How a Book is Born

Publisher Weldon Owen has released a rather entertaining “74% accurate” infographic on how a book turns from an idea into the final product in the traditional publishing model.

I’ve been in and around the publishing industry for several years now and this flowchart is amusingly accurate. Although, as with any lifecycle, there are many more divergent paths that a book can take. A rather tragic path I once witnessed (many moons and jobs ago), was where the editor of a new author had left the publishing company. Although the new author’s book was about to be published, without anyone to champion it within the company, their work completely floundered – there was a token print run and very little marketing support. I’m not sure what happened to it in the end, but if it became a success, I would be surprised – every new author’s worst nightmare. I’m sure that there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Anyhoo, on a more upbeat note, enjoy the infographic.

HowAnIdeaBecomesBook_final

Murakami: Writing a Novel Is Like Survival Training

Moshin HamidHaruki Murakami isn’t everyone’s fitness guru, but Moshin Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and more recently How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (great title btw) advocates Murakami as the man who inspired him to exercise first, write second.

In an interview with The Paris Review, Murakami said:

“writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

The Atlantic Article where this was highlighted to me informs that “Murakami… transformed himself from nicotine-stained wastrel to marathoning meganovelist, [and] urges writers to prepare for novels like contestants gearing up for the Hunger Games.” Moshin has said that it was following Murakami’s advocation that gave him the drive and energy to move forward with his writing.

This really struck a cord with me, as I find that exercise really does help my mind to work better, so Mr Murakami really does have a point. I have linked the two activities together, but perhaps I should dualise my exercise and writing routines. This reminds me that I really need to get on the case with exercising my body as well as my mind. I only have two weeks left to train for the Where’s Wally 10km fun run, and I am way behind.

Would You Be A Faerie?

Inspired by Len’s post in The Olive Loft, I’m embarking on my racial classifications in Rhye. Rhye is the world of  Four and Twenty Blackbirds, in which my main city, Yore, resides.

RAcial Classes on Rhye

A bit of background on the five races of Rhye from the Treatise of Jupp Quegley:

The dwayvers say that when the first dragon  flew out of the darkness and gave birth to the world, the web he wove around Rhye became the sky, and when he spawned his fire upon it, the web wept, and the rain fell to land as the birds and animals and the first races: the totems, the drakes and the faeries. Humanfolk came later.

Totems

Totems

Totems practice earth-magic. There are the 13 races of totemic animals, as well as the many other beings with animalistic qualities. The anthoropomorphised (personified) animals are not to be confused with their ‘dumb’ counterparts, for example, there are Totemic Wolves (not to be confused with werewolves) as well as regular c0mmon-a-garden wolves who do not have any inherent magical ability or what humans would term ‘higher reasoning’. The races of Totemic animals are rare and have extremely long life spans, some have the ability to shift into human form.

Apart from the 13 Totemic animal races (which include wolves, ravens, bears, pigs), here are some examples of Totems:

  • Werewolves
  • Merfolk
  • Krakens
  • Centaurs

DRAKES

 

Dragon

Drakes practice fire-magic. They are the least populous of the races, and comprise the four types of dragon (Stone, Metal, Water and Fire). They are reclusive and tricksy, and are frequent shape shifters, rarely appearing in their native state.

FAERIES

fae

Faeries practice air and water magics, and are probably the most populous of the old races. There are many different courts, and some live much more openly than others. They are the only ones among the old races to have built cities themselves.  Types of Faerie includes:

  • Pyskies
  • Browneys
  • Nymphs
  • Elfs

Humans

human-evolution

Although humans do not have any inherent magics themselves, they can harness the magics of Drakes, Totems or Faeries for a wider and more powerful array of magics. Mostly this magic is derived from the use of faerie dust, as well as the trade in faerie parts. Magic users are few in human circles, but those that rise up, can be  spellweavers many times more powerful than any individual of the old races.

DWAYVERS

Dwayver

Dwayvers do not wield any magics themselves, but live in the mountains mining precious gems. They are secretive and do not allow outsiders into their great underground cities. They do come out occasionally to trade, and some outcasts choose to live undersky.

Save

Be Your Character – Literally.

RedditThey say that to write a book, you need to get into the head of your character. What better way to do that than be an online persona of your character and have people interview him/her/it.

At the IAmAFiction Sub-Reddit, you can log on as your character and interact with readers who will pose questions and help you to add flesh to your ideas.  A few of my favourite proposed characters I’ve come across are:

To be honest, I’m a complete novice with Reddit, and I don’t quite gettit (*excuse the pun* – couldn’t resist. Honestly,  you have my sincerest apologies, please don’t go…). The premise seems good. All you need to do is submit your character as an interview subject, and you can give your character a test run in the forum with avid readers. The Reddit peeps say:

If you are working on developing an invented character for creative writing, roleplay, or pure novelty, this is the place to expose your character to the world and subject them to questioning to help you flesh them out.

IAmA posts work just like a regular IAmA post, except the poster assumes the role of his/her character.

Please be a good IAmAfic citizen and comment on other people’s submissions as well as your own. Remember, they’re not real people — so no need to be shy!

my own character development

I may well make use of this in future – when I finally figure out Reddit.

My current state of affairs with Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and character development thereof, is a bit of a shambles. Embarking on my current plan of 4and20BB without a huge amount of novel- writing experience was a trifle ambitious. I have been aiming to write 3 separate and distinct storylines in a world of my own creation and weave the stories so that they all tie up nicely. The only problem was that although I have characters and a world and a few dramatic scenes inferring an over-arching storyline. The truth is, that I have been making it up as I went along. I have no story. It was all very well for a while, but I am now thoroughly lost, with a whole bunch of scenes, but no plot to speak of. Just a bunch of curious characters meadering through their strangely eventful lives.

I’ve been ill the last few days, and although it hasn’t been fun being stuck abed, it has given me ample opportunity to think and plan. The good news is – I now have a plot! The bad news is, for the moment at least, I need to cut the majority of what I’ve written. Ouch! Ah well, at least now I have a path, much better than the frustration of being completely lost and listless… into the woods I go!

Lovecraftian Longings

LovecraftShameful to say, I have never read a single work by H.P. Lovecraft – a classic  master of horror rated alongside Edgar Allan Poe.

According to Stephen King: “Now that time has given us some perspective on his work, I think it is beyond doubt that H. P. Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the Twentieth Century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” It is high praise indeed. I’ve only ever been mildly into the genre of horror, by why is it that I had never come across the actual works of Lovecraft until I stumbled across him in my research.  Shame on me, perchance. I had heard the name ‘Lovecraft’ bandied about, and like many unknown references, it was one I let lie. In my defence, I have never come across his books while browsing the sci-fi/fantasy/horror shelves in bookstores, or in libraries. Perhaps it was my personal oversight or a defiencies in the venues I frequented. Either way, I feel a little cheated.

His influence is wide ranging, for example the Arkham Asylum in Batman is attributed to Lovecraft. His fans include Neil Gaiman, Jorge Luis Borges and Michel Houellebecq. Not to mention, David Bowie, Metallica and Black Sabbath. An impressive fan base to be sure. So I will presently be embarking on my Lovecraftian horror adventure, I hope it will be as fulfilling as when I first stumbled across John Wyndham. The bonus is that all of Lovecraft’s works are out of copyright, so Project Gutenberg, here I come.

Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller Lists

Marketing

After all the kerfuffle last year about sock puppetry (the art of authors writing their own fake reviews on Amazon and other sites), it shouldn’t really be surprising that there are some authors out there that are actually buying their way onto bestseller lists as a quick fix way to get acclaim – as reported by the Wall Street Journal in their article: The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike. People began to twig where there were repeated patterns of an initial spike, followed by the book falling almost completely off the grid. Essentially, some marketing company figured out how to work the bestseller list system, and used it to their advantage.

It would be really tempting to make use of this. There are very few ways as a new author, especially if self-published, to get exposure for your book, and there are few ways to get great exposure for your book like being a bestseller. If it is actually a good book, perhaps it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy – the faked bestseller becomes a real bestseller. I suspect that that is what the authors buying into this marketing scheme figured. And even if not, you have had the exposure and can tout yourself as a bestselling author.

when does using marketing tools become unethical?

There are many tricks to marketing yourself and your book (and many books and website dedicated to this topic). If you look hard enough, you can find websites dedicated to mutual reviews on Amazon – an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach, where if you participate, you can get hundreds of reviews for your book, rather than just your mum and best friend’s reviews sitting there looking a little sad. I am sure that there are other examples of marketing tools that are in a moral grey area, but at what point do marketing tools become unethical?

For me, although tempting, buying your way onto the bestseller list is not the way I would choose to self-promote. I’m not sure if I could live with myself if I “cheated” like that.

Write for 15 Minutes a Day

StopwatchNo pressure.

15 minutes is entirely do-able. Sit down, set a timer, ready, steady….. WRITE! Don’t stop to think and worry, just go – edit later – this way there will be something to edit.

I think that this is a really good exercise to do when you’re feeling like there is no time for writing in your life. I tried it out this morning. I woke up, made a pot of tea, sat down and just wrote. The short time frame I allowed myself was quite freeing, and it’s amazing how much I got done.

Currently, I am still world building for Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Today, I was plotting the relationships between the many city states in my fairy tale fantasy world. It has made me reconsider the longstanding name of my main city – Farway. I really do like the name Farway, but there has been mention that it sounds a little close to Far Far Away from Shrek. Another name has cropped up on me this morning – Yore, to be referred to as ‘the city of Yore’, etc. Any thoughts?

Starting a Writing Group

groupI’ve been helping to run WLWG for a little over a year and a half, and there are a few lessons I’ve learnt that I thought I’d share. There’s not much to starting your own writing group: get a few of your writing friends together or advertise locally, and arrange to meet and that’s it. But if you want to have a constructive writing group that lasts and provides you with encouragement and well-rounded critique on your writing, or otherwise, an appropriate meeting to sit down and write for a couple of hours, well, that is a whole different ball game.

There are two main types of writing group. The first is a critique based writing group, where members read their work and are critiqued (this article is mainly focused on this type of group). The second is a writing group where everyone sits together and writes for a set duration when the group meets, feeding off the discipline and creative energy. There are also amalgamations of the two.

Why start a writing group at all?

This is a good question and one to fully consider before launching yourself into organising your own writing group. Most likely, there are many local writing groups available. If nothing has turned up in your google search, try a local library (if it still exists) or a literary/ art / performance-art cafe, as these often have listings. It can take time to find a group that suits you, don’t give up after the first try.

If there is no local group or you can’t find one that suits your needs, there are a few things to consider.

Things to Consider before starting a writing group

Time Commitment: Organising any event, no matter how low maintenance, takes time and effort, consider running it with a one or more friends to share the load.

Type of Group: There are lots of different types of writing, and therefore a lot of different types of writing group. Whether or not the group should have a particular focus should be a consideration. For example, someone focused entirely on poetry might not have much to say about how best to write a non-fiction book about nuclear physics, and vice versa. However, the more specialised a group, the more difficult it might be to recruit writers.

Venue: There is often a romantic notion of hosting a writing group at people’s houses on a rotating basis. This is fine if all the members know each other or are friends of friends, but if you are reaching out to a wider circle, there are safety considerations. Also, there can be some pressures involved in hosting writing groups in people’s homes. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea and want to be excluded from the hosting circle or may live in an inconvenient location, some may want to play the host and provide food and drink (with others wanting to better the last person’s wares and some not wanting to provide anything at all). This can all result in resentment and infighting. I would recommend trying to find an external venue. This will forgo the aforementioned problems and also be a consistent venue so that members don’t have to double check the venue every session.

Fee: This ties in with the venue. If the venue requires payment for its use, it may be an idea to have members pay a fee. Consider whether the fee should be yearly, monthly or on a session by session basis. It might be hard to get members to fork out for a year in advance. This issue can be a little delicate, especially as the typical writer is not someone with a lot of spare cash to throw around. Also, if it is a critiquing writing group, there can only be a limited number of readers per session, and you may want to think about readers and non-readers paying different amounts to account for this. Alternatively, find a venue where the proprietors are happy with the group paying for food and drinks in return for consistent custom, and explain this purchase agreement as a policy to all members.

Frequency: How often will the writing group meet? Every week might suit some, monthly might suit others. WLWG meets fortnightly, and this has been a good frequency for us.

Time of Meeting: Although weekends might seem like a good time to meet, it can be hard to get a commitment from people for their weekends or Friday evenings. Unless all the members are students or are otherwise free during the day, I would recommend a weekday evening.

Open or Closed Group: This question is entirely about how you want the group to be run. An open group means that anyone can ask to attend, and it can go on a first come first serve basis or just have an en masse attendance. This sort of group can have a very high turnaround and be very admin heavy as it may require sorting through attendance lists and waiting lists every session and emailing confirmations. WLWG is a closed group, which means we have a set number of members, and occasionally open the group to new members when old members leave. The pros of this is that we all get to know each others’ work, and don’t have continual questions about backstory. A commeraderie develops, as well as a trust in each other’s critiques. There are definite pros to always having a new audience, but without knowing someone’s background, it’s hard to trust in the quality of a critique. The cons of a closed group is that it can be really good to have new blood and a fresh set of eyes on a piece.

Size of Group: Either way, open or closed, some consideration should be given to the number of members. Writing groups operate differently, you might be aiming for an intimate gathering or a large network. WLWG have 5/6 readers of an evening, and we aim for a quorum of about 10 people. Obviously, we have more than 10 members, bearing in mind absences. For WLWG, the quorum of 10 people is a balancing act between the largest number of people we can have and still have a good critique where everyone has the opportunity to speak, and enough people to create good custom for the publican who provides us with the venue to meet.

Guidelines: Essential to any forum is a set of guidelines, members should be given an idea of word count and how much time each reader is allocated, how many readers there will be in an evening, how it will work if there is not enough time for someone who wants to read, as well as the estimated end time. Some groups require the readers to send their work to each other to read beforehand – this requires additional organisation and some people can be a little touchy sending out copies of their work. Also, we all know how difficult it can be to share your work as it can be very personal, so setting a tone of mutual respect for each others’ work and giving a considered outline of how best to give constructive criticism might be beneficial (e.g. always say what is good about the piece before launching into a point that doesn’t work). This is so that everyone will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Hosting an Evening: If it is a critiquing session, organise how many people will be attending beforehand, as well as how many people will be reading (it might be an idea to have reserve readers). Ask the people who are reading to bring enough copies of their work for everyone attending. Be clear about how the evening is going to run and be strict with timings – having a stopwatch is a good idea. And don’t forget to have fun!

Birthdays and Other Distractions from Writing and Blogging

blowing-party-hornI’m someone who definitely does not deal all that well with distractions (favoured distractions that is). If there is anything available that seems mildly easier than writing or blogging, I appear to have magpie syndrome.

Today is my birthday, and I have the day off work with some intention to sit down and get to writing Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I have been for a lovely walk, had great food, had lots of love showered upon me with well wishes and have been sung at more than a couple of times – that coupled with some self-indulgent video game playing (FTL has been today’s distraction of choice) and watching movies – strangely enough my well intentioned time set aside for writing appears to have evapourated. Sitting down and writing this blog is the first constructive thing I’ve done all day, and the day is rapidly turning to night.

This tendency of mine to become over indulgent in pursuits other than writing is what always makes me halt when I think about taking a year out  (or any time out at all) to dedicate myself to full time writing. It’s not that the other things I’ve done today are necessarily bad, few vices are bad when done in moderation, it’s more that I have an immense capacity for distraction – I am bum-glue repellent as it were. That being said, I have managed to churn out this blog post. So all is not lost.

I have wanted to publish a novel for as long as I can remember. And today marks another year of my life that has gone by without achieving that goal. Time to buckle down to it and figure out how to train myself to sit down and take action.

Read Read Read – Read Everything

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.

Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window”

William Faulkner

read%20imageIt seems like any writer worth his salt advocates the golden rule of reading, and reading widely. I do think that one of my greater failings as a writer is that I had such a narrow reading focus for quite a large portion of my life. In fact, to a great extent, until the advent of the BF, I did not really read non-fiction for pleasure at all (newspapers and magazines excluded). It’s remarkably ironic really, as before we started going out, the BF almost exclusively read non-fiction. We’ve both encouraged each other to branch out, and have done. I now have some favoured non-fiction authors, one of which is Jared Diamond, acclaimed author of Guns, Germs and Steel – a title that I recommend to everyone. It is as an amazing analysis of the scientific reasons why Europe colonised the rest of the world and not the other way around. You might not agree with all of his theories, but  it is a truly fascinating read.

The reason I mention this, is (i) to encourage everyone to expand their reading horizons as I have thoroughly enjoyed expanding my own, and (ii) more to the point, I’ve come an article on io9.com entitled 23 Science Books That Are So Exciting They Read Like Genre Fiction, and I’m proud to say that, as a novice non-fiction reader, I’ve actually read two of them (which do read like genre fiction). A few of the others will be going on my rapidly expanding reading list.

io9.com’s list includes: Darwin’s Origin of the Species, aforementioned Jared Diamond’s Collapse, The Poisoner’s Handbook, The Silent Spring, and the one presently going to the top of my reading list, Rachel Maines  The Technology of Orgasm.