When Answering Questions from Fans, Don’t Pull the Answers Out of Your Ass

… without first consulting Google, or referencing a dictionary or …
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10th – 12th century embroidered band (and not something I pulled from my ass).

Better yet, don’t pull answers out of any bodily orifices that don’t contain biochemically encoded encyclopedias.

Of course, if I’m giving you this advice, then I clearly already made the mistake for you. You see, it started like this …

My daughter loaned her copy of The Grasp of Time (plug! plug!) to one of her classmates with the caveat that she has to return it before Christmas Eve. So, her friend starts reading it right away, since dear daughter’s been talking it up for quite a while now.

While she’s waiting for her bus home, my daughter relays her friend’s question to me: “When and where did the tapestries originate from in the House of Forgotten Shadows?”

What? I thought. How the fuck should I know? But oh yes … I’m supposed to know. After all, Robin and I have been crafting this universe for twenty years, so surely I can summon my muses to tell me.

Like any writer on a high from receiving a complex question from a reader, I didn’t wait for research or reason, and immediately texted back, “It’s from England. Before the Norman Invasion.”

But oh-ho! Any Anglo-Saxon or textiles history buff would be all over me in a trice, but it would take me an hour to know why.

As it turns out, while Anglo-Saxons had been making textiles to hang on their walls to keep warm since about the 3rd century CE, they didn’t call them “tapestries,” since “tapestry” originates from the French word “tapis” (full etymology here), and thus hadn’t entered into Old English vocabulary. Instead, they hung textiles, usually embroidered, and not as ornate as those of the future English tapestries after the 12th century. This explained why I couldn’t find anything about them–in England–prior to 1138, and all of my Google searches only turned up pages and pages of links about the Bayeux Tapestry.

Once I’d completed the research, I was able to amend my statement to my daughter’s friend:

The “tapestry” Piotr stares at in the House Master’s room is a secular, Anglo-Saxon textile snagged prior to the Norman Invasion, around the 10th century CE. It is embroidered, and more detailed than most. The House also contains tapestries and textiles from various times and locales, including a 3rd c. CE Coptic tapestry from Egypt, a Persian one from the 9th century, a German one with birds from the 12th century, and a Chimú tapestry from the 14th century.

All this is to remind other writers: don’t pull answers out of your ass when you’re answering fan questions. Pause. Take a moment if you aren’t certain. I have no idea (yet) how to do this successfully at a panel, since all of the panels I’ve been on didn’t directly relate to my writing. I’ll let you know once I’ve made those mistakes.

The Importance of Attribution

Ask any independent artist, and they’ll tell you a stream of horror stories involving people posting their work online without permission or attribution, people demanding work for free or well below its value, people expecting to hire for skilled commissions in exchange for “exposure.” Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, and neither does re-posting someone’s work without attribution.

Even when an artist puts their work onto the internet for free to expose their talents, it’s still incumbent upon people who share it with others to give credit where it’s due. An example of this working can be seen in the recent story about Spanish artist, Esther García López, wherein their work, given proper credit, led to a full-time job offer.

As an author, I both share pieces of my work online for free, and hire other freelance professionals to make my work shine. When I’m surrounded by highly skilled, talented people, I want to see them succeed in their fields, as much as I want to succeed in mine.

It has bothered me for years how difficult it is to find out information about the artists and editors of books that I enjoy. Cover artists usually have a tiny credit on the copyright page–a name without contact information–and editors can sometimes be a name amidst the acknowledgements. As I grow more accustomed to designing and publishing my books, I’ve worked to establish a representation of the people who add to their creation in a way that reflects my ethical standards.

Throughout the year, as I’ve published five books (four of the under my legal name), I’ve kept the tradition of cover artist in the copyright and editor in acknowledgements, but I’ve also shared their professional bios on the about page at the back, traditionally reserved for the author(s) alone. Why? Because they’re part of the team that made the book possible.

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Here’s the team for The Grasp of Time!

Even in Aranya, where I drew and painted the cover myself, I created a list of attribution for all of the public domain works featured in the book. They might be the work of people long dead, but where possible, I gave attribution in case someone else wants to learn more about their work. And in The Grasp of Time, my co-author and I share the about page with three other people: Natasha Swan (the cover illustrator), Emily P. Fuller (the illustrator of our coloring pages), and Ellen Klowden (our killer editor).

I’m not stating any of this to get a pat on the back, but to encourage other writers to consider how they want to promote the teams that make their novels shine, especially when those teams consist of freelancers who depend on every commission for their livelihood. Attribution matters online, but placing artists in a prominent position within our works makes it easier for those artists to receive the accolades, commissions, and job offers they deserve for their impressive skills.

Whether you’re sharing an image you found online*, or publishing a book to share with the world, please take a moment to ensure the person responsible for the art is given proper credit.

Oh, and The Grasp of Time has launched. Sort of. It’s going to take a few days for all the sites to sort themselves, but it’s already available on Kindle and in the CreateSpace store. I’m still working on verifying my credentials on Nook Press, so expect a few announcements across the week.

*Not sure who made the piece you want to share? Google reverse image search is your friend. You can even do it from your phone.

Advice on Pseudonyms

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In April, Megan Nikole asked questions regarding the use of pseudonyms on Twitter, as she struggled with whether or not to deal with multiple author “brands.”

Given that she writes in two disparate genres and doesn’t wish to give her readers of her mysteries a shock when she writes gory thrillers, but didn’t want to have to maintain two separate identities online, I recommended she consider using a pseudonym that separates the two genres of books, but advertise them together on a single web site.

I referred to this as a “soft pseudonym,” for there was not attempt at anonymity, but rather, a way to help readers discern whether or not they wished to pick up her latest book. Those who enjoy cozying up to a nuanced mystery, might not want to plunge into the shock of a thriller filled with gore.

For similar reasons, I have a pseudonym for my strictly erotic content, but since I do wish to maintain some level of anonymity between my legal name (this one) and the hardcore writing, I must put in the extra effort to maintain an extra web site, Twitter account, and Facebook page to ensure their separation.

If you’re delving into these same questions, consider how much effort you wish to put in to developing and maintaining two brands, and whether the content of your writing necessitates separation. The soft pseudonym approach might allow you to avoid upsetting fans of one genre without having to put in much additional effort toward marketing than you do for a single author brand.