"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: October 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Must Adapt to Change!

According to the latest figures, the sale of digital books is increasing by around 300% a year - while the sales of real books - hardbacks and paperbacks - is dropping by around 15% a year.
You'll notice that I didn't call them e-books - mainly because I know many writers have a knee jerk reaction to the word and just close down - and say, that's not for me and dismiss the whole idea of being published in anything other than paper form.
Fact is, the publishers you aspire to impress are beginning to feel the pinch because they too have had the same 'jerk' reaction to digital content. 
Unless a movie star buys the rights to a book, like what happened with The Martian!
But generally, trad pubs really don't know what to do about the e-book...
Trouble is, the new players in publishing like Amazon and Apple - and the thousands of digital publishers already on line - know exactly what to do about it!
Do you remember about ten years ago people were saying that hand-held book readers would never catch on? 
That the paper book was some sacred object that could never be replaced?
Well, that's still true.
But now iPads, Kindles and Tablets are here - and guess what? they're just new names for hand-held book readers.
I suspect the same will happen with e-books. 
They will change their credibility factor by simply changing their name...
No idea what to at this stage.
Something more sexy sounding than e-books, to be sure.
One of the more interesting findings that a recent survey uncovered is that the average person already has around three times more digital books on their computer hard drives than they have real books on their bookshelves at home.
And who said e-books would never catch on?
Are you missing something here?
Here's an example of a writer who's not missing the boat on this one:
J A Konrath, a crime and horror writer tired of being rejected by NY publishers, even though he's been very successful offline, released his entire back catalog of books and short stories through Kindle - available only as digital downloads.
Last year he made nearly $48,000 in royalties on just those books - yes, forty eight thousand $US, even though his e-books sold for less than, on average, $2 each.
Konrath is the first to say he doesn't know if he's unique in this regard, only that he has no faith in traditional publishers to make the correct commercial decisions for his work anymore.
The big problem I am seeing everywhere is that authors - good authors, great writers - are being serially rejected by publishers. 
Trouble is, they're taking this rejection to heart and thinking it's somehow their fault - when clearly it's not.
It's the fault of a traditional publishing industry that is losing its grip on how to sell books to readers.
Just look at the fiasco over American Dirt.
The entire publishing industry fighting over a book so badly put together it's embarrassing. 
It's clear the industry doesn't read anymore.
They just try and screw each other over what sounds sexy.
And spend ridiculous amounts of money over books they often have to take down and pulp.
But they make sure the only person to lose out is the author.
It's all in the contract.
Why would you want a contract anyway?
Digital publishing is fast and cheap.
The big publishing houses take, on average, two years to get a book from submission to publication - mainly because their internal structures are massively inefficient and cumbersome to the point of silliness.
Plus, they lack confidence in the market for books... they must do.
They're currently reject 99.9999% of all new manuscripts arriving on their desks because they already have all the books they can handle and can't sell - plus leviathan lists of hopefuls lined up for years to come (that they probably can't sell either).
Now, publishing works on the principle that one bestselling book pays for another one hundred not so successful books on a publisher's list. 
It's always been that way. 
It's a business model.
But how can you know what the bestsellers are going to be?
Well, you can't - which is why releasing new books - and often - is so necessary to compete. 
And releasing new books often is exactly what digital publishing is all about.
The money side is different for digital.
Gone are the big advances - unless you get a movie option. 
But also gone is the long wait to get royalties.
Digital books might not make you as much money - but you get it sooner - which means you can 'keep writing' while the other would be authors have to work their day jobs in the faint hope of a real book contract.
The times are changing.
It's not a case of thinking that e-books won't catch on...
They already have!
Inventions like the iPad have made digital downloading and reading of books commonplace. 
And only those trade publishers with blinkers on don't see that their days are numbered - unless they all want to become boutique niche suppliers to an ever dwindling marketplace.
I remember back in the 1980s someone sais something to me. 
(Herman, his name was - I loved him dearly until he attacked me with an ax - long story), 
"Rob," he said, "the future is digital."
I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. 
But this was just before CDs took over from vinyl records.
And to think, most musicians in those days thought that CDs and barcodes marked the end of civilization - in much the same way that many modern writers still refuse to embrace digital books - the future in other words.
Have I convinced you yet?
Do you still have your head buried in the sand over this?
I hope not.  
My darling wife and I are living proof you can get rich and successful as writers using a combination of book distribution networks - online digital and offline with real paper books - and not relying exclusively on any old-world publishers to help you.
Because, to be honest now, I really don't think most trade publishers know what they're doing anymore. 
They're shrinking and floundering on a seashore they can't come to terms with - because they missed the boat while they were wondering what to do about the Internet...
Having said all the above, we're very excited this week because we've just acquired nationwide distribution for our own 'real' books in Australia and NZ, through our own new publishing company,
Well, you know what they say. If you can't join them, beat them!
Keep Writing.

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy


"I get the solid shape, as it were, inside my head…I identify myself with the center of its gravity, its mass, its weight… imagine it any size I like and really am in control almost like God creating something." Henry Moore

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Give yourself a kick up the a**

Dear Fellow Writer,

Watched Scream 4 the other day.

I love the Scream movies for that deliberate self consciousness of the genre they use as part of the plot. It's a clever device - a kind of nudge nudge, wink wink at the audience. Instead of: "this is not a movie, it's real life" - Scream goes beyond to: "this really is a movie, about movie cliche, and we both know - and love - it!"

Anyway, in between Ghost-face's customary chasing and slashing, the movie explores the role of the Net in our daily lives, pointing out that, in a sense, our generation lives in public.

Social networking sites allow us to document the things we do - or want to be seen to be doing, anyway. Reality shows give us the impression everything we do is somehow interesting and noteworthy.

But as the killer points out in the final scenes, when everybody is famous, what have you got to do to stand out? And what price do you pay for trying?

Notoriety tends to trivialize issues and people. An earth shattering private idea quickly becomes diluted, seemingly crass and often largely ineffective when made public - have you noticed that?

I guess it's really about motivation. What sparks the need for 'fame' - or for some kind of an audience? Is it just human nature to want to be watched - and adored?

When the killer gives the obligatory, explanatory speech at the end of the movie, Ghost-face says, "But you don't understand. I don't need friends, I want fans!"

Says it all.

Keep Writing!


Wealth from Words


Motivation and Writing

Rob Parnell

My first attempt at writing a non fiction book is still, to this day unfinished. It's ironic because it was a book about motivation - and how to overcome obstacles to the creative process.

Of course many of the ideas the book was going to explore I have used in the 30 or so books I've written since - but I find it odd that my first book was basically on a back-burner for about a decade while I struggled to find time to write it.

I read the other day that procrastination is not really based on a fear of accomplishment, but on a fear of beginning. And not just beginning in the sense of starting out, making notes and thinking - but really starting, as in being involved in creating.

That resonated with me because I realized that's why I never got around to writing that first book. All the time I wasn't starting and being involved in the book, I had no reason to pursue its completion.

Of course, for years I believed the book should be written. I even conned myself into believing I was, in some sense, writing it because it occupied my mind so often. But clearly the more I thought about the book, the less I wrote.

As I've said often - since - thinking is not writing. Especially thinking about writing is definitely not writing! But thinking about writing is a trap that many would-be writers fall into - a pit of self doubt and delusion that requires endless self debate with no real constructive purpose.

After all, when you're in a pit, you need to construct a ladder, not just think about methods of freeing yourself!

I guess that's one of the reasons why I developed the Easy Way to Write philosophy. That is, when you write, don't think. Don't analyze what you're doing because it doesn't achieve anything useful. It just slows you down.

Each moment you stop to stare into space or formulate a new thought is time away from the task. And as comforting or inspiring as those thinking moments might be, they're largely self indulgent and irrelevant to the task at hand.

Because no amount of thinking and planning helps to get the job done - unless you're actively involved in the doing.

Yes - if you get stuck, take time out to break down your project into chunks - minutely if necessary. Tiny pieces, if that's what you need to do - and in writing. But then get back to tackling those pieces - quickly and with purpose. Don't stop to think for too long.


Serial procrastination is also a product of perfectionism - the inability to create unless everything goes smoothly and is notably brilliant from start to finish.

But any artist will tell you that the illusion of perfection is just that - an illusion, created by years of trial and error and constant activity.

Leonardo kept the canvas of the Mona Lisa with him all his life. To him, it was never finished. He added to it, changed it over and over, forever infusing it with the perfection it's now famous for.

But with his other works, he was on the clock. He finished them because there was an end date - a time beyond which he wasn't going to get paid. The deadline necessitated the work's completion.

And so it is with you, my friend. You must work on a project to its completion but have the courage to say it's done now. It may not be perfect but it's time to move on. This is a skill in itself that can take years to learn - but one that all artists must contend with and accept.

The fact is the more importance you attach to a project, the harder it will be to begin it. And this is something you don't want to feed or escalate. Because the greater the challenge in your mind, the more excuses you can find not to start.

You'll never really be ready...

... and that's the best place to begin. You learn by doing, not by preparing but by being involved.

Nowadays, when I finish projects, I often look back and can't really fathom where all that effort and inspiration came from. It's like the finished product was created by someone else - someone with a skill base and motivational standpoint separate from my own.

To me, I'm still the guy who couldn't get his first book written!

I think this is the way it works.

You don't really go from a wannabe to a success, as if they're two different entities. You're still both. It's just that one - the doer - fills more of your time than previously.

All you have to know is that harnessing success is about doing, being active, taking steps - no matter how small - on a consistent basis.

Don't beat yourself up about your faults.

Be aware of your faults, see them as positives. Use your issues as motivation. Embrace your foibles. Accept your limitations. Gather strength from your insecurities - everyone has them, even the great and good.

But most of all, take action.

Write. Be involved in your writing.

We all make mistakes. It's part of the creative process.

As someone famous once said, it's why there's an eraser on the end of a pencil - and a backspace/delete on a keyboard for that matter.

Don't be afraid to begin. You can always delete what you've done and start again. I do that all the time these days - it's part of the process.

See the ability to edit, clean up, delete and polish as your best friend. The part of your nature that helps you the most. But remember that without activity, there's nothing to perfect.

Things don't create themselves. We do.

Intention is only useful when there's matter to rearrange. And no amount of thought changes anything until activity kicks in.

As Nike says, just do it!

And as Rob says:

Keep Writing.

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"If there is a secret to writing, I haven't found it yet. All I know is sit down, clear your mind, and hang in there." Mary McGrory

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Secret Grammar Rules"
Writer's Quote by Florynce Kennedy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Secret Rules of Grammar Revealed...

It seems grammar is an issue for many of us writers.
(BTW, I think 'we writers' sounds dumb - and is probably incorrect these days. See below.)
Grammar rules often seem to be some kind of closely guarded secret. They must be - because new writers often ignore them or act as though they're irrelevant!
Many readers still like good grammar from writers. So, here's a round up of the most common writing mistakes I've noticed recently.
Its/it’s Confusing
I saw this in a newspaper just the other day. It's is short for 'it is' - and there's no apostrophe needed for its other possessive uses.
Formatting Foibles
Fiction still needs to be formatted like fiction - with indented paragraphs and definitely no line break between every paragraph. Manuscripts looking like non fiction e-books are roundly loathed by traditional publishers, editors and agents.
Comma Clogging
Some people use too many commas, some not enough. They're used to make your writing clearer. That's all. If they stand out, you're using too many. If your sentences regularly get misread or misunderstood, it's usually because there are commas missing.
Pronoun Positioning
Eric and Ginger started the riff, then he played the guitar solo. Who's the he?
Wild Words
Effect / affect, passed / past, etc. You need to know the difference with these kinds of words because your spell checker won't help you!
Cliche Catching
Check every piece of writing for common, overused phrases. Sometimes we're so used to hearing cliches, we don't realize they've become meaningless.
Tensing Trouble
If you're writing in the past, stay there. And, if you're stuck in the present, don't jump back. Check for tense problems during your edit. 
You do go back and edit your work, don't you?
Dang Danglers
Where you start a sentence with an unrelated phrase. Bad fiction writers tend to do this a lot, to break up the rhythm. It rarely works well - and can lead to absurdity.
Folly Filled Fragments
It's perfectly okay to use short ungrammatical sentences for effect. Once or twice. In an entire novel.
Passivity Problems
Easy way to spot this: the use of 'was' or lots of 'ing' words. We all do it but it's often better to change the sentence around to say something more direct.
Who (Whom?) Does That Relate to?
The manager's pen belongs to the manager.
The Perils of Punctuation
More than one or two exclamation marks per story is too many. Don't overuse them, especially to denote humor. Similarly, the proper use of the semi-colon is so misunderstood, it's best not to use them at all.
Are You Prepositioning Me?
Used to be that you couldn't end a sentence with words like 'to' or 'for' or 'on' or 'about'. Personally, I don't see why not. Doesn't seem to bother anyone these days. Never bothered Dickens either.
Capital Ideas
Names, titles, places, nationalities, days, months and big events are capitalized. Things that you personally think are important are often not.
Adverb Anarchy
Not all sentences need a descriptor or three. If you can't make a sentence work without an adverb, you're probably using the wrong noun. Same goes for adjectives.
It's a Big Wide World
America, Australia and the UK use different spelling for certain words. Write for one market in another's spelling and people think you're incompetent. If in doubt, use the US spelling - it's becoming the accepted norm (because English and Australian readers don't mind it being that way.)
Words Missing in Action
Okay, it's one of my own personal failings. Sometimes you just don't see there's a missing word. No matter how many times you read a piece, your brain sees the descriptor, even when it's not there! If in doubt, use an old journalist trick: read your work backwards.
Of course there are many more little mistakes we make - but the above are a few of my favorites - and the ones I see in other writer's work most often.
Other Stuff
Pet peeve: the use of the indefinite article: IT.
Don't get me wrong, I love 'it'. It's so... indefinite.
But good writers need to watch out for its overuse because "it" can lead to lazy writing - not to mention confusion.
I also get confused over whether to use 'that' instead of 'which' or who - or whether to use 'who' or 'whom' for that matter, not that it's a common problem these days. Using 'whom' just makes you sound pretentious anyway.
Plus, I've never understood the insistence on 'you and I' over 'you and me'. After all, when did you ever hear anyone ask, "Are you talking to I?"
But there will always be the anal among us who (that?) see errors in everything.
I'm already positive this article will irritate the editors on my list...
I happen to believe the English language should be organic - and we should accept modifications to the rules when the majority of users see no point in hanging on to an archaic convention.
Having said that, writers are meant to be, at the very least, understood by the majority.
And just because there's a whole new way of writing emerging as a result of technology - textspeak - that doesn't mean all the rules are pointless.
Far from it.
Because when we know the rules, we're in a much better position to break them, as I do - you'll have noticed in the above - all the time!
Keep writing!
Your Success is My Concern


"You've got to rattle your cage door. You've got to let them know that you're in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you'll sure have a lot more fun." Florynce Kennedy

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Write On Target

Humans don't consider something to exist until it has a name. Or at least some kind of descriptor.
Words bring things to life.
Emotions, experiences and activities become concrete when they're explored and documented.
More than this: reality is essentially defined by words.
In the same way that – at the quantum level of things - perhaps even within the entire universe – matter is said not to exist until it is observed.
This is great for writers.
Invention makes us mini gods, co-creating the world around us by recording it.
For whatever reason: our own pleasure or from a need to share or communicate.
Because that's the great part: words take on much more solidity when they are shared.
Mere words become concepts, art forms, even entire other worlds.
In fiction, an author's view of reality can take on concrete substance and to some of us, actually become more real than the world around us.
Personally, I’m more attached to some fictional characters than some members of my own family.
Recently I've been working on a kids’ book - actually more of a graphic novel - where I'm having to imagine what the protagonist's home planet looks like - and base his superpowers on some sort of believable science.
Pencil drawing his home planet made me think about this issue of invention. How the imaginative process constructs something from nothing. Substance actually created from thought alone.
It happens all of the time, but we often take the process for granted. It's something we humans do.
A writer sits down, scribbles a few words that become the basis for a novel. Later that story may become a screenplay with actors and sets and props and before you know it, legions of fans believe the reality of the movie to be more compelling than their own workaday lives...
Seriously, I believe you can't underestimate what you're doing when you sit down to write.

You're not just transferring thoughts to paper, you're re-imaging the world, often replacing reality with something more powerful, meaningful and satisfying.
Well, that's the idea anyway...
Does this mean we can't write about violence, cruelty and horror? Of course not. It's just as important to document the dark side of ourselves, the savagery, the self-interest, all the bad things we do to each other. Ignoring those things won't make them go away - even if Wallace Wattles (the original inventor of "The Secret") might have disagreed!
Inhumanity is the flip side of ourselves. And just like the idea that without dark there is no light, we cannot know how to be human without an awareness of what to avoid and know what to make positive moves away from.
So, in our fiction writing it's okay to dwell on evil, misfortune and the obstacles that humans might face - but eventually there should be balance. Our stories need to resolve in such a way that hope is suggested.
Not in any crass way. Merely in an objective way.
We should be mindful that our darkest existential obsessions may be harmful to our work – perhaps as much as an over-developed sense of optimism.
Balance is the key.
You need to show your writing is real, purposeful and relevant, even important.
After all, if there's no point to what you’re doing or “being” - why are you writing?
Even dark writers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus privately reveled in the idea that their own brand of misery was being widely read!
Writing well is about cultivating a sense of responsibility. You have a duty to report the world without bias. To remain objective.
The world is a beautiful place, even though bad things happen all the time.
Readers enjoy drama and tension, but they also like to know there's hope. Even if you write for yourself and never get your work out there, you have a duty to yourself to see the upside too!
When you're reading your own work, hopefully you will see the positive in the world - and by extension, experience the humanity in yourself.

Keep writing!
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

The Writing Academy

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