The Power of the Bow

There is a children’s movie just come out, Brave, with the heroine sporting a bow and arrow. Katnis, from the Hunger Games, was lethal with one. Legolas was extremely handsome even in the midst of a desperate fight for Helm’s Deep and never missed when he let fly.

It seems that a bow and arrow are integral ingredients in fantasy, even when the setting is modern enough for guns and technology. Bows were, of course, around before fantasy. Who can forget Robin Hood in the archery contest splitting his opponent’s arrow, which had pieced the center of the bull’s-eye? Classic.

And then there are the Samurai with their beautiful longbow, the Yumi. They didn’t just shoot it with their distinctive technique, but held a philosophical discipline, kyūjutsu, akin to Tai Chi and other spiritual martial arts.

Even after the bow became outdated as an effective weapon it remained a form of training for its warrior code value. The yumi was also fired from horseback because of its asymmetric shape and this practice evolved into a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame. At the risk of sounding trite, there is a beautiful scene in The Last Samurai, with the yumi being explained and fired.

In the West we have also been drawn to the spiritual values of the bow. Eugen Herrigel’s classic, Zen in the Art of Archery, is still a classic fifty years after he wrote it. My 13-year-old has become obsessed with archery. He made his own bow and learned how to shoot it from a teacher. He takes classes at camp and has spent over a year saving up to buy a ‘real’ bow. When I wrote two scenes in the third Wycaan Master book, he provided me with a lot of excellent and rich information. 

I’m still struggling with why the bow is so captivating. For some reason, I am not questioning the sword in the same way. Use of the sword is elegant, noble and also has numerous philosophies and katot (martial art form), but there is something that sets the bow apart and keeps us coming back for more.

 Any ideas? Please share in the comments below.

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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).

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YA Epic Fantasy Readers and The Ebook Revolution

Last week’s post, Sex and Swords, generated a lot of great comments and a sound discussion. In the post, I wondered whether the author I was comparing myself to was selling more books than me because his audience are adults. Given that both of us sell more ebooks than tree books, am I likely to sell less books because young adults do not have the access to ebook readers that adults enjoy? Wait a moment  I need to tell my sons to get off screens and go play…

I wrote a post on another blog a couple of years ago and have taken material from there for this. There are a number of authors who have become bestsellers riding the ebook revolution. Amanda HockingJ.A. Konrath, and my own marketing guru, John Locke. But none of these fine people write for young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary market for the Wycaan Master series.

teenelectronic_396Laura Hazard Owen recently wrote: “The children’s and young adult e-book market faces special challenges not shared by the adult market, new research shows. And teens are slow to adopt ebooks, in part because they do not see ebooks as a social technology and they think there are too many restrictions on sharing digital titles.”

She reached her conclusion based on two online surveys commissioned by PubTrack Consumer towards the end of last year who surveyed 1,000 teenagers and 1,000 parents of pre-teens. The details of the survey can be found here – Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.   There are some interesting theories and statistics here. Firstly, youngsters are extremely social and want to share their books with friends and e-book technology is perceived as too restrictive. This is changing now and Amazon has been quick to identify this need. I thought that perhaps the teens did not have access to comfortable ebook readers. The majority has cell phones, but I am not including this. 60% of those surveyed receive technology from their parents as the latter upgrade.

images-7Ms. Hazard Owen makes another excellent point It is not just young adults propelling YA books like the Hunger Games trilogy onto ebook bestseller lists:

– 30-44-year-olds constitute 28 % of YA print book sales and 32 % of YA ebook sales.

-18-29-year-olds buy the most YA books, purchasing 31% of YA print sales and 35% of YA ebook sales.

Making a decision to invest in the YA fantasy ebook market doesn’t look as attractive as genres aimed at adults, but this is going to change as more young people receive the necessary devices. Also, the realization that the YA market goes not from 12-18, but 12-44 year olds make for a more encouraging prospect.

images-1A final interesting point is that this age group is more likely to buy a book because of a recommendation on a social network. Perhaps this prompted Amazon to make the investment to purchase Goodreads.

Now, please excuse me, this 49-year-old is going to read The Hunger Games, recommended to me by my 14-year-old son.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriterFor more about the author, check out his website.

       

Big Boobs and Book Covers: A Critique of Fantasy Art

When I began soliciting artists interesting in creating the covers for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, I asked the artists for a rendering of Mhari, an elfe (politically correct term for female elf in Odessiya) who would become the first teacher of my protagonist, Seanchai.

I explained that she was old but vibrant, tough but wise, and I waited for the examples. Every one of the four artists produced sexy, buxom female warriors. I realize that sex sells ­– I considered moving to T-Mobile because of the woman in the advert not her motorbike, helicopter or the beautiful color purple (okay I am partial to motorbikes and purple, but lets stay on topic…) ­­– but these are YA books.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

Apparently, the use of beautiful women on covers of YA Fantasy and Sci Fi are nothing new. This article follows the noble battle by author, Jim Hines.

Hines produced a series of great photos in which he poses in similar positions to scantily-clad women on book covers. Mr. Hines wasn’t against showing some skin himself.

_65356744_scifi“The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it,” Hines says. “I think posing has made people see it again – you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.”

Hines began posting his poses at the beginning of 2012 and they quickly became the most visited. This gave him the idea to create a series to raise money for research to help fight Aicardi Syndrome, a genetic disorder, and he has raised over $15,000 to date.

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The issue of depicting women in fantasy art in a sexual way is nothing new and, in fact, quite rampant in role playing games like D&D. Tracey Hurley, co-founder of Prismatic Art Collection, has commented: “Women are so often portrayed assuming that a stereotypical hetero male is going to be the person looking at the cover, … Male characters [are] powerful and strong, and women’s sexuality will be emphasised. And why is that a problem? It’s constraining for both men and women.”

I find this really depressing. I guess I expected something different from a genre free of stereotypical constraints because it creates its own reality. This is all the more disappointing when dealing with Young Adult literature because of the target audience. I wonder whether a scantily-dressed, thin, and cleavage-heavy woman might also be a turn-off for young women, conscious of their own body-type. Add to this that most of the women portrayed are white and I am left wondering if this explains why less teenage women read fantasy. I also think it explains the success of The Hunger Games, though the promo photos for the movie also follow the concept.

imgresIt is not enough to just thrust a sword in her hand or dress her in a chain mail bikini to project strong images of women, nor is the cover of the book enough to reinforce strong, positive female values.

While my protagonist is a male, I made sure to add strong female characters, who are indispensable to his quest. I believe I showed them as more than equal warriors, each with her own special character. I needed prodding with this, I admit, and even changed Seanchai’s teacher from a man to a woman. Interestingly, it opened up a number of exciting avenues.

Authors are powerful influencers in the community, and even more so when writing for a Young Adult market. But power comes with responsibility and we have a role to play in shaping the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and innovators.

Even though many of us write about different worlds and kingdoms, let’s help make this world a better place.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of GalbriethThe First Decree is due out in March 2013.

Who is Reading Epic Fantasy?

I’m reading a series of books about marketing my novels. They each prioritize a central marketing principle: Know Your Target Audience.

I realize, being relatively new to the epic fantasy scene that I don’t know who these people are. I have never frequented conventions or even chat groups online. When I go to social occasions, I often ask people what are you reading right now, because sports and politics can only go so far – and real men don’t discuss work or family (as a new immigrant to the US that’s what I was told).

But when I ask the question, people rarely say epic fantasy. During the days of Harry Potter, the Inheritance series, and now The Hunger Games, a man could come out of the library closet because his children were reading them and he was showing himself to be an in-touch father.

So here is my request. If you read epic fantasy, please answer as many of the following questions as you have patience for.

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in an epic fantasy book?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. Who is your favorite epic fantasy author? Why?

One last favor if I may. Please pass this on to friends and family who you think might read epic fantasy and ask them to mention your name as referral. I would like to offer the first 20 people who refer 3 responders to the survey an eBook of either:

The Accidental Activist  or

A Gardener’s Tale

Thank you for your help. I will publish the results if I can get 50 responses.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two 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).

Advise For Writers From The Hunger Games

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip this week’s blog post.

I actually posted this on Left Coast Voices but wanted to share this with elfwriter followers as well. There have been a number of articles gleaning lessons from the Hunger Games for their preferred audience. Apparently, everyone is getting protective about having the original idea and the others not giving credit to them. So let’s get that behind us: I had the idea for this post after reading David Berkowitz‘s article for a fundraising magazineThank you, David.

For those of you from another planet, “The Hunger Games,” is an amazing high-concept story about a post-apocalyptic society that annually sacrifices twenty-three teenagers as a way of reminding everyone who is in power.

1) Define Your Goals: Set A Few Simple Tasks: It took Katniss (the heroine) a while to decide what she needed to do in order to win (kill the others). Her mentor gave her clear first steps – get away from the Cornucopia, find water and shelter – which in turn gave her confidence and momentum. 

2) Know What You Are Writing: Heroine Katniss is the archer. Her cohort Peeta could pin Hulk Hogan. Figure out what your strengths are and play to them.

 3) Know Your Target Audience And Find Them:  Cinna, is a one of the most enjoyable characters in both book and movie. He is Katniss’ and Peeta’s stylist, responsible for ensuring that the crowd sit up and notice them. Together with Haymitch, their district’s adviser, they come up with a strategy to earn not only the support of the people, but also the all-important sponsors (media outlet or publishers for authors). What is important is that they stick to the strategy and maintain a consistent message.

4) Find Your Own Platform, And Get Comfortable With It: Katniss soon learned that the forest was her friend, using the stealth methods she had honed hunting. Likewise, she was both good and familiar with the bow as her weapon.

As authors, we often join every social media and adopt every tactic, essentially not doing much in any category. Choose a platform – blog, Facebook, etc. and consistently work through it. If you decide to go via bookstores, be consistent and follow up with every bookstore before, during and after an event.

5) Be Generous – There Is Something To Karma: Katniss had endured a tough childhood and carried the obvious scars. She was stubborn, a rebel, and uncooperative with her advisor and most everyone else. But she cared about others and this eventually paid off. Three other tributes saved her life because of this.

We are not competing with other authors. People aren’t choosing between their books and ours. Help others, share your experience, be generous with your time. People remember who stood by them and supported them. They will be there for you.

6) The Rules Change: The organizers freely change the rules in the Huger Games to suit their own goals. There is nothing fair or just, they simply want to achieve their own goals. Be ready to change tactics. If you are only selling books out the back of your car (still works for me!), and not on the Internet, you haven’t been paying attention.

7) Choose and Trust a Mentor: Haymitch, the advisor to Katniss and Peeta, was the only other citizen from their district to survive and win the Hunger Games. As a rude, obnoxious recluse who is also an alcoholic, he doesn’t really inspire.  But he made it and knows his stuff. Find a mentor and stick with them.

 

8) The Odds Are Never In Your Favor: so get over it. There is no guarantees for success.  It is not quite as bad as the Hunger Games where there are no second or third chances. Read a lot. Learn from others’ mistakes, learn from yours, and okay: may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two 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).

 

I Didn’t Make The Cut

I’m bummed. This week 50 writers saw their manuscripts advance to the Semi-Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – YA category. My humble offering – Wycaan Master – was not one of them. It reached the Quarter-Final, ahead of a few thousand others, but…

In an odd sense of timing, I will finish reading the 95,000 word epic fantasy story to my writer’s group. They stuck with me over the past 18 months though none (until the last couple of months) read or are interested in fantasy. Thank you – Berkeley Writers Group.

Either you think epic fantasy is alive and thriving (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore etc.,) or you think the only fantasy that sells is high concept – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games…

It is hard writing in two genres – social justice-themed novels reflect my lifestyle and values. Young-adult fantasy was inspired by a writing project with my preteen son and has been a lot of fun. But they serve two separate target audiences and I maintain a separate blog and twitter account.

I have to admit, I’ve arrived at a junction. I have not only sweated over a first YA fantasy manuscript, but completed a second, and am 30,000 words into a third. It is  a series and I must admit: I’m kind of hooked on it.

I want to see how my young heroes (and villains – who I am also quite attached to) grow. Will the races of Odessiya unite? What is the Emperor’s secret power that enables him to keep winning? Will shy Seanchai and his guide, Ilana, ever hook up?

As a reader becomes hooked on a series and feels compelled to read through to the end, I have discovered that so can an author become ensnared. It might well be an issue of not writing an outline and having faith in the story evolving, but I need to discover what happens in the world I’ve created.

Even if I didn’t make the cut.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two 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).

Traditional Epic Fantasy and The Higher Concept

There is a lot of discussion among fantasy writers about the need for the Higher Concept. Can an epic fantasy novel succeed if it is about a young underdog with a magical talent, who needs to overcome the evil (insert whoever)?

True, Tolkien did it, Brooks did it, as have many others. But they are established authors with huge followings. Who will take a chance on the unknown author?

I feel very defensive about this: what about memorable characters, internal conflicts, and plot twists? How about strong dialogue and a couple of intriguing plot twists?

The question is, whether these key components are enough to allow a manuscript to rise through the slush pile in an agent’s office?

There is no question about why Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or The Hunger Games, all stood out to their respective agents and publishers. But I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t something attractive in the familiar.

I have read eight books in Terry Brook’s Shannara series. I will start the ninth soon. I am not bored as each series offers something different, but the tropes remain similar and still I come back for more.

And while I am in defensive mode: Does Grisham, Patterson, or Steel, offer anything new within their genres with each novel? Romance, mystery, crime: don’t they have their own tropes that figure in book after book.

From Terry Brooks – First King of Shannara. copyright ©Andy Simmons 1995-2002

When people get familiar with a genre, do they not go looking for these tropes? Is it not enough to ensure a strong plot with twists, distinct characters and strong dialogue?

What do you think?

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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).