Who’s Your Audience and Why Should You Care?

winter-path-in-sunThe 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.

Find Your Focus This Christmas–Reprise

christmas-ballsHow many of you are still running around preparing for the Christmas celebration or secular family festivity? Buying that last minute gift you’d forgotten or were chasing down since a bazillion days ago? Or making last minute changes to your travel plans, house-cleaning for guests, mailing of cards or parcels or meal preparations?

Well, you’re reading this blog post … That means you’re sitting down and taking a minute to relax and regroup. That’s good. Remember to breathe… while I tell you a story…

I’d just finished a three-day drive through snow and rain storms from Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, to Toronto, Ontario, where I was staying for a few days before catching a flight to Vancouver to spend Christmas with my son and good friends on the west coast. Talk about fast living.winter walk

I move around a lot these days. It helps me to appreciate some of the most simple things in life and reminds me of what I love most about Christmas: how it focuses my heart and reconnects me. I don’t mean just with relatives and friends either, although the season certainly does that. I’m talking about my soul and the universe itself. Before I became an itinerant, Christmas bustled with my responsibilities as primary caregiver, social coordinator and hostess of major parties. After I’d said goodbye to our visiting friends and done the dishes and tidied the house; after my husband and son had gone to bed, I sat in the dark living room lit only with the Christmas Tree lights and the flickering candle, and listened to soft Christmas music, primed to write.

snow-christmas2008-sammyMy male cat, smelling fresh from outside, found his rightful place on my lap and settled there, pinning me down with love. And there, as I breathed in the scent of wax and fir and cat I found myself again.

Most of us think of Christmas as a busy time, of getting together (often dutifully) with family and friends, exchanging presents and feasting. Christmas is certainly this, but that is only a shallow view of a far deeper event; and I don’t mean only for Christians.

Whether celebrating the holy light of Hannukah or the birth of Jesus, or the winter solstice, this season provides us with the opportunity to meditate on far more than the surficial nature of the symbols we have come to associate with the season: the Christmas tree, presents, turkey dinner, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas—most of which originate from pagan tradition, by the way.winter deer trees

Says Lama Christie McNally (author of The Tibetan Book of Meditation), “once you dive below the surface, you will discover a beautiful clear place—like a diamond hidden beneath the rubble. It is your own mind, uncovered … Tibetans say we have only just begun the process of awakening—that we still have quite a way to go in our evolutionary process. And it has nothing to do with building spaceships or computers. The next step in our evolution takes place within.”

Christmas is, more than anything, a time of embracing paradox. It is an opportunity to still oneself amid the bustle; to find joy in duty; to give of one’s precious time when others have none, to embrace selflessness when surrounded by promoted selfishness, and to be genuine in a commercial and dishonest world. If one were to look beyond the rhetoric and imposed tradition, the Christmas season represents a time of focus, a time to reflect on one’s genuine nature and altruistic destiny. A time to reconnect with the harmony and balance in our lives.

A time to sit with our cat, pinned with love, and write our next novel.winter trees snow

Merry Christmas!

 

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.

Crossing into the Ecotone to Write Meaningful Eco-Fiction

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”—George Bernard Shaw

 

naturalselectionAt Calgary’s When Words Collide this past August, I moderated a panel on Eco-Fiction with publisher/writer Hayden Trenholm, and writers Michael J. Martineck, Sarah Kades, and Susan Forest. The panel was well attended; panelists and audience discussed and argued what eco-fiction was, its role in literature and storytelling generally, and even some of the risks of identifying a work as eco-fiction.

Someone in the audience brought up the notion that “awareness-guided perception” may suggest an increase of ecological awareness in literature when it is more that readers are just noticing what was always there. Authors agreed and 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.

darwins-paradoxI submit that if we are noticing it more, we are also writing it more. Artists are cultural leaders and reporters, after all. My own experience in the science fiction classes I teach at UofT and George Brown College, is that I have noted a trend of increasing “eco-fiction” in the works in progress that students are bringing in to workshop in class. Students were not aware that they were writing eco-fiction, but they were indeed writing it.

I started branding my writing as eco-fiction a few years ago. Prior to that—even though my stories were strongly driven by an ecological premise and strong environmental setting—I described them as science fiction and many as technological thrillers. Environment’s role remained subtle and—at times—insidious. Climate change. Water shortage. Environmental disease. A city’s collapse. War. I’ve used these as backdrops to explore relationships, values (such as honour and loyalty), philosophies, moralities, ethics, and agencies of action. The stuff of storytelling.

Environment, and ecological characteristics were less “theme” than “character,” with which the protagonist and major characters related in important ways.

Snowpiercer-frenchJust as Bong Joon-Ho’s 2014 science fiction movie Snowpiercer wasn’t so much about climate change as it was about exploring class struggle, the capitalist decadence of entitlement, disrespect and prejudice through the premise of climate catastrophe. Though, one could argue that these form a closed loop of cause and effect (and responsibility).

snowpiercer-posterThe self-contained closed ecosystem of the Snowpiercer train is maintained by an ordered social system, imposed by a stony militia. Those at the front of the train enjoy privileges and luxurious living conditions, though most drown in a debauched drug stupor; those at the back live on next to nothing and must resort to savage means to survive. Revolution brews from the back, lead by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), a man whose two intact arms suggest he hasn’t done his part to serve the community yet.

Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), an imperious yet simpering figure who serves the ruling class without quite being part of it, reminds the lower class that:

We must all of us on this train of life remain in our allotted station. We must each of us occupy our preordained particular position. Would you wear a shoe on your head? Of course you wouldn’t wear a shoe on your head. A shoe doesn’t belong on your head. A shoe belongs on your foot. A hat belongs on your head. I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot. Yes? So it is.  snowpiercer-mason

In the beginning, order was prescribed by your ticket: First Class, Economy, and freeloaders like you…Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

Ecotones are places where “lines are crossed,” where barriers are breached, where “words collide” and new opportunities arise. Sometimes from calamity. Sometimes from tragedy. Sometimes from serendipity.

When environment shapes a story as archetype—hero, victim, trickster, shadow or shape shifter—we get strong eco-fiction. Good eco-fiction, like any good story, explores the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Good eco-fiction ventures into the ecotone of overlap, collision, exchange and ultimate change.

water-is-webIn my latest book Water Is… I define an ecotone as the transition zone between two overlapping systems. It is essentially where two communities exchange information and integrate. Ecotones typically support varied and rich communities, representing a boiling pot of two colliding worlds. An estuary—where fresh water meets salt water. The edge of a forest with a meadow. The shoreline of a lake or pond.

For me, this is a fitting metaphor for life, given that the big choices we must face usually involve a collision of ideas, beliefs, lifestyles or worldviews: these often prove to enrich our lives the most for having gone through them. Evolution (any significant change) doesn’t happen within a stable system; adaptation and growth occur only when stable systems come together, disturb the equilibrium, and create opportunity. Good social examples include a close friendship or a marriage in which the process of “I” and “you” becomes a dynamic “we” (the ecotone) through exchange and reciprocation. Another version of Bernard Shaw’s quote, above, by the Missouri Pacific Agriculture Development Bulletin reads: “You have an idea. I have an idea. We swap. Now, you have two ideas and so do I. Both are richer. What you gave you have. What you got I did not lose. This is cooperation.” This is ecotone.

winter-birch-sunset-snowI think we are seeing more eco-fiction out there because ecosystems, ecology and environment are becoming more integral to story: as characters in their own right. I think we are seeing more eco-fiction out there because we are ready to see it. Just as quantum physics emerged when it did and not sooner, an idea—a thought—crystalizes when we are ready for it.

Don’t stay a shoe … go find an ecotone. Then write about 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.

Where Is the Literature of the Anthropocene?

interstellar-cooper-ice-planet2Early on in the recent science fiction movie Interstellar, NASA astronaut Cooper declares that “the world’s a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a while now. Mankind was born on Earth; it was never meant to die here.” After showing Cooper how their last corn crops will eventually fail like the okra and wheat before them, NASA Professor Brand answers Cooper’s question of, “So, how do you plan on saving the world?” with: “We’re not meant to save the world…We’re meant to leave it.” Cooper rejoins: “I’ve got kids.” To which Brand answers: “Then go save them.”

In a 1976 NBC interview on the significance of the Viking 1 landing on Mars, astronomer Carl Sagan likened our space program to watching a dandelion gone to seed: “I can’t help but think of this as an epochal moment in planetary exploration. If you can imagine, a sort of a very patient observer, observing the earth for its four and half billion-year lifetime: for all of that period, lots of things came onto the earth, but nothing left it. And now just in the last 10 years, things are spewing off the earth.”

The Onset of the Anthropocene & the Great Acceleration

urbanlandscape2In a Guardian article entitled “The Holocene hangover: it is time for humanity to make fundamental changes”, Fredrick Albritton Jonsson examines Amitav Ghosh’s interpretation of climate change and considers the need to acknowledge Earth’s own powerful and changing identity—particularly through the face of climate change.

Is climate change the planet’s way of telling us that we no longer belong—like Cooper was suggesting in the movie Interstellar?

That we’ve largely orchestrated these changes may be considered ironic—or is it simply inevitable? For me, as an ecologist, this is not a new concept. Ecological succession is the process of ecosystem change and development over time (usually following a disturbance) as an establishing species impacts and alters its environment to eventually make the environment less suited to it and more to another species, which will replace it. Succession only stops when a climax community—which is in equilibrium with a stable environment—establishes. This climax stage can persist indefinitely—until the next environmental disturbance, that is. Succession occurs everywhere in Nature; examples include the recolonization of Mount St. Helen’s following the volcanic eruption. Natural succession occurs in human society as well. A good example can be found in any city. My landscape architect son described the natural process of “gentrification” in a large city: a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban areas through an influx of more affluent residents, resulting in increased property values and a displacement of lower-income families and businesses. Inherent in succession is movement and flow—something Nature is very familiar with and uses well.

“Our planet is changing into a strange and unstable new environment, in a process seemingly outside technological control,” writes Jonsson, who laments in a disillusioned patriarchal voice: “The fossil fuels that once promised mastery over nature have turned out to be tools of destruction, disturbing the basic biogeochemical processes that make our world habitable [for us]. Even the recent past is no longer what we thought it was.”

Jonsson then unleashes a litany of examples where humanity has imposed global change, including: climate change; reduced biodiversity of ecosystems; acidification of marine life and oceans capacity to absorb carbon dioxide; fresh water scarcity; ozone depletion, which threatens atmospheric stability; and disruption of global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles—to mention a few. “Indeed,” says Jonsson, “the planet’s biosphere bears so many marks of anthropogenic influence that it is no longer possible to [distinguish] between the realm of wilderness and the world of human habitation.”

world-war-2-goosestep“Scientists are telling us that the whole territory of modern history, from the end of World War II to the present, forms the threshold to a new geological epoch,” adds Jonsson. This epoch succeeded the relatively stable natural variability of the Holocene Epoch that had endured for 11,700 years. Scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer call it the Anthropocene Epoch. Suggestions for its inception vary from the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s with the advent of the steam engine and a fossil fuel economy to the time of the Great Acceleration—the economic boom following World War II.

the-great-accelerationThe Great Acceleration describes a kind of tipping point in planetary change and succession resulting from a rising market society.

From the devices we carry to the lives we lead, everything is getting faster, faster.  The International Geosphere-Bioshpere Programme writes that “the last 60 years have without doubt seen the most profound transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of humankind.” They suggest that the second half of the 20th Century is unique in the history of human existence. “Many key indicators of the functioning of the Earth system are now showing responses that are, at least in part, driven by the changing human imprint on the planet. The human imprint influences all components of the global environment – oceans, coastal zone, atmosphere, and land.”

While this notion rings hubristic, there is no question that humanity is now a major driver of planetary change: from tipping the Earth’s axis through the creation of massive water reservoirs and diverting a third of Earth’s available fresh water to increasing carbon dioxide to a levels found 800,000 years ago—changing global climate.

Geologists and historians discussed how the Anthropocene Epoch would best be identified by observers in a distant future. “Among the plausible candidates proposed are micro-plastics, metal alloys, and artificial isotopes,” writes Jonsson. “Such stratigraphic markers must be placed in their historical context. The scientific identification of the Anthropocene with the year 1945 gives us not just a plausible geological end to the Holocene, but also a watershed that fits comfortably with a great body of scholarly work about the historical consequences of World War II.”

great-acceleration-chartThe Great Acceleration encompasses the notion of “planetary boundaries,” thresholds of environmental risks beyond which we can expect nonlinear and irreversible change on a planetary level. A well known one is that of carbon emissions. Emissions above 350 ppm represent unacceptable danger to the welfare of the planet in its current state; and humanity—adapted to this current state. This threshold has already been surpassed during the postwar capitalism period decades ago.

Our Literature in the Anthropocene

greatderangement-climatechangeIn Amitav Ghosh’s diagnosis of the condition of literature and culture in the Age of the Anthropocene (The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable), he observes that the literary world has responded to climate change with almost complete silence. “How can we explain the fact that writers of fiction have overwhelmingly failed to grapple with the ongoing planetary crisis in their works?” continues Jonsson, who observes that, “for Ghosh, this silence is part of a broader pattern of indifference and misrepresentation. Contemporary arts and literature are characterized by ‘modes of concealment that [prevent] people from recognizing the realities of their plight.’”

“By failing to engage with climate change, artists and writers are contributing to an impoverished sense of the world, right at the moment when art and literature are most needed to galvanize a grassroots movement in favor of climate justice and carbon mitigation.”

According to Ghosh, the “great derangement” stemmed from a certain kind of rationality. Plots and characters of bourgeois novelists reflected the regularity of middle-class life and the worldview of the Victorian natural sciences, one that depended on a principle of uniformity. Change in Nature was gradual and never catastrophic. Extraordinary or bizarre happenings were left to marginal genres like the Gothic tale, romance novel, and—of course—science fiction. The strange and unlikely were externalized: hence the failure of modern novels and art to recognize anthropogenic climate change.

flight-behaviorJonsson tells us that bourgeois reason takes many forms, showing affinities with classical political economy, and—I would add—in classical physics and Cartesian philosophy. From Adam Smith’s 18th Century economic vision to the conceit of bankers who drove the 2008 American housing bubble, humanity’s men have consistently espoused the myth of a constant natural world capable of absorbing infinite abuse without oscillation. When James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis proposed the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s, many saw its basis in a homeostatic balance of the natural order as confirmation of Nature’s infinite resilience to abuse. They failed to recognize that we are Nature and abuse of Nature is really self-abuse.

Jonsson suggests that these Enlightenment ideas are essentially ideological manifestations of Holocene stability, remnants from 11,000 years of small variability in temperature and carbon dioxide levels, giving rise to deep-seated habits and ideas about the resilience of the natural world. “The commitment to indefinite economic growth espoused by the economics profession in the postwar era is perhaps its most triumphant [and dangerous] expression.”

memory-of-water-emmi-itarantaLouise Fabiani of Pacific Standard suggests that novels are still the best way for us to clarify planetary issues and prepare for change—even play a meaningful part in that change. In her article “The Literature of Climate Change” she points to science fiction as helping “us prepare for radical change, just when things may be getting too comfortable.” Referring to our overwhelming reliance on technology and outsourced knowledge, Fabiani suggests that “our privileged lives (particularly in consumer-based North America) are built on unconscious trust in the mostly invisible others who make this illusion of domestic independence possible—the faith that they will never stop being there for us. And we have no back-ups in place should they let us down.” Which they will—given their short-term thinking.

“To counteract this epidemic of short-term thinking,” says Fabiani, “it might be a good idea for more of us to read science fiction, specifically the post-apocalyptic sub-genre: that is, fiction dealing with the aftermath of major societal collapse, whether due to a pandemic, nuclear fallout, or climate change.”

year-of-the-flood-atwoodIn my interview with Mary Woodbury on Eco-Fiction I remind readers that “science fiction is a powerful literature of allegory and metaphor and deeply embedded in culture. By its very nature, SF is a symbolic meditation on history itself and ultimately a literature of great vision. Some of the very best of fiction falls under the category of science fiction, given the great scope of its platform. More and more literary fiction writers are embracing the science fiction genre (e.g., Margaret Atwood, Kuzuo Ishiguro, Michael Chabon, Philip Roth, Iain Banks, David Mitchell); these writers recognize its immense scope and powerful metaphoric possibilities. From science fiction to eco-fiction is a natural process. Exploring large societal and planetary issues is the purview of both.”

Let’s see more. We need it.

You can find an excellent databank of eco-fiction books on Mary Woodbury’s site Eco-Fiction. Mary Woodbury also includes “12 works of climate fiction everyone should read.” Midge Raymond of Literary Hub lists “5 important works of eco-fiction you need to read.” And then there is the Goodreads Listopia for “Best eco-fiction

naturalselectionMy own works of eco science fiction can be found on my author’s website, Nina Muneanu Writer and at a quality bookstore near you.

 

Why not find a work of eco-fiction and share it with someone you care about this Christmas.

 

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.

 

 

Buy and Give a Book for Christmas

misty mounteinsThere are many reasons to look at buying and giving books for Christmas; not the least to maintain and encourage our literacy, culture and artistic spirit, but also to promote the industry you and I rely on as writers and readers.

According to Literary Statistics Canada, 42% of Canadian adults between the ages of 16 and 65 have low literacy skills. 55% of working age adults in Canada are estimated to have less than adequate health literacy skills. Shockingly, 88% of adults over the age of 65 appear to be in this situation.

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society. — UNESCO

Reading fiction greatly improves our quality of life. Reading is just plain smart. In a study entitled “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind” in the October 2013 issue of Science, researchers Kidd and Castano reported that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective and cognitive Theory of Mind compared with reading nonfiction, popular fiction or nothing at all. Theory of Mind (ToM) describes the ability to understand others’ mental states, a crucial skill in complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Check out my article on reading fiction, which discusses how it improves empathy, sharpens your brain, helps you sleep better and helps against Alzheimer’s Disease.

I’ve compiled a list of books that I have recently purchased and have or will be giving away this Christmas. Looking at the list, I realize that it represents an eclectic range of style, form and subject matter. That’s good. Diversity is good. Here’s my list:

water-is-webWater Is… by Nina Munteanu. Part history, part science and part philosophy and spirituality, “Water Is…” combines personal journey with scientific discovery that explores water’s many identities and ultimately our own. From water’s many scientific anomalies to its metaphoric archetype with humanity’s evolution and ubiquitous existence in the universe, water remains our most precious and mysterious substance.

 

 

 

flight-behaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. A multi-layered meditation on individual responsibility, told through the discovery by a rural family of the climate-changed behaviour of the monarch butterfly. See my review of Flight Behavior.

 

 

 

 

threebodyproblem-cixin-liuThe Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. In this Hugo Award-winning first of three books on first contact, Liu weaves in metaphoric layers of significance—from the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—to reflect on the perspectives of intelligent beings.

 

 

 

 

boilingpoint-maude-barlowBoiling Point by Maude Barlow. Barlow lays bare the issues facing Canada water reserves, including long-outdated water laws, unmapped and unprotected groundwater reserves, agricultural pollution, deforestation and climate change. With its focus on Canada, this book provides an “action” companion to my own “Water Is…”

 

 

 

 

memory-of-water-emmi-itarantaMemory of Water by Emmi Itaranta. This award-winning speculative post-climate change story is dark and reflective like a silent river of unknowable depth, “Memory of Water” flows with a meaning that lingers with you—like the organic scent of soil after a rainstorm—long after you have put the book down. Told in subtle tone and nuance, like an Ingmar Bergman film, the story of a young tea master in a post climate change world unravels a quiet and insidious oppression. Master Noria must navigate the police state to hide her secrets about water. Water remembers…

 

 

quantum-nightQuantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer (autographed). Told through a high paced psychological-political thriller, the story explores the thin line between good and evil and the world of the political sociopath from a Canadian perspective. I braved a snowstorm to attend Robert’s Toronto launch of this book, whose haunting story has persisted with me still; the mark of a great work.

 

 

 

year-of-the-flood-atwoodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (autographed). Set in the visionary future of Atwood’s acclaimed Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood is at once a moving tale of lasting friendship and a landmark work of speculative fiction. In this second book of the MaddAddam trilogy, the long-feared waterless flood has occurred, altering Earth as we know it and obliterating most human life. At a recent talk she gave, I thanked Margaret for her environmental efforts and gave her a copy of my own book, Water Is…

 

 

freenetFreenet by Steve Stanton. The novel is about the power of free information in a post-digital age. Told as a thriller with interesting characters and world building, the book explores what digital immortality means. See my review of Freenet.

 

 

 

 

naturalselectionNatural Selection by Nina Munteanu. This short story collection explores humanity’s co-evolution with our environment and technology. A man uses cyber-eavesdropping to make love. A technocratic government uses gifted people as tools to recast humanity. The ruins of a city serve as battleground between pro-technologists and pro-naturalists. From time-space guardians to cybersex, GMO, and biotech implants, this short story collection is a journey of great scope, imagination and vision. “…a stunning example of good storytelling with an excellent setting and cast of characters.”—Tangent Online

 

 

silent-spring-rachel-carsonSilent Spring by Rachel Carson. Written in the 1960s, Carson’s cautionary book remains as relevant and powerful today as it was 50 years ago. Worth reading for her outlook on the awareness and protection of the natural environment just as Jane Jacobs was on the urban environment

 

 

 

 

far-from-the-madding-crowd-cover-imageFar from the Madding Crowd by Thomas .Hardy. A classic to be savoured. Thomas Hardy weaves a rich pastoral tale that examines the foibles of humanity: pride, vanity, greed, passion…and gives us a touching love story with a realistic ending. Set in Hardy’s Wessex country, the setting is as much a character as his cornucopia of delightful human characters. What I love best about Hardy is how his setting evokes (like a Greek god) story. Through beautiful description, imagery and evocative language, this is not the sort of book you want to race through to see what happens; but to read slowly and savored like a dark, rich coffee. Breathe in its hypnotic scent and let it linger.

 

 

martian-chronicles-copyMartian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles isn’t really about Mars. It’s about us. Who we are, what we are, and what we may become. What we inadvertently do—to others, and finally to ourselves—and how the irony of chance can change everything. The 1970 Bantam book jacket so aptly calls The Martian Chronicles, “a story of familiar people and familiar passions set against incredible beauties of a new world … A skillful blending of fancy and satire, terror and tenderness, wonder and contempt.” See my 2012 article on Ray.

 

 

fahrenheit-451-ray-bradburyFahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A classic tale by a master of the craft of metaphor. Bradbury uses the fireman in a world where they make fires instead of putting them out, to explore the phenomenon of censorship in a world obsessed with being “good”. Scenes in his book were reminiscent of what the Nazis did in Opernplatz, Berlin. In fact, of this event Bradbury made this poignant statement: “It follows then that when Hitler burned a book I felt it as keenly, please forgive me, as his killing a human, for in the long sum of history they are one in the same flesh.”

 

darwins-paradoxDarwin’s Paradox / Angel of Chaos duology by Nina Munteanu. This duology explores human-technological symbiosis, AI consciousness, transhumanism and our reconciliation with Nature. I give this duo away every Christmas because they are quite simply my most popular fiction books.

 

 

 

night-country-loren-eiseleyNight Country by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley reflects on the mystery of life, throwing light on those dark places traversed by himself and centuries of humankind. The Night Country is a gift of wisdom and beauty from the famed anthropologist.

 

 

 

 

pilgrim-at-tinker-creekPilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. A personal narrative of the author’s explorations on foot in her neighbourhood as she witnesses astonishing incidents of “beauty tangled in a rapture with violence.”

 

 

 

 

novel-shortstorywritersmarket20172017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest. An excellent resource for writers, which includes (besides hundreds of listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, and contests), erudite and useful articles—including “Creative Cures for Writer’s Block” for which I was consulted.

 

 

 

What’s on your list?

 

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

blue-forest-pathWHY 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.

water-is-amazoncan-usa

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.

last-summoner-goodreads

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.

natural-selection-amazon

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 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!

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.

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 foggy-valleyinserting 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.