Monday, May 9, 2016

The Importance of an Online Literary Presence


In terms of finding (and keeping) an audience, some of a writer's most important work comes in 140 characters.  ♦ 
When I was younger, all of my favorite authors seemed like these mysterious beings that I could only hope to get a chance to interact with. I loved to read, and it saddened me that the creators of these great works of fiction that I loved seemed so distant and unreachable.
   But things have changed dramatically over the last decade with the rise of social media, especially when it comes to younger authors, and within the last couple of years, especially, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the social media presence of up-and-coming writers. The first time I noticed how prevalent literature was becoming on social media would be when I started noticing the Kardashians posting poems by the writer R.M. Drake on their Instagram pages, and, as embarrassed as I am to admit that I follow the Kardashian social media pages, I have to say that I liked the Drake poems that they posted. They are usually very short, and sometimes a bit cliché, but overall pretty pleasant to read, and that lead to me to follow Drake's own page, which lead me to at least consider buying his poetry books. Poetry, in particular, does well in literary social media, because you can fit an entire poem in one post, and very short poems work great for microblogs such as Twitter. Self-Help books also do well on Twitter, because authors can easily post some of the “helpful tips” or “daily reminders” from their work in 140 characters or less. For example, I follow an author named Mandy Hale, who writes Christian self-help books for young women. She tweets short blurbs from her books all of the time, which is what led me to eventually end up purchasing an electronic copy of one of them.
    I’ve recently learned a lot about the importance of “literary citizenship” and how to be an ideal literary citizen. As a millennial, I realize that my social media presence as an author is a major key to getting my name and my own work noticed. But maintaining my social media account is no easy task. I’m constantly forgetting to log onto my “professional” Twitter, and trying to keep up with my blog is a full-time job that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for unless that is already your job. I’ve been trying to start following younger authors online, because I’ve noticed that a lot of older, more established authors are just not that active on Twitter or Instagram. Perhaps they’re busy taking care of their families, or maybe it’s because their work is notable and well-known enough that they don’t need to advertise it on social media, but, personally, I like being able to interact with authors online, or at least feel some sort of close connection to them, no matter how distant they may actually be.
    J. K. Rowling, of the most well-known authors of this day, is extremely active on social media and has a very influential presence amongst her fans, new and old. In fact, Rowling’s very visible and vocal online presence may be one reason why the Harry Potter series is just as talked about today as it was ten or more years ago; the author is constantly answering questions and addressing fan theories in regards to a series that was completed nearly a decade ago. Her social media interactions keep her in touch with her fans, and this is what keeps her work relevant and relatable to the new generation. Gaining new readers is important for every author, and we are in the age where your social media presence may just be the best way to gain those readers . . . but also where a lack of a presence could cost you readers.
    Last fall, for example, I attended a panel with an author whose poetry I was interested in. Just a few days ago, I tried looking up her work online, and got very few results. I immediately tried to look up her social media pages, to see when her most recent poetry book would be printed again, but she had no social media (at least not open to the public). I won’t go as far as to say that she lost a fan, but I definitely lost interest in reading more of her work because she didn’t seem to exist online, and I had no easy way of finding out how to purchase a copy of her work.
    In terms of social media, authors should really consider creating a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account dedicated solely to promoting their work. This way, their work can be separate from their personal pages, and with enough effort, you’ll eventually gain a following of people who are genuinely interested in reading and sharing your work with other readers. For shy writers, the beauty of social media is that you can keep things as anonymous as you like when it comes to social media. Consistency is key when it comes to maintain pages dedicated to your work. You don’t have to post multiple times a day if that’s not your thing, but it is nice for readers who visit your pages to be able to see relatively new posts on your pages. You never know who is reading your work, which is why having presence is so important.
    Ultimately, it’s important that writers of all ages become more aware of how valuable a strong social media presence can be. Whether it be tweeting writing advice, or Instagramming samples of your work, social media is becoming one of the best ways to make yourself known to a wide array of people.
  • About the Author
    Darice Chapel is a Journalism and Creative Writing double major at Miami University. She is also the president of Love You Like A Sister (L.Y.L.A.S.) and secretary of the Black Student Action Association.

    Page to Stage: Transforming Stories


    In the storied relationship between books and Broadway, musical theatre finds new ways to bring literature to life.  ♦ 
    If you’re an ardent reader of books, you already know the power of storytelling. A good story has the power to inspire, heal, and even fundamentally change an audience’s views. Books can put us on the edge of our seats or have us spilling tears on their pages. But what if I told you there’s a storytelling medium that can make books even more magical?
        Musical theatre is a storytelling medium that has the power to bring books to life. What exactly makes musical theatre such a powerful storytelling medium, you ask?

    1. It’s Performed Live
    Musical theatre is such a unique storytelling medium because it’s a live story. When you go to see a show, stories unfold before your eyes in a way that the written word alone can’t replicate. Books rely on readers to imagine stories in their heads. But in musical theatre, characters jump out of books to perform stories in a live, intimate, and audience-involved setting. In other words, books can come to life on a stage.
        Live theatre is very engaging, and it can enhance readers’ knowledge and appreciation of literature too. According to a study conducted at the University of Arkansas, “live theatre can even lead to enhanced knowledge of plots, increased vocabulary, greater tolerance, and improved ability to read the emotions of others.”

    2. It Incorporates Music
    Although many people scoff at the idea of stories being told through song and dance, music can intensify a story and make it even more powerful and persuasive. Music is a universal language that can set tones, invite the audience to empathize with characters, and advance plotlines significantly. Sometimes, songs are more effective than words alone when trying to communicate the way a character feels. Since music can evoke emotional responses, it’s a great tool to use when trying to drive a theme home too. Plus, it’s entertaining!
        In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, for example, there are significant musical contrasts between the songs that the Phantom and Raoul sing which illustrate the different types of love that they hold for Christine.
        The Phantom’s songs are very dark and powerful, and this reflects the obsessive love he has for Christine:

    Raoul’s songs, on the other hand, are warmer and more delicate, reflecting the healthier type of love he has for her:

    3. It Uses Stage Effects
    Another way musical theatre brings books and stories to life is through the use of creative stage effects which immerse an audience into the world of the story and create the illusion that you're inside of it through directly engaging sometimes all of the audience's senses.
         Imagine, for example, the firefight at the barricades of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables coming to life twenty feet in front of you: red lights flash, you can smell the smoke of gunpowder, and everyone holds their breath as Gavroche is shot in front of the barricade (and right in front of the audience).

    Or, imagine experiencing the magical abilities described in P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins coming to life on stage through creative effects. Characters fly on cables, household items levitate, and statues come to life in a piece that was originally just words on a page.

    4. It’s Fast-Paced
    In order to tell a story in two or three hours, everything in the plot of a musical has to happen very quickly. This is, admittedly, a both a strength and a weakness: the fast pace of musical theatre is exciting and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, but it also squeezes the narrative of a story. When a book becomes a musical, the narrative of the story is adapted at the expense of subtle details that readers might love. Every storytelling medium has faults and this is one of the biggest faults of musical theatre that book purists lament. However, the benefit is a unique compression of story by using all means available to tell it—sights, sounds, staging—so that two hundred pages can be transformed into a full two-hour experience.
        An excellent example of this kind of story compression is the current hit-Broadway musical Hamilton; what started as an 832-page biography by Ron Chernow ended up as a two-and-a-half hour hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. By utilizing a unique and popular musical genre, a lengthy biography became a fast-paced, exciting experience. As a result of Miranda’s genius adaptation, both the musical and the book are now immensely popular, more people are learning about U.S. history, and the Treasury Department decided to keep Hamilton on the 10-dollar bill.

    5. You Can Become Part of the Story
    Part of the magic of musical theatre is that anyone can become a part of their favorite books and stories. There are tons of classic and modern books that have stage adaptations, and most cities have a community theatre that regularly holds auditions for shows written after books. Is Pride & Prejudice your favorite classic? Audition to be an Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy! Do you love The Wizard of Oz? Audition to be in the chorus of Wicked! Even attending a performance of musical theater feels like a participatory, intimate experience . . . imagine the thrill and rush of actually participating and, in that way, being a part of the story being brought to life.

    Whether you want to get into the action or wish to go strictly an observer, there’s a place for you at the theatre. Musical theatre builds community involvement through storytelling, which is something that both theatre geeks and bookworms can appreciate. So the next time you want to experience a fantastic story, consider looking for your favorite book on a marquee as well as on the shelf!
  • About the Author
    Trevor Jones is a junior English: Professional Writing and Strategic Communication double major at Miami University. In his free time, he enjoys playing intramural soccer and “geeking out” over musical theatre.

    Life and Death: Reviewing Twilight's Gender Swap


    Stephanie Meyer answers criticisms of Twilight's gender stereotyping with a retelling where the roles are reversed. ♦ 
    Stephanie Meyer has always faced a lot of criticism for her novels, especially the Twilight series. One of the biggest issues readers seem to have with the series is with Meyer's portrayal of the character Isabella “Bella” Swan, and with Bella’s damsel-in-distress-type role, it’s easy to see why. Our culture today thrives on challenging societal norms. People want to see strong, independent women protagonists, not someone who constantly needs to be saved.
        It’s true that Bella Swan needs Edward Cullen, the leading male, and he does save her life on several occasions in the first book, so one can see why people critique this aspect the most. However, Stephanie Meyer has disputed this characterization of the dynamic between the two by saying that Bella is not a damsel in distress at all but, rather, a “human in distress, a normal human being surrounded on all sides by people who are basically superheroes and supervillains,” and that it would not matter if that human were female or male.
        To make her point, Meyer wrote a book celebrating the 10th anniversary of her Twilight series entitled Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined. In this novel, she did a complete gender swap of everyone in the story—with the exception of Bella’s (now Beaufort’s) parents—for the sake of believability with the custody situation (she thought it was extremely unlikely that a father would be given sole custody without the mother having access, and also did not want to unnecessarily tarnish a character). The story’s main goal is to show how similar every character would have been to her original portrayal, even if they were of the opposite sex.
      The original Twilight book follows a girl, Bella Swan, through a plethora of supernatural situations beginning when she moves to the rainy town of Forks, Washington. There she meets Edward Cullen and his “foster siblings" and is immediately struck by their beauty, but she's completely consumed by the boy with the bronze hair (Edward). She is not sure why he distracts her so much; he treats her like she smells bad and is constantly rude to her. One day she is almost killed when a car slides on ice and spirals directly towards her. Edward appears next to her and stops the car. After this incident, Bella dives into research about these people with pale, ice cold skin and incredible speed and strength. What she comes up with, of course, is vampire. The real fun begins when she confronts him and is proven right, and soon thereafter they begin a blissfully romantic love life. But Bella is soon put in peril when she draws the attention of James, the leader of a group of red-eyed vampires, who, unlike Edward's group, are known for eating humans, and it thus falls to the Cullens to try to protect her.
         Life and Death follows the same basic storyline, but is different enough that even if one had read the original novel not long ago, it wouldn’t feel like a reread. Obviously the writing is a little less romantic, and Beaufort’s reactions and thoughts are different because of the gender flip (Meyer also took the opportunity to add in some things she wished she had thought of in the old story). For example, Beau is very into cars, something that Bella was not interested in, though he does keep a layer of indifference to things his gender typically likes, such as not being into sports or the typical trashy talk about girls, just as Bella was not into makeup and dresses. Beau is also a bit more energetic, even though the typical reader may not notice that change. Beau is very prone to ignoring the fact that even though Edythe (Edwards’s female counterpart) is a girl, she is about fifty times stronger than he is. He is constantly at war with himself, struggling with gender stereotypes that are broken because of Edythe’s superiority, leaving him feeling a little insecure. He wants to protect her, when she needs to be the one doing the saving. He even tries to fight against Joss (the female James) who is capable of tossing him like a rag doll with one hand, whereas Bella resists James but ultimately understands she cannot do anything.
       Seeing how the beloved characters are expanded upon with the gender swap is extremely entertaining, especially for fans of the novel. Even with all of the changes the readers notice, they will no doubt see Meyer’s point: Beau struggles much in the way that Bella did—even the females are a thousand times stronger and faster than he is—and he becomes, in essence, the “male-in-distress,” which makes for an interesting book. It is definitely not a commonly explored trope in literature. I was a bit concerned that there would not be the same level believability in this new book, but Meyer did a fantastic job.
        The novel was a great read. If the buyer is new to the series, they can flip the book over, and the Twilight novel is on the reverse side, which is helpful for comparisons or a refresher on the plot. At around $15, it is well worth the price and the reading time.
        I personally loved seeing this remix of the series.
  • About the Author
    Kayla Love is a fiction writer who has been published in such platforms as 321 Lit Mag, Great Reads Magazine, and the Gateway to Imagination anthology. She studies Journalism and Creative Writing at Miami University and is on staff with Diversity University Magazine and The Crucible. She is currently opening up a literary magazine for women artists called Doll House Writer.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    Richer and Cleverer than Everyone Else: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards


    “There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.” – Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora  ♦ 
    I first became aware of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards fantasy series after The Republic of Thieves, the third book (of a projected seven), was published in 2013. I’d read praise for the book from the great George R.R. Martin, who called Lynch “a bright new voice in the fantasy genre,” and I couldn’t agree more. When The Lies of Locke Lamora first hit the shelves a decade ago, the relatively unknown Lynch was lauded as the next big thing in the genre, and when Red Seas Under Red Skies was published a year later, he proved he wasn’t just a one-trick pony. Then, after a grueling six-year wait for fans of the series, The Republic of Thieves was finally published, and Lynch carved his name among other greats in the genre such as Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett, Patrick Rothfuss, and George R. R. Martin himself.
        The Gentleman Bastards series centers on Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen—the best of friends, brothers in all but blood, and, most importantly, thieves. Lynch’s story follows the duo as they steal from the rich and royal, those who take from the common man. We see Locke and Jean take on city rulers, pirates, and sorcerers, all with a smile on their faces and knives up their sleeves. We see them topple governments, cheat casinos, and rig elections. We see them through love found and love lost, through rich and poor, thick and thin. But I digress.
        Locke Lamora is the garrista (leader) of the Gentleman Bastards and priest of the Crooked Warden, the Benefactor, the Nameless Thirteen. The Bastards are but one of many gangs found in the fictional city of Camorr, which is not unlike Venice during the Renaissance. Their small gang is comprised of orphans—the twins Calo and Galdo Sanza—the mysterious Sabetha Belacoros, and Jean Tannen, who discovers he has a knack for dealing death. They are thick as thieves and serve as the family each other never had. Raised by Father Chains, a con man posing as a blind priest, they are molded for his own little scheme. The underworld of Camorr is controlled by the Secret Peace, an unspoken treaty between Capa Barsavi, the coldblooded overlord whom all of the gangs of Camorr pay homage, and the city’s Duke with his Spider. The Spider makes doubly sure the thieves don’t get too ambitious and turn their greedy machinations towards those whose blood runs blue.
        In The Lies of Locke Lamora, we see Locke and company try and tease out as much coin as they can from a young don and his wife, but along the way they run into their fair share of trouble, including such colorful (and deadly) antagonists as the mysterious Gray King, the shadowy Spider, and the fearsome Bondsmagi of Karthain. As the story progresses, Lynch gives the readers glimpses of how the Gentleman Bastards came to be, including how Locke and Jean first came to learn their skills and grow as friends. The best part of these flashbacks is that they are often related to what is going on in the present and will give a glimpse as to how the Bastards will conquer a present challenge. These flashbacks continue throughout the books and are extremely well done, giving historical insight into the Bastards and context to the situations the Bastards face.
        Lies is fast-paced, lending itself to a quick read, but is thick enough to attract readers of epic fantasy. It might seem like a long, heavy read at first glance, but it is far from that. The book reads easily, it doesn’t demand too much from the reader. It is smooth and seamless, especially in its action sequences. Lynch has peculiar ability to put actions into words; I never had a problem discerning who was doing what to whom, and the scenes are so seamless that they really showcase Scott Lynch’s prowess as writer. A first-time reader of the series will have trouble putting down Lies—I know I did.
        The city of Camorr is another standout point for this novel; it functions not just as a backdrop for the Bastards but as a character in its own right. From the Floating Grave to the Shifting Market all the way to the lofty Five Towers, Lynch has built a city that lives and breathes as much as the flesh and blood people who inhabit it, a world for that reflects the credo of the Bastards—richer and cleverer than everyone else.
        However, there are moments in the first book where Lynch’s inexperience as an author stands out, whether it’s an ill-chosen word here or an awkward plot device there, but those are easily outshined by the beauty of the world he has built and the strong characters he has provided. The biggest knock I have for Lies is that there are times where the cruel, vicious, and often extremely bloody occurrences strike an odd discord with the humor and playfulness of the novel’s dialogue— when someone is being force-fed to a hungry and enraged shark, for example, one would think that sarcastic comments would be in the very back of one’s head, not on the tip of your tongue. But these are relatively small complaints; The Lies of Locke Lamora is an exceptional first novel, and it absolutely serves as a welcome introduction to the series.


    Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second book in the series, takes place two years after the events of Lies and places Locke and Jean in the city of Tal Verrar, and in the hands of the Archon, Maxilan Stragos. Stragos wants Locke and Jean to travel the open seas causing trouble and rousing the pirates of the Ghostwinds to action, all to secure his position as Archon. The only catch? Locke and Jean have never sailed on a ship as anything other than passengers . . . oh, and Stragos has poisoned Locke and Jean with something only he has the cure to, to force them to comply. (Meanwhile, the duo is also employed in a long con that’s coming to fruition at the Sinspire, Tal Verrar’s center for any and all kind of debauchery.)
        The second installment of the series does fall short of the majesty of the first, but that should not deter anyone wishing to continue the series. If you love the characters of Locke and Jean, then the book will not disappoint. In fact, Red Seas excels in areas where the previous book was lacking—the overall plot is smoother sailing (no pun) than the previous book, there aren’t as many emotional sucker-punches delivered, and the dialogue is vastly more appropriate for the tone of the novel. Red Seas is not without its faults, though . . . there seems to be two different stories fighting for supremacy, the piracy arc and the Sinspire arc. Between these two, there’s almost too much plot happening, which forces everything else in the novel (such as character) to the backseat. Lynch crafts an elaborate structure but with very little to support it, which results in a book that feels a little shaky, as well as being a little too long by perhaps a hundred or so pages.


     The third book in the series, The Republic of Thieves, takes place immediately after the events of the previous. Locke and Jean need to deal with that pesky poison Stragos kindly dosed them with, but to do so they need help from the infamous Bondsmagi of Karthain, who agree to help, but with a price: Locke and Jean must rig an election in favor of the political party the group of Bondsmagi support. Sounds like an easy enough task for the duo, until they hear who they are going up against: Sabetha Belacoros, Locke’s lost love and former Gentleman Bastard who is his match in everything when it comes to thievery. This is the first time readers get to meet Sabetha, other than a causal mention in previous books, and she does not disappoint. Sabetha pushes Locke and Jean to their absolute limits, resulting in the best versions of Locke and Jean for the readers in the series so far. The story’s plot is much simpler than its predecessor, which allows for the characters and their actions to really shine. This book also gives some possible answers to some of the bigger questions presented by series, including those surrounding Locke’s past, the mysterious Eldren, and the monuments they left behind. As nothing is perfect, there are some issues here, pacing being one of the book’s biggest faults. While there’s plenty of action going on in the story, it just takes forever to happen. Also, there were times where Locke’s obsession with Sabetha was comically overdone. He turns into absolute mush whenever she is around and is completely blind when it comes to her. There were also a couple of deus ex machina moments, where Lynch had no way to save the Locke and Jean other than some sort of divine intervention.
        All in all, though, the series is extremely interesting and allows the reader to dive in and lose him- or herself in the world of Locke Lamora. The series is a great blend of fun, style, and action, almost as if the Ocean’s 11 movie series had a baby with a fantasy author. With a fourth book titled The Thorn of Emberlain scheduled for release later this year, I am excited to see Locke and Jean take on the world once again.
  • About the Author
    Jake Grace is in his third year at Miami University, seeking a degree in Creative Writing. An avid reader, he hopes to pursue a career in literature. When you don’t find him reading a book, you can find him looking for one.

    Monday, May 2, 2016

    Picture Books in the Digital Age: A Guide to Self-Publishing


    Technology has made self-pubbing children's books possible . . . now we weigh the pros and cons. ♦
    One of the benefits of the e-book revolution has been the ability of authors to publish their work, and find an audience, without going through a big publisher. Traditionally one of the most difficult book markets to break into has been children’s picture books, given the collaborative nature of the genre, for one—requiring both writer and artist, working in tandem, to tell a story—but also because of the physical and visual nature of the final product, which seemed to all but require a publisher with the means to see the book through production and out into the world.
        Now, though, with the growing opportunities in e-book publishing, as well as newer technologies such as the iPad and other tablets which allow for the full visual experience of picture books, the electronic market is finally opening up to both the children’s genre and to self-published authors. So, what are the benefits of self-publishing a children’s picture book in e-book format? What are the downsides? And what are some variances from traditional publishing one has to consider when self-publishing a picture book as an eBook? Let us explore.


    Accessibility. The picture book market, as already noted, can be one of the hardest markets to break into; in Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s article on the subject, she even compares breaking into the market to playing slot machines in Las Vegas. There are also many unwritten rules to follow, from the maximum amount of words (many articles will say 500 to 1000 words, but in actuality 500 to 600 should be the maximum goal according to Writers Digest) to the easy trap of sending illustrations with your work (unless you are an illustrator yourself, this is a big no-no). Even when following these unwritten rules, few publishers will generally take the chance on unknown or unproven authors. With e-books, you can skip the publisher and go directly to the consumer with your book . . . and with the rise of high-resolution tablets and e-readers, the consumer can purchase and begin reading the book with their child with just a few quick clicks, and with the same quality of text and image as with print. The increased use of tablets and e-readers has lowered the age of when a child begins reading e-books to five years old and has also contributed to the slow but steady increase in children’s e-books purchased. In 2015 e-books counted for twenty-one percent of all children’s books purchased in the United States.

    Unlimited pages. In traditional publishing of children picture books, the book is limited to thirty-two pages (including title page and copyright). This limit is related to cost and may fluctuate but generally sticks to multiples of eight because of how the pages can smoothly fold into what is called a signature. Thirty-two pages in an illustrated children’s book translates roughly to five pages or less of total manuscript text, so the printed form has very specific limits on the type of story you can tell. However, with e-books the author is not constrained by the number of pages. This does not mean you should write a 500-page text for a children’s picture book, of course—always keep your audience in mind—but it means that the format opens up new possibilities for the kind of story you can tell, one that’s not bound, no pun, by the physical and economic concerns of print publishing.

    Ease of creative collaboration. Just as there have been exciting developments in the streamlined tools and procedures that allow for better cohesion across devices for the consumer, there have also been technological advancements in terms of collaboration between creators. Technology now brings writers and artists together in a way that was not always feasible before, allowing collaborators to meet up and work together, stage-by-stage, in the creation of the project. For example, the platform known as Storybird provides artwork to writers, artists, and readers for the creation of visual stories.

    Enhanced e-books. The electronic form also brings with it the possibility of multimedia enhancements to the picture book, including audio narration and animations. These exciting developments serve as tools which allow the creator to produce a more enriched and engaging experience for the reader. Not only can the proper application of the available enhancements add a unique and personal flair to a creator's work, these enhancements can create a unique reading experience every time the reader returns to the book.


    Limited screen size. Because of the range of the devices on which your book will be read, and the limitations thereof, you must keep the platform always in mind. Size of the screen means that the book needs to have smaller illustrations and will have limited room for text . . . thus, a book that’s perfectly suited for a reader on the iPad, for example, might prove a less-engaging read on another device.

    Distortion. Authors must take into consideration the nature of e-books and the various features most consumers will attempt to use when reading a story. One such example could be that, on devices such as the Kindle Fire, it is recommended that producing files be double the size of the device screen in order to support 2x zoom. While Amazon recommends double the size of the Kindle Fire screen, Apple recommends that content is at least 1.5 times the screen size. Improper resolution is an annoyance when web browsing; in a picture book, it would prove absolutely fatal.

    Lack of support traditionally fulfilled by publishing companies. As with any type of self-publishing, there is a large amount of work an author must put into their picture book in order to successfully publish. Self-publishing means the author is responsible for not only editing, marketing, and advertising, but also any technical challenges that might arise. Amazon has recently streamlined their picture book publishing tool for easier use and better cohesion across devices, but there are still many technical decisions and issues each author must consider when self-publishing their book. You may not wish to be the coder, usability tester, and tech support department . . . but if you’re going the self-publishing route, you should be aware that you might be.


    Overall, self-publishing a children's picture book as an e-book has many aspects in common with self-publishing any other book electronically, from the freedom that comes from leaving traditional publishing constraints behind to the added responsibilities that come from taking on developing, editing, and marketing oneself. Even the need to take into account the features consumers may use when reading the book are similar. The market for children’s picture e-books, though, offers some unique opportunities for authors wanting to break into the market. With a young generation of readers who view this technology as convenient and commonplace, and with various studies into the benefits and advantages of e-books in regards to skills such as early literacy development, it’s no surprise that the market for children’s picture e-books is rapidly growing and expanding.
  • About the Author
    Ashlee Center is a senior in the Professional Writing program at Miami University. She enjoys creating imagined backgrounds for the various characters she has met throughout her life. She loves to help other writers capture and develop their ideas.

    An Interview with Ari Bach


    The author of the acclaimed Valhalla series on the creative process, navigating LGBTQ tropes, and writing from the deepest places. ♦ 
    When my recent review of Ari Bach’s Valhalla trilogy came out on Turning Page, the first thing I did was submit a link to it on the official blog for the trilogy, The Walrus Squad. I remembered that I’d seen a post where the author had said that he liked seeing reviews of the books, so I thought, “Why not?”

    I certainly wasn’t expecting to get an author interview out of it.

    Nevertheless, not long after the review went up, I got a message in my inbox from Ari Bach saying that he really liked it and that, if I was interested, he’d be willing to speak with me about the trilogy to discuss some of the issues I’d raised in my reading, which he hadn’t had the opportunity to speak about before.

    Naturally, I said yes.

    The result is the following wide-ranging interview—designed as a sort of companion piece to my review, which you can read here—with Ari Bach, author of the Valhalla trilogy and the mastermind behind the blog Facts I Just Made Up.

    As I talk about in my review, your series has a very interesting relationship with the “bury your gays” trope. How do you consider the deaths of Violet, Nel, and Vibeke in relationship to the trope?

    My hope is that the books are something different enough from the usual trope that they're immune to it. My fear is that they still have all four lesbian characters dying. The differences that come into play include the fact that in the case of Vibeke and Nel, death together is the best possible happy ending for them, and in that just about everyone else dies too, over 19.9 billion of the 20 billion people existent at the start of the first book.

    In the typical trope, the motive seems to be to deny happiness or positive closure to the characters, or to kill off the gay person to give the straight people more attention. In the case of the Valhalla trilogy, this is well beyond that issue. The lesbian trio you mentioned are always the center of the books, Violet is clearly the main character of the first two, and Vibeke and Nel occupy pretty much all of the third. The deaths are never punishment for homosexuality or a sacrifice for the good of the hetero cast.

    But still, part of me worries that all this doesn't matter. The books still kill off the gay characters and end with two hetero men on the moon, and one neutrois character underwater. Had I known of the trope when I began writing the series in the 1990s, I might have given the books a lighter resolution to avoid anything like it. As it is, though, I felt it would be worse to butcher a poetic story to avoid a semblance of the trope.

    In a similar vein, with the multitude of LGBTQ tropes, how did you navigate writing a lesbian protagonist?

    I think the only trick you need to write a good character is to treat them with the respect you would give to a real person. There are negative stereotypes of every type of person out there so the instant you write a person, you risk partaking in the problem. But if you keep the character realistic, then they can exhibit a trait that's been used as a stereotype without succumbing to the negativity, even if that trait is outwardly negative. I don't think you need to cut off your options in developing a character out of fear of running into a trope. What you need to be wary of is attributing a stereotype to a character because you think all Xs are X or all Ys are Y. As it is, I don't think I ran into any typical LGBTQ tropes really. They're all unique and realistic characters to me without any signs of cliché, or at least that's what I went for.

    One other trope I wonder if I ran into is the Women in Refrigerators trope. Violet's death was intended from the very first draft of the screenplay, meant as a big shock that the main character dies in the middle of the movie (as it was then intended to be) and doesn't come back. Since then the trope has been recognized that you kill off a woman to justify the pain of another character. Usually male, but Violet's death is very much a motivation for Vibeke. Not male, but she still dies in part to give another character a motive. My only defense there is that Violet wasn't wasted, a strong woman wasn't killed off just to enhance some guy [ . . . ] rather she dies because that's pretty much the core of the story, poetically.

    Vibeke and Nel would run the same risk as they're survived by two men, but I think this is cancelled because the books end there and won't continue. If the books did continue and used their lesbian characters as nothing but an origin story for the Geki on the Moon, then I would be guilty of that trope in the worst possible way. So I guess a lot of the tropes I risk running into are avoided because the books stop an inch short of them.

    But because I never used the tropes for their intended use, to denigrate gays or throw away women, I feel that if they somewhat resemble the tropes this resemblance can be just that and nothing more.

    Also it is my hope that the series is so overwhelmingly progressive in its philosophy and nature that it's earned the benefit of the doubt.

    It’s made clear that rape is the worst of the worst when it comes to crimes. What was your reasoning and thought process behind writing the sexual assault scene with Violet and Vibeke?

    It functions on half a dozen important levels. First and foremost, it's the fulfillment of her darker side. She gets herself booted from everything she's a part of, and Valhalla really was no different in the end. That sets her apart as a fully separate entity, one that simply can't exist in this life. That's why she gets another one as Nel. Nel would not need to exist if Violet hadn't done it.

    Second, it's a commentary on heroism. Heroes are so often perfect, they're kind and loving to their families as they blow up the villains. The reality is closer to this. The lives of real spies and heroes often involve abuse of loved ones. I wanted to subvert the Harry Potter / Katniss Everdeen syndrome of kind flawless heroes who can act with violence when necessary but always regret it. I wanted a 'hero' who acted on her emotions for good, and acted on them just as strongly for bad. I think that's a realistic character and I think it's an insult to readers that there aren't more heroes with real flaws. Not flaws pasted on to make readers think, “oh, a flawed hero, how novel,” but a real problem. The worst problem. Maybe it's because all my own heroes are movie directors and artists, and many of them are rapists and pedophiles and racists. That's a tough conundrum to deal with, respecting someone's art while admitting they're actually horrible people. Violet kicks ass, she's awesome, but she's also the worst kind of person. I think that's closer to reality than any John McClane or James Bond or even Rambo.

    Third, plot. It serves about ten functions in the plot that all had to happen for the books to work. Not the least of which is a traumatic shift to Vibeke as the main character, or Violet being sentenced to death, of the results of the ending of Ragnarök. Had it not happened, I think Vibeke would have saved Violet instead of the world.

    Fourth, it's a commentary on the nature of sexual assault in that it's not always a big tough stranger that hurts a victim, sometimes it's someone they love. Sometimes it's their hero who takes advantage of them. I've never seen a book or film tackle that. I've never seen a couple go on after the assault. And in the real world, it doesn't always end after an assault. Even if there's no forgiveness, sometimes people end up with the people who hurt them most. And they don't need to be hacked for it to happen. We are strange beings, Vibeke is too. I wrote what would really happen between them.

    Fifth, it’s cathartic for me. It's a story I had to tell. What's happened to me in life is not what happened in the book but damned if writing it didn't clear up my mind on some things that have bothered me since childhood. The whole trilogy is a snapshot of me working out my own problems. Some are obvious, like Violet's lack of a place in life early on. I shared that at face value. This one is more obscured, but the greatest art comes from the deepest places in the artist. This is a story I had to write, and although this plot point alienates some readers and confuses others it's at the core of what I think writing should be.

    Finally, I think it's a damn good scene and sequence of events for a novel trilogy. Ignoring its rarity and novelty, I think it's powerful and disturbing, horrific. And eerily understandable. I think the reason a lot of people react so strongly to it is because you see it through Violet's eyes. The book makes you understand why she does it, the frustration and feeling behind it. That's what great cinema and literature does—it puts you someplace you can't go. Ragnarök is like one of those dreams where you hurt someone you love. You'd never do it in reality but in dreams you have no control. Ragnarök is a nightmare and that moment is the core of it.

    The main religious conflict within these books is with Catholicism, particularly in terms of a pretty clear Catholic/Muslim conflict. This being a very touchy subject in the current state of the world, how did you go about approaching that?

    I'd not call it Catholicism really, or even Christianity and Islam. The religion in these books is not modern religion, it's what I think will become of religion once humankind outgrows it. I hope that's fairly clear. A lot of readers will take it as “All religion is a baby-smashing hate-mongering brain-deflating monstrosity.” They're not necessarily wrong, but that's not what's going on in the books.

    My approach to religion is to show how people function, how they become fascist or how they become irrational and vicious. Throughout history, religion has given people an excuse to be their worst selves. It's not the cause of it alone, religion creates a Mr. Rogers for every Fred Phelps. But the Valhalla trilogy is obviously about hate and murder and death and pain so that's what you see.

    So basically my approach to religion is the same as my approach to everything else in the books: You see the worst of it, and the worst of it is pretty bad.

    You’ve mentioned a few times on your blog, Facts I Just Made Up, that you are Jewish. How have your religious experiences affected how you approached the religious climate of the Valhalla trilogy?

    Not on a personal level. The religious climate of the novels comes from decades of study and impersonal consideration. If I wrote anything from a personal perspective about religion, it would be about how boring it is to sit in a service for hours as a kid who would rather be playing Nintendo. That's all religion ever was to me.

    What was your favorite part of the series to write? Or if that’s too broad, what was a scene that you didn’t really plan, but you ended up really liking?

    My favorite is the scene between Vibeke and Nel where her hair gets caught in Nel's chest, and she looks at the heart. That was the first thing I wrote, the moment I decided to make it story about lesbian characters, and I think it's the most moving part of the whole thing, save for the end which was designed more carefully later. The bed scene underwater wasn't planned, it was the purest form of writing where it just flowed from my fingertips as I wrote without any rational intervention. As an author, that's the scene the trilogy exists for.

    That said, I think the ending of the trilogy exceeds it in most tangible ways. The above is just the author's sentimentality for his first scene. The ending of the books is what dictated everything else in the entire series.

    This series takes a lot of risks . . . what would be your advice to young authors about taking risks in writing?

    Write anything and everything you want, no matter how risky. You are never obligated to show it to anyone or do anything with it, so there's nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    Is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you would like to talk about?

    No, this has been an exceptional series of questions that I rarely if ever get to answer. Thank you!!!
    Ari Bach's Valhalla trilogy is published by Dreamspinner Press, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere else.
  • About the Author
    Thomas Gurinskas is a Creative and Professional Writing double major at Miami University. He’s not sure when he’s going to graduate, but it’s not going to be on time. He likes to live-snap the books he’s reading for his friends on Snapchat to see. Sometimes, if he deems the comments witty enough, he posts the snaps to his blog. Follow his reviews online here.

    Video Games: A New Way to Tell a Story


    Photo courtesy of

    Rising from intersections of art, science, and entertainment, video games have emerged as the first great digital literature.  ♦ 
    Video games have been around, believe it or not, since the 1950s, and in the decades since they have developed into an addictive digital interaction for people of all ages, as well as a billion-dollar entertainment industry. They have also developed into an intriguing new storytelling medium, borrowing devices from both novels and films to create engaging works of art . . . and yet, despite modern games’ narrative nature, they are often not viewed by the general populace as stories—at least not in the same way novels and films are—but as more of an activity. Part of the reason for this is that are so many different ways to tell a story that, sometimes, people do not realize that a story is being told to them at all. This is especially true in a video game, because the main reason people play these games is for entertainment, not necessarily to hear a story.
        Nevertheless, video games—at least some kinds of games—clearly act as a modern form of storytelling, because they follow the same format as a work of literature. For example, in the Zelda franchise we follow the main hero through his adventures as he attempts to rescue the queen of Hyrule. We are taken on a journey through mystical lands and temples, fighting off various creatures. As we develop through each level, it is like entering a new chapter in a book. The story continues to develop right in front of our eyes, just as we see story and character develop as we continue reading a book: the protagonist embarks upon a quest, is met with obstacles, overcomes them to move on, and grows in the process. Zelda also puts emphasis on the background of the characters and how this informs what’s happening in the present moment, another clear way that the game borrows from novelistic conventions and is a great example of classical storytelling.
        Another video game that has a complex plot is Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. This game is interesting because it follows a similar storyline as the comic book/television series The Walking Dead, but it allows the player to make difficult decisions that will affect the outcome of later events. The players, themselves, are telling the story, which can be compared to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, wherein you decide the plot of your story. A player interacts with the video game the same way, and they watch as the story responds to their decisions by altering the arcs, and even the fates, of the characters.
    A timer forces a tough moral (and narrative) choice in The Walking Dead.
        It’s certainly true, however, that some video games may not be considered a form of storytelling, particularly those that concentrate more on the ludic, activity-based elements or goals. For example, Tetris, a tile-matching puzzle video game, does not have any obvious storyline, nor does it require any background information that’s important to the process of leveling up or completing your goals as a player. Though this raises some interesting questions about the relationship between the narrative and ludic elements of games in general—if the narrative exists only as a way to spur on the activity, as the “reason” that you move Mario through each level, then is the narrative really a crucial element?
        To answer that question I decided to look at whether professionals in the field think of video games as a form of storytelling. Naomi Alderman, an author who writes for The Guardian, argues in her piece “The first great works of digital literature are already being written” that yes, indeed, video games tell stories, though she acknowledges that the worlds of art and technology can’t always seem to agree on this relationship, because society has always looked at these subjects as complete opposites. “The problem is that people who like science and technology, and people who like storytelling and the arts, have typically been placed in different buildings since about the age of 16,” Alderman writes of this divide. But, she argues, video games can uniquely bridge the gap: “Games often manage to be both great art and an economic powerhouse; we’re doing ourselves and the next generation a disservice if we don’t take that seriously.”
        The Huffington Post also published an article written by Paul Runge titled “Video Games Represent the Most Powerful (and Potentially Dangerous) Era in Storytelling” in which the author discusses how video games are most definitely a form of storytelling, but a “dangerous” one because of the unique interface a player has with story, especially given that the ways video games speak to us might not always be so ethically correct. For example, you are given complete freedom in a video game, but you still choose to kill people because that is what the video game is telling you to do. “Whereas fiction readers have to glean a novel’s takeaway,” Runge writes, “and apply it through real life choices outside the binding, video games streamline the process. They allow players to simultaneously interpret what the game is teaching them and apply (and thereby reinforce) those teachings through in-game decision-making.”
        I would expect the debate to continue on this topic, because games are still a fairly new form (and because technology is practically taking over everything that is in print). I am curious, though, to see if one day video games will be as respected and recognized a subject for a paper or literary study as a book is. Until then I ask you, the reader, to think of your own view toward this question. Are video games a modern form of storytelling, or are they just a form of entertainment?
  • About the Author
    Katie O’Malley is a junior Strategic Communications and Professional Writing Major who is from Dayton, Ohio. Her favorite activities include shopping, eating pizza, and watching criminal investigation shows.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2016

    Taking a Page from the Fairy Tale Tradition


    Looking for fresh inspiration to jumpstart your writing? Look no further than Once Upon a Time . . .  ♦ 
    As writers, we crave inspiration; it’s in our blood. Writers must write, that’s the rule, and when the work is going well, it seems that there are ideas for stories everywhere. However, there is this insidious thing called writers block—which does, in fact, exist—that can quickly suck you into an abyss of anxiety and frustration. So, what do you do when you’re lacking a spark? Where can you turn in order to revamp your creative energies and find new ideas? May I recommend looking to an art form that’s both ancient and continually changing, one that’s embedded in every culture but accessible to a reader from any background, a form that truly has something for everyone from every generation. Of course I’m talking about the fairy tale, and I don’t mean the Disneyfied versions.
        Now I know that you’re already familiar with fairy tales, given their place in our culture (and in our movies, television shows, and other entertainments), and you might even think that it’d be relatively easy to write one . . . but it can be harder than it looks. For one thing, fairy tales have a specific tone that usually avoids overly sentimental scenes and narratives (unless they’re French) in favor of an almost dispassionate telling of fantastic events, which can be a difficult balance to get right. Additionally, there’s no one kind of tale, even if we tend to lump them all together in one category in our minds—to name but a few, there are fables (which use animals/inanimate objects as main characters), etiological tales (which explain how the world works), moral tales (which contrast good and evil), pious tales (religious teachings), and frame narratives (sort of like a story within a story), all of which have their own unique characteristics and purposes. Fairy tales can actually be rather tricky to pull off, and when you see modern writers taking on the form—including such notables as Angela Carter, Lin Lan, Roald Dahl, and Anne Sexton—you can more easily see just how difficult the form can sometimes be.
        But, the good news is that you need not write fairy tales themselves to learn from them—in fact, no matter what kind of fiction you write, the fairy tale can offer inspiration to see your work in a new way and get you moving. So let’s look at a few key elements of fairy tales that can help you when you’re writing, along with some writing prompts you can use to get the creative juices flowing again.

    1. Write to (and for) an audience 

    Originally, fairy tales and folklores developed within and grew out of communities, spreading by word of mouth and passing down from generation to generation. This oral tradition was democratic and community-driven, since anyone could sit back and listen to a story around the campfire, as well as retell it to others (maybe putting a slightly different spin on the tale). Fairy tales were thus shaped by the community’s fears and common sense, reflecting different cultural notions of the place and time. This aspect of fairy tales changed somewhat in the early to mid-1800s, when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tale collections (though not the first of their kind) marked a transition that moved fairy tales from the scattered oral tradition and into a more of the literary discourse. However, the tales still reflected the importance of cultural norms and fears in the telling, even as these became less community-driven and more commodified into universal “morals” that one could take away from the story.
        The takeaway for the fiction writer, then, is to recognize their community (or audience) when crafting a story. This might seem a simple concept, but what it means is to be engaged and aware of things happening right in your community, not just society at large. Listen to people. What are their fears? Why do they have them? What stories were they told growing up? And how did those stories affect them?

    WP: Observe what’s happening in your community. Investigate the local news. Look for oddities. What’s famous in your hometown and how did it come to be? If you don’t know, make something up. Or, interview a family member, friend, or stranger about their childhood memories. If you have that one great-aunt that always pulls you aside by the arm to tell you an “in my day” story, soak that in and listen to what she or others have to say. What did they believe that might be different now or in other communities? Which things stick out to you? What were their fears? What did they love most to do? How did they see the world?
        Listen. Observe. Take notes. Then write a story or scene revolving around something that stood out to you from your research.

    2. Be a Performer 

    Along with the oral tradition comes the importance of writers reading their work aloud. There’s something special about hearing the story from the writer’s own voice; if done right, the storytelling experience shifts into something more personal as the audience can not only hear the story with voice inflections and at a certain pace, but they can also watch the writer’s body language and facial expressions, which gives more life to the story. Even more, reading your work aloud allows you to hear what’s actually there (not just what you think is there), what works in the piece and what doesn’t, and how it actually plays in front of an audience. Plus, readings are a good place to sell books, have good conversations about writing, and meet more of the community.

    WP: Practice reading your work aloud. Sometimes you can catch mistakes easier that way. Also, take a piece of yours that’s stalled out and transform it into a brief performance piece. Focus on adding lines that could captivate an audience, whether through thoughtfulness, humor, or grotesque horror. Make sure you don’t have any awkward sentences that you stumble through. If they trip you up, they’ll trip the reader up. You could also take a page from poetry, which focuses on the sound of words, not just the meaning. Which words sound right for the piece? What do your ears desire to hear?

    3. Remember to KISS 

    No, this doesn’t refer to the prince coming along to wake up the damsel with a smooch; rather, this stands for “keep it simple stupid.” Fairy tales, especially those edited by the Grimms, have a clear, logical structure that’s easy to follow, putting a character into one predicament and then allowing that to play out. The takeaway? Don’t overload (and overburden) your story with too much backstory, context, or mythology . . . keep it focused and forward-moving. This isn’t to say your story should be bare bones and predictable, of course, but rather that it should not lose the reader along the way, nor waste any words doing so.
        Fairy tales usually start with a version of “once upon a time” where the protagonists are introduced, along with the setting, and then the conflict along with the antagonist. A problem or challenge is introduced which the main character(s) must succeed or fail in solving. Depending on whether they succeed or fail depends on the lesson at the end. One way writers can use this simple structure is to take their story (whether already written or not) and create an outline following fairy tale structure. This exercise can help you get organized and see your story from a different viewpoint. Perhaps this also will help you recognize any pitfalls in your plot while providing a fun break from the writing doldrums.

    WP: Start with the typical “once upon a time” and explain the basics of who’s who, where, what’s happened to put the character into this situation, what conflicts or obstacles arise (by an antagonist, whatever or whomever that is), and then list all the actions (or counteractions) the protagonist must make to overcome these obstacles with or without the help of others. Finally, conclude with whether the protagonist succeeds or fails, and why they succeed or fail. Either way there needs to be a change involved, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s a moral, amoral or immoral one. Contrary to popular belief, not all fairy tales end with happy endings. (In fact, some are rather gruesome.)

    4. Engage the Rule of Three 

    What’s this Rule of Three? A secret spell? An ancient incantation? Actually, it refers to the fact that, in most fairy tales, things usually happen in patterns of three—three bears, three wishes, three chances to guess the name, and so on—a repetition that helps put the story into a particular rhythm and helps the reader recognize the pattern (and, especially, what it means when the pattern breaks). Overdone, the rule could seem predictable and boring, but if done right, a repeating motif can enhance the story and provide opportunities for unexpected turns. Also, this repetition, along with a straightforward structure, can make the tale easier to recall by the reader and easier to share with others.

    WP: Pick an object/animal/feeling/action and connect it with your character, showing how it comes up three times throughout the story and in different ways while also holding things together, acting as dots to connect the story with, Or, pick an object that keeps coming up for the wrong reasons and gets in the way of your character’s quest.

    5. Make Your Character Transform

    In every fairy tale—and in the majority of fiction, too—the main character experiences a change in status. It’s a basic necessity for every story, but this can sometimes be forgotten, especially in the first few drafts. What is the character’s motivation that leads up to the end? What’s the character attempting to do, and why is it important for him or her? And, what does the reader make of the way the events play out, based on what we know of why the goal is important for the character? Protagonists need some sort of inner dilemma (along with the outer one) that they must either succeed or fail in overcoming, which can be easily seen in the best fairy tales: the main character is treated poorly by family, for example, or lives in poverty, or is taken for granted, and the magical or unusual event that takes place allows her to transcend that station in life. What lesson do you want to share with the world? What makes you passionate/angry/joyful? What’s the purpose in telling this story other than to quiet the Muse?

    WP: Define your character’s inner and outer dilemma, then show the change they encounter, for the better or worse. Remember that your characters, whether human or not, are always human at heart.

    6. Break it and Remake It 

    There are rarely any new fairy tales out there, at least not those that faithfully follow the traditional mode; it’s much more common now to come upon fractured fairy tales, wherein a writer takes the original fairy tale and gives it a twist (or, takes the mold and breaks it to make something new). This can appeal to readers, because a story can be familiar but not predictable, and it can also help the writer if you’re stuck on ideas, as it allows you a familiar baseline from which to work as well as permission to play with the familiar.

    WP: Take a fairy tale that you know (or find one that you don’t) and put a spin on it, either changing one of the outcomes, putting it in a different setting or time that would affect the decision-making, or reversing the roles of the characters, making the protagonist the antagonist and vice versa. Of course, many of these have been tried before, so try and develop one in a way that’s unique to your own interests. What if the stepmother was nice and Cinderella was a brat? What if the prince actually had a foot fetish? What if the story took place in Kansas during the Dust Bowl? Endless of possibilities. In the same way, you could take one of your own stories and try putting different twists on it. What if this happened, and how will that affect everything else? Play with the “what ifs” and see if you uncover something new or even better than the original.

    Happy writing!
  • About the Author
    Lauren Bauman is a creative writing major, exploring what it means to live and breathe writing; however, she would not recommend inhaling paper or laptops. Her interests include stress-relieving activities and learning about random things to spark story ideas. She also enjoys traveling that requires a passport. Visit her online at Goats on a Roof.

    A Helpful Code to Success


    As digital publishing continues to boom, more writers and editors are learning the art (and benefits) of coding.  ♦ 
    The e-book is an incredible technology which has revolutionized publishing . . . though it can be an intimidating technology to work with for the uninitiated. This is something I learned firsthand, as I recently had the experience of coding a book into e-book format for the Miami University Press. Working with code seemed daunting at first, but once I learned the basics of the markup it was not only easy to grasp some of the more difficult concepts but even fun to play around with the text to gain a better understanding of how HTML and CSS work together. HTML and CSS, which make up the digital text and its aesthetic qualities, respectively, are two primary features of the EPUB format and the e-book. While some of the coding is a bit laborious, like having to put paragraph marks (denoted by <p>) around each section of text, most of the markup was interestingly tricky and delicate; once I sorted out the text sections and completed the major structural elements, I then had to decide which stylistic elements to include, such as line spacing, page breaks, and pagination/navigation. These elements were difficult to set, because the HTML needs to display consistently across e-book platforms from vendors such as Google Play or iBooks. When viewing the actual e-books in different platforms, it was easy to see unexpected mistakes or stylistic elements that needed to be fixed. This required an immense attention to detail and led to frustrations, constant trial and error, and having to figure out how to correct the issues.
        The primary goal when converting a text into e-book format is to ensure everything remains aesthetically similar to the print version, but when transferring from print to digital it’s quite possible to introduce errors which alter the reading experience. (In my own case, I introduced over forty errors into the text that needed to be fixed.) This then requires a decent amount of editing to ensure consistency . . . but, this provides great experience with the editing and proofing of literary work. This holistic nature of creating an eBook—being both an art and science, involving both design and an intimate knowledge of the text—may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s an invaluable skill set to have, one that can set you apart from other individuals when looking for that career path into the publishing industry.
        I found it fairly simple to learn how to code HTML, and there are many websites and books that offer guidance for the beginner. One website I worked with is Codeacademy, which I found helpful because it shows how to do different kinds of HTML and then shows, in real time, the effects of your changes, letting you practice code until you get it right before moving on to the next lesson. In terms of coding the text itself, I used a program called Calibre, a free downloadable e-book platform. Calibre allows the user to insert plain text, add design elements and styling via HTML and CSS right into the book, and then view the e-book design within its software. And while Calibre did insert some issues I had to deal with, and took a little while to become familiar with, it was fairly easy to work with overall.
        Another aspect of the process that I enjoyed—which was just as crucial to the project’s success as learning code—was working with a team. It took four of us working to mark-up the novella’s text and two others to edit the marked-up text; we created a style sheet and worked together to decide on design and layout choices that best suited the text. It was empowering to work with a larger group, and it proved vitally important when having to make corrections and sift through the text in search of errors, and even more so when finding ways to fix those errors.
        After learning (and enjoying) this newfound skill, I decided to research jobs in the field of coding or working with e-books, both of which I have an interest in. What I found is that, given the popularity of e-books and digital works, there are many opportunities out there for those with an interest and aptitude in digital writing, and even knowing minimal HTML or the like can give you an upper hand when applying for these. In fact, moving forward, most jobs in the literary world, whether it be publishing, marketing, or writing, will likely require some sort of knowledge of HTML and the way text is created and digitally displayed across platforms. The jobs I found on my search which asked for some knowledge of coding—via the popular job website—included titles such as Marketing Editor, Technical Writer, and E-Book Technician, among many others. But I’d also recommend searching specific company sites for these jobs, as most companies now, even those unaffiliated with fields of writing and publishing, have a tremendous need, and also positions, for “digital writers.”
        While coding and working with HTML and CSS may not be the easiest to learn—and, yes, can occasionally feel monotonous and annoying—it’s absolutely a worthwhile investment. I now have a skill that not everyone can say they have, one which gave me the opportunity to help see a new e-book into the world (and into readers’ hands). What's more, learning how to code not only gave me a new appreciation for electronic publishing and digital works, but it may help lead me, next, into the career of my choosing.
  • About the Author
    Kaleigh Talaganis is a senior at Miami University, pursuing a degree in Professional Writing and Business Legal Studies. She aspires to be an attorney, but would also enjoy editing or working with digital text. In her free time she enjoys spending time with friends and watching sports.