Reinventing The Book Club

Subscription Services

Subscription Services

There are interesting things going on in the book world these days around how we deliver and consume books, which is good news for indie authors and publishers. While the number of services has shrunk (Oyster recently closed and a lot of its staff went to work for Google Books), a lot of people make the case that owning “units of content” has become anachronistic when it comes to listening to music and video (a lot of people just subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or Spotify and Apple Music). So what about books? Mainstream publishers still believe most people buy and own books because it’s the most convenient way to “consume their product,” though they are beginning to explore other ways readers get their books, like subscription services and book clubs.

So this alternative pathfinding by publishers that parallels the music and video worlds has opened up opportunities for indie publishers to explore using subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and Scribd as possible ways to expand their reader base and help readers discover new authors and their books. Unlike music and video, that can be readily consumed in a couple of hours or less, a book is still a commitment of time over days in many cases, and thus owning it is more convenient than feeling like you have a gun to your head in order to consume it before the clock on the “borrow” runs out and you have to spend more money in order to finish the book you have out on loan. (Public Libraries just increase the time at no cost to you if you ask them regardless of whether it is a print or digital version.)

So as ebooks grow and take a larger share of book sales, and print sales become more available through vendors on the web, book publishers are re-assessing their “own-this-content” only model as digital content expands.  But people forget (including some in the publishing industry) that it was the book industry that started the book club idea, where by subscribing to a particular club got you more focused and cheaper versions of books you wanted to read, delivered to your door every month. And that model, while it took a hit because of the growth of mega book stores like Barnes&Noble that once stalked the landscape like dinosaurs but are now fading away, is resurfacing in a new guise in the digital world. And the reason is that book clubs, subscription services, whatever you want to call them, help shrink the overwhelming choices readers face and and as a result help readers and authors find each other like singles hoping to find Mr. or Ms. Could-Be-For-Me.

Authors and publishers, indies in particular, face an uphill battle in finding readers for their books. Everyone is so focused on getting the product done they don’t stop to think enough about distribution — ie., who’s going to read it once it’s done and how are you going to get it to those readers. Some readers come from friends or acquaintances, or clients, and others come from just blatant publicity and marketing about your book. You need to know who the core audience is for your book, and like a pebble entering water, that is the place you need to concentrate on first when publicising and marketing your book. Like the concentric circles that spread ever outward from that pebble entering water, the publicity about your book reaches groups and individuals who are less obviously connected to your core group.

But how we read is evolving. I don’t believe we are abandoning the printed book, at least any time soon in our lifetimes anyway, but the options of digital reading are a terrific way to get your writing in front of diverse readers. One of those options is the emergence of subscription services for reading. A subscription service essentially treats book reading like revamped versions of a book club, which in turn is a variation on a private library, or a service like Netflix.

Once upon a time, it was common for, say, The Doubleday Book Club, or the Military Book Club, to send books directly to a member consumer who has agreed to purchase a certain number of books per year from the club in return for a vastly cheaper and immediately available version of a best selling book, or books, that are often the latest offerings from a publisher.

So the idea of a subscription service model for readers is not completely new or unexpected. We’ve been doing it for years and continue to do it in the digital world with magazines for example through apps like Zinio or Press Reader. The ebook has made this a more affordable way to deliver a book to a reader rather than receiving it in the mail.
Prevailing wisdom is that the successful model of streaming music and videos via an app such as Amazon Prime, Spotify, or Netflix has primed the consumer to become atuned to a subscription model, and so books are slowly falling into line with this style of purchase. It is particularly useful for acquainting readers to a writer’s back list. (That is, titles already published and available as ebooks, print on demand books, or other formats.)

Is a subscription model of book sales good for authors? For all that they help authors — until they suddenly don’t — what is not good for authors is a retail monopoly (e.g. Amazon) or reduced income/revenue streams. The subscription model works to give readers, and publishers, more options. It works this way: The user gets a free trial, then pays perhaps $8.99 or $9.99/month. He or she can then read as many ebooks, comic books, or audio books as they want. You get unlimited access to their entire book libraries for this monthly fee. You can read as many books as you want, for as long as you want, and with each service, you can download books for offline reading. Unlike a traditional library, there are no due dates, so you can hang on to a book for as long as like, just like you would with a Netflix DVD. But, like a library, you do not own the books you read, and if you cancel your subscription, you can no longer access any of the titles you’ve saved. (It’s worth noting that actually, when you “buy” an ebook from Amazon you don’t actually “own” that either if you read the purchase fine print.)

Here are potential services to consider.

Scribd pays the publisher (that would be you, the indie/publisher author in this case) a good rate every time a subscriber reads one of your books past a certain threshold (about the same number of pages as “Look Inside The Book”). Scribd takes a risk that some readers read more than the $8.99 cost, but just like with a gym membership, many don’t read to that cap.

Scribd is similar to Oyster (below), and has a catalog of more than 500,000 books that you can borrow. The app is simply designed, with books organized into genres and curated collections for you to browse. Both services have many of the same books and seem to add the same books at the same time though not entirely. Scribd has audiobooks, many from publisher Penguin Random House, and more than 10,000 comics from Marvel, Archie, Boom! Studios, Dynamite, IDW/Top Shelf and Valiant.

One perk of Scribd is that beyond just e-books, the service also gives you access to thousands of documents, which include court cases, scientific studies, and even self-published books.

 

Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, and offers around 600,000 books that you can rent for as long as you want. The book catalog includes many popular and best-selling books, some of which you won’t find in the other services, including the “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” series. There are also plenty of classics.

With Kindle Unlimited instead of an app you instead sign up for the service, and then download your choices to your Kindle. (You can also use the Kindle apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone to find and read books as well.)

You can’t yet download Scribd or Oyster books onto dedicated e-ink readers. The apps only work on tablets.

Lastly, though this is more for those who want to read rather than distribute their works at this point, it’s worth checking out what your local library offers in terms of ebooks and etexts.

Quite a few city libraries carry large catalogs of ebooks, both new releases and older e-books, that you can borrow for free. All you need is a library card. The only downside is that the books you borrow have a limited lending period with an expiration date, and it’s sometimes difficult to renew e-book titles.  What’s more, not every title is available, as part of the license the library signs with a publisher allows for a set number of “copies” of the book to be available for lending just as if the ebook was a print version of itself.

So when it comes to distributing your book and expanding your ebook reading experience, you should start exploring the library and subscription service options as a way of getting the attention of more readers.

5 Reasons Why a Mainstream Publisher May Disappoint You

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There are a lot of reasons to independently publish your book,
rather than go through a mainstream publisher, and here are
five of them.

 

    1. While it may be flattering to have someone pronounce that you are a publishable author, the reality is that in addition to all the research and writing you do to produce the book, you are also expected to do the lion’s share of the promotion and publicity and marketing.  It’s hit or miss whether or not your acquiring editor is still in her job nine months after the book has been acquired, and if she (or he) is, how much time the editor can spend on editing the manuscript into the best possible shape and fighting with colleagues to get you the best and most immediate resources and attention for your book with all the other books she is doing. There’s always something else in the nest, some book or sibling author, like some fledgling baby cuckoo, elbowing your project out of the way in favor of his own.

 

    1. Where you lead the publisher is likely to follow, though there are plenty of anecdotes of authors providing leads for publishers that are dropped, ignored, or otherwise not followed through on, to the author’s detriment more than the publisher’s.

 

    1. If you are writing a nonfiction book in the inspirational, health, or business fields in particular, it is common for a publisher to ask an author how many copies of his book he is going to buy, and they’re not talking in the tens but in the thousands. These days, there’s just no reason why an author should shoulder this burden when authors can do exactly the same work for themselves that the mainstream publisher expect them to do, and keep all the profits for themselves.

 

    1. While a publisher can often get a book into the hands of bricks and mortar vendors, the honest truth is that, finding your audience these days, whether you’re mainstream or self-published, rests much more on connecting to your audience via the Web. Besides some cursory publicity and promotion (publishing house PR and marketing professionals work in a constant state of overworked triage in terms of which of their books deserves most of their time and money),  the odds are great your book is not at the top of their list. So your book is left to sink or swim by its own devices—unless you step in to save the day, if they’ll allow you to. Which is exactly what you’d be doing, but with much more control and determination, if left to your own devices with the help of professionals knowledgeable about various aspects of the industry like sales and marketing.

 

  1. While a mainstream publisher is likely going to produce a quality version of your book for you, publishers are keeping a substantial part of the profits in order to make back their investment in the book. You don’t need to give them this money stream as it’s easy these days to  build your own publishing enterprise (editorial, PR, marketing, and so on) with the help of consultants and packagers.

At Lincoln Square Books, our seasoned industry professionals are ready and eager to help you live the reality of your publishing dreams. You are welcome to a FREE consultation about your project with one of our top consultants. We are proud of the caliber of our clients and move mountains to ensure your goals for your book are met—or exceeded!
CLICK TO REQUEST A CONSULT RIGHT NOW

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Is Talent Important? by Peter Rubie

brando talent quote

 

If you’ve been thinking about writing a book beware — beware that little voice in your head that comes up with reasons not to do it.

“You’re too old,” it says.

“You don’t have enough time,” it murmers.

“You’ll just make a fool of yourself,” you hear in a whisper.

“You’re not talented enough,” you tell yourself. “Why waste your time?”

But what we don’t know know, in the grips of this self doubt, is that EVERYONE thinks like this, regardless of their levels of success. I’m constantly surprised when world class writers and musicians and athletes tell me the same things running through their head that run through mine.  But how can that be? I ask myself, reeling from the shock of yet another hero revealing to me that they wrestle with many of the same things I do artistically.  Of course, their work is usually a lot more accomplished than mine when it’s finally done. But that doesn’t mean my work doesn’t have merit and doesn’t deserve to be out there. And that’s true for all of us.

We all wrestle with such demons if we’re honest with ourselves, and it’s our ability to forge ahead regardless that often makes the difference in whether or not we get that book written, or that painting done, or that piece of music mastered.

Not so long ago, a friend asked me: “What’s more important to artistic success? Talent, judgment, or perseverance?” Although my friend’s nonfiction has been published, he had decided to quit writing (both fiction and nonfiction) because after several years of hard work and rewrites, his novel, (either the second or the third unpublished manuscript depending on how you count things) though agented, has yet to find a publisher.  His fiction would never get published, he said, because he just wasn’t talented enough as a writer, regardless of how hard he worked at it. I disagreed with him, and suggested that while he waited for his agent to find a publisher, he start something new. At one point in our discussion he said that if a less talented person could catch up through hard work alone with someone who had a genuine gift for their art form, it would mean anybody could sing like Frank Sinatra or could play golf as well as Tiger Woods if they practiced hard enough.  “Some people can just do things that others simply cannot,” my friend announced. “Hard work alone can’t make up for a lack of talent at something, at least at the highest level.”

There’s an appealing superficial obviousness to this observation, but I don’t buy it. I work with writers and musicians every day; I see the “talent” in my 11 year old son and I know for that talent to mean something, the hard work he chooses to put in daily into playing the violin and mastering soccer, and the pride of achievement he feels when he performs both well and is recognized for it.

The observation that some people can do some things others can’t do is obvious, on the surface. I remember when I first quit music 20 years ago. I did it for a number of reasons, but the principal one was because I heard great players, friends, and realized I was in awe of things they did because it would never have occurred to me to do them, as a player. My friend told me he decided to quit writing because of that story, which I’d told him casually over lunch a couple of years ago. But he wasn’t paying attention to the fact that when time allows, I’ve been practicing playing jazz quite hard over the last couple of years, and it feels a little like I’ve come home.  It’s familiar, but it’s not the same as it was.

My friend’s view of talent as some magic gift assumes that being the best singer, or the best pitcher is synonymous in some ways with destiny. But it’s truer to say that some people have, for example, innately better hand-eye coordination than others. But so what? It’s why we can get into beer soaked arguments about who’s the better ball player, Derek Jeter or Ty Cobb.  It’s all just so subjective. What is true, is that every artist or performer has the responsibility to develop and refine a uniqueness of vision that makes them special, regardless of whether or not others appreciate that vision.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites a study done in the 1990s by K. Anders Ericsson (Dept. of Psychology, Florida State Univ.) on music students.  In true British tabloid press fashion, Gladwell overbroadly concluded from the report that elite musicians averaged 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able only practiced 4,000 hours. It was the hard worked that did it, was the message.  But this conclusion was disputed as simplistic by Ericsson in a letter to the NY Times, (http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/freakonomics/pdf/DeliberatePractice%28PsychologicalReview%29.pdf).

Ericsson’s letter made a better, subtler point though:

“Our paper found that the attained level of expert music performance of students at an international level music academy showed a positive correlation with the number of solitary practice hours accumulated in their careers and the gradual improvement due to goal-directed deliberate practice.”

In other words, the most accomplished students had focused on mastering technical skills designed to improve performance and express their creativity; they had developed skills using external rewards, such as pay, or concert performances as motivation; and participated in any kind of practice that explored their various skills and was inherently enjoyable, like playing with other people. In other words, whether it’s painting a picture, writing and editing your own work, playing a musical instrument, or getting better at soccer, according to Ericsson it’s not talent, nor even endurance of long hours put into mastering your craft that counts, but the consistency and specifics of what you practice that is so important.  It’s also true that at some point fairly early on, true craftsmen and women usually fall in love with practicing to the point where they want to do it every day.  The process becomes a kind of meditation in a way.

If my friend was right, then according to his theory, in Ericsson’s study the rare “super talented” should have risen to the elite level with less effort than their peers. No one did. In fact, the data showed a direct correlation between hours of correct practice, and achievement.  Wise journeyman study wins out, it seems.

An example of all this can be glimpsed in the sad story of the (fairly unknown) brilliant jazz guitarist Billy Bean, who in the 1950s could play the guitar pretty much the way Charlie Parker played the alto sax. Bean was consumed by the demon of alcoholism to the point that he gave up early on a career in music that would have likely matched Wes Montgomery’s or Joe Pass’s if you follow these things. For the non-musical it’s a bit like Picasso deciding he’d rather drink than paint. So what good does talent do for you under those circumstances? That said, I know Billy Bean worked very hard at mastering his instrument when he was young, but he famously told a friend in retrospect of those early recordings, “Oh, I was just goofing off” and reportedly never liked any of them. But that is belied by one interesting kitchen recording he made of a rehearsal for an upcoming record date, when halfway through a tune he makes a mistake. What we hear, preserved for all time, is the genuine belly laughter of a likely sober young man delightedly doing the thing he loved to do most and best in the world, even when it doesn’t work out quite how he wanted it to.

The best definition of talent I ever came across was by the iconic jazz drummer Art Blakey, an equally great spotter and incubator of talented young jazz musicians. He said talent is the speed with which someone learns something. This instantly resonated with me.  It’s the least elitist approach to talent, and the one that most emphasizes the need to do the work, rather than just rely on a “magical” ability that one is born with.  Because the truth is, we are all born with skill sets buried in our DNA, whether it’s walking, running, singing, storytelling. I know more talented people who pissed it all away the moment things got tough creatively, than you can shake a stick at; you have to be willing and determined to work at the RIGHT stuff technically in order to progress, and some people pick up on that a lot faster than others, and some find it easier than others and progress faster as a result.  But it’s all about a willingness to do the work.

Implied in my friend’s question is another that sets my teeth on edge — what do we mean by “success”?  Financial success and fame require of the artist an overtly commercial sensibility that may appeal to the masses e.g., Justin Bieber, or Lady Gaga, but artistically in terms of talent are they really comparable to, say, Frank Sinatra or Rene Fleming or Aretha Franklin in their prime?  Does it matter? And is that commercial sensibility i.e., a talent to sometimes cynically read what others want in harmless entertainment and give it to them, sometimes pandering to the bottom line at the expense of all else?  Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making lots of money, God-knows, as a performing artist or sportsman or woman of some sort.  It’s how you do it that matters.

I say pander, because art should not be just about money, and thus aimed at offending the least number of people. Relevance is important as well. Art is often intellectually and emotionally challenging and spiky, not comforting and soporific, because it often attempts to ask interesting questions and make us think differently about the world around us. It’s thus likely to have a small audience at first, which will hopefully grow over time. We hope that we can help others see the world differently, be it a world of wonder, or a world of fear, or something in between. We hope they will ultimately enjoy the work, and look to see if there is more by us.   Once in a while something will catch unexpectedly, and a new phenom is born from base clay but you can’t really plan for that.

Artistic success, that is, true admiration from one’s peers, is hard won and not often bestowed on the popular (though there are obvious exceptions). Charlie Parker, for example, considered one of the great jazz musicians of all time, was not hugely popular among audiences at the time. Louis Armstrong had to completely reinvent himself.  But their art has remained relevant over time, a great test of good art.

In the end, talent is about discovering who you are, and what you want to say.  It is, what it is, nothing more or less. So the true point is for you not to worry about whether or not you’re talented enough to “make it” but instead, to work to find out what you have to say that is unique, important, and said with the most grace and energy you can muster. After that, it’s in the lap of the gods whether or not others connect with it, regardless of your raw talent, or of the effort you may or may not put into achieving recognition.

There is no separating talent from the other qualities, it’s only one piece of a much more complex puzzle when it comes to creating art and successful popular entertainments. (Alas, not always the same thing.)  It doesn’t exclude others in the same field who have differing levels of accomplishment or a different perception of the human condition. At some point, becoming the “best” becomes replaced by a realization we all need to go an inner journey.

And, by the way, I’m pleased to report my friend has reconsidered his decision to not write any more, and is about to start work on a new novel.

So, when are you going to start working on your book?

Rule Number Two Of Writing? Forgedaboudit!, by Peter Rubie

Rule #2

Rule #2

Rule #1 in writing is – or should be — if you’re not yet published (by someone else) you’re not the best judge of your own material. At the very least make friends with a writer who has a good editorial eye and the bravery that goes with using it. It’s the collaborative experience that is so important in writing at a professional level. I know YOU know what you mean, but does everybody else?

But then there’s rule #2 – Forgedaboudit! as they say in New York. Ignore what everyone tells you about writing, including what I just wrote as Rule #1. Learn to trust your instincts instead.

Dr. Johnson was once called the second most important writer in the English language (after Shakespeare, in case you’re wondering). A friend asked him if he was upset about being described like that. “Not at all,” Dr. Johnson replied. “At least it means they thought about it.”

Essays like this are meant to inspire you to write “that book.” You know, the one that will change your life. But this essay is already going off the rails because what I’m here to say is: don’t write anything at all.

Procrastinate. Hold off. Forgedaboudit!

I’ve been a professional writer, editor and agent for nearly 30 years, so you should listen to me: If the urge to write comes upon you like a desire for ice cream at midnight, go and clean the cat box instead, go outside and look for an old lady to help across a busy street – at all costs, DON’T WRITE.

This isn’t an original idea, unfortunately, but one of the two best pieces of advice about writing I was ever given. (The other, about journalism mainly, was, “Always cover your arse.”) If you get a good idea, ignore it. If it comes back, ignore it again. Halfway decent ideas are like nagging children tugging on your clothing. Don’t be fooled by them, ignore them. If the idea returns for a third time, it will be sneakily better formed and structured than when it first accosted you, like some brazen strumpet offering ill-defined pleasures. My advice, run, don’t walk away from it. Keep ducking and weaving. Eventually, just like the nagging child we all love really, we realize that the only way to make this obnoxious, won’t take “no” for an answer child go away is to sit down and write it out of your system. Will this change your life? Of course it will — it will make it peaceful again if nothing else.

Writing is like carpentry. All that manipulating large eight-foot by four-foot sheets of plywood and two-by-four sections of wood all on your own, all that back straining effort measuring and adjusting, cutting and dry fitting and adjusting some more, then gluing and screwing and nailing and then remeasuring only to realize one piece is not as long as it should be and not as square as it could be . . . Then there’s all the coughing as you sand and plane and smooth the piece, using wood putty to fill in the mistakes you made but only now spot and have to somehow fix as invisibly as possible. What sane person wants to do all that? Once the words are down on the page you then have to spend hours making sure they actually say what you mean them to say if you can actually figure out what that is in the first place. No wonder so many writers become drunks.

As an example: I wrote my first novel on a dare, and I’m still paying for it. I’d been a journalist for years, so I should have known better.

“I’m going to write a novel,” I said to my friend Maggie.

“Don’t tell me about it, DO IT,” she said. That was Maggie, of course, an original 1970s women’s libber who still doesn’t understand why her son grew up to be a young male chauvinist.

“OK, I will,” I said defiantly. And here we are all these years later. I work in publishing as an agent, for God’s sakes. Do you know how many bad books and ideas I have to read every week? Have some pity. Ninety-five percent of what we read sucks! Of course, that’s a totally subjective pronouncement based almost exclusively on what I like and dislike and what moves me or leaves me cold. (Some people like caviar and oysters, others hate them as too fishy.) I know your book falls into that enviable 5% that agents and editors lust after like teenage boys during spring break. But I want to spare you the pain I endured of writing a profound short story about a romantic breakup, that got returned by an editor who went to the trouble of handwriting a note on the rejection letter (yay! someone really thought I had some promise!) telling me how much she hated the story and that I should seek counseling.

That novel Maggie dared me to write, by the way, took five years to complete. It was going to change the way people looked at me – it would make me a STAR — and would be compared to, I don’t know, Gravity’s Rainbow or The Magus or something. Of course, it was pretentiously awful. But at least I finished it. All 500 pages of it.

The novel that was published was co-authored with a friend. It was a bracing experience, highlighted by Jim telling me to lose my Shakespearean affectations, and just write A STORY directly and honestly. I mean, what was he thinking? Where was the layering, the hidden meanings? The relationship quickly devolved to notes to each other about how neither of us could write while we were actually still collaborating and writing a lot–on our “portable” Kaypro computers the length and size of large gym bags.

Eighteen months later, between Jim’s writing and my rewriting, and his rewriting of my rewriting, and my final editing, our first novel was published by a company that promptly went out of business six months later. Change my life? My friend (yes, we kissed and made up once the stress of writing our first novel was over) then moved across country to California.

Jim wrote a number of other novels that got published and started to live his dream of being a full time author. I, meanwhile, wrote another unpublishable novel, again intended to be a “great American novel” (what was I thinking, I’m a native Englishman for God’s sake!) and then for book three I settled down, reread John Gardner’s book The Art of Fiction which changed my life, and took Jim’s advice — just tell a good story well.

And you know what? By ignoring ideas that seemed brilliant at 3 am, I wrote a novel called Werewolf that got published. Then I got a job as a publishing house editor, published my co-author and once-again-friend Jim’s third novel, and eventually wrote a nonfiction book called The Elements of Storytelling that you can still find almost 20 years later. (I mention this here rather blatantly because you can only get it as a print on demand edition and you need to know about it to demand it. Hint, hint.) Other books and essays started to follow and now look at me.

So, remember Rule #2: If you get a good idea you want to write, forgetaboudit! You’ll be much happier. Of course, if you do what I tell you, you should ignore this advice much as any other you get. But if you do follow my suggestion, inevitably you’ll eventually feel compelled to write something because it won’t go away until you do. It’ll bring you pride accomplishment and frustration in equal measure – just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Peter Rubie’s latest book is the reissued edition of How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales (Crossroad Press, 2015). It is available from BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.

The Dramatic Sentence: An Introduction To Basic Story Structure, by Peter Rubie

Gary Provost and Peter Rubie are the co-authors of How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales. Thank to Gary’s wife Gail for granting permission to share this article. The book has being reissued (2015) by Crossroad Press and is available from BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.Gary Provost died unexpectedly in 1995. He was the author of many books across a range of genres both fiction and narrative non-fiction. Along with his friend Peter Rubie, he was, and Rubie continues to be, a highly sought after writing instructor. This writing reference combines Gary’s instruction with the literary savvy of his longtime colleague and friend, Peter Rubie. This essay is excerpted from the book. 

Typewriter becomes laptop
Typewriter becomes laptop

 

 

My friend Gary Provost and I created what we teasingly called the Gary Provost Dramatic Sentence (with some help from Aristotle). Here it is:

Once upon a time… something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

This is classic dramatic structure. It works because it’s story telling that is most satisfying to the reader. Aristotle defined good drama as storytelling that defined character, created atmosphere, and advanced the action of the plot. No one has ever really substantively improved on this beautifully simple yet profound definition, though I think Norman Mailer came close when he said in a TV interview, “The best fiction is where art, philosophy, and adventure all meet.”

Let’s go through Gary’s paragraph again. This time we’ll stop along the way and I’ll talk about the elements of plotting. Once you understand these elements whether you’re a literary novelist or a writer of non-fiction, or a genre writer you’ll be able to plot any story you like.

Once upon a time… something happened to someone…

This is what we call the inciting incident. In other words, it’s what caused the story to kick in. Say your story begins on Thursday. Don’t begin it on Wednesday, just to set the scene and introduce the characters, a classic amateur flaw. Plunge us right into the action the moment it starts. Why? Because nothing significant happened on Wednesday. You’re not writing someone’s life, you’re writing the story of a watershed moment in that life. The thing that happened to upset the equilibrium or the balance in his life is the thing that begins the story. That’s the inciting incident. That’s where your story should start.

…and he decided that he would pursue a goal.

There’s something this person wants. What is it? It’s the prize, the thing he’s trying to get through, all through the story. What is it that your main character wants? In the long run what does he hope to achieve?

So he devised a plan of action,…

Let’s call this The Strategy. How is our hero going to go about pursuing his goal, or prize? What’s he going to do? What’s his plan?

…and even though there were forces trying to stop him,…

This is the opposition, the conflict. Conflict is the basis of all drama. Our hero wants something, and he’s figured out a way of getting it. Something has to get in his way, something or somebody has to have a conflicting goal, and a conflicting plan C something has got to try and stop him. Nobody’s interested in reading a story about an guy who wanted a million dollars and got it. They want to read about a guy who wanted a million dollars and had a lot of trouble getting it. There are forces coming against our hero, there is conflict.

…he moved forward because there was a lot at stake.

Ah, The Stakes! What our hero wants, what plan he’s devised to get it, and what this effort will cost our hero? In chess, every move forward gains something, but it also loses something as well. Nothing of any importance in this life is free. In one form or another we always pay a price for what we most desire. In a story the stakes have to be very high. What are they in your? Life or death, lovers lost forever, friends becoming implacable enemies, something very important we can all relate to. You don’t want to write a story about a guy who is going to lose his typewriter or his comb. It’s got to be something very important, something big enough to disrupt his life, to change him from what he was into someone else by the end of the story.

And just as things seemed as bad as they could get,…

This is known as the Bleakest Moment. Things are dark and dreary for this person. Everything has gone wrong and it seems as if the forces of opposition arrayed against him have won. But somehow, from the darkness of his despair and depression, from his failures, he finds the strength to persevere and overcome against overwhelming odds.

…he learned an important lesson,

Aha, a revelation. Our protagonist comes through his Bleakest Moment with a gift C understanding. At last he sees, he understands something about life that he didn’t understand before. Stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, are about people growing and changing, about their insights into the human condition. By the end of the story, this new knowledge has changed our protagonist for the better. He is a little wiser, and a little stronger, he has a little more faith in himself, or in others, or in the bountiful nature of life. He has grown and learned a lesson.

…and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously he had to decide whether or not to take it,…

He makes The Decision. The important thing to remember about this decision is that when he makes it, he gains something, and he gives something up. It isn’t much of a decision if someone says, “Hey, here you are. Here’s a million dollars, you can take it or leave it.” But if someone comes along and says, “Congratulations, now you can get your million dollars. But there’s one catch: if you take it you’ll never see your daughter again. And if you want to keep on seeing your daughter, you’ll never get another chance to get your million dollars you’ve just earned.” This now, is an important decision our hero must make.

…and in making that decision he satisfied a need…

Let’s call this The Hole. It is the Aengine that has been driving him to do stuff the whole of his life, and certainly for the duration of the story, though he may not even be aware of what that hole is.

…that had been created by something in his past.

This is the importance of the Backstory. The backstory simply means his past, whatever happened in his past relevant to the story you’re telling about our hero. The need or hole is something that happened to our hero before the story began. Something perhaps that haunts him. The enigmatic reference to the boyhood sled Rosebud, in Citizen Kane, for example. In someway the hero is still incomplete. He’s been injured, or he’s had a part of him taken away. Perhaps he’s lost his faith, or rejected love. Perhaps he’s a loner, someone who’s not good at sharing himself with others, and he comes into this story carrying this thing with him, needing this hole filled. And in the process of the story, the hole is filled as he comes to his realization.   logo

How to Build an iPhone Projector So You Can Share Your Selfies and Book Trailers

I found this article on Business Insider, reporting on a Hong Kong franchise of a pizza delivery service that was offering boxes that could transform into projectors, and it occurred to me that most of the authors I know who produce videos would love to be able to project them for their friends. A YouTuber’s delight! And apparently, you can get the job done in under $10 and with a little of the old MacGyver-like ingenuity.

Visit Stephanie at http://stephaniegunning.com

Loved This Post: Authors Sharing Their Best Writing Tips with NYPL

Ran across a wonderful page, curated by Tracy O’Neill for The New York Public Library. It combines text and videos of interviews on the writing process with:

  • Zadie Smith
  • Etgar Keret
  • Geoff Dyer
  • Jesmyn Ward
  • Pico Iyer
  • Toni Morrison
  • Timothy Donnelly
  • Cheryl Strayed

Please enjoy! Let this be your introduction to these “Live Shorts.” Thank you NYPL, for educating us. Namaste.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE PAGE

Here is a video sample of Ms. Strayed…

Math and Publishing: A Report of My Phone Call with a Young Student

The email read: “My algebra teacher asked me to contact someone in a profession I’m interested in pursuing to find out where math is used. Is there someone in your organization I could speak to?”

“Yeah, me. I love speaking with young people,” I wrote back. “I’d be glad to be interviewed for your homework assignment.”

Later that day I was on the phone with Madison, an eighth grader from Florida, who loves reading and writing and is in a special accelerated program where her teacher (who I’m certain is a good one) strongly believes education needs to be relevant.

Where is math used in writing and publishing?

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Madison reads above her grade level. When she was in third grade she read at the seventh grade level. Now fourteen, she’s currently enjoying The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I suggested she try the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. She has a tenacious policy never to abandon a book once she begins reading it. Half our conversation focused on questions about what I do for a living and half focused on the initial issue of mathematics.

I told her I had gone through college-level calculus in my studies.

“Where do you use math?” she asked.

“In accounting expenses and income and figuring out how to charge for my services… In calculating the tips on my lunch bill when I eat out with clients and colleagues… In trying to apportion the time in my day… In figuring out how many inches the spine of a cover needs to be based on the page count of a book and the thickness of the paper stock the interior is being printed on…”

“Anywhere else?”

“Knowing math has made me appreciate the world. it comes up sometimes when I’m editing or writing a book. For instance, did you know that sine waves from trigonometry can express sound waves? Or that everything in nature can be expressed in fractal patterns? That the human brain find harmony in the geometry of the golden mean ratio, which shows up in music, in swirling seashells, in the proportions of people’s faces, and in Ancient Greek and Roman temples?”

Sometimes I work on books that are about science and include math. Being able to comprehend those books has enriched my thinking.

It was an awesome question that I highly recommend everybody consider. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Madison by phone, and I got the sense that she’d make a terrific editor in due course because, among other things, she said she could tell about people’s personalities from their writing.

Her last question to me was: “How do you think I could best prepare myself for a career in publishing?” A very good question to ask, especially since the world is always changing and our skills need to change along with it. I figure she’s got eight more years to prepare to launch in life. By then the publishing field may not look much like it does now–considering that technological development makes the computer systems and software we use obsolete every two to four years.

What remains when everything else in this industry changes? Ability to discern quality writing. Ability to articulate perception from reading. How human beings connect. After a few moments of consideration, I suggested she get on her high school and college newspapers, keep reading voraciously, and when she liked something a lot and thought it was well done to make a point to read it a second time and try to figure out what about it made it work.

That last suggestion in particular is probably good advice for all writers–of any age.

If you’re reading this, thanks Madison! I hope you have a good summer.

A Musical Christmas Card Featuring the Guitar Stylings of Peter Rubie

From Us to You, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2015!

Meet Rania Habiby Anderson, An Author Advancing the Careers of Women in Developing Nations

Rania Habiby Anderson is on a mission. She’s committed to accelerating the careers of women in emerging economies worldwide–in Africa, in Central and South America, in the Middle East, in Asia. For over four years, she has dedicated much of her time and funds to speaking with and surveying over 250 women in those regions one on one, in small and large groups, in person, by phone, or Skype, and through email correspondence. Her remarkable new book written based on this research and her own expertise is designed to provide women with the kind of frank and resourceful advice they need to succeed.Aptly titled UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies is due out in early 2015.

With our help and on the basis of their own talents and efforts women everywhere will be able to find jobs, build careers, start businesses, create even more jobs, and fuel global prosperity.

Rania intends to give away as many copies as she possibly can to graduating female college seniors and start a wave of freedom and participation where the gender gap is greatest and career women strongly need support. This is their time in history to take the lead!

The ultimate vision is for the book to be translated into multiple languages, including limited to Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, which can be accomplished if enough people share Rania’s dream.

Crowdfunding Success for Our Sisters in Developing Nations
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/unleashing-the-careers-of-100-000-women-globally#home

UNDETERRED is about empowerment. It’s about giving a whole new generation of women in emerging economies the ability to achieve financial self-sufficiency and to make a contribution in the world.

Two Things You Can Do Today

If unleashing the success of women around the world moves you, here are two things you can do TODAY:

1. Back this campaign now! Click here. It launched on October 21 and closes on November 7. The goal is $30,000 and EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR HELPS. Donate to help young women launch their careers or businesses.

2. Help spread the word! Share this project with one person you know who is also passionate about seeing women succeed.

“ENOUGH NEGATIVITY, says Rania. “I’ve grown weary of hearing the media and others talk almost exclusively about the obstacles women in developing and emerging economies face. While much of it is true, the fact of the matter is that there are also MILLIONS of women that we never hear about who are succeeding (see thewaywomenwork.com). I want to share women’s progress, not their plight!”