Research is a given when writing non-fiction texts. Journalists and authors of non-fiction books are no strangers to researching a piece before they start writing – but what about fiction authors?
If you’re writing a novel and wondering whether you need to research it, the answer is generally yes. The same rules that apply to non-fiction writers don’t necessarily apply to novelists, but research is nevertheless an important step in planning to write a novel.
There are plenty of things you can do to ensure you’re writing the most authentic novel possible. Setting, characters, plot details, historical influences, even genre and craft – all these elements and more can be researched to strengthen your knowledge and flesh out your book.
So how exactly should you approach the research process?
Let’s take a look at seven top tips to get you started.
1. Establish a system to organise and store research
Before you start researching, it’s imperative to get organised. There’s no point collecting hundreds of bits of information only to create a disorganised mess that you won’t be able to navigate later!
Every writer works differently, so think about your own methods of organisation and what might work best for you when it comes to sorting and storing your research.
Here are a few organisation methods to consider:
- A physical folder or binder, divided into clearly labelled sections such as Setting, Characters etc., in which you can store hard-copy sheets of research and information.
- A digital Research folder on your hard drive, divided into sub-folders for each section of your research. If you choose this option, make sure to back up your files regularly to avoid losing data.
- A notebook full of handwritten notes, clippings and snippets of information.
- A set of research files in a novel-writing program such as Scrivener. These kinds of programs are great for storing information, and because your novel and your research are stored in the one place, it’s easy to access them simultaneously. (Again, as with any digital method, ensure you back up your files religiously.)
Whichever method of research storage you choose, ensure it’s easily navigable, accessible, and well-organised. Trust me – you’ll thank your past self when you’re in the midst of the writing process and know exactly where to refer to that specific piece of information!
2. Read, read, and read some more
As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader already (and if not, you should be!). All reading helps to improve your craft, your knowledge and your story, but when you’re researching a novel, your reading will have to kick up a notch.
Whether it’s books, newspapers, online articles or any other source of written material, reading is going to be your primary method of attack when it comes to novel research. Let’s take a look at the different kinds of reading you’ll need to do in preparation for writing your book.
Read texts on your subject matter
Obviously, your chosen subject matter will be the first thing you start investigating.
Writing a crime novel? You’ll need to research things like murder weapons, forensics, and past criminal cases. Writing a romance novel set in modern-day Rome? You’ll need to pay Italy a virtual visit by reading as much as you can about its capital city. Writing historical fiction set in medieval Europe? Time to learn everything you can about that period in history.
‘But I’m a poor, struggling writer,’ you might be thinking. ‘How am I going to afford all these books I need for research?’ Well, two words will solve that problem, my friend…
If you’re not already a frequent visitor, it’s time to acquaint yourself with your local library. It’s free to become a member, and most libraries will have hundreds, if not thousands of books on every subject imaginable.
Most libraries should have an extensive catalogue of all their resources, so all it will take is a few keyword searches to discover a wealth of information relevant to your novel. You can borrow as many books as you need, taking down notes as you read and giving yourself a solid foundation on which to build your own story.
If you’re a university student, your uni library can be a great place to start your research. University libraries often have large research collections and access to exclusive online databases.
Here’s a fact that may horrify the most dedicated bibliophiles among us: all the information you need might not necessarily be found in books.
Shocking, I know! But never fear: there’s this new-fangled thing that’s perfect for writers researching their novels, and it’s called the internet.
Think of it as your personal, digital library, full of countless pieces of information and inspiration, all available from the comfort of your own desk or armchair. Everything from online encyclopaedias and databases to blogs and digital publications can be extremely helpful in your research process.
However, there’s a caveat that comes with using the internet to research your novel: you need to be extra careful about online resources and their validity.
The internet, being the enormous, free source of information it is, can unfortunately be subject to some pretty dodgy information at times. To avoid being misinformed, ensure you’re gathering information from reliable sources, and that any facts you uncover can be validated.
It’s easy to fall into the Wikipedia trap and believe that everything written online is true, but unfortunately that’s not necessarily the case, so you’ll have to be more discerning when researching on the internet.
Read other novels dealing with similar subject matter
Research doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to reading non-fiction texts about your subject matter. You can also read other novels as a valid and useful form of research.
You can begin by reading novels that deal with a similar subject matter to your own. This will not only give you some extra information on your subject, but will also allow you to see how that subject has been covered before, and how you might approach it differently.
As well as novels with similar topics, it’s a good idea to read widely in your chosen genre. This method of research is especially helpful for writers in genres such as sci-fi and fantasy, who can’t necessarily visit the places or research the time periods featured in their entirely imagined stories. Reading other novels in your genre can help you see how other authors have tackled the process of building their own worlds. (More on researching genre and craft below.)
TIP: On Goodreads, you can often find user-generated lists of books about particular topics. Simply perform a Google search using the keywords ‘Goodreads’ and ‘novels about [insert topic]’.
For example, say your novel is about an artist. Googling ‘Goodreads novels about artists’ brings up several lists, including ‘Art & Artists in Fiction’, ‘Fiction Books Involving Art’, and ‘Books With Main Characters Who Are Artists’. These lists can give you a great place to start when deciding what novels to read as research for your own.
3. Delve into other forms of media
Books, newspapers, articles and online resources aren’t the only things that will help you with your research. While reading will likely be your primary method of gathering information, other forms of media can be extremely helpful as well.
Movies, documentaries and videos on YouTube can all be great sources of information and inspiration for writers. Whether you’re researching a place, a time period, a type of person or a particular culture, you’re sure to find some video sources that will help you understand your topic.
Sometimes, sensory sources such as video are even more helpful than written ones, as they can allow you to see, hear and virtually experience things you might not otherwise have access to. Try searching some relevant keywords on YouTube or Netflix and see what comes up.
TIP: Similarly to the Goodreads lists mentioned above, you can find movie recommendation lists online at websites like IMDb. These are also user-generated and can be found using a similar method: Google the keywords ‘IMDb’ and ‘movies about [topic]’.
After you’ve found a few movie options, it’s simply a matter of renting, purchasing, or downloading/streaming the movie (legally, of course) to provide some visual inspiration for your novel.
Images are the next-best thing to video when it comes to visual research for your novel. With millions of images available and easily accessible online, you’ll be able to get a much clearer mental picture of the things you’re writing about in your book.
Google Images and Wikipedia are great places to start – simply type in some keywords and start browsing their mammoth collections. Plenty of institutions have online image galleries, too; for example, if it’s historical images, maps or text excerpts you’re after, try something like the British Library’s online image gallery.
Google Maps is also a great tool for conducting research about locations and settings. We’ll talk more below about actually visiting real-world locations for research, but when that’s out of the question, using the Street View function of Google Maps is the next best thing.
Using Pinterest for fiction writing and novels sounds like a strange concept, but believe me – it can be super helpful! As a visual medium, Pinterest is full of all kinds of images that can be utilised for a writer’s research or inspiration.
You can browse Pinterest without becoming a member, but if you sign up for a free account, you can also create your own collages and collections using what are essentially digital ‘mood boards’.
This is a great way to organise and store images for different parts of your research. For example, you might have a Pinterest board full of images relevant to your setting, another for images of characters and clothing, and so on.
4. Talk to people.
We writers are generally a solitary bunch, but when it comes to researching a novel, sometimes it pays to step away from your desk and talk to some real people!
It might be an expert on the subject you’re writing on, a resident of the location in which your book is set, or a person who can relate to the situation one of your characters is in. It might be a friend-of-a-friend, a relative, or someone you’ve found by reaching out to your local community. Whoever you speak to, you’re likely to gain truly valuable first-hand information and insight that you just can’t get through a book or the internet.
For those who are shy about reaching out to strangers, remember that in today’s digital age, you don’t necessarily have to seek people out in person or by phone. Many internet communities exist in which you can communicate with others via online forums or messages.
Reddit is a great example. It has thousands and thousands of sections, or ‘subreddits’, dedicated to every topic imaginable. Once you’ve found your desired subject, you can search through the existing posts for information, or become a member and create your own call-out seeking answers or insight on a particular aspect of the topic.
TIP: Talking to people while researching may not only provide you with information, but also with inspiration when it comes to characters. Meeting and chatting with new people is a great way to gain insight into the way different people act and speak, and can inspire character traits or quirks in your own fiction.
5. Immerse yourself in some real-world research.
Just as it’s helpful to talk to real people in your research, it’s also extremely valuable to get out and visit some real-world places!
We spoke above about researching setting and place through various online methods. However, if at all possible, it’s always a good idea to visit the places you’re utilising in your fiction. Take some time to stroll through the location, taking in not only the sights but the sounds, smells, vibe and atmosphere of the place.
If you’re writing about a made-up setting, you can visit a similar location to inspire the place of your own invention. For example, if your novel is set in a fictional small beachside town, visit a few of these kinds of locations, and allow details from each to inspire and be woven throughout your novel’s unique setting.
TIP: Don’t assume you already know all there is to know about your setting – for example, if your novel is set in your own home town. Just because you’re already familiar with a place doesn’t mean you don’t need to conduct further research.
You don’t want to become complacent with your existing familiarity. It may mean you don’t end up truly doing your setting justice for readers who aren’t as familiar with it as you are.
6. Extend your research to craft as well as content.
When writers think of researching their novel, they usually think of investigating all the main content components we’ve covered above: setting, characters, plot elements, etc.
However, don’t just restrict your research to content alone. You should also research the craft of writing itself. This kind of research comes in two forms: style and genre.
Research on style involves learning about how to improve your skills as a writer. Whether you’re reading advice from other writers, completing writing exercises, or taking a course to further your skills and knowledge, researching the craft of writing is an essential step for any novelist.
As a writer, you should aim to constantly improve your skills and style over the course of your entire career. This means keeping up to date with advice, branching out and experimenting with your skills, and always striving to become better at your craft.
Research on genre involves learning everything you can about the genre in which you’re writing. You should be intensely familiar with your chosen genre, reading widely within it and learning from the works of other writers.
You should aim to discover where and how your own work will fit within the genre, and to think of ways you can introduce a fresh perspective.
7. Don’t get stuck on research and forget to start writing.
Phew! We’ve covered a lot of ground here. Hopefully you’re now feeling prepared and ready to get stuck into researching your novel. However, once you do start researching, it can be hard to know when to stop.
‘How long should I research for?’ is a common question asked by many writers. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer – only you will know when you have enough material to begin the writing process itself. It’s usually better to have more research material than you’ll actually need, rather than not enough.
However, you must be careful not to fall into the trap of never-ending research as a means of putting off the actual writing of your novel.
If you think this is happening to you, don’t worry – it’s completely understandable. Writing an entire book can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect, and writers want to feel as prepared as possible before they launch themselves into the drafting process.
However, there’s really no such thing as being completely prepared to write a novel. The truth is that even the most experienced writer often needs to jump in head-first and just see where the writing takes them!
Don’t spend months or years researching without writing a single word of your novel. Gather enough information and inspiration to form a solid foundation and starting point, then ease yourself into the writing. There’ll always be time for further research later on; right now, if you’ve got enough research behind you to begin, then begin.
TIP: One important final recommendation when it comes to research: not everything needs to end up on the page. This is the classic error new writers make: ‘info-dumping’ the product of their extensive research in its entirety, believing it will make for a better story.
The truth is that readers don’t want to be spoon-fed every single piece of information. They’re not reading a research report, after all; they’re reading a novel.
Weave details into your story sparingly, and allow your research to inform your writing as subtly as possible. When it’s clear you know what you’re talking about, your readers will, too. There’s no need to overload them with detail and information.
Over the last few decades, major changes in technology, the way we read and the ephemeral nature of our economies have impacted the way we produce and publish books.
The polarisation of the book industry has become an accepted idea: multinational corporations dominate while small and micro-publishers do well on their own terms as well, with little room for success in the middle space.
This special feature will examine what defines large and small publishers, and will analyse the different approaches they take when it comes to signing authors, book production, printing and distribution as well as their approach to marketing and publicity.
We’ll aim to explore the diverse environment of book production and bookselling in specific reference to trade publishing.
Defining Big and Small Publishers
In order to examine the different approaches to book production both large and small publishers have, we must first define what ‘large’ and ‘small’ refer to.
Our idea of ‘large’ publishers will be modelled on what are known as the “big six” – Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster.
These large publishers are major international corporations with multimillion-dollar parent companies such as Bertelsmann, Pearson, News Corp and Lagardère. Small publishers will be defined as those who publish fewer than 30 titles a year and/or earn no more than £30,000 in revenue (Freeth, 2007).
Other significant differences that define these publishers are the number of staff they employ. Large publishers employ hundreds of people from in-house editors, publicists, marketers, and designers to freelancers, while small publishers can operate from someone’s home, with just one or two people at the helm, using largely freelancers and unpaid volunteers.
These details alone portray the vast difference in scale between large and small publishers.
Approaches to Book Production
For the big publishers, the sheer scale of their operations can be immensely beneficial in terms of rationalising and consolidating their economies.
John B. Thompson refers to the “the reduction of overheads and the consolidation of sales forces, warehouses, distribution and other publishing services…” For example, take the results of the recent Penguin Random House merger.
Two initially separate entities, with separate offices, staff and lists are now combining, with the staff from Penguin having just moved into the Random House Head Office in North Sydney.
In addition to tens of thousands of pounds in savings in rental agreements, each department “will be scrutinised for unnecessary duplications. The redundancies will be earmarked for elimination or consolidation” (Curtis, 2012). This is just one example of large-scale consolidation.
Big publishers use one team of experts to produce and sell more books than the small publishing houses, increasing their profit margins considerably. While for small presses producing far less titles, often the owner/founders work ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, or:
Costs are often kept to a minimum by working from home or renting offices in low-rent premises such as disused factories. If there are paid employees, they often work long hours for modest salaries and much of the routine work is done by unpaid interns (Thompson, 2012).
Although small publishers have less revenue, they can take advantage of the low entry cost into the industry, as well as the virtual office. They have the ability to order, edit and correspond remotely, without the high costs of renting an office space.
One of the most significant factors to identify when considering different approaches to book production is the reputation or ‘brand’ of the publisher. This can affect their approach to book production three-fold: 1. In the quality of staff they can entice and hire, 2. In the prestige of the authors they sign, and 3. In the number of readers and retailers they attract.
When it comes to reputation in book production, big publishers certainly have the advantage. For example, Penguin Random House is a household name in the book world, making it a smart career choice for production professionals and authors.
A certain degree of prestige is associated with big publishers, which is why authors and staff are inclined to work with them over a small publisher. Both staff and authors can expect decent salaries/royalty rates, and may also see a positive effect on their own reputation due to their affiliation with a big publisher.
Readers and retailers must also be considered. As multinational companies tend to dominate the bestseller lists, it’s only natural that both readers and retailers come to associate these companies with books of quality.
Big publishers’ histories are steeped with success stories, and so retailers and readers come to trust their brands. This tells us that big publishers often have the first option when acquiring new titles due to their reputations alone.
Small publishers, however, often don’t have the same level of reputation, which can sometimes work against them in terms of acquisition of titles, and indeed, staff.
They don’t have competitive budgets to work with, and so often cannot afford the same services a big publisher can. However, size can work to their advantage when it comes to the economy of favours (Thompson, 2012).
This works in numerous ways, the most common being that small presses share their contacts, resources and knowledge with each other, and that freelancers charge small presses far less than they do to a big publisher.
For example, the cover designer for Kindling worked according to the economy of favours rather than her usual rate. By day, Alissa Dinallo designs covers for Penguin Random House however, she took on the brief from Writer’s Edit Press at just a fraction of the cost.
Working for emerging writers is a nice change of pace to working in trade publishing. Even though I love the fast-paced nature and commercial aspects of my job, it’s nice to sit back and get a little more artistic, as well as at the same time, support talented writers who are making a name for themselves (Dinallo, 2014).
Dinallo is in the group of freelancers who, according to Thompson “share the ethos of the indie presses and/or they find it rewarding to do so”. While small publishers can’t throw their weight around when it comes to scale, they can take advantage of the sense of community within the smaller field.
For the most part, large and small publishers use different approaches when it comes to the printing and distributing of books. Large publishers have longstanding relationships with offset printers, warehouses and third party distributors.
Given the sheer volume of business big publishers do with these selected suppliers, the terms are significantly better for them. “Large publishing corporations can put pressure on their key printers to turn around an urgent reprint in three days, whereas a small publisher might have to wait several weeks” (Thompson, 2012).
This means initial quantities of titles can be small, with the flexibility to reprint quickly if necessary. Small publishers cannot afford to operate on this scale.
Small presses feel the pressure of distribution and publicity difficulties far more acutely than publishers in the broader industry because of their lack of resources, both financial and human, and these are usually the make-or-break issues that will decide a small press’s fate (Freeth, 2007).
However, the rise in digital technologies has seen these smaller publishers able to compete without the upfront costs the bigger publishers face. Print-on-Demand (POD) has provided small houses with a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Print on demand is a book distribution method made possible by, and inseparable from, digital printing. It prints books only in response to orders… Due to the capabilities of digital printing, print on demand is capable of filling an order for one book profitably (Friedlander, 2009).
Numerous companies now offer POD services. However, along with new developments in printing and distribution come changes to book production that affect both big and small publishers: the age of self-publishing and the indie author.
Publishers had the power of the purse and the press… In the world of print, few authors could afford to self-publish… The Internet has changed all that, allowing writers to sell their works directly to readers, bypassing agents and publishers who once were the gatekeepers (Pham, 2010).
This impacts the publishing game in two ways: competition and acquisition. Self-publishing has certainly contributed to the overall sense of ‘doom’ that is currently circulating the publishing world.
According to Fowler and Trachtenberg, “some publishers say that online self-publishing and the entry of newcomers such as Amazon into the market could mark a sea change in publishing” (2010). However, big publishers are now looking to the sales figures of self-published authors to acquire their next titles.
Take the originally self-published author Hugh Howey. Howey published his post-apocalyptic novel Wool through Amazon’s self-publishing services Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Createspace. After dominating the bestseller list with his self-published versions:
Howey inked a print-only contract with Simon & Schuster in the US for Wool — released in stores on March 12 of this year — and with Random House in the UK for the trilogy (Anderson, 2013).
This originally self-published author is now set to make both Simon & Schuster, and Random House UK a lot of money. However, the varied approaches to book production don’t end here.
Note Howey’s ‘print-only’ contract. Howey controls and maintains the e-book rights to all his books, ensuring that he still brings in revenue independent from the big publishers he’s signed with, and he’s not the only one:
Earlier this year, suspense master Stephen King, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho and Stephen Covey, the author of bestselling self-help books, self-published some of their works exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle bookstore (Pham, 2010).
Although hybrid authors like Howey tend to go with the big publishers when they cross over into traditional publishing, the benefits of POD and digital technologies have made a positive impact on small publishers.
According to Thompson, “the rise of the internet also made it much easier for publishers to work with suppliers in India and the Far East, which reduced costs still further” (Thompson, 2012). Furthermore, as the SPUNC report states: “Several publishers have moved to a Print on Demand (PoD) model to reduce costs and keep titles in print” (Freeth, 2007).
Financial risk is something that influences the editorial choices of both big and small publishers alike. However, big publishers have far more pressure on them to bring in revenue in order to pay their many staff, authors and printers.
This means they are far more unlikely to risk taking on unsolicited manuscripts. To combat this however, both Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan run special programs for sifting through the unsolicited slush pile and acquiring titles by new authors: the Friday Pitch and Manuscript Mondays.
Nevertheless, big publishers must still meet the demands and expectations of their loyal readers. This means producing the regular bestseller titles per year, generally in time for the big three calendar events: Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
The bestsellers on the New York Times Christmas list for 2013 were Stephen King, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks; names that reoccur every year, meaning there is less diversity in the big publishers’ output. They must also find answers to the latest trends, for example: The Hunger Games trilogy called for the Divergent trilogy and The Maze Runner.
Unlike the big fish, small publishers have more freedom. According to Thompson:
Most small presses tend to be strongly editorially driven and to publish books about which the founder-owner(s) feel passionate… commercial success is generally a secondary concern [that] gives the small presses a leeway to experiment with… in a way that the large houses are less likely to do (Thompson, 2012).
Freeth (2007) notes the value of small publishers:
In general we believe that small press is flexible and has the opportunity to present new or under-represented kinds of writing to audiences… With big publishers being more cautious, there’s a huge role for small and independent publishers, who can use events, use the community, use launches and small publisher models.
Where big publishers churn out similar titles every year at number one on the bestseller charts, small publishers take more risk with the titles they acquire as they run on passion over profit. It is with these risks that small publishers can compete alongside large publishers for literary awards.
Approaches to Marketing and Publicity
Traditional marketing has changed immensely in recent years due to the rise of the Internet and the digital-savvy consumer.
The birth of the EDM (electronic direct mail), banner ads on websites and of course, social media have meant that marketing and publicity operate on a whole new level for both big and small publishers.
However, alongside these developments, one change is quite clear: much of the book marketing grunt work now falls to the author, as budgets for promotion are increasingly limited.
Authors are expected to build an author platform (website) where they can share and promote their work with a target readership they’ve built online. They are also expected to manage social media pages and attend promotional events.
Another change to the marketing and publicity of books is the decline of book coverage in traditional print media. Traditionally in newspapers and magazines, there was quite extensive coverage on books, however:
Even the New York Times, which is one of the few metropolitan newspapers in the US to have retained a stand-alone Book Review section, has shrunk the size by nearly half, from the 44 pages it averaged in the mid-1980s to the 24-28 pages it typically has today (Thompson, 2012).
Because of this decline in traditional coverage, many marketing managers are turning their attention to the online space. According to Coronel, “Books will be made successful by appealing directly to communities of readers online” (2013).
Email subscriber lists and EDMs are a major part of this strategy. This unfortunately works in favour of the large publishing houses.
Consumers recognise their brand far more easily than a small publisher, and are far more likely to offer up their personal data (email addresses) to a widely trusted brand than a newcomer.
Big publishers have had the budget to build up their subscriber lists for years, and so now when they release a new title, or an event approaches, they have an instant target market/audience of thousands.
EDMs, along with online ads placed on their high traffic websites also provide the big publishers with insightful analytics that print never offered. Through these purchased third party services, the marketers from big publishers can determine things like unique visits, impressions, page views, click through rates (CTRs) and bounce rates.
This allows them to analyse what aspects of their marketing strategies work, and what don’t, meaning that their next campaign can be better informed and more effective.
Similarly, big publishers generally have a significant following on social media. For example, Penguin Random House UK has 667,683 likes on Facebook and over 52,600 followers on Twitter according to their official Facebook & Twitter pages.
This means that on just two social media pages alone, Penguin Random House has a potential reach of over 720,000 consumers. Unfortunately, small publishers simply cannot compete in this numbers game.
Freeth (2007) reports:
A lack of resources (both financial and human) mean they often cannot put the necessary time and energy into publicity and marketing that a successful campaign requires.
In regards to publicity in retail, big publishers have to purchase store space and high visibility spots with leading retailers like Dymocks in Australia and Barnes and Noble (US). According to Thompson:
The large publishers also have the resources you need to achieve high levels of visibility within the key retail chains… the larger the publisher is, the more easily they will be able to absorb these promotional costs (2012).
Alternatively, small publishers rely on the economy of favours, hoping that both independent bookstores and the larger retail chains will support independent presses with decent in store positioning.
Finally, a big aspect of marketing and publicity strategies for both big and small publishers is participating in numerous writers’ festivals, literary festivals and book fairs that occur throughout each year.
Publishers attempt to get their authors on discussion panels, at book signings and interviews to gain exposure for their titles. However, one recent strategy combined both online efforts and the buzz of this year’s Sydney Writers Festival.
This event was the first National Book Bloggers Forum hosted by Penguin Random House. Marketing and Publicity Director, Brett Osmond said:
The National Book Bloggers Forum will be a collaboration between the growing book blogging community and Penguin Random House – we want to share news about our books and authors with leading bloggers (Random House Australia, 2014).
Random House invited approximately 50 book bloggers from all over Australia to their head office in North Sydney to hear about their upcoming titles.
This was the first event of its kind, and wasn’t without agenda. Bloggers were encouraged to use social media throughout the day, hashtagging ‘#NBBF14’ and tweeting ‘@RandomHouseAus’.
The result of this was a free social media campaign that lasted over two days. Each blogger was also given a goodie bag containing numerous Penguin Random House titles, which meant numerous book reviews on new release titles circulating online.
Combined, these tactics created much-needed buzz surrounding the PRH brand, and their authors. Valuable connections were also made with Australia’s most prominent book bloggers.
The polarisation of the book industry is now a widely accepted concept and has led to major changes to the industry that affect both large and small publishers. While this article is by no means inclusive of all the approaches to book production and marketing, various approaches have been analysed – from acquisition to promotion.
With the support of numerous sources, this special feature has also examined the differences in approach to printing and distribution between large and small publishers, explored developments in digital technology and what this means for the industry, as well as delved into the various approaches to marketing and publicity.
Book production and bookselling worldwide will continue to change as our technologies develop, and our reading habits adapt.
While there is much speculation regarding the future of publishing, the rise in book producing technologies can only mean one thing: whether the publisher is large or small, the passion for great books is still well and truly alive.
For references please go here: http://writersedit.com/book-production-big-small/
Truth time: the book is not always better than the movie. What’s more, trying to figure out which version of a story is “better” isn’t always helpful. Film and print are two entirely different mediums, and we ask different things of each form. That said, here are the Book Riot team’s favourite book-to-movie adaptations, that capture the spirit of the original stories, while at the same time enriching them in the way that only film (or TV) can.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
I fell in love with the film, then read the book, then watched the film again to make sure I still liked it. While there are some major differences, Milos Forman’s adaptation captures the juxtaposing moments of insouciance and sorrow that take place in Ken Kesey’s novel. The cinematography is fantastic and the original score is haunting. Furthermore, it was filmed at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the same setting as Kesey’s work. In the year it was released, the film won all five major Academy Awards, a feat only accomplished three times in total. Also, Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched is incredible.
Anne of Green Gables
I loved this adaptation because it was simply a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the classic books. There were no weird new characters added (and, let’s be honest – this was filmed in the ‘80s, there very well could’ve been an alien), no modern interpretations of plotlines or relationships, just the book’s own narrative, which is why we all fell in love in the first place. And they could not have cast better actors to play the lovely Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, and Diana. Filming on location in picturesque Canada, and especially Prince Edward Island, did not hurt: I usually like to keep the images from the book in my own head, but seeing the White Way of Delight, Lake of Shining Waters, and Green Gables itself, so true to the book’s descriptions, was blissful. And it’s made PEI a bucket-list bookish destination for me, and many, many other readers.
Witches of Eastwick
For me, this is actually a case of the movie being better than the book. Way better. I’m not saying John Updike isn’t a great writer, but his portrayal of woman wasn’t exactly the greatest in The Witches of Eastwick. But the movie is amazing and it’s mostly due to the cast. Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, and…Cher. Let me repeat that. Cher. Admittedly, the movie is a little campy, but it’s the ’80s. I’m also a sucker for movies when women band together (a la 9 to 5) and for me, the movie is what the book should have been.
This is my go-to example when people say “name a movie that is better than the book.” (This, and Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard was a book first! It’s also the best Christmas movie, but that’s an argument for another day.) It is easy to pick Jaws, because I’m sorry but Jaws is a horrible novel. I’m sure it was a great trashy beach read when it came out, but it’s quite ridiculous. But from its ridiculousness, Steven Spielberg managed to make one of the most perfect movies ever. Every shot in Jaws is magnificent. Quint is one of the best characters. The whole thing is eminently quotable. And Spielberg cut out all the nonsense from the book, like – spoiler alert – Ellen Brody and Hooper’s affair, and the death of Hooper. How awesome is it when Richard Dreyfuss pops up at the end?
The 25th Hour
The perfect book to turn into a movie is one with a simple and lean plot that still hits heavy themes, and this debut novel by David Benioff is a great pick. The film is a faithful adaptation (by Benioff) with great casting (one of my favourite PSH roles and that’s saying something) and a talented director in Spike Lee. The 25th Hour is about a small-time drug dealer enjoying his last day of freedom before a long prison term, which sounds like a perfect Spike Lee joint, but this is a story where much is unsaid. No one can talk about the reality the next day will bring, the awkwardness and the emotion underneath are all captured here, and Lee lets the movie breathe without pushing too hard. The movie somehow feels both vibrantly alive and slowly paced. Oh, and it does a few more crucial things: it adds a strong sense of place, beautiful cinematography, and a great soundtrack. Books can do a lot of things, but these elements of sound and beauty are where movies really shine and it’s where the best adaptations make their mark. Warning: while this sounds like a total guy movie (dude bonds with his dad and other dudes) it is a huge weep-fest at the end.
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Fellowship of the Ring premiered on December 19, 2001. Since then we’ve seen the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy brought to screen and three movies based on The Hobbit. But I’ll never forget the excitement and the wonder I experienced in that movie theater when Middle Earth for the first time came to life in a movie that was both beautiful and respectful of the source material. When the movie was over, I remember exclaiming, “Yes!” with great emphasis. I was overwhelmed, in awe, exhilarated. And I couldn’t stop smiling.
The Princess Bride
Like many children of the ’80s, I became intimately acquainted with this movie well before I knew it was based on a book. When I did finally pick up William Goldman’s classic, I was delighted to discover how faithful the film is, not just to the details of the story but the spirit of it. This is a silly, and often ridiculous, story, and the movie, with its crazy-looking ROUSes and intentionally unbelievable sound-stages-dressed-up-as-mountain-cliffs, is just perfect. I’m afraid that if it were made today, we’d see WETA Workshop-style creatures and too much CGI, so The Princess Bride gets my vote for being practically perfect, and perfectly timed.
When people ask me what my favourite movie is, I tell them it’s Rear Window or The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s probably High Fidelity. For one, it’s a perfect adaptation. Even though it messes with the book’s setting and even its main character’s name, it captures the spirit of Nick Hornby’s book in a way that so few page-to-screen adaptations have managed. High Fidelity is quotable, its soundtrack (and the way it’s used in the film) is exceptional, it features a career-best performance from John Cusack, Jack Black and Todd Louiso as the most endearing set of goofball employees I can imagine, and a Tim Robbins cameo even better than the one he has in Anchorman. The whole thing orbits around Hornby’s music nerd obsessiveness, and we watch Cusack’s Rob Gordon rank and list every meaningful experience (musical and otherwise) he’s ever had, including his most painful breakups. I love this movie, and I might as well face it: it’s number one, with a bullet.
Coraline is one of my favourite all-ages books out there, and I was so thrilled when it was adapted to film. This is a case where the story went through changes (of course it did), but not to the point where one wonders what the production team was thinking. The book is one creepy experience, and the film another, with fantastic atmosphere and stop animation. If ever there were a book and film adaptation pair that could coexist, it’s this one.
Romeo + Juliet
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made me think that Shakespeare was “cool.” The delivery of the lines, most notably John Leguizamo’s Tybalt, is forever ingrained in my mind so that when I read the play now I hear them. I see the over-the-top versions that Luhrmann chose for the movie and the play will always be better for it. I say “better” not because it improves on Shakespeare (blasphemy!) but because it makes the play clearer to me as a reader, and helps me understand what is going on in the scenes. And that should always be the point of movie adaptations.
True Grit is one of my favourite all-time books, and a classic work that you put down and go “I see why this is a classic.” A small, seemingly straightforward novel that has all of its cleverness buried just below the surface, waiting for you to notice it. It was adapted once back in Olden Days, as a John Wayne movie, about which I have no particular opinion. More interestingly, it was recently adapted by the Coen Brothers (who are godly filmmakers) starring Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, among others. It’s a film that perfectly manages the sparse simplistic style of the novel (and understands why everyone in the story talks in the weird way they do). What I realised by the end of it, though, was it had got nearly all the book’s dialog in, word for word. I’ve suggested to some people that if you’ve seen the film, you don’t need to read the book. You’ve gotten the entire book, combined with excellent performances and a haunting soundtrack. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a book translated 100% onto screen without the results being boring and forgettable. Masterful film.
I go into movie theaters prepared to make excuses, register the differences, and generally side-eye any movie made from a film. That doesn’t mean I don’t often enjoy them, just that I take ‘em with a grain of salt. But Gone Girl was a pleasure to watch from start to finish. I’d read the book twice by the time I saw it, so the plot was firmly fixed in my brain – and the movie fulfilled its promise and then some. Every shot, every actor, every segue felt true to the spirit of the book and letter be damned! No one could have made better use of Ben Affleck’s chin; Rosamund Pike brought a smoky darkness to Amy; I’m now a huge fan of Carrie Coon; and I will never be able to forget Neil Patrick Harris’s, ahem, scene. Add to that the breadcrumbs that they strewed throughout the film, leading toward the inevitably shocking conclusion – and you have one of the most faithful film adaptations I’ve had the joy to watch.
10 Things I Hate About You
Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and precious nerd-pants-baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to woo Alex Mack? How can this NOT be the best book-to-movie adaptation? I guess technically it’s a Shakespeare-play-to-movie adaptation, but would you rather see The Taming of the Shrew or 10 Things I Hate About You? Thought so. This is the movie that made us look at the smelly, borderline greasy dude in the leather jacket and think, “If I dance on this table to Biggie Smalls ‘Hypnotize’ and hit my head on a chandelier, maybe he will catch me before I fall, sing to me, royally piss me off by taking money from the guy who was on Party of Five and I think started his own religion in real life, then break into my car and leave me a Fender!” Maybe that was just me, I was 16 and apparently undateable when it came out. I highly recommend rewatching it as an adult. You’ll probably cry when Kat reads the poem to Patrick because… it’s really sad now.
The Shawshank Redemption
I spent a good portion of the ’90s rewatching The Shawshank Redemption over and over, and when I discovered that it was an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (from Different Seasons, if you’re interested), it recast the Guy Who Writes The Scaries into The Guy Who Has An Unbelievable Fictional Range in my mind. Tim Robbins is perfect as Andy Dufresne, the urbane and seemingly soft-but-actually-hard-as-fucking-nails banker sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife. Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman (his speech to the parole board is one of the best moments in movie history). This is a hope-filled heart-breaker and classic film.
If you haven’t yet read these books or seen the movies, I highly recommend them all.
The art world is always obsessed with writer wunderkinder who bedazzle us with their early life talent. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zadie Smith, Dylan Thomas, Jonathan Safran Foer, Helen Oyeyemi, John Keats: The list goes on, and the list is filled with the names of hyper-talented writers who were published and celebrated well before they hit 30.
If you are still waiting for your novel to find a buyer or for your short story to appear in the New Yorker, worry not. There is no time limit on achieving your writerly dreams. After all, dozens of famous writers didn’t “make it” until their 30s, 40s, 50s and, in some cases, even later than that.
These superlative authors don’t fall into the 20-something prodigy category. So take your time, revise that draft and write, write, write. These names should inspire.
1. Toni Morrison wrote her first novel at 39.
Toni Morrison may be a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but she was also a late bloomer. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, wasn’t published until she was 40, while she was working at Random House as an editor. The Bluest Eye marked the beginning of a remarkable literary career that has included iconic titles like Beloved and Song of Solomon, all happening in tandem with an academic career as a Princeton professor.
2. Millard Kaufman published his first novel at the age of 90.
Sure, he wrote his first screenplay at 32 (Ragtime Bear, which featured the first appearance of a character named Mr. Magoo), but his first novel, Bowl of Cherries, was published when Kaufman was 90 years old. He also wrote a second novel, Misadventure, which was released posthumously in 2010. Kaufman is proof that it’s never too late to get a publishing deal.
3. Helen DeWitt published ‘The Last Sumarai’ at 41.
DeWitt was 41 when she finally published her first novel, The Last Samurai. In a fascinating interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, DeWitt discusses her path to publication which includes a suicide attempt, years in academia at Oxford and then a turn toward the literary world. At one point with hundreds of fragments of abandoned and half-begun books on her computer, she quit her job and spent a month writing a new book, which would become The Last Samurai. After finding early interest, she felt pulled in too many directions and took time off from it before finally finishing and publishing the beloved story.
4. Bram Stoker didn’t write ‘Dracula’ until he was 50.
Bram Stoker, famous for Dracula, didn’t pen his opus until he was 50 years old. He left the civil service after many years to help run London’s famous Lyceum Theatre, writing reviews for free on the side. Though Dracula wasn’t his first novel, it is proof that you can write game-changing novels on the side.
5. Richard Adams wasn’t published until his 50s.
Adams served in World War II during his younger years and, like Stoker, became a civil servant, in what would later become the UK Department of the Environment. He wrote fiction in his spare time and told tales of a rabbit to his children on long car rides. The stories grew and became so complicated that he had to write them down. Eventually, when Adams was 54, a publisher picked up the now-beloved and best-selling Watership Down.
6. Anthony Burgess published his first novel at 39.
The man responsible for the controversial A Clockwork Orange came to writing very late. He served in the military, worked as a teacher, organized amateur theater productions of T.S. Eliot and later joined the British Colonial Service to teach in Malaya. It was there, while ill, that he began to write, and at the age of 39, he published his first novel, Time for a Tiger. Burgess went on to write a great deal more, also composing hundreds of musical works, and even wrote a translation of the opera Carmen.
7. Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid-60s when she published ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’
If you read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, then you likely know the story of Wilder’s life. The daughter of a pioneer family in late 19th-century America, she was a teacher, a housewife and a journalist, and worked for the local Farm Loan Association. What you might not know is that Wilder didn’t publish the first book in her series until 1932, when she was 65. She began writing her childhood memoirs at the encouragement of her daughter. Her original biography, Pioneer Girl, which was rejected by publishers, will be released later this year.
8. William S. Burroughs published his first novel at 39.
A tragic incident led to the late-blooming literary career of William S. Burroughs, beat icon and addict novelist. In 1951, while drunk, he shot his wife, Joan Vollmer, in a game of “William Tell” in Mexico City. Witnesses claimed it was an accident, but while awaiting trial, Burroughs began writing his novel, Queer, which he eventually published in 1985.
His first published novel, Junky, was published when he was 39. In the introduction of Queer, Burroughs mentions how Vollmer’s death was pivotal to his writing: “So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”
9. Raymond Chandler published ‘The Big Sleep’ at 51.
Chandler was inspired to write by the Great Depression: After losing his job in the oil industry, he decided to become a detective novelist and is now remembered as one of the greats. The Big Sleep, his first and one of his best-loved novels, was published at the age of 51, earning admiration from writers as diverse as W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh and Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.
10. George Eliot didn’t publish ‘Middlemarch’ until she was 52.
Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot, is one of Victorian England’s most acclaimed novelists. Her first book, Adam Bede, was published when she was 40, and her seminal Middlemarch didn’t come out for another 12 years. She chose the male pen name so that her novels and words would be taken seriously at a time when female writers were associated with romance.
11. Charles Bukowski published his first novel at 51.
Bukowski released a few short stories in his 20s, but he quickly grew disillusioned with publishing and his lack of success, and so went on what can best be described as a 10-year bender. It wasn’t until publisher John Martin persuaded Bukowski, who had spent most of his life working in a post office, to write his first novel. Post Office came out to widespread acclaim in 1971, when Bukowski was 51.
12. Anna Sewell published ‘Black Beauty’ during the last months of her life.
Sewell’s mother was a children’s author, whom she helped edit many books over the years. Sewell began writing Black Beauty during the last decade of her life to bring attention to the need for kindness to animals, while she was struggling with illness. The novel was published in 1877, when she was 57. She died the next year, but lived long enough to see her book’s huge success.
13. Rev. Wilbert Awdry developed ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ from bedtime stories for his children.
The Rev. Wilbert Awdry was a lifelong railway enthusiast who made up stories about trains for his son Christopher when he came down with measles. After making Christopher a model of the engine Edward from his stories, Christopher asked for a model of the story’s large blue train Gordon. Unable to mock one up from his usual materials, Awdry made a small tank engine called Thomas, thus inspiring one of the most beloved children’s book series of the 20th century. The first story, The Railway Engines, was published in 1945, when Awdry was 34.
14. The Marquis De Sade wrote his first book in prison, at the age of 42.
When you’re the famous libertine and hedonist Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, many other things must seem more interesting than literature. However, his bacchanalian lifestyle landed him 32 years in prison. His first book, Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man, was written in 1782 while imprisoned in the Chateau de Vincennes. De Sade was 42 at the time of writing, but it wouldn’t be published until 1926. He continued to write salacious and sexual texts all through his prison sentences, including The 120 Days of Sodom and, perhaps his magnum opus, Justine.
On Writer’s Blog today, we take a little break from writing – as this is such a good, well written post, and is so relevant to what I was saying in my post earlier in the week on Writing and Depression – that I had to share it. I hope you find it an interesting, thought provoking, and emotional read, as I did.
Chris Cornell died early Thursday morning. His band Soundgarden played a show on Wednesday night at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Two hours after the show ended, he was gone.
For two days, I’ve been working on a piece to pay tribute to him, and it’s been a struggle. Usually when I have a problem like this it’s because I’m staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what I want to say. That’s not the problem this time. The problem is I have way too much to say.
I’m not going to sit here and claim to have been a huge fan of Soundgarden. I didn’t dislike them, I just had to take them in small doses. I was a fan of Cornell. I love “Seasons,” the solo song he had on Cameron Crowe’s movie, Singles. It’s a droning acoustic song about isolation and the meaningless passing of time. Your basic nihilistic statement written at what was probably the peak of rock’s most nihilistic period.
I was a fan of Cornell as a person. Of all the great musicians that were packed into Seattle in the late 80’s and early 90’s, from Mark Arm of Mudhoney to Jeff Ament of Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam to the Great Tortured Genius himself, Kurt Cobain, Cornell seemed like he rose a little bit above the others. He was the unofficial communicator of the Seattle scene. Like a Pacific Northwest Sinatra, he had a charisma and a calm grace about him. He was thoughtful, even charming, in interviews, unlike his compatriots who disdained fame and accolades (or at least pretended to). Cornell was the guy who seemed most like he could handle all the attention without turning it into an existential crisis.
Now he’s dead because, as it turns out, he had been dealing with an existential crisis most of his life. I was a fan, and I had a ton of respect for him. But it’s taken me a little while to understand why his death has affected me as strongly as it has.
At first I thought it might have something to do with the fact that I was mostly a bystander while the music of my generation was taking over. Just as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were making that gigantic breakthrough in 1992, my fiancé and I discovered we were pregnant. So instead of investigating mosh pits at the 7thStreet Entry, or watching Soundgarden and Pearl Jam rule the stage at Lollapalooza (it was a traveling festival in those days), I was hastily throwing together a wedding and then changing diapers. My wife and I got an early jump on things, so we’ve always told ourselves that we’d make up for lost time in our forties and fifties.
Well here we are, and something like this just makes it feel like we’ve arrived too late. But while that’s a legitimate thing, I don’t really think that’s exactly what is bothering me.
Then I thought maybe it’s a generational thing. Grunge is the gift that Generation X gave to the world of music. We took all that slacker cynicism, mixed it up with our older siblings’ sneering punk attitude, Zeppelin’s low end and, if we’re being honest, a little heroin. The result was the musical version of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It was gorgeous art that was absolutely sure that nothing really matters, making it feel immediate and important. It was the sound of a generation telling everybody, including ourselves, to fuck off.
And while we were wallowing in our splendid alienation, our spokespeople, predictably, started dying. First it was Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. A lot of us didn’t know about him until Cornell, along with Wood’s erstwhile bandmates (who were about to form Pearl Jam) memorialized him with a one off tribute called Temple of the Dog. Somehow, Wood’s story made death part our music’s romantic foundation.
A couple years later, Cobain killed himself with a shotgun. He was 27. Our Bob Dylan, the voice of our generation, threw it all away because he was afraid he was becoming a cliché. At least, that’s what we told ourselves at the time.
Shortly thereafter, Kristen Pfaff of Hole overdosed and died in a bathtub. And then Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon overdosed and died on a tour bus. It felt like people like D’arcy Wretzky of Smashing Pumpkins, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and, perhaps especially, Courtney Love – Pfaff’s bandmate and Cobain’s widow – were all headed in the same direction.
Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley died of a gruesome overdose. The fact that his body was not discovered for more than a week felt somehow fitting. He was a emblematic of a generation that just wanted to be left alone.
And just when it felt like our music, and maybe our entire generation, would never live to see 30, things turned around. Love and Weiland cleaned their acts up (at least for a while). Bands like Pearl Jam thrived long after the term “Heroin Chic” disappeared. Before we knew it, we were a decade into a new century and a lot of the Poets of Grunge were still standing. Some of them were even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It felt like our heroes were out of the woods.
When Weiland died of an overdose of cocaine, alcohol and MDA at the end of 2015, it felt like an echo, and not something rooted in the present. He had become the most notorious addict of them all over the years; in and out of rehab so many times we had all lost hope for him. His death was something that had been predicted so often for so long that it might as well have happened in 1997.
But Chris Cornell died of suicide on May 17, 2017, at the age of 52. He was a dad. He was a philanthropist. He was becoming an elder statesman of rock. He was a grown up. Cornell was aging gracefully, even doing that thing where some guys get better looking as they get older. He got Soundgarden back together, and they made a great new album a couple years ago. His voice still had all the power and strength it had displayed in his youth. Much like the rest of us, the world had kicked his ass a couple times, and he survived.
But now he’s gone, and goddammit, his is the death that bothers me the most. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’m realizing that it’s both a personal and a generational thing. Cornell had a long struggle with depression. As have I. As have many of you.
It’s possible that, along with grunge, Generation X’s other great gift to society is depression. I mean, of course it was here long before the Baby Boomers started re-producing, but we talk about it more than those who came before us. We talk about it as a demon or a monster. It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us. Depression likes to blame things. We feel like shit because of mistakes we have made in life or because of the state of the world or because we aren’t perfect. Without a lot of help and a lot of work, it’s impossible to know that it really is a chemical imbalance in our brains. After twenty-plus years of trying to de-stigmatize depression, some of us still have a hard time recognizing it for what it is. And even then, it doesn’t always matter.
You might think grunge is about anger, but that’s not completely true. Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden. And then it gets to be too much. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a mom, an accountant or a rock star. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written about it your entire life as a means of keeping it at bay. It doesn’t matter if the music you made about it brought in fame, respect and millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter if your entire generation has suffered from it. Depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you die alone in the bathroom.
This was a well-respected member of his community; a beloved musical hero who seemed to have it all together. This could have been any of us. And brothers and sisters, if it’s you, don’t mess around with it. Please find some help.
Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.
Call it a senseless tragedy. Call it a second-act cautionary tale. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t blow it off as meaningless.
Rest in peace, Chris.
Allison Tait describes herself thus on her website:
“I’m a freelance writer, author and blogger, living large(ish) in a small(ish) town. I write a lot. I combine my day job (feature articles & non-fiction books), with my night job (fiction), and my 24/7 job (family). Fortunately, I gave up sleep years ago!”
A professional writer for over 20 years, Allison started her career as a staff writer for magazines and newspapers, and in recent times has added online publishing to her list.
Allison’s latest incarnation is writer of children’s fiction. Her first book in a series – The MapMaker Chronicles – Race to the End of the World – is published by Hachette Australia, under the name A.L.Tait and was released in October 2014. It is the first in a trilogy that is already garnering her a legion of young fans across the country.
Congratulations on the release of the Mapmaker Chronicles. You changed your writing name for this novel. What was the motivation behind this decision?
I didn’t so much change my name as abbreviate it! I wanted to differentiate between the writing I do for adults and this book, which is for kids.
When did you decide to write children’s fiction? Or did it choose you? Can you outline the start of the creative process behind this project? Was there a light bulb moment?
I think The Mapmaker Chronicles chose me! I never imagined I’d be an author of children’s books. When I began writing fiction, I wrote women’s fiction (which I still write, and so far have completed two full-length (90,000+ words) manuscripts, one of which went very close to publication and the second of which I am redrafting).
But I have two boys, now aged seven and ten, and they are both fans of the ‘head-hurting’ question. We have long-and-involved conversations about where space ends, how high the stars are, whether there are any places in the world that remain unexplored, which dwarf from The Hobbit I would invite to a dinner party… you get the idea.
Several of those conversations, close together, led to one of those ideas that make you tingle all over.
“How far does space go?” asked Mr10, one night.
“Nobody knows,” I answered.
Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”
“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly.
“They must have been brave,” he answered.
“They were,” I said. “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”
And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.
You have many writing projects on the go at any one time. How do you manage to delve in and out of genres and characters, fiction and non-fiction? Does one writing style provide relief for another?
Over many years of freelance writing, I’ve learnt to juggle lots of projects. I like to have one long-length manuscript on the go, and then I work on articles, corporate work, websites and other things as they come up, using the deadlines as the best way to prioritise work. I really like to work this way – it means I’m never bored and I don’t get writers’ block because I simply move on to something else for a while if the words aren’t flowing for one project. I don’t work on more than one fiction project at a time – I just push through until I have it completed, putting aside any other ‘brilliant ideas’ for later.
With so much on your calendar how do you manage your writing time? Do you have a strict routine? Do you have to make personal sacrifices?
I have a mammoth To Do list and the paid work always comes first. When you have so many deadlines, it’s a simple matter of prioritising what needs to be done each day to ensure those deadlines are met. I don’t have a strict routine for writing in that I just do what needs to be done each day – but I’m at my desk while the boys are at school and I often work at night.
What advice do you have for starting out writers when it comes to pitching stories and managing deadlines? How do you deal with rejection?
Oh, this is such a massive subject. I have a lot of information on my blog at allisontait.com that’s full of advice for freelance writers and my eBook Get Paid To Write: The Secrets of Freelancing Success is full of tips and tricks of the trade. But as a starting point:
- A pitch is not just an outline of a subject you’d like to write about. You need to find the angle of the subject that is new and exciting and you need to sell it. It’s a real art form and it takes a lot of practice. I often suggest to my students at the Australian Writers’ Centre that they open a magazine, read a story and then try to write the pitch that got the story published.
- Reliability is essential for any freelance writer, and to be reliable you need to be organised. When you get commissioned to write an article, start making phone calls and lining up interviews that day – even if your deadline is four weeks away. Things don’t always go to plan and you need to allow yourself time to change interviewees or find a new case study or hose down any other disaster that arises.
- Rejection is part of the game. It’s no fun and I don’t think anyone ever grows to like it, but you do get used to it (sad but true). Remember that the editor is not rejecting you – it’s just that the particular idea you’re pitching is not right for that publication at that time. Have a look at your pitch, rethink it with a new publication in mind and try again. Don’t just send out one blanket pitch to six publications – that will result in a lot of rejection.
Do you have any remedies for writer’s block? (taking your cheeky puppy for a walk?)
Everybody deals with this in their own way. As I said, I don’t really get writer’s block per se, but I do allow myself a lot of thinking time when I’m writing a manuscript. I find that my mind works best when my body is involved in some kind of mindless, repetitive activity, so I walk (not with the puppy though – he’s too distracting!), I wash dishes, I weed the garden, I hang out washing… And I usually find that if I do that for a while, my mind busily unravels whatever plot problem I’ve struck.
Do you find the self-motivation and the discipline required difficult?
Honestly, no. I never struggle to motivate myself to write fiction because I love it. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything else. When it comes to the freelance work, my day job, I have been a fulltime freelance writer for more than 10 years now and I know how to get an article written. Yes, some days I’d rather faff about on the internet and tweet, but that just means that I sit down later that night and get the story done. If I don’t write the article, I don’t get paid – that’s a great motivator!
Writers these days have to be very technically savvy and keep an online presence. How do you juggle your social media commitments with writing?
I think that this comes down to time in the game, as well as time on the field. I have been blogging for nearly five years now and have worked through several different social media platforms to accompany that, whittling it down to the ones that I like. Over the years, I’ve built up an amazing community across my blog, Twitter and Facebook. I do a bit on G+ and Pinterest, but mostly I go to the others because I really like them. My advice to people in this area is two-fold: do what you like and, most importantly, what comes easily to you so that it doesn’t feel like work, and secondly, don’t expect miracles overnight – it takes time to find your networks and create a community.
Do you find writing a lonely experience? It can also be an anti-social exercise. How do the people in your life deal with that?
I like spending time by myself. I have a busy family and social life outside of my work, and I’m more than happy to be alone in a quiet house during the day. I don’t write when my boys are around – or try not to (there are occasions when deadlines need to be met) – and I don’t work on weekends.
Do you have a routine / a particular place and time when you write?
I write in my study. I’ve tried writing in cafes but they’re too distracting. I work while the boys are at school and at night after everyone goes to bed.
Who /what inspires your writing? Who are your favourite authors?
I’m inspired by everything around me. I’m inspired by the joy I get from bringing a story to life. I have so many favourite authors and favourite books that I don’t think I could even begin to name them.
Why writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I think that writing is something that chooses you. I wanted to be an actor for a long time, but then I realised that the stage fright would kill me. I fell into magazine journalism and it kept me happy for a long time. And then I decided I was going to write fiction, so I sat down to give it a go. My first attempts were woeful, but you learn with every manuscript you write.
Do you have any further advice for starting out writers?
My main advice is to stop talking about writing and actually write. You’ll never get a book written if you don’t make the time to sit down and write it.
What is your next major writing project now that the Mapmaker Chronicles is released?
I’ve just completed the third manuscript in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, and I’m redrafting an adult novel that I’m hoping might be my first published in that area. That should take me to the end of the year. After that, who knows?
If you’d like to learn more about Allison Tait, you can check out her website here.
You can see the original article here
When Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own she referred to not only the physical space a woman needs to write, but also the need for room in education and the literary world for female writers to overcome the patriarchal nature of society.
Though I dare to say we are in no shape to dismiss these matters just yet, I’m not about to embark upon dissecting the latter topic in this article. What I do wish to talk about, is the need any writer has (woman or man) for a physical work space to call their own.
Like many writers, I’ve lived and worked in some pretty cramped places; from an office that squeezed twenty writers around one trestle table (elbow-to-elbow) to a studio apartment shared with an equally hardworking partner.
I’ve certainly longed for the luxury of my own desk (let alone my own room). It’s because of these experiences over the past few years that I’ve come to realise the importance of having your own work space, whether it’s a coffee table in the corner of a tiny room or an actual office.
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary venture. We lock ourselves away in the world we are creating and don’t want to be disturbed.
Personally, I can’t stand the noise of the television blaring, or people clanging about downstairs unnecessarily, though over the years I’ve become better at tuning it out.
These intrusions usually serve as distractions from our craft, and there really is nothing worse, considering how many of us struggle to find time for it in the first place.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Try and find yourself a little nook in the house where you can set yourself up a desk (it doesn’t have to be imposing). This desk should be yours and yours alone.
You should be free to leave your books open, your papers loose and your pen lidless, without the fear of having someone come along and moving things around.
Having this space is so important to your creative well being. It allows you to create routine, to stay focused and to have discipline. When you are sitting at your desk, there is only one thing you should be doing: writing.
Woolf said we needed money and a room of our own. I’d say that we need to get the room first (or at least the desk), and the money will come later. Hopefully.
Some great advice about writing from Neil Gaiman.
The key thing to remember about writing: It’s about writing! The more we think about what we write, the harder it gets. We can talk and think ourselves out of writing far easier than allowing ourselves just to write. The mind of a writer is filled with objections because most writers are afraid of writing something that doesn’t make sense, or worse, writing something that comes across as idiotic or is considered arbitrary. Your inner voice all too often will put forth resistance, telling you that you don’t make any sense whatsoever and you’d be much better off doing anything, except writing!
Maybe you’ll recognize some of these inner objections:
Am I really a writer? Am I any good?
Will anyone care about what I write about?
Does my story make any sense to anyone else?
Do I constantly repeat myself?
Do I over-edit?
Do my characters seem real? Do they have depth? Should I just go ahead and kill them all off now and give up writing forever?
Do I suck? No, I don’t. Yes, I do.
How bad do I suck? Bad! The Titanic sunk because it knew that I would be born and try to become a writer.
Why Writers Struggle So Much With Rejection
One of the things my inner voice loves to tell me is that my writing is total and complete garbage and beyond any shadow of a doubt will be rejected. My inner voice isn’t alone, as so-called experts tried to convince me of the same things too. Fear of rejection is powerful, because at some point or another we have all been rejected for something, and we never forget the pain. The more times we have been rejected for anything, the more doubt compounds within us. This is an especially complicated issue for writers, because we’ve all heard the stories and watched the movies where writers get rejected. Some will even tell you that if you want to be a writer then you better get used to being rejected. It’s almost as bad as trying to ask someone on a date for the very first time. The possibility of being turned down isn’t just extremely high, it’s 100% going to happen.
Have I made you feel any better about rejection? I didn’t think so. The good news is that the power of rejection holds less threat for writers today. You don’t need an editor’s approval to self-publish and you don’t have to send out thousands of letters to be accepted by any agent or publisher if you don’t want to. So then, what’s to stop you from writing and publishing your writing? Perhaps it’s the internal messaging system we all have that tends to tell us that when doing something, anything, it must be done in a certain way or it won’t be acceptable. Well, that may have been true for a long time, but when it comes to writing and publishing your work, you are now the-end-all-be-all if you want to be.
I think we hold onto memories of rejection because we try to avoid putting ourselves in a position of being rejected again, no matter what type of rejection that might be or from whom. Very few of us, if any, are completely free of this internal fear. All of us have our own way of dealing with it; however, to be truly free of the fear of rejection, one must come to terms with it. One way I have done that is to write for myself, knowing I can publish whatever I write if I choose to. That doesn’t mean I’ll sell a million copies or that it will attract a huge readership, but it’s still a freedom that gives me room to write. Blogging helps too, because it can be done regularly, in increments, and articles can be published privately first and then, when we’re ready, we can publish them publicly. Blogging also takes a while to gain a readership, so our writing is exposed to readers more slowly. As we gain more readers over time, we naturally gain confidence and eventually worry less about being rejected.
How to Conquer the Internal Editor One Word at a Time
At times, if you want to get past the internal resistance of your own mind, you actually have to give in and allow yourself to write whatever you come up with. Even if your writing seems like terrible, useless drivel no one will want to read, the more you write and get your thoughts on paper, or on the screen, or on your blog, the less power the internal nay saying voice has.
Writing rituals also help, which I’ll get to in a moment. Before writing, you might consider looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re going to write the best gibberish you can come up with, and then challenge yourself to do exactly that! You may find yourself amazed at how much sense your gibberish makes when you read it back.
If you’re like me, then you’d like your first draft to be your only draft, but you probably also know that’s not what actually happens. Writing a first draft is mostly just getting your thoughts out of your head, but there’s a little more to it. A first draft often only makes sense to you, the writer, and it will need to be shaped and formed during the second and, perhaps, third draft. We sometimes heap unnecessary pressure on ourselves to write a perfect first draft. I don’t know of any writer who is ever completely satisfied with his or her first draft. I know I never am. It is the action of writing that matters, not necessarily the content itself.
The Most Important Advice Any Writer Will Ever Hear
I am willing to bet every writer on God’s green earth has been told their first draft is crap. Somehow we come to believe it and even tell ourselves this without ever considering the true mental and emotional impact. I refuse to join the chorus. Allow me to share something very important with you and it took me too long to realise it.
Your first draft is not crap no matter how far from perfect it might be.
I regret the many first drafts I’ve thrown away, because I’ll never be able to get them back. An idea is wonderful, but an idea written down is heaven. As a draft, it becomes a physical, tangible manifestation you can refer to and build on. Throwing away an idea, even symbolically, is painful and wasteful. I think all of us have woken from dreams and wished we had written them down, even if just haphazardly, and even if only to remember them later. How many dreams have you forgotten, but somehow the feeling that they were wonderful still stays with you? What if you had written about a dream while it was still fresh in your mind? What if that became your first draft? What would you refer to it as? I somehow doubt you would call it crap.
Think about it a moment. Consider how the word crap makes you feel (and I am using the “clean” version of the word). What emotional value does it provide? The first draft matters the most and it deserves proper credit. The belief you’re merely writing crap in order to be okay with the fact that it’s not “good” only serves to feed your doubts about your writing.
Every book, every article and every blog post starts off as a first draft. A first draft is when you turn an idea into some coherent form, when you’ve assembled your loose thoughts from notes collected on napkins, scraps of paper, or from your voice recorder. You know how painstaking this process is. Your first draft is perhaps the most important step to completing your project. It’s special. No one’s ever gotten to the end without the beginning. Crap is the last thing in the world that your first draft is!
I’m writing this because too many have come to believe that when they sit down and write their first draft they aren’t doing something crucial to the creative process. I mean, how important can crap be? Don’t throw away another seed before it has the opportunity to grow into something beautiful. Don’t discard the memory of another glorious dream before it can be realised.
Are You Consciously Investing in Your Writing?
I discovered this the hard way. If I don’t think constructively about what I’m writing, I won’t make the necessary mental and emotional investment it takes to see my writing through to fruition. Once I figured this out, I lowered my risk of falling into depths of writer’s doubt and became much more prolific. Your state of mind has a huge influence on your confidence and productivity. Today, when I sit down and write my first draft, I have the greatest respect for it. It won’t be perfect, and it certainly won’t be polished, but without the first draft I wouldn’t have anything!
If you want to feel better about your imperfect draft, then acknowledge that it’s incomplete and know you will shape it later on. It will take time and hard work. It won’t always be fun, but if it was just crap, would you want to put that kind of effort into it? I wouldn’t. What if you stopped calling it crap and started calling it by its true value? Would that change your perspective and increase the emotional value you place in your work?
Let’s be honest here, just for a moment. Between you and me, in the real world, what do you do with crap? You flush it or bin it. You’re too good for that and your first draft is too! No matter how imperfect it might be and no matter how much work must still be done.
With respect and admiration for Ernest Hemingway, I prefer this quote by Michael Lee:
“The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist.”
One Easy Path to Respecting What You Write in Your First Draft
Starting a new writing project is an exciting, mysterious, and sometimes nerve-racking adventure, so try not to limit your process. I have several ways I use to get myself started. One very effective method is talking to myself.
Do you ever talk to yourself? When you’re alone (I think you’ll really want to be alone for this one), go ahead and start talking to yourself. Talk about anything: how the day has been, why you didn’t do something you should have done, a situation at work, or whatever happens to be on your mind.
Here, I’ll help you with a couple of questions: What do you really want to write about? Is there a special story that you want to tell? Talk out loud to yourself about that story, tell yourself openly and honestly why you want to write it.
Now here’s the key to this exercise: while you’re talking, make sure you have a word processor open. Type everything that you say, every single word. Don’t look at the monitor. No, don’t do that! Carry on your conversation with yourself until you’ve said everything you need to. Try not to hold anything back. When you’re finished talking, then, and only then, look at the monitor. There’s your first draft ready to be fashioned into your story. It might not be perfect, it might not be exactly what you wanted to write, but it certainly isn’t crap. It is a start, and it’s your very own personal invitation to continue writing.
Like I said, writing is about writing and sometimes it’s not what we write, but the actual process of writing itself that matters the most.