Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Romance Writing and Readers

I've been working on my latest novel, this time a romance, taking a break from scripts just briefly to do the novel, then of course I'll want to do another script, and then of course another novel.

Can't help it, I like variety.  And well, though I'm about 3/4 of the way through the process having written a lot of pages, done a lot of editing and know there's much more, I couldn't help my thoughts skipping over to what sales are like these days for books in general and Romances in particular.  I read like crazy and you should too, for enjoyment and especially if you, too, are a writer.  It's like professional enrichment.

So, in my ponderings I did dig up a few numbers that are interesting.  One I tweeted.  For 2009 overall net consumer book sales were predicted to go down.  But, according to the most recent Association of American Publishers report - book sales were actually up 1.8 percent so far for the year. The future apparently looks good for romantic fiction -- sort of like the movies in the 20's after the crash- people are turning to romance novels for 'happily ever after'.  People generally need to be entertained, even more so during the 'tough' times.

Don't get me wrong, times were tough for the publishing industry in 2008 pretty much like everybody else.  Some had profits, others losses.  There was reorganization, people lost their jobs - and there were other problems.  Used book sales increased, there were fewer bookstores because of closings and of course with the net, TV, movies, ipods, etc, there's a vastly increased competition for consumer leisure time. Folks read only about four hours a week in 2008 as opposed to the fifteen hours a week online and about 12 hours a week watching TV. 

Another interesting fact is American women are more likely to read than men.  The average book reader is about 44 years old. It doesn't hurt to know who your audience is. So, in the romance field over 74 million, closer to 75 million Americans (that's just Americans) read at least one romance novel in 2008. More than 90% of those were read in paperback - but don't forget the more than 47% who read in hardcover, the 6.5% who listened to audio books and the nearly 5.5% who read in Ebook format.  Overall this is good news for the romance writing field - and for the romance reader. Harlequin, Penguin and Hachette Book Group were up in sales for 2008 while HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster fell.

In general, though the peak year so far for romance seems to have been 2005, there was only a relatively small decline in sales and then they leveled off pretty much for 2006, 2007, and 2008.  The jury is still out on 2009.

In the romance genre there are subgenres and they broke out pretty much like this.  Contemporary series sold the most with around 26% of the market.  Single title Contemporary at about 18%, Historical at about 16%, Paranormal (my favorite by far) at about 12.5%.  A handful of others, Suspense, Inpirational, suspense series and erotic combined to make up about another 25% of the market and the rest is sort of misc.

Now, remember the overall dollar amounts we're talking about is 'billions'.  When they say book sales slid and were 'down' that's 'down to $10.175 BILLION from $10.714 BILLION.  So while we can't really say 'let the good times roll', things aren't looking too bad in book world. - and look slightly better in romance world.

Whew.  Well, with that out of the way, back to work on my paranormal romance!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Playful, Creative Writer

So, when's the last time you went out and played like a kid?  Not too long I hope.  And I mean really get out there and play.  Involve all the senses and have a heckuva good time.  Life isn't all that serious you know.  Yes, lots of serious things can happen, but people need to play.  Let go of that deep, dark serious demeanor and have some fun.

Play is good for everything about us.  It's good for our heath, good for our brains, it helps unite brain and body and even creates social connections.  Wow, what isn't it good for?  Not a thing I can think of.

A lot of things you can do to play involves some sort of exercise which gets the body moving and cranking, very good for you to begin with.  And, while it's doing that it's a major stress reliever.  Playing gets all those chemicals pumping in your brain and throughout your body, and they're the feel-good ones. So who can be tense and serious when you've got all that happy-go-lucky stuff flooding your body?  And the great thing about it is, exercise is great, get a friend, play basketball, badminton or take a long walk with great conversation, even just get up off your butt and dance when you hear some music you like, but any kind of play is terrific too.  Get friends together and play a dumb game you remember from childhood, huddle around a board game, play with clay or silly putty, even really actually use that WI console you bought.

I'm no expert, but I've read play lights up the right side of your brain like a neon sign and creates a state of hyper-creativity that gives us a whole new slant on the world.  And I believe it.  Creativity and Play go hand in hand.  And in this wonderful state everything seems better, easier, problems that seemed overwhelming before appear suddenly trivial and as a result we're ready to take on the world once again!  In the midst of play you may even come up with the ending of that novel you're working on.

And despite your possible thoughts of  'play is just for kids, think again.  Play not only unites body and mind, it creates social bonds.  And that doesn't change just because we're no longer kids.  Ever notice how two people at odds might find a way to bond at a company picnic and basketball challenge?  This is social behavior that goes back to our earliest days.  People huddled over a game board chatting and laughing.  Socialization.  Fun.  If you have about 30 minutes you might check out this video on creativity and play, Tim Brown  makes excellent points.

I frequently recommend hobbies for writers, but play is just as important.  Come on, when's the last time you had a really rollicking good time?  When's the last time you just got up and danced or made faces at yourself in a mirror?  When was your last trip to the zoo or when you played 'blood sport' badminton with your friends?  When's the last time you went to Disneyland without the kids?  Budget won't stand that?  Then get yourself a blob of silly putty and go from there.  Or just get together with a bunch of friends with paper and pencil and follow Tim's suggestion doing thirty second portraits of each other.

This guy's having a great time, shouldn't you be joining him?  Release, relax and unwind.  Play like a kid and kick your creativity into overdrive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Go for the Gut - Drag Out those Emotions.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  If you don't put it out there as a writer, if you don't feel the emotions you're attempting to write into your story, your readers won't feel them either.

Here's where the 'show, don't tell' rule does apply.  Truth be told, most of us human beings guard our feelings closely, we don't feel comfortable putting them out into public.  Well, get over it.  Writers have to unlearn that deeply ingrained training. 

In order to put those emotions across to your readers, to make them really feel what you want them to feel, you must get down and deep into your character's point of view.  How to do that?  Well, put yourself in his or her place and allow yourself to feel what he or she would feel.  Everything that happens needs to be seen/felt through the lense of that character and what you've developed that character's personality to be. 

I've written and published books and written and optioned screen scripts.  They are two very different kinds of writing and it can provide a good example here.  A script conveys information by using external actions.  The hero conveys his anger by driving a car very fast down a steep hill, shifting gears with a slam and a jerk, cutting people off and roaring on, taking wild chances.  This follows a fight with his girlfriend, the heroine.  The screenwriter also has the actors who will put emotion across.  So the viewer can easily put it all together.

In a book things are different.  It's necessary to filter what's happening through the reaction of one of the characters.  It becomes viewpoint.  The scene above would translate more into: "He threw the car into gear, slammed his foot down on the accelerator and peeled off down the road. He jerked the gear shift, reveled in the car's roar of power in tandem with the pounding beat of his heart and whipped around a slow-moving car.  She'd called him an idiot!  He'd never been so furious."  The author provides the action, then gives the point of view of the hero's feelings. 

And along those lines there's a fun and strange hybrid, being an audio book with actors reading the parts and special effects added like old radio shows.  One of my books, Blown To Hell, originally published by Doubleday, then reprinted by Fitionworks as Ebook is soon to be released as such an audio book....hopefully by January.  It's a different animal, and was fun to write the script for.

Questions or thoughts?  Please feel free to post a comment. If I spot a question I'll do my best to answer it.

Meanwhile, if you'd like more tips on writing check out my Ebook Out Of Thin Air.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Resources for Writers & Readers too.

So I'm a writer, by now we've all figured that one out. So, I was thinking as I sat down to begin my day's writing, that maybe I should post here a whole bunch of helpful sites I've stumbled across lately and save some of the potential writers out there the struggle of searching for them.

Not every site will be a godsend for every writer, but no doubt there'll be something here that'll appeal. So, hang on and check it out. Lots of sites below.

Brush up your grammar skills. Pretty self-evident, that one.

Big Huge Thesaurus -- even offers story plot and blog post ideas.

Writers are readers too. Want to find extensive lists of great books? Check out Flashlight Worthy Books for handpicked book recommendations on hundreds of topics. For writers he recommends ten great books on writing, 33 of the best books about writing fiction, and too cool is books for the word lover. Check out the flashlight worthy book recommendations for some great reads. This site is the site owner's labor of love.

Check out the National Writer's Union.

Here's a blog with tips for young writers.

This one is fun. A random story idea generator. Amusing for writers - and it could be helpful - at least it stirs the thought process.

Here's a How Stuff Works site on health. Great writer fodder.

A Dictionary, Thesaurus & word finder.

Free submission tracking software for writers. See if it's good for you.

A truly huge information resource site, a great place for authors to find information on almost anything.

Generate names, etc. at Seventh Sanctum.

Need a little help on a character's psychological motivation?

Unsent letter blog - Interesting blog - might be good source for future story ideas.

How about a radio station for writers created by writers?

Another cool reference site for writers - answering questions since 1938, they're online now.

That's it for this round, no doubt one day soon there'll be another. Hope you've found something helpful.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Writer's Focus

There's a breed of writer who has a problem with focus. I was one such writer plagued by that problem, have mostly gotten it under control, but still have a few battles with it now and again.

Now, by focus I mean you have so many different ideas for your writing floating around that you find it hard to remain dedicated to the one at hand. You love to write fiction (are in the middle of a story or novel as a matter of fact), but you have this great non-fiction book idea, there's this poem fragment that keeps running through you head and you have some really great ideas on angles for articles - all at the same time. What to do?

First be grateful you're one of "those" writers and not one who is beating his or her head against a wall just trying to come up with a coherent or publishable idea at all. That's never good.

Okay, gratitude duly noted, now, next step. This is where I usually have to take a step back and have a conversation with myself. You know those, I've done a couple of them on my blog in the past. I actually kind of enjoy these cozy little chats with myself. I figure as long as I don't mumble loudly in public I'm okay.

So here's the drill:

I say to myself, "boy I really need to get down to it on that novel. It's coming along and I'm getting close to the end. But I have this really fantastic idea for a non-fiction book I want to work on."

Self replies,"You need to stay focused and get something done. Bits and pieces everywhere get you nowhere. Besides, you're probably getting excited about the new idea because you don't want to finish the first one and risk rejection."

Ah, a philosophical statement from the interior me.

Hmm, self could be right. On the other hand, I might have a great idea for that non-fiction book or some other project.

Self again. "Stop wasting time."

"All right, all right," I respond, "but that other idea..."

"Can wait. Well, maybe not altogether. How about making notes?"

Okay, that's an idea. I keep some blank notebooks on hand for such an event. If it's a burning idea I need a lot of room. I jot something on the cover to identify it as solely dedicated to the new idea. Then I do a quick, brief overview on the first page, leave a couple of blank pages after. Then a blank page for each character (if fiction) or idea or point (if non-fiction). and if non-fiction, questions that need to be answered with space allowed for more ramblings or answers. I allow myself a set time to get it down, get it done, then put it aside and return to the big project that needs finish.

It's a method that has worked for me. Sometimes the new idea gets shelved indefinitely, other times it ends up being the next project up. Don't allow yourself to skip around indefinitely, but don't risk losing that next great idea either. And I find when the notes of that next great idea sit around for a while, frequently it has a chance to mature and evolve into something even better.

So when you get tied up in 'too many idea' knots, have a little chat with yourself and find an accord.

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