The title of my paper: Editing Half-Lives and the Decay of Typographical Particles

“Half life” is a scientific concept. I’ve seen it used for medicine and nuclear physics. A radioactive element decays in a weird way, with the decay time measured in half-lives. If the half-life of a radioactive element is ten years, after ten years half of the atoms in that sample will have decayed.

Ten years later it’s all gone, right? Nope. In another ten years, half of the remaining atoms have decayed. Ten years later, half of those remaining atoms. And this dribbles on and on. This isn’t a strictly scientifically accurate explanation, and probability raises its ugly head (or maybe it doesn’t), but it’s close enough.

Typos and other mistakes in a manuscript seem to be like that. In my latest manuscript my readers found a bunch of them to start with, and after the corrections I declared my manuscript “clean.” Then there was another read a while later, and lo! There were a few more mistakes. Not as many, of course. Maybe half. I made the corrections. A few weeks later, someone read it again. More mistakes. Fewer this time.

It’s just been through another read, and a few more mistakes trickled in. This is no big deal, since I haven’t submitted a full to anyone yet, but cripes!

So the way I see it, mistakes in a manuscript have a half-life. No matter how careful the first edit, the next one will find a smaller number of mistakes. And the next one, an even smaller number. I’m not sure yet there’s an end to this process. Plenty of best-selling novels come out from great corporate publishers with a few mistakes still lurking in them.

Eventually, after times ranging from seconds to centuries, all radioactive materials decay to where they’re no more radioactive than something you’d pick up off the ground at the park, at levels only detectable by instruments. Safe enough.

I imagine there’s an acceptable level, even for professional editors, where they decide they’ve run through enough editing half-lives and there’s no more they can do with a manuscript, so off it goes to the printer with no regrets.

Imagine writing Robert Heinlein to ask for story ideas…

And then he sends you a bunch of them.

A wonderful anecdote from SF author Theodore Sturgeon.

The photo in the story is from the Worldcon in Kansas City (MidAmericon). I was there, and you could get books signed by Heinlein–if you donated blood first. I did. The photo in the article is cropped, but you can see the whole thing in the Wikipedia link (and below).  The woman in the photo is wearing a “Mpls. in ’73” t-shirt, which brings back a lot of great memories of SF fandom in Minneapolis in my college years.

Robert Heinlein autographing at MidAmericon, 1976<

“Choosing Your Pub Path”

An excellent summary of the publishing decision process.

The Daily Dahlia

I’d really like someone to tell me to my face that publishing is dying, because I haven’t laughed in someone’s face in a really long time, and I miss that feeling. To think publishing is dying is to be walking around with your eyes closed, to have failed to stop the Q-tip when it met resistance. Publishing is evolving, changing, and in many ways, even growing. And as a result, we have some lovely and scary things called choices.

It used to be that there were really big houses, and then less big houses, and that was kind of it. Sure, you could go with a vanity press if you had serious money to burn and either true belief no one would know the difference or apathy whether anyone would, but none of those books ever ended up on my shelf. (Or on my ereader, because they didn’t exist! That’s…

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Hand in Hand

Via Neil Gaiman’s journal, advice from authors, written on their hands.

Neil Gaiman Hand

There’s a common thread through many of these photos: the idea that a large part of successful writing is just plain sticking to it.

At the Asilomar writer conference, there was an ending ceremony where all of us wrote something to inspire ourselves on each of two index cards. One was burned in a big rustic fireplace (I had a sudden flash of a prim agent reading my reassembled card while sitting on a cloud floating over London) and the other copy was kept. Mine is currently taped to my computer case. It has one word. “Persist.”


Two of the hand photos in the photo gallery have the same word.

Robert Heinlein’s famous “Rules for Writing:”

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

I’d plug the word “excessive” into Rule 3, but I know what he meant–I’ve seen people who have been “polishing” the same manuscript for ten years. Otherwise the same overall theme of “not giving up” is there.

“Publish & Perish”

Phil and Kaja Foglio are the authors of (among many other things) the fantastic Girl Genius comic series.

They also recently began a series of Girl Genius novels. Now those novels have run into one of those legal morasses that have snared other authors in the past. Fortunately, the novels are only part of their output–I’ve heard that some authors have had their entire life’s work hung out to dry in legal snags like this–but it’s no less painful for that.

Best of luck to them–I’m one of their biggest fans. You can read the whole online comic series (so far) here. You’re not doing anything else for next week or so, are you? And buy their books! Check out the great Christopher Lee photo on their blog post, too.

Kindle Direct Publishing launches beta of cover creation tool

Article at “The Digital Reader.”

One of the hardest parts of self-publishing is generating a good cover, either for paper books or digital ones. Places like Createspace and Lulu, among others, already have “cover wizards.”

You can certainly get a workable cover out of these “wizards,” but in my opinion it’s worth the effort to learn how to generate the artwork yourself, or at least hire it done. For one thing, there may be rights issues involved in reusing a cover created by a particular format’s “wizard” for another format. For another, you’re never going to get as much originality from a “wizard” as you can from real artwork.

Artwork for paper books, using the “one piece cover” art method, is hard to lay out. A one-piece cover is what you get by basically flattening the book out, or in the case of a book with a dust jacket, by removing the dust jacket and flattening it out. It’s easy to see that lining up the spine, end papers, and everything else can be tricky. Even changing the number of pages can affect this kind of cover design as the spine area gets larger or smaller.

Cover artwork for Kindle (or other e-books) is much simpler. It’s just a single JPG picture with art and title text. Last time I checked, preferred sizing for Kindle covers was 1563 pixels on the short side and 2500 pixels on the long side.

If you’re planning to do a lot of this kind of thing, it may be worth it to invest the time and money in learning Photoshop, InDesign, or other professional publication software. Adobe’s “Creative Suite” isn’t cheap, but it could be a good investment.


Once in a while, there’s a “Twitter pitch” party online. I just went through my first one March 29th (details here.)

The basic rules: the pitch for your book has to be 140 characters or less, including the hashtag for the party (“#PitMad” in this case)

I pitched two books. I didn’t get any requests or “hits” from agents, but fortunately there are still a lot of other things you can take away from a pitch party.

You learn things. Not least is developing the skill of distilling your concepts down to minimum length while (hopefully) maintaining maximum punch.  Since I am a complete Twitter noob, I also learned a lot about how the system works.

You get exposure. Your name, your books, and your ideas get out there. Every re-tweet can get you into a wider universe. If you’re on Twitter, make sure your personal Twitter page has your website on it! Who knows who might come poking in there?

You discover new agents and publishers, and learn more about ones you knew. When agents or publishers popped into the feed, I pulled their individual Twitter pages off into browser tabs of their own, and then moved out into their websites. I found out more about what familiar agents think, and what they’re looking for. If an agent I don’t know shows up, they may be a potential target for a conventional query later. Remember, the feed goes by so fast, there’s little or no chance that your pitch was seen by every agent, so you really have nothing to lose and maybe something to gain by pitching them through normal channels later on.

A couple of days later, Carissa Taylor came out with a detailed list of pitches that got “hits.” This is useful information if you’re trying to get a broad idea of what’s attracting agents out there.

These contests and others pop up periodically. I have a pretty good record of discovering them by accident about two days after the entry deadline, but I lucked out on this one. To find things like this before they close, you could do worse than checking out Brenda Drake’s website now and then, and following up on links you find there. Kimberly Gabriel’s website also tracks contests. I’m sure there are others.