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What’s trending now in publishing

I recently attended a Zoom presentation where members of the Penguin Random House Australia team talked about the changing face of publishing and gave some insider tips on publishing trends.

I scrupulously took notes. And now I can’t find them!

But I promised I would get this post out to my readership of four, maybe three (eternally grateful – you know who you are). Drawing like crazy on my fragmented alcohol-addled recall skills, here’s an overview of what’s about to be hot or is already scorching.

What’s hot for little kids
Forget the reading and writing. It’s all about arithmetic when it comes to the new trend in children’s books.

Since COVID-19, there’s been a push for educators in Australia to focus more on STEM subjects. These are the science, maths and computing subjects that can sometimes be skimmed over in children’s early years of schooling.

Children’s authors who can weave maths and science into a story in an entertaining and engaging fashion are in demand. Author, presenter and political commentator Jamila Rizvi has written a picture book I’m a Hero Too set in a COVID-19 world that revolves around a character whose mum is a scientist working to find a medicine to help stop the pandemic. Rizvi already has a huge public profile and was recently named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence by Australian Financial Review.

Trends in adult non-fiction
Memoirs are hot. If you have an exciting story to tell, then my advice is write it. BUT it is more likely to grab the attention of a publisher if it contains trauma. The more traumatic the experience, the better. Let’s look at two memoirs, not written by famous people, that have shot up the bestseller lists in the last two years. American author Tara Westover’s Educated and Australian Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull, remain hugely popular.

These women’s compelling stories have trauma by the truckload. But they also contain hope. And in these dark times of pandemics, recessions, climate change, deforestation of the planet and global chaos, that’s what everyone is looking for.

H-O-P-E
Turia Pitt, who has several memoirs behind her that deal with her traumatic experience of suffering burns to 65 per cent of her body, has a new book titled Happy – and other aspirations. Pitt has interviewed lots of famous people on the topic of happiness.

The ‘self help’ genre is flourishing big time during COVID-19 with books with titles like Untamed, stop pleasing start living by one of Oprah’s favourites Glennon Doyle and Think Like a Monk by ‘social media supertstar’ Jay Shetty.

Adult fiction favours historical but don’t go too far back
Historical fiction that focuses on the more recent past (we’re talking 19th century to early to mid 20th century) is trending. Natasha Lester, whose books are set, usually in Europe and specifically Paris in the early to mid 1900s, was mentioned in glowing terms in the Zoom presentation even though her books are published by Hachette Australia.

If I had my notes, I would be able to tell you about a recent PRH aquisition. All I can remember is that the novel is set in Sydney in the late 1800s/early 1900s? Let me dig up those notes… if only I could find them.

But back to Lester. In June, Hachette Australia announced a world rights deal for two books for the Perth based author. These are To Lillie, From Paris and The Riviera House.

Australian crime thrillers are hot to trot, especially where the setting takes on a life of its own. Think Jane Harper’a The Dry and Chris Hammer’s Scrublands.

Recent movements such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have also spurred a flurry of relevant publications and for books to be brought back from the archives to find a new readership. Likewise with the pandemic, which has generated apocalyptic fiction that is pretty bloody scary.

Publishing trends from wizards to vampires to erotica, etc.

I’m sure trends in publishing have been around since the invention of the printing press. But my attention on what’s hot and what’s not in the publishing world started when JK Rowling hit paydirt with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997.

Wizards and witches became all the rage for more than a decade, from Rowling’s first Harry Potter book to the last in the seven book series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows published in 2007.

The final movie of the series (and there were eight) was released in 2011 so Rowling’s domination of the market for such a long period was phenomenal. She is the second highest paid author in the world, behind James Patterson. Forbes published Rowling’s earnings at $60 million in 2020 (as of 6 April).

The shift from wizards to vampires
Like Harry Potter, the Twilight series attracted a wide readership from YA to adults when it hit the shelves with a bang in 2005.

Vampires and werewolves were suddenly de rigueur as readers fell for the love triangle with a definite twist trope.

Author Stephenie Meyer had a crazy few years pushing out a book a year from 2005 to 2008. The first book in the four book series, Twilight (2005), was followed New Moon (2006) , Eclipse (2007) and Breaking Dawn (2008).

The novels were adapted for film, of course, with the clever producers copying the Harry Potter lead of breaking the final book into two to get much better value for money and keep the fans hanging on, just that little bit longer. Breaking Dawn Part 1 was released in cinemas in 2011 and Part 2 in 2012.

Erotica hits the spot
The next big thing was definitely not aimed at the YA or children’s markets. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James ‘thrust’ erotica into the limelight in 2011. The genre boomed. Stilettos and feathers, chains and handcuffs, whips and masks (not the COVID-19 type) graced the covers of novels aimed directly at the female market.

It might have been nothing more adventurous than vanilla sex but James’ trilogy gave women permission to read erotica without feeling there was something wrong with them because they wanted to spice up their sex lives.

Game of Thrones goes bonkers
What happened next? From 2011, George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones propelled fantasy to the fore, catapulted into the stratosphere by a smash hit TV adaptation that, like the nine-book series, seemed to go on forever. Again, older kids and adults helped generate massive book sales. And by that time, TV adaptations, gaming and social media were stoking the fire.

So, what’s trending now? You can read all about it in my next post, which I hope to publish in the next two weeks.

 

The power of flash fiction

A compilation of flash fiction from several highly regarded authors was recently published in The New Yorker so it must be on trend!

Two names I recognised were Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.

I’d always thought of flash fiction as very really extremely short stories but the pieces in The New Yorker appear longer than 500 words.

This led me to search for a definition of the term. It turns out that flash fiction can vary wildly in length, from a few words up to 1500 words.

In comparison, a short story is ‘several’ pages long and a lot more words. The next step is the novelette* followed by the novella. (*I’d never heard of it either. It’s a 7500-17,000 word story whereas a novella is 10,000-40,000 words)

A good way to learn the art of flash fiction is to read it and write it.

Doh!

Here’s how: The Australian Writers’ Centre runs Furious Fiction, a monthly flash fiction competition. The word count is up to 500 words and entrants must also include specific criteria that changes each month. This might be words, the placement of nominated words (at the start or end of the story), an event or a reference to an image.

The competition is launched at COB on the first Friday of the month and closes at midnight on the Sunday. I’ve entered about five times since COVID-19 and haven’t even made the short- or highly-commended lists! (the judges have yet to appreciate my talent 😉

The competition, which has a $500 prize for the winner, attracts more than 1000 entries from around the world. I love reading the winners’ stories. They are soooo impressive.

I don’t get down about not making the cut (not for long!). I see the competition as a writing lesson and an opportunity to flex my creative muscle. It’s practise.

There are hundreds of flash fiction writing courses available online. But there’s a lot to be said for reading the works of accomplished authors.

If you’re looking for a regular masterclass on how to write flash fiction, grab a copy of Good Weekend magazine in the Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne. Flick to the back of the mag for Kitchen Sink Drama by Paul Connolly.

Every week, Connolly delivers anywhere from 100-150 words crafted into a small story that captures the essence of our small lives. The Melbourne based freelance journalist and author often writes about absurd and inconsequential events, creating quirky vignettes of what we might consider to be insignificant moments in time.

Connolly’s tight sharp prose filled with a gentle humour and empathy evokes an emotional response in the reader. He touches a nerve that defines humanity and weaves it into a mini masterpiece.

It’s exciting news that Connolly’s stories, accompanied by the illustrations of Jim Pavlidis, will be available in one big book just before Christmas. I, for one, will pre-order several copies. One for me, and a couple for friends.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy Connolly’s wonderful flash fiction online.

Why I still use a hard cover diary

You may ask, why use a hard cover diary when you can store important dates and meetings in your smartphone?

Call me a luddite but I adore my diary.

I enjoy the connection to the tangible object. I love opening my diary and writing down my appointments on each page rather than typing them into the calendar on my phone.

I also tend to jot down bits and bobs I might want to recall later on at some point, like inspirational quotes or phone numbers and addresses, podcast titles and recommended books.

Likewise with goals and achievements. I can tell you exactly how many Pilates classes I’ve completed this year because they’re noted in my diary. The same with swims and walks. It’s fun to gloat over how achieved I am. 🙂

I prefer to have all that information in one place, rather than stored in different folders in my phone such as Notes, Calendar and Reminders.

If I want to remember something I did two months ago, I can flick back through my diary. For example, on Thursday, March 26, the outdoor pool where I sometimes teach swimming closed its doors to the public because of COVID-19. That’s a fact. I wrote it in my diary. The day after, a play my friend and I were going to see at the theatre was cancelled. The pandemic had begun its ruthless march of destruction in earnest by late March, 2020.

What makes a good diary?

This year, I bought the best ever diary. I used to prefer a page-a-day diary but I’m a convert to the miGOALS 2020 Hard Cover Diary.

The bonuses of this diary make up for the quarter-page-a-day format.

It’s more than a diary. It’s a motivational tool that contains a weekly focus, goals, a quote per week, ‘how I want to feel this week’, and a weekly section for ‘habits’ and ‘weekly wins’.

The diary also contains a monthly planner and goals (which I haven’t used as much as I should).

There are ‘Mi Core Values’ and ‘purpose’ sections, along with a ‘toolkit for success’. If you want to dive deep (I waded in), there’s also pages to record where you see yourself in three years and vision board pages.

A good diary feels sturdy and has a firm spine and hard cover. It has to have good quality paper and an attached ribbon bookmark to keep the right page.

On a nostalgic note, a hard cover diary is a reminder of how time flies (if that’s the way you view time).

My diary had a pristine pale pink cover and hundreds of pages waiting to be filled when I bought it in January. Now it’s September – the pink is faded and marked and the pages are filling fast. Small daily achievements and more mundane activities have been written down, struck out (that’s COVID-19 for you – what a party pooper) and highlighted.

MiGOALS was designed in Melbourne. How cool is that?

How to build resilience

Resilience is a word that’s tossed around like confetti.

It’s often used to describe individuals and communities who suffer great injustices and personal tragedies but survive to grow spiritually and mentally stronger from the experience.

Within themselves they find a reserve of fortitudinous strength that leaves others (us lesser mortals) in awe.

It’s a powerful word. Resilience. I love it. When I think of resilience, I see solid Doric columns soaring to the sky, sort of like The Parthenon. Built in 460BC, it still stands today. Dunno where I’m going with this but stay with me…

My point is this, resilience is a desirable and admirable trait that you’re not aware of until you have to use it.

In his book, Daily Writing Resilience – 365 Meditations & Inspirations For Writers, Bryan E. Robinson, PhD aligns resilience with perseverance and willpower. The message is never give up or, to quote Dory, from Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming.’

This DIY manual for writers and anyone who needs a motivating pep talk delivers on its promise. What you get is a page of practical wisdom for every day of the year. Each page begins with an uplifting quote from a famous author, then a reflection from Robinson, followed by his tidy summary of the topic under the heading ‘Today’s Takeaway’.

For example, August 24 is titled ‘Make rejection work for you’.

The quote is from hugely successful crime writer Janet Evanovich – it’s encouraging to learn that Evanovich, creator of feisty bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, received rejection letters for ten years!

Robinson expands the topic and finishes with ‘Today’s Takeaway’: ‘Use rejection to toughen you up by joining ranks with yourself instead of beating yourself up and joining in with those who reject your work.’

Robinson, an author and psychotherapist, has tapped into the zeitgeist of our troubled times. He weaves meditation, breath work, yoga, stress management , gratitude and more into the mix. One of the authors who praises the book writes, ‘… (it is) not only wise but also marvelously practical’.

Daily Writing Resilience is an inspirational read for every day, whether you get to write or not. Recommended.

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Finding a critique partner

I’m starting this post with a story that shows how important it is to find critique partners who are on the same journey and know how to offer balanced feedback.

Several years ago, I made a big mistake. I showed a friend the first 10,000 words of one of my novels.

It was a first draft and far from perfect. I knew that.

I expected my friend to provide constructive criticism. Instead, I got a shellacking.

We were in a cafe, having a pretty nice time as I recall it, when she blurted out that she hated my protagonist. She went on to slam every word I had painstakingly placed on the page.

Basically, she told me my first 10,000 words were crap.

It was brutal. I sat there as a numbness invaded my body.

It took me a long time to regain self belief and confidence in my writing.

The moral of this story is – don’t show your friends your work in progress.

After this humiliating experience, I set out to find like-minded critique partners.

I ended up with more than one.

I had already formed firm friendships with Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) members who have always been there for me when I’m stuck.

I also joined Writing NSW and found a critique group that accepted me with open arms. The group members write across a variety of genres and bring a wealth of knowledge to our monthly feedback sessions.

And I now have a critique partner I met at a weekend writing workshop run by a well-known Australian author. After the workshop ended, I contacted this person (I’d sussed her out and thought she and I were ‘on the same page’). We’ve shared our work for the last 12 months.

My writing has improved because of these invaluable connections, which keep me engaged with the writing process.

It may take a while to find the right person to read your work but perseverance is the key. I finally managed to get the balance right.

I know what you’re thinking: do I still talk to my friend? Yes. But I never discuss my writing with her. It’s better that way.

I’ve got an idea for a book

Don’t you just ‘love’ it when you tell someone you’ve written a book and they respond with, ‘Yeah? I’ve got an idea for a book’ or ‘Yeah? I hope to write a book one day’.

Do you? Well, go for it. Write your little heart out.

Of course, I’m being flippant. I get the Jimmy Brits when people assume that writing a book is easy as 1-2-3. Like they can pull one out of their bottoms without it hurting.

Believe you me, once they learn that you’ve written a book, they will, in most instances, share their own writing aspirations or those of a friend/relative.

I’ll give you a recent example of a conversation with a friend who asked how my book was coming along. After I answered, she said, ‘My daughter is going to take six months off work to write a book.’

‘Great. Good on her,’ I said.

What I didn’t say was this: Maybe it will take six months. There are those rare authors who can knock out a quality read in less than that. But it’s more likely to take 12 months-plus to type ‘THE END’.

But it’s not really the end.

A first draft is, in many ways, the fun before the hard work starts.

The rewrites are the thing. The editing process can take longer than the writing of the book. I say ‘rewrites’ because it’s unusual for there to only be one edit.

A few years ago, a successful crime fiction writer spoke at a writing workshop I attended. She admitted to having completed more than half a dozen edits before her book was ready for publication. It took five years to get it right. And that was with the help of an agent, editors and sympathetic publisher.

Maybe everyone does have a book in them. Personally, ideas buzz around inside my head like a hive of busy bees.

But so what. These are bees that haven’t yet got down to the labour intensive work of making honey.

The idea is to sit, write, complete. Then add to that ‘repeat’. However many times it takes.

Good luck to everyone who has an idea. And here’s to those who follow through.

Why a novel needs a dog

Several years ago (2013 to be exact) I read an interview with author, Donna Tartt, on the eve of the release of her novel The Goldfinch.

It was a cracking read. Tartt is a legitimate rockstar of the literary world but that’s not the subject of this post…

Funnily enough, what stayed with me was Tartt’s observation that, ‘Everything is improved by the presence of a dog.’

At the time, Tartt owned a Boston terrier called Punch.

In The Goldfinch, protagonist Theo Decker smuggles his step mother’s Maltese terrier, Popper aka Popchik, onto a bus to escape Las Vegas for New York.

Even though Theo doesn’t like the Maltese breed, ‘a girl’s dog, a toy, completely gay’, he grudgingly admits to a growing fondness for ‘the prancing fluffball.’

Theo asks himself: ‘How had I become attached to such a ridiculous animal?’

As a dog person, I knew I would have to include a dog in my novel.

I ended up with two.

Dunno how that happened. I guess it was an organic thing where I felt instinctively, as Tartt noted, that a dog would create empathy for a character or situation, and enrich the narrative with its quirky non judgmental behaviour.

In my novel, the dogs are there to offer companionship and provide a comedic element. I have a kelpie named Occy who is a companion to the hunky love interest in the book. Occy is smart and loyal, and pretty much goes everywhere with the hunk.

The chihuahua belongs to Grandma. His name is disputed by Grandma and the character who gifted her the dog, Scotsman Jimmy Trout. Grandma insists on calling the dog Pepe while Jimmy favours Dougal.

It makes for a couple of funny exchanges between Grandma and Jimmy, and gives an insight into these characters’ quirky personality traits.

My two dogs were lots of fun to write, especially Pepe with his big bobbly eyes, huge ears and tiny shaking body.

I have a writing/critique friend who is tying up the loose ends on her novel. At my suggestion (thanks Ms Tartt), she wrote a dog into the story.

It has made a world of difference – I reckon she owes me a mention in the acknowledgements. 🙂

Where will you be in 10 years?

I gave myself a shock when I recently asked the question, ‘Where will I be in 10 years?’

Firstly, I thought about how old I’ll be in 2030. Yikes!

Next, I indulged in sadomasochistic self-flagellation over a dearth of writing achievements thus far on the unrelenting path to decrepitude.

Nuffin’ new about that. Self criticism is my special skill!


If I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t have such a problem with the question.

If I was in my 20s, I would answer the question with, ‘I will be with my wonderful family, in a sunny place, writing another novel, eating good food, in rude good health, travelling with friends, walking the dog, swimming in the ocean, having reasonable sex (can’t be too ambitious), being an activist for climate change and deforestation, reading good books…

But hey, isn’t that where I’m at now? Wooooaaaah! Slow down lady. You’ve got the next 10 years covered.

I may not be published (not yet) but I do have a completed novel and I’m onto the next!

We can all be too hard on ourselves, and in the era of COVID-19 it is tempting to fall into a mental lockdown and take for granted what you already have.

But looking to your future self can be an uplifting exercise. It has the power to move you back onto the path you seek and remind you that life in the ‘now’ has many potential silver linings.

Live La Vida Loca!



I can be a cranky old cow, and more so when it comes to bad journalism

I’m at an age where I can barely tolerate any form of social injustice.

I  can’t stand ratbags who litter our planet with takeaway coffee cups, plastic straws and other garbage… (don’t get me started on smokers and fishermen/women who drop their filthy cigarette butts, fishing lines and empty plastic bait bags without a thought for the local wildlife and environment).

I would like to see low life who dump rubbish in rivers and bush reserves hurled in the can.

Nor can I handle arseholes who think it’s reasonable to drive their ridiculous 4WD/SUVs (what the f…. is the difference? Don’t bother telling me, I don’t care) right onto the beach or nature strip because they can get away with it.

And then there’s the climate-change deniers, fossil-fuel supporters, corrupt politicians and radio shock jocks.

*TAKES DEEP BREATH*

But now I have a new addition to my list – it is the vacuous journalist who should, under no circumstances, be given column space.

I won’t name the culprit who set me off but her article caused me to shake my head in dismay that such utter crap could get an airing in a Sunday newspaper lifestyle magazine.

The 40-something “journalist” revealed all about her devastating experience at a function she attended in the role of guest speaker.

Wearing a Zimmerman frock she’d snapped up for half the retail price ($350 rather than $700), she entered a room full of women to find they were wearing Gucci and Valentino.

But worse than this, they weren’t interested in what she had to say because they were too busy chatting to each other about Aspen and au pairs.

It knocked the journalist for six. Poor baby. She felt so out of place.

In her own words, she went into a “spiral of self doubt”.

“In this room full of women so seemingly at ease with themselves and their surrounds” the journalist realised she didn’t fit in.

I kept reading because I thought the journalist would have something to say about the egregious behaviour of these women – about how empty and delusional their lives must be as they are forever scrabbling over each other on the one-upmanship ladder and terrified that their husbands are screwing the au pair.

But instead of creating a social commentary piece, the journalist moaned about her surprise at having hurt feelings at the age 40.

She had suffered a debilitating crisis of confidence.

To address this mid-life trauma, the journalist did four things:

She 1. got a meditation app 2. bought a tent (from Aldi) 3. read a book written by a contemporary self-help/self-love guru and 4. started journalling.

For me, the article revealed more about the journalist’s self absorption and lack of personal awareness –  missing a far more interesting angle that wasn’t all about her.

I would have been on-board if she’d listed 1. bought tent and gave it to Vinnies 2. donated Zimmerman frock to Salvos 3. read good fiction 4. started writing about things that matter.

It is an indictment of this relatively new enlightened movement where self love/self care has taken precedence over giving back to the community.

The real story is about those people who are so up their own behinds that they have no time for the big picture stuff. They’re the ones who park on the sand and throw their takeaway skinny cap cups out the window.

Selfish and disengaged from the real world, real people and real issues.

It is disappointing to see what passes for journalism in 2018.

If this is it, we’re all doomed.