Write to Market

I belong to a wonderfully supportive writer’s group where, over the years, we have struck a balance between supporting each other and offering constructive criticism to help each other improve our craft and our manuscripts. It is a multi-genre group, primarily fiction, but with poets and non-fiction.

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This week, John Putnam, one of our most successful authors, who has written several historical Western novels about the Gold Rush, explained how having taken our prior comments into account, is keeping a specific action scene. He had given it some thought and decided that it aligns with his target audience. None of us generally read Western novels and I admire how he has stuck to his guns (probably Colt 45’s or a trusty Winchester!) and, while considering our advice, has stayed focused on what his readers want and expect.

At the same meeting, a wonderful colleague mentioned how she thought some of my female characters in Kingfisher: Slave to Honor were too dark for her taste. It is a fair point and I am wondering about balancing her feedback with the fact that this manuscript is meant for a Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy audience (think Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin). 

The concept of Write-to-Market is to know who your target audience – your readers – are and what they expect. Your mother might not like it even though she still claims you’re the greatest author ever, but then she does not buy other novels in your genre.

I listen to many podcasts, read marketing books and articles, hopefully by successful authors as I try to fathom my way through the ever-changing tools available to market the Wycaan Master series. A commonality among these authors is the need to write for those who read your books. It sounds simple, but I’ve lost count of writers who have assured me that everyone would love their novel – and I ran a writer’s marketing group for years for the California Writers Club and spoken to various forums on the topic.

It is incumbent to understand who are reading your genre, where they hang out, and what they want. How do we find that out? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Goodreads – the Facebook of bibliophiles has groups dedicated to genres. Hang out there and don’t just sell your books, ask good questions to mine for data you really want.
  2. Follow Successful Authors – choose 3-5 authors who are several rungs ahead of you and follow them. Check out their website, subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on twitter and, read their books (buy them – they rely on royalties just like you).
  3. Kindle Boards – I feel a bit hypocritical here because I only go there when I want an answer to something. But I am always so impressed by the enthusiasm and honesty of those who hang out there.
  4. Survey – solicit your contact list for advice. I did this years ago when The First Decree was published and learned a lot about who was reading my novel and how popular the Young Adult epic fantasy is with adults.

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I hope this blog post has inspired you to focus on your target audience and take the time to research before you invest time and money in certain marketing tactics. It has helped me. I am planning a survey of Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy readers. If you’re a member of the tribe, I hope you’ll participate.

Good Writing,

Alon / elfwriter 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books.

More on the author can be found at his website and you can sign up for his quarterly eNewsletter here.

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Crumbs of the Great Craft Masters

I want to give credit to Toby Hewson who gave me this idea: What I learned from the Gods of Fantasy? I have learned from many authors, not just the craft masters, but this post will focus on the select few. 

Terry Pratchett taught me about invention of an old theme. He created a world that was fantastical and yet so familiar. His satirical approach to Discworld was always engrossing and we welcomed familiar themes as they surfaced among the new ideas in each new novel.

George RR Martin taught me about depth of character in supporting roles. There is no excuse for making every single character special or unpredictable. It does not have to happen immediately, but when a character steps from the limelight to center stage, we are enthralled, but not totally surprised. This is a huge task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for him.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

Stephen King taught me about simplicity of language and being accessible to readers. I am too much of a wimp to appreciate his stories, but On Writing is my writing Bible, and required reading…annually.
J.R.R. Tolkien taught me the opposite. It is possible to write elaboration, flowery, delightful fantasy prose. Can you describe a forest in three pages? Y’betcha and they will even make it into a movie or six. Tolkien also taught me the importance of giving my fantasy world a sense of history and leveraging that throughout the saga.

Terry Brooks taught me about having a well-worked story that had no loose ends or unnecessary scenes so the story flows. Brooks also has built a rich history of his world – Shannara – and a genealogy that excites his many followers. Again, his writing is very balanced between plot (action) and character development. He has the ability to give a strong and distinctive voice to each of his main characters.

Terry Goodkind is edgy without going over-the-top. His stories are simpler, but he adds little traits to make his characters familiar to us and a great job bonding us to them.

R.A. Salvatore taught me to create a rich world and non-stereotypical characters. His first Drizzt book takes place underground and is so impressive. I remember being blown away by it. I have not been disappointed going forward.

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There is much we can learn from these masters of our craft, but the most important one is READ, READ, READ.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

10 Takeaways From George RR Martin

Isabel Berwick had lunch with Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, and wrote this great article for the Financial Times. This post is not meant to replace it, but here are a few takeaways that stood out to me, for those of us who love and write epic fantasy. Please do read her article. It is very interesting, but be warned – it will make you hungry!

George RR Martin

1) During their lunch,  George RR Martin sees a map in Ms. Berwick’s “giant slab of breaded chicken.” He points to different parts and explains: “There are various little inlets where cities could be.”

I have seen elves in coffee shops and magical tunnels in my local park. These magical worlds are not hidden from us, they are right in front of our eyes.

2) Having famous fans of your works helps. Apparently, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg held a Game of Thrones-themed barbecue which made the news.

3) Martin didn’t have much as a child as his family struggled to keep financially afloat, but the seeds were sown – he was “the kid with his nose in a book.” Stephen King speaks of the need to be constantly reading – in your genre and outside.

 4) There are explicit sexual scenes in Game of Thrones (though I don’t remember much from the book apart from one scene – I have only read the first so far). This caught my attention because I use sex in my social-justice themed novels. Both A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist has vivid sex scenes. I believe these can reveal so much about a character, but I suspect HBO saw the fact that people like sex on their screens was reason enough.

5) It is okay to fail with a few books. Martin expected his breakthrough would come with his fourth book, Armageddon Rag, about a rock band. He concedes that: “it was the worst-selling of all my novels and essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” The most important lesson from this is DON’T GIVE UP!

6). When asked about his world-building, Martin, despite his success, is quick to give credit to J.R.R. Tolkien: “There were thousands of years of fantasy before Tolkien but the way it is shaped as a modern commercial publishing genre and the fantasy books that have been written in the past half century have all been influenced by Tolkien. So it still sort of defines the playing field.”

Martin has shown us that Tolkien’s legacy continues. People want to immerse into a rich world and are ready to read deep and vivid descriptions. 

7) Leave your own mark. Martin feels that his strong women, just as politically contriving and sexually adept, send a strong message that the female character needs to be as strong and vivid as the males.

I also think the way he perceives a hero is unique. John Smith and Tyrion Lannister are as close as I got to a hero (Edard Stark cuts a more typical Man For All Seasons-type hero). But they are clearly flawed and tainted enough to only just stand out from the rest. I admire this aspect of Martin – I am not aware who else succeeds in doing this.

8) Martin believes that maps are very important. I have talked about them in this blog before, but he confirms the necessity. It was important enough, he notes, to be at the beginning of each HBO episode. 

 9) The reader is willing to cope with many characters. This means the writer needs to stay extremely organized. Martin has over 1,000 characters in his series and his plots are both complex and spread over years. 

There are many ways to keep track of plots and characters. I think methodology is a very individual choice and will touch on this in a later blog. What is certain is that the passionate reader will remember what happened several years ago and not forgive you the error.

10) Martin, the successful author is traveling around the world.  I am sure it is very interesting and gratifying, but you can tell a writer when he says: “These trips are fun but they do interfere with my writing.”

Write. Write. Write. This is a busy period for me at the work which puts the food on the table. Anticipating this, I am mainly editing and blogging. The next book will wait for a quieter part of the year. But man, am I cranky!  

Finally, I just loved this quote. It requires no comment.

“When I am writing best, I really am lost in my world. I lose track of the outside world. I have a difficult time balancing between my real world and the artificial world. When the writing is going really well, whole days and weeks go by and I suddenly realise I have all these unpaid bills and, my God, I haven’t unpacked, and the suitcase has been sitting there for three weeks.” 

If you’ve been there you know it. If you haven’t, I hope you soon discover it. Terry Brooks says that this is when the magic happens. Here’s to those magical moments: and many more books from the world of Westoros.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).