The Bog of Lost Scholars

September 22, 2006


Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 8:21 am

Dear small publisher:

ONIX is not that hard.

Really. It isn’t.

Yes, the full ONIX spec looks intimidating. But if you’re just doing a few books a year, you don’t need to worry about 90% of those tags. And the rest is just information that you’d be sending to vendors anyway — ISBN, title, author, page count, etc. You’re just formatting it as, say, AUTHORNAME rather than as Author: AUTHORNAME. And you get to use a consistent format that most of the major vendors will be able to process, so you’re essentially making one data file for everyone.

You might want a database; you’ll definitely want an XML validator. (I finally realized I needed to use one regularly when I discovered that four bad characters, at least two of which I’d removed from my ONIX database but not from the database further back, had gotten into my output.) You want a copy of the ONIX specs, downloadable from Once you’ve got that, it’s just some gruntwork — a lot the first time, and not so much later. I’ve found it well worth the trouble.

July 18, 2006

Don’t Put This in Your Submission Letter.

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 7:09 pm

Digging through some old files, I found a priceless line from an unsolicited submission:

In my mind, it is your company that should be and will be the martyr of envisionment upon publication of this document.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad sentence to put in your query letter?

April 23, 2006

ISBN-13 Away!

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 9:46 pm

While I whined a lot about the gruntwork involved in converting to ISBN-13, in actuality it took me maybe three weeks to add them to all the PDF catalogs, and that definitely wasn’t anywhere near constant work.

Our site, PDF catalogs, and ONIX database are now all converted to ISBN-13. There’s still stuff other parts of the Press will have to do as part of the switch, but my part’s all done. (Heck, I’m more ready to use ISBN-13 than some of our vendors are.) Go me!

April 12, 2006

On Quasi-Writing

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 6:00 pm

In January, I got hit with a new idea in my story universe for the first time in years.

It’s not going to turn into a submittable work any time soon; I wrote a couple thousand words on it and then stalled out. But that’s okay. This is the first inkling I’ve had since approximately 2000 that my fiction generator isn’t completely fried.

I still don’t know why I’m having so much trouble writing fiction. From 1995 to 2000, I was writing regularly, occasionally hitting snags but generally making progress. The birth of my son didn’t adversely affect the writing — heck, I wrote the first drafts of two novels between when he was six and eighteen months old. The stream started slowing after that, but I could still reliably sit down at lunch and write a scene or character vignette, or write a different viewpoint character’s take on a scene.

Lately I’ve been looking through those sketches, and noticing the dates. 1999. 2000. 2001, mostly early in the year. A handful for 2002. And then diddly-squat. If I have twenty of these sketches from 2003-2006, I’m very surprised. Since then, all I’ve written is a very few short fanfics, and those had to be dragged out of my brain with forceps.

What the heck happened?

Well, yes, there’s the obivious factor: my marriage fell apart and I got a divorce. My ex was my first reader; a large number of our early e-mail conversations were his crits of my work and mine of his. (Alas, I found that his in-person crits weren’t nearly as helpful to me as his e-mail ones were, due to factors on both our sides.) While we get along reasonably well now, and while I’ll still show him my writing, I’m not comfortable with relying on him for the in-depth crit that I used to, and frankly, he’s having trouble finding time to spend with our son during daylight hours; he certainly doesn’t have the time to read and comment in detail on my stories.

So there was the emotional fallout from that, plus the practical aspects of becoming a single mother of a mentally disabled kid, and the loss of my first reader

And maybe that’s all that was behind the writing trouble. Nearly four years post-divorce, I’m starting to think about my stories again and write more sketches in the universe. I have folks in my life who’re willing to beta a finished work; I need to find some folks to help with plot-noodling and world-noodling, but I know where to look. Maybe now I’ll finally be able to get these characters out of my head and into other people’s. Perhaps the stories aren’t publishable, but if I find that’s the case, a twenty-person audience online might be enough for me.

Right now I’m transcribing a bunch of these old sketches into the computer. It’s not creating original work, but it’s writing time, and it’s getting me reacquainted with these characters. We’ll see.

February 14, 2006

15 Things about Me and Books

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 7:45 pm

1. I’ve been able to read since I was two, and I have vague memories of some of the story books I read as a small child. But the first book that I really remember reading is Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, which I discovered at age six when I went to a neighbor’s birthday party. I ended up spending the entire party in the bedroom reading it. (For some reason I didn’t get invited to birthday parties very often after that.)

2. Occasionally books are permanently linked in my mind with the food I ate while I read them. The Narnia books will always be associated with buttered popcorn and cola. Ditto McCaffrey’s Dragonflight and chocolate-covered raisins.

3. I am a heretic: I believe that one can indeed own too many books. However, the exact number of “too many books” varies from person to person, and how many books you want to own is none of my business unless I’m your spouse, parent supplying your living space, or downstairs neighbor in a badly-built apartment. (However, if you own more books than you could conceivably reread in your remaining lifespan or keep tons of reference books that you never actually refer to [especially when you also have a high-speed Internet connection], I will not show a great deal of sympathy when you complain about your lack of space.)

4. It is impossible to read too many books.

5. For perspective — I currently own somewhere between 500 and 700 books. I could have quite a few more and not have too many books.

6. However, when I was married, our joint libraries contained over 4000 books (and we kept buying more), as well as 200 videotapes (and he kept buying more) and a few hundred CDs (and we kept buying more). We lived in a 1200 square foot house; it was crowded to the point where we had trouble navigating rooms and keeping stuff out of our child’s reach. For me, the books and media were worthless; I had to spend too much time worrying about them, too much effort organizing and manuevering around them, and not enough time enjoying them. When my ex moved out and took most of the books and videos with him, I found I preferred having space to living in a warehouse.

7. Speaking of warehouses, if you ever get the change to take a tour of an warehouse, do so. The operation is utterly amazing. Racks upon racks of books, scanner bars everywhere, database upon database to tell you where every single book/video/CD is at any time, or where every single order is at any time….. Just amazing.

8. A fiction book, to earn a place in my library, has to be one I both love and reread regularly. I generally don’t keep fiction that I don’t like, even if I have other better-loved books by the same author. Even if I check a book out from the library and enjoy it, I’m not buying it for my home library unless I discover I want to reread it. I deeply admire Guy Gavriel Kay’s work and Dorothy Sayers’s Wimsey mysteries, but I haven’t had the urge to reread them often enough to justify buying copies to replace the ones that went with my ex.

9. Though I do buy some fiction sight unread. Anything Bujold publishes will end up in my library. Ditto anything Brust publishes in the Vlad Taltos series.

10. The standards for a non-fiction book to enter or stay in my library are a tad lower than for fiction. I buy a fair number of needlework books, because I enjoy reading about and learning new techniques. I haven’t made Armenian needlelace yet, and may not get around to it for some years, but I love browsing the book. I am never going to teach myself Western Greenlandic, and I don’t browse the book very often, but it’s a great pleasure when I do. (And one of my story worlds has a planet settled by Inuit, so the book has some justification as a reference.)

11. I have worked for a publisher for ten years, and I have read maybe eight of our books cover to cover. (I’ve read the introductions to almost all of them, though, and large sections of many.)

12. I’m in the acknowledgements of nine of our books. (Google Book Search is my friend.)

13. Working for a publisher is the next best thing to being a published author. I still play a part in getting books and their ideas out into the world; the fact that I didn’t write them doesn’t matter that much.

14. Working for a university publisher usually means access to the university library. I have grown to like being able to check a book out for a semester….

15. The best thing about working for a publisher is being surrounded by unfamiliar ideas. Even though many of our books are on topics I’m not remotely interested in, I end up picking a teeny bit about the topic just by osmosis. And just knowing that particular topics exist is enough to expand my world, even if I still know diddly about the topic.

February 8, 2006

Ten Ways to Recognize a Castiron Story

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 7:20 pm

This meme’s been going around on LJ, so might as well be a sheep….

How to Recognize a Story by Me

0. It’s hard to find ;-). I don’t actually write that much fanfic, and my original fic remains unpublished.

1. At some point in the reading, you will suspect that I drew a family tree for these people. In particularly egregious cases, you’ll wish you had it. (One of my problems with my space opera stories is keeping characters from thinking too often of their umpteen relatives that really have nothing to do with the story.)

2. Description, especially visual, will be relatively light.

3. People sit and talk to each other a lot. If I’m having a bad case of trait #2, people sit and talk to each other in a vaccuum.

4. Culture clash is likely to be an element in the story. (Book 1 is about how a character adapts to a new society; book 2 turns heavily on what happens when said character acts on her old society’s rules rather than her new one’s; book 3 is about a character with roots in two societies; one of the works-in-stall has a protagonist who’s living as an expatriate.)

5. Language is also likely to be an element. (Most of the characters in my space opera universe are multilingual, and there’s definitely status issues involved in who uses what language.)

6. Emotional tone will tend to be reserved. (Someday I’ll have to write a character who’s a total drama queen, just to see if I can do it.)

7. Religion is likely to be an element. (Most of my space opera characters are religious, in some form or other. My fantasy world, of course, has no shortage of deities.)

8. People raise their eyebrows a lot. Or have little distinctive hand gestures.

9. The villain, if there is one, tends not to be 100% evil. (Actually, the more I look at my space opera universe, the more I think the main villain of book 2 actually had a point, even if he went about it in a very wrong fashion.)

10. The viewpoint is usually tight third or first. (I can write a more distant viewpoint, but it’s really difficult.)

January 26, 2006

ISBN-13: Woe Is Me….

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 6:16 pm

And here I thought the switch to ISBN-13 was going to be easy.

Brief background for those outside publishing: To keep from running out of numbers, the book industry is switching from 10-digit to 13-digit ISBNs. Old books will have new 13-digit ISBNs in addition to the old 10-digit ones; as of 2007, new books will have ISBN-13s only. (See Bowker’s Are You Ready for ISBN-13? for more information.)

I’ve been chugging along swimmingly in my corner of the Press. Since the ISBN-13s for old books are the same as their EAN-13s, I already had the numbers in a database and was able to quickly import them into my main working database; when we add ISBN-13s to our website, it’ll take me ten minutes of template-tweaking, two minutes of page generation, and ten minutes of uploading, and the website will be set.

But I forgot about the PDF catalogs. And the Books in Print. And the fact that while the beginning part of the ISBN-13 is easy — just stick 978- in front of the ISBN-10 — the final check digit is different from that of the ISBN-10, and there’s only ten check digits rather than eleven, so I can’t just search-and-replace.

I have to add the ISBN-13s by hand to twelve subject catalogs and the BIP. (Yeah, I could use the database to regenerate them, but the ensuing cleanup and formatting would take longer than pasting in the ISBN-13s by hand will.)


(Fortunately I have the Electrocarpathians, Umpires of Straw, the best data entry music I’ve found yet.)

December 27, 2005

New Year’s Resolution: Writing

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 8:09 pm

I’ve been on formal writing hiatus for not quite two years now. I’ve written a few pieces of fanfic, but haven’t written anything in my original universes. I’ve reread parts of my novels and still find a lot of stuff I like, but I’m not sure they’re publishable, and my past submissions and agent queries seem to agree.

Honestly, I don’t mind not being published; after all, I work in publishing, so I’m helping make and sell books, and I have a blog, so if I ever get desperate to have my fiction read I can always post some of it.

But I still have these damn characters rustling in my head. With cultures attached. (Why couldn’t they come with plots instead?) And I’m not writing them down into stories, and that’s starting to get annoying.

Resolved: I will carve me out some quiet time to use for writing, and see if butt-in-chair fingers-on-keyboard/pen is any more productive now than it was two years ago.

December 8, 2005

A University Press Director on Google Library

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 3:16 pm

An interview with Penn State University Press director Tony Sanfilippo about why he objects to the Google Library Project.

It’s a short article, but does hit on some of the major problems many presses have with the Library project.

January 28, 2005

Stinging Scam Publishers

Filed under: Publishing and Writing — castiron @ 12:36 pm

Lovely — a bunch of folks from the Science Fiction Writers of America proved that a vanity publisher wasn’t really vetting their manuscripts.

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