Five Free Graphics Tools for Book Bloggers

graphics

1. UNSPLASH

Unsplash provides free high-quality photographs–for any type of use.  You can edit the photos however you want and add them to your own blog graphics.  They add new photos every ten days, so it’s likely you’ll find what you’re looking for.

2. PIXLR

Pixlr Express will give you quick access to a plethora of photo editing tools.  You can crop, rotate, and resize, but also add text, stickers, or overlays. The site isn’t perfect, but when combined with other free tools, it can be pretty powerful. They also frequently add limited edition overlays and effects, which is fun to check out.

Pixlr

3. PICMONKEY

PicMonkey has become a staple website for many bloggers.  Use it to make collages or edit photos.  You can also add text, effects, and stickers.  However, you can’t save work, so if you want to make sure your graphics are consistent, take detailed notes on what font colors, sizes, etc. you used for your graphics.

picmonkey

4. CANVA

Canva is a graphic design site.  Use it to make headers, social media images, blog title graphics, infographics and more. There’s some free clipart on the site, and you can choose to pay for access to more.  However, the site often works best when you upload your own photos. However, it doesn’t really have photo editing tools, so make any desired changes on Pixlr or PicMonkey first.  One of the best features of the site, however, is that it saves designs, so if you realize you made a graphic with a typo, you can just log back in and edit it.

Canva

5. ColorZilla

ColorZilla is a free Chrome/Firefox extension that will allow you to use an eyedropper to copy the HTML hex codes of colors you find on the web.  Use it to make sure your graphics all match your theme, or use it pick up color from book covers.  It will also analyze the color scheme of a webpage for you or help you generate CSS gradients.

CSS Colors

 

 

 

Are Classics Really “Timeless?”

Discussion Post Stars
Ask someone what a “classic” book is and probably they’ll tell you something about how it “stood the test of time”–presumably because of its “universal values.”   But it’s somewhat disingenuous to suggest that books survive based solely on their merit.  Their are obstacles at every step of a book’s life–and not clearing them all does not mean a book is bad.  Similarly, clearing them does not mean a book deserves a classic label.

Publishing the Book

For a book to become a classic, it first has to move from manuscript form to book form.  Consider that:

  • You must first submit your manuscript to an agent.  A college intern will probably weed through submissions before an agent ever sees it.  The intern, like all people, has subjective taste that will determine whether your manuscript gets passed on.
  • Once the intern passes your manuscript to the agent, he or she will have to determine its value.  Not just its literary value, but its market value.  Perhaps the time for vampire romances has passed or they’ve just pitched five mermaid books and want something else.  Your manuscript may not pass because of factors beyond your control.
  • If your manuscript survives, the agent will pitch it to an editor.  Editors work for a long time with a book.  They’re going to (probably) choose a book they like–so your fate is up to their personal tastes.  Or they may publish your book even though they hate it because they know that your werewolf romance is going to sell big despite their conviction that it’s terrible.
  • Maybe the editor loves your book, but the company only has resources to publish so many books a year.  They may have to pass.

At any stage, a manuscript can be rejected or accepted for what may seem like arbitrary or unfair reasons.  A manuscript may even be rejected simply because the author failed to follow directions or otherwise seems difficult to work with.  Literary talent often has nothing to do with one’s successes or failures.

Marketing the Book

For a book to survive to be a classic, it also needs some staying power.  It’s difficult to be inserted in the canon when no one has heard of your book!  Consider:

  • The marketing department only has so many resources.  Authors may have to do a lot of marketing themselves.
  • Authors who work another job or are not being supported financially by someone else may be unable to market as effectively as they would like.  They may not have the time or resources.
  • A book that manages to get a review in a major publication has advantages other books don’t.
  • Your book may get reviews or marketing based on how influential your friends are. (I have no examples of this offhand, but it’s just a fact of life that your work is promoted better when you have a good network.)

A book may never have wide appeal because not enough people heard of it.  A great book may fall into obscurity while a sub-par book rockets to the top of the bestseller list.

Teaching the Book

A book often needs to be heard of and presumably taught to be part of the canon.  Instructors choose books for various reasons, not necessarily the ones you think.

  • The instructor was taught the book in school so they each it to their students.
  • A book is short.  Someone once suggested to me that Ethan Frome is not Edith Wharton’s best work, but it is easy to squeeze onto a syllabus.
  • Someone told the instructors a book is part of the canon.  Harold Bloom lists Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Emily Dickinson as part of the Western canon.  Guess which women writers you’re most likely to read in college.
  • The book illustrates some feature the instructor finds worthy of discussing, such as the polysemy in Shakespeare or the complexities of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  But tastes change. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Shakespeare’s language wasn’t worshipped the way it is now; adaptions for the stage, where the scenes were shortened and the language simplified, abounded.  They did not appreciate complexity in Shakespeare.  Books come and go in the canon as different periods appreciate different  featues.  Shakespeare managed to last.  Other authors were not so lucky.

Conclusion

Canon formation often comes down to economic factors, power structures, and personal taste.  We revere the canon as the best the Western world has to offer, but we also know that it has traditionally ignored female writers and writers of color.  It’s not because only white men write really great books–it’s because historically white male writers have had more resources,  have wielded more power, and have written the types of books that critics and instructors have deemed worthwhile. But just because someone writes a different kind of book, that doesn’t mean she’s not writing a great  one.  A book that perhaps should be given the chance to become a classic, too.

Krysta 64

 

 

Nancy Drew PC Game Review: Shadow at the Water’s Edge

Nancy Drew

Summary

Nancy, Bess, and George are in Japan–Nancy to teach English and her friends to attend a technology convention.  The ryokan Nancy is staying at, however, seems to be haunted by an aggrieved ghost.  Can Nancy solve they mystery in time to keep the ryokan open?

Review

Though I love playing Her Interactive’s Nancy Drew PC games, the quality of each varies, making each new adventure somewhat of a surprise: you might find yourself playing in a complex, interactive world like that of The Secret of Shadow Ranch, or you might feel trapped by the limited locations of games such as Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon or Alibi in Ashes.  Fortunately, Shadow at the Water’s Edge combines many of the best elements of previous offerings to create a game with just the right mixture of complexity, mystery, and fun.

Immediately I’ll note that I enjoyed this game so much largely as a result of its plethora of mini games.  Players can spend hours solving Sudoku puzzles or nonograms, assembling bento boxes (a logic puzzle), playing pachinko in the arcade, and creating avatars to send to Nancy’s friends and to save on her phone as contact pictures.  The mystery itself follows the trend in later games–Nancy captures the villain in the act, instead of having to confront different characters and accuse them of the crime (hopefully correctly, if you don’t want it to be game over)–so these mini games are really what allows players to tap into their logic skills.

Other interactive elements include Nancy learning about origami, tea ceremonies, and calligraphy, but these are one-time deals; once Nancy leaves the origami lesson, there’s really now way to go back.  And these elements are too obviously supposed to be educational opportunities to be as much fun as the puzzles–after all, as a player, you’re not really doing origami.  Clicking on the correct dotted lines won’t help anyone create something in real life.

The puzzles Nancy is required to solve to advance the mystery hit just the right spot between too simple and too challenging.  Often I find I need to look up a hint to solve a complex puzzles, but in Shadow at the Water’s Edge I generally felt I could solve the mini games given enough time (I took three or four days to solve one, but I got through it).  I don’t like feeling exasperated when playing something meant to be fun, so this was a relief.

They mystery itself is a little dull.  That is, there are only four suspects and players can rule out two immediately.  The game does not focus on figuring out who is behind the ryokan hauntings, but instead just advances along as new clues fall into Nancy’s way–a broken mirror, some footprints, a key card to access locked rooms.  Fortunately Nancy has enough locations to explore–Yumi’s bento booth, Yumi’s apartment, the arcade, and the ryokan (with access to various rooms and the garden) to keep things interesting.

I do wish Her Interactive would focus on making the mysteries a little more…mysterious. I miss the days when the player had to figure out who committed the crime, instead of being told or instead of it being just so obvious.  On the other hand, the focus on interactivity in regards to the puzzles and mini games is also a positive step.  If more of the later games are like Shadow at the Water’s Edge, I’ll keep on playing.

4 starsKrysta 64

If You Like Chocolate, Then Read…

f You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

If You Like (60)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Poor Charlie Bucket never dreamed he would see the inside of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but when he finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar, his life takes a dramatic change.

The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

Emmeline Thistle is shunned by her village, not only because of her curled foot but also because of her special connection with chows.  Then she discovers she can turn milk into chocolate–and suddenly everyone is after her magic.

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan

After receiving an injury at her job at a chocolate factory, Anna finds herself in the hospital learning French from an old friend.  Then she receives the opportunity of a lifetime–an offer to work in Paris with master chocolatier Thierry Girard.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders

With the help of a talking cat and an elephant ghost, twins Lily and Oz fight the villains after their family’s magic chocolate shop.

THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH BY PATRICK CATLIN

In this retelling of the King Midas tale, a boy is cursed with having everything he touches turn to chocolate!

Have You Plagiarized Another Blogger?

Plagiarism stars

What is plagiarism?

Generally speaking, we all know what plagiarism is.  The OED provides the following definition:

The action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft.

In academia, plagiarism can take various forms from getting a friend to write all or portions of an essay, copying and pasting passages from the Internet without citing the source, or even sprinkling sentences or phrases from an uncited source throughout the paper and pretending you wrote them. You can also self-plagiarize if you turn in the same paper for more than one class.

Plagiarism in the Book Blogosphere

In the book blogosphere, however, people have different definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and often these definitions are stricter than they might be in academia.  For example, in her post about “inspiration” vs. “copying,” Paper Fury suggests that:

  1. If you write a discussion post on a topic someone else wrote about and you forget to acknowledge them, you may have plagiarized.
  2. If you respond to another blogger’s post without giving them a credit, you may  have plagiarized.
  3. If a Tweet inspires an idea, you may have plagiarized.

I think these categories are too vague and broad to necessarily constitute plagiarism.  Consider:

  1. You write a post about how to gain followers or how often to comment or how to create a blog layout.  Everyone addresses topics like these.  Whom did you plagiarize if all the ideas in the post are yours?  Yes, it’s nice to leave a link back to other posts (if you’ve even read any) about commenting that got you thinking, but I don’t think you’re required to.
  2. Someone wrote about hating Twilight.  You think that’s unfair so you write a post in which you gush about your love for Twilight.  If you aren’t responding directly to the points made in the original post, but simply talking about how much you love a book, you have not plagiarized the other person’s work. You can leave a friendly link back if you want, but, again, you’re not required to.
  3. You see a Tweet about someone eating cake and reading a book and you begin a feature where you pair cakes and books.  The author of the Tweet really has nothing to do with your idea.   You may have seen a picture of a cake next to a book online.  Should you credit the photographer for your idea?  What if your Mom said she likes to eat cake and read?  Is your Mom the original creator of the cakes and books meme?  If the person wrote a Tweet talking about a new feature they are going to start about cakes and books, then you have plagiarized.  Otherwise, you may have to make a judgment call about how much they inspired you.  If in doubt, link back.

Of course, there is a line you can cross where you might read someone’s post and then basically paraphrase it in your “own” discussion post.  Or where you might write a response clearly directed at another article, then not cite the article.  These cases are not acceptable behavior.  However, the fact that you wrote a discussion post about a topic other people discussed earlier does not automatically make you a plagiarist.

Other Instances of potential plagiarism

Memes and features are a touchy subject for book bloggers.  Someone who makes a popular meme does not want someone else starting the same meme with a different name and taking away their followers.  However, sometimes bloggers have similar features and it’s not a case of plagiarism.  Consider:

  • In 2011, we started a feature called “If You Like, Then Read” where we recommend books based on other books you like.  Other bloggers may also recommend books in various features.  The idea of recommending books is not one that one blogger can claim as “their” idea.  (But if you copied our recommendation lists and claimed you wrote them, then you are plagiarizing.)
  • In 2012, we began featuring personality quizzes on our blog, beginning with our L.M. Montgomery character quiz.  Since then, other blogs have also begun featuring personality quizzes.  This is not plagiarism.  Personality quizzes are a type of post that exists, like book reviews exist, and cannot be said to one person’s intellectual property, as a broad category.  (Of course, if you take our questions and claim they are yours, then you are plagiarizing.)

But other ideas may be more original or more specific.  For instance:

  • In Aug. 2015, we hosted a Wizarding School Adventure where participants could go shopping, get Sorted, attend classes, and select a wizarding career.  If another book blogger hosted a Wizarding Adventure, they would be be copying our idea.
  • Some memes are very specific, like Top Ten Tuesday.  Someone who started a meme where bloggers wrote ten book suggestions based on a question would be copying.

Final Thoughts

The line between plagiarizing and not plagiarizing can be difficult to discern.  And some bloggers feel more proprietary about their material than others.  You may think that their meme is general enough for you to do your own version, but they may not feel the same way.  So, if in doubt, ask the blogger or link back!

Krysta 64

Bad Day for Ballet by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew

bad day for balletInformation

Goodreads: Bad Day for Ballet
Series: The Nancy Drew Notebooks #4
Source: Purchased
Published: January 1, 1995

Official Summary

Nancy and her friends are practicing for the big ballet recital. They’re so excited–and nervous, too. Especially Bess. She loves her beautiful mermaid costume, but she can’t seem to learn the steps. And now the girls may not get to perform at all!

The tape with the special music is missing, and almost everyone blames Bess. Nancy has just two days to find the tape, help her friend, and save the ballet!

Review

Bad Day for Ballet is definitely a book for young readers. At a quick 75 pages, it has a simple plot and jumps into the thick of the mystery, immediately introducing several characters with motivations to cancel the ballet recital. While the writing is heavy-handed for an older audience, the book would be a great introduction for younger readers to learn the conventions of mystery and how to spot the suspects.

Despite the assumption the readers will be very young, the book does oddly assume a prior knowledge of Nancy Drew. This series definitely isn’t The Baby-Sitters Club; there’s no long intro about who each character is or overviews of mysteries that have been solved before. There’s some minor situating for the reader, as the author notes that George and Bess are cousins and Nancy’s best friends and that Hannah is Nancy’s housekeeper, but overall the book seems to think the readers will have all this knowledge down. I’m not sure why, since the readers of this series likely will not have progressed to the reading level of the original Nancy Drew books, but maybe Book 1 in this series did all the introductions?

The book also might not have aged well for young readers. It was originally published in 1995, which means that a mystery about a missing cassette tape of original music was probably a real disaster at the time. Today’s young readers might have difficultly imagining a world where music wasn’t backed up with all kinds of digital copies, so parents might have to provide some background information for this story to work.

Bad Day for Ballet is a cute read, but I think its pros are pretty evenly balanced by the cons. Older readers who like and are familiar with Nancy Drew won’t find the story particularly compelling, while very young readers might not know enough about Nancy to care and may be confused by the very ’90s mystery. A Nancy Drew series for young readers isn’t a bad idea, but I would like to see it done a little better.

3 stars Briana

Can Crowdfunding a Trip To BEA Work?

Discussion Post Stars

Long Story Short

For those who do not hang out on Twitter, the short version of today’s drama is that one blogger set up a GoFundMe account to fund admission to BEA, as well as food and transportation. Other bloggers thought this was a bad idea. The differences of opinion got ugly.

Personally, I don’t follow and had not heard of the blogger in question until today; I have no opinion on them. However, I think this debate raises interesting questions about the blogosphere and how book bloggers expect this all to work. Can crowdfunding for BEA or any blog-related expense be a viable option for bloggers, or is this a huge faux pas?

Possible Deterrents

Societal Expectations

The bloggers who think asking for money for a luxury trip is tacky have tradition on their side. (I know some will argue that attending BEA can count as business, but I’ll go out on a limb and say most of us are running amateur hobby blogs, and even if we’re super-serious about it, we don’t need to be at BEA. It’s a luxury.)  Our society generally frowns on people asking money for things that seem unnecessary.  For instance, professional etiquette experts are still torn on whether couples who have been co-habitating for five years and therefore own all essential household goods can in good conscience ask wedding guests to buy them luxury items like ski equipment in lieu of a toaster.  Our society balks at things that can come across as greed (whether or not greed is actually involved).

Bitter Jealousy

The other problem is that many bloggers are, possibly, jealous. However, that’s not necessarily a wrong or bad emotional reaction.  How one channels the emotion is more important.  For bloggers who have made the decision not to attend BEA because they cannot afford it, or who have gone out of their way to get a second job and save up so they could attend, watching someone else get the money with apparently “no effort” can be frustrating.  It’s tempting to ask why that person “deserves” to go more than you.  Were they blogging longer?  Do they have more followers?  Are they more influential in the blogosphere?  Are they a better blogger than you?  If you think the answers to these questions are no, the sense of unfairness can add up fast.

However, it’s worth recognizing that we don’t know how most people fund their BEA trips.  Did they work three jobs? Win the lottery?  Get a check from a rich uncle?  The rabbit hole of speculation and judging who got to BEA “legitimately” is unhelpful.  So there are two options here: continue saving up and getting to BEA the way you feel most comfortable, or trying out this newfangled crowdfunding thing, too.

Why Might Crowdfunding actually work?

Different Expectations

It turns out that societal expectations are changing.  People set up GoFundMe accounts for all kinds of things: college tuition, European vacations, spring break trips.  The person asking to go to BEA didn’t invent asking for funds; this blogger is joining a growing trend that indicates some people think  this isn’t tacky at all.  The fact that a reasonable number of people have chosen to donate shows that a significant number of people think GoFundMe accounts are actually great idea.

And why not?

People have been advocating for “random acts of kindness” for a while now.  However, consider this: you can make your RAK buying someone coffee at Starbucks in the morning, a nice but transitory act, or you can spot them $10 and maybe get them to a a life-changing trip to Paris.  You may think it’s uncomfortable that the person is asking to be sent to Paris, while the person at Starbucks wasn’t expecting you to pay for their coffee, but it doesn’t mean they won’t have a great time in France once they get there.

Ways to Make Crowdfunding Work for You

The bottom line is that crowdfunding can work.  This blogger is getting to BEA. Somewhere out there some college kid is spending Spring Break in Mexico.  It’s possible you can make it work for you, too, if you decide to go this route.

Make Your Appeal Personal

If you want people to donate to you, tell them why their donation would make a difference.  Tell them why they should donate to you over anyone else who wants exactly what you do, and make sure you outline the direct benefits that you will get when you achieve your goal.  Saying, “I want to go to Italy for the summer for the cultural experience” is generic.  Everyone wants to go to Italy for the cultural experience.  So why should it be you?  Do you have close family ties there?  Will going to Italy allow you to get firsthand experience to write a novel you’re working on?  What’s the payoff beyond “I’m going to have fun there?”

Exhibit Your GRATITUDE

Secondly, remember that people are being kind to you.  No one has to contribute to your crowdfunding page.  Make sure you acknowledge this in your request for donations; be humble.  And when people begin donating, be grateful.  Show them they’ve invested their money in a good place, that you’re going to use it well and get a great experience out of what they’ve paid for.

But What If I Still Think Crowdfunding Blog Expenses Is Dumb?

You’re not alone. You will probably never be alone in this opinion.  I admit I have never personally donated to a GoFundMe, Kickstarter, etc.  However, I just don’t donate and then move on.  In these cases, money often speaks louder than works.  If people think the cause is worthwhile, they will donate.  If they don’t, the person who started the account should look at the large $0 sign on their page and take the hint.
Briana