A recent report from Author Earnings confirms that self-published titles are gaining enormous traction in the book market, and in particular, e-book sales. From humble and amateur beginnings only a few short years ago, Indie publishing has reduced the Big Five publishers to only 16% of the Amazon e-book market. While the data is only drawn from Amazon sales, their market dominance is so large that one can easily believe that it represents a trend across the whole publishing industry. But does this mean you can write a book, get rich and say, ‘I’ll give up my day job?’
With this information, it might be easy to conclude that self-publishing, or Indie publishing as it is often called now, is turning into a gold mine for authors. So should you give up your day job, write a book, and instantly become a rich Indie author? Well, no, yes and no.
Self-publishing isn’t easy to define
Self-publishing is not a singular definition. There are many so facets to it and while there are certainly a number authors who work all day and write all night and make a decent side income from self-publishing, there are also those who have tried to make it a full-time career, but failed to make more than a few dollars a month in their first year, so gave up. There are the hobby authors who appreciate the opportunity to publish, but are not dreaming of making a lot of money from their passion but do make a little money each month. Then there are those who think that by tapping out a few words and loading it up onto Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will make them a killing. Within this group are scammers, Internet marketers and dreamers, and without being unkind, writers who have trouble even spelling the word, writer. Yet they are a very real and important component of self-publishing, as it is the freedom to publish that is at the very heart of this new form of publishing.
At the top of the list, though, are the professional self-publishers, who are a different breed of author to those I listed before. They treat it as a business and invest heavily in book launches, promotion, advertising and media placement. They are often authors who have been published traditionally in the past but have grasped the opportunity to earn far more than was being offered by their agents and publishers, by using their established author brand to self-publish and self-promote their new titles.
Then there is the new grey area, which is Small Press. These can range from well-established specialist traditional publishers, down to one self-published author who uses his or her knowledge and experience of publishing a few books on KDP to help other authors to self-publish. This is becoming more and more common, as those who often have little or no computer knowledge seek free or inexpensive help in getting their book published.
While the report by Author Earnings paints a very rosy unit sales picture of self-publishing against traditional publishing, it doesn’t offer any real information regarding Vanity Publishing.
As the Big Five all have vanity publishing wings now, are these books classed as self-published? There is also no breakdown of the sales data to know which segment of self-publishing is making the most inroads. My instinctive gut guess would be that those who have considerable publishing industry knowledge and acumen would stand the best chance of success. Self-publishing may be new, but publishing is not. The basics remain the same.
So by all means, take the opportunity to use self-publishing to express yourself, get that manuscript that has been gathering dust for years out into the marketplace, and when you have finished, write another book. But give up your day job? No. Not if you only plan to open a Twitter account, a Facebook Page and then believe that your book will sell like hot cakes, without a pound of investment.
Self-publishing is now a very big business with huge potential market. Don’t get too carried away by the suffix in front of the word publishing. Self-publishing is still publishing and that has always been a tough business, even when you know what you’re doing. Just ask the Big Five.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Flashback:
How To Master Flashback
A flashback involves (as the name describes) a scene that moves from the present to the past to reveal something about a character or event within the narrative. Generally in fiction, the use of a flashback constitutes using white space to separate the past from the present, to signal to the reader that there has been a change in time and/or place. In some cases, a writer may choose to use italics (usually if the scene is more of a memory snippet than an actual fully-developed scene, as lots of italicized text irritates some readers and editors).
The best flashbacks are set up by the previous paragraph. In the lead up to the flashback, there is generally a ‘trigger’ – something that causes the protagonist/narrator to recall a particular event or detail of the past. The trigger is explored/explained in the flashback itself which then also reveals new information to the reader.
Flashbacks are an opportunity for the author to provide insight into situations that would otherwise be left unexplained…
Used in short stories, poems, novels, plays and movies, it is one of the most common and most recognisable writing techniques, and when executed well, one of the most effective.
- The Road (film): The director has used flashbacks throughout the whole film to reveal to the viewer how in a post-apocalyptic world, a father and son came to be on the road, homeless and unprotected.
- Breaking Bad (television series): This series is renowned for doing things differently, and the use of flashback here is no exception. In Breaking Bad, the flashbacks often come first and are then later explained and explored in the next few episodes, setting up a sense of intrigue within its viewers.
- Harry Potter (book series): Yes, even the Harry Potter novels use flashback. Remember the Pensieve that Dumbledore uses? The reader (and Harry) are transported back in time to relive the memories of Dumbledore and others.
Tips for Using Flashbacks:
- Use a trigger to justify taking the reader back into the past. This is the most natural way to introduce scenes from the past as this is actually how we recall memories in real life – we see something that reminds us of an event, person or detail that occurred in the past.
- Also ensure that you use another trigger or event to bring your character (and reader) back to the present. This gives your reader clear signals as to when you are changing from past to present and present to past, in order to keep them immersed in the story, but not disorientated and confused.
- Think of these triggers as ‘bookends’ to your flashback – they need to be there to keep this scene neat and tidy, but also shouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb (excuse the cliche).
- Don’t overdo it. Don’t litter your narrative with multiple flashbacks, this becomes irritating and confusing for the reader, but also questions the validity of you setting your story in the present when more is actually happening in the past… If you find you are doing this often, you might want to have a think about changing when you set your story.
- Ensure that each flashback contributes to your story in someway or another, whether it reveals something about a particular event, builds upon your characterization of the protagonist or sets up something for further down the track in the narrative – it has to propel the story forward, even though you’re looking back.
For some fantastic tips for writing successful flashbacks, check out this article at Writer’s Digest.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Dialogue:
How To Master Dialogue
What is dialogue?
“Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs.” – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction
Not all of the following are used together, however, dialogue consists of four main elements:
- Spoken words – the direct speech or the words within the quote marks.
- Speech tags – the words that tell the reader who is speaking and how they are speaking.
- Actions of the speaker – a description of the speaking character’s actions before, during and after speech.
- Thoughts or emotional state of the speaker – a description of the speaking character’s emotional state before, during and after speech.
When characters start talking to each other, the story comes to life. A reader can gain a far deeper understanding of a character through their words and actions than they can from the narrative text. A couple of sentences of dialogue can reveal much about the background of a particular character. Are they wealthy or poor? What is their country of origin? Have they been well-educated? Are they feeling happy or sad? All of these questions can be answered with effective dialogue.
What should dialogue do?
- Reveal emotions
- Draw the reader into the characters’ lives
- Show the reader how the character reacts to different situations, such as pressure, intimacy, hate, love or fear
- Move the story forward – every piece of dialogue should have a purpose
- Hint at or tell of coming events
- Give balance to a story after a long section of narrative
- Increase the pace of the story
- Contribute humour
- Reflect the changes in emotions and lifestyle of your characters
What should dialogue not do?
- Summarise action that could otherwise be exciting
- Force-feed information to the reader – tell a character something they would already know, purely to fill in background to the reader
- Act as padding to achieve a word count
- Ramble on without the characters learning anything knew or achieving something
- Sound exactly like real speech, with interruptions, rambling, repetitions and stutters, although these have their place
Tips for Writing Dialogue
Remember, most people speak quite simply. If you dress up a character’s speech too much it will sound unrealistic.
“If you are using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck
Better yet, grab a few friends and act it out, taking note of the speech tags and the actions of the speaker. This can be very entertaining and you’ll be able to see very quickly where your dialogue falls down.
Now over to you.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Prologue:
How To Master Prologue
“What’s past is prologue” – William Shakespeare
This comes from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, spoken by the character Antonio who suggests that the events of the past set the stage for the present. The quote is engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, which houses the most important of the United States’ historical documents. But in a literary work, while the prologue itself precedes the beginning of the story, it can contain events of the past or the future.
What is a prologue?
The prologue serves as an introduction, giving readers important information from the past or the future about the text that follows. It may establish the setting, introduce the characters or indicate a theme or moral in the story. Generally, the prologue is short and will only cover one or two pages. Most prologues are written by the author of the work.
A prologue can foreshadow events and conflict in a way that beginning in the middle of the action can’t. It is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story, giving readers information that is otherwise unobtainable within the normal structure of the novel. A prologue must also be a vital part of the whole text, not just added on before the opening chapter for no reason.
The Redwall Series
Popular children’s author Brian Jacques used both a prologue and an epilogue to frame each story in his Redwall series. Jacques uses the prologue effectively to establish the setting and introduce readers to minor characters with a meaningful story to tell. In these opening scenes, the dialogue between the characters is intended to draw the reader in, as much as it does to the characters who are listening in the story.
The Noon Lady of Towitta
In Patricia Sumerling’s mystery, The Noon Lady of Towitta, the unusually long prologue describes the events leading to the arrival of the police on the farm at Towitta, an isolated town in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The prologue is straight-forward and written in third person. The story that follows is told from the first person perspective of Mary Schippan, the lady suspected of murdering her younger sister. Mary Schippan could not have given readers a clear picture of the events preceding the police investigation as she was not present, so the author chooses to employ a prologue. Without it, readers don’t have the necessary background required to understand the story and so obtain it outside of the first person structure of Mary’s narrative.
The Da Vinci Code
In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the prologue is employed firstly to establish the plot and setting of the book. Opening at the Louvre Museum in Paris, readers are presented with an event at a specific time and place around which the entire novel is plotted. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the museum, is shot by a mysterious man and must use his dying breaths to keep his secret alive.
“A collection of the world’s most famous paintings seemed to smile down on him like old friends.” – Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
The prologue also establishes a significant theme throughout the novel – the importance of art. As he bleeds to death, Sauniere is surrounded by many famous artworks, one of which, we can assume, is Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a painting that plays a critical role in the author’s plot.
Writing an effective prologue
The most important feature of a prologue, like any literary device, is that it serves a purpose. Check to see if your prologue is doing a job. Does it establish the setting? Does it introduce characters, or a theme, or a moral? What does it add to the whole work? If it doesn’t have a clear purpose, you don’t need it.
Tip: Read prologues written by your favourite authors
Search for prologues written by the authors on your bookshelf. They’ve been published, so you can assume that the prologue is well written and employed. Look at the length and the style of the writing. The more prologues you read, the better you will understand when and how to use them effectively, if at all.
Tip: Practice writing first lines
Essentially, if you’re using a prologue, you are starting your book twice so you’ll need two great opening lines. It can be useful to practise writing clever opening lines, enticing the reader to continue. If you’re already working on something, ask yourself if the first line is the best it can be. Shuffle the words around. Try a selection of synonyms. Work with it and keep practising.
Tip: Write a prologue for a book that doesn’t have one
Choose a novel without a prologue and consider how one could be used. Try to find something in the text to link with your prologue – a theme, the setting, or even some additional background information. Be creative! You could give a character a secret that affects how they respond to events in the story. Don’t feel discouraged if you find that your new prologue doesn’t work – this just means that you are improving your ability to detect ineffective use of the device.
This week Writer’s Blog will be exploring literary devices to help you along with your writing. Literary devices are techniques and structures writers employ to convey their message and story. When done well, the use of literary devices can alter, manipulate and challenge the way a reader perceives any work. Used masterfully, literary devices influence how a story or essay can be interpreted and analysed, as well as how much the reader enjoys the work. Today’s device is Theme:
How To Master Theme
In my time as an intern at a publishing house, themes emerged as an unlikely yet important factor in defining the most enjoyable and publishable reads. At once simple yet difficult to define, themes are the conceptual framework that ideas spring from and exist in. Despite being typically associated with the realm of readers and critiques rather than writers, they are an essential tool to understand and keep at-the-ready in your writer’s tool kit. Let’s look more deeply into this underrated literary device…
What Are Themes?
Themes are your story’s message, morals, lessons, driving concepts, key ideas and big questions. They can stem from something concrete such as war, money or family, but they are abstract in nature.
“While the subject of a work is described concretely in terms of its action (e.g. ‘the adventures of a newcomer in the big city’), its theme or themes will be described in more abstract terms (e.g. love, war, revenge, betrayal, fate, etc.).” – The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
Most themes are “universal”, meaning they can be understood in concept by almost everyone, regardless of race or nationality. They stem from basic human experiences, understanding and lack of understanding. While tricky to pin down with a definition, most people understand theme innately – but it’s important to know that theme is not plot, premise, conflict or concept.
Why Are They Important?
Whether you’ve planned it or not, chances are your story has at least one theme. And that theme affects everything: the characters, the plot and the setting. Such a powerful and natural device deserves all the attention you can give it.
“The theme of any literary work is the base topic or focus that acts as a foundation for the entire literary piece. The theme links all aspects of the literary work with one another and is basically the main subject.” – Literary Devices
Thanks mainly to our education system, most readers process stories through themes, so it’s important to be aware of them when you’re writing. Readers may not know what it’s like to be a super-spy, but they understand love and betrayal. Themes are the key to connecting your reader with a foreign experience.
Coherence and Unity
Themes can bring plots, subplots, scenes, settings and characters together as a whole, coherent piece of work. If your work is long enough to have subplots and side characters, they shouldn’t be there just to fill in pages. A subplot’s purpose could be to develop characters or setting, but for it to really feel a part of the story, it should work to develop the same theme/s as the main plot.
Most writers don’t write with a theme in mind. There’s no rule about when you should start thinking about themes. For a first draft, not thinking of them can be beneficial. Themes emerge naturally in stories, and focusing on other literary devices at first can help you stop sliding into cliché. But if you write a draft and then realise your themes are all over the place, it may take a fair bit of work and reimagining to fix them. The first step when working with themes is, obviously, identifying them. From there, you can make sure they’re performing their role as the story’s framework.
More likely than not, high school English has you well-equipped for identifying themes. A theme can be described as a key lesson or question that drives your story or characters. But sometimes you’re so close to the story that it’s harder to see the bigger picture. This is one of those cases where it’s useful to have a writing buddy, but in the circumstance that you’re lacking one, most people should be able to identify a theme in a story.
“Theme doesn’t have to be profound, but it must always be true to the storyteller. One of the most fundamental motives for writing novels is to reveal the truth as you see it, to share your life experiences and show people what this world looks like through your eyes.” – Harvey Chapman
Sometimes the theme you identify doesn’t ring quite right. Trust your writer’s instinct and take some time to ponder the concept and what it means to you regardless of the story. Then, with a new theme (or simply a new angle on the theme), get writing.
Sometimes themes are related and work together to strengthen each other, such as the themes of friendship, love and betrayal; others such as family, the environment and life purpose can detract from each other if not well thought out.
Combining too many non-related themes in one work can be messy. When was the last time you read a story that successfully contained the themes of loyalty, friendship, religion, time, the environment, loss, the law, racism and health? Maybe three or four themes from this list could play out in a story, with additional related minor themes. But stretching a story across too many unrelated themes can lead to confusion, superficiality and a lack of unity.
Thematic Write / Edit
Now you know your themes, it’s time to write or edit with these firmly in mind. If you find a scene or a side-comment from a character touches on another theme, seriously think about whether it is necessary. If not, change or delete it. If it is, think of ways to achieve the same goal without involving a new theme.
Everything can build and develop theme. Plot, motifs and characters are great places to start, but the list is endless. Even setting can tie into theme through the way it affects atmosphere and meaning. If your theme’s idea of “love conquers all” reaches its peak in a graveyard, you’d want to be aiming for a Romeo & Juliet style of “love conquers all, even death”.
“If you’re working on a theme involving sacrifice, you don’t want to have your characters making sacrifices in every chapter. Theme works best when it’s subtle.” –Melissa Donovan
Sticking to your themes is important but, having said that, so is subtlety. Theme is important, but so are plot, characters and plausibility. A useful tip for not getting too repetitive with your theme is to look at it from different or opposing perspectives. Consider the different ways love is portrayed in Pride and Prejudice, all the while leading to the one idea of marrying for love.
“Theme is life itself, as manifested in our stories, as seen through our characters, and as experienced through our plots.” – Courtney Carpenter
Themes are the framework of stories – a literary device that shouldn’t be forgotten. They add meaning to your work, draw your reader in and pull everything together as a whole. Be sure to keep this tool close by whenever you write.