Your Author Photo

These days, if you’re going to be an author, you need an author photo. When you get yours taken, it needs to be better than mine in several ways.

First, why do you need an author photo? Maybe you’d prefer not to have one, believing your image will turn readers away. If so, ask yourself if you’ve ever refused to buy a book because of the picture of the author. Nobody does that. For the real people who will buy your book, it’s comforting for them to see what kind of real person wrote it.

Mary Robinette Kowal listed the four functions of an author photo, but those functions boil down to one idea: it’s a selling tool.

If we analyze my author photo, we can identify several things I did wrong:

  1. I didn’t hire a professional photographer. Hannah Collins emphasized that in her post on author photos. Instead, I asked my wife, who is not a photographer, “Honey, would you take a picture of me?” Ever helpful and supportive, she replied, “Do I have to?”
  2. We didn’t take many shots from which to choose. Vicki Lesage had hundreds of shots taken. My wife snapped one and my session was over.
  3. The setting isn’t indicative of my genre. Kat said the mood of the pic should match the mood of your books. My outdoor photo shows green foliage behind me as I wear a red shirt. Can you tell anything about my genre from that?
  4. It’s oriented as a portrait, not landscape. Thomas Umstattd stressed that point, since a photographer can do a lot with the side space, and a publisher can crop the photo to a portrait if necessary. My wife and I gave no thought to that.
  5. The photo lacks props. Both Ms. Collins and Ms. Lesage suggested using minimal props, the latter saying it’s an author photo, not a garage sale. However, I used no props at all.
  6. I didn’t use lighting to the best effect. Chris Robley advised you to play around with lighting to bring out the best image of you. My wife and I didn’t consider that for a moment.
  7. I didn’t bring several outfit changes to the photo shoot. Randy Susan Meyers said that’s important because you may not know in advance what clothes will look best in the photo. I showed up with one shirt…way too few.
  8. I didn’t wear makeup. Ms. Kowal believed even guys can benefit from makeup. Maybe so, but I didn’t use it for my photo, and wouldn’t know where to begin.

Even though I did many things ‘wrong,’ I think my wife took a good photo, considering whom she had to work with as a subject. It works reasonably well as a selling tool. Look at the picture again. It’s clearly the image of a guy whose books you’d like to read. Those eyes and that smile mesmerize you; you feel compelled by irresistible forces to drop what you’re doing and buy books written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writing with Spectators

In his book The Way the Future Was, the late science fiction author Frederik Pohl stated, “Writing is not a spectator sport.” Oh, yeah? I set out to prove him wrong.

I rented a football stadium, hired two commentators, and advertised for several thousand of my fans to watch me write. Here’s the transcript, as broadcast:

Pat: “It’s a beautiful afternoon here at the stadium and we’ve got quite a crowd for this amazing event. Wouldn’t you say so, John?”

John: “No doubt about that, Pat, weather-wise and crowd-size-wise. But this is the first time I’ve covered one of these writer athletes, and I’m not sure what to expect.”

Pat: “It’s a first for both of us. Look, the writer himself has entered the field and is making his way to the center, and the crowd’s cheering.”

John: “I like his confidence. You can see it in his walk. He’s not swaggering or strutting, just striding with confidence. I like that.”

Pat: “Tonight’s writer is Steven R. Southard. He’s been writing for several seasons already, and his career is on an upswing. He’s reached midfield now and is sitting at the desk there. The crowd is settling down. I’m guessing things will start soon.”

John: “I’m a bit confused, Pat. There’s no team with him. No opposing team out there, either. Not a single referee, and no coaches pacing the sidelines.”

Pat: “I guess that’s the way writing is, John. Must be a solitary thing. Look, Steve has turned on his computer. The stadium scoreboard is off so I don’t know if time has started or not.”

John: “I think we must have a second-rate writer, here, Pat. This guy is just staring into space. He hasn’t typed a thing. Now he’s sipping some coffee. I sorta expected more action, typing-wise.”

Pat: “Maybe fiction writing isn’t all typing. Apparently there is some amount of thinking involved, too.”

John: “If he keeps this up, he’s going to be traded in the off-season. This is just the kind of lazy work ethic that…hold on. He’s typing on the keyboard now. He’s actually typing.”

Pat: “True, John, he is. We can’t see the words from here. We’ll see if we can get a close-up view. He’s definitely pounding out some prose.”

John: “And the crowd’s getting into it, too. They can sense the energy. Still, he might want to work on his posture, because—uh, oh. He stopped. Did he call for a timeout? We’re back to that staring-into-space play that didn’t work before. How many timeouts do they allow in this sport?”

Pat: “I’m not sure, but we’re going to cut to a commercial break. Don’t change the channel, folks. There’s more exciting action coming up.”

——————————————————–

Pat: “We’re back, live at the stadium. There was some activity during the break.”

John: (odd sound, possibly yawning) “Yeah, but it was the wrong kinda action, Pat. No typing at all. Southard got up from his chair and paced around the desk a few times, gesturing and talking to himself. He’s not going to get any stories written that way.”

Pat: “He sure isn’t. A lot of fans seem to agree too, and are leaving for the parking lot. It’s hard to know if our writer is making any progress down there on the field.”

John: “Progress? He hardly moves. I can’t stand this anymore. This isn’t a sport! The boredom is killing me. I’d rather watch goalposts rust, or wait for Astroturf to grow. I’m leaving.”

Pat: “We’ve only been here fifteen minutes, John.”

John: “Then why do I feel fifteen years older, age-wise?”

The broadcast ended soon after that when both commentators and all the camera operators left. Perhaps Frederik Pohl was right after all, um, correctness-wise. From now on, writing will return to being a non-spectator event for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writing Aloud

Most writers type the first drafts of their stories. A few, like me, hand-write their first drafts. Perhaps you’d like to try a third way…dictating your stories.

That’s right. Forget the keyboard or pen. Just speak your story into a recording device.

Reasons

Why might you want to do that? On her site, Cindy Grigg offers 13 compelling reasons. I was struck by the first one, speed. After getting used to dictating stories, many writers find they can crank out their first draft prose much faster. That saves time and makes them more prolific.

Thomas A. Edison dictating in 1907

You might also benefit from the increased mobility. Speaking into your handheld digital voice recorder or cellphone, you’re freed from the shackles of your desk and chair and the need to have two hands on a keyboard. You can wander around the house, around the neighborhood, through the nearest park. The walking (1) keeps you healthier, (2) avoids any chance of eye strain or repetitive motion injuries, and (3) provides more varied stimulation for your senses that you can work into your fiction.

I think Grigg is onto something, too, in listing strengthened storytelling voice as another advantage. I’ve advised writers to read near-final drafts aloud before submitting them as a way of improving readability. Why not speak it aloud from the start?

Further, when dictating, it’s easier to turn off your inner editor. I’ve mentioned before how important that is when creating your first draft.

Methods

The objective is to get words from your head into word processor text. When you type on a keyboard, the process is direct. If you write by hand, there’s another step when you transcribe from your handwritten pages and type it on the keyboard.

For dictation methods, you can speak into your computer microphone or your cellphone and make use of speech recognition software to convert your words directly into digital text.

Or you can use a digital voice recorder or cell phone to record your voice into a .wav or MP3 format. Then you’ll go through a second step, to transcribe the words from one of those formats into the word processor. You can do that by (1) listening and typing them yourself, (2) paying someone else to do that, like Kevin J. Anderson does, or (3) playing your voice back into your computer’s speech recognition software.

The Adjustment

Shifting from typing or handwriting to dictation takes some getting used to. Be prepared for some discomfort at first. According to Monica Leonelle, in her interview with Joanna Penn, the shift can take a few months before you’re used to it.

My Experience

A few years ago, I tried Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software. I was able to train the Dragon, but I couldn’t get comfortable speaking my first drafts that way. I returned to writing by hand.

I’m having second thoughts about dictation now. For years, I’ve adapted my fiction writing to accommodate my day job. I’ll be retiring soon, so my writing habits will have to change. Perhaps writing aloud will prove to be the new optimum method for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

22 Ways to Celebrate Science Fiction Day

Today is National Science Fiction Day. Wait…National SF Day? Since no nation officially recognizes it, I suggest we rename it Galactic Science Fiction Day. After all, the Milky Way Galaxy has officially recognized it. Don’t believe me? Prove me wrong.

Dr. Isaac Asimov

January 2 is an apt date for SF Day. It’s Isaac Asimov’s birthday. Maybe. I seem to recall reading that Isaac wasn’t 100% sure of his birthdate. That ambiguity makes the date even more fitting.

Also, January 2 is so close to the beginning of the year that it seems to retain a connection to the recent past while also causing us to think about the promise of the year ahead. Rather a nice metaphor for SF.

If you’re wondering just how to celebrate SF Day, well, fellow Earthling, you’ve beamed to the right blog post. Here’s a list of 22 ways to celebrate. I hoped to list all 42 ways, but Heinlein’s Star Beast ate 20 of them.

  1. Read a SF short story or novel. If you need a suggestion for which to read, may I (ahem) recommend any of my stories? Click the Stories tab. Or you could read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a classic that’s 200 years old this year.
  2. Watch a SF movie or TV show. Luckily, there are plenty of quality choices these days.

That takes care of the two obvious ways to celebrate. Now on to the more unconventional ways:

  1. Prepare and serve some SF-themed food and drink. You can get some great ideas for this in posts by Mike Brotherton, Meg Shields, Meredith Woerner and at a site called aliencuisine.com. There are, by the way, at least two mixed drink recipes called the Captain Nemo—this one, and this one.
  2. Listen to some SF-inspired music. You have plenty from which to choose, including movie and TV show sound tracks and various SF-inspired rock songs.
  3. Dress as your favorite SF character.
  4. Play a SF-themed video game.
  5. Write a fan email or letter to your favorite (living) SF author. (The Poseidon’s Scribe blog accepts comments. Just saying.)
  6. Write a review of a favorite SF story or novel.
  7. Build a model of your favorite SF vehicle.
  8. Grab a partner and play a game of 3-dimensional chess.

If your celebratory mood takes a creative twist, consider the following:

  1. Compose, or just hum, your very own SF song.
  2. Draw a picture of a musical instrument of the future.
  3. Write a SF-inspired poem.
  4. Imagine how life could be different for someone like you living 100 or 1000 years from now.
  5. Pick a current trend you’ve observed (social, governmental, or any type of trend), and extrapolate it in your mind, imagining the future implications.
  6. Make a list of possible future sports, or ways science may influence current sports.
  7. Draw or write a description of the most bizarre alien you can think of.
  8. Draw or write a description of your own SF vehicle. It can be any type of vehicle, traveling through (or within or athwart, or whateverwhichway) any medium.
  9. Draw or write a description of the house (or other building) of the future.
  10. Imagine what your current job will be like for workers 100 or 1000 years from now.
  11. Imagine your favorite super-power. What is it? What problems might occur if you had it? What scientific advances might have to happen for you to get that super-power?
  12. Write an outline for your own SF story or novel or screenplay. Or write the whole tale.

Happy Natio—er, I mean Galactic Science Fiction Day. Perhaps you can think of ways to celebrate that are beyond the imagination of—

Poseidon’s Scribe