Brain Tumor · Writing & Freelance

Rescuing Memories from My Chemo-Brain

quitting work memeGod, I love Google Drive. Writing a scene today triggered a memory of mine from 2013. I wrote a resignation letter to my boss at The Shittiest Job Ever™. And this letter? It was something else. I remember telling my dad about it at the time and he was like, “I’m not telling you not to send it, but are you sure it’s wise to leave like that?”

He wouldn’t have been a very good dad if he hadn’t wondered out loud about my maybe possibly kinda burning bridges. But I was 33, not 23. So believe me, I had thought the damn thing through.

“Dad,” I said, “You don’t understand.”

The letter WAS TWO WHOLE PAGES LONG and CC:ed to HR not just because it was standard procedure but because they also needed to have it spelled out that there were capital-R Reasons I was leaving without giving the standard 2 weeks’ notice. It was the most fuck-you thing I’d ever written that didn’t contain any actual cuss words.

Anywho, I was thinking, Gee I really wish I had saved that, when I  vaguely remembered sending it to a co-worker and a couple of friends via email after the fact. I searched Gmail for “resignation letter” and found the link (that I’d sent out more than five years ago) to the Google Drive doc. Was it still there? I clicked excitedly. Yes!

Reading it opened a memory floodgate in a corner of my brain that was just collecting dust post-chemo. I don’t have plans to write at any length about that job in my memoir because it’s largely irrelevant to the story I’m telling, but a steady trickle of memories from that same period started pooling at my feet—memories that I had only partially been able to recall began flowing in much more complete form. Which, you know, makes writing about them exponentially easier.

As of today, I have 34,027 words in my first draft.

Brain Tumor · Writing & Freelance

Emily Writes a Memoir

adult coloring page wallpaper

So, that whole writing a book/memoir* thing? It’s still happening. Somehow I’ve managed to type up more than 25,000 words. That puts me halfway to my goal of 50,000 words for the WIP. (Oh my God, I have a WIP!) Now, I do have a pipe dream of getting this thing traditionally published someday because: medical bills, so 50,000 might be a little light in the end. But for today, drafting something that long is monumental. Feeling well enough to slog out a thousand words a day is even, uh, monumentaler?

Here’s the reason I’m so giddy about this project: I’ve been writing professionally for more than a decade, but always for someone else. Even when clients found me through my blog and said, “I love your voice! Write for me!”, in the end most wanted to make the thing theirs. Totally understandable, BUT! having this chance to write for me—about only the things I want to write about, in no one’s voice but my own—feels surreal, and a little indulgent. Even though I know I’m only afforded the time to do it because I’m tumored and disabled. Dan is super supportive and is picking up the domestic slack while I disappear inside myself for a few hours a day, probably because he wants me to make him look good when it’s time to write his chapter.

It’s already apparent my FitDesk hours for September are going to be less impressive than last month, but I’m making my peace with it. Yeah, I know the whole point of the FitDesk is to be able to work and ride, but I really like writing on the couch.  I still try to ride regularly and color (see above), but I’m not feeling robust enough to pedal for 90 minutes a day and squeeze in a couple hours of writing. Chronically sick bodies require an abundance of rest, you know.

That’s my update. I’ll see ya when I see ya.

 

Coloring page taken from Art Nouvuea: Coloring for Everyone.


*Even though “memoir” is technically what I’m writing, and I love reading the genre, I hate the word “memoir.”

Writing & Freelance

A Look at the 3 Top Places to Find Freelance Writing Work

Naturally, part of my preparation for possibly re-entering the world of freelance writing after a couple of years away includes checking out the current job-hunting landscape. So I put “freelance writing jobs” in my browser’s search bar and checked out the top three results the search engine spit back at me. Here are my thoughts.

Upwork 

upwork

I mentioned that I’d already created an account at Upwork in an earlier post. There are a lot of job listings there—literally hundreds upon hundreds. Some gigs pay well, some pay not so well, and some offer downright insulting pay.

Upwork charges a fee for using their board. There are still ways to get paid precisely what you’re worth (just determine your hourly rate or fixed price and tack on 20% when bidding) but it’s still a little unsettling to kiss that 20% goodbye. Does the site provide enough value to justify the cost? Well, that’s something each freelancer has to decide for herself.

Contena

contena

I got started by registering, but was immediately turned off when I started getting their onboarding emails. First I was told there’s a waitlist to get in. Then, lucky me, I was accepted. (Wow, I must be special!) Then I find out what it costs to use the site. The cheap plan is $99/mo. The premium plan is $199/mo.

Jesus.

And these guys are not shy about going for the hard sell, either.

“With Contena Gold, you’ll learn how to go from zero to hero as a freelance writer with complete access to Contena Academy 2.0. Contena Academy is our complete 6 module video course that will help you to create everything you need to launch a great writing business.”

What I find the most disturbing about Contena is that until you pay, you can’t even look at the details of the jobs posted. I’m not into buying things sight unseen. And the skeptic in me if the list of titles is even legit.

I’m not saying this site is shady or that it doesn’t provide a valuable service for a specific kind of freelance writer, but it’s definitely not for me. I feel like I need to take a shower now.

FreelanceWriting.com

freelancewriting

There were quality listings here that seemed to be scraped from various other sites on the internet. You can filter their postings to cut down on clutter and take a closer look at the gigs that appeal to you.

After finding one I thought might be interesting, I clicked on the “apply here” button a couple of times before finally being led to a completely different site to submit the job proposal. Hmm. The extra clicks are a minor inconvenience. I have bookmarked the site though. It could be useful.

There are lots of other freelance writing job boards like FreelanceWriting.com that either collect links from around the web or offer paid ad space for companies looking to hire freelance writers. I landed some great projects scouring these kinds of sites previously, but I’m not sure they are the best use of my time now.

 

Writing & Freelance

Kickin’ Ass and Changing Names

I don’t know how long Paula and I have been Twitter friends, five years? Ten? But I know that when she commented on Monday’s blog post asking “why not start a book?” it wasn’t the first time she’d suggested the idea.

My standard response to anyone who has ever nudged me to write a book is essentially this: I don’t know what to write and I don’t have any ideas. I was raised to follow instructions, not create.

I wish I was a freer spirit. I’ve been trying my whole life to be a freer spirit. But I don’t think I have it in me. So, yes, I thought, it’s a wonderful idea. But, no, I don’t think I’m the woman to pull it off.

I stepped away from my laptop and walked my lilted walk to the kitchen to make a sandwich. And as I was digging the turkey pastrami out of the fridge, I let Paula’s suggestion swirl around inside my head a little bit more. I paused briefly with my hand on the handle of the refrigerator door. The I idea of writing something more life-affirming than 500-word blog posts for technology startups was enticing. What if?

What if I could write a book?

What if I could write a few hundred words every day?

What if I could get an agent?

What if I could get that thing published?

What if I could make a living writing stuff for me instead of other people?

The thoughts were too tempting to let go of this time, and so I started writing. I got a few thousand words down about my brain cancer—because I love memoir, and that’s what I want to write—before self-doubt pulled the brakes on that train.

You can’t write about that other stuff though.

There’s not enough material here for a book.

You think you can eke out 75,000 words writing this kind of drivel?

Everything you plan to write about is going to get you sued.

I slept on it, and woke up determined not to write but to research memoir writing. And I started thinking about the theme and about how different snapshots of my life fit into that theme. And then I thought about the story arc and how I might order those stories for the reader. And then I read something magical about how to deal with horrible people from your life that might want to sue you: put a disclaimer in the front of the book about how you’ve changed names and some details. Fudge the locations. Bump the time forward or back a year or two. Give that guy a mole he doesn’t have in real life.

Duh.

After reading that, the ideas that were damming up behind a wall of doubt swelled until they took the wall out.

And now, if you need me, I’ll be thinking up villainous names for all the miserable people who’ve come in an out of my life.

Brain Tumor · Writing & Freelance

Getting Back to Freelance Writing

My long-term disability insurance policy doesn’t run out until May 2019, but it does run out. So naturally, I’m already worrying about how we are going to replace that $900 each month and thinking about the possibility of getting back to freelancing after a two-year medical leave of absence from work of any kind—freelance or otherwise.

In the moments when I’m able, I’m preparing myself for a return to work, even though I can’t just yet and there’s no promise that I’ll be able to next year. To start, I’ve been thinking up a to-do list that might be helpful in case I’m healthy enough to freelance again. If you think about it, I’m like a Doomsday Prepper, except I’m anticipating that something good will happen to me.

Cleaning up my Twitter Timeline?

Most professionals would advise me to back away from the political posts and maybe stop swearing at my congressional representative (who, I should note, would like to see me and others die from our illnesses rather than ensure we have full access to medical care) on Twitter.

However, I’ve got brain cancer. And whether it’s because deep thoughts about my immortality have made me less concerned with people who don’t like me or it’s because I’m more inclined to carpe the fucking diem, I’m leaning more toward continuing to tweet whatever I want.

What about that LinkedIn Profile of Mine?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t bothered much with LinkedIn since about 2013, and it’s been nice. It was helpful back when I was actively seeking freelance gigs, because it served as my resume, but the useless notifications were so annoying. When I started working at Wolfram, I didn’t do much more than update my job title and add a few new connections. I think I’ll check in with my freelancing pals and see whether they find it helpful on the off chance maintaining some sort of presence there is helpful.

I Signed Up at Upwork

As far as I can tell, this is the site that used to be oDesk. I used oDesk to land quite a few gigs back in the day, and it could prove to be a nice place to find work again in the future. I created a profile, set up my payment account, browsed the jobs listings, and even put in a couple of brief proposals for some small projects I’m confident I could handle even right now.

While there are plenty of contractors looking to take advantage of desperate workers on the site, there are also a few real gems to be found. I like the idea of submitting proposals for jobs that interest me and avoiding wading through and replying to random contacts through my website.

About the Website…

That’s something else I need to consider. Am I going to go back to a more professional emilysuess.com that focuses on my work, or keep this site as it currently exists? I could create completely separate sites for my professional and personal homes on the world wide web. I’ll continue to mull it over.

I’ve got a lot to consider.

 

Self-Publishing · Writing & Freelance

Real-Life Horror: Author Solutions’ Book-to-Screen Prices

author solutions book to screenOn Monday, I noticed Author Solutions started touting its 2007 Trafford title, The Foreign Pawn written by Lee Yagel. Seems the book was optioned by Anarchy Management (what? seems legit to me), so Author Solutions, never wasting an opportunity to push an overpriced yet mostly useless marketing service, wrote a press release about it bragging that:

“The Cold-War period novel, written by Lee Yagel and published by Trafford, resulted from adding Author Solutions’ Book-to-Screen coverage services to his publishing package.”

(Dare you to diagram that sentence in your free time, by the way. It doesn’t say what I think Author Solutions intended it to say.)

Anyway, I imagine having a book optioned is pretty exciting for an author. Even though it’s no guarantee your novel will ever make it to the big screen, it does mean that someone wants the right to purchase the screenplay at some point down the road. And that’s cool.

The full truth about book options—something you won’t likely get from an Author Solutions employee—would probably temper the average writer’s enthusiasm, though.

Someone out there correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most options last between 1 and 3 years and option payments are nothing close to a windfall. Nope, odds are you won’t be paying off that 30-year mortgage. Also, plenty of book options just die. Nothing ever comes of them, and the rights just anticlimatically revert back to the author when the term of the option expires.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and no one really gets hurt, unless you’re delusional enough to pay Author Solutions $859 to $16,299 for the privilege of such disappointment.

The Price of Trafford’s Book-to-Screen Marketing Services

Just in case you think I’m making up those ridonkulous numbers, here are the prices for all Book-to-Screen services taken directly from the Trafford website today. (iUniverse, AuthorHouse and other Author Solutions imprints have similar services.)

Hollywood Gatekeeper: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$859[/typography]

Hollywood Audition: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$2,149[/typography]

Hollywood Storyteller: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$3,749[/typography]

Hollywood Topliner: [typography font=”Ubuntu” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#c72222″]$16,299[/typography]

Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 and Book-to-Screen PitchFest New York 2012 with Video through Trafford cost $1,999 and $3,499 respectively.

The Screenplay Treatments

One of the the things the Hollywood Storyteller package will get you is a treatment. According to Trafford, a treatment:

“is a thoroughly developed guide that outlines how a screenwriter would adapt your book into a fully-developed screenplay.”

Coincidentally, someone claiming to be a former freelancer with ASI, left a comment on the post, “Author Solutions & Jared Silverstone: Now With 99% More Bullshit”, explaining that these treatments are used to sell overpriced adaptations for screen. Well, here, just read for yourself:

Gawd — these guys. I had a pretty surreal experience freelancing for their ‘book-to-screen’ program. They had me adapting self-published manuscripts into treatments, which they apparently would then use to try and upsell their clients on exorbitantly overpriced screenplay adaptations. The whole thing reeked of selling snake-oil to people who didn’t realize that spec screenplays, regardless of quality, almost never get past the dreaded ‘intern readers,’ much less optioned, much less produced — whereas ASI assured that these adaptations would ‘most likely’ get produced, and with A-list Hollywood stars to boot.

Also keep in mind, the majority of these authors would insist upon one-to-one adaptations of their manuscripts (most of which had clearly never been edited), which typically yielded sprawling, 3-hour scripts that would be line-budgeted for 100+ million bucks.

What nonsense. Even better, ASI’s in-house ‘editors’ would inevitably return my treatments with a list of corrections that, at best, were arbitrary and, at worst, would themselves be rife with grammatical and syntactical errors. A few were riddled with spelling errors. Corresponding with editors who can’t spell does not exactly inspire professional confidence.

But I had to quit because I was continually corresponding with poor folks who seemed honestly to believe that this was their ‘big break’ into Hollywood. It seems ASI even set up their own production company so they could claim that ‘other companies’ have a ‘first look’ deal with their screenplays. Shady.

Now might be a good time to plug that self-publishing services directory I launched during Writers’ Week, you know, in case you’re looking for some alternatives to Author Solutions.

Writing & Freelance

The Cover’s the Thing

By Claire Ryan

…the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
—Hamlet

Shakespeare was talking about theater, but the principle is the same: just like a play is a reflection of real life, a book cover is a reflection of what’s in the book.

At least, it should be.

I honestly believe that every book needs a good cover. Some indie authors like to publish with a serviceable cover and upgrade it to a better cover later, after they’ve made some sales. I think this is horrible advice. The cover is the first point of contact for most readers – going with a merely adequate one is just going to make it that much harder to get those initial sales. Authors should strive to publish with a cover that gives their book the best chance it can get from the very start, depending on their budget. Sometimes this does mean creating their own, but it’s not a job that can be done in a few minutes. A couple of days is not an unreasonable amount of time to spend on a cover for a book that took a couple of years to write.

Covers are tricky as well as important. They have to communicate a lot of information, consciously and unconsciously. If you’re going to create your own, you probably already know the basics – readable title and author name, looks good at scale, etc. Unfortunately, a truly effective design takes more than just the basics.

Visual Cues

It’s very interesting to examine what kind of visual information people pick up on when they see a cover. Little things make a lot of difference in how the book is perceived, and perception is everything. The cover should entice the reader to look at the blurb. The blurb should interest them enough to read a sample. The sample should convince them that the book is worth buying.

It’s obvious that the blurb and the sample can’t do their part if the cover doesn’t pop.

The visual cues of a cover are things like the fonts, the placement of text, the colors, the focal point. They can be simple, but they should never look unprofessional. Here’s an example:

writers week cover design

This is by far one of my favorite examples of good cover design. You can see that it’s quite simple at first glance, but there’s a lot going on there that you may not even realize you’ve processed.

The illustration is the focal point. That’s the first thing you see when you look at it, as it’s a large, centered block of color, and it tells you exactly what the book is about. It’s about struggling with questions. (The book is a literary work in which every sentence is a question.) Now, look at the position of the figure and the way his arms curve in the same rounded shape as the upper part of the question mark. He is effectively a bigger question mark that surrounds and emphasizes the smaller one.

Look at the choice of font, and how the question mark itself is a different, probably serif font to the sans-serif of the title and author name. Using a serif font there is less harsh, and more elegant, and this communicates that the question he is wrestling with isn’t entirely serious.

Now, look at the placement of the text. Why would the artist offset the first and third words in the title instead of centering them all? To leave more room for the illustration? No, that would be too easy. Instead, look at the sight lines of the cover – this is examining where and how the viewer looks at it as a whole.

writers week cover sightline

The eye starts at the focal point, then is pulled up to the title, which is the biggest text and the next most obvious thing. The offset of first and third words pulls the eye to the side and down, where it crosses the little description – “A Novel?” – and ends at the author’s name, which is centered.

Notice how the sight line also makes a curved shape like the top of the question mark?

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the obvious information, like who the author is and what the title is. Visual cues are just as important in describing a book as that. A viewer can follow the sight lines of a cover in a single glance without realizing it, and it’s up to you to make the most of that glance and make sure your book is reflected in it.

This is why nothing about a good book cover is accidental or done for convenience.

What Information?

Okay, knowing all that, the next question is what information should you convey about your book. The title and author’s name is obvious, but the choice of visual information isn’t.

It comes down to what your book is about in a couple of words. It’s about the big ideas, and there are always big ideas. I don’t mean what actually happens in the book, although you can use a scene as the illustration, because the plot is just a means of delivering the big ideas.

Think about this example: the sci-fi classic, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama is about encountering something far beyond what we have ever known. It’s about the wonder of a technological marvel, and the fear of what it might do to us. This is reflected in the cover. The strange, cylindrical Rama dwarfs the human spaceship, beautiful, threatening and fascinating at the same time. This is what I mean by the big ideas of a book.

Fantasy and sci-fi books sometimes fall into the trap of putting a scene on the cover without any kind of context and without really saying anything about the big ideas of the book. (The original covers for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are guilty of this. The most interesting one is The Dragon Reborn. The rest are generic and mainly consist of people standing around or on horseback. They don’t do any kind of justice to the rich world Jordan created or the major themes of sacrifice and epic destiny he incorporated into his writing.) Now, it’s certainly important to follow the trends of your genre and develop a cover that will play to your target readers, but there’s a difference between having a good cover for a particular genre and having a cover that could be put on ANY book in the same genre if you changed the text. If your cover is too generic, you’re not making the best use of it.

Start with an elevator pitch, if you like. Think about how to describe your book in as few words as possible. Think about how you want the reader to feel when they read it. This is what the cover needs to convey.

Useful Resources

Here’s my round up of the best resources to help you dig in to cover design:

Inkscape – I know plenty of authors make their covers with Photoshop, but my preferred program of choice has always been Inkscape. Just watch out for the steep learning curve, and the filters tend to slow it down considerably if you overuse them. Inkscape is a vector program, so you need to have your photo or illustration ready beforehand, but it makes the actual construction of covers very easy once you get used to it.

Google Webfonts – here’s a couple of hundred free fonts. You’ll find something there you can use if you want a particular look for your cover.

Color Scheme Designer – mostly used for websites, but I also like to use it for testing different color combinations and for getting ideas. Just be aware that the color in print (if you’re publishing on something like Createspace or Lulu) will not be exactly what you see on the screen.

The Book Designer’s Ebook Cover Awards – good for looking at a snapshot of different trends from month to month, and you can submit yours if you want.

ConceptArt.org – the pit of sharks itself. If you want to get brutally honest feedback from design professionals, post your cover in the Graphic Design forum here. They may not be able to tell you what’s right for your genre, but their feedback will help you make your cover look as good as it can be.

TutsPlus – this can get you started on the nuts and bolts of design. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and you’ll find the Tuts+ Network, which has hundreds of tutorials (free and paid). They concentrate on Photoshop and Illustrator so their usage might be limited, but they’ll definitely give you ideas.

Noupe.com’s Graphic Design Primer – interesting reading if you want to dig into more of the theory behind design, with examples.

[box border=”full”]Claire Ryan is a graphic/web designer, all-round computer expert, programmer, data analyst, and aspiring writer. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, having escaped from the untamed wilderness that is the south of Ireland. Claire currently runs the Raynfall Agency, a publishing business that handles technical things for writers. [/box]