Had to share this fantastic podcast of an interview with John Yorke, covering effective use of structure in story, creating compelling characters, tips for subtle exposition and cliffhangers. It’s not often I listen all the way through an hour-long podcast but this was excellent – really informative. Well worth a listen. His book Into the Woods, about the craft of storytelling, is excellent too. The world is full of How-to-Write books – and you can count those worth reading on the fingers of one hand. Well, this is for your index finger.
Category Archives: Independent Publishing information
Electrik Inc is always on the lookout for good advice that helps us hone our writing skills. I loved this Ted Talk video with literary agent, Jonny Geller, about what makes a bestseller, and what agents/publishers look for in new writers. Think about his comments when you’re editing your own work because everyone wants to sell their books and the more we get right, the better it is for our readers as well as our bank balances.
There are lots of how-to-write-a-bestseller tips, from Dean Koontz to Matthew Sparkes writing in The Telegraph on how scientists developed an app in 2014 that analysed best sellers. The findings were very interesting but guaranteed success remains elusive. And so the advice is just that: advice. Remember, what works for one author may not work for you.
I especially like how Mr Geller looks for the “space between the sentences” in any piece he reads. There is often a temptation for writers to give too much description, too much information… I’m always advising my clients to trust their readers to fill in some of the blanks themselves.
Mr Geller’s five-word sentence example is excellent too – a fun way of learning the importance of varying sentence length.
Personally, I would add story to the list. Not the plot or pacing (though they’re important too), but the story: is it strong enough to hold the reader. I always think of that in my own writing. Will the reader care enough to keep reading to find out how this story unfolds – and ends. For me, story is vital. Of course great characters, tight prose and sharp dialogue help, but if I don’t connect to the story, I lose interest. Whether I’m assessing manuscripts, reading for a publishing house or writing my own novels, I keep that in mind.
Jonny Geller also mentions how it all comes down to us, the reader. That reading “makes us better people”, that original writing is so often harder to place because publishers find original material “very hard to market”. Yes, some of us have figured that out already. 🙂
The five things Mr Geller looks for are:
The bridge: does it take us from the familiar to the new?
Voice: the unique sound of the writer, which is nothing without the next part:
Craft: writing is difficult. Amateurs and professionals alike do draft after draft to get it right. Does it have resonance? Will it reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible?
The gap: the space between the sentences. The gap the writer leaves for the reader to inhabit.
There’s lots more. Jonny Geller has a natural style that’s easy to listen to without feeling you’re being lectured. Check it out.
Don’t you just love mavericks?
Stephen Heyman writes on slate.com about how Waterstones’ fortunes changed for the better when Alexander Mamut, described by one broadsheet as: “The most powerful Oligarch you have never heard of”, bought Waterstone’s (when it had the apostrophe, but no profit) and put James Daunt in charge.
Daunt was already a very successful businessman. He founded Daunt Books in Marleybone High Street in 1990 when he was just 26, and ended up running six independent book stores across London, all of which remained profitable even in difficult market conditions. The first thing Daunt did as Managing Director of Waterstones – apart from getting rid of the apostrophe – was to tear up the existing business plan for the failing book store and implement his own, rather unconventional, ideas.
He took power away from publishers and gave it back to the book sellers, promoting what he believed would sell rather than what the publishers wanted to advertise. All those “Best Seller” spots in the window of big book stores didn’t actually mean the books were best sellers. The publishers paid for those spots.
The great thing about Daunt, in my opinion, is that he’s not an accountant, a marketing executive or a PR man. He trusts the book lovers he works with. One thing he said made me laugh out loud: when he discussed his individual marketing plan and how he wanted to shake up the business he loved, he knew publishers would not be happy with his decision to cut their advertising space in his stores. “But,” he said, “we had the advantage of being bankrupt…” Talk about turning a negative into a positive!
He also gave each Waterstones almost complete autonomy over how to arrange their merchandise. So, no more homogeneity, where Waterstones in Glasgow looked exactly the same as the one in Chiswick. Each Waterstones looks different, individual, inviting. The one thing they all have in common is good books, tailored to individual local areas.
What has this got to do with writing and publishing? Everything. Rules are great when they work, and lethal when they don’t. Sometimes we’re so used to following old rules and procedures we don’t realise they’re so past their sell-by date they’re doing more harm than good. Many publishers have been following restrictive rules for a long time: pay lots of money for advertising space in shop windows (take it out of authors’ earnings) … tick. Avoid risks … tick. Ooops, not making so much money – cut authors’ earnings a bit more … tick. Watch the rise of independent author publishers…
I love that as independent publishers we are the mavericks of the publishing world. We’ve stopped trying to second guess anyone, least of all fickle publishers, and write what we want to write. We make it the best we can. Yes, we follow the rules of editing, punctuation and good grammar. Yes, of course we’re aware of the market, but we don’t let it tyrannise us. We don’t jump on band wagons for the sake of a quick buck – we don’t let the bottom line dictate what we write. Where’s the joy in that?
We can’t all be the kind of maverick James Daunt is. But we can learn from him. If you make any resolutions for 2016, make them be to trust yourself, ignore the “rules”, and write from your heart.