Posted by: mygentlecloud | October 9, 2007

Some terminology to know …

I’ve copied from Dictionary.reference.com and wilkipedia the following new terminology which I’ve come across in writing.

Onomatopoeia (occasionally spelled onomatopœia) is a word or a grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing, suggesting its source object, such as “click,” “buzz,” or “bluuuh,” or animal noises such as “oink”, “quack”, or “meow”. The word is a synthesis of the Greek words “onoma” (name) and “poio” (verb meaning “to create”) thus it essentially means “name creation”.

Uses of onomatopoeia

Some other very common English-language examples include hiccup, bang, beep, and splash. Machines and their sounds are also often described with onomatopoeia, as in honk or beep-beep for the horn of an automobile, and vroom or brum for the engine. Science fiction laser weapons’ sound is often described like zap. For animal sounds, words like quack (duck), roar (lion) and meow (cat) are typically used in English. Some of these words are used both as nouns and as verbs.

Ellipsis (plural ellipses) in printing and writing refers to the row of three full stops (… or . . . ) or asterisks (***) indicating an intentional omission. This punctuation mark is also called a suspension point, points of ellipsis, periods of ellipsis, or colloquially, dot-dot-dot. An ellipsis is sometimes used to indicate a pause in speech, an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence (aposiopesis).

Ellipsis in writing

The use of ellipses can either mislead or clarify, and the reader must rely on the good intentions of the writer who uses it. An example of this ambiguity is ‘She went to…school.’ In this sentence, ‘…’ might represent the word ‘elementary’, or the word ‘no’. Omission of part of a quoted sentence without indication by an ellipsis (or bracketed text) (i.e., ‘She went to school.’ as opposed to ‘She went to [Broadmoor Elementary] school.’) is considered misleading. An ellipsis at the end of the sentence which ends with a period (or such a period followed by an ellipsis), appears, therefore, as four dots.

Em dash 

The em dash (—), also known as the em rule, indicates a sudden break in thought—a parenthetical statement like this one—or an open range (such as “John Doe, 1987—”). Its name derives from its defined width of one em, which is the length, expressed in points, by which font sizes are typically specified. Thus in 9-point type, an em is 9 points wide, while the em of 24-point type is 24 points wide, and so on. (By comparison, the en dash, with its 1-en width, is 1/2 em wide in any font.)

The em dash is used in much the way a colon or set of parentheses is used: it can show an abrupt change in thought or be used where a full stop (or “period”) is too strong and a comma too weak. Em dashes are sometimes used in lists or definitions, but that is a style guide issue; a colon should be used instead.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

Posted by: mygentlecloud | September 17, 2007

Creating your website

One of the must-haves for an author is a website.  It is an online gallery to showcase your work.

Choosing the right service provider to host your website is important. Remember this. Your website address will be featured in the back inner cover of your book,  or at Amazon.com, or whatever  sites you haunt. This URL needs to be permanent enough to allow anyone who wants to reach you successfully. 

No doubt, social networking sites like Facebook are providing an avenue to interact with their readers, along with blogs. Some of my fave authors such as Diana Gabaldon, Roger Ellory etc have tapped on this new mode of online interaction successfully. Yet, even they have a website.

So, what are the key things to look out for in a good web service provider? I have experimented with three so far, namely, Bravenet, Tripod and Googlepages. And here are the things I noted are important:

1) find one that is easy to use and maintain

The creation of each webpage must be intuitive, allowing basic features such as text creation, addition of images and weblinks. There must be sufficient choices of layout to play around with in order to create that special mood and sublimal message you want projected on your website. It must allow changes easily, even for a novice. This will save you quite a bit in the long run, for believe me, you will make MANY changes as you go along. And you wouldn’t want to keep paying someone to make these changes.

2) it would be good to have great plug-ins or widgets

By this, I mean those web tools which allow you to do the little extras. These are far-ranging and include things like adding audio, viewership counters, date last updated, background music, templates for useful pages such as “Contact me” or “Place an order” with Paypal and other payment vehicles, online messaging functions, ‘Joke of the Day’, or ‘Today’s Bible verses” and so on. In this area, I find Tripod to be quite good whereas Googlepages is still in the process of ‘getting there’

3) If you’re serious about what you’re offering, get a ‘paid’ site.

A lot of these good web hosting sites have a free and a fee model. The free model has advertisements which are not within your control. And these ads can clash with the theme or mood of your website. So, having a paid website seems a fair thing to do to provide yourself with a professional looking homepage. As one friend had put it, it makes the viewer feel that you are serious about your writing when your website does not look cheap, i.e. flickering and popping with advertisements.

4) choose one that allow yearly subscription instead of only monthly subcription 

The few sites I’ve used charge in US$. Everytime you pay in US$, there is a flat service charge or conversion fee the credit card company will slap on your transaction, regardless of how large or small a transaction. Imagine paying, say, $5 service charge, over and above your transaction amount and you’ll see how much you save if you pay in lumpsum as opposed to instalments. In the case of Tripod, their one main inflexibility is the refusal to entertain yearly subscription. They charge a monthly fee of US$4.95 for the lowest plan without ads. It would cost me an additional $5 x 11 months to service the US$ monthly payment. So, lesson learnt: Choose a web service provider that accepts yearly subscription. It is a small point which a lot of people overlook until too late. Imagine trying to change your website address after thousands of copies of your book are published.

5) Finally, use a website name that is easy to remember

Gentlecloud as opposed to TanSuYin is self-explanatory. You would have thought that it is common sense to use an easily remembered name. Well, some have common sense and some don’t. *grin*  I was reminded of how easy to remember Gentle Cloud was when I went to collect my latest namecards. I told the girl at the service counter, “I’m here to collect my namecard. It’s Tan Su Yin.” She gave me a blank stare. Then, she exclaimed, “Oh, Gentle Cloud, right?”  Her sentence hit home. Gentle Cloud, yeah!

For Tripod, I built my site in roughly one work week of two hours each day. It is simple and powerful to use. Only problem is, when I wanted to pay for subscription, all they offer was monthly ones and did not heed a customer’s request to reconsider yearly subscription. How obtuse! They lost one customer in the process. Me.

As for Googlepages, only time will tell. They are still building their capabilities. It is very easy to use too but the widgets are not so refined, though they have some quite fun widgets such as tuning in to the radio, messaging and so on. And for now, the blessed thing is that it is free of advertisement, being still in the trial period. Let’s see what happens further down the road …

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

Posted by: mygentlecloud | September 7, 2007

Advice from David Gibbins

This evening, I went on my own to one of the  Pre-Writers Festival events, the book launch of author David Gibbin, just to have a view to how book launches are conducted and what the authors speak about. The one hour was well invested, so much so that I actually bought one of the books he wrote, as a show of support.

The book launch was organized by NAC together with Penguin, the Asian distributor for Headlines, a publisher in UK. As expected, the turnout was not great, being a Friday night and all. The audience were mostly aspiring writers, out to learn a tip or two from a published author. To beef up the numbers, NAC staff joined in to make it look more well-attended. Such is the fear of an organizer. I should know for we count registrants for events like they were gold coins 🙂

Anyway, back to the book launch. After a quick introduction by the organizer, David started off by reading the start of his prologue. It was not a genre which intrigued me, perhaps, so the reading seemed a tad long. After which he went into a brief introduction about his background, why he started writing and his writing regime.

It is quite rigorous. He lives on a farm with about 10 or was it 100 acres of land, with a lot of vegetation. He writes in a little cabin deep within the vegetation, secluded from civilisation. He starts at 6 am in the morning and puts in between 5 to 7 hours before breaking for lunch. After which, he spends the rest of the time either reviewing his writing or researching.

He currently churns out one book a year. He has a 8 year old girl and an ex-wife and lives practically alone. That piece of information made me wonder which came first, the breakup and therefore, the time and need to write, or the passion to write so all-consuming that his marriage suffered. At the back of my mind, Catherine Lim’s words about her three sacrifices in her writing careeer: commitment, religion and career. Does writing take such a toll on all authors? How sad.

While I mulled over the sharing, he read the end of his prologue which contained a bit of gore.  Listening to it, I kept wondering why he chose those passages to read. It did not move me to want to read on. Perhaps it was his reading voice, a bit expressionless and not melodious.

However, when he shared more about his writing experience, I started to warm up to him. He was modest about his success, and very earnest to share. Here are some of the key learnings which I found useful:

1)  always bolster your own confidence in your book during the writing of it. It helps to drive you on. Believe that you’ve got a best seller and write it so that it can be a best-seller. Many lose steam and even give up mid-way simply because they could not bolster enough faith in their work. So, the mindset is very important.

2) when writing to an agent, remember that it is all a business to them. A typical agent receives on average about 300 books a WEEK. From these, they have to place their bets on a few to recruit as their clients so as to more easily earn their 15% which is the normal commission fee they charge. How do they select these precious few people who would pay for their homes, their cars, their baby’s milkpowder etc etc? Here are the little nuggets of wisdom.

a) keep the proposal letter only one page. Give the gist of your story in two to three lines at the start.

b) mention that a few other books are lined up as well. It would sweeten the proposal when they know there is future revenue streams as well as the first. Nobody wants to work hard on a – nastily put – one night stand. They want their time well invested in an author who would ride from wave to wave.

c) impress upon him your passion and show how ambitious you are to make the book a success. They like nothing better than someone who is prepared to drop everything and invest their time to do book launches, speeches and other marketing/publicity stints sometimes over protracted periods of time. A tall order, I would say, for part-time authors, but there it is. It is a business investment they are making. They are investing their time. There is opportunity cost in that. So they want full cooperation from their client. In this instance, David had a good story, for he really resigned from his full-time job and buried himself in his writing.

Normally a stingy poker, I actually bought a book by the author at that session. $15 was not a high price to pay for such learnings, I feel. And on top of that, I got myself a present for my hubby (hope he likes it though) and better still, it was personally autographed by the author himself with my name on it. Cool!

Last little observation on this last aspect. If you feel compelled to buy a book there, go for the latest one. You would have thought that $15 is $15 whichever book you bought. But that’s where you (or me in this case) are wrong. The book launch is a vehicle for the author to drive sales of his latest book. His older books are already proven. The attention is on the number of copies sold for the new book. He needs these numbers to be high for the new book as a form of assurance to the publisher that his new books are making it so that they will continue to publish his future books.

Sigh. I arrived at this conclusion after reading his body language and facial expression when he signed the others’ books as opposed to mine. Or am I being sensitive.

Nope, I don’t think so.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

Posted by: mygentlecloud | April 1, 2007

Writing habits of famous authors

Excerpts from Sunday Times article by Janadas Devan, dated 28th Jan 07 gave the following writing timetable of famous authors:

Charles Dickens puts in four hours each day, normally between breakfast and lunch, after which he would go for two-hour long brisk walks through the streets of London, observing and absorbing.

Graham Greene wrote for only two hours each day. In those two hours, he would write seven to nine hundred words. At 9am, he would stop. This, coming from a writer who produced twenty-six novels, not counting numerous short stories, plays etc.

Aldous Huxley puts in a bit more. Like Dickens, he did two hours between breakfast and lunch, but also added another two hours between tea and dinner. He averaged about five hundred words a day and yet produced about forty-four books, not including countless pieces of journalism and film scripts.

Virgnia Woolf’s schedule was similar to Huxley’s except that the afternoon was devoted to revisitng her morning’s work.

Anthony Trollope and T.S.Eliot both had day jobs, like a lot of us, but yet they managed to carve out three hours a day writing.

Two observations from reading this.

1) Well-known authors set aside the same time each day to writing and sticks to it. This is the writer’s discipline we all hear about.

2) They spend only a few hours each day writing. The rest of the time was spent observing, experiencing and reading which formed the ingredients of their writing. They have to take in in order to put out words and ideas on paper.

Reading this article makes me reflect on the need to go out more and see the real world. Only then can our writing be knowledgable, realistic and more powerful. Imagine witnessing a street brawl. The direct experience of your heart pumping, the speed with which the brawl erupted and the simultaneous reactions of people around them cannot be the same as reading or watching it.

Similarly, going on a ghost-hunt adds a new dimension to your senses which no reading or hearing about it could substitute. Jodi Piccoult is one believer of seeing and experiencing things first before she writes. She’d joined ghost-hunting trips, went to prison, worked at a check-out counter etc so as to get that first-hand experience which lends originality and credibility to her writing.

So, nett of the message here for writers is to go out of your shell and live life, not just your normal daily life, but venture into new territory. Go to a bar, go to a police station, visit an asylum, an old folk’s home. Travel. Observe and learn. Doesn’t sound like work, does it? Yet, it is, if you want to be a writer.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

 

Posted by: mygentlecloud | February 8, 2007

Beware! Not all publicity is good…

I learnt a lesson today, a painful one.

I had thought that another step to bringing attention to Through The Storm is to get it publicised in the papers. I prepared a short press release and sent it to both Straits Times and TODAY paper, angling it such so as to highlight the novel ideas such as audio trailers and e-chat sessions that I have lined up.

The journalist from Straits Times replied saying that she only writes about books she has read. Needless to say, I mailed her a copy.

Having received such a cool response, I was pleasantly surprised when someone – I shall not mention names – of TODAY paper offer to feature my book under the Thursday column on what the newsmakers are reading. I sent a photo of my book cover, a photo of myself and a writeup about what I’m currently reading.

It was held back for two Thursdays because of a bumper issue of Valentine and CNY advertisements. So, when two days ago, I received an urgent note from him asking for an interview to feature me in an article on self-publishing, I readily – greedily, I might add – agreed.

He called and through a phone interview, got me to share with him on why I chose the self-publishing route, the costs involved, whether I have sought traditional publishers before and so on. All this information I gave, and more, thinking to help him get a better feel for a new writer’s challenges, the new avenues I am exploring so as to increase the options to writers and readers. I told him it was a personal milestone to get the book to print as I wanted to experience the whole process first-hand so as to know what it takes for a publisher to push out a piece of work.

He asked for the costs I’ve incurred todate, the number of print runs I’ve had and so on. For the first question, I shared about how I used the Print-on-Demand route and hence have little upfront cost. For the second question, I said that it was confidential. On hindsight, I should have linked the two questions up. For POD, there are no print runs as it is printed to order.

To be fair to him, he wrote a very well-balanced article stacking up self-publishers with those traditionalists. He used the information I readily gave and I know the facts and numbers made his research much easier. Friendliness and openness was my modus operandi.

After a day of eager anticipation, I finally got to see the article in the papers dated 8th February. After reading it twice over, I turned to my husband and just alternated between saying,”I’m so angry” and “I’m so stupid.”

That feeling stayed with me the whole day, making me think of scathing remarks  to say to him. What a smiling tiger! A double-headed snake. Cold censurous words were a good alternative.

But, as always, God is good. He sent someone to make me see light. This person is a recent acquaintance I met in the course of my new job and I had bumped into her in church just that Sunday before. So, while waiting for the train, she happened to appear at the same time and we got to talk.

This lady works in our communications department. She handles our dealings with the media including press and magazines etc. Through the train ride, she shared with me the things they normally do when prepping someone to be interviewed. She shared with me what type of media training was conducted so as to get someone ready to be interviewed. It was like light bulbs the way the synapses hit my brain. And I realized I deserved what I got in the papers today.

Here are the key lessons learned:

1) Not all publicity is good publicity. Find out the angle the article will take before agreeing to participate. Is it something you want to be associated with? Will it do any good to your image that you want to portray? Will it further your cause? Dig out more information from the journalist at that point in time because you haven’t got any skin in it and they need you. You’re in the position for negotiation. In this case, I did ask and the answer was that it would be on self-publishing. A small warning did come up in my mind on hearing it. But, the lust – yes, no other word is more accurate – for publicity made me squelch that uneasiness and press on. I have only myself to blame. My only saving grace is that my photo did not get featured in this article. The harm done would be quite terrible.

2) Prepare a list of key messages that you want to convey to the world – via the press. When the interview questions come, answer in such a way that these messages are delivered. So, in my case, I should have included, among other things, information such as experimenting new grounds, introducing first-time ever audio book trailer, using POD to preserve trees and lessen the upfront budget, reaching a wider audience through e-chats and so on. These are key messages because I wanted to project myself not as a loser who couldn’t make the grade in the traditional arena but instead, a mature, pragmatic person seeking to break new ground.

3) Never let your guard down. The media will never be bought. Being friendly and helpful must always be tempered with a mental wariness that whatever you say can be used against you. So, always remember the key messages and stick to them. Do  not divulge more wherever possible. The media will never be bought on friendliness or a free lunch. I learnt this the hard way. My guard was down. I rattled away happily and helped him understand the writing world. That is the wrong mental position to have used, and now I know it.

4) Be prepared. What media training included is anticipating all the possible questions and getting the answers ready. And, as said earlier, the answers must always reinforce the image you want to project to the world and the key messages to home in on. Get someone to do several dry runs with you, pursuing the questions in a logical fashion and letting you practice your answers, always with your guard up.

5) Don’t be rushed into an interview. In other words, don’t entertain impromptu interviews. They work against you. Besides being unprepared, you may find yourself with little time to react to the draft sent for your review before it goes to print. In my case, the interview came without any forwarning, a call one day later to clarify some points and then the revelation that the article will be out the next day. To my credit, I did ask to see the draft. However, I had to finish my normal work and only managed to log in to check the draft at ten that evening. It was too late for any revision. See how you’ve worked yourself into a corner?

So, God is good. In that dark, angry moment, He sent someone to illumine me. Can you see the wonder of His way here? In one short train ride, I have gleaned the learning points on handling media and pursuing publicity. He had answered my questions about whether pursuing publicity might be detrimental to my job by working it such that Tan Su Yin is a faceless, almost unrecognizable author in the way my name is spelt with a hyphen. I am thankful that the only two in the office I told about this are one, my close friend, and two, my manager who is also from the same church as me. If my photo had appeared in the papers, would my colleageues and management be wondering, after all the glamor and attention is gone, that I have shirked my official duty to steal time to write. God is good and all is right with my world again.

In ending, I say this. I will not write to this journalist about the damage he could have done. On hindsight, I know now that his intentions were actually good, as shown in the draft. It was the editor who had a preconceived notion of self-publishers and repositioned his article to put down self-publishers … of which I am one.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

Posted by: mygentlecloud | January 18, 2007

Learning points

My book, Through The Storm, was born on 23rd Jan 2005, on a direct flight from Singapore to LA, enroute to Orlando. With fifteen hours and having finished a book I’ve bought, I penned my first two chapters and the flight turned out to be a breeze.

I finished Through The Storm in four months. It took me another twenty to get it to print. Hence lies the first of my learning points.

Writing is all about rewriting. How much rewriting depends on how skilled you are in writing. It is inversely correlated.  The more you know how to write, the less rewriting you need to do. In my case, I wrote using what I later learned as an omniscient POV (point of view). After such nudges from reviewers, I rewrote using third-party POV. The reading experience is more involved and intense if the third-party POV is well-handled. To know more about this, grab a good book on writing and learn what it is. It can save you some time in rewriting.

Among other things, you’ll learn to ‘show’, not ‘tell’. Again, this was learned after some kind reviewers pointed out the weakness in ‘telling’.  If you study your own reaction when you read a book, you will find that you feel more satisfied when you arrive at a conclusion ‘yourself’. You don’t like to be spoonfed i.e. told that this man is sad. You want to ‘see’ his face, his body and his actions and conclude for yourself that he is sad.  eg. Sighing. Head bowed. Shoulders slumped etc.

Okay, second learning point.

Join a writing site to get objective reviews.  If you write in isolation, you will never know how your story is received by readers. Friends can be your reviewers. But, they are often too kind to be good for you. So, join a site for writers and over time, cultivate writing buddies who will be able to help you and you return the favor likewise.

Third learning point

Get plugged in to the writers’ circle. It is good exposure. You never know who you will meet. It is good exposure. I met someone who does audio stories for children as a result of posting something on a writers’ forum. If you have not done so, join BookCouncil as a member. Their website is http://www.bookcouncil.sg  A lot of useful information is there, including printers and publishers and bookshops. They also organize book readings, writers’ meetings and writing classes. Very good for aspiring writers.

Finally, read a lot. Read books with a view to learning their writing styles, what works and what doesn’t.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

 

Posted by: mygentlecloud | November 19, 2006

Bada-bing!

Sunday Times today had a very cute article written by Janadas Devan. Titled “Bada-bing! Looky-loo, it’s in the dictionary”, it introduces new words which I’ve never heard before. Here are two cute neologisms i.e. newly coined words, worth mentioning:

bouncebackability – able to come back after a setback. Thought to be first coined by a football club manager

bada-bing – an American slang suggesting something happening suddenly, emphatically,or easily and predictably, ‘just like that’, ‘Presto!’.  Example from the movie ‘Godfather’, “You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing! you blow their brains all over your nice shirt.” LOL

bling-bling – diamonds, of course

The above is just for fun. On a more serious note, I feel that grasping not just the rudiments of English but mastering it differentiate the good authors from the rest.

When I met successful local writers like Catherine Lim and Shirley Geok-Lin, I felt so inadequate and exposed. Not just were they teachers or professors of Literature, their ability to speak eloguently helps them sell themselves and their work. How would non-entities in the literary world like me ever be like them? They’re a different breed. They had too much of a headstart with their Arts doctorate and more compared to a mere Business Admin graduate like me!

After mentally wringing my hands at first, I now psyched myself to believe that what is lacking in form can be offset with substance. That’s the part which all passionate writers can lean to if we are dreamers. For what feed dreams are our imagination and that is inborn and not nurtured. I’ve read books which are written beautifully with a normal storyline and others which are more minimalistic, spartan and yet have storylines that ‘knocks your socks off’.

Anyway, I make it a practice nowadays to apply new words which I’ve come across in books. I challenge myself to use the new word in the latest chapter I’m writing. It works to increase my vocabulary and adds to the arsenal of words to tell a good story. Words like ichor, cathartic and flotsam are but a few of the new words I’ve added to my vocabulary this way. Try it.

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

 

Posted by: mygentlecloud | November 5, 2006

Manna from Heaven

I finally met my church pastor today, three weeks after I left a copy of the book for her. She was standing there, waiting to greet the congregation filing out after the service. Having not heard from her, I was unsure what to expect when I shook her hand, thinking to step aside for others coming her way.

But, bless her, Rev Wendy held my hand tight, surprising me by not letting go for a long while! We just stood there, her smile and energy overwhelming me to the point that I felt both shy and elated at the same time. My goodness, this is my pastor and she is clasping my hand like … like she wants to talk to me!

After my tongue became untied, I asked whether she had received and read the book, to which she answered yes! Then, in her own special way of speaking with that bottled energy of hers, she asked whether she could quote some parts of it in her sermon and then point to me as the author.

Whoa!! That caught me by surprise. I was both touched and bowled over by the thought. The first question that popped in my mind was what she was going to quote. But I didn’t get to ask it, for I was so overwhelmed you see. I laughed – a little uncontrolled – and said she is welcome to quote anything from there so long if I do not get to be identified. It would be too embarrassing.  On hindsight, I think that perhaps, just perhaps, she was trying in her own way to publicise my work for me. Manna from Heaven which I did not pick up, right? Well, if God is willing, there will be more manna tomorrow…

Su Yin

http://www.gentlecloudonline.com

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