Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Internet Linguistics


Worried that internet language might one day fundamentally alter the way we communicate? Montana Mosby says it's already happened. ♦

If you use the internet and smart phones to communicate as much as I do—for your sake, I hope you don’t—then you may have already noticed a slight (if creeping) transformation of your writing and even patterns of daily speech. The other day I was writing a letter, the old-fashioned kind on paper, and still had to stop myself from writing “atm” rather than fully spelling out “at the moment.” This wasn’t due to laziness on my part but, rather, to familiarity; in the age of the internet, the English language has been twisted and contorted and totally transformed to fit our quick media. Being able to communicate one’s thoughts at literally any time of the day through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media sites has caused us to cut corners when it comes to language. Whether you see it as a defacement of proper language or the development of a new dialect is up to you, but there’s no denying that the Internet has changed the way we communicate nowadays.
       Twitter, for example, by limiting us to a mere 140 characters, has forced us to come up with new, condensed ways to emote. One feature that allows us to do this is the hashtag, which allows the tweeter to separate a thought from the rest of the tweet, often enhance its context, importance, or basic meaning. Hashtags also allow us, of course, to forgo correct grammatical use by leaving out punctuation and melding words together #becausewhohastimeforpunctuation. Even though we are forced to reduce our thoughts, hashtags have given us the tool to crunch a lot into a little space.
       Hashtags have also become a way to express a second thought or explanations on Tumblr. Originally used to categorize posts, making it easier to search for specific types of posts, tags on Tumblr are also often used as a way to express a “sub-thought” or personal opinion that isn’t completely necessary to the post. Sometimes these tags are full sentences or thoughts, and sometimes they’re broken up into multiple tags, as in #i’m sorry i just had to #look at his face #just look. Tumblr is definitely one of the sites that has greatly shaped how we talk through the internet; different voices can be used not just by the words we choose to write but the way in which we write them. If you’re upset then WRITE IN ALL CAPS TO SHOW HOW ANGRY YOU ARE or use italics to indicate whispering or leave out all punctuation and grammar because youre too excited to slow down and correct anything and end with asdfghjkl. These different techniques allow our voice to be heard in addition to seen.
       Even more than using italics or caps, the internet has created new grammatical structures, using verbs as nouns and or nonsense lettering to describe something. Sometimes a jagged mash of letters can emote more than a well-constructed sentence, in that “Wzdfkbsnogi hnrfkl/ln” might express the same thing as “This is so unbelievable, I have no words to describe my emotions”; a simple “ouch, right in the feels” gets the point across better than “The emotion I’m feeling is so painful I feel as if I’ve been hit in the stomach.” A simple “THIS” can mean “I approve” or "I agree” or “this is important” or all of the above. And when you’re too overcome with emotion and have no words, the grammatically incorrect “I can’t even” will make the point. Internet culture has so morphed the English language that it might even be considered a distinct dialect—after all, it’s idiomatic, specific to an (online) geography, and accepted within the norms of that group.
       Except for the fact that—as I’m sure you’ve noticed—certain catchphrases or trends from the internet have begun seeping into our everyday vocabulary. If it’s a dialect, it’s one that's begun to spread outside its geography.

Here's an example: I sometimes I add a “hashtag” to the end of a sentence—I mean I speak aloud the word "hashtag" and then add something to it—before I even realize I've done it. Some popular hashtags have become a catchphrases out here in the real world in their own right: “sorry, not sorry” to name but one. Other trending phrases that originated through the internet but have become a part of daily speech include the previously mentioned “I can’t even,” which seems applicable in almost any circumstance, online and IRL; acronyms like LOL (or IRL) which have become words in themselves to people in this generation; and then there's that awkward moment in a conversation when, rather than saying “that’s funny,” one might just say “LOL” or “lolz," which has almost become a new way to laugh. Without, you know, actually having to.
       Besides popularizing phrases or acronyms, the internet is also responsible for the creation of words. A few years ago, no one had heard the word “selfie,” but thanks to Facebook. Instagram, and the speed of the internet, the word has been crafted to describe a certain type of photo. Also “shipping” or “to ship,” a phrase most internet junkies are familiar with—which means that you want to see certain people in a relationship, and whose origins go back to fanfiction for story and TV characters—is now often used when you want any two people to get together.
      For better or worse, internet language has begun to affect our communications offline. Don't believe me? Pull up the Oxford English Dictionary and do a search for selfie (a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website), srsly (short for ‘seriously’), and even TL;DR (abbrev.: ‘too long didn’t read’: used as a dismissive response to a lengthy online post, or to introduce a summary of a lengthy post).
     It’s natural for languages to gradually progress and change over time; as the world changes, language evolves with it. The internet has simply provided us tools that have rapidly sped up this evolution, though some may see these changes not as evidence of evolution but as shortcuts, laziness. But in the fast-paced world that we live in now, doesn't it make sense for us to find ways to communicate more quickly? Either way, it’s all but assured that this new dialect that the internet is responsible for will continue to alter and transform the way we speak and communicate, even away from the keyboard. #sorrynotsorry
  • About the Author
    Montana Mosby is currently finishing her second year at Miami University. She is majoring in Creative Writing and Spanish but dabbles in many different art forms. In her spare time she likes hanging out at bookstores, dancing, and playing her ukulele (although rather badly).

    Marvel's Failed Digital Transition


    Marvel's push toward a more digital product and marketplace seems to forget what makes reading (and buying) comics so much fun in the first place. ♦

    Cracked concrete, gray paint, and a sun-faded storefront poster of the X-Men greet my arrival at Queen City Comics in Cincinnati. Staple titles of the Golden and Silver Ages cling to the walls and shimmer like Fabergé eggs. An extensive back-catalogue sits patiently in tidy rows of white boxes, waiting for your fingers to comb through their plastic cases. Dotting a far wall are posters and stacks of current titles. In a far corner, owner Geoff Hoffmann is nestled between shelves of trading cards. An almost thick smell of paper and ink coats the air.
           The digital marketplace has absolutely no equivalent to the sensory experience of walking into a place like this.
           Marvel, however, seems to have forgotten about the beauty and allure of brick-and-mortar comic shops. Misreading the true desires of fans, Marvel has taken a definitive stance for digital in its future plans; Marvel Unlimited, the "preferred (and only) subscription-based comics reading app for fans of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Captain America,” is the most obvious indication of Marvel’s future focus on digital comics. In a recent panel at South by Southwest, the technology festival in Austin, Texas, Marvel stressed its digital plans by revealing an improved Marvel Unlimited app. This app, according to Kristin Vincent, vice president of Marvel’s digital products, seeks to expand the realm of digital comics by incorporating audio and improving usability.
         “[T]ransitions from one panel to the next are faster and smoother," Vincent told the auditorium, "there's now adaptive audio, and Marvel AR's DVD-style extras are now included in its digital comics for the first time.” Vincent furthermore claimed that this shift from physical comics into digital, and what digital can do, has an ultimate goal of making a better product: “We wanted to figure out how we could tell stories in new ways.”
           Which seems laudable for a company like Marvel to want to pursue, if indeed the changes are meant to better the work. Though it also overlooks a pretty important point: a shift to digital seems to be the exact opposite of what Marvel fans actually want.

    Following a brief e-mail interaction with Geoff Hoffman, I meet him in his comic book haven for an interview. Having never bought a digital comic himself, Hoffman admits he's “not quite sure what [Marvel is] even offering” with digital subscriptions. That a man devoted to the business of comics selling has trouble figuring out what the business plan actually is speaks volumes; in fact, Marvel has failed so miserably to capture its core comic audience that their digital comics have not had a noticeable effect on the sales of ink-based comics. “Most of the people, at least our customer base, have no interest [in digital comics]," Hoffman says, "or they've done it and don’t like it. They would much rather have the book in their hands.
    Geoff Hoffman, Owner, Queen City Comics
           "[N]othing that we've seen leads us to believe that [Marvel’s transition to digital comics has] been particularly successful for them. They say it’s been successful, but they’re not offering any numbers to support that.”
           Which is not to say there's not at least some customer curiosity about digital content. Christopher Schlegel, a Marvel fan who “probably [owns] about one thousand to one thousand-five-hundred [comics],” thinks that “any shortcomings in [Marvel’s] success are probably due to advertising.” While Schlegel’s buying habits have not changed because of digital comics, he has viewed digital comics through the free trials offered on publishers' websites, though he's "never purchased a digital comic.” But, unlike Hoffmann, he can imagine himself one day subscribing to digital comics: “It would be a major boost to convenience, since some of my local [comic] shops have stopped carrying comics.”
           Convenience alone, however, may not be strong enough to change the foundation of comics for many . . . a physical product purchased at a physical marketplace, and linked to that experience. Those who are at least interested in digital, like Schlegel, have likely already sought them out, while the large number of those who prefer paper comics will stick to their previous habits. As Hoffman points out, “[M]ost people buying comics now have been buying them since the only way you could get them was to actually buy [a] physical comic, so that’s what they want.”
           There's also the fact that ink-based comics create an experience that can’t be replicated through digital means, if we consider a comic book to be more than words and sequential art. What makes reading a comic both unique and satisfying? “You know, it’s everything . . . it’s the letters page, it’s the ads, it’s everything kind of rolled into one. It’s more than just looking at panels and reading them,” Hoffman says.
       And of course an integral part of this experience is actually walking into a comic store and browsing, leading to a sense of community that isn't attainable through the internet or a digital marketplace.
           "Let’s say the book that you read is The Superior Spider-Man," Hoffman posits, "and every week, or every other week, you pick it up and you go over to the rack and there’s your Superior Spider-Man, two books down from it is a new Image book, or a Superman book that looks interesting. You’re exposed to other products, and it may not be what you normally read […] You know, when you go to Marvel’s website and you buy your Superior Spider-Man every week, you’re not exposed to anything else or anybody else. I’m sure they’re going to be pushing other Marvel products, but, you know, it’s kind of tunnel vision."
           This “tunnel vision” does not truly allow a full appreciation for comics or all they can accomplish. 
           Perhaps another part of the problem is that Marvel seems to have forgotten, at least at the moment, what actually matters for a comic: Good stories and good art. By focusing on unnecessary additions to comics such as the previously mentioned audio features, Marvel has detracted from their actual products.
           "It’s at a real low-point right now," Hoffman says, "at least as far as content goes. Both Marvel and DC are putting out sub-par books to put them out as cheaply as possible, and, you know, they’d rather not get particularly good writers or artists so that they can get to crank the stuff out for them."
           Christopher Schlegel, overall, agrees with the state of Marvel’s writing and is “on a brief hiatus in purchases” from Marvel comics. Though he admits the writing issues aren't “entirely their fault,” he says the direction of Marvel Comics has made for underdeveloped characters and writing: "[Marvel] started to get really heavy on crossovers, which meant maybe one story arc between the crossovers, so there wasn't [as much] opportunity for character development outside solo books."
           There may come a time when digital comics replace physical comics entirely, but if the obvious issues surrounding Marvel’s output in both physical and digital content provide any clue to the future, the transition is far beyond the horizon.
         “Will digital eventually wipe out print?" Hoffmann asks. "Yeah, it’s possible. [But] I don’t think it will happen in your or my lifetime.”   
  • About the Author
    Sean Scheer has been known to call himself a writer and avid reader. He may or may not endlessly watch Star Trek reruns and old foreign films when boredom and writer’s block converge. He may or may not desperately need an additional bookshelf in the name of fire safety.

    Reeling in Readers


    Once a curiosity, book trailers have become an increasingly important part of author promotion. But do they actually work to snag readers, and why? ♦

    This past weekend, I made a trip to a Barnes & Noble and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of spaces in the parking lot. I parked in the back of the lot and walked in the front door, where I was greeted by that familiar “book smell” (the one that every English major gabs about when someone tries to convince them that eBooks are the way to go). There was a table of new releases past the Nook table, and people were flocking to it as if a new Harry Potter novel had just been released. As unfortunate as it is, I was surprised to see people so excited about books. It'd been a while since I'd actually had to wait in line to check out at a bookstore or squeeze past onlookers to grab a copy of an obscure novel I needed for class.
           It sometimes seems as if the recent great leaps in technology have left us here in the literary world five steps back; everyone is “connected” in some way, whether via smartphone, computer, tablet, or some other electronic device, and although the switch to eBooks has been somewhat successful, there still feels to be that gatekeeper gap between authors and the audience they're hoping to reach. This gap might finally be closing as publishing takes on a different marketing technique, one borrowed from a competing medium: trailers. Similar in all aspects to movie trailers, book trailers are tasked with offering information in a way that is intriguing, entertaining, and engaging. All of this is done, of course, to translate the interest of readers into numbers.


           Trailers have been used by the movie business to provoke an interest and to target an audience practically since the beginning of film, but how do you make a book visual without impairing the readers’ ability to see the novel in their own image? This is a question being explored more and more by authors, from the most established down to first-timers, in this age of YouTube and viral videos. Even such greats such as Stephen King, Mitch Albom, and (believe it or not) Joan Didion have started using the technology that once was perceived as a threat to the popularity of literature.
           Some book trailers function similarly to movie trailers, with actors acting out scenes to create an intriguing preview of what you will read. Others take on a more cinematic feel, using atmospheric images and sounds designed to evoke the feeling of the book . . . Stephen King's trailer for Doctor Sleep, his sequel to the classic The Shining, does an excellent job of getting the reader excited for the book by using images probably even more familiar to audiences from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film version of The Shining than the book, right up to the moment where the audience gets to see that famous REDRUM painted (in blood?) on a bathroom wall.
           Even more common is the trailer in which the author introduces his or her book, speaks briefly about it, or reads a small excerpt from it. Joan Didion, J. K. Rowling, and Ian McEwan have all used this type of book trailer to grab readers’ attention. Jonathan Franzen famously recorded a trailer for his novel Freedom in which he looked straight into the camera and talked about how much he disapproves of the idea of book trailers, which made the nerd-viral rounds because of just how uncomfortable the whole thing seemed and eventually won a Moby Award for "Worst Performance by An Author" in a trailer . . . but which nevertheless had people talking about the trailer, author, and the book.      
           One of the best examples of a trailer in which the author directly discusses his or her work is Jonathan Safran Foe's trailer for his book Tree of Codes. For this type of postmodern novel—which Foer created by cutting up the text of Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles—the trailer really becomes an essential tool in reaching out to a wider audience, speaking to and explaining the complex structure and daunting nature of the book. With Foer’s wide use of experimental techniques in literature, it is no surprise that he knows how to utilize online media as a means of keeping an interest in literature alive, and to pique interest in what might've been a difficult sell of a book.


           With that being said, it seems as though it is often the authors themselves which drive these trailers, this specific way of reaching out to readers and putting a face to a book. When books are read in high school English classes and college literature courses, oftentimes the teacher asks, “What do you think the author intended?” With book trailers and online materials such as these now readily available, it seems this question could be answered by a YouTube search, bringing authors closer to readers and allowing them to more fully engrain themselves in modern culture. In a society where five-year-olds can operate iPads and homework is completed entirely online, book trailers provide a way to keep the heart and soul of great literature alive and well in the technological age, and to allow authors to reach out to a much larger audience than ever before.
           Given that book trailers are now being shown in movie theaters and on television as well as on YouTube, and that authors now have new ways of getting the attention of those who have never been interested in grabbing a great book, maybe that's why I saw so many people wandering about the shelves of the Barnes & Noble. Maybe the literary marketplace has finally found a solution to keeping the old tradition of reading a book alive in our technology-driven, handheld-device culture.
  • About the Author
    Michelle Rowley is a senior English Literature and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. Her love of books and all things strange and creative have fueled her passion for writing, experimental cooking and avidly making old things new again. Upon graduation, she will be sailing the seven seas on a naval vessel on the West Coast

    Beating the Stereotype: Out-of-the-Box Careers for English Majors


    "So you want to teach?" Rachel Sarachman answers that age-old question with a look at ten rewarding career paths for English majors you might not've considered before. ♦ 

    Wait, rewind. I want to clarify something: when I say “out-of-the-box careers for English majors,” I’m not referring to the cardboard box my mother so nicely suggested I would be living in when I changed my major from Marketing to Creative Writing. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re a fellow respect-seeking English majoror at least a humanities majorand can probably relate.
           I can recall the phone conversation I had with my parents about declaring my English major as if it were yesterday: I texted both parents letting them know I had something important to tell them, but I made sure to be vague. When I called them, my mom picked up on speaker phone, oblivious to the fact that I could hear her and my dad talking. “She can’t be engaged, Michael, she doesn’t even have a serious boyfriend. Do you think she’s dropping out? Oh my God, she’s been arrested!” (The reason my parents would jump to worst-case scenarios is beyond me; I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket, let alone faced a full-on arrest.)
           Anyway, once I broke the news, I immediately realized that my parents might have reacted better if I had been arrested. But the criticism didn’t stop with my parents; I received skepticism from all over. There came a point when I dreaded telling people that I was an English major, as I would get one of two responses:
    Response 1: “Oh so you’re going to teach, then?"  
    Last time I checked, “English” does not mean “Education degree.” I’m always tempted to suggest that they should consider taking a few English classes, but I usually just start speaking in old English and then they go away.  
    Response 2: “Well, business isn't for everyone.”  
    They’re right. It’s not. But would everyone please stop thinking that English is an easy major? I mean, have you read Victorian Literature before? That’s no cakewalk, folks. Besides, you know who else wasn’t a business major? Steven Spielberg, Mitt Romney, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, and even former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, all of them English majors. 
           Having now entered the home stretch of my college career, I’ve finally gained enough confidence in my choice of major to realize the vast number of opportunities available to someone with an English degree. English majors have many more career options than just teaching and freelance writing. Check out these creative ways to use your English degree.

    1. Lobbyist Think all those persuasive papers have gone to waste? Guess again! You’ve actually received prime training to be a lobbyist. This position requires strong communication, computer and researching skills, and versatility. Lobbyists can work for public or private agencies that promote specific issues by soliciting members of a legislature. While the job has negative connotations, many lobbyists work for nonprofit organizations by supporting the issues of public protection, civil rights, and social justice. As an English major, you can go from a Shakespeare class discussing Hamlet’s antic disposition to a creative writing workshop where you have to write a story starting with the line “A cross-dressing Elvis impersonator just walked into the bar.” If you can handle this change of pace, not to mention supporting your viewpoint in the Shakespeare class, I’m betting any English major could effectively argue for a public policy reform.

    2. Marketing Yep, you don’t have to have a business degree to work in business. As an English major, feel free to set your sights on work in advertising. Commercials on television, ads in newspapers, billboard campaigns, and radio sponsorships are all forms of advertising, and all are designed somewhere along the line by an advertising agent. The agent must be able to conceptualize an ad or scheme that will both appeal to the client and captivate the consumer. An English degree can perfectly prepare you for this; you’re constantly writing papers, short stories, or poems to advertise your own talent as well as being challenged to recognize your audience. I think almost every English major can agree that they tailor their writing differently for each of their professors in order to best captivate their “consumer.” A paper should be written very differently for a trendy, travel blog-writing professor versus a traditional professor who’s dedicated their entire life to study the work of Emily Dickinson.

    3. Event Planning Think this is too much of a stretch? Just hang on—Buffy Stoll, who’s the Director of New Student Programming at Miami University, received an undergraduate degree in English. Stoll is charged with planning 16 orientation sessions for 3,500 incoming students every year. “If I didn’t have a strong written communication foundation, I would never be able to do my job,” she says. “I constantly have to write formal requests for funding and grants to run our program which would take me four times as long without the skills I gained from my English degree.” Say it with me: if you can write it, you can do it!

    4. Digital Copywriter Think back to all your undergrad papers: Were you the Houdini who managed to find a way to incorporate wit into even the driest of essay topics? If you have, then you’ve just found the perfect career path! Digital copywriters are responsible for creating banner ads, creative social media campaigns, blog posts, whitepapers, e-books, online strategies, landing pages, website copy, and viral promotion ideas. Your ingenuity and creativity can take you far in this field and provide you with ample networking opportunities to showcase your best work. Interested? Write a funny, charming, intelligent letter to an agency and try to get an internship while developing a strong social media presence to prove yourself.

    5. Public Relations One skill many English majors might not know they have is the ability to think on their feet: after being called out to participate in complex literature discussions at the drop of a hat, English majors quickly learn to be ready with a well-crafted answer at any minute. If you’re able to transfer that skill to the workplace, you’ll excel in public relations. What will you do in a PR firm? Junior staff will be given tasks such as writing news releases and pitch letters, crafting newsletters, finding content to send out on social media accounts, and writing web copy or brochures. PR strategies are generally aimed at helping companies get PR coverage and using the media to shape the public’s perception of a company. All those times you were randomly called on to comment and provide examples of Mark Twain’s use of satire in Huckleberry Finn will give you great preparation to succeed and excel in this fast-paced field.

    6. Sales You definitely won’t be living out of that cardboard box in this career field; one of the first skills English majors are taught is how to sell a topic, i.e. the art of crafting the perfect thesis statement. If you know how to talk your way through a topic and disarm opposing opinions then you have the potential to be a rock star salesperson. Sales requires excellent communication skills, analysis, sensitivity, and empathy–all skills that a degree in English fosters. By having these basic skills you’ll be able to sell any product; as long as you have a little background info on the items you’re pitching, you’re good to go. Go from thesis crafting to sales pitches to big bucks in no time.

    7. Non-Profit Communications Don’t panic, this is a paid job. Working for a communications department is a great way to start paving a career path. Non-profits allow you to gain that essential first few months of work experience because most of them are under-funded and under-staffed, making them an easy place to get your first resume item. In this field, your responsibilities could include communication help with press strategies, fundraising, donor retention, and enlisting the help of volunteers. Use this as a starting point to show that you’re just as prepared as any communications major for this career. So why not double dip? Build your resume and gain some karma points for contributing to a non-profit’s cause.

    8. Boutique Agent Boutique agencies are small companies that typically do world-class work for big brands. Working for a boutique agency would be similar to being the best friend of someone who’s famous: all the perks without the pressure of constantly being in the spotlight. These can be branding agencies, graphic design agencies, viral marketing agencies, or PR firms. Thunderdog, for example, is an L.A. agency that creates street-art inspired designs and products for brands like Pepsi and Puma. They also sell their own limited edition books and toys. Boutique agencies are cool. They hire for skill–not for the degree you have. So while your English degree can help you get the job, these places are looking for creative minds, technical skill in the area they work in, and the right attitude to fit their unique culture. To get a job at a boutique agency, simply write an email and sell yourself to the boss. Take the time to research their company and highlight the skills you possess that would make you an attractive candidate to hire.

    9. eCommerce Analyst Do you defy the English stereotype and excel in mathematics as well as reading and writing? Then you might find your calling as an eCommerce analyst. Over the past decade, tracking technology has really evolved, and most complex marketing campaigns will test, track, and measure just about every dollar they spend online. Therefore, in this job, you will be tasked with figuring out why certain campaigns are working, why people aren’t buying from a client’s website, and how to help online marketing budgets bring back more profit. This is a fast-paced industry, and many analysts come from various educational backgrounds. Hardcore analysts will need mathematical ability and knowledge of statistics. But if you were lucky enough to be both right and left brain-minded, then study up on some analytic and tracking software and online conversion to truly defy English major stereotypes.

    10. Television, Radio, or Screenwriter: Now for the coup de grâce. I know you've been waiting for this since I said that Steven Spielberg was an English major earlier on in the article, so yes, it’s true: you don’t have to major in media communications or something of that sort to work in this industry. Spielberg majored in English at California State University and earned an internship with Universal Studios because of his strong writing and communications skills. The rest is history.      
           Let’s face it: if you are an English major, then you probably deep down want to be a writer. Many English majors end up writing Hollywood scripts, working in broadcast, or working at radio stations. How do you break in? First and foremost, be a good writer . . . and have great writing samples that show off your stuff. As Stephen King says, “If you lift weights 15 minutes a day, you are going to get muscles. If you write 15 minutes a day, you are going to become a good writer.” So do what you love, write, and always have some samples ready to show off. Your big break might just be around the bend.

    These options simply scratch the surface of all the career possibilities that an English degree can hold. If you find yourself facing criticisms, channel some determination from J. K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter series was turned down by 12 publishing houses. Find a career that's perfectly suited to your skills in creativity, communication, and persuasion, and then flaunt your English degree loud and proud. After all, shouldn’t we all have something to keep us busy while crafting the next great American novel?

  • About the Author
    Rachel Sarachman is a current junior at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. When she isn't reading every book by Janet Evanovich that she can get her hands on, you can find her editing articles for UP Magazine, going on long hikes, taking an art class, or fueling her coffee addiction.

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    The Digital Gutenberg?


    Innovation that sent shockwaves through publishing? Check. Changed the way we think about the written word? Yep. So is Jeff Bezos's place in human history secured? Let the debate begin. ♦ 

    If at the end of this article you walk away with nothing more than the mounting hysteria bibliophiles face in the wake of recent developments in the publishing industry, then, for the love of all that can be printed between the crisp confines of a cover jacket, remember this: In 1450 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. I decided to preface with this information just in case you are one of those hopelessly antiquated traditionalists who haven’t quite grasped the methodology in reading entire articles from the screen of your smart phone. Let me be the first to say, welcome to 2014.
           Now, I’m fully aware that any semi-functioning piece of evolutionary matter with two thumbs and a keyboard could Google the year the printing press was invented in seconds flat, but I’m going to need you to actively remember that it was in 1450. First, because I feel that anyone attempting to engage in the literary conversation, as I assume you are by reading this article, will face better odds should they find themselves on the next million-dollar trivia-based game show, as I have it on substandard authority that Gutenberg is a topical favorite. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I would like you to have a basic sense of the implications when I begin tossing around comparisons between Gutenberg and founder Jeff Bezos.
           In an article for Time magazine’s 2009 list of newsworthy people, Bill Gates put Jeff Bezos on the same pedestal as Johannes Gutenberg in regards to his catalytic transformation of the book publishing industry. Bezos has been called the “Digital Gutenberg” for Amazon’s popularization of the eBook, but is it even valid to predict that Jeff Bezos will be the money-winning answer on Jeopardy! hundreds of years from now? We can debate the longevity of Jeopardy! another time, but does Bezos indeed have the same transformative relevance as Gutenberg?
           Let’s return to an ancient scriptorium, during the medieval period, perhaps, for the sake of the sensationalist mental imagery of castles and suits of armor. In grand rooms, or possibly smaller cubicles, depending on the archaeologist in consultation, Catholic monks would work day in and day out copying manuscripts for the limited literate population. However, by the 1500s, this quaint little scene had already begun its decline, with the variance and individuality one found in handwritten manuscriptsin size and shape and thus usability, in simple availability, and, one hopes, not variance in the text itselfgiving way to the uniformity, utility, and easier access permitted by printed texts. Flash-forward to the modern era, hinging on the precipice of yet another literary transformation, and if the situation doesn't appear quite as decisive, without the benefit of futuristic hindsight, we can nevertheless see once again an inefficient traditional model being upended by a fantastic new technology, with the end result, of course, of putting more books in more hands.
           So as millions of book lovers clutch the dog-eared copies of their favorite works, terrified by the idea that the physical book might soon become a novelty item on the shelf next to Dad’s old record collection, publishers are scrambling to account for the changing market. As the bibliophiles point accusatory fingers at their recreationally literate friends who can’t seem to understand the moral dilemma in purchasing a Kindle, the publishing industry is, or at least should be, evolving. What happens next? We might ask ourselves whether the medieval monks ever felt like they had lost something after Gutenberg’s machine snatched the ink-stained quills right out of their fingers . . . but perhaps that isn't a relevant question at all. If the goal of those scribbling monks, beyond the aesthetic pleasures of their work, was to ultimately share knowledge and share texts, then they surely recognized that standard printed books are easier to read than the looping calligraphy of an artistically inclined monk—in the century after Gutenberg, in fact, even handwritten manuscripts began emulating type—and they would be astounded, furthermore, by the fact that the average person today has easy access to infinitely more books in their lifetime than anyone wandering around the fifteenth century.
           In the grand scheme of things, convenience and accessibility seem to trump nostalgia, or at least they do when the discussion is hundreds of years removed from the change. Though it seems to me that the comparison between Gutenberg and Bezos is a convenient projection of what could be, not what already is. I’m not trying to step on any digital toes here, but Bezos hasn’t quite yet secured the overplayed idea of the “inevitable” any historical comparisons might suggest. Traditional publishing houses still have time to pick up their paperweights and launch a real offense against the Amazonian dragon; it’s completely within their prerogative to do so. Consumers enticed by the gleaming low prices of Amazon’s eBooks now have the opportunity to make conscious decisions as to what they want more from their literary pursuits: the physical book, or simply its contents. And to all those indifferent folks who never realized they weren’t supporting the physical bookstore when buying their books at Walmart, feel free to sit back with your popcorn and observe.

  • About the Author
    Shea Hendry can never seem to decide whether she would rather be in a museum or a library. Instead, she spends her days studying history while simultaneously finding new and avante garde methods of incorporating excessive stacks of books into dorm room interior design.

    Thursday, April 3, 2014

    3 Steps to Becoming a Successful Writer


    How one writer beat the odds and became a success story, and built his own storytelling company in the process. ♦

    As May quickly approaches, hopeful soon-to-be English grads are chomping at the bit to enter the workforce and break into the publishing industry, or to become playwrights, poets, technical writers, English teachers, or “real writers” of "serious literature" (and who like to point this out as often as possible). So what happens when August or September arrives, and a number of these newly-minted English graduates still haven’t nailed down their dream jobs?
           For one, they might consider the success of Nathan Weller, owner and chief storyteller of Black Cat Digital Publishing, who took a very non-traditional route to get to where he is today. For starters, he never attended college—not even a semester.
           “I’ve never been trained or taken a writing class beyond high school English,” Weller says. “I’ll be the first to admit that my style is pragmatic, sometimes to the detriment of style. I’ve basically approached writing as a job to be done, sometimes getting hired for work that I have no idea how to even approach. I then find as many examples of that writing style as I can and pick it apart. I try to learn its structure and understand the creative choices in each piece. Then I give it a try. Hopefully while being paid.”
            When he was just 18 years old—fresh out of high school, without any experience to speak of—Weller landed an internship with a new media studio in Texas. Over the next two years, he worked across the gamut from basic copywriting to script writing for promotional videos and even working on documentaries and multi-media stage plays. After his two years as an intern were up, Weller headed home to Ohio, hoping to segue his writing experience into a job at a paper or print magazine.
           “I ran into nothing but walls,” he recalls. “I don’t even think I got a call or email back.”
          So Weller began taking sales and customer service jobs at a few Internet startup companies, and when writing or creative needs would pop up for these companies, he'd inform his boss that he had experience with that sort of thing and take on the task. “That led me to doing a lot of mass email and social media copywriting, as well as exposing me to the world of paid blogging," he says, adding that, at a certain point, "I decided to figure that business out and see if I could get paid to do that for a living.”


    Over time, Weller networked and made friends with some popular blog editors and media companies, the biggest of which was, whose founder, Fabio Sasso, is now the head designer at Google. From late 2009 to 2011, Weller found himself writing quite a lot for Abduzeedo and other blog editors, and his resume was shaping up to be quite impressive. He'd now been a working writer for five years and had recently added business development to his skill set, acquired at a startup called GoBigNetwork, where he sold ads and leads. Weller also began selling ads and sponsored posts for Abduzeedo and negotiated a 20% cut for every sale—plus, he was still freelance writing for blogs.
           “Unfortunately," Weller says, "in the world of freelance blogging, things change fast, and clients come and go just as quickly. When Fabio went to Google, his contract required him to shut down the biz development part of his site [which Weller was running] and I had to make article writing my full-time job."
       Weller began experimenting with ways he could make as much money as possible from each article. While his methods were working, and his output turned a profit, he found the workload to be painfully time consuming, so he soon began to contract writers, using his connections with blog editors and owners. In this set-up, he could book large amounts of work for the group and take a cut from each of the writers he was finding work for. “That worked okay. But again, the time management was a huge pain, and not very many people were as serious about quality as I was," he recalls. "I spent a lot of time doing heavy edits and even re-writing other people’s work . . . and then firing them.”
           Nevertheless, Weller had soon built a sturdy platform for himself in the blogging world, and his web presence began to attract editors who sought him out to run their blogs behind the scenes. This warranted him more freedom, allowing him to write as many articles as he wanted for $.10 per word. Then, toward the end of 2012, Weller decided that he'd been around the block enough times, and understood the business well enough, that he could start and run a large editorial site on his own in a profitable way.


    Which leads us to Weller's companyand the focus of his attention these daysBlack Cat Digital Publishing. Drawing on his (now seven years') experience, Weller offers his services not just as a writer but as a storyteller, as the headline of his website proudly advertises, inviting potential customers to “Find Out What A Good Story Can Do For You.” Weller teaches bloggers and business owners how to craft their own stories, allowing them to connect with their intended audiences and leave lasting and memorable impressions, whether through a blog post, memoir, television show, new media production, or even a novel. Even better, Weller gets to employ his lifelong passion for storytelling in the building of products, services, and platforms that help others tell their stories more powerfully.
           Weller's success is itself a pretty good story. And, as such, there are a number of lessons oneespecially aspiring writerscan take away from it:

    1. Decide what success means to you

     Before you do anything, you need to decide what success means to you. Does success to you mean having your name known? Having a play on Broadway or writing for a hit TV show? Or simply, making money while writing? Before you start doing anything, make a list of goals (in your mind or on paper) that you hope to accomplish as a professional. Understanding what success means to you will allow you to find happiness as a writer.

     2. Put yourself out there (and network!)

    No matter how “beneath you” a writing job feels, producing work is the #1 way to get your work read and acknowledged. Contact bloggers or newspapers and offer to be a contributor. Even if it’s a project for a friend’s blog or designing an invitation for your sister’s bachelorette party—a job’s a job. If you can put it in your portfolio or on your resume, it'll pay off.

    3. Accept that the publishing industry can be a tough nut to crack

    Then, once you've accepted that fact, move forward with determination. Be flexible. Be open to any and all opportunities that help you build your platform. Be willing to explore work you hadn't considered before—and never give up!

  • About the Author
    Emily Bufler is a design-savvy writer from southwest Ohio, where she enjoys living with her two mutts and her sweet husband. You can find her participating in the lifestyle and interior design blogosphere or reading a good book.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    First Fiction: Tessa Mellas & David James Poissant


    The authors of acclaimed debut collections LUNGS FULL OF NOISE and THE HEAVEN OF ANIMALS discuss their paths to publication, the responsibilities of author (self-)promotion, and how it feels to have their first books out in the world.  ♦ 
    In one sitting with Tessa Mellas and David James Poissant, the conversation shifts from their brand-new debut collections of stories to why reading fiction is better than Facebook, the not-so-idle waiting game of publishing, and how it feels to have their books finally on those coveted bookshelves. Mellas’s Lungs Full of Noise, winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award, is made up of 12 stories which explore femininity and which are, as Mellas describes, “magical, raw, and grotesque"; Poissant's The Heaven of Animals, published in March 2014 by Simon & Schuster, is comprised of more realist stories revolving around the “tenuous bonds of family.” Though both are now professors of fiction, Mellas and Poissant are also graduates of the Ph.D. program in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, and in early March they visited nearby Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in support of their books, reading to a packed house of students and faculty. Before the reading, they opened up their writer brains to talk about all the lessons learned along the way.

    Q: Has the experience of seeing your first books into the world been what you expected?

    Mellas: It was really exciting. Up until the day I got the phone call that I won the award, I was thinking, I wonder if I ever will publish a book? It kind of changes your life overnight, even though a lot doesn't change. I had a great experience with the University of Iowa Press, and they let me choose my cover photo, which was really cool.

    Poissant: It in no way feels like an overnight success, because I worked on that book for almost nine full years, so I wouldn't say getting it published felt inevitable. But when it came, it was more relief than excitement. I was ready to give it to anyone. It was at the point of, Who wants to copy it on their home computer and staple it? It was a thrill.

    Q: What was your journey to getting the book published? What challenges did you face? 

    Mellas: I had been thinking about my stories as a collection for quite some time, so I had some themes in mind and was writing towards those themes and stories that would fit together cohesively. When I sent it out to the Iowa contest, I didn't think it was done. I thought maybe I’ll be a finalist and I can put that on my resume to use to get a job. But then it won; it was a dream. I’m really thankful that it got chosen, before it was even a full book.

    Poissant: Most of the stories had already been published in magazines. I had an agent who knew short story collections were a hard sell, but she sent it to a few trusted editors. So she sent it to them and they both said the same thing, which is, This is great, but without a novel, we can’t do anything with it. So I knew if I was ever going to do it, now was the time.

    Q: Are story collections a particularly hard sell?

    Mellas: I feel like right now there’s a renewed interest. It’s a literary audience. It’s not a collection that my family will read and understand, but you have to know that it’s not necessarily going to appeal to everybody. But hopefully you can make a difference with the people you do appeal to.

    Poissant: It seems to come and go in waves. In the early 2000s, a few short story collections came out[Melissa Banks'] The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishingthat got people excited about collections. In the last two years, there’s been a lot of interest in collections, and I hope that doesn't backfire. And I hope houses keep taking chances on them

    Q: What was your writing and editing process like? How long did it take to complete your collection?

    Mellas: For a while, I just wrote whatever I thought of as an interesting premise for a story, and I gradually just started noticing patterns. It’s not surprising that most of my characters are women and girls, but I started taking on issues of femininity and issues of troubled girls and troubled women and what was oppressing them. I had a lot of younger women, but not a lot of older women, so I thought of premises to fill that arc of womanhood.

    Poissant: At first, my agent and I worked together to pick the safest, most marketable collection, which were all stories about uniform length, all of my realist style. Eventually, we ended up swapping some of those out for other stories that we knew were the best, but they were really short or really long or weird. It didn't matter though. It just became a book of my best. That was a relief because I didn’t really know you could do that. I’m glad I got to have that diversity in my collection to show off my versatility.

    Q: It's a given that an author is expected to take an active part in the marketing of his or her book, whether thinking about "author platform," self-promotion, book tours or virtual book tours, what-have-you. What is your experience with that? What's an author's responsibility in terms of marketing?

    Mellas: I’m with a university press and they don’t have a huge budget. Finding place to read is my responsibility. Taking it on yourself is important. It’s important to market yourself to the local culture since they would be more interested in an author that is from your home state.

    Poissant: You can’t just sell your books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble; you really want all the bookstores to have a sense of who you are. I finally put together my own website. I've tried to have a big presence on Facebook.

    Q: What did you learn in the process of seeing your book through to publication that an emerging author would be wise to keep in mind? Or, what do you know now that you wish you'd known starting out?

    Mellas: As an undergrad student, I was used to being one of the top writers in the class, so it was really a shock to get to graduate school and not be the best. In writing, whoever works the hardest and the longest will be successful; the more talented writers might just drop off because it’s hard, and it’s hard to sit down and do it everyday. I also learned that the more you learn about writing, the harder it is to do because you become more sensitive to the writing and get a radar [about] bad writing. It’s so much harder to write sentences when you’re so aware of what is wrong with them, so I feel you kind of have to go back to the drawing board and figure out new strategies.

    Poissant: My main advice is don’t give up. I didn’t go to a MFA program until I was 26. I know a lot of students want to go a program right out of undergrad, and some are ready and some aren't. I applied to twelve programs and only got into one, and the one I got into, I didn’t get any financial aid. That was my test: Should I be writer? I got into one. I grew so fast.

  • About the Author
    Amanda Hancock enjoys the written word in all of its forms. As an admirer of powerful storytelling, Amanda is currently pursuing a career in journalism. Her perfect day would consist of a long run, a good book, and a bottomless cup of coffee.

    Lauren Bailey’s How To


    Former in-house turned freelance editor Lauren Bailey explains how she made an editing career on her own terms and offers advice on how you might do the same.  ♦ 

    Even if you haven’t heard of Lauren Bailey, chances are you’re familiar with her work. She’s edited (and written for) everything from magazines to books to the web, notably in her stint working for Writer’s Digest, where she spent several years helming the popular Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market before moving to the books division, overseeing such titles as The Power of Point of View, Mind of Your Story, the fiction anthology You Must Be This Tall To Ride (edited by B. J. Hollars), and Keith Flynn’s The Rhythm Method, Razzmatazz and Memory: How To Make Your Poetry Swing. After leaving Writer’s Digest, Bailey spent some time writing for Amazon and Business to Business before striking out on her own, working for the past five years as a full-time freelance writer and editor. Read on for Bailey’s how-to’s regarding going freelance and making it work.

    1. How to become a freelancer

    “Be open, flexible, and adaptable. 

    Lauren Bailey began professionally writing and editing in college, but she didn’t set out to become a freelance book editor—in fact it was her openness to taking on different jobs, and trying out different genres of writing, that ultimately led her to book publishing, but that openness also led to work writing music reviews, articles for tech companies, fashion copy for (working on their shoe collection), you name it. Bailey illustrates that there is no straight line to building a career; it is about being versatile and being able to work with any kind of company. There is no job you can take that won’t ultimately be helpful to you in developing your skills and professional network.
           Bailey also emphasizes the importance of networking in building a freelance career; she began building her own network during her time as a graduate student in Professional Writing & Editing at University of Cincinnati, and to this day she continues to work with former professors, employers, and colleagues from that period, as well as circles of writer-friends. In fact, when asked her about her transition from working for a company like Writer’s Digest to freelancing—a move that coincided with the birth of her first child—Bailey again goes to the importance of network: “I [actually] kept the job when I started freelancing. I freelanced for the company I worked for, and that’s the key. They know you’re reliable.” From that point on, Bailey continued to expand her business with referrals, and for her first few years as a freelancer, she says she never turned down a client.

    2. How to manage time as a freelancer

    “Work it like a 9-5 shift. 

    Originally, Bailey only worked when her son slept, because she never wanted work to interfere with motherhood. Managing both at once became trickier, however, when she and her husband welcomed a daughter not long after. Bailey tells a story about a night when her daughter was sick and she had to hold (and rock) her child in a sarong with one arm while working with the other.
           After that, the Baileys decided to get a nanny.
          With the extra help, Bailey can focus on her 9-5 workday knowing her children are safe just down the hall. However, if you do work at home, Bailey jokingly recommends an office door “with a lock.”

    3. How to create an office environment at home

    “Big computer screen, style guides, and time. 

    Besides a lock, Bailey’s essentials for an office space are a desk, a large computer screen, shelves with style guides, and a filing cabinet to keep track of her projects and paperwork (though the shelf space might be negotiable, as Bailey has stopped buying hardcopies of style guides.)
           Regarding technology, Bailey is on board with the increase of technology used in the workplace: “[For] my first job, I had to do hardcopies. We would look back at every version in the history and write on the PDF. Technology made it better to turn things around quickly, and it’s a lot easier to collaborate.”
           The technology for editing hasn’t changed drastically—Microsoft Word is still the most common editing tools, as well as Acrobat Pro. When I asked whether she was a Mac or PC girl, she stated that “Macs are mostly used in book publishing, but everyone else still works with PCs.”  In addition to her big computer screen, she also said that her next toy will be a tablet.

    4. How to use technology to brand yourself

    “LinkedIn and online portfolios.” 

    “Do one thing, and do it very well,” Bailey suggests when speaking of social media and online portfolios. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with professionals and to expand your network, and online portfolios give potential clients a way of checking out your work. Bailey doesn't use these exclusively to find clients—she still generates most of work through her professional network. However, she started her website as soon as she started freelancing and brings in a portion of her business through her online presence. On her website, it gives a brief biography, projects that she has worked on, and “kind words” from previous clients. It also provides contact information for her services, which include various types of editing and proofreading. This is a standard guideline for any online portfolio, and answers most clients' queries:  “It is a home base and is so automatic. It’s the first thing that comes up.”

    5. How to build a freelancing (or any) career

    “Follow the three pillars: [be] great quality, on time, and easy to work with. 

    Every bit as important as network is reputation . . . which is how one builds a network in the first place. So it makes sense that, when asked if she has any tips for upcoming writers and editors, Bailey offers those three pillars of professionalism. (“If you have at least two,” she smiles, “you’re okay.”) In addition she says, “The most important thing is to write as much as you can and feel like you can show it. Read as much as you can about the industry.”
           Bailey leaves us with one last bit of advice on the subject of reputation: “Be super professional, because the industry is so small. Treat every job as an advertisement for your personal brand.”

  • About the Author
    Melissa Petrick is an avid Twitter follower of @APstylebook and @ChicagoManual. When she is not editing for various student organizations, she is outside getting her boots dirty at the horse barn. She is currently collecting her coins for her Future Farm Fund and is anxiously waiting for the day that she can edit on her wraparound porch.

    How to Start Making Games


    Looking to make the switch from gamer to creator? Indie game developer James Earl Cox III shares how he got started and what he's learned along the way.  ♦ 

    Ethos and Logos Intro

    Q: Why does your opinion and advice matter, James?

    A: Well, it may not fit everyone. But I'd like to think that I'm doing well. As of now, 2.5 years since I started making games for myself, I've created over 30 freeware games, most of which can be found on my GameJolt page, and/or on my website. 17+ of them have been written about to varying capacities on game news sites and blogs (totaling over 64 features, reviews, lists, combined), and with many of then being accepted and shown at conferences and conventions for a total of 11+ times combined. They have also won 3 awards, the most prominent being a silver medal at Serious Play. No doubt, there are plenty of better qualified people out there than me to give advice on creating games (professional game creators for example), but my thoughts on how to get started just making games is still relatively fresh, and I'm still learning!

    Ethos, Pathos, Logos Backstory

    Early in the Summer of 2012, I sat in my apartment, slightly frustrated about the shape and future of my creative endeavors. I wasn't doing horridly, as I had written plenty of stories and had dabbled in film, but what I really wanted to do was make games, digital games. That summer I was taking a heavy school course load to ensure that I would graduate on time, as well as participating in a research lab. It wasn't a useless summer, yet, as I sat at my desk in my room, I thought about the various opportunities I had missed because I didn't know how to code. Why didn't anyone want to work with me? I felt as if I was somehow poisonous. I had indeed created a few games with others, but those were either under classroom constraints (OG DarkWhite) or for Global Game Jam (MEchine). I had a good time designing and art-ing those games, but outside of confined spaces, it felt like no one truly wanted to work with me; that I couldn't just create when I wanted to. And when I tried to seek help or collaborations from developers, it usually resulted in non-committal responses.
           It was then that I decided, if I couldn't find anyone to help me code my games, I would learn it myself.
          I downloaded GameMaker 8.1 and began working my way through the suggested tutorials. I made a fruit click game. And then I made a small top down shooter. I then began to watch YouTube tutorials on GameMaker. People like 14silverX revealed alternative ways to build these games, showing the multiple ways one could drag-and-drop games into existence. And from there, I branched off and started trying to make my own games; ones that, while they did use bits of the previous tutorials, were ideas I came up with. My first completed completely solo game was Landers. It was scary. I hadn't dealt with variables carrying across rooms before. But I made it, and it felt amazing. From there, I just dove in and got addicted. Friends hosting a party? Someone visiting from out of town? Meeting someone's new significant other? I'd show up to say hi, but quickly run off to get back to game making.
           I made Don't Kill the Cow, the new DarkWhite, and Cat Licker in this way; using mainly drag-and-drop, but each time including a bit more actual code as I hit barriers that drag-and-drop couldn't pass. Occasionally, I watch new GameMaker tutorials that helped teach GML.
           At some point, I realized that I was working with other people on a lot of my games. And it wasn't forced cooperation. It all had happened organically. I would need music, and I'd ask a friend and he'd say "sure thing!" and within a week or two, I'd have music in my game. Occasionally, as I continued to feed my game-creating addiction, someone would ask to work with me. In some cases, they'd have games of their own, and everything worked out fine; we both understood the ins and outs of making short freeware. But other times, they wouldn't know how to make games, which is fine too. I often find that the best collaboration partners have nothing to do with games. For instance, a poet may provide the best dialogue you could ever ask for, while a historian may provide some neat insight into the time period you're trying to recreate. But those people seldom ask to make games. The ones that don't know how to create games, and ask to collaborate, have bad ideas. They pitch their game idea and expect you to make it. They design it and you do the rest. It 's a bit of a turn off. Why would I want to build their game when I have plenty of ideas of my own? Do they know how needlessly complex the game they pitched would be? I would be friendly and give these people a non-committal answer.
           Which is when it hit me: I was now on the other side of the fence. These not-yet-designers and not-yet-developers are in the same boat I was about two years prior. They were probably frustrated that no one wanted to work with them. I feel bad for these budding game creators. But realistically, there is no good reason to spend time collaborating with them when there are plenty of other potential collaboration partners with shiny games and a proven drive. It's just a risk not worth taking. This revelation felt good; but in a bitter-sweet way. If I time traveled back and met me before I made games, I wouldn't collaborate with previous James. He didn't know what he was doing and wanted way too much credit for just having ideas.
           Since then, I continued to make small-ish freeware games, each one pushing some comfort zone for coding, design, or art. Some are successes, some are failures. Some made it into conferences and conventions, others hide in the darkness of the Internet.
           And that is how I got here today. Lots of games and lots of collaborations. I've met and become friends with some developers I never would have dreamed of friending. And the best part is that we all have the passion and drive. I'm slowly branching into larger projects as well, taking baby steps of course. I don't want to spent a year on a failed project. I still mostly work in GML but am slowly seeping into Unity.

    The Advice

    Make games. It is as simple as that. To break it down further:

    Yes, you can code. Sit down and watch tutorials. Take in what they say and implement it yourself. Reinforce the tutorials by completing other tutorials of the same game. It seems that many not-yet-designers and not-yet-developers believe that they simply can go from school, or their current job, to a game company pumping out top sellers; zero games under their belt to working on the next big thing. That rarely happens, and you're not the exception. You need to practice and learn. Take that first step and mess around in GameMaker. It's really not hard. It just takes time.

    Yes you have time. If you're doing well enough on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (I'd say somewhere above the red), then you don't have any excuses. Its simply a mater of what you value higher. If you'd rather join friends in a cross country trek, go for it! It sounds like a great time and I wish I could come. Just don't tell anyone that you don't have time to make games. Same idea applies to social gatherings, TV, movies, the Internet, and, most of all, playing games: if you have time to spend consuming those, you have time to make games. To go a bit further, if you really want to make games, you should make games. Any free time you have should be devoted to games (within reason of course--I wouldn't skip a wedding or funeral to make games; that's just silly and alienating).

    Your idea is too big. Throw it out. You're not going to make the next Bioshock or Portal or Mass Effect. Even when you're good enough to be on a team to make such a game, the team is making the game. Not you. As such, your first game ideas should be about 15 minutes of play time or less. This is also a good way to power through many different games. Ones that you can learn something new from each time, and ones that you can put online and get feedback on. If you spend a year on a large project that ends up being scrapped. That's demoralizing and a year you just lost. You may have learned things from it, but there probably won't be anything to show.

    Your game is too feature-heavy. Prune it. Making games are like constructing arguments. Only the best and most important points should remain. If your game is about the anxiety of being a pre-treen, then allowing the player to pick out what clothes they wear would fit the theme (you don't want to get bullied in school for your outfit, do you?) but I would find it hard to merit this game having achievements or leader boards. Those would undercut the significance of the player's choices in game and refocus their play to racking up points.

    Throw out your first five ideas. I'd feel bad if I said "Don't even write them down," so I guess you can do that. Just make sure to hide the paper somewhere you can't find it. Your first five ideas for any central game topic will be the same ones everyone else is coming up with. It probably will look a lot like games already out there. Not that Mario-clones aren't useful or good in their own right, but it is a surefire way to blend into the crowd.

    Find your voice. Much like writing or film making or any other medium, everyone has their own unique voice; their own style of games. You learn about yourself, what kind of games feel good to make, what art you like to use, and what mechanics and themes you revisit. This will also help you stand out and become unique.

    It takes time. You'll need to spend a lot of time working on your craft. Be sure to make friends along the way. Find communities of people that fit your style and speed and talk with them, and once you're comfortable enough, even collaborate with them. When I wrote this, I was about 2.5 years in and still have a lot to learn.

    Do it for you. If you want to make games, you should enjoy making games. This shouldn't be a painful process and don't expect anything from it besides bettering yourself. Plus, in the case of turning it into a career, no mater what area of game making you want to end up doing, having a general well rounded sense of all the elements that go into games will prove to be extraordinarily helpful (its easier to talk to a graphic designer if you know how .gifs and images work within the code). And if you find the process of game making to be too trite, boring, or painful, then maybe making games isn't for you.

    That's about it, I think. Even though others told me the same advice here and there, I had to learn it the hard way over the course of three years. I'm sure some of it won't sink in for others until they learn it first hand as well. But maybe someone might find this useful! And that would be splendid.

  • About the Author
    James Earl Cox III is a game per­son who makes games. On the side, he goes to uni­ver­sity. His fic­tion has been pub­lished in The Ram­pal­lian, The Vehi­cle, and The Canary Press. Find him at Seemingly Pointless or on his GameJolt page, and follow him on Twitter.