Thursday, August 30, 2012

Allergies around the House

As I mentioned back in my post about allergies (and how they can apply to fiction), there are several types of allergies. Let's focus on what life's like for someone with contact allergies or contact dermatitis.

Reactions can range from itchiness or rashes to skin blistering and peeling off. Not everyone will have all types, but once you have one allergy, you're likely to have or develop more.

Someone's sensitivity to an allergen will also vary, though it'll probably get worse with repeated exposure, depending on if it's more of an allergy (antihistamine reaction) or an intolerance (body can't process it). Intolerances tend to get worse if you don't let yourself heal in-between exposures, but you can expose yourself, heal up, and expose yourself again—the reaction probably won't be any worse. Allergies, on the other hand, tend to get worse with repeated exposure.

So, what does all this mean on a practical level, either for worrying about friends' allergies or for creating a character with an allergy?

Since I have pretty much every type of skin reaction you can think of, I'll be using myself as a case study to demonstrate three types of reactions and what I have to do about it. (Short version: I read pretty much every label, and I usually end up regretting it when I don't.)

Case 1:

Trigger: most cleaning agents, including antibacterial handsoap. (Non-antibacterial handsoap can bother me, too, but not as much.)

Reaction: My skin gets thin to the point of touching stuff hurts. By the time it reaches the "painful to the touch" stage, it's also red and blotchy.

Degree of sensitivity: Medium
antibacterial soap: >1x every other day = too much; other soap: >1x in an hour or three = too much.

How this affects life: Obviously, I have to wash my hands. So I buy mild, non-antibacterial soap, and I wear vinyl gloves when cleaning or when performing messy cooking tasks. I also frequently treat my hands with oil (I like argan) or lotion (Desert Essence organics).

Case 2:

Trigger: tea tree oil. (My mother is castor oil.)

Reaction: skin blisters and peels off

Degree of sensitivity: Medium-high
If I touch even a small amount, I must immediately wash it off.

How this affects life: If something has "natural" on the label, I read it carefully. Chances are, it'll have tea tree oil. (I also watch for castor oil in the soaps I buy, so I don't hurt my mother.)

Case 3:

Trigger: berries (strawberries or raspberries) and some flowers

Reaction: rash (and with strawberries, trouble breathing)—if the soap uses natural ingredients

Degree of sensitivity: High
Can't touch most of them, and some I react to smelling.

How this affects life: I have to check the soaps at friends' houses before I do something that'll need me to wash my hands. I also have to be careful about the scents in my own soaps, lotions, body wax, etc. (I'll generally go for "fragrance free" or a scent like tea or cinnamon.)

So there you go—three examples of how a skin reaction can affect your everyday life.

I'm thinking next week, I might talk about allergies in regards toothpaste and tea. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what can often be in both? I've mentioned the allergy before.

Do you know anyone who seems to read all soap labels before touching them? Can you think of a character you've read or written with a skin allergy? Do you think it's something you might like to play with?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pricing like a Business Person

This week, on one forum, someone opened a thread saying she'd raised the price for book 2 in her series, but book 2's sales went up and book 1's sales were tanking. She asked what to do to salvage book 1's sales—if she should drop book 2's price again.

Now, take a moment to think about that situation. Now that Product B has a higher price, Product B sells more copies than Product A, and Product A's sales are dropping (though it's priced lower). What should you do?

When I last looked in that thread, responses were "Drop Product B's price" or "Don't worry about it."

What puzzles me is that option #3—the one that makes the most sense, if the author's concerned about profit—was ignored: Raise the price on Product A. With Product B's increased sales at the higher price, perhaps the higher price made it compare better to similar titles.

To be fair, there are some different schools of thought on pricing, but creative types have a tendency to get ridiculous in how little they charge.

For example, I bought a scarf recently from someone. It was simple, and I could've easily made it myself, but I recognized the yarn. It would've cost at least $3 for the yarn alone—assuming the scarf only took one skein. (It might've been two or three.) It probably took about an hour to knit.

What did I pay? $15.

Why am I calling something "cheap", when the maker might've made $12 for an hour's work?

First off, self-employment taxes and health insurance. That $12 an hour ends up being closer to $8, which isn't much money, considering how hard knitting can be on the forearms and wrists.

Second, in my state and in that city, there are business licenses needed even to sell crafts. Artistic folks can get a special one that costs less than the regular one. (I guess the state knows how much being a hobbyist tends to net folks.)

Third, it would've cost around $40 to get that type of scarf, machine-made, from the store. So that scarf, including materials, cost less than half of what its comparable store product would've been.

Fourth, it was exactly what a particular friend of mine would like—a friend for whom I needed a birthday gift. The color, width, and length were perfect for her. I considered buying two, because another friend of mine (with the same birthday) loves the same color, but I realized she wouldn't wear a decorative scarf.

I would've paid more for that scarf.

In fact, I almost didn't buy it, because it was so cheap. I eyed it carefully, concerned that the maker wouldn't have taken the time to do the ends well.

Now, depending on how the lady who made the scarf wanted to target her products, she might only worry about the expense factors. However, if she wanted to, she could have also targeted her prices to attract buyers who definitely wanted her work, rather than who maybe wanted her work.

See, that's the problem with handicrafts: The up-front expense in time and money tends to be high, so you have to be a speed demon, make bulky items that don't take much time, or target folks who are after the handmade appeal. Fewer customers fall into that category than not, but you have to sell fewer products to make ends meet, too.

Writing is a bit odd—and nice—in that you can write a bunch, sell it for whatever you want, and then you can keep reselling that same thing and not worry about it. So it can be hard to see that the similar detail still applies.

That doesn't mean it's wrong to, for example, price a novel at $0.99. It isn't even wrong to price one at $18. The latter price… Well, evidently the publisher's trying to milk that bestseller name to get the maximum revenue possible from the "true" fans who'll buy whatever Rowling writes. The former price targets bargain shoppers who are after cheap, which tends to be a different audience from folks who buy at $3.99, which can be a different audience from folks who buy at $6.99.

Different audience.

Different customers.

So if raising a price (or lowering it) makes one of your products sell better, then perhaps your target readership tends to hang out in a different price zone.

But to assume that an option—of raising or lowering a price—is always the best thing to do, in every scenario…ignores how varied customer bases are.

Is there something that you would've bought at a higher price? What about something you almost didn't buy because you thought the price suspicious? Or something you would've bought, but you thought its price ridiculous?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction: What's the Difference?

Literary types tend to be highly defensive of the differences between literary fiction and genre fiction, despite both being forms of the written word (usually) in prose format*. Last week, Pneumarian asked for my 2¢ on what, exactly, the difference was.

Now, full disclosure: I'm more of a genre reader than a literary reader, though—well, we'll get into that.


What makes literary and genre fiction differ?

Short answer #1: Target audience.

Short answer #2: Story style.

Short answer #3: Story focus.

And you know what? These three short answers are ultimately all the selfsame thing.

Let's first back up and talk about what those labels actually are. For example, if you walk into a bookstore, you might see a label for the "literary fiction"…and then you'll see labels for the histories and the romances and the speculative fiction and the YA…

But wait. "YA" means "Young Adult", so that's the audience those books are (presumably) written for, not a genre. So the labels themselves don't necessarily indicate genres, but you can consider "literary" itself a genre.

Now, to move on: If you eye even the obviously "genre" labels (romance, historicals, fantasy, etc.), what do those labels tell you? The types of stories you'll find in that section.

I dunno how your tastes run, but though I'll read most genres, I'm far more likely to pick up a speculative fiction title than I am a thriller—unless I'm sick, in which case, give me a murder mystery. Regency romances? I might find one enjoyable, but I'm not a hardcore I-know-all-the-fashion-differences-and-will-call-you-out-on-them fan. I'm also far more likely to pick up a book about Christianity and culture or a genetics textbook than I am some fashion magazine.

(Yes, I did just say I'll sooner pick up a genetics textbook than a fashion magazine. You don't read my blog because you expect me to be normal, do you?)

So, technically, I'm a genre reader, primarily speculative fiction, with a leaning towards fantasy and space opera. (Favorite captain: Sisko. And not because he can keep his pants on. *cough*)

I'll read a literary novel…sometimes. I'm more likely to pick up a novel with literary fiction elements (*cough* Robin McKinley *cough*) than outright literary fiction, but that's because I had too many teachers who acted as if I was crazy for preferring different writing styles than they did. So I get wary when somebody starts raving about an author's writing style.

See, what's the one thing a genre novel must have?

Conflict resolution.

Something must be at conflict, with a resolution sought. That plot will be oriented on situation or character, usually both, but the driving force behind the story is the plot, and plot is conflict.

Now, what's the one thing a literary novel must have?

Situation (resolution?).

A situation must exist, but it might not be resolved by the end. That situation requires a person, a person that might just be a nameless face for the situation, but it will focus on a person. So you can also consider "literary fiction" to be character studies.

Will literary fiction have a plot? Not necessarily.

That lack of a plot (or lack of a focus on plot) is why literary fiction tends to be slower-paced than genre fiction, though genre fiction is not necessarily faster-paced than literary fiction.

For example, take Robin McKinley's Chalice or Sunshine, or even my own A Fistful of Fire. There's slow pacing in all of them. You could say they have literary elements—much like you could say A Fistful of Fire contains sweet romance—but A Fistful of Fire is no more a literary novel than it is a sweet romance novel. (In case you haven't read it or have tried but it's not to your taste: It's fantasy. The style's different than average, but it's still fantasy.)

"Literary fiction" also tends to be held in high esteem by universities and academia. You'll hear all sorts of ideas for why, but if you go down that road, you turn "literary fiction" into a snobbish label to mark what's chic in literature, and I don't think that's fair. It's like calling "genre fiction" mindless fluff by definition, which is patently untrue. (And any readers who believe it is true, I'm sorry for your ignorance.)

Notice I'm specifically referring to the difference between literary and genre novels, written in English. That's because plots are optional, in some types of writing and in some languages or cultures. Vignettes, for example, are flash fiction or short stories that lack a plot. (I'm honestly not sure how to classify those, since I've mainly seen them in genre magazines and on fan fiction sites.)

So I think that clears up what I meant by the genre/literary distinction being the target audience, story style, and story focus. The labels really refer to a specific story type, and readers generally prefer one or the other.

The "literary fiction" label is just a tool, like the label "urban fantasy", that gives a potential reader an idea of what they'll find in the story. No more, no less.

At least, that's my 2¢ on the issue. ^_^

What are your thoughts on literary and genre fiction? Do you have any more questions to add (on this topic or another)?


Links if you want to read further on the topic:

I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent doing paid work. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is Self-Editing Worth Doing? (or Should You Self Edit?)

In the many posts I've done on the Realities of Self-Editing—yes, it's professional to edit yourself, and yes, it's possible (but not easy) to edit yourself adequately if you follow the secret—I haven't really addressed if you should self-edit.

Sure, I've said you should learn what goes into self-editing, so you can recognize a good editor when you see one, but…

Should you self-edit?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: It depends on what you're doing.

For a lot of folks, "self-editing" = a trap, because they get stuck in it while in progress on a story. There's a reason for the term "rough draft", and there's a lot of truth to the saying "You can't fix what isn't on paper."

Some of us actually have to edit as we go, else we get stuck, so it actually takes us less time to clean up that rough section than it does to try to force rough words on paper, but…

Folks like me are the exception, not the norm—and even I've learned how to sit down and force a thousand or three words out, then clean them up before moving on. (And I do have to clean 'em up before moving on, else I get stuck, but I've learned that because I've tried both ways more than once and timed it.)

Another factor in self-editing: What's the next stage for your story? If you're writing something as an experiment, where you're not even sure the bones are in place… If you can find a beta reader who can overlook the grammar to check if the story works, by all means, use them before you spend time editing scenes that don't work!

If you're behind or coming up on a deadline, and your agent or editor or whatever needs to see something—that's another situation where it might be best just to hand them the bare bones before you self-edit, but…that depends on how sensitive they are to grammar errors.

Some folks are so sensitive to grammar errors that, if there are too many, we struggle to see the story beneath. Line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders are particularly susceptible to this, because paying attention to grammar errors is our job. We're trained to see errors, and turning that training "off" to enjoy a story for the story isn't easy.

So even if hire an editor to check the grammar on your work, you should try to edit it first.


So the editor can focus on fixing the errors you don't see.

Think about it. Maybe you know the difference between "break petal" and "brake pedal", but that doesn't mean you'll see it in your own work. (That one was found in Destiny's Kiss.)

If your story's full of grammar errors you could easily fix, that makes it harder for the editor to see the other problems, like the "break petal"s, so you won't get as good an edit—or learn as much—as you would've gotten otherwise. (You'll also probably pay more.)

Note that I'm not saying "Work your butt off to get a 'perfect' manuscript before you hire an editor!"*

Frankly, hiring an outside editor is something that even folks who can adequately self-edit do, because it's convenient. Don't underestimate the power of convenience.

If you can't afford to pay for editing, or if the convenience isn't worth what you'd have to sacrifice from your budget, don't underestimate the power of bartering or of beta readers, either.

But even if you do all your own content editing, line editing, proofreading…at least get another set of eyes on your manuscript in the form of beta readers. Don't post your book for sale and let those readers as your editors. They paid you for the right to enjoy your book, so as much as you can, give them a book that's enjoyable.

Readers who pay you are your clients. Show them the respect of offering them the best book you can produce.

Just remember: No book's perfect. So don't make yourself sick stressing over every little comma. Just do the best you can.

And take the things you've learned in writing that previous story and write the next one.

Do you have any more thoughts to add about self-editing? Do you have any other topics you'd like to see me address (about self-editing or other things)?

*Note: You do want to have a fairly clean manuscript before seeking a publisher, though, because it's unlikely that your manuscript is so great that they'll look past the unprofessional presentation—and to assume they'll edit a manuscript you submit on spec is unprofessional. ("On spec" means you submit the completed manuscript to ask them to buy it; if you've already a contract in place and have a grammar editor lined up, you can be less worried about it, but you still want to leave a good impression.)


I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent doing paid work or on getting the next story out to you. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I'll be back next week…

As for today, I'm sleeping or drinking peppermint tea.


But the topic next week will be along the lines of: "Is self-editing is worth doing?"

What's your opinion on self-editing?


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