Open(ly) Ganking (the) License!

This is my first business post in 2023. Unexpectedly, it is also my gaming post for this month. (I told you two weeks ago I wasn’t sure when it was going to happen…). It’s not the way I planned it. It’s just how things went.

A lot has come out recently about WOTC/Hasbro’s new Open Gaming License (OGL) 1.1 (Subsequently changed to “2.0” in their ongoing attempts to survive the flack storm…). There’s been a lot of commentary about it, which I don’t need to re-cover. Instead, I’m reporting on how the change is affecting some of my projects, and some general thoughts about intellectual property.

I had announced that I was going to start a series of encounters based in my world but also useable with Dungeons and Dragons 5e. That project and a related one have kind of stalled out for a while. And, I’m actually glad!

I’m glad things stalled out because, with the change in OGL, Wotc/Hasbro could have effectively stolen my intellectual property. And, worse, made me pay for the use of my own IP…

I have no problem what so ever with a person or company protecting their ideas and creations. Actually, it’s something I agree with rather strongly.

If things had started out as a closed license, I would have no problems with the concept of a royalties clause. But that’s not what’s happening here. They’re trying to transfer an open license into a closed one. And trying to force a one-sided deal down our throats.

In effect, Wotc/Hasbro’s action has created a lie. And then made it worse. As I said, it’s not really an open license anymore. The royalties clause killed that. And, they way it’s set in the version of the “OGL” that I’ve seen, Wotc/Hasbro must think they’re real royalty. They state they can change the amount and “buy in” level of the royalties at any time of their choosing.

That makes it worse than most negotiated licenses because you don’t have a fixed agreement. You have one side dictating terms to another. It only gets worse when you notice they’ve inserted language that you, the individual, have to pay them royalties but they get to use your IP for free, and in perpetuity!

That’s not acceptable to me. And, it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone else. A “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine” mindset is pretty socially maladaptive. And, it’s the stance that Wotc/Hasbro are taking.

Is my stuff going away? No. In fact, I’m making it better. And freeing myself from some pretty sociopathic behavior on a major company’s part. I’m freeing things up and going my own way. It’s for the best.

Yes, dear reader, the road may be hard. But when someone, anyone, seeks to take away your choices, freedom, or property (even intellectual property) without your consent, there’s a problem. And, in the case of “OGL” 1.1, I’m cutting the problem loose and going my own way.

Intellectual property is a big topic. We’ll be visiting it again.

In the meantime, remember, your thoughts are your own (Just like everyone else’s). And, I’ll see you next post.

Know your biases

No, dear reader, this will not be a “men are evil”, “straights are evil”, “white people are evil,” “group x is evil”, or any other sort of rant post. Some people in those groups probably are problematic, but so are people of other groups.

I’m also not ranting against those positions (actually I’m not ranting at all…). It’s true that there are many people who take the “XYZ is evil” position that are afflicted with toxic levels of stupid. But, railing against them isn’t my point.

Today’s message is more general. It touches people on all sides of every issue: be aware of your own biases before you spout off (or any form of communication) and be aware of the biases of those you’re drawing information from (even if they’re on your side).

Fans of Star Wars know things can look one way, and be true (sort of…), from a certain point of view. Those same things can look, feel, and be very different from another point of view. Well, we all have our own interests and perspective. Unless we put forth effort to look at something from an alternate perspective, we’re always going to see things from our position. Without effort, we are always going to evaluate information from our personal “certain point of view”. And that, dear reader, is known as a bias. We’ve all got them.

If we were writing about fiction this week, I’d tell you that as a writer you need to understand the biases of your main characters (good and bad) and probably those of your other significant characters as well.

Since we’re talking about non-fiction, our job is easier. We don’t have fictional people with fictional biases to worry about. But we have our own. And our audiences’ biases. And the biases of any sources or researchers we’re drawing from. Not knowing what these biases are can lead to making wrong conclusions and (probably worse!) not connecting with our readers.

I’m not saying you have to find perfect, unbiased sources. I’m not saying you have to ignore your biases and embrace the other person’s position. But, if you want to connect with readers and understand what’s actually happening in situations, you need to understand the biases in play and why people can, and do, see things differently.

Once you know what and where the biases are, you can work past them and achieve your goals.

This isn’t the first post on biases ever. It won’t be the last. But, anyone, anywhere, who asks “why do I see things this way”; also asks “why does the other person see things differently”; and then honestly looks for an answer will progress farther and achieve more than those who wallow in their own opinions, even when those opinions are correct.

What are your biases, dear reader? What are the biases of the people you’re trying to reach? How can we get around those biases to make the good things happen?

Good luck with your answers. I’ll see you next post.

And so it begins…

It’s 2023 dear reader. It’s time for new things.

I’ve known the website needs work. I’ve pulled back large portions of it in order to better organize and improve it. I’ve also been thinking about the blog and ways to improve content here.

So, here’s what we’re doing this year. The website will come back section by section as improvements and developments occur. The blog will be more regular and predictable in terms of content (more regular… I’m not promising perfect scheduling, life happens). Here’s a general look at the way things will go:

  1. Fiction and game posts: usually occurring in the first week (this month it will happen later in the month (probably as a non-scheduled post) with some new information and fulfilling a promise I made last year). These posts will be about writing and creating stories and games (and sometimes will include fiction/game content).
  2. Non-fiction: usually occurring in the second week, these posts will focus on skills, techniques, and issues surrounding non-fiction work. There are a lot of genres and subgenres in non-fiction and all of them have their own interesting quirks. Some posts will focus on general information applicable across multiple genres, others will be more focused. What genres are you interested in? (Leave a comment)
  3. Tools: happening in the third week of the month, these posts will include software reviews and other tools that help us do the work. It’s all fair game, dear reader. If there’s a useful tool out there, I’m interested. So, feel free to suggest something.
  4. Business: Yes, writing has a worky icky side. It’s not “put words on paper and then profits”. Generally, in the fourth week of the month, I’ll be doing posts on the business side of writing: marketing, working with publishers and agents, working with contractors. These posts will focus on the team and dollars and cents side of writing (the stuff we usually don’t love but need to do if we’re going to succeed as writers).
  5. Non-standard posts: sometimes life happens. Holidays are a thing (whether we want them to be or not…). And a certain amount of “weird” will creep in from time to time. That means there will also be occasional unscheduled posts and shifts in the flow of things (for instance, today’s post isn’t about fiction or gaming, so that post will slip in later in the month (probably off the usual Friday schedule)).

I’m looking forward to the new (and better organized) way we do things around here. I’m looking forward to a year of getting good work done (I might even have time to write something along the way…). I’m also looking forward to hearing from you, dear reader, about your adventures and successes.

We all have our reasons for writing. We all have our own challenges. But, as doers of the work, we share a bond.

It’s a new year, dear reader. Let’s make it a good one. I’ll see you next post.

Merry Christmas

It’s that time of year again, dear reader. This weekend is Christmas weekend.

Christmas is more than an excuse for good food, gifts, and pretty lights. It is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is also a time to celebrate the concepts of Peach on Earth, forgiving each other, and getting along with those around us. We believe all of those are good ideas!

Next week is New Years. It’s the start of a new year and a time of new beginnings. We’ve got some exciting things planned, both old projects coming to fruition and new projects ready to begin.

Those of us here at Words Mean Stuff and Forever Mountain Publishing will be taking the next week or two of to be with family and celebrate. Hopefully, we’ll be able to help and lift the spirits of those around us as well.

Take care, dear reader. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We’ll be back in January. See you next post.

Show ‘em! (Part 2)

Last week I reposted a 2018 Words Mean Stuff post. This week I present an updated version with (hopefully) better writing and some things I’ve learned in the intervening years.

So, let’s get going:

As writers, we often face questions from non-writers. “Are you still writing books?” “Do you self-publish?” “What do you really do for a living?”. We also face people who don’t understand that what we do is actual work, and really takes time and effort. They may think we’re running on a “whenever” schedule, which isn’t true. (At least for most successful writers I’ve met it isn’t!)

We need to teach them a bit about who we are and what we do. We need to show them that what we do is real.

So… How do we show them?

Actually, there are a lot of things we can do. Especially if we start by being serious about what we do.

Perhaps the strongest proof we can show them is a copy of a printed, published book with our name on it. Something tangible that they can see and touch. But, that printed, published book is a long way down the road from where we start out and we may want to persuade people we’re serious before we get one finished. So, what else is there?

Well, we could show them a printed manuscript. Even if we’re still working on the first draft, a physical manuscript is a thing they can hold in their hands and see we’re doing real stuff, right? It is, but the fact we have a manuscript isn’t proof we’re real (professional) writers. I’m all for showing them a manuscript (not letting them read it if it isn’t ready, but I tend to have one or more lying around…), but there are more and better ways to show them we’re serious. For example:

  • Keep a schedule. If we make it clear that we’re working on writing during a specific window of time on a regular basis, and actually do writing stuff in that timeframe, it helps people believe we’re doing what we say we are. We’re showing them with our actions.
  • Create (and use) business and marketing plans. This is stuff we should do anyway, and it gives us something tangible that we can show people that demonstrates not only are we doing this, but we’re serious about doing this.
  • Do our marketing. Social media isn’t the only way to market. A website isn’t the only way to get the word out. But, using these and other channels to talk about and give evidence of what we’re doing gives us something we can point to which shows who we are and what we do.
  • Study and learn about what we do. Continuing education is a thing in many serious careers, and it should be in ours too. Actually, for us there are several areas of continuing education to pursue: writing and publishing knowledge, marketing knowledge, and content area knowledge, amongst others. As writers, we’re lucky. Our continuing education is fun stuff and serious stuff (or at least it can be…)

Doing any or all of these things will help those around us to “see it” and understand that what we do is serious, and can be an actual business if we let it. And there’s the biggest secret, dear reader, we have to let it. In other words, the first person we need to convince that we’re serious about what we do is us!

So… How do we convince ourselves?

Convincing ourselves is like convincing other people. We have to do the work. We have to do actual writing things and learn about actual writing things (not just typing or writing in a notebook…). So, all the things we’ve already talked about apply. But convincing ourselves takes more.

Convincing ourselves can be a struggle. I’ve never met a serious writer who didn’t get hung up at some point. The good news is that there are things we can do that help.

First, we need to understand, record, and revisit our why. We need to keep the reason we’re writing out in front of us. When we hit a stuck point, we can look back to our why and find motivation to push forward. When we’re questioning which way to go, our why helps us to choose the best path.

Second, we can and should track the small victories. Writing is a huge process. Succeeding in writing is even bigger. While we’re doing our planning and learning, take time to break your project into achievable steps and goals. Track those goals and enjoy the little successes. Every one moves us forward toward the big goal and helps us say “yes, this is real.” They also give us something to talk about that can help convince others.

We’re all individuals, and, ultimately, we have to find our own way. But the steps we’ve talked about go a long way in helping show ourselves and others that what we do is very real and worth doing.

Find your way in this writing life, dear reader. Share your successes. And, I’ll see you next post.

Show ‘em!

Back in 2018, I wrote a post over at Words Mean Stuff exploring how to help non-writers understand that writing is a real thing and an actual business. The need to help others understand what we do still exists. However, my understanding of how to do that (and my ability to write about it) has continued to evolve.

This week I’m reposting the 2018 post (Originally titled Make them believe… By doing) and next week I’ll present an updated version with (hopefully) better writing and some things I’ve learned in the intervening years.

So, here we go… The old post:

It happened again…

Someone asked me “are you still writing books?”

As expected, they were somewhat positive when I said yes and that I hoped to get my third one out the door by the end of the year.

And then came the second question…

And then someone asked “do you self-publish those?”

And then came the answer that makes them scrape their chins off the floor, “Yes, I am moving some stuff to another publisher, but I do own my own publishing company.”

For a lot of people being a writer, actually writing, is something that’s more theoretical than actual (and we’re not even to the publishing part yet). But, in the circles I run in some days, owning a business is a more concrete thing that many aspire to. Somehow, in the circles I run in, the owning my own publishing company part makes the being a writer part more real. Sometimes it even work s that way with people who have actually read one or more of my books!

They may not be thinking bad about you…

People can have trouble believing you and believing that you are going to do/achieve something. Sometimes that disbelief is because they don’t believe you, or don’t believe in you. Other times it is more of a “can’t conceive of anyone doing that” problem.

It can be disheartening when people don’t believe you.

It’s a fact.

And unfortunately it happens. But, fortunately there is an antidote that can help… You have to show them.

The ultimate showing them is of course actually doing, to actually achieve what you say you will. But, that can take time.

In the meantime it can help to have concrete evidence that you are on your way. As a writer one of the big ones is actually finishing a draft of a manuscript. If you plunk a binder with 200+ pages of your own words in it down on the table that says something.

Another concrete prof that can help a lot, in a lot of areas, is to have an actual developed plan. If you are setting up or acquiring a business a business plan serves to help you figure out what you are doing. It also gives you a concrete item to show people.

There is a reason bank people, investors, etc. ask for a business plan. Your plan says a whole lot about you. Just having one puts you ahead of the ‘just talking’ crowd; having a good one is real proof that you have the ability to do what you’re trying to do.

If all else fails… Do things that demonstrate you are doing what you say you will. You will persuade more people that you intend to lose weight by dieting and getting some exercise than you will by having a marathon console gaming session. If you want to persuade people you are going to college, a university parking pass on your car carries more weight than a ‘honk if you’re horny’ bumper sticker.

It won’t always be easy dear reader, but it is simple and it works: if you want people to believe you, and believe in you, give them a reason. It even works with yourself.

The most important believer is you!

It hurts wen people don’t believe in you. It is devastating when you don’t believe in yourself. Sometimes the things we are talking about, the visible, concrete proofs that you are doing, can help you get over the ‘hump’ and actually get things done.

The business plan, the manuscript, the parking pass… They all can help you see how far you have gotten. And, that business plan (or any other worthwhile plan) can help you figure out where to go next.

Sometimes it is good to have something tangible to remind you of the progress you’ve made and where you intend to go next. And having that tangible proof can help others believe too.

I am becoming who I need to be dear reader. And, you can do the same.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Now, go out there and make them believe… And, I’ll see you next post…

P.S. Just as a reminder next week I will be posting over at Forever Mountain Publishing.

Tune in next week for the updated material dear reader!

Giving thanks

Life’s busy, dear reader. We all have a lot going on. This week we at Forever Mountain Publishing are taking a little time to give thanks for all that we’ve been given and all that we’ve achieved in this past year (kinda what that thanksgiving thing is about…).

What are you thankful for? Think about that. Give thanks (if you want to). And, I’ll see you next post.

The “1 ½ Pass” Rides Again

Well, I finished the first draft… My next non-fiction book (the one I pitched at the conference 3 weeks ago) is a completed manuscript. Now comes the rest period where I set it aside and shift from writer mode to editor mode.

In the meantime, I’m doing some developmental editing on my other big project (well, one of my other big projects…)

What the story was

Back in the day, when the world was young, and I hadn’t published a book yet, I started a NANOWRIMO project, Johnson Farm. It was the story of a young man discovering family secrets and making hard life choices. I promised myself it was a one off. There wouldn’t be any sequels. I also sort of punted by deciding to self-publish instead of getting a publisher.

I worked hard. I got the book to the best point I could. And then, in short order, I published the “one off” book; realized I had a sequel; discovered some problems in the self-published first edition; realized a side story was needed to make the whole thing complete; and then started a plan to create the necessary related stories and publish them.

What the story (s) is (are)

Johnson Farm, the first edition, was published six years ago. The follow-on books (numbers two, three, and four of what I thought would be a six-book collection) have been written. But I can see a lot of work needs to be done.

I’ve learned a lot in the last six years. I’ve built my skills. Built my contacts. I found a better way of doing things. At last month’s conference, I concentrated a lot on developmental editing and had some bolt-from-the-blue realizations on what I needed to do to fix Johnson Farm. I also figured out some solutions for the parallel books. And all of that suggested how I should rework the last of the four existing books (after four, I realized I really need to get the written books right before starting the last two…)

So, I’m applying my realizations and my 1 ½ pass technique (developmental self-editing). To make some serious changes.

What the story will become

As a side effect of the conference, I discovered a publishing company that specializes in the kind of book I want to put out. It’s a much better option than self-publishing the next edition or some of the other publishers I’ve considered (I’m still self-publishing some stuff, but there are good reasons for that, and being afraid rejection isn’t a good reason…). So, I’m building a “standalone story with series potential” (that wording is important) and then the rest of a series that will be pitched to (and hopefully published with) a house specializing in my market.

Instead of one book with no sequels or six books, I’m looking at two stand-alone books and potential sequels. I’m taking an over grown and hurting project and turning it into a professional and perfected series of books.

What we do takes work and learning, dear reader. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I learn more with every project work on. Success is coming. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep working and looking. You can find it too.

Build your story. Build your dream. And, I’ll see you next post.

Book Review: It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences

I’ll admit it (actually I do regularly…), being a writer doesn’t mean I’m the best at spelling or punctuation.

Even when we know our subject well, there are things we may forget or overlook. So, having information sources we can refer to helps. It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences is one of those resources.

It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences by June Casagrande is a short humorous book about grammar. It reminds us about(or teaches us about) the grammar stuff we writers ought to know. It does one other thing too. It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences, is funny.

This isn’t a paid promotion, it’s just me sharing something I’ve found in my writing adventures. And it’s true, It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences, contains actual humor along with useful and thought-provoking information about perfecting our writing on the copy editing level.

It probably won’t help with the developmental editing part of the process, but it reminds us not to write about an “Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers” (that’s the actual title of chapter 9…). It helps us with the small-scale part of the writing that makes a big difference.

It’s a quick read by someone who really knows what she’s talking about. And it’s an area in which we writers need to know what we’re talking about. So, in my estimation it’s really worth the reading time and space of the shelf.

It’s worth checking out, dear reader. And, I encourage you to check it out. Your writing is worth the effort.

I’ll see you next post.

Facing what you create (Honest self-editing)

I may have confused a few people at the conference this year. About half the sessions I went to were editing sessions and not “writer” sessions. Actually, I didn’t hit any “writer” sessions this year except the keynotes.

Since I’m a writer, why would I skip the writing sessions? Because there’s more to writing than cranking out a draft. There’s more than world-building. The key to successful writing is the stuff you do with your ideas. Once you have a draft, once you build your world, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

First drafts aren’t perfect (they might not even be complete)

Successful first drafts are full of energy. They’re full of the joy of creation. Usually, they’re full of energy because they take a lot of work. And they may be full of the joy of creation because we’re glad we got the thing done…

Because a first draft is a lot of work, we rarely have the time, energy, and attention to do all the things needed for a finished work. In fact, it’s often best to put some of those things to bed and leave them for later. While writing a first draft, editing can be a creativity killer.

There will be things we miss. There will be things we thought we wrote that we didn’t; things we wrote then forgot about; and parts that just don’t work on the page (even if they worked in our heads).

That means after the first draft, we’ve got to go back and work on the things we’ve written. And, we need to do more than just running Grammarly or spell check.

It’s usually a good idea to let the work rest a bit before we comeback and edit. We need to be in a different frame of mind for editing. We have to take off our creator hat and put on our editor hat.

Editor hats are funny things (and sometimes hard for writers to wear). That’s because an editor hat isn’t just a writer hat. A good editor hat is a reader hat. That means we have to fight some of our natural tendencies as writers. We have to stop protecting our babies unfairly.

Yeah, that first draft is our baby. We don’t want to see it struggle. But we and our writing have a lot of work and growing to do before things come of age. That means we have to look at the flaws and the successes.

It means we have to honestly look for and at the stuff that doesn’t work and find a better way. We have to fill in the spots we missed and cut the excess. That’s not easy. We probably like the things we write.

You love them (but maybe you should keep them to yourself…)

In every good first draft, there are bits we’re particularly pleased with. The problem is, they may not belong in the finished piece. If we’ve done research (and we should) there may be interesting facts we found that just don’t need to be there. If we’ve created good backstories, we’ll probably know lots of things about our characters that just bog down the manuscript (but we created them so we want to use them!).

I’ve got good news. We don’t have to send it all off into the void. We don’t have to send that factoid, detail or turn of phrase off into non-existence. But we can’t leave it in the manuscript.

If you use Scrivener, create another folder. If you write in Word, create a secondary file for those little nuggets of goodness. If you’re really old school and use a typewriter or pen, create a scrapbook. Find a place to keep the beloved but unsuitable bits. They may not fit this project, but you can come back for them and do something with them later.

You can keep them, just don’t keep them in the manuscript if they don’t work.

Understand what you can’t do (it’s not a one-person job)

One of the big secrets, the ones we don’t like to talk about (even to ourselves sometimes) is that we can’t see all the problems, especially not in our own work. Some of us may be lucky to find 60% of the problems in our work. And that’s ok. We get the 60% handled, and then we call for backup.

Editors, both in-house and freelance, exist for a reason. There’s a purpose to writing groups and beta-readers. They help us see the stuff we can’t see (or don’t want to see) in our work. We shouldn’t confuse a beta-reader with an editor (it’s two different jobs) and we don’t have to take all their advice. But, as writers, we’re well served to have that second (or third or fourth) set of eyes looking over our stuff.

It’s about the final product. It’s about achieving what we want to do with our writing. If your end goal is to have words in a drawer, a first draft is good enough. But if you want something more, dear reader, then we have to dig in, do edits, and face what we create.

Edit bravely, dear reader. Edit well. And, I’ll see you next post.