Monday, January 31, 2011

What’s it called?

I’ve noticed a confusion in terms lately. I, along with several friends of mine, have recently put out volumes of short stories. We’re taking advantage of the ease of self-publication. And besides, it’s fun. But some have called these collections, some have called them anthologies. Which term is correct?

In my home office, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary usually lies on the floor at my feet, ready for my beck and call. Just now I reached down and pulled it up. Here’s what it says.

anthology: a collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music

collection: something collected; esp: an accumulation of objects gathered for study, comparison, or exhibition.

Well, that doesn’t clarify anything. The convention I’ve been following is that the word anthology is used when the stories are by different authors and the word collection is used when all the stories in a book are by the same author.

Turning to the Great God Wiki, I found the following at

An anthology is a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It may be a collection of poems, short stories, plays, songs, or excerpts. In genre fiction anthology is used to categorize collections of shorter works such as short stories and short novels, usually collected into a single volume for publication.

I had to turn to the Lesser God Wiktionary for the definition of collection at

collection (plural collections)
  1. set of items or objects procured or gathered together by a person, group, or other agent.
The attic contains a remarkable collection of antiques, oddities, and random junk.
The asteroid belt consists of a collection of dust, rubble, and minor planets.
  1. Multiple related objects associated as a group.
He has a superb coin collection.
  1. The activity of collecting.
Collection of trash will occur every Thursday.
  1. (topology, analysis) A set of sets.

I can’t see any basis here for the way the terms are being currently used for short story books, but I will bow to common current usage and keep referring to multiple-author books as anthologies, and will consider that I’m correctly calling mine a collection. I won’t call anyone wrong who uses other terms, though.

Pictures are in the public domain and taken from

Monday, January 24, 2011

What is an ISBN?

It’s an International Standard Book Number. But why do books have them? And do they have to?

I’ll answer the last question first. No, your book doesn’t have to have one, but it’s a good idea.

First, more on what an ISBN is. There are now two types, 13 digit and 10 digit. The originals were 9 digits, SBNs (not International), and started out in Dublin in 1966. In 1970, the 10 digit ISBN was started, and in 2007 the 13 digit. Each print book is assigned a 13 digit ISBN today. It’s not actually required, but most places won’t sell a book without one.

What does it mean? Each part has a meaning, and I suppose there are some people who can look at them and read them. Kind of like the auto parts guy that looked at my VIN last week and told me my car is a 2002. I misremembered it as a 2001. I was very impressed he could do that!

These two numbers correspond and are for the same book:
1456348574 & 978-1-4563-4857-1 They are for my short story collection and were assigned by Createspace. The same book as an ebook has the number 978-1-4523-4514-7, assigned by Smashwords.

978 in the second number is the EAN (European Article Number, since these started in Europe). 978 means this is a book. 979 is also used for books. This number seems to be used for both print and e-books, although an e-book must have a different ISBN than its print counterpart.

1, in both numbers, is the group identifier. This is used for language and 0 or 1 are used for English. French is 2, German is 3. This number is 1-5 digits with 99936 being Bhutan. For rare languages, the group identifier is left off.

Two other parts are the same in both. Larger publishers with more titles will use a shorter publisher number so they can have larger title numbers. I don’t know how many digits are  being used for publisher and title for my book, but the numbers are 4563-4857, which leads me to believe the publisher is 4563 and the title is 4857.

The last digit is a check digit: 4 and 1 in my example. X is used to mean 10, by the way. This is used for an incredibly complicated calculation to see if the ISBN is valid.

Amazon used the same number that Createspace created for the paperback, but assigned an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) for the e-book. A Kindle e-book needs an ASIN rather than an ISBN, for some reason, and doesn’t use the Smashwords number. Of course, they don’t use the Smashwords files, either. But while Amazon paperbacks carry over the ISBN from Createspace, they don’t use those same files. The e-book ASIN is B0049B2C2A and is used only by Amazon internally.

These numbers are used as marketing tools to differentiate the products. I suppose it’s possible for two different books to have the same title and same author name, by coincidence. It’s certainly true that many books have similar, even identical titles.

The numbers have to be bought in blocks of at least 10 from the 160 of so suppliers worldwide. Self-publishing online sites have usually purchased them already and they are free when you publish with them. I believe there are places to buy individual numbers, also, but I don’t what they are.

By the way, ISSNs (International Standard Serial Numbers) are assigned to periodicals and ISMNs (International Standard Music Numbers) for sheet music.

Information from that article and Bowker bar code service at

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting Out of My Head: Why this writer writes

People always wonder why writers write. There must be a reason, some great secret. Well, here's my story.

I'm an only child, and my lack of siblings definitely contributed to me becoming a writer. Sure, I had friends and playmates in the school yard, but at home I was on my own. So I played "make believe" a lot. In some ways, I never stopped.

I remember getting fussed at by my parents because I wasn't always focused in school. My brain didn't have time for math or science. It was too busy casting me in the role of Nancy Drew and solving mysteries. If Nancy didn't appeal to me that day, I would become the female Indiana Jones and discover the bones of some ancient creature.

Because of my pretend play, the world of the theatre caught my attention early on. What a great place to act out all those crazy things going on in my head, and when I discovered that writing allowed you to actually control everything--the feelings and situations of the characters--well, I never looked back. I've mostly been writing ever since.

Mostly. In college I stopped for awhile. There was just too much going on, too much to do, too much beer to drink. Besides, I was a theatre major whose time was taken by countless short acting scenes and endless auditions. Plenty of time for make believe! And the parties. Did I mention all the parties? Writing just couldn't compete.

But after graduation, when the real world made its great debut in my life, I started to live in my head again. It was actually kind of distracting for my boyfriends. I was so busy thinking about whatever story was cooking in the old noggin that I didn't always pay attention to the current love interest in my life. I started feeling like the stories in my head were way cooler than real life could ever hope to be.

But then I met the guy who became my husband. He was extremely distracting. My head stories got kind of pissed off at me when I started giving him more attention. So I started writing them down, just so they'd shut up and let me go on about my business. And my husband? He figured out what a freak I am early on in the relationship, married me anyway, and bought me my first lap top so my stories could come to life much quicker.

Writing gives me such a sense of freedom. It allows me to take journeys I could never take in real life, would never want to take! I admit it gives me a bit of a God complex, too. I control the world of my characters, though sometimes they do surprise me by acting on their own. Also, the process of writing allows me to still have "make believe" time, which in turn seems to make me a better wife, mother, and friend because I can focus on the world about me instead of being locked in my head.

So that's why I write. My brain won't leave me alone. What's your excuse?

Monday, January 17, 2011


As I gaze at my impossible cluttered desk, I wonder how I ever get anything done. My physical world is messy--let’s face it, I’m not a neatnik. In fact, I cross-stitched this little sign so visitors would know the philosophy behind the condition of my house.

The only way I succeed at anything is to be organized in the virtual world, which is where I live when I’m writing. It wasn’t always thus. In the old days of typewriters, writing was as physical as anything else. But when I’m doing most of my composing on a computer, it doesn’t feel real. I’m not producing paper or carbons. My timeless prose consists of data, which all comes down to ones and zeroes in the end. I have lots of paper printouts, of course, which explains the real-world messy desk, but I try to stay very organized within my computer.

My first, best tool is the spreadsheet. I’ve touted them before, and I’m doing it again. I couldn’t live without them at this point. (Unless you took away my computer and I had to go back to list making, I guess.) I make myself a schedule for the next week on Saturdays, putting down all the tasks I want to get done that week. I scatter them randomly among the weekdays. Somehow, most of them get done. When I see it on a list, whether a paper list or a spreadsheet list, I tend to just do it.

Works for me! What works for you?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Raising the Stakes!

I’m not a gambler by nature. I don’t play poker and black jack eludes me (I know it has something to do with reaching twenty one.) However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Vegas or the watching others gamble away their hard earned cash.

The same is true for my characters. I love putting them in situations that I would never allow myself to be in. Watching them struggle to survive and learn from their mistakes (or not) definitely gives me a serious God complex sometimes, and there is nothing I like better than constantly raising the stakes for them.

Raising the stakes is critical in writing. True, you gotta make us love those characters first, but once we care, then we are definitely tuning in when they face problems that seem insurmountable. For example, let’s say your main character is a six year old boy with above average intelligence. The government wants to use him in military testing in preparation for a war against an alien species. The little boy doesn’t want to go. As a writer, it’s time to raise the stakes. He’s told that his parents will be harmed if he doesn’t obey. He’s six, so of course, he’s going to do what he’s told and as readers, we feel bad for him because he’s so little and being forced to make a big decision. This is the beginning of a great book called Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Here’s another example: An aging rock star collects rare things. He buys a coat that is supposed to be haunted. All too soon, the rock star starts seeing a dead guy in his house. Then his assistant mysteriously dies. His girlfriend starts go a little wackadoo zoo on him. He can’t sleep and has bad dreams. He discovers the coat belonged to a relative of an ex girlfriend who committed suicide and the dead relative swore to get revenge on the rock star for causing her death. Now the rock star has to figure out how to stop the dead guy from killing him, too. This is the premise for Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box.

Still not sure what raising the stakes means? Okay, try a television example then and check out an episode of Gossip Girl. Like it or hate it, that show knows how to constantly raise the stakes. Just when you think one character is knocked out for the count, they find a way to rally and turn the tables, putting another character in hot water. Fun characters and raising the stakes for them has long been the key to soap opera!

Take a look at your own writing. How are you raising the stakes for your readers? What situations are you putting your characters in? And then what are you doing to add to that situation?

Happy writing!

Monday, January 10, 2011

What are you doing when you write?

One question authors get asked frequently is, “Why do you write?” Eventually, you get a stock answer ready: because I can’t not write; to get the voices out of my head; it’s just something I have to do; it’s a sickness.

But I’ve never been asked to take it one step further. What am I writing for? What am I writing toward? What do I hope to accomplish with my writing? Maybe what I’m trying to say is, What to I hope to achieve through writing?

There are two people affected by what I write. Me and my reader. (More will be affected if more than one person reads my writing, which is what I hope!)

The effects on me are continued relative sanity. That is not ensured if I don’t write, believe me. Maybe a degree of catharsis in some cases. Maybe clarity of thought; writing helps me think out things that are jumbled in my head sometimes. Keeps me off the streets and out of the malls, too.

Then there are my readers. I hope to get the stuff read, right? But why? What do I hope my reader to get out of my writing? There, that’s the question I’ve been working toward. This essay just got me there! What do I want to happen for my reader?

The least I hope for is entertainment. The humorous mystery that will come out in May will, I hope, amuse some readers, make them laugh, take them away from their troubles for a few hours. I’m a tremendous believer in comedy. I think laughing can keep your life in balance, get rid of bad stuff inside you.

I’m also hoping to entertain with my short stories, but those aren’t funny, except in a dry, black humor way usually. But any reading can give a person enjoyment and diversion.

The little pamphlet I just did this weekend on self-publishing, though, is an attempt to help out fellow writers. I couldn’t find everything I needed in one place when I did the short story collection, so I gathered all my findings and put them in one place. I hope this can save some writers time and aggravation.

I wonder what most writers hope for their readers. Or if they think about that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I wish more than anything I could get writing right the first time. If I could accomplish that elusive little thing, then I'd be the best writer in the world and not write the mindless crap that seems to spew neverendingly from my fingertips. Of course, I'd also be egotistical, arrogant, and completely unable to lift my oversized head up from my shoulders.

But I think making mistakes and failing forward is important. It's what makes us or breaks us as writers. You either learn from it, or you stagnate in pool of self pity. Stagnation, while easy, sucks. Not moving forward and wallowing takes a toll on a person if you do it long enough.

That might meant that occasionally you write crap--things that no reader or agent would ever, could ever want! Maybe it means you just write to write, because you can. Perhaps it means you stop judging yourself or allowing your mind chatter to insult you. (You're a bad writer. You suck. This is the worst thing ever written.) Just write. Let the excrement flow.... because sometimes, when you wipe away the excrement from your writing (figuratively, of course), you might find the diamond in the rough, the short story that actually might be good or the novel idea that could sell. It's CRAPTASTIC!

So don't beat yourself up. Just go write some crap and get over it!

Interested in knowing more about my craptastic world? Come check out Loesch's Muse at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brain Farts Can Be Fun!

I’ve been struggling for several months with a short story. Truth be told, I don’t like short story writing. I feel the need to babble on endlessly (just ask my editor, Tiffany), so a short story typically doesn’t allow me enough time to do that! Not to mention that my brain tends to stall on the right ending for many of my tales. It’s like suddenly the old noggin just runs out of steam and starts spewing ash. I call that brain farting. I believe Webster’s defines it as the brain’s ability to squeeze out any number of ridiculous ideas that float around you in a mysterious haze of semi-creativeness.

Believe it or not, I may have discovered the cure for this mysterious ailment. It’s called…talking to other writers. Yes. It’s true. Actually speaking with other writers about your writing, as opposed to being all mousy and scared, can put a cork in brain farting. Your colleagues can provide motivation and other ideas to think about. The mysteries of the world you’ve created in your story can be solved. It’s really an exciting thing.

Of course, I’m talking about a writing group. If you haven’t found one, keep looking. If you are in one that isn’t making you happy or meeting your needs, get out of it and find something else. Writing is a lonely business and at the end of the day, it’s just you and your computer, but a writing group can help make it a little less overwhelming. Some groups are all about critiques and others lean more towards discussing the mechanics of writing. The point is: there’s something for everyone out there. You just have to search for it.

So go search for a cure to your own brain farts. Find the writing group that is perfect for you!

Interested in learning more about my writing world? Check out Loesch’s Muse at