"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: September 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The New Reality for Writers

The publishing industry is changing beyond all recognition - but it seems that writers are the last to catch up.

I read an article the other day written by an established author of sixteen years. Her wisdom and experience echoed many of the things I've been saying for a long time...

The new reality is that it's getting harder and harder to get published by traditional publishers - for many reasons, which I'll outline below. But that it's getting easier and easier for authors to become successful independently of the traditional publishing industry.

The Internet - and Amazon in particular - has made it entirely possible for authors to circumvent the need for publishers at all!

A determined writer can now find their own fans and sell their books directly to their readers, without having to sign publishing contracts, spend years rewriting manuscripts to the publisher's satisfaction, or try to live on the pittance of royalties offered to them - if and when they ever get them!

In the old days, when publishing was young, writers like Dickens  and Conan-Doyle could make serious cash by selling their work to periodicals. They were also offered royalties of around 90% for the privilege of having their work published through 'distributors'.

Over the years, these distributors became the traditional publishers we know today and the royalty rates have dropped considerably. Down to around 5% to 15% IF YOU'RE LUCKY.

Now, publishing has always been a hit and miss affair. The ability to see a bestseller coming has eluded most everybody. It used to be that a publisher could afford to put out a hundred books if just one of them sold a truck load.

The music industry used to work the same way: one bestselling pop star in a hundred would fund the 99 other musicians who were trying to create something meaningful - art, in other words.

But commerce moves on - and the need for art - in music and books - and film for that matter, diminishes.

There is now only one concern.

The bottom line as they say.

Will it make money? 

We don't live in a world where talent is nurtured and art is given free reign - except if you do it alone.

We now live in a world where money is key to every commercial decision. Since the 1990s, publishing has become a much more corporate enterprise - where the need to make money overrides art almost every time.

Let's go back to the author I mentioned at the beginning of this article to look at her experience of the publishing industry - and be not fooled - it is indeed an industry.
Let's call her Nancy.
Nancy had a romance novel published once, over sixteen years ago. The publisher helped her to shape it into what they wanted. It had a shelf life of roughly a month with some translation rights coming through about a year and a half later.
So far so good.
She's written several books since in all sorts of genres and though she's got agents and publishers all over the world, the reality of being a published author is not quite as she'd once imagined.
As she points out, it takes anywhere from two to three years to get a manuscript from submission to publication - and the process is getting longer, not shorter - because the demands of marketing departments are making an horrendous impact on the writing process.
Nancy likes to write novels but - like many full time authors these days - now she spends much of her time writing proposals for novels instead.
Agents and publishers now feel the need to vet books before you write them. They want to be sure your novel presses all the right buttons for the target market.
Now, I don't know if you've ever been involved in an artistic project that is created by committee but what usually happens is that the art gets quickly diluted.
After just a few prods at a project by commercially oriented individuals, the project can begin to look very formulaic and unoriginal - which I must assume is just the way marketing people like it!
Nancy is now thoroughly disgusted by the way the publishing industry works.
It's slow, overly focused on money and not very conducive to creativity.  Worse, it doesn't even pay very well anymore!
Nancy was horribly disillusioned by the endless reworking of her proposals, the never ending rewrites to make her novels apparently more commercial - a pointless and destructive exercise in her mind.
After sixteen years, she was about to give up writing altogether.
Nancy found salvation online.
She now writes the novels she wants to, puts them on Amazon Kindle for free, and she sells them direct to her fans - usually within a week of finishing her books.
As she says, why would you want to make your fans wait two or three years for a sequel to a book they want NOW?
And why would you keep re-writing novels to publisher's whims and specifications when your fans like the way you write already?
Kindle is a writer's dream come true. 
The Internet is a writer's dream.
You write - you get paid. How easy could it get?
Plus of course the royalties you get from selling your own work is getting back to the way it should be. 70% on Amazon. 100% if you sell it yourself.
There's no reason in the world why you would want to go through traditional publishers anymore - unless you're a masochist or just can't see that the world has changed...
Enough with the lecture!
Go and get The Write Stuff - it's all in there!
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his  own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Give Your Character Attitude (Revised)

Welcome to this week's newsletter.

It's a shock a minute story about murder, mystery, love, loyalty and two friends with awesome psychic powers! 

If you've ever wondered if I could write a 'real' novel, now's your chance to find out!  I promise you'll be thrilled!

Click on the image above to see this week's Write On video! 


Soon - probably next week - I'll be starting a new masterclass on Plotting Fiction. Look out for that!


Give Your Characters Some Attitude

Rob Parnell

The other day, a writer friend of mine told me her publisher recommended she read a certain book to get the flavor of what they liked to publish.

Eager to know, my author friend rushed to find the book and devour it... only to feel slightly disappointed - and confused.

She wondered what it was about this book the publisher liked. 

The story wasn't great. 

The writing was average. 

Some of the pacing seemed awkward. 

Then it hit her. 

It was the ATTITUDE of the protagonist that gave the book its appeal. 

The hero was feisty, quick to anger, even spiteful and yet somehow lovable.
It's no secret that I believe the key to good story telling is 'character'. 

It should come before everything else - before plotting, before story, even before putting pen to paper. 

If your characters aren't real to you, their stories will never work.

Characters should live in the present - even when you're telling stories in the past tense.

It's one of my theories that ever since Mark Twain, American fictional characters have been largely 'living' without consequence - because that reflects the kind of people we aspire to be: active, driven and focused. 

It makes following their stories more compelling.

Let's do some exploring, shall we?

Think of some classic fictional characters. 

What's the first thing that comes to mind? 

Their physical appearance? Rarely. 

It's usually their demeanor, isn't it? 

Their unique way of interacting with the world - yes, their attitude towards what they do.

James Paterson's Alex Cross is a great character because he's all heart. He loves his family and truly values friendship - and takes his psychopath's activities very personally!

Patricia Cornwall's Kaye Scarpetta doesn't respond well to being patronized or underestimated. She's also way too protective of her niece - for what purpose other than busybodying is not made clear!

Notice too that Scarpetta gets much more critical of her partner's bad habits as the series progresses (even though her own morals get increasingly looser.)

The Da Vinci Code's Robert Langham is intrigued by mystery and secret symbols. Interestingly, despite being a simple college professor he seems to possess almost James Bond like powers of endurance. 

In Angels and Demons, for instance, he actually falls out of a plane without a parachute over Rome... and survives with barely a scratch! (They left that bit out of the movie!)

I think Harry Potter's appeal has much to do his ordinariness. He never believes he's capable of what he has to face. Everybody and his dog knows he's supposedly destined for greatness but he doesn't ever seem quite ready for it.

Bella in Twilight knows only her day to day existence. She's so self obsessed it's easy to see why she appeals so completely to teenage girls.
Ana Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey is completely stuck in the moment - to me, a victim of the present, living essentially without consequence - which I'm sure is a large part of her appeal.

The next time you're inventing (major and minor) characters, don't just imagine their physical attributes, try to give them depth by wondering what they would be passionate about or, conversely, have little interest in. What would annoy them - or thrill them?

Give them short term agendas, things they are committed to achieving or seeing come to pass. But don't make them too analytical in the European sense - as this may hamper their potential for irrational - that is, compelling - actions.

And remember, never impose a story on a character. The best stories come out of the main character's conflicting agendas.

For example, it's not enough to have some anonymous killer trailed by any old ordinary detective. 

The killer must be fully realized - impulsive, obsessed - and there must be very good reasons (if only in his own mind) why he does what he does. 

Similarly, for any good fiction, the detective should be motivated by much more than just 'doing his job' to make a story like this compelling.

Once we know the killer hates women and perhaps himself, and that the detective is terrified of losing his wife to him, then we begin to care about the outcome.

I think one of the reasons Hollywood movies work so well is that the big stars come with a ready made attitude. Or at least one we associate with the actor, whether it's real or not.

We all know what to expect from actors like Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Scarlett Johannson. No matter what characters they play, we sense their attitudes, their strength and depth, even though we know they're only acting!

So, the message is that during character development, try to imagine being inside the heads of your characters. 

Imagine what it feels like to be your character - moment by moment - the way real people are. 

We often don't analyze our own motivations or even understand them.

We just act.
As should our characters.
Don't just give them attributes, histories and agendas, go the extra mile and give 'em attitude!

Keep writing!
 rob at home
Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Make Your Wish Your Intention

Are you struggling to make ends meet? 
Do you have a burning desire to make a living as a writer but are stuck running the rat race, forever wishing and hoping something would happen to change your life?
This described me about eleven years ago. 
I so desperately wanted to be a full time writer and had wanted that all my life. 
I'd had some success, sure. A few books published, a couple of screenplays sold and more articles and plays written than I care to dwell over. 
But still the BIG DREAM eluded me. 
Between stints of blissful creativity, reality (and the debt collectors - literally) would come knocking at the door and force me back into the temp market - doing office work I abhorred with a passion.
Now, thank heaven, my wife and I live a cool life. 
We write, we travel, we get invited to speak, we buy toys, and we teach the gift of writing to thousands of students every day.
How did this happen? How did I get so lucky?
Simple. I made a decision. (More on this below)
When everyone around me - my folks, my friends, my workmates - were saying I was crazy and coming up with all sorts of reasons why I shouldn't - couldn't - write for a living, I ignored them all and decided to follow my heart.
For years before that I'd kept goal lists and always at the top was: "Be a full time writer by the year XXXX." 
And every time I updated the list, the year got further and further away. 
It seemed like an impossible dream. I guess it was.
You've been there, right?
Then one day I was given the opportunity to go to Australia. A light went on in my head and I thought, "That could be good for my writing." So I went... 
And sure enough, my writing career then blossomed.
But - and this is the big but - I don't believe it was the move that necessarily caused the success. 
It was more to do with the fact of moving - severing ties, changing lifestyle, altering perspective - that enabled me to see that my thinking had been wrong for all the years previous.
Because, although I'd always wished for a new career - that's what it always was - a wish. 
Coming to Australia and experiencing its 'have a go' mentality, I suddenly realized that it was me, my attitudes, that had always been the problem. 
While I lived in the UK, I believed I was one of many, without a real chance - even though it was what I wished for.
But that was the point.
Instead of wishing, I knew I had to take control. 
So I didn't just decide to become a full time writer.
No, I deliberately made it impossible for anything else to happen!
Luckily, I was then sacked by my employer - the head of the SA Department of Education. 
She was great about it. 
She signed my leaving card with this comment: "I know you've always wanted to be a writer. Just think of me as the b***h who made it happen!"
I often think of her now as a savior of sorts - someone to thank at Oscar collecting time! (You never know.)
But anyway, the week after I lost my job, I conducted The Great Tie Burning Ceremony. 
I know it was a silly thing to do - and must have looked pretty weird to anyone who was watching - but burning all of my office neck ties sent a permanent message to my subconscious: no more 9 to 5, ever.
I made my wish my intention by doing that.
Then, I did anything and everything in my power to make money from writing. 
I spent two years discovering every little trick in the book. (I wish I knew then what I know now - would have made everything so much easier!)
At the time, there was only one proviso: if it was writing, then it was good.
But even then I probably wasn't prepared for what was to happen.
It could have been that for the first time in my life I was truly happy - doing what I was meant to do - but things started working out really well.
Within months I had a new car, a new place to live by the beach and I'd traveled to places I'd only ever read about - all the while, writing to my heart's content - on all kinds of things.
Later, after finally having the time and the gradually swelling bank balance to write three novels straight, I began the Easy Way to Write, met my beautiful wife, Robyn, and together, we have never looked back.
Except of course you do - look back I mean. It's human nature. 
But when I do, I often ponder over why I left it so long to make that all important decision. If I regret anything, it's not making it sooner!
An actor friend once said to me, "If you have something to fall back on, you will." 
How right she was. (She's a famous movie director now.)
So, if you have a dream, a desire, a need to change, don't just wish for it. Make it happen. And start now.
There's no time like the present.
And in the mean time, if you're looking for ways to double, triple, even quadruple your income from writing quickly and easily, then take any one of my courses.
Especially the ones about making money as a writer!
There's never been a better time to become a full time writer.
You don't need a publisher anymore.
You don't need an agent anymore.
All you need is YOU and your writing - and perhaps a little shove...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating Characters in Fiction

Welcome to this week's newsletter.

Stop!We've just released Robyn's latest novel. It's getting great reviews already.

It's about a young girl called Sam who hates to read - so much she wants to go live in Antarctica!

Worse - her mother's a writer.

You can download the first chapter from here.

In next week's Write On video  I'm answering YOUR questions.

If you want free publicity for you or your writing in the show, ask me a question and I'll give you a plug! Email rob@easywaytowrite.com


Creating Characters for Fiction

Rob Parnell

Most of us have a rudimentary list of things we like, love, hate and adore. 

We start putting together this list from the day we are born. 

However, these lists don't really define who we are. 

You'll have noticed that some people can go through their entire lives with lists of things that 
press their buttons while at the same time never really having a coherent philosophy that underpins their tastes and opinions.

A writer needs to go further - and take his or her thoughts about life and structure them into a grand scheme - a moral sense if you like. Rather than saying I hate this, I like that etc, the writer needs to be able to say why. 

I hate this because it represents whatever. I like that because it means whatever.

When describing fictional characters from an objective viewpoint it's important that the value judgments you hold do not taint the 'truthfulness' of your portraits. 

You cannot do this effectively if your reader has no faith in your basic worldview. Because, when you describe characters you have invented, it is not primarily for your own benefit - it is for your reader's. 

Therefore, in order to create believable characters, you must press all the right buttons in your reader - that is, appeal to their moral sense, their sense of what is true in their worldview.

When critics say your characters are not believable, they are not necessarily saying that your inventions are not credible. 

They are merely saying that, in their view, your truth is not apparent to them. And usually this is because your idea of what is true is not yet fully formed, objective and reasonable - at least not to the majority of readers' satisfaction - yet.


This is why you have to be very specific about what you want to say before you use a character to enunciate and expand on that premise.

If your premise - that is, the things you want to say through your fiction - is flawed, then no amount of great characters will help your story become more believable.

Therefore, before you invent any characters, you need to identify what you want to say, and whether that has any validity, truth or integrity attached.  

Your belief system is what defines the structure of your stories. It's the framework on which your plot sits. 

Therefore, if your beliefs are skewed or not in alignment with the reader's, your stories will lack credibility, no matter how well drawn your characters may be. 

Because it is only when your belief system is reasonable, eminently justifiable, rational and objective, that your characters can begin to exert any credible power of their own.

If you understand the foregoing argument, you'll understand why all the traditional advice on character creation: make them recognizable, sympathetic, quirky, interesting and different from each other etc won't help you in the slightest if your stories are flawed at the outset.

Your job is to work out exactly why it is you, in particular, want to tell stories.

Then, you can move on to how best you can do that...

The above article is a tiny excerpt from my Character Creation Masterclass, available in full here.

Keep writing!
 rob at home
"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."
Will Durant

The Writing Academy

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