Saturday, January 29, 2011

Song of the week

I am continuously discovering (or rediscovering) my passion for music as I write. I thought I could share one song I find either particularly engaging or uplifting once a week, and fellow writer-friends could do the same!

This week, I'd like to share the cue "Promise", an instrumental piece composed by the talented Thomas Bergersen of Two Steps from Hell. It features prominent international classical music star and cellist Tina Guo.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Win your own hosting/domain package!

Yesterday I blogged about the best way to acquire our own domain and enhance your professional writer image.

As some of you may know, I am a full time student, but I also build websites and do photography work to earn a living. To do so efficiently, I must rent a dedicated server (see this post to know what that means). I use that server to host my client's websites (as well as my own). However, since it is nowhere near capacity, I thought I could host a contest to celebrate the new year and help fellow writer-friends as well.

Therefore, I declare that I will be hosting my first contest today! The prize?

FULL PLATINUM SUITE HOSTING PACKAGE
The domain of your choice (.com, .net) for a year
Professional dedicated hosting services for your e-mails and website for three years
Unlimited space and bandwidth to host your website, images, files
My personal support in setting up your blog and e-mail addresses, including your e-mail client configuration (Entourage, Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc.)
Access to webmail (ability to access your e-mails from anywhere in the world via a web browser)
Full control panel access (DirectAdmin)
FTP access

All of which is valued at 800$ (calculated at 20$/month dedicated hosting over three years, domain cost and support cost). If you already have a domain/blog, I will extend the domain subscription by a year and offer the same hosting package. I'll simply reconfigure your current blogger account and the rest will be the same.

And I have FIVE packages to draw!

To enter, simply make a comment in the post below. Extra entries awarded as follows:

Old blog follower: +3 entries
New blog follower: +1 entry
Old Twitter follower: +3 entries
New Twitter follower: +1 entry

You tweeted (or facebooked or spread the word SOMEHOW) about this contest: +3 entries
You participated in at least one #QueryChat session: +1 entry
You think Carrie Fisher is fabulous: +1 entry

Let me know how many extra entries you get in your comment. If you forget, you get only one! I fookin' hate contests that ask to paste links for proof and I sure as shit won't be checking if you really tweeted the contest or are following me. Just comment, let me know how many entries you got, and you're set!

I'll probably check the winners out though, but I'm not worried about this. Honesty for all!

Contest closed.

Winners will be drawn on February 1st 2011 and contacted thereafter to set you up!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

How to get your own professional web nest!

Each day, more and more writers turn to social media to enhance their writing career/hobby. Whether by connecting with other writer friends, awesome Twitter #QueryChat sessions (hi to yesterday's boys and girls, was awesome! *wave*) or to promote their novels, social networking AND THE ENTIRE INTERWEB has become an important part of a writer's writing journey.

One of the topic that is discussed recurrently across blogs and tweets is what a writer's e-mail/website/blog address should look like. This question was brought up during yesterday's #QueryChat session, probably for the umpteenth time.

Though I have yet heard an agent say a dedicated .com address is an absolute must, most say it can only help enhance your image and show you are serious about this writing business. Some might not even think about it because they think it is too expensive or too complicated to get.

I'm not here to debate the pros and cons of getting one. All you need to know is that it costs 10$/year to have your own domain. Having a blog is free. If you want to use that domain to make yourself some professional e-mail addresses (like firstname@firstnamelastname.com) you will need a hosting provider, which offer services starting at 1.50$/month for simple e-mail hosting, or 5$/month for hosting your entire website. There are cheaper alternatives, but in this case, I advise caution: especially in this business, you get what you pay for. Your e-mails will go through your host's servers, so unless they are reputable or trustworthy, I would think hard about entrusting my business mail to some Malaysian hosting provider. Just sayin'.

This post will address how to get your own .com interweb nest for:
-those wanting a blog with their own address
-those wanting a website with their own address
-those wanting an e-mail address with their own domain
-a combination or all of the above

Step 1. Buying the domain
Those in the business of selling domains are called registrars. Every single registrars in the World are regulated the ICANN, which stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

There are plenty of registrars to choose from. The popular ones are Name Cheap, Network Solutions, Moniker and Fabulous. All these have a proven track record. I've personally been doing business for over ten years with Name Cheap, but whatever rocks your boat is fine. GoDaddy isn't technically a registrar since their main business model is hosting, but they are ICANN-accredited and do offer domain registration as well.

If you are blogging already (probably through Blogger, which is the platform of choice for most writers these days. Have a look at an old blog entry where I cover the blogging services that are available) or plan to start blogging somewhere down the line, Google (which owns Blogger and about 90% of the rest of the virtual world) also offers domain registration for 10$/year. The major advantage is that if you open a Blogger account and you buy the domain through Blogger, all the configuration will be made automatically for you! Your blog will be automatically setup to use your new domain address.

In essence, the easiest, quickest, simplest and cheapest way to get your blog and domain setup all at the same time is this:
A) Head to www.blogger.com and open a new account. If you are already blogging, sign in to your account.
B) Head to Settings => Publishing and click on BUY ONE NOW as shown by the big, fat, red arrow
http://www.franciscossette.com/ownemail1.jpg


B) Choose the domain extension you want and which domain you'd like to have (I suggest you stick to .com or .net). Pressing on CHECK AVAILABILITY does not enter you in a purchasing contract. It's simply to check whether the domain is available. If not, it will give some (ridiculous) alternate suggestions. Hit the back button, start again until you find one you like.
http://www.franciscossette.com/ownemail2.jpg

C) Once you find the domain MeantForYou, the screen will look like this:
http://www.franciscossette.com/ownemail3.jpg

D) Fill out the form. I suggest you check Keep my registration information unlisted, a service also known as WHOISGUARD. By law, ICANN is required to make the registration information of every single domain available to the whole wide world. Anyone can head to whois.com (who is. Get it?) and get the full address and phone number of the person who registered said domain. Unless you are running a business and want to appear transparent to your future clients, there's no need to let the world know where you live. I too, enjoy my privacy even a little bit.
http://www.franciscossette.com/ownemail4.jpg

The process will take less than ten minutes from start to finish. You'll be able to pay via GoogleCheckout securely. Google will then make the necessary modifications so that your blog now becomes accessible via your new domain!

10$/year, that's it. In my opinion, a small cost to have your own professional address.

Step 2. You want an e-mail address as well?
One thing you have to understand when buying a domain is that you are buying a roadsign, not a house. You cannot think of a domain like you do the address of your house. A .com address is a billboard, an empty vessel that is meant to POINT to your house until you configure it to do so.

Your house, to use the same analogy, is your hosting provider. Somewhere in the world, a machine called a server is operating within a server farm (a room filled with many servers connected to a very fast internet connection) and your hosting provider will own that server. When you pay a hosting provider, you are paying to rent either a part of the server (called shared hosting), or the whole machine entirely (called dedicated hosting, which is a lot more expensive since providers like GoDaddy can have up to thousands of clients on a single machine). Shared hosting will do the job for 99% of you. A dedicated server is useful for small to big businesses or web developers (like me) that want total control over the hardware AND software.

Netfirms and GoDaddy are some of the most affordable and reputable hosting companies. Plus, their prices are hard to beat. Starting at about 5$/month, you get plenty of space and bandwidth to house your own website. This also allows you to create as many e-mail addresses as you may possibly need. You can then receive mail through a professional address such as firstname@firstnamelastname.com (mine is fc@franciscossette.com for example), which beats plzrepme@hotbabeinmaplesyrup99.com.

Since Blogger is ALREADY hosting your blog for free and you ALREADY paid 10$ for the domain (the roadsign), you might only need an e-mail address capabilities instead of the ability to host an entire website. Webserve offers E-mail hosting for 1.50$/month services internationally. Such a service will allow you to create e-mail addresses using your newly acquired domain at a cheaper cost if you don't need the website hosting.

Step 3. You want an e-mail address, a blog AND a website?
If you want to make your own website (or pay someone to do it for you) on top of having a blog, you'll need a complete hosting service. I mentioned Netfirms and GoDaddy above; they are good choices for the basic needs of a writer.

You should know that many writers use Blogger to serve as both their blog and their website. You can make a blog post for each of your site's sections (such as bio, contact, etc.) then create a simple menu with a direct link to these posts. It'll do the job if you're not interested in investing time and/or money into a more elaborated project.

The advantages of having a website AND a blog are:
✔ Ability to store files (such as backups of your manuscript) on a remote, secured location
✔ More space and features to share images, videos, and music
✔ Complete design control and ability to implement special features (such as forums)

If neither of these sound appealing to you, then you don't need to waste money on a hosting provider.


Step 4. Résumons ensemble

10$/year will grant you a customized, personalized domain name (synonym of www address) people can use to access your blog. Google (owner of Blogger) will host that blog for free.

If you'd like to use that domain as an e-mail address as well, you will need a hosting service provider. Webserve offers such a service for 1.50$/month (I am neither affiliated or working for them. I found them in my research while I was writing this post).

If you'd like e-mail capabilities as well as space to host a website, you will need full hosting services. Netfirms and GoDaddy are both excellent choices, and it starts at 5$/month for their basic package (which will suffice for 99% of you).

Here's a little table I made up for the more visually inclined folks out there.

http://www.franciscossette.com/ownemail5.jpg

So, for about 28$/year, you'll get a professional e-mail and blog address. For 42$ more (70$/year total) you can host blog, e-mail addresses AND a website. Which option you choose will depend entirely on your needs and where you are at in your writing career.

I hope you found this post helpful. Don't hesitate to ask questions in the comment section if anything is not clear.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In which I find out the Kobo sucks

Today is Thursday, also known as RANT DAY on the McGill campus (yes, I totally made that up).

It wasn't so long ago that I praised the Kobo. In retrospect, what I think I was praising was the e-reading technology itself rather than the device. It was new and exciting.

The feeling washed away, folks.

Though the battery life is adequate, I didn't know the e-ink technology it uses was slightly out of date (compared to the pearl ink used on Kindle3 and the Sony Reader). I became quickly annoyed when I tried to buy a book on the Wi-Fi, since the Kobo has no keyboard or touch screen. Like my old blackberry from 1999, you got to use the little control pad and select each letter one by one.

Strike 1.

Then I was looking to buy FIRE IN FICTION, Maass's (that's a lot of s) latest book about writing. Having loved WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, I thought it'd be an interesting read. I fire up the Kobo store: it's not there. WAT????66??666

Three books I tried to find were available on the Kindle store (at 9.99$) but not on the Kobo store. Then, I tried Googling it to see where else it might be sold in PDF or ePub. The cheapest place had it in PDF for 15.99$. WTH 15.99 when the Kindle has it for 9.99$? IT'S ABSURD! How can I try to go green if you won't let me buy my books the green way, Kobo?

Strike 2.

Last but not least, the books the Kobo DOES have are generally pricier than that of the Kindle or Sony store. A PDF is a PDF. It probably has the same amount of bytes, whether Amazon, Sony, Chapters or B&N sends it to me. A 1-2$ discrepancy is perfectly acceptable (the Sony store is generally more expensive by that amount), but not 6$. There is no shipping cost, warehouse renting costs to stock it, or delivery costs when it comes to eBooks. ISN'T THAT THE POINT? Why are some content providers trying to screw us so badly?

Strike 3. You're done.

I've put up my Kobo for sale and will be getting the Sony Reader Touch instead. Though the Kindle3 is much cheaper (by about 100$), I like the idea of using your finger to highlight passages and use the included stylus pen to make handwritten annotations. Should make editing my manuscript IN MY BED so much more fun and easier. It's only 3g heavier (if you can feel a 3g difference I salute your keen kinesthetic sense) than the Kobo and 1mm thicker, but it has a much better screen (touch + latest pearl e-king technology) as well as better battery life. The eBook selection appears very similar to the Kindle store, too (which, in Canada, has 200,000 less books than the US Kindle Store. Canucks get fooked again).

And since this is RANT DAY, I thought I'd mention something else about book prices (paperbacks) and piracy. Piracy appeared to be a big topic this week, and I read a very interesting piece about it here.

Just like for PC games, music and movies, I very much doubt piracy will kill the eBook industry, but there's also no doubt it will hurt some authors. My point herein lies on the price point distributors choose to set. This epiphany came to me while I was looking for a paperback edition of the CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE (which, I'm ashamed to say, I still don't own). I went to THREE libraries (all different chains) and found the CMOS at all three places between 65-68.50$. Being a diligent shopper, I fired up Safari on my iPhone and looked at the price on Amazon.ca for the EXACT same edition (16th). Amazon sells it for 42$ with free shipping.

ARE YOU BATSHIT CRAZY?

How is a 25$ price difference justified for the exact same book. Yeah, I'm sure these big retail stores need to pay for rent and the nice décor they showcase, but nice wooden bookcases with fluffy stuffed animals placed around the store for the "look at how cute our store is" emphasis ISN'T worth 25$. I wouldn't mind if this were a Mama & Papa store as I'm all for encouraging the indies, but Chapters isn't an indie. They're greedy bastards.

I'll be ordering my 16th edition from Amazon.ca (I really prefer a hard copy over a digital one for reference literature such as this). I must thank technology again for allowing me to see the light.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Being politically correct

I, like many others, watched the Golden Globes on Sunday. I found the Twitterverse to be particularly hilarious as the evening went on. There were the obligatory comments from the ladies dissing the heinous wardrobe of some and various discussions on the winners. What REALLY captivated me was what followed throughout the next few days about the host, Ricky Gervais.

I thought the opener was hilarious and ballsy, but many bloggers, newspapers and tabloids (though, I could care less about the waste of paper that the latter represent) dissed him for being inappropriate.

I think the sensitive souls who were expecting anything BUT exactly this live in another galaxy far far away, or lala land. Ricky Gervais is renowned for his crazy monologues that make Don Cherry look like the little boy from the prairies.

Here's the opening night, in HD, for you all to watch and judge. Chris Noth laughing in hilarity at the SITC2 poster joke was golden (terrible pun really intended).












It's true that Sheen is kind of crazy and that The Tourist was nowhere near good enough to warrant a nomination. Basically, he just said what everyone thinks in front of a gazillion people. If you're a Hollywood star who has benefited from years of stardom and the money that goes along with it, you'd be remiss to think people won't come at you if you do stupid shit. Sheen qualifies a hundred times over.

And yet, while I was reading about the scandal du jour, I couldn't help but think how some of the BEST books I've read lately were everything BUT PC. Just in the YA genre, Break and Looking for Alaska had the same "in your face" aura. I enjoyed them with a passion.

I much prefer protagonists who worry more about the truth than passing for a good boy or gal. Then again, I don't think it's surprising if you consider one of my all time favorite person to be Carrie Fisher. Her latest blog entry is totally worth a read.

Good job, Ricky! Enjoy the GG retirement :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Performances that inspire

I watch a lot of TV and movies, mostly on my PC while I work (be it photo editing or website design. While I write, I stick to music). I am not often impressed by someone's performance on screen to the point where I stop everything I am doing. Being mesmerized doesn't come easy to me, but once in a while, I'll see something that strikes a nerve. Rarely, a scene will steal me away completely. It's usually the result of a masterful concoction between great editing and superb scoring.

I experienced such an event a few days ago, while I was catching up on the sci-fi series "V", which airs on ABC on Tuesdays. I bought the first season on bluray, in anticipation of the series' return on the air two weeks ago.

The scene in question is at the very end of the season 1 finale, "Red Sky". For those unfamiliar with V, the show is about humankind's first contact with an alien race called the Visitors. In the beginning of the pilot, one of their mothership appears just above Central Park. The bottom of the ship suddenly transforms into a giant LED screen. A human face appears. Anna, the queen of the Visitors, urges the people of Earth not to panic and insists that her and her people come in peace, and that they are in need of help. As the show unfolds, we quickly realize Anna's intentions are all but peaceful.

It might help to know the Visitors are actually reptilian creatures that live in human skin so they can better blend in. Much like Vulcans, Visitors fear emotions and their ability to control our rationality. Their greatest fear is that their fleshy disguise might eventually infect them with the ability to sense emotions.

In the following clip, Anna, played by the delightful and beautiful Brazilian actress Morena Baccarin (Firefly, Stargate SG-1), learns that her hatched eggs were destroyed in a sabotage attempt. A queen may only hatch once in her lifetime, making these future children and soldiers very important. The performance Baccarin delivers is nothing short of shocking. You can see the anguish in her face, the hatred slowly erupting. You feel her pain. It culminates into a primal scream that is guaranteed to put goosebumps all over you.

Do enjoy the final clip, scored to perfection by Marco Beltrami.












That video alone has spawned three scenes in PRAXIA. I keep watching it from time to time. There's something about the performance and the music that is soothing. Have you guys ever watched a scene in a movie or a TV show that inspired you like that?

Friday, January 14, 2011

A new year with the Kobo!

First and foremost: I wish all my fellow writer friends and your family a happy new year 2011! May it be blessed with health, happiness and book deals :)

The step into 2011 proved to be very eventful for me: I finally got an eReader. My heart was set on the Kindle, but since Amazon didn't have the foresight to anticipate a holiday rush and stock the Kindle appropriately, it was sold out by mid-December and no longer sold in Canada. It just came back on the store some days ago, but it was too late: I really wanted an eReader before my trip to Banff (from which I just returned). So I went to my local Chapters/Indigo and got myself a Kobo!

So far? I LOVE IT! Already read four books on it, which is three more that I usually read in a month. I do miss the tactile sensation of paper and its smell, but the practical aspect and the light weight of the Kobo far outweigh the few cons. I was pleasantly surprise to find recent books and bestsellers to be as low as 0.99$ on the Kobo store. However, I came across a frustrating situation and felt like ranting about it.

While I was catching up on my blog reading, I noticed Donald Maass had a new book out, called "Fire in Fiction". Having loved WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, I set out for the Kobo store. Not there. I Google'd the book, and found many suspicious looking websites where I could buy it. While the Kindle version on Amazon is 9.99$, I found the same ebook for 15.39$ (http://www.diesel-ebooks.com/item/9781582975061/Maass-Donald/The-Fire-in-Fiction-Passion-Purpose-and-Techniques-to-Make-Your-Novel-Great/1.html) and as high as 17.99$ (http://www.ebooks.com/ebooks/book_display.asp?IID=474137).

The price of the paperback on Amazon with free shipping? 12.39$! Yup, tha's right... the paperback is cheaper than the electronic version of the same book on competing websites. What sort of bullshit is this? Who in his right mind would pay 18$ for a file that costs virtually nothing to produce or deliver? It's appalling, really. I don't understand this at all, and I'm starting to regret my purchase of the Kobo. I would have thought availability and price would be homogeneous by now, as each eReader try to compete in the ever growing market.

In other more positive news, I have began working on a new project. While queries for Trinity are still being sent, and even though one partial is still out, I had to face reality and consider that the first one might not be the right one. A recent blog post by Nathan Bransford covered the difficulty of letting go of your first novel. It's like your first true love. You think, "it cannot possibly go wrong. It has to work out."

I was unable to write something new. It felt like the fire (excuse the pun) was extinguished. It might have been premature grief, I don't know. What I do know is how my brain came back to life when it all clicked and I finally knew what to write about. PRAXIA, set in futuristic milky way, is a sci-fi thriller which I am very excited about. The writing has been flowing for the past three weeks (at 21K words right now. According to my 25 pages outline, I should end up at about 80K). I'll be doing things differently this time as far as the query process is concerned, but won't share details so early.

I hope 2011 brings you guys just as much inspiration!