Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Year in Review

Our First Year as Publishers
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
We’ve officially been publishing books for a full year now, our first book coming out in November 2018. We’ve learned a lot about publishing, a lot about books, and a lot about ourselves and we want to share that with you. 

Books, Books, and More Books!

First and foremost, we want to talk about our wonderful authors and their books. As a micropress, we only publish ten books a year, so we choose our books very carefully. 
What will it take, might you ask?’ve got to keep our attention for one. We read books all. the. time. So if you’ve kept us wanting more until the end—and even more after it’s over—then fair chances are, we’re going to ask to contract your book with our company. 
Our Authors
We’re not just saying this because they’re our authors, but our authors are the best. Especially the ones when we were just getting on our feet—they took a chance on a brand new publisher and learned right along with us how things happened. They all have a heart for books, and we feel like we’ve found kindred spirits in all of them. 
We want to brag a little on the very first author who took a chance on us: C. Bradley Owens.
C. Bradley Owens was born in the small coal mining town of Grundy, Virginia. After a stint in the suburbs of Chicago, C. Bradley’s family settled near the even smaller coal mining town of Haysi, Virginia, where he spent most of his childhood in the woods on the side of a mountain in the heart of the coalfields of Appalachia, dreaming of a larger, more complex world.
Through reading, he found a more complex world, and as an adult, he seeks to create such a world through his fiction. He writes for all of those children sitting alone in their rooms, whether in the woods or in the city, hoping, longing, wishing for just a glimpse of another world, another possibility.
He writes for the outsider in all of us, for the kids that desperately want to fit in but consistently find that they cannot for whatever reason, and he writes to let everyone know that, no matter what age or condition of birth, they are not alone on that mountainside or in that forest or in that apartment building or in that house in the suburbs.
Our Books
We specialize in escapist fiction, and our stories range from shorts to epics. At the moment, we have eight short stories—soon to be nine—and twelve novels published. And that’s just the start. We’ve been lucky enough to have our 2020 and 2021 calendar fill up quickly, and we’re working on our 2022 calendar as we speak. 
But before we take too long puffing ourselves up, we want to go back to Owens and talk a little about his book, The First Story:
Matt lives to write stories. And those stories might be the only thing keeping his best friend alive after school bullies brutally attack him for being gay. At the side of John’s hospital bed, Matt weaves together tales in the hopes of waking him from his coma before it’s too late...
Storytelling itself comes to life in the world of Creativity. When unexpected changes cause chaos there, personified character archetypes known as Aspects must find the source before everything they know is lost. They suspect that someone has stolen the most powerful thing in all of Creativity: the First Story. But who is powerful enough to wield it?
Follow the Aspects as they journey through an ever-changing series of folktales, ghost-stories, tragedies, comedies, classic fantasy, and modern science fiction to piece the clues together. If the Aspects cannot trust in reality—or even their own memories—can they work together to find the thief and restore their world?

What we’ve learned about publishing

Guys. Publishing is hard. We’ll be straight with you—it’s very hard and all time-consuming. There isn’t a single day where we don’t think about what more we can be doing for our authors and how can we be better for them, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day. 
We know the query process is hard for authors—we’re authors ourselves, and it’s nerve-racking waiting to see if an agent or a publisher will accept or reject your manuscript. But what you might not know is that it’s hard on the agents and the publishers too. There are a couple of reasons, one of which you might not expect: the abuse from authors who get rejected. You can get yelled at in emails saying you don’t know what you’re talking about, and don’t you know their work has been lauded elsewhere? You can be called anything from stupid to unprofessional and cruel and be blasted on social media for sympathy likes when you tell authors what you found in their work you thought was an issue. On the other side of that coin, there are authors who will genuinely thank you for taking the time to even bother critiquing their work.
The second, and even harder part, is having to reject books that are good. As a micro-press, we have very limited space for what we can publish per year, and that means sometimes having to reject books that are good. 
Editing and Proofreading
This takes a lot longer than you might think. The whole publishing process takes a lot longer than you might think, honestly. To get a thorough job done, you’ll need at least two passes in both editing and proofreading by your respective editors, and even then, you’ll still need a continuity reader because after reading a book so many times, the editors can become blind to some of the issues. 
Getting Reviews
You would think that this is an easy thing to get; our authors are amazing, and they write good quality work. Getting reviews should be a breeze, right? Wrong. It takes a lot of work, getting reviews, finding good ARC readers, and getting enough to trigger those good ol’ Amazon algorithms to get your book viewed more. 

What we’ve learned about ourselves

Starting and running this company has been a life-changing experience for all of us. I, personally, have learned a lot more compassion...and tact. Tact was the hardest and most useful thing for me to learn. But we’ve learned to appreciate the art we’ve dedicated our time and money to, even with all the unexpected roadblocks. 
No matter how long the hours get, and sometimes overwhelm us, we would never quit, because we get to help our authors achieve their dreams, and it’s such an honor and privilege to do it. 

We’ll be taking a break from next week’s blog post for Thanksgiving, but join us in two weeks for an interview with A4A author, B. B. Morgan, on her upcoming book Hard as Stone

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ask an Expert: Dance, Acting, and Musical Theatre in Writing

So you want to write about a dancer? A singer? Here are some common pitfalls to think about.
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Since joining Scribophile as a new writer, I’ve really found a niche sharing my experience with dance and theatre to help people with their WIPs. There are a couple of mistakes I see a LOT of people make—and with the best intentions in the world!
Before I go into this, let me give you a little bit of background on me, and what qualifies me to talk about performing arts. 
  • I've been dancing since I was three, and teaching dance since I was in my teens.
  • I studied musical theater (including acting, dancing, and singing) in NYC.
  • I've directed and choreographed full-length stage productions for children, adults, and mixed-age casts.
So here are a couple of the questions I get asked most frequently, and the errors I commonly see.

What is _____ step? What step is in this picture/video/animation?

Please consult with a dancer for the names of steps. There are some great diagrams on Pinterest, and lots of online resources...but there are also a lot of things you may not think to ask or consider.
Ballet, for example, has several different “schools” or methods:
  • Vaganova
  • French
  • Cecchetti
  • Balanchine
  • Royal Academy
  • Bournonville
They are from different regions, such as Russia (Vaganova), Great Britain (Royal Academy), and depending on your character’s location, different methods are taught. And to make it even more confusing, the position of your arms and the names of steps changes from school to school. 
So if you have a British character taking ballet classes in London, she will have slightly different positioning and terminology than an American ballerina. 
With how prolific dance schools and styles are, you often have students (in America at least) who study with multiple teachers who teach in these different methods AT THE SAME TIME. So each studio tends to get its own slang of shortening step names, marking steps, and everything else. 
So it’s usually not just as simple as looking at a picture (but I’ll do what I can). It’s also not always “right” in the dictionary since we rarely are that technical in class, especially in multi-discipline studios. 

How long does it take to learn to dance?

It depends. Learning a few steps doesn’t take long. I’ve taught people who weren’t dancers how to perform a tap dance with simple steps in a couple of months. However, to teach them to execute those same steps flawlessly could take a year or more, depending on the student. 
It also depends on the genre of dance. There are a lot of FANTASTIC self-taught hip-hop or breakdancers, Some of them have a natural talent and can learn common moves relatively quickly, dancing at a professional level in the space of a year or so. Some people take longer. With ballet, on the other hand, it is SO SPECIFIC that it can take years to learn to execute even the simplest steps well. 
What this means for your writing is that if a character is a dancer, they (more than likely) have studied for many years, beginning sometime in their youth. If they haven’t had this much study, they really won’t be proficient, and if they think they are, likely the character is wrong. You can probably see how to use this for comedic effect. If you don’t believe me, look for events where local dance schools perform, and compare the more serious schools with the recreational ones. Or peek in at a class at a camp or gym or other recreational venues, and compare that to what you’ve seen professionals do. 
Don’t believe me? Gene Kelly actually recorded himself tapping three times for Singin’ in the Rain rather than try to teach others the steps and hope they executed them well. 

Theatre is just like what I see in the movies...right?

Um, no. 
Okay, not ALWAYS.
Professional theatre is actually just that: professional. 
There is an expectation of punctuality and Cinderella stories like Sutton Foster taking over the lead of Thoroughly Modern Millie are the exception, not the norm.
If you are asked to learn a track, you are expected to know it. We all help each other out, but I went on as the understudy once without any rehearsal. Yep, you read that right. And that is NORMAL. And no, it wasn’t the panicked “Oh my God, I have to do it? I haven’t practiced!” you see in the movies. It was planned, as the show ran for a very long three months, and I just had to do my best. 
When you see a live performance, oftentimes there is that little slip of paper telling you that such and so will play this part today.
No drama expected. 
There are actually really strict rules meant to help with any cattiness or unprofessionalism, such as rules against giving corrections or notes to other actors, expectations of learning materials, and other things. It’s hard work, not something that anyone can do. 

What is auditioning like?

It is hell.
You walk into the building. Depending on the building, your waiting area may be an empty dance studio, or in the case of Actor’s Equity, a hall where the only bathroom is in the member’s lounge and no, your sorry ingenue booty is not allowed in there. You sign in and give your headshot, then find a place to wait. If it’s a dance call, you’re stretching and warming up as best you can in your tiny one foot of floor space. If it’s a singing call there’s usually chairs and you pull out some knitting so your nerves go into your hands and not your voice. 
You then sit in this room and look at all the people who are just as good if not better than you: just as talented, pretty, whatever. 
And you usually sit there judging yourself and finding yourself wanting for at least a half-hour. 
If you can make it through that, the actual audition isn’t so bad. 

But anyone can act. Why would someone take acting classes?

Sure, anyone can act. But not anyone can act well. Just like how some people can’t lie well, when you get down to it, acting is telling a very convincing lie. 
There are actors that are naturally talented and don’t take classes and are successful. And yes, there are even actors like Joey on Friends who manage to be successful without really knowing acting. 
But let’s take a closer look at that. 
Acting for film is VERY different than acting for stage. You can have someone be wildly successful at one and terrible at the other. Because they are different mediums, a very different skill set is required for each. 
With our ultra high-definition film nowadays, looking good on camera is more important than ever. You cannot hide even a single wrinkle (well you can with copious amounts of make-up and perfect lighting, but when they’re casting they’re trying to avoid dealing with that). It also means that most film actors actually under act. They hold back, because they don’t want to overact and have the scene come across as melodramatic instead of genuine. 
Stage actors, on the other hand, have to project out to large audiences. Yes, there are microphones, but as with all technology, those have issues. You can’t blindly trust them, and if your mic goes out, you can’t stop the show. You have to overact at times, especially compared to film acting, so that your emotions, tone, and body language read to every audience member. 
The best actors, the ones who could do both (Robin Williams, Jesse LL Martin, Jerry Orbach, John Lithgow) are almost always classically trained (Williams went to Juliard, Lithgow went to the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Orbach went to the Actor’s Studio), which means they study lots of different areas of the craft, including method acting.

Singing isn’t THAT hard…

Actually, yes it is. Believe it or not, singing is mostly technique, and talent only accounts for a small portion of it. 
There’s a reason that serious singers take excellent care of their voices, from drinking tea to avoiding certain foods and on and on. 

You didn’t answer my question!

Ask it in the comments! I will drop by and make sure to answer any questions. 

Renee Frey is the pen name of Renae Donald, who appeared in professional productions in NYC, Philadelphia, Ocean City, and Wilmington. She’s been teaching dance for over 12 years, choreographing for just as long, and teaching theatre for 10 years. With her married name, she’s choreographed The Little Mermaid and Music Man for a community theatre in Philadelphia.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ask an Expert: Hair

Insight into the common mistakes and misconceptions about hair and hairdressers in fiction
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Welcome to our Ask an Expert series! Despite our research, we as writers can get a lot of real-life details wrong. People who are experienced in their field will spot them instantly—and are likely tired of seeing them. Here’s our chance as writers to get direct advice to avoid these pitfalls. Today’s expert is licensed cosmetologist B. C. Marine.

Beauty Professionals

A lot of misconceptions start with the profession itself, so let’s start there.
Is a hairdresser really an expert?
Yes! Despite the public perception of beauty professionals as unskilled customer service workers on par with waitstaff, these are not jobs that someone can walk in off the street and get. These are absolutely skilled trades, and while most of these professionals do not have four-year degrees, they are not uneducated. Nail technicians, estheticians, barbers, and cosmetologists all require hundreds to thousands of hours of school to apply for a license. It’s not unusual to see about half the students in a beauty school class drop out before the end of the program. The license application process involves both written and practical exams, and in my state, so many people fail them that it’s considered impressive to pass both on the first try.
In addition to the obvious technical skills, beauty professionals learn necessary elements of physiology, chemistry, anatomy, pathology, and business. A large percentage of them are actually small business owners or self-employed, renting a booth or room from a larger salon or setting up mini shops. If you listen to two hairdressers talking shop, you might be surprised to hear them casually talk about parietal ridges or the occipital bone. Though there are some truly ditzy people out there, many more downplay their knowledge so as not to intimidate their guests. I can tell you from experience that customers often don’t take well to finding out their hairdresser is actually intelligent or well educated.
Nobody on the job is new.
This might be a bit obvious with my talk about training before, but beauty professionals go through apprenticeship during school. They perform real services on real people, so by the time they are in a salon, there are no basics they haven’t done before. They will experiment with variations on certain things—a new perm wrapping technique or a new pattern for applying color—but they’ve done all the services. Even in school, they’ll try everything on mannequins first before they’re allowed to graduate to working on real people.
We all have battle scars.
You’ve likely noticed that most beauty professionals are relatively young. This isn’t because they kick you out if you’re too old to follow trends. It’s because the jobs are tough on the body. These occupations are more hazardous than most people realize: carpal tunnel, contact dermatitis, back problems, and foot problems all commonly develop on the job and can be career-ending. The toxic fumes used in some products can also lead to asthma, cancer, and dementia, and the popularity of Brazilian blowouts has led to many hairdressers getting levels of formaldehyde poisoning normally seen in morticians.
If you’re writing a character who has been a beauty professional for a while, they’re bound to have some kind of work-related injury or condition. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of what and when. Cosmetologists and barbers especially all have scars on their hands. We have all burned ourselves on hot irons and cut ourselves with shears and straight razors. Part of training is learning to hold tools pointed away from the clients, which often means pointing them at ourselves. Constant shampooing can make the skin on our hands crack. We get hair splinters and inhale and ingest hair—it permeates everything and burrows into our clothing and skin. And we casually handle all of this because our colleagues are doing the same.

Cosmetic Processes and Services

With the prevalence of home hair color and scissors in everyone’s homes, it might seem easy to have your characters change their looks as the plot needs it, but as any pro can tell you, there are plenty of ways that can go wrong.

Haircuts: Don’t try this at home!

We’ve all seen the style-savvy character grab a random pair of scissors on a whim and give themselves or a friend a makeover with a perfectly chic new haircut. That’s not how it plays out in real life. Technically, you can cut hair using anything with a sharp edge, but the scissors from your kitchen or office will not produce as precise a haircut as a pair of sharpened hair shears will, no matter who is wielding them. Add in someone without training, and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If it’s just a straight line on hair that isn’t too thick or a plain buzzcut, an amateur with a steady hand and good eye might pull it off. Otherwise, things go south quickly.
I will never forget a particular incident that happened while I was in school. A local library wanted to hold an event for hair donations, but nobody there bothered to connect with any salons and beauty schools. They held the event anyway, and when people showed up, a couple librarians grabbed some scissors from their office and decided it wouldn’t be that hard to cut off some ponytails. Several poor patrons came to my school to have their bizarre haircuts fixed. Even with instructors helping and occasionally stepping in, some of them were too messed up to completely even out.
Sorry, Haley Mills, but there is no way you gave yourself that pixie cut in The Parent Trap.
Hair coloring is not magic.
I won’t go into full details of how it works because you don’t have all day to read this, there is a limit to what it can do and how many times it can be used. It’s a form of dye, not paint. What’s the difference? Paint covers something with a new color. The old color might show through if the paint isn’t thick enough, but with enough coats, you can replace the color of anything that way. Hair color does not work that way. Have you ever drawn on colored paper with a marker or highlighter? You’ve probably noticed that the resulting color is always a mix and never lighter than the paper you started with. And if you have, say, black construction paper, the markers won’t show up at all.
Hair works much the same way.  With virgin hair—hair that’s never been colored—regular color with the right developer can lighten a few shades, but if you try to do too much, it can damage the hair or turn bright orange or yellow. On hair that’s been colored before, it will not remove the old color but will mix with it instead. The darker the color, the more limited the outcomes are. The only way to remove previous color is with lightener first, and even that only gets you a few extra shades at a time. If you’ve ever heard of double-processed blond, that is the first step of the double process. The hair must be lightened first, and then a toner or dye is applied to get the right tint.
If the old color is a bright red or dark brown, it can take multiple sessions with lightener to get to blond without frying the hair. There is no way that someone on the run is going to accomplish it with a box of color from the grocery store. As for fashion colors—ones that don’t occur in nature, such as green or blue—most of them stain the hair and cannot be removed until they fade and grow out. If a character needs to get blend in suddenly, you can have them go deep red if they started with pink or orange; otherwise, dark brown is really the only dye that will work, and it will have an undertone of whatever they started with.
Timing is everything.
Most chemical processes weaken hair by design. Whether it’s color, lighteners, perms, or relaxers, they accomplish permanent change by breaking down a part of the hair and reforming it. Unless your goal is to have a character’s hair melt—and that can be a compelling plot point—they can only do so many of these processes back to back or at all. Image a strand of hair as a Jenga tower. When you pull out a block and place it on top, that’s a perm or dye. If you do it too many times or too quickly, it will collapse on you.
This is why spy shows usually opt for wigs. If a character needs to change their look every few days, they can’t do that to their real hair. It generally takes at least two weeks in between processes, and you can only do a handful of times in total over the same piece of hair. However, due to the extreme breakage involved with perms and relaxers, they can never both be done on the same hair until one has fully grown out.
We’ve only just begun…
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can affect hair! I’ve really only scratched the surface today. If you’d like more in-depth examples or answers, let us know on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow my #BeautyWritingTips on Twitter on Tuesdays.
Are you both a writer and an expert in a field yourself? Contact us, and you might get to be featured in a future An an Expert blog post!

Join us next week for another Ask an Expert with Renee Frey on dancing and theater.

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