Month: April 2016
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I’ve been the head editor of page seventeen since it came to Busybird in 2011. Since that time we’ve released four books across five years – all exhibiting work from emerging writers and first-timers with something to say.
They’ve been wildly diverse collections. Rarely have we published the same author twice. Rarely have we sunk deep into a single genre or theme.
I’ve had different reactions of pride to every issue – the exuberance of #09, the cheekiness of #10, the shining assertiveness of #11, the cavalier confidence of #12. It’s been hard and even frustrating at times getting every issue sorted. But I love them all, and I’ve loved having the opportunity to play such a large part in putting them together.
And yet, here I am announcing that I am stepping away as head editor of page seventeen.
It has not been an easy decision to make, and one that I’ve been admittedly dragging my heels on. But when I can no longer promise putting in the same time and effort that I know P17 requires, I have to take that as a sign. And maybe P17 is due for some fresh changes, the kind that can benefit from a switch in management.
So although I’ll certainly miss running the submissions and going through all the content, I’m not as upset as I thought I would be. I’ll still be around, both as an editor for Busybird Publishing and reciting my clunky prose a little too fast at the Busybird Open Mic Nights. I’ll even continue to post on this blog here and there, just no longer as P17’s ‘figurehead’.
To everyone who helped bring each issue together – readers, editors, judges, proofreaders – so many thanks are due. To the Busybird team in particular for being so supportive as I’ve stumbled my way along.
And there are so many writers and submitters out there who I’m indebted to for trusting us with their work. The stories, poems and articles we’ve published across these four issues of P17 are just tiny pieces of the massive jigsaw puzzle we’ve been working with. So many writers out there with so many ideas. P17 would be an empty shell without them. Thank you.
And to anyone who’s read the issues I’ve overseen, I hope you enjoyed them. I know I have.
April 21, 2016
A good blurb is on par with a good cover image and both need to stand out.
The blurb has to be engaging. Not necessarily attractive like a European-man-with-long-luscious-hair-riding-on-a-horse-type-of-engaging, but it does need to convince the audience that this is one hell of a book.
You can do this by creating mystery, but the mystery can’t give the story away.
1. Choose an opening that introduces your main character(s) with originality and conflict.
‘When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place.’
~ The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins ~
2. Who are your characters and why do we care about them? Be interesting, make them three-dimensional.
‘As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.’
~ The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt ~
3. Be true about your story. Write in a way that tells the book honestly.
‘The Flamethrowers is an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist.’
~ The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner ~
4. End the paragraph with a cliffhanger for readers to find the rest of the story themselves.
‘Lisbeth Salander – outcast … enigma … avenger…’
~ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson ~
If you’re still unsure how to go about creating a good blurb, here’s a formula that breaks down the whole step-by-step process of it all.
1. The opening, the conflict, and the character = A situation
Mathew Penn seems to have it all: friends, financial stability, loving family … He is the ‘perfect’ guy. But underneath all that charm lies a secret. A secret full of undeniable consequences could risk everything he’s ever worked for …
2. The situation + the three-dimensional character = a problem
Mathew has a dark impulse, an impulse that develops an ambition to trick his good intentions into doing evil things. On one hand he’s all smiles and unafraid to bring the ladies home – that is until the trickster comes out to play, and he is left feeling guilty and ashamed …
3. The Problem + a hopeful ending = an honest Reaction
As his virtue slumbers, so does his secret. Soon everyone in Mathew’s life becomes suspicious of his behaviour. While trying to uphold the forbidden truth from being foretold, Mathew must attempt to get his alter ego under control before it’s too late.
4. An honest Reaction + cliff-hanger = The final mood of ‘Oh Yeah’
A battle of life and death, but which side of Mathew will get the upper hand in order to keep or tell the unfettered secret that lies within?
5. Leads into describing what the book is about; the overall genre.
[Book Title] is a classic retelling of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde … A mystery filled with supernatural instincts that are bound to grip us to the core of who we are.
From these steps you’ll be able to create a good blurb in no time. Be intriguing and you and your book will go far.
– Editorial Intern.
April 14, 2016
The internet is replete with keyboard warriors and trolls who hide behind anonymity to espouse inflammatory opinions, or to attack and deride others, whilst trying to promote themselves as some omniscient authority.
A few weeks ago, we ran a blog entitled ‘Always Be Hustling’, which looked at the need for authors to constantly get themselves out there to generate interest in their books. Somebody took offense and posted a smarmy response.
We responded to the comment at the time, but will do so again, breaking down the comment. Bear with us, because there is a point to this, and isn’t just a case of oneuptrollship.
- So, let me just work this out. You’re involved with a miniature publishing company that nobody has heard of …
Well, obviously they’ve heard of us, because they’re on our blog.
But this demonstrates the mindset of some people. Immediately, they attack. They’re not here for intelligent discussion, but to ridicule.
Busybird may be small, but we’re very proud of what we’ve done. We can only publish a handful of books yearly, but take great pride in each of them. We help authors self-publish, nurturing them through the experience, whilst also educating them on the realities of doing it themselves – not something many of our competitors do. We’re particularly proud of the creative hub we’ve created here in Montmorency.
- … and you’re regurgitating what has worked for people who have actually had to do all the difficult work, probably via blogs featuring this very same list a hundred times over?
This comment doesn’t make sense: you’re regurgitating what has worked for people who have actually had to do all the difficult work, probably via blogs …
Are they referring to the difficult work of promotion? But it’s difficult work of promotion … probably via blogs’? That’s what they’re saying – that this hard work has been expressed through blogs. Probably.
Let’s take the comment at face value and give the commenter the benefit of the doubt. Regurgitating? Um, no, we’ve actually had to do it ourselves. So we’ve learned this by doing.
- If someone has written a book worth selling, they’ve also probably got a deep understanding of their audience and a kind of savvy this columnist is no doubt lacking :’)
Quite possibly the funniest comment made. So, apparently, because you understand your audience, this translates to sales? Haha. The naivety behind this comment speaks of an inexperienced author, one who sits there thinking that whatever they’ve written is brilliant, and it’ll be a bestseller because, damnit, they know what they’re doing.
Understanding your audience and where you book sits in the market is important – there’s no denying that. But what makes your book stand out from the others which sit on the same shelf? From the other books released daily? Oh wait, because they’ve ‘got a deep understanding of their audience’? Hmmm. Okay. I must pass this information onto the big commercial publishers who perform market analyses, invest in PR, and yet can still struggle to sell books. Obviously, their understanding isn’t deep enough.
- A huge part of that is realising no audience appreciates being “hustled” and squawked at via social media …
Yes, the blog mentioned developing an online presence. But this comment implies the blog was exclusively about promoting via social media when, in fact, the blog looked at a few different avenues online, and quite a few avenues that had nothing to do with the internet. Social media was a tiny part of it.
- … and no one wants to read Yet Another Blog by a hopeful author.
Well, they read it.
- Also please get a better graphic designer for your book covers. Please.
And this idiot closes their comment the way they opened it – attacking. We’re very proud of our designer and all the graphic work at Busybird, but again, the commenter wants to try assert their dominance, like a dog pissing on a nature strip to mark its territory.
They also ignored the link we posted – Jennifer Byrne interviewing Bryce Courtenay, Matthew Reilly, Di Morrissey and Lee Child. These are four bestselling authors who’ve written for multinational publishers, and at the heart of their message was get yourself out there and sell yourself. Take every opportunity possible. Hopefully, the commenter has also emailed them and descried their message.
We don’t write blogs based on guesswork. Advice comes from experience. We don’t know it all (and have never professed to knowing it all), but we have learned a thing or two in our experiences.
We’re sure that somewhere else on the net, somebody’s said the same thing – that’s the basis of the internet. You will find a lot of people saying the same thing, just in different ways. But if one person has said something, does that mean it reaches everybody it needs to? Does that mean nobody else can write about that topic? Does that mean anybody else writing about that topic is of less value than other authors?
You’d have to be megalomaniacal to believe so.
But here’s the point: this blog isn’t just about cutting down some troll.
That’s just a bonus.
Working in any creative endeavour, you’ll have your critics. Some will be legitimate. Others will be trolls. The internet breeds them. They amble around, hurling their faeces at any place they believe it may stick. You just have to scan reviews on Goodreads or Amazon to see the way they thrive behind anonymity, trying to find value (and validation) in destroying others – probably simply to feel good about themselves, or because they have a misguided superiority about their own work.
Their responses aren’t a reflection of you or your work, but them, and the people they are.
Don’t ever let anybody like this get you down or have you questioning your work.
They don’t deserve your time.
And, having said that, we won’t spend another second on this one either.
April 7, 2016
One of the problems we face when revising is losing our objectivity. The more we work on something, the harder it becomes to see issues. We know our writing. We accept our idiosyncrasies unquestioningly. We know our content, so if something’s missing, illogically constructed, or lean, we can’t always see it because we subconsciously fill in what’s required.
This is where a fresh set of eyes helps.
Something we recommend to writers is finding or creating a workshopping group. The beauty of a group is you can get a consensus as to what works and what doesn’t. Often, you’ll engage in stimulating discussion that’ll challenge how you’ve articulated your concept. This is something that can help in the dilution of your ideas. It’s unsurprising if you walk away from a workshop with a clearer understanding of what you want to do or with renewed vigour about tackling your project.
There are dangers, too, though. You need to find people you can trust. Some people won’t click with your writing – it’s nothing personal. That’s just reading. Others – for whatever reason (and this is more a reflection of their character) – may be scathing. Some feedbackers, unfortunately, come at feedback from the angle of how they would’ve written it, which isn’t helpful.
If you’re thinking about putting together a group, here’s some precepts you can look at implementing as your foundation for workshopping.
Set a schedule and firm word limit
How often will you meet? Where will you meet? What’s the maximum amount of words somebody can submit? Try set a reasonable limit and, from the onset, be clear that everybody should be respectful of it. If submissions are a little over (e.g. 5–10%), that’s fine, but an exorbitant amount is just going to make readers feel obligated and create resentment.
Look at the piece as a whole
We don’t need to tick off every single thing that is right and/or wrong with a piece. It’s fine to cite a few examples, but look at the whole piece, at how it works, at how it could be improved.
Keep in mind that, often, these workshops may be part of a bigger work (e.g. a novel), so some concerns may be addressed elsewhere.
Try to recognise what the author’s doing
Get inside the head of the author and what they’re attempting, and make suggestions in accordance with that. We’ve experienced workshoppers who made great suggestions, but found the passages they were citing were fine. They wanted things done their way, rather than the author’s way. We’re all unique with our own voice and the way we want to do things, so try to empathise when you make suggestions.
Be constructive, not destructive
Be constructive, not destructive with your feedback, e.g. instead of saying, ‘This character’s motivation for taking this action is unbelievable’ (destructive), look at it constructively: ‘Perhaps you could strengthen the motivation for the character taking this action’. This might seem such a subtle variation, but it can really make the different between inspiring or demoralising somebody.
Where possible, give examples
Following on from the previous comment, you might give an example of how the author could strengthen the character’s motivation. Similarly, if you’re citing copy that’s unclear, you might suggest a way of rephrasing. Examples help illustrate where your coming from and avenues that can be pursued, whereas a comment such as, ‘This doesn’t work’, is hardly enlightening.
Clarity and precision is a necessity in writing, and it’s an invaluable practice in workshopping. Be clear in your feedback. A danger when offering feedback is spiraling into a tangent, or workshoppers other than the author discussing how things can be done amongst themselves, like it’s a piece they’re writing together.
Assign a time limit
Not always necessary, but it can be worthwhile assigning a maximum amount of time each feedbacker has to provide feedback, and how long as a whole you’ll spend on a piece as a group.
Finally … be respectful of everybody
Everybody is at different stages of their writing lives and development, and everybody is at different stages in regards to what they’re working on, e.g. you might be in the final chapters of your novel, while somebody else is just starting their novel. Everybody’s needs are different. Keep that in mind when you’re looking at a piece and working out what to say to others.
Ultimately, we’re all taking the same journey, so enjoy being with like-minded people who can help you.