Jilly: RWA Retrospective

Have you made a major step change recently, in your writing, or your work, or any other part of your life, big or small?

Shortly after this post is published, I’ll be packing my bags ready to fly to Orlando for my fifth RWA National conference. I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m also expecting it to be my last, at least for a little while.

Partly it’s the expense. I think the conference itself is excellent value at $500 for three full days of quality workshops, keynotes, pitch sessions, awards and so on. Likewise, hotel costs of just over $100 per night for a shared room is reasonable. The problem is that when I add on a transatlantic airfare, plus an extra night or two for recovery time, plus meals, transfers and other incidentals, I’m looking at a fairly significant investment, and I feel as though I’m now at the point where I could make better use of that kind of money.

If you’d told me four years ago that by July 2017 I’d still be unpublished and unagented, I don’t think I’d have believed you. The biggest lesson I’ve learned Continue reading

Jilly: Dunbar’s Number for Writers and Readers

How many authors are on your mental auto-buy checklist? How many are on your keeper shelf? And how long have those authors been at the heart of your reading universe?

I’ve been noodling around with these questions for some time—a couple of years, probably—ever since I first read about Dunbar’s Number. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia describes it as a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Or, to put it crudely: there’s a limit to the number of people your brain has space for.

Dunbar’s Number has been around since the 1990s, but I came across it when I started writing fiction with an eye to publication and realized that meant I’d have to get to grips with social media. If you’d like to know more about the idea in the context of online relationships, click here for a Youtube link to anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s 15-minute Tedx talk: Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?

If you’d prefer the short version, it goes something like this: we humans maintain social relationships at various levels of intimacy, and the number of people we have the capacity to manage at each level is more or less predictable.

  • We have a very inner core of intimate friends and relations, people we would turn to in times of deep emotional stress. Typically there are about five of them.
  • We have a group of best friends, people we know well, confide in, trust, spend time with. That group would likely be about fifteen people, including the inner five.
  • The next closest layer, good friends, would be about fifty people (including the first fifteen);

Continue reading

Justine: Flexing Your Writing Muscles

manlifting-weightsIn many ways, writing is like working out. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the more stamina you have. On the flip side, when you stop working out, it’s a bitch to get back into it again.

One of my New Years Resolutions was to get moving for 30 minutes a day. Aside from not writing, I’ve also been neglecting myself, and I decided, after reading this stunning NY Times article about how much of your LIFE you can lose by being inactive, that I needed to Continue reading

Jilly: 2017 In A Word

PublishHappy New Year! Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy and fulfilling 2017 😀

If you had to choose one single word to epitomize your approach to the coming twelve months, what would it be?

A watchword is more flexible than a goal or a resolution. More like a theme, defined as an idea that recurs and pervades.

I last played this game in 2014, when I chose MORE (click here to read that post and the comments, where you’ll find some interesting choices). I already had a specific, measurable writing goal for the year—to finish my contemporary romance WIP—but I knew I was letting my inner editor hold me back. I kept under-cooking the conflict, emotion, action, tension, everything…so I chose an intangible, aspirational word to remind me to go for it.

This year I want my watchword to be a call to action, so Continue reading

Jilly: Observations of a Contest Judge

Observations of a Contest JudgeI finally finished my last round of contest judging for this year. Not before time 🙂

I try to give all entries two or three reads and offer honest, constructive, actionable feedback. It’s time-consuming but from a purely selfish perspective it’s worth the effort. I learn something valuable every time. Last year I read a couple of outstanding entries. I posted about that recently (Storyteller v Smooth Writer).

This year I’ve read a lot of competent writing, grammatically correct, properly punctuated, with interesting characters and an intriguing premise. I don’t think I’ve read a single story that would tempt me to keep reading by the end of the pages, let alone a book that I’d shell out money for.

Continue reading

Jilly: How Much Would You Pay For a Book?

Is there a maximum price you’re prepared to pay for a novel?

Is it different for an e-book or a dead tree version?

Would you pay the same for a newbie as you would for a much-loved auto-buy author?

Before the digital revolution I considered it perfectly normal to pay $7.99 or even $11.99 for a book, but I realized recently that I don’t feel that way any more.

I think there are a number of reasons: Continue reading

Justine: A Yahoo! Reminder…Backup Your Work, Encrypt, and Create a Good Password

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-8-26-06-am

A visualization of data breaches by year and number of records stolen. Image courtesy http://www.informationisbeautiful.net.

With all the recent hoopla about Yahoo! data breeches, DNC hacks, and password reset emails that give hackers access to your personal life, I thought it would be appropriate to remind everyone of a few basic digital safety precautions. Below is a repost (with some tweaking) I did a couple years ago. The information I presented then is just as important now, if not more so.

The three key things to remember are:

  • Variety (as in having more than one password — there’s a tip below on how to create one that’s different for every site, yet easy to remember)
  • Frequency (backup your data frequently, change your passwords regularly)
  • Redundancy (have more than one backup, preferably a cloud-based backup as well as something local)

Keep yourself — and your data — safe!

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Today’s post is admittedly not that inspiring…unless you don’t want to lose your work. Awhile back, I happened upon a post by Mat Honan about how his iPhone, iPad, and Macbook were completely erased, and his Twitter and Google accounts compromised. The hackers did it with a few digits of a credit card number that show up readily on Amazon. He lost EVERYTHING. All the pictures ever taken in his daughter’s life. Documents he saved no where else. In a word, it was catastrophic. You can read about his “epic hacking” here.

Then the other day, I had a terrible dream about my house and all of its contents going up in flames. In my dream, I said to myself, “Oh, it’s okay…I have a backup!” and then I realized that I’d been doing backups on a too-small external hard drive (I’d been putting off getting a larger one). That dream was the impetus I needed to buy a larger external hard drive, and reevaluate not only what I was backing up, but how. Continue reading