What's the Best Novel-Writing App? To celebrate National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo), ALLi Director Orna Ross and Partner Liaison and US Ambassador Michael La Ronn answer writing questions.
Among them …
- What’s the best app to write my novel?
- How do I conquer writer’s block?
- Help! I’m stuck in the murky middle of my novel!
- Where do I find beta readers?
- What are the best tips for editing my novel?
Also ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway joins Multimedia Manager Howard Lovy in an update on the latest news from the indie author-publishing world. They discuss the upcoming Futurebook conference. Also, why hasn't Amazon opened a new Kindle store in five years?
Here are some highlights.
Orna on Scrivener
It's really great for NaNoWriMo in that it helps you with your word count. It's got just so much going on, at the level of helping you to build your story, keeping track of where you're going and an organized place to keep your notes and the way in which you can break down the book into chapters and parts and volume and so on. Anyone who's still working with Microsoft Word, you just won't believe how Scrivener can both help your writing along in terms of your visibility, how you get to see the whole shape and structure of the book.
Michael on Diversity in Books
So you don't have to have lived or experience what you write about, but it must be fully developed at the imaginable level. And that takes a great deal of time and input. So with that caveat, yes, please. Diversity in books.
Dan on Technology in Self-Publishing
Everyone should know enough to know when we're being scammed. When it comes to things like blockchain, artificial intelligence, there are a lot of people selling us things on the back of terminology and dazzling us with technology. And so we need to know enough about technology to know which of those is totally empty. Also, when it comes to things like monetizing our own websites, developing our own materials, the more we can code, the more we can get around a lot of the peripheral costs.
Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center: https://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.
And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Read the Transcript
Orna Ross: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Member Q & A, Ask ALLi, with me, Orna Ross and with Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: Hi, Orna. How are you?
Orna Ross: I'm good. I'm coming to you from Oslo. I've been here working with Bold Books, an ALLi partner member, they have been running a fantastic seminar for Norwegian indie authors. And so I was here talking about global self publishing, which is super interesting. So I'm coming to you from my hotel bedroom today.
Michael La Ronn: That's awesome. Traveling the world.
Orna Ross: Oh, yeah. Wherever indie authors are found.
Michael La Ronn: Even in Norway, anywhere you can imagine, that's the great part about us being an international organization, right?
Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. And it's great to see things now beginning to take off in countries where it's been a bit slower to happen. So here in Norway it will be probably five years or so behind where we are in the UK, maybe four or something like that. But yeah, super interesting. So I know we have loads of questions to get through. And as we said, we talk all about writing in celebration of NaNoWriMo. So you're the guy with the questions. Shall we start?
Michael La Ronn: So I thought, we have some questions, but what I thought I would do first is just do a recap real quick of NaNoWriMo for those who maybe don't know what it is. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization. The nutshell, you know, one minute elevator pitch. It's a nonprofit organization and the goal is writers all over the world get together, and they write a novel, one 50 thousand word novel in one month, which equates to about 1600 and change words every single day.
And here are the official rules. So write a 50,000 word or longer novel between November 1 and November 30. And you can only count words that are written during November. So you know, you can't use words from October into November. It is truly a November challenge. And the great part about it is people, like I said, people all over the world are getting together they're writing right now. And today as we record this it's November 16, which is right behind the halfway mark.
So for those of you who are participating in NaNoWrimo, you should be at around 26,000-and-change words. So we thought this would be a great opportunity to just focus strictly on the writing questions and some editing questions as well, because we're coming into the December and that's going to be National Novel editing month, I think, is the unofficial. I don't think it's affiliated with NaNoWriMo. But, you know, writing questions sometimes are neglected on our questions. We tend to get a lot of distribution questions and marketing and promotion questions. And so we thought, let's just give the writing and editing some love this month.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. And that's where it all starts.
Best Novel-Writing App
Michael La Ronn: Yes, absolutely, without it, without a book you cannot self publish. So our first question, Orna, is “What's the best app to write my novel?”
Orna Ross: Okay, so different people will give different answers to this. I'm going to say what has worked really well for me and what I've seen working extremely well for many of our members. And that is Scrivener app and I started using Scrivener years ago. I don't know when they started but I started using it in 2012. And it was fantastic because it was before we had Vellum and other formatting tools that have come along in the meantime. What was wonderful about Scrivener and still is, not a was at all, I still use it for my writing part, especially if it's a complex book.
If it's a very simple book I go straight into Vellum but if it has any sort of complexity at all and if I want to keep tabs on myself, it's really great for NaNoWriMo in that it helps you with your word count. It's got just so much going on, at the level of helping you to build your story, keeping track of where you're going and an organized place to keep your notes and the way in which you can break down the book into, you know, chapters and parts and volume and so on.
It's just, I mean, anyone who's still working with Microsoft Word, you just won't believe how Scrivener can both help your writing along in terms of your visibility, how you get to see the whole shape and structure of the book. But also, it just helps you in terms of speed and productivity to get the books through the system far, far quicker. It's a very modest fee, and a one-off fee which is, you know, and they've kept it to that, and you know, which was actually extremely generous given the amount of functionality you get with it. So, I'm a Scrivener girl. What about you?
Michael La Ronn: I'm a Scrivener guy too. You know, I like to affectionately refer to Scrivener as the caviar of writing software, it just has everything that you would need and almost too much, but that's perfect for the price. So you said everything that I was going to say. The only thing I was going to add is you added Microsoft Word into the equation. Microsoft Word. It's like driving a car, right? You can drive, like, a 1985 Lincoln Town Car, or you can drive a Cadillac Escalade. Scrivener is like the Cadillac Escalade. Right?
It just rides better. It's smoother. You're going to have less maintenance issues. It's a great app. I will mention Ulysses, that is another app I think that is great. I know some people are a little leery about the subscription model but at its heart It is a very good one writing app. And then there are also some other apps that are pretty good, I think. iA Writer is another one that a lot of people use, yWriter is another one on Windows. So that's the good thing about writing apps is there's no shortage of apps out there, you really can just experiment and just figure out which one works best for you.
Orna Ross: Yeah, that's great. And we have focused there on apps that actually help you to write your book. There are also writing apps like ProWritingAid that help you to actually write better and these can be used in conjunction with any of the apps that Michael is talking about.
So yeah, and I would say to those writers who are still working with Word or Pages or something, do yourselves a favor, because, you know, when I look back to my Microsoft Word days, and it was amazing because I go back to the time when cut and paste really was cut and paste – tape and scissors when you have to retype your draft all over again.
And that is how I worked as a journalist for many years. So, you know, when Microsoft Word came along, it was “Wow, this is just amazing. Cut and paste takes two seconds” instead of retyping an entire chapter or an entire article or whatever. So it is fantastic, Word, for short pieces of writing, but for long form fiction or nonfiction it, you know, all I remember doing is constantly scrolling up and down, up and down, up and down. So, you know, yeah, do yourself a favor and get yourself a good writing app. It's the core of your business.
Michael La Ronn: Friends don't let friends write with Microsoft Word.
Orna Ross: Sorry, Microsoft. We love you.
How to Conquer Writer’s Block
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. All right, now the next question is, “How do I conquer writer's block?”
Orna Ross: Oh boy. And I'm going to, I mean, again, there are a thousand answers to this and you need to find your answer. You need to find your way. Again, I'm going to share two things, three, that have worked for me and that I use every day. These are what I think of as the tools that keep me in creative flow. But it is different for everybody. The thing is writer's block is born out of fear. You're afraid of something. You're afraid of putting your words out there. You're afraid of being seen. You're afraid somebody who's going to judge the work, or something I don't know what is at the core of that fear but you are afraid of something and we all exist as artists, as writers, we exist with that fear always.
That becomes part of our life. It lives with you. And the job as a working artist, as a working creative is to manage that fear, to keep it in its place. Because actually, I think of it as creative anxiety. Without that anxiety, which is part of the excitement of challenging yourself and breaking barriers and doing something new. Because that's what creativity is by definition. Without that anxiety, that fear is not there, then there's no traction. There isn't actually any real true creativity going on. So you know, your fear moves in with you the day you decide you're going to write a book and publish a book and you know, put yourself out there and fear comes.
So how do we keep fear in the right place? The creative self can hold the fear and use it as a source of energy. In order for me to do that I have three things that I do. I meditate and I find that meditation is a fantastic way to just stop the surface thoughts, fearful thoughts that can kind of get in the way. I am do what I call effortless exercises. I'm not a sporty person at any level, but I do make sure that the body moves every day and in a rhythmic way. So some form of aerobic exercise has been shown to be linked very closely with creative waves in the brain.
So I make sure that I get, because I sit a lot, I make sure that I get an hour's body movement of some kind each day. Yoga, I also do but you know, it can be walking, it can be jogging, it can be wall tennis is another thing I do, but it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you're moving in a rhythmical way and there are loads of them. And then the third thing I do and I really commend this as a tool to every writer is free writing, setting a timed amount of time or space, you know, in a notebook, three pages or whatever it might be five minutes, 15 minutes, it doesn't matter but it's a set time and during that time you use pen and paper because that's how you learn to write properly in the first place.
And you just go, you just write as fast as you can without judging it and just letting whatever is there appear and come onto the page. This does so many things for you. But mainly, I'm not going to go into all the benefits it has. Just google it, it's been proven to do all sorts of wonderful things for you physically as well as mentally and emotionally.
But what it does for you as a creative is it teaches you not to judge, it teaches you to open the channel wide enough for the stuff to come through without your thinking mind saying “This is good enough,” without your critical mind turning on so that's a kind of a longish answer, and a three part answer, but that's what I do.
Michael La Ronn: That's a great answer. I love all those points, and I especially appreciate the meditation comment. I started doing that a few years ago and you don't have to spend a whole lot of time meditating. I spend maybe five minutes before I write. I find that that clears out my mind. So that's something I think we both have in common. I appreciate that.
And free writing is also a wonderful technique if you just feel like you can't articulate what's bothering you. I was talking to someone yesterday and they use the analogy, we were talking about free writing, they use the analogy of turning on a rusty tap, all the water that comes out first is really bad and nasty, but then it starts to run clear. Right? And so it's kind of like that. So-
Orna Ross: Yeah, that's a really, really good analogy, I think. And I'm actually putting together a guide to free writing and there is some stuff on my blog, if anybody is interested. I'm super interested in free writing. I've taught it for 30 years to loads of people along the way in loads of different situations, not just writers. It's a very powerful tool. So I'm going to use that rusty tap analogy.
Michael La Ronn: Please do, please do. It's out there in the universe now.
Orna Ross: It belongs to us all. Michael La Ronn's friend said-
Michael La Ronn: There you go.
Orna Ross: But the thing about the three kinds of things that I spoke about is that it's body, mind and spirit. And I think there's an integrated thing, you know, that benefits from looking at this question through those three lenses, and sometimes one works at a particular time. Sometimes it's another but finding your way is really the answer to this.
But know that you do need to, it is necessary for you to think of how you're going to, I like to say dissolve writer's block rather than going head to head in some kind of war against it, which I think can use an awful lot of creative energy. So if you find that sort of negativity happening, probably the quickest way to shift that is five minutes meditation, as Michael said, and there's some great apps for meditation if I could do a shout out for Insight Timer App, it's a free app and has gazillions of meditations on it and there lots of others. I know lots of people use Headspace and yeah, what do you use? Or do you use an app?
Michael La Ronn: I don't. But surprisingly, my five year old daughter uses Headspace every day, which is kind of crazy. So I've heard really good things about headspace from my five year old daughter.
Orna Ross: Amazing. We are changing as a species.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, we are.
Orna Ross: I mean, that is new. That gives me hope. Because I think meditation actually is something everybody should do to stop the crazy minds. We're all crazy in one part of our minds, but our meditation mind is peaceful and easy. And yeah, anyway, you can tell I'm very interested in the writer's block question.
Getting Through the ‘Murky Middle’
Michael La Ronn: And I knew you would be that's why I wanted to make sure we would talk about it. So you'd mentioned the word crazy. So now I want to talk about another crazy question and that is “Help! I'm stuck in the murky middle of my novel.” So right around now, for those of you who are doing National Novel Writing Month, you're probably in the middle of your book. And this is the most notorious part of writing a novel. So what tips do does ALLi have to get through the murky middle of a novel?
Orna Ross: Yes. And every novel hits this place, and very often the thing to do, a quick tip that does work sometimes. And again, so many, I think really every writing question doesn't have one answer. So all I kind of want to say again, that all I'm doing is offering some stuff that has worked for me, and that I have seen work for the people when I've passed it on. But there are many ways to approach any of these issues and a kind of a trial and testing approach of exploring different ways.
So again, not getting “Oh my god, dramatic! I'm stuck in the murky middle,” you know, but actually trying a bit of free writing, trying a bit of this and that, exploring and experimenting and seeing what works for you is far better than sitting and feeling stuck. So do anything rather than just kind of sit there thinking about how to unstick yourself, that's probably the least productive thing that can be done.
I have found it really useful to jump to the end. If you know your ending, when you have written all the way up from the front, if you know your ending, then write from the back backwards. And you know, I have found that to be the best shortcut. Now, you may not know exactly what happens in the end but your genre conventions will have, you know, you'll have some idea what happens at the end. And now you've come this far in the book, you're going to have a lot of information about these characters and everything that you didn't have 15 days ago when you started Nano.
So now you can begin to explore the ending in a way that you couldn't before you started. So if I have to give just one tip, that's the one I'd give, jump to the end and start working backwards and you meet in the middle, a lot of the murk would probably fall away, you might be closer to the end than you realize and what you actually need to do is finish it up. And then bulk up a little bit of what you've written already to make it make it work in terms of foreshadowing and stuff.
You know, when you've written that end, you may get your word count, not by adding in loads of stuff in the murky middle, but by actually, you know, getting quickly to the climax of the book and then going back into write in the end, as it were, near your stuff that you've already written.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that's a great comment, you know, coming unstuck in time, right, as Dean Wesley Smith would say, it can kind of help you reconnect with the story. So that's perfect. Another tip I would give with now beginning the murky middle is, it's kind of a weird analogy, but I was sitting at a training a while back and there was a guy talking about Navy SEALs training. United States Navy SEALs go through some of the toughest training in the world. And one of the things they teach the SEALS when they're training is what's called a micro action. So instead of thinking about “How am I going to finish boot camp?” Don't think about that.
Think about, as you're crawling through the mud, think about moving your arm to get to the next inch. Right? And so if you think about that, that means writing that next sentence, right? And so if you focus on that, don't focus so much on on stuck in the middle, I don't know where I'm going. I don't know what my character is going to do. Just focus on that next sentence. Because if you can do that, if you can write the next sentence, and then the next sentence and then the next sentence, you add enough of those up, you'll end up out of the murky middle at some point.
And so when you're in the middle of it, it feels really tough. Like, it's really challenging. When you look back on the sections that you wrote in the middle, you're not going to really see that struggle. You're going to be like, “Oh, that was completely obvious to me.” You know, when you're done and you're editing, but it's not going to feel like that at the time. And so I think that perseverance and that that courageousness to just write that next sentence, or even that next word, I think is vitally important at this stage of the novel. It takes a lot of courage.
Orna Ross: That's a fantastic tip. It's what it's all about. Because whether it's in the murky middle or at the beginning or the end, we all have those days, weeks, sometimes it can last for even longer than that. And it's that ability to keep going. And I think it's so important what you said there about, you know, our feelings that we bring to the book are one thing, it's like that has a whole life that's going on. But often when you look back over a book, the stuff that you really struggled with is actually, you know, you're amazed that it actually is quite, quite fine. and stuff that came easily is not as great as you thought it was.
So, you know, you need distance from the book. I think of those times and periods and murky middle or whenever it kicks in as a test. You know, what you're saying there is so applicable, I think, you do, you have what it takes to just keep going. Do you have what it takes to feel terrible, but write the next sentence anyway? And that is where people fall off. So huge numbers of people begin books but here is where it falls away. And in a way you train yourself to become a writer and an author, a writer of long form. you train yourself to do that, by what Michael was talking about.
Navy SEAL training, next sentence and that's how you actually become a person who does write books because if you're going to get into that then the book will never be written and there are a lot of people in that state. Once you get your first draft done. It's far, far more likely you're going to have, well, you can't have a published book, as Michael said at the beginning, without getting your first draft done. So yeah, we're rooting for you. Keep going.
How to Find a Beta Reader
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. Alright, so shifting now towards some editorial questions. So let's say I finished my novel during National Novel Writing Month. Where do I find a beta reader?
Orna Ross: Great. Well, we have services in our directory, our approved services directory. So for those who don't know, the Alliance of Independent Authors runs a partner membership also as well as three author member types. So our partner members are all people, many of whom are authors themselves who offer services to authors of various kinds and we have a directory of those members. And that directory can be read by anyone on our website. It can only be downloaded and printed by our members. But you can peruse it, whether you're w a member or not and you'll find it at Allianceindependentauthors.org/members-directory.
And so in there, there are a couple of beta reader services who will actually work with beta readers, people who have signed up to be a beta reader and they will actually organize that whole process for you. Another great source is your own community. If you've been running a blog, you know, if you've been putting extracts of your book out there, if you've written other books before and you know, you've got your email list of any size or shape, the people who are closest to you make great beta readers because they're already interested in what you do.
And we also then have a member's forum and we do get people who put callouts regularly on the forum for people to act as beta readers for them. In your genre groups is another good place to do that because it's important that any beta reader you do choose has a sense of the genre, already reads in that genre and understands the tropes and everything.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, those are great. You covered covered all the major places. I don't want to be a little bit of a Debbie Downer here. But first thing, beta readers are amazing, right? Because these are people that take their time from their families from work, and they perform a service for you in reading your novel and offering you feedback, right? That is the greatest virtue of beta readers.
And that's why you should treat them exceedingly well. Right? But that same virtue is also the downside of beta readers in that because this is something that they're volunteering for, they may not be able to hit their deadlines, right? And so if you are relying on beta readers to get feedback for your book, you may not be able to get that it's quickly as you want. Right.
And so the beta reader services that Orna mentioned on our partner member directory, I think those are pretty important. I did something earlier this year that, it was an experiment and it worked really, really well. And that is there actually is a, I don't want to call it a cottage industry. But there are a number of people out there who actually offer paid beta reader services, right? So I actually went on a site like UpWork, and actually posted a description of my book. And I said, “I'm looking for urban fantasy beta readers, people who specifically read urban fantasy, I will pay you X and X dollars to read the book by x date. And I just want your feedback on a couple of different things.”
And I actually got like four people who did it. And I will tell you that all of them met my deadline, if not earlier. So you know, if you've got a little bit of cash to spare, you don't have to pay them a whole lot. But if you've got a little bit to spare, you know, you can buy beta readers, just make sure that these are people that are going to do what they say they're going to do. But I just thought I would throw that out there. A paid beta reader is a beta reader who will meet their deadline.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. That's great. I love that. And I think one of our services, actually, it is a paid service. And again, it's not hugely expensive. And if it's your first novel, if you're doing Nano for the first time, you will need a developmental editor. And the thing about paying for a beta service is that it will actually cut down on the amount of money you need to spend on developmental editing later on. So it can be a more cost effective way of approaching that developmental work that every book needs to some degree, but that a first time novel, in particular, needs more than any other type of book. So yeah, great tip, Michael.
How to Self-Edit Your Novel
Michael La Ronn: Alright, so the next question is “What are the best tips for self editing my novel?”
Orna Ross: I'm going to recommend a book for that. It's a book. It's a classic. It's been around for a very long time. And I meant to write down the names. It's a co authored book. It will be in the show notes because of the length of the author's name, but the name of the book is Self Editing For Fiction Writers or something like that.
Michael La Ronn: Dave King and Renni Brown are the authors.
Orna Ross: Thank you. Yeah, it's a classic. So I think if you haven't mastered the techniques that are outlined in that book that that is your starting place. And I think anybody, again, who's starting with NaNo and I know loads of you are not starting. I know loads of you who, you know, have written many, many books and are doing NaNo again. But especially for those who are starting out, I just think it's a great book. And I'm sure Michael has loads of self editing tips.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, no, that's a great book. That would have been in my top three recommendations. It's a phenomenal book. So definitely go out and buy that. One thing I did that helped me learn some of the basics of self editing, was your editor, for the most part is probably going to use the Chicago Manual style when they are making revisions and if there's any kind of conflicts in your book, so why not just read the Chicago Manual style, you know, go to your library, you don't necessarily need to read the most recent edition.
You know, you can get an older edition at your library. It's going to have the same spirit of what your editor is going to be doing. Pick that up, read it, understand it, you know, how do you spell out certain words if you have a number for example, do you spell it out or do you use the numerals? What happens if you've got a situation where you've got an ordered list? How do you handle those sorts of situations?
It seems minor, but those are the things that your editors going to constantly be correcting, you know, from a formatting perspective. And if you can give your editor a manuscript that has 99% of those things gone, your editor is going to love you. And you're going to have a cleaner manuscript to begin with. So it's almost like meeting your editor halfway. So I think that was something that helped me very early on.
Orna Ross: It's a great idea. And I think authors who haven't worked with an editor that, you know, don't realize how useful it is to give very clean, as clean as you can get it manuscript to the editor, because I hear very often authors say, “But you know, it's going to my editor anyway, so I didn't bother about this or that or the other”. And the thing is that every manuscript can be improved. So if you're giving over something that you know, hasn't kind of tidied it up at that level you're giving your editor that amount of work to do, they won't get to doing other things that might improve your work at a different sort of level, at the sentence structure level, say, or use of metaphor level or whatever it might be. Inconsistencies in the work.
If you're giving them a lot of work to do that level, then you're missing out on all the work that they could be doing. Because most editors would approach the work in a certain way, depending on the condition of the manuscript. So if they see a lot of that kind of what you might call rookie error in in the book, then that's the level of which they're going to approach us because they can't leave any of that in and you pay them a certain amount of money and that's the amount of time they're going to put into it and that's the kind of work you're going to get. If you can tidy all that up for them, then you're getting an edit at a different level of of input. And so that's a really great tip and, you know, most experienced writers keep the Chicago Manual or whichever manual they use by their desk in their folder, you know, very easily accessible.
The better you are as a writer, and the more experienced you are as a writer, the more you use your dictionary, your style manual, and your thesaurus. A lot of people think that you use these more at the beginning. It's the opposite as you go on and on and become more attuned to the nuances of meanings of words and so on. That's when you really begin to understand the value of these important tools.
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. And we have a comment from Regina Joyce Clark, I'm sorry, I missed this a little earlier. She says “What a great idea of writing backwards that just might work.”
Orna Ross: Hey, go for it, Regina.
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. There's no right or wrong answer in this industry. That's one of the greatest things about writing. You can do anything, any way you want to do it. And if it works, keep doing it.
Orna Ross: Keep doing it and if it doesn't, drop it as quickly as you can. Don't bang your head off something that isn't working for you. You should be enjoying every writing session. If you're not, you're probably trying to do something that doesn't suit you. So do something else instead.
Diversity in Books
Michael La Ronn: Exactly. Alright, one last question here. This is a, maybe a little bit of a Pandora's Box question. “Should I include people of other races in my book?” This comes up quite often.
Orna Ross: That's essentially the question. Yes.
Michael La Ronn: Let's add more context to this. So let's say, for example, I am an African American author, and I have never been to Australia. But I want to write a book with a Aboriginal main character.
Orna Ross: Okay.
Michael La Ronn: That ‘s kind of the spirit of this. I've never met an Aboriginal person. Or maybe I have, but I want to write a book about them. How do I? Should I do that? Or do I? Should I not do that?
Orna Ross: Got it. Okay, brilliant. So yes is my short answer, yes with these very, very important qualifications. So yes, in the sense that I applaud any effort to move outside our own, you know, culture, gender, race, whatever. I think that's a good thing. And I think it's one of the most valuable and important things about fiction is imaginative empathy and sympathy and expansion of that for us as writers and for readers, you know, that whole imaginative thing that happens within the reading and writing of a novel is actually one of the most core benefits and most important things about telling stories. The story does this for us as human beings like nothing else does. But and the but is just enormous.
It's the size of Australia. It's really, really important to be authentic. So if you're just smattering in diversity for the sake of it or because you think you should, or because you're kind of half fascinated with Aboriginal culture and you know, you think it will kind of get more readers or you'll get readers in Australia, if you put it in or, you know, any of those kinds of reasonings and intentions, then you're entering dangerous territory as a novelist. So it has to be authentic.
It has to be 100% authentic and how you prove that to yourself and to your readers is the work that you put into it. So if you don't live in that culture, if you're not experienced in that culture, you've got to do a lot of research and you've got to do it at the level of, you know, what we think of this research so you will probably and I would say, you should go there and if you can't go there because you can't afford to go there you have to really go there in research and books, online and in other sorts of ways, but not just that sort of research of visiting the place, making notes and reading widely and deeply about the culture, and the people and reading lots of other novels that are set in that world, not just that.
Also, research your own wish for doing this, where it comes from in your own life and in your own world. And so researching your memory for where this connection came from, and what it's all about for you as the writer and what value that might have for anyone who reads the book, and also research of the imagination. So you don't have to have lived or experience what you write about, but it must be fully developed at the imaginable level. And that takes a great deal of time and input. So with that caveat, yes, please. Diversity in books.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. Absolutely I agree with everything you said. And I would also add diversity in fiction is important. Right? If you are going to do it, I just talked to somebody, talk to somebody with that background and ask them, “Hey, would you read a couple chapters of this? What do you think?” Because often you can do all the research in the world but what's going to end up being your Achilles heel are the things that you never thought of?
Because we all have blind spots we all have, you might write something in a novel that could be perceived as something totally that you didn't intend. Alright? So I highly recommend you talk to somebody. And then I also recommend that if you're going to take this risk, if you're going to do it, you've got to be willing to take the feedback, right? So if somebody emails you and says, “Hey, what you wrote here is possibly offensive or so on so forth.”
I think you got to be courageous enough to listen and understand and grow because that's how we get better as a community. So it doesn't just apply to, you know, main characters, it also applies to minor characters, settings, you know, all these sorts of things, just, you know, just be willing to hear, accept the feedback as well.
Orna Ross: I think great, that's really important. And I think, you know, you may not get everything right. And Michael's absolutely right. It's what you don't know you don't know that's going to kind of hang you. So we get a lot, I'm Irish, and a lot of Irish American people want to write an Irish novel. And very often, it's those details that they get wrong. It's, you know, it's kind of how Ireland is imagined in our minds is what the book is about, rather than Ireland as a real place, or whatever.
But if the imaginative sympathy is there, if the heart and soul of what they are writing about is there, then it doesn't matter that much if small things are wrong, they can be corrected and and this kind of book probably is a book that does need specific at these are readers with reference to the earlier question. So get as much input into it as you can get, but yeah, I absolutely applaud your wish to do this and good luck and let us know how it goes.
Michael La Ronn: Yep. And with that, we're going to close the lid on Pandora's box.
Orna Ross: Very good.
Michael La Ronn: All right, those are questions.
Orna Ross: Okay. So that's another week. So next time, it's our last show of the year Michael, I cannot believe it and then, yeah, so we'll be back to, I think, more general publishing questions next time. You may have end of the year questions or coming up next year kind of planning questions, we'd be really happy to take anything on that. And yeah, but always happy to hear your questions, send them into [email protected] or use the submission form and we will take as many of them as we can this time next month. So until then, happy writing and happy publishing.
Michael La Ronn: Take care.
Orna Ross: Bye bye now.
Self-Publishing News with Dan Holloway
Howard Lovy: Now for Self-Publishing News with Dan Holloway, who, as we mentioned before, is the fastest man in Europe – when it comes to reading, that is and I understand that there is a documentary made about you being the fastest man in Europe.
Dan Holloway: The good people at Quartz magazine followed me around for a few days this autumn during the European Speed Reading Championships, and then they came to Oxford. It was really good. We got to film in our local bookshop in Blackwells which has the largest Reading Room in the world. So that made for a nice shot. They took some film with me speed reading there. So that was a nice link to a local bookstore.
Howard Lovy: How did they take a film of you speed reading? Do you read to yourself?
Dan Holloway: It's really not very interesting. It's literally me doing my thing with running my finger under the words and following my eyes as they move. They added music and special effects and dramatic commentary, because the actual act of reading isn't particularly a spectator sport. So, what have you been up to?
Howard Lovy: Turns out my book editing businesses is booming. I haven't advertised it much except, you know, Twitter and word of mouth, but it seems to be spreading from client to client and I'm enjoying it a lot. It's almost to the point where I might have to actually launch an actual business instead of just, you know, one guy.
And other than that I've reached this point in my social media where a lot of what I'm writing about Jewish issues is being picked up and discussed everywhere. But I have yet to find the time to translate all those followers into subscribers. So maybe an email newsletter is next or Patreon. I'm not sure what to do with all this. People are paying attention to what I'm saying. But I need to learn how to monetize that.
Dan Holloway: Well, interestingly enough, one of the articles in this week's news relates to that, which is about WordPress. WordPress has just launched a subscription payment service so you can make it easy for people to come to your blog and make repeat payments to you. Any of the WordPress paid plans will do it or the wordpress.org software. So that's quite an exciting development for people who want to develop their subscription business but not use a platform for it, but rather do it on their own.
Howard Lovy: Right, right. Well, that's a sure test to see whether people really enjoy what I have to say or just want a quick and free so-
Dan Holloway: Yeah, exactly.
Howard Lovy: Let's talk about the future, which I think is something you enjoy discussing. There's a conference coming up called FutureBook. But the way you describe it in your latest blog post, it doesn't sound like you're too sure about it. Tell us what's going on.
Dan Holloway: FutureBook is a fascinating conference. It's celebrating its 10th anniversary. It's happening next Monday. And it's always been a conference I've been slightly ambivalent about. I think it's more that the publishing world when it comes to the future is so far behind a lot of other industries that what feels like it's at the cutting edge of publishing, if you were to transport it into music or film or gaming, it would seem quite backward.
So I think that's the problem that publishing has that when we talk about the future of publishing, that's the issue that seems to get drawn out. But it's actually got a really fascinating schedule. So the things I'm looking forward to, I'm looking forward to discussing educational publishing. This has hit the news. And again, this week at Amazon, they've got a new, a new self publishing platform for educational materials called Ignite, which is really interesting. So the publishing industry seems to be welcoming self publishers a little bit more. So I'm looking forward to seeing how we can do things like creating seminars, creating materials and selling them rather than simply creating textbooks.
Howard Lovy: Right, right. And I know it's a problem in the States and I assume it's a problem in England, too. The price of textbooks are just, you know, out of this world, just horrible.
Dan Holloway: Yes, absolutely. It's one of the things that has always driven the piracy debate is academic publishing, because it's just so expensive that a lot of students can't afford the textbooks they need, then there's also quite a lot looking at coding and the importance of understanding technology, and what we can do to empower ourselves when it comes to learning things like coding.
Howard Lovy: I'm sorry, I just nodded off for a second there when you said coding. And I think a lot of authors want to stay away from that. Are we really going to have to start coding more?
Dan Holloway: I think we, you know, my feeling on technology in general is that everyone should know enough to know when we're being scammed. When it comes to things like blockchain, artificial intelligence, there are a lot of people selling us things on the back of terminology and dazzling us with technology.
And so we need to know enough about technology to know which of those is totally empty. Also, when it comes to things like monetizing our own websites, developing our own materials, the more we can code, the more we can get around a lot of the peripheral costs.
So Emma Barnes, who is running the coding at FutureBook, she's a publisher, she runs a publishing an indie publishing house called Snow Books. But she found that she couldn't find the software that did what she needed to do for her supply chain. So she learned coding to develop it herself, and now she also runs a software company. That's something that we can do to make our own lives easier.
Howard Lovy: Right. Right. Okay, so just enough to solve the problems that you have to solve.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, yes. I think everyone, it would be really good if we did enough to solve the problems you need to solve. Some of us get more excited about it than others I'm well aware.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, yeah, well, for me, you know, there's a steep learning curve. And there's the point where I start pounding on my desk saying “I'm an artist, you know, I should be writing instead of coding” but then once I get it, I get it and then it's done. But there's a frustration level, I think, and I think a lot of writers just wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.
Dan Holloway: But that's one of the great things about having ALLi is that there are enough of us there to provide the watchdog information on behalf of the people.
Howard Lovy: So you will attend FutureBooks so we don't have to. Okay, wonderful.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. The other interesting streams, there's lots of talking about audio, obviously, and data. That's the other big thing. So data that we might use for marketing. The keynote speaker is the guy who used to be better known as data guy from the author earnings report. He now runs a company that sells data to publishers, there will be a lot of discussion about what data is useful, what data is not useful.
Howard Lovy: Great. Well, that's definitely of interest to Self Publishers.
Dan Holloway: Yeah.
Howard Lovy: Indie publishers, because you know, discovery is a big, it's a big deal.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. So metadata is like gold dust for us if we can get metadata right. So it's knowing what's important, but also knowing what's not important because there's so much out there that you can't do everything. So anything that can help you find that.
Howard Lovy: Great, well, we'll look forward to reading all your coverage and you'll make it all understandable to everybody. So let's talk briefly, also, about international markets. Apparently Amazon is doing some surprising things there or not doing some surprising things.
Dan Holloway: Well, yeah, it was really surprising to read this week, but then thinking about it, it's not surprising, it makes sense that it's the fifth anniversary of the last time that Amazon opened a new Kindle store which is kind of extraordinary because I'm used to reporting almost every week on companies like Storytel, and StreetLib opening new local markets. And I know StreetLib, for example, has committed to having a national local store in every nation in Africa.
Storytel has just opened their 19th International store in South Korea, and Amazon who sort of have this mission to make, as I think Jeff Bezos put it and as Mark Williams quotes, “Every book available in every language,” and yet, they're not opening more local stores. So my sense is that they're focusing much more on physical infrastructure.
So there have been lots of deals done recently where they've acquired logistics companies or logistics chains. So the WholeFoods deal and there's a story just this week that they've bought a large depot in Denmark. And we know that they've been buying up warehousing in Australia.
So they're focusing much more on the infrastructure, it seems and obviously at bookstores so it seems to be that they're looking at print and of course audio much more than they are looking at ebooks these days. Which is –
Howard Lovy: That's amazing. They pioneered ebooks and now they're into brick and mortar.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, it feels like a very strange world that we're entering and maybe the strangeness will provide lots of opportunities for us.
Howard Lovy: Right. Exactly. Yeah. Interesting. Okay. Well, anything else going on that we should know?
Dan Holloway: I guess just one last point on that same issue that, again, the story this week that Mark Williams reminded us of which is Alibaba in China that they make I think it's three times as much money on a daily basis as Amazon do and they just had their what they call Global Singles Day or their big sales day and it took them 68 seconds to make their first billion dollars of sales and Amazon makes under a billion dollars of sales every day.
So I think the point he was making is that China is one of the largest book markets in the world, but it's still a massively under-exploited market. So if Alibaba really throws themselves behind the Chinese ebook market, then things could shift very dramatically, very quickly.
Howard Lovy: Okay, well, great. Well, thank you. We will look forward to your reports from the future.
Dan Holloway: Super.
Howard Lovy: And you have a great month.
Dan Holloway: Brilliant, thank you, speak to you soon.