"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: June 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Call for Submissions

Sometimes I wish there were clones of me. Then I could get everything done. One clone to write my novels. One clone to publish everyone's books. Another to submit short stories and screenplays. Another to do the housework and the gardening. And another to be a family man, focusing on looking after children instead of trying to be a creative dynamo.

But then I think, what if the clones decided they wanted to be real me? What if they started fighting, warring over my personality. What if one decided to kill all the others?

There I go again. Starting with an idea that becomes the germ of a story.

Because probably what would happen would be that the extra clones would simply come up with more ideas, more ways to fill my time - and then each clone would need his own team of clones and pretty soon, I'd have an army of Robs to contend with.

They'd all need feeding and would have to pay their way. And what would Robyn think? Which would be the real me - and how could she tell...

Apologies for opening crazy.

You might guess this has been a busy week.

Tuesday I launched Magellan Books.

By Friday I had over one hundred and thirty submissions. It's no wonder publishers say they're inundated with manuscripts.

So first of all I'd like to apologize to you in advance if you're thinking about submitting your manuscript to me. I'm intending to publish everyone. It just might take a little longer than I'd originally planned.

Don't hold back though - send me your manuscripts anyway. I'll get to you. And if things get busy we might need to get more staff. That's my problem to resolve. Not yours!

I'm very happy that Magellan has clearly struck a chord with writers all over the world. And I'm grateful for the chance to help so many of you.

If you haven't already, take a look at Magellan Books guidelines - and I'm sure we'll speak soon.

Thank you so much for your support.

I appreciate it.

Keep writing!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There's Always Tomorrow

Writing is a long term vocation. You may have to keep reminding yourself of this. Especially when you want everything - money, writing projects, publishing success - to go faster.

Do you ever feel like this? I do.

I read a guy's blog this week where he talked about burn-out. He was so determined to get a novel finished he wrote 16 hours a day for about three weeks. He said that suddenly he couldn't make out the words on the screen. He was looking at a foreign language and he realized his brain had shut down.

The experience frightened him so much that he stopped writing and suffered a long period - over six months - of angst over what had happened.

For a long time he was too afraid to start writing again for fear that his mind would play this trick on him again.

Luckily that's not happened to me yet. Sounds awful.

The worst thing that happened one year was that I got one of those humps on my right wrist - apparently they're caused by hitting the keyboard too hard. It took a few weeks of gentle typing for it to go down.

It didn't hurt. I just looked deformed for a while. A friend suggested hitting it with a book - he said he'd heard that was the way to make them go back down. Not being a fan of pain, I declined his offer to fix it and trusted Nature instead.

I've never had it again - since I started using laptops.

I guess the point is that you can just push yourself too hard sometimes. I know that, say, Olympic athletes need to train for hours every day. I know that soldiers train hard every day to reach optimal strength, mindset and efficiency.

But what about more cerebral pursuits?

Clearly it's possible for the brain to be overstimulated - leading to mental breakdowns and, at the very least, stress.

Most writers agree that bouts of excessive writing can be physically draining. Even the most prolific writers don't recommend more than four or five hours max a day. It's fairly well accepted that much more and you're really in no condition to give it your best.

As writers we must learn patience.

Waiting on publishers is challenging. It's the main topic of conversation at the writer's groups I attend. It's also one of the reasons I'm launching Magellan Books - to act as a stopgap, where we writers have at least a chance of making money from our work while waiting around for agents and publishers to take notice of us.

Plus, increasingly, the publishing world requires 'proof' that readers want our work. What better way to showcase our novels, books and writing than on a respectable website? So that we can get feedback, reviews and testimonials - not to mention actual sales of our work to readers.

Plus of course there's the added benefit of feeling like a published author - which will seriously help your self esteem and hopefully boost your commitment to writing regularly.

Because writing needs to become a habit, especially if you want to one day do it full time - the dream!

You need to pace yourself. Live well but healthily. Keep your moral, mental and physical strength up and commit to writing every day.

In this age of 'I want it now', it may seem frustrating to have to wait for anything. But for the writer, this is often the reality.

Fact is, it's always been this way. Nothing's changed.

Except now we can at least publish ourselves on the Net while we're waiting for the call from Random House or Harper Collins. (Anytime, guys - honestly, I'm here all day, just waiting!)

And did I mention publishing with Magellan Books is free?

Plus you keep all the rights?

No contracts, no catches and no fees.

Just a professional platform to showcase your work.

Oh and, in case you're interested, you make money too!

Why wait until tomorrow?

Magellan Books wants to publish your MS

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Future of Publishing

It's funny. Last week I was nervous about putting out a blog that was so down on the publishing industry.

Little did I expect so many emails agreeing with me!

And literally three days later, comes an article from the Wall Street Journal (no less) that basically said the same things.

Fact is most insiders agree that the publishing industry is in trouble. Their inability to spot bestsellers - indeed to spot anything that may even become commercial - is now causing them problems.

The heavy reliance on promoting TV and film related books means that ordinary authors suffer. Marketing budgets that might have gone to their 'list' authors is now being funneled into blockbusters - and little else.

The main reason would seem to be that publishers' B list authors simply can't sell enough books to support these corporate giants. Far be it from me to suggest that perhaps publishers 'choose the wrong books' - I think it's more to do with the fundamentally unwieldy nature of the publishing industry.

The average publisher takes 6 months to a year to accept or reject a manuscript. After that, on average, another two years to get the book onto a book shelf.

Clearly, in our modern high tech, second-by-second world, that's simply FAR TOO LONG.

How can any book or author hope to be relevant nowadays with that kind of lead time?

(That's a rhetorical question BTW.)

Before the Internet, of course, this wasn't a problem.

But now, it is.

And with the explosion of e-books and iPod and Kindle, the publishing industry - unless it acts very quickly - will simply fall by the wayside as technology allows authors to write a book and get it up online - and on sale - instantly.

Print on Demand (POD) has given self published authors the ability to print up their own work within a week of finishing their manuscripts. Given this new reality, why would any self respecting author wait 2 to 3 years to have some traditional publisher do exactly the same?

Especially when the acceptance rate for new manuscripts is at an all time low. Less than one in a thousand was the last statistic I heard.

The reality is that if you're a career author, your royalties from book sales will be minimal. (This is a closely guarded secret within the published author community - but you might as well know it.)

And given this low reward - which an author may not see for FOUR to FIVE years AFTER they've written their book - you can perhaps appreciate why enlightened authors are now looking to the Internet to get those royalty earnings NOW instead of at some hypothetical time in the future.

I'm not saying the Internet is the Yellow Brick Road or the key to eternal wealth for authors. It's not that yet. But I think that it may be in the future.

If you only sell a few hundred copies of your book online - as a digital download - you may not get rich tomorrow BUT you will most likely be in EXACTLY the same position as 99% of writers signed to traditional publishers!

I've given this whole issue - and dilemma - a lot of thought over the last eight years, especially as it's what I've been predicting for a long time now.

THAT, despite the ups and downs of the digital book industry, the future for the majority of authors does not necessarily involve traditional publishers. Smart writers everywhere, including bestselling authors, are now investigating the practicalities of selling their work online (and reaping the near instant rewards.)

Distribution to retail outlets is pretty much the only advantage the mainstream publishers have over the Internet. But even then with caveats. Have you noticed there's now an A list of books?

Truth is, unless you're in that top 100 'flavor of the month' list, you still don't get your book in the shops, no matter what deal you've got. But with 25% of all book sales being digital by 2011, who needs book shelves?

Especially when you can publish a digital book for free - with someone like Magellan Books - my company - literally overnight, and earn royalties monthly, right off the bat.

So, if you're interested in being part of the Next Generation of Publishing, go here, and register your interest. I'll then keep you posted about OUR future.

Whatever your situation as a writer, there's now hope.

Keep writing!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Trouble With Writing

It's hard enough to actually get the words on paper - but after that you have to do the self promotion thing.

That's when you find out that, rather than the world clamoring to read you work, you're just one of thousands upon tens of thousands of writers in exactly the same place.

Writing a book used to be the goal - that many splendorous achievement that marked you out as special. Now?

Join the queue.

Getting publishers interested in your book is - and always was I guess - a total uphill struggle. But it's getting worse.

The whole publishing industry seems set up to say 'no', before you've even had time to pitch your idea, hone your proposal or edit down your synopsis.

Publishers explain they already have a huge back catalogue of work they have yet to publish, that, really, they don't need to see your manuscript, even before they know what it's about.

But then you read that traditional publishing is on the way out anyway.

Kindle is taking over - the majority of books sold are now electronic.

There's always self publishing - a minefield and a nightmare combined for the average wannabe author of a hard copy.

There are many companies already on line whose sole aim seems to be to take your money, make you poorer and do nothing much to help you or your work.

Self publishing - I know because I do it - shouldn't cost you more than around $500 for 50 books.

That's the reality.

That's how much it actually costs.

So why do others - who say they are "publishing you" and will get you to sign a contract - and then charge you around $5,000 to $15,000?

These companies use the fact that writers find it so hard to get published to fatten their wallets at your expense.

Talk about profiteering.

Need an agent?


Agents are besieged by manuscripts they can't sell.

Even when you get one - and I've had a few - my experience is that they find it just as hard (and sometimes harder) to get work published as we solo authors do.

Think that having an agent gives you an edge in the publishing world?


Times ain't like that anymore.

And here again there are individuals who call themselves agents - who prey on writers desperation to be represented - and rip you blind before you can say, "Can you please read my book?"

It's enough to make you despair!

Fact is, you're most likely to sell books if you self publish them - by which I mean finding a cheap POD printer and doing it yourself and then go on a speaking tour of your local libraries and shops and physically selling your books out of the trunk of your car.

I know traditional publishers who suggest you do this this anyway - they call it a 'launch tour' - difference being they will take 90% of the cover price of your book.

At least when you self-publish you get to keep 50% or more.

I read an editor's blog recently that 99% of all books sold less than 200 copies each - and that includes the books sold by traditional publishers.

Makes you want to seriously reconsider your decision to be a writer, doesn't it?

But still we do it.

I write every day. I more books I want to get out there - when I'm done editing.

I have over a hundred published books - and the royalties are nice but, of course, could be better.

This last decade my income from self published work has actually far outstripped my income from publishers.

It's not just me.

Writers everywhere face this new dilemma.

Is it really worth hawking around the publisher circuit anymore?

After all, they can take up to a year - and sometimes longer - to reject a MS.

That's way too long to make a writer wait in my view.

Far better to take the bull by the horns (don't you just hate cliches) and do it ourselves.

I think this is what the future holds for writers.

We gotta do it ourselves. Build the following one reader at a time.

Get ourselves out there and sell our books one at a time - and make a small profit from each one.

Take back control from an industry that is finding it increasingly hard to support us with the onslaught of new technology.

Refuse to get sucked in to those companies and individuals who prey on writer's dreams.

Make the decision.

Decide to take back control over our destiny - and let those big publishing companies know their days are numbered.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Keep writing!

Rob's Writing Academy

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Elementary, My Dear Sherlock

One of the most enduring of fictional characters would have to be Sherlock Holmes.

So much so that many London tourists are surprised - and sometimes upset - to learn that, despite the master detective's fame and influence (and his real address at 221b Baker Street), Holmes is the imaginary creation of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What's fascinating about Sherlock Holmes is that he's almost too incredible to be believed. He's a drug addict (morphine - the forerunner of heroin - wasn't illegal in those days), he's a terrible musician, he has a knowledge of poisons that is almost alarming, and his deductive skills are nothing less than superhuman.

ASIDE: From this brief description you can see why the character would easily appeal to actor Robert Downey Jr!

In many ways Holmes is the first modern superhero - complete with costume and cloak. I think what humanizes him is that he's only ever presented through the eyes of his sidekick Watson - whose regard and wonder for his detective friend is infectious.

This is a clever literary trick that Conan Doyle employs to not only give veracity to the stories, but to allow us to empathize by default through a character (Dr John Watson), who is essentially the ordinary reader's perspective.

It's a trick worth copying in your own writing if you're unsure how to present your own 'larger than life' character. Fitzgerald uses the same technique by presenting Gatsby through the eyes of Nick. As does Stephenie Meyer by showing Edward through Bella, come to think of it.

What's interesting to me is that successive biographers have tried to find the 'real' Sherlock Holmes. Most agree that he's based on Conan Doyle's tutor and mentor at Edinburgh University, Doctor Joseph Bell.

It's interesting because we often do this. We see a great fictional character and always assume there must be a real person in there somewhere.

Is Robert Langdon based on Dan Brown or his friend, John Langdon?

Is Somerset Maugham's Oliver Haddo based on Aleister Crowley?

Is Norman Bates based on Ed Gein?

Is Lady Macbeth really based on Lady Donwald?

It's almost as if we don't give writers any credit for coming up with original characters.

This can be especially alarming when we're faced with publisher's submission guidelines where they ask for originality in characters.

What are they really saying to us? That you must have more original friends? That you need more interesting influences? Or perhaps more compelling thoughts?

Seriously, of course we want to create characters that transcend time and exist beyond the ordinary. But we are all essentially the product of our influences - and can really only be original within somebody else's context.

Writers can tie themselves into knots over what is original and what isn't. Which is why I think it shouldn't be a consideration for writers.

Our originality comes through how we approach a character, how we describe their actions and create empathy for them.

Trying to be original will often result in nothing of the sort.

Originality is in the eye of the beholder, not the creator - to whom the character is probably far from 'unfamiliar.'

Sherlock Holmes is a case in point. Even Conan Doyle grew tired of him and tried to kill him off - famously at the Reichenbach Falls.

Indeed, the super-detective and his sidekick was already an idea developed by Edgar Allan Poe in the Rue Morgue murder stories, as early as 1841. Wilkie Collins too had created the first modern detective, Sergeant Cuff, at least twenty three years prior to the appearance of Sherlock Holmes.

Originality is relative, clearly, and not always the intention of the writer.

So, my advice? Never feel intimidated by agents, editors and publishers who say they want originality. There's no such thing. And besides, I doubt they'd recognize it anyway.

And did you know that Holmes most famous phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson," never actually appears in any of Conan Doyle's sixty one stories?

Now there's something for those London tourists to ponder.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern

The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!