Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Post: Making A Commercial Novel More Upmarket Using Setting

by Stella Notecor

Upmarketing Your Novel!

Have you ever heard of an upmarket novel? Many commercial books with literary elements are now being called "upmarket novels." Nowadays, commercial fiction tends to be a bit... commercialized. Adding touches of literary elements to your novel can help your fiction transcend genre, resonate with readers, and become timeless. (All of which translates to bigger sales and more money in your pocket!) That doesn't mean your fiction needs to be that dry and boring stuff your high school teachers made you read. Upmarket fiction can be as entertaining as commercial fiction!

Often the literary elements that suffer the most in a commercial novel are the setting details. We don't want to bog down our readers by providing too many setting details that pull them away from the plot. The following three tips will help you give your commercial fiction more oomph without detracting from the plot.

Tip #1 - Make the description relate to the character.

Descriptions should come from your character's point-of-view. Consider an old woman observing the house her granddaughter is begging her to sell so she can move into a retirement home.

"I stared up at the house that had been my life. The porch swing swayed in the breeze coming off the lake, much more gently than it ever had when my two sons were the ones swinging it. Wildflowers filled the window boxes. I always picked a plant or two when we went away on family vacations, bringing them back much as we brought back memories. The steps sagged a little, testament to the many little feet that ran up and down them over the years, but all in all, the house looked just as it had when Henry and I bought it fifty-five years ago."

Now, consider her granddaughter's point of view.

"This house would be the death of Gram. The old porch swing shuddered at the slightest breeze, threatening to fall from its rusty chain the next time Gram took a seat. Wildflowers in window boxes required Gram to water them every day. Elise had watched her totter around the house once, carrying a heavy watering can, as she attempted to water all the flowers. She'd nearly tripped coming down those old, rickety steps and the uneven walk had practically begged her to fall and break a bone or two. She had no idea why Gram wanted to stay in this death-trap."

Descriptions become more powerful when we see them through our characters' eyes.

Tip #2 - Use bits of culture to give your story realism.

Using small cultural references can help your readers identify a character's age, race, personality, and socioeconomic background while adding only a few words to your word count. Consider the following descriptions.

"Jane grabbed a soda from the fridge, then headed out the front door. Sliding into the car, she turned on the ignition and grinned as her favorite song came blasting out of the radio."

"Madison grabbed a strawberry Fanta from the fridge, then headed out the front door. Sliding into her Scion, she turned on the ignition and grinned as her favorite Katy Perry song came blasting out of the radio."

"Stacy grabbed a Pepsi from the fridge, then headed out the front door. Sliding into her Cadillac, she turned on the ignition and grinned as her favorite song by The Monkees came blasting out of the radio."

Which descriptions were more engaging? Madison and Stacy's, right? And I'm sure you can guess which girl was born in the fifties and which girl was born in the nineties!

(A caution... pop culture snippets can also date your story. If used in a modern book, editors may ask you to remove or limit them so that you don't render the book unsellable after a certain length of time. A teenager who mentions "Bennifer" isn't going work as well now as it did when Ben and Jennifer were still dating!)

Tip #3 - Make your setting a character.

By this, I mean that your setting should influence the story as much as a character does. Reading about the barren desert is all well and good, but the desert can become truly interesting if you make it out to be a savage beast, tearing your character's life away from them.

"The sand crept into everything. It got into our shoes and wore away at our socks, filling them with holes. Then it attacked our feet, wearing away the skin and leaving behind raw wounds that ached with every step we took.

The sun beat down on us, burning our skin and evaporating what little water we collected. If it weren't for the sun's heat, we could have walked twenty miles a day. Instead, we barely managed five."

Now, isn't that description a lot more interesting than "The hot and sandy desert made traveling difficult"?

Obviously, making your setting more interesting can make your novel a lot more interesting too. And there are ways to do it without adding to your word count. So, I have a question for you. Do you think you will use literary elements in your stories now? Which ones? Why? Why not?

Stella Notecor believes that love knows no boundaries. She writes erotic fiction that reflects that, choosing to focus on her characters' stories, not their genders. Her first self-pubbed novella, The Broken, was released May 29th in formats for all major e-readers. Visit her website at http://tiny.cc/stellanotecor for more information and to read an excerpt.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Guest Post: 5 Tools to Carry in a Conspiring Universe

by Sarah Allen

Is it just me, or do you feel like every time you start a new project, the universe conspires against you to take away all the time you thought you had to work on it? You finally get started, and then you look at your calendar and realize that the next several days are a string of doctors' appointments, meetings, helping your friend move, the Hare Krishna Festival of Colors, and you wonder where your time went.

So what do you do? Being busy doesn't just happen at the beginning of projects, it happens all the time. Many of us are balancing jobs, parenting, school, and all the other things going on in our lives with our writing and writing careers. How do we balance it all?

1) Carry a notebook. That way, when you're sitting at your kid's kindergarten waiting for school to get out, you can pull out the notebook and jot down a few sentences. You can outline the next chapter of your novel while sitting in the lobby of the doctor's office.

2) Carry a book. You could fit in a good page or so while filling up the car at the gas station. To be a good writer you must be a good reader, and I imagine that sneaking bits of writing time helps your brain keep at high functionality throughout the day, just like sneaking crackers or apple slices helps move things efficiently through your digestive system. Poetry and short story collections as well as literary magazines are particularly suited for this.

3) Carry business cards. Take the time for some guerilla marketing. Sneak a card into one of the magazines on the coffee table at the doctors office. Give your card or even a copy of your book to your kid's teacher or school librarian. Whatever you think might work.

4) Carry a planner. With writing time tightly squeezed, its useful to plan ahead and know exactly when you will be able to actually sit down and write, even if it's just in ten minute chunks. And then, once you know when you'll be at your computer, while you are out and about, plan ahead and know where and how you're going to start up again when you get back. That way you will minimize the unproductive staring-at-the-screen time.

5) Carry an iPhone. Or something like it, if possible. That way you can update your blog or Facebook fan page while sitting at the lecture you didn't want to go to in the first place. Get your e-mailing and social networking done while you're on lunch break, and then when you get home and finally have your own time, you can use it for the actual writing instead of having to catch up on all the businessy-type things.

Life will still be crazy and busy, no doubt, but carrying and efficiently using these tools can help maximize your writing productivity. Are there any other tools you think might be useful?

Sarah is a 22-year-old aspiring writer working on her first novel who recently graduated as an English major from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She has been published in a handful of lit magazines and blogs about her adventures and misadventures on the road to future publication. She loves Cavalier King Charles spaniels, jazz, white chocolate, and owns all 11 seasons of Frasier.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

No post this Friday, mes auteurs. Stay tuned for our week of guest posts starting Monday, May 30th!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And The Winners Are...

Sarah Allen, "5 Tools to Carry in a Conspiring Universe," to air Monday, May 30th.

Stella Notecor, "Making a Commercial Novel More Upmarket Using Setting," to air Tuesday, May 31st.

Brendan Gannon, "Book Trailers, Batman, and Short-Form Promotion," to air Wednesday, June 1st.

Lexi George, "Eating the Elephant," to air Thursday, June 2nd.

Phoenix Sullivan, "My Novel Cracked 10 Amazon Top-100 Lists—YOURS Can Too!" to air Friday, June 3rd.

Congratulations to all the winners, and many, many thanks to all of you who submitted. I'll be needing additional guest posts throughout the summer, so there'll be many more opportunities for y'all to submit—and keep in mind that I'm always looking for timely guest posts to run on Tuesdays and Thursdays!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Song of Ice and Late Round Ups

Monday round up, with Laura:

I am seriously sucking at writing these on time, friends and foes. Apologies! Please accept as a sign of atonement this interview with David Letterman, in which Jennifer Lawrence explains The Hunger Games, and this "where are they now," Wonka edition. I've also got close to 100 pieces of fantastic journalism (that is, journalism that is fantastic, not fantasy journalism), and the top 10 bestsellers from Oprah's Book Club. We can all buy them on our Kindles, since Amazon sells more Kindle books than physical books. The future is now!

Also in the future (and also now) is a gaming company retaliating against a bad review by encouraging people to give bad reviews to the reviewer's book. You stay classy, video game guys. They will not be getting a million dollar grant like teen writing community Figment. Suck on that, sirs. Maybe they should take a good vacation, courtesy of the Tao of Travel, or work on being experts at something or other (even though Wikipedia heralds the death of the expert). I'm an expert on fiction that actually sells, and will pass along the expertise at the low low rate of $1 million per minute. Richard Dawkins will pass along his opinions for significantly less in his new science book for kiddies. The real question is: will it be more or less controversial than Philip Roth's latest book award?

Hope you had a good weekend, and see you next week, hopefully on time!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: Summer Reading

A reminder: don't forget to submit your guest posts before midnight on Monday, May 23rd!

I know it seems like spring has only just begun, but the fact is, mes auteurs, that in a month it will officially be summer. And you know what that means: summer reading!

What are you planning to read this summer? What have you recently read that you loved? Favorite/least favorite books of 2011? Books we might have missed in 2010? Go nuts in the comments, and as the summer unfolds I'll be posting short reviews of my own summer reading selections.

Six books I'm definitely going to be reading this summer:

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The hbo miniseries has me hooked. I've got to go back and read this.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I'm a sucker for a Pulitzer Prize winner, especially since hbo has the rights to this, as well!

The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly. My list wouldn't be complete without some poetry. Speaking of:

The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. I re-read these every summer. If you haven't read 'em, you should. The Fitzgerald translations are the best.

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. I've had my eye on this one for awhile, actually, and I think a science title will round out my summer really well.

This isn't going to be enough to fill twelve+ weeks of summer, however, so be on the lookout for additions over the next several weeks. And don't be shy about sharing your favorites in the comments!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Call For Guest Posts!

gentle readers!

I will be taking vacation time the week of Memorial Day, so I'm going to need five—count 'em, five—guest posts to go up from Monday, May 30th to Friday, June 3rd. And one of them could be yours!

Who: You!

What: One (1) guest post per customer. Please try to keep them in the neighborhood of 300 to 1,000 words. Be creative! Feel free to include a brief bio (50 or so words) and a link to your blog/website, if you have one. Reposts of material from your own blog are 100% fine.

When: You have until 11:59 pm on Monday, May 23rd. I'll announce the five winning posts on Wednesday, May 25th, and they'll be posted Monday, May 30th through Friday, June 3rd.

Where: Right here, on pmn!

Why: I'll be out of town and 100% incommunicado. The show, however, must go on, and I need your help to ensure that happens.

How: Please paste your post into the body of an e-mail and send it along to pimpmynovel [åt] gmail [døt] com (see link at right).

On your mark—get set—go!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Astounding Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

Happy Friday, readers and readerettes. Have you, like T. Rex, invented genres lately? Or have you been too busy fixing grammar in online reviews? Personally, I've been using a new Audible service to record all of my diaries as audiobooks. Self-publishing goes audio, friends. I expect to sell a million downloads, à la Charlaine Harris and ebooks, so I can afford to buy every Star Wars ebook when they come out.

In other news, did you know that Eeyore is the archetypal outsider in literature, and that fantasy maps have some sort of significance? This falls under one of my favorite headings, "Intellectualizing pop culture." Which is exactly what we should all do in our analysis of Levi Johnston's book cover, and the self-identification from reading Harry Potter. I'd rather read about Danielle Steel talking about Danielle Steel, and then pay $25,000 for a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

That's all I've got for today—until next week!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Is My Shocked Face

Hot on the heels of yesterday's post about the greater e-book market, word has it that HarperCollins is attributing their drop in paperback sales to sales of e-book editions, reporting that "the mass-market paperback is the thing we're going to cannibalise most."

British spellings of "cannibalize" notwithstanding, let me just say: I'm 0% surprised by this.

I feel for you, J.E. Medrick (see yesterday's comments), but as I've said before, I just don't see how the mass market format can survive over the next five or so years.

The mass market paperback offers the following:

· Low price point;
· Relative portability;
· Higher disposability (readers are more willing to chuck a mass market paperback than a trade paperback or hardcover);
· Wide availability (book stores, grocery stores, department stores, drug stores, &c).

The e-book offers the following:

· Low (on average) price point (and getting lower);
· High portability;
· High disposability (though you wouldn't need to, since e-book files occupy no physical and very little digital space);
· Wide availability (at least in the United States).

Additionally, both formats are dominated by adult (as opposed to children's) fiction and cater to similar audiences (middle-aged women).

I think once the price of e-readers (specifically the Kindle) consistently drops below the $100 mark, mass market paperback sales will start taking a real beating. To my mind, the only barrier to the complete cannibalization of mass market paperback sales by electronic books—in the United States, anyway—is the price of the e-reading device; remove that, and there's no reason to keep the mass market around. Print runs of any real quantity will rapidly become a waste of money, and I don't think anyone would really want a POD mass market paperback when they could just as easily get a POD trade paperback.

While I do think the mass market will physically exist for longer than five years, I think that existence will be limited to personal libraries and used book stores.

What do you think, ladies and gentlebros?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Final Frontier

There's been talk—a lot of talk, mes auteurs—about the shift from print to digital media in the book publishing industry, both in a general sense and on this blog in particular. E-readers are becoming more ubiquitous every year; more and more books are consumed electronically; physical print runs are getting smaller and smaller.

However! It's important to remember that simply because something is the case in the United States doesn't mean it's necessarily true for the rest of the world. (I happen to believe civilization ends at the Hudson, but that's another story.)

The shift toward e-books isn't as pronounced in other English-speaking countries as it is in the United States, which is probably as much a function of platform/device availability/e-book rights as it is purely one of population size. For instance, e-book sales in the UK in 2010 were £180MM, or about $294MM; compare that to US 2010 e-book sales of $441.3MM.

US e-book sales were up $165% over the previous year, pushing their sales to 8% of the overall market (up from 3%); in the UK, the increase over 2009 sales was a much more modest 20%.

There is a word for this, folks, and it's spelled B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Now, I have some theories about how e-books will come to parity with physical media in markets across different continents—and I can post about those eventually, if folks are interested—but the main point is that physical books aren't losing ground to electronic media as quickly or in the same ways as is occurring here in the United States. Even after we hit e-parity in the United States (my guess is 2013), there will still be a sizeable demand for English-language physical books overseas.

I do expect that, eventually, physical books will be left more or less to the bibliophiles. The fact that this may happen in a matter of years in the US, however, is no reason to believe it will happen as quickly or to the same extent elsewhere.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Dog Ate My Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

Hello, round up readers I may have abandoned previously! I missed last week for good reasons though. I was busy clarifying Cary Grant's sexuality, correcting gender bias in children's books, plus opening a book store that only sells my book, and also writing every type of awful dating advice book.

No? Don't believe me? Well, maybe I was casting Bradley Cooper as the devil in a Paradise Lost movie, and voting on Max Barry's book cover, and also potentially advising Neil Gaiman on dealing with bullies. Still don't believe me? Ok, well, maybe I just didn't get my shit together. So... snaps to me?

Listen, my life is super hard. I have to deal with classic book mistakes and 3D sci-fi book covers. And I friggin' hate 3D. Also, I was busy watching Oscar Wilde style Jersey Shore videos and patting zombies and checking out this typography timeline.

There were also actually good book trailers, which is such a rarity that they had to be watched. I also had to read about the 75-year anniversary of Gone With the Wind (not that I really gave a damn), about the problems with American novels about terrorism, and about why everyone is so excited about the kids' book Go the Fuck to Sleep.

So, friends and foes, the long and short of it is: I'm full of excuses to explain away poor planning. And I hope you all accept the excuses of an anonymous blogger who doesn't get paid to troll the Internet and spew stuff about books into the endless void of interwebs. Wait, that was sad. Quick, smell some Karl Lagerfeld paper perfume and read up on writing rules for beginners. See you next week! You know, unless I flake out. Again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Blackest Night

It's raining in New York City, mes auteurs, which (to me) means: movie day!

Now, I know not everyone is as big a nerd as I am, so I understand if you only have a vague familiarity with (or have never even heard of) the Green Lantern. But he's been my favorite superhero since I was a kid (occasionally taking second place to Batman), and I am really, really excited that this movie is coming out.

June 17th!

Monday, May 2, 2011


First, apologies for the lack of round-up on Friday! I promise this week's round-up will be ultra mega awesome to make up for it. Should I be raising expectations that Laura will have to fulfill? Probably not!

Today's post is not book-related (or it is, sort of, in a very tangential way). If you haven't seen the news yet—and I can't imagine you haven't—Osama bin Laden is dead.

I'm not comfortable celebrating anyone's death, though I won't pretend to be upset by the news. I'm glad he's no longer a threat, regardless of the fact that it took us nearly a decade to catch him and he was operationally hindered by his constant flight from U.S. forces over the past several years.

Would I rather have seen him tried for his crimes? Of course. I don't think he would have permitted himself to be captured, however, and if this is the way it had to end, that's fine with me. Again: I'm glad he's gone.

I became a New Yorker only recently; I wasn't in the city (and in fact had never visited it) when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed. I watched on the news and had no firm grasp of what was going on. Maybe if I had been there ten years ago, I would have joined the crowds celebrating bin Laden's death last night, regardless of the fact that I didn't support the war in Iraq and am deeply conflicted about the war in Afghanistan. I certainly don't think this spells the end of the "War on Terror," as Peter Bergen unctuously insisted on cnn last night.

There are going to be books about this: biographies of bin Laden, coffee table books detailing the 9/11 attacks, compendiums on Al Qaeda, maybe even first-person accounts by members of the military directly responsible for bin Laden's death. I can promise you that this minute, any publisher with bin Laden-related titles in his backlist is going back to print; anyone under contract to write a non-fiction book about the man is probably being rushed to finish it.

The story goes back years. People will want to buy and read it. Time is of the essence with news-related titles like these, though I imagine the tenth anniversary of the attacks next September will widen the window of opportunity.

Osama bin Laden was buried at sea to prevent his tomb from becoming a shrine for radicals and radicalism—there can be no locus around which his followers might congregate. At the same time, however, it is important to write and to read books about these events to preserve them in our cultural memory. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote over one hundred years ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We've witnessed tremendous violence these past ten years. If we can't learn from these events, we've got no hope of transcending them.

I hope that bin Laden's death signals a turning point in the war in Afghanistan rather than an event to galvanize his supporters. I hope that someone even worse than him doesn't emerge as a replacement. I hope that the Al Qaeda terrorist network suffers a loss of morale and organization with his death (again, operationally speaking, I don't think there will make much of an impact). And I hope that among all the polarizing, attention-grabbing, and politically motivated books on his life and death that arise over the next year or so, that there's at least one that invites us to think rather than emote, to reflect rather than react.

Santayana had another quote, too: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." I also hope he was wrong about that.