ISBNs, Copyrights, and Barcodes, Oh my!

At the Palouse Writers Guild Build-a-Book Workshop I presented the following information on ISBNs, copyright, and barcodes.  The workshop was a success and we plan to host another one in the future.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is the International Standard Book Number.  It uniquely identities the book, publisher, and edition. The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title (or edition) from one specific publisher, allowing for more efficient marketing by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.

Parts of the ISBN

Each 13 digit ISBN consists of 5 elements separated by spaces or hyphens.
The five parts of an ISBN (13) are as follows:

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Guilt-free Writing

I recently had a conversation with Moscow Poet Laureate, Tiffany Midge, about cultural appropriation in writing.  While she, a Native American, decried the act when white authors wrote Native American point-of-view characters, she claimed it was acceptable for her to plagiarize the work of Luna Leigh, a white woman living in England.  Then she went on to berate Terese Mailhot, a Tecumseh Postdoc Fellow at Purdue University, who brought the plagiarism to light.  It seems that theft of language, culture, and ideas is only a bad thing when it happens to you, and not when you do it to others.

What Ms. Midge refused to understand is cultural appropriation goes both ways and has been occurring since man first learned to walk upright.  Evidence of it is everywhere.  It’s human nature, and it’s not going to change.

I stumbled across a blatant example of cultural appropriation at Saint Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.  The nuns host a workshop on understanding Sacred Celtic Landscapes.  I could point out that the sacred Celtic landscapes they reference predate the coming of Christianity by hundreds, if not thousands of years, that Celtic religious life originates from the Indo-European religious traditions, not the Judeo-Christian tradition, and that by appropriating those landscapes they have deprived a people of their heritage.  Instead, I decided that the post-Christian Celtic narrative is just as important as the pre-Christian narrative.

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Why Write Book Reviews

Recently, a number of people have told me that book reviews are a waste of time.  One person said, “If you’re not writing, you’re procrastinating.”  Another said, “Why waste time promoting someone else’s work when you should be promoting your own?”

The answer is really very simple.  Book reviews are highly valuable, not just for the one receiving the review, but for the one writing it as well.

Every book a writer reads gives them insight into what’s trending in the market, which aids in determining the commercial potential of their books.  Market research is vital for finding a publisher.  Many writers finish their books and turn to places like Writers Market, Publishers Marketplace, and Query Tracker, then spam all the editors, agents, and publishers they can find.  A more successful approach might be turning to your bookshelf instead. Continue reading


The Writing Process

I’m often asked when my novel will be published, or why it isn’t published yet.  Many people don’t realize that the writing process is a lot more involved than simply sitting at a keyboard and writing.

Before deciding which publishing options to pursue or beginning to search for editors or agents, a writer must first have a high quality product to offer.  Many writers overlook the importance of the writing process in their eagerness to get published.  Not adhering to the process actually kills a writers chances because, without it, they are unable to produce a salable manuscript.

The writing process involves four phases: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing.  Following these steps will help, but experienced writers know that problems which arise during drafting, revising, or editing, can send them all the way back to step one, where they must develop and expand an idea.  As my NaNoWriMo ML is quick to remind me, “You will enjoy the process, God damn it!”

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The Dreaded Cover Letter

I just finished my novel: 112,632 words, 381 pages, 21 chapters, 5 appendices, 3 maps, a calendar, and a family tree. All that’s left to do now is finish my cover letter and mail it off. I have never been so terrified in my entire life. I’m more nervous than when I defended my thesis. Then again, my thesis was only 80 pages long, so maybe anxiety is directly proportional to word count.

Now, about that dreaded cover letter.  Whether or not a novel will ever be read depends entirely on that letter.  In that single sheet of paper I must summarize all 112,632 words, define my genre and target audience, provide some kind of proof that my writing is worth reading, and include a pithy author biography.  It’s a lot to accomplish in a single page.

Some of the information, like the genre and summary, is straightforward.  Other information, like writing credits, can leave an author feeling confused about what they should and should not include.  After a bit of research I created a list possible writing credits, ranked them from best to worst, and provided a list of what authors should avoid mentioning if they want taken seriously.

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Palouse Writers’ Guild

In my quest for a better writers’ group I kept getting the same piece of advice.  “Just start your own group.”

On August 1st, I was offered to take over the running of a defunct Meet-up group.  My first action was to change the group’s name and remove anyone who had accidentally joined looking for a Meet-up in Moscow, Russia.  That paired the list down to 15 members, only 3 of which had ever shown up.  Since taking over the group, membership has grown to nearly 50 people, indicating that others in the area are hungry for professional development and a connection with other writers.

GuildThe Palouse Writers’ Guild’s goal is to facilitate literary education by supporting writers’ groups, author readings, workshops, writing contests, and conference attendance.  Our calendar lists the dates and times of writing groups from the Moscow/Pullman area.  Membership is open to writers of all genres and media.  Anyone interested in free writing, critique, participating in writing exercises, attending literary events, or just socializing with groups of like-minded people is welcome to join.

Going forward, we have set aside Saturday, April 29th as our event date and are busy planning a set of four writer’s workshops.  If you are a Palouse area writer looking for a home, feel free to join us.


Finding the Right Group

Finding a good critique group can be challenging, especially when you are new to writing and don’t know what to look for.  It doesn’t help that there are a variety of group styles to choose from.  No style is better than the others, what matters is whether it works for its members.  Some groups meet once a week, others once a month.  There are groups where dedicated writers gather together to work at their craft, others are strictly social gatherings for like minded individuals.

The difficulty in finding a good group is, like all other groups, they can be dysfunctional.  Stories of writing groups gone bad are pervasive on the internet.  Unfortunately, new writers are particularly susceptible to falling prey to dysfunctional groups.   Holly Lisle’s Blog mentions some of these groups:  Circle of Friends, Masters and Slaves, and Sharks and Dinner.  It only takes one person to completely change the dynamic of a group, quickly spiraling from circle of friends to sharks and dinner.

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