Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is Creativity Out the Window for Novels?

I’ve just finished preparing a proposal for a novel. Using the guidelines provided by an agent I created a ten page document (along with 3 chapters) to “sell” the book. Things have come a long way since I first submitted a novel fifteen years ago. Back then agents and editors wanted a cover letter and the first few chapters. What’s changed?

The publishing industry is evolving. A decade ago you could still occasionally query a publisher directly with a submission for fiction. Now it’s almost impossible. Publishers only want to look at submissions from agents. So, the monkey is on their back. To keep their relationship and reputation right with publishers, agents want to make sure the books they suggest are targeted, well written and from a writer who means business.

Thus, the proposal for a novel is now similar to that of a non-fiction book. (For many years, the standard for submitting a non-fiction book has been the proposal document consisting of lots of marketing information. )

I went through the hoops and prepared the 10 page sales document for the agent. But I’m troubled. I know that most publishers are now part of big conglomerates – and they watch the bottom line like a hawk. Because of that, they want to be extra careful where they put their resources. But we know from Hollywood that the creation of clone products (which corporations’ find safe) is not a great stimulus for creativity.

There is a great story about Walt Disney. When his short film about the Three Little Pigs became popular, people clamored “Give us more pigs.” He refused to make a “follow up” film. When Snow White was a hit he didn’t do a sequel – he did Pinocchio instead. When other animators reused film in scenes (such as a chase scene) Walt insisted that no portion of his films be repeated. This kind of insistence on newness and creativity could only have been demanded by a person with Walt’s power. (Notice that Disney now does sequels of even mediocre successes.)

What does this mean to the writer? Is creativity out the window? Perhaps not. First of all, you can still find avenues of creativity in the safe projects corporations want to do – if you are creative about it. Secondly, there are other ways to “publish” now – although typically not very lucrative. Some blogs ago I wrote about the cell phone novel in Japan – millions of novels written (mostly by teens) on cell phones and uploaded to the Internet. Some were good enough to make it into print – and became best sellers.

Perhaps that’s where creativity will come from in the next generation of fiction – eBooks. Some will rise to the top and be successful enough that the big corporations will publish them – and if they are a new genre or introduce some innovative way to tell a story – then it will open up the mainstream for something new. Who knows…

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Automated backups saved my bacon

How Allway sync saved my bacon: Since I write at several different computers, I store my working manuscripts on a USB drive -- you know, one of those thumb drives. They are very handy. I’ve been doing this for several years and have had nary a problem. Taking my own advice since I’ve told people time and time again to back up data because, “it not if you’ll lose data, its when” I performed backups every week or so. But – it was up to me to remember to do them.

I should have smelled trouble coming last month when I opened a Word file I’d been working on and it was corrupted. Fortunately, I had a recent backup. I did lose about an hour’s work, but I took it in stride.

Something told me I ought to do a better job of backing up my files, so I searched around and found this program called Allway Sync. You load it on your USB drive and tell it what folders to backup. It came as a free evaluation version so I tested it once and thought “kind of cool.” Then I forgot about it.

The bytes hit the fan last Monday. I was in the middle of printing a copy of a manuscript to send off when an error message popped up and the printing stopped. (The Word document for the script was on the USB drive.) I cancelled the printing and tried again. No dice. I closed the document and tried to reopen it. Word said it couldn’t find it.

I tried rebooting. Now the computer saw NOTHING on the USB drive. Something must be wrong with the port, I thought. I tried another port on the same computer with no luck. I pulled the USB drive and tried it on another computer. Still no luck. Drat!

Now I began to count my costs. I hadn’t done a backup in a couple of weeks. If I’ve lost everything on the drive, I was looking at a major computer file catastrophe. I looked at all of the manual backups I’d performed and the latest one was two weeks old. Draw! Drat!

I broke out in a cold sweat – not really, but I did get mad (at myself.) Then I remembered Allway Sync. I opened it up and saw where I’d set as the backup folder. I rushed to the folder and saw that it had backed up my USB the night before -- automatically -- without me even knowing it! Eureka! My bacon was not fried!

Believe me, I quickly paid cold hard cash ($20) to make the evaluation version into a registered version.

Now, I know that there are other backup programs out there and other methods of backing up (over the Internet for example.) Choose one you like, but choose one. I say again – it's not if you’ll lose your computer files… its when. Do you have your files on automated backup?