Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Publishing Misconceptions

I run a lot of workshops and I come across a lot of misconceptions about how the publishing industry works.

Over here, Charlie Stross is talking on just this topic.

Here are some of the things that have come up at workshops from the general public. The first one is my own misconception.

1. Once you get a book published it means you have joined the world of the professional author, and editors from other publishing houses will look at all your future books differently. ie. It will be easier to sell your books, because after all you are a published author.

Unfortunately, no. There are a dozen reasons for rejecting your book, that you don't know about, starting with 'we have one slot left and we're going to use someone we've published before' to 'your book is too similar to one we're going to publish next week' to the old 'It's just not what we are looking for'. What are you looking for? 'We'll know it when I see it.'

2. Publishers and their editors are out to steal your book/ideas, so you need to get your book copyrighted before you send it out.

No. If you write a good book, the publisher will want to grow you as a writer, not steal your idea and write it themselves. They aren't writers. They might know writers, but those writers couldn't reproduce your book. Your book is automatically copyrighted when you write it. Posting it back to yourself via registered mail to prove when you wrote it, isn't necessary.

3. Self publishing your book then sending copies of it to celebrities across Australia in the hope that they will love it and promote it.

Um ... celebrities are probably not going to read your self published book and, even if they loved it, they aren't going to arrange to go on Breakfast Television to talk about it.

Are there any questions that you'd like to ask the ROR team with our shared experience in the publishing world. (Disclaimer -- we don't know everything).

PS. The story about the aspiring writer following the editor into the toilets at a convention and pushing her manuscript under the door is true. Note. This is not the right way to approach an editor, it will not endear them to your book.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Australian Speculative Fiction Carnival

It's been a busy month!

For a start, we had the Aurealis Awards, the It Affair of the Aus Spec Fic Calendar (and still no news I believe on who is going to try to measure up to the grand, black tie productions brought to us by Fantastic Queensland). The winners are listed here.

Attendees at the AAs included Angela Slatter, Cat Sparks, Karen Miller, Scott Westerfeld, Robbie Matthews, Kaaron Warren, Ben Payne, Paul Haines (I, II), Deborah Biancotti, Donna Maree Hanson and Jason Fischer. Jonathan Strahan, like many of us, had to stay home and follow the excitement via Twitter. Thank goodness for ScottW's fashion tweets.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Justine Larbalestier on Unsung YA and the Most Influential YA of the Decade. Charles Tan interviews Angela Slatter.

Girlie Jones announced the final issue of YA ezine Shiny is available for sale. Talie Helene discusses Women in Horror month. Trent Jamieson has upped stakes to a new blog.

Ticonderoga Publications announced collections by Kaaron Warren and Angela Slatter, to be out by Aussiecon 4. Cat Sparks announces her own collection, The Bride Price, is to be published by Orb Publications, also for Aussiecon 4.

Tansy Rayner Roberts discusses the latest Bloomsbury cover racefail, and links to some of the best posts about Amazon v. Macmillan (I, II). Alan Baxter on the release of the iPad and what it means for e-books. Mondyboy on Amazon, Macmillan, the iPad and e-books. Karen Miller on e-book pricing.

Strange Horizons reviewed A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti and Eclipse 3, the Aurealis Award-winning anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Hugo-pimping & promotional freebies from Paul Haines and Twelfth Planet Press. Robert Hoge starts the Homegrown Hugo Nomination campaign to get Australians on the Hugo ballot (I, II). TansyRR discusses "Wives" and some other great candidates for the Hugo ballot. [comment to the carnival with your own recs!]

Nominations are now open for the Tin Ducks, and membership of DudCon will give you voting rights in the Ditmars. HorrorScope discusses the number of Australians on the Bram Stoker longlist. You can also vote for many Australians (or anyone else) in the Locus poll and survey.

Justine Larbalestier on mansplaining and how to avoid derailing discussion with your own privilege. Girlie Jones on How to Suppress Women's Writing and some recent posts about feminism and writing. MonissaW on the strength of our female ancestors, and gender-based colour coding on book covers.

The Egoboo writing-critiquing group on the guidelines they use for critiquing. Deborah Biancotti on what she wanted to achieve with A Book of Endings. Gillian Polack on body language as worldbuilding, and word culture. Rowena Cory Daniells asks, does it have to be a trilogy?

Latest Terra Incognita podcasts include readings from Marianne De Pierres and Matthew Chrulew, and Ben Peek describes making his own recording for the March TISF.

Greteldragon asks what people really want from Swancon, and Danny Oz responds to some of the issues raised with a post and a poll about parenthood and cons. Mynxii proposes a set of core values for the WASFF. Felicity Dowker is upset about criticisms of the Aurealis Awards horror panel, and Martin Livings responds.

In closing, please draw your attention to the Australian SpecFic Snapshot which is happening THIS WEEK. Check in on these blogs every day between the 15th and 22nd of February for a series of interviews with people in the Aussie spec fic scene about what they are doing in this, the year of an Australian Worldcon: Kathryn Linge, Random Alex, Girlie Jones, Rachel the Mechanical Cat, TansyRR and EditorMum. Last time, the team hit 86 interviews - will they break the record?

Next month's carnival will be hosted by Alan Baxter. As ever, if you notice something interesting that has been missed from the last month, please link to it in comments. Thank you and goodnight!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Deep Point of View

On Saturday, I ran a workshop on Deep Point of View. (POV or VP). The people at the workshop asked me for my notes, so I'm going to put them up here, where they can make copies of them.

But first of all there is basic Point of View. I covered it here, back in 2009. This covers basic VP types, when you would use a VP and why.

Remember to tell the scene from the VP of the person who has the most to lose. This will be the most exciting VP.


The simplest way to change VP is to change when you start a new chapter or scene but, every now and then, you might want to change VP in the middle of scene. Maybe you want to show how the other character misunderstood something, or you want to raise tension and reveal something to the reader, that one of the protagonists doesn't know.

To change VP mid scene you need to signal the change clearly. To do this use the character's name and an emotive verb. Make it clear which VP you are in.

'Annie didn't know whether to laugh or cry.'

As soon as you see a word like knew or sensed, felt, wondered or thought, you know you have to be in that character's VP. These are subjective verbs, they rely on the character's perception.

Then you can either switch straight away to his VP or slip into omniscient to set the scene then into his VP. Like this.

'Annie didn't know whether to laugh or cry. (Third person VP, Hers).
The dust settled on the floor between them. (Omniscient).
Nathan coughed and wiped chalk dust off his shirt, wishing he could think of something wity to say, but he always came up with smart replies later. (His VP).'

Use VP changes sparing for greatest effect. Don't risk losing your reader and throwing them out of the story.


To write deep VP you need to know your characters. Know their background, know their motivation and their secret fears. If you think you know your characters interview them and let them answer the question in First Person. Here's some sample questions. Your character's responses can be quite revealing. You could come up with questions more suitable to your world if you're writing genre.

What's the most memorable moment from your childhood?
Are you still in touch with your childhood best friend.
What's the most embarrassing moment?
What's your idea of a perfect day?
If you knew you were going to die in 6 months, what would you do?
If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?

Now that you know your characters, you can write from deep in their point of view. Filter what they see through their perception.

They don't just walk into a room, the room has significance. If they have been there before and something terrible happened and now they have to face the person who did this terrible thing again, then you have a powerful scene. Let the character's emotions and back-story colour the way they see the world.


By showing the reader how your characters feel about a place, an event or a person, you filter the story through the character's perception. You make it more powerful.

Use all 5 senses plus intuition.

Have your character observe others and try to work out what they are really thinking. Your character can get this wrong and you can reveal the misunderstanding using a VP change. This can add to the humour of the scene or raise the tension.


Creating vivid characters.

With strong motivations.

Using clear VP changes.

Using all the senses, including intuition.

Imbuing places and events with emotional significance.

Filtering the reader's perception of the world through the character's perception so that they feel what the character feels.

Starting our with High Stakes and then Raising the Stakes!

Now that you are aware of VP and Deep VP look at your favourite authors.

How many VPs do they use?

When do they change VP?

Why do they change it and how do they do this?

Do they imbue places and events with significance? How?

Be an informed reader. Set out to observe the writing craft in other authors' work and apply what works for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Does it have to be a trilogy?

One of the writers on the VISION list asked 'Does it have to be a trilogy?' Good question.

How long is a piece of string? A book need to be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. Having said that, single title books are hard to sell. And, from a writer's point of view, they are harder to write. Think of all that work building the world and its different societies, then only using it once in one book.

Besides, readers like to come back to a familiar world. It's like going on a holiday to a destination that is an old favourite. A reader emailed asking if she could buy the sequel to the Last T'En trilogy because ... 'I feel like the characters are my friends. I want to know what happens to them.' This is why fantasy book series run to 10 books or more.

Which brings us back to the question, should you write a trilogy or could it be a duology?

Some stories just work better as a duology. They have a natural conclusion. That raises the question of word length. Rhonda Roberts was saying her Gladiatrix comes in at 160K. The individual books of Nicole Murphy's new series, 'The Dream of Asaerlai' come in at around 110K. The books of Simon Green's Nightside series are very short, around 200 pages printed. But they are tight and eminently readable because each book is self contained. I think he's up to book number 10 now and he keeps going back to the world he created, revisiting characters, making them grow and evolve, bringing in new characters.

I find, if I'm writing away and I get to about 600 pages (150K) and the story still hasn't reached a natural conclusion, I'll look for a place where I can cut it in half and expand it to two books of 100K each. Since this is a first draft, I know I'll be expanding the book as I add flavour and colour to the narrative, so I know it is going to grow.

One of the other writers on the list commented that they hate buying a trilogy when they have to wait for the other books. It means they have to wait years sometimes, and then re-read the earlier books. I can sympathise, having been in the same spot. This is why I'm glad Solaris is bringing out my three King Rolen's Kin books, a month apart. No waiting.

But it does mean that three years of work gets released in 3 months. This is another question that was raised on the VISION list. Should a writer complete the second book of a trilogy before sending out the first and moving on to another project? If I hadn't written all three KRK books, they would be coming out 6 months to a one year apart.

As you might have gathered from the description of my writing practice, my books tend to grow, so I will often have book two written in draft form, while I'm polishing book one. A writer with a great track record can sell on the strength of a proposal. A writer with a track record can sell on the strength of a proposal and three chapters. A new writer can sell on the strength of the first book and the outline of the second.

When you do sell, you'll find yourself writing to a deadline, trying to edit book one, clean up book two and plan book three, all at the same time. And sometimes it is easier to complete book three before cleaning up book two because things will happen in book three that need to be seeded into book two.

So, do you wait until all three books of a trilogy are out, before buying the first one? Does it annoy you when a trilogy's individual books don't have conclusions? What about series that run on for ever without a conclusion? Would you keep reading anyway, because you find the characters fascinating?

Monday, February 8, 2010

congratulations, Rhonda

Hi Rhonda!

Hope Gladiatrix is selling well for you! Isn't it a great feeling to see your book actually sitting on bookshop shelves. And since Gladiatrix has an excellent cover, hopefully sitting cover face-out!

How difficult was it to add those extra words to bring the novel up to what your publisher wanted? Me, I find it easier to cut words - up to a point, anyway. Whereas adding new stuff in that's as good as the old stuff, AND fits perfectly, AND looks as though it was always meant to be there - that's hard. An extra quarter in length sounds like a whole new sub-plot. Or were there a lot of small areas where you'd pulled in tighter than you really wanted in first version, so it was natural to expand and easy to give characters and episodes the length they'd always really wanted?

(I ask this as a fellow Illawarra inhabitant - which means, by the Illawarrriors' Oath, you have to answer with absolute fearless honesty!)


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Update on Book Prize

Doing give-aways on Blogs is new to us so we're learning as we go along. Tehani jumped in with the right answer to Rhonda's question within 15 minutes of the post going up. Congratulations to Tehani, Rhonda is sending her a signed copy of her book.

To make it fair for everyone else, Rhonda has generously offered another copy of her book and another chance for someone to win it. This time send your answer to me at


All the right answers will go into a draw and Rhonda will send the winner a copy of her book.

So here's the question and this time it is one SF movie buffs will be able to answer.

Q. In which recent SF movie was Britain a police state?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting my first book published, Rhonda Roberts

Rowena, here. For an unpublished writer it is so hard to get your work in front of an editor. The manuscript can be really good, but if you can't get past the 'gate keeper' you'll never sell the book.

Back in 2006 while I was on the Fantastic Queensland committee, I organised a Pitching Opportunity for Spec Fic writers to pitch their books to Stephanie Smith from Harper Collins.

Marianne de Pierres, Louise Cusack and Kim Wilkins kindly agreed to help select the 10 lucky aspiring writers and run a workshop on how to pitch. Rhonda Roberts was one of these writers. Here's her story ...
(Look out for the Give Away question. We have a copy of Gladiatrix for one lucky blog reader).

Getting published seemed like a long shot but I read everything I could find and joined the NSW Writer’s Centre in Sydney. The Centre was invaluable. Nothing like listening to writers, publishers and agents talk about their industry and being able to ask questions.

Inspired I planned my series, honed the first book (for the tenth time), started the second and sent out query packages to publishers and agents.

I had no success until I did one of Terry Dowling’s workshops. He said I had to find a way to get my manuscript past the slush pile - the manuscripts that never make it to the editor’s desk.

So I looked for competitions to enter and came across one with the prize being an opportunity to pitch to a publisher at that year’s National SF Convention. It was organised and judged by Rowena Cory Daniells, Marianne de Pierres, Louise Cusack and Kim Wilkins. To my surprise I won a place with nine others.

Rowena and Kim ran a workshop to prepare us for the pitch, which was wonderful. They reminded us to be extremely concise in our presentation – we only had a few minutes to make an impression.

At mine the publisher was very kind but non-committal and especially interested to know how far I was along with the rest of the series.

Later she sent me an encouraging email… She liked my work but it wasn’t the right length so I could resubmit when I’d expanded the draft by a quarter.

I resubmitted and while I was waiting worked on the second book. When the call came I expected the worst – but instead HarperCollins bought the first three books in my Timestalker series. The first one, Gladiatrix, came out in May 2009.

Rhonda's bio:

I have a Ph.D and worked as an academic specialising in the sociology of knowledge. I trained in Aikido in Japan and now Tai Chi near my home in the Illawara.

And Rhonda is a fan of SF Comedy so the Give Away question is:

In what SF comedy series does the Big Giant Head appear and who played him?