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What Makes Frozen a Hit? A Writer’s Point of View.

frozen

Children appear to grow up very fast these days. They look and talk as if they are older than their years; they aspire to be adults and there are lots of computer games, films, youtube videos… and even books that tap into this aspiration. But my experience of being a mother is that underneath, children are no older than we were at their age. For example, when my son was ten all the boys took a teddy on the school trip to France.

Disney also realise that kids are still kids, and that there is big money to be made from selling child-like things. The animated movie Frozen, about two princesses, a talking snowman, a young man and his pet reindeer, made nearly $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue. It also sold 18 million DVDs in 2014 .

It is not only preschoolers that have become obsessed with Frozen. Just a couple of days ago I overheard a girl saying to her dad, “You can be Elsa and I’ll be Anna.” She was about six-years-old, the same age as my nephew who also loved it. At my son’s junior school, children who were seven and eight were talking about the film constantly when it was first released ─ creating buzz ─ many of the nine-to-eleven year olds went to see it too (for their siblings!). In an article on How Frozen Took Over the World, the author Maria Konnikova talks about a seven-year-old who knew she would love it, even though she hadn’t seen it yet, by what she’d been told by her friends. Parents also like it. I asked a Dad who had seen the movie, the sing-along movie version and had also bought the DVD, why the film was so appealing.  He said, “We like the innocence of it. It’s just good family entertainment.”  Konnikova suggests that part of its success “may have just as much to do with parents as with kids. Kids aren’t just liking it more; parents are taking their kids to see it more.” Perhaps parents don’t want their kids growing up too fast; they value childhood.

As you can imagine, business analysts and reporters have tried to identify the factors that made the film so successful (see references below). If you know what worked, you can replicate it. Right? The pre-release marketing campaign was designed to appeal to a wide audience and focused on what was unique about the story; the film was released in November (which is apparently the optimal release timing) and, cleverly, Disney allowed the very singable music to spread through social media; they didn’t crack down on the millions of youtube tributes. It has two strong, not simpering, princesses that children can relate to; the story’s a bit different for Disney ─ an act of self-sacrifice saves the day rather than true love’s first kiss ─  it’s about the relationship between two sisters and growing up; there’s the allure of magic, a wisecracking sidekick snowman and the film has the feel-good factor… However, what the experts all agree on is that you could put all these ingredients into another story and it wouldn’t necessarily work. I don’t think it will stop animation companies from trying though!

I think book publishers could learn a lot from Disney. Imagine a manuscript arriving on an editor’s desk about a bunch of toys that deeply want children to play with them, and the story is told from the point of view of a cowboy doll. Would the publisher say, “It won’t appeal to the readership; they’ll think they’re too old for it” or “Great ─ we’ll call it Toy Story”.

I’d love to know your thoughts …

Thanks for reading my blog!

Kim

References

  1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_(2013_film)
  2. http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-frozen-took-over-the-world
  3. http://time.com/3656230/why-kids-cant-resist-frozen/
  4. http://metro.co.uk/2014/12/05/kids-wont-let-it-go-why-disneys-frozen-is-everywhere-this-christmas-4975028/
  5. http://www.vulture.com/2014/01/why-is-frozen-such-a-big-hit.html

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How to Write a Bestseller

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.

KAY LEITCH   co-founder of Electrik Inccropped-electrikinc_logo3_colour1.png
Author of  Treasure This
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C S Lewis and The Inklings

One of the first books I ever owned as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. Lucy, the youngest of the four Pevensie children – my age and clearly the heroine! – won my heart, especially when no-one would believe her about the existence of Narnia. I re-read the book several times over, and whenever I crept with her through the fur coats to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe collectors editionthat icy world gripped by permanent winter, it sent tingles down my spine. It became a sort of touchstone for what I was looking for in a good story. Though I grew up disagreeing with some of its themes, as an eight-year-old the religious symbolism went right over my head. Aslan shaking his golden mane to bring back spring was, for me, about the magnificence of nature. What the book provided was a sense of wonder at the ordinary world. I made dens in my own wardrobe and lived in a land of make-believe dreaming up stories about seemingly mundane everyday things that turned out to be extraordinary. The iconic lamppost had worked its magic.

So it’s no exaggeration to say The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the books that turned me into a writer and led me to become a member of Electrik Inc. We refer to ourselves as ‘inklings’, a fun nickname which isn’t only about digital ink and indie publishing, the group’s purpose. It also conveys a sense of magic just around the corner; that goosebump moment when your imagination is on the verge of something fabulous. How strange then to discover that the great C S Lewis himself was also an Inkling – along with his friend and drinking buddy, the author of a vastly different yet equally remarkable fantasy series, J R R Tolkein …

‘The Inklings’ were a small literary circle, mostly academics of Oxford University, who met every Thursday evening in Lewis’s college rooms to read aloud and critique the books they were each writing. Like us, they were a fellowship of friends as much as writing colleagues. Among the group was the lawyer, philosopher and author Owen Bardfield, and it was to his daughter, Lucy, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was dedicated.

The Eagle and Child, St Giles, OxfordRather more informal meetings took place in The Eagle and Child which became a favourite haunt every Tuesday for many years between 1939 and 1962. On a recent trip to Oxford I decided to visit the pub to pay homage. It’s a must for Narnia fans. Built around 1650, The Bird and Baby, as it’s also known, is a warren of small wood-panelled rooms that feel a bit like the compartments of an old-style railway carriage. ‘The Rabbit Room’, where The Inklings met, is at the back and the walls are full of memorabilia. Most intriguing of all is a framed letter signed by eight of them and addressed to the pub landlord, Charlie Blagrove. ‘The undersigned, having just partaken of your house, have drunk your health,’ it declares.

Part of framed letter signed by The Inklings

Part of a letter signed by The Inklings on March 11, 1948

It’s probably safe to assume that a few beers had been consumed at the time of signing. Lewis’s handwriting looks especially wobbly. The document is dated 11th March 1948, the year he completed The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. We’re told by his biographer that he read it aloud to his friends. And apparently, Tolkein loathed it.  The creator of The Lord of the Rings was meticulous in the way he crafted Middle Earth and didn’t approve of Lewis’s jumbling of different mythologies.

Were feathers ruffled at The Bird and Baby? As an Inkling used to forthright editorial debate I couldn’t help imagining the conversation…:‘My dear fellow, you’ve got a lion, a witch, a magical wardrobe, various fauns and centaurs, a pair of talking beavers, even an appearance by Father Christmas. It’s wild beyond belief. Simplify, that’s the ticket. Give Narnia some rules, for heaven’s sake.’

A jowly photo of Lewis stares down in the Rabbit Room. I could almost hear him harrumphing into his pint. ‘At least it’s about ordinary children. Your protagonist lives in a hole, has pointy ears and hairy feet!’

The Eagle and Child pub signI must have been intoxicated – not by drink, honest! Simply by being in Oxford, that most hallowed of literary places – but, I swear, as I left and headed along St Giles something about the pub sign was different. The child, who at first glance, looked like he was being abducted by a horrible huge bird, was actually smiling … Whatever you think of the world view underlying Narnia (I’d much rather help build Philip Pullman’s ‘republic of heaven’) it’s nevertheless a fairy tale that expanded the imaginations of a generation of children like me.

The lamp light shines on, creating new inklings.

Wishing you a wondrous spring.

Lion

(Wikimedia commons) Photo by Trisha Shears

 

Jenny Landor, Co-founder

11.3.2016

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Favourite Quotes on Writing

Having completed my challenge to blog a book quote a day for 365 days, I thought I would want a rest from finding quotes for a while – but I’m collecting more than ever! I love them. Here are some of my favourite quotes on writing for anyone working on a book at the moment (including me). I hope you find them inspiring.

virginia woolf

 So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters.

Virginia Woolf

Explore the reason that bids you write, find out if it has spread out its roots in the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die, if writing should be denied to you. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, ‘Must I write?’

Rainer Maria Rilke

 You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Will Self

 Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Only if you do that can you hope to make the reader feel a particle of what you, the writer, have known and feel compelled to share.

Anne Rice

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

Ernest Hemingway

 Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.

Stephen King

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

Virginia Woolf

 Write the kinds of stories you like to read. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will.

Meg Cabot

 Have fun.

Anne Enright

 Does anyone have any writing quotes they’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Kim

Author of St Viper’s School for Super Villains

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Good, better, best

Good, better, best?

I was struck by a line in a Guardian article in the arts section about the finalists for a well-known photography award: the writer was wondering how a photograph of such banality could have won the prize. Presumably someone—one’s assuming at least a quorum on the judging panel anyway—thought the entry stunning, exciting, original, technically outstanding and the best in its field. But that’s the problem with awarding prizes for art forms, which are (almost by definition) subjective: someone with excellent credentials always disagrees with the choice.
In 2012 the judging panel of three fiction jurors read 300 novels for the Pulitzer prize, which is covered in this illuminating article:
http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/letter-from-the-pulitzer-fiction-jury-what-really-happened-this-year One of those judges wrote: “Many of the entries were easy to dismiss as trivial, or badly written or lurid or overblown or mawkish.” Which does make me wonder just how quickly into the reading process those entries were thrown aside as being unworthy. One of the judges shot himself in the foot by admitting that each of them had a very different set of criteria and that “members of any jury are possessed of particular tastes and opinions and… absolute objectivity is impossible.” Mysteriously, the board decided that year not to award the prize at all, which raises its own questions. Were they not looking in the right place? Why have judges at all if you overrule them? Who are on this board anyway?
Writing and other art forms are so obviously not like running a race, or getting the most goals or answering the most correct questions in a pub quiz. Personally, one of the absolutely best aspects of going in for creative activities is that it’s almost impossible to be wrong, and that realisation is incredible liberating. So how destructive might it be to put yourself forward for an award where the word failure hangs unspoken over everyone who didn’t win? Hypocrisy rules, of course: before you ask, I’d be the first to rejoice if someone told me my book was the best they’d ever read.
The novelist Edward St Aubyn has written a book called Lost For Words, which Deborah Cohen reviews in an article for American Prospect: http://prospect.org/article/have-literary-prizes-lost-their-meaning-have-they-ever-had-any
The novel is a hilarious satire on the shoddy (and shady) goings-on amongst the judges of a literary prize and includes celebrity judges who don’t bother to read the books and a cookbook—included by accident—which makes it to the final stages. It’s not obvious whether this is written by a disappointed and embittered “loser”, someone with insider knowledge or just a writer enjoying a fictitious peek into that world. But Deborah Cohen makes a more serious and controversial point. “Cultural prizes notoriously reward the wrong works for the wrong reasons,” she writes. Stirring stuff. I have been part of a book group for twenty years and we are these days pretty wary of reading a “prize-winning novel” as too many of us have found them over long, unfathomable and—unsurprisingly—over-hyped.
Tim Parks—himself a seriously good writer—is disarmingly honest about literary awards and, in an article in the New York Review of Books,
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/oct/06/why-nobel-prize-literature-silly/ talks us through the selection process for no less an award than the Nobel Prize for Literature.He goes into some detail about the political, historical and cultural baggage which has come to dictate the award. He concludes by admitting the “essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously.” (I assume, though that the nominees take it seriously!) I’m sure that being nominated for a literary prize must feel great. It means that before the process has even started you belong to a club of writers pre-selected for their excellence. Why would you not take it seriously? Unfortunately very few literary prizes are open to independently published authors, and until that changes I can simply plough my own creative furrow with integrity and passion and rejoice at every satisfied reader. Reward enough, for now.

Julia Draper

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Self-Publishing Grows Up

Cornelia Funke’s announcement that she’s turning her back on traditional publishing to form her own printing press, Breathing Books, is a sign of the times. Interestingly, in the article about her new venture in Publisher’s Weekly the words ‘self-publishing’ and ‘independent publishing’ are nowhere to be seen. This may be partly to do with her careful choice of words and the brand image she wants to create, but I think it’s also about the language changing as self-publishing grows up. I publish my own books through a small, limited company called Squawk Books; I employ professional illustrators, cover designers and editors on a freelance basis; my press has published a school anthology as well as my own work, and my books are available in independent bookshops as well as on-line . Am I a self-published author or a director of a small press? For me, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.

Funke cites a wish to be free of restrictions on her artistic output as one of the motivating factors in her decision. Creative freedom is important to me too. In 2012, small presses also made up 50% of the Booker shortlist . Over the last couple of years, agents have become more receptive to taking self-published authors as clients as well. Agent Madeline Milburn says, ‘It is always advantageous for you to have someone to fight your corner, and to negotiate and help handle all aspects of the book’s publication (whether that be with a traditional publisher, or not).’ In my experience, the main weakness of the independent route has been that you have no-one to handle other rights. Hopefully this is changing. Milburn continues, ‘I handle all the translation rights and film & TV rights directly for my authors. A lot of self-published authors are unable to exploit these rights.’

The Publishers Weekly article ends with Funke saying, ‘Little, Brown and others are like ocean liners that can only go to certain places. I want to be a sailboat so I can fit into other places.’

Certainly, I’ve been on journeys that have taken me to new lands. For example, I’ve extended my product range to include literary quote cards . But, remember, the grass always looks greener on the other side. Traditional publishing still has a lot to offer. And whether you need an ocean liner or a sailboat will depend on the book you’ve written.

As far as I’m concerned, more choice for writers has to be good news.

Thanks for reading this post!

Kim

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Removing the Barriers to Reading

Kim Donovan AuthorRemoving the Barriers to Reading is my top pick for The Bath Children’s Literature Festival this year. The panel includes publisher Barrington Stoke, Dyslexia Action and author Tony Bradman. Hopefully, there will be lots of advice for children who find reading difficult. See also these two guest blogs on getting reluctant readers reading. Article 1 & Article 2.

In our house, the barriers to my eleven-year-old son reading are Xbox, electronic games on other devices such as phones and ipads, youtube videos, old episodes of Top Gear and the Dragon Ball Z television series which are available on demand… He draws manga characters, plays fantasy card duels, creates his own code for computer games and paints Games Workshop space marines. I’d need a removal van to take it all away! Then there’s always rugby, judo, meeting friends at the swimming pool and football in the park. For him, reading is nowhere near as interesting as doing any of these things – he always has something better to do. But I see the value of him reading. I know lots of boys who are like him, so here are a few of my tried-and-tested tips.

    • Create time for reading. Establish a time of day when all the electronics are turned off and you read. It helps to read together – try leading by example. Sometimes my son and I sit on the sofa together with our own books, other times we take it in turns to read aloud chapters of his novel.
    • Go with their interests. I buy him tech magazines, which he devours without him even realising he’s reading. As Dragon Ball is primarily a Japanese manga series, he has a number of these books piled up at the bottom of his bed. Games Workshop also sells books relating to the characters he paints. Graphic novels are often a big hit with boys too. I’m a great believer that it doesn’t matter what kids read as long as they’re reading and the content is age appropriate. I never look at the quality of the writing!
    • A poem a day/week. Poetry is great because it’s super quick to read and it exposes kids to rich, expressive language. Every weekend, we take it in turns to pick a poem from A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility.
    • Don’t give up. I’m always looking for the book my son won’t want to put down. I’ve just ordered Mortal Engines for him. I know he can suddenly become totally absorbed in a book – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was one of those stories. Sadly, the series I wrote for him – St Viper’s School for Super Villains – is now too young for him, but he loved it at the time.  Remember, a reluctant reader isn’t always one.
    • Keep bedtime electronics free. Other than e-readers just have books in the bedroom.
    • Try going on holiday where there’s no Wi-Fi or phone signal. We did it this year and it was good for all of us!

Thanks for reading my blog.

Kim Donovan

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