Friday, December 23, 2011

A Bit of Christmas Humor--With Apologies to the USAF

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Ernest Cline

If anyone can be considered a 'Pro' after one sale, it is Ernest Cline. Cline worked for ten years on his first novel, READY PLAYER ONE, and it was, as they say, an instant classic. Here's what I learned along the way.

Cline wrote a dystopic story set in the future where everyone loses themselves in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) that doubles as online school and digital economy. The game is OASIS, and before he died, the game's developer left instructions to award ownership of the game and its massive wealth and influence to whoever uncovers and solves a series of progressively difficult 80s-influence pop culture easter eggs. READY PLAYER ONE is a first novel, and it shows in places, but it is also a passionate love letter to our collective youth, specificially focused on pop culture from the 80s and 90s.
  1. It's a fiction writing cliche, but write what you know.
    Cline was enamored of all things 80s pop culture; video games (like Pac-Man and JOUST, which were played on big consoles in places like Aladdin's Castle in the Mall), music (Ladyhawke), movies (recreating a scene from War Games from memory and having to get every quote exactly correct), anime (big fighting robots!), and role playing games.

  2. Go ahead - wear your passion on your sleeve.
    Passion overcomes a multitude of evils. Check out these quotes from serious genre fiction authors:
    “A nerdgasm…imagine Dungeons and Dragons and an 80s video arcade made hot, sweet love, and their child was raised in Azeroth.”—John Scalzi, New York Times bestselling author of Old Man’s War
    “Completely fricking awesome...This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body.  I felt like it was written just for me.”—Patrick Rothfuss, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wise Man’s Fear 
    The praise goes on in that vein for quite some time. The point is, if you're passionate for something, there is a very good chance someone else may be as passionate. Instead of setting that passion aside, mine it, exploit it, throw it carelessly on the floor and roll around in it while giggling like a maniac. You may find you're not alone in the rolling and the giggling. Use that shared passion to your advantage.

  3. Write your Big Idea right out of the gate.
    In Cline's case, he took ten years to hone and rewrite his idea, and there are places where the writing could use a little extra editing. And you know what? Nobody cared. His ideas were so big and his approach so audacious that people overlooked the little nits here and there and just settled in an went along with the ride. True, it's a calculated risk, but fortune favors the bold.

If you like science fiction and anything remotely related to the 80s, read this book. If you've never tried science fiction, read this book. USA Today called READY PLAYER ONE “Enchanting…Willy Wonka meets the Matrix. This novel undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now. [But] you don't have to be a geek to get it.”

I finished this book in two days (two /work/ days). I immediately proclaimed it the best Sci-Fi book I've read in 20 years. Will Lavender wrote: “I was blown away by this book…A book of ideas, a potboiler, a game-within-a-novel, a serious science-fiction epic, a comic pop culture mash-up–call this novel what you will, but READY PLAYER ONE will defy every label you try to put on it. Here, finally, is this generation’s Neuromancer.”

I had a rollicking good time reading READY PLAYER ONE. Learning something more about the art and craft of writing was just icing on the cake.
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview with Marketing Wiz Jo-Anne Vandermeulen

I'm super-excited to introduce special guest Jo-Anne Vandermeulen, who has recently helped me with a couple of marketing projects, and did so successfully! She's such an accomplished and inspiring entrepreneur, I thought our readers should meet her.

AC: You’re a writer, promoter, radio talk show host. Out of all the hats you wear, do you have a favorite?

JAV: No. To me, the different "hats" are like my choice of a favorite color…depending on the day, one may be more a favorite then the other. I call the three different roles my balance in life.

AC: How did you get into helping others promote their books?

JAV: When I was writing my first novel, I had read that marketing needs to happen even before publication date. Gosh, I was so scared to take this foreign path. In 2007, I began studying promotion and surprisingly, hit a passion in my life I had never imagined. The marketing content was so so cool that I just couldn’t keep it bottled . . . so, I began sharing the wealth of knowledge with others. With no expectations and completely unconditional in my "wants," the feedback began rolling in and I mean by the thousands! The responses fed my innate desire to help others (being a teacher for twenty years and a mother of two daughters) promote their books.

AC: What is the best, most effective marketing tool you have found?

JAV: My followers or fans are my most effective marketing tools. By myself, I could never bring so much exposure to my books. Actually, quite a rewarding and effective promotional tactic, "I’ll scratch your back, and it would be great if you could scratch mine." Simple and effective.

AC: How do you acquire these helpful friends?

JAV: It’s a toss-up between blogging and social networking. Blogging takes commitment to post regularly. The articles must supply content that is both valuable and unique, and written in a voice that rings true. The end goal is to attract huge targeted traffic or numbers of followers interested in your books.

Social Networking (my favorite social media site right now is Facebook). Again, having followers on Facebook takes a genuine and authentic voice—to gain trust in growing relationships.

AC: What is the primary mistake you see newbie authors making while marketing their books?

JAV: Hey, I can answer this one from experience…lol…The number one mistake newbies make when promoting their book is spending time bringing exposure to the wrong audience. Marketing is very time consuming so if the newbie is "barking up the wrong tree," not only are they wasting time where they could be pitching it to the "right" or targeted audience, but also they will not gain sales because no one is interested in their book.

I remember spending so much time with other writers, it just felt comfortable that I forgot to introduce myself to suspense/romance readers. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a waste of time as I learned a lot, but I did not get the sales I had hoped.

AC: Tell us about your first radio interview. Nervous?

JAV: To be honest, I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. I really missed teaching and professional speaking, so after researching blogtalkradio to death, I knew I was prepared and roaring to go.

AC: You’re changing the name of your show. What to, and why?

“Authors Articulating with Jo-Anne Vandermeulen” is now going to be called “Talk Radio Network." Change is seldom a bad move. I have been producing and hosting radio for two and a half years, seeing seventy-five archived shows, and I have over 12,000 active listeners with over 250,000 followers. I had done the show as gratis to authors and those in the writing field. It is time for me to expand my audience to include anyone who is selling products through the Internet. It matches the theme to my upcoming release Internet Marketing Made Easy (January 2nd, 2012), and it is time I receive payment for my time, effort, and experience.

AC: Internet Marketing Made Easy is coming out soon. What can we hope to find between the covers?

JAV: Lots of user-friendly and valuable tips about marketing on the Internet.
Here’s my pitch:

Now you will be able to make a difference to your sales and *conquer all obstacles* "INTERNET MARKETING MADE EASY” will give you the knowledge to make the profits you deserve.
Packed with tips that are proven to work
User-friendly for the beginner, average, and advanced marketer
Up-to-date attainable tips you can use right now,
Flexible in that you can use these tips for ANY product you wish to sell online, and…
Quick read - (although a costly publishing and printing costs for her, she PERSONALLY REQUESTED THIS ADDITIONAL TECHNIQUE so you will be able to flow through the entire book quickly and with complete understanding – instead of just a glossary at the back, each technical or marketing term is highlighted with a definition and/or example RIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SAME PAGE! BRILLIANT!!!)

Getting Started: Creating a Following
Establishing a Voice (BLOGGING)
Advancing in the Search Engines
Jo-Anne’s Favorite Tips
Guaranteeing Massive Exposure (SOCIAL NETWORKING)
Creating a Platform (ATTRACTING CLIENTS)
Targeting your Audience (SAVING ENERGY)
Balancing Online Activities (MANAGING TIME)
Reaching Your Goal (SUCCESS HERE I COME!)

AC: What else is in the works for you?

JAV: I try and live my life as one day at a time. I strive for balance—work, play, and rest (and not always in that order), feeding myself: spiritually, intellectually, mentally, and physically. I listen to my needs or inner instincts and walk through doors that are open—doing the footwork of sudden and unplanned opportunities (kinda like this interview which will provide more exposure. I’m so grateful for this opportunity). I heed to obstacles that interfere with my chosen path and abruptly turn around and go down another road. So what is next for me is a question that can change answers on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. For example, today my agenda included this interview, a workout at the pool, a walk in the park with my mini-daschound—Oscar, answering emails while hanging out at an Internet Café, and I’m looking forward to a movie tonight while curled up in front of my fireplace. I’ve dedicated the month of December to "self"—a clean-up month of websites, computer hard-drives, and year-end income tax. Oh ya, and the launching of Internet Marketing Made Easy. To be honest, I haven’t got a clue what is in store for January or the 2012 year. If it is anything like the previous, I’ll just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

AC: Where can our readers reach you?

JAV: The simple answer is to Google my name. I’m all over the place and love to interact with my readers.

AC: What services do you offer?

JAV: “Premium Promotional Services” *You Create – We Promote* offers these services:
Book Promo
Promo Deal 
Twitter Promo
Facebook Business Page
Talk Radio Network

Jo-Anne Vandermeulen is a Canadian author, expert blogger (offering free Internet marketing tips), producer and hostess of “Authors Articulating” on Blogtalkradio, founder and marketer of the online marketing business—“Premium Promotional Services”, appears on many major social media sites (Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.) a professional support network for writers, and donates to the registered charity 'Spirit Pet Sanctuary'. With two books out (including a suspense/romance novel) called “CONQUER ALL OBSTACLES”, Jo-Anne has overcome her own obstacles to follow her dreams. An English major, graduated from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada), in 2006 she had to give up teaching when she was diagnosed with an illness that forced her to get out of the classroom. Now, with the novel “Conquer All Obstacles”, and the non-fiction resource books “Premium Promotional Tips for Writers” and Internet Marketing Made Easy”, Jo-Anne Vandermeulen is an inspiration for many.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: darn fine eatin'

Children, today's topic is food. And not just any food, either. I'm talking about bad food.

First, we all know the (supposed) benefits of a healthy diet, a diet that's high in fiber, low in cholesterol, and with a paucity of polyunsaturated (why does that put me in mind of a parrot beneath an umbrella?) fats. I'm told such a diet will make one virile and handsome and able to lift a Chrysler one-handed. Yippee. Let us leave such people to their grazing.

No, what I'm talking about is a bit more ... elemental. Earthy. Sensual. In a word, tasty. Specifically, junk food.

What constitutes junk food? Is it food that's by definition terrible for your health? Sure, that helps, but not necessarily. For instance, I grew up in the South. For years I daily ate such fare as country ham (containing salt content on par with the Dead Sea), green beans with fatback, cathead biscuits, fried corn, spoonbread, chocolate pie, iced tea so strong and sweet a guy could chop a cord of wood after just a glass ... all manner of things that I'm sure would cause Richard Simmons to roll over in his grave (he is dead, isn't he?).

In my college days my standard favorite dish, owing to extreme poverty (not to mention congenital bad taste) was cheap Winn-Dixie chili mounded on top of cooked Minute Rice, all heated in a Mirro popcorn popper, and washed down with grape Tang. Even now, my mouth waters.

Today my favorites include such varied fare as chili dogs, Vienna sausage out of a can (don't wipe the jelly off; it's good), bags of beef jerky (or if I'm flush, kippered beef strips), salted peanuts in the shell, boiled eggs, and Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Yowza. As the thread title says, darn fine eatin'.

So what say you all? Anybody like to tell what your secret ba-a-a-d foods are? Come on, spill. We're all friends here.

Far be it from me to tell your wife.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of Alchemy With Words

Good reference guides for fantasy writers are few and far between. I know, because I’ve pawed through most of the options. I took a shot in the dark in purchasing Alchemy With Words, volume one of The Complete GuideTM to Writing Fantasy. Published by a small press and written by a collection of fantasy authors who haven’t much collective experience or acclaim among them, the book has much to recommend it—and much not to.

On the plus side, this is one of the most varied and complete offerings I’ve seen on the subject (and this is just volume one). Subjects include Roots of Fantasy, Characterization, Race Creation, World Building, Clichés, Plot, Medieval Clothing and Food, Health and Medicine, Magic, Mythology, Religion, and Arms and Armor. Although a few chapters skim by with only basic info, many of them include insightful and detailed explanations of aspects of the genre that every author would be wise to heed. Of course, with only a chapter devoted to each subject, the book can’t be considered definitive. But it offers an excellent jumping-off point into further research.

Based on the quality of information alone, I consider the book worth reading. However, the production values offer some serious drawbacks. Aside from general poor editing and typesetting, the lack of professionalism displayed by the various authors—some to the point of out-and-out self-indulgence, in which the authors ramble about their own unpublished fantasy manuscripts or state their subjective pet peeves as if they were rules of the genre—is annoying at best and downright frustrating at worst. If you can get past the writing to access the information, you may find this book a useful primer on the world of writing fantasy.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Link Between Memory and Imagination

My mind used to be a steel trap. I could remember details of past events that left other people standing slack-jawed. But about six years ago, I wrecked an ATV, cracked my skull against a fence post, and—whammy!—my steel trap rusted shut. Nowadays, my memory seems to have a mind of its own, coming and going. Mostly going. If you and I have an important meeting at three, I better write it down, or you’ll be waiting at the café, wondering why I stood you up. At first glance, this is kinda sad. In a sense, life is memory. But, after another glance, there are actually some interesting benefits in the organic, ever-changing relationship between memory (or the lack thereof) and the writer’s best tool in trade: his imagination.

Memory and imagination are inherently linked: everything we build in our imagination is the product of the raw materials supplied to us by our previous life experience—i.e., our memory. Because all of our memories are faulty, to one degree or another, empty spaces open up in our minds, which our imaginations can then take advantage of and fill. In his article “Let your imagination play” (The Writer, February 2011), Bob Blaisdell expounds on South American author Jorge Luis Borges’ thoughts on memory and imagination:
Image by peet-astn

When our everyday memory dissolves, as it will, it leaves a blank canvas for us to fill with imagination. “Although reality is exact,” Borges reflected, “memory is not.” … Compared to an inability to imagine, the tangible effects of imagining (producing artwork, books, music) are scarcely important. We can imagine, whatever our artistic limitations…. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.
In a sense, authors have to forget in order to imagine. As Polish literary critic and Pulitzer nominee Francine du Plessix Gray puts it:

Purify your mind of toxins of memory. … Writers have to have this kind of digestive process for the psyche.
If we’re writing strictly from memory—whether that be in the construction of fact-based non-fiction, or the reconstruction of real-life settings for our novels—we’re not imagining. We’re not creating. We’re just recording. Nothing wrong with this, of course. The facts are the vital ingredient in convincing readers to suspend their disbelief. But few of us will argue that the true joy of writing comes in the raw, primal act of creation. When we forget the facts, deliberately or not, a vast, unpainted plane opens up in front of us, like an artist’s blank canvas, just begging to be filled with wild splashes and combinations of color.

So, although my wonky memory forces me to buy day planners and filing systems and expend extra energy on research and fact checking, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be released from the confines of memory’s exactitude—if only for those hours of beautiful, unchained creativity while I sit at my desk creating new realities.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Attack of the Horrible Holiday Specials

If you saw the original Star Wars in theaters, you remember the absolute furor about the film, which would grow into a furor for the franchise. (Until the prequels, but that's another post.). But who among us could have predicted that the same cast and elements that made the original film so good could collaborate on a one-off TV variety show that was so bad that it ranked as "the worst two hours of television ever." The Star Wars Holiday Special is the stuff of legend. Carrie Fisher wrangled a copy of the special that she shows at parties, "mainly at the end of the night when she wants people to leave." George Lucas (who had nothing to do with the special) has said his fondest wish is to have the time and a sledgehammer to track down and smash every copy. (Thank God we have the internet.)

John Scalzi has he's imagined a number of similarly terrifying holiday traditions. Here's a taste.
An Iron Man Christmas CarolYes, Tony Stark is a superhero -- but he's also part of the 1%. This Christmas Eve, his cynical side has gotten the better of him and his view of the world, and all the little people in it. Seeing him wallow in his own bitterness, three of his fellow Avengers take it upon themselves to help Stark reconnect with the joy of the holiday season. Captain America is the Superhero of Christmas Past, the Black Widow is the Superhero of Christmas Present, and the Hulk is the Superhero of Christmas Smash. Paul Bettany makes a cameo as Jarvis Cratchett, Stark's impoverished computer technician. Samuel L. Jackson shows up at the end, because, well, that's what he does, isn't it. 
It's a Wonderful Life, George LucasThe year is 1986, and George Lucas, despondent at the failure of Howard the Duck, considers throwing himself off the Golden Gate Bridge. But then an angel, played by Bill Moyers, shows him what life would be like if he never lived at all. Lucas, horrified at a world in which Han always shot first, throws himself back into life and plans the prequel trilogy. Meanwhile, the angel is revealed to be the devil himself. His dark, maniacal laughter goes on endlessly as the screen fades to black. 
I am almost certain I am not the first to suggest that last one.
If you aren't reading Scalzi's column at, John Scalzi on SciFi, I highly recommend it. It's a weekly column that covers some of my favorite things; SciFi, film, and geek culture. Also, this week the internet discovered the fantastic Cello Wars: The Phantom Cellist by ThePianoGuys, which is also highly recommended.

Update: It could be worse. At least George Lucas didn't have his knighthood revoked...

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Labeling Fiction ~ Just How Would That Work and Should it be Done?

So I was on Amazon the other day and happened upon a thread in their forums. The original poster was complaining that they'd been "duped" too many times into downloading a novel onto their Kindle from the free list only to later discover that the book was Christian. They were lobbying for books to be clearly labeled as Christian by Amazon.

I had several thoughts about this, not the least of which was; there are only a few Christian fiction publishers -  learn who they are and don't download their books if they are so offensive to you. My second thought was about how many of the books being complained about have been tagged multiple times as "Christian." So I disagreed with the original poster who seemed to think this was something along the lines of spam that was being sneakily foisted on them by Christian publishers.

Still there is that little concept of not casting pearls, mentioned in the Bible. If people are not ready to hear a message, it does no good to speak to them about it because they will just stop up their ears. On the other hand, someone who is ready to hear might read a Christian story and be blessed, even changed, by it. Would labeling books mean that everyone who didn't want to read that particular book would be prevented from reading it? Doubtful. Would labeling books mean that someone who might be blessed by a book, wouldn't purchase it because of the label? Perhaps.

While I can see both sides of this issue, if Amazon does start labeling books, at what genre-differentiation do they stop? What if a Catholic wants Christian books but only those with a Catholic slant? Or what if a Baptist doesn't want any books that mention speaking in tongues? What of Muslim literature? Or Buddhist? Or republican or democratic?

It is a muddle... So I thought I would ask you all. What do you think?
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Free Marketing Tools, by Michael Wong

FREE Marketing Tools

Here are 9 FREE marketing tools used by thousands of visitors every month. The free internet marketing tools include: Search Engine Rankings, AdWords Wrapper, Top 500 Keywords, PageRank Checker, Instant Domain Name Search, Keyword Tool, Link Popularity Checker, Marketing Forum Watch and Ecommerce Forum Watch. All free marketing tools were developed inhouse, and are exclusive to Mike’s Marketing Tools.

Feel free to share with your friends.

Search Engine Rankings

Search Engine Rankings offers FREE, instant, online reports of web site rankings in the top 4 search engines: Google, Yahoo! Search, Bing (MSN) and AOL.

AdWords Wrapper

The Google AdWords Wrapper is a FREE time saving tool that wraps keyword phrases in “quotation marks” (phrase match) and [square brackets] (exact match) for use in Google AdWords campaigns.

Keyword Tool

The FREE Keyword Tool offers 70+ 1-click keyword editing functions that help you edit and clean hundreds, even thousands of keywords, quickly and easily. You may enter 1, 10, 100, or 1000+ keywords – 1 keyword per line.

Top 500 Keywords

Top 500 Keywords offer FREE, top 500 searched internet keywords, compiled from a database of over 330 million search terms, which are extracted from popular metacrawlers: Metacrawler and Dogpile. The keyword reports are updated daily and kindly provided by Wordtracker.

PageRank Checker

PageRank Checker is a FREE PageRank tool that offers instant online Google PageRank reports of any domain or webpage. There are no CAPTCHA requirements to use the PageRank Checker.

Link Popularity Checker

Link Popularity Checker offers FREE, instant, online reports of a webpage’s link popularity or backlink rating by 3 top search engines; Google, Yahoo! Search and Bing (MSN). Link Popularity refers to the number of backlinks pointing to a webpage.

Instant Domain Name Search

Instant Domain Name Search is a FREE domain tool that instantly checks in real-time, as you type, whether a domain name (any domain extension) is available for registration.

Marketing Forum Watch

Marketing Forum Watch offers searchable headlines from 31 of your favorite internet marketing and search engine discussion forums and message boards, updated every 5 minutes.

Ecommerce Forum Watch

Ecommerce Forum Watch offers searchable headlines from 16 of your favorite ecommerce and web design discussion forums and message boards, updated every 5 minutes.

Michael Wong is the editor of Mike’s Marketing Tools, which offers the original AdWords Wrapper and the new Keyword Tool. Michael has over a decade of experience in the internet industry, during which he founded two companies, sold a website to a SoftBank funded start-up, wrote one of the first ebooks on SEO, and generated millions of dollars in affiliate sales.

Publishing Rights: You may republish this article in your web site, blog, newsletter, or ebook, on the condition that you agree to leave the article, author’s bio, and all links completely intact.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: How Not to Save Your Reader's Life

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Agent Game, by Lisa Lickel

I had to give back the engagement ring the other week. We'd actually gotten to the altar, smelled the roses, Mr. Annerson and I, but I had chilly feet and asked for a pre-nup at the last second. Didn't go over too well, and the love died before we even considered consummation. At least we hadn't bought a dog or had any kids. Small favors.

I should feel worse. I've been divorced twice: once I left him and the other time she dumped me. Supposed to get easier every time it happens, isn't it? Ah, there's the rub. With each exciting new love affair, we lose a little piece of our soul. Every ad in the singles page reveals a little more of our vulnerability, our desperation. Along with the constant blood loss, a body wears thin.

Scared ya with that last one, didn't I? But you authors know it-that's real crimson hemoglobin, salty sweat and gummy tears on every page we crank out. Every jot, every word, each sentence, scene, story arc, personality, theme-all groaning for an audience.

A hundred years ago, insurance was a kind-hearted in-law. Twenty years ago, literary agents were held in high disdain. "Go wrangle over yer supper check with a lawyer, ya horse thief" the mobs would jeer. Today? The author who can't sell a million on Smashwords and has her sights set on one of the big seven-oops, make that six-publishers crawls on her belly the lowest. You can't even bribe 'em. Now where's the righteousness in that?

I started my authorial career doing pretty well. Top ten finisher in Jerry Jenkins' first CWG First Novel contest. Sold an article to Writer's Digest. Three years later sold my first novel to one of the larger Inspy houses and signed with an agent at the same time.

And then, nothing happened. Nada.

Until I stretched out my little hands to the mid-level independent traditional royalty-paying publishers. No, I was not overwhelmingly welcomed. It's a business, people. With real dollars invested during a messy downturn in the economy and ink media drying up and children in the workforce who must tweet instead of read whole words. But I have sold novels, won awards, attracted a few followers and stuck to them like Velcro. I try my level best to reach out and haul other newbie writers after me, and warn them that they're about to enter ... a nuptial horror show.

The real pity is that I didn't even really want the Matrix Agency that Mr. Annerson was attached to. And when Mr. Annerson held me dangling for three months, hemming and hawing and asking me to revise this, and put a picture on it and tie it with a bow and douse it in smelling salts, I went along with it. When he mailed me the real company contract I was pretty thrilled. Sure. Another notch on the belt. I had two questions that weren't even that hard to answer: 1. Who else can control my fate if I sign with the agency rather than you personally? 2. What if none of the agents wants to send out a manuscript, but I do, and I sell it? You really think I'm still going to give you fifteen percent of that?

Before we started dating, Mr. Annerson and I, I asked him how he felt about the machine world. He was curious, he said, and would get permission to visit. Good, I said.

Apparently not. For two weeks after my questions, Mr. Annerson pulled the plug saying the machine world didn't really exist. At least, not for him. Look! Over there! Another bridal boutique has business for you! he said. 'Ta.”

So, dear newbie friend: If you open the door to the sound of wedding bells, wave back at the tentacles for me, K? And plug me back in, please. I'm going in for another trip up the rose-petaled carpet first chance I git.

Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin writer who lives with her husband in a hundred and sixty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. Surrounded by books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction. Her novels include mystery and romance, all with a twist of grace. She has penned dozens of feature newspaper stories, short stories, magazine articles and radio theater. She is the editor in chief of Creative Wisconsin Magazine and of OtherSheep, a Christian spec fiction/nonfiction magazine. She loves to encourage new authors. Find her and all her connections, books, and resources at
Now available: Meander Scar, A Summer in Oakville (with Shellie Neumeier), Lavender Dreams, and coming in April 2012, The Map Quilt.
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Resource Roundup

Since getting published, I've been on the look-out for things that will help increase traffic at my different sites and pages. So I was excited to find Pagemodo. This site is for the sole purpose of creating exciting fan pages on Facebook. And it has free templates!

Along the same lines, Simply Amusing Design Studio does the same thing, but for a fee. This company provides several other services as well, such as:

  • Web Design & Development
  • Facebook Design & Development
  • Facebook Business Development
  • Marketing Strategy Development
  • Blog Design & Development
  • Branding & Identity
  • Newsletters & Brochures
  • SEO & Copywriting
  • Social Media Training
  • WordPress Training

  • Suzanne Woods Fisher used them to design her fan page. I chose Pagemodo for Give the Lady a Ride. It was amazingly easy to use, and allowed links to other sites (like Amazon!) along with the images you upload.

    For free designs for your Twitter home page, try Twitr Backgrounds. They also will create custom designs. But, honestly, I'm on the lookout for something better. Know of one?

    I also found an interesting post about advertising tools and results. In contrast to my own analysis of pay-per-click ads (on Goodreads and Facebook), I found this one, written by Laura Pepper Wu, who probably did a better job of running her ad campaign than I did. She also includes an analysis of ads purchased on search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. You may find her conclusions interesting!

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    Friday, November 25, 2011

    Fabulously Fun Friday ~ Are you a Terrible Speller?

    Okay, I am a notoriously terrible speller, so this cracked me up. Hope you all have recovered enough from your turkey induced comas to enjoy this. Happy Friday, all!

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    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Edgy - Should Christians Write on the Edge?

    As you move through the process of presenting your work, you'll be bombarded by the typical industry 'lingo'. Some might come in the form of a rejection letter or others in conversations making suggestions regarding your writing. Before succumbing to the lingo you need to take time to understand what the terms mean and how they will affect your book - or if they even will.

    Perhaps the most used catchphrase today is edgy. The tide has been turning against classic, solid timeless storytelling to edgy. But what exactly does edgy mean? Edgy is different for adults than young adults, though some are heavily pushing more adult material into young adult, juvenile and even little children's books. Certainly edgy in secular fiction is quite different than in Christian novels. Or is it? Have the lines blurred so greatly between secular and Christian fiction that the distinction is barely visible?

    To an editor, edgy means to push the envelope, to take people just to edge of improper and pull back. In short whet their appetite and go a little further next time. Is that really what we’re called as Christians- or even authors - to do? Bring people the edge of sin and pull back? To entice them into wanting more darkness and then satisfy induced curiosity with further edginess? Where does the author’s responsibility come into this trend? All publishers are in the business of making money and will follow current trends to help their bottom line – profit.

    Fortunately, in my experience, despite the push toward edgy, people aren’t biting. I’ve encountered many who are rebelling against the trend. Parents seek suitable substitutes for these edgy books on school reading lists in favor of what they feel is more appropriate for their children. Even kids want fun stories. In the Christian market the Amish books dominate. Some of the most popular secular kids books are Narnia, Percy Jackson, and oh, yes, the ultimate of edgy - Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

    So when an editor, publisher or agent throws the term edgy at you concerning your manuscript, ask them what exactly do they mean? How will it help your book? Does their suggestion compromise what you want to say in your story? Don't go edgy for the sake of publication. Just like trendy fashion fads come and go but classic styles remain, so fiction styles change, but timeless, well-told stories live on. Do what you feel is right for your story, your peace of mind, your readers and ultimately, the impact and legacy your books will someday leave behind.

    Shawn Lamb is the author of the epic Christian YA fantasy series Allon, along with The Huguenot Sword, and once wrote for the animated series BraveStarr, produced by the same studio that did He-Man and She-Ra. She has won several screenwriting awards including a Certificate of Merit from the American Screenwriters Association. This year she is among The Authors Show - 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading 2011.
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    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Interview: Bryan Thomas Schmidt

    Johne here - I first  met author Bryan Thomas Schmidt while wearing my editor's hat for our online magazine and have followed his career ever since. I have a specific set of interests online, and started bumping into Bryan over and over in these various widespread and frequently obscure places. I was delighted when T.W. Ambrose and Randy Streu of Diminished Media Group picked up Bryan's first novel for publication. This has been a whirlwind year for Bryan, and I wanted to give our readers a peek behind the curtain. Without further ado, I present the AuthorCulture interview with Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

    AC: Genre fans used to be the nerds, the outsiders. What prompted you to write in the genre form for your debut novel, The Worker Prince?

    BTS: Is this a therapy session or an interview? Yeah, okay, I have issues. I’m an outcast, outsider. That’s right. I need to be loved. Please love my book. Give me a good review. I am an adopted child. I have ADHD. I have always been socially awkward and a bit of a loner. And, as a result, I have always felt on the outside looking in. That shows in my writing work which often have similar themes or certainly themes of characters finding themselves, coming into their own, finding their place in this world. That said, my first attempt at a novel was not Science Fiction (SF). It was love story. I love Nicholas Sparks books. I have a great story I want to tell. But my prose level was not there yet. Then I remembered this idea I’d been carrying around since my teenage years of Moses in space. It just seemed like a great epic story which would fit well told as space opera with all the tropes I loved from my youth reading Golden Age SF and watching movies and shows like Star Wars and Star Trek and Battlestar Galatica. So one day, I just sat down and started writing. Four months later, I had a completed novel. Of course, that was just the beginning.

    AC: The Worker Prince uses a famous Biblical character for some of its source material. Did that impetus make the writing easier or harder?

    BTS: Easier in borrowing plotline and story structure for part of it. Harder in dealing with a  story people already know so well. How do you keep it interesting and unpredictable? So I made the characters Christian and chose to have the Moses story as part of their prehistory. In parts, the story echoes that biblical story, but it also allowed me to depart from it and take it new directions, while still utilizing the themes from the biblical story and key scenes.

    AC: Blogger and uber SF fan Steve Davidson argues there can't be a reconciliation of religion and SF while blogger / author Mike Duran counters it is a logical topic for SF. What say you? Is there room in SF for discussions of religion without the fiction becoming a tract for proselytizing? How might that work?

    BTS: Well, Davidson's post is one of the most opinionated, badly written posts I’ve seen. The guy was criticized by people who agree with him, so in the end, I don’t think he made his points well. He had an agenda and that was all that was about. Of course I think religion and SF go together. I did a post for SF Signal which was quite popular about SF classics with religious themes. And it includes some big name books like Dune, Asimov’s Foundation series and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as Ender’s Game and more. I think religion is something that is a part of every society in some form, so one has to deal with it in worldbuilding somehow for people to find your work believable. So Davidson’s suggestion was ludicrous just based on that. But at the same time, I think the greatest witness we have is our lifestyle and how we live. Shoving our beliefs down people’s throats is offensive. Who likes it when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the door? Not very many people. And all too often, Christian fiction is guilty of shoving beliefs in people’s faces. Why can’t we just show through our themes, our characters’ lives, etc. and let people ask questions which give us an opening? To me, that’s much more effective. With Worker Prince I worked it into my worldbuilding. I explain it briefly to be clear what these people believe. They are not fundamentalist. They are Evangelical and since so often people confuse that, I wanted to be clear. But even those who wish I hadn’t included those themes all tell me it’s not preachy. So how can it be done? With great care and deliberate intention to reach people well, not preach at them, but tell stories.

    AC: In addition to writing, you're also editor of an upcoming Anthology. What have you learned about the writing game when you donned the editor's hat?

    BTS: Rejection sucks from both ends. Who likes to tell someone their story isn’t good enough? Not me. But there are also lots of reasons for rejections that have nothing to do with that. I rejected stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon which were fantastic but just didn’t fit the theme. So it certainly gives you perspective in facing rejections yourself.

    AC: You've become a successful marketing machine promoting your new book. Can you give our readers an overview of what you've done to market The Worker Prince? What's has been most and least effective?

    BTS: Boy, this could be a long answer. First, I started building a blog, website, and social media presence long before my book came out. I worked really hard to just network and build friendships and support people. I listened to them and learned what they’re doing, what they like, and tried to identify who might be interested in my work. I started blogging and tweeting valuable content, content which would help people. It took some time to sort out the kinds of things that people responded to, but once I did, things really took off. I also built relationships with fellow bloggers and writers by encouraging them, spreading their posts, etc. Those paid off when I needed help spreading the word about my stuff. Some retweeted or posted my stuff without asking, some I requested. A publicist for Random House included my book release on the Suvudu releases list with all the major releases just because I’d helped him so much in the past. That got me huge notice and legitimized my book as a major release. Second, I planned a blog tour. I went out of my way to plan a blog tour in advance and write meaningful, valuable, quality posts. I worked hard to make sure they fit the themes of the blogs I would appear on and to schedule a variety so that I had reviews, interviews, guest posts, excerpts, etc. scattered rather than the same thing day after day. I also experimented creatively, using dialogues, character interviews and more. This also included podcast appearances and a prequel short story being published. Many linked to each other so people just followed it daily and it kept the interest up. Certainly my presence daily out there made a difference. Third, press releases to local media. I didn’t wait on my publisher. I did them myself. Still doing this, in fact. Fourth, plan appearances. Contact conventions, bookstores, libraries, etc. but know how to do it. Do your research. Fifth, get books out to reviewers and keep doing it. Reviews are the single best selling tool. The more good reviews, the higher the listing on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And the more impulse buys you get as well. Sixth, contests. Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Giveaway copies and get it out there. More reviews, more word of mouth. Two essentials to success. So far what’s worked best? Doing everything you can. It’s not just a one-track thing. You have to do everything you can.

    AC: Speaking of social networking, you're also the host of an innovative weekly Twitter interview column called SFFWRTCHT. How did that come about?

    BTS: I went to some conventions and met so many successful authors and learned so much. Then I was unemployed and knew I wouldn’t get the chance again for a while. I had met so many people in the business from Twitter and knew of some chats, I thought, why couldn’t I utilize this to create content which provides opportunities to learn from successful writers, helps them promote their books, and builds networking and my brand all at the same time? So I did it. And it just took off.

    AC: Who's been your favorite interview? What's been your greatest surprise about SFFWRTCHT?

    BTS: Wow. Tough call. AC Crispin was pretty awesome because she’s a writing hero. Also, Mike Resnick. I loved having Ken Scholes too. But for sheer fun, Maurice Broaddus was a real blast. Greatest surprise is how influential and popular it became so quickly. Most major publishers send me books without even asking now. They contact me to book their authors. It used to be all on me and my wallet. It’s really made  me a known presence in the industry too. And I’ve made a lot of friends who have helped me and advised me, etc. It’s been great on so many levels. I didn’t have any idea all of this could happen so fast. Less than a year. It’s pretty amazing. Our one year anniversary is December 7th.

    AC: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

    BTS: Write. And remember, concert musicians practice daily. So why shouldn’t you? It’s easy to think up ideas. It’s easy to dream. It’s hard to write. You are not a writer until you actually write. And that means writing a lot of crap along the way. Get over it. It’s part of the journey and process. We all do it. Robert Silverberg still throws stuff away. So does Orson Scott Card. So does Stephen King. That’s the way it goes. I offer regular tips posts on my blog every Thursday on various topics. Those might be useful as well. There are lots of people giving advice out there though. Find them. Learn from them. Use what you can. Discard the rest. Most of all, do it because you love it and can’t help it. It’s not to make money. It’s a passion.


    Starting this Wednesday, Bryan's novel will be serialized with a new installment every week over at Ray Gun Revival magazine. Come on over and get a taste of some great throwback Space Opera adventure!
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    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Fabulously Fun Friday, with guest, Penny Zeller

    Penny Zeller has written several books and numerous magazine articles. She is also the author of the blog A Day in the Life of a Wife, Mom, and Author, where she also provides weekly doses of humor, along with movie reviews from a Christian worldview, and interviews with some of her favorite author friends.
    So, without further introduction, here's Penny's guest post:
    The other day, I was writing a scene for my new historical romance series. My fingers flew across the keyboard as I ventured back to the 1860s…
    Glancing from side to side looking for a place to hide, she willed her feet to move. Would this be how it would all end for her – a moment’s decision sealing her destiny?…
    Of all the genres I enjoy writing, historical romance is my favorite. However, there are some days when it’s clear to me that I’ve spent a bit too much time in the days before modern technology.
    If you write historical fiction, you know exactly what I mean. So, just for fun, I’ve listed six surefire ways to know that you’re a writer of historical fiction…
    1. You’re getting ready for a family outing and you ask your husband to please hitch up the wagon instead of start the car.
    2. Speaking of husbands, although your husband’s name is Lon, you find yourself calling him Zach, Jonah, or Nate because you’ve spent so much time with your male protagonists…
    [Caption: Zach Sawyer from McKenzie in my Montana Skies Series]
    3. You say “I reckon” far too often.
    4. Your kids are beginning to call you “Ma.”
    5. You reach for a bonnet instead of a baseball cap to cover a bad hair day.
    6. Your family doesn’t let you visit museums anymore because they know that when you visit, you become so engrossed in the historical photos that you never want to leave. They clearly don’t understand that gazing for a mere few hours at antiques and old photographs gives you 10-years-worth of inspiration!
    [Caption: You are grounded from museums until further notice...]
    So there you have it…six surefire ways to know you might be an historical fiction author. Now back to the 1860s I go!
    Penny is an active volunteer in her community, devoting her time to assisting and nurturing women and children into a closer relationship with Christ. Her passion is to use the gift of the written word that God has given her to glorify Him and to benefit His kingdom.
    Hailee is Penny’s latest book and the final book in the series, which began with McKenzie and Kaydie in Montana Skies, her first series with Whitaker House. When she's not writing, Penny enjoys spending time with her family and camping, hiking, canoeing, and playing volleyball. She and her husband reside in Wyoming with their two children.
    Penny loves to hear from her readers at her website, and on Facebook at

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    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Should You Use a Real-Life Setting for Your Story?

    Speculative authors don’t give a second thought to creating settings out of thin air. They create whole planets when their stories demand them. But even authors writing within the confines of the “real world” are sometimes confronted with the choice to use an existing setting or make one up. This setting can be something as relatively miniscule as a made-up restaurant within a real town, or it could be an entire city. But the question, of course, is how do you decide when a made-up setting would be preferable to a real-life setting? And if you do utilize a made-up setting, how do you pull it off convincingly?

    Let’s consider an example. Pulitzer-winning author Edna Ferber’s final novel Ice Palace takes place in pre-statehood Alaska in the 1950s. The real-life Alaskan setting is vital to the story’s plot. The book couldn’t conceivably have taken place anywhere else, and it’s very obvious that Ferber did her research and layered her setting with a wealth of realistic details. However, within this real-life setting, she chose to use the made-up sub-setting of the supposedly prominent city of Baranof, which she created entirely out of thin air for her own purposes.

    So why did she do this—and how did she pull it off? I suspect Ferber chose to create Baranof for the same reason I created the town of Hangtree in my historical western A Man Called Outlaw. Namely, she wanted the freedom to depart from the facts wherever it would benefit her story. Had she set the story in Juneau or Sitka, she would have been bound to historical fact. However, she obviously understood that for the make-believe setting to work, she had to make it just as convincing and realistic as any real-life town. She researched real Alaskan cities and composited them into her make-believe one to keep readers from ever having a reason to suspend their disbelief.
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    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Setting Your Story to Right Order

    As story-crafters it is our job to give our readers a powerful emotional experience - that, after all, is what keeps them coming back for more.

    To that end, we want our writing to be gripping, easy to follow, and emotion inducing.

    One very simple tool in our "easy-to-follow" tool box is to keep the actions of your characters and your descriptions happening in the correct order. It is subtly jarring to your reader when things are stated out of order.

    Let's look at a couple examples to clarify what I mean by this.
    "Taylor walked down the hallway toward her office. She smiled when the scent of new carpet and fresh paint assailed her as she paused to absorb the peace of her little domain after opening her door."
    What is wrong with this little bit of description? It's a bit jarring, isn't it? The reason is, we've stated the characters actions out of order. She can't smell the new carpet and fresh paint until she opens the office door. So as readers, with the way this little paragraph is written, we jump ahead to the scent of new paint and then are thrust backward to see the door opening. Instead try wording it like this:
    "Pushing open her office door, she paused to absorb the peace of her little domain. The scent of new carpet and fresh paint assailed her and brought a smile to her face." 
    The second way is nice and smooth and easy to follow because we do everything in the correct order. First we open the door, then we pause, then we are assailed by the scents and respond to them.

    This might seem like a fairly obvious technique, but if you look over your manuscript, I'll bet you'd be surprised at the number of times character actions and responses happen out of order. It is a very easy little glitch to miss.

    I'll give you one more "before" example here. How would you correct the order of the paragraph below to smooth it out?
    "She reached into her top drawer and snatched up the bottle of pain killers to alleviate the headache that had been pressing at the back of her head all morning. Lifting her ever-present Dasani water bottle she swallowed down the three pills she tapped into her palm."
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    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Fabulously Fun Friday: Voting time again?? Oh, NOES!

    Well, the mid-year elections are finally over, the victors are popping champagne corks while the losers eye high bridges, and the Presidential political season is upon us again. Lock your vaults and hide your daughters.

    It seems every politician, known and unknown, from both sides of the aisle, is throwing his (or her; hi Hillary!) hat into the ring. Or since hats are passe, "forming exploratory committees." You know. Like a colonoscopy.

    The runup to the Presidential choosing is policial Darwinism at its most elemental. "Dog eat dog" is too bland a phrase for what we're about to witness; "slash and burn" says it more plainly. And brother, does it seem to take forever, this time we're entering. If farming season lasted as long, we'd be harvesting green beans the size of dugout canoes. This Chinese water torture we Americans put ourselves through every four years puts me in mind of a childhood memory.
    When I was a boy, my family would sometimes take Sunday drives. Long Sunday drives. Endless, bleak, soul-killing, waiting-for-Godot Sunday drives. There we'd be, my dad behind the wheel of our Ford Galaxy (Clark Kent hat tilted at a rakish angle), my mom beside him. In the back seat were my little brother, and yours truly.

    Along about the eighteenth hour (or so it seemed) of the drive, my brother and I would grow bored, although "bored" doesn't really say it; that's like calling the firebombing of Dresden a "warmish day." Anyway, Scott would casually throw his leg over mine. I'd toss it back. He'd do it again, with a bit more force. I'd toss it back. He'd stick his tongue out at me. I'd look back and pretend to eat boogers. He'd pinch me. I'd slug him. And so on.

    The only thing that could end the fun was my dad, eyes still on the road, screaming obscenities while flailing his arm over the back of the seat, hoping to nail one of us, or both. While this occurred my mom would laugh behind her hand, but I still saw it.

    That's kind of like what election season is reminiscent of. Yeah.
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    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Review of The Art and Craft of Story by Victoria Mixon

    Longtime freelance fiction editor Victoria Mixon follows up her hilarious and enlightening The Art and Craft of Fiction with this “2nd Practitioner’s Manual.” In the first book, she covered the basics of storytelling; in this one, she digs deeper to show the bones beneath the flesh of any good story. Her warm, engaging, incorrigibly cheeky voice guides you past the surface level of the craft to understanding those seemingly mystical inner workings of structure.

    The first half of the book was easily my favorite section, surpassing even the treasure trove of advice offered in her first book. Sections on character and narrative arc, exercises in utilizing our pleasure reading to learn major plot points and structural efficiency (some of those exercises can be found in a guest post on my blog Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors), developing rounded characters who fuel the plot, and, especially, several delightful sections on the differences and similarities found within the broad scope of genre.

    The second half of the book focuses on that ever-important, but oft-overlooked subject of plot structure. Using examples from several novels and short stories, Mixon walks you through the major plot points of a successful story and further breaks them down, showing you how each beat needs to be structured. This section of the book might be heavy going for some, especially those not already familiar with the basics of structure, since Mixon throws a lot at her readers at once and it’s easy to lose track of where she’s at within the overall story framework. However, the section is worth reading and re-reading, since it’s chock full of solid structural advice.

    In short, this is a heavier book than the first one, but just as worthy of a place on the serious author’s shelf of writing craft books.
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    Monday, November 7, 2011


    I'll be the first to admit that although I'm not the most tech-savvy person around, one thing that's helped me get the word out about my books is social media. Everyone knows about Facebook and Twitter, of course, and even a couple hours a week making posts there will help let people know who you are. But one thing: don't make every post about your book; use most of what you put there to help folks know about you. Do this enough times, and they will naturally be receptive about what you've written. But constant bloviating about your latest tome will tend to make you come off like the old joke, "but that's enough about me; what do YOU think about me?"

    The sites I'm talking about in particular are ones you may not be familiar with, AbsoluteWrite dot com, and, for those of you writing for the Christian market, ChristianWriters dot com.

    The former is the largest online writing community if, in not the world, at least the United States. There are a lot of forums there devoted solely to craft, but there's also one strictly for posting info about your works. Free publicity: you gotta love it. These forums get thousands of visitors a week, and to me, becoming a member there is a given.

    The latter also has a sub-forum for posting your book news, with the added benefits of fellowship.

    Hope these help!
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    Friday, November 4, 2011

    FFF: I'm Guilty of This Myself

    So, hey, it's Friday already? WHERE DID THE WEEK GO?

    (Sorry, CAPSLOCK error.)  ;)

    This observation into how dependent we've grown on the internet for our knowledge from the always-observant Randall Munroe over at xkcd:

    See also Let me google that for you.

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