If you're at all interested in comics or graphic novels and within reach of London, there are three events to put into your diary.
COMICS UNMASKED - BRITISH LIBRARY
The first one is at the British Library, Euston Road and it's on now until August 19, 2014. Here's what they say about it:
"Our major exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is now open and there's a wonderful buzz in the building and beyond. I bet you didn't even know we had comic books in our collection! Well, this is your chance to see over 200 exhibits - from a 1470 medieval comic to original artwork and manuscripts of Kick-Ass, Sandman and Batman and Robin.
Whether you're a comic artist, a fashion designer or filmmaker - there's something to be inspired by at this exhibition." More INFORMATION.
EAST LONDON COMICS AND ARTS FESTIVAL
On Saturday, June 14, it's the East London Comics and Arts Festival. It features talks by prominent illustrators and artists, including Mattias Adolfsson, who drew the cartoon below, and drop-in workshops suitable for all ages. More INFORMATION.
LONDON FILM AND COMIC CON
And if you're REALLY into it, you'll want to go to the London Film and Comic Con, which returns on Friday, July 11 through Sunday, July 13 at Earls Court 2.
This is a huge event for film, TV, and comics fans. It includes a Game of Thrones screening with an appearance by some of the cast members, an audience with Stan Lee, and actors including Casper Van Dien, Milo Ventimiglia, and Jenna Coleman.
The big names from the comics world include Gilbert Shelton, Hunt Emerson, and David Roach.
The authors who will be present include Charlie Higson, Malorie Blackman, and Patrick Ness.
You'll also encounter many fans wandering around in costumes that range from the amazing to the slightly sad. More INFORMATI0N.
Let's leave aside the fact that if you come up with anything TOO fresh it scares producers. I think the problem is that a lot of aspiring screen-writers don't cast their nets wide enough when they look for sources of inspiration.
It's very tempting to look to the current line-up of movies first, classic films second, and everything else a distant third. This problem is much more prevalent in the US, and especially in Los Angeles, than in the UK and Europe, but it's not unknown here.
I was reminded of this when reading a brief interview with the comics author and illustrator who goes by the name of Max. When asked where he finds inspirations for his stories and illustrations, he replied:
"My inspiration comes from a variety of sources: myths, fiction literature, philosophy, art... and then, of course, what I see around me in the world. And nature and dreams, too. My stories tend to be quite related to the subconscious side of humans."
Confession: I find it just as difficult as everybody else to make the time to read things that are not directly applicable to whatever I'm working on at the moment. However it's worth setting aside at least a couple of hours a week to do so.
Actually, the fact that I'm working on a novel for teens/young adults is giving me an excuse to check out some of the excellent authors working in that field. I've just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane (the first thing I've read by Neil Gaiman) and it took me back to the days when, as a teen-ager, I first discovered the wonderful stories of Ray Bradbury.
Philip Pullman is next on my list. After that, I'll make a long overdue return to Bulfinch's Mythology (available free online at Project Gutenberg).
One option if you're reluctant to start reading a novel because you only have bits of time to invest is to rediscover the short stories of authors like Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor, and of course those of the ultimate master of the form, Chekhov.
A few specific suggestions for short story collections: The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury), Dubliners (James Joyce), Nine Stories (J. D. Salinger), I, Robot (Isaac Asimov), and The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien).
It's not a matter of looking for a specific idea, rather of filling your brain with a wide variety of material so that one day a new idea pops into your mind, one formed and influenced by lots of diverse sources. Often the ingredients will have blended so well that you won't even recognize them, only that you've had a fresh idea.
R. J. Palacio, author of WONDER (which I thought was very good, overall) has now issued a short (88 page) ebook called The Julian Chapter, for £1.49/$2.51. It gives the viewpoint of the bully in the book.
The publisher says, "Thought-provoking, infuriating, surprising, heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a must-read for the thousands of readers who loved WONDER."
I'm not saying Palacio did it for mercenary reasons only but it is a clever way to generate some extra revenue from people who are already fans.
This could start a trend!
Philippe Petit, who walked a high wire between the Twin Towers, has written a book called Creativity: the Perfect Crime. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but I found an interview with him at the Wall Street Journal blog.
Why does he compare creativity to a crime?
"You have to feel free and we know freedom is a hard thing to get. There is a feeling of rebellion in any act of creativity for me. That’s why the title of the book is The Perfect Crime.”
What stops most people from being more creative?
"What I think tailors the creativity of most people are the rules that we learn from the age we are very small – in school, our parents. It’s not to say that schools and parents give bad advice, but instead of encouraging your creativity, I think – because I suffered in school – they give you a lot of rules. Unless you break those rules you’re not really going to create."
Don't expect a typical book about the nature of creativity--he says he fowns upon those kinds of books (surely not mine, Creativity Now, published by Pearson...) and his is a collection of sketches and personal dialogue about his own creative process.
Here's a little taste:
"Born into the confines of rigid parenting, repressive schooling and the narrow-mindedness of a country busy manufacturing 365 types of cheeses, quite early I started to rebel against authority. I was not very good at following. I had to distance myself from the norm, to venture along solitary paths, to teach myself.
At six, I taught myself magic; at fourteen, juggling; at sixteen, wire-walking. In the process, I was thrown out of five different schools. Regardless, I would never have let my schooling get in the way of my education.
Observation was my conduit to knowledge, intuition my source of power."
He sounds very French, doesn't he?...I've ordered the book and will post a review of it.
It's probably not fair that people judge whether or not to buy a novel based on the cover, the back cover, and the first sentence, but that's how it works much of the time. Now that more people are buying books online, the back cover doesn't matter as much, but the cover image and the first sentence or two (as reached by the "look inside" feature) still carry most of the weight.
That's why the first sentence is so important. I belong to Bookbub.com, which offers ebooks free or at a reduced price, and I find a lot of times I don't opt to take even the free books if the first few lines don't grab my attention. I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at a few openings. Let me hasten to say that these books may be excellent, I'm just sharing my personal response to their first lines.
The stocky man pumped his flannel-covered arms around the steering wheel as the white box truck he called Bessie rounded the corner.
The first problem I have is with the word "pumped." The motion I associate with pumping (as in working the handle of a pump) is up and down, which is not easy to link with a steering wheel. If I stop and think about it I can imagine the turning motion as pumping, but ideally a first sentence doesn't make you stop to figure out an image. Next we have his flannel-covered arms. I assume he's wearing a flannel shirt, but again the image makes me stop for a split-second to figure that out (rather than imagining it's only his arms that are flannel-covered). Then we have the information that he calls his box truck Bessie, which doesn't pull me into the story nor is it essential information at this point.
If the job of the first sentence is to effortlessly carry you on to the second sentence, that example isn't great. Let's look at another one.
Years ago, Once Upon a Time was Right Now.
OK, that's an interesting enough variation of the classic fairy tale opening to keep me reading. It goes on:
And eventually, Right Now will become Once Upon a Time. In fact, it just did. Time is funny like that. In most stories time is very important. Not in this one. The story may have horses and not cars, but really it could happen now like it did then. Then Being Once Upon a Time, years and years ago.
I'm starting to lose interest but let's see give it a few more lines.
The story is one of passion, and last time I checked, passion was still around. It exists in love, hate, obsession. For instance, I have a passion for pickled herring. I can't live without it...
Nothing is happening and I have no idea who the "I" is who checked whether or not passion is still around and loves pickled herring. Next!
My daddy once called me a cockroach, because when I was a kid I dug in the trash for food scraps and drank from the dog's water to survive. He said he meant it as a compliment.
We have a winner! Why is this one better? Because it raises a question. It makes us curious why the character dug in the trash and drank from the dog's water to survive, and what kind of father would consider calling a child a cockroach a compliment.
Contrast that to the first example, which doesn't make me wonder anything about the man driving the truck, and the second, which doesn't make us wonder about much of anything until it gets to pickled herring. By then, following a consideration of the nature of time and passion, pickled herring feels a bit of a let-down.
I don't know if you feel the same way about these particular examples, but looking at these has sent me back for a closer look at the first lines of the projects I'm working on; maybe it'll prompt you to look at yours as well.
(Want friendly guidance on writing your novel? You'll find it in Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
Will little mistakes in your book turn people off? Is proofreading really that important?
I hesitated to write this post because I know there are typos in my blog posts. I do proofread them but I post just about every day, sometimes under time pressure, and things slip through. For that reason, when I read blogs I cut them some slack regarding typos and little errors.
This came to mind earlier today when I was reading the “look inside” preview of a book about research into psychic phenomena. It said that many famous people followed this research, including "Rod Sterling".
The late Rod Serling happens to be one of my heroes. I grew up loving the Twilight Zone series and later read a number of his plays. When I was a teen-ager I wrote him a letter and he was kind enough to reply. I guess that’s why seeing his name misspelled bothered me. More importantly, though, it provoked this question:
“If the author got that wrong, what else did she get wrong?”
That’s the question you don’t want your readers to ask. It undermines their confidence in you and it may even make them put the book aside (or not buy it if they spot the error while browsing).
Here are some tips for proofreading a manuscript:
* Get at least one other person to proofread it
* Use a ruler or piece of paper and move it down one line at a time. That stops your eyes from moving ahead too far. Even better: in a piece of paper or light cardboard cut a horizontal slot the length of your lines, so anything above and below the line you are looking at is covered.
* Read backward. That makes you isolate each word and you’ll notice misspellings much more easily.
PS: I bought the book anyway…but I’ll be on the lookout for any other mistakes.
-----For friendly help with writing your book, get a copy of Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and avaialable from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.
The titles? Sense and Sensibility, Les Miserables, Moby Dick...The New York Times quotes Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, publisher and creative director of one such company as saying that she realized that no one had ever “taken Jane Austen and made it for babies.”
Hmm, that’s true. No one has ever created a line of little cocktails for toddlers, either. Or how about tiny slot machines they can play with their tooth fairy money?
According to the New York Times, “Publishers of these books are catering to parents who follow the latest advice by child-development experts to read to babies early and often, and who believe that children can display aesthetic preferences even while they are crawling and eating puréed foods.”
I read the BabyLit version of Moby Dick to Tommy, a two-year-old of my acquaintance, and asked for his reaction. He said, “Gaaa goo gung gaaaaaah!” I asked his mother whether she could interpret this response for me.
“Certainly,” she said. “What he said was that he was sad that Captain Ahab’s obsession become so all-consuming that it led to the demise of almost his entire crew.”
As if to confirm her translation, Tommy spit up a little milk.
All right, I admit it, I am being a bit unfair because these books don’t try to convey the plots of the originals, they use them to expose tiny kiddies to some core concepts.
For instance, there is Anna Karenina, A Fashion Primer. Sample page text: “Her black gown with the magnificent laces was only an accessory, was only a frame for her.”
I read this to little Tommy. His response was, "Fabulous! And from now on, please call me Mr Tommy!" He demanded paper and crayons and started work on a line of designer diapers.
Can you say “trivialize”?
MacMillan Children’s publishing group is open to submissions for their Swoon Reads line of romance novels for teens and Young Adults. They will put the manuscripts up for consideration by site visitors. Those that rate the highest will be read their own editors, and the best will be offered a publishing contract that includes a $15,000 advance. There is no fee.
Is this a good way to be discovered?
Maybe. Some authors are not comfortable with having their work put on a site that is available to the public. They worry that their work will be stolen. That’s not likely but yes, it is possible. I think Swoon has done as much as possible to prevent it. Here’s what they say about this:
“We are doing our best to protect your work from theft and plagiarism. We will not allow cutting, pasting, or copying from any Swoon Reads submission. We also require all members of the Swoon Reads community to agree to a set of Terms and Conditions that legally prohibit anyone from stealing and reposting any content from Swoon Reads. And you must be a member of Swoon Reads to access any of the submissions.”
Second, some feel it’s the authors who have the most friends and relatives willing to vote for them who will come out on top. That’s also possible, although I think Swoon Reads has enough followers to minimize that effect. And the ultimate decision is made by the editors. Here’s how the rating process works:
“After reading a manuscript, we ask you to rate the submission on a scale of 1-5 hearts: Not for me, It’s okay, I like it, I love it, and Swoon-worthy. Then, use the Swoon Index to tell us if it was steamy, a tearjerker, laugh-out-loud funny, or action-packed. All your ratings, reviews, and comments will be collected on your profile page.”
That means there’s no anonymous voting, and everybody’s votes are recorded so it’s hard to corrupt the process.
If you have already written a novel with a romance theme that is appropriate for a teen or YA audience, I don’t see any downside to entering it here.
What are they looking for?
“Swoon-worthy, irresistible, unforgettable love stories for our new teen romance line. To us, a romance is defined as a love story with an emotionally satisfying ending. Teen novels ideally feature protagonists between the ages of 14 and 19. We also accept New Adult novels which feature protagonists ages 19-23.
Novels can be set anytime, anywhere – and can be realistic, supernatural, dystopic, historical, comedy, inspirational, suspense or a mash-up of any sort. Stories can be happily ever after…or just happily for now. Girl/boy, girl/girl, boy/boy – just wow us with the intense romance of your story.
Since we are focusing on teen novels with crossover potential, we are open to some sex and heat if it is right and necessary for the story. However, we will not be acquiring any erotica.
We can only accept original, completed novels that are not, and have never been under contract with another publisher — and we ask that all submissions be exclusive to us as long as they are on the site.”
There’s a lot more information about how and what to submit here: http://www.swoonreads.com/submission-tips
In copyright law,“Fair use” means that you can use excerpts of articles, books, and other creative works in the course of reviewing them, or in educational materials, or in a transformative way, meaning you change the nature of the final product. However, you are limited in how much of the original work you can use, and also by whether or not your use of the excerpt might take away from the creator’s ability to benefit financially from his or her work.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much of the original you can quote or use, it’s down to common sense (and sometimes the courts). For instance, if you quote 100 words of an article that’s only 150 words long, that would be an abuse of fair use. If you quote 100 words of a novel that’s 75,000 words long, you’d probably be fine.
Song publishing companies are especially touchy and quick to sue. Quoting even one line of lyrics in a novel has led some of them to demand what I think are outrageous payments, with the threat of a lawsuit if you don’t pay.
Another example is a tumblr blog called “This Charming Charlie,” where the author, graphic designer Lauren LoPrete, matches images from the Peanuts comic strip with lyrics from songs by the Smiths. One example: Charlie Brown in bed in the dark bedroom, saying “Last night I dreamt that somebody loves me.” The strips aren’t that different from what Charles Schultz wrote; Charlie Brown (or the late Charles Schulz, who drew the strip) and Morrissey seem to be soul mates.
The blog took off very quickly, now boasting more than 24,000 followers. Of course the fact that it was mentioned in Rolling Stone, Gawker, Time magazine, Huffington Post, Slate, and others didn’t hurt.
It’s not a profit-making venture, it came about because LoPrete loves both the music of the Smiths and Peanuts.
However, Universal Music Publishing Group (which owns the rights to the music and lyrics) has served LoPrete with notices alleging copyright infringement. Although she is claiming fair use, she also has written on the blog, “I know it’s over.”
It’s not quite on the order of the time Disney lawyers went after a pre-school that had painted some Disney characters on their wall, but from a public relations standpoint it’s a disaster.
How was this hurting them? With all that coverage it’s more likely that it reminded some people that they liked the Smiths.
Instead, people who may have been on the fence about music piracy or those already into it can point to this as another example of how the big corporations don’t care about anything but squeezing every last penny out of their products.
For writers, the message is beware of music publishers and their lawyers.
PS: Here's my version. To be on the safe side, I'm quoting Kafka, who isn't that far from Peanuts and The Smiths...
"Foley had never seen a prison where you could walk rightup to the fence without getting shot. He mentioned it to the guard they called Pup, making conversation: convict and guard standing in a strip of shade between the chapel and a gun tower, red-brick structures in a red-brick prison, both men looking toward the athletic field. Several hundred inmates along the fence out there were watching the game of football played without pads, both sides wearing the same correctional blue, on every play trying to pound each other into the ground.
You know what they're doing," Foley said, "don't you? I mean besides working off their aggressions."
Pup said, "The hell you talking about?"
This was about the dumbest hack Foley had ever met in his three falls, two state time, one federal, plus a half-dozen stays in county lockups."
That's the opening of the novel Out of Sight, by Elmore Leonard. Right away we know where we are, who's talking, and there's something happening. That's typical of the openings (and the middles and endings) of all of Leonard's novels.
He died yesterday, age 87. Until his stroke a few days ago, he was still writing, and writing well.
THE 60-YEAR-OLD OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
Leonard started in the days of pulp fiction, which taught him to be prolific and to write things that people wanted to read. His day job was writing ads. He sold his first Western story in 1951, but didn't start writing full-time until 1967, when he was paid $10,000 for the film rights to Hombre.
He wrote more than forty novels. He picked up prizes along the way, but they were a long time coming. It wasn't until he was 60 that his novels started appearing on best-seller lists.
His first crime novel was rejected 84 times before it found a publisher.
Several movies were made based on his novels and stories, not always with great results. Among the best: Hombre, Valdez is Coming, Get Shorty, and the 1957 version of 3:10 to Yuma. Recenty he was involved with, and happy with, Justified, a TV series based on his characters.
I can't think of any contemporary writer better at capturing low-life characters and the way they talk. Or maybe his writing was just so convincing that I believe that's how they talk.
HIS ADVICE TO WRITERS
Leonard offered a list of tips to writers, as terse and powerful as his novels. You can read them here, along with a few comments I added:
I'm sad there won't be any new Elmore Leonard books, but he remains an inspiration. His little list of tips and the many books in which he applied them are, for my money, a better writing education than a Master's Degree.
HIS (ALMOST) LAST WORDS
Last year he told an interviewer, "I probably won't quit until I just quit everything--quit my life--because it's all I know how to do. And it's fun. I do have fun writing, and a long time ago I told myself, 'You got to have fun at this, or it'll drive you nuts."
There are three models for publishing an ebook:
1. Traditional publisher, hard copy and ebook. You place your book with a traditional publisher who issues a hardover or paperback version as well as an ebook. Royalties on ebooks done this way vary but should be at least 25%. The advantage is that there's a chance your books will get into book stores--still important despite the diminishing number of book shops. However, don't expect a big marketing campaign for your book. You'll get good marketing support for a week to a month, after that you're usually pretty much on your own. Publishers are being more selective these days, so getting your manuscript accepted is not easy.
2. Ebook publisher, ebook only. The publisher does the editing, cover design, formatting, etc. and markets the book in a variety of ways and pays you a royalty. Again, the percentages of your royalty vary, I've seen from 20% to 50%. The advantage is that you get all the services mentioned, and distribution. Marketing? Same situation as above.
3. Self-publish an ebook, pay for services with a one-time fee. In this version you outsource editing, cover design, formatting, submission to the various sellers like Kindle, and keep the money you make from sales. The advantage is that if your book sells well you'll make more money than if you're getting just a royalty. However, you'll end up doing all the marketing yourself unless you outsource that, too--which can be expensive and there aren't many companies that have a proven track record in this new field.
4. Self-publish and do it all yourself. The advantage is that it's cheap and not beyond the abilities of most writers (you may still want to have an editor go through the book and get a graphic designer to do your cover--bad covers kill sales and are common among self-published ebooks).
THE UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH
Here's a hard fact: publishing an ebook is the easy part. Selling it is the hard part.
Yours will be one of tens of thousands of ebooks out that week.
Sure, you can get it listed on Amazon, the Barnes and Noble site, and the rest, but what's going to make people look for your book?
How is it going to stand out?
Are you prepared to spend a lot of time using social media to spread the word?
I'm not trying to dissuade you from publishing your ebook, and i hope the summary above helps you decide which way you want to do it. But do be prepared for the fact that publishing the book is just the first step!
(Working on a book? Get friendly guidance from idea through to publication from my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
Qantas Airlines has created a series of books designed to be read in the length of your flight. If you're flying from New York to Sydney, settle in with a hefty tome. If you're on a short flight, pick a short story.
The books were commissioned and developed in association with Hachette and ad agency Droga 5.
The series includes thrilers, mysteries, and short stories. Their length is based on an average reading speed of 200 to 300 words per minute, and I assume they factored in the time you're supposed to be paying to the safety instructions instead.
Refreshingly, they're actual physical books.
What's annoying, however, is that the press release names the cover designer, the Droga 5 Sydney Creative Chairman, the CMO of Quantas Loyalty the Quantas Frequent Flyer CEO...but not the authors.
Hey, they only wrote the words...
Lou Kunzler, who teaches the ‘writing for children’ workshop I attend, had this great suggestion: before you write anything, decide on three words that describe it in a way that will make people want to read it.
Put those words on a sticky note and put it where you can see it as you write, as a reminder that every chapter should fit that description.
For the novella I’m writing, I’d say something like “killer pursuit thriller”—it’s the story of a boy and his father on the run from people who want to kill the father.
That reminds me to make sure to keep up the pressure, to show how much is at stake, and to keep the action thrilling.
You could also choose three adjectives that don’t refer to the plot, just the writing itself, something like “funny, insightful, touching.”
If you are self-publishing you might also find the three words come in handy when you're coming up with the marketing materials for your ebook. However, when pitching or writing a query letter don't use too many adjectives but rather make sure the way you summarize or describe the project suggests those qualities. In other words, instead of writing in a letter to an agent that your book is "funny, insightful, and touching," make your description project those.
I think this strategy could extend to other kinds of goals as well. If you want to improve your health and fitness, what three words describe the result you’re after? Maybe energetic, flexible, strong, for example.
You could also apply it to the process you employ in pursuit of the goal. For you to stick to an exercise regime, for instance, what three words describe what it should be like? Maybe enjoyable, non-competitive, efficient (that is, gets results in minimum time)?
I really liked what Guy Kawasaki said recently about good reasons and not-so-good reasons to self-publish a book. He pointed to the trend for people to write non-fiction books as a means to an end—typically to get more speaking engagements, more consulting clients, etc…rather than because you have something to say.
I’m on a lot of mailing lists (note to self: cut down!) and lately there has been a glut of people offering courses in “how to write a best-seller in a weekend” and similar topics.
They don’t dedicate much attention to whether or not you’re going to add anything valuable to the discussion.
If you’ve been wondering what their secret method is, I can save you a lot of money:
The more people that do that, the more cluttered things get and the harder it is to find the books that do actually have something new to say or at the very least a fresher approach to what’s been said before.
(If you do want to write a book, you'll find friendly guidance from my book, "Your Writing Coach," published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite books seller.)
A phrase I often use in my writing workshops is, “Write what only you can write.” This trend is based on “Write what anybody could write if they have a free weekend.” I hope more people will adopt the former.
By the way, this kind of thing isn’t so typical in fiction, but recently I encountered a clever internet marketer who is coming up with plots for horror books and outsourcing the writing. He’s even using Fiverr, paying people five dollars to write a chapter. I’m not optimistic that this is a great way to get a well-written book, and I can’t imagine that it brings any creative satisfaction. I could be wrong…but I doubt it.