The Introverted Writer: Using Radio to Sell Your Book

nina-coop-radio05Like most authors, I’m somewhat of an introvert. I don’t mind talking in front of people, but I don’t crave it and I often need a place to relax and recharge after. One thing I know I can do lots more of is talk about my books and the writing process on a more one-on-one mode. I think most authors do: How and why we write; what made us write that particular one; why it’s important; how it can help others.

Radio offers a much less intrusive and intimate way to reach out to the public. Talk shows, podcasts and online radio shows are popular among the mobile public who are often looking for an easy way to entertain as they travel. I’ve done many radio interviews and have found them very rewarding and successful in getting publicity for my books.

RadioGuestList.com (on BookMarketingTools.com) gives sound advice on how to get booked on talk shows to promote your book: “Radio DJ’s, talk show hosts, and podcast producers need to fill their air time.” They say. “If you can offer them credible, interesting discussion that keeps their audience tuned-in, you can likely get on the air to tell their audience about your book(s).”

RadioGuestList.com provides tips to help get you on the air about your book and I’ve provided several of them here:

  1. find shows interested in topics covered in your book: use Google, Twitter or BlogTalkRadio.com.
  2. choose an angle: offer story, topic and “how to” discussion topics. If you can “newsjack” onto a current trend or issue, even better!
  3. Write a short pitch that focuses on how the show’s audience can benefit from your interview. Offer to promote the show on your social media, which is a win-win for you and the station.
  4. Include vital contact information so they can find you easily. These can include email, phone number, Skype handle, bio and website.
  5. Provide potential focal points to discuss; you can even suggest questions, which all make the interview potentially easier to run.
  6. Offer and provide cover art, headshot, bio and related media that the show can use to promote your appearance. Include your social media accounts and website, etc. so they can add them. Let them know how you will promote the show too.

I’ve done several types of radio/podcast interview and they fall into three general camps: 1) those where I knew what the questions were going to be in advance; 2) those where I may have had an idea of topics to cover, and 3) those where I had no idea what we were going to talk about—except that it would involve my book in some way. In my opinion, the interviews that worked out the best were those in the last category.

Really!

The reason is that these interviews tended to be hosted by experienced and confident radio hosts and the interview was allowed to proceed organically, flowing like a real conversation—which made it more fun for me, the host and for the listening audience. These interviews often generated spontaneous laughter and travelled into surprising and crazy good places. I found that my voice relaxed as I just let the conversation flow and gave my confidence to the host—something the audience can also sense. A good interview is a little like doing a slow dance with a partner who is a good lead. Let your host lead and enjoy where it takes you. This doesn’t mean that you can’t nudge the topic into surprising new directions. That’s also part of the fun. They lead, you follow through, they pick up from that and so on.

Here are some tips for creating a great listening experience:

  1. Know your material; do the diligence of researching topics you may wish to discuss and have material with you if you feel comfortable consulting it (the material would need to be very accessible and you shouldn’t read long tracts of anything).
  2. Relax and enjoy the interview. Let the process flow naturally. It may take a turn you didn’t anticipate; just go with it. Let it be a conversation between host and guest; giving, receiving, learning, teaching.
  3. Don’t monopolize the discussion. The host often has something very interesting to add, which will journey into something interesting for the listeners. Give the host space to do that. Then bring in interesting answers.
  4. Be gracious and thank the host at the end. Let them—and your audience know—how much you enjoyed the experience.

RadioGuestList also wisely suggests that you (or your publicist) follow through with a quick email to thank the show’s producer and/or host. It’s also good to let them know how you will promote your interview and/or inform them when you do.

If the show went well you may wish to let them know that you’d love to do a repeat radiointerviewappearance. I have done that with several of my interview appearances with wonderful return visits.

For those of you conducting interviews—either for your book or an article you’re writing—I go over some dos and don’ts in Chapter I: Interviews & Other Weird Interactions of my fiction writing guide “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” They involve the four pillars of good journalism: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, and transparency. Understanding what makes a good interviewer can help make you a better interviewee.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

Who’s Your Audience and Why Should You Care?

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The Beaches, Toronto (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The artistic process, whether painting or prose, is admittedly the child of self-expression. The long-standing image of the artist cloistered in her studio—hunched over a writing desk or standing before a canvas to create from the depths of his/her soul—is surely a truism. Artists create from the heart; we dive deep inside our often-tortured souls and closeted past to draw out the universal metaphors that speak to humanity and share—

Ay, there’s the rub. For to share is to have a dialogue and to have a meaningful dialogue is to demonstrate consideration of the other. Somewhere in that journey that began with self, others entered. It is, in fact, something of a paradox and a conundrum for many artists. One that has challenged the artistic community for centuries. It is also why many artists have relied on agents, benefactors, and advocates to effectively communicate, target — and even interpret—their often abstruse “message” to appropriate audiences.

Purists will tell you that a true artist need not consider her audience; because her self-expression naturally finds relevance with the culture and zeitgeist from which she writes through universally understood metaphor: her story is their story.

But is that enough?

I suppose it finally comes down to whether you are interested in sharing. I don’t know any published authors who don’t wish their books to sell. Every storyteller needs an audience to connect with and engage. That is ultimately what good storytelling does: engage, connect, rouse emotions and evoke empathic feelings. Make an impact.

Does identifying and targeting a specific audience result in more satisfied readers and ultimately better sales? Of course it does. The more you—and whoever is helping you market your work—know about your audience, the more likely you are going to attract them to your book, convince them to buy it and ultimately connect with them through story.

That’s the irony of art: it is a treasure that is created out of the depths of solitude but ultimately brought into the light and shared with the world. For your art to have impact, you must know and understand your world.

Knowing your audience will affect every aspect of your book project. It will help determine:

  • What your story is about and how you write it (e.g., language, “voice” or personality, narrative style, tone or mood/attitude, characters, setting and theme, even length)
  • What genre and sub-genre(s) it lies under
  • The look and tone of the cover and blurb (one that matches the story and its audience; I previously wrote about book jacket blurbs and book covers )
  • All aspects of promotion, including the language and images you use, where you direct your marketing and how (e.g., medium, timing, etc.)

For your work to succeed, it’s important to consider the following:

  • collision-with-paradise-smallWrite to the audience’s expectations (given the promise of your work): success of stories with readers will rely on the alignment of expected story structure, tone and endings. My romance SF therefore reads differently from my hard SF in so many ways.
  • darwins-paradoxWrite to the understanding level of your intended audience: how and what I write for my hard science fiction audience (with expectations on accurate and intelligent exploration and extrapolation on science) is different from the style I use for my historical fantasy. This will include “voice”, language and use of specific vocabulary, terms and concepts, sentence structure and pace.
  • Write with the knowledge of your relationship to the reader: how will you gain their empathy and buy-in to your story? This will depend on the genre of your work and expectations of its associated readership.

 

Understand Your Audience

Who is going to read your work? To what age group to they belong? What culture and sub-culture? What gender(s)? What education and intellectual capacity? Economic status? What regions? What political leanings? Prejudices and beliefs? What knowledge-base? For instance, you wouldn’t use a lot of multi-sylabic latinisms in an action thriller; but you might in a literary fiction or even high fantasy. If you research and create a profile of your intended reader, this will help you identify who you are writing to.  “Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing,” says SkillsYouNeed.com.

It isn’t enough to know who is reading, but why they are reading your writing. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Who do I want to read this? Who are you writing for? They are your primary audience; the ones you will truly resonate with your story; they will be your fans: who are they?
  2. Who else is likely to read this? This is your secondary audience, readers who may not necessarily read your genre but are interested in the issues or premise of your story or will appreciate how you’ve handled it in your story: who might they be? 

 

Writers are Solopreneurs

In his 2014 article in Forbes, Jayson DeMers shares that: “Market research was once the purview of only big companies. If you weren’t a Fortune 1000 brand, investing in any form of customer research was outside the scope of what many businesses could afford. Today, advances in market research technology have opened a whole range of services to even the smallest businesses. Small enterprises and solopreneurs routinely test ideas before they take them to market, saving tens of thousands of dollars and years of time developing products and services that fall flat with the market.”

Given the current publishing paradigm—which offers less and less to the author, writers are now more than ever required to understand their audience, given their need to be solopreneurs, succeeding on their own know-how, rather than relying on some marketing department that no longer exists.

To know your audience is to know your story better.

A previous version of this article was published in the Clarion Foundation blog and presented by Lynda Williams.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Writing a Review on Amazon or Goodreads…It’s Not So Hard To Do

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Bryant Park, New York City (photo by Jane Raptor)

WHY Do a Review

There are several reasons to provide an online review.

As a reader, you can offer a recommendation to your fellow readers on a writer whose work you like. You are doing that writer a BIG favor by providing the review; just by adding an additional voice to that book’s virtual shelf. Any voice is better than no voice at all. This is why I generally don’t do negative reviews: just by adding a review (good or bad) you are adding to the voices associated with that book. I prefer to concentrate on adding a positive voice to the conversation. I’d rather spend my time helping and supporting writers and works that I like than bashing works I don’t care for. So, if you like a writer / book, letting other readers know right where the book is selling is a very effective way to help.

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Figure 1. Amazon Canada reviews of “Water Is…” (with added Amazon USA reviews)

Online reviews on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon (primarily Amazon.com, but also Amazon.ca for Canada, and others throughout the world) are very useful and much appreciated by writers who you are reading and who want to keep writing for you. Goodreads (a primary book review and recommendation site) is another excellent site to place a review. It’s a free website for book lovers, who can feature their bookshelves, write reviews and rank books.

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Figure 2. Goodreads reviews and ranks for “The Last Summoner”

Reviews are one of the best ways to give back to the writers you wish to support. And, believe me, writers need that support! With Christmas coming around the corner, now is a prime time to get that review out that you’ve been thinking of doing to help your favorite writer or book. As a writer, if you aren’t writing reviews or making some recommendations on books and authors you like, you may wish to read my article on reciprocal altruism and the case of the vampire bat.

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Figure 3. Amazon USA Kindle reviews for “Natural Selection”

HOW to Do a Review

I think so many of us get into thinking that we must write a “book report” like the one we hated doing in high school. But a review—particularly a good one—is not a book report. It is not the same as a critique, which may go into depth about artistic interpretation and symbolism. A review for a bookseller, like Amazon, Kobo or Barnes & Noble, is a lot simpler and serves a different purpose.

A good review provides key information on how the book resonated—or didn’t—with you. It’s really not that hard to write. Here are some tips:

  • A book review is NOT a plot outline. You don’t need to tell the potential reader all the ins and outs of the story. In fact, to get a good sense of the book, particularly if it is a non-fiction reference book, you don’t need to finish the book before you review it. What you do need to have done is read enough to have the book “speak” to you in some way.
  • Reviews are about connection and resonation. What did you like most about the book or what bothered you the most? The best reviews have a balance of both positive and negative things. But they don’t need to. Are you glad you bought it? Why? Did you learn something? Did it change your perspective? How did it touch you? Would you buy more by the same author? Would you recommend it? And if so, why. Think of your fellow readers. In fact, that’s a good way to write the review:
  • Write in a conversational tone as if you are describing the book to a friend you are recommending it to. You don’t need to get all technical or “literary” or use fancy or clever language. Write in the language that feels familiar to you. Remember, you’re writing to other readers.
  • Just be honest. What’s the first thing that comes to you? Write from the heart: “I loved this book because…” Perhaps it’s the memorable main character. Or the rich setting and history. Or the incredible world. Or the imaginative idea and twists in the story. Or the unforeseen but appropriate end. Did the book linger with you? Tell us why.
  • A book review can be short and work very well. I’ve seen a single under 10-word sentence for some reviews of my books. But those less than 10 words mean a lot, especially if they say: “Amazing wealth of information!” Or “A wonderful read.” Or “brilliantly written!” Short is direct and clean—like a poem—and distills your impressions down to an essence that will appeal to many. It will more likely be read in a sea of longer reviews. See examples in Figures 1, 2, and 5.
  • Combine this with a good title and you have a very powerful statement. I’m talking about the space that Amazon also provides for a “title” to your review (see examples in Figure 1 and 3), which appears at the top in bold and is, therefore very prominent. Be mindful of this title as readers may skim through these and use them alone to gain a sense of the reviews. Think of it as a one-line book tag, a distillation of how you felt about the book (e.g., This book changed my perspective on water; I want to be her when I grow up), or who you are, even (e.g., Limnologist Recommends…)
  • Ranking a book is useful. Most bookseller and book review sites include a place for you to rank the book, without even needing to put in a written review. These all help a reader sense the book’s popularity. You can also help by “liking” other people’s reviews, helping to give them importance.
darwins-paradox-goodreads

Figure 4. Goodreads rankings for “Darwin’s Paradox”

WHERE to Do a Review

I’ve already mentioned the main sites that either sell books online or talk about books. The major bookstore sites include: Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Indigo. There are many other online booksellers, but the ones I mentioned will get to the most readers; so, your review will serve its purpose more powerfully there.

Just a note here about Amazon: I’m a Canadian and my books sell on Amazon.ca as well as on Amazon.com (in the USA). My books also sell in Japan, Australia, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, just to name a few countries. Each of these countries is represented by its own Amazon online store (like Amazon.ca for Canada). If you write a review on Amazon.ca, it will only show up on Amazon.ca. If you write a review on Amazon.com, it will show up on all the other Amazon sites (see Figure 1). Generally, it’s best to write your review on the site from where you bought the book; but, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve bought a book on one Amazon site and written a review on another.

Goodreads is one of the best book review sites, given its popularity and large, diverse and active membership. Goodreads readers—and their authors—take books seriously. But even there, reviews can vary from extensive to a few sentences as shown in these reviews for my writing guide “The Fiction Writer” (Figure 5), and in Figure 2 for “The Last Summoner.”

fiction-writer-goodreads

Figure 5. Goodreads Reviews for “The Fiction Writer”

WHAT Reviews Look Like

I’ve included throughout this article examples of reviews for my various books which show you a range of style and impression—both positive and negative. Writers do want an honest review. Yes, we’d rather see all positive reviews. But the negative review has its place, the very least, to demonstrate to readers that the critique forum is objective and unbiased and embraces free expression.

Notice that Goodreads embraces a platform that shows a combination of review and rank, which works very well (see Figure 2). Also, notice the Goodreads ranks for my first novel, “Darwin’s Paradox” in Figure 4, which represent a healthy range from 1 to five stars. Figures 6 and 7, below, demonstrate the full range of reviews a single book can get, in this case for the first book, “Outer Diverse”, of my space adventure trilogy, “Splintered Universe”.

outer-diverse-goodreads2

outer-diverse-goodreads-neg

Figure 7. Another Goodreads review of “Outer Diverse”

So, have fun writing your review; but go and write it!

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Write a Great Book Jacket Blurb

 

fullcoverwtitlesblurblowresA while ago I wrote about the importance of an effective—and accurately portrayed—book cover design for your book. To reprise, this includes not just the choice of cover image but the typology (how the title and name is designed) and overall design. The actual title is another important choice, which I talk about in another article. What remains is the back book jacket blurb—the description on the back cover of a print book and the description section for the book on Amazon (and other bookstores).

Author and digital marketing instructor Laurence O’Bryan discusses seven things every blurb should have in his article on “BooksGoSocial Book Marketing Blurb”. They include:

  1. A strong first sentence. You can insert a tag line, a short sentence from the front cover or a short exciting review quote. You can also state the most dramatic element of the book or what the reader will get, how they will benefit, from reading your book.
  2. In the second paragraph tell the reader who the main characters are, by name, what the circumstances of the book are and the location.
  3. Include the dramatic problem or dilemma of the plot early on. You can use key words such as: “however”, “but” or “until.”
  4. Hint at how the characters might overcome the dilemma.
  5. Indicate the tone and mood of the book. Tell the reader through pace and word choice what kind of story they will get. Is it a romance, a mystery, a thriller, a literary story, a fantasy or another popular genre?
  6. Keep all paragraphs short to make the description easy to read online.
  7. Mention what’s unique about your book and use a dramatic tone, if the book contains drama. A little hype goes a long way.
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Cedar in Little Rouge woodland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

O’Bryan suggests looking at the 5 top books in your genre for length, layout, style and content tips. “Spend time getting this right, writes O’Bryan. “Test each version you create with people you trust who will be honest with you. A poor blurb or book description will seriously impact your book sales. Big publishers spend a lot of time on this, changing or inserting single words to create powerful descriptions.”

It’s worth spending time polishing your book jacket blurb to grab a reader. The cover and title makes them pick it up off the shelf (whether virtual or real); the back jacket blurb makes them buy it.

 

 

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

 

 

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 2: Five Things Writers Wish Editors Knew—and Followed

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Cedar log (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In my previous article, “The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Editors Preparing Writers,” I focused on clarifying expectations between editors and writers from the editor’s point of view. Part 2, this article, focuses on this same relationship from the writer’s point of view.

Clarity of expectation, honesty, and mutual respect are key features in a productive and successful writer-editor relationship. Writers expect editors to inform them if their expectations are out of line, and writers rely on editors’ honesty and transparency to let them know if they are comfortable with the task being asked of them. This, of course, is predicated on the editor’s full understanding of what that task is; again, it is the responsibility of the editor to determine the scope of work from the author—just as a doctor will ask key questions to diagnose a patient. If an editor has reservations, caveats, or limitations with the project, these should be shared upfront. Honesty is always best, and it should start right from the beginning so that mutual respect is cemented.

Below is a list of five things that writers wish editors knew—and followed.

  1. Edit to preserve the writer’s voice through open and respectful dialogue

Losing your voice to the “hackings of an editor” is perhaps a beginner writer’s greatest fear. This makes sense, given that a novice writer’s voice is still in its infancy; it is tentative, evolving, and striving for an identity. While a professional editor is not likely to “hack,” the fear may remain well-founded.

A novice’s voice is often tangled and enmeshed in a chaos of poor narrative style, grammatical errors, and a general misunderstanding of the English language. Editors trying to improve a novice writer’s narrative flow without interfering with voice are faced with a challenge. Teasing out the nuances of creative intent amid the turbulent flow of awkward and obscure expression requires finesse—and consideration. Good editors recognize that every writer has a voice, no matter how weak or ill-formed, and that voice is the culmination of a writer’s culture, beliefs, and experiences. Editing to preserve a writer’s voice—particularly when it is weak and not fully formed—needs a “soft touch” that invites more back-and-forth than usual, uses more coaching-style language, and relies on good feedback.

An editor colleague of mine consistently accompanies her edits with the question, “Does this change preserve your meaning?” This prompt both focuses on “voice” and reminds the writer that the editor is considering it, which fosters a nurturing environment of mutual respect. Editors who are not familiar with working with writers in the early stage of their careers may wish to defer to one who is more experienced.

Editors also need to consider how the author’s narrative voice harmonizes with the standard in the author’s targeted genre and niche market. Pursuing respectful and open dialogue about how the author’s voice fits or doesn’t fit that standard is another responsibility of a good editor and one an author will come to rely on—particularly early on in their career.

  1. Understand—and embrace—the market and genre of your writer

Writers are often told to write what they know. This edict applies equally to editors: edit what you “know” and understand. Each form of writing—from literary and genre fiction to journalism, the memoir, and technical writing—encompasses an overall style, culture and vision, associated language, and even “jargon” that is important to understand to succeed with readers. Even writers who subvert the trope need to first understand what they are subverting, and so does the editor.

I write and edit science fiction and fantasy. I do it very well, because I have a passion for it and I intimately understand its world and language, including where the boundaries lie and where the risks—and sublime nuances of originality—also lie. I worked as a scientist for over 20 years and have published papers in peer-reviewed journals, so I am comfortable editing technical and scientific papers. I live that world. On the other hand, I do not read, nor do I understand or care for, the horror fiction genre. Not only would I do a lousy job editing a work of horror, but I wouldn’t provide the discerning editorial advice to best place that work in the horror market. It is in the area of market niche that one editor will shine over another based on their familiarity with, and current activity in, that industry sector. This is ultimately what writers are paying for: the multi-layered understanding of the editor that comes with a full embrace of that world.

Editors should ensure a good fit and the best chance for success by not taking on work in a genre with which they are neither familiar nor comfortable. Think of the author. Which leads me to the next point:

  1. Be honest and practice moral integrity: Don’t take on a writer’s work unless you like and believe in it

 When I was starting out as a writer with my first novel, I shopped it around to many agents, hoping for representation. While the book was eventually published with great success, many agents had rejected it. Literary agents take on clients and shop their books to publishing houses. They usually charge a percentage of the take and are not paid (if they are good agents) until the book is sold to a publishing house. Payment, therefore, is predicated on success. In many cases, an agent would respond with good things to say about my first manuscript but would not take it on, citing this common phrase: “It just didn’t excite me enough.” I was initially puzzled by this response. If they liked it, why didn’t they take it on? But “I like” isn’t the same as “I’m excited.” I soon realized the importance that excitement played in the agent’s business. They were my advocate, after all. If they weren’t eager about the book, how could they sell it to someone else? And if they couldn’t sell it to someone else, how could they get paid?

While the editor is usually paid up front and/or upon deliverable, they fulfill a similar role: that of advocate. If an editor takes on a writer’s work without enjoying it or believing in it, they are much less likely to do a good job. And both lose when that happens.

When we just do a job for the money and not for the passion of doing something well, we run the risk of losing on all fronts. We run the risk of being dishonest in our assessments and then doing a shabby job. And then losing our reputation. Be an advocate and be honest; sometimes, that means saying “no” to a project and explaining why. The writer will benefit and will thank you for it—if not right away, then eventually.

  1. Edit professionally and appropriately to promised deliverable

In my capacity as writing coach, I have met with several writers who have complained that their work had been insufficiently or inappropriately edited. This can occur for several reasons: (a) lack of time; (b) incompetence; or (c) inappropriate match-up.

  • Lack of time 

As a writer, I once experienced an insufficient copy edit by a freelance professional editor. In fact, this particular editor was a good editor and had impeccably edited a previous work of mine. When I submitted my “edited” work to a beta reader, he pointed out many places that my copy editor had missed. A few is OK, but she’d missed many. From subsequent correspondence, I deduced that my editor had been overrun with other projects and had skimmed mine a little too fast. Unfortunately, this was unacceptable, given that I’d agreed to pay her a professional rate for a specific deliverable: a copy-edited, proofed, and publication-ready manuscript.

The ultimate message here for editors is, don’t take on a writer’s work and make promises of delivering until you know what you’re getting into and know that you can do it in the time you suggested. Honesty is best here. If you are too busy to meet the specified deadline, say so and refer the writer to another respected editor if they can’t wait. And don’t worry about “losing” the client—you haven’t. But that editor I mentioned in the previous paragraph did.

  • Incompetence 

Unfortunately, most editors who are incompetent are unaware of it. One of my professional writer-editor colleagues at SF Canada invoked the Dunning-Kruger Effect (“at a certain point, people who really don’t know something don’t know that they don’t know it”) to share her story of what passes for editorial input in “an age of homonym errors.” She suggested that some self-appointed editors are convinced they have significant skills but allow a large error rate.

This is where organizations like Editors Canada become invaluable. Editors Canada certifies editors for skills in various editing fields and forms (that is, structural-, stylistic-, and copy editing and proofreading). If you are a professional editor with certification, ensure that you make this known to the writer; many writers not only don’t understand the various editing forms (for example, copy editing vs. structural editing), they also don’t necessarily recognize competence until after the job is done—when it’s too late.

  • Inappropriate match-up 

This is similar to point 2, which talks about matching writer and editor through genre and market. A good fit also includes temperament, schedules, communication style, and other considerations that will affect the editor-writer relationship and the natural progress of the project. As editor, I have encountered a few clients whose communications with me created tension and misunderstanding. We mutually agreed to terminate our arrangement early on, which saved much tension and grief. The transparency of the relationship allowed us to recognize the mismatch early on and attend to it before it became problematic and wasted both our time and efforts.

  1. Keep the relationship—and language—professional and respectful 

Without necessarily expressing this, the majority of writers—particularly beginning writers and, by default, indie/self-published writers—seek a professional editor who will treat them with respect. What this translates into is the use of professional language, tone, and behaviour. Writers aren’t looking for an editor to be their “friend.” Writers are also not looking for a professional editor to validate their work or them as people. Writers seek professional editors to give them honest and helpful advice that will help them create the very best work they can for eventual publication.

Simple. Not so simple.

As an editor who is also a writer (who gets edited a lot), I provide rationale as much as I can for the suggestions I make to writers. This helps establish and maintain a respectful and collaborative relationship between author and editor through the use of professional language, tone, and behaviour. Think of it as a doctor-patient relationship; I’ve dropped doctors like hot potatoes who are not willing to sit with me as an equal and discuss their prognoses. I want to know why, and ultimately, it’s my decision. The editor is an expert, but so is the writer.

The writer-editor relationship is foremost a professional one. As an editor, I feel it is my duty to promote integrity and respect with the writer, and this hopefully within a safe and nurturing environment for the achievement of mutual excellence.

This article was copy edited by Nicole North.

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Editors Preparing Writers

 

Log patterns 6

Spalting patterns on decaying log (photo by Nina Munteanu) 

As indie publishing soars into new heights and successes, writers are looking more and more to freelance editors to help them create works of merit that will stand out in the market. Whether this process is seamless and productive or fraught with difficulties relies on the relationship established between editor and writer—at the outset and throughout.

The writer-editor relationship—like any relationship—works best when communication between parties is transparent and clear. What ultimately drives misunderstanding—or its corollary, harmony—is “expectation” and how it is met. Clarifying expectations on both sides is paramount to creating a professional and productive relationship with few hitches.

Realizing Expectations

Indie authors often come to editors with unclear and, at times, unreasonable or unrealistic expectations on services. Many writers know very little about the kind of editing we do and the different levels of effort (time and associated fee) required. They do not understand the difference between “copy-editing” and “structural editing”, particularly as it pertains to their own work. In fact, many indie writers don’t even know what their MS requires. This is because of two things: 1) they can’t objectively assess their own work, particularly in relation to market needs; and 2) many authors have not sufficiently considered their “voice” or brand and matched it to a relevant target market. Both of these will influence how the writer comes into the relationship and the nature of their expectations.

It is best to be “up front” with everything, from understanding a writer’s work and market expectations to establishing your fees, your time, and the nature of your services. This is why a savvy editor will ask for a one to several page example of the author’s writing prior to offering their services and finalizing the nature of a potential relationship. Such an exchange may, in turn, include a sample of the editor’s work for the writer to assess. This exchange helps clarify the process for both parties.

A savvy editor will want to establish with the author the following things prior to taking him/her on as a client and embarking on the actual editing task:

  1. The nature of the writer’s work: a writer’s work should harmonize with the editor and achieve a good fit; e.g., I edit fiction and non-fiction; however, I do not edit horror, because I simply can’t relate to it and don’t care for it. More on this below.
  2. The author’s expectations and target market: this is key to establishing the kind of editing required for the author’s piece. Is it good enough to just copy-edit or will the piece require substantive edits to succeed in the identified market? This often requires open and frank communication between editor and author.
  3. Nature and time of submission: on which the schedule is based.
  4. Schedule and deadlines for deliverables: based on the editor’s realistic timing (including other work) and the nature of the editing job (to be established by some reliable means).
  5. Nature of communication: form and frequency; partly to ensure that the writer does not abuse the communication stream with a barrage of emails, e-chats, phone calls, etc.)
  6. Nature and cost of deliverables: e.g., use of track changes; inclusion of summary letter; follow up meetings, etc.
  7. Mutual agreement on fees, fee structure and payment details: what, how and when.
  8. Inclusion and nature of contract: this may include an NDS, if desired.

By clarifying these, you and the author create a new set of realistic agreed-upon expectations.

Fitting Writer with Editor

The right fit for editor and writer includes more than harmonizing genre, writing style, and content. The fit includes personality. A professional editor and colleague of mine recently shared on our list-serve about his experience as both a freelance and publishing house editor. The editor shared that a majority of writers responded to his edits with comments like, “finally, someone who just comes out and plainly tells me what’s wrong!” However, others complained: “why are you so mean?” The editor admitted to using humor liberally in his assessments and was described by one of his clients as “playfully harsh.” While the work of this editor is no doubt impeccable, the added humor may not be a good fit for some writers, particularly those who are not highly confident in their work.

Knowing your own brand of editing and being up front with it is part of achieving a good fit with a writer and can avoid huge headaches down the line for both of you.

Toward Honesty & Moral Integrity

I and some of my editing colleagues have run across several cases of indie writers who have come to us with “already edited works” that they believed only needed proofing or minor edits, but in fact called for substantive editing and story coaching to fulfill market requirements. The previous editor had either done a poor job of editing or the author had done a poor job of incorporating the edits. Either way, I was now in the position to inform this author, who had already spent several thousand dollars on edits, that his work required more than a “trim job off the top” to meet the standards demanded by the market.

My colleague suggested that it is unethical to copy-edit a manuscript that obviously requires structural editing or has serious “story” problems. I’m inclined to agree. The key lies in the expectations of the author and his/her intended market. This is where the editor’s knowledge of “matching work to market” becomes a critical part of the relationship with the author, whether you take him/her on as a client or not. I talked more about this in a previous article on Boldface, “The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor (and Writer) Needs to Know.” Honesty is best. Following the path of moral integrity may not put food on the table; but it will maintain your reputation as an editor of quality, which will keep the roof over your head.

Below is a mock email of a general response to a writer’s inquiry for help on their MS:

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your interest in my editing services. I am still taking on clients and would be happy to help you.

In your initial letter, you included a brief description of your story. It sounds intriguing and interesting. Science fiction is my passion (I’ve published nine SF books so far).

Before we proceed, I need a few things from you to ensure we are a good fit and to help me do the best I can for your project. First, can you please send me a short sample of your work (2-3 pages) and a very short summary. From this I’ll be able to confirm the kind of editing that best suits your project. For the kinds of editing/coaching services and associated fees please refer to this page on my website: xxxx.

Can you also answer the following questions?

1.     (If they haven’t included the genre or a short premise, I ask them for one).

2.     How do you intend to publish this book (traditional, indie, self-publish)?

3.     Who would you say is your intended audience and market?

4.     Is this book a stand alone or part of a trilogy or series?

5.     Is the book complete (first draft or more)? If not, how much is written?

Based on this, I will suggest the kind of editing (and coaching) required to best fit your needs. This may be one or a combination of the following: 1) an evaluation/assessment at $xx/page; 2) copy-editing (with some substantive editing) at $xx/page; or 3) story coaching at $xx/hour. As outlined on my webpage (xxxx), I provide digital commentary (line by line) in your manuscript (in Word through track changes) accompanied by a summary letter with recommendations. You can find examples of what I do on this page of my website: xxxx.

Once I’ve determined what services best suit your work and you are in agreement with the service and fees, I will draw up a contract for you and I to sign. The contract will stipulate a reasonable schedule that you and I can agree on for the process and deliverables.

Once the contract is signed by both of us, I would ask that you send me your material along with Paypal payment for the first half of the agreed total fee by the date marked in the contract.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Wishes,

Nina

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

 

 

 

 

On Ecology, Women and Science Fiction: Part 2, Praxis

montreux-road from b&b

Montreux, Switzerland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In Part 1, Gnosis, I explored the nature of our current worldview, its shifting face and how literature and women writers have both contributed and enlightened this shift.

I talked with four women, all in the science fiction or eco-fiction genres; two are writers, and two are publishers. We discussed this shift, what it looks like, what the “feminine archetype” means and the nature of “Optimistic SF.”

When asked to describe SF today, Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel series, argued that, “SF is mainstream now … It has grown up, emotionally, from being about wish-fulfilling technologies … to embracing the social implications of change.” Stephanie Johanson, editor and co-publisher of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, notes that, “Science fiction often reflects the views of the day, following and expanding on newer technologies.” Williams adds that SF fiction has gained a literary presence, but at some expense: “now there’s a sordid fascination, in a lot of self-consciously dark SF, with self-interested cynicism and extended analogies to drug addiction as a means of coping with reality.” Johanson provided a different perspective. “Stories that predict doom have been around since the beginning of SF,” she argued. “But lately perhaps there might be more stories with a glimmer of hope … perhaps it won’t be science that destroys us … the right sciences might actually save us.” Editor and Publisher of On Spec Magazine, Diane Walton shares that she is seeing a lot of Post-Apocalyptic submissions, “mainly because it’s interesting to put your characters in a setting where the rules don’t apply any more. They have to try to rebuild the life and security and order they used to have, or else revert to savagery, or else adapt to a whole new set of circumstances—the choices are endless. Except zombies. I don’t want to see any more zombies.”

When asked if SF had a role in literature, Johanson suggested that, “SF has fewer limitations and more frontiers to explore than other genres.” Both Johanson and Walton suggest that its main role is to challenge our preconceived notions of the world and “open up the mind to new possibilities.” Walton and Williams agree that SF is recognized more today as “real” literature rather than being dismissed as “escapism.” Williams shares that SF’s roots are as old as myth. “Like myths and bible stories, SF is an instructive literature, pointing out how things can go wrong (or right) and why. The growing up SF has done since the 1950s lies in an increasing recognition that [humanity is its] own worst enemy and a better understanding of human nature is crucial to the problems we face, not just the hard sciences.”

I shared that I had witnessed (at least in my classrooms and writing workshops) a rising ecological awareness, reflected in a higher percentage of new writers bringing in works-in-progress (WIPs) that were decidedly “eco-fiction” or “climate fiction.”

“I have always gravitated towards, and often found, literature with ecological components,” Sarah Kades, author of Claiming Love confides. She then adds, “But I do agree with you that ecological awareness is not only gaining momentum, it is front and centre for many, and as such, we are naturally finding it more and more in literature.”

“I never thought of my own work as ecological,” shares Williams. “But it’s true: the underlying issue in it is how does, or can, the collective will prevent groups or individuals from destroying what is irreplaceably precious…Yes, I think SF has graduated from a fascination with building bigger death rays to tackling questions of how we avoid committing the unthinkable while still indulging in lots of entertaining conflict. Because conflict must exist in any story. We wouldn’t be human without it. There’s plenty of conflict in an ecosystem, too, but it stays balanced. SF used to be optimistic about scientific discoveries shifting the system out of balance in the direction of net gain for humankind. And this has happened. Even today’s poor are richer than yesterday’s. What worries us, increasingly, is whether some sudden imbalance could tip us into irreversible catastrophe because unlike 1950s readers we don’t trust smart and powerful people to act sanely in their quest for power.”

“I think that authors have come to a realization that the setting of a book can be just as strong a character (and character-builder) as the people in it,” says Walton. “Humans are so vulnerable, and must depend on their brains and skills at manipulating the environment to be able to adapt to harsh and potentially life-threatening situations…We don’t have fur, for example, or the ability to burrow under the sand to find shelter from a hot sun. So the books that embrace the environment, and that use it to present character-building challenges to the protagonists, can be more interesting than just a ‘good guys against bad guys’ story in any genre.”

Johanson provokes with the concept of awareness-guided perception—itself a valid cultural metric: “Perhaps there is an increase of ecological awareness in literature, or perhaps we are just noticing stories that have always been there.” This notion was discussed in a recent panel on Eco-Fiction in which I participated with Susan Forrest, Michael J. Martineck, Hayden Trenholm, and Sarah Kades at the writer’s festival When Words Collide in Calgary. One author pointed out that environmental fiction has been written for years and it is only now—partly with the genesis of the term eco-fiction—that the “character” and significance of environment is being acknowledged beyond its metaphor; for its actual value. It may also be that the metaphoric symbols of environment in certain classics are being “retooled” through our current awareness much in the same way that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four are being re-interpreted—and newly appreciated— in today’s world of pervasive surveillance and bio-engineering. Johanson cites Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy, John Varley’s Titan trilogy, Joan D. Vinge’s The Snow Queen, and the works of Jules Verne. Classic titles Walton remembers from her younger days include John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest; and more recently, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Walton includes the 1965 Dune series by Frank Herbert, given that the environment of the desert and how humanity has adapted to it plays a major role in the series.

I proposed that an awakening to the feminine archetype (cooperation, compassion, relationship, altruism) is occurring and currently reflected in literature. Johanson suggested that, “If [cooperation, compassion, relationship, and altruism] are used in balance with science and logic, there can be an optimistic future.” Had she seen this increasing in literature? “I don’t think so, but perhaps I have been reading the wrong stories,” Johanson admits. Kades shares a different perception. “I would definitely agree there is an awakening to the feminine archetype in our culture as a whole, and literature is reflecting this,” she argues. “The books that resonate most strongly for me are the ones that honour and celebrate both the feminine and masculine, stories that demonstrate mutual respect and successful collaboration between men and women. Throw humour and romance in there, too, and it’s irresistible.”

Walton observes that, “It’s definitely something that drives a story in a different direction from the more “male” pursuits of taking everything by force, or the lone-wolf hero solving problems without any collaboration with others.” She confides, “I loved the new Mad Max film, where compassion and collaboration made the story come alive. And yet, it has been accused, by some, of being a feminist propaganda film.”

Williams answers with a tale of two characters. “Amel, my prince-raised-as-pauper, is a hero of the pol virtues. Loosely speaking, we could call the pol virtues feminine. Horth Nersal, on the other hand, is an alpha male—a hero of the rel variety in Okal Rel theology. There are important female characters in my saga, but I have to confess my teenage self was simply more fascinated with heroic males for reasons inaccessible to my older, sager self. So, in my own work I could make the case that Amel’s problem-solving and character development is absolutely an example of an awakening to the feminine archetype. And he does wind up in power. But even as Amel gets his act together, after book six, and learns to use his more subtle kind of influence to make the world behave, Horth Nersal starts stealing the spotlight. I don’t quite know how this happened. And maybe Amel’s central, anchoring role throughout the series argues in favor of the feminine principle dominating. But I think the Amel/Horth dilemma isn’t unique to my own work. I see it crop up in other SF where, on the face of things, one might say the feminine archetype is in ascendance.”

Can we (as writers and editors and otherwise) foster such a change in worldview and gain a sense of place, purpose and meaning in our lives through it?

“If writers are writing stories to change the world, and I hope some are, then they should write stories that first entertain,” Johanson advises writers. “It doesn’t matter how great a theory, or how good an idea, if it doesn’t entertain, fewer people will read it. This also applies to editors. Karl and I decided early on that we wanted to teach people with the stories we published in Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. We wanted our readers so entertained that they wouldn’t necessarily realize that their views had just been broadened.”

“As a writer I feel a rather persuasive responsibility to help foster positive social change,” says Kades. “For me it is considerable motivation of the stories that take turns between calming, weaving, and banging around in my head, eager to get out. And stories don’t have to tackle epic social issues to be a conduit of positive social change. Stories that create new ‘normals’ of compassion, respect and tolerance are just as important and interesting as stories that address specific social issues. To create change, first we must imagine it. Writers can help with that.”

“I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about meaning and purpose these days,” Williams confides. “First, we need to foster creativity in others and respect it in ourselves. But in both cases we must challenge our creative cravings to do work. I personally believe the richest entertainment comes not just from simple wish-fulfillment narratives – although these are fun and perfectly at home in epic literature – but from touching a raw nerve here and there, and making sure the ‘bad guys’ are at least as realistic as the heroes, not just straw men defeated by a better ray guy. Best of all, can a resolution be found in which the bad guys co-exist with their conquerors? At least think about it, and how your society might avoid problems cropping up again, and make that part of the fabric of your tale.”

“I’m not sure I agree with this being part of my role as an editor,” Walton shared. “It may be that I am drawn more to the kinds of books and stories that espouse this concept, and thus more likely to buy them to publish. We are all gatekeepers of some kind or another. One thing that is interesting is the recent brouhaha over the Hugo awards, where, I think, the various ‘puppy’ slates would look on any sort of eco-fiction that embraced the feminine archetype as being something only a Social Justice Warrior would like. Some people just don’t want their worldview changed, I guess.”

…Which brings me to “Optimistic SF” and what it represents. In a recent discussion with Lynda Williams over several Schofferhofers at Sharkey’s Pub in Vancouver, we shared our thoughts on how the evolution of the science fiction genre and the place that optimism holds in literature and art, generally. Is “saving the world” and “The Hero’s Journey” still viable in literature today? And how many Schofferhofers does it take to get there?

“I’ve asked people to help me define ‘Optimistic SF’ on my blog,” Lynda shares. “Check out what we’ve got so far at http://realityskimming.com/2015/09/10/fall2015optimisticsf/ and leave your own suggestions if something springs to mind. My own definition has to do with how a story makes me feel. If I’m entertained and emerge feeling there’s some point to living another day rather than convinced human beings are a bad idea best eliminated quickly before they do more harm, it’s optimistic SF. I want to encourage the notion that it’s not dumb or simple minded to strive for improving the world or defending moral behavior when feasible.”

Johanson adds that, “I became a fan of SF, because of stories that I might now classify as ‘Optimistic SF’, stories that made me look forward to the future, characters that I would love to have as friends, and places I wanted to explore. Optimistic literature to me isn’t free from problems. It wouldn’t be a story if everything was splendid. It is conflict that makes a story, but optimistic SF solves problems, and by the end of the story things are looking that much brighter. Anne McCaffrey wrote a lot of ‘Optimistic SF’. I was very fond of her Dragons of Pern series, though the later books by her son Todd McCaffrey seem far less optimistic in nature. I found many of Larry Niven’s novels to be optimistic, like the Ringworld books. Lynda Williams’ Okal Rel novels have a lot of suffering in them, but her series has always seemed like ‘Optimistic SF’.” For Johanson, optimistic SF has at least one optimistic character, one positive goal achieved and a positive [resolved as opposed to ‘happy’] ending, not “leaving evil posed to strike.” She suggests that this includes “overcoming adversity, exploring, discovering, and/or self-growth.”

Walton submits that optimistic SF is, in fact, a challenge to write, “because you still need to have some kind of antagonist (be it human, alien or environment) to make the protagonist want or need something enough to take risks and go on that literary journey. Maybe the optimism comes from stories that are ‘less dark’ than others?”

Lynda Williams openly shared her ambitions for her recent publishing venture, Reality Skimming Press: “Reality Skimming Press is my answer to how to continue being creative now I’m post-published. Not just to keep the Okal Rel Saga in print, although that’s my core motivation for even considering becoming a publisher. But to be brazen enough to talk about ideas and art and what it means to be optimistic, for example, instead of bowing to the demands of commercial success and elusive, fickle fame. Arguably, Reality Skimming Press is the ultimate feminine solution where the meaningfulness of the work and quality of the relationships, on and off the page, trump the call to do battle for the big prizes. Success is lovely, of course. And showers of gold and fame wouldn’t be scornfully rejected. It’s more a case of asking the question: ‘Would I do this even if I never got rich or famous?’ And if the answer is ‘yes’ to have the courage to keep enjoying the journey.”martian_chronicles

Sarah Kades echoed my initial discovery in “responsibility and connection,” noted in my first article, with her admission: “It was rather startling [to] first realize [that] the responsibility I feel [in writing] socially relevant stories is not universally held among writers. It is not, which is of course just fine; it just surprised me because of how [strong] it is in me. The knowledge brought my writing and my voice into sharper focus for me.”

 

 

nina-LL-interviewe-closerNina Munteanu is an award-winning Canadian ecologist and novelist. In addition to eight published novels, she has authored short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which have been translated into several languages throughout the world. She is currently an editor of European zine Europa SF and writes for Amazing Stories. Nina teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Her latest book “Water Is…” (release May 10 2016 by Pixl Press; available for pre-order April 12) is a non-fiction examination of the meaning of water.

Lynda WilliamsLynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga and editor of the growing collection of works by Hal Friesen, Craig Bowlsby, Krysia Anderson, Elizabeth Woods, Nina Munteanu, Randy McCharles and others writing works set in the ORU. As a publisher, she is working with Kyle Davidson, Jeff Doten, Sarah Trick, Jennifer Lott, Paula Johanson, Lynn Perkins and Yukari Yamamoto in re-inventing publishing through Reality Skimming Press. Lynda holds three degrees and works as Learning Technology Analyst and manager of the Learn Tech support team at Simon Fraser University. She teaches part-time at BCIT.

Sarah KadesSarah Kades hung up her archaeology trowel and bid adieu to Traditional Knowledge facilitation to share her love of the natural world and happily-ever-afters. She writes literary romantic eco-fiction where nature, humour and love meet. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her family. Connect with Sarah on Facebook, Twitter and www.sarahkades.com.

 

Stephanie and IsaacStephanie Johanson is the art director, assistant editor, and co-owner of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine, publishing since 2003. She is an artist who has worked in a variety of media, though painting and soapstone carving are her passions. Stephanie paints realism with a hint of fantasy, often preferring landscapes as her subjects. Examples of her work can be viewed on the Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine website at www.neo-opsis.ca/art.

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Diane-Walton02Diane Walton is currently serving a life sentence as Managing Editor of On Spec Magazine, and loving every minute of it. She and her lovely and talented husband, Rick LeBlanc, share their rural Alberta home with three very entitled cats. 

 

 

What Genre Are You Writing … And Marketing?

Our multiplex world of discerning consumers is getting used to having what they consume laid out clearly and categorized. Literature is no different. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, when Aristotle proclaimed in his Poetics that poetry could be categorized into many “species”, critics have endeavored to label art to help the “commoner” interpret it.

Defining Genre

The word “genre” comes from the French word for “kind” or “gender” and provides a loose set of criteria for a category of composition. People in the book industry often use it to categorize literature.

“Genre” is notoriously difficult to define. For instance, what kinds of literary form should properly be called genres? Poetry is generally thought of as a literary “mode”, being too broad and too varied to be called a “genre”. The various types and forms of poetry are more properly called genres, such as the epic or the lyric.

A genre can be defined either by the formal properties of the work, or by its subject matter. A poem can be called a sonnet if it is 14 lines long, or described as an elegy if it speaks of the death of a loved or admired person.

Although genres are not precisely definable, genre considerations are one of the most important factors in determining what a person will see or read. Many genres have built-in audiences and corresponding publications that support them, such as magazines and websites. Some people think that books and movies that are difficult to categorize into a genre are likely to be less successful commercially. They’re probably right. And this is why we do it.

So, if you haven’t figured out what “genre” your writing falls under, start figuring it out now; your future publisher and marketer will want to know because they, in turn, have to tell their distributor and bookseller where to shelve the book. This is why you need to do this; the alternative is leaving it to Jack in the marketing department who may not have even read your book, but used the cover picture to figure it out. Yikes!

Genre Categories

Today’s Teacher provides the following list for genres in literature:

  • Biography/autobiography
  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Myths & Legends
  • Poetry
  • Science Fiction
  • Fairy Tales
  • Folk Tales
  • Mystery
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Non-Fiction
  • Short stories

They were pretty good in identifying the major genres but they missed Romance, Westerns, Horror, Erotica, Literary Fiction, Humor, and Young Adult (if you want to call that a genre). The point I’m making is that each person is bound to come up with a different list of genre categories. Go to five of your favorite bookstores (not just the chain stores, but the independent bookstores) and see for yourself how the professionals do it. It’s a miserable confusing mess. I’ve seen science fiction thrown in with fantasy and the whole category called “fantasy”. I’ve seen Diana Gabaldon’s historical time traveler series shelved under romance, mainstream and science fiction or fantasy depending on the bookstore. In truth, it’s all of these. Which brings us to cross-genre literature.

Crossing the Genre Lines

“Cross-genre”, also called “slipstream” or “interstitial fiction” or “fabulation”, is most commonly defined as fiction that crosses genre boundaries. Unless you’re Bruce Sterling, that is, who defines slipstream as:

A contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a ‘sense of wonder’ or to systematically extrapolate in the manner of classic science fiction. Instead, this is a kind of writing that simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books ‘slipstream.’

“…Simply makes you feel strange”? Although lots of writing may do that to me (of course, I’m strange already), I’m not sure that I would define “slipstream” as writing that “makes you feel strange”. This is because I don’t think you can pin it down; it’s too slippery a “creature”. However, I think that this form (or is it a movement?) is promising to be one of the most exciting things occurring in literature today.

Patrick Kelly, in Asimov’s Science Fiction, wrote:

Today, we have literally many dozens of writers in both mainstream and genre who are working from these influences and creating new forms of cross-pollination. The problem with talking about cross-genre is that it’s not a single movement–it’s a bunch of individual writers pursuing individual visions that tend to simply share some of the same diverse influences. So it’s difficult to pin down and say ‘this is what it is and what it isn’t.’ That’s what is exciting to me about it–that it is difficult to categorize. In a sense, that means it’s a complex, organic creature.

Some popular “cross-genre” mixes include:

  • Action comedy = action + comedy
  • Black comedy (tragicomedy) = tragedy + comedy
  • Comedy-drama (dramedy) = comedy + drama
  • Romantic comedy = romance + comedy
  • Science fiction Western = science fiction + western

A friend of mine who is part Cree writes “slipstream” or “cross-genre” works that are essentially unclassifiable. Although she is a great writer, she has yet to find a publisher. I know why; they don’t know how to market her books to the booksellers. Where do you put them on the bookshelf? What a conundrum for the publisher and bookseller alike.

But, things are changing and hopefully my friend will see the results of that change. The irony of “slipstream” defying categorization is that it may be the next bestseller.

“From the ‘Lord of the Rings’ box-office smashes in the theaters to adults reading ‘Harry Potter’ books on their commute, it seems that the fantasy genre has permeated the mainstream,” notes Alana Abott, with Thomson Gale (an e-research and educational publishing firm). “The publishing industry has noticed, and new books combining familiar mainstream forms such as historical fiction, romance, and chick-lit are beginning to see an influx of magic.” Cross-pollination is cool. Cross-genre is “in”.

What genre are you writing?

Steveston-boats

Steveston, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

On the Successful Anatomy of a Short Story

2015-novel-short-story-market-WDSome time ago, I was invited by writer and editor Jennifer D. Foster to participate in an interview on how to create a successful short story. Jennifer knew my work as a short story writer and had heard me speak at the Editors Association of Canada. She also knew that I teach the short story form as part of my science fiction course at George Brown College.

Writer’s Digest had asked Jennifer to write two “writing tips” chapters in its highly popular “Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market” (34th Annual Edition, 2015). Years ago I got my start as an author using this helpful market guidebook. Not only did the guide provide hundreds of listings with submission guidelines and current contact information; the guide’s writing tips section was also very helpful. So, I was both pleased and thrilled to be inside the 2015 edition!

As with previous editions, the 2015 edition contained—in addition to current market listings—articles on “Craft and Technique”, “Getting Published”, and “Marketing and Promotion”.

Below, I provide some excerpts of the 8-page chapter in the Craft & Technique Section, entitled “Anatomy of a Successful Short Story.” You can read the whole thing if you get your own copy of the guide, which is very decently priced. While it’s a year old, the advice remains as germane now as it was then. And many of the markets remain relevant too. You can also find the guide in most libraries, which tend to carry the entire Writer’s Digest series of market guides for writers.

Defining the Short Story

“Short stories are perhaps one of the best places for novice writers to start their careers,” wrote Foster in the opening to her article. “They’re not too long and complicated, and they offer the writer a chance to intimately explore a plot, a character, and a theme. Short stories also offer writers the opportunity to hone their craft and actually finish a piece of fiction—a great confidence booster!” Foster was quick to add that you shouldn’t be fooled by their short length compared with a novel—or their assumed simplicity: “Short stories are not necessarily any easier to write than novels or novellas.” I talk more about the significance of short story length  in a previous article on this blog: “Know What You’re Writing: Short Story or Long Story?”

Madison Davis at the University of Oklahoma suggested that short stories are “more concentrated … and notable for what they leave out.”

I mentioned that the short story is “a metaphoric event, a moment in time. It’s a single place—a crossroad—compared with the landscape of a novel. Short stories are more about awareness … and have the potential to be far more memorable and disturbing, with the power to enlighten.” Best-selling Canadian author Andrew Pyper suggested that, “a novel is the result of lengthy mulling, while a short story is the rising of an event out of the subconscious.”

Starting the short story in the middle of things “is crucial,” said Davis. “The reader must be thrown into the water immediately. There simply isn’t time or space to wind up.” Steve Woodward, associate editor of Graywolf Press in Minneapolis, Minnesota argued that good first lines are vital: “they can tell you everything you need to know in an instant. Find that right first line, even if it means cutting several pages to get to it, and build outward from there.”

Theme

The message—or theme—of the short story is its raison d’être. In How to Write Short Stories, 4th Edition, Sharon Sorenson wrote that, “if you have no message, you have no story.”

I concurred: “Every good story explores a theme. In a short story, it is a single theme told as a ‘statement’ rather than a novel’s ‘argument.’ It’s a ‘close-up’ rather than a novel’s landscape. All story elements reflect the theme.” Susan Hesemeier, instructor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, added that the theme must be “limited to one subject or overall message rather than [the] multiple, interconnected themes [found] in a novel.” Margot Livesey, fiction editor of Emerson College’s Ploughshares magazine in Boston, Massachusetts summed it up eloquently: “theme is probably the hardest element to define, but we recognize its absence when we call something an anecdote.”

Conflict

According to author Louise Boggess, conflict “is the heartbeat of a story.” Conflict expresses internally or externally. Hesemeier wrote that in a short story, “there are fewer conflicts that lead to one climax; in a novel, a series of smaller conflicts and climaxes lead to or connect with a larger overall conflict and climax.”

Plot

Publisher Kevin Watson suggested that a great short story, much like a novel, “is presented to the reader in layers, delivered using setting, character, conflict, and dialogue.” At the center of those layers, said Watson, lay the plot, the theme, and the heart of everything that was presented.

Award-winning author Kevin Barry cited William Trevor: “a short story doesn’t need a plot, it just needs a point.” Toronto-based editor and author Andrew J. Borkaowski agreed: “it’s usually a matter of a single word, gesture, or incident and a handful of actions leading up to it.”

Character

Sorenson wrote that, “Believable, motivated characters make or break a story. If readers cannot understand or accept them, nothing else you do matters.” This is because the actions of your characters convey theme.

Novelist and writing instructor at Western University, Terence M. Green concurred. “Character is most important. Make the long chord of understanding and involvement with a character the goal. This is the emotional resonance, the epiphany that is the goal of the best long-lasting fiction.”

Setting

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river in Nova Scotia (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Characters and action should interact with the setting,” said Borkowski. She suggested that, “Setting is important as a conveyor of mood or atmosphere, and … has to be rendered succinctly, poetically almost.” Hesemeier added that, “Setting is usually limited to essentials that are necessary to describe the particular moment or that have symbolic significance for the reader’s understanding of the story.”

I further clarified: “A short story’s plot, setting, and character are often portrayed through strong metaphor, the short story writer’s major tool. Metaphor conveys so much more than the surface narrative might suggest; this is because metaphor by its very nature resonates with deeper truths, interpreted individually by members of a culture.”

Point of View

Foster wrote that for Borkowski, it was all about picking a side and sticking with it: “Once you start wanting to explore the inner lives of multiple characters, you’re on your way to something bigger than a short story.” Be mindful how many characters you provide agency and viewpoints to!

Woodward believed that once voice was established, everything else followed. Woodward preferred a solo voice in short story. “Stories are wonderful when concise and focused, often confined to a single narrative voice and to a single moment in time.”

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Winter in The Beach (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Andrew J. Borkowski suggested that an exceptional short story arose from the intensity of emotion that resonated with the reader: “A great short story leaves you feeling you’ve experienced ten times more than what’s actually described on the page.” I shared a similar view: “The best short story is an elegant thing. It draws you into a singular experience that resonates at a visceral level, like an arrow through the heart; no time to think—just feel. A bad short story misses the heart … and this is why writers who master the short story form are some of the very best authors in the world.”

Excerpted from “Anatomy of a Successful Short Story” by Jennifer D. Foster. In: “Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market” Writer’s Digest Books; 34th Edition (Rachel Randall, editor), 2015. 569 pp.

Available at: Amazon.comAmazon.ca, and Writer’s Digest Shop.

Douglas Smith’s “Playing the Short Game” is also valuable with great advice for those wishing to market their short stories.

Natural Selection, my short story collection published by Pixl Press in 2013 is available at several bookstores.NaturalSelection-frontHR

Written with flare and a conscience…Munteanu shines a light on human evolution and how the choices we do or don’t make today, may impact our planet and future generations.”—J.P. McLean, author of The Gift Legacy

“Nina Munteanu is a gifted writer. Each story surprises and delights.”—Allan Stanleigh, co-author of USNA and The Caretakers

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.