WWC 2014, Day 3: Marketing your book with Jodi McIsaac

Jodi MacIsaacJodi McIsaac grew up in New Brunswick, Canada. After stints as a short-track speed skater, a speechwriter, and fundraising and marketing executive in the nonprofit sector, she started a boutique copywriting agency and began writing novels in the wee hours of the morning. She currently lives with her husband and two feisty daughters in Calgary, Alberta.


 

There’s a lot of competition out there, so you have to distinguish yourself.

In 2012:

  • 1.5 million print books were published
  • 347,000 traditional books deals were made
  • 391,000 ISBNs were assigned

There are currently 30 million books on the market. Only 500 of those will sell 100,000 or more copies.

There’s not much difference between the Big 5, small publishers, micro publishers, and self-publishers with respect to how much work the author will have to devote to marketing.

Ten authors per year might get marketing support.

Word of mouth is still the best way to sell anything.

  1. Write another book. Nothing sells backlist like a new book.
  2. Be professional. This is your livelihood. Treat it as such.
  3. Understand your audience. You’re a match-maker between your book and its readers.
  4. You need a web site. Also set up shop on Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, etc.
  5. Mobilize your existing network. Never underestimate the value of family and friends.
  6. Build an email list. Mailchimp is great for this and easy to learn.
    6.5 (inserted for this presentation): Create a “street team” or “launch team.” These are people in your existing network who can be depended upon to help you make creative decisions like your title and cover and who will promote your book across their networks. As a perk, they get a copy of your advanced reader copy (ARC) so they can post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.
    Obtain reviews outside your street team.
  7. Contact book bloggers. My personal opinion is that blog tours are a waste of time. You have to produce so much content, it’s rarely worth the effort. There’s no dependable way to measure the marketing value (i.e. how many sales resulted from the tour). If you feel you would like to do one, however, I won’t discourage you. You may get different results.
  8. Giveaways. Always budget for this, especially if you are self-publishing. You need to have enough copies set aside so you can give them away on Goodreads, or on Facebook using Rafflecopter, or during your in person events.
  9. Goodreads. Not only can you participate in giveaways, but you can also have book chats, groups, and other online events to support your launch.
  10. Paid advertising. This has not been proven to sell books. Usually not cost-effective. BookBub may be the exception.
  11. Social media. Focus on one and try not to get spammy. Asking your followers to buy your book continually can come off as desperate. You might actually lose followers this way.
  12. Traditional media and promotion. Have a press release and a media package ready to go. If you’re not sure what should be in your media package, Google it. There are a lot of great resources out there.

So when do you do all of this? You have to make the time. It’s not so much work/life balance as it is work/life blend. You have to find what works for you.

We then went through a brief example with the time we had remaining.


 

This is the last of the formal posts I will have on the When Words Collide sessions I attended. Do to my entry into the In Places Between contest, I attended the reading and judging sessions on Sunday morning and it limited the sessions I could get to.

Next week: I’ll post about Brandon Sanderson. I attended three of his sessions altogether and I didn’t take notes at one. I just soaked up the wisdom :D So this will be a kind of summary post with links to resources.

That will leave the wrap post for the first weekend in December.

See you again on Tipsday!

WWC 2014, Day 3: Querying your YA novel

Panellists: Jacqueline Guest, Danielle L. Jensen, Jessica Corra, Shawn L. Bird, Karen Bass

Jacqueline GuestDanielle L. JensenQ: Do you query a trilogy?

DJ: It depends on your genre. Some say your novel has to be a standalone, but I’ve been successful querying a trilogy.

JC: It’s okay to mention that your novel has series potential, but you can go too far with this. I was once queried with a nine book series. That was too much.

SB: It’s good to know the career potential of the author, though.

DJ: Focus on one book in your query.

JC: It’s a business letter.

KB: It’s your pitch. Three sentences. Short, punchy, and pithy.

JC: Think about the backbone of your book. That’s your through line.

JG: You’re not selling to a reader. You’re selling to an agent or publisher. Don’t tease.

SB: The basic structure of a query letter is three paragraphs: pitch, comps, and bio.

JC: You need to mention genre, word count, and title.

DJ: You Jessica Corracould write: I am seeking representation for TITLE, a GENRE novel, complete at LENGTH (in thousands of words, rounded to the nearest thousand). I actually got my agent through a logline contest for Ms. Snark.

JC: Sometimes you don’t need an agent, though.

KB: Small Canadian publishers, no. Big publishers or genres, yes. Anything in the States, yes.

DJ: I’d die without my agent. She takes care of things

like foreign riShawn L. Birdghts. It really depends on your skill set.

SB: Sometimes, it depends on the agent.

DJ: I’d recommend Query Tracker.

JC: Jim Butcher proposes this formula for youKaren Bassr log line: *WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL,* but will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?

JG: Spell check, for God’s sake. You have two sentences to hook an agent or editor.

DJ: Your first five to ten pages must be perfect.

JC: We know you’re human, though. We’ll overlook something small.

JG: There are lots of library books that will help you.

DJ: Online critique groups can help as well.

Q: How do I know the agent is reputable?

DJ: Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write are three sites where you can check out questionable agents, agencies, or scams. If you post on social media or forums, don’t bitch about being rejected.

Q: How many queries do you receive and how many of those do you read?

JC: We have readers, so I don’t see them all, but everyone I receive, I read.

Q: You’ve published several books. Do you still slave over your letters?

JG: Yes. Every time.

WWC 2014, Day 2: YA and the tough stuff

Panellists: Kimberly Gould, David Laderoute, Aviva Bel’Harold, Michell Plested

Kimberly GouldDavid LaderouteAviva Bel'Harold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michell PlestedQ: What language do you use?

DL: Keep your audience in mind.

MP: Look at Harry Potter. The Dursleys made him live under the stairs. That’s abuse, but it was painted realistically.

DL: Neil Gaiman thought of using homeless characters in Neverwhere, but reconsidered.

MP: Whatever you choose to portray, it can’t be gratuitous. The character and the character’s circumstances have to be essential to the story.

Q: Is there a difference between the Canadian and American YA market? I was at a Kelley Armstrong session and she said that the only thing you don’t include is boring.

AB: I don’t notice a difference myself.

DL: Some publishers may ask you to eliminate the profanity in either country. That’s okay, you’re saving words. I know kids swear, but we write dialogue that simulates reality. Real world dialogue would sound horrible.

Q: Don’t readers need to see themselves on the page, though?

MP: Yes, but a book that ends hopelessly is dissatisfying.

AB: Most teens want hope.

MP: No one wants to end up homeless, addicted, or any of the other hard things we write about. They want to know there’s a way out.

Q: Beyond a sense of belonging, do you offer solutions in your novels?

AB: Don’t set out to write a novel with a message. It can come off heavy-handed.

KG: Present options in your novel, not right and wrong.

DL: Solutions are facile. Even young readers see through that.

MP: If you offer a solution, it shouldn’t be easy. If your character is smart and capable, they’ll keep trying. The struggle is the thing.

Q: Horrible things are still happening in the world. Should we show people responding?

MP: The character may be too close to the situation to understand it, but the reader should be able to pick up on it (dramatic irony).

KG: Perspective or point of view (POV) is basic storytelling. Be honest to your story. Make it true.

DL: You can write about difficult situations. There are two books, It’s kind of a funny story by Ned Vizzini, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher that treat teen suicide respectfully. What about the topics of child slavery, child soldiers, or gangs? These are issues that should be addressed.

MP: It’s not writing the story that’s difficult, but resolving myself to writing it. The Boy Scouts are a recruiting ground for child soldiers, but how do you write about that? It’s an inherently hopeless situation.

AB: Abuse victims have similar “unseen” problems. I couldn’t address them myself. I don’t have the experience or context to do it justice.

MP: It comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about something, then write it. Don’t write it because it’s a “cool” or “hot button” topic.

Q: There are books that address difficult issues out there. Deborah Ellis writes about the third world in her books and Sharon McKay tackles child soldiers.

AB: How do we bring these subjects to our readers with sensitivity?

MP: In one of my books, I address bullying. One of the characters is a foster child and the protagonist doesn’t understand. The story is about coming to that understanding and learning compassion.

AB: I think one of the problems is that we can write great books, but kids are reading less. We have to get them back and get them reading.

DL: Can we kill characters in YA?

AB: It’s life. We should not shy away from it.

KG: You have to be careful, though. Kill the right character for the right reason. Think of The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

AB: There could be a backlash. Consider Veronica Roth and the Divergent Series.

DL: Ultimately, it has to have meaning. It has to serve the story.


 

Next week: Querying your YA novel.

See you on Tipsday! Now, I’m off to NaNo-land :)

WWC 2014, day 2: Business planning for creative people with Sandra Fitzpatrick

Sandra Fitzpatrick

Write first. You don’t have a business without something to build it around.

The Business Plan

  • Executive summary
  • Industry and market analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Marketing
  • Operation
  • Financial

Let’s look at each element in more detail.

Executive summary

This is written last but presented first. It contains the high points of all the other aspects. It’s as long as it needs to be.

Industry and market analysis

How will you make income? Are you aiming for self-publishing or a traditional deal? If traditional, are you aiming for the big 5, or a small press? What is your genre (prose, poetry, or drama)? What resources will you need (editors, cover artists, layout, etc.)? What is your social media plan and/or platform?

Competitive analysis

First, are you competing or collaborating? Know how to get your ISBNs in Canada and in the US. Also how will you get your ITIN for US sales? Where will you publish? What magazines, anthologies, and contests will you submit your work to? Are you querying agents or sending proposals to publishers? Do you know how the slushpile works? Understand copyright in your country of publication. Understand trademark and what it means to be in the public domain. How do you regain your rights? Understand basic contract law.

Marketing

How will you use social media to market? What festivals, conferences, and conventions will you attend? Will you facilitate workshops or critique groups? Will you give public readings? If so, how many and where? How much money will you invest in travel? Will you be setting up a podcast or YouTube channel? How much money will you invest in promotion?

Operation

Set your goals? How many words will you write per year? How many novels will that translate into? How will you track your productivity? How will you track your submissions? Make sure you back everything up.

Financial

If you do public readings, facilitate workshops, or sit on panels at conferences, investigate the options for charging for your time. Will you be able to make a living by royalties? Keep receipts and make invoices for everything. Filing is not a four-letter-word. Consider crowdsourcing through Kickstarter, Indie-go-go, or ongoing income via Patreon. Set aside 35% of any income you receive for taxes or investment.

Sandra then went through an example of a business plan to illustrate.


 

Next week: YA and the rough stuff. Chronologically, there was a Brandon Sanderson session in there, but I attended three of his sessions altogether and I’m just going to cover them all in one abbreviated post. I didn’t take notes. I just took it all in ;) So that one will be me fangirling just a bit and offering a few references.

After YA and the rough stuff, I have Querying your YA novel, and Marketing your book, then Brandon Sanderson, and finally, the wrap post. So we’re very near the end of the WWC 2014 reportage. If I can keep this up during NaNoWriMo, we should be finishing up with When Words Collide on the first weekend of December. Then I’ll fill you in on the Humber workshop I’m attending next week and whatever else comes my way in the meantime.

Next up: The Next Chapter: October 2014 update.

WWC 2014, Day 2: An hour with Jack Whyte

Jack WhyteJack is simply fabulous. You can read more about him on his web site, camulod.com/aboutjack.


 

When I wrote The Sky Stone, I was called by the Historical Society to speak to a bunch of academics. Do you know what I told them? “Do you think my head buttons up the back?”

Eventually, I was decided to go, and I ended up getting three standing ovations. One of the reasons why? Historians are bound by the historical record. Writers get to speculate. We get to write what the historians wish they could.

That’s the kind of research you have to do, though. You have to be able to speak to a room of historians as though they were your peers.

You can do it all on the internet, but don’t rely on Wikipedia. Because anyone can contribute, occasionally, they do. It’s a place to start, but then go to your public or university library.

Research can obsess you. Answer the questions you need to proceed with your novel but no more.

You have to be able to write with authority.

Look at the art of the time, the architecture, the fashion, the design. Get the whole picture first. Most of it won’t even make it into your novel, but when you get the details right, your fictional world will come alive for the reader.

Q: How did you start?

In college, I was dating a beautiful woman. I called her “the Polish princess.” We made a date to go for a walk together. I read Quo Vadis, while I waited. She was an hour late. It turns out her grandfather was the author. I thought, “Wouldn’t that be neat if this happened to me?”

Everything I write is written to be heard.

I was a great fan of Frank Yerby (Mel’s note: Yes, I totally get the irony of citing Wikipedia in this transcription, but as Jack said, it’s a starting place. You want to find out more, go research.). He wrote magnificent historical fiction.

Read your work aloud. I record it and listen to it while driving. Your errors will become apparent.

Q: What’s a typical writing day for Jack Whyte?

I write from 8 pm to 2 am. The next day, I print and edit the pervious day’s work.

Discipline is the key.

Q: Do you plot?

When I begin writing, I know the ending. Then I look for the start. But I just write. I don’t plot, per se.

I’ve written 9 novels in 37 years.

There’s a bit of snobbery in Canadian Literature. Look at Pierre Burton and Farley Mowat. Commercial success and genre fiction are dirty words.

Q: Have you ever had any legal issues?

Not really. We have a moral obligation not to defame anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

In the end, everything is fiction. Even an historical document, because it was written through the frame of the time its author lived in.


 

Next week: Business planning for creative people.

Tomorrow: Finally ready to write my Series discoveries post and I’ll have a brief update on the week.

WWC 2014, Day 2: Have pen, will travel, with Jacqueline Guest

You can find out more about Jacqueline at her web site.Jacqueline Guest


 

When I was young, two books saved my life: A Child’s Book of Bible Ethics, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Don’t give up. If you have the passion to write, revise, edit, and make your novels perfect, you will get published.

As a writer, I have adventures. I travel and meet a lot of interesting people. You have to be flexible to make this happen, though.

I went to Inuvik and when I arrived, this weird dude picks me up—on a snow machine. He’s a man of few words. He takes me back to his place for the night. His place is full of hunting gear. (Mel’s note: This story was much more detailed and entertaining in Jacqueline’s telling. I only recorded the highlights.)

I found out later that he was a fixture of the community. People started dropping by, the elders and other villagers, and everyone told him their stories. I learned so much and met most of the community that way.

One of my books, Wild Ride, was written about the spring bear hunt, or rather against it. The ability to raise awareness is the power of the pen.

Another of my books features the Rocky Mountain Rally. I research everything I write, and experience what I can first hand.

Experience equals content.

The Writers’ Union of Canada and other writers’ organizations keep lists of where presenters have been and where they’re wanted. Do your research and find out where you can go to gain your experience.

What is unique about your book? This is your selling point.

History can give you what you need, but you can’t change it.

There’s also a need for what are called “hi-lo” books. It stands for high interest, low vocabulary and is intended to attract reluctant readers or those with learning disabilities who find it difficult to read.

Books become our touchstones, our points of connection with one another.

What if we are all connected?

Put out positive energy. You reap what you sow.


 

Tomorrow: I’ll have a Sundog snippet for you including a couple of writerly events around town and a brief update on the construction.

WWC 2014, day 2: An hour with Mark Leslie

Mark is a writer, editor and bookseller who was born and grew up in the Greater Sudbury Region, spent many years in Ottawa and currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

Find him online at markleslie.com.

mark-leslie


 

I ended up in publishing because I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I told stories with my Fischer Price people.

I got a job in a university books store and I noticed that the new edition of a textbook was being developed before the current one was even on the shelves. Students were getting outdated information. Sometimes the changes were subtle and I realized it was a big money grab. I decided to do something about this abuse of students.

I talked the bookstore into investing in an Espresso Book Machine and we entered into an agreement with McGraw-Hill Ryerson and Nelson publishers. A professor would choose the chapters he felt were pertinent to the class he was teaching and the publisher would provide a .pdf of the chapters. These were printed and sold in store.

The custom edition of the material would be 50-60% cheaper for students. The publisher made more. The store made more. Free digital copies were made available if sales of the print edition were reasonable and everyone still profited.

I tried it out for fiction. Amazon ships in 24 hours, but with the Espresso, I could print on site in 15 minutes.

I learned that if you put authors first, you can both make money.

A textbook that cost $86 could be printed for $25 on the Espresso and we could ship it wherever the client wanted. Later, we uploaded it to Kobo and the ebook is still selling everywhere for $10.

I became a consultant for On-Demand Books and then joined Kobo. When Kobo wanted to put out a writer-centric platform, I wanted a part of that action. Kobo Writing Life came into being. It was less money, but I was passionate about books and authors.

Kobo Writing Life was built for writers. We’re in the top five in every territory. We sell more units than Random House in Canada.

As the platform grew, I gained staff. My team nurtures authors.

Q: How does Kobo Writing Life make self-publishing easier?

Authors used to have to go through the same process as a publisher to get their books on Kobo. Now you can do it overnight.

This raises an important question: you can put your book up overnight, but should you? Many authors rush into self-publishing before they’re really ready. Make sure you’re putting your absolute best work out there.

Q: I was in Adrienne Kerr’s session and she mentioned Booknet. Can you speak to that?

The average author can’t access Booknet. Until we can more of the key players on board, it won’t happen.

Q: If I’m an indie publisher or author, why should I bother with Kobo?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The more ways your readers can get hold of your books, the better. It’s not Kobo only, but Kobo and.


 

As ever, my notes cannot reflect the full experience. I can’t write that fast (!) And, Mark, if I’ve gotten anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll fix ‘er up post-hasty.

Up next: a Caturday quickie on the developments (construction and dog-wise) of the week.

Next weekend: Jacqueline Guest: Have Pen, Will Travel.

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian readers, and we’ll see you on Tipsday with the Writerly Goodness of the week.

WWC 2014, day 2: Blending science fiction and fantasy

Panellists: Stacy Dooks, Nina Munteanu, Greg Bechtel, and Ian Alexander Martin

Nina MunteanugregbechtelIan Alexander MartinSD: Genres are breaking down. Clarke’s third law states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

NM: Why do we have genres and should we still?

GB: Yes. It’s for the reader. How else will we know what to buy and read?

NM: Publishers and imprints have the genre printed right on the spine, though.

IAM: I say I don’t like categories and genres, but when I go to my publisher, I use them. I may not like it, but I have to use them.

SD: Genre is your navigational touchstone, your compass point. You can get tricked into reading a genre you weren’t expecting. Stephen King is known primarily for horror, but then he published the Dark Tower series.

IAM: Using categories to restrict authors or stories is bogus.

NM: Do we need to re-educate our readers, then?

GB: Word of mouth is how you find out about books. Now it’s moved online.

NM: It started with Amazon. People are finding their books in new ways now.

IAM: Chapters is its own competition. If you buy online you save 20% over the bookstore prices.

NM: Is it still germane to categorize books?

IAM: Categories in bookstores is an American invention. In the 50’s or 60’s it migrated to Canada. Before that, everything was alphabetical by author, regardless of genre or category.

NM: It’s a different way of looking for a book. When you look for a book, do you look for an author, or do you look for a genre?

Q: People who are already published can bend the rules. What about someone who’s writing?

SD: It’s important to establish the ground rules for your universe. Don’t get derailed. Take Star Wars, for instance. It’s the biggest blend of science fiction and fantasy out there. Don’t try to explain the fantasy elements, like midichlorians. Don’t let anything come out of left field.

GB: We all seem to be agreeing that blending science fiction and fantasy can be done and has been done successfully. What advice do we have for the writers in our audience?

NM: To me, it’s all about the reader. When you read my books, you know what you’re getting. It’s about consistency.

SD: You make a covenant with your reader.

NM: As soon as another writer takes over a franchise, the reader can tell.

GB: You can break your rules if you set it up. Foreshadow. (Mel’s note: Kelley Armstrong said much the same thing in her workshop on writing fantasy at CanWrite!)

IAM: You should trust your reader to “get it.”

NM: You can be subtle.

Q: Blending is one thing, but what is genre? Is it the trappings, or are there other criteria?

NM: I teach how to write science fiction at the University of Toronto. That’s one of the first things my students have to learn is how to define the genre. In science fiction, science is the premise, the ‘what if?’ Fantasy doesn’t have to have magic, but it’s based more on myth and folklore.

SD: In Star Wars, you have all the trappings of science fiction, but at its core the story is a mythic one.

NM: Even if there’s something inexplicable about it. Sometimes, it’s better not to explain.

Q: So is it the fantasy element that enables the story?

NM: Take a look at Diana Gabaldon. Her books defy categorization, but when Outlander was first published, it was stuffed in the romance section of bookstores, even though the author insisted on the more general ‘fiction’ category. Sometimes trying to pigeon-hole your novel can backfire. I wrote what I called a romantic science fiction story. An artificial intelligence ran society, but romance was the main thread. It was dark though. Both partners died. It bombed with romance readers. It was well-reviewed, but romance readers hated it (where was the happy ending?) and science fiction readers loved it.

GB: Margaret Atwood is another example. You don’t want to disappoint your readers’ expectations.

Q: Is genre mainly the concern of publishers and marketing departments? Do you need to focus on it when you’re writing?

NM: You need to understand genre and how that’s going to affect where your novel is placed. New writers who blend are not as marketable.

IAM: Not during the creative process, though. Afterward, yes.

Q: Before the 50’s fantasy had to be disguised as science fiction.

Q: As a new author, how should you present your blended novel?

IAM: I’d be more interested in your mix. Do your research. Approach those publishers that have a track record with blended fiction.

GB: Find a publisher that produces novels you like to read and approach them.

NM: Books used to be marketed by genre. Identify what your book is and sell it for what it actually is.

IAM: Online recommendations may not be accurate. Genre is important for retail, library, and the marketing department. It’s not so relevant to the end user/reader anymore. Social interaction is the key to discoverability.

Q: I didn’t understand that Star Wars was a blend. Now that I think of blending in this light, Final Fantasy nailed it. How much does the visual element contribute?

SD: Science fiction and fantasy is a marginalized genre.

IAM: The general reaction is, “You’re reading that? Read [the classics] instead (Asimov, Clark, etc.).”

NM: The visual element enables blending.

GB: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a wonderful cross-pollination of horror and action-adventure wrapped in a coming-of-age story.

Q: Fantasy is magic-based. It doesn’t necessarily track for me. Can you make a science-based magic system?

IAM: Absolutely. You can do it if you do it well.

NM: Ultimately, fiction is story. Serve the story.

Next week: When words collide day two continues with Mark Leslie.

WWC 2014, Day 1: Evening keynotes

Here we are at the end of day 1 (for me–I know others partied into the wee hours). At other conferences and conventions, guest of honour keynotes are generally spread throughout the event, often at or after a meal.

The When Words Collide organizers chose to do something different.

Prior to the literary festival, there were several master classes offered by the keynote speakers, and the night before, they all delivered their presentations at a branch of the public library.

Between the extra days of leave I would have had to sacrifice, the cost of the master classes, and the expense of a longer stay, I had to opt out of the pre-conference program.

On the first night (formally speaking) of WWC, then, all of the keynote speakers were well into conference mode and had an opportunity to work out the bugs.

The keynotes were presented as a panel, with all of the speakers up on the stage, seated at tables.

Randy McCharles offered a few opening words, and then introduced the first of the speakers.

  1. Jacqueline Guest, author of 18 published novels, spoke about her adventures as aJacqueline Guest touring author. She has been all over the world, in the arctic, and had some very interesting tales to share. The old advice to writers is to write what you know. Travelling and experiencing all the world has to offer is a valuable way of gathering experience that can translate into your writing.
  2. Mark Leslie, of Kobo Writing Life, chose the subject of the mark-lesliehistory of story. From our earliest gatherings to share news around a fire, through the oral traditions of Greece and Rome, the invention of the printing press, and the advent of the novel, to today’s proliferation of traditionally published and independently published novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, and all other manner of written storytelling, Mark spoke eloquently of the purpose and value of story in our lives. He ended his keynote with this: when words collide, magic happens.
  3. Dorothy (DJ) MacIntosh, author of the (in progress) Mesopotamian trilogy, spoke
    DJ McIntosh

    photo by Robert Rafton

    about passion and how to keep that precious flame burning. She related the experiences, hers and those of other renowned authors, with rejection, and various reactions to rejection letters. How can we keep our passion alive amidst the darkness that can assail us?

  4. Brandon Sanderson, author of—oh, I’ll just say it—a shit load of bestselling fantasy novels including the
    Photo by Nazrilof

    Photo by Nazrilof

    posthumous conclusion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, addressed the problem of telling a compelling lie. He started with a grade school experience in which he realized that the story of Columbus and his discovery of the new world was all propaganda. In short, it was a lie, but it’s a lie that has been perpetuated over the years by quality storytelling. You could say that’s when the seed of his desire to become a professional liar was planted. He spoke of Sturgeon’s Law: that ninety percent of everything is crap. He wanted to test that hypothesis and started with Roger Ebert’s movie review site, which revealed between sixty and seventy percent good movies (two thumbs up). He then went to Rotten Tomatoes, a review site contributed to by the movie-going public. He found roughly the same results. There were exceptions, of course. He found one reviewer who didn’t like Return of the King, for example. Reviews are one of the most power tools in any author’s service. Word of mouth is what really translates into sales and a groundswell of support. The bad reviews can be damaging in all kinds of ways. We have to be able to distinguish between someone expressing a personal opinion, e.g. I didn’t like this book, and someone who’s going for the hurt, e.g. this is crap. They are two completely different judgements.

  5. Jack Whyte. I’d seen him last year at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference jack-whyteand knew the power of his presence, but, when Jack took the stage, I put my pen down and sat back. I knew I was about to be entertained. Jack basically extemporized (or, he made is sound like he was), drawing in elements of each of the previous speakers, adding colour with a touch of personal humour, and wrapping up the evening in style.

Next week: We enter day 2 with the Blending Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.

WWC 2014, Day 1: Doctor your book with Randy McCharles

randymccharlesRandy McCharles is active in Calgary, Alberta’s writing community with a focus on speculative fiction, usually of the wickedly humorous variety, with short stories and novellas available from Edge SF&F Publishing, House of Anansi, and Reality Skimming Press. He is the recipient of several Aurora Awards (Canada’s most prestigious award for speculative fiction) and is short-listed in three categories for the upcoming 2014 Awards. In 2013, his short story Ghost-B-Gone Incorporated won the House of Anansi 7-day Ghost Story Contest. Randy’s first Tyche Books publication, Much Ado About Macbeth, will be available in August 2015.

In addition to writing, Randy chairs the award-winning When Words Collide Festival for Readers and Writers as well as organizing various reading and craft events for writers.


 

As writers, we love our literary children. We are also our own worst critics. We need to find a middle ground, an objective perspective. A peer review or critique groups can be of great value in this respect.

When we write, we see the story in our heads so clearly we may forget to put it all down on paper. We need to learn how to doctor our work.

Self-publishing is another reason. Learning to edit your work can help save costs.

The less work an editor has to do, the better. Also, cheaper. (Mel’s note: even if you think that your work is well-edited, a professional editor will always be able to identify further corrections, whether substantive, copy, or line editing. Also, many freelance editors charge by page or words, so you won’t necessarily save any money if you have 75k well-edited words, or 75k poorly edited ones. With an editor who charges by hour, you might do better.)

Theme will help you keep on track.

Then ensued much discussion regarding the relative merits of David Brin’s The Postman and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, both books and movies.

Many inexperienced writers choose the wrong place to start the story. Too soon and unimportant events won’t capture your reader’s attention. Too late and the reader won’t be engaged by your character, or you’ll find yourself explaining—telling—events that have just happened. That’s a tell-tale sign you’ve started too late.

Aim for in media res, but don’t misunderstand the technique. Too much action can confuse the reader. Give the reader a reason to care.

Try not to be “married to the line,” that is, if you think you have to start in a particular place because you’ve come up with the “perfect” line, that line may be one of the darlings you have to kill. You have to be willing to set it aside to find the true beginning of your novel.

Other issues are genre-specific. In fantasy or science fiction, you may spend too much time on worldbuilding or on backstory. Sometimes chapter one is just a distraction and your real story starts in chapter two or even three.

Some opening scenes are missing the hook, that story question that will propel the reader through the novel. New York Times Bestselling Authors (NYTBSAs) can get away with this, but not the first time author.

You may also be missing scenes. This comes from writing “in your head” too much.

Unnecessary scenes may be a sign of too much thinking on the page, on the other hand.

We talk about wearing your writer’s hat and your editor’s hat, but what’s missing from the equation is the reader’s hat.