Writing a book in seven weeks, part 1

22 September 2014 | No comments yet

book_rainbowOver the next seven weeks, I will be writing the book I mentioned earlier. Obviously that’s going to cut into my blog writing time, so I figured, why not write about the book? Tune in every Monday to hear about how it’s going.

This week, I want to tell you about the differences between writing a book for a publisher and publishing a book yourself, like I did with Otaku Journalism.

Negotiating the contract

When I wrote Otaku Journalism, I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I could change the scope of the book, or deliver more or fewer words, and name it anything I liked. The result was that I had to create it, fund it, and publicize it entirely by myself.

A book contract takes off some of the pressures of self publishing while adding new ones. It (usually) guarantees that you will be paid for your work, no matter how the book does. It provides some ground rules for the book subject matter and how long it should be. It outlines your responsibilities and the publisher’s responsibilities so you can work well together.

I am extremely gunshy about contracts right now. I contributed a chapter for a book in May, for which I signed a contract. I cannot say anything else, but you may have noticed I haven’t blogged at all about having a chapter in an upcoming book soon.

Contracts have a lot of legal jargon in them, so it’s best not to be the only one reading it. This time, I had my sister, who is a lawyer, and my friend, who is a law student, read it over. I also found a book agent over Twitter to review it. I also contacted Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, a local organization that provides legal assistance to artists and writers.

Ultimately, I’ve realized the best thing to do is get a literary agent. An agent can tell if a contract is typical or not, and you only pay them if you accept the deal—they take a cut of whatever the publisher is offering. I’m starting my search here.

Should you self-publish or not?

When I first started putting Otaku Journalism together, my first thought was to look for a publisher. If a publisher likes your book idea, they can pay you an advance, provide you with a good editor and illustrator, and help you publicize it or go on a book tour.

Well, that’s what I thought. Publishing isn’t the sunshine and rainbows industry it used to be. As print book sales go down, today’s publishers are more risk-averse. They would never accept a book with “otaku” in the title, much less something as niche as a journalism textbook (already fringe) aimed at a select set of geeks who are into writing. And if they did accept my book, they might suggest changes to make it less nerdy or obscure.

In the end, it came down to that question, posed to me by a traditionally published author: “Why do this as a traditional book? It’s for a very specific niche and it’s something you would know way better than any publisher would.” He had a point. And in the end, I had a great time self-publishing and it will continue to be my preferred method for any ideas I have myself.

I have never traditionally published a book, so I don’t know yet if there are hidden advantages I don’t know about. Certainly it’s helpful to have access to a printing press. I could only afford to publish Otaku Journalism digitally, but I’m pretty sure the book I’m writing now, full of glossy cosplay photoshoots, will only be in print form.

Is there anything you’d like to know about writing a book? I’ll do my best to answer as this series progresses over the next seven weeks.

Photo by Dawn Endico

Otaku Links: Hint hint

19 September 2014 | 2 comments

mom-ships-it

  • Bakumatsu Rock, one of the shows I am reviewing for ANN, ended this week. I was more disappointed by the ending than by the show overall. I also wrote about Nobunaga Concerto 9 and a very Australian episode of Free!
  • It’s only mid September, but if you want to join the Reverse Thieves’ sixth annual anime Secret Santa, now’s the time. All you need to participate is an open mind for overlooked or undervalued shows.
  • Remember when the History Channel tweeted the events of the Titanic in real time last April? Now some ambitious soul is live-tweeting the One Year War, a fictional conflict that makes up the basis of the Gundam franchise.
  • There are still two spots open on the ultimate fujoshi tour of Japan: the 11-day BL Teafighter Tour. It gets its name from Teahouse and Starfighter, two of the Web’s most artfully drawn BL comic series.
  • Finally, as the summer season winds down and you find yourself in between series, I highly recommend taking a break to check out some manga. I can’t put down My Wife Is Wagatsuma-san, which I love for its hyperbolic humor and sympathetic portrayal of losers as the heroes of their own lives.

Screenshot via Free! Eternal Summer.

Reporting on subculture with empathy and understanding

17 September 2014 | No comments yet

subculture_anthology

I like to think of the Small Press Expo as one enormous Artist’s Alley. For a weekend, the Marriott Bethesda’s largest ballroom is devoted independent artists and publishers from all over North America. In 2010, I wrote this blog post about it. In 2011 and 2012, I wrote about it for the Daily Dot. Last year, I just bought stuff. 

You have definitely heard of at least some of SPX’s exhibitors, but what I like best is to discover new cartoonists I’ve never heard of. Two years ago John and I first met Evan Dahm when I interviewed him; now we buy his latest graphic novel every year.

This year my favorite discovery wasn’t just one artist, but an entire collection of them. I bought SubCultures Comics Anthology after talking to its editor, Whit Taylor. Contributors shared 37 different stories about fan communities that edge on the bizarre, from Steampunks to cryptozoologists to Real Doll connoisseurs.

Each cartoonist had their own approach to the community they covered. The author of the Esperantists chapter methodically interviewed members. One cartoonist actually became a hostess at a Japanese bar to cover hostess culture, which I deeply appreciated having once become a maid to investigate maid cafes. There were many methods, but the most poignant chapters were the ones that portrayed the cartoonist’s empathy.

That’s why my least favorite chapter was the one that portrayed Juggalos, fans of the Insane Clown Posse, as lawless pre-criminals without speaking to any Juggalos themselves. Juggalos’ reputations precede them, but it gets really interesting when you talk to individuals about why they feel like outcasts everywhere but here. 

juggalos

My favorite was about Reborners, women who play with lifelike dolls. The chapter notes that while a prolonged adolescence is the accepted norm for men, “‘Play’ for adult women is still regarded as inappropriate and symptomatic of female pathology.” While outsiders find the realistic dolls creepy, community members embrace them to overcome stillbirth, infertility, or just as an escape from normal life.

I have frequently reiterated that Otaku Journalism is about empathizing with the community that is the subject of your reporting, instead of depicting it as a faceless Other. I strongly believe that being a member of a subculture personally can help reporters to reasonably depict similarly niche communities.

It’s natural to have an immediate visceral reaction to any subculture and assume it’s the weirdest thing ever. But covering it from that angle is the easy way out. I was at a Civil War reenactment some years back and I saw this in action:

“Have you noticed that the TV reporters here are only looking at the most beautiful and weirdest people they can find?” [the journalist] said. “I saw the Channel 7 guy interview the most gorgeous southern belle followed by the most scraggly bearded soldier.”

Empathic reporting doesn’t mean giving subcultures a free pass—GamerGate is a fresh example of why we can’t even let the fandoms we love off the hook. But it does mean giving members of the community a chance to tell their own stories before we write them off as just the latest weird thing to expose for the entertainment of mass media audiences.

Screenshot via American Juggalo

 

Otaku Links: Epic stuff

12 September 2014 | 1 comment

epic_stuff

  • In this beautiful short film, two Anime Expo attendees share why they cosplay.
  • It’s one thing to prevent kids from reading porn; it’s another thing for Canada to arrest a man for watching hentai on child porn charges. A decade ago, we had to convince people that not all anime is porn. Today, we need to convince people that not all anime porn (or even most of it) depicts minors.

Illustration via Ms. Marvel, found here

Lessons learned from professional anime reviewing

10 September 2014 | 9 comments

nobunaga

Today marks the third week of my professional anime reviewing career. As you might have noticed, I’ve been reviewing Free!, Bakumatsu Rock, and Nobunaga Concerto every Wednesday on Anime News Network.

I hinted earlier that I’d share some lessons learned when I had them, and boy have they hit me like a ton of bricks in the last few weeks. Let’s take a look:

Practice makes perfect

I mentioned in my introduction that I’m not very experienced at reviewing, but I didn’t honestly think that meant I wasn’t any good. I’ve been getting paid to write for the majority of my 20s, and I guess I’ve kind of gotten a big head about it.

But I had to work hard to get my reviewing up to snuff. Did you know I had to rewrite my initial Free! Eternal Summer review THREE TIMES before it was ready to be published? Nobody likes a writer with an ego, so instead of balking I listened carefully to Zac and Hope’s suggestions and I haven’t made the same mistake twice.

It’s hard to learn a new skill in front of a huge new audience that doesn’t know a thing about you and isn’t likely to have any sympathy. That’s professional writing in a nutshell though. I’ve written down all of Zac and Hope’s suggestions in an effort to swim rather than sink.

You can be opinionated AND fair

When you look at the shows I’m watching, perhaps you notice a bit of “one of these things is not like the other.” It was kind of a long story how I ended up with two manservice shows and  Nobunaga Concerto, the one show none of the other reviewers wanted to touch.

Nevertheless, I’m really happy to have gotten picked to review anime for ANN, so I gamefully picked it up and watched 6 episodes in a day. I don’t like it very much, but I’m working hard to explain exactly what my problems were, as well as give it the points it deserves for things like the power ballad ending song and beautiful backdrops. You might think I’m hate-watching if I give something a D; but that’s boring. Readers can tell when you’re nitpicking. But if you can back up a bad review with clear examples, that makes your opinion more reasonable.

However, Nobunaga Concerto has a small but loyal fanbase, and they made their disagreement very apparent in the comments. Which brings me to the third lesson:

Context is everything

I don’t know much about Nobunaga. Like, at all. I did some Wikipedia reading before starting the show. So to me, it looked like the show was just throwing random plotlines and characters at me with very little notice or development. Fans said I had it all wrong.

Well, I’ve done some research and they’re basically right. Nobunaga and his friends are so extremely well-known among Sengoku Era history buffs as to be personality tropes by now. If you’ve played Sengoku Basara, watched Nobunaga the Fool, etc. you need no introduction.

It’s like saying “I don’t get it, they should explain this better!” every time Gundam Build Fighters parodies the original Gundam material it is based on. The whole point is that they’re throwing in Easter Eggs for the diehard fans.

This is why Zac wanted us to choose our own shows; so we could pick anime we already had the necessarily context for reviewing. And that’s very likely what I’ll end up doing in the fall.

Of course I won’t be dropping Nobunaga in the meantime. But I’ve learned that nothing exists in a vacuum—entertainment is dependent on its source material. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear in the reviews that I’m putting up from now on.

Screenshot via Nobunaga Concerto

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