Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Page Critique Mondays!

As if I didn't have enough reasons to procrastinate on Monday mornings, now there's Page Critique Mondays! Check it out on Nathan Bransford's hugely popular blog. Nathan is a San Francisco literary agent, blogger, author, and overall superhuman -- I don't know how he has time to sleep.
The first person to post a 250 word excerpt from their novel into the comments section gets a critique from Nathan -- and the rest of the world. It's educational to see real-life examples of what agents actually look for. It's fun to see what other people are writing, and what other people think about what other people are writing. And there's the train wreck factor, too: since it's first come, first served -- usually there's a filtering process for such things -- the potential for "interesting" writing is high.
So, would I ever submit my work? I don't think so. It would be great to get an agent's critique, but I'd prefer it to be a little less... public.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's the longest book you've ever read?

As I rework my book on Lulu, I've been playing with the font and spacing. It's such a long document that minute adjustments can change the page count dramatially. Reminds me of those papers in college when you'd kick the font up to like 14 and put in two-inch margins just to meet your page quota.

But even when I adjust the font and spacing to near-comic book proportions, my novel doesn't stretch much longer than 500 pages.

This got me thinking about some of the longest books I've ever read. Stephen King's The Stand (1153 pages) comes to mind. But after listening to this podcast, the book came back to me, and you know what? -- I'm not sure I ever finished it. But I did finish It, Stephen King's second-longest novel at 1138 pages.

So, what's the longest book you've ever read? And by longest, I mean the most pages, or the one that took you the longest to get through.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Bound

I'm finally ready to send the Double-blind manuscript to my family and close friends to read. But I didn't want to send them a big stack of paper held with a binder clip, so I went to Lulu.com and had it printed like an actual book.

The Lulu service is awesome. You can go from basic self-service (which I did, and it only costs about 6 bucks a book) to a full editorial/publishing package that will make your book as polished as anything you'd see in a bookstore. You can even get an ISBN number and put your book up for sale on Amazon as a print and an e-book.

I didn't spend much time on the project -- I'm not self publishing the book, I just wanted to have some fun and make the manuscript more readable. So I sped through the basic process and ordered ten copies.

Still, I don't recall ever being so excited about receiving a package. Opening the box and seeing Double-blind in a real book format was so very cool. The cover and binding are beautiful. It looks just like something you'd see in the bookstore, with my name on the spine. And it's pretty thick -- the thing has some weight to it. It feels great to know that I've created this, that it didn't exist two years ago and now it could take up physical space on a bookshelf. Then I opened it.

The inside of the book has some issues. Lulu shrunk the MS Word page exactly as it was. Imagine a paperback book-sized page with a miniature Word document imposed on it. The font went from size 12 to, like, 7. It's barely readable. I asked my wife if she thought the text was too small, if it would be a deal breaker for anyone reading it, and she said, "It looks fine. I mean, both of your parents have reading glasses, right?"

So I'm doing it over, whether Lulu compensates me for it or not, in bigger font. Hold on mom, just a little longer...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This is a busy slide, but...

I sit through a ton of slide presentations at work, and I've noticed an alarming trend. Being PowerPointed to death is nothing new, but lately it's reached a new level. It seems that 45 is the new 10. I swear that there used be 10 slides in the average deck. But somehow, quietly, insidiously, that number has grown to 45. Forty. Five. Slides.

What's the cause of this malevolent trend, this metastasizing cancer? Is our work getting harder, more complex? Maybe. But I think it's something else. You could call it laziness, but that's not fair -- I don't work with lazy people. It's more a lack of time. We have limited time to prepare for a slide presentation, so we don't prepare at all. We just throw every conceivable bit of information into our presentation. Every possible slide and bullet point. Every convoluted table and graph. No need to prepare a speech ahead of time if the words are there on the screen. No need to filter, edit or summarize. Let the audience sort it out.

Mark Twain once said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead" (which, oddly, is the most common search phrase leading to my blog). It's hard to narrow down a complex topic into a few salient points. Believe me, writing a decent one-page summary of my novel was one of hardest things I've ever done.

What's more, every one of those 45 slides is so overpacked with stuff, I'm surprised Microsoft can handle the file size. How many times have you heard, "I know this is a busy slide, but..."
But what? You're going to waste my time with it anyway? Instead of that minuscule chart, that unreadable text, why not put up a serene landscape, or a picture of your cat, and tell me what I need to know. At least then I'll have something nice to look at. Often, this person will continue with "the key takeaway here is..." Why not put the key takeaway on the slide?

The other day, a presenter went to so far as to project a series of emails onto the screen. This is like taking the grandaddy of business faux pas, the old "I'll-just-forward-this-ungodly-long-email-chain-and-put the accountability-on-you" move, and forcing it on an audience. One might hope for the projector to fall on a person like this.

And don't get me started on excessive adjectives and dead words. A writer soon learns that the more adjectives, the less powerful the message. Yet, apparently every slide must say "effective and efficient" at least once. Tell you what, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don't strive for inefficient ineffectiveness. That's the kind of guy I am. I know you're trying to "promote the effective and efficient implementation of the migration"; you can save me the eye drops and write "migrate."

A presentation is supposed to be a person talking to you, trying to convince you of something. Otherwise, why not just send the document to the audience and skip the presentation altogether? Actually, this is happening more and more. I work for a global company, with ever-increasing teleconferences and web-based meetings. It's hard to grasp the key message when you can't see the presenter, can barely hear her, and besides it's so early in the morning you can't absorb it anyway, so you just read the slides later. Hence, the need for more info in the slide deck. If this trend continues, I worry that the monster slide deck will replace the very oral presentation it used to supplement.

Am I alone on this?