November 2021 – Jericho Writers
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What Is A Fictional Flashback?

Flashbacks can be extremely effective tools when it comes to telling your story.  You may have read advice to avoid them if possible - yet good flashbacks can reveal backstory, and they can surprise and delight readers, while giving authors the freedom to tell story events out of chronological order. So why are some people lukewarm about them?   It’s all about technique. As with so many elements of writing, flashbacks can work brilliantly if used well, but can ruin your story when used incorrectly.   If you’re considering whether your book will benefit from one or many flashbacks, this guide will help you understand their uses and teach you how to use flashbacks effectively in your writing.  Purpose Of A Flashback Authors don’t always want to show the reader the scenes in the order they happened. There can be many reasons we want to play with time:  We don’t want to bombard a reader with detailed information too early – we want the reader to get hooked by the characters or situation first.  We are holding back a key plot point for a twist, or the ‘shock factor’.  We want to draw comparison between the past and the present – to show irony, or character growth.   There may be character backstory that only becomes relevant partway through the story – if shared too early, the reader won’t understand the relevance.  We generally use flashbacks in literature, not to dwell on what happened in the past, but to provide insight into a character and their decision-making in the present.   For instance, a flashback helps a reader learn it’s because a character was bullied in high school that they are oversensitive to a throwaway comment now. Or that a character is reluctant to believe what her father is saying in the present, because we see from the past he has a history of lying to her.   Flashbacks are a way of illustrating this link between past and present, but the best flashbacks do more than this. They work on multiple levels, enhancing knowledge of plot and character.  Flashback Examples In Fiction Many novels flip between past and present timelines, such as The House at Riverton by Kate Morton or The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell in contemporary literature, or The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad in classic fiction.  See how Conrad uses this line of dialogue to trigger a reminiscence in Heart of Darkness:   “We looked on, waiting patiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, “I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,” that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.”   In My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite we see flashback being used in a seamless way:   “According to family lore, the first time I laid eyes on Ayoola I thought she was a doll.”   The description that follows, of Ayoola as an innocent baby, adds a layer of irony to Ayoola’s willingness to murder in the present.  How To Write A Flashback In Fiction The key to managing a flashback technically well is to ensure the reader always knows ‘where’ and ‘when’ they are in a story, by giving the reader timing prompts, to clearly differentiate past and present.  There are several ways you can do this, and they can be used alone, or in conjunction with each other:  1. Using Headers There are many novels which tell stories over two timelines, often in alternating chapters headed something like ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, to orientate the reader. These ‘Then’ chapters operate as a series of flashbacks. Novels which flashback to more than one timeline can use different headers like ‘2008’ or ‘Earlier That Day’.  This is the most straightforward way of writing flashbacks – it’s neat and tidy, and the headings make it clear for the reader where they are.  This can be used in conjunction with: 2. Changing Tense Many novels use the technique of changing tenses – with ‘Now’ sections told in the present tense and ‘Then’ sections told in past tense.   In Mhairi McFarlane’s Don’t you Forget About Me, one chapter’s ‘Now’ section ends with:   “It’s also the first time I’d been near a funeral since my dad’s, twelve years ago.”   There is then a line space before:   “When I was fifteen or so, my mum pinned the order of service for her cousin Janet, a physiotherapist in Swansea, to the corkboard in the kitchen.”   In the final line of the previous section “it’s” is in the present tense. There’s a line space, then “pinned” is past tense.   This is a simple technique for stories told in the present tense – but changing tenses can also be used for stories told in the past tense. Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny uses ‘had\'s – past present tense – to show the story is moving into flashback:  “Jane’s memory of the night of the accident was patchy. She remembered Luke driving her to the hospital in Petoskey to see her mother in the ER. The sight of her mother sitting on a gurney with her left arm in a sling, her large leonine face looking so slack and old, had caused Jane to burst into tears. Her mother had turned to her and held out her good hand. “Don’t cry, dearheart,’ she said. “I’m okay.””  One tip many writers who write in past tense use for flashbacks is to place a past present tense description – he had jumped, he had eaten – in the first and last lines of a flashback, to indicate the section starting and finishing. They then write the rest of the section in plain past tense, the same as the rest of the novel. This technique is invisible to a general reader – but it works!  3. Framing Techniques Your character could see a photograph or hear specific line of dialogue to prompt reminiscing, and then the reader is taken to a flashback scene. A timely doorbell or someone entering the room can break the spell and trigger your narrator back to the present.   In the example from Mhairi McFarlane’s, Don’t Forget About Me, McFarlane ends this flashback section with “I return to these memories reluctantly. Then I push them away again. It’s like forcing too many things into a cupboard and using the door to keep them jammed in.”   This is a framing technique, showing the character has ended their reminiscence. Why Have I Read Advice Saying Authors Shouldn’t Use Flashbacks? There is a lot of writing advice out there, and you can find people arguing for and against pretty much anything! And flashbacks, in particular, get a bad rap.   As with most elements of writing, there is no absolute right or wrong – just personal preferences, and ways of doing things effectively, or ineffectively.   The main reason some people dissuade new authors from using flashbacks is that a flashback is always backstory. If not earned and relevant, it can slow story pace – so we need to use caution. We want our readers to be desperate to turn the page to find out what happens next – yet we are delaying their gratification by moving out of the present to a completely different scene. No reader likes to be pushed away from the action. This is why it’s so important to ensure your flashback is done well and has earned its place in the text.   Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding Whether To Use A Flashback Is your flashback relevant and directly related to the main plot?  Does the reader need to see this scene? Can the scene be cut without the story losing coherence?   Could you share this information easily another way – in a line of dialogue, for example?   Is this the right place for a flashback? Are your readers invested in your story enough at this point to be willing to take a change of pace? Have you earned the reader’s interest enough to start playing around with chronology?  Is your flashback clear to follow? Is your reader able to clearly intuit where they are in the timeline of the story?  Do you have too many flashbacks? Are you risking irritating the reader by repeatedly interrupting them, and not giving them enough forward momentum in the present?  Is the flashback scene exciting in its own right? Does it contain internal or external conflict, as well as providing backstory?   Does your scene work on multiple levels? Does it advance character and plot and read well?   After All That, Are Flashbacks For You? They may be, and they may not. A lot of it comes down to the story you are trying to tell, and your preferences.   Some authors write for their whole careers without using a single flashback but, for those of us who want to bend story time for narrative purposes, they are a crucial tool. Flashbacks are powerful story elements, and sparingly and effectively used, they can really benefit your writing.   Good luck! 

How To Include Backstory In Your Novel

Backstory is a brilliant tool when creating well-rounded characters. Read any writing guide and it will tell you the importance of creating three-dimensional characters, because readers want to know what makes a character tick.   The problem is, in our excitement to share our character’s backstory, we are often tempted to spill all of this out in our first chapter. It’s a common mistake, but too much backstory, too soon, will slow down your pace and draw the reader away from your plot. It’s like presenting your reader with a mouth-watering cake, but before you give them the fork, you explain the entire baking process when all they want to do is get stuck in.   So let’s take a closer look at the meaning of backstory and how by doing it right, your reader will be able to have their cake and eat it too. What Is A Backstory? In a nutshell, the backstory is everything that has happened to your character before the novel begins. This can be revealed by:  Exposition – simply telling the reader about the past  Flashbacks – where the reader is thrown back in time into the mind of the protagonist when the event occurred  Reflection – where the character ‘thinks’ about the past while doing something else   Dialogue – when a conversation explains past events  Sometimes, your protagonist doesn’t always know all of their backstory beforehand; some of the best novels reveal parts of a character’s backstory to the character, not just the reader.  Backstory impacts everything in your novel; who your character is, where they come from, why they react the way they do and ultimately your plot. Think about your own backstory, and the events that shape the person you are. All of your own backstory will impact the decisions you make, your view of the world and your reactions to certain events.  Knowing your characters as well as you know yourself, and transferring this quality, is what makes a good story. Give your characters authenticity and make their decisions realistic. The reader doesn’t need to know everything about them though, just as your friends and family don’t need to know everything about you.  Steven King said: ‘The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.’  How To Create A Character Backstory Now we understand what a backstory is, let’s look at how to create a good backstory. There are many examples through literature that do this well, from The Great Gatsby to A Christmas Carol.   Something to also consider is how for actors, knowledge of backstory is imperative in order to represent the characters they are playing better, which is why it’s just as important for you as a writer to know your character’s motivation. After all, aren’t we all acting out our character in our heads?   A good example is the hugely successful Star Wars.  In Star Wars we have Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill portrays the character at the beginning as humble and bored with his life. He does this by portraying his impatience and by revealing his ambitious nature (just like his father, but he doesn’t know that yet!). It’s also a great way of seeing how effective it is to keep some backstory hidden from the characters as well as the viewers.   George Lucas would have known from inception that Luke was fathered by Anakin Skywalker who we then discover is the big baddie, Darth Vader. Imagine if this had all been blurted out in the first few scenes … there would have been a lot less excited kids in the cinema, that’s for sure!    With Luke’s discovery of this and his journey to becoming a Jedi, we see his character evolving as we discover more of his backstory. This is a really good way of seeing how effective a slow backstory reveal can be. In fact, a whole other series of films was built on Anakin’s backstory and the events that led up to the original film.   So, how can you create a compelling backstory for your characters?  Tips To Write Compelling Character Backstories The best way to write a compelling backstory is to really dig deep into your character’s experiences and, most importantly, make them interesting (take a look at our guide on creating character bios). Nobody wants to read a lot of backstory about a protagonist hanging out the washing on a day it rained, unless fetching it in meant they were late for picking up their child who was then abducted!  There are many ways to write compelling backstories, but here are a few ideas to help you:  Create a timeline for your character focusing on important life events.  Sketch out small snapshots of their life around the time of these events – such as a diary. Writing a diary page can really help you step into your character’s shoes. Fill it with small details of your character’s likes and dislikes, friends, their favourite foods, books, films, songs, sayings, pieces of nostalgia around the time of the events. Your character’s likes and dislikes may change throughout their life. They may have loved a certain song around the time of a happy or sad event but now can’t stand it. This could trigger a reveal for this part of your backstory if it was heard on the radio at a key point in your story.  Identify formative events which are relevant to your work. A near-death experience or an embarrassing moment, which dented your character’s confidence, could then be the crux that holds your character back later in life.  Use real-life experiences. If you lost your parents in a busy shopping centre at Christmas when you were a small child, use this! It may have put you off large crowds or busy shopping centres. Maybe you forgot your lines in a school play once and it’s left you terrified of public speaking as an adult. There are so many experiences in our lives that impact our actions. So take some time to examine what it is that makes you, you. A reader will often feel a greater connection when a writer has used genuine experiences, because the chances are you will use something that others have experienced themselves.   Do all of this with the knowledge that you will not need all of it in your novel. Much like a marinade, all these ingredients won’t go in the dish…you are just adding nuance and enhancing the flavour!  How To Include Backstory In Your Novel   The most important element to consider when including backstory is deciding when and where to reveal your information. Ask yourself what the backstory achieves, if it is necessary and why it needs to be revealed at that stage in your novel. Use backstory to your advantage, to reveal snippets to gain empathy from a reader, to explain a reaction to a situation, or to add a reveal or twist to your plot. Know When To Reveal Your Backstory Going back to drawing good writing from personal experiences, let’s say you almost drowned as a child and your friend invites you to an all-expenses-paid cruise. The idea horrifies you, your fear of water is something you never talk about, but in the circumstances, you may decide to reveal this past experience to explain your reaction to the invitation.   It’s exactly the same when revealing backstory for your characters. Let’s say you are at a cocktail party; the atmosphere is lively, and a funny anecdote is being told by a peer. Would you suddenly jump in with this long and detailed story of how you almost drowned as a child? Of course, you wouldn’t, it would feel inappropriate.   Revealing backstory in a novel should be the same as in life, it should be prompted by real-time events, songs, smells, or something that evokes that memory.  Don’t Overload The Reader With Backstory Early On One of the most common mistakes I find, when reading first drafts, is opening chapters overloaded with backstory. We are living during a time where there is an abundance of published books hitting the shelves and with the surge in digital versions at low prices, it’s more important than ever to grab your reader’s attention from the first few pages.   It’s fine to add a small amount of backstory within these chapters, but keep them short. If you overload the reader with unnecessary information about a character they don’t yet know and love, your pace will fall flat very early on, and you may lose your reader before you’ve shown them the real beauty of your novel.   Focus on the best places to reveal your backstory in small digestible pieces to avoid your reader becoming overwhelmed with information.  Action Verses Backstory Once you’ve written your first draft, go through your chapters and highlight the ‘action’ happening in real-time in yellow, then the ‘backstory’ – whether it is reflection or a flashback – in green. If you can see a large amount in green, you will be able to see just how much you are pulling your reader away from the contemporary plot and pace of your story.   Go through this section carefully, be hard on yourself and ask if it is all needed, especially if this is early on in your novel. One rule of thumb is to remember this saying: ‘If in doubt, leave it out.’   Show Don’t Tell When you have identified essential backstory, try not to ‘tell’ it all to the reader. Although there are times where exposition works, it must be written incredibly well to keep the reader engaged.   Show don\'t tell is one of those phrases that we use a lot in writing, and this is one of those instances that it really applies. Show and tell is all about balance, both are needed, but when backstory is involved, the more you show rather than tell, the better, because it keeps the reader in the ‘now’. You can do this either through dialogue, or by your character’s actions, or both!   For example, you could show the reader a character wearing an expensive suit, stepping up to a podium in front of a hundred people, beginning their speech with an unwavering smile: ‘When I was five, I wore hand-me-downs and had a stutter…’ Yes, I’m ‘telling’ in the literal sense, but here, I’ve shown my character’s backstory. You now know a) that my character is confident and doing well financially (or so it would seem!) b) they have overcome adversity and c) they used to have a stutter and were poor; all of this information is passed on quickly through an active scene. If I told this backstory, the ‘action’ would be paused, my reader would be pulled away, while leaving my ‘present’ character inanimately hovering at the edge of the stage.   Is Your Backstory Actually Plot? If you’re reading this and have realised that you have a huge amount of interesting and relevant backstory to add to your novel, without which your story wouldn’t work, consider if this is actually a good plotline in its own right. If it is, set these scenes in the past and punctuate them throughout your story. That way, you can still reveal backstory in active scenes, rather than as flashbacks or reflection. As long as it really is relevant and interesting, it should continue to push your plot forward rather than dragging the pace behind. Wrap Up So there we have it. I hope by reading this, you can see how important writing a compelling backstory is, and how revealing your important and exciting information at the right time will help make your novel as exciting as you know it can be. Congratulations on finishing your book! Keen to improve the first draft and polish your manuscript, but not sure where to start? Get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service. Premium Members get 10% off!

Metaphors Dos And Don’ts

Everyone has heard of metaphors, it’s something most people are taught at school, but are they still relevant to your writing? Yes.  Undoubtedly, metaphors enhance your writing, whether you’re penning a novel, short story, poem, or an English assignment. But to use them effectively, it’s important to fully understand what metaphors are in terms of definition, how to not confuse them with similes, and understanding all the different ways they can strengthen your work with examples. In this article I will guide you through everything you need to know about metaphors, so you too can feel confident using this literary device to enrich your writing.  What Is A Metaphor? A metaphor is a comparison between one thing and something else with similar qualities, providing the reader with a visual image that can be stronger in meaning than further description.  For instance, I could write a description of someone with long hair by simply saying they have long hair. Or I could use a metaphor and say, ‘Her hair was a flowing golden river’. This second option invokes the image of long, blonde flowing hair tumbling over her shoulders the way water runs over rocks in a river. The reader is more likely to remember the character and perhaps imagine them as someone they know.  Metaphors also reduce the need to include paragraphs of description or explanation. ‘The World is a stage,’ will have varying meanings for people. Generally, it creates the idea of performing as an actor in your own life. This says a lot (metaphorically speaking) in just a few words.   When you’re trying to hook the reader and make them see the story the way you do, metaphors can draw the reader in while keeping the story flowing. Too much description detracts from the story and loses readers’ attention. You don’t want to take your reader out of the action.  By using metaphors, you can capture an image, feeling, or experience in just a few words. When a reader already has pre-existing knowledge of the comparison, they will be able to fill in the blanks to get a fuller picture.  When used sparingly, metaphors give readers something to think about. Once the words are on the page, we have no further control in how the reader will interpret the metaphor’s meaning, so something which is universally understood has more impact.  Difference Between A Simile And A Metaphor  Metaphors and similes both use comparisons to provide a clearer image for readers, in a more creative way than a straightforward description. Analogies can also be used to do this.   Analogy vs Metaphor: An analogy is still a comparison, but uses a combination of simile and metaphor, and contains more information. One example would be, ‘Her hair whipped backwards and forwards in the wind like an out-of-control river’. It gives a fuller picture of the scene.  So, what\'s the difference between a simile and a metaphor? A simile uses the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare, so would be less direct than a metaphor, but shorter than an analogy. An example of this would be ‘Her hair was like a turbulent river’. A metaphor would shorten this with, ‘Her hair was a turbulent river’. If you ever need to stick to a strict word count, while saying the same thing, the shorter metaphor is one way to help reduce the word count, without losing any of the story.  Although all similes are metaphors, not all metaphors are similes.   If you find yourself asking ‘how are similes and metaphors different?’ Here’s a simple answer:  An indirect comparison is used in a simile, while both make it clear the person or object is being compared to something else.  A metaphor – uses ‘is’ to compare.  A simile – uses ‘as’ or ‘like’.  Another example of a metaphor is, ‘Their home was their prison’. A simile would be ‘Their home was like their prison’. If you’re wondering how an analogy would be used to say the same thing, here is an example. ‘After being trapped in their house for weeks, the rain continued to fall and their home became their prison.’   It gives more information, but also uses more words. And, like with any good analogy, a writer may take their comparison further and add more metaphors to emphasize the point - ‘But there was no visiting hours, no one had come to call for days. They wondered when they would ever be able to escape their confines.’   Very dramatic, and perhaps a bit overkill, but you get the point.  What Is A Mixed Metaphor? If you’ve used metaphors before, or researched it for your writing, you may have heard of a mixed metaphor. The simplest explanation is two metaphors used together, which you wouldn’t normally associate with each other. Generally, they don’t work in serious writing. However, if used in the right context, they can work well together despite the contrast.  If you want to be creative and write some of these yourself, remember they are often humorous so use sparingly. They work less well in serious fiction or poetry.   Here are some mixed metaphor examples.  Homework was a breeze, but the new teacher was a thorn in my side. I’m talking to a brick wall here. Do you have a heart of stone? He was a mighty lion, but now he’s a lame duck. That’s music to my ears, let’s blow off some steam to celebrate.  While these are unlikely to be suitable for literary fiction, they could suit a character who constantly talks in mixed metaphors (if that’s part of their personality and it fits with the story).   What Is An Implied Metaphor? There are several types of metaphors, and implied metaphors take the idea of comparison a little further, by comparing people or things in a subtle way. Unlike other metaphors, these imply a comparison without specifically mentioning one of the things being compared. These rely on using a well-known trait, so the reader guesses what is being implied.  To help you understand, here are some examples: With his tail between his legs, he ran away. (Comparing a man to a scared dog without mentioning the dog, but the description is enough to inform the reader of the implied comparison.) She slithered around my boyfriend all night. (A jealous girlfriend using a well-known trait of a snake, to describe her potential love-rival.) The news crew circled the scene. (Comparing the news crew to a pack of vultures who typically circle their prey before swooping in.)  By using these animals as comparisons, readers will automatically associate the animals’ characteristics in relation to the subject (i.e. the girl is hunting the other woman’s boyfriend like a snake, she’s deadly, she may be poisonous to their relationship, she’s silent, dangerous, and unlikeable).  Once you understand what implied metaphors are, they are easy to use, and you can add them to your writing in a way the average reader will barely notice. In fact, now you’re aware of implied metaphors, you may notice their usage if you look out for them in the next book you read.  How To Use Metaphors By using metaphors, you can vary your descriptions and the visual images you’re trying to create. Some of the best metaphors can be those which people don’t notice, if they’re immersed in your written words.  But why are metaphors used?   Metaphors are used when the writer wants to bring their work to life in a fresh and creative way. Many readers say when they read a great book, they can see the characters and the actions playing out in their mind. This can be achieved by using metaphors here and there.  Metaphors aren’t just used in writing novels and short stories, though. A lot of poets make use of metaphor to express a thought or feeling on a deeper level. If done right, poems can have two meanings.  An example of this is one of my own poems, Winter Trees. This is about aging and missing the advantages of youth, while overlooking the things which weren’t so great about being young.  This is expressed in the following lines:  ‘Decorated in baubles and winter soldiers.  I used to be pretty too, think the winter trees.’  The first line above shows how the speaker views the younger people around her, and the second line shows how she misses that beauty in herself. The full poem is an implied metaphor, but on the surface can be interpreted as a poem about trees.  If you’re looking for a guide on how to create a metaphor, check out this more well-known example of metaphors as poetry in ‘Metaphors’ by Sylvia Plath. Metaphors: Do Switch between different kinds of metaphors in your writing. (This will vary your writing style and keep your writing from becoming repetitive.) Use sparingly. (Nobody wants to read pages of metaphors.) Go with the second or third metaphor you think of. (The first one is likely to be overused.) Use a comparison in your metaphors which readers will understand. (You want your readers to have an immediate understanding of what you’re trying to say.) Use a metaphor which fits with your writing. (Something which doesn’t fit will jolt the reader out of the fictional world you’ve created.) To get used to metaphors, spend time comparing objects in your home, or people you know, to other things. (This will help you see common and not so common comparisons.) Look for metaphors in poetry and stories you read. (This will show you how common they are, and judge what works or doesn’t work, so you can apply them to your own writing or avoid the same mistakes.)  Metaphors: Don’t Don’t clutter the page with them. (They will lose their impact. Less is more when it comes to metaphor usage.)Don’t use them if you know they will weaken the description rather than add to it. (They should blend seamlessly into your writing. Use whatever works best for each description.) Avoid mixed metaphors if writing something serious. (These can make your writing seem humorous or silly, and if you’re writing an emotional scene, this can make light of an otherwise serious issue.) Don’t use cliches or overused metaphors. (Again, unless the aim is to be funny or silly, it can ruin the mood you’re trying to create.) If a metaphor will detract from the story, don’t use it. (Everything about your writing should add something to the story.) Don’t be afraid to experiment. (Even if you never use them, if you’re new to metaphors, the best way to improve is to practice.)  Time To Practise Some Metaphors I hope you have found this guide helpful when it comes to the effective use of metaphors. There are lots of different types to choose from in your writing, and each one has its uses. By choosing the right metaphor, you can create powerful and engaging writing. To practise, go through a story you’ve already written (or write a new one) then change some of the description by using metaphors instead. Compare the two pieces and ask yourself which is more engaging. Time to take a giant leap off the metaphoric edge and spread those writing wings! 

What Genre Is My Book?

A few weeks ago, I was asked what I do for a living. When I said, ‘I’m an author,’ the gentleman said, ‘Oh, what do you write? Crime?’  ‘No, romantic comedies.’  ‘What, like Dame Barbara Cartland?’  ‘Er, no. She wrote historical romance.’  ‘So not like that E. L. James either then?’  ‘No. She writes erotica.’  He looked disappointed by this and sloped off, presumably to go and lose himself in a gritty murder or a rampant bodice-ripper.  What Is A Book Genre? So what genre is your book and how would you describe it?  In simplistic terms, a genre is the category or style of a book - for example, romance, crime or horror. It comes from the French word, for ‘type.’ In essence, it describes the type of story being told.  There are many book genres, ranging from dystopian to horror (more on that soon) but two of the most popular book genres, in terms of sales figures right now, are romance and crime.  Bestselling names in the romance genre include authors such as Danielle Steele and Sophie Kinsella, whilst for crime, authors such as Ian Rankin and Martina Cole reign supreme.  Romance has an enduring, escapist appeal and has seen a huge variety of its authors and titles consistently topping the bestseller charts for a number of years. The tales of love overcoming adversity, sometimes whilst in sun-soaked climates, set in sprawling castles or with a good dose of humour, continue to enchant and enthral readers of all ages and from a wide demographic. Romance Subgenres But, to make things more complicated, there are also subgenres within each genre. As my Cartland vs E. L. James example shows above, just because there’s a lot of kissing in two different books doesn’t mean the reader is going to get the same kind of romance in both. So, when looking at genre, it’s important to also consider subgenres. In romance, the subgenres are plenty – often crossing over into other genres:  Romantic comedy Paranormal romance  Fantasy romance  Queer romance  Christian romance  Young adult romance  New adult romance  Historical romance  Regency romance  Contemporary romance  Erotic romance  Romanic suspense  The list goes on…and, much like love itself, there’s something for everyone.  Crime Subgenres But readers, and authors, don’t always stick to enjoying just one genre. As I’m an author of romantic comedies, you won’t be surprised to learn that romance is my favourite genre, but I am in no way adverse to any others. I have just finished reading The Affair by Hilary Boyd, an often dark thriller about a married woman having an affair, who then finds that her ex-lover begins to stalk her.  As most writers know, reading across all genres helps hone your craft enormously.  In recent times, crime and thriller novels have seen a huge resurgence in popularity. Perhaps due to the odd times we are living in, it is the appeal of good triumphing over evil and justice prevailing, which explains why so many readers are keen to lose themselves amongst their pages.  Cosy crime, described as a gentler form of the crime genre, has also seen a massive rise in readership in recent times. Authors like Richard Osman and M.C Beaton are hugely popular in this book category.   Let’s look at some more crime and thriller subgenres:  Cosy mysteries  Classic detective/PI  Police procedural  Hard-boiled crime  Thrillers (legal, medical, forensic, military)  Suspense thriller  Psychological thriller  Book Genre List There are frequent debates as to how many different book genres exist. During my research for this article, I read claims that there were approximately thirty-five varying book genres, whilst other articles insisted there were around fifty.   I have therefore pulled together a book genre list (excluding subgenres) which I consider to be the most prominent ones – with some details as to how they may be defined. Fantasy Categorised by works including elements of magic or the supernatural. This can encompass high fantasy, like Tolkien\'s Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin\'s Game of Thrones, or magical children’s books, like Rowling\'s Harry Potter. But it also includes steamy novels like the fae-filled series A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Sci-Fi Sci-fi stands for ‘science fiction,’ meaning it looks at outer worlds with a heavy leaning towards space, technology and science. Think aliens, time-travel or exploration to other planets. This includes anything from Star Wars to Ernest Cline\'s Ready, Player One. Speculative Fiction This can encompass all the above – basically anything with a twist of magic – but can also include fabulism and magical realism. That’s to say stories based in our world (past or present) with a hint of magic. Think Chocolat by Joanne Harris, or The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Horror When you say ‘horror book’ most people think of Stephen King – for good reason. Horror is known for its frightening, often graphic, elements and paranormal elements. Anything from The Shining to The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells. A subgenre of this is Gothic books, such as the classics Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Brontë\'s Wuthering Heights – think eerie and spooky, more than blood, guts and monsters.  Mystery Fiction that includes a mysterious occurrence and a gripping plot to be solved. This can include a good old-fashioned Agatha Christie ‘whodunnit’, or bestselling novels like Flynn\'s Gone Girl.  Crime Stories that incorporate a crime being committed and illustrate the protagonist’s struggle to solve it. Think Lee Child, P. D. James, and Martina Cole.  Historical Books defined by a time period from the past. Fictional stories based in a historical setting such as the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn or Gabaldon\'s romantic Outlander novels set in eighteenth century Scotland. Or many of the books by Tracey Chevalier or Philippa Gregory.  Thriller A step up from Mystery, more edge-of-your-seat stuff, this fiction is often charged with lots of excitement. For example, a life-or-death scenario, huge stakes, cliff-hangers and action. Think of all of Dan Brown’s books, or modern classics such as Hawkins\' Girl on the Train or Larsson\'s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Western Fiction focusing on the American Frontier. Genre usually set in latter 19th and early 20th century, centred around the lives of cowboys and gunfighters. Although more modern stories, such as Proulx\'s Brokeback Mountain (as the tale of two cowboys falling in love set against the backdrop of bigotry and judgement) was a huge hit when it won the National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1998, and then went on to become a Hollywood blockbuster.  Romance Romantic relationships are at the heart of this genre (if you’ll pardon the pun!) Stories may follow various tropes including star-crossed lovers, love triangles, unlikely lovers, and soulmates. As we saw earlier, it can reflect anything from Me Before You by Jojo Moyes to Jackie Collins\' works. Erotica Fiction designed to arouse the reader with explicit sexual scenes and imagery. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was the highest grossing book series of the last decade.  Dystopian Part of the science-fiction genre, dystopian novels usually describe a frightening aspect of the future, such as oppressive governments. Think Sweeney-Baird\'s The End of Men, Atwood\'s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Mandel\'s Station Eleven. Literary Literary fiction concentrates on real-life issues and, unlike commercial fiction which is plot-driven, this form of storytelling is a lot more character-driven. It also often has a more complicated or convoluted story structure, using a more complex vocabulary. Sally Rooney has had great acclaim in this genre with her books Conversations With Friends, Normal People, and Beautiful World, Where Are You.  Children\'s Fiction This is a broad subject that includes everything from picture and board books for very young children, through to Middle Grade and Young Adult. Classic Middle Grade authors would include Roald Dahl, and more contemporary novels would include Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Sophie Anderson\'s The House With Chicken Legs, and The boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. These books are written predominantly for 9-12 year olds, and often cover important life lessons.   Likewise, Young Adult (for 13-18 year olds) is very varied in style, themes and content, and includes books such as Angie Thomas\' The Hate You Give, Suzanne Collins\' The Hunger Games, and They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera.  Why Is Genre Important? You might ask yourself whether the question of book genre really matters. Surely it’s the plot and characters that are important, not the category?   Well, genre does matter as it acts like a building block to establish where your book will sit in the market and what readership it’s likely to attract.  By having an awareness of what genre your book is, you’re able to carve out not only your own unique voice, but also an audience who enjoys reading that genre of novel. You are enabling your readers to identify your book as one which they will enjoy reading.   Being able to neatly categorise your book into a particular genre means you’re creating a strong author brand in a genre where other authors have already established themselves. You’re creating a foundation for (hopefully) solid book sales and letting agents, editors, booksellers, and readers know what to expect from your work.  For a book to therefore become successful, the writer, reader and marketer must all possess the same vision and understanding of what the story is and how it’s being told.  Agents And Editors It also makes prudent sense to have identified what book genre your novel is, when the time comes for you to pitch to agents and publishers. Targeting the right publisher and agent for your work, via the genres they publish and represent, means that you will be giving yourself the best possible chance of achieving representation and publication.   I once read a great quote from an agent who said, ‘Imagine yourself in a lift with the agent of your dreams. You have ten seconds to pitch your latest novel to them before they get out. How would you describe it to them?’ This elevator hook or pitch should draw in the agent, enticing them to ask for your manuscript. It would also, if it has done its job properly, give them an idea of where your book would sit alongside their current authors and in the market generally.  For instance - sending your completed manuscript to an agent who represents science fiction, when you have penned a rollercoaster 110k word espionage tale, is a waste of not only your time, but also that of the agent.  Booksellers And Librarians When someone is looking for a book, the first thing they do is head for the shelves categorised by genre. If the genre of your book isn’t clear, and it’s wrongly categorised, then it won’t reach your ideal market. Your Readers Establishing an author platform in the book genre you write in means you stand a good chance of readers of that genre returning for more. It’s therefore essential to create a certain anticipation in your prospective readership, so they know what they can expect from you. This is why authors often write in just one genre – and don’t spread out into others without either waiting to become very established or writing under a number of pseudonyms.  How To Identify The Genre Of Your Book To increase your novel’s chances of success, you, as the author, together with your publisher, agent and marketing team, should have a certain expectation as to where your book will fit into the market.  Where do you imagine your novel sitting on the shelf in a library or in a book store? Which other authors would it sit comfortably beside? Is it a heart-warming romantic comedy, in the vein of Jenny Colgan and Trisha Ashley, or a political thriller similar to that of Ken Follet and Jeffrey Archer?  Book genres often cause a degree of heated discussion amongst the writing, reading, publishing and agenting communities.  Everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, has a different idea of what each genre represents. The question of what each genre should carry, can elicit strong feelings, not to mention very differing views. Even book covers in particular genres can cause much debate about their style and substance. How often have you read quotes on the cover of books which have said things like, ‘For readers who love Maeve Binchy’ or ‘For fans of Stephen King?’ This is a publisher communicating a book’s genre to its readership.  This is a clever marketing tool, designed to appeal to the loyal readers of these authors, that your novel is in the same book genre as these giants of commercial fiction and therefore they would enjoy yours too. The most important thing is that you, your agent and editor agree (or, if you are self-published, you are consistent with your marketing). So, How Can You Define The Genre Of The Book You\'re Writing? My advice would be:  Read a lot of books and see what elements are featured, and which chime with yours.  Familiarise yourself with the book genre options out there and how they relate to your book.  Identify the genre elements that are contained within your novel. How do they reflect those?  Pull together a short list of potential genres and also subgenres. How does your novel compare with others in those categories?  Concentrate on the most relevant genre/subgenre for your book.  Think about the audience of the books that you enjoy reading in your favourite genre. Are they the same readers who you think would enjoy your book?   Check out book genre labels which are often featured for each of the different book genres for Kindle reads. Do any of these relate to what you are writing? For example, words such as ‘dark’ and ‘conspiracy’ are often applied to books in the Thriller genre.    Remember, you’re not trying to explain the entirety of your book, you’re trying to advertise its aesthetic. You are aiming to create a similar air of anticipation amongst the book-buying public, so that they too will be drawn to your novel.  Once you have done that, take a look at your own book and ensure your writing style, characters, and plot stick to one (at most, two, genres). For instance, if your spy is getting more action in the sheets than the streets, ask yourself whether you are really writing a spy thriller – or a spy romance novel. Then amend accordingly.  Determine Your Genre Nailing the genre of your book is not the most important element of your writing journey – at least not to begin with.   However, the importance of identifying the most appropriate genre and subgenre of your book, should not be underestimated. Finding that commercial aspect to your writing and to your novels is crucial, if you are to identify a reading audience for your book and appeal to their reading tastes – not to mention hook the right agent and editor.  So, have a clear genre (and audience) in mind when you start plotting and writing, and make sure you don’t veer too much into too many other styles and categories. It’s the first step to ensuring your readers will one day find your book and savour every page – no matter which genre it ultimately finds a home in! More than ready to get the ball rolling with agents, but just need a little push? Or perhaps you’ve had a few rejections but aren’t sure why? Our Agent Submission Pack Review gives you detailed professional advice on how to perfect your submission and increase your chances of securing an agent. 

L M West’s Self-Publishing Success

As writers ourselves, we know how daunting it can be to self-publish your first novel. Member L M West did just that, embarking on the mammoth task of learning all the skills effective self-publishing involves. Now, she\'s reaping the rewards. From editorial assessments to cover commissioning, she takes us through her process and explains why self-pub can often be the perfect fit. JW: Tell us a bit about your background as a writer. When did you start writing?  LMW: I left school in 1970 with three O levels and hadn\'t written anything before. After reading about a local woman who was accused of three instances of witchcraft, the story of my first novel, ‘This Fearful Thing’, was forming in my head - but I had no idea how to go about setting it down or how to actually write. I had done the research and when lockdown hit I thought I had nothing to lose by having a go. I started off by doing a short online course with Curtis Brown Creative called Write to the End of Your Novel. This was just what I needed as a complete beginner and really helped me get to grips with what I was trying to do.  Cover of \'This Fearful Thing\' by L M West JW: What made you change your mind about pursuing a traditional publishing route?   LMW: A lot of the information and courses out there are geared towards traditional publishing and that was what I thought was the ‘proper’ way to go. Two other writers I had ‘met’ on the CBC course (and who had become my Trusted Readers) both got agents within a week of each other and were over the moon. I hadn’t quite finished my book, but my synopsis was done and my query letter all ready. I was so thrilled for them and thought this was what I wanted as well. But then, about three weeks in, they started to mention deadlines, a possible title change, and a major re-think of some of the characters. It also became clear that you, as an author, do not always have the final say on things like the cover design. I just woke up one morning and thought ‘I don’t want this’. I had suddenly realised that I didn’t want the stress of deadlines and alterations, of the problems of getting an agent and maybe, even then, not getting a publishing deal. I also hadn’t realised just how long the traditional publishing process takes and I wanted my book out there sooner rather than later, so I looked again at self-publishing.  I just woke up one morning and thought ‘I don’t want this’. JW: Self-publishing involves a lot of plate-spinning - how did you go about learning all the skills required?   LMW: In the early stages I’d decided that self-publishing was far too complicated and would take up valuable writing time, but when I revisited the idea I began to look at it in more detail. This is where Jericho Writers came into its own for me. I paid to have a professional editorial report which was a complete game-changer and something I’d wholly recommend, as you need another – unbiased - opinion on your work before putting it out there. I think self-pub has still got a bit of a stigma around it. With this in mind, I wanted to make my book as professional as possible so I also commissioned a cover from a local printmaker/illustrator. Both these things were costly, and I did hesitate before committing to them, but they helped make the book the success it’s been. It became stronger and much tighter for the editorial report, and I’ve had so many lovely comments about the cover design, so I’m pleased I made the investment.   I paid to have a professional editorial report which was a complete game-changer and something I’d wholly recommend, as you need another – unbiased - opinion on your work before putting it out there. I Googled the skills I needed and decided to publish via Amazon KDP as there is no up-front cost. The process was easier than I thought as the KDP site talks you through the process in simple stages, and I resisted the urge to check it \'one more time’! I decided to publish in both Kindle and paperback format and interestingly, so far I have sold about 75% paperbacks to 25% Kindle copies - I think it’s the cover! It’s when you press the ‘publish’ button that you realise it’s now sitting in a pond with six million other books – how will anyone know it’s there?  JW: What was your experience marketing yourself as an author?   LMW: I commissioned a small company to build a website for me, which was another investment. But it’s the first place your readers see and hear about you so I think, like the book, it must look professional. I also don’t have the skills to insert things like Amazon links and a mailing list form, so it was well worth having someone else do it for me. I was very lucky too that, on the day I published, Richard Osman had just been awarded Writer of the Year and there was a lot of discussion going on about that. I’m a member of a couple of Facebook book groups so took a chance and posted on one that today I was happier than Richard Osman as, at age 67 and with no further education, I had just published a novel. I didn’t do a direct link to Amazon, just put an image of the cover. An hour later I had five likes and was really pleased. By lunchtime the likes had turned into hundreds and the comments were rolling in. I replied to anyone who had put more than ‘congratulations’ or ‘well done’ and so spent what turned into four days responding to Facebook posts! In that first week, I had over 1,800 likes and nearly 700 comments. The sales on Amazon soared and I was off. I also approached local bookshops who were very encouraging. I underestimated the time this would all take though, especially as I have to distribute the books myself. However, it means you get to establish a relationship with bookshop owners, which has been a joy. I did a book event and found I really enjoyed standing up in front of a room and speaking about my book.  You get to establish a relationship with bookshop owners, which has been a joy. JW: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers wondering whether self-publishing is for them?   LMW: Jericho Writers have masses of information about self-publishing, and I wish I had seen this before I started out - it would have saved me a lot of time! There is plenty there to help you decide if self-pub is for you, but my advice is to give it a go. If you have a strong book, professionally produced and formatted, that has a great story, then just try. And if you get stuck (as I did several times) you can email the staff at Jericho Writers and they will always help. The support is there, and the information. I don’t regret it at all. I never thought I could do it and am very proud that my book is selling steadily and that book two is written and being edited. I won’t hesitate to self-publish this as well.   If you have a strong book, professionally produced and formatted, that has a great story, then just try. The support is there, and the information. I don’t regret it at all. About Laina Laina’s first novel, ’This Fearful Thing’ was published in May 2021 and is available on Amazon. Her website can be found here. Laina lives in Suffolk with her husband. Interested in self-publishing? Take a look at our Simply Self-Publish Course with award-winning author Debbie Young - the perfect way to go from publishing novice to indie-expert. If you’d like some help with your writing, try our copy-editing service.

What Is Chekhov’s Gun?

You may have heard of Chekhov, and you may even have heard of his gun, but what does that have to do with storytelling and plotting a novel? In this comprehensive article we will teach you everything you need to know about Chekhov’s Gun (with examples), and explore similar literary principles and devices. What Does Chekhov’s Gun Mean? The principle of Chekhov’s Gun (sometimes called Chekhov’s Law or Chekhov’s Gun Law) is not to introduce anything that won’t eventually be important to the plot. This principle not only helps writers cut down on extraneous and unnecessary details in their stories, but ensures readers will be satisfied by the end. Drawing attention to something that doesn’t have any significance to the story can frustrate the reader and waste precious words in your novel. Essentially, the principle enables writers to generate clear plots by considering the significance of everything they mention in their story, and tackles the over-symbolism in literature. (The exception to the rule is a red herring – but we’ll look at that a little bit later on.) So who was Chekhov and why is everyone so interested in his gun? History of Chekhov’s Gun Chekhov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that, unsurprisingly, comes from Anton Chekhov - a Russian playwright and short story-writer in the late 1800s. While Chekhov leaves behind a great literary and theatrical legacy, he is probably most well-known for this dramatic principle. In a letter to Aleksandr Semenovich, Chekhov once said: One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn\'t going to go off. It\'s wrong to make promises you don\'t mean to keep. Similarly, he once wrote: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it\'s not going to be fired, it shouldn\'t be hanging there. Intended as advice for young playwrights, this principle is still widely cited and utilised today. Chekhov used this principle in his play, The Seagull, where there is a literal gun that gets introduced at the start and then fired at the end (hence the name given to the principle). In Act One, Konstantin Treplyev uses a rifle to kill a seagull. In the final act, Konstantin uses that rifle to kill himself. Significance is placed on the rifle in the beginning which draws the audience’s attention to the item, and then the rifle has significant impact at the climax of the play. The audience is satisfied, there are no loose ends, and the principle has done its job. Chekhov’s Gun vs Foreshadowing If you get the concept of Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing confused then you aren’t alone. Though they have similarities, they do also have some big differences. Chekhov’s Gun is the dramatic principle whereby the writers won’t make ‘false promises’. That you must only draw attention to something if its significance will be revealed later in the story. Foreshadowing is the literary device where the writer drops hints that the reader will probably overlook until the end, or even until a second read through. This can be something fairly innocuous that hints at a bigger plot development later on. Though Chekhov’s Gun is a form of foreshadowing, the ‘gun’ (item, person, etc) has a direct impact on the plot by the end of the story. While traditional foreshadowing merely hints at the outcome of the plot rather than having a direct influence. Let’s look at an example: In Othello there are examples of both Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing. Desdemona’s handkerchief acts as the ‘gun’ here. In Act III Desdemona drops her handkerchief. Iago later finds it and uses it to trick Othello into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful. This is an example of Chekhov’s Gun – Shakespeare draws significant attention to Desdemona’s dropped handkerchief, which then plays a crucial role at a critical moment of the plot. Foreshadowing appears in the play when Desdemona sings a song to her maidservant about a lover who goes mad. This foreshadows the outcome of the play as Othello, Desdemona’s husband, descends into madness and kills her. This moment drops hints for the climax of the plot, but does not have any influence on the plot. How is Chekhov’s Gun Used in Writing? In order to achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun there are certain things you need to do as a writer. 1. You must first set up the ‘gun’. The ‘gun’ can be anything potentially impactful in your story, such as an object, a character, an event, or a place. 2. To set up the ‘gun’ you should draw attention to it early in your story, giving it significance and ensuring the reader notices it. You can draw attention to this item multiple times if you wish between the initial introduction and the conclusion of the story, but that’s up to author preference. 3. To round off this principle, the ‘gun’ must then ‘go off’. The item must return by the end of the book and have a significant impact to the conclusion of the story. The item must play a crucial role in order to truly achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. The exceptions to this rule are red herrings and MacGuffins. Red Herring: The exception to the rule of not introducing or emphasising anything that won’t be significant to the plot is the red herring. A red herring is something that distracts from the true plot, and makes the reader guess at the conclusion (it must still be plausible). Red herrings are often used in thrillers, crime stories, and whodunnits, when the author wants to highlight something which makes the reader think it’s significant to the plot, when in actuality it’s there to distract and trick the reader. This literary device is most commonly used in novels where the reader is busy ‘sleuthing’ and purposely looking for clues. It should be noted that a red herring should still have some casual impact on the story, but not significant. The dead ends can’t be haphazardly placed with no tie-in with the overall plot. Red herrings are very common within Agatha Christie novels, particularly And Then There Were None. Ten people are invited to an island under mysterious circumstances, and are killed one by one. There are several convincing red herrings throughout the novel that lead the reader to guess the killer, but each time the new prime suspect is killed. Christie achieves the ultimate plot twist by having the actual murderer \'die\' earlier on in the novel (a death he faked so convincingly that neither the characters nor readers doubt it), so when the reveal occurs it ends up being a twist that no one could have guessed. MacGuffin: MacGuffin is a plot device which many claim is the opposite of Chekhov’s Gun. It’s an object, event, or character that serves to set and keep the plot in motion but actually lacks significance to the outcome. This is usually a goal or object of desire for the protagonist, but whether or not it is achieved has no influence on the plot. An excellent example of a MacGuffin is the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It seems of vital importance to the characters but the object inside the briefcase is never revealed to the audience so the object is of little actual consequence to the plot. How Chekhov’s Gun can be effective in a series: Used effectively, Chekhov’s Gun creates a cyclical and satisfying conclusion to a story. If you were to follow the Save The Cat plotting beats, for example, Chekhov’s Gun would go off in the last 10% of the book and mirror the first 10% of the novel (either through setting, actions, theme, or dialogue – but with a twist). This way the reader/audience is happy, there are no loose ends, and the plot makes sense. This principle has been used in books and on screen since its inception. Not only can this literary principle be used in standalone novels and movies, but also as part of a series. If an item is mentioned in book one, then by book 3 you expect it to come into play again. The same principles that work within one story, can work across a number of novels in a series. Let’s look at some examples of Chekhov’s Gun in books and on screen. 5 Book Examples of Chekhov’s Gun Great Expectations In Dickens’ Great Expectations, the ‘gun’ is the character Magwitch. He is introduced significantly at the start of the novel due to his interactions with Pip. Enough mystery surrounds him that the reader is interested in his story, but then many years pass and he isn’t mentioned again. When it’s finally revealed that Magwitch has been Pip’s financial supporter this is an unexpected but satisfying twist. The reader has forgotten about this character in the interim but the second he is revealed we instantly remember him again. The use of Chekhov’s Gun here, the initial spotlight on Magwitch and then the big reveal, is both shocking but satisfying to the reader. The perfect plot twist. Ready Player One In Ready Player One, the ‘gun’ is a coin. Specifically, the 1981 Quarter Artefact that protagonist Wade Watts collects from a Pac-Man machine after playing a perfect game. He takes the coin and doesn’t think about it again. There is enough emphasis placed on this moment that the reader remembers it, but not enough that they guess the climax of the book. The coin turns out to be an extra life which enables Watts’ avatar to survive an explosion and continue his quest. This brings about the conclusion of the story and ties up all loose ends in a satisfying way. All the elements of the story were relevant and essential to the plot. The Hunger Games In The Hunger Games, the ‘gun’ is Katniss’ knowledge of poisonous plants. This demonstrates how the ‘gun’ doesn’t have to be an object but can be a character trait. This knowledge is explained and emphasised multiple times throughout the novel, and its significance is revealed at the climax of the novel as she uses poisonous berries to trick the Capitol into releasing both her and Peeta. A Gentleman in Moscow In Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, the ‘gun’ is a pair of duelling pistols. Count Rostov discovers a pair of duelling pistols hidden behind a wall in the hotel manager’s office. The significance of this discovery is revealed in the climax of the novel as Rostov uses one of the pistols to intimidate the Bishop into destroying secret files on the employees of the hotel, and locks him up in order to resume his plan to escape. The reader already knows about the pistols, and so it makes sense when Rostov later uses one in order to escape. Harry Potter The Harry Potter series contains multiple examples of Chekhov’s Gun, which Rowling utilises within individual books and across the series as a whole. Examples include the mention of bezoar in Harry’s first potions class which is later used in Book 6 to save Ron when he drinks poisoned mead. Also in Book 1 is the introduction of the Snitch caught in Harry’s first Quidditch match which becomes significant again in the final book as the hiding place for the resurrection stone. These are just two of many Chekhov Gun examples occurring within the series. It’s satisfying to the reader when the solution to a problem involves something that we’ve seen before. 5 Screen Examples of Chekhov’s Gun The Shawshank Redemption There are multiple examples of a ‘gun’ within The Shawshank Redemption, namely a poster, rock hammer, and bible. These objects are highlighted when they’re introduced at the beginning of the movie but seem fairly innocuous at the time. Andy requests a poster of Rita Hayworth, supposedly because he’s lonely, a rock hammer for his boredom as he likes rock carving, and a bible, which wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. These items actually have another use which we find out at the climax of the film. The rock hammer is used to dig a tunnel out of his cell (and he hides the hammer in the bible), with the escape tunnel covered by the poster. The reveal is both shocking and satisfying to the audience. The items are only ever alluded to as for their false use, and none of the other characters even know their real use, so when the twist is revealed it has the required effect on the audience. Breaking Bad In the Breaking Bad episode “Box Cutter” the ‘gun’ is, surprise surprise, a box cutter. At the beginning of the episode we see the box cutter, which is then later used as a weapon by Gus to kill Victor. It’s an ordinary object that you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the setting, so the climax is shocking to the audience. The Lost Boys In The Lost Boys the ‘gun’ is the antlers and fence post in the protagonists’ Grandpa’s house. He has a taxidermy collection so the antlers on the wall are unsurprising, and he’s building a fence in the garden with wooden posts, which are appropriate to both the character and setting and, once again, appear completely innocuous. These items are focused on early in the movie, but disregarded by the audience because they simply appear to serve as character building. Yet these items are key to the climax of the movie. Michael, the protagonist, defeats David, a vampire, by impaling him on the antlers, and the head vampire is killed by one of the fence posts as the Grandpa drives through the building and the post flies off the hood of his Jeep. The solution to their problem was highlighted right at the start of the movie, but no one would have guessed – least of all the audience! Shaun of the Dead In Shaun of the Dead, the ‘gun’ is an actual gun – the Winchester rifle. At the start of the film Shaun and Ed are arguing about whether the Winchester rifle mounted above the bar in the Winchester pub is real. Later on in the film Shaun uses the gun to hit the zombified pub owner and it goes off, proving not only that it is a real gun, but its significance is highlighted as it ends up playing a crucial role in Shaun defending himself. Signs In M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, the ‘gun’ is represented by glasses of water and Morgan’s asthma. Graham’s daughter Bo leaves glasses of water around the house (she believes the water is contaminated after being left so gets a new glass each time she wants a drink.) At the climax of the movie they discover that the invading aliens are vulnerable to water, and the significance of these glasses of water becomes immediately apparent in defeating the attacking aliens. Similarly Morgan’s asthma, alluded to in many ordinary ways throughout the film, has a massive significance in saving his life at the climax of the film. His airways are closed due to an attack, meaning he is unable to inhale the toxic gas from the alien and survives the murder attempt. Both of these things (the glasses of water and the asthma) are innocuous and ordinary so it’s surprising to the audience when they end up having a big impact on the plot. Conclusion Having outlined the importance of Chekhov’s Gun in storytelling, we hope you are now confident to utilise this literary principle in your own writing. Go ahead and create an exciting and satisfying cyclical plot for your readers, and remember to cut out extraneous and unnecessary detail in your story. Remember – if you shine a spotlight on something at the beginning of your story, make sure it helps save the day at the end!

Tips For Authors Getting Headshots

You\'ve finally finished your book! After months of writing, followed by toing and froing with your beta readers and editor, the book is ready to go to print. But just as you\'re thinking of jetting away somewhere hot and having a much-deserved rest, your publisher (or Amazon Central) asks you for an author headshot.   You could give them that photo of you at your cousin\'s wedding, or the one work took for their website. Right?   Wrong.   In this guide, I\'ll be explaining how author headshots function, why having the perfect one matters, and I\'ll show you how to organise a professional photoshoot, get the right look, and make the best use of the result. I’ll also link to some real-life author headshot examples. The Importance Of Author Headshots Like any aspect of self-branding, the writer headshot should never be overlooked. However open-minded we like to think of ourselves, people make snap decisions about each other and what they have to offer based on what they look like. This also holds just as true for an author on the back of a book, as well as people we meet face to face.   This is both bad news and good. While a poor author portrait could put potential readers off your work, a good one can do the opposite. It\'s an excellent opportunity to communicate your genre, tone, and style. And it\'s in your control!  This is why it makes sense to invest time and money hiring a professional photographer for a photoshoot (unless you have a generous friend in the business who will do you a favour, or you’re exceptionally good at selfies and have a well-lit studio at home).  So where do you start?  Author Headshot Tips Find The Right Photographer  Traditional publishers will occasionally arrange author headshots themselves. Usually, however, it is left to you to choose a good local photographer. Make sure you follow any specific instructions from your publishing house – and if you\'ve collaborated with somebody else on this book, you will both need your own photo.   The ideal photographer will have taken this kind of portrait before, and they should be able to show you some of their previous work to help you decide. Take a look at the photographer’s online portfolio or check out the name of photographers that took author headshots you like from other local writers.  Are They Right For You? Choosing a photographer may not be a life-long commitment, but you are paying them to take photos that will be defining you as an author – not to mention spending a morning or afternoon with them. It’s important you feel comfortable around them. Meet them first to discuss your requirements or have a quick Zoom call to get an idea if you will work well together (after all, you may need more photos in the future). If you’re not happy, walk away. The more comfortable your photographer makes you feel, the better the results will be.  Calculate The Best Package For Your Budget Author headshots can cost thousands of pounds or dollars. However, the average cost is between £100 and £150 (US$100 and $250). Location shoots with multiple looks and outfit changes are likely to cost more than straightforward studio shots in front of a single background.  Confirm the price and what to expect within the package. Ideally, you want to own the images you choose (the alternative is paying a licence fee every time you use one). Find out whether you will need to pay for each photo separately or if the photographer will give you all the images in a digital file.   You may want your photos retouched to remove blemishes (dark circles under the eyes, for instance). The need for this may only become obvious after the shoot and add to the cost as it’s not always included. So be prepared for that.  Create A Good Brief  Decide the impression you want to make with the headshots and communicate this clearly to your photographer. What do you need to consider?  Research your competition To get an idea of what style of author portrait photo is right for you, look online at the Amazon pages and websites of other writers in your genre for inspiration.   What are you trying to get across in your author portrait? Are you fun and lively, or moody and dark? Is your work serious literary fiction, or do you write light and fun rom coms? The photos on the website of a picture book author will be very different from the one Ian Rankin uses for his crime books, for example.   Black-and-white or colour?  While black-and-white works well for high-brow literary types, most commercial authors choose colour. A traditional publisher may make this decision for you. The average release from Galley Beggar press wins at least one literary award, so it\'s no surprise the author photos on their website are all in monochrome. But bear in mind, if you wish to use the same photo for press, many magazines ask for a colour photo. Some writers use a number of images from the same shoot for various things.  Location, Setting, And Background The focus of the headshot should always be on the author\'s face. Thus, many writers use a plain studio background, particularly for online stores like Amazon. However, others use an appropriate setting, hoping it will help communicate their brand.   Mary Berry, famous cookery book writer and presenter of The Great British Bake Off, stands in a white kitchen for her author portrait. Robert Thorogood’s photo is in front of Marlow, the UK setting for his new cosy crime series. Cathy Cassidy, a Young Adult writer, is pictured in the back of a VW campervan.   The dark red wall behind Rory Sutherland’s Twitter profile, clashes with the bright red jacket he’s wearing. The overall effect is unexpected for a business guru, yet his latest release \'Alchemy\' has the tagline, \'The Magic of Original Thinking in a World of Mind-numbing Conformity.\' He’s not trying to be corporate.   Plain studio shots work particularly well for serious black-and-white photos. But remember, an entirely plain white background flatters very few people.  Image Styling: Be Yourself If I was being entirely myself in a writer headshot, I wouldn\'t brush my hair. That kind of honesty, however, would probably stop me selling books.   I\'m not suggesting you lie about who you are, but it’s important to project how you wish to be perceived. Think of yourself as the main character in a book about your writing career. What does this person wear? What expression and mannerisms do they use? Are they business-like, fun, or very serious?  Outfit Even authors going for ‘zany’ should keep their outfits as simple as they can. The safest plan is to wear one or two layers of plain clothing with an open collar. Busy patterns will detract from your face, as will too much jewellery. (The shy may see that as a good thing, but it isn\'t).  Period costumes may well suggest historical romance, but they will detract from the author’s face – and it’s important that your readers (and the press) know what you look like. Period romance author, Evie Dunmore, gets it right. Her outfit suggests a Victorian or Edwardian woman by wearing three simple items - a lace top, a wide-brimmed hat, and a pearl ornament in her hair. Not quite fancy dress, but enough of a nod to her genre.  Different make-up and clothes will look better in colour or black-and-white. If you\'re not sure which will work best, play around with both looks. You can always ask to have more than one photo taken at the shoot, but as discussed, this will increase time and possibly cost. Save time and money by taking selfies at home and asking friends and family what they think suits you best. Hairstyle This is probably not the time for a radical new hairstyle unless you\'re given to eye-catching changes. Ideally, you want readers to be able to recognise you at author events. Even if you don\'t think you’ll attend real-life book signings, you may want to appear online in a Facebook live, for instance. So if you\'re usually blonde and wear your hair back in a ponytail, do that. Now is not the time to try out a bright pink beehive. Lighting If the shoot is outside, the photographer will probably make the most of the natural light. Depending on the time of day this may be warm, soft, and flattering light. Let them decide the best time of day to achieve the look you are going for. For instance, during the late morning or early afternoon, there\'s usually a yellow light with few harsh shadows. And the ‘golden hour’, the period just after sunrise or before sunset, gives a red light and softer look.   Wherever the shoot, light on the face makes you look fresher and more approachable, a good thing for almost every author. If you write crime or horror, an arty portrait with your face in shadow may seem like a good idea. Take care, however. You don’t want to be confused with one of your villains! Practice Your Pose Body language matters, and so does being relaxed in front of a camera. This is the time where the mirror is your friend.   Choose a pose that feels natural. Don\'t force a smile or anything that doesn\'t feel right. If you\'re not comfortable, it will come across in your photos.   Consider if you\'re going to have your hands in the picture and what you can do with them to add to your message. For example, you could rest your chin and hands on a flat surface for an informal feel. Or hold your chin to look like a professional with good advice. Some authors cross their arms, but remember that depending on your genre this can look defensive and may make you look unapproachable.  Again, take a look at what other authors are doing. Some writers opt for the close up to be framed so no arms make it into the shot (a lot less pressure). Props You could also think about using an appropriate prop (and whether it would make you more or less comfortable during the shoot). Perhaps, you could hold your own book, or the Golden Dagger you were awarded last year. Again, the emphasis should be on you, so keep it simple and avoid cliché. Only use a prop if it will add to your overall message.   Also bear in mind whether this photo is just for one book, or you want it to be used for a number of years. It doesn’t always help to use a photo of you holding up your debut when five books down the line you are known for a lot more.  Rest Before The Shoot A photoshoot may seem like a largely passive activity, but how you feel on the day will affect how you look and come across on camera. Avoid those dark under-eye circles by drinking plenty of water and getting a good night\'s sleep beforehand.  Look Directly At The Camera Many headshots break this rule, but it helps create a sense of connection with the viewer. Again, ask yourself if you want to come across as a whimsical, mysterious writer or direct and approachable.  Be Relaxed The photographer will do their best to put you at ease, but there are also practical things you can do to help yourself on the day.   Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the shoot, so you\'re not rushing.   Remind yourself that however badly it turns out, your author headshot is nowhere near as important as writing a good book. And the photographer will take lots of photos, so you can always discard those you hate at the end. If it puts your mind at rest, ask to take a look at the first few shots to see if they are working.  And, going back to acting like a character in your own book, if it helps hide behind your new persona. Yesterday you were a nervous introverted debut writer, but today you are a famous author - cool, calm, and collected.  Listen To Your Photographer They should be able to guide you to an author headshot that works. If they say that a certain pose works best, listen to them. Take direction. They know what works.  Ask For Black-And-White Copies Of Your Colour Photos This increases your choice later on. You can convert the photos digitally yourself, but it’s usually better done by a professional.   Select The Right Images You may be tempted to choose the image that makes you look fifteen years younger or like a supermodel - but the best author headshot is the one that conveys the right message and reinforces your \'brand\'.   Ask other people to tell you honestly what they think, especially if they read the genre you write. Why not enlist the help of your followers on social media or your publisher’s publicity department? This can be a fun way to connect with readers and see yourself through their eyes.  Use The Same Photo Across All Of Social Media Consistency is key when it comes to self-branding. Whatever image you choose to use on your website or the back of the print book, use the same photo across online stores and social media. This will make it easier for readers to recognise you as the same person and, hopefully, increase your number of follows.  But, like most rules, some are made to be broken. Picture book author, Julia Donaldson, uses a headshot with a plain studio background for her Amazon page but she’s surrounded by soft toy versions of her characters on her website. There’s a particularly good photo of her reading to the Gruffalo.   So, if your Linked In profile is serious and you are using it to connect to the industry to sell them a self-help book you are pitching – perhaps don’t use the same sultry image of yourself that appears on the website of your raunchy erotica series.  Keep Your Photos Up-To-Date Whatever the temptation to stay eternally young in your reader\'s minds, you should upload a new book author headshot every two to three years – especially if you change genre or publisher. As your career evolves, so should your photos. To Summarise… All in all, preparing for the perfect author portrait shoot is simple.  Hire a professional, brief them well, prepare your look and setting beforehand, and relax during the shoot. If you follow this advice, you should have a great headshot to add to the rest of your marketing package. 

Top 12 Best Self-Publishing Companies

Self-publishing is no mean feat. After the herculean task of writing your book, it may seem easy to go at it yourself. Maybe you\'ve already explored the option of traditional publishing, and it isn\'t for you. Perhaps you\'re burnt out from the hunt for an agent. Either way, if you\'re reading this, self-publishing may well be the gleaming light across the dock enticing you with promising book sales and a sense of achievement. Going it alone is admirable, but there\'s also lots of things you must be aware of first. Cutting corners may lead to you being blinded by less than virtuous offers. Integrity in book publishing is not a lost art - you just have to know where to look. This article will show you the best self-publishing sites, platforms, and companies around to help you (help yourself) and get your book into readers\' hands - the non-traditional way... What Do Self-Publishing Companies Do? Self-publishing companies are in essence service providers. You bring the completed project and all its frills, they supply the technology/logistics needed to publish it. But there are different levels of service you can opt for. At the most basic (and essential), you can sign up with a pure retailer - notably Amazon. Amazon obviously has the power to reach all the readers in the world (and it\'s extraordinary to think that all that power can be at your disposal - for free.) But if you self-publish with Amazon, the whole business of cover-design, blurb-writing, pricing decisions, marketing and so on are for you and you alone. Amazon is not going to get involved. At the other end of the spectrum, you have companies that will do all of that for you ... but at a cost. That cost is measured in dollars, certainly, but also, those companies don\'t care about book sales the way you do. If they sell you a cover design that you\'re happy with, then they\'ve made their money. Job done. They don\'t actually care whether that book cover generates sales for you or not. In other words, the more you get others to do, the more you are putting your book into the hands of people who care less than you. For that reason, it\'s worth taking a look at the range of options out there... Types of Self-Publishing Companies Rest easy, for self-publishing companies will not own the rights to your book - you will. They will typically take a share of the royalties, however. When deciding who to go with to publish your book, it\'s important to consider the differences between the three main types of publishing service companies and the roles they each fulfil. Retailers Think of retailers as online bookstores. They give your book a spot on the digital shelf, so to speak. If they\'re a big enough name, you\'ll publish your book through a branded ebook publishing platform. You\'ll share the royalties, just like you would if you went with an aggregator. Examples include: Amazon KDP, iBooks Author, Barnes & Nobles Press, Kobo Writing Life Aggregators Aggregators distribute your book to multiple retailers simultaneously. They often charge you for this convenience. They take their share of the royalties only after your book has made its sales. Examples include: KDP Print, PublishDrive, Smashwords, Draft2Digital Full-Service Companies Full-services companies are the whole package. They offer editing, formatting, interior and cover design, blurb, and distribution all rolled into one. Just because you\'re going the self-publishing route, doesn\'t mean you have do all the publishing heavy-work yourself. However it\'s worth noting that this option is best suited to those looking to sell only a few copies of their book—and not with significant commercial success in mind. Examples include: BookBaby, Outskirts Press, Matador, White Magic Studios Vanity Publishers and Hybrid Publishers We should probably also include a note about vanity publishers. These guys are the snakes and serpents of publishing. They essentially pretend to be a real publishing company contemplating the commercial publication of your book. Inevitably, however, you\'ll be told that the \"editorial board\" or something other fictional entity decided they couldn\'t quite afford the risk of going it alone. So you\'ll be invited to spend some quite large sum of money on \"partnership publishing\", or something like that. If it smells bad, it is bad. Just say no - with emphasis. If you feel like adding a cuss-word or two when you say so, then we won\'t be offended Hybrid publishers are a somewhat cleaner version of the same thing. They\'ll ask for money to get you published, but be more candid about likely outcomes. If you encounter honesty and openness, the publisher may well be trustworthy. If you encounter heavy selling and a lack of candour, then avoid, avoid, avoid. Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing Some authors will instinctively know which publishing route to take for their book. For others, it may be a tougher decision. Traditional publishing often follows a linear pathway from submission, to finding an agent, to having that agent pitch to publishers on your behalf, to the publisher buying the rights to your work and distributing it as widely as possible across various territories and mediums. When trad published, your work has a whole host of people behind it who all have a vested interest in its success. You, on the other hand, are now an empty-nester taking a more hands-off approach to the future of your book. Will you be involved much in the rest of the process? Well: up to a point. You\'ll never have the same level of control - and you\'ll never get the same level of royalties. A self-pubbed ebook will give the author royalties of 70%. The same number for an ebook sold via a trad publisher through an agent will typically be under 15%. It\'s that stunning difference which has powered the whole self-pub revolution. And while good book sales are simply too multifactorial to summarise neatly, the fact is that self-published authors typically make more money than trad-published ones. There are more million-dollar a year indie authors, than there are million-dollar a year trad authors. The same is true if you knock one zero off that number, or two zeroes. Yes, you can make money as a trad author, but if money is your only metric, you should think seriously about self-pub. But the money doesn\'t come by itself. It\'s not enough to write books, you have to market them. You have to write books that people want to read. You have to think hard about the genres that do best as self-pub books. And the money won\'t flow without a little investment upfront. And you won\'t make money until you have a little stable of books to offer, not just the one. And of course, it\'s unlikely that you\'ll see your book in a physical bookstore. So yes, there are challenges - and ones that you need to take seriously. But if you want total creative control and the best chance of making money, self-pub is just too good an option not to take seriously. Top Self-Publishing Companies If you are going to go the self-publishing route, then take a look at our compilation of the 12 best self-publishing companies and what they have to offer: Retailers: 1. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Amazon\'s KDP is the kingpin of self-publishing companies, where most e-book sales take place (about 85% of the total). To use this service, you must first create a Kindle account and fill in your tax information. Uploading an ebook-ready manuscript is quick and easy after that point. You have to do it all yourself, but the user-friendly interface invites every author to give it a go. It\'s not the only piece of the puzzle, though. Amazon can step in with their KDP Select program which helps you market your book with deals, though it will own your book\'s exclusive rights for whatever period of time you choose to use this additional service. Furthermore, Amazon also offers one of the top print-on-demand (POD) services - KDP Print. To get your book turned into a paperback and distributed, all you have to do is upload a formatted PDF and cover design - made even easier if you already sell ebooks on KDP. This service is technically an aggregator and will get your book (as a paperback or ebook) to other bookstores and retailers if you opt in to \'Expanded Distribution\' via your KDP dashboard. Know this: One of the biggest decisions you\'ll be making is whether to publish \'wide\' (via every retailer) or \'narrow\' (via Amazon only.) It sounds obvious that you should want every retailer on your side, except that exclusivity with Amazon confers some powerful benefits. As a rough guide, we\'d suggest that you publish narrow to start with, then reconsider your strategy once you have two or three books out there. 2. Apple Books (iBooks Author/Pages) iBooks Author is the second-best free-to-upload self-publishing outfit - but it\'s a distant, distant second best. No sane person would consider working exclusively with Apple. It\'s only a question of who you sell with in addition to Amazon - if anyone at all. Also, do note that Mac users have a monopoly on this service, however, as you have to be a Mac user to publish there and take advantage of the 70% royalties rate. If you are already assimilated into Apple\'s eco-system, you can upload your manuscript from Pages, which as of mid-2020 replaces the iBooks software. If not, you first need to use an aggregator to publish (in industry-standard ePub format) to the Apple Store. iBooks Author pairs nicely with Vellum, a free-to-download formatting software made for Mac with purchasable packages for exporting your ebook. It has great features and you can even publish in paperback with Vellum Press. 3. Kobo Writing Life Another retailer on this list - Canadian Rakuten Kobo\'s self-publishing division \'Writing Life\' - accounts for 25% of Canadian ebook sales, as well as having a significant international presence. You might have also heard of their e-reading device. The simple, step-by-step publishing process is attractive, as well as the inbuilt sales analytics tool on their platform. With its maximum royalty rate and global outreach, Kobo\'s self-publishing program is very popular. But again, don\'t publish via Kobo only. Either publish with Amazon exclusively, or with Amazon, Apple, Kobo and everyone else. For most (all?) newer authors, it\'ll make most sense to attack those smaller retailers via an aggregator. 4. Barnes & Noble Press Free to upload, 70% royalties, an easy-to-use interface. But B&N is fourth on this list for a reason. Add it as part of a \'wide\' sales strategy. Don\'t think about it, even for a moment, as an exclusive partner. Aggregators: 5. Draft2Digital Draft2Digital is a service which takes care of your book formatting for you. Getting your book published with them is easy: set up a free account, upload your manuscript, choose from a wide range of vendors, set your own list price, manage your book sales and track your metrics. They take care of the rest and provide ongoing support. If you want to publish \'wide\', then we recommend: Setting up a direct account with Amazon KDP. You always want direct control of your Amazon account. It\'s too important to entrust to anyone else. Handling your wide sales via Draft2Digital. D2D is the best of the aggregators and is a nice easy way to enter all the retailers other than Amazon Customer service at D2D is great and the tools are slick and constantly being improved. Recommended. 6. Smashwords Smashwords was one of the first aggregators to come about, and it distributes to just about everywhere BUT Amazon. Its cut is 15% and that doesn\'t include formatting - you\'ve got to do that yourself! With a little effort, it\'s a wonderful resource and can teach the average independent book author all they need to know about branding, marketing, and publishing. Smashwords has seen a lot of competition lately - namely Draft2Digital who does distribute via Amazon AND formats your book for you. Smashwords has traditionally been strong in the romance area, but even there, we don\'t think it\'s the best option for you today. 7. PublishDrive PublishDrive boasts connections with over 4500 publishers and over 400 stores - with excellent international distribution. The interface is used to check in on all your royalties and sales, which will be slashed by 10% if you don\'t pay to subscribe to their service and keep all of your royalties. Luckily PublishDrive has 24/7 customer support to help you keep all those plates spinning. A good alternative to D2D. 8. Ingram Spark Ingram Spark is the only meaningful competitor to KDP Print worth mentioning. This company reaches a great amount of readers with its global print services independent of Amazon. They can sell your book through 40,000+ retailers and libraries—in stores and online. For this reason, IngramSpark provides one of the top print-on-demand (POD) services, though does not sell direct and is instead technically an aggregator for print. Full-Service Companies: 9. BookBaby Using BookBaby for self-publishing authors means purchasing one of their Self-Publishing packages. These vary depending on how much help you need with design, marketing, print, and distribution - although they are very good at helping writers get seen on Amazon. You can rest assured that the professional care taken to perfect your pages for print comes at no extra cost other than that which you pay upfront. Royalties suffer slightly however at 50% if you choose to sell directly to readers via BookBaby\'s Bookshop. BookBaby boasts a global distribution network of its own as well as offering an Amazon Priority Service to further expand your reach with KPD Select. 10. Outskirts Press Outskirts Press\' full-service package offers much of the same, with the caveat of having fewer distributors for your book as well as more limited expert services to get your work to standard before distribution. There\'s just as much support, but less tailoring involved with your package. 11. Matador Unlike the other full-service companies on this list, Troubador\'s Matador caters more to the UK\'s indie authors. They distribute through the traditional channels as well as POD. They are choosier about their clientele, only taking on 75% of those who would like to publish with them. Your book undergoes more scrutiny than with others on this list—this is not an everyman option. If you are one of the lucky few, you will benefit from their reputation in the publishing industry alone AND a whole host of publishing, marketing, and distribution services depending on your needs. 12. White Magic Studios Matador\'s affordable UK counterpart White Magic Studios gives you 100% of the royalties and ownership of your book. They don\'t quite have the same gravitas as others on this list but they\'re still a safe bet for an all-in-one package if you know what you\'re looking for in terms of service and distribution. The Self-Publishing Option That Works for You The ultimate, best-of-all-time, undeniable front-runner, crème de la crème of self-publishing companies happens to be the one that works best for you and your book. Do your research (work your way through this list, for example), go with your gut, and see how you get on. Self-publishing has worked for others, so it can work for you! All you need is the makings of a good book, stellar knowledge, and a can-do attitude. Other Self-Publishing Support Services Most of the self-pub companies in the list above will provide a broad range of services as part of their offering. But it\'s worth understanding the various different services that go into a full publishing package as you may, for example, want to handle a particular discipline by yourself, perhaps because it\'s more cost-effective or because you want control or simply you aren\'t happy with the quality on offer from your chosen publisher. So: Copyediting and editing These services really ought to be supplied by any serious publisher, but the quality you get will be variable. There are two (or three) separate disciplines here and you need both. First, editing (or structural editing or manuscript assessment) aims to identify weaknesses in your manuscript and offers advice on how to improve them. These issues will range from the small (eg: \"this sentence reads clumsily\") to the structural (\"The middle third of your book feels baggy and repetitive. You might want to address this by ...\"). All professional authors receive this kind of advice from their traditional publishers and their books get better as a result. You can buy this kind of editing direct from Jericho Writers: we\'re very good at it!. Secondly, you need copyediting, which is the tedious but important business of avoiding typos, spelling errors, punctuation mistakes and the like. Again, no matter how often you read your text, those errors will creep through, so an impartial and professional pair of eyes is necessary. Jericho Writers also offers copyediting help. A large traditional publisher would also employ a proofreader to sweep the text one last time before printing, to pick up any last little issues. You do need this help if you want your text to be perfect, or near-perfect, but is probably too expensive for most self-publishers. Cover design Again, your publisher should supply this service, but you can easily source covers yourself. The cheapest way to do this is to simply search \"pre made book covers\". That search term will bring up a range of sites that offer professionally designed covers being sold at a huge discount. (You\'ll think, huh? Why would pro designers sell their designs at knock-off prices? The answer is that a pro designer will usually show a client 2-3 options before settling on a particular design to get perfected. The discarded covers are then sold on these sites. There\'s nothing wrong with them; just they didn\'t match the original client\'s needs or wants.) If you want to go one step up from a premade cover then simply google \"Book cover designer\" and flip through the various choices on offer. A quality cover will cost you about $350-500 (or more). Individual designers have their own charging scale and their own way of working. We\'d advise you to find a designer whose designs work well in your genre. So a brilliant designer for urban fantasy, say, might really struggle when it comes to upmarket literary fiction and vice versa. Choose someone who has real sympathy with your material and who knows the genre conventions. Do also read our tips on commissioning a great cover design. Marketing Honestly? There are essentially no good, for-hire marketing services. Either your publishing company supplies those services or you take charge yourself. There really isn\'t an alternative ... and we do tend to recommend that you take charge yourself. Most self-pub companies do a good, or reasonable, job on editing, copyediting, interior design, cover design, and distribution to the major online retailers. But distribution is very different from marketing. And really: this is your book. Getting the word out there is your task. We recommend building a mailing list, using book promo sites, and perhaps some careful Amazon advertising as your first steps. But this is a difficult area - and you can\'t market a mediocre book, so your first step - always - is to make sure your product is excellent. Accountancy If you start to earn money from books, you\'re going to start to need to prepare accounts - not only so that you know how you\'re doing and what is or isn\'t working, but also in order to file accurate and timely tax returns. Bear in mind you will be earning income from multiple different locations worldwide, and the tax treatment of these different income streams may well vary. You will also have the ability to set your expenses off against income, but the rules here vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It\'s easy to think that any major accountancy firm will handle these tasks well - but do take care. Jericho Writers used to use Blick Rothenberg for its accounts. Blick Rothenberg is a major London accountant with (we thought) a reputation for professionalism and integrity. In practice, as you can tell from our \"Blick Rothenberg - the truth\" video, we found that reputation to be wholly undeserved. Not only did the Blick Rothenberg team (including a highly experienced partner) miss a vast hole in our revenues, they also lacked the integrity to put the issue right when we called attention to their failings. Indeed, they actually had the gall to tell us they had done nothing wrong when (a) we told them we lacked confidence in the accounts being generated by our bookkeeper (b) we asked them for proper scrutiny and (c) the hole in revenues was, in some months, greater than 20% of revenues. Because Blick Rothenberg has also refused to take our dispute to arbitration, we\'re in the awful position of having (in our view) a completely valid claim for damages but not having the financial wherewithal to have that claim endorsed by a court or arbitrator. Now, OK, you\'re quite likely to have a less bad accountant working for you, but we\'d urge you to check (A) the professional competence of the firm and partner you hire and (B) ensure you have a dispute resolution mechanism as part of your contract that will actually be a viable route to take should the need arise. We failed to ensure we had the dispute resolution mechanism in our contract with Blick Rothenberg, and the result is that we experienced a six-figure loss for which the firm is simply refusing to compensate us. In short: beware. Sharks swim in every sea and in accountancy as much as anywhere.

Jack Lutz On Finding Your Perfect Agent

When Jack Lutz first came to us as a mentee, then as a student on the Ultimate Novel Writing Course, it was clear that his writing was something special. Jack is now represented by Jordan Lees at The Blair Partnership, and his first novel, \'London in Black\', was published in June 2022 by Pushkin Vertigo. Prior to publication, we sat down to chat about his writing journey, and the practical ways you can narrow down your shortlist and find your perfect agent. JW: Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer? When did you start writing, and where are you with publication now? JL: I was rummaging around in some old boxes recently and unearthed a short story I wrote when I was eight - a murder mystery set in London. So I suppose writing’s something I’ve always done, or at least always wanted to do...but it was mostly just bits of novels I’d start then immediately scrap. Never enough time, or I’d second-guess the idea and stop. And then in 2019, I buckled down and actually finished a novel for the first time (with mentoring help from Jericho Writers\' Daren King). But I worried it wasn’t strong enough so rather than submitting it to agents, I set it aside and signed up for the Ultimate Novel Writing Course, in order to write another. That second novel, \'London in Black\', will be published next June by Pushkin Vertigo. It’s a near-future police procedural set in 2029, two years after terrorists release a novel nerve agent at Waterloo Station with catastrophic consequences. Our hero is DI Lucy Stone, a cop with crippling survivor guilt who must hunt a killer and recover a stolen nerve agent antidote (that may or may not be a figment of her imagination). So - a murder mystery set in London, just like when I was eight! We’ve just finished copyediting, and at the moment I’m waiting to see first pass page proofs. JW: In what ways did being a student on the UNWC help to shape your writing?   JL: Lots of different ways - the course material was instructive, the Q&As useful - but the thing that I’m most grateful for is the mentoring. I was assigned a brilliant writer named Craig Taylor as my mentor, and we had periodic phone calls throughout the course. The mix of tailored feedback plus support and encouragement was unbeatable. I felt challenged, which I loved because it meant my writing was being taken seriously. JW: How did you find your agent?  JL: I was very fortunate! At the end of the UNWC, Craig (in an act I’ll be forever grateful for) sent a note to Harry Bingham with some kind words about my manuscript. Shortly after that, I received an email from Jericho’s wonderful Rachael Cooper, telling me that she was willing to send a manuscript recommendation out to an agent on my behalf - and did I have any thoughts on who?  Determined not to waste the opportunity, I turned to Jericho Writers\' AgentMatch. First, I ran a search for agents actively looking for crime/thrillers, which spat out about ninety names. I looked them all up and narrowed the list down to about twenty who seemed really focussed on the genre. I read any interviews I could find online, then went on my Kindle and downloaded free chapters from books by each agent’s clients, hoping to get a feel for whether my writing style might appeal.  At the end of all of that, the agent I hoped would be the best fit for me and my book was Jordan Lees at The Blair Partnership. Rachael sent off the recommendation, and later that day Jordan wrote back asking for the full manuscript. Two weeks later, Rachael forwarded on a note from Jordan asking if I could have a chat with him - and that chat was the Call: an offer of representation.  The mix of tailored feedback plus support and encouragement was unbeatable. I felt challenged, which I loved because it meant my writing was being taken seriously. JW: Were there any surprises along the way, or anything you wish you had been prepared for?   JL: My given name’s ‘John’, and I’ve never really used a nickname. But it turns out that there’s already a (quite prolific!) thriller writer named John Lutz, which meant I suddenly needed to pick a new name for myself. I wasn’t expecting that!  I looked them all up and narrowed the list down to about twenty who seemed really focussed on the genre. I read any interviews I could find online, then went on my Kindle and downloaded free chapters from books by each agent’s clients, hoping to get a feel for whether my writing style might appeal. JW: What advice would you give to a new writer working on their first draft?   JL: My favourite ideas tend to pop into my head when I’m somewhere other than sitting in front of my laptop. If that’s true for you, too, my advice is simple: whenever you have an idea -- for a scene, a snippet of dialogue, a word, whatever - write it down as soon as you possibly can.   At first, I only used notebooks, but that got to be a problem when I came up with ideas in the middle of the night…half the time, I couldn’t decipher my scribblings the next day. And then carrying a notebook everywhere wasn’t very practical, either, so I wound up switching to the notes app on my phone (simple, but works great!). But no matter how you do it, don’t put it off. I’m sure I would’ve forgotten the best of my midnight ideas if I’d waited until morning to write them down.   From Rachael Cooper, Head of Resources & Projects at Jericho Writers Working with John was such a pleasure. Not only was this the first recommendation to come from the Ultimate Novel Writing Course but it came with a glowing recommendation from John’s mentor. So naturally, I made myself a tea and started reading. To say I was blown away by the opening chapters would be an understatement. I immediately sent John a very frantic/excited email saying that 1) I’d love to work with him to find an agent, and 2) very cheekily asking him to send me the full manuscript so I could read on! John and I spent a couple of weeks fine-tuning his submission pack. We even had a transatlantic call mid-pandemic to perfect his elevator pitch for the query letter. When that was ready and John had been able to explore AgentMatch and research his agent shortlist, we decided Jordan Lees could be the perfect match. Before I even had time to cross my fingers, we got a reply from Jordan requesting the full manuscript. This was the quickest response I’ve had from an agent to date. There’s something about helping talented and dedicated authors achieve their dreams, however small a part we play, that makes this job so special. When we heard the news that \'London in Black\' had been picked up by Pushkin Vertigo for publication in 2022, the whole Jericho team were over the moon. There’s something about helping talented and dedicated authors achieve their dreams, however small a part we play, that makes this job so special. About Jack Jack Lutz is a writer and a lawyer. He lives in London with his wife and young daughter. His debut novel, \'London in Black\', was published by Pushkin Vertigo in June 2022. Buy \'London in Black\': From From Amazon Audiobook The Bookseller, \"Pushkin swoops for Lutz police procedural debut.\" AgentMatch

How to Ruin Your Author Brand

When Author Branding Goes Wrong Just as you put thought and dedication toward what you write as an author, the same focus should be put on your writer brand. Author branding tells your readers a story about who you are and inspires them to connect with your work.   Think about some of your favorite businesses. What draws you to them and what sort of characteristics come to mind? What about the brand keeps you coming back?  You should consider the same questions when it comes to your writer brand. Creating a strong, defined presence will significantly help you find and connect with your readers – helping them know if what you create is for them, and what to expect from you in the future.   Getting started on your branding involves several different factors from conceptualisation to marketing. In this guide you will learn exactly what elements to focus on, along with us sharing a few author branding examples for inspiration!  What is Author Branding?  Author branding is how you choose to present your values, mission, credibility, and personality to readers. In order to create your author brand, you should start by identifying your target readership. Remember you’re not aiming to appeal to everyone; a loyal target audience is more beneficial than trying to reach all readers.   Once you know who you want to connect with you can work on developing your brand voice and the face you will put out into the world. Tell your story and showcase what makes you different from other authors in your niche, it’s your USP (unique selling point). This also ties into your brand appearance, which might include consistent colours, logos, and fonts across your website and social media channels.   For instance, if you’re a horror writer then the images you share, posts you write, and general look of your social media will differ from that of a children’s writer who publishes books on unicorns and fairies.   As a horror writer you may link to horror-related shows, other books, funny images, explain your writing journey, run a competition around Halloween etc. Whereas a children’s author is more likely to talk about school visits, sharing cute pictures, talking about funny things kids said to them, inspiration for their books, and get behind child-related charities etc  Your writer brand should offer an experience for your readers, and as you gain your following you also want to make sure to stay consistent with reader expectations. Yes, building a winning brand is a lot of work but it’s 100% worth it for longevity (and can be a lot of fun). The Importance of Author Branding  So why is having an author brand so important?   For one, it’s what helps inform readers why they should buy or support your content. When you have a strong, effective brand, it shows your audience that you’re an expert and demonstrates why they can trust your writing.  Your author brand is also a bridge of communication with your audience, keeping them engaged and excited. When readers feel they have a personal connection with you and your work it keeps them coming back for more.   You can engage with your audience by asking their opinions, talking about real experiences, and most importantly, being consistent. Getting your author brand right is only a small part of your author marketing activity – it’s more PR than sales. Remember: only 10-20% of what you post online should be promoting your work (no one likes to be sold to). This is about giving a clear picture of what you stand for as a writer.  Your brand also goes a long way with reinforcing your overall reputation. For example, if you are going live on your social media and interacting with your followers, they’ll get to know you as a reliable brand. Responding to comments, answering inquiries, and providing meaningful content are all reputation boosters. A positive image is crucial for marketing success! Author Branding Mistakes Now that it’s clear exactly how beneficial author branding can be for your writing career, we want to also highlight just how damaging certain mistakes can be. It takes a long time to build a good reputation, but it doesn’t take long to ruin your author brand.  So take your time building your brand in order to avoid certain pitfalls that can diminish all of your hard work. Here are a few common author branding mistakes to avoid: Failing to Connect with the Right Audience  As previously stated, determining your audience should be the first step to take when considering your brand. If you fail to target the right audience then no connection will be built, and that is bad for business.   Your tribe will be naturally interested in you and your story, so it’s up to you to deliver stories, visuals, and content that match your niche audience and the product (i.e. books/your writing) you are promoting. This all helps to establish an emotional connection that must be maintained to keep your audience interested on a deeper level.  If you are struggling to pinpoint one specific target market, it can help to imagine an avatar, a literal representation of who your reader is. Then have that image in mind when deciding what to talk about and share. If your make-believe ideal reader is Jane, a thirty-year-old mother living in Idaho who enjoys pottery and poetry – then great. Think of all the things Jane would like to know about, not just about your books but your life and interests that may match hers too. And if 65-year-old Bob from London hates that content, then that doesn’t matter. Don’t change a thing. Bob isn’t your target market.  The more you stay focused and consistent, the easier it will be to naturally form a coherent audience that grows and supports you and your work. Poor Market Understanding As you start to consider yourself as a brand and a business, you’ll need to also think about competitors. You have to research the market to understand what others in your niche are doing. Focus on what they are doing well and what they could improve upon. How are competitors influencing audience perception? Not doing your due diligence when it comes to competitive analysis will adversely affect your author brand.   If you see that an author of similar books to you is getting a lot of traction by sharing certain pictures or asking certain questions, see how you could do similar things. But that doesn’t mean losing your individualism…  No USP Think about some of the most popular writers across different genres. The reason they stand out is because they have a unique selling point, also known as USP. Your author brand needs to convey how you are different from the thousands of other writers in the market. Simply matching what competing brands are doing won’t make a reader want to choose you over them. You must clearly communicate your own brand values, vision, and a strong author identity to be unique.   Inconsistent Messaging and Visuals Do you have a website? Social media channels? Do you attend public events or take part in school visits?  While completely different platforms, the content you post should be consistent across all forms of communication. Online you should identify colors, fonts, and logos that best reflect who you are as an author. Then ensure you use your branding kit when you post visuals. If people don’t automatically recognise your work, it’s impossible to stand out from the competition – this is especially relevant to those who write non-fiction, run a blog, or offer freelance writing services.  Your messaging should also be consistent, making sure that you (or a social media manager) always write in the same voice and tone. And when you are taking part in public events, reflect that brand. You should act, look, and sound exactly as they expect you to.  Some authors like to be visually recognised when at public events: Terry Pratchett was known for his hat and scarf, V E Schwab wears cat ears to her signings, and Jackie Collins wouldn’t be seen dead without her big jewellery, big hair, and very glam outfits!  No Brand Strategy Without a brand strategy, you won’t have any structure for your author brand. Without structure, you won’t have consistency and that can contribute to brand failure. A solid brand strategy is built from your values and vision. You need to find the balance between authenticity and having a clear direction.  Once you have achieved that, you can identify your goals, and then determine how you will track them. These can include financial goals, marketing goals, or goals set around content production. Consider how you’ll position your brand and iron out how you will highlight your value proposition.   With all of these elements in your strategy, you will have brand success.   All this may not be as relevant to fiction authors who are simply wanting to showcase their books and talk about their writing journey (some authors are lucky enough to have huge support from their publishers in terms of marketing, so don’t feel the need to be on Twitter every day). But it’s highly important if you write non-fiction and wish to prove your worth as an expert in your field, if you want to interact with your readers, or if you are looking to create hype in order to sell more self-published books, attract an agent, or get readers excited about a new book release.  A Subpar Website You don’t have to invest a lot of money in a web designer. In fact, there are plenty of DIY website builders like Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress that are more than good enough for writers.   However, you do have to ensure your site looks professional and accurately represents your brand. Your webpage is where readers (as well as reviewers, press, interested publishing professionals etc) can go to learn more about release dates or new announcements. It’s also a hub for your social media channels and contact info.   Keep your domain active and make sure your site is up to date, has a press kit with working purchase links, author photo, your contact info, and that it all loads properly. It can reflect poorly on your brand if your website looks subpar.  Stay On-Brand Many authors gets sucked into Twitter wars or make mistakes in their career. That’s OK, we are all human, but often it’s not the strident opinion that the public and their fans take umbrage at…it’s that their opinion is off-brand.  If you are an children’s author writing stories about equality, but you don’t think kids in the UK should have free school meals, you’re off-brand. If you write about saving the planet and you wear a fur coat to a signing event, you’re off-brand. If you spend a year posting funny content and wise writing advice, then all your post from then on are photos of your pet snake, people will stop following you. A huge U-turn is the fastest way to undo your hard work and stop your hard-won readers from trusting you.  So pick three words that represent you, your values, and your work – and ensure all you do reflects that.  Get Branding! Author branding is something all writers should create a strategy for. Showing your readers who you are and connecting with them on an emotional level is key to building a fanbase. Yes, it takes dedication but as long as you avoid these common branding mistakes you will easily win the hearts (and trust) of your readers – and in turn, you will have an audience that will not only support you but encourage others to as well! 

Best Genres For Self-Publishing

Self-publishing has come a long way since its days of being seen as an alternative for books that failed to go trade. It’s now a booming sector that, according to Forbes, is growing far faster than trade publishing.   Since self-publishing is no longer an “option B” authors are now asking themselves from the start whether the trade route or the self-publishing route is right for them and their books.   A lot of factors go into the decision of whether to self-publish a book - royalties, marketing, distribution (to name but a few), but one of the most important factors is genre. Whilst some genres are best served by trade publishing, others are better suited to self-publishing.  In this guide you will find a breakdown of which genres are the best fit for self-publishing, which I hope will help you decide the best route to publication.  Most Popular Self-Publishing Genres Before taking the leap into self-publishing it’s important to figure out whether your genre is a good fit for this form of distribution. Many factors are at play here, like varying levels of commercial success.  For example, romance and thrillers are both heavy-hitting genres for indie writers – that’s great if that’s where you will find your readers, but not so great when you’re up against so much competition.   There are also logistical reasons as to why your genre might not be a good fit for self-publishing. For example, print quality for self-pub book printing and POD (print on demand) services, such as Amazon, are not the highest on the market. Therefore, if you are releasing an illustrated children’s book or a coffee table photographic compilation book, then much like with audiobooks, self-publishing won’t be the best option.   Similarly, if you are planning on self-publishing you also have to think about who shops online and who is likely to be exposed to your book. Since middle graders and young children don’t often read e-books and tend to choose books they can pick up and look through in a bookstore, then kid lit may not be the best choice for self-publishing either.   Do your research. The easiest way to do that is simply take a look on Amazon at the kind of book you plan to write and see what sub-genre lists it’s doing well in. You may be surprised by the sub-categories and their popularity.  To give you a better idea of whether your book will do well on the indie scene, here are the most successful genres in self-publishing: Romance The romance genre accounts for a whopping 40% of self-published books in the Kindle market. Romance readers are notoriously avid consumers and the self-publishing industry, which moves at a much faster rate than trade publishing, is able to accommodate this need.   Since self-publishing has lower overheads and a faster turnaround time, indie writers are also able to accommodate a variety of popular subgenres and niche subgenres. For example, where trade may have jumped on the back of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and produced a few similar titles, self-publishing is able to hit every niche of the erotica genre - from BDSM to Reverse Harem to even alien sex – without affecting their brand or worrying about stores stocking the books.   However, since romance takes up a profitable chunk of the self-published market it’s also a highly saturated genre and thus highly competitive. Romance has many sub-genres, so if you’re able to find a niche for your work, you have a better chance at competing.   We will discuss popular romance sub-genres further in this article. For now, let’s look at a totally different kind of action…  Mystery, Thriller And Suspense  20% of mystery, thriller and suspense sales in the book industry are self-published. Readers of this genre are just as fast and avid as romance readers. Therefore, because self-published authors often “rapid release” their work, self-published authors can fulfil their readers’ ferocious appetites faster than trade can (most traditional publishers only publish one book per year by each author).   Here are a few popular thriller and suspense sub-genres:  Private investigator thrillers   Mystery and espionage   Legal thrillers  Cosy crime  Historical thrillers  British detectives  As with romance there are many sub-genres to choose from, and this is just a small selection of the most popular ones.   Fantasy Fantasy is a growing genre in self-publishing, especially since many genres overlap with fantasy. There’s an increasing interest in this genre, with around 50% of fantasy books sold on Kindle being self-published.   Here are a few popular fantasy sub-genres:  Paranormal and urban fantasy (these cross over well with romance)  Epic Fantasy   Dystopian fantasy   Sword and sorcery   Fairy tales   Science Fiction Science fiction is another relatively popular self-publishing genre with around 56% of Kindle’s sci-fi eBooks self-published. Science fiction, much like fantasy, spawns a lot of hybrid sub-genres.   Here are a few subgenres in Science Fiction that are currently doing well on Amazon:  Space opera   Paranormal and Urban  Post-apocalyptic  Dystopian   Epics  Note that sci-fi shares many genres with fantasy, with the two genres often crossing over. Horror and bizarro fiction are also popular in self-publishing, as writers are free to push limits and try new ideas.  Non-Fiction, Self-Help And Niche Subjects  If you are an expert on something that you think people want to read about, yet there’s no book on the subject – then write it! But that doesn’t mean traditional publishers will want it.  Trade publishers don’t take risks, so they can’t justify publishing a book called (for instance) “yoga for dogs” - unless it’s been written by a celebrity, with a huge following, who is known for pet gymnastics.   But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for it.   For distribution reasons, your trade publishing journey often starts with an editor considering the target market, a specific territory, and the bookstores who will help get the book into the hands of readers. For this reason alone, a publisher needs to justify there are enough readers in that region for your type of book before they sign it. This can be hard to do if you are penning a niche book on (for instance) how water therapy can help PTSD. However, if you are writing niche non-fiction, or niche self-help, self-publishing could be the perfect answer for you as most distribution is online – so the world is your oyster.   Note that though self-help and personal transformation books do well in self-publishing, these books often come from authors with an existing audience (i.e. social media presence). This type of non-fiction requires trust from the reader, they need to believe you are an expert in your field, so in this case the building of the brand often comes before the book.  How To Pick A Genre For Self-Publishing Needless to say, many aspiring authors want to make money with their writing, or (if really lucky) make a living from it full time. The best way to do this in self-publishing is to “write to market,” and to approach your chosen genre with commercial intent.   This means writing based on what is appealing to the market. Writing what sells. Sometimes the ‘best’ genre for a particular writer may be the genre they are most familiar with, like pilots writing in the war and aviation sub-genre, or ex-military personnel writing in the military sub-genres.   If you to want to self-publish we recommend you first select your primary genre, identify sub-genres within your selected genre, and research how well they do and what your competition is.  Self-Publishing And Romance   Now let’s go back to romance. As a writer of self-published paranormal romance (under the co-written pen name of Caedis Knight), my writing partner and I, who both have traditionally published books, purposely chose to self-publish this series and write to market. We saw a gap in the spicy paranormal world for books that were set outside of the US and we went for it. The reception we have had has been phenomenal – and that’s partly due to the research we conducted and being able to give our readers something that’s hard to find in bookstores.  Let’s take a closer look at sub-genres in romance – the most popular self-publishing genre worldwide: Romance Subgenres Here are examples of popular romance sub-genres that sell well in both trade and self-pub, followed by niche sub-genres that are likely to do better in self-publishing (because there isn’t a lot of room for them in the trade marketplace).  Bestsellers Contemporary Romance  YA Romance  New adult and College  Historical Romance  Romantic Suspense  Rom Com  Fantasy Romance  Inspirational Romance  Niche Erotica in all forms (many agents around the world won’t even consider erotica, so self-publishing is a good place to start)  Romance Westerns (and modern cowboys)  Holiday romances  Christian Romance   Historical Romance (Regency and Scottish being the most popular)  Classic retellings (Jane Austen being one of the most popular muses)  Military romance (including army wives)   Sports romance  LGBTQ+ romance (this is available in trade publishing, but the self-pub market is much larger)   The romance genre, much like love itself, is varied and wondrous and has no limits!  Now You Know As you’ve probably realised by now it’s helpful to determine where your book will fall in the market before writing your bestseller.   This might seem counterintuitive because you want to write the book of your heart, but your book (regardless of whether indie or trade) will have a much better chance if it can be marketed well, especially if you can position it in a sub-genre within a popular genre.   In summary, if your book takes your readers where trade publishing fears to tread (and it’s something you know people will enjoy reading about) – then go for it. And who knows? You may even invent a new subgenre!  Want some help ensuring your book is as good as it can be? Try our copy-editing service.

How to Write a Believable Tragic Hero

Have you ever seen something terrible unfold right before your eyes? If so, you know that even if you want to, it’s hard to look away. In stories, the embodiment of that irresistible dread is the tragic hero – or what I like to call ‘the literary car crash’. Every story has a protagonist, or hero, and that hero usually faces some kind of conflict. Often they suffer hard lessons, but come out in the end with their conflict resolved; the hero is fulfilled, and the story ends on a happy note. Now, I love a happy ending – and absolutely refute the suggestion it lessens a work’s importance. But what if you want your readers to have a different response to the end of your story? What if you want them to feel pity, fear, or devastation for your protagonist? If that’s your intention, you might consider writing a tragic hero. In this guide, you’ll learn what makes a tragic hero, how those characteristics play out in some well-known examples, and how you can develop your own tragic hero with those examples in mind. What is a Tragic Hero? The tragic hero is a classic literary archetype, one that inspires compelling drama, conflict, and pathos. What makes this character (usually the protagonist) so intriguing is that, while they have admirable traits, one or more of those traits, in the extreme, ultimately causes their downfall. This unhappy irony provides a moral lesson and evokes sympathy from the reader – two reactions that leave a strong impression. What\'s the Difference Between a Tragic Hero and an Anti-Hero? Every novel needs a hero, but what kind will the protagonist of your novel be? Unlike a tragic hero, an anti-hero is someone who (even if they are the main character) lacks heroic qualities. They might do good things, but not necessarily for good reasons – think of Joe in the novel and TV adaptation, You. On the other hand, the tragic hero remains heroic with strong morals and good intentions, with the exception of their fatal flaw that trips them up. Readers want to read about both types of hero, but unlike with the anti-hero, we suffer as we stand by and watch our tragic hero’s demise. So, what are tragic heroes made of? Characteristics of Tragic Heroes According to history books, Aristotle coined the term ‘tragic hero’ (an archetype prominent in ancient Greek plays). He famously said that when a tragic hero meets his fate or demise, “pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.” Using the ancient Greek tragedies as an example, the tragic hero has six main characteristics: Hubris – or arrogance, excessive pride. Hamartia – a fatal flaw; an error in judgement, or self-deception. Peripeteia – the sudden turning point; the error in judgement leading to a reversal of fortune. Anagnorisis – recognition of their tragic mistake. Nemesis – commonly known as ‘the enemy’, here it refers to the struggle with their own pride. Catharsis – pity and/or fear invoked in the reader/audience. Shakespeare’s plays also feature many iconic tragic heroes – Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo, Othello – with these characteristics. Macbeth, as a tragic hero, is riddled with flaws. The irony being that were he not so greedy or ambitious he would have managed to avoid all the horrors he encountered. Do tragic heroes always die? No. Shakespeare’s characters are unforgettable, and as a result people often think tragic heroes have to be larger than life and that their stories always end in death. But that’s not necessarily the case. Let’s examine some more modern tragic heroes, including a few of my favourites, keeping in mind the list of traits above. Tragic Hero Examples Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady The young heroine of Henry James’ 19th century novel is beautiful, free-spirited, and idealistic. She turns down marriage proposals from two wealthy suitors, which impresses her cousin Ralph. He convinces his dying father to will her a large portion of his inheritance, hoping financial freedom will allow her intellect and independence to thrive. Instead, she falls for an impoverished dilettante, Gilbert Osmond, set up by Madame Merle, who she considers a friend. Despite Ralph’s warning, she marries Gilbert, certain of his love and moral character. Afterward, Gilbert controls her money and manipulates her affection for his daughter Pansy in a scheme to further his social standing. Her recognition of his deception alters her; once vibrant and optimistic, she becomes quiet, cautious, defensive. Thus, Ralph’s gift, intended to secure her liberty, becomes the instrument that traps her (and his misguided generosity, combined with his hubris of presuming her future, makes him a tragic hero too). Isabel walks into the trap because of her inability to see fault in those she loves, and pride in her own judgement. Even when she learns of her husband and friend’s betrayal (Merle is Pansy’s real mother), she chooses her notion of honour above her own happiness, as if in penance for her mistake. We feel sorrow on her behalf, because we can relate to the pain of choosing the wrong partner, and being betrayed by a friend. Stevens in The Remains of the Day Tragic heroes aren’t necessarily grand or likeable. The English butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s post-WWII novel lives a life of service, dedicated to his employers and to his ideals of loyalty, dignity, and discretion. All fine qualities, but he takes them to the extreme, making him priggish and exasperating. Still, he merits sympathy, because his upbringing was constrained and unloving. As the novel progresses in flashbacks, we learn two things: 1) Stevens’ revered former employer, Lord Darlington, collaborated with the Nazis, tainting his legacy, and 2) Stevens repressed his romantic feelings for Miss Kenton, who worked as a housekeeper at Darlington Hall twenty years ago. In present time, he takes a road trip to visit her, after receiving a letter suggesting she’s unhappy in her marriage. When they finally reunite, the old attraction is still there. But while she admits it, he cannot. Once again, Stevens’ fear of change and intimacy prevents him from acting. The tragedy of his life is that he devoted it to an unworthy man, while turning away the one person who truly cared for and understood him. Worse, he doesn’t know what to do with his pain except to pretend he doesn’t feel it. And this makes him pitiable. We’ve discussed the appealing tragic hero and the infuriating one; now let’s study a character who’s a bit of both: Lila Cerrullo in The Neopolitan Novels One of two main protagonists in Elena Ferrente’s beloved four-part series, Lila is a brilliant visionary – talented, gorgeous, and fearless. She’s also arrogant, jealous, bitter, and vengeful. All of which makes her fascinating. With her beauty, intelligence, and charisma, she’s a natural prodigy. But her early promise is thwarted by the patriarchal confines of 1950s Italy – and her own self-destructive impulses. She makes dangerous enemies, and betrays (more than once) her best friend Lénu, who can never be sure which Lila she’ll encounter: the good or the wicked. Her unpredictability compels and disturbs Lénu, just as it does the reader. Their love/hate relationship fuels their lifelong, intimate rivalry, and propels this story for several generations. Lila isn’t the agent of all her miseries; terrible things happen outside of her control. At times, she acknowledges her flaws. This softens our judgement, and makes her sympathetic. But she turns her rage at the world inward, becoming so harsh, she repels those who would help her. She expects disappointment, a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves her isolated and unloved. Finally, she chooses to disappear entirely, and it’s as if a scorching flame has been extinguished. In Lila, Ferrante created an unforgettable tragic character – one that bridges the line between hero and villain. More Examples Other tragic heroes from popular, modern-day books, movies, and TV shows include Lisbeth Salandar in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, June Osborne in The Handmaid’s Tale, Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Walter White in Breaking Bad, and Omar in The Wire. They differ from ‘pure’ heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Tony Stark in Iron Man, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, or Bella in Twilight because, while those heroes may suffer tragedies, they don’t have a hand in creating them. And their stories generally have an optimistic ending. How to Develop a Tragic Hero Now that you have an understanding of what defines a tragic hero, let’s review some key steps to help you write this type of character yourself: 1. Your protagonist should have some combination of virtuous, admirable, or advantageous traits. Give them a positive trait - honour, loyalty, kindness, intelligence, strength, talent, attractiveness, etc. Anything that would be deemed positive on the surface. 2. Develop one or more of these admirable traits as a ‘fatal flaw’. Dig beneath the surface. When taken to an extreme, something positive can turn negative, causing your protagonist to make decisions that lead to misfortune. This involves some form of hubris, pride, or misplaced faith on their part. What makes a fatal flaw tragic is that it comes from within, not by some outside force or event. 3. The progression of this fatal flaw should be believable. Meaning, it should be organic to the development of your character. For example, Isabel Archer In A Portrait of a Lady defends Gilbert Osmond against those who think he’s opportunistic because she believes they fault him for being poor. As she also came from modest means, she views this accusation as unfair. And because she personalises it, she can’t judge clearly. Therefore, her loyalty (a positive trait) is skewed by her own hubris, which becomes the cause of her downfall. Despite her intelligence, we believe she could make this kind of mistake, because her decision is caused by something elemental to her nature. 4. Due to this fatal flaw, your character must suffer a reversal of fortune. Often, this occurs at the novel’s peak, provoking the hero’s wrenching conflict. Watching a good situation turn bad, or happiness into despair, invokes our most primal fears. As a result, your reader feels invested and engaged. 5. Your protagonist must realise their tragic mistake. This twists the knife deeper. It’s one thing to fall from fortune’s grace, and another to know you’re the architect of your own misery. This recognition can be either profound or subtle. In The Remains of the Day, the butler Stevens doesn’t consciously acknowledge his error. But his last parting from Miss Kenton niggles at him, and when he reflects aloud about his dim future prospects, his body betrays him and he tears up. He pretends it’s just exhaustion – but the reader knows better, and feels pity. 6. The final outcome must be tragic, evoking sympathy and pathos. Your heroes don’t always have to die – but the consequences of their actions must be grave. Their suffering should outweigh their mistake. Even if your reader feels annoyed by their poor judgement, they should relate to this injustice and be more apt to forgive them. Create Your Own Tragic Hero Tragic heroes, unlike superheroes, are by nature flawed – and therefore someone we can relate to. In their flaws, we see our own. In their stories, we recognise plausible conflicts. And as we project our emotions onto these characters, we experience outcomes that are devastating, digesting their moral lessons without having to suffer in real life. This is the catharsis Aristotle described, and the effect you want from your reader. As you begin to construct your own tragic hero, think of some favourable traits you possess or see in others that, in its extreme form, could be a tragic flaw. Have you had or know of an experience where good intentions drastically backfired? Have you ever been betrayed or blindsided? What are the moral dilemmas you want to explore? The best writing comes from a place of deep personal connection. Find that hot spot within yourself, consider the dramatic possibilities, and then imbue your hero with all the wonderfully complex tragedy they can – or can’t – handle. Make your readers enjoy their sweet suffering as they watch the character they’ve learned to love destroy their own life. Not all great endings are happy ones…but most do shine with a little hope and a hearty lesson.

A Writer’s Guide to Inclusive Language

A Writer\'s Guide to Inclusive Language Disappearing into a great book can be a transformative experience - a form of escapism and an expansion of your understanding.   When I’m diving into the world constructed by a creative author, I want to feel as though I belong in that world. Reading inclusive language is one of the ways in which all readers can feel connected to a story.   So how can you ensure you don’t exclude any of your readers and you help them feel seen?   Firstly, ask yourself this simple question…  Why Are You Writing This Particular Story? We all possess an unconscious bias, and no matter how hard we fight it those hidden prejudices can be projected on to our work. Before we begin exploring inclusive language, ask yourself these questions:   Am I writing about what I know? Is the person’s identity, socio-economic status, race, and age relevant to the plot? Is this my story to tell, or would it be better told by someone who has lived this experience?  If the answer to any of the above is ‘no’ and you still want to write this story, we strongly suggest you do your research and work with critique partners/beta readers/sensitivity readers who have lived the life you are writing. This will not only strengthen the realism of your work, but it will grant you more respect when it comes to pitching your novel to agents or editors.  As society changes, we need to remember our readers and their expectations change too. So, let’s look at how to write inclusive stories…   What is Inclusive Language? Inclusive Language Definition: Inclusion is the practice of fostering a sense of belonging, by including many perspectives, imagining a diverse audience, a multiplicity of ideals, values, and experiences. Inclusive language is how authors show that they recognise their readers, whoever they are, and that they are welcome.   Many people who belong to marginalised communities yearn to see and read about well-rounded, authentic, and diverse characters who are empowered. Characters with independent purpose in narratives, and therefore given the ability to make meaningful change.  Inclusive language isn’t just the description of appearance or using appropriate pronouns; it’s also the use of language to portray power, interest, and direction. It directly addresses the violence of racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, transphobia, islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia, and heteronormativity. Use of inclusive language also avoids direct discrimination, implicit and unconscious biases, and other forms of prejudice.   By practising inclusive writing, you will become highly aware of the language that has been used to communicate exclusion, bias, and hate. In order to appeal to ever-evolving audiences, it’s vital to be aware of out of date language, words, and descriptions, as well as those that have always been intended to cause offense.   Why Use Inclusive Language?  Inclusive language is important because it means you are thinking about your most vulnerable and marginalised readers. It’s important for us all to identify where our writing style inadvertently includes out-dated, offensive terms and work toward eliminating these – because we can’t expect our readers to sift through our work to find the good stuff.   So many people experience the world through the writing of others, whether it’s in museum text, film, TV, literature; representation matters to everyone. Limited representations and stereotypes of people in our society does not just harm those who are misrepresented or erased, it harms all whose imagination is limited and keeps their worldview small.   What Does Inclusive Language Look Like? Power and agency are vital when considering your diverse characters. They must have autonomous, developed identities (so not just sidekicks or plot devices) who participate actively in the story and world.  As experiences of marginalisation and exclusion differ across identities here are a few ideas and examples to consider for your writing. Parents and Pregnancy For many authors creating character profiles is a useful starting point when developing family dynamics.   When writing inclusively you should be aware of:  Hetronormative family structures. Heterosexual romantic relationship(s) don’t have to be central to the familial history and structure.  Gender norms as affecting roles taken by parental figures (the mother doesn’t have to do all the cooking, the father doesn’t have to be great at DIY). Assumptions of the nuclear family with two parents and one or more child. These erase polyamorous and blended families and is a western ideal that doesn\'t often include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and multi-generational households as the core familial structure.  Language matters – use toughen up instead of man up, homemaker instead of housewife, husband and wife instead of man and wife.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have a family that is made up of a married female mum, male dad, and 2.4 kids – it simply means that society doesn’t only look that way. It’s important to reflect reality in your work, as long as it doesn’t feel forced, gratuitous, or irrelevant.  A book that explored the idea of family in an inclusive way is Candice Carty-Williams’s 2019 novel Queenie. The titular character’s family is central to her narrative and their history unfolds throughout the story with the family dynamic driving the narrative. Queenie’s family is her grandmother, grandfather, her aunt, cousin and her mother; as well as the family she creates in her ‘corgis’. The relationships feel authentic and complex - their dynamic is a natural part of the texture of the world.   Gender and Sexual Orientation It’s essential to use inclusive language when exploring gender experiences as well as experiences of sexuality across the spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ communities.   This acronym is used to capture a wide spectrum of experiences, not just those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. The first three letters (LGB) refer to sexual orientation. The \'T\' refers to transgender, and so to gender identity. The “Q” stands for Questioning or Queer, the “I” for Intersexual and the “A” for Asexual.   Regardless of your own sexual preferences, remember the world is made up of many people with many different outlooks and lifestyles.  This also applies to unconscious bias when it comes to gender roles and what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’. Think about non-sexist language such as:   Gender binaries and gender-neutral language (the idea that you have to be either male or female). Framing around gendered appearances (e.g. describing someone as girlie or a tom boy).The effects of patriarchal assumptions that make it seem necessary to use ‘female’ as an adjective with professions that have assumptions of a male standard e.g. doctor or scientist. Toxic masculinity that equates being a man to being tough and unemotional - and femininity to being submissive and sexualized or viewed with the male gaze to satisfy unrealistic fantasies.   Language matters - use gay instead of homo, sexual preference instead of sexuality, trans person instead of transvestite, humankind instead of mankind.  The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett discusses gender (and race) in an intimate manner. Reese and Jude’s relationship unfolds as a sweet experience of connection and insecurity of two marginalised people. Reese’s identity as a trans man is established early and his pronouns established and used consistently then on, with none of the narrative based on speculating on his gender. In fact it is society’s gender assumptions that become absurd, and painful when viewed from the perspective of a couple that sit outside of this. Social Inclusion Poverty and social exclusion are often overlooked when writing inclusively. The language used to refer to people of low socioeconomic status can strengthen negative stereotypes upheld by society, without exploring the systemic inequalities that create poverty and social exclusion in the first place.   Things to keep in mind:  Consider talking about people’s socio-economic status rather than class.  Describing people as survivors rather than victims addresses the idea of agency and power inherent in inclusive writing.Describing people as poor or areas as ghettos, is offensive and dismissive, assigning value only to financial and material assets.   In fact, if you show (not tell) your reader what your characters\' lives are like you won’t need to refer to the words poor, low class, or slums.  Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood describes the reality of living in a community that had been ghettoised by systematic exclusion and discrimination in Apartheid South Africa. The characters in his narrative are interesting and complex, not limited by stereotypical victim narratives, simply people who have to live in an excluded society. Disability When writing about the experience of disabilities it’s important to acknowledge the vastness of what is understood as a disability. As mentioned previously, if disability is not your lived experience, then work with those who can advise you.    Things to consider:  Assumptions about what a disability looks like can result in invisible illnesses and mental health conditions being treated with scepticism and mistrust.  Framing of disability as something strange encourages tropes of disabled villains. Such as where disfigurement and scarring are used to signal wickedness (the James Bond franchise has been under fire for this recently); or mental health or childhood trauma is used to create a backstory that explains violent characteristics. These are dangerous and hurtful tropes with real-life impact.   The ‘othering’ of disabilities detaches these experiences from our understanding of ‘normal’ experiences in society and supports social exclusion - despite the fact that 15% of the world’s population openly identifies as having a disability.   Language matters - wheelchair bound implies a wheelchair traps its user, whereas wheelchair user articulates that their mobility aid provides freedom and greater access to its user.  With mental health, the words mental, crazy, unhinged, unpredictable etc are biased and harmful (unless purposely used in dialogue to represent a character’s own views). Describe their characteristics without using words that are biased and rooted in ridicule or fear.  Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals explores the nuance of dealing will long-term illness and disability, along with Black feminist theory, delivered through poetry and essays.   Race and Ethnicity Race is a social construct, but racism is a reality that affects us all.   Ethnic diversity is often what people refer to when discussing racial differences; ethnicity is a mix of inherited features and shared cultures. It’s distinct from nationality, which is a legal status that assigns a person to the laws of a state or nation, as well as affords them protection by this state.   Many readers will have, at some point, read ‘classic’ narratives with no ethnic diversity, or tokenistic and stereotypical representations (for instance, the language used in the much-loved classic, The Secret Garden, would not be acceptable today).   When considering ethnicity in characters, remember it’s not always vital to describe the skin colour or nationality of your character through physical descriptions (you can allude to heritage via their name or setting, or simply let readers decide what they look like).   If you must describe them, consider:  Our world is ethnically diverse, so your literary worlds should be thoughtfully described without dipping in to fetishized language focusing on features in an overt and uncomfortable way. When describing someone there’s no need to isolate body parts like lips or genitals, or describe skin tones using food.   The Diversity Guide is a great source of reference for inclusive language examples.  Language matters - use uppercase ‘B’ in the word ‘Black’ when referring to race, ethnicity or cultural background, and lower case for the colour ‘black’.   An excellent example of inclusive writing around ethnicity is N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. Though set in a fantasy world where racial identities do not correlate to our own, the character’s physical descriptions are detailed and rich enough that readers experience a varied cast of characters that are ethnically diverse, nuanced, and relatable.   Age I will end by exploring writing inclusively about age, which is essential as all our identities are filtered by age. For instance, referencing age can provide a restrictive lens that may ascribe ignorance and beauty to youth, and cynicism and wisdom to the elderly.  Ageism affects people regardless of how old they are. Consider these intersections to help challenge stereotypes:  Ageism with gender assumptions, around pregnancy and desires for pregnancy. Is every woman over thirty desperate for children?Ageism combined with racism brings forth particular stereotypes and harmful assumptions (e.g. Black youths vs Black elders).  Ageism combined with disability can bring to light an array of pre-conceived prejudice. The erasure of LGBTQIA+ elders support an idea that these communities are new in society without longevity and legacy.  Language matters – although the terms old fart, little old lady, bitter old man and old hag are often used in jest, they are still insulting (unless they’re included in a character’s dialogue to reflect their own bias).   For a great example of how to change a reader’s perception of age, Jonas Jonasson’s novel, The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, is a refreshing narrative from the perspective of an older protagonist that actively challenges the limited expectations of older characters, instead highlighting how all the experiences of his life created accumulated knowledge and perspectives that furthered his narrative and creative possibilities. Evolution of Language Bear in mind that movements to reclaim language that’s historically been used to offend, by those who these words were used against, is rising.   Exploration around ‘crip culture’ reclaiming the word ‘cripple,’ or movements within the LGBT+ communities to reclaim the term ‘queer,’ are very interesting elements of inclusive practice that explore the complexity of power and positionality.   However, these remain problematic for most writers unless they have lived that experience and have a very good reason to use self-deprecating language.  The reclaimed language, among other debates and advocacies based on marginalised people telling their own stories, can and should be explored further by following the #OwnVoices hashtag (created by author Corinne Duyvis). Other related community discussions and campaigns, such as the We Need Diverse Books campaign, are worth researching.   But please, don’t ask someone else to educate you. If you want to run ideas past someone, hire (that means pay) a sensitivity reader.  Champion Inclusivity If your intention is to create a greater sense of belonging, a richer and more complicated world that feels relevant with open possibilities, then it is always worth expanding your practice and considering the impact of the words you choose and the inclusivity of your text. We don’t always get it right, but it’s important to try.  Because I believe there’s a reflexive relationship between inclusive language and inclusive society. As writers it’s our job to be aware of exclusions in society, to consider the agency in the characters we create, and to help move the world forward through the literary worlds we build.   And remember, if all of this appears to be too difficult or unnecessary – maybe your story isn’t yours to tell. Draw from your own experiences. Bring your readers into your world, and in turn help them feel seen. 

How to Turn Your Book into an Audiobook

Take Advantage of the Growing Audio Market You’ve taken the plunge into self-publishing, and now you’re considering creating an audiobook. You’ve heard that audiobooks are a good business opportunity, but how do you go about making one?  In this article, we’ll explain the possible approaches to creating an audiobook, along with their pros and cons. After reading, you’ll be able to make an informed plan and starting working toward your first audiobook release.  Why Make an Audiobook? Audiobook sales are soaring in English-speaking markets—and it’s not just because of lockdowns in 2020. In fact, audiobooks have experienced eight straight years of double-digit growth. In the US alone, the audiobook publishing market has grown to encompass $1,100,000,000 of revenue as of 2021.  Clearly, there is a hunger for audiobooks. And it makes sense: they fill gaps in our daily routine that printed books and e-books don’t, such as when we’re travelling, exercising, or preparing food. Plus, most people already own a mobile device capable of playing audiobooks: a smartphone.  Some authors are concerned that audiobooks will steal sales from their other formats. At a market-wide level, across-the-board growth in print sales and ongoing strong e-book sales suggest this isn’t happening. Plus, more than half of audiobook listeners say they make “new time” for audiobooks and read more books overall as a result, while other readers credit audiobooks with helping them rediscover their love for reading.  In short, the business case for audiobooks is strong: added sales today, plus excellent year-over-year growth facilitated by a widely-adopted technology.  Best Audiobook Genres Be forewarned, not all genres work well as audiobooks:  A book that is intended specifically as a visual experience, such as a coffee-table photography book, obviously doesn’t make sense as an audiobook. A book that relies on diagrams, graphs, or images to convey key information won’t work as-is, although it may be possible to adapt it. Ask yourself whether the images in your book could be converted into short spoken passages that convey the same information. (For example, a diagram showing how to dress a turkey before roasting is helpful but could easily be narrated instead. Meanwhile, a map showing alternate routes between several towns, plus nearby landmarks, would be difficult to narrate in any useful way.)  Reference books typically don’t work as audiobooks, because of the need either to search for particular words or to jump between sections easily.  However, any book that’s primarily running text, whether fiction or non-fiction, will likely work well as an audiobook. Some of the top audiobook genres, based on today’s sales charts, include:  Mystery/thriller/suspense  Self-help and self-improvement  Business & Personal Finance  Science fiction and fantasy  Popular science  History  Romance  You may also have heard that autobiographies and memoirs do well as audiobooks. By the numbers, that’s true, but much like print and e-book editions, you need either a pre-existing “name” and platform or an excellent marketing campaign to perform well in these genres.  How to Create an Audiobook The core of creating an audiobook is recording and editing the narration. You’ll also need to prepare the Whether creating your audiobook yourself or hiring professionals to do it, the core of the work will be recording and editing the narration. Lesser (but equally necessary) tasks include preparing the script, commissioning a cover design, mastering the edited recording, and uploading the package to a distributor. Let’s take a look at what some of these terms mean, and then we’ll explore two approaches you can take to getting the work done—working with a company that can support you, or doing it yourself. Narration Narrating an audiobook is more than just “reading out loud”. The narrator needs to achieve an error-free performance, which is a challenge compared to speaking casually, where we make a surprising number of errors. Another challenge is that an untrained voice will begin to sound rough after 30-60 minutes of constant talking. (If you have public speaking experience, none of this is news to you!) The average person speaks at a rate of 120-150 words per minute. This might seem to indicate that someone can record a 70,000-word novel in 10 hours, but a more realistic estimate would be 20-30 hours, depending on experience. Bad takes, interruptions, and preparation time all inevitably add to the total. Recording, Editing, and Mastering The job of the recording engineer is to set up a suitable recording environment and, using specialized hardware and software, to capture the performance into a digital file. After recording comes editing, which involves choosing the best takes, marking any passages that need re-recording, and “cleaning” the audio of defects such as pops and clicks. This process is laborious and can take three-to-four hours of work per finished hour of audio, depending on experience and the quality of the initial recording. (Note, this means that narration and editing together require five-to-seven hours per finished hour of audio!) After editing comes mastering. This is where an edited recording is adjusted so that the volume is even throughout, with no sudden jumps. The tone will also be balanced, so that the final result sounds good on all types of speakers and headphones and won’t fatigue the listener’s ears. Cover Design Audiobooks use square cover images. If your book has already been published in print or ebook format, it may be possible to adapt your existing cover, or you may have received an audiobook format cover as part of a package you paid for. Otherwise, you’ll need to commission a new design.  Assembly and Uploading When all of your final files are created, you’ll need to assemble them and upload to your distributor. You’ll need to make sure that what you upload meets the distributor’s specifications and requirements. (Be sure to check these requirements before you begin the recording step!)  So, now that you have some understanding of how to create an audiobook, what’s the best approach to use? There are two broad audiobook creation options, one costing mostly money, the other costing mostly time.  Approach One: Use Professionals Using a professional narrator and audio engineer(s) allows you to spend less of your own time on your audiobook, and receive a reliable, high-quality result—but the investment is significant, often $2000US or more. The two most common ways to hire professionals are by using a marketplace, or by dealing with a specialist audiobook company.  Marketplaces A marketplace is a service that connects you with a variety of professional talent, allowing you to review samples, see prices, and choose the narrator you prefer. Two popular marketplaces for audiobook production are Findaway Voices and ACX. (The two sites work somewhat differently and offer different business terms. You should explore both to see which best fits your needs.)  The voice actor you hire will handle the recording process and deliver the final recording to you. Contract terms may be either a one-time fee, or a royalty-sharing agreement that delivers a percentage of each sale to the voice actor.  Specialist Companies If you prefer an approach that’s even more hands-off, you can hire a company that specializes in recording audiobooks. The advantage of these companies is their integrated approach: because they specialize in recording audio, they’ll typically have a dedicated high-quality studio, a staff of experienced professionals, and a well-defined production process that produces reliable results. On the downside, they may have a smaller or more expensive roster of voice talent. Expect to receive an all-in-one quote and delivery of a complete (edited and mastered) audiobook.  If you need to minimize the time you put into audiobook production—for example, if you have an established writing routine and don’t want to disrupt it—or, if you really don’t want to handle the creative direction or price negotiations, using a specialist company could be a good option for you.  Approach Two: Do It Yourself If your preference is to spend less money, but invest more time and effort, then the do-it-yourself approach may be best. Be forewarned that narration, recording, and editing all take practice. And no, DIY isn’t cost-free—particularly not the first time.  Recording your own audiobook gives you a very intimate connection to the final product, and if you do a high-quality job, it can give your readers a special connection to you. Plus, reading your script out loud can improve your writing, particularly (if you write fiction) your dialogue.  Essential Equipment You’ll need to acquire some essential equipment for recording audiobooks:  A high-quality vocal microphone. This is a purchase you can’t avoid and shouldn’t skimp on. (Expect to spend around $60US minimum.)  A “pop guard” or “pop shield”, which is a small barrier of nylon or metal mesh which blocks bursts of air from B and P sounds that can ruin your recording.  Depending on the acoustics of your recording space, you may also need an isolation box—a small, padded cube that surrounds your microphone on all sides but the front, blocking unwanted reflections from nearby walls and surfaces.   You’ll also need a computer with recording and editing software to create audiobooks. There are free options that will work just fine, though professional software often has features that can save time.  Note that if you live in a space where there’s constant noise (such as an apartment above a busy street), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to prepare this space for recording without a significant investment in soundproofing. In this situation, hiring professionals to record your audiobook may not cost any more than doing it yourself.  Technique A complete how-to is beyond the scope of this article, but expect to learn and practice the following to record your own audiobook:  How to use your recording and editing software, and how the various audiobook formats work.  How to warm up your voice before recording, and things to avoid before a recording session.  How to schedule your recording and editing sessions to avoid vocal, auditory, and mental fatigue. (The twenty-ninth hour of recording and re-recording your novel can test your endurance in ways you didn’t know were possible!)  How to ensure recordings made on different days have the same tone.  Because of this learning curve, you might consider creating a short or free excerpt as your first audio release. Much like writing a short story before you dive into a complete novel, this will give you a low-risk opportunity to work out the kinks in your process. You’ll also get useful feedback from your dedicated readers: if they tell you the quality isn’t good enough, you have a chance to recalibrate before recording the full book. (And if they tell you it sounds amazing, that can give you the reassurance to forge ahead!)  You should also consider the possibility of hiring a professional to master your final recording. Much like a manuscript editor, their outside perspective can give much-needed objectivity. Plus, if you arrange to send them your first chapter for review, they can warn you of any serious problems before you record any more. Creating a partnership with a professional audio engineer can be a great way to ensure a high-quality result for your self-recorded audiobook.  Do Your Research and Be Heard As you can see, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you go about creating your audiobook. You can choose to spend time or spend money, and to forge long-term creative partnerships or to outsource for minimal distraction.  Importantly, if your budget is tight, you don’t need to feel shut out of the growing audiobook market. With diligence, you can produce a quality audiobook your listeners will love. 

How To Become A Better Writer

Every year, I vow to write more and write better. Sounds easy peasy, doesn’t it? The truth is, becoming a better writer takes time, work, and commitment – and when you add that to the countless hours we already spend on our current writing projects and day-to-day commitments, putting even more work in can feel daunting. Suddenly, your “simple” goal to improve your craft no longer feels do-able, let alone desirable or attainable. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and so many of us struggle to protect whatever precious writing time we can find.   No two writers are the same. How we define “better writer” changes as our careers evolve. You may want to know how to write good dialogue, how to get better at creative writing, or simply get more words down on the page.  Yet, I’ve never met a writer who didn’t want to improve their craft. Writers are strivers and dreamers - my favourite people – and that’s why I’m here to share my top tips on how I’ve become a better writer.  Make A List Of Your Writing Goals Artistic paths differ from writer to writer. So, let’s start by making a list of your writing goals, big and small. This list is for your eyes only so feel free to go for the gold and the glory.  Don’t hold back. You want to win the Nobel Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature? Sure, why not, don’t we all in our heart of hearts?    Propose Action Steps To Support Your Writing Goals Okay, now that you’ve compiled a list, let’s go over each goal one by one. What actions can you take to support your goal of becoming a better writer? Think of it as your personal GPS. Map out the route to get there. Step by step. For example, if your goal is more production and more publications, but you fear rejection (who doesn’t?) then being a better writer might involve putting yourself out there and submitting your work to more opportunities. How to improve your writing could also mean increasing your productivity and output – writing more pages – which we all know has been difficult during this pandemic.   Perhaps you’ve always been shy about self-promotion and how to be a good writer for you means improving your sales and reaching a wider audience. What are some steps you could take to increase sales? Network?    If ‘writing in another genre’ made it on your list, now might be the perfect time to take that risk and invest in yourself. Pursue that new interest that keeps you awake at night and take that course you’ve always had your eye on. Check out the creative writing classes Jericho Writers offers here. Becoming a better writer takes courage, faith, and action. When in doubt, remember, it and you are worth it. Carve Out Sacred Writing Time A writer writes. Ideally, as often as possible. I know life is messy yet the only way to become a better writer is to carve out some time to write. Establish a routine. It can be thirty minutes a day. One hour a day. Five hours a week. Your routine might vary week to week. I know mine does. This is why I plan ahead.   Look at your schedule next week, find the pockets of time and book appointments with your muse. Act like it’s a hot date. Show up.   Hold this time sacred. That is, put your cell phone in another room and don’t check your email or your social media feeds. In fact, just turn off the Wi-Fi and write.  At the end of the week, if you honoured all your “dates” with your muse, please treat yourself. A little chocolate. A leisurely walk in the park. Even that new notebook you had your eye on. This serves to remind you a writer’s life is rewarding.   Be A Voracious Reader It may be a cliché but it’s true, if you don’t read a lot, you won’t improve your writing. Read as much as possible. Read the classics, the award winners, the up-and-comers, the off-beat, self-published, and commercial. Read magazines and newspapers. There’s a wealth of information out there waiting for you to discover and grab hold of it.   One time I read an article about the difficulties of finding organ donors, and for some reason, a lightbulb flicked on and kept flickering until I wrote a play that explores that topic. This has happened more than once, and it always feels like magic.  That book you couldn’t put down, that you had to read from start to finish – what was it about that story that grabbed you? What made it a page-turner? Was it the point of view, the story structure, the gorgeous language, the plot?   Take note of the books you couldn’t finish too. Why did you lose interest? Perhaps you were too stressed, too tired, and should give it another read later?  If that’s not the case, what would you have done differently?   We can learn so much from other writers and stories that are not our own, and it can all lead to becoming better writers.  Document Your Ideas Writers are curious observers so be sure to carry a handy notebook wherever you go so you can jot down ideas. It may be:   Swatches of dialogue or a bizarre turn of phrase you overhear that spark intrigue.   What someone was wearing…or not wearing.    A street sign or joke that made you laugh out loud.   A scenario that made your blood curl.   Unusual or annoying mannerisms that might inform one of your characters.   That musical phrase you keep humming.   Secrets spilt at that family gathering.  Keep a writing pad near your bedside.  Sometimes a weird dream will jolt me awake and I need to write down the details before I forget.  Of course, you can use your smartphone to make notes, record audio notes, and take photos as well.   Capture the vivid colours that surrounded you.  Record the sound of the beach.  Make a note of how the Hunter’s Moon glowed that night.   Take a photo of that statue or landmark that inspires you to do further research.  Life is full of wonder and delight. It’s our job to live it and write it.  Find A Writing Buddy Writing is a solitary profession, but we don’t have to go it alone. Having a writing friend can be tremendously uplifting in these unsteady times. I have a few writing buddies and we check in with each other regularly. We share resources, what we’re working on, our ups and downs, what we’ve done to advance our careers, and what we hope to do in the next week or two. We hold each other accountable in an honest, supportive, and kind relationship.  Choose wisely. Your writing buddy should be someone who has your best interests at heart, and vice versa. We rarely succeed at the same time or the same rate, so it’s essential to pair up with someone you respect and trust.    Write To Win, Place, Or Show Writing contests provide excellent opportunities to improve your craft, create new work, and have fun. These contests often offer prompts or themes that ignite and stretch our imagination. The fact that these opportunities come with deadlines is a bonus – added encouragement to stick to our writing routines.   I usually choose contests where there are no or low submission fees, but that is a personal choice. Everyone should do their own cost/benefit analyses and compare those results to their goals and finances. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs. While rewards vary from opportunity to opportunity – publication, reading, production or a cash prize – the overall goal remains the same: to challenge ourselves and become better writers.   ‘No’ Is Simply A Number I love American baseball because it showed me a new, healthier way to accept that dreaded word - “failure.”  Professional baseball players strike out a lot. In fact, they strike out 70% more often than they hit. If they hit three out of ten balls, they end up in the Hall of Fame. That’s right, three out of ten and you’re in the Hall of Fame.  Like baseball, the arts is also a business of frustration and failure. You will receive more “no’s” than “yesses.” It is very much a numbers game. The more we submit, the more we step up to the plate, the more likely we will get hits. If we’re lucky, we knock it out of the park and end up on some bestseller lists. The trick is to keep showing up at the plate.   Rejection still hurts and Imposter Syndrome is very real, but one way to soften the blow is to think of each “no” as a pass. Yes, a pass, because many times that’s what it is. A question of fit or taste. Not a reflection on the quality of your work. Maybe the literary magazine just published a story with a similar theme, or an agent is looking for something specific. When a pass shows up in your email box, make it a policy to send out another request or pitch.  Beating up on yourself never helps, never leads to your best work. I know, I am my own Tiger Mom. Alligators are known for their tough skin; good writers are known for their resilience.   Whenever I feel myself falling down that rabbit hole, I pull myself back up with Norman Lear’s motto: “Over and Next.”  Norman Lear is an American television and film writer who has created, written, and produced over 100 shows.  Listen To Feedback Now, if we get repetitive feedback that pinpoints a specific area that needs work, then consider that a blessing. That’s information we can process and use to improve our next draft. Perhaps there’s an unclear plot jump and the timeline is confusing to readers. Maybe the dialogue feels stilted and strains credibility because we inadvertently head hopped. Put these notes on your list of goals. Brainstorm the action steps you can tackle your revision. Find resources. Reach out. Outline. Rewrite. You got this. Keep writing, rewriting, and sending work out. Three hits out of ten. That’s what we should all be aiming for.  Keep Growing  Remember your voice and your vision are gifts to the world. Cherish and nurture those gifts. Court your muse. When you’re feeling blue, keep your eye on the prize. Talent is unstoppable. Three out of ten. Over and next!    I’m so happy you want to become a better writer. Me, too. I hope my tips inspire you to be the best writer you can be, and show you there are so many ways we can keep on becoming better.  So many resources are available, too, at your fingertips, starting right here.  We don’t have to do it alone. We form a community and do this together. We can even have fun along our journey.  The writer’s life is rewarding when we stay curious, stay resilient, and we keep getting better. Our writing goals change as we become better writers and our careers evolve, but one thing never changes: You know best better. See you at the Writer’s Hall of Fame!

Driving The Story: Internal Vs. External Conflict

You can’t have a story without conflict. But what types of conflict should your characters be dealing with? Will it be the bad guys that get between them and their end goal – or will they be the ones standing in their own way?  This internal vs. external conflict debate may sound unnecessary, and some writers simply choose to ignore it, however injecting various types of conflict in your story can be incredibly useful and makes for a deeper (and more tension-filled) story.   There’s a general misconception that a literary fiction novel can’t have external conflict and a fast-paced thriller can’t have internal conflict – that commercial work is all about action, and ‘deeper’ books are more character-driven. That is simply not true.   Before we delve into this discussion, let’s establish what constitutes internal and external conflict - or indeed, conflict itself.  What Is Conflict? Conflict is the stuff of drama. It’s the main reason people read books. Nobody is interested in a protagonist that’s like a cork bobbing aimlessly in the water. No. Readers want to root for a protagonist that has some sort of aim in life, stakes that are high and difficult to achieve. To be more specific, a book character needs motivation and the drive to achieve something. The obstacles that arise to prevent that from happening are conflict and they only make us root for the protagonist harder.   There’s a reason why plot-driven series like The Hunger Games and Divergent are so popular. They provide us with solid main characters who are thrust into an inhospitable environment and are asked to survive through them. With plenty of obstacles thrown in their way (be it people trying to kill them, or trauma from their past preventing them from moving on), it makes for popcorn-worthy entertainment. For the same reason, film franchises like Jurassic World, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have enduring appeal.   Conflict is what makes a story world compelling and a book ‘unputdownable’. If a conflict is weak then so is the story. The more complex and hard to resolve the issue is, the better the story. The best conflicts are an amalgamation of internal and external conflicts.  So what’s the difference between internal and external conflict?   Internal Conflict In simple terms, internal conflict pertains to a character’s fight with the self. This internal struggle tells us a great deal about the kind of person they are. In the film The Woman in the Window, the main character, Anna Fox, suffers from agoraphobia which makes it near impossible for her to venture out of her house. That is internal conflict. It’s this which drives the story forward. Everything that happens in the film basically revolves around Anna’s agoraphobia.  It’s incorrect to say internal conflict only exists in literary fiction. Sure, it can help in exploring the various nuances of a character, but it can also be vital in pushing the story forward. The Woman in the Window is a psychological thriller that thrives on the main character’s internal conflict. Similarly, in Anna Karenina, we have an example of internal conflict in yet another character called Anna. Unhappy in her marriage, she falls in love with a man she can’t have. Her internal struggle is part of the novel’s enduring appeal. External Conflict External conflicts arise when things happen that are out of the character’s control and how they affect their life and prevent them from achieving whatever they want.  External conflict is plot-driven and thus is used to great effect in thrillers and action novels. However, that isn’t to say that external conflict has no use in character-driven novels. In Anna Karenina, her society is one of the reasons Anna can’t be with the man she loves. This is a great external conflict example that appears to be a lot more internal. In the Jurassic World franchise, the conflict doesn’t only arise between the main characters, but mostly due to rampaging dinosaurs being an integral part of the plot. The franchise shows us how, despite every precaution being taken, life itself is difficult to control.  Turning to YA literature, The Hunger Games offers an excellent example of external conflict. Survival is in jeopardy when Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place for the games that are held on the order of the Capital. Whatever action she takes against the external forces she’s forced to deal with determine her survival. The Difference Between Internal And External Conflict Internal vs external conflicts can be more nuanced than this, but here’s a handy reference to distinguish between the two…  Internal: Psychological, emotional, and the past: fears, mental health, trauma, social conditioning and self-doubt.  External: People/animals/monsters who are out to get your character, an inhospitable landscape, and events out of their control.  Adding Conflict To Your Writing There’s no better way to move a story forward than to create conflict between characters, their environment, or their internal angst. Without anything to overcome there’s no hero.  Conflict can take many forms, but it can mostly be categorised into two camps: internal and external. A novel that possesses both forms of literary conflict affords readers a well-rounded view of not only the characters but also of the story world and overall theme.   There are plenty of examples of novels that have both. Some that come to mind are: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Corset by Laura Purcell.   Remember, conflict isn’t only about fistfights and weapons causing widespread destruction. Conflict can be as simple as a person applying for a job and the insecurity they might feel from the other participants.   Let’s take a look at how we can add conflict to our work in more subtle ways.  Dialogue Arguments between characters, not to mention those powerful one-liners, are what drive conflict. Dialogue is often considered one of the best devices for introducing immediate conflict. By applying the old adage ‘Show Don’t Tell’, instead of telling us a character is mean, it’s better to show them being unkind through mannerisms, action and dialogue.   This leads us on to…  Creating Characters With Opposing Views Novels are generally categorised as follows:  Action-based (external conflict)  Reflective (internal conflict)  The action-based novel is driven by events happening in the plot and how the characters respond to them in order to move forward and fulfil whatever purpose they may have. The reflective novel, on the other hand, takes a more languid pace with plenty of characterization. Both of these can be enhanced by introducing characters with opposing views.  Pride and Prejudice, for instance, is an excellent example of a reflective novel where Elizabeth Bennett is torn about her feelings for Mr Darcy throughout the novel. She seems to love and hate him, but ultimately love trumps all. The same goes for North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell where the main characters engage in a dance of love and hate. That is an example of internal conflict and opposing characters.   Subplots In addition to dialogue and characterisation, subplots are also a great way of adding conflict. Subplots allow minor characters to have storylines of their own, and since a subplot always complements the main plot and never competes with it, we get to understand a bit more about the main characters. Think of ways a subplot and the main plot meet, and how they can create conflict for one another.  Flashbacks Flashbacks are also a useful device and are useful in establishing the character as three-dimensional, illustrating why the character is struggling with internal conflict. For instance, if a character has faced trauma in the past, the flashback may explain their behaviour in certain situations in the present.   Conclusion As we’ve demonstrated, conflict in storytelling is a complex subject, but not something that should overwhelm us. On the contrary, conflict is our friend as it can help us write fast-paced scenes and it may be the answer to our plot holes or writing slumps.   Writing conflict doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, whenever the pace of the novel is lagging, conflict is the one thing that will come to your rescue and elevate your novel back to the pace it had in the first place.    So have fun building your worlds and creating characters your readers will root for – then put them through hell!
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