Not only publishers but agents are very scared at the moment. Self-publishing is now publishing (with no qualifier). And quality will be the driver.
At a Society of Authors (North) meeting, held yesterday in Manchester, these items constituted the good news in a talk given by Alison Baverstock, Professor of Publishing at Kingston University. I came away feeling that while much work lies ahead, the future is not so bleak as previously thought.
Monday, 6 August 2012
Yours may be a contemporary novel critiquing modern society. You may be creating a world from archived materials and ephemera. But the chances are that, in the end, you’ll have so much well-researched information threatening to overwhelm you, you’ll be tempted to include it.
This overload is not desirable. In fact, avoiding it is essential if you want your reader to stay with you. So what do you do with this embarrassment of riches?
I posed the question to the massed ranks of the LinkedIn Historical Novelists and their replies were so useful, I’ve asked permission to share. Here are some of their suggestions.
First and foremost - when you’re writing a novel for an audience - you should remember you are doing so as an entertainer, not a teacher.
You may enjoy the chase – following research trail after trail. But if you think you’re going to lose yourself and your grip in this, you may need to hire a researcher. This professional will not only track down what you need to know but also create a filing system so you can find the information again.
A reader has a right to expect accuracy and if accuracy is the hallmark of your research, you can be proud. But the task may be complex. For example, if your characters are setting sail from Australia in the 1900s, you need to control the charts to establish the route, consider the weather conditions for a summer or winter voyage and establish an accurate time-line.
One of the major problems attached to too much research is The Dump. But how much is too much? And how do you know if you’ve included too much information? Don’t worry - you’ll recognise the Dump. It’ll take the form of a close-grained passage that advances neither the story nor your knowledge of the internal workings of a character and – during a re-edit – you’ll be tempted to skip it. A good rule of thumb is: Never bore yourself or your reader!
But apt scientific fact or concise historical detail can add so much. And – with a light touch - you can avoid the Dump. Vary your approach. A straight account of fact may appear like a rock in the shallows. But you could write in bored teenagers responding to a parental account of an event. Or set women gossiping about it at a village well? Or a newspaper report? The possibilities are many and your writer’s craft will help you explore these - while keeping your reader attentive.
So what do you do with any excess information? You could use it in a blog? Or write another novel based on it? Nothing – ever - need go to waste!
Friday, 30 March 2012
This morning, I’m juggling with the idea of names. Character names deserve their own post – so I’ll leave them for now. But what about author’s names – noms des plumes?
I used my name, Elizabeth Gates, in full (never Liz) when I was a journalist because it lent a sort of gravitas to my persona. And dealing with huge issues as I did – life, death, injury, cynical greed, fatal incompetence etc – gravitas was precisely what I needed.
But now, as a writing and communication coach and story-teller, I introduce myself as Lizzie Gates. A family name and – although I’m a professional still – this hints at a more approachable persona than the more formal Elizabeth Gates.
However, now I’m writing fiction, I have had a blinding insight into the whole ‘name’ thing. I can chose my name to fit the genre.
I was always drawn to writing comedy and I saw myself doing this under the name of Poppy Winthrop. But, for my historical novels, I’ve chosen to write under the name of my great-great-grandmother, Abigail Newsham – because she lived at about the time when the action in my current magnum opus is taking place.
What fun we can all have with names.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
There is nothing like hand-writing your thoughts. Sometimes when I'm journaling, I look at the tip of my pen or pencil and think 'Was all that stuff in you? Or in me?' Of course, I know it was me. I'm not losing my grip here. But the magic that seems to happen when I put pen to paper doesn't seem to happen when I sit at the computer. Just an observation. Not a recommendation to restrict writing to pen and paper.But I do think that pen and paper capture the Artist-Writer and the computer deals with the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder requirements of the Inner Editor. So - as usual - I can see a place for both.
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
I've just started writing a novel again - well, two actually. And this after decades of Writers' Block Blues. Several things have prompted this. Joining writers' groups has brought me out of the woodwork and positive helpful critique from the members has given me confidence. Also, I've finally recognised that I produced my first novel (100,000 words of it) when I should have been revising for my O-level Chemistry and my O-level Physics. That little excursion taught me a lot about writing. And a rather unpleasant fact about life - to wit, ignore science at your peril. My life as a medical journalist - 25 years' worth - would have been far easier if I'd spent time doing the groundwork in the School Laboratories. But hey! The enthusiasms of youth - I wanted to write a novel, couldn't help myself writing a novel, so I did. And, at this point, the exponential parallels in all our lives should be jangling.