is what development editors do. But, you know, only if they take the advice.

So it was refreshing to work with a couple of professional writers for a change. In one case, I shredded the manuscript, not pulling too many punches, and the author's response was an enthusiastic 'Great! Finally getting some input I can use!' Brain stormed some alternative approaches back and forth via email for awhile, and she has now come up with a very workable structure that promises to be best thing she has done yet. Really looking forward to next draft.

Of course, I say all this from the perspective of an editor/prof. When it comes to my own novel, I fully expect to defend each scene, line and comma to the death. Well, that's human nature, isn't it? I have already identified the two editors and two writers I'll be sending the manuscript to for scrutiny as soon as I'm finished, and while my brain is fully aware that at all four are going to shred it and demand I do better, in my heart, I am secretly hoping they will tell me how brilliant I am and tell me the book is perfect as it is.

As if. In the real world, that never happens. If an acquisition editor doesn't ask for any changes, its because the manuscript has already been vetted by one or more competent editors (usually other writers).

I do have one published author who has routinely sent me manuscripts with which I can find no fault (I was able in one book to identify a confusion between the SS and Gestapo, but that's so minor a correction as to hardly count) but his wife is one of the finest editors around, so it's not like I'm ever seeing a first draft from him. I've only ever met two authors who were strictly first draft writers (one an SF author, the other an academic) and all I can say is that the rest of us are consumed with jealousy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Evil ideas for self-shilling (Satire)

Evil self-shilling idea #1.
Turn off the phone functions on your cell (often called 'airplane mode') but set the alarm clock function to ring in 15 minutes with a phone-style ring. If people are around but not coming over to your tale, answer the alarm clock ring and say "Yes, this is John Smith. Yes, the signing is on now at [give address]. Well, it is quiet right now, but I'm told to expect a crowd at [insert time about 45 minutes from now] once church gets out [or "school gets out", or "the cinema gets out",or insert other credible explanation]. Well, that's nice of you to say. Yes, I can put a copy aside for you, but I have already reserved quite a few copies (place hand on largest stack of books) so I could only hold it until, say [insert time 2 hrs from now]. Life changing? Why thank you! That's quite a compliment! I actually like this book even better than that one, but it is always nice to hear from people who enjoyed my previous work. Thank you! I look forward to seeing you. Be sure to introduce yourself. Goodbye.

Evil shilling idea #2.
Find a couple of friends with an impressively bulky video camera and tripod (or rent one), and have them show up about an hour into the signing. Have them 'introduce themselves' to you, then start 'setting up the camera'. This should take a while as the camera guy looks for the best angle and so on -- but every time a customer comes within range, the camera guy or the interviewer should wave them towards the author saying loudly, "It's okay, we'll be a while yet setting up, you go right ahead sir/madam!" As first couple of people are helplessly herded towards author, others will see a line up and a camera crew, and Bob's your uncle! If no one is coming in range at some point, camera crew 'rolls tape' and 'interviewer' interviews author about why he is coming to these small locations when obviously he is a much bigger draw, and author answers that he likes to mingle with his readers, etc. Interview refers vaguely to "given all the rave reviews you've received, how do you keep it all from going to your head" and similar traditional shilling. Once a crowd gathers to view interview, go into signing mode. Once that starts to dissipate, camera crew goes around to other customers asking if they can just get a shot or two of them with the author, thus funneling more people towards your table. Camera crew and interviewer eventually exit with much loud "it's been a total honour to meet you, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your last book" etc. etc.

Book Signing Guidelines

by Lorina Stephens
(Five River Chapmanry)

Revised and adapted by


  1. Dress appropriately: casual business. Studies prove people are attracted to a professional, good-looking person and will often rate a person’s performance or product higher based upon that appearance. Sounds unfair, but it is a fact.
  2. Show up for your signing about fifteen minutes early. Introduce yourself to the manager. At the very least introduce yourself to the handiest Customer Service Representative (CSR) and ask that they let the manager know you’re here.
  3. If necessary re-arrangethe table you’ve been assigned so that some books are upright, face out, so customers can see the covers, and try to stack as many as possible to create visual interest by varying heights. Marketing studies prove that customers prefer to purchase from areas that appear to be well-stocked, rather than ones that are sparsely arrayed. Stacking and elevating your books gives the appearance of abundance, and therefor success, and therefore something worthy of the customer’s time and money. Make sure not to place any stacks directly in front of you, however, as that creates a barrier between you and the customer and gives the impression of your unapproachable. You need to make yourself open and accessible.
  4. Bring several good quality pens. Pens have to be suitable to the task, so one that isn't going to smear or leave unsightly blobs of ink. Bring several in case one fails or goes missing.
  5. Bring your own signage in case the store doesn't have a sign for you. At a minimum the sign should say your name, and who you are:
    John Doe
    Romance Writer
    Bring tape to hang the sign from the table; or use cardstock to create a triangular stand for your sign on the table top.
    Posting the hours of the signing is optional.
    There may also be occasions when a larger sign could stimulate interest and conversation by providing a prompt. E.g., If signing a book about drugs: "Ask me how to talk to your kids about drugs". If selling a Romance novel, post "Ask me about how the modern Romance novel has changed". And so on. Make it easy for the customer to approach you by giving them the opening line, so they don't have to do any of the work or feel awkward.

During the Signing
  1. When doing your signing remember you are there for two purposes only:
    1. promote your name and your books
    2. sell books
  2. Engage customers as they approach. Try to establish eye-contact, smile disarmingly, ask them how they are, introduce yourself as the author du jour and give your name. Encourage dialogue. Just as the key to getting a date was starting a conversation and keeping it going, the likelihood of a sale is greatly increased if you can get the customer talking.
  3. Have a mental synopsis for your books prepared so that it will be easy to give a pithy, hard-to-ignore pitch to the customers once they finally do stop.
  4. Hand a copy of the book to customers during the conversation or encourage customers to pick it up. Studies prove that if a customer handles a product, they are far more likely to purchase than if they don’t handle the product.
  5. Always offer to sign the book a customer purchases. Ask to whom you should make it out, and enclose a bookmark featuring your website / other titles.
  6. If you have to leave your table for any reason (bathroom break) let a store clerk know where you are going. They will often cover for you while you’re gone.
  7. When your time is up leave the table, seek out the manager, or if they are not available a CSR, thank them for having you, for putting on the event (even if the event sucked), and mention that you look forward to working with them again. Make it clear you consider yourself part of their team. It will go a long way toward fostering a solid business relationship upon which future promotions can be built.

Things to Avoid
  1. Do not eat while doing your signing. It creates an unprofessional image and you need to maximize your public appearance to make that all-important sale. Having bottled water, tea, coffee, or jucie at hand, however, is acceptable.
  2. Do not read or visit with friends or use a mobile device while doing your signing. It gives the appearance you’re uninterested and simply putting in time. If you are not interested, and do not demonstrate enthusiasum and interest in the customers, why should they be interested in you and your books? You cannot expect a customer to wander over to your table and purchase your books simply because you’ve committed the act of writing. They don’t know who you are, and frankly couldn’t care less. You’re not Atwood or Clancy, King or Rushdie. There are no line-ups to indicate you are someone special and worthy of their time. There are no media or paparazzi present to indicate an event of newsworthy proportions. To them you’re nobody. For all they know you’re just a store clerk attempting to sell them something they don’t want. It’s up to you to win them over with charm, grace, and wit, get that book into their hands and at the cash desk.
  3. Don’t shop or wander. Glue yourself to that chair, engage the customer, sell the books. There’s nothing that will turn off a store manager more than an author who doesn’t do everything possible to sell the books the manager has purchased specifically for that event.

By following these guidelines you will realize not only increased sales numbers at your events, meaning more royalties, but engender the good will of managers. And that good will is all important, as it determines how likely they are to keep your books beyond the required 60 days after a signing. It determines how likely they are to face your books on the shelf. It determines how likely they are to encourage staff to read the books and recommend them. Very often it is the follow-on sales that count the most. And you, after all, would like to see a healthy royalty statement, wouldn’t you?

Over the past three years, I’ve developed and used these practices, and have completed 30 successful signings. Sales during my signings usually account for about 50 to 75% of the event stock being sold during the event, with less than 1% returns, and subsequent invitations from store managers to return for special events. Usually any remaining stock sells out within the next six months, and in about 30% of the cases have meant buyers have listed my books as regular inventory for that location. That results in restocking orders. And that results in better royalties.

Lorina Stephens 8/10/2010

Monday, August 9, 2010


Working on finishing up the website, whenever I get a chance between editing manuscripts. The main pages are mostly in place; the background essays still need to be completed.

One area I am having trouble finishing is the Testimonial page. I included a testimonial page because Paul Lima recommends it in his excellent book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelancing which I happened to be copy editing when I started this project. His logic was sound: generate business by having satisfied customers recommend you.

Unfortunately, I hadn't thought the implications completely through for my own situation. I'm sure that that is a great idea for freelance writers generally, but freelance development editors (and I'm guessing, ghost writers) have the problem that many of our clients do not wish anyone to know that they have availed themselves of our services. Most writers are okay with acknowledging copy editors, but less so with admitting they had to get help with writer's block, or logical flaws in plot, or weak character development, or etc. I have seen the acknowledgment page in books by beginning writers thank the in-house editor for assistance, but that is apparently an entirely different matter than acknowledging a freelance development editor. As one author I approached explained it to me, "Publishers are happy to hear you were able to take feedback from another publishers' editor, because they want you to take direction from theirs. But if I tell people I had to have help from you to get my manuscript accepted in the first place, they might think I can't write very well on my own." I don't see that distinction myself, of course; I think publishers are keen to know a writer is open to — and even seeks out — input, and certainly the consumer considering a self-published book would feel more confident to buy if they knew the book had at least gone through a competent editor. But I do get that some people do not want to advertize they ever needed help.

The other problem is, when I was the in-house editor years ago, I naturally handed all my records over to the publisher, so I can't even remember the names of any of the writers I helped from those early days. And now I'm doing some in-house editing again, I'm reluctant to ask for testimonials from any of the authors I have edited for Five Rivers, as that could be seen as a conflict of interest, given they are likely to be submitting to Five Rivers again in the future (and therefore might feel pressure to provide a testimonial.)

Similarly, I wanted some testimonials from former graduate students re thesis supervision, but it turns out to be really difficult to track down former graduate students. Once they graduate, they move away, particularly when you teach at the University of Lethbridge — not a lot of opportunities for graduates in a small city like Lethbridge. I did manage to track down a few and am awaiting their testimonials, but they are now of course busy professionals themselves, so it may take awhile.

So, not too many people left I can ask, but we'll see whether I can at least fill up the page. If I can't find enough people, that might in fact send the opposite message to the one intended!