Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Few Predictions for 2013

Now that the end of the world has passed us by (no doubt somewhere out in space a planet did disappear or implode or disintegrate, but it wasn't ours this time), my mind turns to 2013. At the moment I seem to be reading a lot of blog posts about "the next big thing", whether it be in writing, publishing, marketing or gizmos. So here are some predictions from me (who is NOT Nostradamus or even his second cousin's ex-sister-in-law-twice removed).

E-books - the current trends show the move to e-books and e-readers has slowed. I suspect those who were really interested have taken them up with great enthusiasm and are buying heaps of cheap books. One study said a huge percentage of people who bought or were given e-readers have stopped using them, if they even gave them a try. I think things have slowed down with people over 50. I also think anyone who uses computers all day in their job or at school is going to prefer real books. And anyone who loves picture books (of any age) will resist the move to apps. The big prediction "out there" is a huge move to doing things on mobile phones, but I doubt book reading is going to be one of them. Screens are too small.
 My current status - I have a tablet with quite a few books on it but mostly I am reading non-fiction that way. Fiction doesn't "feel right"!

Copyright - there are going to be a lot more copyright battles in the coming year. Recent reports on things like territory issues show the ground is shifting all the time, driven by e-books on Amazon (many self-published) that are available world-wide. Once upon a time we'd barely notice if a book was published in the US and it took 3 months to get to Australia, unless it was an instant best-seller.

Now, with the internet, we read reviews and hear about interesting books, and then discover we can't buy the book or e-book instantly (as we have become accustomed to!) because of copyright territory issues. E-books have, if nothing else, highlighted this. Big changes globally are coming. If you're not convinced, check out the "rules" for having a book published with one of the new e-book imprints like Momentum.
My current status - there have been a few times this year when a special deal on an e-book was available through a newsletter, but when I went to buy, I was informed it wasn't available to me in my country.  If enough people complain, publishers will soon make every contract for "global rights".

Non-fiction for children and YA - the curriculum changes in Australia and the US mean non-fiction is very much back in the classroom as a resource. But what and how? I've been to plenty of schools where their non-fiction section has either gone or been much-reduced, because they've decided to move non-fiction (i.e. research) to the internet. Any author who uses the net for research (as I do) knows that it's limited and time-consuming. There is so much out there, and so much of it is wrong or conflicting, that I inevitably go back to books.

I use the net as a starting point, and for things like old photos, records, newspapers and sometimes maps. But a good book, especially a large one (which non-fiction often is, in order to reproduce the illustrations and photos well) with a good index, where I can flick back and forth and scan text quickly for what I want, can't be beaten by a screen. So I think a lot of publishers are going to scramble to bring their best non-fiction back into print (updated) and produce new electronic resources. What I really worry about? That in the process they will take history back to the state it was in when I was at school - incredibly boring. I learned all of my history from novels!
My current status - I'm a fiction writer, but I've moved into historical fiction and love it. I'm currently researching for a World War I novel and the books I have found have been invaluable. But I'll be using the net more and more for the newspapers of the era.

Marketing of books - the tide has definitely turned here, towards the writer doing more and more. Not just because publishers have tightened their purse strings either. So many bookstores (including Borders) have gone that relying on traditional things like buying front-of-store space has become almost irrelevant. Readers are finding out about new books in other ways. Reviews in traditional media have shrunk. Bloggers and sites such as Goodreads are all part of the mix now, but the mix is so big, how does an author find their way through it?

We are told to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, our websites - anything we can to get our name and books out there. Yet go to any writers' festival and the biggest complaint is about writers who are only there to plug their books and provide little else of value. Value is the keyword, apparently. I think writers are being expected to do too much now, with little idea of what works and how to manage it all. I suspect publishers will soon have people in their marketing departments who are there specifically to work with writers on all of this, rather than focusing on the traditional media publicity outlets. Somebody has to help writers get a grip on it all! (This is me being logical - maybe publishers will listen?)
My current status - I'll be writing full-time next year and plan to use some of my hours to tackle this stuff in a more organised way. But when I'm working (to pay bills) and can only write part-time, marketing sucks up an awful lot of writing hours. The book has to come first. Without the best book you can write, the marketing is pointless.

There are more predictions I could make but if nothing else, I think 2013 will see further upheaval and change. What are your predictions?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Staying Creative

Over the past four months I've been working on my critical thesis for my MFA in Writing for Children and YA (through Hamline University in Minnesota). In earlier semesters I was writing essays, but also doing a lot of creative work, so it balanced out. This semester, after two months, my adviser said, "When you send the next draft of the thesis, how about sending me some creative work, too?" It wasn't until I sat down and wrote some poems for my new verse novel that I realized what was happening - I felt freed up and joyful about writing again!

Don't get me wrong - researching for the thesis, thinking deeply about what I wanted and needed to say, roughing out ideas, diving even deeper into the topic - all of this has been terrific. Challenging, yes, but it's been immensely satisfying to be able to think about what a verse novel really is, and more importantly, what it can be. Other people's ideas and opinions feed into this, but ultimately it's up to me to work it out. However, actually writing poetry is a whole different thing. Like going from overhauling a car engine to actually driving it down a sunny country road at 100 miles an hour! (And I'm not going to count how many adverbs are in this paragraph.)

I've continued with the verse novel, but now the thesis is done, I'm working hard on revising a historical novel I've been writing for 18 months. It can take me 3 hours to rewrite about 8 pages, so this is a major revision, not tinkering around the edges, and it requires a lot of concentration and focus. On the other hand, at night, while my husband watches TV, I've been reading the last 38 issues of Poetrix, the poetry magazine that my writing group publishes. After 20 years, we are closing it down - it's a lot of work and we've decided it's time. But our last issue will be a double and will include our favorites from Issues 1-38.

What I have found is that reading through so many poems, night after night, is inspiring me to write single poems again. Not verse novel poems, where character and story and voice are also important, but poems that just arise from the ether, sparked by an image or a word or an idea. And I'm back driving down that country road again. It's reminded me that not everything has to be perfect, that to simply write for the joy of it, without expecting anything except fun (and often passion or those exciting sparks) is real freedom in writing, and to be savored and encouraged.