Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Hunger Pains


Yay, a pun! I’ve been seeing these strange posters around town on busses for the last couple of weeks. “The Hunger Games” they said. I’d never heard of it so I thought I’d better check it out. It turns out that the Hunger Games is a massivley successful young adult science fiction series. It got me thinking about where the money is in writing. The answer, it seems, is in young adults, especially women.

Why?

Why do I say young women are where the money is? Nothing scientific. From personal observation I see a trend in what sells well. By well I mean in the hundreds of thousands or millions of copies. Here is my top x attributes of a massively successful book / series.

  1. Broad target audience: This seems obvious. The wider the audience of a novel, the larger the market. But it is difficult to come up with a story and characters that will appeal well enough across a large cross section. The most important factor to address is age. The novel needs to be accessible to people (women especially, I’ll get to that) from about fifteen through to sixty (or more).
  2. Romance: You need to have a romance. Some are more obvious and some less so, but if you don’t have romance in your story you’re in trouble. In particular you want a love triangle where no mix or match would seem to work out. This adds angst and I recon (again, no science here, just me) that’s what the teenager in all of us wants.
  3. Alternate setting: The world has to be significantly different to our own so as to offer an escape. Books set in the here and now do well enough, but it is hard to name many that have had runaway success. You probably want to make sure the alternate setting is pivotal to the love triangle. Without the alternate world there would be no angst in the romance.

Bias

Yes, I’m biased. But, though there have been a couple exceptions, for the most part young adult, alternate setting romance wins the day. There is a place in this for woman oriented mystery books too, but they get less rock star treatment.

Me?

Now I’m desperately thinking how I can alter one of my books to be a young adult romantic thriller. The West Queen is about a young woman. She does have some issues with regards to marrying a prince but I think the story is a little masculine in nature. The core conflict arises from monsters attacking a nation entering a civil war. It would probably do me well to at least revise book one to highlight the romantic nature of various elements, but maybe not. Maybe that would weaken the core? I have another two novels still in their infancy that could be pushed into young adult territory. Well I think only one. Danica Straughn somewhat relies on a mature woman. But Angel Bones is about a young man discovering he is a super hero and discovering the world is in peril. I’ve already written a love triangle in. All I have to do is make the hero a little younger, say eighteen instead of twenty eight. Introduce a little more teen angst and self pity and presto I’ll be a multi-millionaire with a series of movies made from my books.

Now, back to women.

Women are an important demographic because they have the time, money and inclination to buy big. Take a walk around your local retial centre (mall). Have a look at who is working and who is walking around. Women. My parents used to own a coffee shop and I worked there on my university breaks (13 hour days for weeks at a time to pay for uni). The other workers consisted of three teenage girls aged fifteen, seventeen and eighteen. There was a more mature woman who acted as manager when I parents weren’t there and a single mum who worked shifts. The muffin shop behind us was a similar story as was the bakery across the way and the icecream store on the other side. I served coffee and cake to hundreds of gray haired pensioners and retirees. All women. Wandering the halls of the department stores in the mall were more teen girls and women. It seemed at times the only men I saw were being dragged around by their wives and girl friends. Oh, the only other guy, other than my father, who worked at the coffee shop was about as gay as it was possible to be without actually being a cartoon charicature of a gay man. My wife was fifteen when she started working. She saved up and bought her own car two weeks before she had her licence. She bought her own computer back when computers cost as much as a car and then she bought her own house by the age of twenty one. What about me and my male colleagues and friends? Penniless moochers the lot of us. So if you are going to produce a cultural product and you want it to be consumed by the largest number of paying people? You produce something attractive to young women and acceptable to older ones too. Justin Bieber anyone? Every guy (well almost) derides the lad and makes fun of those who like him. But who likes him? Fifteen year old girls who have jobs to buy his albums, shirts, videos and go to his concerts. That’s who. And who facilitates all of that? Mums. Who buys all the Stephanie Myers Twilight stuff? Is it forty year old men? Well maybe some. Is it eighteen year old men or fifteen year old boys? Nope. Girls and women. Same with Amanda Hocking and initially J.K. Rowling. I have to retarget my books. Sure, Steven King does well, but then you’ll probably find his largest market is still women. Dan Brown? Also probably women. Likely the only authors who have done really well who don’t target women to one degree or another is Tom Clancy and Grisham. But maybe I’m wrong with them too?

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Writing from experience


We’re always told the most powerful writing comes from experience. This, I suppose, is because we have a particular insight into the material. I hadn’t thought about it much, beyond what I’ve just said, until yesterday. Yesterday was my daughter’s first birthday party. We had about twenty friends over and numerous small children. They all enjoyed eating the food my wife and I slaved over all saturday. We could have bought all the food, but we enjoy cooking, so we did.

The Experience

As if running a first birthday weren’t experience enough, on the saturday night, I discovered the hard way that the chicken was tainted. At about ten that night I went to bed feeling bloated and a bit sick. I figured it was just the beer I’d had combined with a long day and not enough sleep. At eleven thirty I yawned a yawn verging on the Technicolor. It went downhill from there. I’ll leave out the finer detail, but by the time I was at my in-laws farm waiting for the first guests to arrive I felt like death. I hadn’t slept all night, my guts roiled and churned and the mere thought of food made me swallow heavily. I spent much of the day in bed, rising occasionally to be sociable and to drink apple juice. The peculiar thing about this episode was that throughout it I was thinking of how I would describe it in writing. I was aware of my condition and was mentally taking notes about it. Before taking up writing I never did such things. I’ve found myself doing it with other experiences too. A delicious meal I had, a funny moment, the feeling of dread just as my little girl fell from the couch and others.

Healthy

I wonder if it is something we should all do, regardless if we are writing or not? Since paying attention to my daily experiences I feel I’ve gained insight into myself and more fully appreciate things as they happen. When I was running my first marathon and my legs twitched with pain with each plodding foot fall I was secretly observing the sensation, documenting it even while I agonised through it. I think we should all pay attention to our experiences, even the bad ones. We don’t have time machines to allow us to go back so it is only memories that we have. The stronger those memories, the more rich a life we live don’t we?

Suffice to say I now have the “joy” of food poisoning to add to my experiences from which I can draw to add spice to my writing. Have you found yourself taking notes even as you are going through something great, or horrible?


Self Publishing Calls Again


Ah, the sweet siren song of self publishing. I’ve considered it in the past as a way of reaching people. I decided at the time to pursue traditional publishing. But after reading more articles on the topic I’m swinging back. What is the lure?

Control

One of the biggest reasons people site for going the self publishing route is that they retain complete control over their material and thus over most of the revenue. This is a double edge sword, of course. If I self publish I have complete control over my novel, but what do I know about the market for my novel? I am a highly experienced and skilled technical architect and could tell you many different ways to achieve your IT goals. That isn’t going to help sell a book, unless it is about architecting IT systems. By keeping control over my work, I lose the expertise a publisher and agent would bring. I don’t know who the influential reviewers are, where my fans hang out or even what is “popular” in a fantasy story. So I don’t think control over my work is a strong enough argument to lure me.

Feedback

When you self publish, and I’m talking about e-books here as paperbacks are not viable to self publish, you get feedback regarding sales immediately. At any time of the day or night you can log on to Amazon or Smashwords and get a sales report. You don’t have to wait for the quarter to end or for the financial year or whatever reporting period the publisher may use. You don’t have to wait for an agent to work out commission and all the rest. Fans have demonstrated, by downloading the e-book, that they are users of the internet and so you’ll get feedback on your web site and on review sites and so forth. After spending a couple of years writing and polishing your work the thought of waiting for the dinosaurs of publishing to turn into oil before you get paid or before you find out if what you have done is any good sounds like torture. This is a big plus for me. I have made a conscious choice to not encourage or support any business model that doesn’t embrace modern technology. I wouldn’t even consider sending my manuscript in hard copy to an agent and I can’t bear to think of the sluggish movement of physical stock. Not to mention all the poor dead trees.

Success

Agents and publishers are often referred to as gatekeepers. That is because they choose what goes to market, or at least they used to. That can leave you feeling like a top ten contestant on Australian Idol (or any number of other talent shows). They are all in the top ten because they are good, but only one person can win and that person may not be the most talented or become the most successful. Due to the gatekeeper nature of the contest some must fail. So too in publishing. I could write the world’s most amazing novel ever but if for whatever reason I’m not picked up by an agent and / or publisher it will never see the light of day. J.K. Rowling was passed over a couple of times before she was accepted. It is quite possible she may never have been picked up and yet she is probably the wealthiest author ever. Amanda Hocking had written eight novels (correct me if I’m wrong) and none of them were accepted. In case you don’t know, she self published, worked bloody hard at it, and has made millions from her books. She has now signed with a publisher, it just took a couple of million dollars in profit to get through the gate. So the big appeal here is that success is more heavily based on your own efforts and less on the vagaries of the gatekeeper system. I think traditional publishers as gatekeepers is a not a bad thing for the reading public. It ensures a certain level of quality that often lacks in the self published scene.

Getting out there

This is related to the point above. The greatest thing I want to achieve with my writing is to be read. I love writing, but ultimately you have to ask yourself: “If an author pens a novel and nobody reads it, does it really count as a novel?” It doesn’t really bother me how much money I make. I have a day job that I’m quite good at and I love. I want people to read my books and get that mystical feeling of being transported to another land. That feeling that somewhere, even if just in their own imagination, things can work out. That’s what I got from the books I read and I want to share the feeling.

So the main things that draw me to self publishing are the immediate feedback of being plugged in to modern communication technology, the knowledge that success is largely determined by my efforts and the desire to see at least some people enjoy my work. Having a run away success is obviously the dream, to see my work made into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise with TV show spin off and graphic novels… But I’d be happy if just one person wrote a fan email.


Tragedy and Comedy


No, this isn’t an emo blog about my life. I’m going to waffle on about these two most ancient story forms and how they are related. I personally think tragedy is easier to write than comedy. Why?

Tragedy

To start, I’ll define tragedy as I refer to it. I may well have the same definition as in a dictionary, but I can’t guarantee that. Essentially a tragedy is a story that you wanto have a happy ending, but you just can’t see it having one. You hope against all odds that things work out, but you know they won’t and in the end you are right. They don’t work out happy. Probably the most famous tragedy is Romeo and Juliet. Two lovers separated by a feud between families, they try a desperate plan to be together. As you know, they do manage to be together, but only ironically in death. Right until the last moment, just before Juliet (I think it was Juliet) stabs herself in the heart you are hoping the monk arrives and tells her Romeo is just asleep. Even if he did, is there any way they could really be together?

Comedy

Comedic writing is difficult. I know this because I’ve tried it and I’ve read a fair bit of it. There are many, many comedic writers but only two that really spring to mind; Romeo and Juliet. No, just kidding. I was trying to demonstrate the similarity between comedy and tragedy. The two writers are Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. They both write in a similar style, though different genres. Comedy works in many different ways, but in particular when comparing with tragedy you can think of it as anti-tragedy. You see the end coming from a mile off and you think you know how it will be but at the last-minute it turns on itself in a happy way. Like I attempted with my sentence above about there being two writers. I was hoping you were thinking of two writers, most likely Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett but then I turned back and brought up the same example I used for the tragedy. The juxtaposition and disruption of expectation should have made you split your sides laughing. I know it didn’t, though, and that’s just something I’m going to have to live with.

Which do I prefer?

I think, like everyone, I have a perverse love of the tragedy. You see the build up, you know it is hopeless but you really wish for something to happen, a deus ex machina like superman to save the day. In Romeo and Juliet you are left with a bittersweet ending where the two lovers express their eternal devotion in the most dramatic and permanent way they could. Though they died, in truth they managed to be together. It is that ironic poetry that calls to me and I think to everyone. The mysterious popularity of vampire romance stories amply demonstrates our love for tragedy. What could be more hopeless than a romance between predator and prey? (Other than the wagon loads of appalling fan fic it generates)

Why?

Why do I write these blogs? In part it is to keep myself writing, in part it is for me to practice writing and in part because I’m so vain as to think I’ll be famous one day and people will care. Mostly it is the vanity. OK, it is entirely the vanity. My blogs will be the first digital exhibit at the Louvre that will draw crowds like the Mona Lisa. There I said it.