OMG! I’m a Hybrid Author

So…I have news!

I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:

Not the real cover.

Sex and the City: A Cultural History
This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:

  • Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
  • What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kind of men women are attracted to.
  • Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
  • How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
  • And a lot more!

I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.

Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History

Not the real cover.

This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.

Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).

Some of the topics include:

  • An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
  • The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
  • The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
  • Treatment of sex and diversity.
  • The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
  • And more!

This book will be out sometime in 2023/24. 

Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!

On Plagiarism

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

You may have heard that there are (at least) two major plagiarism scandals going around the publishing world lately. In case not, here’s a quick recap:

  1. An “author” by the name of Cristiane Serruya has been accused of lifting whole pages of text from romance novels by bestselling authors Courtney Milan, Bella Andre, and several others and passing them off as her own fiction. She even went so far as to enter the books in the RITA awards, which are the Oscars of romance. When called on her actions, she blamed a ghostwriter she hired on Fiverr, who conveniently had already closed his/her account. However, she then deleted all of her social media and website. As of this writing, some of her books have been removed from sale, but others are still available. UPDATE – Nora Roberts has some new information on her blog.
  2. Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, has been accused of plagiarizing passages from her book
    Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. She, however, is not denying it. She blames a mistake with the footnotes in a galley copy (an early review version of the book), which she has corrected in the final version.

To me, the most frightening of the two is clearly the second. I’ll get to why in a minute. The first one is stupidity, plain and simple. It’s not that hard to avoid plagiarizing fiction. (Hint: write your own stuff.) But let’s for a moment assume Ms. Serruya is innocent and the blame lies with the anonymous ghostwriter.

  1. Who hires a ghost writer on Fivver? If you are going to do it (and I personally think it a stupid and expensive move, especially for someone whose name alone doesn’t have the power to sell books), there are plenty of reputable agencies out there who can put you in touch with ghostwriters. Or ask around the writing community. Many authors either have or currently do ghostwrite.
  2. Even if she did, did she not quality-check the book? You would think, given that these are HUGE names in the romance industry, that she would have read at least a few of their books before “writing” her own and could recognize their style or turns of phrase. Or at least that her spidey sense would have told her something wasn’t right.
  3. If you are innocent, a proper reaction would be to apologize, remove the offending works from sale, and publicly admit the error (on your website, social media, newsletter list, etc.) and tell people how you are going to fix it and/or avoid in the future. That is crisis communications 101. A public letter of apology to the defrauded authors along with remuneration would be nice as well. What you do not do is turn tail and run by deleting your online presence. Even if you are scared and trying to avoid trolls, all it does is make you look guilty.
  4. No, just no. Write your own work, dammit!

But I highly doubt she is innocent. Her reactions, especially deleting her online presence, follow the pattern established by scammers long ago. Chances are good she will pop up under another name and do it all again. But she may not get away with it since one of the authors she victimized is Courtney Milan, a former lawyer who clerked for the Supreme Court. Because Ms. Serruya was an RWA member and entered the RITAs, they have payment information on file for her. Assuming she didn’t use a false identity there, this gives Ms. Milan the possibility of pursuing legal action. And I hope she does. Watch this space.

Non-fiction Holds Greater Risk
The second example is my own personal nightmare as a non-fiction writer and a worry that plagues me pretty often. Obviously, when you write non-fiction, truth and attribution are everything. But did you know that even Big Five publishing houses don’t employ fact-checkers for their non-fiction books? That both floored and scared the living daylights out of me when I found out through this Vox article:

“So how do publishers generally handle it if factual errors creep into a book? Basically, the same way they handle plagiarism: They make it the author’s problem…So the facts are all up to the author. And different authors handle that liability differently. Some might want to hire a freelance fact-checker, but that can get expensive: Vulture cites flat prices of between $5,000 and $25,000.” 

I have a terrible fear of accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work. And it’s easier to accidentally do than you might think. According to the University of Arizona,

“There are basically three kinds of plagiarism:

(1) Using another person’s exact words without including quotation marks *and* citation. If you use someone else’s exact words, then you must cite the original source (either in a footnote or in a citation in the text), and you must enclose the words in quotation marks or else set them off from the rest of the text by indenting them from the other text.

(2) Using another person’s words, but changing some of them, or rearranging them. This is plagiarism even if the source is cited.

(3) Summarizing or paraphrasing another person’s words without citation. If you use what someone else has written, but you describe it or summarize it in your own words, then you don’t need to enclose it in quotation marks, but you still must provide a citation to the original source, either in a footnote or directly in the text.

Note that it’s not enough to simply include a reference to the original source in your bibliography; “citation” of the original source means citing it where it appears in the text.”

(Note that I attributed this quote in the text and also used quotation marks, so it is clear this is not my own thought. The italics were an extra step I took to the same end.)

I tend to over-footnote my non-fiction works as a preventive measure. When I research, I am very careful to put quote marks around my notes if they are word-for-word quotations so I know that when I go back to actually write the book. And even if I restate an idea in my own words, I still footnote the source because it wasn’t my original idea.

Yet, mistakes still happen. It is very difficult to keep perfect track of footnotes when you are revising and moving things around. Editing changes can make an Ibid. (the footnote way of saying “same source as in the previous footnote”) no longer valid. I’ve learned not to put in any Ibids until I’m sure I’m on the final version or at least to the point where I won’t be moving anything. That way, the source and page number will always stay with the sentence.

I have to say, I sympathize with Ms. Abramson’s statement that she didn’t cite some sources (either in the text or footnotes) because she “was trying to write a seamless narrative, and to keep breaking it up with ‘according to’ qualifiers would have been extremely clunky.” (Source: Vox) We all want to write a gripping story and footnotes can be distracting for the reader, but they are necessary. In thinking about my experience in reading more non-fiction books than I can count for my research, I rarely notice the footnotes unless I read something I want to know more about and then drop my gaze down to read them or turn to the back of the chapter/book if they are end notes (which I personally think are a PITA for both the author and the reader, but I digress). And in most cases “according to” or some variation thereof instills a sense of trust in the author and her research when I hear/read it.

I’m sure there are more ways plagiarism can occur (besides deliberately) but these are the things that spring to mind for me. You would think that Ms. Abramson would know better given she was one of the most powerful journalists in the country and teaches other journalists, but she is only human. (Assuming, of course, that she didn’t do it on purpose. If she did, I am ashamed of her and she should be punished.)

What are the takeaways for writers? 1) Don’t plagiarize on purpose. (Duh!) 2) Be very, very careful with your notes when researching. 3) Take your time with your writing and triple check it. 4) Check over your footnotes one more time when you’re done editing 5) Pray.

I just hope it is a mistake I never make.

So, Does This Make Me a Bestseller?

This is kind of an off the wall way to promote a new book,  but no one ever said I was normal…

My first non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, was published earlier today, and within a few hours, it had some pretty awesome rankings on Amazon:

I was beyond floored to be in such esteemed company and thrilled to see those rankings. There was a major adrenaline rush, I won’t lie.

But I’m also a bit skeptical of  now calling myself a bestseller. I know some people would, but to me there’s a HUGE difference between making #1 in a niche category (which Arthurian Literary Criticism obviously is) and being on the overall bestseller list. I mean, 57,858 books were selling better than my book was at the time that screenshot was taken. If I was #1 in overall literary criticism, I’d at least consider it. But I’m not; I didn’t even get the orange bestseller flag (which I think is reserved for the bigger categories).

I don’t mean to demean this achievement, but I feel like a lot of authors are throwing around the term bestseller very loosely these days. I don’t want it to become meaningless. I mean, in one category you could (and people have done this with spoof books to prove the point) reach number 1 by selling like two books, whereas in another you have to sell tens of thousands. Where is the line? Is there one anymore? Does anyone care?

The last thing I want to do is be misrepresenting myself. I think readers have a pretty good nose for what is authentic achievement and what is PR. (I do PR as my day job, so I can say that.) As much as my over-inflated ego wants to add “bestselling” to “multi-award-winning author” in my bio, I think I’m going to wait for a more meaningful achievement.

Not that any of this is going to stop me from popping a glass of champagne tonight…and continuing to dream of making the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in the future.

What do you think? Do I have the right to use the term bestseller? Where is the line between using it and not for you?

About The Once and Future Queen

Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

Nicole Evelina has spent more than 15 years studying Arthurian legend. She is also a feminist known for her fictional portrayals of strong historical and legendary women, including Guinevere. Now, she combines these two passions to examine the effect of changing times and attitudes on the character of Guinevere in a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level.

In case you are inclined to buy:

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Have You Hugged Your Indexer Today?

This post is a day late because I was on a deadline to get final edits and the index of my non-fiction book, The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, back to my formatter.

Yep, I compiled my own index. For me it was a matter of money, as in I didn’t have any more to spend on this book so I couldn’t pay someone to do it. But I learned a lot, so I thought I’d share in case anyone else has to do their own someday.

  1. I will never look at an index the same way again. Previously I’d never really given much thought to where they come from. I just had some vague thought that probably the publisher and some software were involved. (See point 7 below for more on the role of the publisher.) And yes, there is some software you can use, but there are some things the human mind will always be best for. (See point 3 below for more.) There are professional indexers out there (a job a cannot imagine voluntarily having) but it is possible to do your own with some time and planning.
  2. Indexing is just as tedious as you would expect. It is boring, yes, but part of what makes it hard is the mental gymnastics that go with it. You have put away your author hat and think like a researcher. (Having a background in research or a lot of experience using non-fiction books is really helpful. As a historical fiction author, I have that, plus part of my senior year of college was dedicated to learning how to research for my thesis, so I’m lucky in that regard.) You need to be able to think of what people might be looking for when they pick up your book. That means making sure you include in your index not only the concepts that you as an author think are important, but also those anyone using your book as a resource might need.
  3. There are really two parts to compiling an index. 
    1. Keywords – This is the way I compiled my first few drafts. As mentioned in point 2, I went through and listed every major concept and person in the book, as well as the people whose sources I used. I’m not sure if that last one is standard practice, but I thought “what if someone wants to see all the pages Katherine Bonner was quoted on?” So I gave her an entry. This being my first index, I’d rather have too much in it than it not be useful.Then I went back and tried to imagine all the ways my book might be used in research, which yielded the concepts or themes I will discuss more below. Your keywords are the easier (but more tedious) part of compiling. To get the page numbers that go with them, you can use the search function in your final PDF. When you do this, be sure to include variations and synonyms of words to get the most robust list. (i.e. for Christianity, I also searched Christian, Church, religion, God, and Catholic – and would have included Christ and Jesus, if there had been any references.)
    2. Concepts – This requires reading the book with your mind set on the themes present as you read. Because I only had two days, I proofread at the same time, but I recommend doing two separate readings if you can. Think about the themes you see and how they might be classified in the index to make sense to your researcher reader.For example, when I was reading a section on the rights of women in the Middle Ages, I was noting the page numbers on these keywords: Middle Ages, medieval, women (sub-entry “rights of;” sub-entry “in the Middle Ages”), subservience, Catholic church (because they influenced women’s rights a lot during that period), law, etc.
  4. There are two types of indexes. Because why would you want to make it easy?
    1. Run-in – These are the ones where the sub-entries are in the same line as the main heading. I personally find these really hard to read. An example would be:Guinevere, 2, 17, 150; personality of, benevolent, 152, 255, 260; self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230; weak, 56, 98, 254; rescue of, 45, 65, 125; treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      This is the official choice of the Chicago Manual of Style.

    1. Hanging – This is when you indent your sub-entries and sub-sub-entries. Same example as above: (I have to use dashes to indicate indenting because WordPress strips them out)

      Guinevere, 2, 17, 150
      — personality of
      —– benevolent, 152, 255, 260
      —– self-centered, 2, 15, 24, 125, 230
      —– weak, 56, 98, 254
      — rescue of, 45, 65, 125
      — treason, 14, 78, 53, 65

      I think these are easier to use, so this what I went with.

  1. Pre-work is key. You can’t put the page numbers to the index until you have your final layout, but you can start compiling the list of terms in your index. I did this for about a week before I got my final layout, and it really saved me time, which was my goal since I knew I’d been in a time crunch. I’d also advise reading blog posts on indexing and pouring over your style manual’s rules on indexing beforehand.
  2. You will revise and revise and revise. You start out with one long list (from what I’ve read 10-14 pages is not uncommon), and then you whittle it down. I personally found I didn’t need nearly as many sub-entries as I originally expected. The only time I went three levels deep was in my entry for Guinevere, the main subject of the book. I also found myself adding new terms as I thought of them while I read and deleting those that didn’t end up having as much relevance as I expected. And of course, there are always the typos.
  3. There are a lot of little rules. Not all of which I followed, mainly due to time constraints. Examples:
    1. See and See also entries to cross reference entries have to be italicized but the entry itself does not. And they are preceded by a comma. (i.e. Morgaine, 78, 96, See also Morgan; Morganna)
    2. Only proper names are capitalized in the index. Which is weird because you usually capitalize all leading entries in a list, which is what an index is.
    3. You can list names multiple ways, (i.e. Arthur, King or King Arthur) and cross reference as in point A above, or you can list the page numbers in both entries.
    4. Sub-entries are usually only used if an entry has more than five or six page numbers behind it. This is where I ran out of time. There were a few entries like “Arthur, King” and “convent” that had a LOT of pages, but I didn’t have the time or wherewithall to break them out. Sorry, readers!
    5. Footnotes are indexed like this: 345n10 for page 345, footnote 10.
    6. There are two ways you can alphabetize. (Seriously!)
    7. They are different ways you can list page numbers. (Who knew?)
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style sells their indexing guidelines as a separate book. This is fabulous because it is the standard for most non-fiction books and the full manual is something like $75. I wouldn’t need the whole thing (unless I was becoming an editor) so this is a bargain.
  5. Indexes take a LONG time to produce. As I said, I had a deadline, but my index could easily have taken me two to three weeks to produce. Make sure you budget that time in your schedule. I didn’t because I didn’t know what to expect.
  6. Many publishers don’t include the index in the services they provide, so even if you are traditionally published, you might have to do your own or pay for someone to do it for you. At least that’s what my trad pubbed friends on Facebook said when I posted about never wanting to do this again.
  7. Some things are worth paying for. For books that are longer (this one is about 60,000 words) or more complex, there is no way I would ever consider doing it myself again. But at least I know I can if I have to.
  8. Part of me kind of enjoyed it. Some sick, Type A part of me revels in organization. That part of me took pride in making the index and knowing it is at least a good one, if not perfect, because no one knows the subject matter better than the author. I’m sure there are mistakes I made and things I still have to learn, but I’m happy with the outcome.

To me, taking care with an index isn’t so much a matter of doing it properly for the 0.0001% of the population who will notice, as it is a matter of making it as useful as possible to anyone who is using my book as research. I hope I did a good job!

Have you ever indexed a book? Would you consider doing it yourself?