The latest in random activities

Lately I’ve been caught up in Totally Unnecessary Work.

What did I do? I changed the menu bar colors on my website.  Wooo, yay, right?

I had no business tinkering with the website. It looked fine, and I have zero applicable skills. Changing structural elements requires knowing CSS, an aspect of programming I never learned because I taught myself basic website HTML before CSS came into wide use. (Why, yes, I AM old.)

The project  started early in the week. I was doodling around online and discovered internet resources on changing CSS.  Since I have wondered, off and on, if I could change website colors off I went to investigate the possibility. It didn’t take long to find answers other people got from experts, and it looked simple enough.

So I copy-pasted the suggested codes into the CSS editor on my site.  Did it work as written? Of course not.

First, changing CSS gets complicated behind the scenes.  It’s full of what I’ll call dialects and accents and slang.  How a change works on a specific site depends on a ton of structural elements already in place. There are things like “child themes” and cascading consequences to changing a single element (hence the name) plus the order in which commands are entered can differ by site too, and some codes have to be overridden with other commands…

Second, I can’t see  any of the original code because I’m using a training-wheels/bumper-car/TOTALLY UNBREAKABLE website.  Basically I pay people to maintain the big, complicated chunk of programming that runs the site for me. The price is that I’m locked out of all the dangerous parts of the code and can’t see any of it. It’s a fair trade, but it does complicate an already-complicated process.

And third, there’s the ever-present finicky complication common to all computer programming: one wrong space or punctuation mark can mess up everything. True confession: I am Not Good at spotting finicky mistakes when I make them (whereas I am Very Good at making them.)

Once it was clear that changing colors was a complicated issue involving skills in which I had zero expertise,  did I stop fumbling around in the dark like a sensible person?

OF COURSE NOT. I kept tinkering. Partly because I’m stubborn–but mostly because I knew I had that nice, cushy safety net. I can poke and play with code all I wanted without ANY fear of breaking my website. Freedom to play and learn is priceless.

So I played, collecting tools,  finding more code online and comparing the pieces to see how they differed and making minor changes to see how they connected. Then I went all  hyperfocus on it and hammered at things until they WORKED.

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Huzzah!

 

Now, instead of a white menu bar with black lettering and blue/white highlighting color scheme, I have a gray menu bar with black letters, with a black & red highlighting scheme.

Was that worth 20+labor hours? Of course not. The defaults were fine. SERIOUSLY. They were fine.  So why did I bother? I have a list of reasons. (Of course I do.)

1) In the future I can change menu colors to anything I want. Black/red/white is a horrible highlighting scheme from a design standpoint. Honestly.  I know that. But I’m leaving it like this for a while.

2) It was a nice lesson in CSS vocabulary, names of elements & operations etc. The knowledge may come in handy again someday. Who knows?

3) I learned a ton about how the CSS codes interact too. Once again, new skills are never worthless.

4) Working out hierarchy, coding grammar, naming quirks & overrides for my site’s theme by brute force experimentation WAS FUN.

I had fun and made a thing and learned things: these are the justifications I throw at my conscience, which is muttering about the wasted time. Not great excuses, perhaps, but they’re what I have. (And I like the colors, too, boring though they be.)

Anyway. That’s a wrap.

What Publishers Do (a grumpy rant)

Time to revisit a topic that irks me hard: indie authors dissing useless “publishers.”  I use scare quotes because publishing options have  grown right along with self-publishing.  Back in the day author choices were limited to three–the Big Publishers,  a predatory vanity publisher, or self-publishing–but today complaining about “publishers” is a lot like complaining about “food.” It’s so broad a category it’s meaningless.

And yet people do it. Four times in the last week I’ve seen posts  that were all variations on this: “Why would I bother working with a publisher when they don’t promote/market/support me or my book?”

YAARRRGGHHHH  <I would insert hair-pulling-out graphic here but I am too lazy>

Pull up an orange crate to the cider barrel, and Old Curmudgeon Karen will tell you a tale about publishing. First off, the word publish refers to making a book, not about what happens afterwards. The majority of what a publisher does is NOT marketing.

PUBLISHERS DO A LOT OF BORING HARD EXPENSIVE THINGS FOR YOU SO YOU CAN FOCUS MORE ON WRITING. If I was being published by someone else I would not have to:

  • locate all the right developmental, copy & proof editors for each of my works, negotiate with said editors on fees and schedules, or chase after them about deadlines. Plus I wouldn’t have to PAY them.
  • all the same issues for interior ebook formatting & for print
  • same-same for cover design

That’s a lot of time, money, and trouble avoided right there. I ALSO would be leaving to someone else the following tedious, expensive hassles:

  • the PITA of getting books logged into the ISBN & copyright databases
  • ditto the actual production of print books & posting to various sales
  • ditto-ditto double-checking the results in same for errors

Yes, I would lose some creative control. But I would gain lots and lots and lots of time. And reduce stress.  That is a trade-off.  One I would gladly make, TBH.

Even in the old days, the big publishing houses were never big into promoting books or authors outside NYC/the literary community. Until the late 80’s, major book promotions really were not a thing period. The book industry kind of backed into major marketing efforts way later than most entertainment businesses.

Publishers used to release most books the way mama turtles have babies. They made ’em, laid em out there, and the babies either swam or got eaten by seagulls.  If an author was already a big name–or impressed the heck out of Everyone at the Company–their book would get ads in the industry mags or the New York Review of Books or some targeted professional publication and they might even get a book tour. BUT.  BUTBUTBUT.  This was rarely an expectation for debut or midlist authors, at least not in the “all expenses paid” way. Unicorn rare.

Most books got entries in the “new release” section of industry mags, were listed in the indexes, and might get promoted word-of-mouth by sales reps to librarians & booksellers. Those people would read and pass on recommendations of their own to book groups and local newspapers, and so on and so on.

Do major publishers now give authors less marketing support after publication  than ever before? Absolutely. Is this a bad thing? YES. They also take on fewer authors, pay them lower royalties and engage in a slew of other practices that beggar the book world. That’s kinda beside the point.

The point is, marketing never has been the fundamental core of publishing. Ignoring that reality is petty and shortsighted. And pettiness irks me.

Okay. Rant over.

The Latest Peek at Heartwood

Look! My book has structure!

 Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 12.46.51 PM

For those curious, I’ve begun work on the second chapter in Book 4. Won’t be long before the writing part of this novel is done-done-done. <pause for small happy-dance> That’s why I got the itch to parse out a full Table of Contents.

This one has been a long time in the making, longer than most of my novels, but every chapter so far has passed Beloved Alpha Reader’s stringent QA standards. I have high hopes that Heartwood will go from final draft to print quickly.

But wait, the strawman asks! How can it be a final draft if I’m not done writing it in the first place?  Excellent question.  The short answer is: I am a rebel-heretic-apostate when it comes to discovery writing. I don’t do “write now, edit later.”  I write. I fuss. I finish, and that’s it. (Gasps of horror all around, right?)

Well, sorta.

Long answer: I don’t write out a draft to tell myself the story and then polish up the result over and over (and over) the way all my creative writing classes and most critique groups insisted successful writers “should” write. I set up a bare frame–starting point, resolution, and cast–and start weaving. As I build the tapestry, I also add in, pull out and reweave and embroider elements as I go. By the time I reach The End, my finished manuscript can’t accurately be called a first draft. Technically it’s somewhere between the fiftieth and umpty-hundredth draft. Yes, even the last scene.

There will also be several edits between draft completion and publication, involving more additions/excisions/revisions for clarity & development.  But with rare exceptions my tales remain  fundamentally the same.

So a geological scale, transition from draft to proof to publication is practically instantaneous. On a human scale, it’ll be months yet, but still–that’s not long in the book world. Not long at all.

Arrgh. Cover art. Right. Being this close means I need cover art soon! I’d better get on that.


Want more of my words? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers. 

Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices!