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Posts tagged as “Webworks”

Viiiictory Seven Times

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For the seventh time, I've won the National Novel Writing Month "contest", completing 50,000 words of a new novel in just 30 days. Actually, it took me just 29 days. Woohoo!

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This year's entry, SPECTRAL IRON, is the fourth book in the Dakota Frost series, my urban fantasy series featuring the best magical tattooist in the Southeast (and she's not afraid to tell you that herself). SPECTRAL IRON was a bit of a detour from the work I was doing to edit LIQUID FIRE, the third entry in the series, but I'm glad I did: SPECTRAL IRON taught me a lot about what makes a book coherent and I can use that to edit LIQUID FIRE.

So what is SPECTRAL IRON about? Originally, I was thinking the story was about a villain that murders ghosts, but now it's looking like the villain is a ghost who's a murderer. Maybe. There are some very interesting plot complications developing. Let me see if I can pull out an excerpt that doesn't give much away. Well, maybe it spoils a minor surprise, but it doesn't give away the plot. This is the kind of thing they'd put in a movie trailer. Regardless ... SPOILERS:

Now, all that was left was to walk down a hundred more yards of train tracks in the dark.

The dolly had left us, but the spotlight had not. The mobile klieg operator wheeled it forward, slowly, tracking me, Ron and Sunny as we walked down the pathetic, waterlogged track. The further we went, the more layers of mystery were stripped off, one by one, by the light.

By the end, we no longer stood in a chasm of night. We merely stood in a dilapidated warehouse loading bay, a long, low brick-walled chamber, weathered with graffiti, with chained-up wooden doors atop its loading dock and beer bottles in the puddles between its train tracks.

“Nothing here,” the Lady Nyissa said. “Nothing obvious, at any rate.”

I stopped before the back wall of the loading dock. It stretched up before us, a mottled wall of brick thirty feet wide and fifty feet high, with a notch cut out of its bottom right by the platform and another cut out the top by a door. Rusted zig-zag metal stairs led up to it.

“Well,” I said, putting my foot on the train-brake at the end of the tracks, staring down at the pathetic mud puddle rippling before us between the end of the tracks and the wall. “It looks like The Exposers have found another Al Capone’s vault.”

Oh, me and my dumb mouth.

From the water erupted a foul spray of black—topped by a bone white mask.

So, there's a few thousand more words of brain dump to go, and then it's back to editing LIQUID FIRE, revising THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, and working on the DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME anthology, oh, and revising my own story for the anthology, "The Doorway to Extra Time" ... aaaa! But at least I have this year's Nano victory to console me:

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Regardless, now that Nanowrimo and 24 Hour Comics Day and the Google Holiday Toy Collection are all behind me, I'm looking forward to getting back to my other projects, including all my writing, the Dakota Frost blog, and, heck, I dunno, my wife, friends and cats. Onward and upwards!

-the Centaur

Derailed

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Software launches. Anthology editing. I am now officially behind. Time to get back to Nano.

Fortunately I have the next nine days off, starting with tomorrow!

This is why I plan Nano carefully ahead ... this always happens, so you need to plan to have a buffer ... not just getting ahead early, but a place and time to catch up later for if and when you fall behind.

-the Centaur

Just add a dimension

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At long last, the project I've been working on at the Search Engine That Starts With A G is live. The Google Shopping 3D experience has been launched to the world. From the blogpost:

Explore products in 360-degree detail on Google Shopping Having trouble imagining what a toy actually looks like from the online picture? Now, when searching for a subset of toys on Google Shopping, you can see 360-degree photos of the products. These interactive images bring the in-store feeling of holding and touching a product to your online browsing. Look for the “3D” swivel icon on the product image to see a toy in 360-degree view, on HTML5 enabled browsers. We’ve also put together a Holiday Toy Collection featuring this enhanced imagery—explore the collection on this site. 360-degree imagery is coming for other types of products soon.

Depending on how you count, we've been working on this project for six months, a year, a year and a half, or two years. We've been in launch crunch proper for six months or so, but planning for the launch began a year ago after the launch of the Galaxy Nexus in glorious 3D WebGL (and yes, it did take us the whole year to get this far, and it was really tight down near the end).

The technology demonstrations that led to that launch and made this launch possible began six months before that, and the actual team that was working on them started just over two years ago - and, honestly, it feels like we've been in crunches and sprints for the entire time. Christmas 2012 seemed both far away and far too soon a year ago. It was barely possible.

But we made it.

I don't share much about the innards of The Search Engine That Starts With A G, especially on a project like this, so I'm going to draw to a close with this thought: I work on a wonderful team filled with fantastic people, geniuses and innovators and hard workers all, and each and every one of them were really critical to making this possible (and I mean that. We had NO slack).

I'd be proud to go into [software] battle with you wonderful guys and gals, any time, any where.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the 3D (well, really 360-degree spinner) of the Lego Jabba palace. Article title shamelessly stolen from Asimov. Final quote thieved from Patton.

Postscript: You know, I said "geniuses and innovators and hard workers all" but it occurred to me afterward that most of what these geniuses achieved is not at all obvious. The greatest things we did in this project are completely invisible; you would only notice them if we had failed. Despite seeming to be very simple - a few links, a 3D icon, a rotating swivel - this project actually was the most technically rigorous one I've ever worked on, including both my PhD and the search engine startup I worked on. So when I said these guys are geniuses, I really mean that - they delivered perfection so great it becomes almost invisible.

You have got to be kidding me

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You have got to be kidding me.

I noticed a little extra space on my previous post at the top of a quote I pulled out of SPECTRAL IRON. I wanted to cut it out, so I went to Ecto, my blog client, and switched to its HTML mode. This is what I found embedded in my document as a result of the cut and paste - three hundred and thirty five lines of hidden goop, which looks like it came from Microsoft Word:

  <p><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>

<o:DocumentProperties>

<o:Revision>0</o:Revision>

<o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime>

<o:Pages>1</o:Pages>

<o:Words>172</o:Words>

<o:Characters>779</o:Characters>

<o:Company>Mythologix Press</o:Company>

.... hundreds of lines deleted ...

mso-style-parent:"";

mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;

mso-para-margin:0in;

mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;

mso-pagination:widow-orphan;

font-size:10.0pt;

font-family:"Boldface PS","serif";}

</style>

<![endif]-->

<!--StartFragment--></p>

Charming! Feel like dieting much, Word? Axually, it looks like this may be part of a strategy to ensure formatted cut and paste works in Word and other programs, probably just interacting badly with Ecto.

S'ok, Word. We love you anyway, just the way you are.

-the Centaur

P.S. Pro tip: Option-Command-V pastes unformatted in Ecto.\

BLOOD ROCK is now on Audible!

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My second novel, BLOOD ROCK, is now available on Audible! Get it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_2?asin=B009NHDIBY Read by the awesome Traci Odom, I enjoyed hearing my own book brought to life and my wife's listened to the prerelease twice already. For a taste of the story:

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” I cursed, slamming the school doors open and stomping out into the cold January Atlanta air. Once outside, facing bare trees in a bleak parking lot under a graymetal sky, I regretted my words— because the example I was setting was the problem.

I stopped, swung back, and reached one lanky arm out to stop the door from closing. Moments later, my daughter stepped out of the darkness, eyes blinking, whiskers twitching, holding her tiger’s tail in her hands before her like a portable lifeline.

The two of us looked as different as can be: me, a six-foot two woman in a long leather vestcoat, wearing my hair in a purple-and-black deathhawk that lengthens into feathers of hair curling around my neck, and her, a five-footnothing teenager in a pleated school skirt, taming her wild orange hair with a blue granola-girl headscarf that poorly hid her catlike ears.

“It’s OK,” I lied gently, putting my hand on Cinnamon’s shoulder; though we both knew it was very not OK. “We’ll find a school that will take you.”  

Hope you all enjoy!

-the Centaur

Dragon*Con Reservation FU

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And I don't mean "fu" as in "kung fu".

Once again, Dragon*Con's main hotels have sold out almost a year in advance. The very nice hotel I was in this year, just up the street from The Big Five - the Marriott Marquis, the Hyatt Regency, the Hilton, the Sheraton, and the Westin - sold out before I'd checked out. Three of the Big 5 were sold out by the time I checked that afternoon. The Hilton has rooms at north of $300 a night.

Only the Marriott had rooms, which went on sale at 9:00AM EST today. Sold out by 9:45.

I didn't log on at 9:45, of course. I logged on at 9:00 AM sharp (necessitating getting up at 5AM PST). Dragon*Con's site was overwhelmed, but eventually I got on and got the login information at the very late time of 9:01AM EST. The login information didn't work, for the simple reason that it was wrong.

Sometime around 9:20ish this morning (don't remember the exact time), the overloaded Dragon*Con site (overloaded no doubt by people like me refreshing it looking for the correct Marriott Marquis login information) eventually refreshed and posted the correct login information. (The old data had dropped a digit at the end of the URL). I logged in, after several tries, around 9:21AM (really, pretty quickly), found a hotel room rapidly despite the sluggishness of the interface, and clicked Book.

Nothing.

The site was so overloaded that it wasn't responding to every click event (or, worse, the page got corrupted on download, so the Javascript for the button was broken; it isn't quite clear). I've been around the block, of course, so I had a different browser (Firefox rather than Chrome) and managed to log in there as well, and also found rooms - but the doubles were already sold.

This was around 9:30AM. Shit shit shit!

I continued this reservation. In the background, my original billing had finally timed out, but I kept going on the new one, which seemed to be working. It went all the way to booking, with weird requests for more and more information that kept slowing me down, but still, around 9:39AM EST, I had a correct credit card and was hitting send.

I captured a screenshot of what happened next and pasted it in the head of the article.

That's not a Photoshop, by the way - the "Some of the nights you have selected are no longer available" screen really did say FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUU(*). I hit "back" on my previous reservation and, magically, the session wasn't expired. It permitted me to continue to book THAT reservation too, right up to the credit card as before. Same result - rooms no longer available.

And all were sold out when I started over.

I could tell you about my struggles with Expedia, but really, they were minor. I went to Expedia, put in the dates of my reservation, selected Downtown Atlanta, saw the hotels on a map, and picked one. The only problem was that clicking on a hotel closed the map and hitting back took you all the way back to the search screen, but I found a hotel, pretty close, pretty cheap.

Just before I hit "book it" I got a funny feeling and checked the hotel on Yelp. Yelp warned me off - in no uncertain terms - and I started my search again. This time I found an even closer hotel, slightly more expensive, near the Aquarium, with glowing reviews in Yelp and Expedia. Then, I found out I wasn't logged in to Expedia and had to start over. But then, when I did...

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So maybe there IS reservation fu to be had here. For one of these crazy cons:

  • Check your con long in advance.
  • Find out when they book up.
  • Check their web site early.
  • Don't take the web site's word for it on the URL or login information if you're having trouble - look at it carefully, try it in several browsers, and check back to the web site if you have problems.
  • Try more than one browser if you've got the right information but are still having trouble.
  • Never, never, never give up - but change tactics if you've confirmed the failure.
  • Try calling them on the phone (I was doing this in parallel with all of the above).
  • Try using Expedia or your favorite reservation site - but use a map, or you'll get screwed.
  • Double confirm your choice with Yelp.
  • Make sure your credit card is handy and you're logged in to the site.
  • Make sure your rapid rewards or rewards plus or whatever information is on hand.
  • Never, never, never give up.

So ... I guess I'll be seeing you all next Dragon*Con!

-the Centaur

(*) Or maybe I just imagined that, and then Photoshopped the screencap to match my imagination. Who knows?

Marketing yourself

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Recently a colleague asked me how I marketed my books since I "seem to be quite fabulous at it!" Well, *cough* I don't know about "fabulous," especially compared to authors like Diane Duane, Warren Ellis, Scott Westerfeld, and especially John Scalzi, all of whom kick my ass in that department. But I do have some ideas, and they do seem to work. So here we go.

First off, I'd love to say that promoting yourself all comes down to being authentic, but that's not true. We all probably know people who are really authentic who aren't popular - either because their true love is obscure, or because they're abrasive, or because, in the end, they're not really interested in being popular.

So what I really mean by being authentic is not promoting yourself for the point of promoting yourself. Little is more irritating than someone producing an enormous amount of hot air trying to market nothing more than thin air. Ideally, you should do good work, produce it regularly, and then, and only then, try to help people find it.

But even helping people find it can backfire. Most forums, whether online or in person, aren't meant for selling products or services - so marketing language is simply unwanted. So my philosophy for promoting myself is to honestly contribute to the conversation - to do good work online, to produce it regularly, and then, and only then, to help people find my work.

So how do you do that? Well, by blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and plussing, of course. My hope is that I contribute enough to the conversation to make people intrinsically interested in what I say. Once that happens, the work I'm trying to sell to people are my books. Here are the things I do to promote them, as told to my colleague, with light editing:

  • Have a website and keep it updated - My colleague did this already, so good for her! From a book marketing perspective, my own websites are nowhere near as updated as they should be (as of early August 2012) because I have too much writing to do and I'm using Facebook more, but you can't use Facebook for everything.
  • Have an individual page for each book - The page for each book should link to everyplace your book is available (again, I've let myself down here, that's out of date on my own Dakota Frost site! Argh!). This is important not just so people can find out what you're doing, but because it also enables ...
  • Take out a Google ad for each book - The Google ad needs to point to something and you can't point to Amazon or Audible because you don't own those sites. So you have to have a landing page for each book. This has a cost - depending on how much you want to do over the course of the year you could spend a thousand dollars plus on advertising. But it lands people on pages about your book, and then from there to buying it.
  • Consider blogging - Not just a web site, but an active blog listing the things that you're doing and involved in. More permanent than the other social media that I list below, and something that can refer to as a "master" page for media. My Library of Dresan site is my master site, where hopefully anyone who really wants to know more about what I'm doing can find anything they need to know.
  • Have a Facebook page for yourself - I actually have one for each series, http://facebook.com/dakotafrost, http://facebook.com/jeremiahwillstone, http://facebook.com/serendipitythecentaur - and update this as often as you can stand without becoming repetitive. Consider setting up your blog so it crossposts to Facebook, but be willing to engage Facebook conversations too.
  • Take out a Facebook ad for your page - Not as effective as a Google ad, but it slow and steady builds your fanbase. I've found that this builds your fanbase more than anything else you can do, and that Facebook fans are more engaged than anyone else I find in any other medium.
  • Treat your fans right - Don't just post what opportunities your fans have to buy your stuff, but engage them in the conversation and care about what they say. Your fan count can go down, not just up. People will desert you if you are an irritating toad or only talk to market or even if you just don't ever respond (or produce).
  • Get on other social networking services - as many as you can stand and still do each one justice. Twitter is a service that doesn't completely overlap Facebook and you can plug it into Facebook or WordPress on your blog. Google+ is another service that seems to have less traction but I've seen a LOT of content on there so it's coming. Consider Pinterest as it seems to have a lot of clickthrough to web sites.
  • Do everything your publisher asks you to do - My publisher and her team work hard to get my name out there and I accept as many of these appearances as I can. This may not apply to you and what you want to market, but if you have something to market, getting a publicist of your own might not be a bad idea (if you haven't already).
  • Participate in online and offline communities - science fiction conventions, radio shows, writer's conferences, be a guest at a con, go on a blogtour, give a talk, etc., etc. ... it all adds up. I got published because I took my laptop into the corner of Dragon*Con writer's track year after year, writing away ... and got noticed.

The big thing that you should be trying to do with all the above is:

  • Create an online presence which is genuine and has enough content for someone who's interested in you to find out more about you, within safety and reason in this crazy Internet stalker age
  • Use this platform to show people what you have to offer - sending them, via ads and posts and links to pages you control describing the books you've written or the comics you've done or ...
  • Make it easy for people to then buy what you have to offer - routing people from the pages you control to the places where people can actually buy the books, like Amazon or Etsy or Ebay or Audible or ...
  • Then produce more great stuff on a regular basis so people are always interested! This is actually more important than the first three. If you really do produce great work all the time, it will serve as its own publicity.

Basically, that's it. I'd love to do more than that (I axually NEED to do more than that because actually part of my writer/developer schtick is that I'm the writer-designer-coder-maintainer of my own websites) but I work for a living and write in all the rest of my free time and still have a wife, friends and cats, so I can only do what I have time to do, and that's it.
Then I go collapse into blissful unconsciousness.

There are some blogs out there which talk about marketing. Bob Mayer talks about it from an indie publishing perspective. My buddy Andy Fossett has written some articles on it from time to time and apparently had some success. Seth Godin has some interesting stuff to say about it. But in the end I just feed my head with those articles. I don't really have a marketing plan.

I do know I need to market myself, and I do by creating a number of sites online where people can read what I write, by working hard to create interesting content on those, and then by hoping people get lost in the content I've produced. That's why I wrote this article - because my colleague found the email that spawned it interesting, so I hope you will too.

That's not enough, of course. There are billions of pages on the web. I make mine visible by advertising them. I'm fortunate that I can afford to do that, but I'm also taking a very long view towards my career - I advertised FROST MOON a year or so before it came out, and it paid off. But beyond a bare minimum of advertising, I don't push it. I sit back and hope people like what I have.

Really, I don't have time to do more - I have to write, so I've produced something people have a chance to like.

Hope this helps!

-the Centaur

Is Spam out of Control?

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I don't know, you tell me.

According to reports, somewhere between 75% and 90% of all email is spam, and if I read the numbers right, over 99.5% of all comments on this rather minor blog are spam.

Yeah. That's extraordinary. That beats it all.

-the Centaur