Conversation Corner with James Pailly, Sci-Fi Writer and Science Blogger Extraordinaire

I’m thrilled to have James Pailly as a guest today on Doorway Between Worlds. I’m a devoted follower of James’s blog Planet Pailly, where he shares knowledge about science in a way that never fails to make me laugh while I learn. James also writes science fiction, and I thought he might have some interesting ideas to share about how to communicate sciency concepts to readers. I was right! Here is our conversation about high school fears, molecular personalities, and the art of bringing science into science fiction.

On your blog Mission Statement page (I love that title, by the way – very science fiction!), you talk about how you’re working on improving your scientific knowledge, so you can grapple with its complexities in your writing. What prompted you to share that research on science with others through your blog?

First off, thanks for inviting me!  I could never resist crossing a doorway between worlds.

I guess I started my blog because of a deep-rooted sense of insecurity.  As a kid, I loved Star Trek and Star Wars, but I hated science class.  Especially chemistry.  Chemistry and I are old, bitter adversaries.  So I grew up really wanting to write science fiction and knowing next to nothing about actual, factual science.

Most of my writing instructors reassured me that it didn’t matter.  Good storytelling comes first; just make up the sciency stuff.  But I couldn’t shake the fact that when it came to physics and astronomy and biology, I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  I felt embarrassed by my ignorance, and that stopped me from writing anything at all.

I believe the best way to overcome that kind of insecurity is to face it directly.  So in a moment of either extreme courage or extreme foolishness, I decided to teach myself science.  In order to ensure that I’d stick to it for more than a weekend, I also decided to blog about my research.  I figured regular blogging would keep me from getting lazy and that readers would hold me accountable if I made mistakes.

For the most part, it’s worked.  There’s still loads of science for me to learn, but I don’t feel so insecure about my ignorance.

That’s fantastic. I’m ignorant in a lot of areas of science, too, and I love learning about all the different things you talk about through your blog. How did you end up developing the ideas for your various series?

I’ve had multiple special series come and go on my blog.  Sciency Words is by far the longest running.  The original idea was that I’d write brief, dictionary-style definitions of important scientific terms.  Now Sciency Words posts are much longer and usually include what I describe as “highly technical scientific diagrams.”  Like this one:

Earth: Ahh!!! What are all these things crawling on me? Moon: I think some of them got on me too.

Image courtesy of James Pailly

The other currently active series is called Molecular Mondays.  Every other Monday, I focus specifically on that subject I dreaded most in school: chemistry.  This is another case of me directly facing my insecurities.  I’ve tried to talk myself into canceling this series several times now, but the feedback I’ve gotten has really surprised me.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggled in chemistry class, and I guess people like to see that I’m not giving up on something just because it’s hard.

Yes! I am one of those who struggled with chemistry. I think part of the issue was that it wasn’t very relatable for me (as opposed to biology, which I did quite well in) – it felt abstract and boring. But your posts on chemistry are inspiring me to learn more. And your “highly technical scientific diagrams” are a big help in making it fun. Do you have a background in art? What do you see as the role of art in communication?

You know, the funny thing about studying art is that when you really get into it, when you’re learning to mix pigments and get them to adhere to a surface, you’re actually doing chemistry.  With figure studies, you’re doing anatomy and biology.  When you’re working with light and shadow, you’re starting to do physics.

I think a lot of science can feel abstract and boring, as you said.  Chemistry is especially guilty of this.  But once you get to know atoms and molecules, you find that they sort of have their own distinct personalities.  Carbon makes friends with everybody.  Helium just wants to be left alone.  Oxygen’s super greedy for everyone else’s electrons, and most metals are sort of blasé about letting their own electrons go.

Oxygen: Gimme, gimme, gimme!Oh, these old things? Take them, if you want.
Images courtesy of James Pailly

That’s not really a scientific way of thinking.  It’s sort of my artistic interpretation.  I take a bit of creative license on my blog, but I think a little creative license can help make science feel less abstract and more familiar.

Applying character development to scientific concepts is brilliant. (I can imagine science teachers taking fiction writing classes to broaden their communication skills.)

Actually, one of my favorite teachers — my high school physics teacher — wrote two episodes of Star Trek, one for The Next Generation and another for Voyager.  Now there was a man who knew how to turn science into good storytelling!

That is so cool! I wish my high school physics teacher had been a sci-fi writer. Although he had his own talents – he was a born comedian and a talented dancer. (He used to entertain us with some Russian dances if we asked nicely.) 🙂

I love that whole idea of cross-pollination between different knowledge areas. I’m curious – have you found that learning more about science has helped you with your original goal of improving your science fiction writing?

I have two science fiction projects that I’m actively working on.  The first is called Tomorrow News Network.  It’s a short story series about a journalist who travels through time, covering the biggest news stories in the galaxy before they happen.

I started writing T.N.N. shortly after I started blogging.  The T.N.N. universe is filled with fairly standard Sci-Fi tropes: wacky time machines, emotionless cyborgs, sprawling space empires, etc.  From the beginning, I’ve tried to fit my research in wherever I can, but T.N.N. is still what some would label “soft-core” science fiction.

Tomorrow News Network

Image courtesy of James Pailly

My other project is still in the world building stage, and I’m sort of approaching it in the opposite way to how I approached Tomorrow News Network.  This time, I’m starting with my research — specifically my research on planetary science, orbital mechanics, and chemistry (of course) — and I’m fitting in traditional Sci-Fi tropes wherever I can.

The result is a universe that feels much more grounded in reality.  At least, I hope so.  Also, with all the omnipresent hazards of space travel hanging over my main characters, I think this is a universe that will feel a whole lot more dangerous.

I’m so glad it’s been a worthwhile endeavour for you. I can’t wait to see the results! Before we wrap up our conversation, I was wondering — do you have any recommended resources for those who are interested in writing in the sci-fi genre?

A lot of science fiction writers seem to skip the research part of their work.  I’m not saying you have to go research-crazy like I do, but you can find a lot of cool story ideas buried in scientific literature.  Real life science is often weirder and more wonderful than anything you could possibly imagine.

So I’m going to repeat a piece of advice from Isaac Asimov (at least, I think it’s from Asimov).  He told new science fiction writers to get a subscription to Scientific American.  They’re one of the best at making science accessible without oversimplification.

Of course, the world has changed a bit since Asimov’s time, and now you can find quality science journalism all over the Internet for free.  You’ve got websites like Live Science, Universe Today, and Space.com (although these websites are sometimes guilty of oversimplification). Magazines like Popular Science and Scientific American post a lot of their articles online too.

And if you feel like diving into the more technical stuff, check out Google Scholar.  It’s Google for academic papers (as opposed to regular Google, which searches the entire Internet).  Actually, Google Scholar is an amazing resource no matter what subject you’re trying to research, and I’m surprised by how few people seem to know it’s there.

Thanks, James! I used to love reading Scientific American, and I need to get back to it.

Finally, just for fun, I have to ask: Which do you like better? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Or something else? I’m a Babylon 5 person myself.)

Oh jeez, you’re going to get me in trouble.  Okay, I’d normally pick Star Trek, but… the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just came out.  I’m pretty excited about Star Wars right now.

I think we all are! Thanks so much for being such a great guest, James, and sharing your thoughts with my readers. You’re welcome back any time!

***

Do you have a question for James, or a comment on our interview? Please leave your thoughts below – we’d love to continue the conversation with you!

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Conversation Corner with Carrie Rubin, Author of Medical Thrillers

Carrie Rubin

Carrie Rubin

I am so pleased to be hosting Carrie Rubin for today’s Conversation Corner. I love Carrie’s blog The Write Transition, which showcases her wonderful insights about life and writing. Carrie’s blog has many followers, and yet she somehow finds the time to provide thoughtful answers to every single comment. I am frankly in awe of her mastery of all things media.

Carrie is also a truly funny woman who happens to write novels about disease and serial killers. (Go figure.) Her wonderful second novel Eating Bull has just been released, and I asked her if she would come on by to chat about her experiences writing in the thriller genre. Here is our conversation about teenage heroes, book promotion, health, and funny words.

Carrie, I love the beginning of your About page:

Physician, public health advocate, writer. I believe every experience is worthwhile, even if our paths deviate from where we started.

I hope you don’t mind if I steal that second sentence as an inspirational quote. 🙂 I’ve always felt that whatever we learn is never wasted, since it helps us grow later in ways we couldn’t have foreseen. How have your experiences as a physician contributed to your career as a writer? And what prompted you to make that transition?

Please do take advantage of that quote! Other than my teen sons parroting me in a mocking falsetto, no one ever quotes me.

My medical background plays a big role in my writing, first as a write-what-you-know tool and second as a platform of authenticity. This legitimacy is particularly important for my newest novel, because the social issue at play in Eating Bull is obesity and the food industry’s role in it. Readers want to know the author has experience in the area, and between my years of clinical practice and my public health research, I do.

I have always wanted to write novels. In fact, I wrote my first book fourteen years ago. But as so often happens, life got in the way. So, during a career transition from clinical to nonclinical medicine a couple of years back, I jumped off a cliff and dived into writing instead. (Thanks to the amazing support of my husband whose words at the time were, “It’s now or never.”) Of course, I keep all my medical licensure and public health requirements up to date for life’s next chapter, as well as ties to my hospital of employment, but for now I’m enjoying the life of a writer.

It’s clear in Eating Bull that your authenticity has served you well – including your experience with teen boys! Your main character, Jeremy, is so well drawn. What helped you get into his mindset? And how did you handle the ongoing switch between his point of view and that of adult health worker Sue?

Thank you. My oldest son was fifteen years old when I wrote the book, so having a character the same age as my son helped me get into a teenager’s mindset. Plus, my son served as one of my beta readers. I wanted his opinion on whether Jeremy rang true to his age. If he thought something was off, I fixed the issue. This was particularly helpful in relation to Jeremy’s video game playing and his interactions at school.

Since I enjoy writing in a third-person limited narrative, I had to make sure Sue’s chapters sounded different from Jeremy’s. A 48-year-old woman will have different insights and reactions than a 15-year-old boy. So I tried to don the personality of whoever’s point of view I was writing from. Of course, that meant thinking like Darwin, too. Getting into the mindset of a killer makes for an interesting experience!

I’ll bet it does! I’ve always thought writing thrillers must be challenging because of its inevitable focus on the negative side of human nature. How do you get into that mindset? How do you shake it off? And have you come across any useful resources that helped you write this type of thriller?

I’m not sure I do anything specific to get into the mindset, but when I’m focusing on the negative, particularly when writing from the antagonist’s point of view, I remind myself of Stephen King’s words:

If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.

—Stephen King, On Writing

In other words, I try not to censor myself. As much as my antagonist’s actions might disturb me, they are what fuel the story, and I need to be willing to go there.

I’ve read a variety of books on the craft of writing, but two of the most helpful for me in terms of writing thrillers are Story Engineering and Story Physics, both by Larry Brooks. Structure is very important when drafting thrillers, and I like to have it all laid out beforehand. Brooks’s books help me navigate how to do that.

As you know, I’m a fan of Story Engineering as well. It seems to me that engineering is a perfect concept for a lot of the activities involved in writing a book, including the engineering involved in coordinating its release. How do you handle all the various bits and pieces that are involved in promoting your work?

Honestly, that part’s a bit stressful for me. There is much to coordinate, both online and face-to-face. In the weeks leading up to the book’s release, I:

  • wrote blog posts and articles, either for my own site or elsewhere
  • sent out ARCs (Advance Reader Copies)
  • updated my various platforms and included the book’s links
  • contacted potential reviewers
  • designed bookmarks and other promotional items
  • got emails ready to send to local newspapers, alumni newsletters, and professional contacts
  • set up book signings
  • created posters for book signings
  • developed a “talk” should any speaking engagements arise
  • explored other marketing venues

Eating BullAnd, of course, during all that I was reading through the final electronic and print versions of Eating Bull before my publisher gave it the official go. It’s amazing how a typo can slip past 2,000 previous readings!

But I handled it like most of us do: making lists and tackling the elephant one bite at a time.

That sure is a big elephant! You’ve talked a lot on your blog about your introversion. As an introvert, how do you keep yourself from running out of energy with all these activities?

The busy work I listed above doesn’t really drain me. It’s the social interactions that do, particularly the face-to-face ones. So now that the book is released, and I’ll be facing more in-person promotion, I’ll need to make sure I get wind-down time every night, either in the form of a good TV show or some reading. Those always help quiet my mind and recharge my batteries, especially if they are followed by a good night’s sleep and a morning workout.

Sounds like an excellent plan. I know I need that recharging time after a busy social day (although I’m still struggling with the workout part). 🙂

You’ve mentioned that the face-to-face interactions involved in promotion are particularly challenging for you. I’ve noticed that you are active on Twitter and Goodreads and comment on many blogs. Do you find communicating through social media to be easier? And how do you manage to keep up with all your online platforms?

I do find interacting on social media much easier. No eye contact, no small talk, and communication in short snippets—perfect for an introvert. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain mentions that many introverts thrive online. That being said, I’m a big girl, and I can function in the real world when needed. It just saps my energy more than online communication.

I devote a couple of hours each day to social media, but I don’t keep up as well as I’d like. I do best with Twitter and my blog, but even the latter I find challenging since I follow so many others. While I can’t catch every post, especially on the more prolific blogs, I try to stop by when I can. It’s always fun to see what others are up to, and I’ve found the blogging community to be genuine and supportive. In fact, I’ve ‘met’ remarkable people from all over the world.

I wholeheartedly agree – the blogging community has been wonderful to me as well. And of course I got to meet you! 🙂

I have one last question (one that will hopefully help this introvert impress people at awkward social events): Do you have a favourite obscure or funny medical term?

This is one of those questions where you can’t think of a great answer at the time but later come up with something perfect, usually at three in the morning. But here are a couple of medical terms I like: Borborygmus, which is the term for stomach growling, and myokymia, the term for involuntary muscle twitching, like when your eyelid keeps contracting. And if you have both at the same time? Well…you might want to skip your next meeting.

Thank you so much for having me today, Sue! I had a lot of fun, and I’m honored to be a part of your fabulous blog. For anyone who hasn’t seen Sue’s Rogue Word series yet, it’s definitely worth a look. Lots of great writing tips there. I found the s and apostrophes post particularly helpful.

Thanks, Carrie! I’m glad that my series was helpful for you. And thank you so much for stopping by DBW today and sharing your experiences with my readers!

***

For those of you who enjoy thrillers, I encourage you to take a look at Eating Bull.

And if you’re interested in reading previous conversations on various communication topics, you can find them here. Thanks for reading!

DBW Review: Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

Description and SettingI have a confession to make: I’m one of those readers who has been known to skip over passages full of description to get to the “good stuff.” I love the story of The Lord of the Rings, for example, but my attention wanes during those meandering sections sandwiched between poignant character moments and violent epic battles. With my avoidance of excessive elaboration (and my admittedly poor visual observation skills), I sometimes find it challenging to imbue my own writing with the right level of descriptive pizzazz.

And I know I’m not the only one. So I thought it was time to read through the book Description & Setting by author and creative writing teacher Ron Rozelle. His book is part of the Write Great Fiction series by Writer’s Digest, which features some helpful books on a variety of writing topics. I hadn’t read this one yet, and I thought it could be helpful for those of us who feel descriptively challenged.

What I Liked

This book covers a wide variety of topics relating to description — even more than I anticipated. Rozelle talks about how to describe both characters and settings. He includes tips for improving dialogue as well as techniques to strengthen exposition. He focuses on the small things, such as the use of adverbs and placement of punctuation, as well as the large things, like establishing the big picture of time and place. There’s a useful chapter on sensory description that includes lots of great examples.

I especially enjoyed his chapter “Too Little, Too Much,” which includes some fantastic thoughts on how to avoid repetition, prevent yourself from wandering off track, and recognize when no description at all is perhaps the better approach.

What Could Be Better

This book is an odd mix of wordiness and not enough detail. The introductions to some of the chapters are lengthier than they need to be, while many of the subtopics are not covered in as much detail as they could be. I was looking forward to the chapter on different considerations for different genres, for example, but most of the tips in there are straightforward common sense and didn’t really add to my knowledge.

It also suffers from an issue that I find common across many writing books – the examples are taken from older works, and samples from genre fiction are neglected in favour of literary fiction. Since most of the writers I know write genre fiction, I find this to be an unfortunate gap.

Favourite Learning Moment

In Rozelle’s chapter “Using Description and Setting to Drive the Story,” he talks about how to use description and setting to magnify a theme. But instead of focusing on the usual idea of an overall theme, he points out that each scene in the story has its own theme and that you can focus on one scene at a time when determining how the description can be improved. I loved the practical nature of this approach.

Many people come away from their English classes thinking that literary themes are a precious few haughty ideals—like pride, truth, or equality—that are chiseled deep into granite…My idea of a theme is anything that the writer is attempting to convey in a particular scene. So, instead of everlasting love, your theme in the sixth scene of your story might be trying to get a date. (p. 154)

Verdict

If you don’t have a lot of practice writing fiction yet, or you are looking for a general overview on the topic of description, then I believe this book will be helpful for you. But if you are searching for more in-depth content, I would look for detailed articles relating to your specific interests rather than buying this book.

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If you are interested in reading about other writing resources, you may want to take a look at my Resources page. One of these resources is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which has a great chapter on showing vs. telling.

How much description do you like to see in the books you read? What are some of the challenges you face when describing things? Are there techniques that have helped you?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Big Words, Clean Teeth & Jell-O for Brains: a Lovely Recipe for Life

Today I am holding a special edition of Conversation Corner with children’s author and humour blogger Shelley Sackier on her blog Peak Perspective. You don’t want to miss my first ever illustrated interview! Please come visit and read about our conversation on using large words, writing for children, how to be funny, and the advantages of having Jell-O for brains.

Peak Perspective

Sue Archer: Editor, blogger, and master of not only English but nearly every science fiction and fantasy language to boot. Linguistic skills more impressive than the blinking and confusing cockpit lights of the Starship Enterprise. Have you need of a first-class editor to guide your manuscript to lofty heights of high-class quality? Sue’s your gal. Hungering for a few golden writing tips to sharpen your blog, your essays, your work-related writing skills? Look no further.

Peruse Sue’s new editorial site and her blog site too—and I do mean peruse in the truest sense of the term. DIG DEEP. There is pure gold in them there words.

And if you feel like putting your feet up for a spell, see her fine interviewing skills down below. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with this lovely, talented lady.

A woman with cosmic talent, and universal appeal.

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Conversation Corner with…

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DBW Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

I picked up Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by editors Renni Browne and Dave King because several of my editing colleagues recommended it as a solid resource for authors. There are many books on how to write and comparatively few on how to edit your own writing. Yet this is such a critical task for writers if they want to submit a solid manuscript for further editing or publishing. I was really looking forward to reading through this book, and I’m glad to say it was a winner.

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers is focused on the details of stylistic editing. The authors assume that you have already dealt with the larger structural concerns of plot, character arc, and theme. The book covers a broad range of topics relating to the mechanics of editing: showing vs. telling, characterization and exposition, point of view, proportion, dialogue, interior monologue, sound and voice, repetition, and scene beats and breaks.

What I Liked

I mentioned that a lot of topics were covered in this book. Each of them are discussed in a great amount of depth without becoming overwhelming. The authors cover several angles and explain why certain situations require different treatment from others.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter, “Show and Tell,” which brings new life to the old chestnut that you should be showing something to the readers rather than telling them about it. All writers receive this advice at some point, but Browne and King bring a balanced perspective to the discussion, clearly illustrating when to use show and when to use tell.

To write exposition at length — describing your characters’ pasts or events that happened before the story began or any information your readers might need to understand your plot — is to engage your readers’ intellects. What you want to do is engage their emotions. (p. 10)

The writing style is clear and engaging, and avoids the lecturing style that sometimes happens with “how to” books. Editors have a somewhat unfair reputation as nitpicking sticklers, and I’m happy to say there is no sign of that here — instead, the authors are positive and supportive as they outline the issues that writers often struggle with and potential solutions.

Plenty of examples are used in each chapter to illustrate the points, and at the end of each chapter there are useful checklists as well as practice exercises.

What Could Be Better

This book is so well-written that it was difficult to find any issues with it. However, as we writers know, there’s always something that can be improved!

Most of the examples in the book are bracketed with detailed explanations of what the examples are illustrating. Once in a while, though, an example is thrown out where the authors assume that the reader will identify what is right or wrong with the passage without help. One place that stood out for me was in the chapter on “Voice,” where the authors provide an example of five different character monologues from the same book and say, “Every voice is distinct.” How they are distinct is never explained, and I feel this weakens the helpfulness of this example.

My only other wish is that the book contained even more practical exercises. There are usually about three per chapter, and having more (and shorter) exercises would make this resource even more valuable.

Favourite Learning Moment

My favourite part of this book is not a particular moment but an overall thread that gets woven throughout the narrative. There is a lot of focus in the book on how to bring out characters and their emotions. The authors discuss several areas where these can be displayed, such as through dialogue, interior monologue, and exposition from the character’s point of view. They also talk about how character development can be combined with the advancement of plot, the establishment of setting, and the revelation of key information.

If each element of your story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, then your story will subtly, almost subliminally, feel artificial. When everything seems to be happening at once, then it will feel like real life. (p. 183)

Verdict

This is the best book I have ever read on how to edit your own writing. Pick it up, read it, and read it again. You won’t regret it.

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If you are interested in reading about other writing resources, you may want to take a look at my Resources page. And if you’re looking for more tips on self-editing, I have recently written a post on why you should try a style sheet when editing your work.

What do you find is the most challenging aspect of self-editing? Which resources have helped you with this difficult task?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

Science Fiction and How Values Shape Communication

As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been posting a little less frequently lately. I’ve been busy working on a personal project that I’m very excited about. It’s still in progress, but hopefully I’ll be able to share it with all of you soon. (How’s that for mystery?)

In the meantime, today I have a guest post by the talented Andrew Knighton from Andrew Knighton Writes. If you haven’t visited Andrew’s blog, you really should — Andrew provides helpful writing advice on his blog as well as incredibly well-crafted flash fiction stories.

Over to Andrew…

Communication is never a neutral act. We use it to shape the world the way we want, from a little kid asking for a cookie to a propagandist selling a political party line.

It’s also a common theme in science fiction. The struggle to communicate with aliens was a feature of classic science fiction, while the growth of communications technology brought communication systems to the forefront of Earth-bound sci-fi. Science fiction stories highlight how, whether intentionally or not, one of the main roles of communication is enacting our own values.

Failure to Share Values – The Sparrow

One of the most haunting and unsettling depictions of first contact with aliens, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow is an account of a mission to an alien world, crewed by a mixture of scientists and Jesuit priests. From the start, we know that something went horribly wrong, and the narrative of the expedition is expressed within another narrative, about a struggle to get the lone survivor to communicate.

Among the many themes and ideas in this book is the difficulty of communication, and the way that cultural assumptions can stand in the way of understanding. The explorers constantly seek to understand the society they find, but there are some gaps in values so huge that they fatally undermine their ability to communicate and comprehend.

In a way, our ordinary, everyday communications enact that same challenge in miniature. Our values are usually different, if only in subtle ways, from the people we communicate with. Making assumptions about those values can lead to miscommunication, and it’s only by opening up to the values of others that we can really understand them.

Communications as a Battlefield – Neuromancer and the Cyberpunks

Cyberpunk science fiction has, from the very start, shown people taking the opposite approach to communication and values. From its popularisation with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, cyberpunk has depicted futures in which communication is conflict.

A lot of this lies in the recurring use of hacking and information technology. The heroes are often hackers, trying to break down the barriers to free communication and the flow of information. Their opponents’ power lies in controlling the flow of communication and knowledge, hiding awkward truths and corporate secrets. Those enemies throw up defences, blocking the information lines through which the hacking takes place. No-one here is trying to achieve the sort of two-way understanding that leads to successful coexistence – they want to understand their opponents to thwart them.

hackers

In our everyday lives, it can be easy to become drawn into treating communication this way. Instead of opening up and discussing our ideas and values we start defending them, and in doing so attack those of others. Communication becomes a battlefield. That lets another value slip in unseen. If we act in this way then we’re implicitly valuing conflict over cooperation, and making the world a less cooperative place.

Communication as Heaven – The Galactic Milieu

Of course, communication can also be used to enact more positive values. In Julian May’s Galactic Milieu series, shared communication becomes an ideal in the form of Unity. This state of mental connection, sharing ideas and feelings, is an almost heavenly state toward which the galaxy’s races aspire. The defiant struggle against it, the throwing up of barriers between people, brings about destruction.

In the Galactic Milieu, communication is depicted not just as a carrier of positive values, but as something of value in itself, bringing people closer together. It highlights why good communication is so important in every sphere of life, reducing conflicts and allowing us to achieve more together.

Think About the Values in Your Communication

Next time you’re talking or writing, take a moment to think about what values you’re enacting in the way you communicate. Are you listening for the values behind what other people are saying, to try to understand them better? Are you letting conflict become part of how you communicate? Or are you using communication to achieve cooperation and closeness?

It may not quite be heaven, but communication needn’t be a cyberpunk dystopia either.

***

Image from the movie Hackers

I hope you enjoyed Andrew’s post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it below. And I’m curious – what books have you read where communication was a major theme? Are there any that you’d recommend adding to the reading list?

The Many Ps of Book Marketing

I love learning, and the Editing Goes Global conference was a great opportunity to pick up all sorts of useful knowledge. Last week, I shared some tips from editor Arlene Prunkl on how to write good comments. Today, I want to pass along some nuggets of wisdom I learned from Beth Kallman Werner in her session “The Many Ps of Book Marketing.”

Ms. Werner has worked as the Director of Sales and Marketing at Kirkus and is the founder of Author Connections. She has over twenty years of experience in editing and marketing, and it definitely showed in her presentation. I was scribbling notes like mad. I couldn’t possibly include all of her thoughts here, but I thought I’d share some of the highlights.

Her session focused on the four Ps of marketing (product, position, price, and promotion) and how they relate specifically to book marketing.

Product

Werner started off by discussing some of the misconceptions about marketing, including the idea that marketing is disconnected from other parts of the publishing process. Marketing doesn’t begin after the book is finished — it needs to be considered right from the beginning.

If you want people to invest their time and money in your book, then you need to start with a quality product that will engage your audience. This seems like an obvious point, but part of creating quality is thinking about your potential readers as you are writing the book. Who is your target audience? You want to know this from the beginning. Engage with your audience in advance of writing, so you know who you are writing for and what they need.

Position

How can you position your book so that it is appealing to your audience? Readers look for different things when deciding whether or not to pick up a book.

Decisions, decisions a tower of used books

Decisions, decisions…

Here are some things to think about.

  • Will the cover get their attention?
  • Is the blurb appealing? Many readers will buy a book on the basis of the blurb alone.
  • Does your book have reviews of your work on the cover (or elsewhere)?
  • Is your book about a timely topic?

One interesting tidbit that Werner shared is that readers generally don’t care about who has published the book. So being self-published is not a strike against you. The exception to this is certain areas of non-fiction, where having a recognized name behind you (like a university press) can go a long way.

Even if you position your book well, it may still take some time before you see a substantial readership. Werner mentioned that it is not uncommon for this to take 18-24 months.

Price

The number one consideration here is whether your target audience can afford your book. Sometimes it makes sense to release an e-book first and see how it makes out before investing in the costs of printing. You don’t need to take on everything at once.

If you have a global audience, then you may need different prices for different regions, based on what is considered reasonable.

During the session, someone asked whether it made sense to have free giveaways of your book. Werner mentioned that there are four reasons for considering a giveaway:

  • To launch a product or a brand (and you are a brand)
  • To generate leads and sales (for example, if your main income is not from books, you could give away a book at a speaking engagement to generate other business)
  • To maintain your brand (if you have been away for a while)
  • To perform damage control (when something has gone wrong)

Promotion

A lot of discussion took place in the session on various aspects of promotion. There are so many ways to promote your book: blogging, SEO, social media, direct mail, readings and signings, events, print advertising, online advertising, etc. You can’t possibly do them all. Think about what you are comfortable doing and then determine which of those tactics will be effective for your book.

If you decide to go ahead with an event, for example, think about whether your target audience will be at that event. Where will you be branding yourself best?

Don’t forget about your budget. Will you be getting a return on your investment?

As a blogger, I definitely sat up when Werner started talking about blogging. She said that lots of people tell authors they need to have a blog, but this isn’t always true. Books have a 100% attrition rate — no one is going to buy your book twice. So if you have a blog with 200 followers, how many books are you going to sell directly through that blog?

Werner believes that blogs are beneficial for non-fiction writers to show their expertise. They are also good if you have something new and compelling to say. Otherwise, they are a huge time commitment, and you may be better off focusing on writing your book.

If you are going to blog, make sure you get things to people when they are the most receptive to reading (based on time zone).

The bottom line: Will your blog help you sell books?

I could go on and on, but I’ll have mercy on my readers and stop here. As a final note, I thought I’d share one of Werner’s other myths about marketing: Marketing is an unbearable chore. As she puts it, marketing is to “take on the fun of sharing what you’ve done.” You can tell she really loves her work!

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For those of you who are writers, do you have marketing tips to share? Do you agree or disagree with Werner’s position on having a blog? For readers, what do you look for when deciding whether or not to buy a book?

Image © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar/ CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015