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Jean Grey is a Horrible Character and Hollywood is Clueless

After the failure of X3 I would have thought scriptwriters in Hollywood would have learned their lesson: Jean Grey is kind of a boring character because her personality is so flat.

But no, they decided to try again for another film, following the same idiotic formula wherein she remains a flat 2-dimensional character.

So much emphasis is placed on her powers and her love interest(s), they always forget to develop her personality.

Oh and the producers... they conveniently forget about other female characters like Rogue who were historically more popular. Rogue was the focus of the very first X-Men film, but since then has been cut out despite being a fan favourite amongst comic book fans. Jean as a character was never particularly popular. The phoenix force was basically a crutch to make her character more interesting. You see this regularly with YA fiction... whenever a character is too boring writers just give the character a special ability to make them more interesting.
 
 
 
 
It is the reason why you see OP (over-powered) characters so much in the genre. The character is boring so the solution is to make them OP.

Oh and to give them a love triangle. Back in X3 it was the Jean-Scott-Wolverine love triangle that they tried to use, but they did a disappearing act on Scott early in the film so the love triangle bit became more one sided and fell flat.

So without the love triangle crutch and the dark phoenix crutch, what does Jean Grey have going for her? What is her personality? How does she grow as a character? Sadly her character is flat and there isn't much character growth, so is there any surprise the new Dark Phoenix film falls flat in the box office?
 
Dark Phoenix's Domestic Total as of Jun. 11, 2019: $39,190,534. Foreign: $103,743,621.

So $142,934,155... On a film that cost over $200 million to make. They are going to be lucky if they break even.

I am not surprised. It is the same shoddy writing they keep making to suck in teenagers, not realizing that the fans of the X-Men are mostly people in their 30s-40s-50s who grew up with the comic books.

So the producers have made a second error. They have forgotten who their real audience is. They should not be targeting teenagers. They should be targeting people in their 30s to 50s. This effects both how to write the story as a more mature story, but also how to market it to a specific audience.

Yes, X-Men is primarily about teenagers... but the fans of the X-Men are older. Younger audiences (teens and young adults) don't care about X-Men as much. The younger audience has already moved on to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and when competing against the MCU Avengers it is pretty obvious who is going to win.

Solution? This film might be the final nail in the coffin for the Fox owned X-Men Franchise... but there is good news. Disney bought them out. The whole franchise can be rebooted within the MCU five years from now. (We might finally get to see Wolverine and the Hulk working as a team.)
 
 
Hot Tip for any future actresses being asked to portray Jean Grey. Your contract should specifically state that there is no way in hell you will appear in any film portraying a 3rd version of Dark Phoenix. Hollywood should just give it a rest. The character is a flop regardless of whether you put a former Bond Girl in the role or whether you hire a former Game of Thrones star.

Fantasy Maps Vs Characters

I recently read the following post arguing about why characters in a fantasy book should rarely ever have a map of the region they are in, during which they make some valid points.

https://www.tor.com/2019/05/28/fantasy-maps-dont-belong-in-the-hands-of-fantasy-characters/


However there are exceptions.

#1. What if the character is a cartographer or navigator aboard a ship?
#2. What if the character is an explorer?
#3. What if the characters are discussing war preparations and need a map so they know how far away things are relative to each other?

And there are certainly more exceptions. A merchant for example might need a map to prevent getting lost when traveling through lands they are unfamiliar with.

Indeed the map could even play a central role in the plot, like in the case of a map to buried treasure.

The map could even be a magical artifact that allows people to teleport to a location of their choosing.

Or it could be a non-magical map which shows the locations of portals, artifacts or other items.

My point is that there are plenty of exceptions to why characters might need or desire a map of the region.

Now in fantasy video games it is a totally different matter... The map serves to help guide the player through the game to specific cities and regions for the player to explore.

And such a map might play an important role in the upcoming Witcher show on Netflix.

Below: Witcher 3 Wild Hunt World Map


One of my favourite maps from video games is the map from Kingdom Come Deliverance, which shows the relatively small region of Bohemia from the video game, but shows it in great detail. Plus the game itself is highly detailed and realistic, with some of the best graphics I have ever seen in any game, plus realistic swordplay and archery. I am definitely a fan.


The Silly Tropes of Bad Fantasy Writing


The Too Convenient Special Ability Trope

I blame the writers who write this nonsense. How can they sleep at night repeating the same tired tropes?

Giving a character special abilities right at the beginning, without having earned them, is far too convenient.

To me a hero's journey should be hard. It should be filled with challenges, some of which they fail at. If they are getting better at something it is because of months or years of practice/failure, and they should never be the equal or greater to any powerful villain(s) who has spent years or decades honing their skills.

It should never be the hero wakes up one day, discovers they have magical powers s/he never knew they had, and then masters their abilities in a few days/weeks/months. I have seen this trope in so many books, usually books aimed at young women, and it is utterly too convenient.

That doesn't mean it is just female lead characters either. Harry Potter also goes through this trope. He suddenly discovers he is a wizard, enters a secret alleyway, a secret train station, and goes to a secret school for wizards. Convenient? I haven't got to the part where he gains an extra powerful wand, is gifted an invisibility cloak, and is just conveniently really good on a broom. See? All too convenient. He even defeats the baddie at the end of Book 1 by simply touching him. Didn't even know he had that power. He just touches the baddie and the baddie ends up doing his impression of the Wicked Witch of the West melting.

Often the convenient hero also operates on a fate based plot... boring. So boring. Again, Harry Potter is guilty of this too, because of the whole prophecy thing. So basically he is fated to defeat Voldemort.
 
So why is this trope boring? Because you already know the ending. Once you learn that the hero is fated / prophesized to beat the villain, then it is now a foregone conclusion. You already know the ending. There wasn't really any surprise when Harry Potter finally defeats Voldemort in Book 7. That was the only possible ending.
 
At least Harry Potter had to go through 6 years of school before he was ready to face Voldemort, so at least his hero's journey was measured in years.

Instead in this trope what you often see is the following:
 
  1. Hero discovers they are special.
  2. Hero meets villain, magically survives the encounter.
  3. Hero masters their special ability in a very short period of time.
  4. Hero defeats villain in the 3rd act.
  5. The end.

So the hero somehow masters their special abilities in a short period of time and then defeats the main villain in Act 3, a person who has spent years or decades mastering their own abilities. Boring and unrealistic.

So how do you change this?

For starters, stop giving the hero special abilities.

Also don't give them a magical sword/etc when they first start out. (See the next trope further below.)

Example...

Years ago I wrote a book wherein the lead character is a half-demon. Guess what powers she got? None. She had absolutely no magical powers. She didn't even know she had half-demon blood. Her blood plays a role in the plot, but it has zero effect on her abilities. She is otherwise a normal human.

Now she does start with a sword that is reasonably well made, but it isn't magical. It is just a sword.

A plain hero with a plain sword. No powers. No magic.

That means she has to survive based on her skills and wits. Problem solving her way through dangers and challenges, not just blasting her way through problems with newfound magical abilities.
 
She also befriends some allies along the way, which also helps.

That makes a much more interesting story, in my opinion.
 
And because I follow the "Die Hard" approach to heroism, I believe my heroes should bleed. A lot. They should get injured and bleed. All sorts of things happen to them. I don't have them crawling through broken glass or air ducts, but the principle is there. If they are going to survive then they need to earn it.
 
And that to me is heroic. The hero who has no special abilities but is determined to survive and save the day. That is why John McClane is such a classic hero, precisely because he is an average joe type character who refuses to give up. (Now you might think, wait, if he is a classic, doesn't that make him a trope? No. A trope is overused and unremarkable because it has been done before, often poorly. A classic is memorable because it is done well and the storyteller knew what they were doing.)


 
The Too Convenient Magical Item Trope
 
Ever read a book where the hero finds a super powerful magical weapon in the first three chapters? Like Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone? Or Harry Potter gaining his extra powerful wand and later his invisibility cloak? Or Bilbo Baggins (or Frodo Baggins) gaining a magical sword and an invisibility ring?

This is another trope that bothers me.

Bilbo at least had to wait longer before he gained a magical sword and ring, Frodo didn't have to wait at all. He inherited both of them from Bilbo close to the beginning of LOTR.

I don't have a problem with characters gaining magical items later in the story, like halfway through the book or near the end, but right at the beginning is awfully convenient.
 
To me the trope of gaining a magical item at the beginning of the book is almost as bad as the hero discovering they have a special ability. Both are far too convenient.

If a hero gains objects or items along the way, they should be more mundane until at least halfway through the book.
 
Sometimes the item might not even usable by the hero, but perhaps goes to a lesser character, or worse, a villain gains possession of the item.
 
I did this several months ago when I was re-writing an upcoming novel. One of the lesser characters gained a magical item close to the halfway point in the book. It was a weapon the main character wasn't particularly skilled with, so it made sense the person who knew how to use it properly should get it.
 
And see? Isn't that more realistic?
 
The characters have skills, and often also lack certain skills. My main character didn't know how to use the weapon in question, but one of his companions not only knew how to use it, but was able to use it well.
 
That makes good logical sense after all. Not every magical item our hero finds he should automatically be able to use properly. Indeed, most weapons he finds should be alien to him. Does he know how to use a horseman's flail? Nope. Not a clue. A glaive? Nope, never even seen one.
 
It is one thing for a hero to pick up a sword and use it, a sword is still a sword after all. But that doesn't mean he is skilled with it. A fencer trained with epees should not be able to use a katana with the same measure of skill. They are two very different swords.

If the hero was skilled in a specific weapon, like harpoons, wouldn't it be awfully convenient if they just found a magical harpoon when they were not expecting to? It makes no sense.

And if you're like "But he was destined to find it!" then you are missing the whole point. Destiny and fate are also too convenient.


Conclusions and Exceptions

Fables and fairy tales. That is where these tropes belong.

If a writer wants to write using these tropes, they can still do so, but they should focus more specifically on writing fables, fairy tales and similar storytelling methods. Something similar to the Princess Bride would be okay too, as that is a swashbuckling fantasy/romance/comedy and comedies can certainly take advantage of silly tropes.

Because that is what they are. Silly.

So lets amend that list: Fables, fairy tales and comedies. That is where silly tropes belong.

And any writer who is writing a "fantasy romance" using the above tropes should be reminded that their book is a dime a dozen on Amazon, which has been flooded with fantasy romances so that their book does not stand out in the thousands of books with the same basic plot I mentioned further above with the following changes.

  1. Heroine discovers they are special.
  2. Heroine meets Boy #1.
  3. Heroine meets villain, magically survives the encounter.
  4. Heroine meets Boy #2. Love triangle ensues.
  5. Heroine masters their special ability in a very short period of time.
  6. Heroine defeats villain in the 3rd act.
  7. Love triangle ends somehow. One of the boys becomes a villain or dies. The other one later marries the heroine.
  8. The end.

There are literally thousands or tens of thousands of self-published books on Amazon with that same basic plot, all aimed at young women. (And you can often buy them for free due to promo deals. I know, I have gained quite a few for free and then discovered it was another poorly written love triangle disguised as a fantasy.)

Seriously, someone could use this plot, but make it a comedy and it would be so much better.

They could call it "Revenge of the Glitter Vampires" or something similar. Make it clear from the very beginning that it is a comedy. They could give ALL the vampires their own magical swords, so that they are all special in their own special way.

You know how in school these days kids are told that they are all special? All of them are special. Every one. I wonder if that social conditioning played a role in the desire for these young writers to want their main character to be "special" too? So is it millennials and centennials who are to blame for this trope? Quite possibly.

In contrast I was born in the 70s and went through the 80s and 90s. We learned the hard way that if you wanted to be special, you had to earn it. You have to strive for it. Nobody is going to hand you special abilities on a golden platter. You need to have a work ethic and a willingness to hone your craft.

Good night!

12 Marketing Tips for Fantasy Authors

Note - Most of the marketing tips below are geared towards self-publishing, however because some publishing companies simply publish your book and spend very little on marketing it is often up to the author to actually make the extra effort to get the books to start selling well, often by doing book signings, going to trade shows, etc. So it is often up to the author to do these things even if they do have a publisher. (Some publishers are lazy and are weighing the financial risks.)



#1. Make a professional website.

Think of your website as an online brochure for your writing. If your brochure looks unprofessional, who will want to buy a book from you?

I recommend designSEO.ca, a company that does both website design and search engine optimization. Their specialty is search engine friendly website design. However any professional website designer could certainly do the job for you. Your primary goal is to make your site look professional so that potential buyers are not turned off by a website that looks like an amateur made it.

Hot Tip 1 - Before contacting a website designer, figure out what content you want to be on your website first. Write out the whole website like you are making a brochure before you contact the website designer. This allows the website designer to give you a more accurate quote for how much it will cost to create your website.

Hot Tip 2 - If your goal is to be able to update your website yourself you may wish to either learn HTML or choose a platform that allows you to create/design the website yourself and be able to update your website easily. Otherwise if you are regularly updating your website it will get expensive to be paying your designer $30 per hour each time you do a small update.

#2. Have Business Cards and Bookmarks Made.

A fellow author recommended the bookmarks. I have seen other authors who use business cards, but bookmarks can work just as well as a business card in terms of containing the same information, but in a different shape. The benefit of this kind of "swag" is that people are less likely to throw out a bookmark than a business card (but business cards are easier to carry in your wallet/purse). Once people have the bookmark/business card they are also more likely to look up your work and make a purchase.

Having business cards/bookmarks allows you to interact face-to-face with potential fans. There might even be a surprise factor when they think you are giving them a business card and then they realize it is a bookmark. This creates a more memorable experience and every time they look at the bookmark they will be reminded of the time they met you, shook your hand, and they might be curious enough to buy your book.

Hot Tip - Hiring a graphic designer to make your business cards / bookmarks makes them look even more professional. More expensive, yes, but also more likely to win over potential buyers of your books.

#3. Make a professional Amazon Author page.

How to Setup Amazon Author Central and Your Author Page
https://kindlepreneur.com/amazon-author-central-page/

If you are self-publishing and promoting your work on Amazon, this is pretty much a necessity. However many self-published authors forget to actually make their author page, so make a note to actually do this and also use it.

Hot Tip - Make a paperback version of your books on Amazon. Amazon isn't just for ebooks any more. You can now make and sell paperback and hardcover versions too. Many people prefer to read a physical book so having physical copies of your books for sale means you are effectively doubling or tripling your available audience of buyers.

#4. Claim your Author Profile on Goodreads.

How to Claim your Author Profile on Goodreads
https://www.goodreads.com/author/program

Claiming your profile on Goodreads is a good way to get more ratings and reviews of your work. Amazon only allows people who are in good standing who have purchased over $50 worth of things off Amazon to post reviews. Furthermore, Amazon tracks your Facebook friends so that your friends cannot post reviews on Amazon, thus Goodreads is an excellent alternative for reviews as anyone can post reviews on there.

Hot Tip - Invite your friends who are big into reading fantasy to join Goodreads. They might even read your books and leave some nice reviews. This will help to get the ball rolling.

#5. Fatten your eBooks.

Fatten your ebooks with extra pages by including Author's Notes, About the Author, Books by Author, List of Social Media, etc. You should also include things like:


  • Maps of your fantasy world.
  • Illustrations, if any.
  • A dedication.
  • A thank you note to anyone who helped during the writing / editing process.
  • Table of Contents.
If you buy ebooks by popular / successful authors on Kindle/Kobo/etc you may notice that many of them also fatten their books to make them appear longer than they actually are. This allows them to add extra pages to the length of the book and a longer wordcount.

Further more, the fattening of your book is very handy for marketing reasons. It allows you to include a list of other books you wrote, which encourages readers to go out and buy your other books. Likewise having sections for About the Author, Author's Notes, a List of Social Media accounts and other topics can also be very beneficial to get readers to buy your other books, follow you on social media, etc.

#6. YouTube Readings and Promos.

Pick a chapter or two from your book and read it on YouTube. You could do this live (and don't care whether you make any mistakes while reading) or you can more carefully narrate the book and edit out any mistakes you make. Depends which method you think will work best.

You can also make videos to announce promotional sales / free books, timing them with Amazon's KDP Select program.

Got something to say to your fans? Make a personal video.

Hot Tip - Why pay for a social influencer when you could become a social influencer? Promote your own work and don't rely on others to do it for you. This way when people do promote your work on YouTube they are doing it for free.

#7. Twitter and Instagram.

You can use Twitter and Instagram in much the same way as you use YouTube, uploading videos (usually shorter videos), but you can also post short updates on Twitter about your writing if you want to, interact with fans, and interact with other authors.

eg. I follow several authors I find to be of interest on Twitter and I am always pleased when fellow authors respond.

#8. Facebook Page and Facebook Groups...

So you can waste a lot of time on Facebook and accomplish nothing if you are not careful. You have been warned. I regulate my time on there.

You should absolutely have a Facebook page, where you can post the same videos and information you post on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

However Facebook also has a lot of groups you can join about fantasy books where you can potentially promote your books and get sales / reviews of your work.

Joining groups for Fantasy Authors won't bring in the sales, as these people are more interested in selling their own books, but that is a good place to meet similar authors who you could collaborate with on anthologies if that is something you are interested in. Those groups are also a good place to discuss the writing process and ideas.

The one group I am going to recommend is joining Fantasy Authors & Marketing, a group specifically geared towards authors both sharing their work and also sharing marketing techniques. In fact I am going to be posting this blog post on there shortly.

#9. Get a Discord account.

So Discord was originally used (and still is used) by gamers as a forum to discuss video games, but it is increasingly also being used by people wishing to discuss movies, TV shows and books.

Having a Discord account allows you to communicate directly with people who read fantasy books and mention your book in the process. I don't recommend using it for blatant marketing, but rather as a way to engage with fans of the fantasy genre.

Discord also allows you to stream video, which means you could do live readings of a chapter of your book.

Discord is increasingly popular, which is why it made this list. However if you aren't really into conversing with potential fans then maybe Discord is not for you.

Hot Tip - Try not to offend people when talking to fans. No better way to get a negative review than to annoy people.

#10. Search Engine Optimize your Book Title.

There are many ways you can use SEO to promote your book, but depending on your book's title it might be wise to do what is known as a Google Bomb.

A Google Bomb is when you use SEO techniques to promote a specific phrase, often a common saying. Take for example "Or Die Trying". (This is purely an example, if there is actually a book by that name that is pure coincidence.)

So you create lots of links using that specific phrase which goes to your book listing (either on your website or on Amazon), which may or may not contain that phrase as well. It is certainly easier if your book title is the phrase in question, but it doesn't have to be. It could simply be a phrase used in the description, or it could be part of the tagline or logline.

If your Google Bomb is successful, whenever someone types in the phrase in question the very first result at the top of the search will be your book. The goal here is to get volume, more people seeing your book equals more people who may be tempted to buy and read your book.

Even if your book title is not a popular phrase you should still spend some time promoting the book in links / SEO so that when people do eventually type in your book title that they can find your book easily.

Hot Tip - W
hile you are at it you should Google Bomb your own name (or your pseudonym if you are using a different name when publishing) so that when people do a search for the name they can find your website easily. If you use multiple pseudonyms you should have them all go to your main website.

#11. Pay-Per-Click Pros and Cons

Okay, so you need to experiment with Pay-Per-Click / PPC advertising before you learn how it works. I cannot summarize it fully in a few paragraphs in any adequate means. The point here is that you don't want to waste your money advertising your book if it is not selling, thus experimentation is key.

Furthermore there is a pricing issue to consider. If you are selling your book for $2.99 each then you are going to have a hard time making a profit. You might be spending anywhere from 5 cents to 20 cents per click, and because Amazon takes 30% of each sale you only make $2.09 per sale and Amazon takes the other 90 cents. It might take you 10 or more clicks just to get 1 sale, thus costing you $2 or more just to make 9 cents. You could even lose money doing this.

What might potentially work is when you are selling a longer book, a trilogy or a set of books for $9.99. Suddenly your profit margin has shifted. For every book sold you make $6.99 and Amazon takes $3. If it costs you $2.50 to get one sale, suddenly advertising via PPC does actually make more sense as you make $4.49 off every sale.

If you can get that cost down further to less than $1 by paying perhaps 5 cents per click then your profit margin just went up.

The other issue with PPC is branding. Sometimes it isn't about getting people to click on your advertisement. Sometimes it is more important to build brand name recognition, but this usually isn't something you should worry about until you are more successful and can afford to focus on branding.

Hot Tip - If paying for clicks in an effort to get sales is not working or seems like a silly method to you, then don't do it. Nobody is forcing you to. Also even if it does work for the first while, it may eventually stop working due to saturation levels. You may need to only to do this during the initial book launch and then phase it out after 3 months or so.

#12. Make a Blog.

So I have had Nerdovore as a blog since 2011, but I only recently started to use it to promote my writing. Usually I use it for talking about Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy cartography/map-making, "nerd food", and all sorts of nerdy topics. In the past 8 years this blog has gone from a hobby to a profitable hobby. I make money off the advertising on the side, so that is a nice bonus.

I also use this blog to promote my other website, Cardio Trek, which hosts my personal training / sports training / archery business. Archery students come from all over the world (eg. South Korea, Saudi Arabia, the USA) just to study archery here in Toronto under me. So that is working out for me financially. I cannot complain.

So it makes sense that I should also use Nerdovore to promote my writing, which in my case often means talking about the writing process with respect to fantasy writing and rarely even mentioning my own work. I suppose I should talk about my own work more often, but lately I have been more interested in blogging on subjects related to sub-genres, book lengths, where I get inspiration from, etc.

Note - You don't need a blog. It isn't a necessity. Some authors use their Facebook pages as a blog. eg. Tomi Adeyemi's Facebook page is essentially a blog and she has a tonne of followers.

However blogs do have several advantages over Facebook pages and other social media platforms in that you can control the visuals and control what the visitor sees. It is very easy for someone visiting a Facebook page to browse away to different topics, click on advertising, etc. But if they are on your blog then the only advertising they see should be yours, usually for your books or your swag you are selling. (Or in my case I have my books, my archery lessons, or my Google advertising.)

Hot Tip - Having a blog is also a great way to post samples of your chapters, short stories, or even shorter examples of your work such as poetry or fables.



Happy Writing and Marketing!

How to Organize a Fantasy Anthology

Earlier today I had an interview with speculative fiction writer Eric Olive, who organized the Kickstarter for the speculative fiction anthology "Deep Signal".

I am going to add a link to the book on Amazon when it becomes available. At present it isn't available on Amazon just yet. So you will have to wait a bit, but feel free to Google it in case it becomes available sooner than I expect.



I am not going to post the interview in its entirety, but I am going to record some notes regarding publishing an anthology in the manner which he did. So the notes below are my notes, not direct quotes per se.

Notes

#1. Get a good contract template prepared for all the writers participating, which includes their word count range and payment agreement (eg. per word agreement).
#2. Create a database/list of all relevant data: Shipping addresses, PayPal accounts, other methods of payment, payment status, payment records/receipts.
#3. Make sure everyone gets paid. Hence the need to record payment status.
#4. Take care of your writers!
#5. Kickstarter [and similar websites] are one method of funding such a book to make sure they all get paid. Note that Kickstarter takes about 7.5% of the budget if you raise funds via Kickstarter.
#6. Get at least 2 big name authors and pay them top industry rate. 9 to 10 cents per word. (Pro rate is 6 cents per word.)
#7. Get it in the contracts that authors, especially the big name authors, must hype the book on social media at least 3 times.
#8. Make a press kit to help the authors promote the anthology.
#9. Promote the finished book on YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
#10. Get an ISBN number.
#11. Promote on Amazon and Ingram.
#12. Expect the project to take 6 to 12 months from start to the end of the editing process.
#13. Editing is the biggest hurdle.
#14. Life will interfere with the process.



Additional Notes / Conclusions

#1. If this anthology is very low budget, make sure all participants know they might only be paid a small amount.
#2. Honestly I think authors should be encouraged to hype the book 10 or more times. The more the merrier when it comes to marketing.
#3. If the budget allows, have print copies of the book made too.
#4. A person organizing an anthology should be highly motivated to finish the project. If they aren't motivated enough the project will be dead in the water.
#5. Get a professionally made book cover.


So why am I posting about this?

I am thinking of organizing a fantasy anthology and I am currently in the planning stage / looking for possible authors.

Unlike Eric, whose first foray into anthology has a $17,000 budget so he can get some big name authors, I am not interested in hiring big name authors. It would be nice I suppose, but hiring a big name author to write a short story can get awfully expensive.

How Much to Pay Authors

Top industry rate, as noted by Eric, is 9 to 10 cents per word. So a 15,000 word short story might cost you $1350 to $1500 to get the publishing rights for just one author.

Pro rate in comparison is 6 cents per word. So a similar 15,000 word short story by a less well known author might be $900.

Semi pro rate is 1 cent per word. $150 for each semi pro writer.

Now it should be noted that there are many publishers of short stories who publish fantasy / sci fi / speculative fiction who don't even pay semi pro rates, but instead a flat fee stipend, because their publication is so low budget they cannot afford to pay any more than that. Or worse, the publishers who only give a token copy of the publication or the writers are completely unpaid.

So for example here is a list of Flash Fiction Publishers, which you can see only 5 out of the 11 publishers pay anything, and none of them pay pro rates. The best payer is Leading Edge which pays semi pro rates (or as I call them, sempro).

In some cases the publisher even charges a fee just to submit your work, like in the case of Fiction War.


January is the best month to enroll in Amazon KDP


Look closely at the chart above:

Every year you will see a jump in January. January 2015, January 2016, and January 2017.

And it keeps seeing that jump every year.

eg. The KDP Select Global Fund for January 2019 is $24.7 million.

I don't know what it was in January 2018 (I deleted that old email), but you can guess it followed the same pattern.

Note - If you don't know what I am talking about, let me explain. Amazon Kindle offers a service called Kindle Unlimited, which allows users to pay $9.99 per month and they can read as many ebooks as they want (mostly from indie authors and small press publishers). Most of that money then goes into the KDP Fund which then pays authors based upon the number of pages people read. Usually people get paid about 0.5 cents per page. So if 5 people read your 400 page book, so 2000 pages total, in one month, you get paid an extra $10 for that month. It might not sound like much, but it is also useful to the authors so they can boost their popularity, get more reviews, promote their work via word-of-mouth, etc.

Now there are a number of reasons why the KDP Fund is constantly fluctuating.

  1. More people keep joining Kindle Unlimited every year.
  2. The influx of new readers every year means that in order to maintain that 0.5 cents per page payment system, they need to increase the fund.
  3. Reading ebooks is mostly a thing for young people. But as each year passes by reading ebooks on your phone / tablet is becoming more acceptable.
  4. Smartphones / tablets are also increasing in popularity overseas. KDP Select is a global fund, for all languages. So as more people join internationally, the more Amazon needs to raise the fund total.
For indie fantasy writers like myself (see my Amazon Author page for Charles Moffat) being in the KDP Select program is an opportunity to get my books seen by more people. Currently I have 10+ books on Amazon Kindle and I am studying the best ways to market them.

Marketing my books, sadly, is an annoyance to me.

I would love to be able to just have my books available to people, word-of-mouth spawns sales, and I don't have to do any marketing... or marketing research... and so forth.

I would much rather spend my time writing fantasy books or reading fantasy books.

But that isn't the way the system works. You either market your work, or you don't get sales.

So the biggest benefit of KDP Select is that it does a bunch of the marketing for me, as people reading your book on Kindle Unlimited counts as sales, even if they did not pay for the book.

Which means more time for me to focus on my writing.

But one question remains.

Should I be allowing my books to be in the KDP Select program constantly? Or just a few months per year? And if so, which months?

Since being in the program is a minimum of 90 days (and renews every 90 days unless you remember to turn off auto renewal), one could in theory only join for January/February/March. That in theory would be the best 3 months of the year to join.

Or... you could leave the books on there constantly.

Or if you have 10 or more books like I do, you could rotate how often your books are on there, and which books are being rotated on there.

So for myself, I am going to try experimenting with different options and strategies and see what works. Whatever does end up working for me however might not work for everyone however. Different authors might have very different target audiences.

And now back to writing fantasy... instead of writing about marketing fantasy.

What is Epic Fantasy? Two Competing Definitions

Pick one...



Okay...

So here is the thing, both of these definitions cannot be correct. One of them has to be the correct definition.

Also 300,000 words isn't really that "epic" of a wordcount in my opinion. The first "Game of Thrones" book by George R. R. Martin is almost that long and various other books in the series are 400,000 words or more. So a single book that is only 300,000 words isn't really that impressive.

3,000,000 words is definitely epic however. eg. The Wheel of Time series of books has a wordcount of over 4 million words.

However there is a flaw here.

The 2nd definition states that it is "any fantasy novel". Literally any. It could be a comedy, a rom-com fantasy, or even a musical... It doesn't provide any definition with respect to plot or subgenre.

The 1st definition however goes in the opposite direction. It is specifically talking about subgenre with respect to plot, setting, themes, etc.

But there is a distinction in the 1st definition. There is no wordcount requirement.

It could be an epic fantasy short story. 1,500 - 7,500 words.

Or an epic fantasy novelette. 7,500 - 17,500 words.

Or an epic fantasy novella. 17,500 - 40,000 words.

Note - See my previous post about short story, novelette and novella wordcounts.

Basically the point is that epic fantasy is a subgenre based on the story's themes, plot, etc. The total wordcount doesn't really matter.

This idea that epic fantasy has to be really long appears to be the result of the confusion. People are confusing the subgenre with the wordcount, as if wordcount actually matters to tell a good story.

Thus for me, the first definition is the correct one.

However, what is sad is when writers write a book and then call it "epic fantasy" without actually understanding the themes found in the subgenre.

Epic Fantasy often involves:

  • A great battle or battles between good and evil.
  • A long epic quest, like trying to destroy a powerful artifact in a volcano that is thousands of miles away.
  • Heroes that are often destined for great things.
  • Usually has a villain who is the main big bad. eg. Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader.
Thus if a story depicts an epic journey and battle, with a hero that is destined to defeat "the Dark Lord" or some similar villain, and manages to keep the story under 7,500 words... then it is epic fantasy.

Is it easier to depict the "epicness" of the journey and battle if you have more words? Yes, probably would be easier if you could write something longer. Writing an epic short story could be quite a challenge.

So if you are looking for a writing challenge and you enjoy epic fantasies, perhaps this is a writing challenge worth doing?

Why not write an epic fantasy short story and then leave a comment below with a link to it?

Myself, I am thinking of doing it, but making it a fable about a legendary warrior. After all, there is no rule saying a fable cannot be 7,500 words.

Some of my current fables are already quite long, with fables inside of fables.

Fantasy Writing Fodder: Conspiracy Theories

By Charles Moffat, Fantasy Writer - March 2019.

So I come up with new ideas for fantasy novels and short stories daily. It is one of the reasons why I write down my ideas in a journal or memo pad on my phone. I get so many ideas that I don't know what to do with them all.

Some of them are ideas for movies that will never be made.

Some of them are ideas for short stories I will never write, often because they are outside of the genre that I usually write it.

So for example I recently started a dark fantasy/mystery novella, which I had originally hoped to co-write with someone else, but now I will either never finish it or I will have to finish it solo. Just one of many ideas waiting to be made into something finished.

One of my sources of writing inspiration is, oddly enough, conspiracy theories. I find they make for great fodder for writing fantasy, science fiction, mysteries and all sorts of topics.

Now you don't have to believe in the conspiracy theory to make use of it in a fictional story. Believing in it is not a necessity. Making use of it and researching the theory, even if you know it to be false, that is where the fun part comes in. Especially if you combine multiple theories for the heck of it.

Lets use some examples:

  • The moon landing was faked.
  • JFK was assassinated by aliens.
  • The earth is really flat, but the aliens don't want us to know that.

So yes, that is three separate conspiracy theories, but together you can now have fun with it. You can say JFK was assassinate by aliens because he wanted to reveal that the earth was really flat. The moon landing was faked by the government, because they knew of the existence of aliens (and that the earth is secretly flat).

There you go, three conspiracy theories smacked together to form one central theme of the book. It doesn't matter that is complete nonsense, you could sell this book at flat earth conventions and people there would gobble it up because it feeds into their belief structure.

Lets do another example, but this time lets up the weirdness:

  • 9/11 was faked by the Bush Administration as an excuse to invade countries for their oil.
  • The leaders of various religions knows aliens/demons are real, thanks to ancient texts.
  • Tin foil hats really do prevent aliens from reading your thoughts.

Okay, so that was fun. But what happens when we combine all 3 conspiracy theories?

Well, that means various governments and religions knows about the existence of aliens/demons. 9/11 was faked to get oil, but it is ultimately because the USA needs the oil to fight the aliens/demons. Every American president has surgery to add tinfoil around their skull to prevent the aliens from reading their minds, but with Donald Trump they botched the job, making his hair look funny and he suffered brain damage (because brain damage would explain everything Trump does). Also military submarines, airplanes, aircraft carriers, and even the helmets of combat troops all contain a layer of tin foil to prevent the aliens from reading the minds of the military.

Also if you combine this book 1 from further above, you now have a sequel.

Lets kick it up a notch for book 3.

  • Every American president during the past 70 years has been a descendant of King Charlemagne, and every monarch / president globally is also a descendant of Charlemagne.
  • The Queen of England is a descendant of Muhammad.
  • All of the monarchs in Europe are secretly descendants of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Charlemagne all knew about the existence of aliens/demons.

There you go. Book 3, ready to ship to millions of flat earthers who will believe this nonsense.

You can even push the idea that actually all the leaders are descendant from Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Charlemagne. That they all belong to a secret order of people who know about the existence of aliens/demons, that the earth is flat, etc. This forms the basis of the deep dive into the history of this fictional flat earth.

Now just because you have the basics, doesn't mean you have a plot. Twenty different writers using this would have completely different plots, different characters, different villains, etc. Everything would be different, despite the core principles of the fictional world being the same.

What we just did was effectively an exercise in World Building, but also a narrative exercise with respect to drip feeding the plot to the readers. To keep it interesting, you don't give them all that information in the first book. No, have to give it to them slowly over a period of 3 books.

Think of the John Carter of Mars series (Edgar Rice Burroughs). ERB drip feeds parts of the planet one section at a time, revealing only part of it to the readers in each book (and sadly repeating the old save-the-princess plot in every book). ERB would have love playing Super Mario Bros.


But as I already pointed out, I already have other projects I am working on. And too many ideas for books. I have seven novels I am already currently working on. I don't need more.

Also, writing a series of aliens/flat earther books just isn't my thing, even if I did come up with the idea. So feel free to take this idea and run with it.

Or find a different conspiracy theory and then run with it. No shortage of them out there.

Or send me an email or tweet, and I will give you 3 story ideas fresh off the press.

I never get writers block. My only problem is lack of time to write everything.

The New World of Publishing: Book Length

Note - This is a reprint of Dean Wesley Smith's article from 2011, which is used with his permission, as part of our ongoing series about Fantasy Books, Writing and Publishing.

Dean Wesley Smith - March 2nd, 2011.

I’ve got lots of questions over the last few months from writers asking my opinion of book lengths in the future of publishing. So, let me haul out my old crystal ball, polish it up, and pretend like I honestly can see into the future.

I honestly can’t, but I can give you opinions based on history and some facts. So let me try that and then we can discuss in the comments how right or wrong my swirling crystal ball is compared to yours.

Some History of Book Lengths

For the longest time, meaning almost one hundred years, there were generally two types of novels being published in Western Literature. The larger ones were always hardback, usually dense, and designed only for the elite. The harder-to-read the better the book.  The rest, the vast majority of novels, were published in the magazines, pulps, self-published, and hardback second-run presses like Grosset up until the Second World War. These books were designed for the masses and were called “entertainment.”

Then the military paperback novel reprints taken to the war by the GIs caught on when they came home and mass market paperback books grew in popularity because they were cheap, usually just a quarter.

Most stories called novels from 1900 until the early 1970s were in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 words.  Sure, there were some longer, but not a large number except in the literature genre. Even early fantasy novels in the pulps were in that range.

Then one major factor started to hit home in publishing. The returns system and costs of overhead forced publishers to start charging more for their books to cover the costs. So publishers slowly, from the mid-1960s onward, asked authors for longer and longer books to give the readers the feeling they were getting more story for their money as the book prices went up and up and up. The cost of paper was a minor increase in cost, very minor.

Paperback book prices went from  25 to 35 cents in the early 1960s to the $8.99 range today. If publishing had just adjusted prices for inflation, a paperback book priced at 35 cents in 1960 would sell for $2.60 today. That’s how far traditional publishers pushed priced to pay for their expensive overhead and the returns system.

This upward trend in both book prices and book size continued for about 30 years. In the last ten years publishers found a point in book size that hit diminishing returns. Larger books were more expensive to distribute and ship and fewer books could be placed in a pocket or on a store shelf.  That meant less market penetration and less sales, and the mass market $8.99 paperback sales dropped dramatically as customers just started to say no to more price increases.

So book lengths for most genres suddenly had hit a ceiling of 90,000 to 100,000 words. Fantasy and some thrillers were still minor exceptions, allowing authors to go even higher.

When this sudden diminishing returns problem was figured out, publishers tried another “enlarging” trick with the “Quality Paperback” and that pretty much failed, even though publishers committed to it years ago are still putting them out. Buyers are just not that stupid.

(A Quality Paperback is just like a regular paperback, only taller and more expensive. A “trade paperback” is a paperback bound book (perfect binding) that is the same size as a hardback, only not cased in.)

Trade paperbacks actually give readers more value and thus even though prices of trade paperbacks tend to be around $15.00, readers went for them as a cheaper deal than hardbacks that have reached prices of $27.00 – $29.00.

So, in short, it was the publishers who forced writers into longer and longer books to justify the publisher’s increase in pricing. 

This left the 30,000 to 50,000 word novels in most genres way, way out of the picture. In fact, in the 1980s I think it was Stephen King that called the length between 15,000 words and 60,000 words “no-man’s land.” For thirty years he was right.

(Yes, I know that young adult, some category romance, and series westerns stayed around the 50,000-60,000 word length, but those were the exceptions.)

And when you ask how publishers could force writers to write longer books, realize it both took time and was very easy. They just put out the word they wanted longer books and rejected anything out of the new length range they were looking for. No one noticed the slow increase in size over the thirty years except for old pulp writers and those of us who like the history of publishing and collect the old paperbacks.

Like anything in this business, once new writers think that’s the only way things are done, they defend the practice like it’s a golden rule.  And since traditional publishing was the only game in town for the last forty years, writers really had no choice but to write longer and longer, even though in many cases, it wasn’t a natural length for the story being told.

Reader Expectations

A quick point about reader expectations right here and I will come back to this later. Readers (by this upward pressure by publishers on book length to justify their pricing) have also been trained to sometimes like longer books. Of course, they have had little if any choice to read a shorter novel, but the reader expectations are clear at the moment. That will also change with time.

Electronic Publishing Length Prediction

Now we have come to the new golden age of fiction that is dawning. Traditional publishers, moving quickly to electronic publishing, are going to start relaxing their length requirements, maybe even welcoming shorter novels due to less costs in production values. They haven’t yet reached that point, for the most part, but my bet is that they will. (Crystal ball polished.)

The reason novels got longer over the last thirty years was publishing overhead costs and shipping costs. In a world of diminishing shelf and rack space for books, it only makes sense to stuff more books into the same amount of space to make more sales. Thus thinner books and slightly lower cover prices, supported mostly by electronic publishing sales, could slowly become a norm again.
A publisher can ship almost twice as many 60,000 word novels in the same carton for the same price as they can a 120,000 word novel. Not exactly, but close. All for the same shelf space.

Putting an electronic sales cash flow base under a publishing house can also help publishers find more flexible size requirements for all their books. Again, that will take time as well and has not really started yet in most cases. Right now most publishers are still shocked at the speed this is all moving.

Downward Pricing Pressure Will Lead to Shorter Books

Yup, here I go again on the pricing topic. Can’t help it because book length and pricing are connected very tightly.

Electronic publishing was, in part, a reader rebellion against the high prices of traditional published books.

I’m not talking about the silliness of pricing a novel at 99 cents. There are lots of books out there in front of used bookstores in bins for 99 cents. Discount Dollar Store types of discounting of books has always been around. For example, in our discount mall here, we have a discount new bookstore. I can go in there and find a book that didn’t sell well two years ago, brand new, being cleared from a publisher’s warehouse, for 99 cents or $1.99. (Author makes little or no money on sales from that store, so I don’t go in there very often.)

In electronic publishing an author makes almost no money off a 99 cent book price. (35 cents for the most part.) If they had sold the book to a traditional publisher, they would have made 8% of $7.99 or 64 cents per sale. So 99 cent novel pricing of electronic books, as I have said over and over in many ways, makes no sense at all. Period. You are better off stuffing the book into the traditional publishing produce factory. You would make twice the money per copy sold.

However, talking about story length, a short story priced at 99 cents makes great sense. And readers are coming to expect short stories to be 99 cents. And shorter lengths are wonderful to read on phones or Kindles or other devices when waiting in line or at a doctor’s office. So the short story is coming back strong these days, both as a 99 cent stand-alone offering or in collections.

Novel pricing seems to be all over the map and chances are will not settle anytime in the near future. Traditional publishers, for the most part, are holding pricing of the longer novels in the range from $6.99 to $14.99.

(An electronic book at $14.99 is just as stupid as one at 99 cents in my opinion, but alas, that’s just my opinion. But do the math. $14.99 x 35% is $5.25 profit. A book priced at $9.99 x 70% is $6.99 profit. Charge five bucks more and make $1.74 less. Yeah, that’s smart. NOT!)

Indie publishers are taking their books for the most part around the $5.00 number, usually under, and traditional publishers are coming down to that impulse buy point as well in some cases. All of my traditionally published books now have electronic prices in the range of $6.99 to $9.99.

So now we are moving from a world where length of a book determined the price (or the need to increase the price determined the length of the book) to a world where you might as well toss a dart at a price-board to set your book price. But the dartboard approach will slowly move back to length pricing.

So let me give a suggestion of how I think this length/price might level out for both traditional publishers and indie publishers in Electronic Publishing. (Crystal ball polished and ready to roll.)

Traditional Publishers:

—Premium Books (Meaning new bestsellers). Length will remain for the near future at 80,000 to 120,000 words. Pricing at first will stay high, above $14.00 to not hurt the premium of the hardback release. This will change as electronic book sales go past 50% of the market share in the next three or four years.

—Standard paperback or trade paperback books. A length pressure to reduce size will start taking hold to allow publishers to get more books into the same shrinking bookstore shelf space. Electronic pricing will hover around the $7.00 number. Length size will start dropping toward the 60,000 length again in most genre fiction. (This will take years as it took years to build.)

Indie and Small Publishers

—Short fiction. Anything under 15,000 words.  99 cents price.

—Short novels and short collections. Anything from 15,000 words to 30,000 words. $2.99 price (gets 70% pricing structure.)

—Novels and long collections. Anything from 30,000 words and up. $3.99 to $5.99, with the higher price going to the longer books.

(Note: For POD pricing, length is everything. The shorter, the cheaper the cover price. So length for novels or collections for indie POD publishers really pushes books to be shorter as well.)

Length Restrictions

So it comes down to some basic questions.

Do authors have length restrictions now on what they write?

Simple answer: Yes and No. If the author wants to go traditional publishing, the answer is yes. If the author is small or indie publishing, no restrictions at all.

What length should a novel be?

Answer: That depends. Depends on where the author hopes to sell it, and more importantly what the story itself demands.

Can novels be longer now?

Answer: Yes. Not in traditional publishing, but in indie publishing a novel can be as long as you want to make it. I can’t see any reason why an author can’t publish a 300,000 word epic and then publish a 45,000 word novel. No rules, no cost restrictions dictating length as it has done for the past 50 years.

Should authors price their books with a consideration toward length?

Answer: Yes, to a degree. If you have a 300,000 word epic selling for $5.99, you might want to price your 45,000 word novel at $2.99 or $3.99 just to make sure reader expectations are met to a degree. Again, readers have been trained that longer novels are more expensive, shorter novels less so. That’s fifty years of training. Don’t fight it in the short term. And also realize readers have been trained in the same fifty years to think a book priced too low is also not of value. So caution on that side as well. All readers love discounts, just make sure there’s a solid reason besides fear that drives the discount. Readers, for the most part, can see right through anything else.

Summary

Length requirements are still in place for traditional publishing, but not for indie publishing. Writers are now free to write to the natural length of a story.

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of freedom that gives me. I trained myself as a media writer that when I was hired to write a novel 90,000 words long, I turned in a novel within a few hundred words of 90,000 words. That always caused either slight expansion of a story-line or leaving a story-line out that belonged in the book. It felt like writing with one hand while wrapped in Glad Wrap.
Now, since I don’t write media and am doing a lot of indie publishing, the freedom feels wonderful. And that freedom has been part of what has brought the joy back to writing for me again.

There are no restrictions, no right lengths for novels anymore. Just write what the story demands to be written and then decide what to do with it.

Have I said lately how much I love this new world of publishing?

————————————————

Copyright 2011 Dean Wesley Smith


Note - You can check out D.W. Smith's novels at www.deanwesleysmith.com/novels/ if you are curious about his fictional work. (This is not an advertisement. I asked permission for reprinting his article on Nerdovore, and as part of that I enticed him with the promise of a bonus link to promote his fictional works. And that my friends is how you convince someone to do something: You offer them something they want. Plus, just maybe, he enjoys getting the word out on this topic.)

Fantasy Novels vs Novellas vs Novelettes

Hello Fantasy Readers!

By Charles Moffat - February 2019.
I have a question for you fantasy readers (and especially fantasy writers):

Does everyone agree with the following definitions?
  • Flash Fiction: 53 - 1,500 words
  • Short Stories: 1,500 - 7,500
  • Novelettes: 7,500 - 17,500
  • Novellas: 17,500 - 40,000
  • Novels: 40,000 + words

Because there used to be a time 25 years ago when the definition was this instead:
  • Flash Fiction: 53 - 1,500 words
  • Short Stories: 1,500 - 15,000
  • Novelettes: 15,000 - 30,000
  • Novellas: 30,000 - 90,000
  • Novels: 90,000 + words

Note - There are older definitions too. "Pulp Fiction" was considered to be anything in the 30,000 to 60,000 range. More serious books were always longer. Pulp Fiction writers were hemmed into that word count range due to deadlines where they were expected to write a new book every month, so they needed to keep the books shorter just to meet deadlines.

Apparently the definition of what counts as what has slid dramatically during the last 25 years, and is continually changing.

Novellas that were 40 to 90k are now considered to be full length novels.

Novelettes have shrunk to roughly half the size.

And the max length of a short story has likewise shrunk by half.

Now I have to wonder, how did these definitions change so much over the last 25 years? And the answer seems to be self publishing. Amazon Kindle, Kobo and other forms of self publishing.

If a fantasy writer can write 40,000 words and call it a fantasy novel... that helps their sales and it requires less work than 90,000 words.

Now I cannot say I mind too much. My fantasy novel count based on the new definitions has basically doubled from 4 novels to 8 novels, thanks to my old novellas now being redefined as novels. I can now market what was 25 years ago a 50,000 word novella as a full length novel, thanks to dropping standards.
To me back then, 90,000 words was "barely a novel", and any novel that really wanted to meet the definition had to be at least 100,000 words in length. I wrote four novels based on that word count requirement and my personal goal of reaching 100,000 words.

So should I be happy about this change in definitions? I don't know.

I wrote essays 18 years ago in university that went over 20,000 words. Should I edit and publish those essays as academic books? I could call them Treatises instead of essays. [Insert sarcasm here.]

What I do know is that I have old short stories that now count as novellas. Maybe it is time to go back, edit them, and publish them.

Is any other fantasy writers out there in the same boat? Have you realized the dropping standards mean you could simply edit some old stories (maybe make them a bit longer) and they now count as novelettes or novellas?
I am curious to hear from other fantasy writers (or writers in general) on this subject.
charlesmoffat {atsymbol} charlesmoffat dot com

If you want to check out my writing please visit fiction.charlesmoffat.com.

The Sorry State of Writer’s Craft in Canada

Note - This post was originally published in 2014 in a different source, but now that the source has been deleted I have decided to re-publish it here.


By Charles Moffat – November 2014.

Disclaimer – I should note that regardless of how bad I believe it is in Canada, it is likely worse in the USA.

I recall being at York University between 1999 and 2003 when my best friend was studying writing there – or more specifically she was studying English Literature until she could transfer into a different program that was specifically for aspiring writers seeking to hone their craft. I recall she had to make the attempt several times before she finally got into the writers craft program, which had very limited seats and many applicants. (Which makes me wonder, why the heck are they teaching English Literature if almost all the people in that program are actually trying to get into the writing program instead? Why don’t they just make the English Literature program smaller, and EXPAND the writing program? This makes more sense.)

I recall also writing numerous essays during my stay in university and thanking my lucky stars I had been whipped into shape during high school by Mrs Pletsch, not once but twice as I taken the Grade 11 English Writing course with her when I was in grade 10, and then the OAC English Writer’s Craft in grade 12. Obviously I had enjoyed having my writing skills challenged and “whipped into shape”. I say that in the nicest way possible as Mrs Pletsch was an older lady, nearing retirement, and she was very stern in her approach to writing. She accepted nothing less than perfection.

For my part I reached for the stars during her class. I wrote nothing less than a full length novel for the one assignment, which she was kind enough to edit for me.

During the grade 11 class she taught us the proper way to write essays and revisited that again in the OAC class. When I reached university and began writing essays regularly the essay drills we had completed in high school proved to be invaluable – as university professors want to be presented with perfectly written essays that make good logical sense. (For my sense of logic I will give thanks to the various science, math and philosophy classes I took in high school.)

Thus it was that when it came to essay writing assignments I did quite well in university.

Later in life I returned to fiction writing (try searching Charles Moffat on either Kindle or Kobo to find a selection of my works), but I also wrote numerous biographies, non-fiction pieces, and currently operating over 100 blogs on my various interests.

So now that I am done tooting my own horn – which was really a way of establishing my own credentials as a writer – let me get into the matter at hand.

Most students in Canadian universities don’t know how to write. A phenomenon which is getting worse according to educators, and is also present in American universities. Some educators point the finger at the internet, saying that people don’t read books as much as they used to. Some blame texting on cell phones as the reason why so many students have such poor writing skills, but that would only explain the poor spelling.

However we are not just talking spelling, grammar and sentence structure here, educators are also complaining that students seem to lack imagination, originality, that they are just ripping off other literary sources. Not fan fiction per se, but ripping off the plot, characters, etc.

For example, let us talk about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Now I should admit first that Miss Collins is older than I am, and in theory might actually have a better education in the English language and writer’s craft than I do. Why then is her book series (which I have read and is somewhat poorly written) ripped off from the Japanese novels and/or films “Battle Royale” and “Battle Royale II: Requiem“? The Battle Royale novel was first published in 1999 and the film came out in 2000. If you are keeping track of the chronology, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hunger Games books came out in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and the films came out in 2012, 2013, the third film – part one – will be released in theatres later this month, with part two to be released in November 2015.

I have two theories on how this happened. One, Battle Royale (both the books and the films) have a huge cult following and Suzanne Collins either read the books or watched the films, and thought “Hey, I should rip that off and change the setting to North America.” Or… Two, movie producers who had seen Battle Royale approached Suzanne Collins to write a series of books ripped off from Battle Royale. Since SC is a writer for TV shows option two is certainly plausible.

Regardless of how it came to be it is clear The Hunger Games is ripped off from Battle Royale. The plot of male and female contestants, equal numbers of teenage boys and girls, fighting to the death and then seeking to overthrow the corrupt and diabolical government, set against a dystopian future is almost identical.

Next, I shall point to a series of novels which even the author admits are completely ripped off. I am speaking of course of Eragon – which the YA author admits is a fantasy version of Star Wars Episode IV. Eragon and the other books from Christopher Paolini are all ripped off from Star Wars. He doesn’t even deny it. They even made a film of the first book back in 2006, but it was so horrible that critics and anyone who has ever seen the first Star Wars film instantly hated it.

Lastly, I want to touch on Harry Potter – and my own series of books Lilith Bloodstone. Both of which have some clear inspiration coming from Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea". The plot of “A Wizard of Earthsea” is about a young man who joins a school of wizardry, where his skill earns him both friends and enemies, later leaves the school – and, spoiler alert, there is a bit of a fractured soul in the plot. Le Guin’s book, published in 1968, is considered to be one of the most influential books in the history of fantasy writing – ranking up there with The Lord of the Rings and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Thus it is no surprise that when Harry Potter eventually appeared on the fantasy genre scene that fractured souls ended up being part of the story arc. (Harry Potter also rips off the 1986 film Troll, The Lord of the Rings and other sources too.)

And really, there is no shame admitting where your inspiration comes from.

For me I read “A Wizard of Earthsea” around 1994-95 and I began writing the Lilith Bloodstone series in 1999. In the very first adventure Lilith faces an undead spirit – the fractured remains of an ancient wizard’s soul, so fractured he doesn’t even remember his own name. Each adventure that Lilith has however stands alone and only a few of them have an overall story arc. My goal in writing them was to make her character one that could wander from place to place, having adventures, and each adventure would stand alone. Similar to the various Conan the Barbarian stories, The Hardy Boys, Lassie, etc. Thus I would be able to write as many stories as a felt like writing about the character until I bored of writing such stories, and if the event I was struck by the writing muse again I could always return and write more Lilith Bloodstone stories. It gave me much more creative freedom to have a character which I can use again and again, who I know intimately and I can focus on how she responds mentally to each set of circumstances. I only hint during the stories about the circumstances which led up to her father’s death, a story I know which will play out in time. I have put a lot of creativity into the development of her character, the secondary characters, her family history/origins, and so forth…

I can only imagine what teenagers are writing now: Stories ripped off from The Hunger Games, Harry Potter or other contemporary sources – which are themselves ripped off from other sources. It reminds me of how people in the 1980s sometimes made audio tapes that were copies of copies of copies of copies, and the more copies that were made the more the quality of the sound was degraded to the point it only vaguely sounded like the original. It is essentially the idea that if people keep copying things that the quality of the copying going inevitably will get worse if people are copying copies of copies.

You may have heard that there are actually a limited number of stories out there, and this is partially true. There are certain stories that people have a tendency to repeat again and again. Seven stories to be precise, which are the most frequently common. The exceptions to these popular stories are often stories based on true stories, which makes them more unique.

The Seven Plots are:

Overcoming the Monster / Villain – This is the classic Conan story, but also describes Hercules, Robin Hood, Spartacus, the plot of the film Jaws, and even various plots for Godzilla.

Rags to Riches – Cinderella, “Brewster’s Millions”, etc. (Note: There is also the reverse, Riches to Rags.)

The Long Quest – “Jason and the Argonauts”, “The Lord of the Rings”, etc. Heck, even various Star Trek plots use this one.

Voyage and Return – The Odyssey, the 2014 film “Interstellar” which I saw last Friday (it was awesome), the TV series “Lost in Space”, and the more modern TV series “Farscape”.

Comedy / Ridiculous Circumstances – William Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night”, the John Candy film “Delirious”, etc.

Tragedy – William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, etc.

Rebirth / Redemption – A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Macbeth fall into this category.

Some of the best plots often combine multiple different plots from above. For example the 2011 film “In Time” is basically a combination of Rags to Riches, a Robin Hood style quest to overthrow the monetary system (the monetary system is the monster) – and the hero and heroine are stuck in a Romeo and Juliet relationship which appears to be doomed from the beginning.

Now if you can come up with an eighth plot, one which has no villain, is not a comedy or tragedy, the hero doesn’t redeem themselves, there is no rags to riches or riches to rags, no voyage or return – well good luck trying to make such a story.

So if we are honest it is pretty uncommon for people to come up with an original plot.

Now back to Canada, and to a lesser extent Canadian universities.

Asides from Margaret Atwood, can you name a famous Canadian fiction writer who is a household name? (I don’t count, since I am writing this, plus I am not a household name.) Can you name one who is still alive today?

Unless you are extremely well versed on famous Canadian authors then you probably won’t be able to name more than one or two names from the list I compiled at the bottom. (Feel free to scroll down to the list after trying to think of a name or two, preferably ones who are still alive.

Okay, now that you’ve scrolled down and seen how short that list is (seriously, they are only authors worth mentioning, a testament to the shortage of Canadian authors of merit). And you will notice the small number who are still alive, excluding Margaret Atwood. That tells us that Canada isn’t really churning out high successful authors. So what are we doing wrong? Is is Canada’s education system, which for many authors is comprised of whatever they managed to learn in high school and maybe a few classes in university about the craft of writing (keeping in mind that Canadian universities are now flooded with companies that write essays for hire, and even do course work)? Or maybe it is on an institutional level, wherein publishing companies in Canada are rather weak, unprofitable… Can you name a Canadian publishing company? I cannot. Possibly because all of the truly profitable publishing companies are in the USA or UK.

What about awards for Canadian authors? The Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Awards, or the Trust Fiction Award. Rubbish awards in my opinion. If you want to make sure your book doesn’t sell much, win a Canadian fiction award. Winning or even competing in one of these rubbish contests is a sure sign a writer needs to go back to the proverbial drawing board, rethink their career and what they are writing about. If you provided a pile of books by past winners of those prizes to a group of people (teenagers, adults, it doesn’t matter) their response to being forced to read such books would be “Omigod, these books are sooooooo boring…”

Therein lies the problem with Canadian writers, regardless of whether the root of the problem is our education system, our horrid publishing industry or even our rubbish awards. The problem is that the vast majority of things Canadian writers seem to be churning out is BORING. (And I can prove they are boring using the Dumbbell Test described further below.)

Imagine you are a young writer who wants to become an author. Chances are likely you have dreams (delusions) of grandeur, becoming famous and a best-selling author. (And snubbing Margaret Atwood at a gala, if you plan on being a snobbish author.) If you think for an instant that your book idea is interesting and should be written, ask a friend to hold up a 5 to 10 lb dumbbell while you describe the plot of a story to them. Tell them that they should lower and (gently, don’t drop it) set down the dumbbell the moment they get bored of the plot. If your friend gets bored during the first minute of holding up the dumbbell and sets it down, you should come up with a better idea for your book. If after the minute they are still holding up the dumbbell and haven’t become bored, then absolutely, go ahead and write the proposed book.

For more guaranteed results, repeat this test several times with several other friends or colleagues. Then ask your friends at what point in the plot do they become bored. Their insights will give you a good idea as to what you are doing wrong.

Note – Only ask friends who read books from the genre you are writing in. Friends who only read fantasy fiction might get bored very easily if you try to tell them the plot of a murder mystery plot.

I could keep writing, but I think I have made my point clear. Most Canadian writers (and American writers, and sometimes even famous writers) are copying old plots too much, often lack writing skill, and it is small wonder so few Canadian writers become household names.



The List of Household Names of Canadian Authors

Margaret Atwood, still alive!

Lucy Maud Montgomery (oh yeah her!), died 1942.

Mordecai Richler, died 2001.

Margaret Laurence, died 1987.

Farley Mowat, died 2014.

Leonard Cohen, still alive!

Pierre Burton, died 2004.

Douglas Coupland, still alive!

William Gibson, still alive + I didn’t even know he was Canadian.

Anyone else not listed here is not famous enough to warrant being mentioned because they are not a household name – so don’t bother sending me emails saying “What about so-and-so!” I have never even heard of so-and-so. How can s0-and-so be a household name if I have never heard of them. Please look up the meaning of household name for pete’s sake. Pete, now there’s a guy who has a household name. Very famous. Saint Peter. I think he was in a very famous book and is considered to be one of the authors…

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