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.

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.

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!



RWA Little Gems Jade

What I like about a novel or short story might not appeal to you.

Say I read a book and love it so I recommend it to you.

It changed my life, I tell you. You are convinced it will change your life too.

But you are sorely disappointed. You think, What was she thinking? This book is rubbish! 

My point is, like with everything – food, drink, movies, comedy, music, exercise, dogs and cats, etc – what I like might not be your cup of tea.

I have had the experience of people either loving my writing or finding fault with it – they don’t like my heroine (she’s too selfish), my hero is too soft (no alpha males in my stories!), my style irks them, they don’t get my humour.

In 2017, I entered the Romance Writers of Australia short story contest, Little Gems.

Every year the RWA names a gem that must be included in the story.

Last year’s gem was Onyx.

I loved my story and hoped it would get into the top 14 stories that make up the annual Little Gems anthology.

But it flunked. I can’t remember the scores I received from the three judges who read it – I received one perfect score of 60 and maybe another of 58. But the third judge’s score dragged my story out of contention for the top 14.

She thought it wasn’t romantic enough and that it focussed more on the relationship between the mother (heroine) and daughter characters rather than that of the mother and the hero love interest.

I was shattered. I knew my story was good. Quite a few of my writer friends read it and helped me edit it. I had it polished to perfection. But obviously not enough.

That’s how it is. If you enter these contests, you have to take the good feedback with the bad and be aware it is a totally subjective assessment of your story by a judge chosen from a pool of generous volunteers.

This year I tweaked the story to fit the gem Jade. Other than that, I made no changes.

There were 67 entries. Only 14 get make it, all reliant on the scores allocated by their three judges.

This year I had better luck with my judges. I received a “perfect, there is nothing I would change in this story”, then a 59 and a 58.

It wasn’t enough to get me into a top 3 but my story made 5th place and the anthology.

I was pretty happy with the outcome.

I wasn’t so lucky with another story I entered, albeit at the last minute. Written in a rush, it was quickly subbed by a good friend on the last day/night for entries to be submitted.

It received a 58, 57 and a 44. As usual, a huge thumbs down from one judge.

I have to cop that. Obviously, the judge who gave me the low score doesn’t enjoy my style of writing.

There’s always next year!

 

 

 

Pandemonium in my brain: why I need a beta reader and better time management

SOME would say I live a safe life.

I have a stressful day job, a stressed-out family life and a very old dog (she will die soon so expect grief-stricken post).

What’s more, I live in the suburbs and head to the coast for the holidays.

But when it comes to writing for contests, I have inadvertently become a risk taker by leaving ABSOLUTELY everything to the last minute.

I don’t know what it is inside my weird head that puts me into go-slow mode the second I commit to entering a competition (expect a post on procrastination).

But the end result is pandemonium in my brain, which led me (too late) to the conclusion that I should have consulted a beta reader right from the start.

I started my short story for the Romance Writers of Australia Little Gems 2018 contest about a week out from the deadline.

The day before entries were due I set about writing the last 1000 words of my 3000-word story. I bashed it out in true pantser style, making it up as I went along.

On deadline day, which fell on a Monday so I had to go to work, I sent a missive to a writerly friend to inform her of my utter stupidity.

My mistake. She offered to beta read my story.

I got the story to her that night after work and she sent back her edits in two lots.

I started on the edits around 9.30pm, thinking I would cruise to the midnight deadline.

At 11.45pm, I was frantically attempting to format the hastily finished product and in a haze of exhaustion I whizzed it off with payment, signed forms, etc, by 11.56pm.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. Bonkers.

My beta reader’s keen eye picked up heaps of silly little mistakes and problems around structure.

If I had started to write the story earlier and given myself and my beta reader the time to iron out all the issues, the result would have been a more refined product.

*Shakes Head*