5 New Publishing Tools from the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair

Presenter Dai Qin of Douban Read at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair International Self-Publishing and Author Programme. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.
Presenter Dai Qin of Douban Read at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair International Self-Publishing and Author Programme. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

The International Self-Publishing and Author Programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair was on Saturday, October 17th. Here are five new tools I discovered:

(1) BookTrack is a tool that lets you add a soundtrack to your story or novel. Here’s a YouTube overview of how it works and a brief sample of what it feels like to read a book with a soundtrack. BookTrack takes a 30% royalty on the text and a 70% royalty on the soundtrack.

As a reader, I’m not sure I like the pacing arrow traveling the right margin, but it’s an interesting tool to check your pacing as a writer. What do you think? Useful or annoying?

(2) Soovle is a free tool for identifying search terms and categories to help readers find your work. You type words in the search box and get popular search terms and categories from Google, Amazon, YouTube, Wikipedia, Bing, Answers.com, and Yahoo. It has a selection of other search engines you can choose from including Barnes & Noble. I don’t see Kobo or GoodReads although they would also be useful.

You can save the search terms to a file. This isn’t the kind of tool that tells you how many people search on the search terms you find. It just ranks the terms in order of popularity.

(3) PublishDrive is an e-book and print book distributor based in Hungary. It sounds similar to Smashwords or Amazon’s CreateSpace in that you can opt in or out of each online store. The difference appears to be that PublishDrive has access to more local stores in international markets.

They require DRM (digital rights management) whenever possible. Like Smashwords and CreateSpace, you can get a free ISBN for e-books, but need to buy an ISBN from your country of residence for print books, as you do for Ingram.

(4) Agentur für Buchmarktstandards is where you get ISBN’s if you write and publish in Germany. I also learned that ISBNs are free for Canadian residents. Sounds like a writer-friendly country. Go Canada! 🙂

(5) Douban Read is an e-bookstore in China. According to this blog post, it’s not the first e-book distributor in China. Their presentation kicked off with this YouTube video of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2015 Hugo Award Winner).

There’s something enticing about reaching a world market this way and finding new readers in another culture.

Anything you want to try, either as a reader or a writer?

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What’s in a reversal? Exploring Leigh Bardugo’s RUIN AND RISING.

Gasses bubbling the water at the lakeshore. Geothermal activity at Maria Laach caldera in Germany.
What bubbles to the surface? Geothermal activity at Maria Laach caldera in Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

Just finished reading Leigh Bardugo’s RUIN AND RISING, the 3rd book of her Grisha trilogy. If you haven’t read it, go read. (Note: This is a YA, not a middle grade title.)

SPOILER ALERT.

Last night, I stopped reading at the end of Chapter 8. Earlier in the chapter, things are looking up for Alina. She takes definite steps to be less isolated from her friends. The reader thinks things are looking up. But after this scene of light and laughter, the friends leave, and there’s one little paragraph:

Later, I could never be sure if I’d done it deliberately, or if it was an accident, my bruised heart plucking at that invisible tether. Maybe I was just too tired to resist his pull. I found myself in a blurry room, staring at the Darkling.”

For whatever reason, Alina has decided to reach out to the antagonist, the Darkling, through the tie that binds them to each other.

This moment in the story felt so real because we all know what it’s like to do something stupid when we just should have gone to sleep. After reading this story moment, I couldn’t sleep either because I knew this decision would ruin her. My reader brain was busy trying to rescue her from this choice.

I almost didn’t pick up the book again the next day. But I was on a train to Cologne and it was on my e-reader. So I did. When the scene didn’t turn out the way I expected, I was so relieved.

So, how did Leigh Bardugo do that?

How did she make the reader SURE that something dreadful was going to happen, without a doubt, and then REVERSE, without losing credibility?

This morning, I finished RUIN AND RISING before I finished traveling, so I had time to ponder.

Megan Whalen Turner’s ATTOLIA series and Dorothy Dunnett’s LYMOND CHRONICLES also have this trick of pivoting the whole story world on a character’s decision or a line of dialogue or an unexpected action.

Middle grade authors, Sage Blackwood and Angie Sage, also pull off this trick.

I really, really want the recipe.

Reversal ingredient list:

  • Reader expectations about the main character’s choices. Which ones look good from a reader perspective?
  • Consequences bubble up naturally early in the story. The reader experiences dread at the moment of choice rather than information overload.
  • Tension: The chapter that follows this passage has a feeling of I-should-not-be-here-but-I’m-too-tired that creates forboding.

Mix in reader expectations to form a smooth batter. Let consequences ferment. Set story aside to rise. Fold in a challenging choice and bake in a hot oven until done.

And then there’s Author Brutality, a.k.a. making things worse.

In his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL workshops, superagent Donald Maass asks:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen to your main character?”

“It just happened.”

Collective groans and sounds of grief from writers killing off their main characters.

“Now–what happens next?”

Because whatever happens next HAS to be a reversal. The main character has gone as far as possible in the original direction.

Any thoughts about more essential ingredients? Do you like stories with reversals? If you feel like sharing in the comments, I’d love to know your favorite examples.

 

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An Ode to Rain Boots

Formal portrait of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who invented rain boots.
The inventor of rain boots. Thomas Lawrence [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rain boots are also called Wellies after the Duke of Wellington, a brilliant army strategist. If the rest of the Duke’s strategy was as good as his rubber rain boots, no wonder he beat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

My husband got me new rain boots for my birthday. I wore them on a forest walk for the first time today. I feel so strong and invulnerable with them on. Mud, puddles, rain—I laugh at you!

When I was small, my brother and I wore yellow slickers, rain helmets and boots and nothing could touch us. On August afternoons in Vermont, we went out in the pouring rain, into the quiet, magical world. Everyone and everything else was in hiding but we were out in it.

Snow is quiet. Your breath in your ears is the noisiest part and the clouds of breath coming out make you feel like a dragon.

But the sound of rain covers the everyday sounds up. The cars sound different and all their motion is accented by swishing, splashing, rushing water. Water gurgles in the drain pipes and into the storm drains. We hear and see its power everywhere, but we are invincible in our rubber rain boots.

The tall grass is still wet in the meadows near my house. The horses stand patient in the meadows, heads level, droplets on their eyelashes. Do they wish for rain boots? They don’t run away from the rain. Do they stay drier standing still?

Rain boots make up for not being a horse. I’m not bothered by the water either. I walk through puddles and mud and am at home wherever I find myself.

Are you a fan of rain boots? What helps you explore and enjoy the world around you?

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Exploring: 9 Ideas For Reluctant Adventurers

Canal with houses on one side and bridge coming up in Leiden, The Netherlands
View from our boat tour in Leiden, The Netherlands

Sometimes we imprison ourselves in a little bubble and no one can reach us. When we’ve made up our minds about what something will be like, there’s no more room to see what it might be like.

A few weeks ago, I went for a hike with friends. One child in our group really, really didn’t want to come on a hike, but she enjoyed the castle ruin the more than anyone else in the group.

I’ve had similar experiences with children who didn’t want to go to a garage sale or thrift store and then found the treasure of their hearts.

Why are we (or our reluctant children) rewarded when we have a change of heart?

Is it because the decision to take part requires a change in perspective, an opening up, a willingness to engage? Sometimes we are ready to do this.

When I went to Germany for a year as an exchange student, I had studied German for years and had missed a previous opportunity. I was well prepared and eager and had a wonderful year in Marburg. Later on, I went to West Africa and wasn’t prepared. I had to work much harder to arrive. Most of the year was spent trying to catch up.

Sometimes we need help with the wanting. We don’t feel ready. We resist with all our strength. What cracks things open?

9 Ideas for Overcoming Reluctance

1. Make a wish. If you don’t want to do the work, go on the journey, visit the relatives, or take the hike, you can say to yourself:

“I WISH I wanted to do the work, go on the journey, etc.”

For some reason, this tricks the brain gently down the stream from wishing to “wanting.”

I’m stealing from someone’s work here, because I remember reading this [Brainpickings? The Sparring Mind?], but I don’t know where I read it. If you know, please let me know in the comments.

2. Security blanket. Give yourself an out. If you don’t like it, you can just go home. If you get tired, you can go to bed, read a book, take a nap. If you get hungry, you can have a snack. If this draft doesn’t work, you can delete it.

3. Look after the heart. What possible rewards could you promise yourself that fit with this particular adventure? How might this adventure help you do something that matters? I’m thinking of favorite activities or personal values. Can you play trumpet with Opa or rediscover your spouse? What kind of emotional “treat” can you build in?

4. Get ready. Put your open suitcase in a convenient place and drop things in as they come to you. Hang up a sketch of your plot line in the hallway and add ideas as you walk by.

Before I went to West Africa for a year, my mom helped me sew a “floor” onto my mosquito net “tent” so I could sleep securely.

Is there a symbolic object that makes you feel ready in a hurry? Phone? Water bottle? Daypack? Special pen? Book or magazine to read?

5. Get an observation tool. Something to help you see or hear can make it easier to slow down and experience the adventure. Camera? Sketchbook? Audio/video?

6. Get a new narrative. What do you tell yourself when you set out for adventure?

“It will be interesting to see what this is like.”

“We’re going exploring.”

“I’m sketching out a story, a character, a dialogue snippet.”

“I’m a pirate.”

Or ask others an interesting question: “What is your favorite memory from your childhood?”

7. Gain a new skill. Get help from others before you go.

My daughter’s school provided a “bike whisperer” to help kids lose the training wheels before a class bike trip.

Try an Italian phrasebook or a new method for drafting a story. Relax a rule for the journey or follow a rule you have previously ignored.

8. Embrace weakness. Remember basic needs for food, water, rest, exercise, reading, bathroom breaks, quiet and social time. Give yourselves credit for being on the adventure.

9. Most of all, watch for the unexpected reward. Start enjoying now. What is good about this situation?

A bee stung my daughter’s foot the day before a family trip to Leiden in The Netherlands. She couldn’t walk far with her swollen foot, so we took a boat tour of the canals that was the highlight of our trip. The Dutch apothecary also gave us a tip for a wonderful (and hidden) place for breakfast overlooking the city.

Bonus: I find the Bible useful for understanding my life and the world we live in. If this doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip this paragraph.

The day after our hike, this Bible verse showed up in my calendar:

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” —Phil 2:13+14

This verse resonated with me because grumbling or disputing is inevitable when one person doesn’t want to come along. The German is closer to what I’m thinking about here:

“Gott ist’s, der in euch wirkt beides, das Wollen und das Vollbringen, nach seinem Wohlgefallen.”

In English, this means: God helps us to “want” and to do the work tied to the “want” to bring that “want” to fruition. To me this means I can call on God for help when I want to want the adventure, but can’t manage it on my own.

What works for you? How do you help yourself and other reluctant adventurers arrive? Have you ever overcome reluctance and found an unexpected reward?

Exploring: A word in favor of happy bees

Blooming sage with bee in windowbox
A blurry bee is a happy bee

In graduate school, my major professor, Dr. Sandra Melnick, gave me some good advice about moving to a new place:

“You have to find out what you can do there that you can’t do anywhere else. And then try it out.”

How do we thrive here? This advice is as true for gardening and writing as it is for exploring a new home. What thrives in this soil and this climate? What parts of my life hum along better here? What does this manuscript have that is new?

My balcony is an in-between place, an incubator. Our balcony is like a giant concrete bathtub with a red racing stripe. The balcony above protects us from the rain. There’s nothing remotely natural about it. It’s for a table and chairs, coffee and cake, Rhine wine and olives.

But little by little, the earth came to our balcony. First we hung up windowboxes, then insects came, then a few weeds, and the birds that dig up big clumps of dirt and chuck them over the side. Deep purple pansies transplanted themselves from the upstairs neighbor’s window boxes.

The other day I found a big, fat, caterpillar, a gift from one of the birds. Too heavy to take home to the kids? Uh, thanks.

Maybe this year is the year. We have a small peach tree in a pot and it’s making peaches again. Will they make it to peachdom this year or will they fall off like last year? A real peach would be a prize.

My daughter started 14 lemon trees from seed. There’s a world heritage site, Brühl palace near here, modelled after Versailles. Maybe they could use some lemon trees.

My tomato plants are full of promise. Their deep green leaves and stocky stems comfort me.

And so do the happy bees: I like the way their work absorbs them. They enjoy each flower on the sage. They stop in mid-flight and zigzag back to one they missed. They climb into each flower as if it were a cave full of treasure, which I suppose it is.

And the humming. Humming while you work is a good sign. Although they only hum between flowers. They also fly a little drunkenly. Are they really working? Or does the pollen load ruin their aerodynamics? It’s hard to look elegant when you have a lot to carry or a lot to learn.

Large black Wood Bee and sweet pea flowers in windowbox
A Wood Bee: even the bees are bigger in the North.

Last year, I had sweet peas in my window boxes and this Wood Bee visited often. It was so big and black I felt skittish around them, even when they were doing the happy bee thing. I thought they were some kind of GMO bee or Chernobyl bee, but they aren’t.

This year, we have different flowers so we have different bees. We live in a different place and culture and are learning to thrive. It gives me hope to see the blurry, buzzing bees on our balcony. Three are out there right now, exploring every flower they pass.

What can you do where you are that you can’t do anywhere else? What can you do with this novel, this project, this family, this class, these friends, this museum, this library, this forest that you can’t do with anyone or anything else?

Exploring: Hatzenport to Eltz Castle on the Path of Dreams

Grassy trail above Germany's Mosel river valley in a little bit of characteristic mist
Grassy trail above Mosel river valley in Germany.

One morning, in early spring, my husband and I decided to walk to Burg Eltz (Eltz castle) from the tiny village of Hatzenport. We had asked the innkeeper if he thought Burg Eltz was do-able and he said, “Why shouldn’t it be? It’s only 2 1/2 hours.” Oddly enough, that reassured me.

It was an unexpectedly sunny day with a cool breeze, miraculous after weeks of rain and gray skies. We set out on little goat trails and followed the course of the Mosel river, far below. We barely needed our topographic map because everything was so well labeled. That’s how many people live in this part of the world. The trail was called “Traumpfad”, the path of dreams.
We traversed the vineyards on a tractor-wide track, feeling like Heidi and Peter. A sign said goats were used to clear out overgrown vineyards when someone wanted to begin again. Abandoned, overgrown vineyards were called “Brazils” after their owners left for Brazil to start a new life.

In earlier times, wagons must have collected the grapes from the rows of vines. A rusty winch in one village must have been used to pull heavy loads of grapes up and down the steep slopes. In another, a tower near the Mosel supported the cables to run a ferry across. The ferry needed no power other than the river current.

At some point, we left the Mosel to turn into another valley. The path climbed gently until we found ourselves on a high plain. The Mosel cut a valley into the plain, so that the river bed was actually in a canyon. The broad meadow was just as inviting as the earlier paths and the sun was just as delightful. There was a ring of standing stones, either old or modern, in the distance. It was almost unreal.

A group of eight deer leapt across the meadow in front of us to cross a road in the distance. Seven made it across but the last one was spooked by a car and couldn’t find his way. He bounded back to the safety of the forest. The others didn’t come back for him, so maybe that was the beginning of his own adventure.

An older pair of hikers passed us. They didn’t seem to be going fast but they were soon in the distance ahead of us. We saw them much later, having a picnic by the trail side, just before we got to a lot of boring pavement. Experience must help people pick out picnic spots. Role models for adventure pop up in surprising places.

By the time we had walked a few hours, we had gotten less tired or had found our stride or felt virtuous because we didn’t need parking, because we felt we could walk forever. When I was 10, I used to explore with my brother in the same way. A peanut butter sandwich in a backpack, a walking stick, and eyes to see what is in front of you.

Burg Eltz actually has a longish–by American standards–hiking trail from the parking lot to the castle. On the trail, three miniature knights came toward us brandishing wooden swords and painted wooden shields. A baby in a stroller was teething on a wooden sword. We were getting close.

Stone castle on a hill surrounded by the river Eltz and more hills near the Mosel valley in Germany.
The Eltz castle

The castle gift shop was full of swords and shields and castle-related memorabilia. A hearty soup lunch at the castle and we were ready to continue down the valley. Here the trail looks down on the river Eltz below—a gray, green, glacier-colored river—but I think the color comes from algae, but not in a bad way.

We hiked down to the village and took the train back to the tiny village of Hatzenport. It was a dreamy day of talking, walking, taking things in, and spending time together becoming whole.

The next morning, I took a walk in our own neighborhood. At the far meadow, a black and white horse whinnied and trotted, then pounded the grass with his hooves and galloped the perimeters of electric fence. Was he going to leap over it? Did the sunny, cool weather make him long for wide spaces and adventure?

Then a shaggy, brown horse appeared on the trail and the black and white nodded his big black head up and down emphatically. He had been calling this friend.

My day with my husband was perfect for me. The weather and the availability of food made it a very convenient adventure, but not one I will forget. A perfect life is an adventure with a friend.

Exploring: the vineyard-covered Ahr valley

Vineyards in Mayschoß, GermanyThe village of Mayschoß in Germany’s lovely Ahr valley says “spring” all over. The name of the village means “lap of May” and even though it’s only April, you can see why.

It’s easy to imagine an earlier era. On top of the hill nearest the church tower is a ruined castle. One vineyard advertises horse-drawn wagon rides through the vineyards. My daughter told me they have to muzzle the horses to keep them from eating the grapes during harvest. I never thought about a horse eating grapes before.