What to read while you wait for Philip Pullman’s THE BOOK OF DUST

It’s been a long time—14 years to be precise—since Pullman dropped THE AMBER SPYGLASS and concluded the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. There have been occasional glimpses of hope… short stories set in that world showed up here and there, but the big rumor was for a some sort of sequel called THE BOOK OF DUST.

It’s a rumor no longer. It’s officially a new trilogy, set before and after the events of HIS DARK MATERIALS, and volume one comes out in October 2017!!

That feels like a long way off though… So here are 6 books you should be reading while you wait, including titles by Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle and Garth Nix.

Book Of Dust

 

Beyond self-publishing

Last time, we looked at ways to get your self-published novel out into the world. For those of you who aren’t novelists, we wanted to spend some time on you! We’re nice that way.

SPN Dean Nice

If you write short stories, or scripts, or songs, just for example, there are other things you can do to get your work noticed.

For screenwriters, competitions are definitely something you should look into. There are some notable and reputable comps out there: PAGE Awards, Scriptapalooza, the highly prestigious Nicholl Fellowship (run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, AKA, the Oscars!), Final Draft’s Big Break, the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, the Set In Philadelphia Screenplay Competition, etc. What these have going for them is a combination of great reputation and judges who are working in the film and TV industry. Winning is nice, of course it is. We love winning. But if someone in the industry likes your script and wants to meet you and read more, that’s even better. The huge, almost unsurmountable challenge you face as a screenwriter attempting to break in is getting your work read. Competitions like these will help that happen.

Another route you can take is uploading your script to The Black List. You’ll pay a small fee for hosting, you can pay a larger fee for evaluations (which give you detailed coverage on your script, plus it adds to your ratings—yes, people will rate your scripts on there). It’s another way to potentially get more industry eyes on your work. If your scores are high enough, you’ll be included in an email that gets sent to industry subscribers on weekly basis, highlighting the top scripts on the site.

Now, you might be a songwriter. In which case, we’re going to recommend competitions again. If you’re inclined in a country direction, you have to go for the NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Annual Song Contest. You can enter your song as a performance, or on a lyric-only basis. Well worth it (as is joining your local NSAI chapter).

If you write outside of country, there are other contests you can look at: The Great American Song Contest, and the International Songwriting Competition, are just two notable examples.

Of course, you also have to just get your music out there, which means putting your songs on YouTube, SoundCloud, or your own site, tweeting them out, Instagramming clips etc. And, if you’re a performer too, start playing wherever and whenever you can. Bars, pubs, clubs, whatever works.

Last but not least, short stories. There are probably thousands of journals and publications that accept short stories. Your job is to research them and find the ones where your stories might fit. Great resources for research are Duotrope and ShortStops. Look for journals, magazines, quarterly or yearly anthologies, standalone anthologies. Of course, you have to try The New Yorker. Send copies of your story to competitions. Keep sending. This is a raw numbers game. Send hundreds or even thousands of times. Set them free!

Fly my pretties

Much the same applies to the poets among you. The New Yorker has online submissions for poetry, and there are many other outlets too. Find them and send them your work.

The common thread to all of this is research and legwork. You have to find the places that seem like they’ll be receptive to your work, and then get  your work to them. More often then not, you’ll be sending your creations out to hundreds more places than will actually accept them, but that’s the life. That’s the game. Just keep creating, keep enjoying creating, be super organized about your submissions, and don’t. Ever. Stop.

You can do this!

You Got This

YA vs. the Multiverse

You know how it is. You’re just moseying along, minding your own business, when you stumble into a whole multiverse situation. Universes everywhere. They look the same, but some things are slightly different…. Ugh. Should’ve stayed in bed today and read a bunch of books instead.

You know how it goes. You’re moseying along, minding your business, when you find yourself in a total multiverse situation. Universes all over the place. They seem the same, but they’re not quite the same. Should’ve stayed in bed this morning and… uh, wait a minute…

Check out our guide to 5 YA novels that dive deep into that messy world of parallel universes and alternate realities.

Parallel Cover

Steps to self-publishing, Part 4: Marketing

Still feels good, doesn’t it? Checking Amazon or Barnes & Noble to look at your book listing. Realizing all over again that you wrote a book, damn it! You wrote it, and you did the work necessary to get it out there to the world.

You’re all kinds of awesome, you know that?

dean-awesome

But, and there is a but, what you’re going to find is that listing your book on Amazon isn’t nearly enough. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people have books listed on Amazon. You need to stand out from the crowd. You need to get noticed. You need people to care.

There are many ways to shine a light on your work. One way is a good social media presence. Social media is simultaneously one of the best, and worst ways to try to market your work. It’s very, very bad, for example, to keep tweeting about how awesome your book is and telling people to buy it. People don’t like being sold to, especially in their social media feeds. So tweeting the price of your book over and over is likely to get you unfollowed and consigned to the social media phantom zone.

phantom-zone

Seriously. No one wants that. Also, spoiler for Superman, I guess.

The best way to get people interested in your book, is to pretty much never mention your book. Yeah, it sounds weird. But trust us. Just be you. Be authentic. Offer something, whether it’s funny cat GIFs, cool writing advice, humorous observations, sharing interesting or unusual news stories… Basically, curate a feed that you would want to follow, and make sure it reflects who you are as a writer. Authentic is the key word here. Find the channels that work for you, don’t do a bunch of Snapchat dog or star filters if that’s not you, and fill them with cool stuff. Interact with others genuinely. This isn’t to say you can’t ever mention what you do. It’s fine to drop it in here or there, but don’t make that the point of being on social media. If you put your book on sale, it’s fine to tweet or post about it a couple of times, but keep the other stuff coming too.

Paid social—paying to have your posts appear in the feeds of people who don’t follow you—is challenging to pull off successfully, if you’re too on the nose about it. If the tweet or post is compelling, hilarious, and not exactly about telling people to buy your book, you might get people to respond, but on the whole, you’re better off spending your money on other things.

Paid ads on blogs and Goodreads and the like might work for you. They can be hit or miss, and will be expensive. Think about your behavior on websites… do you ever click on banner ads for books you’ve never heard of? Again, it all comes down to the ad itself. If it’s visually astonishing, genuinely hilarious, or just utterly fascinating, you might get people to click through. But it’s not the most compelling way to increase sales.

However, what can work is a good review from a book blogger. Reach out to your favorite book blogger and offer them a copy of your book in exchange for a review. It is a legit and great way to get word out there about your book. Book bloggers are awesome, and that community is a wonderful place.

Giveaways on Goodreads work well too. They’re really easy to set up, and you just have to follow through when winners are selected, by mailing your book out to them (including a personal note is a nice touch too, as long as it’s simple and polite!)

Another route you can take to get the word out there is to submit to contests. Some examples include the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Award, and the Bath Novel Award. Getting long- or short-listed (or, you know, actually winning!) one of these helps make your novel a little bit noisier out there.

So far, we’ve focused on the online side of things. But, of course, that’s not the only way to get your book the attention it deserves.

yoda-another

There is another…

We’re talking about bookstores. Actual real-life, wonderful bookstores.

We love bookstores. They can be beautiful and transcendent temples to other worlds. Ann Patchett owns one of our faves, Parnassus Books in Nashville; check out her incredible guide for bookstore lovers, and then spend a small fortune in plane tickets to all those cities.

We digress. But just mentioning bookstores got us all dreamy-eyed…

Now, to get your self-published book into a bookstore takes legwork, and, way more importantly, also being a nice human being. Build relationships with your local store, genuinely. Support them by buying books from them. Be nice. Talk about books in general, because it’s always fun to talk about books. And, then, in a reasonable, non-creepy way, ask if they’d consider stocking books from a local author. The local author being you. To be honest, quite a few indie bookstores are set up for that anyway, and are happy to if you just pop in and make the request. Some will ask for you to bring in copies, so it’s good to have a few extra copies on hand. Others prefer to order via their distributor. But you gotta get out there and ask. You have to build your career, one book at a time, one sale at a time. No shortcuts.

In the end though, when all’s said and done… the best way to market your book is to write another book. And then another. And another. The more books you have available, the more you’ll sell, and the more the sales of each title will impact all the others.

In other words, just keep writing.

 

 

Escaping the winter blues

Winter, huh? Ugh. If you’re suffering with the dark, the cold, and maybe the coming apocalypse, you might need a little escapism. Nothing wrong with a little me-time. Even Harry and Hermione found time to dance while Voldemort and the Death Eaters took over the Ministry, tore up the rules to society and civilization, and terrorized the world. Just a completely random example.

harry-hermione-dance

 

So what better way to escape than with some awesome 80s—and 80s-inspired—novels? Here’s your guide to escaping those winter blues.

the-princess-bride-novel

 

Steps to self-publishing, Part 3: Prepping your book

So, you’ve written your thing and decided to put it out there yourself, indie-style.  You’ve picked the best platform(s) for your work and now you have to make sure your book is fully ready to be uploaded and released into the wild.

Step one, which we’ve discussed before, is professional editing. Get your pages to an editor you trust. Most of the better ones offer different levels of editing, e.g. proofreading (checking for typos) vs. big picture editing (where they look at things like consistency of character, plot mechanics etc).  Choose your service (be honest with yourself about what your work may need), send it out, and receive their notes with an open mind. Getting a new set of eyes on your story is invaluable. Doesn’t mean you have to make every single change; with any notes, you have to be able to translate them into what’s relevant for your work. Sometimes the specific note/suggestion wouldn’t work, but whatever’s underlying the note is something you need to look at (e.g. you may hear a certain character needs more page time, which might destabilize your plot… the underlying issue might be that when that character does appear, it’s not in an impactful way, so you’ll actually need to make their few scenes hit harder, mean more emotionally, that kind of thing).

Once you’ve made your changes, your book really is at its final draft. That’s exciting!

Now you’ll need step two: cover design. If you’re handy with Photoshop,  you can take a shot at this yourself, using each platform’s size/design guidelines. Or, you can use a professional designer. The goal is to create a cover that looks professional, slick, and impactful in color, black and white, and at thumbnail size (since that’s how most people will first view it). So, you decide. If you have the chops, that’s awesome. We’ve done both, and often use ebook launch, since they produce awesome work like—#shamelessplug—our covers below.

Step three is formatting. Each platform will require your book to be formatted a specific way. While this is something you can do yourself—and if you want to, please have at it!—there are many places that will do that for you. We use 52 Novels, since they’re quick, reliable, cost effective, and very easy to work with, but there are many other options available too (e.g. Bookbaby, Lulu, etc.). They’ll prepare your manuscript so that when you upload it to the publishing platform, it’ll be accepted first time and published forthwith. Which is nice.  They’ll usually ask for the cover as well as the manuscript, since some of your files will need the cover to be included “inside” the file, attached to the manuscript.

Once you get your files back from the formatter, you really are ready.

Are you though? Are you ready? Because once you upload your files, write your book’s blurb for the site, add all the tags so that people can search for it, include your financial info so they can, you know, actually pay you… then the only thing left for you to do is hit the button that says PUBLISH.

Eek!

Go on. Do it. It’ll feel great.

We’ll let you coast on that beautiful feeling of having the book you wrote out there for people to read for a while… but soon, we’ll  cover what comes next (spoiler: marketing!).

So go enjoy being published! You did great!

 

Steps to self-publishing, Part 2: Platforms

You’ve written your book, and it’s awesome (we just know). You went through whatever process you needed to, in order to arrive at the point where you want to self-publish it.

Firstly, go you! In just about every art form, the creator—that’s you!—is expected to share their work. Bands record songs and albums and put them on Soundcloud. Movie makers film shorts and features and upload them to Vimeo or YouTube. Artists create their works, photographers take their pictures, and they try to find ways to display them online and in galleries, or even at cons. So, you’re just doing what everyone else does! There can be a little bit of a ‘tude in some circles when this is applied to books, but you can ignore that. Art is art, whatever form it takes. Those dudes in the caves way back when didn’t wait for permission or approval to share those extraordinary drawings for generations to come. You don’t need to wait for permission to display your art either. Again, some folks might want to tell you otherwise… but nah. People want to make things, other people want to see and experience those things… The trick is to figure out how to connect the two.

In this case you made a thing—your book—and now you need to get it out there to the world.

So, the question becomes, where ya gonna put it?

There are many platforms and options available. Your first major decision is format. Do you want it to be an ebook, or just a paperback, or both? If you’re thinking ebook-only, you can focus on one or all of services like Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo (Sony and other devices), and Smashwords (which covers everything else, including Apple’s iBooks). In some cases, Apple will let you upload directly to iBooks (more on that here), but if you find it all a bit above your technical knowhow, you can use a service that does it for you. Smashwords is one, but there are others, like Bookbaby, which does print as well as ebooks. Here’s a resource on Apple’s site to help you find one that you like.

Knowing where you want to put it is important for the next phase, which we’ll talk about in the next installment (professional editing, interior formatting, and cover design), as each service can have its own specs for how the text should be formatted, what size the cover image should be, etc. So if you choose ebooks, do your research for each platform to see what exactly they need from you.

The same applies if you want to hold your masterpiece in your hand (not a euphemism). There is something magical about actually picking up the BOOK THAT YOU WROTE and turning the PAGES THAT YOU MADE. It’s kind of amazing, tbh. So, if you dig that idea (and also want your book to have any kind of chance of being stocked in a physical bookstore, which we also recommend, because holding that book is a lot sweeter when you just picked it up off a bookstore shelf where it was sitting next to a Leigh Bardguo novel, for example), then you have to look at the various options for printing your book.

bookshelf

Subtle

There’s CreateSpace, of course. The big kahuna. They print on demand, which is probably the most efficient way to go. Before POD, you would have to essentially choose how many copies of your book you wanted to be printed, have those shipped to you, and then deal with the rest of it yourself. With CreateSpace, they store the digital version and whenever anyone orders it, they print and send it. They also offer “expanded distribution” so that bookstores and libraries can see your title available from their distributors. Lulu is another option that offers a range of services including distribution, and there’s Bookbaby too, who we mentioned earlier; they offer the full spectrum of editing, formatting, printing and distribution services.

You just need to decide which one of these feels right for you, and your project. Each service has its pros and cons, its quirks and restrictions. But they all give you what you need: your book, ready to be read!

Next time: everything you need to know about getting your book ready to upload…

 

Yes, there were some good things in 2016!

In somewhat festive partridge in a pear tree fashion, here’s our top books, movies, TV shows, albums, and a special final category.

5 Awesome Books

It was a banner year for books by famous people who don’t normally write books. Sure, ’tis the season for such things—every year we get a glut around this time of celebrity memoirs—but this year, there were three that really stood out as special.

Scrappy Little Nobody.jpg

Anna Kendrick, whose acerbic, snarky, and essential Twitter feed has been showing us for years that she knows her way around a finely honed sentence, gave us Scrappy Little Nobody, a brilliantly titled collection of essays covering her life from childhood to Broadway debut to Twilight to Up In The Air and beyond. What many of these books lack is a point of view; that’s not something Kendrick has an issue with. Bracingly honest, her often savagely funny and poignant stories are fascinating and hilariously told, and what becomes very clear is that her Thanksgiving and Christmas parties would be the absolute best.

talking-as-fast-as-i-can

Not to be outdone in the Dorothy Parker-esque observational acting category, Lauren Graham, already a novelist as well as an actress, dropped Talking As Fast As I Can, which focused mainly on filming the Gilmore Girls, both the original run, and the revival. It’s a breezy, chatty, very, very funny read, and if you’re still basking in the warm glow of the revival, this will absolutely keep it going just a little longer. Graham has a smart, hyper-self-aware, quick-thinking, and warm view of the world, and she can tell a story with the best of them (one of the reasons why she’s such a perfect fit for Amy Sherman-Palladino’s quick-fire, storytelling dialogue… but—spoiler—more on that shortly!).

springsteen

As brilliant as those two books were, there was one more autobiography that truly shone, to the extent that it’s a contender for book of the year (or maybe of the decade). The mighty Bruce Springsteen brought forth one of the greatest autobiography/memoirs ever written with Born To Run. It was full of thunder and subtle profundity. Every sentence was poetic, hard-won, hewn from life’s granite face of truth and wisdom. The hyperbole is deserved. Nobel Prize, anyone? It should be no surprise; Springsteen has spent the last 30 or 40 years writing tough, beautiful and grittily evocative stories of American life, and he knows how to make every turn of phrase feel true, hit hard, and make you dream.

dark-matter

In the world of novels, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch was a welcome slice of atmospheric quantum techno-thrills, which took the concept of multiple universes and turned it into an unstoppable page-turner which was equal parts mind-bending, haunting, and terrifying. Deftly written but morally hefty, it made you think and feel and gasp, and the consequences of it all reverberate for long after you stop reading.

GEMINA

But, when all’s said and done, at the end of the day, there was a novel that might just have to be the book of the year. Even more universe-shatteringly awesome than Dark Matter was GEMINA, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff‘s epic, EPIC, follow-up to last year’s book of the year, ILLUMINAE. Now, that book was huge. Momumental. It changed your perspective of what fiction, sci-fi and books could be. But GEMINA is bigger, and better (HOW?! What sorcery is this, Kaufman and Kristoff???). It takes place during and after the timeline of ILLUMINAE, which followed the Alexander as it tried to escape the pesky Beitech attack, and shows us what went down on Jump Station Heimdall. With a mix of all-new characters (and some old faves), it spins a thrilling, massive tale. It’s even more unputdownable that ILLUMINAE. It has all the action you could want, snark and sarcasm to spare, so many laugh-out-loud moments, and FEELS, man. SO. MANY. FEELS. Kaufman and Kristoff are sick, twisted puppetmasters… and we love them for it. GEMINA, folks. Book of the year. So, no pressure for the next one, you guys 😉

4 Kick-Ass Movies

2016 was an interesting year for movies. Not many achieved greatness, it has to be said. There were many pretty good movies, and a decent amount of pretty disappointing ones, but for us, four stood out above the rest.

10CL.jpg

The year kicked off with the brilliant surprise release of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a not-quite-a-follow-up to 2008’s Cloverfield. It introduced the concept of the “Clover-verse”, a series of movies set in this slightly off-kilter world set up by Matt Reeves’ handheld monster movie. So, definitely not a sequel. What it was, was an awesomely nail-bitingly, twisty-turny, what-the-hell-is-happening thriller, full of paranoia, horror, loss… and maybe the best third act of any movie this year. No spoilers here. You just have to see it. John Goodman gives a hulking, towering performance as the guy who has Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr trapped in his nuclear bunker. Is he telling the truth? Are they safe, prisoners, or something else? The excellent script (rewritten by Whiplash and La La Land’s Damien Chazelle from an original by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, with extra polish from Gennifer Hudson, and writer-on-set Daniel Casey), TAUT direction by Dan Trachtenberg, and surely Oscar-worthy sound design by Robbie Stambler, Will Files and Lindsey Alvarez (and team), made this an epic experience.

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Also sneaking under the mainstream radar was Hunt For The Wilderpeople, although writer-director Taika Waititi’s forthcoming assignment as director of THOR RAGNOROK (and his previous form with What We Do In The Shadows), meant this had anticipation and buzz amongst those in the know. And how deserved that was. Wilderpeople is one of the hidden, must-see gems of 2016, a beautiful, achingly funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately joyous experience. Julian Dennison, in absolutely the breakout role of the year, plays Ricky Baker, an unloved kid bouncing from foster home to foster home in New Zealand. He ends up with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (played by a brilliantly none-more-grumpy Sam Neill) in what seems to the aspiring Tupac-wannabe to be the middle of goddamn nowhere. Things do not go well to start with, with Ricky hating every second of it, but when Hec and Ricky have to go on the run through the wilderness, things begin to change. It’s a beautiful meditation on life, loss, love, finding your family, and finding yourself. It’s also desperately hilarious. And a thriller. Wonderful through and through.

Arrival.png

Also somewhat out of nowhere (definite theme here!), despite its heavyweight creative team, Arrival was one of the most beautiful, haunting, and mind-blowing movies, maybe ever. From a wonderful script by Eric Heisserer (adapted from a Ted Chiang short story), eerily and evocatively directed by Denis Villeneuve (currently working on Blade Runner 2049), with a profound and chill-inducing (but sadly not Oscar-eligible) soundtrack by Jóhan Jóhannsson, and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, Arrival told the story of first contact. 12 alien craft appear above a series of seemingly random locations… and wait. The movie tracks what happens as Adams’ language specialist and Renner’s scientist are forced to work together to understand who the aliens are, and what they want. To say any more would take away from the experience, but this is a gorgeous, melancholy, and thrilling movie, and it truly is full of surprises and revelations.

arrival-adams

Adams gives a nuanced, career-best performance, as does Renner, and the whole thing is just mesmerizing. An extraordinary experience.

Not so much with the under the radar, Captain America: Civil War was Marvel’s biggest behemoth yet. And lo, it was AWESOME. Jam-packed with Avengers, Civil War did a radical thing for a Marvel movie these days — it put the epic battle halfway through (and what an epic battle it was), and made the third act deeply personal. And it was a much more effective movie for it.

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We can credit the overlord Kevin Feige, directors the Russo brothers, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for that. The Russos—and Markus and McFeely—gave Captain America a welcome edge in Winter Soldier, and they hone that edge here. Cap has become a gritty, hard-headed warrior in a boldly smart franchise, and with Civil War, it’s a genuine contender for one of the best trilogies of all time. The script expertly wields a huge cast, giving them all compelling moments, scenes and sequences, all while keeping the story rolling with ever increasing emotional momentum. The Russo brothers direct it all beautifully and deftly, and thrillingly. Plus, Spider-Man!

3 TV Must-Sees

A strong year for TV—again!—had three standouts: One out of nowhere, one that had potential, and one that people had been clamoring for, for almost a decade. Let’s start there, with the Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life revival.

Gilmore Girls

One of the most feel-good TV stories of the year, for sure. Ever since the non-Palladino season 7 ended without those final four words, fans have been wondering when and if the show could ever return. Cue Netflix. With a building tide of momentum (the ATX festival reunion, the original seasons streaming on Netflix), the explosion of joy and goodwill when the revival was announced was almost tangible. And when it aired? You know we watched all four in one day. It was wonderful. Not consistently, mind you, and there were issues (no real-time musicals next time, please), and some concern about Rory (that whole being a terrible journalist/sociopathic monster thing)… but those weren’t the things to focus on. It was a hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream kind of experience. Wintry, cozy, warm, and fun. Hearing Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel saying Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue again… Just wonderful.

This Is Us was in the “had potential” category — an intense character-based drama from Dan Fogelman, with Milo Ventimiglia (in his second appearance in this list, making him the TV MVP?), Mandy Moore and Sterling K. Brown… seemed intriguing. The reality was so much more. This Is Us is a show with extraordinary writing. The scripts slam you with emotional body blows when you least expect them, make you cry at least five times per episode, take unexpected turns and twists that leave you breathless, and basically give the actors some of the greatest lines and scenes of their careers, on the regular. And those actors… wow. Incredible performances all round.

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Special shout-out to Ron Cephas Jones: after his scene-stealing in Luke Cage (necessary, since he barely had any lines there and had to hit hard with the ones he did get given), he takes center stage here with a magnificent and magnificently understated performance. He commands the screen and the show. Which is saying something, because Brown, Ventimiglia and the rest all bring it, hard. Brown in particular has been DESTROYING this year, with this, and The People v.OJ Simpson; he’s one of those actors… if you can get him in your show, get him in your show.

One of the greatest TV experiences this year came out of left field (or out of the upside down).

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Created by the Duffer brothers, Netflix’s Stranger Things was the incredible, 80s set, 80s geeky nostalgia-fest that we never knew we needed. From those utterly perfect opening credits, with their gorgeous synth score by SURVIVE’s Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, and those crackly, wobbly Terminator-esque titles, to the Spielberg-esque cast, to the Stephen King-esque thrills and scares, everything about this show just worked. We’ve written about it at length elsewhere, but suffice it to say, this might just have been the TV event of the year. Glorious storytelling at its finest.

(Quick moment of silence for Galavant!! This was a truly remarkable show, created by Dan Fogelman and with songs by Alan Menken, was one of the funniest, cleverest, most joyful, straight up FUN shows on TV. Season 2 was amazing, and ended with King Richard getting a DRAGON. It’s now streaming on Netflix… wonderful, beautiful Netflix…. so please, Netflix, give us more Galavant! Did we mention the dragon?)

2 Epic Albums

Two albums really tore through the endless stress of 2016 in joyous fashion. Starboy by The Weeknd was full of sci-fi soul-pop, taking the spacier, more Blade Runner-like elements of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and leaping off into a set of tightly constructed, gleaming, epically catchy monster tracks. The lyrics revolve around cars, drinking and women, but the overall effect is a futuristic haze full of epic hooks and android funk. Assists from Lana Del Rey on a couple of tracks add to the woozy, dreamy factor, giving the whole thing a “robot from Westworld having a long fever dream” type atmosphere. Hard to stop listening to.

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Or it was, until Lin-Manuel Miranda went and dropped that little Hamilton Mixtape he’s been talking about. Yowzers. Expectations were SKY HIGH. And it more than delivered. After the, uh, events of November 8th, Miranda realized we needed these tracks, so he started releasing them a couple at a time, until the Mixtape dropped in early December. one of those early tracks, Immigrants, turned out to be one of the absolute highlights. Featuring blistering verses by K’naan, Snow Tha Product and Residente, the track TORE IT UP. But it wasn’t done, because Riz MC (AKA Riz Ahmed, rapper in the Swet Shop Boys, and actor in the likes of The Night Of and Rogue One) also dropped a verse that was pure fire. The track crackled with rage and determination, and fully repped the rest of the mixtape, which took key moments from Hamilton and built off them to create something entirely new and thrilling. Ja Rule and Ashanti brought it on Helpless, the track that Miranda wrote that was inspired by them, while elsewhere Busta Rhymes roared through My Shot, Kelly Clarkson somehow added more emotional layers to It’s Quiet Uptown, and Jill Scott gave a sultry and memorable update to Say Yes To This. There were too many highlights to name. With overall production from Questlove and Black Thought, it was, simply, as epic and essential as you’d think.

And A Baby Groot In A Pear Tree*

*Not actually in a pear tree

As the year drew to a close, there was one more awesome surprise in the form of James Gunn dropping the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 trailer. It was glorious. Not just to see the band back together. But because of Baby Groot. If you haven’t beheld its awesomeness yet, here it is in all its glory, with all its promise of a beautiful 2017.

 

Steps to self-publishing, Part 1: Should you self-publish?

So here’s the thing. This is not going to be a damning indictment of traditional publishing, nor will it be an ad for why self-publishing is the only option. Self-publishing is more simple than that: It’s nothing more and nothing less than a means to an end. A tool in your writerly grab-bag. A way to tell your stories in a way that will be heard. The literary equivalent of putting your short movie on Vimeo, or your web series on YouTube, or your album on SoundCloud. As an approach, self-publishing has pros and cons, and we’re going to take a deeper dive into what they are. You might find that you want to try it; you might be like, uh, no.

It’s all good.

But this is the first step — deciding if this is the approach for you.

If you’re writing, or have written your story, you need to know several things. Firstly, what the hell is that thing? Is it a short story, a novella, a long short story, a novel, a mighty word-beast of several hundred thousand words? The reason we’re asking is that if you’re thinking of going the traditional publishing route (you get an agent, the agent gets you a publisher), you need to know exactly what you have, and what part of the bookstore it would be shelved in. You also need to make sure that your work meets the current accepted word length for whatever it is, e.g., YA novels are usually in the ballpark of 70k-80k, literary novels around 80k-90k, and fantasy novels more like 100k-12ok (on account of all that awesome world-building). These are just broad outlines, and they tend to change over time (only a few years ago YA novels used to be closer to 30k than 80k), but literary agents often won’t consider a novel if it’s too far away from the appropriate total. If you want to go the traditional route, your book must fit the traditional categories with all their requirements. Which is cool. You just need to know that as you’re writing and editing. If your book does match up with the traditional requirements, that’s great!

But…

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That doesn’t mean that you have to go traditional. It’s a necessary requirement if you do, but doesn’t force your hand. Traditional publishing has many advantages—marketing, distribution—but some disadvantages too, e.g. everything happens extremely slowly (it may take upwards of a year to find an agent, the same to get a publishing deal, and your publication date will likely be 18 months to 2 years after that), and, the kicker, it’s pretty challenging to get through the slush pile. Think of it from the agents’ perspective. Every single day opening their inbox to look at queries feels like this:

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How are they supposed to really know which of all those super brief blurbs will turn out to be mighty-mega-bestsellers? It’s hard being an agent. If an agent gets thousands of queries a year (and most of them do), your chances of standing out from two paragraphs in a query letter are very slim. Not impossible, but on average, an agent may take on only a handful of new clients each year. That’s single digits, out of thousands.

But that could be you. And you should damn well believe that it will be you. you’re awesome!

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None of this is to discourage you; it’s just to let you know what you’re up against, and what you’ll need to be ready for. Still up for it? That’s fantastic! Write yourself a knock-out query (there are plenty of reputable sites and services offering query critiques, and Writers Digest has a great series analyzing successful query letters)[link], select your list of literary agents (making sure they handle the type of book you’re submitting), and get at it!

If that’s not for you for whatever reason (your book is unconventional, you don’t want to wait that long, you just HAVE TO GET THIS STORY OUT THERE RIGHT NOW DAMNIT), or you’ve been down that road and have amassed a collection of rejections and want to try something else, then self-publishing might be worth a shot.

Making that decision carefully and thoughtfully is step 1.

We’ll take you through the next steps in part 2!