Category Archives: genre fiction

2016: The Year of the Writer?

There are signs that after the dramatic 2009 digital disruption that brought in the self-publishing tsunami, the publishing industry is stabilizing. And Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a best-selling author and dispenser of cool, much sought-after advice has even decreed on her blog in a year-end post, that 2016, is going to be “The Year of the Writer”.

Kristine Kathryn Rush’s blog, click here

Hooray! Or is it too early to celebrate? KK Rusch notes that in 2015 a lot of indie writers suffered from burnout (disclosure: my case too). But she has words of wisdom to soothe the pain:

If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.

So nice to hear I’m not the only one (and yes, now too I’m turning my attention to a new novel).

So why this high rate of burnout in 2015? Simple: because of marketing pressures:

  1. You have to market your book in every possible way, Twitter, Facebook, book tours, Goodreads, you name it – exhausting;
  2. You have to write your next book in the series – yes, it’s a series of course, the best way to keep your readers glued to your books – and you have to do it as fast as you can, you’ve heard that best-selling authors come out with a new book every three months (yikes, how do they manage that?) – even more exhausting, especially if coupled with (1) above.
No surprise then that authors collapse.
But as KK Rush says, why do it? The solution to burnout is simple: write what you want. And, as she notes:

It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous WriterBecause we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.

Ready to be courageous? Ready to do your own thing?

Well, maybe not quite yet. Also, there are many ways to deal with burnout. For example, you could step sideways – move into non-fiction. That’s what I did: since 2014, I’ve moved into a lot of non-fiction writing (mostly articles about the United Nations) and working as Senior Editor for Impakter – and it’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve come across a lot of new, hugely talented young writers contributing exciting articles to Impakter.

Impakter – The United Nations section, click here to see.

Meanwhile the number of readers on Impakter has grown exponentially, to the extent that it has become a lead magazine for Millennials, even exceeding the New Yorker…That has made my experience with burnout as a fiction writer a lot easier to bear!

But KK Rush does not stop there in her predictions. She has just published a fascinating analysis of what went wrong: “Business Musings: The Reactive Business Model“. What she is arguing is that traditional publishers, starting in the 1970’s, have been “reacting” to surprise best-sellers by imitating them.

In order to survive commercially, they’ve churned out as fast as they could books that are as close as possible to the surprise best seller. And now, indie writers have fallen in the same trap, writing in the genre that supposedly “sells”, following as closely as they can the example set by best-selling authors. And you get a slew of would-be Hunger Games, slavishly applying what KK Rusch calls the “reactive business model”. And she predicts:

More and more indie writers will leave the business if their business plan is based on the Reactive Business Model.Traditional publishers have forgotten that they used to partner with writers. Writers created the material and publishers published it to the best of their abilities. Because traditional publishers are owned by large corporate entities, the pursuit of profit has become the mantra, and if an imprint isn’t profitable in the short term (five years or so), it gets absorbed, replaced, or dissolved.
Indie writers don’t have to follow that model—and shouldn’t. They need to go back to the old model.

And of course, the “old model” – the reason writers abandoned traditional publishing and went down the road of self-publishing in the first place –  is exactly that:

Write what you want to write. Don’t think about marketing until the project—whatever it is—is done. Then consider how to market the project. Be creative in the marketing too. Don’t just imitate what was done before.

Wise words, no doubt about it. And when writing your next book, she warns:

 “Don’t act like traditional publishers and manipulate your next book to be like someone else’s success. […] Move forward in your career. Don’t look back. Following the Reactive Business Model is by definition looking backwards.

Definitely good advice.

I would only add: don’t worry about marketing at all.

I know, this may sound counter-intuitive in a time when book discovery has become incredibly difficult given the large number of available titles – more than 4 million in the Kindle store alone.

The theory that the “cream rises to the top” and that the best books will be inevitably discovered has proved wrong time and again. A book, to be properly launched, needs strong marketing. A push. And of course, be ready to do it when the time comes but don’t overdo it, and especially not at the expense of your writing time.

You can always do some more book promotion later, if and as needed. It may take longer for you to be recognized, but at least in this digital age, indie writers have an advantage over traditionally published authors of the past: their books don’t disappear from book stores after three months, digital versions stay in the cloud forever, they have a so-called “long tail” that is (eventually) working for them.

This simple technical fact ensures that your books remain available on Amazon and other platforms as long as you, the author, don’t retire them.

So hang on in there!

And Happy 2016!

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Filed under book marketing, genre fiction, Publishing, Uncategorized

Tom Chalmers, Founder of a Publishing Ecosystem – Interview

Another interview I did under my real name for Impakter magazine. Here it is:

TOM CHALMERS – A COOL ENTREPRENEUR

on 5 December, 2014

In less than ten years, starting when he was 25, he built a whole publishing eco-system ranging from fiction and non-fiction to licensing rights

Tom Chalmers is young, perhaps the youngest UK publisher in a generation. In 2005, he was just 25 when he started Legend Press, a fiction publishing house. This was soon followed by a series of publishing companies, one for business (Legend Business), one for non-fiction (Paperbooks Publishing), one for self-publishing (New Generation Publishing) and one for writer events (Write-Connections) – all of them brought together in 2011 in the Legend Times Group while a licensing platform (IPR License) created in 2012, remains completely separate.
All these endeavors run the whole gamut of publishing and cover both traditional publishing sectors and the more technologically advanced digital areas like e-books and self-publishing. IPR License that uses the Internet to reach out to clients is perhaps the most original, and certainly, in terms of travel for the staff, the most demanding.

Mr. Chalmers is a very private individual, when I asked him for a personal picture as Impakter does not use promotional pictures, he said he didn’t have any personal pics to hand and suggested to use the one where he is speaking in China. He is the kind of person who goes at it alone, doing everything pretty much on his own.

Tom speaking pic
In short, a cool, collected and determined entrepreneur. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Impakter and here are highlights of a long and fruitful interview.

To read the interview, click here.

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Elizabeth Jennings, Romantic Suspense Author and Founder of the Women’s Fiction Festival – Interview

Another article of mine on Impakter magazine, an interview of best-selling author Elizabeth Jennings who also founded the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera eleven years ago. I attended this year’s Festival and had a chance to interview her – she is married to an Italian and lives in Matera (see photo below, she is presiding one of the discussion panels, surrounded by writers, from left, self-pubbed American authors Debra Holland, Tina Folsom and Bella André).
 Elizabeth Jennings (in red) on the Festival’s podium presiding a panel

Creator of a Unique Writers’Conference in Italy

on 10 November, 2014 at 08:56

Elizabeth Jennings has many namesakes. If you search for her on Google, you’ll find a deceased English poet, an African-American activist and more, but there is only one Elizabeth Jennings, the bestselling romantic suspense writer who lives in Italy and created the most successful writers’ conference on the European continent, the Women’s Fiction Festival held every year in Matera, Italy, since 2004.

How come such a difficult-to-reach, small town like Matera hosts such a well-known cultural event?

Matera, with a baroque center like so many in Southern Italy, became known in 1993 when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “Sassi” district, one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on earth, a spectacular series of dwellings hewn in the rock forty thousand years ago.

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But the Sassi are not the answer, though they no doubt make the stay in Matera something to remember. And neither is the fact that Matera has just been nominated “Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019”, beating Lecce, Siena, Ravenna, Cagliari and Perugia to the honor. Indeed, one of the elements that moved the European Commission to choose Matera over its rivals was the Women’s Fiction Festival itself and its enduring success.

So the explanation for the Fiction Festival is to be found elsewhere – in Elizabeth Jennings herself, her dynamism and extraordinary entrepreneurship.

Read the interview here.

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To Publish AND Perish – Will the Tsunami of e-books Destroy our Culture?

This article was published on Impakter (under my real name, Claude Forthomme):

https://i2.wp.com/impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/paisaje15-1050x582.jpg

To Publish and Perish

on 20 August, 2014 at 09:00

Amazon and its 3.4 Million E-Books: the End of Culture?

For a long while now, people have debated how many e-books Amazon carried it in its Kindle Store, because Amazon has never divulged the data. Some daringly ventured the figure of 1.5 million. Wrong! The real figure is close to 3.4 million and I found it by chance, as I was navigating Amazon’s website for Amazon Associates which provides links, banners and widgets you can upload to your blog to help advertise Amazon products.
Here it is in a screen shot I took on August 19, 2014:
Look at what the red arrow points to: “Results from Amazon Kindle Store…3,376,174 . Three days later that figure had grown by over 9,000 units and stood at 3,385,243, climbing ever closer to 3.4 million. This means that everyday over 3,000 titles are added, that’s over one million books per year – and probably growing at an exponential rate that I cannot calculate for the moment; I haven’t got the data though Amazon does (I wonder whether they are as scared as I am).

Or to put it another way: It takes one hour to add 12 books, one new title every five minutes.

You can bet that in 10 years time the number of titles in the Kindle Store could be anywhere between 20 and 40 million books.

This is as many books as Google is said to have scanned globally, drawing from all the world’s libraries (the latest reported figure dates to last year and was 33 million books).

Surprised? I’m not, not really. Internet guru Jaron Lanier, in his fascinating book “Who Owns the Future” suggests that we should eventually expect as many writers online as there are readers. If he’s right (and there’s not reason to believe him wrong), we still have some way to go. But it will surely happen, and probably sooner than you think.

When that happens, what will the e-book market look like? Lanier reminds us that this is what happened to music already.

Are books like music? Not quite, books are a more complete codification of ideas, they can play on emotions the way music does (for example, a romance novel or lines of poetry) but they also encapsulate ideas and ideology (from Hegel to Marx to contemporary thought gurus, like Lanier himself).

So can we expect our culture to get crushed under the numbers?

Again, Lanier tells us how he sees the future. Books will be increasingly linked to devices – think of how the rise of e-books was linked to the Kindle. When that happens, says Lanier: “some good books from otherwise obscure authors will come into being. These will usually come to light as part of the rapid-growth phase, or “free rise” of a new channel or device for delivering the book experience.” He doesn’t say it, but of course Amanda Hocking and John Locke‘s sudden rise to fame immediately comes to mind. They enjoyed a “heightened visibility” on the Kindle, as they were “uniquely available early on on that device.” And Lanier to conclude: “In this way, an interesting author with just the right timing will occasionally get a big boost from a tech transition”.

Is that good for authors? No, says Lanier, “the total money flowing to authors in the system will decline to a fraction of what it was before digital networks.” The future reserved to authors is exactly the same as what musicians are facing today: “Most authors will make most of their book-related money in real time, from traveling, live appearances or consulting instead of book sales.”

Authors in future will be a vastly different lot from what they are today, no more hiding in the ivory tower as “independent scholars”

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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The 6-Word Novel: For Sale, Wedding Ring, Never Worn!

For Sale: Wedding Ring, Never Worn

Ok, I plead guilty: the original 6-word short story, a.k.a. the six word novel, an extreme form of flash fiction,  is Hemingway’s and it’s not about a failed relationship but a dead baby or perhaps an unborn child, precisely this: 

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
 
He dreamt it up in the 1920s in response to a bet with friends. He won the bet and he considered it his best story ever.
 
The 6-word flash fiction has fascinated people so much over time that today there’s a website entirely dedicated to it, with hundreds of examples, see here.
 
And now ReadWave, the cool website that draws together readers and writers with short stories (including non-fiction), has come up with a competition inspired by Hemingway’s 6 word story:
Readwave will award $100 to the 6-word story that gets the most “likes” on their site, there are still 12 days to go, but hurry! To submit your story click here.
I submitted a horror story (it was an idea my husband had, surprisingly so, he’s usually not that morbid!) and this is how it looks on the Readwave website:
 …hum. If you like it, please go over to the website here, and click the “like” button, thanks!
BIG NEWS (in case you missed it)! All 4 parts of FOREVER YOUNG are now OUT, Part 4, The Longevity Gene is here 

You can start reading Part One for free on Wattpad where I release a new chapter every day – 6 chapters published so far, click here to start reading. And if you like it, please “vote” (that’s how “likes” are expressed on Wattpad) Many thanks!

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Why Climate Fiction is Here to Stay

Climate fiction has gone viral for a very simple reason: it deals with climate change and global warming, issues that are getting worse every year. We’ve been used to dire reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for years but now we are getting one, equally somber report from the United States, long the homeland of climate change deniers: the National Climate Assessment, done with 300 experts. It’s full of information and has some amazing photos (like the one above illustrating the collapse of ice sheets – now on-going in Greenland and Antarctica and adding to sea level rise – photo source: Paul Souders/Corbis).

Things have never looked so bad, and it’s not happening in some distant, unlikely future but right now.

The New York Times reported on it (see here) and got some 1300 comments in  just a few hours. One of the commentators (who also happened to be a climate scientist living in Seattle) noted: “We are well on our way to the 6th mass extinction. Shelled animals in the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are showing damage from the ocean’s acidity. Unfortunately, people don’t get into gear when they hear doomsday pronouncements.” (highlighting added)

They don’t. 

It’s hard to imagine, hard to go beyond the raw numbers and the (cold) data (or should I say hot?).

And that’s precisely why we need climate fiction – because it works on the emotions

And when you realize the problem is here and now and concerns you, well, it’s normal, it makes you sit up! 

That’s why Nathaniel Rich  cli-fi novel Odds Against Tomorrow was eerily spot on. He had imagined New York under water. When his editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was finalizing his draft for publication, hurricane Sandy hit New York and all of a sudden, Rich’s book didn’t at all look like fiction, it looked like social realism! 

Take a close look at the book cover (I’ve added a circle and an arrow) and see what New York could look like in a not-so-distant future after yet another hurricane – because now we know without any shadow of a doubt that extreme weather events will hit us more and more often…

We have certainly covered ground in 10 years! 

Think of it, one book by a best-selling 20th century author that was in fact a disruptive and much talked-about climate fiction novel (though it came out in 2004, fully four years before the term cli-fi was coined by Dan Bloom) depicted climate activists as…”eco-terrorists”! Yet it was undoubtedly climate fiction: climate change was its central theme. I am speaking of course of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

This illustrates well how broad a genre climate fiction really is, if it can include a book that is music to the ears of climate deniers. Because that is my point: climate fiction, whether you are denying climate change or believe in it, is here to stay – a constant source of inspiration for writers.

I would  also like to add that climate fiction inevitably will include books that go beyond climate change. 

Why? Because climate change is but one of the negative trends that will affect our future. The others are well-known and nobody disputes them: an unstoppable population explosion, rapid industrialization especially in developing countries, a world-wide rush to urbanization, increasing income inequality causing social tensions, the multiplication of local wars as weak states struggle to politically emerge and mature in working democracies.

The main point here is that all these trends are inter-linked and interact on each other, reinforcing each one. For example, industrialization of itself wouldn’t be so devastating if it wasn’t accompanied by rapid urbanization and rising population, etc etc.

So if you try to look at the future and figure out what awaits humanity in the long run, you have to take into account not only climate change but all the other trends as well – which is what I tried to do with my new serial novel Forever Young (Part One and Two are out, Part Three will be released next week.)

How well I’ve explored the future, how realistic it is, I leave it to you to judge! But do let me know what you think – the future of humanity is one of the most important issues facing us all. Your views? Do you think writers have a role to play? 


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Why Science Fiction is Important

This morning Amazon reminded me of what matters in Science Fiction and why it is not useless fantasy but a very serious literary genre that is able to raise deep existential issues and make us think

Here is what I got in my email box:

Amazon.com
Your Amazon.com Today’s Deals See All Departments
Customers who have shown an interest in classic sci-fi might want to know about this selection of popular Kindle books.
Ender's Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Ender’s Game: 1 (The Ender Quintet)
Orson Scott Card
Price: $6.49
Learn more

Add to Wish List

1984
1984
George Orwell
Price: $8.46
Learn more

Add to Wish List

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story
George Orwell, Ralph Steadman
Price: $7.97
Learn more

Add to Wish List

The Forever War
The Forever War
Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi
Price: $5.37

Just four book, two historical “classics”, Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, and two “moderns”, both winners of numerous awards, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game

It so happens that two of those books are my all-time favorites (Orwell’s) and the other two are on my TBR list – I just had samples downloaded to my Kindle…which goes to show how effective Amazon’s marketing is.

Just to show you why these four books raise fundamental issues, here are excerpts of the book descriptions. Please note I’ve just retained the phrases that refer to the issues raised and italicized the high points:

Ender’s Game: “In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine…Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity…Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders.” As the Amazon.com review put it: “Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices.” (italics added)

The Forever War: “… a science fiction classic that chronicles the life of William Mandella. Due to the time distortion associated with deep space travel, he is present during both the first and the last battle of a thousand year old conflict with the alien Taurans. A masterpiece of not just science fiction, The Forever War illustrates the futility of all wars and their effect on the human soul.” (Italics added) As Iain Banks put it, this is a war novel that happens to be science fiction.

Animal Farm: “…classic satire of the Russian Revolution is an intimate part of our contemporary culture. It is the account of the bold struggle, initiated by the animals, that transforms Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm into Animal Farm–a wholly democratic society built on the credo that All Animals Are Created Equal…The climax is the brutal betrayal of the faithful horse Boxer, when totalitarian rule is reestablished with the bloodstained postscript to the founding slogan: But some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” (Italics added)

1984: “… a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.”

It may come as a surprise that Animal Farm was included in this short-list of popular classic science fiction – it is more fantasy and satire than anything else, but it certainly uses the same Orwellian approach to novel-writing: logically extending to its extreme, violent version an observable current trend in human society, which is exactly what he did for 1984. And that is what makes Orwell’s writing so effective and frightening. You recognize the world he describes, and he forces you to think through all the implications of what is happening. 

The underlying message is this: if you don’t stop the trend, that is what will happen. Hell on earth.

That strong warning is at the heart of the other two books as well: the perennial futility and pointlessness of war (The Forever War), the challenge of growing up, of becoming a just person in a world ridden with small-minded jealousy and pettiness (Ender’s Game).

Yes, in my view, good science fiction, like good climate fiction, is all about alerting the readers to basic issues that threaten our continued existence on this planet. The debate is around political issues but also around bigger issues, like what is the meaning of civilization? What is at the heart of humanity?

These are very big questions normally associated with literary fiction. Yet science fiction addresses them too and does so with the additional dimension of unbridled imagination – no holds barred, everything is possible! And that makes good science fiction particularly suspenseful and fun to read…

Do you agree? Do you read science fiction and if so, why? What do you get out of it?

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