Preserving Future Predictions

12 12 2009

SpringsWhat reading device will my great-grandchildren be using in a hundred years? Will they still read books — you know, the ink on paper kind? Maybe a Kindle 23.5? Probably not. Whatever it will be hasn’t been invented yet.

But what of the documents, books, letters, family histories — to say nothing of photos — that exist solely in digital form on zip drives, thumb drives, hard drives. servers and such? Will those survive? Who will “move them forward” to each new generation of storage and viewing devices? How many of you have manuscripts, journals, stories and important documents saved to 5.25, and 3.5 inch “floppies” or residing on old computers that won’t boot up any more?

Last week, the Clark County commissioners presented their chosen memorabilia to be placed in a time capsule to be unearthed 100 years from now in 2109 –- the county’s bicentennial. The collection includes newspaper clippings, photos, DVDs, and books. I was honored that two of our Stephens Press titles have thus been preserved as future relics: Education in the Neon Shadow: The First 50 Years of the Clark County School District and Springs in the Desert: A Kid’s History of Las Vegas.
I was pleased, too, that this preservation for future generations is in book form. When the time capsule is opened, they’ll be able to immediately turn the pages and read the text. Meanwhile, the DVDs that were included may leave historians a bit befuddled as they figure out how to view them — maybe the descendents still starring on the reality TV show Pawn Stars will have a working DVD player somewhere in a back room.

For our books, we won’t be concerned. If time has proven anything it is that words on paper have endured for thousands of years. Reporters at the time capsule event were told that today’s news stories regarding the capsule would be included. As such LVRJ reporter, Scott Wyland, sent in his article this humorous message to future readers: “If it’s 2019 and you’re reading this, kudos if Lake Mead hasn’t dried up, the Strip is powered by the earth’s magnetic waves and you’ve found a way to travel between here and LA in 20 minutes. And oh, this is what a newspaper used to look like.”

In 2005, when we published Springs in the Desert, we invited the children of Clark County to predict the future. I’ll leave you with a few optimistic and perhaps telling predictions. And to Chris, Mitch, MacKenzie, Gaby, Serretta, Matteo, Mai Lyn, Kristen, Alyssa, Daniel, James, Michael, Trevor, Karina, Anthony, Samatha, Kenyada, Jose, Tara, Jesse, James, and Cass — your words, too, have been preserved for the future.

“Famous scientists will make a collar that can fit any animal. The collar has a big knob on it that you can spin, and then the animal can speak human languages.” — Jesse

“There will be no business in the future. Scientists will come up with gadgets that can give you everything you want, so there will be no need to spend all your time at work getting paid so little.”

– MacKenzie

“Las Vegas will become the capital of the United States, since it will be the center of attention for the world. The President will even want to move the White House to Las Vegas.”

– Jose

“To save more space and to attract more tourists, there will be hotels that float in the sky. There will also be a few lower hotels for people who are afraid of heights.”

– Alyssa

“Everyone will have a robot that goes to school for them while you stay home. Then, when school is over, it transports everything it learned into your brain.”

– Daniel

Note: Springs in the Desert (and the accompanying activities guide) can be found at and Education in the Neon Shadow is at


How to Format a Book Manuscript

8 12 2009

They come at us in all shapes, sizes, colors, and even smells (we don’t much care for the cigarette and kitty scents).

They shouldn’t.

The publishing industry has standards for manuscript submissions, and if you follow them, you’ll look like a pro from first glance. Nothing screams amateur like incorrectly prepared manuscripts.

The Rules:

1. One inch margins all around (top, bottom, sides).

2. Twelve point Times New Roman or Courier.

3. Double spaced (using the paragraph toolbar to set — never hit <enter> twice to achieve double spacing).

4. Entire manuscript in one document with page numbers turned on. These page numbers are for organization of the manuscript and have no bearing on final page numbers in book.

5. ONE space after sentence periods. I know, I know, you were taught two in high school typing. Unlearn it. Or use search>replace to get rid of them when your manuscript is completed.

6. Insert a page break at the end of every chapter.

7. Indent paragraphs using one tab or your computer’s auto indent feature. NEVER indent using the space bar. Add two extra hard returns <enter> for text breaks.

8. Title page with word count on upper right. Title in center. Your contact information at botton.

9. No underlining. Anything. Ever.

10. Use italics when called for (publication titles, minimally for emphasis, first use of foreign word not in today’s lexicon — taco is not a foreign word in this context).

11. No hyphenation, no justification, no fiddling with leading or other typographic elements. Keep it simple!

12. Use two hyphens for em dashs. Never one, never three, only two. Our layout programs will convert two hyphens to a proper dash. Space on either side, please.

13. Chapter titles may be centered and bold at top of each new chapter page.

14. Include a table of contents for non-fiction. You don’t have to include the actual page numbers — we just want to see the book’s organization at a glance.

15. Dedication and acknowledgments aren’t needed until you have a publishing contract.

16. Most important of all? Do not try to make it look like a finished book. Resist all temptation to “show us” what you think it should look like and “do the work for us”.

All agents and publishers have submission guidelines on their websites. However, these simple rules will be what’s used by 95% of them. You can find ours

It’s Foreword, NOT Forward

22 11 2009

WebSpell it right!

The number of manuscripts I’ve seen — and even printed books — with this common misspelling is staggering.

Sometimes they’re long. Sometimes they’re short. But they’re always written by someone other than the author — preferably that someone is SOMEONE.

Someone well-known. Foreword writers can be an expert or authority in field that is the subject of the book or a celebrity who enjoys a relationship with the author or a passion for the book’s topic or purpose.

First Lady of Nevada, Dawn Gibbons, wrote a gracious foreword for 100 Years in the Nevada Governor’s Mansion. Siegfried and Roy were naturals to ask to pen a foreword for our book on the history of the legendary Stardust. Former governor Kenny Guinn was honored to write a foreword for civil rights activist Bob Bailey’s memoir and we tapped former Governor Mike Huckabee to write the foreword for Bayou Country about southeast Arkansas. Boxing champ George Foreman contributed the foreword for Fight Town. One of my personal favorites was visiting composer John Williams at his Los Angeles film studio bungalow to discuss his foreword for More Than a Parade, our pictorial history of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid provided the foreword for Silent Heroes of the Cold War. I would say that these and other luminaries have unfailingly been honored to be asked and very helpful and interested in the process.

Give some thought to who you know, or who you know who might know the person you wish to approach. If you have a noble cause or a subject close to their hearts, many famous folks will listen to your pitch to write a foreword. Don’t be shy — it can’t hurt to ask.

Once an agreement has been reached to provide a foreword, you should offer to send your manuscript for their review. At this point, you can gingerly feel out your SOMEONE as to their intention to write the foreword themselves, or if they prefer to have the author or editor write for their review and approval. Yes, that happens.

Can your SOMEONE be NO ONE? Sure. While your publisher is looking for any and all advantages to help sell your book — and the credibility or star power from a famous expert or celebrity may help — forewords can be written by anyone. A foreword’s purpose is to give the reader some perspective on the subject and/or the author before they delve into the text. Nor do all books require a foreword.

But if you have one, spell it right!

The Non-Case of the Stolen Manuscript

18 11 2009

“How do I protect my work?” is a question that comes up at every conference and the writers groups where I speak. Having one’s manuscript stolen seems to be a huge concern among new writers. Many would-be authors, upon having an editor or agent ask for a manuscript to be sent to them, go into spasms of anxiety that their 100,000 hard-won words will be swiped and sold to a publisher under someone else’s name.

Your work will not be stolen. Honest. When have you ever heard of a reported instance that this actually happened?

If you are submitting a wonderful manuscript, full of sales potential, editors and agents are going to want to make money by getting it published. Believe me, it would dreadfully complicate their business model to go to the trouble of stealing your work and pretending someone else wrote it, than to just publish your work in the first place.

If your book isn’t so wonderful, well, that’s a different problem than worrying someone will steal it.

You’ll want to submit to reputable publishing houses and literary agencies, of course. Even the disreputable ones are not likely to steal your work, but they may inudate you with offers for “self-publishing” packages or writing contests. Preditors and Editors is an excellent online resource to check up on the reputation of agents and publishers.

No matter how uniquely you’ve told your story, there are only so many truly original ideas in the world, and it IS possible that another author has written a similar story. This is a literary coincidence, not story-swiping.

The second question I’m asked is “Should I register the copyright?” and the answer is no. Registration provides no additional copyright protection. It does give you legal standing to sue for infringement, but this isn’t something you need to worry about at the submission stage. Someday, when you’ve got a publishing deal, your publisher will register the copyright for you.

In the United States, copyright is a form of legal protection granted to authors of ‘original works’ and this includes both published and unpublished works. Your copyright protection exists from the time you create it (unless you created it for an employer, which is called “work for hire”). A common misperception among authors is that they should register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office, or have it “published” in some form to protect it.

“No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright.” according to the US Copyright Office. Putting a copyright notice or the (c) symbol all over your manuscript, or proudly declaring it has been registered in your query letter, is the best way to announce your inexperience at the publishing game. It just looks amateurish. If it makes you feel reassured, go ahead and add “Copyright 2009 + your name” at the bottom of your work, but make it very subtle.

The United States Copyright Office has an excellent website for further information.

Writing What You Know

5 11 2009

What happens when a parent’s perfectly normal day turns into every parent’s worst nightmare?

For the Smith family, life was good. John, most known to R-J readers as Nevada’s best-read newspaper columnist, and wife Tricia, were the parents of a beautiful little girl, Amelia, then eight-years-old.

That perfect and perfectly normal life was shattered with the terrifying diagnosis of a brain tumor. Little Amelia was whisked to specialists in Phoenix on an medical flight for life-saving emergency surgery. Then the worst-day-in-their-life got worse yet with the news the tumor was cancerous. The next days, months, years were dizzying rounds of doctors and hospitals, chemotherapy and radiation, recoveries and replapses.

As the Smith family went through this terrible ordeal, John pondered the old adage — write what you know. Should he write about Amelia’s health crisis? In the ensuing five years, John did write about his brave and stalwart daughter as she endured the relentless pain and suffering that comes with modern medical treatments for cancer.

AMELIA’S LONG JOURNEY will debut at the Vegas Valley Book Festival. John will present the keynote address, “The Challenge of Writing What You Know” this Saturday at the Flamingo branch of the Clark County Library. John and Amelia will sign books together.

Amelia’s favorite childhood cancer charities will benefit from sales of the book. They include:

The book acknowldeges the crucial supportive role these charities provide to the families of children with cancer.

When: Saturday, November 7, 7:00 PM
Where: Clark County Library Theater, 1401 E. Flamingo


Vu Tran, RESTLESS CITY Author, Wins 2009 Whiting Award

3 11 2009

2009_tran_photoVu Tran, the seventh author in our Restless City serial novel, has won a 2009 Whiting Award. With the literary prestige comes a check for a cool $50,000. The Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation named ten recipients of the 2009 Whiting Writers’ Awards. The awards have been given annually since 1985 to writers of exceptional talent and promise in early career. The short stories of Vu Tran have appeared in such journals as the Harvard Review, Southern Review, Glimmer Train, and the Antioch Review and have been selected for inclusion in the 2007 O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Mystery Stories 2009, The Best of Fence: The First Nine Years, and Las Vegas Noir. Born in Viet Nam and a refugee at the age of five, he and his family were relocated to Oklahoma where he grew up and earned a BA and MA from the University of Tulsa. Mr. Tran also has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD as a Glenn Schaeffer Fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He writes often of Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans and of the immigration experience. Mr. Tran’s first novel is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. He currently teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and also works as a free-lance editor.

That Great Sucking Sound Inspires Poet

3 11 2009

Where do you find your best inspiration? That in-the-groove place where the ideas just flow and you’re on the creative high ground? Our Stephens Press book designer Sue Campbell may have the cleanest floors in the state of Colorado — as doing the mundane allows her to enter that altered state where thoughts flow and swirl and bump and collide into the new and wonderful. Check it out in the latest Shine journal.  Sue’s poetry has been published for two months running.