Is Life Too Short for Re-Reading?

Do you read the same book multiple times? If so, why, and what does that say about you?

With Dr. Carl Sagan’s help, I’ve made the point before that the human lifespan is too short to read all books ever written. You can’t hope to read a tiny sliver of a percentage of them all. Therefore, time spent re-reading a book is time not spent enjoying a book you’ve never read.

Re-reading a book is different from ordering the same meal at a restaurant or re-watching a favorite TV show or movie. Reading a book is a significant investment in time—many hours or days—repeating something you’ve already done.

At this point, you might ask, defensively, “So what? Since I can’t read them all, why not re-read a few I enjoy? And since it will take a few days, why not spend that time doing something I know I’ll like?”

Fair points. Also, I must say, you avid re-readers are in good company. Here are the thoughts of some famous authors on this topic:

  • “Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” Ernest Hemingway
  • “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.” Gail Carson Levine
  • “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.S. Lewis
  • “An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading.” C.S. Lewis
  • “No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading.” Susan Sontag
  • “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

Reddit has an interesting discussion of this topic. Commenters cited several different reasons to re-read. Some just found it comforting. A few re-read a favorite book during the same month every year, and associated that time of year with that book.

Over at Melissa’s Book World, Melissa says she falls in love with favorite books and their characters. If forced to choose between never starting a new book again or never re-reading a book again, she’d choose never to start a new one, since she couldn’t bear to part with her favorites.

Sara Jonsson came up with 10 good reasons that we re-read, including some interesting rationales like “the movie adaptation is coming out,” and “you have a test on that book tomorrow.”

I’ve noticed the experience of reading a paper or electronic book visually is different from listening to an audiobook. It still counts as re-reading, but the experience is different.

From my research, it appears the prime reason to re-read is the comfort it brings, the familiarity of the known. However, it’s not completely familiar. It’s like trying to go back to your childhood home again, or trying to dip your toe in the same river. You can’t. The experience is different. The book hasn’t changed, but you have.

In subsequent readings, you know what will happen. You won’t have that same sense of wonder, that same eagerness for the action to advance. You have time to relish the clever foreshadowing, the subtle ways the author set things up for the climax, the techniques the author used to draw you in to loving the main character. You couldn’t have noticed these things the first time.

The difference is most stark when decades separate the initial reading from the re-reading. You’ve likely forgotten a lot, so re-reading may repeat some of the joy of a first read. Also, you’ve matured significantly; your interests and outlook have changed. You might dislike a book you once enjoyed, and say you’ve outgrown it. Or you may enjoy other aspects, less concerned with plot and setting, and more with characters, style, and theme.

I’d say reading is important, even vital. If you feel the need to re-read on occasion to sustain your love for the reading experience, then go ahead and re-read, especially books by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writer, Know Thyself

How well do you know yourself? I came across a wonderful post on this topic by Joanna Penn, guest-posting on WritetoDone. I’d like to take her basic idea in a different direction.

As Joanna said, the phrase “Know Thyself” has an ancient lineage, going back at least to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but possibly further back to ancient Egypt. It has various interpretations, but for today, I’ll take it to mean that wisdom begins by looking inside.

If you aim to be a writer, able to write convincing tales about characters who are unlike yourself, you must first understand the person from whom these characters will spring.

Why? It’s the filters.

Let me explain. So far in life, you’ve observed the real world and many people for several years. In your mind, you have a model of that world and those people, but it’s not a perfect model. It doesn’t match the real world exactly.

Every sensation of the world has to pass through a filter in your mind, a filter you built over time based on your experiences. It consists of your stereotypes, biases, personality, political views, gender, education, occupation, etc. The filter through which you see the world is your unique perspective based on who you really are, and it is distorting the view you see.

If you write a book, you’re writing through that filter about a world you see and characters you see. Once published, the book is out there, part of the real world for readers to enjoy. When a reader reads your book, she understands and interprets it through her own mental filter.

It’s possible that, despite all this filtering, many readers will enjoy your book and you’ll earn lots of money. If so, it will be in part because your words reached through the filters and entertained readers.

It’s wise, therefore, to take an introspective look at your own filter, to study it with as much objectivity as you can. Who is this person who wants to be a writer, who would write words describing people and who would comment on the human condition? In short, who are you?

Joanna Penn’s blog post makes some great observations about attributes that most writers have in common. But I think it’s just as important for you to understand the specific attributes unique to you.

How do you do that? You could take a few days off, get away from the world as best you can, and write down what you know about yourself. You could take a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Five Factor Model, or some other measure.

If you do this, I’m certain you’ll find many of the attributes Joanna Penn listed will be true for you (a loner seeking recognition; one who’s scared, doubtful, and creative; one who believes in finishing projects and striving to improve; one who knows the dark side of life).

You’ll find out much more than that, things that make you feel proud to be you and things you wish weren’t true. You will see facets of yourself that are average and facets that are far from the norm.

This project of learning about yourself can benefit you and your writing in several ways:

  • You may find things about yourself you’d like to improve;
  • You’ll know about those parts of you that are unusual, and realize that connecting with readers may take an extra effort;
  • You’ll understand that your characters have personality filters too, and by writing about the world of your story as well as the thoughts of a character, you are revealing something about that character’s filters.

Good luck! And now, excuse me, it’s time for me to get to know—

Poseidon’s Scribe

How Do Readers Discover My Books?

Like most writers, I’m curious about how readers come across my books. By what means do they discover them? If I had good information on that, I could focus on the marketing methods that work and abandon those that don’t.

Fortunately, author RJ Scott showed me how to do this. In one blog post, she published the results of a survey of her readers, in which she asked how they found her books.

I decided to do the same thing. I sent out thousands of e-mails to my fans (and acquaintances, and random passers-by) and gathered the responses. I first sorted the valid responses from the spam, advertising, and ugly threats to do me vicious bodily harm.

Then I plotted the data from most responses to least, Pareto chart fashion. Some responses were similar enough that I used slashes ‘/’ to show response variations.

It looks like my presence on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter is working. There’s a lot to be said for plain ol’ dumb luck, too, apparently.

The most surprising result was the two responses saying readers discovered one of my books while marooned on an island. I’m not sure if that’s two separate instances or two people on the same island. In either case, my campaign of wrapping books in bubble wrap and casting them in the ocean is probably not worth further investment.

It’s nice, too, when readers take the time to fill in the Comments section. That allows me to get beyond the mere data and explore the true reasons readers discover me, and my books. Here are all those comments:

  • “Your books are great! I can’t understand why they’re so unpopular.”
  • “You write as well as authors twice your age.”
  • “Buy ???????? cheap! Have more enjoyable ??? now!” [Comment edited for content]
  • “I love your book. It’s keeping my kitchen table perfectly level right now.”
  • “What’s this Comment space for? Am I supposed to type something here?”
  • “Qwert yui opasd fghjkl zx cvbnm.”
  • “That’s the last time I go on Amazon with my two-year-old in the room. Their one-click ordering feature is too easy.”

It’s going to be awhile before I do another reader survey, I think.

Just remember, any way is a good way to discover—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Judging Covers

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but some of your potential readers will, and you don’t want them wincing at the sight of your book. Today we’ll be judging covers, or at least reviewing what makes a good one.

After you read this post, please check out Derek Murphy’s take on cover design here. He goes into more depth. Although I’ll only be discussing fiction covers, his post also addresses non-fiction.

Resources

Where do you get cover art? Here are some sources:

  • If you sold your book to a publisher, the publisher may do your cover. They will likely work with you and do their best to accommodate your preferences.
  • If you’re also an artist or graphic designer, you can make your own cover art. If you’re manipulating images found on-line, be careful not to violate public domain restrictions. Sites like Dollar Photo Club and Dreamstime offer thousands of images at reasonable prices.
  • You can pay someone to do your cover art for you. Perhaps you have an artist friend, or you can get in touch with a talented artist at a local high school or college through the art department. There are websites such as 99Designs where you can have artists compete to make your cover.

Techniques

Derek Murphy’s post spells out the secrets to good book cover art in detail, but his overall message is that people will only glance at a cover for a moment, so it has to grab them. Your cover has to convey its message in a couple of seconds. All eight of Murphy’s cover design secrets flow from this principle. I’ll discuss each technique with respect to the covers of my books, or anthologies in which my stories appear.

51aDCvEwjvL1. Make it “Pop.” Use contrast between light and dark, or opposing colors. The cover of 2012 AD uses that technique to show off the explosion.

 

 

 

 

2. Lots of space. Avoid clutter. LeonardosLion3fThe cover of “Leonardo’s Lion” is simple; the reader’s eye doesn’t have to wander all over to get the point.

 

 

 

 

ASteampunkCarol72dpi3. Make it emotional. Your cover should be beautiful; it should appeal to the heart and make readers feel something. Remember, readers of different genres react emotionally to different things. The cover of “A Steampunk Carol” has the brass gears that steampunk lovers enjoy, and adds the red and green flowers of Christmas.

 

 

4. Use a subtitle, teaser or tagline (and a review!). It’s an effective technique, but none of my covers so far have used this.

Cover art5.1jox6w Pick the right font (and effects). The font should be readable and should help deliver the book’s message. In Quest for Atlantis, the main title font has an ancient (or at least olden) look. For “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” the title font has an Asian feel.

 

 

RippersRing72dpi6WithinVictorianMists9. Make it personal (but not cheesy). It’s good to have people on your covers, though Murphy argues against silhouettes. “Ripper’s Ring” gives you a glaring Jack the Ripper. We did use silhouettes for “Within Victorian Mists” but I think we did it effectively, to convey dancing on clouds.

 

ATaleMoreTrue3f7. If it’s too hard, go simple. Murphy argues against trying to cram in all the ideas you’d like to convey. I think “A Tale More True” illustrates a reasonable amount of simplicity. The reader has to wonder how a tricorn hat ended up there.

 

 

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]8. A little more on text placement. Murphy makes some additional points about text contrast with background, as well as fitting in short words (a, by, in, or the) in among the larger words. I like how the tower in Hides the Dark Tower seems to punch through the word ‘tower.’

 

 

 

As writers, we’re not expected to be great cover designers. If you are, or would like to be, then more power to you. For the rest of us, we must depend on (and pay for) the skill of others such as Derek Murphy. Leave the judging of book covers to the experts; that’s the advice of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 25, 2015Permalink

Sfumato

Next in this series of blog posts is a strange one: Sfumato. I’m blogging about how each of the seven principles in How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb, relates to fiction writing. Today I grapple with the fourth principle, Sfumato, a word that means “going up in smoke.”

Gelb’s definition of Sfumato is “a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.” Although most people prefer knowledge, predictability, and clarity, Gelb contends that Leonardo did not shy away from the gray areas, the question marks, the mysterious, and the absurd.

SfumatoDa Vinci painted beautiful things, but also made many drawings of ‘grotesques’ or ugly human faces. His most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, contains mystery after mystery, including the anonymity of its model. Gelb notes that we discern human mood from the corners of the eyes and mouth, but in the Mona Lisa, Leonardo obscured these areas in shadow, deliberately leaving them vague so we are left to wonder whether she smiles or not.

Is Sfumato important for a fiction writer? First, let’s define each of its three aspects:

  • Ambiguity: something that can be understood in more than one way, allowing for more than one interpretation.
  • Paradox: a statement or proposition that, despite apparently sound reasoning, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, illogical, or self-contradictory.
  • Uncertainty: A state of having limited knowledge where it is difficult to choose between two or more alternatives.

Writers make use of ambiguity through symbolism, where one thing may represent something else. Metaphors and similes prove useful to ways to compare the unfamiliar to the familiar, but also leave the story open to interpretation. Often the greatest works of literature contain enough ambiguity to allow generations of critics to argue over meanings.

As for paradox, a writer may employ it for humorous effect, as in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” where a young man thinks he can end his apprenticeship with a band of pirates when he is twenty-one years old, but since he was born on February 29, he’s really only a bit over four. Even when a writer uses paradox in a serious way, it can heighten reader enjoyment by giving the reader something to puzzle over and think about.

Uncertainty is at the center of fiction writing, and comes into play in three levels—the character, the reader, and the writer. Fiction must have conflict, and often it can be an internal conflict for the main character. To heighten the drama of the conflict, it’s necessary to force the character to make a difficult decision. The protagonist’s uncertainty is what makes readers keep on reading.

You must create uncertainty in the mind of the reader as well. If the reader knows what’s coming next, there’s no point in continuing with the story.

How does uncertainty apply to the writer? I believe this has to do with the tone of the prose. A writer should have something to say, and have a level of confidence in the point she or he is trying to make. I didn’t say ‘certainty;’ I said ‘a level of confidence.’ If you believe you possess the ultimate truths of the universe, the universe will prove you wrong. No reader likes a know-it-all, so I urge authors to advance ideas for consideration, not in a manner that closes the door to criticism.

That’s Sfumato. Now, if you find yourself striding with confidence into areas of smoke, of fog, of murkiness and mystery; if you come to enjoy being ambiguously, paradoxically uncertain, you have no one to blame except Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb, and—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 20, 2015Permalink

Dumped in the Middle of the Road

You’re reading along down the story highway, racing through action scenes, taking the dialogue curves at a good clip, the wind of the story’s world in your hair. All of a sudden, a truck up ahead upends its load and a pile of text pours onto the pavement, right in your path.

You’ve been stalled by an infodump.

Infodump

You come to a stop to decide what to do. You could plow right through it at slow speed, but you hate that. You could drive around, avoiding it entirely, but some of that text might be necessary to understand the story. If you’re in an angry mood, you could forget the whole book and move on.

An Infodump is one of the Turkey City Lexicon terms. It refers to a passage of text used to explain things and give background information to the reader. It can be one paragraph, or go on for several pages. It’s most common in science fiction and fantasy, where the story’s world is unlike our own, and you need to immerse the reader in it.

From a writer’s perspective, it seems so necessary to convey that information. The reader needs to understand certain things so later events in the story make sense. Many of the great writers of the past used infodumps; Herman Melville spent whole chapters that way, and it hasn’t hurt his sales. Oh, perhaps the writer could think of clever ways to work the information into the story, but who has time for that?

Better make time, you Twenty-First Century Writer, because readers these days don’t want to slow down and plow through your dump.

Here are some techniques:

  1. Delete it. What does that info add to your story, anyway? Do readers really need to know it? Are you dumping that load to help reads understand, or to show off your research or add credibility? If you can delete it, do so. If you can delete most of it, do that, and use other techniques to convey the rest.
  1. Work it into dialogue. Readers speed through your characters’ dialogue pretty fast, so inserting some of your infodump into their speech is one way to avoid slowing readers down. Caution: there’s danger here. You must not swerve into the As You Know, Bob lane. Make sure the dialogue is realistic as well as explanatory.
  1. Work it into the action. By ‘action’ I don’t necessarily mean fight scenes or car chases, but any passages where characters are doing things, moving about, or actively interacting with their environment or each other. It’s characterized by action verbs. It can be interspersed with dialogue, and often serves as a ‘dialogue tag,’ letting the reader know which character is speaking.
  1. Make it entertaining. If you can turn those smelly tons of interfering text into pure, golden fun, readers will actually enjoy the interruption. By ‘entertaining,’ I don’t necessarily mean funny, but humor is a great way to accomplish this, if you can pull it off. This method calls for considerable creativity and skill.
  1. Make it short. As a last resort, keep the infodump, but reduce its length. Readers may forgive a short, explanatory passage here and there.

I struggle with infodumps in my fiction, but it’s important to eliminate them where possible. Dump trucks are fine in real life, but when they drop their load in the middle of your story’s road, it really ticks off your readers. Not good.

Doing my part to beautify the nation’s literary highways and byways, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

When Good Authors Turn Bad

Arrogance is today’s topic. It seems to me that authors generally start out their career with a tentative and uncertain attitude, but sometimes become more conceited with time. Is this a bad thing? If so, is it inevitable?

No, I’m not naming names. If you follow any author blogs, you may have seen the pattern, and can think of examples yourself. You read an author’s early fiction books, or read their blogs or essays, and they seem unsure, qualifying their statements, admitting they might be wrong.

good - bad authorAt some point later, that same author gives more decisive, unqualified opinions. He or she makes some controversial statements, occasionally deriding some other authors, or publishers, or editors, or society in general, etc.

In the last phase, the author becomes insufferable. Conceited beyond measure, she or he has a provocative opinion on every topic. Protagonists in the author’s later books are always dogmatic firebrands, and they’re proven right in the books’ conclusions.

Why does this happen to writers? In my view, authors aren’t the only ones susceptible to it. The phenomenon of turning to snobbery occurs in every field, but is probably more noticeable for those in the public sphere, such as sports, politics, news, and entertainment.

My theory is that it’s part of human nature to believe your own hype. If you’re surrounded by people telling you how great you are, and you have statistics (book sales, blog followers, etc.) to prove it, you’re likely to start thinking you’re pretty special.

Is this egotism a bad thing? I have mixed feelings about that. The most important thing readers want from authors is well-written books. If that need is satisfied, readers can put up with a fair number and degree of personality quirks. There’s a saying that goes, ‘bragging’s okay if you can back it up.’

Of course, if we had our choice, we’d prefer our heroes not only super-competent, but also humble. But we’ll settle for the former, if that’s all we can expect.

Speaking of that, is it really too much to expect, that top authors display a bit of humility? Is it impossible to resist human nature, to retain some measure of unpretentiousness during your rise to fame and glory?

Of course it’s possible. There are many great authors who remain modest and unassuming, who resist the lure of becoming a pompous jerk. Such people earn extra credit points in our hearts. We’re comforted when we hear it said of our favorite authors, “He’s such a great guy in person,” or “She’s so down-to-earth when you meet her.”

The main thing, I believe, is what I mentioned earlier. Concentrate on writing well, on producing great prose. If you become famous for it, your personality won’t matter much. Should you change into an intolerable blowhard along the way, you might lose a few readers who care about such things, but those lost sales will be in the round-off error of the huge fortune you’re amassing.

What about me? If you look back over the span of my blogging and story-writing career, do I show the signs of turning into a stuck-up, opinionated braggart? Am I already there? That’s for you, my readers, to decide.

This is one of those blog posts I might regret later, at some future point when I’m a Famous Author being driven in my limo to my mansion while smoking a fat cigar I lit with a $100 bill. I’ll take that risk. After all, making bold, provocative statements is one of the most loveable traits of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What a Disaster!

Today I’m exploring the world of disaster fiction. There are many, many stories dealing with disasters, from local misadventures to world-wide calamities. I’ll discuss frequently occurring themes in disaster fiction, as well as the reasons people read it. That might help you decide if you want to write such a tale.

DisasterFirst, no disaster story is truly about the disaster. If you want to write about disasters, try non-fiction. As I’ve said before, fiction is about the human condition, so your disaster story is really about the characters, their attempts to cope with the disaster, and how they grow or change as a result.

I’ll make a distinction between disaster stories and post-apocalyptic stories. In the latter, the disaster has already occurred and people are trying to handle the aftermath. In the former, the disaster occurs during the story. I’ll discuss post-apocalyptic fiction in a future blog post.

Types

Though disaster stories are about people, we can still classify them by the type of disaster that occurs, and there are plenty to choose from. You might think all the best disasters have been taken already and the reading public won’t go for one more disaster novel. You’d be wrong; since the stories are about people, there are always infinitely more stories to write.

Disasters can be natural, as with floods or tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, other significant storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, extreme climate change, asteroid or comet collisions, etc.

The disaster could be an accident, such as a shipwreck, airplane crash, train wreck, industrial accident, etc. A car crash probably wouldn’t count, since the disaster really should involve a large number of people.

There are other disasters that aren’t natural, and aren’t really accidents either. Let’s call them calamities, and separate them into plausible and less-plausible scenarios. The plausible ones include pandemics, terrorist attacks, major wars, economic collapse, and loss of electricity.

The less-plausible calamities (my own risk assessment; yours might differ) include: alien invasion, uncontrolled release of technology (such as nanotechnology, robot uprising, creation of a black hole, creation of a super-disease or super-creature, etc.), zombie apocalypse, “return” of vampires or werewolves, and attacks by menacing (usually gigantic) animals.

Themes

You’ll find some common themes in disaster stories. Here’s a partial list.

• Despite how far humans have progressed, we need reminding we are small and weak creatures in a big, dangerous universe.
• As disaster looms, people will react differently, going through the Kübler-Ross ‘Five Stages of Grief’ at different rates.
• A large-scale disaster will collapse the normal societal structure, and other structures will form.
• A disaster brings together strangers who must form a team with a common purpose, such as survival.
• A main character must overcome a personal fear or other psychological flaw and rise to the situation.
• A former leader cannot cope with the disaster; a new and unlikely leader must take charge.
• Often the protagonist’s main goal is either survival (of a group) or rescue of others.
• There are good and bad human reactions to disasters, and the characters who react badly often (though not always) meet a bad end. For example, preparation is better than assuming an unchanging future; clear thinking is better than panic, teamwork is better than uncaring self-centeredness; natural leadership is better than using a chaotic situation to claim power; focusing on the goal is more productive than blaming or finding fault.

Purpose

Why do people read disaster stories? These are among the reasons:

• It’s a chance to “experience” the disaster in a safe way, without having to endure it for real.
• The stories can be taken as metaphors for how we can deal with the smaller-scale mishaps of daily life.
• The tales can be metaphors for some perceived societal defect, as in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
• The stories offer lessons in preparation as old as the ant & grasshopper fable.

Conclusion

51aDCvEwjvLI would classify only one of my stories as a true disaster tale. “The Finality” appeared in the anthology 2012 AD by Severed Press. In it, a scientist discovers that time itself is coming to an end, not just on Earth but throughout the universe, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But just maybe the Mayans were trying to tell us something about that.

May all your disasters be the written kind; that’s the hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 30, 2014Permalink

The Trick Is…

Remember the TV show ‘Cosmos?’ No, not the new one starring Neil deGrasse Tyson (though I enjoyed that too). I mean the original Cosmos, starring Carl Sagan. There’s a brief part of one episode that’s stuck in my mind for all the decades since that show first aired.

CosmosTCYou can see the episode here and the part I recalled is from time 41:45 to 42:30.

In the clip, Carl Sagan is standing in a library. He says, if you read one book a week, over a normal human lifespan you can read only a few thousand books. (50 books per year times 70 years would be 3500 books.) He then paces off a distance across some library shelves to indicate that many books.

After remarking on how that’s only a tenth of a percent of the content of a library, he then says, “The trick is to know which books to read.”

That’s it. No follow-up. He goes on to discuss other things.220px-Sagan_planetary_orbits2

Thanks, Dr. Sagan, for clearing up that mystery of the universe.

How about telling us which books? Is there a list somewhere? Don’t just leave us with “the trick is…” without solving it for us!

Okay, okay. I do really like Carl Sagan, and loved the show. And I get what he was saying. His main message is that our lives are too short to permit soaking up all of human knowledge. As you choose books to read, go in with the understanding that you ain’t gonna read ‘em all.

Moreover, there can’t be one right answer to the question of which books to read. There are billions and billions of answers. (Yes, I had to say that.)

But allow me to take up Dr. Sagan’s challenge, and to set up some criteria for selecting books to read, given that you can’t read ‘em all. Here’s my answer to “which books to read:”

  1. Read books you think you’ll enjoy. This is the most important criteria, since if you don’t like reading, you’ll stop. You’ll never come close to reading a book a week for life.
  1. Read some classics, on occasion. They represent the greatest wisdom of the ages, and they have persisted because their value and relevance is timeless.
  1. Read way outside your interest area, on occasion. This helps broaden your knowledge, and you never know when one such book might spark a new passion for you. Try to eventually cover the whole Dewey Decimal System, and all fiction genres.
  1. Read both fiction and non-fiction. You can choose the percentage of each according to your preferences, but I think there’s value in both.
  1. Read books by authors you enjoy, and also give different authors a chance. There’s a strong temptation to keep reading books by the same author. After all, you liked the previous one; chances are you’ll like the next one. That’s fine, but it’s okay to read books by authors who are new to you, every once in a while.
  1. Give each book you select a chance, but don’t be afraid to abandon it. Read past page one; often the value of a book won’t become apparent until later. However, if you’re well into the book and getting nothing out of it, stop and get another. Your lifespan is too limited and there are too many better books for you to slog through reading a bad one.

That’s it, my attempt to respond to Dr. Sagan’s challenge to all of us, to figure out which books to read.   They may not be the best criteria in the cosmos, but they’re good enough for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 9, 2014Permalink

12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink