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First Monday Mentoring, July 2016 – how NOT to be a writer in the 21st Century

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and the fun stuff about being a writer.

This week’s blog was inspired by an email conversation with a columnist in a regional newspaper (themselves, sadly a dying breed). The column has no website, no email, no means of getting in touch other than by mail or phone.

When I finally tracked down an email contact to compliment the writer, he was predictably pleased that I’d reached out. But on the bottom of his response was the line, “I don’t read all my emails…pick up the phone.”

Well, no. Writers don’t get to tell our readers/customers how they can read our work. That’s up to them.  I used to wonder how you could read my books on a phone. In a word, convenience. You nearly always have a phone with you.

Beacon Homeworld 2

My current Beacon sci-fi series is published by Momentum, the digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan with the last in the series, Homeworld, released last week. I had to edit the series entirely online, rather than marking up a printed copy, which used to involve a language of editorial squiggles we mostly don’t see any more. To me, the hash sign # still suggests “space out” and we’re not talking taking illicit substances, but spreading out a piece of copy.

No longer. I love hashtags because they connect people to your conversation. The Twitter hashtag #AmWriting is read by millions around the world who share an interest in the writing process.

I admit I sometimes struggle with technology. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes the technology. But I soldier on because it’s fun  being part of this exciting world.

Celebrating a couple of decades working together, my agent gifted me an iPad Mini, a generous gift by any standards. I felt totally challenged by it but persevered and it’s now the best camera I’ve ever had. Not long ago, I had a live chat on it with writer friend, Jennie Adams. For her, it was early evening in Australia. For me, it was midnight in Las Vegas and we chatted as I waited for a flight #lovemyiPad

Other ways NOT to be a writer today:

Refuse to deal with ebooks.

Like most writers, I like print books, but my Kindle has over 500 books on it. Sometimes I’ll read the ebook version because I can have it NOW. Then I’ll order a print copy, especially nonfiction, to study at leisure.

Overlook technology in your stories

I see this a lot with entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Too often characters are stuck in last century. There’s almost nowhere your characters aren’t linked by their devices. I’m judging this year’s finalists very soon with the hashtag #ValerieParvAward on Twitter and I’ll be looking for tech savvy characters.

Change the story to take account of real life. You can only have batteries go flat so many times. Likewise, in a story, you can only have doubt about a person’s parentage for two weeks or less, before DNA testing gives the answer. In Private Sydney, written with James Patterson, Kathryn Fox wrote about new technology that gets it down to one hour and while not as detailed as the longer tests, still reveals a lot. Using technology can broaden your story. Need characters to find answers to something? Let them share on social media or Google the details. Every writer I know blesses Google for making research a breeze.

If you aren’t already, get good at researching. Writing Homeworld, the final  book in my Beacons sci-fi series, I needed to know if you could launch a space shuttle off the back of a Global Express private jet. My net search turned up the PR division of the plane’s makers who sent my query to the designers. They not only wrote back that it could be done but included diagrams, thrilling me with their generosity. Learn the tricks to search terms and dive in.

You notice the difference if you dip into the past for entertainment. I enjoy the1980s cop show, T J Hooker, starring William Shatner, my tweetheart. Thanks for that lovely word, Joanna Sandsmark. He’s seen here with fellow Star Trek alumni, Leonard Nimoy. Watching him in action is fun, but I can’t help wishing for a cellphone every time he has to find a phone to take care of police business.

Kirk T J Hooker 2

Another fav. Is  Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in the 1890s where everything is old school. Yannick Bisson as eye candy in the title role doesn’t hurt, either. Former VPA “minion” (what previous award winners call themselves) Erica Hayes writing as Viola Carr, writes a fun series about the daughter of Dr. Jeckyll who inherited his affliction. In these page-turners,Viola employs the tech of the day – plus some neat inventions of her own – beautifully. Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the first in the series – you can’t do much better than that.

Currently I’m developing a book where one lead character steps back in time. The other remains in the present with all its technical goodies, while my character has to deal with the comparatively low tech of the time she finds herself in.

Love it or loathe it, this is our reality as writers today. Technology also changes how we write – but that’s a subject for another blog.

How do you deal with technology in your writing? What books do it best for you as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

 

 

 

 

 

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First Monday Mentoring for October – are you writing or wasting time?

Hi and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for October. If you have questions about writing and publishing, I answer them here. Post your thoughts, argue with mine, share your experiences. This is the day for it, heck, sometimes we take the whole week.
I regret I have to moderate comments to deter spam and rudeness. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.
Here’s a question on the minds of many of us: should we be writing more, or does staring out of windows count as work?

Firstly, it helps to accept that stories come in their own time.
I can be leafing through magazines or playing online, sometimes for days, while the work sits there driving me crazy. Why can’t I get on with it?

Simply put, I can’t get on with it any more than you can will a baby into existence much before nine months. Your brainchild – the child of your brain – needs its own gestation period to grow.
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As well, new story ideas are often a spark rather than a plot. What if a man discovers the single mother he’s hired as his PA is still a virgin? This is a spark, needing more layers if it’s to work as a book. For instance, what if the baby isn’t the heroine’s and she is out to get revenge for the hero’s mistreatment of the real mother, the heroine’s sister? Now we’re getting somewhere. FYI this idea became Baby Wishes and Bachelor Kisses, part of Big W’s newly launched ebook range at http://ebooks.bigw.com.au/search?q=valerie+parv&x=0&y=0

How do you know whether you’re in this gestation period or wasting time? Try looking at the writing you’ve done over the last months or years. If you’ve finished a manuscript or two, some plot ideas and contest entries or submissions to editors, you have a body of work and the daydreaming time is a normal part of your process.

Every writer works at a different pace. Nora Roberts has writer’s block. She just has it in shorter bursts than most of us. It’s also true that a story may resist you because you’ve gone off track. Do you need to start further in, choose another viewpoint character to tell the story, or add a twist to surprise the reader?

Repeat after me: writers are working when we’re staring out of windows. Or when we do boring tasks like mowing lawns or doing dishes. Taking the pressure off yourself can be the best way to get a story going. How do you keep your writing moving? Share your experiences by leaving a comment here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Still chipping away at the writer’s block

One of the most-read posts on this blog was when I wrote about the difficulty I was having putting words together. Not getting ideas, I have plenty of those, but lacking motivation when I sat down to write.  At one point I was boring myself, and that’s never good. The many comments and suggestions told me the one thing writers most need to hear – that we’re not alone.  Other jobs can be equally lonely – train drivers for instance, except that they don’t have to first invent the train.

The publishing industry has never been more turbulent. As well as what to write, we’re faced with where to submit the work – to a traditional publisher,  a digital imprint, or even to publish it ourselves. Self publishing used to be considered “vanity” and not to be compared with “real” publishing. These days, writers are zooming up the bestseller lists with work they’ve published themselves. The process even has a new name – indie publishing.

One of my friends, Tori Scott, had plenty of encouragement from editors. She was nominated for a prestige Golden Heart unpublished manuscript award by Romance Writers of America. She kept hearing how terrific her writing was, and how she should keep submitting. All while doing soul-destroying day jobs that kept her away from the work she most wanted to do – writing books.

Deciding to self publish was the smartest thing Tori could have done. She knew she could write – editors and contest judges kept telling her so. Still, the learning curve was steep. She had to teach herself to edit, format and upload her books to the various ebook websites. Find the best ways to market her work. And keep on writing new books.  Read part of her inspiring journey here http://toriscott.blogspot.com.au/search?updated-max=2011-10-06T20:57:00-07:00 And she’s been able to give up her day job.

Reading stories like these and all your thoughts on dealing with writers’ block kept me inspired too. The idea that resonated most was to try something new. I’m pleased to report that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m currently working on a movie script with a romantic theme, to be produced in Australia. I’ve written documentaries and a feature film before, but it’s exciting and energising to be scripting a story  of my own, knowing I’ll be able to see my words come to life on screen. My dining table is disappearing under notes, scene cards and sticky notes and it feels good.

Thanks to all of you who posted encouragement and personal experiences. How’s it going for you? What sharp turn do you see your writing taking now or in future? Have you dived in or are you standing on the edge of the pool, as I was doing for a while?  Writer’s Block is an occupational hazard and will no doubt loom again at some time. For now I’m writing and loving it. Hope you are, too. I welcome your comments.

Valerie

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence 2012, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writing Centre, Perth

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

 

 

 

Six things I wish I’d known about being published, when I was starting out

Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easier to look back and see your writing career more clearly than when you’re starting out. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first romance novel being published. I had books out before then but they were nonfiction, and nothing beats the thrill of holding your first novel. Or your 50th for that matter. For me, the excitement never wears off. Last week I received the French translation of With a Little Help, and couldn’t wait to share the news with my agent and social networks.

I still get a kick out of my translations.The guy on the cover doesn't hurt either.

While I hope the thrill never stops, I’m glad some things have changed. Today I share six things I wish someone had told me when my journey began. They may save you some needless angst.

  1. Publishing is only the beginning. I thought of having my novel published as reaching a summit. I’d plant my “successful” flag, readers would cheer and I’d never worry again. Until my editor asked, “What are you writing next? And after that?” Readers might cheer, but they also want more. There are revisions to do, proofs to read, promotion, even before social networking became everyday. Plus writers’ conferences to attend, speeches, workshops and media. Rinse and repeat with every book.
  2. You can be ‘real’, your family won’t even notice. Using aspects of my family history in stories once kept me awake nights. What if family members were offended, hurt, angry? When one book I considered especially revealing came out, they read the characters, setting and situation as fiction. In other words, they didn’t connect real life with my story. Change the names and details to protect the guilty, and sleep well.
  3. No matter how many books you sell, someone will ask what name you write under. Nearly 30 million sales on, I still get asked what name I write under. Right before how long it takes me to write a book, and where do I get my ideas. Knowing I’m often the first writer some people have met,  I answer the questions as if they’re new to me, too.
  4. The fun stuff you get to do really IS research. If you read my previous blog about this, you’ll know that everything a writer does is research, good and bad. I know writers who’ve had major surgery and taken notes because it will come in handy sometime. Everything from lazing on a tropical island to cuddling a Tasmanian devil has found its way into my books.
  5. Your family IS proud of you but won’t necessarily let you know. One sister wishes I’d write like Stephen King. Not in me to do. I can only write as me. The other used to read my magazine short stories in the supermarket queue. She changed after learning that I’d spread this around.  No one I know has asked when I’m going to write a “real” book, mainly because I’d written so many books before turning to romance. But you might get asked. Rehearse the reasons why romance is the world’s biggest-selling genre in ebooks and print. Romance Writers of Australia has all the amunition you need here: http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/2012/02/australian-romance-writing-whats-there.html
  6. Changes in publishing are NOT the end of the world. Change has been part of the industry as long as I’ve been writing. The first time my adored editor was reassigned, I was a nervous wreck.  These days I roll with the punches. Editors move on. Lines and even publishing houses merge with others, disappear or reinvent themselves online. Print books become ebooks, audio and graphic novels. The one constant is they still need writers providing exciting content. Don’t panic. To paraphrase a popular saying: Keep Calm and Keep Writing.

What have you learned on your writing journey? Please comment below, and share on Twitter, Facebook and any other medium invented while I was blogging. Change is the one constant in life, not only for writers.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Escapism – in romance novels, there’s no getting away from it

One of the criticisms often aimed at romance novels is that they’re escapist – as if that was a bad thing. Let’s face it, life has never exactly been a barrel of laughs. From the cave days when practically everything was out to eat us – the reason we developed a flight or fight instinct – to the rat race of today, survival is literally impossible. After all, one hundred per cent of vegetarian fitness fanatics also die.  Taking what comfort we can in our entertainment makes more sense to me than miring ourselves in misery and despair. If we aren’t going to get out of this world alive, why not make the most of the ride?

For me, romance novels fit the bill perfectly. Sure, the characters go through every kind of trial we writers can inflict on them. In the writing business, this is called getting your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them. But we also have an unspoken deal with our readers that everything will end happily, or at least satisfactorily. Modern romances don’t have to end with a proposal of marriage, but there’s always the promise that things will turn out for the best, even if writers sometimes swap Mr. Right for Mr. Right-For-Now. I have a lot of trouble watching movies or reading books where everybody I’ve come to like dies in the end.  That’s real life, and it isn’t what romance novels are all about.

Romances cross all cultural and political barriers. My books have now sold over 30 million copies and are published in dozens of countries and languages as diverse as Icelandic, Bulgarian, Chinese and Korean. They’re sold in “chunks” on mobile phones, as Manga in Japan (adult novels in comic book format). They’re roaring onto ebook readers faster than you can say download. I even have a pirate edition of one of my books from Thailand. Why that excites me I’m not sure, unless it puts romances up there with Gucci and Nike. As far as I can establish, readers in all these languages and formats want much the same thing – an uplifting story that they know will end happily.

This doesn’t mean readers are  living lives of quiet desperation. I think it’s more likely we need escape from a too-hectic everyday life where women take care of everybody’s needs except their own. That may explain why virtual babies are so popular, demanding no time or care. Romance heroines frequently inherit property, giving them instant freedom from mortgage stress. The heroes are rich and powerful. Not hard to see the appeal in a world where women may well be the family’s sole breadwinner, or one partner can be out of work for months at a time.

Then there’s the sex. No matter how they’re written, love  scenes portray closeness, intimacy and consideration, correlating with what women often say they want  from a relationship. Love scenes can be anything from tame to torrid, as long as they emphasise these elements of caring and commitment. When Jennifer Byrne was my publisher at Reed Books, she asked me why women in romances are always attracted to bastards. The answer is that winning against a wimp is no triumph. There are no emotional stakes in loving a saint. Taming a tiger is way more satisfying. And a tame tiger is guaranteed not to trigger your fight or flight instincts.

Why do you read or write romance novels?  I’ve love to know.

Valerie

Follow me on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

http://www.valerieparv.com

Hope: the takeaway from Romance Writers of Australia conference

Over the last few days, 350 writers headed home either to parts of Melbourne where the conference was held, to other states, other countries and some across the pond to New Zealand to do it all over again there. As someone put it, the recent snowstorms across NZ  made Melbourne look like Hawaii.

Judging by posts on Facebook and Twitter, the 20th anniversary conference was a resounding success. When I tweeted that I felt like Juan Antonio at the Olympic closing ceremony, declaring RWA Melbourne 2011 the best romance writing conference ever, conference guest, Bob Mayer, retweeted my message, adding “agree.” I haven’t heard any dissenting voices.

But is the memory of a grand time all we take home? As I posted previously, I don’t think so. Networking was practically nonstop between writers, agents and editors. As a result of casual chats, several people I know came away with requests to submit their work, and that’s before counting those who made appointments to formally pitch their book to a specific person.

During panel discussions, two editors and an agent said they don’t normally accept unsolicited submissions. However, because you were attending the conference you could put that on your envelope and it would bypass the slush pile, the place where authors hopes and dreams go to die. Such an invitation is worth it’s weight in gold.

Melbourne, a great place to find hope

But wait, there’s more.

The most valuable takeaway from this conference is HOPE. Too many authors are buying into the negativity currently surrounding the book industry. Sure, bookstores are closing, print runs are being reduced in favour of increasing ebook production, and new pricing models are being tested. But guess what? The sky is NOT falling. Every time I heard the word “challenge” it was paired with “opportunity”. Established authors are seeing their earlier books, known as backlist, given new life as ebooks; some are doing it themselves with great success. Publishers brought a shopping list of what they DO want – Random House has seen a doubling of their commercial women’s fiction. There are openings for “an Australian Penny Vincenzi”; time travel, pirates, gay fiction, sweeping commercial novels with romantic elements, books for readers aged 40-plus, and on and on.

NYT bestselling author Bob Mayer urged us to “act rather than react” to these opportunities. “Educate yourself, make courageous choices.” And this great advice from literary agent, Kristin Nelson, “Anytime you stand still in this business, you get run over.”

Time to look at the big picture

The overriding takeaway is that writers will still write, and readers still read, only through different channels. As Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James said, “The story is your book, not the format it appears in. Story is what you hold in your hand. It’s time to see past the fear.”

Can you see past the fear to the opportunity? Are you excited yet? I am.

Valerie

 

 

 

 

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