Kay: 2019 Trends in Publishing

For those of you who are interested in publishing news and trends (and who among us isn’t?), Jane Friedman’s newsletter for traditionally published and indie-published authors, The Hot Sheet, is a great resource. The annual subscription cost is $59, but there’s a free trial period. And for those who don’t want more stuff coming into their inbox, Friedman did a roundup of trends on her web site that I thought was interesting. She covered both fiction and nonfiction; here are a few highlights about fiction for 2019:

  • Print sales are flat, and the ebook market for traditional publishers has declined every year since 2014.
  • Digital audiobooks are doing well. Binge listening is a thing. One editor received an audio rights offer for a wordless picture book. (I wonder how that works?)
  • The top YA fiction category is science fiction/magic.
  • Psychological suspense remains popular, but has started to fade. Horror and dystopian novels are experiencing a resurgence.
  • The current reader mood: escape combined with nostalgia. Millennial readers are nostalgic for life before social media (the cutoff is around 2006).
  • High concept can sell a book, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to a long sales life. Long-term sales success depends on good storytelling and voice, books with deeper layers that move readers, who give it strong word of mouth. However, a good hook never hurts.
  • Authors are more responsible than ever for marketing. Authors who think of themselves as public figures are well positioned to succeed.
  • All publishers are buying graphic novels, and readers of every age group are reading them.
  • Studios and producers are open to all kinds of voices and stories and are buying more middle grade and YA work for TV and movie adaptations. Works that are better suited to episodic format find a place among the streaming options.

Some of these trends looked familiar, but I was surprised by some of this news, too. My view is that authors shouldn’t try to write to a trend, but if you have a bunch of ideas rattling around and you can write fast, maybe it’s worth trying to hit a current sweet spot.

What about you? Have you witnessed any of these trends yourself, or does any speak to what you’re working on?

Kay: A Room of One’s Own

Photo by Hannah Olinger

A long time ago, I entered an ugly period in which I had four weeks to finish my master’s thesis or be thrown out of the graduate program. I’d taken too much time; the administration was done with me. And if I’d been thrown out—and if I still wanted the degree—I’d have had to start over, take the coursework over, choose a new thesis topic, start a new thesis.

This ultimatum hit me especially hard because I was ready to move across the country. I’d given up my house. I literally had nowhere to go, no place to set up my typewriter.

Until a friend said to me, Come to our place. We have a spare room. I’ll bring you tea and sandwiches. You don’t ever have to go out. Just come and stay and write your thesis. You can do it.

And because she gave me a room of my own, I did finish the thesis in record time and defended it before I left town.

This year is the 90th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a critique of a literary tradition dominated by men and an exploration of female exclusion from independence, income, and education (“Woman have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves,” she writes at one point.).

Essentially Woolf says that for women to write, they need the physical and emotional space to do it, and the monetary means to sustain themselves. This aspect of Woolf’s analysis no doubt points to her middle- to upper-class upbringing, and Alice Walker wrote expanding on Woolf’s theme, pointing to the women of color who have found careers as authors without either room or means. Still, Woolf isn’t wrong. As journalist Suzanne Moore says about the anniversary of A Room of One’s Own:

When we ask, “What are the conditions necessary for women to write in?” we are really asking, “What are the conditions necessary for women to think in?” It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated. We are asking if what we think may ever be taken seriously or even valued.

What are the conditions women need to write and think? Maybe you don’t have a room of your own. You share, you have a family, or roommates, or whatever. Maybe you have a desk, a corner of the dining room table, a sofa after 10pm. I see people writing in cafes and other noisy, public spaces. I could never do this, but I’d never say it’s a bad idea for everyone.

You can’t reinvent the conditions you’re in, but these conditions are your fuel—anger, frustration, despair, revenge, love, silliness, need—whatever. Writing is your way to clarity, to understanding what’s important. That is its power. It’s about listening and thinking through all the information that’s thrown at us, finding a voice in the cacophony. So go for it.

What about you? Do you have a room of your own? Or have you read Woolf’s essay?

 

 

Kay: Writing Retreats

This is the home of authors Stephen and Tabitha King in Bangor, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Now that we are in the month of NaNo, many of us are hunkered down, grinding out a daily 1,667 words letting our imaginations take flight in a concentrated, one-month writing extravaganza.

You can maybe tell this is not my thing.

However, I am deeply attracted to the idea of a writers retreat, where people can go and maybe write or maybe just cogitate or brainstorm. I like the idea of getting away from daily life, a healthy disruption that removes us from our routines and can jar those neurons into bouncing in new directions.

So here’s a retreat I’d like to try: Continue reading

Kay: The Legend of Fuyao

Advertising poster for the Chinese television series, “The Legend of Fuyao”

I read a lot, but I also like to watch TV. However, finding something engaging is hard. There’s a lot out there, but most of it seems not to be written for me. The dramas are too grim (“ripped from the headlines,” thank you, no), and the comedies often don’t hit my funny bone. I dislike a lot of the casting and story structure: almost everybody is white, and men get all/most of the good parts. Women are often sexualized, or they’re plot points. (I know: there’s always Shonda Rhimes. Too much soap opera.) To further limit my choices, I’m in the 10 percent of the U.S. population that doesn’t subscribe to “paid television services.” No cable or dish for me: I stick to “antenna TV.”

But I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I have more choice here—including programming in foreign languages—than if I lived in a rural area. A while back, as I channel surfed past the Chinese station, I saw that the broadcast, a scripted drama, had subtitles in English and another Asian language I didn’t recognize. Curious, I stayed to watch for a bit.

And got hooked.

The Legend of Fuyao, starring Yang Mi and Ethan Juan, is a 2018 Chinese television series based on the novel Empress Fuyao by Tianxia Guiyuan. The first year has 66 episodes, putting American TV production schedules to shame, and it moves at a dizzying pace. Here, roughly speaking, is the plot:

Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Which Cover Works?

The current cover, circa 2012

I was so pleased with the covers I commissioned for the “Phoebe” trilogy I just finished that I took a look at the rest of my books with a new eye. Back in the old days, six or seven years ago, when ebooks were still pretty new and finding freelancers who had good skill sets for book design was more difficult, I had some covers commissioned that I thought in the end were all right but not wonderful.

This first cover to the left is one of them. I like the image a lot, but I’ve never liked the type treatment. And these days, it’s design best practices to have some kind of tag line on the cover that gives readers a third hint (after the image and the title) of what’s in the book.

Maybe, I thought last week, it was time to redo these old covers.

Betting on Hope is set in Las Vegas. Hope, our heroine, holds her family (sister, mother, niece) together with a lick and a prayer. And then to her shock, she finds out that her father, a professional card player, lost their ranch—the family home and her sister’s livelihood—in a poker game.

Cover 1

Cover 2

A child prodigy poker player herself, Hope had given up the game long ago after too many betrayals by her father. But when the family is given thirty days to move out, she decides to try to win the place back from the east coast Mob boss who won it.

She enlists the professional players from her past to help her brush up her game. They introduce her to the hero and his daughter. The Mob boss brings his moll to Vegas and then the wife shows up. Not to mention, the Russians. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Cover 3

Cover 4

There’s a lot of poker playing in the book, and a lot of the reviews on Amazon think the story is “about” gambling. When I wrote it, I thought the book was about what family is and means. I read thirteen (count ’em! Thirteen!) books about Texas Hold ’em, the game Hope plays, and by the time I was finished reading those books, I’d decided that people who play poker professionally can benefit from luck, but they must have skill to win consistently, which is what makes professional card players not the same as gamblers, who rely solely on luck, unless they cheat.

Cover 5

But as we learned at McDaniel, the book you write is only half the experience. The reader brings the other half.

I mention all this by way of pointing out that some of these covers are more about card playing, and some of the covers de-emphasize this aspect. But I’m interested in what cover best reveals the story.

I have my favorites. What do you think?

 

Kay: Revision—Harder Than It Seems

photo by DoubleDebtSingleWoman.com

I’ve been in the throes of revision for some time (and will be for some time to come). Recently, I was stuck on something my development editor told me to do: shorten the first three chapters by combining them in two. When I looked at the material, I saw she was right that the chapters were too long, and I deleted without qualms about 3,000 words—one-third of the material the editor thought needed to go. But how to combine the chapters? What else had to be cut? I didn’t see a way.

Enter Jilly. She read the pages and offered some great suggestions. When I looked at her comments, all I could think was, why didn’t I see that?

Revision is hard, maybe harder than writing the first draft. Continue reading

Kay: The Indie Paradox

I’ve been struggling this past week about what it means to be a writer and how much time and treasure a person should sink into the process. Let me explain.

Several years ago, the company for which I freelanced forwarded a request to me from a person who was looking for editorial help on his fiction project. He’s a nice guy, my contact said, who has a story to tell.

The writer told me he’d written a draft, but it needed more work and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. It was 216 pages.

I asked him what he wanted me to do. A line or content edit? Write the transitions? Shape it? Continue reading