Tag Archives: books

The now and then of books

file0002103651804Master Eight is fascinated with hearing about “the olden days” at the moment. Sadly, the days he means when he uses that phrase are the days of my own childhood. I keep trying to tell him that, no, it’s my parents who grew up in the olden days, but to no avail. As far as he’s concerned, my childhood is closer to the age of the dinosaurs than to the present reality of his every day life.

A few months ago, I told him the story of the day I was born.

“My mum, Nana, started feeling funny,” I said, “and had pains in her back. My dad was worried about her, and decided to call the doctor to check if he should be doing anything. But they didn’t have a phone at their house, so he had to run down the street — in his pyjamas (this elicited the laugh I expected) — to the pay phone and call the doctor. The doctor said: ‘Son, your wife’s having a baby. Take her to the hospital!’ And a little while later, I was born.”

Master Eight listened in rapt attention, giggled in the right places, and nodded along. When I finished telling the story, he looked confused for a minute and asked, “Why didn’t they have a phone in their house?”

I explained that, back in those days, not everyone had a phone in their house, so they had to use pay phones. He still looked confused, and then his face filled with understanding. “Oh!” he said. “And his mobile was out of battery!”

I think that moment, more than any other, made me realise exactly how removed his childhood is from mine — he lives in a world where not having a landline is fine, but not having a mobile phone is inconceivable. A world where not being able to look up information immediately from the comfort of your phone or laptop is an alien concept. A world where communication takes place instantly or never — there is no in between.

Since then, I’ve noticed it more and more in the books we read together. Sometimes when I’m reading him Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or Norton Juster, he looks at me and asks why people didn’t just use their phones. Or why they didn’t just google in the information.

I’ve spoken to people who feel this disconnect makes those older stories incomprehensible to children of today, or who avoid reading stories that will confuse young readers. Me? I take a different view.

Every gap in understanding that results in a question about technology is a window into a conversation about the way the world has changed, and a brainstorming session on how the world of the future will look. And, let me tell you this. If it turns out half as wonderous as my son imagines, it’s going to be a bright and shiny future.

I hope I’m here to see it.

(This post was inspired by Owen Duffy’s The books I loved as a child have lasted — but the world has changed.)

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Filed under Life With Kids, Reading

Should eBooks be Available for Free?

Jar of Coins

This is not a post about self-publishing vs traditional publishing.

This is not a post about eBooks vs Print books.

This is a post about the way we think about pricing books, regardless of how they’re published, or by whom.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read numerous articles regarding the “best” or “correct” way to price eBooks. I’ve heard stories about the benefits of giving away books for free as a promotional tool, and diatribes about the insanity of devaluing your own work by giving it away. I’ve heard arguments for pricing eBooks at no less than $4.99, and arguments for pricing eBooks at no more than $1.99.

I’ve not gotten involved in the discussion before. I’ve listened to the arguments, formulated my own opinions, and let it go. After all, I don’t have an eReader, don’t read eBooks, and don’t have any books of my own published (yet). So I figured the debate didn’t really concern me.

And maybe it doesn’t.

Or maybe it does.

Maybe it concerns everyone with an eye to the future and a care for the way artists interact with their fans and the rest of the artistic community, from writers to musicians to visual artists. Because when we talk about how we price our books, we’re not just talking about a simple matter of ‘Price = Cost + Profit’. We’re talking about wider issues.

We’re talking about the changing face of publishing.

We’re talking about the way the internet informs our choices, as both writers and readers.

We’re talking about the new and varied ways we communicate and connect with each other.

We’re talking about the way being an Author has changed and is changing.

No matter whether you’re self-published, traditionally published, or hoping to be published, I can guarantee you are well aware that being a writer is not just about being a writer anymore. It’s not enough to write a book. You’ve also got to market that book. You’ve got to build a platform and create an online presence and use social media and so on and so on.

As writers, we no longer connect with readers through book tours. We can’t sit in our fortresses of solitude, trusting in our publishers to get our books into bookstores, and trusting in the bookstores to put our books into the hands of readers. Now, we’re directly and intimately involved in the process. We connect with readers online, using blogs and Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media sites you frequent. We forge personal connections with our readers, sometimes  long before they even are our readers.

But what does building personal relationships have to do with the price of eBooks?

Nothing. And everything.

Let me explain.

One of my heroes in the creative world is Amanda Palmer. If you don’t know her, she’s a singer/songwriter who first came to fame as half of the Dresden Dolls punk cabaret duo. She’s now a solo artist, touring and recording with the Grand Theft Orchestra band, and made headlines last year with her Kickstarter project.

She asked for $100,000 to fund her new album.

She got $1.2 million.

Amanda Palmer is a big believer in music being free. She supports downloading, torrents, file sharing, and good old fashioned copying of CDs to give to your friends. If you visit her website, it’s possible to download all of her music free of charge. All she asks is that if you like it, you come back and pay what you think it’s worth and what you can afford.

I’d love you to take a few minutes and listen to Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, ‘The Art of Asking’ where she says, “Don’t make people pay for music. Let them.”

One of my favourite quotes from Amanda Palmer’s TED talk is this one, in relation to her Kickstarter project:

The media asked, “Amanda, the music business is tanking, and you encourage piracy! How did you make all these people pay for music?”

And the real answer is: I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you.

You see where I’m going with this?

As writers, we connect with readers online, using blogs and Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media sites you frequent. We forge personal connections with our readers, sometimes  long before they even are our readers.

We connect with our fans in exactly the way Amanda Palmer is talking about. We do it already. We blog and tweet and connect on a personal level. But we don’t take advantage of that.

We don’t ask for help.

We just tell them that if they want our book, they’ll pay the ticket price.

Imagine what would happen if we did things differently? Imagine what would happen if we offered our eBooks for free, and asked our fans to pay what they think the book is worth.

I’m not just talking about self-publishers here. As I said to start with, this is not a post about self-publishing vs traditional publishing. This is a question for everyone.

I know the current publishing model doesn’t support giving away books for free. I know the current model is all about making people pay, not asking people to pay. But we’re in the middle of major changes in the way that publishing works. And if we, as writers, don’t have the right to have some say in the future of publishing, who does?

I’d like to leave you with another quote from that TED talk.

For most of human history, musicians — artists — they’ve been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance. But the internet, and the content that we’re freely able to share on it, are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close, and about those people being enough.

Do you think eBooks should be available for free?

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Filed under Opinion, Writing

Top Twelve Books I Read in 2012

“I know what I’ll do,” I said to myself a few days ago. “I’ll write a post sharing the best books I read in 2012. That should be fun and easy, and it lets me do my favourite thing and recommend good books to people who may not have come across them.

Yeah. Great idea, Jo.

Over the last few days, I’ve been desperately trying to whittle my list of 69 books down to the top 10 must-reads. But I just couldn’t do it.

“I know,” I said to myself, never afraid to keep up a conversation in my own head. “Just treat a series as a single entity. I read lots of books that were part of a series last year.”

Yeah, didn’t help much. I managed to get my list down to 6 stand-alone novels and 10 series.

When I vented my frustration on Facebook and Twitter, Richard Lake suggested I make it a Top 12 list. You know, since it was 2012. That’s not cheating, right? Right?

So here you have it. I’ve divided my list into 6 stand-alone books and 6 series, and written a super-short description of why you should read them. (Note: I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by author. Because that’s just how I roll. And that way I didn’t have to find a way to rate them in comparison to each other.)

Stand-Alone Novels

Tiger Lily — Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyA retelling of the Peter Pan story from the perspective of Tiger Lily. It’s a beautiful, tragic love story that had me laughing out loud, feeling awe and wonder at the beauty and casual cruelty of Neverland, and crying pitifully for the last few chapters. It’s rare that I’m so moved by a story. When I finished I clutched the book to my heart and carried it around with me, because I wasn’t ready to let it go.

City of the Lost — Stephen Blackmore

City of the LostJoe Sunday is not a nice guy. He’s a thug, a leg-breaker, and a sometime killer. And that’s before he’s murdered and turned into a zombie by a maniacal old man intent on achieving immortality.This bloody, visceral, gore-filled horror novel is amazing. Joe Sunday’s voice is what really makes it work. Despite his thuggish ways, he’s honourable, courageous, and the consummate hero — even when his deeds are less than heroic. I couldn’t get enough of him.

Ready Player One — Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneIf you know there’s a difference between an African and a European swallow, you’ve ever written “Don’t Panic” on the front of a notebook, or you know how many lions it takes to form Voltron, this book is for you. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, a VR computer game known as OASIS, and a search for hidden clues and treasures. But more than that, this book is an homage to the ’80s and geek culture. I loved every moment of it. Oh, and Hello, Firefly-class spaceship!

Addition — Toni Jordan

AdditionThis is a romantic drama about a woman living with extreme OCD, while searching for love and meaning in her life. It’s an authentic look at the mindset of someone whose own mental faculties seem to be working against them. Grace is unable to hold down a job, and struggles with the day-to-day necessities of choosing what to wear and doing the shopping (ten bananas, ten toothbrushes, ten eggs…). While I didn’t like the ending, I appreciated the story and think it would appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult and similar authors.

Goodnight Nobody — Jennifer Weiner

Goodnight NobodyWhen a free-spirited fashion journalist and ex-singer goes from being a single girl-about-town in New York to the suburban mother of three kids under 4, she’s pretty sure her life is over. And then one of the ‘Perfect Mommy Brigade’ is murdered, and she can’t help but investigate. Especially when she finds out her ex-boyfriend is somehow involved. This romantic crime novel is easy to read, relatable and engaging.

Giants of the Frost — Kim Wilkins

Giants of the FrostA romantic thriller involving supernatural elements by way of Norse Gods. An english scientist takes a posting to a remote Scandinavian island when her engagement goes horribly wrong, and finds herself embroiled in a love story a thousand years in the making. She’s the reborn soul of the God Vidar’s true love, and now that she’s back in the world Vidar is prepared to sacrifice anything, including his divinity, to be with her. It’s scary and exciting and romantic and tinged with enough tragedy to make it a truly authentic love story.

Series

The Morganville Vampires — Rachel Caine

Glass HousesI read all 13 Morganville Books in 2012. This is a Young Adult series set in a small town in Texas where vampires run the city and attempt to live amicably and openly with humans. Claire is 16, super-smart, and completely unprepared for what she finds when she starts college in Morganville. Packed with interesting secondary characters, an engaging plot, and more twists and turns than I can count, this series is a great example of YA writing at its best. I look forward to more Morganville in the future.

Revivalist — Rachel Caine

9780451464132_WorkingStiff_CV.inddI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to the next book in the series coming out in 2013. First, let me say that this is the same Rachel Caine who wrote the above Morganville Vampires series. But if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know it. The tone, theme, and writing style are completely different. Bryn is a hard-working, no-nonsense, ex-soldier who decides to start a new career as funeral director. All is going well until she’s turned into a zombie. Not a slobbering, brain-eating, apocalypse-causing zombie. Oh no, something much better. A zombie created by… (wait for it!) Science! The series has it all — action, horror, romance, secret conspiracies, evil corporations, and enough double- and triple-crosses to keep me guessing from start to finish.

The Athenian Mysteries — Gary Corby

The Pericles CommissionI only read the first book in 2012, but will be reading more. The Pericles Commission is an historical crime novel set in Ancient Greece. When the older brother of Socrates has a corpse almost dropped on his head, he sets out to solve the crime. There’s plenty of real historical information and people, and an amazing crime story. I loved the cleverness and wit in the writing, and it’s a really easy read, even with the names (which were all Greek to me…).

The Disillusionists Trilogy — Carolyn Crane

Mind GamesUnlike many Urban Fantasy series out there, this one is a set trilogy of books. I read the whole series in 2012. The series centers on Justine Jones, a neurotic hypochondriac, and her role amongst the Disillusionists — a group of vigilantes set on finding the wicked and disillusioning them of their selfish behaviours. For a fee, of course. It’s a dark, gritty series set in a world of psychic powers, super-villains, and treachery, where no one can be trusted — least of all your allies — and reads like a dark superhero story.

H&W Investigations — Jess Haines

Hunted by the OthersI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to reading more. This series is everything an Urban Fantasy series should be. It’s full of vampires, werewolves, and mages — but the protagonist is PI Shiarra Waynest. Human. With a major grudge against Others — the name given to supernatural creatures as a whole. The vampires are seductive and dangerous and the werewolves are honourable and prone to bursts of aggression. The series reminds me of a World of Darkness RPG. Only better. Much, much better.

Downside Ghosts — Stacia Kane

Unholy GhostsI read the first three books in 2012, and the next two are first off the rank in 2013. This is a dark Urban Fantasy series set in a near-future world where ghosts killed most of the population and magic is part of every day life — as long as it’s Church-sanctified magic. Let me say again, this series is dark. There’s ritual sacrifice, murder, drugs, disease, and betrayal. Chess, the main character, is as screwed up as it’s possible to get, and the mysteries she solves are intertwined with her own traumas and drug addiction. It’s an amazing series, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who prefers their fantasy to be full of rainbows and unicorns.

Honourable mentions also need to go to:

  •  The Black Sun’s Daughter series by M.L.N. Hanover
  • Croak by Gina Damico
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.

Have you read any of these books/series? Do you want to? What were your top reads of 2012?

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Filed under Reading

Five Reasons to Review the Books You Read

Book reviews are a touchy subject at the moment. Between authors buying good ones and faking bad ones, a lot of people have recoiled from the idea of trusting reviews at all. But I believe book reviews online serve a valuable purpose. (That of informing readers.) And the best way to make sure the reviews on places like Goodreads and Amazon are accurate is to jump on the reviewing bandwagon.

Reviewing books takes time. And effort. And it often feels like no one cares. But whether you choose to review books on Goodreads, Amazon, your personal blog, or a different forum, there are at least five reasons to do it.

1. Trust me, I’m a reviewer.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of disillusioned people out there right now. People are wondering whether they can trust online reviews, whether they should bother reading them, and whether there are better ways to make decisions about what to read.

Well, the answer is: Yes. 

  • Yes, you can trust online reviews…. if they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, you should read them…. but take them with a grain of salt unless they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, there are better ways to make decisions about what to read… like going by the recommendations of friends you know and/or trust.

We all know that we’re more likely to read a book recommended by a friend than we are to read a book displayed on the side of a bus.  And the great thing about social media is that we can connect with people (and friends) all over the world, in an instant. So instead of bemoaning the state of online book reviews, step up and be a trusted reviewer for your friends and contacts.

2. No, really. You have to read this. Right now.

There’s a beautiful feeling you get when you finish a particularly good book. There’s a moment where you sit, transfixed, your mind still deep in the story world as you close the cover. You’re part of the world. You know the characters like they’re your best friends. Or, in some cases, like they’re secretly you — just a different, more zombie-killing you. There’s a moment of disconnection from reality. A moment when you don’t want to let go of that imaginary reality. A moment when you clutch the book to your chest, as though you can write the story into your heart. 

And when that moment passes, there’s only one thing you want to do next. You want to reminisce.

“And what about the part where…?” “Can you believe he decided to…?” “How awesome was it when…?”

If none of your friends have read the book, you find them and you say, “You have to read this book. Right now.” Partly because you want to share the wonder of the story, and partly so you’ll finally have someone to reminisce with.

Well, that’s what a book review is. When you find someone and tell them what you loved about a book and why they should read it, you’re giving them a review of the book. So, why not write it down? Then you can tell everyone you know (and some you don’t) about a book you’ve loved without having to repeat yourself.

3. Stars belong in the Sky.

It’s not enough to just give a book a star rating. A review is so much more than just an arbitrary number between 1 and 5. A review helps your friends, and other readers, decide whether they’d enjoy reading the book themselves.

Not everyone has the same taste. Simple, but true. It’s easy to forget when we’re so enthused about the greatness of a book, but not everyone is going to enjoy it. In the same way that not everyone is going to hate the book you couldn’t manage to finish. For example:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey has 239,000 ratings on Goodreads.
  • 86,000 of those ratings have 5-stars.
  • 26,000 of those ratings have 1-star.

But none of those ratings tell me whether I would like the book or not. I could look at those numbers and decide that it’s more likely I’ll love the book than hate it. But what if I’m not like the 86,000 people? What if I’m more like the 26,000 people? How can I possibly make a subjective decision based solely on numbers?

But when I go and read some of the reviews, I find the following trends.

The majority of 5-star reviews include:

  • Christian is sooo hot. And dominant.
  • Anastasia is sooo innocent but doesn’t always back down.
  • “I don’t normally read erotica, but this is the best erotica I’ve ever read.”
  • “I was worried about the BDSM parts, but they weren’t very intense. It was just like reading about hot sex.”

The majority of 1-star reviews include:

  • There’s no real plot.
  • The characters are essentially the same as Edward & Bella with different names.
  • The writing isn’t very good.
  • The BDSM isn’t realistic.

And suddenly I have enough information to make an informed, subjective choice. So don’t just leave a star-rating. Leave real reviews, and your friends and contacts will be able to use them to make reading decisions.

4. It was awesome because it was awesome.

“You really should read this book. It’s awesome.”
“Yeah? What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy and he does this stuff and… it’s just awesome. You should read it.”
“Is it a bit like that other book we liked?”
“No, no… Well, a bit. Yeah. But completely different. But it’s just awesome the way that he… He’s so amazing, and… You should read it. Because it’s awesome.”

Does anyone else have these conversations with people? Or is it just me?

I love it when I’m reading a book that’s so good, I barely notice the words on the page. I don’t remember what it said on page 68 or how the hero was described. I remember the way I felt when the hero triumphed at the end. When I’m reading one of those books, it’s easy to get so lost in the story, all I have at the end is a feeling that everyone should read this book. But when it comes to reviews, that’s not particularly helpful.

When I’m reading a book with the knowledge that I’m going to review it afterwords, I tend to read differently. Not with any less engagement, but with an eye for what makes the story work, as well as how it makes me feel. And, perhaps surprisingly, I find it makes reading even more enjoyable than normal. 

5. I just called to say I love you.

Reviews may or may not sell books, but they certainly spread the word and create the best kind of advertising possible: word of mouth. Looking at your book’s page on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever and seeing no reviews must be disappointing. And that’s why it must be so tempting for an author to buy or fake positive reviews. That doesn’t mean the practice is right, just that it’s understandable.

But do you know what would make it less tempting? If real people who really read the book wrote real reviews saying what they really thought. Show an author you love them: write a review of their book.

Do you review books somewhere online? Are you going to do so in the future? Do you read reviews written by your friends and trusted contacts?

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Filed under Writing

Book Recommendations

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve taken to reviewing all the books I read on Goodreads and linking them from the Reading List tab above rather than reviewing them on my main blog page. But sometimes… Well, when I read a book I really enjoy, there’s nothing I like more than recommending that book to my friends.

So, my friends, allow me to recommend some of the best books I’ve read over the last two months.

(And remember to friend or follow me on Goodreads for all my reviews.)

Addition by Toni Jordan

AdditionAddition was a good read and I really enjoyed it. The plot is simple but entertaining, the writing is amazing, and the characters are so authentic I want to put them on my Christmas Card List.

Addition is touted as being touching and funny, and I agree with that description. However, there are also parts that are incredibly uncomfortable. One of the great strengths of the writing in Addition is that we, as readers, are put right in the hot seat. We’re inside the head of a funny, non-average woman who lives with fairly extreme OCD. …read more

Unholy Ghost by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)This is a tricky book to review. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I don’t know where to start.

The world-building in Unholy Ghosts is phenomenal. I won’t go into the details about the world here — you can easily read the blurb on the book — but trust me: you won’t find a world better portrayed than this one. The background is well thought-out, the setting is authentic, and the characters are believable. The effectiveness of the world-building was particularly evident when I reached the last few chapters and I realised I was reading about types of ghosts, herbs, and charms and I knew exactly what was going on and could predict the outcome of what the characters were doing, without needing it explained. The unfamiliar terminology of the world had been explained so well throughout the story that it was now utterly familiar. …read more

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyI want this story to live in my heart forever.

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

So begins Tiger Lily, a book I can only describe as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ and ‘captivatingly catastrophic’. Tiger Lily is, in the most simple terms, a retelling of the story of Peter Pan from the point of view of Tiger Lily. But that’s not quite right. It’s actually a love story narrated by Tinkerbell, a mute fairy who reads what’s in the hearts of the people around her but has no ability to influence events. I assure you, those opening words are very true: It is a love story. And it isn’t like anything else I’ve ever heard. …read more

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneIn a dark future full of pain and misery, hunger and heartache, and evil corporations running the world, there is only one bright spot: a virtual reality game known as OASIS. Wade Watts (so named by his father because the alliteration makes him sound like the secret identity of a superhero) is just one of many gunters, searching for the Easter Egg hidden inside the OASIS. Finding the Easter Egg is the game within the game — and something that has kept gunters searching for five years. A game that depends on an encyclopedic knowledge of geek-trivia from the 1980s.

Fuelled by a love of roleplaying games, 80s TV shows and movies, and more early video games than you can poke a joystick at, this book is like the 80s on steroids. …read more

Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Unclean Spirits (The Black Sun's Daughter, #1)When I picked up this book, I had no idea what I was getting into. The blurb looked interesting — a college student inheriting her uncle’s “business” of fighting supernatural creatures — if a little over-dramatic.

Wow. After reading the book, I can say with all honesty that the blurb is so not over-dramatic.

Jayne Heller is, indeed, a college student. At least, she used to be. Now, she’s a college drop-out with no family, no friends, and a secret desire to get back with her ex-boyfriend. She’s got a world of baggage and backstory. And despite all that, or perhaps because of it, she’s immediately likeable, relatable, and all-round fabulous as the leading lady in an urban fantasy world. And what a world! …read more

Croak by Gina Damico

Croak (Croak, #1)The minute I read the blurb on this book, I was hooked. A teenage girl goes off the rails and is sent to live with her Uncle Mort, only to find out she’s secretly a Reaper? Yes, please! Sign me up! So I went into the book with, let us say, insanely high expectations. And I’m pleased to say that it delivered on almost all of them.

Lex is a tough, troubled teenager. She doesn’t quite have a heart of gold, but it’s probably silver. Or bronze. But it doesn’t really matter. She’s a strong female lead amongst a cast full of strong characters. If I had daughters, they could do worse than to grow up with Lex’s wilfulness and determination. (Although they’d be welcome to skip the whole “reaper of the dead” angle.) …read more

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Share a book you’ve recently read that you’d like to recommend to us all.

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Shhhh… Writing Ahead

The Brisbane Writer’s Festival, or the BWF as the cool kids call it, is Queensland’s annual literary event, celebrating Australian and international authors. It’s five days of panels, conversations, workshops, masterclasses, promotions, book signings, and other exciting book-related things. And it’s happening right now.

This year I’m fortunate enough to be able to attend three days of the Festival, encompassing four individual workshops/masterclasses. Choosing which ones to attend was a huge task, and one that I agonised over for days. And now that the time has finally come to attend, I’m incredibly happy with my choices. What are they? Well, since you asked…

  • Friday: The Unpredictably Plotter —  A look at crafting unpredictable but realistic plots, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser.
  • Saturday am: Building Castles in the Air — Worldbuilding 101.
  • Saturday pm: Are Characters People? — Creating effective and authentic characters.
  • Sunday: Finding Your Voice — A look at developing a unique voice in your writing.

I was at the BWF all day today, and came away feeling enthusiastic, inspired, and exhausted. I can’t wait for the next two days.

My current plan is to celebrate attending the BWF by making next week “Writing Week” on The Happy Logophile and writing in more detail about each of these workshops. I’ve already had a couple of great epiphanies about my WIP and would love to share some of my learnings with you all as well. What do you think?

Would you be interested in reading more detail about these workshops? Are there any other questions you’d like to ask about the BWF or my experiences there?

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Five Reasons to Read Outside Your Genre

Life is a busy thing these days and sometimes it’s hard enough to carve out writing time every week. But as Stephen King says:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

If you don’t know that quote, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. If you don’t know Stephen King…. Well, I’d suggest you come on out of that cave you’re living in. You can’t be getting very good wi-fi in there.

Reading is an important part of being a writer. To quote Stephen King again:

I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.

Reading is important. And reading outside your genre is just as important as reading within it. Why? Allow me to explain.

1) Wax On, Wax Off

In much the same way you can learn ancient Chinese martial arts through doing household chores, you can learn a lot about writing through reading. That’s true regardless of what genre you read or write. Chances are, you probably decided to write in a particular genre after reading that genre extensively. Don’t stop doing that. Keep reading your favourite genre. But every few books, branch out and read another genre as well. Like the Karate Kid, you’ll eventually find that painting the fence, polishing the car, and cleaning the deck will invest you with practical skills you didn’t even know you were learning.

2) Learn From a Master

If you wanted to learn portrait painting, you wouldn’t ask a sculptor to teach you. So if you want to write a strong romance sub-plot, why are you reading science fiction? I’m not saying you won’t learn anything about romance writing from a sci-fi author, but wouldn’t you rather learn from a master of the craft? Broaden your reading horizons and you’ll find yourself adding all manner of writing techniques to your repertoire.

Reading romance novels will teach you how to build realistic romances. Thrillers will teach you how to build suspense. Police procedurals will teach you how to structure investigations. Fantasy novels will teach you how to build an authentic setting and reveal it without info-dumping. Science Fiction and Historicals will teach you how to seamlessly weave facts into your fiction. With all these masters at your disposal, don’t settle for learning from anyone else.

3) Understand Your Audience

Readers don’t generally delineate themselves by genre. If you ask someone what they like to read, they’ll say things like, “Oh, I like anything with a good story.” They may still gravitate to particular areas of a book store (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, YA, Crime, Literature, Whatever) but that doesn’t mean they don’t read other genres. Do you really think everyone who enjoyed Twilight describes themselves as Young Adult reader? Or everyone who read Harry Potter was a Fantasy reader? 

Reading outside your genre helps you identify what it is about your own book that will attract readers. It’s easy to say, “My book will appeal to Crime readers,” but that doesn’t say much. “My book will appeal to Crime readers who enjoy Lee Child,” is a little more helpful. But it shows how well you understand your audience when you say, “My book is a space opera set in the year 3420 and will appeal to readers who enjoy the feel of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and the suspense of Lee Child.”

4) Avoid  Snobbery

 Literary snobbery is ubiquitous in the writing world.You’ve got everything from the old Literature vs Genre Fiction divide through to people who look down on YA fiction (“It’s not as sophisticated as “real” fiction.”), romance novels (“They’re all formulaic.”), and fantasy  (“It’s all just made up.”). That type of snobbery doesn’t do anyone any favours. But once you’ve learned how to write your sub-plots from the masters and you’ve identified that your audience probably reads other genres as well, it’s hard to maintain that level of snobbery. I’m not saying every single book every published is worthy of your respect, but at least you can start dismissing individual titles instead of entire genres.

5) There’s No Place Like Home

One of the best things about going on vacation is coming home. Not just because it’s familiar (although it is), and not just because you can relax (although you can). No, the great thing about coming home is that you see your surroundings with fresh eyes. You notice details that you haven’t before. You realise the roses in next door’s garden are blooming (just like the ones out front of the B&B you stayed at!) and the guy who says hello every morning when you’re walking your dog always wears a red jacket (just like the one your tour guide was wearing!). You also notice what’s missing. (How did you not realise your town doesn’t have a Korean restaurant? And how have you survived all this time without a good china teapot?) In short, the world looks different, not because it has changed, but because you have changed through your travels.

Reading outside your genre works like this. When you return to the genre where you feel comfortable and relaxed, you’ll notice the changes. You’ll notice the techniques your favourite author has borrowed from other genres and you’ll notice when s/he should have done so and didn’t. And that in turn will help you use and avoid those things in your own writing.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and start reading!

Do you usually read outside your genre? Do you think it’s worthwhile?

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