Reflections on fantasy, SF, writing, music, technology, life…

Are writing careers harder now?

Is making a living and having a writing career harder now? That is the impression given by an article in The Observer newspaper yesterday (Sunday 2 March). Somewhat provocatively titled From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life? it explores the financial situation of several authors (non-fiction and fiction).
It does show that since the mid-eighties the life of a mid-list author with a mainstream publisher has become more difficult but, to some degree, I feel it is that publishing incomes seem to have come back more to pre-eighties levels making the period from 1980 to 2000 more an aberration.
The article does little to explore other side of the coin of the success many authors have found self-publishing and the disruption this has caused to the conventional market.
Scanning the reader comments (including a number of self-identified writers among them) below the article, there was a general sense that the authors interviewed were whinging rather! Certainly, I was surprised the first author interviewed, Rupert Thomson, had reached the point where he had to give up renting an office and commuting into London to write and now had to “make do” with an attic conversion in his house. Not exactly starving then!


EU consultation on reform of copyright

Anyone interested in reform of copyright, particularly those of you reading this who are also authors and bloggers, may want to respond to the current European Union consultation on the reform of copyright across the EU.
This might help get rid of some of the ambiguity. Examples include whether it is permissible to link to websites without the site owner’s prior agreement, the impact of different copyright laws and policies in different EU member countries or the ability to receive TV programmes broadcast in one member country in another.
Note that the consultation closes on 5 March, so there is little time to respond especially as the full consultation is 80 questions.
The Open Rights Group has selected four questions it considers most relevant around retaining openness and the ability to link to freelay available material without seeking prior permission. To quote ORG:

Unfortunately, the consultation could … put crucial functions of the Internet in jeopardy. It asks whether you should need the permission of the rights holder of a work before linking to that work or viewing it. If that happened, ordinary everyday web browsing would become a lot more complicated.Lobbyists from big rights holder groups are taking part in the conversation and telling the European Commission that we should have to get the authorisation of the rights holder before linking or viewing their work. If we don’t get involved, the Commission will just get the views of the large rights holder lobby.

The ORG’s four questions are here.

Authors and others interested in more than this around copyright reform in the EU but who don’t want to respond to all 80 questions will find this link useful. By using tick boxes to identify your areas of interest a selection of the most relevant questions – not all of which need be responded to – will be brought up. Note this is not the official EU site but (to quote the the site I have linked to) it…

…has been put together by a broad cross-section of interest groups from across Europe, from rights holders to public interest NGOs to large consumer representatives and everything in between.

They seem to have made the questionnaire more accessible and provide guidance on meaning of the questions. After completion the site generates a document you can forward to the EU consultation group. I’ve used it and found it effective.

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IndieReCon 2014 schedule

IndieReCon, the online convention cum workshop for anyone interested in indie publishing, returns for its second year this month. It runs from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 February.
The schedule is now available. (Note times quoted are US-based EST which is UTC / GMT -5 hours.)

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First draft of novel completed in a month with NaNoWriMo

30 November and lunchtime today I wrote the final scene of the first draft of my second novel – tentatively titled “Nightspore’s Angel” – almost 55K words in one month.

Never though I could sustain 1k words a day, let alone average almost 2K and have occasional peaks of 3K and 4K. The spur, of course, was participating in NaNoWriMo.

My thanks to my NaNo buddies Jan Whitaker, Phillip McCollum and Caroline Norrington for encouragement and showing me I was regularly well behind their word count!

Caroline’s Scrivener template and the Snowflake Method it introduced me to were also invaluable.


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Query letters

Over the past few days I have been at an artists and writers retreat, held at the old Quaker Meeting House in Congénies in the South of France. A very pleasant location, it has given me an opportunity to continue the preparation to write my second novel during the up-coming NaNoWriMo and to work out how to edit and revise the mess that pretends to be my first novel. However, yesterday I spent some time with another writer at the retreat looking at how to tackle query letters.

Query letters are an art-form in themselves and, especially when we have spent a significant chunk of time writing a book, we should not skimp on the preparation of the approach to sell the idea to others. One resource that proved particularly useful is the blog by the writer, JM Tohline. (It is my source for the amusing ‘how not to write a novel’ video yesterday.)

He has collated the advice and thoughts of over fifty literary agents on query letters. Those we found especially useful are:


How to Write a Novel (not)

This gem of a YouTube video has apparently been doing the rounds of New York literary agents. If you are a serious writer it will make your toes curl.

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Taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge

November is National Novel Writing month (better know as NaNoWriMo) and I have decided to take part for the first time. The challenge of writing at least fifty thousand words in thirty days is a major one for me since I have never managed a sustained rate in excess of a thousand words a day.

Why am I doing it? I have been stuck in editing my first novel for what feels like forever, yet I have other ideas burning to be written. This is a way to take one of them, tentatively titled “Nightspore’s Angel”, through first draft.

Writing any of the manuscript beforehand is not allowed but preparation of ideas, plot and scene outlines and character skteches is permitted. To prepare, I am using the Scrivener template and Snowflake method referred to in earlier posts to undertake the necessary thinking. So far, up to snowflake step 4, I have a one page summary of the plot and outline sketches of the major characters.

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Discovering the ‘Snowflake Method’ of writing

One of the additional benefits of the Scrivener novel start-up template provided by Caroline Norrington (see my previous article: ‘Excellent Scrivener template to help start that novel’) is that it introduced me to the Snowflake Method. Not sure how I missed it before but this was the first I had heard of the method, which is a shame as it would have really helped me on my first novel.

Developed by Randy Ingermanson, a software engineer and phsyicist turned novelist, it provides a detailed and structured approach to building up the framework for writing the first draft of a novel. While many people like to write to a “three act structure”, I find the Snowflake Method’s ‘Setup, Three Disasters and an Ending’ much more appealing.

If you have not come across it before, the first nine steps are preparation – building up in stages – and the tenth is actually writing the first draft. As well as having a section in Caroline’s template, you can check out the method on Randy Ingermanson’s website, which has a page setting out the Snowflake Method.

Incidentally, I see the Snowflake Method as mapping well to Rachel Aaron’s ‘2K to 10K’ approach to increasing one’s word count, if one does not like the three-act method she uses. (You can check out my review of her Kindle book from a while ago.)

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Excellent Scrivener template to help start that novel

As long-time readers of ‘Nightspore’ will know, I have been a fan of Scrivener writing software for quite a while now and find it an invaluable writing tool.

I did struggle a bit when I first started using the software because of the scope of what it does.

What would have helped me start “Rose In Winter”, my first novel (previously I had stuck to short stories), is a template that did more than just help format the final output and provide buckets for research etc. Although Scrivener’s storyboarding and synopsis tools are very powerful, there is much more that can be done with it if one knows where to start.

Impatient to get going, I took a “let’s start writing” approach which has since proved to be bit of a problem as I had not worked out enough of the plot and structure for my novel and had almost nothing beforehand on the characters. It all just “grew” – I am now trying to sort out the unholy mess by developing character outlines and breaking the story down into five (possibly more) novelette / novella length sections.

Last week, while browsing the Online Writing Workshop‘s Discussion Forum I finally found that “starting a novel” template tool I needed. OWW member Caroline Norrington has developed just the answer.

As well as manuscript parts for ‘just typing your novel’ she has included detailed instructions and ‘fill in the blanks’ elements for the conventional three act structure, semi-structured plotting, scene building and a wealth of material around developing characters (which I really wish I had found a year or two ago!). Also, of particular interest to fantasy and SF writers but useful for any novelist, there are sections on ‘world-building (such as cultures and geiography) and other research.

As if this was not enough, there is also a section on producing your final output in paperback novel format or as an e-book, complete with instructions on how to include cover art-work.

Rather than include the template here, I encourage you to read Caroline’s article about the template on her website. Not only will this have her latest version (I understand her template is being refined at the moment) but there are also screenshots and more information about what the template covers.

Highly recommended!


The Guardian’s ‘Self-publishing showcase’

Anyone interested in the broader aspects of self-publishing should check out The Guardian newspaper’s website. It now has a section within “Books” called Self-publishing showcase. It is updated weekly with new articles. The most recent (11 September), is a piece on India Drummond, a fantasy writer.

Well worth keeping an eye on this.

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