Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to Write a Bestseller

As some of you know on the weekend I attended a Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival run by the NSW Writers’ Centre. One panel had four successful authors and they discussed how to write a bestseller. On the panel were Jaqueline Harvey, Sophie Masson, Aleesah Darlinson and Dianne Bates.

What is a bestseller?
The concept of what a bestseller is varies between countries and publishing houses. In Australia if we sell only 8000 books it’s considered a bestseller. In the USA 100 000 would be a bestseller, however some publishing houses would call as few as 15-20k a bestseller. It used to be considered a bestseller if you sold a number of copies equal to 1% of the population, but that’s no longer the case.

They made another interesting point. The New York Bestseller List can be deceiving because it doesn’t list sales over time. It covers velocity of sales. If a title sells fast when it first comes out, then it will rise on this list, but this doesn’t mean it will become a bestseller because those sales could drop off just as quickly.

How to Write a Bestseller
The authors on the panel discussed these points:
1. Finish writing the book. It won’t sell if it’s not finished.
2. There is no formula. Often a bestseller comes as a surprise to everyone.
3. Despite this, study the market and know the intended audience.
4. Learn to self edit
5. Join workshops and critique groups
6. Make your characters real and interesting
7. Read awarded books and bestsellers.

What do you think makes a bestseller?

Thanks: last week I received a Stylish Blogger Award from Maeve at Lollipop’s Cottage. Thanks so much.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Publishers are Looking for Today and Tomorrow

On the weekend I attended the 6th Children’s and Young Adult Literature Festival run by the NSW Writers’ Centre. I had a fantastic time and met so many people. One panel discussed what publishers are looking for today and tomorrow. On the panel were Lisa Berryman of Harper Collins, agent Brian Cook, Zoe Walton of Random House, Sue Whiting of Walker Books and Angie Schiavone, a YA literary reviewer. Below are some of the points I’d like to share with you:

A good story: It was universally agreed that it comes down to a great story. There’s little point looking for trends because once you’ve identified one it’s too late. For example, one publisher said no more vampire stories. If you have a vampire story then it would have to be exceptional with a strong voice, fantastic characters and freshness to the story. In other words, if you have something special you’ll make your own market.

A career author: Publishers aren’t looking for one story writers. They spend a lot of time and effort on an author and their work so they want to know they are investing into a career. Initially they may commit to only one book but they want to know if that book could be used as a series. You don’t have to have written that series, but it would be advantageous to include a brief synopsis of future books along with the completed first book. Even if the book you’ve written isn’t a series, they would like to know you have other stories in the works.

Marketability: Show you’ve researched the market, that your book has a place in the market. Network. Get involved in social media, writers’ events and writers’ groups. Writers should come out of their cocoons and show they can make a connection with their readers.

What are some things you’ve done to become more marketable? What else do you think publishers are looking for?


Friday, June 24, 2011

Writing Rules? What Writing Rules?

I’ve read many dos and don’ts of writing. There seem to be so many rules it’s hard to keep track of them all. And many contradict each other. For example, I’ve heard you shouldn’t start your book with dialogue and yet many proclaimed writers do. These contradictions can be confusing and frustrating for the new writer.

After much research, I’ve come to a conclusion: In terms of writing, there are no absolute rules. I’ll say it again:


If you write your story well enough, then rules shouldn’t matter. It’s the story that matters. The majority of your readers won’t know the rules, but they’ll be able to recognise a good story.

Sometimes in the quest to ‘get it right’ we lose the power of the story. Grammar and punctuation can become a straight jacket. This is why you might hear the advice to write the first draft as fast as possible. And even that ‘rule’ can be broken. You have to find what works for you. To do this you’ll need an open mind, the freedom to experiment, and the bravery to be different.

I’m not saying don’t bother learning the rules. The more equipped we are, the more able we’ll be to make a good story great. What I am saying, however, is not to fret too much.

Are you a stickler for the rules or a rebel? Do you think there is such a thing as worrying too much about breaking the rules? How do you justify a broken rule?

I’m heading to a Children's and Young Adult Literature Festival on Saturday. It is run by the NSW Writers’ Centre. It should be fantastic.

Pic: When I took this photo I overheard a passerby scoff at me for taking a photo of shadows when I had the grand view of Sydney Harbour laid out before me. I guess I broke a ‘rule’ for the sake of creativity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books: A Dying Art Form?

With the recent fear that books are dying out, many discussions have cropped up about the impact of technology. I read a recent article about how an increasing number of parents aren’t reading to their toddlers. Instead, children are spending much of their time in front of TV. By the time they go to school they lack: 1. social skills; 2. motor skills – many can’t even hold a pencil; 3. concentration skills.

The problem isn’t reserved to toddlers either. We are all spending much more of our time on distractions such as social media, phone apps, utube, blogs, computer games, tv, movies, podcasts and so forth.

How does this impact the humble book? I remember a time when travelling the train every second person had a book in their hands. Now every second person seems to have a phone in their hands.

We’ve also seen the impact through the closure of many local bookstores. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of buying less traditional books. My kindle is only a few months old but already the paper books feel clunky and cumbersome in my hands. I never thought I’d ever feel that way.

What does it mean for writers? It’s a fantastic time to be a writer. We have so many more options than we did 20 years ago. It’s no longer about ‘the book’, it’s about story. While the book as we know it may die out, story will always survive.

Story began as word of mouth. It became paintings on cave walls and spread exponentially once the written word developed and birthed the first book. Now we are seeing another time of change. With today’s technology story has become more than the spoken and written word. Story can also include images and music and animation.

Do you think books are dying? What do you think the future will reveal regarding reading and books and story?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Joys of Handwriting

I read a recent article in the local paper about how computers are killing students’ handwriting skills. Their handwriting has become an illegible scribble. This becomes a particular issue when state exams are conducted primarily with pen and paper. I found this interesting because I personally love to handwrite. I handwrote this post at the local coffee shop.

I also read an article that suggested those who did a lot of handwriting had a greater capacity for clarity of thought and creativity. It has something to do with hand-eye coordination and exercising the brain. I couldn’t say my brain is sufficiently exercised, nor that I’m capable of clear thinking all the time, but I will say there is a certain freedom in handwriting.

I handwrite my first drafts – novels, articles, posts – because it gets me away from the distractions of the computer. I can write anywhere without having to worry about battery life. It also helps me write faster because I’m not pausing to fix phrases or correct sentences and I’m not distracting myself with research midway through a session. And, while I’m handwriting, I’m not tempted to check Facebook, Twitter, my emails, or – cough – play a game of solitaire. I can focus on my work.

Why do you like or dislike handwriting? Do you think the loss of handwriting skills in our youth will become an issue?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Running with Scissors & Other Good Writing Habits

Every good writer should run with scissors. In the first draft stage we should write with reckless abandon. Don’t think. Just write. It’s a great way to tap into our unique voice. Don’t stop to worry if anyone will approve of it. Don’t stop to wonder if the writing style is acceptable. Don’t fret over broken rules. Just write. We can always fix it later.

Every good writer should become a construction worker. Working from a solid foundation – the plot—we should write and edit our novels in stages. The glossy polish should happen only when we’re close to finished. There’s no point polishing the brass fittings until the rooms are up and stable.

Every good writer should act like a hero. We need to show a certain amount of bravery to take on this profession. We need to never give up despite the odds and always stay strong. Heroes conquer where others quail.

Every good writer should own a padded room. We all know those crazy days are going to happen when nothing goes right and our characters don’t behave and the scenes won’t work. We might as well plan for it.

What other good habits do you practise?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Immerse the Reader

I always say a great story is the most important element of a novel. We can have a great concept, a great structure and great characters, but if we stop there, our stories will lack magic. The readers want to become engrossed in the story. They want to be immersed and live the story experience in their minds. They need to see it, hear it, smell it and more.

The sensory details will bring our stories alive. They can capture mood and atmosphere. They can reflect emotion and tension. They can enhance the feeling of conflict. They can add that extra dimension.

To get it right we need to become observers of life. We need to practise awareness and take note of everything around us – especially of the little things. To write a scene well, we need to see it--not as actors on a stage, but characters in a real, living, breathing setting.

To bring authenticity into our stories we also need to write in specifics, not generalisations. If you want a car going by, what kind of car is it? If you want birds chirping, what kind of birds are they?

We all lead busy lives, so how do you practise awareness? Why do you think you find writing descriptions easy or difficult?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Importance of Getting Published

Rachna at Rachna’s Sciptorium recently wrote a post about an author whose reason to get published was to win the Booker Prize. This author carefully researched the formula, worked hard and achieved her goal. You can read about it HERE. This got me thinking. It’s important to know why we want to get published. The reasons will vary, but knowing the reason will help us find a deeper satisfaction and focus. It will also help us to find the right avenue for publication.

Below are just a few reasons we strive for publication:

1. To hold the physical book. Our precious stories become more precious when they are bound and we can hold them in our hands. My gorgeous husband got the first book I ever wrote bound. It sits in pride of place on the bookshelf. Now my goal has changed.

2. To gain the interest of investors. My new goal is to write a novel that a publisher will like enough to invest their time and money into. I guess that’s why I’ve chosen not to go down the self-publishing route. I write because I must write, but I strive for publication to gain acknowledgement for getting it right.

3. To share our stories. We can have multiple reasons to strive for publication and this is another of mine. If this is your primary goal, then there are many ways of achieving this: traditional publishing, self-publishing, e-publishing, blogging, podcasts and the list goes on.

4. To fill a gap in the market. The business of publishing is selling books. If you are able to find a gap in the market worth filling, then this is a valid reason. This goal requires a lot of research and knowledge of the industry.

5. To get rich and famous. Some might argue this is not a valid reason simply because of the unlikelihood of it happening. The success of writers like J K Rowling is not the norm. But I say, if this is your thing then why not give it a go? It’s good to dream. I’d perhaps suggest avoid this as a primary goal.

6. To win a specific prize. As the author who wrote specifically to win the Booker Prize, this goal will help bring focus to writing.

What are your reasons for publication?

Friday, June 10, 2011

2 Ways to Become a Published Author

1. Write a good story, work hard and persevere, aiming to always do your best and be your best.

2. Write a good story, work hard and persevere, aiming to always do your best and be your best.

What's your chosen method of publication?

I’m currently in the thick of rewrites of my young adult Fantasy Steampunk, and I’m so immersed in the story I’m almost living the adventure. When this happens, my advice is let the immersion happen. Don’t fight it. Live it. Breathe it.

Thanks: I won three books from Emily White in celebration of her signing with Spencer Hill Press. The books are Minder by Kate Kaynak, Half-Blood by Jennifer L. Armentrout and its prequel, Daimon. Thanks so much Emily!

Award: I also won the Irrisistibly Sweet Blog Award from Susanne Drazic at Putting Words Down on Paper. Thanks, Susanne.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

3 Ways to Avoid the Waffle in Writing

What I mean by the waffle is not a Belgium dessert, but prose that meanders along unrelated tangents that fail to add anything to the story. As writers we want to avoid the waffle. Like the dessert, it can add unwanted fat to the story and weigh down the pace and tension. Never give your readers a reason to put down your book.

Below are some tips we can use to help us stay on track:

Slash and burn. One major question to ask often is, does this scene, character, paragraph, sentence add anything to the story? We grow attached to moments of writerly genius. We hold onto our little treasures and often fail to see they can take the shine from the story if their only purpose is to dazzle. Anything that doesn’t add to the story, reveal something relevant about a character, or push the plot forward, has to go.

Find clarity. Another important question to ask is, what am I trying to communicate? Often we wander around our stories or scenes because we aren’t entirely sure of what we want to say. We may not be sure of our characters, we may have too many characters, we may not have a clear idea of where we want the plot to go.

Get a second opinion. Or a third and fourth. Often we get too close to our manuscripts and we lose the ability to discern the weak areas. Find someone you trust, preferably someone with some knowledge of story structure, and get their opinion. Ask them if there are parts that slow down the story. Ask them if they feel there are any unnecessary scenes.

Can you think of other ways of avoiding the waffle? What do you do to keep your stories tight?

Pic: A huge thanks to Dezmond for the use of the picture of these Rum Bombs. Neither of us had waffle pics but I thought this one was brilliant. His cakes are truly amazing. Check them out on his Facebook album: Dezz in the Kitchen. He will also soon open Dezmond Dish Delish culinary site. Sounds exciting!

Monday, June 6, 2011

It’s All Fun & Games Blogfest!

For this Blogfest, hosted by Alex J Cavanaugh, I am supposed to list three of my favourite games and why. Computer games have played a huge part in my life. My brother used to program games and I would test them for him. I spent much of my childhood (and more) playing games. For a long time they were better than books, especially when they became story-based. I even met my husband through a game.

The real passion for computer games started with Zork. It’s an old text adventure game. No graphics. It was brilliant because it immersed me into a fun story with puzzles to solve. It was far better than Space Invaders. Zork evolved into games like Myst and Riven -- same type of game only with lush graphics and wonderful music. These games got me into computer art and animation.

Red Planet, Virtual World offered me another massive turning point in my life. Along with BattleTech, I played this game in fully enclosed cockpits with multiple screens, switches, joysticks and control peddles. This is where I met my husband. I entered the Australian National competition for Red Planet and won. I travelled to Pasadena, California to compete against the Americans and Japanese. I was the only girl competing and I won. My official title is International Grand Master. Hahahaha.

World of Warcraft is currently my favourite game. I’ve played it for 5-6 years now with many different characters. This game eats time because it’s so fun and immersive. I’ve met many new friends and learnt a lot about people through interaction. Unfortunately I’ve seen and conquered the majority of the content now. It’s probably a good thing, though. I can’t afford to give it as much time as I used to because I’d rather put that time into writing.

So now you know a little more about the geekiness of me. I promise to get back on topic on my next post.

What games have influenced your life?

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Bit about Me

Since I don’t often share much about myself on this blog, I thought today, being Friday I’d go off topic and take part in a Tag that’s been going around. I blame Carol Riggs for the diversion since she is the one who tagged me. My duty is to answer the following questions:

Do you think you're hot?
No, I’m freezing to death as the Aussie winter sets in (ok, well, maybe not ‘to death’, but it’s mighty chilly).

Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.

Cough. This is a screenshot from World of Warcraft. I’m showing my geeky side.

When was the last time you ate chicken meat?
Last night. I cooked up a wintery feast of chicken drumsticks with chickpeas, pearl cous cous, mushrooms, fennel, onion and a creamy leek and potato sauce. Oh, and lots of garlic. I love garlic.

The song(s) you listened to most recently?
Erm… I haven't listened to any music in a while. At the moment I have the opening music of the Game of Thrones stuck in my head. 

What were you thinking as you were doing this?
Will anyone mind me posting off topic? Will anyone find this interesting? Gee, it’s so much easier to post writing tips!

Do you have nicknames?
Yes. Scumbag (by my brother), Channy (a derivation of my maiden name), Lynny (by those super close to me), and Lync (long story)…oh, and Pinki…and… yeah, I had more than I realised. I won’t list them all here.

Tag 4 blogger friends (you are It!)
1. Carol
2. Dezzy
3. Suze
4. Charmaine

Who's listed as number 1?
Carol Riggs, yes I know you’ve already been tagged but I’m tagging you back, so ner! Carol is a fantastic writer who recently snagged an agent. We are critique partners and I value her amazing advice and support.

Leave a lovey dovey message for number 2.
Dezzy-baby-hun, you are a fantastic human being who bakes, translates and cogitates. Your blog on Hollywood goss is amazing and you are a wonderful support and friend.

How did you get to know number 3?
I think I met Suze during the A-Z Challenge in April. Her posts swing from great fun to deeply thoughtful. All brilliant.

How about number 4?
A fellow Aussie, I got to know Charmaine through the blogging world and we finally met at a workshop during the Sydney Writers’ Festival. That was seriously great!

What do you think of Blogging Tags and Awards? How's your writing coming along?

Note: Flu is now just a cold and almost gone. YAY! Thanks so much for all your well wishes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

5 Ways to Develop a Unique Voice

A unique voice is one of those elusive elements agents and publishers look for in a manuscript. Many say it can’t be taught and many believe it’s exceptionally difficult to edit in.

Jeni Mawter, Australian author of YA and Tween novels, ran the last workshop I attended during the Sydney Writers’ Festival. She covered many topics including voice. Below are some tips she shared:

1. First and foremost we need to ask ourselves, who is telling the story and why? This will impact our style choices for that voice.

2. When considering the style of the voice we also need to think about:
  • word choice – will it be formal or colloquial, will the language be colourful or plain, will the words be simple or complex?
  • Sentence length – In literary fiction sentences tend to be longer. Also, the more tension there is in a scene, the shorter the sentences.
  • Tense – while past tense is the most popular, present tense often makes the story more immediate.
  • Point of View – First person is intimate yet limiting. Third person is more distant but the writer has a lot more freedom.
  • Emotions – the way these are conveyed varies with gender. Males tend to feel emotion through action. Females respond through thought and feeling. Also, emotional scenes gain more impact if the language is simple, so take out all the adverbs and adjectives.
  • Humour – likeability is often closely related to humour. For example, Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs was likeable because of his wicked sense of humour.
  • Attitudes – do you want a cocky voice or a quiet one, a carefree voice or a thoughtful one?
  • Rhythm – lyrical language and rhythms are often found in literary texts.
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling – will these be formal and proper or will the voice include a more relaxed approach?

3. Practise and practise again. Have a willingness to rewrite and rewrite again.

4. Study. Become a people watcher. Be observant, not judgemental.

5. Read books with a strong voice and analyse how the writer succeeded.

Can you think of other tips to gain a unique voice? Can you name any books that have a strong, unique voice you liked?

Note: Still down with flu... sniffle.