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May 2019

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Spec Fic Writing Pt 4

By | News, Speculative Fiction

SpecFic for Fun and Profit

I’ve never bought into the genre writing vs. literary writing argument, because it doesn’t take too much research to find out which side makes most of the money.

You can’t eat accolades after all.

If you want to make a living from your writing, you have always had a better chance as a genre writer. But, until a few years ago, it was still only a slim chance.

If you are still pursuing the traditional publishing avenue, that slim chance is now next-to-no chance, as the sheer volume of work being submitted to the gatekeepers (publishers and agents) has got to the point that even high quality work doesn’t make it through the slush pile.

Yet the reports say that speculative fiction (SpecFic), especially science fiction and fantasy, are experiencing a renaissance; that more SpecFic writers are making a decent living than ever before.

So why the contradiction – why is it even harder to get published, but more and more authors are making a good living?

There isn’t a contradiction in my view – the renaissance is merely the traditional publishing world finally recognising what has been going on for about 10 years now – independent publishers have not only stolen the keys to the kingdom, but they have run away with the crown jewels too!

For clarity, an independent publisher, or indie, is a professional who self publishes their books either under their own name or through a publishing business they own. Not to be confused with the myriad small publishers who publish the work of multiple authors.

Indies account for half of all online book sales. In 2017 that added up to 113 million unit sales of digital books (eBooks) in North America alone. The so-called Big 5 (Random House et al.) were a distant second with 26% of total unit sales.

Of all the authors who debuted in the last five years, four out of every five authors making a decent living from their writing are indies.

Why is this?

The top reason is the difference in profit. Because indies cut out all the middlemen and sell direct to readers, royalties are much higher. In the science fiction and fantasy genre in 2018, the Big 5 publishers were ahead of the indies in terms of total dollar sales (41% vs. 35%), but the indies were taking home a whopping 3 – 4 times as much money as their traditionally published brothers and sisters.

Money isn’t everything, of course, your writing still has to be fun.

This is where I believe the true renaissance is. SpecFic writers have always explored the boundaries of the known (science fiction), dug deep into our psyches (horror and supernatural) and taken off into the realms of the impossible (fantasy).

Traditional publishing has always struggled with SpecFic, because much of the really good stuff is very hard to massage into a financial spreadsheet.

Indies have no such constraint. We can fly the depths of our imaginations without fear of what a publisher might think – we only have to care about what readers like. We don’t have to worry about shifting 10,000 units in the first week to cover our massive overheads, we just upload our book and start the next one. We don’t see numbers on a royalty statement every three months, we get to chat to real people every day; readers who are as passionate about our writing as we are. We get to make a living, and our readers get to read what they love.

We get to have fun.

And we all profit.

 

BIO:

Nigel George is a traditionally published author turned successful indie publisher. He splits his time between writing and self-publishing fiction and non-fiction books and teaching other authors how to become successful indie publishers. You can find him at indiepublishingmachine.com

picture of dragon

Spec Fic Writing Pt 3

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Writing mythic spec fic: 6 tips

You’re setting off on an epic quest. You plan to slash through jungles, slay monsters, summon storms, and conquer civilisations. But how do you get your readers to follow you? With a powerful story to capture and sustain their interest, they’ll happily share your journey. To help you pack, here are my favourite tips.

  • Sharpen your archetypes

Fantasy and folk tales buzz with magical archetypes that reflect common values (like angels) and taboos (like devils). Most readers instantly recognise a little girl in a red cloak wandering through a forest as vulnerable.

Universal symbols like towers, swords, and magic beans can trigger emotions and tie a story’s themes together. They can also serve as prompts for your plot, setting, and characters.

  • Careful where you aim that thing

Weaving archetypal themes and motifs into my writing adds oomph, right?

Well, yes, but don’t get heavy-handed. Loaded weapons are risky, and most potent when waved around vaguely as a threat, not fired gung-ho. So apply your archetypes sparingly. Add your own unique spin. And don’t mix your metaphors (I admit, this one’s tricky). 

  • Morph your monsters

Warning! In the treasure-house of symbolism lurks the monster cliché. Hackneyed themes and overused archetypes must be challenged. Keep your creatures quirky.

Sometimes all it takes to invert a well-known trope is a little twist, a refreshing slice of lemon in your story spritzer, like the trickster lioness in my Leo zodiac story Safari Blonde. Other times, extensive changes to the trope are necessary. Either way, upending the story makes it far more interesting.

  • Play God

Should I retell an old myth, or write a new one?

Rewriting might be simpler but call for more research. World-building from scratch might be more fun, but ground it in reality. I’m finding the eco-religion in my novel-in-progress doesn’t work without referencing real religions. I guess even God needs source material!

Mythology opens windows to the past. Writing alternate history allows huge creative license as long as you stay in factual boundaries. Skating these windowsills requires balance, but it sparks infinite possibilities.

  • Pull up your pantheons

I think of gods and goddesses as personified archetypes, each with a character and backstory. The sheer diversity of world deities and pantheons means options galore. My newest story involves the Celtic goddess Brigantia, who later became Saint Brigid.

One way to liven things up is to set a traditional myth or deity in a contemporary world, à la popular superhero movie. In my story The Halo Effect, the Greek god Morpheus and the Morpheus character from The Matrix help a drug dealer change his ways.

  • Plant the magic beans

Spec fic writers are uniquely placed to tackle big questions through myth and allegory, point out social inequalities, explore the past or future, and find magic in the mundane.

Embed an archetype in your plot, character, or setting, and watch your story grow into something fresh. When mythology, history, romance, adventure, and spirituality sprout a lush tale, that’s my idea of fiction heaven. What more could a reader ask for?

Nicole Sellers received a gold star from her primary school principal for a one-page sci-fi story about an underwater city. She went on to study creative writing at UOW, majoring in poetry. While raising children she earned a living as a tarot reader, massage therapist, herbalist, and yoga instructor, and continued to write. Nicole’s poems and articles have appeared in Plumwood Mountain, Spiral Nature, International Light, the anthology Grieve 6, and elsewhere. Her novella was recently shortlisted for publication in Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Drowned Earth series. Patchwork Raven will release her zodiac-themed story as an illuminated manuscript in August, and she is a contributor to the forthcoming Story Hunters speculative fiction anthology. Nicole facilitates the HWC Belmont creative writing group. To find out more about her work, visit https://www.nicolerainsellers.com/

Nicole Sellers, HWC member
Book cover First In the Veins

Spec Fic Writing Pt 2

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Putting the characters in the driver’s seat by Graham Davidson

Why be a control freak when you can let your characters drive the story for you? 

Put a group of Spec fiction writers together and they’ll often get caught up in the Pantsers versus Plotters debate. For those unfamiliar with the argument, Pantsers generally start with a setting and some basic characters, then make up the story as they go with no idea how it will end till they get there. Plotters on the other hand will meticulously plan their story, with a clear picture of the story’s conclusion before they put pen to paper. Both methods are as valid as each other, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Yet one thing I’ve found most Pantsers and Plotters agree on is that their characters should have free rein to drive the story.

So, why is this one area where two such diametrically opposed approaches find common ground?

The answer is simple. Getting to know your characters is like getting to know people in the real world. No matter how much you analyse them beforehand, it’s not until you see them interact with others and face difficult situations that you know how they’ll react. For me, discovering how characters are going to react to a given situation, and what little secrets they may have hidden, is one of the great joys in writing. An example that comes to mind from my recent Witches of the Cross-worlds middle grade novel, Hunter, is a gravedigger named Sean O’Malley. After a pauper’s funeral presided over by one of the novel’s central characters, the Reverend Alfred Casey, the priest rides off leaving O’Malley to fill the grave. As soon as the priest is out of sight O’Malley jumps into the grave and steals the dead man’s shoes, something I hadn’t planned or expected… it just seemed to happen. O’Malley went on to become one of the central characters in the book; a portrait of self-serving, evil intent.

When sitting at the keyboard it’s as though I’m observing and chronicling an unfolding story. At the start of a scene I’ll play the director; making sure everyone’s where they should be, and that the mood is right. I might put words into one character’s mouth to begin with, but after that it’s time to sit back and let the imagination run free with how the characters respond to situations and interact with each other. Meanwhile, I madly try to write it down while it remains fresh in the mind’s eye. When writing dialogue, this means skipping all attribution until the conversation is finished. You can always add tags where needed later.

The rewards are many when characters do or say something unexpected… like O’Malley stealing the dead man’s shoes. This is often when I’ll decide to end the scene, even if my original intention had been to carry it on for longer.

When a character’s actions or words take the writer by surprise, you can feel confident it will do the same for the reader. And that will keep them turning the pages to see what other surprises may lie in wait for them.

spaceship

Spec Fic Writing Pt 1

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Take Us To Your Reader by Michael Tippett

Let’s address the oliphaunt in the room, shall we?

Speculative fiction is finally getting the respect it deserves.

Not too long ago there was a stigma attached to being a genre writer—more so if you huddled under the ‘spec-fic’ umbrella of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Thankfully, all this is changing. Speculative fiction is pushing into the mainstream.

Some would argue it’s been doing so for years.

Long before a certain boy wizard came out of a cupboard under the stairs, Shakespeare was writing about ghosts, fairies, and witches. Shelley penned the nightmare vision of her modern Prometheus over two centuries ago. Then there was Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, and—in recent times—the likes of Atwood and McCarthy. All these literary giants have lent their weight to genres that some would proclaim as escapist fiction.

I get that change doesn’t always come easy. No doubt there are still readers who regard speculative fiction as nothing more than cheap entertainment; just as there are those who deem literary fiction to be pretentious or elitist. Personally, I’ve never bought into this tired debate.

But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered ditching elves and orcs in pursuit of literary esteem. I tried it during last year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

After two stages of intense competition, those of us who made it through to the final round had just 24 hours to write our crowning piece. Unlike previous rounds where random genres were assigned, we now had the freedom to choose our own. I decided to do my homework.

Reading through the winning stories from previous years, it became obvious that most of the pieces had a literary bent. I can do literary, I remember thinking. Something poignant, profound. Perhaps a dysfunctional family saga with a metaphorical title?

I had a solid game plan. But when Round 3 started, I was feeling uninspired and miserable. This lasted for the first few hours until, in a fit of frustration, I ditched the literary angle and went with a story I wanted to tell: a horror piece set during an alien invasion. It felt liberating to go this way, even though I was bummed that I had blown any chance of placing in the competition. So, imagine my utter disbelief when I was later informed that I had taken first place.

I learned a great deal from this. It was recognition. Validation. Not just for me as a writer, but also for the genres I love. For the tales of rocket ships and strange planets. For monsters lurking under our beds or inside our hearts. For post-apocalyptic landscapes ravaged by zombies / robots / plague / climate change.

Speculative fiction has earned its seat at the adult table. Yes, it can be cheap entertainment (don’t make that sound like a bad thing), but I also believe it has the power to explore the human condition as deeply as any literature…even if the characters themselves happen to be somewhat more—or less—than human.

Michael’s short story, Cherub, won the Hunter Writers Centre Members’ Prize and People’s Choice Award in the 2015 Grieve Project. He was also a top ten finalist in NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2017 and winner of NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2018.

Michael Tippett, writer