Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing Conference Preperation

A couple months ago, I wrote a blog post about networking opportunities available at writing conferences, and how to get ready for them. Since I have my first big conference of the year in less than two weeks (LDStorymakers), I thought it would be good to re-post that information.

Before The Conference
Before the conference is where you do your homework and make your battle plan. I recommend that you have the following networking preparation done before the conference.
  • Research attendees & plan interactions
  • Order business cards
  • Prepare your log line & elevator pitch
  • Plan 'must-see' presentations
  • Set conference goals
Research Attendees & Plan Interactions
On the conference website, they'll provide a list of the publishers, editors, agents, and authors that are attending the conference. Make a prioritized list of who is from where and what you want to talk with them about.

Order Business Cards
Business cards are critical because this is how everyone you meet will remember you. You want a professional looking card with multiple ways to contact you.
  • Mailing address
  • Home & cell phone numbers
  • e-mail
  • Website
  • Social networking sites
Your card says a lot about you, make sure it says what it should. You can go with a specialty design, just be sure it doesn't hurt your cards readability. Check out the following sites for design suggestions:
How To Design Your Business Card
11 Tutorials for Business Card Design
Business Card Design
Prepare Your Log Line & Elevator Pitch
Preparing your log line and pitch information... I'm not sure I'm the one to teach these (yet, at least). But if you're going to network, you need to have these ready. Learn how and be prepared!

Plan 'Must-See' Presentations
Meeting Author J. Scott Savage
Your main task at a conference is to network, not joy ride. That said, there may be some very good information being presented at the conference, especially by authors and publishers you want to schmooze. Pick which presentations you need (like that one on blood spatter) from the conference schedule and let the others slide.

Set Conference Goals
I recommend prioritizing your goals by setting nine: three 'A' goals, three 'B' goals, and three 'C' goals. Nine is only a suggestion and you could have more or less depending on your needs. The 'A' goals take precedence over 'B' and 'B' over 'C.'
A #1 - Pitch to Susan Chang, YA Editor for TOR Books
A #2 - Pitch Lou Anders, Editorial Director - Pyr Books
A #3 - Sign up for Kaffeeklatch with Susan Chang
B #1 - Invite J. Scott Savage to lunch with writing group
B #2 - Pitch to Lee Harris, Angry Robot Editor
B #3 - Host meet & greet with other aspiring authors
C #1 - Attend blood splatter workshop, Sat. 4pm, room A204
C #2 - Talk to Shaun Ferrell about advertising on Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing
C #3 - Attend TOR room party
 Note: Don't monopolize people's time. Learn how to politely approach, query, and get out of conversations without being a pest.

Sound Off
What goals have you planned for this year's round of writing conferences? Which goal are you most scared to accomplish? Who do you most want to approach? What topic are you looking forward to learning more about?

Monday, April 22, 2013

My 2013 Summer Flick Picks

As the summer rapidly approaches, the cinematic options are looking extremely choice this year. A lot of these films look awesome, but I worry whether the script will live up to the hype. A bad story so often tanks a great concept. But if these films are well written, it's going to be a great sci-fi summer! And the way the flicks are lining up, I could even see a movie every week.

That said, I'll be lucky to see two on this list. But here are the movies I'm looking forward to the most.

Click on any of the links below to watch the trailer on YouTube.
1 - Star Trek: Into Darkness - Begins May 17, 2013
2 - Iron Man 3 - May 3, 2013
3 - Elysium - Begins August 9, 2013
4 - Despicable Me 2 - Begins July 3, 2013
5 - Pacific Rim - Begins July 12, 2013
6 - Red 2 - Begins July 19, 2013
7 - World War Z - Begins June 21, 2013
8 - Much Ado About Nothing - Begins June 7, 2013
9 - After Earth - Begins June 7, 2013
10 - Man Of Steel - Begins June 14, 2013
These last five are additional movies I'm interested in this summer. But, like I said, I'll probobly only see two movies total this summer, so these flicks are dark horses.
11 - Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters - Begins August 2, 2013
12 - Oblivion - Now Showing
13 - The Wolverine - Begins July 26, 2013
14 - Riddick - Begins September 6, 2013
15 - Austinland - Begins August 16, 2013
Sound Off
What movies are you looking forward to this summer? Do you find yourself drifting towards a particular genre? If you could only pick one or two, which ones would they be and why?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Building Your Blog: Progress Meters

Progress meters are bars that show your progress on a given project. They allow your blog visitors to see what you're working on and how close you are to finishing them. I use mine for writing, maybe you'll use yours for gardening. More importantly, if you faithfully update progress meters, they can help you keep on task.

The learning curve is fairly easy, but reward your efforts significantly.

Finding A Progress Meter
Several progress meters are available on the internet. If you do a Google search, you'll be swimming in them. But which one is right for your blog? This boils down to a simple style issue and you're going to have to look at a few to find the one that matches your theme.

When you set up your blog, you picked a template that came with several automatic style choices. When choosing your progress meters, find one that blends with your blog. For instance: if your blog has a fantasy/forest type theme, you're not going to pick a sci-fi looking meter.

When I chose the meters for my blog, I found a simple meter because my theme is crafted around petroglyphs. In other words, simple drawings and stone. I chose a meter that had been created for a sewing group because it was very simple and plain. Sure I could have picked a high tech looking meter, but remember my theme: petroglyphs. Simple. Primitive. Nothing flashy.

Try some of these links and find one you like:

Adding The Code
Stop! Don't panic yet.

Some of you might think you're about to enter 'Programmer Land,' but this part is actually very simple.  To begin, inside Blogger:
  1. Select Layout
  2. Select Add Gadget where you want your meter to appear
  3. Select the HTML/JavaScript Gadget
  4. Paste the progress meter code and save
Most of the progress meters you'll find will have similar instructions for adding the code to your blog.

To try the meter I use, add the red and green code below to play around, or find the code for another meter you prefer. The red/green code below is for the meters I use, and I'll teach you how to customize them.
You'll have to set up the parameters of your meter regardless of whether you try mine or someone else's, and the other meter web sites should have information how to customize theirs.

For now, lets look at the code I use so I can explain how I do it:
<!-- Progess bar widget, by Matthew Harvey (matt at --> <!-- Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License ( --> <style type="text/css"> div.smallish-progress-wrapper { /* Don't change the following lines. */ position: relative; border: 1px solid black; } div.smallish-progress-bar { /* Don't change the following lines. */ position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; height: 100%; } div.smallish-progress-text { /* Don't change the following lines. */ text-align: center; position: relative; /* Add your customizations after this line. */ } </style> <!-- Progess bar widget, by Matthew Harvey (matt at --> <!-- Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License ( --> <script type="text/javascript"> function drawProgressBar(color, width, percent) { var pixels = width * (percent / 100); document.write('<div class="smallish-progress-wrapper" style="width: ' + width + 'px">'); document.write('<div class="smallish-progress-bar" style="width: ' + pixels + 'px; background-color: ' + color + ';"></div>'); document.write('<div class="smallish-progress-text" style="width: ' + width + 'px">' + percent + '%</div>'); document.write('</div>'); } </script>


<!-- List Colors Gold-#FF9933, Red-#E77471, Green-#99C68E -->

<li> Blood of Mars - Rough Draft <script type="text/javascript">drawProgressBar('#FF9933', 100, 100);</script> </li>

<li> Monthly Word Count Goal <script type="text/javascript">drawProgressBar('#99C68E', 100, 25);</script> </li>

<li> Weekly Word Count Goal <script type="text/javascript">drawProgressBar('#99C68E', 100, 100);</script> </li>

I admit it looks a little intimidating unless you've seen html code before, but I'm going to try to clear up some of it. Please bear in mind that my html coding is 10+ years old, and web design has developed a bit (infinite bit) since then.

Reading and Adapting HTML Tags
Let me explain first, that html is created using 'tags' and that html tags always have an opening and closing tag. The only thing that differentiates closing tags from opening tags, is the slash in the closing tag. For instance, these are the opening and closing tags for the web page on the whole: <body> </body>

Again, don't panic because Blogger takes care of all of this for you when you set up your layout. I'm just explaining it so you can see that when you know what the tags are, the rest is easy.

I divided the code of my progress meters into red and green text so I can explain how I use it.
  • The red code you DON'T TOUCH. It gets copied and pasted into your blogger widget and contains the original programmer's information.
  • The green code gets copied and pasted, BUT you'll change the parameters to be your individual project meters.
Lets go over the green code, so you can see how you'll customize it for your own needs. First off, all the green code is, is a list. Simple right? You'll see these 'tags' at the top and bottom.
  • <ul> </ul> These tags denote an unordered list, meaning the list has no specific order, but the top list item will appear on top, and so on.
  • Then, inside the unordered list, you have tags that denote each list item. The opening and closing list item tag look like this:  <li> </li>
  • Each list item is an individual progress bar. You can copy and paste these list items as needed if you want more progress meters. Delete the list items, for meters you don't want.
 Now lets look at one meter, or list item:
<li> Monthly Word Count Goal <script type="text/javascript">drawProgressBar('#99C68E', 100, 25);</script> </li>
Inside the list item, first is the progress meters name--Monthly Word Count Goal, followed by the code that creates the bar. To customize an individual bar:
  1. Change the meters name, then find the coding inside the (parenthesis)
  2. Change the meter's color. The color is denoted by the web color number such as, #99C68E, which is a shade of green. ONLY change the color-- #XXXXXX -- nothing else.
  3. See the final step below.
More On Color
If you'll notice, I have the following line of code just inside the unordered list tag.
<!-- List Colors Gold-#FF9933, Red-#E77471, Green-#99C68E -->
This line is hidden and does not display on the web page. I use it to keep the color numbers I use for my bars. Gold = general purpose, Red = behind goal, Green = goal achieved/on target. If you plan to use different colors, change these numbers to the colors you will be using.
To see the various color options, please visit this site:
Final Step
Finally, the last customizable feature is the percentage complete. Inside the list item tag, the last two numbers in the parenthesis specify your percentage. The first, '100,' sets the 'finished' setting at 100%. The second number is the percentage you have completed. If you've only completed about 25%, you put 25 here.

Sound Off
Do you use progress meters? Where did you find yours and what made you use it over all the others? Have you found a meter that's better than the rest?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Building Your Blog: Choosing Your Name, Layout, and Theme

When setting up your blog, it's important to consider your purpose. In other words, if you're setting up a family blog, your blog goals are going to be different than if you're creating a business type blog. I'll mainly be discussing the latter, particularly in the direction of writers.

What's In A Name?
I learned, from several writing conferences, that writers need to have a blog for networking purposes.

Okay, I thought. So I set up my blog on Blogger and created my account. My first speed bump came in the form of the name.

What do you call your blog? I wanted something catchy, but later learned that, as a writer, one choice is preferential to all the others.

Your name.

You are your brand and promoting 'you' is what your blog is about. You have to get your name out there as you network with other writers. Don't believe me? Well, I learned this naming convention from writer Shalee McArthur. Shalee had a lot of the same experiences I had when she began blogging, which is why her blog was first titles Life, The Universe, and Writing. After she learned to promote herself, her blog title changed to: Shalee McArthur: Life, The Universe, and Writing.

Why is that such a big deal?

Because since her blog bore her name (, when I heard her name mentioned at a writing conference, I was able to stop and tell her how much I appreciated her blog. Boom! A quick networking moment. That might not have happened if she became known as: Life, The Universe, And Writing.

Fortunately, when I set up my blog, I had the sense to use my name as the blog's address:
So, even though I went with a catchy name (Paper Petroglyphs), I could still add my name to the top.

Choosing A Theme And Layout
Your theme and layout is a personal choice. Do you want to go with a forest theme or high tech? I recommend you pick a theme and color scheme based on your writing style.

As I said earlier, I chose petroglyphs--or simple communication--as my theme. Simple and primitive. I made this choice because I like writing in a wide variety of genres. If I liked mainly fantasy, I probably could have gone with a forest theme. Sci-fi? Glossy metal and techie banners. But I wanted a wider palette that I could grow into.

Whatever you choose, don't be afraid that you'll be stuck with it forever. You can and will change your mind until you settle into your blog.

Once you've got a theme, you'll need to pick your layout. You can play with several as you build your blog, but this is a personal choice too. However, my recommendation is to have your menus on the right and bottom of your blog with your blog content on the left. Why? Because western readers typically read left to right and your content is the first thing they'll see.

Everyone has menu options on their blogs, but if a reader makes it to your blog, you want to give them something immediately. They can navigate around later.

A Note On Readability
Readability is the ease in which text can be read and understood. Various factors to measure readability have been used, such as "speed of perception," "perceptibility at a distance," "perceptibility in peripheral vision," "visibility," "the reflex blink technique," "rate of work" (e.g., speed of reading), "eye movements," and "fatigue in reading." (From Wikipedia)
As a writer--and really anyone--you want your blog to be readable. This means a LOT more than just checking your grammar. Anything that slows your reader's reading (say that three times fast) down, must be avoided.
  • If you use ten different fonts on your page, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
  • If you use twenty colors on your blog, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
  • If you use an 8 and 24 point fonts interchangeably, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
  • If you use multiple graphics in your blog posts, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
  • If you have menus on the left, right, and bottom, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
  • If you use catchy or phonetic spelling, you're hurting readability. Less is more.
Seeing a trend yet? 'Keep it simple, stupid' (KISS) is something we all have to constantly maintain. The last thing you want to do, is turn off a potential reader because your blog is 'cluttered.'

Sound Off
What were issues you discovered when creating a blog? Have you found techniques you wish you had known sooner? If you could give one piece of advice to a new blogger, what would it be?

Monday, April 1, 2013

When Good Books Hit The Wall

I recently read Cassandra Clare's, City of Bones. It got my attention by the copious stacks available at Wal-mart, and several friends recommended it to me. What's more, I believe the series is up to book six now, so I thought it would be a good read.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

When Good Books Hit The Wall
I'm getting crotchety in my old age. Life is getting too short to read annoying crap. Usually I soldier through until I get past the poopy part of the book, but lately I discovered my increasing passion for dropping books I can't stand.

Oddly enough, I made it all the way through City of Bones despite my growing displeasure. But because of my frustration with it, I took the second and third books back to the library unread. Two books hit the wall, and I hadn't even read them.

My biggest complaints with City of Bones were:

The female protagonists constant attraction to the 'bad boy' character
This one probably agitated me the most. Please... this character wasn't a 'bad boy,' he was a jerk douche-bag. Most people, men and women, would have started avoiding him long before the end of the book. He was rude and annoying.

And the nice-guy, geek boy who stands by the heroine no matter what? She uses him like toilet paper.

(And people wonder why I hate love triangles.)

Several spots of purple prose
Purple prose is "a generally pejorative term for writing or speech characterized by ornate, flowery, or hyperbolic language. Contrast with plain style." (About.Com: Grammar & Composition) "The idiom was originally a purple passage or purple patch, and the earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1598. The rhetorical sense in English comes from the Ars Poetica of Horace, specifically from the phrase purpureus pannus, a purple garment or raiment, the color purple symbolizing royalty, grandeur, power." (Charles Harrington Elster, What in the Word? Harcourt, 2005)
Take, for instance, the following excerpt:
"My pack were the first at the door. We burst into the hall, tearing the night with our howls. And we were followed by Fairy knights with weapons of glass and twisted thorns. After them came the night children with bared fangs and warlocks wielding flame and Iron. As the panicked masses fled the hall, we fell upon the members of the circle."
That's a serious chunk in five sentences. Granted, it's not bad writing, but this excerpt is from a character who is retelling an event, not telling a campfire story. Would you tell about a fight like this? Or would simply say, "We ran in backed up by Fairy knights and vampires. As people ran, we attacked the members of the circle."

But no. The author wants us to know exactly how everyone ran into the hall. I know, I know--it's not as... fun. But remember, if you were retelling the event, would you be so flowery?

Books That Hit The Wall
I can think of two books that I actually declined to finish reading:
  • A Dance With Dragons - George R.R. Martin
  • Star Trek: Exiles - Howard Weinstein
A Dance With Dragons
Since this was a pretty big book, it put a hole in my wall when it hit. Nah, just kidding. I read the audiobook and I wasn't about to chuck my iPod at the wall.

My biggest complaint with this book: it's boring. After eight hours and nothing happening, I wanted to cut my wrist(s). And since my favorite character, who didn't appear at ALL in the previous book, spent his time in those first eight hours either drunk or drunk in a wagon--


I got a little fed up.

Star Trek: Exiles
I kinda feel bad about this one. It's book two in a series, so it didn't have good footing to begin with. But, as with, A Dance With Dragons, nothing happened in at least 2-4 hours of audio. The final nail in the coffin came when Mr. Weinstein used a flashback to remember the word slippery.

I kid you not.

A character remembered water getting spilled on the deck and freezing. This reminded him what what another character was like: slippery.

I hit the pause on my iPod so fast there was a sonic boom.

Why It's Okay To Toss Bad Books
I've actually stressed about writing a review for the books I've mentioned. I feel like a schmuck when I can't enjoy someones hard work, especially when so many others love them. Sure, I gave these books star ratings on Goodreads, but I didn't want to hinder other people's enjoyment with my ranting in a review.

So why didn't I like them? In this case, it really was just me.

John Brown, author of Servant of a Dark God, gave this quote by Thomas McCormack, CEO & editorial director at St. Martin's Press, during his presentation on The Hunger Games at the 2011 LTUE. Here's what he said:
"An author needs a lot more than one person to succumb to his literary seductive charms, but, like Saul, he must realize that he doesn't have to--and indeed cannot--capture the hearts of every possible reader out there. No matter who the writer, his ideal intended audience is only a small faction of all the living readers. Name the most widely read authors you can think of--from Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens to Robert Waller, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling--and the immense majority of book-buyers out there actively decline to read them.”
So what Mr. McCormack is saying here, is that, if you don't like a particular book, that's okay! You're simply not a fan of that author, maybe even just that particular book. For instance, I've read the rest of George R.R. Martin's books, but hated this last one. It's received rave reviews, but I still didn't like it. I wasn't in the audience for A Dance With Dragons. And that's okay because others still liked it and Mr. Martin is still a screaming success.

Sound Off
So what books have you disliked? What were your reasons for tossing them? Have you ever stopped reading a book, only to try again years later and find that you liked it?  

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