The Power of Touch

Touch imagery has always been a useful storytelling tool. Even when we're not putting together a lyrical masterpiece, it sneaks into our language. We talk about warm smiles, slippery personalities, getting caught between a rock and a hard place.

As it turns out, touch imagery might be more than just a product of an overactive metaphor engine. It may have something to do with the underlying way our brain structures our thoughts. Psychologists sometimes call it the scaffolded mind hypothesis. It's the idea that sensory and motor experiences provide a type of scaffold for us to conceptualize more abstract ideas. For example, the physical warmth associated with affectionate touch later becomes a way to think about interpersonal warmth.

Getting Blog Graphics on a Budget

Holy smokes! Will Self Publishing Make You Die was shared more in the past week than  Narrative and the Brain, the previous top post, had been shared over the past 8 months. Since alarmist pseudoscience appears to be all the rage, I'm hard at work on the follow-ups:  1)  Bad Prologues and Other Signs of the Apocolypse and  2)  Do Adverbs Cause Erectile Dysfunction?*

Today however, I'm braindead from my yearly committee meeting. It went well, but after puzzling over rather challenging data all week, I'm going to write a post that doesn't require coherent sentences.

 I've been looking into getting a blog header graphic and recently asked twitter for suggestions. As always, twitter rose to the challenge. Here is a compilation of the responses I got. If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

*I may or may not actually be writing those follow-up articles.

Places to get art or stock photos (copyright and permissions vary from site to site):
1. DeviantART (@shaunduke)
2. Take a photo of something relevant that photographs well & crop to needed shape (via @audryt)
3. Dreamstime
4. iStockPhoto
5. Wikimedia Commons
6. 123rf

Ways to find graphic designers
1. Etsy (go to Everything Else, then Custom or Graphic Design)
2. Sites like 99designs and pimtim , and crowdspring let you hold design contests for a set monetary prize

1. Kinetiva has a DIY Branding Toolkit
2. Beautiful Blog Designs features blog designs, designers, and templates.

Graphic designers on twitter or recommended by people on twitter:
1. Bill Journee
2. J.M. Lee
3. Goofy girl designs (currently closed)
4. The Fae Group
5. Amanda Cobb
6. Jane R.

Will Self Publishing Make You Die???

There's been quite a bit of talk on the interwebz lately about self-publishing, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I’ll leave discussions of sales numbers, platform, production values, etc. to other blogs. Today, we're going to take a look at a much more basic concern. That's right folks, we're going to look at whether self-publishing makes you die.

Now this requires some context. A couple weeks ago, agent Mary Kole (who keeps a very helpful blog, btw) posted an article arguing against self-publishing. Now my own views on self publishing are pretty moderate (It’s doable, but incredibly hard work, and you should get objective confirmation that your writing is up to par.), but I hopped over to read the lively debate in the comments.

One argument caught my attention. Given the odds for traditional publication, good manuscripts do slip through the cracks. Since you've worked so hard on the novel, isn't it worth it just to try?

That kind of made sense. What do you have to lose? If you fail, at least you know it’s your fault and not because the acquisitions editor read your manuscript the week his mother-in-law was in town. Sure, there's stigma, and there will always be people who say you’re selling your failures. But what's that to the knowledge that you really tried your best?

At that point, I caught myself. “But wait, Livia,” I said. “ You're a psychologist. You can't just blithely ignore social factors as if they don't matter.” And I was right (funny how often that happens when you argue with yourself). Social status has considerable impact on health and quality of life.

There's one study that looked at the effect of social status on longevity. The researchers compared the lifespan of Nobel laureates to Nobel Prize nominees who didn't get the prize. The Nobel Prize winners ended up living on average 1.4 years longer than the nominees. Now remember that even the nominees were highly respected in their field and financially pretty well off. But being a laureate added over a year to the winners’ lifespans!

Once I remembered this, I became highly agitated. Was it possible that self-publishing writers were jumping in without realizing the risk to their health? Should I warn people, or should I just sit back and wait for the coming holocaust? I could just see it -- self published writers dying off in droves, 1.4 years before their time.

Luckily, I caught myself again and realized I was jumping too quickly to conclusions.  Because many other factors contribute to your health. Among those is ability to control your circumstances .

And self publishers do win in the control department. They don't have to deal with the publishing roller coaster -- the agent who loves your work but decides to leave the industry to become an organic farmer. The editor who inherits your manuscript from the editor who inherited your manuscript from the editor who took over your manuscript after your original editor left publishing house. The art department who decides that your children's book about puppies would really sell much better with hot vampires on the cover. All stressful events out of an author's control -- events that in combination just might start shaving days off your life.

So what's the moral of the story? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps the best thing is not to think about it too much, and write the best book that you can.

Hm.. Isn't that always the conclusion we come to at the end of the day?  *sigh*  Here's to many more happy years of writing for all.

So what do you think, writer friends?  Any aspects of your writing life cutting your days short?  Or is it smooth sailing?

Note: The research described and linked to from this article is real. If you haven't figured out by now, everything else -- including interpretation of research, implications for the publishing industry and the pros and cons of self-publishing --  should be taken with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Tips from Muse and the Marketplace

In couple months ago, I attended Muse and the Marketplace in Boston. As is becoming my tradition with conferences, I'm passing on a few helpful tips below.

But first, I shall reenact for you my first conference critique.  It went something like this.

Livia enters dimly lit dungeo conference room,clutching manuscript and scanning different tables for her agent.  Finally spies Agent at very end of room and crosses over, bravely ignoring the tortured screams, cackles, and tongues of flame that burst occasionally from neighboring tables.

Agent:  Hello.

Livia:  Hello. (Kicks at enormous rat, which hisses but promptly get eaten by an even bigger cockroach)

Agent:  I have a question.  Was this the first thing you've written?

Livia:   Uhhh.... (madly brainstorming ways to appear less dumb) Oh, uh... this little thing?  Uh, yeah, of course.  I mean. OH YEAH, it's not like I consider this a REAL manuscript or something.  Just a little bit 'o fun on the side, in case you were wondering why it sucked -- I mean not that I'm saying that you're saying that it sucked but yeah, totally, if it read like a first manuscript it's just cuz ...... (Keeps digging grave for a few more minutes.  Vultures circle overhead.)

Agent:  Oh okay.  I was just wondering, cuz this was actually my favorite submission.  I actually didn't have much to say because I just wanted to keep reading.

Livia: (Blank stare)

Dungeon transforms into hotel conference room.  Carrion eaters disappear.  Screams from neighboring tables transform into polite conversation.  Tongues of flame turn out to be smartphone LCD displays.

Hehe, yeah, so the first few minutes took a few days off my life, but the encouraging feedback afterwards counteracted that, for (hopefully)  no let loss of lifespan.   And after I stopped pscyhing myself out, I realized that Agent was very nice.

But anyways, on to the conference tips.

Writing Tips (On writing children, but applicable to other characters)

Observe kids in the age range you're writing. How do they move? How do they interact? For example, ever noticed that toddlers have a bow legged stance and a stomach-forward way of moving? Even if you don't write that out, it will show through in your writing.
 -- Lauren Grodstein, author of A Friend of the Family

In the same way, listen to them talk. Listen to their patterns of speech.
-- Lauren Grodstein
[Note from Livia: Alan Rinzler also has a good article on eavesdropping for dialogue on his blog]

If your research is thorough and people still aren't believing your character, then it's a writing problem, not a research problem. Make your writing strong and authoritative enough that the readers have to believe it.
-- Lauren Grodstein

Generally speaking, the YA market responds to big drama. A girl reconciling with mom? Maybe. A girl reconciling with mom after Dad dies in a space shuttle explosion? More marketable.
--Lauren Grodstein

On Platform and Publicity

If you're an aspiring fiction writer, focus your time on making your book better rather than on blogging. Unless your numbers are huge, blog followings won't help you get published.
– Julie Barer, Barer Literary
[Note from Livia: The other panelists agreed with this, and I've also been seeing this advice elsewhere  -- it seems like there is a  backlash against the recent push for aspiring writers to build up their internet presence. What do you think?]

Five years ago, writers were beholden to their publicists to make their book known. Now you have much more control. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Allison Winn Scotch, author of The One That I Want

On Self Publishing
There isn't as much of a stigma anymore to self publishing. Agents and editors watch self published books to see if they do well (Upwards of 15-20,000 copies sold).
– Julie Barer

While it's true that in self publishing, you get a higher percentage of the cover price, you're also taking all the financial risk of publishing the book upon yourself. In traditional publishing, you share the risk with the publisher. Remember that most books don’t earn out their advance.
Sanj Kharbanda, VP Digital Marketing Strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Do you need a publisher? There are parallels to the music industry. If you want to be Lady Gaga, you need a traditional publisher. But just as recording technology has made it possible for indie bands to put out cds, self publishing now makes it possible for indie authors to put out their own books.
 – Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University

On Ebooks and the Digital Marketplace

On a family vacation, Julie Barer's mother started chatting with another woman on the beach.  They were both reading on their kindles, and Julie's mom thought the other woman’s book was interesting. Four seconds later, Julie's mother also owned the book.
– Julie Barer

In the digital marketplace, you get a small number of extreme blockbusters and a long tail. It’s easier than ever to get a book out, but it’s getting harder to make a lot of money from it.
– Joshua Benton

In digital formats, books are no longer limited by length. You don't have to add filler or cut out content to make a book fit the expected word count for the genre. A digital book can be just as long as it needs to be.
 – Joshua Benton

Hope you found these useful!  Let me know your thoughts.