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Friday, 28 June 2013

Barbara Algie on Poetic Inspiration

    They say that old age is just a state of mind and that instead of worrying about the winter storms we should go dance with gay abandon in the rain.  Great advice for the young who manage the exotic Zumba moves and who are reasonably well-acquainted with Gay Abandon.  But that isn’t what I really wanted to chat about this week.

    I’d like to talk about poetry and how, in order to write it with feeling, it helps to have a spirit or muse take up residence in one’s heart.  Unfortunately not all of us have a spirit or mythical muse jostling to book into substandard accommodation for as long as it takes to provide some world-shattering words. The poets of the past not only had a masterful command of the language but their ability to memorise their sonnets, ballads, etc. without having to read them from a parchment scroll was mind-boggling.  The memorising bit was due, in no small part, to the rhythmic flow and rhyming of their verses.  To merely read poetry from a sheet of A4 deprives the listener of its emotion, mystery and romance.   Ah – Eureka – perhaps that’s it – the romance of yesteryear is long gone and doesn’t exist anymore.  How about the first two lines of the following three poems for starters to get you going?

1)   ‘I sprang to the stirrup and Joris and he
We galloped, he galloped, we galloped all three’

(From ‘How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix’ by Robert Browning).  Read it and you feel you too are riding on horseback with the lads all the way.

2)    ‘Is there anybody there said the traveller, knocking on the moonlit door

  And his horse in the silence champed the grass of the forest’s ferny floor’
(From ‘The Listeners by Walter de la Mare).   A poem about a mysterious and thought-provoking visitor.

3)    ‘There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who toil for gold
The Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold’
(From ‘The Cremation of Sam McGree’ by Robert Service).   Spooky and best recited round a campfire in the dead of night.

    I don’t care if I’m just a romantic ‘oldie’ who likes a good story, well told, and I don’t really mind if I get the thumbs down from the spirits and muses of this world who simply refuse to whisper sweet nothings in my ear for me to pass on to you.   I would rather experience the thrill of meaningful words instead of being left hunting for the cryptic crossword solution book.

Barbara Algie

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Vicky Adin on Characters and Characterisation

Sometimes we all need a reminder about the basics of writing. Often, on this site, we see blogs about cleaning up your work, writing synopses, getting over writers’ block and being reminded to practice, practice and practice some more.
I avidly read blogs and articles about plot construction, planning and characterisation, and sometimes get inspiration from writers in real life. Here are some ideas, gleaned from a talk given by Yvonne Walus at The Author's Mouth meeting in May, which I’d like to share.

There is little point in providing a description of a place or a person who only appears once in the book and has little intrinsic value. There is a lot of value in describing a scene central to the plot to hook a reader.

For a moment to be powerful enough for the reader to remember it long after the book is finished, the description should include at least three of the five senses: sound, smell, taste, touch and vision. The reader has to connect physically with the scene or character.

Apart from the brief visual appearance of a character or place also comes the detail. Not as a block, not even in the first chapter, but fed in until the character has been built up to appear 3D. As much as we need a visual image of what the person might look like – and many articles say don’t overdo it, leave it to the reader to create their own physical image – we do need to know what sort of person are they. Here are some examples:

            Athletic: do they swim, run? Or are they unfit and desk bound?

            Healthy: do they smoke/drink, or eat well, fussy about what they put into their bodies or couldn’t care less? Clean/dirty or bitten finger nails.

            Mannerisms: do they have any nervous gestures? Are they social or reclusive (how do they act at a party)? Do they smile? (If not, why not? Bad teeth, embarrassed?)

            Emotional: how do they respond to death/bad news? Do they laugh/cry/withdraw? What about good news?

            Are they vulnerable in any way? Do they have some physical impairment – sight, hearing, medical – that could impact on how they behave?

            What do they wear/not wear: jewellery, scarves, hats?

            How do they sound when they walk?

            What is important to them?

In amongst these details are clues as to the type of person they might be. What their style might be. Bold jewellery on a woman might tell the reader something different to the woman who wears simple, plain jewellery. What is the message we understand when a man wears jewellery?

The other important message in building characters is about the things that are not there. Things you might take for granted a person might have? What is missing from their home/car/office? Photos, ornaments, computers or electronics? What is missing from their language? Swear words? Are their belongings. mannerisms and language a match to their behaviour and actions?

The more interesting the character, the more the reader wants to know about them.
Vicky Adin

Friday, 14 June 2013

Guest post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Thanks Vicky for finding these excellent articles. It's a LOT for one blog post but the content is so good I wanted to share it as soon as possible.

In her article Kris gives us three great statistics (US based):

1)     In the first quarter of 2013, brick-and-mortar bookstores saw a 27% increase in foot traffic over the same period in 2012. There are an increasing number of independent booksellers and consumers are returning to actual stores, including the bookstore. The print book, still remains anywhere from 70-90% of the market for book sales.

2)     In the past five years, e-book sales in the United States have gone from zero to (conservatively) 706 million, with no sign of slowing down.

3)     About 30% of those e-book sales come from independent (self-published) authors. That’s about 210 million ebook sales that did not come out of traditional publishing.

Her conclusions:
Our industry is growing. We are getting new bookstores, new readers, new writers, and we haven’t hit the peak of the market yet. Why not? Because traditional publishers dropped the ball decades ago. Traditional publishers forgot that they sell books to consumers. Instead, they changed their business model to sell books to bookstores. When the independent bookstores declined at the turn of this century, traditional publishers started marketing to the big distributors and to the chain bookstores, which was why you heard such industry-wide panic when Borders went down. It wasn’t because the readers went away; it was because traditional publishers had no idea how to sell their books to people other than the ten to twenty buyers for national distributors and chain bookstores.


Her second article is on how indie publishers get noticed:

Word of Mouth:

In short, she says – don’t be annoying.  Don’t constantly tweet, push for likes on Facebook, or blog with buy me written a dozen times in a dozen different ways.

More than 3 million books were published last year, and those were only the books that Bowker, which runs the ISBN system, could count. I’m sure more books than that were published in 2012.
That distribution wall between traditional publishers and self-publishers is in the process of collapsing entirely.
The more promotion you do, from bookmarks to visiting booksellers to tweeting constantly, the more you will piss people off. 
So bookstores can order any book they want; the key is to make them want that book—without pissing them off.
How do you do that?

The best way to promote your work is to develop a fan base.
How can you do that with just one book?
You can’t. It’s a rare writer who hits on the first novel, and usually that’s a fluke tied into something going on the culture. You can’t control the culture. You can’t control book buyers. But you can control what you do.
Write good stories. Write great stories. Practice, practice, practice. Publish what you write. Readers will find good books, and they will tell their friends.

You can’t control word of mouth. You can start it only by telling your fans, Facebook friends, and the readers of your blog that a new book is out. Then, write the next book and let the first one take care of itself. Search engines will find it, if a reader is interested

That’s true whether you’re an indie writer or a traditionally published writer. I don’t care how much your traditional publisher nags you to promote, promote, promote. Ignore them. Write the next book and if they don’t buy it (or you choose not to sell it to them) publish it yourself.

Let’s assume you’ve written a good novel. In fact, let’s assume you’ve written several good novels. No distributor has picked up those books and no one is buying the e-copies. Word of mouth hasn’t even started yet. There’s no hope it ever will because no one outside of your family has read a copy, despite the book’s availability.

What’s wrong?
Back in the early days of self-publishing, a great story hidden in a book with a low price and crap cover could sell. Honestly, that’s how Amanda Hocking’s books sold. That woman can tell a story, but her covers were bad and interiors worse. And she was one of the few people writing good urban fantasy in the early days of Kindle. Readers who spent 99 cents got a good story, so they let other readers know.
Nowadays?... you’re not going to discover anyone who wrote a book with a great story and a crap cover.
A good cover isn’t just a good piece of art. It’s the right art with the right branding. It’s making sure you have the correct fonts, knowing where to put information, and keeping an eye on genre.
It’s a lot of work to design a good cover, and it’s not just about hiring an artist or someone who knows font. A great cover doesn’t just make the reader pick the book up; it also tells the reader at a glance what genre the book is in.

Cozy mysteries look different from traditional mysteries. Thrillers use different word placement than contemporary romances. If your book isn’t properly branded, then you’re hurting sales.
The next thing you have to do right is price. In the comment section last week, a number of people stated that they didn’t want to charge too much because they were new.

Sorry, folks. That’s day job think. Beginners get paid less than long-established people. Nope. A beginning writer, even in traditional publishing, can outearn a long-established pro on a first book. If traditional publishing believed that beginners had to work their way up to “real writer,” then traditional publishing would have run out of bestsellers years ago.

Price your books commensurate with other books of the same type.
If you don’t, if you underprice your print book, it won’t matter how much word of mouth you generate, no major distributor will take you on. They have to make some money on the sale, and they get a percentage of the cover price, just like bookstores do. If your cover price is too low, they don’t want you in their catalog or in their store. It’s that simple.

The other way to generate word of mouth? Availability. If you want people to talk about your book, make it easy to find. Yeah, you might not have your book in every brick-and-mortar bookstore, but make sure it’s in all the places that sell e-books from iBookstore to Kobo to Kindle. So you don’t make much on Barnes & Noble. Who cares? Honestly, the person who cares is the reader with the Nook who tried to order your book and couldn’t.

That reader will report to the person who recommended your book and say, “It’s not on Nook.” So the next time that person recommends your book (if, indeed, there is a next time after that), the person will say, “It’s good, but I don’t think it’s on Nook.” That means the reader with the Kobo device will think, Oh, it’s probably not on Kobo either, and won’t even bother to look for it. (ED: this is why we use Smashwords as well as Amazon, to reach all retailers.)
Word of mouth fizzled before it even started.

Should you send review copies to book bloggers or review sites or take out ads in RT Book Reviews? No. Not unless you have a lot of books already available. Don’t spend any money on advertising or waste the time of book bloggers unless you have many things that will appeal to all different kinds of readers
There are lots of programs that you can buy into as a publisher. You can get up front placement in a chain bookstore if you have enough money. You can buy ads in Publishers Weekly. But it all means nothing if you don’t write a good book. It means nothing if you wrote a good book and have a cover that screams romance when you’ve written a thriller.

You want to be successful? You want to be in the same catalogs as traditional publishers? You want to be taken seriously? Then stop haranguing bookstore owners and book bloggers and your friends, and learn how to write a good book, how to design a good cover, how to make the interior of your book readable, how to price your book so that it will sell, and how to write cover copy.

Write another book. Publish it with the correct materials, and repeat several times.
Then, maybe then, you can approach bookstores. By then, you might have learned the proper ways of doing so.
Write a good book.
Generate good word of mouth
Improve with every single thing you write.
Keep learning until the day you die. Seriously.

Let the readers find you. If you’re quiet and don’t bug them, and if they love your work, they’ll do the promotion for you, even to bookstores. That reader who walks into his favorite independent bookseller’s shop? The reader who asks for your book by name? He has a lot more credibility (particularly if he’s a regular customer) than you ever will with your bookmarks and your free copies and your posters.
Cultivate your readers by writing good books.

Realize that your readers owe you nothing. They don’t owe you good reviews or likes. They aren’t required to buy your next book.
You have to convince them to do that by writing a book so beloved that they want another just like it.
If you can’t do that, then no amount of haranguing and advertising will ever make your books sell.

That’s true whether you’re traditionally published or not.
Phew! She sure dribbled a bibful there, but what a relief to be told not to spend all our time promoting. Just write better and better books. We can do that, right?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Gabrielle Rothwells asks "What works for You?"

As I sit at my desk trying to think of something to write I wonder how many authors are going through the same thing.  Do you sit at your computer and stare out the window trying to find the right words? Here I am lucky as I have a lovely view of trees and my garden which can inspire a good phrase or two, but other times ... oh dear.  Then I take a break to make myself a cup of tea and perhaps I'll pick up a book to read a page or two of a classic.  I usually find this works wonders and then I'm away on a roll.  Studying or reading famous writers can work wonders. I particularly love the novelist, essayist and short story writer H.E. Bates who was a master of two literary traditions - the romantic and the naturalistic.  He is surely one of the most prolific writers of his generation.  His output and versatility is astonishing when you compare the sensitivity and beauty of novels like Fair Stood the Wind for France and When the Green Woods Laugh, one of his very popular series of light comic novels about the Larkin family.  English writer David Garnett likened his work to a Renoir painting with its extreme delicacy, tenderness and fragility. I first read Bates at a very impressionable age of 17 and am still reading him today.

The other stimulation I need when writing a chapter on conveying the depth of a character is a favourite CD playing softly in the background which somehow will convey the "mood" or the atmosphere of the piece I have to write.  When my CD player broke down some time ago I was lost, but as so often happens, I simply had to cope without it and of course I did. 

 When I taught creative writing some years ago I would urge my students to study other writers.  I would tell them to read, read, and read, especially their favourite authors and compare their styles.  When I first started to write I knew little about style but the more I wrote (mostly journalism in those days for newspapers and magazines) I settled into my own style which was developed and nurtured over a period of time. We all have our own style. My mother used to often say "You can't teach a person to write.  You either have the ability (to write) or you don't.  Well, if I could count the number of times when I have heard her voice saying these words, usually after reading some junk I have written the day or night before which I thought was good.  After I have thrown said junk in the waste paper basket I tell myself - can I do this better?  Have I got the reader's attention because if I haven't the book will be thrown down in disgust.

 So this is what works for me and I hope something I have written will be of some help to you too.


Gabrielle Rothwell