Discussing Main Publishing Trends of 2018

booksIt is always good to be aware of the dynamics of the industry you represent, so I try not to miss the annual emails on main publishing trends that come with my subscriptions to various online resources for authors. In 2018, the major authors’ resource authorspublish.com has been discussing the following tendencies in the publishing industry:

1. The euphoria of self-publishing is wearing off ;

2. Independent publishers are becoming more likely to be closed to unsolicited submissions;

3. There are fewer eBook-only publishers (According to authorspublish.com, “A number of eBook-only publishers have closed this year. Others that have focused on eBooks only are now publishing print versions as well.”);

4. More literary journals are charging reading fees;

5. More prestigious literary journals are charging reading fees;

6. More literary journals are having free submission options;

7. Presses have no time to send rejections;

8. Print journals are becoming rarer and rarer;

9. Publishers are consolidating;

10. More small manuscript presses are using Submittable. 

These trends were kind of anticipated by experts, but now we have an ‘official’ confirmation that the changes are rue, which allows every author to make better conclusions about their personal writing and publishing strategies for 2019.

These facts, however, cannot provide a full and objective picture of the industry dynamics without another piece of information–on  international bestsellers lists for fiction books, published in a few European countries (France, Germany, Italy, and Spain) in English. After studying the lists provided in Nina Sabak’s article at publishingtrends.com and a few other similar resources, outlining current publishing trends in Russia, Poland and Germany, I came up with some interesting conclusions:

  1. There is an internationally developing tendency to print and sell mainly the books of certain genres: mainly mysteries, thrillers, then some fantasy books and a bit of speculative prose, while other popular genres (like romance) are not printed in large quantities in Europe;
  2. It is possible that the major publishers are taking steps toward printing mainly the bestsellers that can be regarded as ‘universally’ accepted pieces of reading and will more certainly be purchased as gifts (to be placed on a bookshelf and read again and again) rather than as pocket editions. This fact confirms that, due to the  quickly developing attitude to printed books as souvenirs rather than information (knowledge) carriers, the publishers all over the world tend to print a limited variety of the most popular bestsellers (innthe most popular genres), while the rest of the books tend to be distributed as e-books.

I also believe that in the nearest years, a new tendency to write shorter fiction books will continue to develop. This conclusion does not follow from the above mentioned articles, but the general tendencies listed here indirectly confirm such possibility.

Any way, the changes are coming tha they are inevitable. Let us see what changes the coming year is going to bring to the publishing industry. And now, just look at the beautiful picture below — very probably, for the last time, because as of now, more and more people prefer to have a kindle device or a phone in their hands while reading.

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Reading Elevation by Stephen King

elevation

As soon as I finished reading Elevation, my very first thoughts about the book were these:
– The author must have reached a new level of personal maturity: his story teaches the reader.  A story like Elevation could never be written by a young, inexperienced lad. The author does not aim to boost anybody’s emotions, he rather intends to open the reader’s eyes at the most important things in life: understanding, support, friendship, kindness;
– Amazingly, after nearly five decades of writing thrillers and suspense, Stephen King has come up with a piece of full hearted, touching prose; and
– I love the fact that Elevation is not as long as some of King’s novels. Its length perfectly harmonizes with the plot and the pace of the story.

Elevation is a masterly written, brillitly plotted, very imaginative and paradoxical story, which literally glows with wisdom and kindness of its author. While reading the first chapters, I could not help anticipating a sudden twist of the plot or a shocking event that would change the dynamics of the narration, because… well, I was reading a Stephen King’s book, but nothing of the kind happened, and somewhere half way through the book I began to enjoy the unusually tender, touching and inspiring flow of the story.

It is set in a town of Castle Rock, where the locals live a dull, slow-paced, provincial life, full of prejudices and biases. The main character, Scott, who struggles with a mysterious illness that causes him to lose weight, becomes involved into a silly, escalating battle with the lesbians living next door. Little by little, Scott begins to understand the prejudices faced by his neighbors, and decides to make an attempt and help them.

Unlikely for Stephen King’s books, Elevation reads like a light, pacifying, heartwarming tale; it demonstrates how different experiences can influence our ways of thinking; it tells how resentment can be healed and proves that the most steadfast prejudices can be overcome. In his Washington Post review of the book, Ron Charles wrote: “[King] has written a slim book about an ordinary man in an extraordinary condition rising above hatred and learning to live with tact and dignity. That’s not much of a Halloween book, but it’s well timed for our terrifying season.”

I would strongly recommend this book to everyone: it is uplifing; it is elevating; it inspires hope, and hope is exactly what many of us need to overcome the laziness of mind and apathy in the middle of this “terrifying season”.

Back to Blogging

Female student writing at deskI never thought that returning to blogging after a break of a few months would be so difficult. In fact, these days, I am returning not only to blogging, but to writing fiction, as well. The break was necessary, for I had to focus on writing a massive non-fiction book on preparing for the first job interview, which is intended for students and college/university graduates. Now, that work is almost finished, the book will be published in one of the leading  Ukrainian publishing houses in 2019.

2018-09-27_sore-throatSo, my mind is free from that work, but I recently found out that it is kind of free from other thoughts, too! I am hollow and empty like a Christmas tree ball ornament!

It must be tiredness, I guess. Some call this a writer’s block, others call this laziness of mind, or procrastination.

Whatever it is, I need a boost. I hope that reading a really good fiction book can revive my emotional life, and then, I will be able to return to writing fiction again. Please, give me some advice on how to overcome it, if you have your ‘remedies’ against the thing called writer’s block.

Thank you!

 

Success Is All About Making the Right Choice

Success comes with making the right choice of the object to deal with.

Why torture yourself with learning, training, taking risks and gaining success drop by drop?

Simply attack a slipper and feel like a lion!

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Writing a One-Sentence Novel Summary

Every author of fiction is familiar with the torture of putting together a one-sentence summary of every story they write: the sentence that serves a few purposes at a time. It is supposed to do a few things–

  • define the so-called “story question”;
  • help readers decide whether they want to read this book;
  • be the writer’s navigation tool that shows him/her the direction of writing;
  • become a very effective marketing tool, etc.

Writing a one-sentence description is always a big burden for the author, because every story contains numerous ideas, suggestions and messages, dozens of which can be precious for the readers, but the author must choose only one message: the one that will serve as a solid carcas supporting the whole structure of the future book.

Which message is it? How can the author identify it? What is the best way to put it together into that magical one-sentence statement? Many authors spend weeks trying to answer these questions, learning from each other, looking for a ‘universal’ algorithm, which would satisfy everyone: the author, the reader, and the publisher of the book.

The only constant in the book writing process is the triple alliance of the author, the reader, and the publisher. To understand what each party is expecting to see in our one-centence summary, it is necessary to look at their goals.

The author’s initial goal in writing a book is to impress a large number of people (what else can make a person voluntarily spend years of her life working like a dog without any guarantee of future rewards or benefits?) To impress a large number of people one needs to say something witty in that sentence: something new and revealing, something that others do not normally see the way the author can see it;

The reader’s goal is to obtain memorable experiences (emotional, intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, etc.) Obtaining memorable experiences is always associated with suffering (not physical, but emotional): every reader wants to experience a new level of it with every next book they take from a shelf, which means that our one-sentence statement must contain an emotionally disturbing idea or image; in other words, it should produce an effect of a needle prick.

The publisher’s goal is pragmatic: to hit the best possible sales and thus, to make the best possible profit, which means that the publisher is expecting to see a couple of amazingly precise and effective keywords which will capture the minds of millions.

Now, let us see what we can get from this. Summing up the above paragraphs, our magical one-sentence novel description must meet the three abovementionned basic conditions, which means that the author should make sure to include the following elements into the description:

one-sent-novel-summary-elements1

After we have given it a lot of thinking and put a few words opposite each of the three above items, we can move on to building the structure of our sentence. Again, how can we satisfy everyone who is going to read it?

Many publications on the topic suggest a variety of one-sentence summary structures which have worked well for the bestselling authors. We certainly cannot ignore them. Having studied a dozen of such publications, we can see that the proposed examples of one-sentence summaries usually have simple and easy to read structure, so that everyone could grasp all information contained in the sentence right away: literally, at a glance. Majority of sample one-sentence descriptions had the structures similar to this one:

one-sent-novel-summary-scheme1 I provided an example below the scheme, which illustrates the elements of the sentence structure. This example can also show us that the sample one-sentence description–

“In a care home for the elderly, a woman draws strength from a mysterious friendship in an attempt to recall past secrets and prove her sanity” (Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon review)

is not only built in accordance with the ‘Where-Who-How-What for’ scheme, but it also meets the three conditions which we discussed above:

(1) it contains a new, revealing look at a common, quite failiar and socially important topic (elderly woman draws strength… from friendship; … to prove her sanity);

(2) it is emotionally touching and grabs the reader’s attention right away (elderly woman;  friendship; prove sanity – these words produce expectation of a touching, possibly sentimental, maybe even dramatic, but definitely emotionally intense story);

(3) it has the ‘magical’ keywords, which immediately attract attention of the target audience (the words mysterious, secret draw our attention to the genre and style of writing: as we read them, we expect a great degree of suspense in the story; also, the phrases draws strength, an attempt to recall, and prove her sanity immediately evoke imagess of a dynamic and captivating plot, where the characters must take tremendous  efforts to achieve their goals).

As you can see, our ten-minute study of the ‘secrets’ of successful one-sentence summary writing has already revealed a lot of valuable information; I am sure we can get more if we study more examples of such summaries. I am going to continue my research and write another post about successful one-sentence novel summaries in this blog soon.

You are very welcome to paste your comments, suggestions and — maybe — your examples of one-sentence summaries below this post. Let us analyse them together.

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The Aftertaste of Portnoy’s Complaint

Portnoys-complaintWhy do we rate some books as classics, while many other books remain labeled in our minds as ‘just another great novel’? To me, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint is a good example illustrating the answer to this question.

When I opened Portnoy’s Complaint for the first time, I could feel its Jewish-American scent from the very first lines. It felt like being physically present in that community and knowing the protagonist and his family in person. The images drawn by Philip Roth were so vivid that I was disgusted by the feeling of presence in their bathroom when I came across the descriptions of various physiological acts performed there by the protagonist. Some scenes disturbed me: they reminded me of other similar families which I used to know. The first pages caused some unpleasant aftertaste, so I had to close the book for a while and let my disgust calm down.

However, the book did not let me go, I started thinking about it. Surprisingly, the scenes that had caused my disgust in the beginning, slowly floated away with time, and then the main character — the self-antagonistic protagonist with painfully inflamed, guilt-infested mind, captured my imagination. The few first pages of the book left such a strong aftertaste that I had no other choice, but to open the book again and read it to the end.

To be honest, this guy–the protagonist–still disgusts me: this obtrusive Jewish bore keeps making me think about his problems… against my will! No, I am not going to discuss his mental and emotional health here… not in this post, but isn’t it amazing how the protagonist has all the qualities of an antagonist, and in fact, in this book, he is both! Two in one!

What attracts my attention is the fact that Philip Roth’s novel has captured my imagination so much that, weeks after reading it, I still return to it in my mind, thinking about its characters as if they are real people living next door.

I am certainly not the first one to develop this aftertaste from the novel. The book has  been sensationally popular; millions of people have read it since the day it was published. As Bernard Avishai wrote in his article for Huffington Post,

“By 1975, six years after the book’s publication, Portnoy’s Complaint had sold nearly half a million copies in hardback in the United States, three and a half million in paperback. The book brought what was in the back of our minds to the tips of tongues.”

The reviews of the book are countless, too. And quite controversial. Some rate the book as absolutely excellent, others are openly negative, but nearly no one evaluates the book as average.

The novel touches every reader in a unique way, no matter what kind of emotions it evokes, because Portnoy’s Complaint is–

“…a novel that is playfully and painfully moving, but also a work that is certainly catholic in appeal, potentially monumental in effect–and, perhaps more important, a deliciously funny book, absurd and exuberant, wild and uproarious.” NYTimes review

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How to Pick the Right Book to Read?

pick-a-book

Deciding what book to read is becoming more difficult every day due to the tremendous, ever-growing offer of books in the market, and I assume that making this choice will only become more challenging in the future. Whenever we approach a book shelf (or equally, when we do an online search), we have a number of personal preferences/criteria in mind, but neither the short description of the book, nor its cover, nor illustrations can guarantee that we will like the book. Looking through the readers’ reviews is also only a relatively-efficient way, because– well, you know, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Is there an algorithm for selecting a book with a near 100% satisfaction guarantee?

Yes, there is one for me, and it is really simple. I believe that any book can be fairly evaluated by the quotes taken from it and the readers’ ratings of these quotes. Luckily, there are a number of websites (goodreads.com is one the most popular among them), where you can find lists of quotes nearly for every book. Whenever I need to make an opinion about a book, I go to those pages and read the quotes left by the readers of the book.

I know, it would be logical to ask, “What if a book has not been quoted on Goodreads yet?” Well, to me the answer is simple: I will wait till it is. There are thousands of other books to enjoy.

Another question would be, “What if I don’t like those quotes?” In this case, I’ll exclaim, “Great! This is exactly what you need to make your choice!” The best way to determine for yourself if the book ‘suits’ your personal taste and immediate reading needs is to read a few lines which other people have aready noted as the best pearls of the author. Simply look through the quotes and decide whether if you like them, or not. If you do, you will be reading the book the next minute. If you don’t, you can move on and look for another book.

My method may not be perfect, of course, but it suggests some degree of objectiveness, so it works for me. For example, if I search for quotes from Catch-22 (by Joseph Heller), I can see hundreds of quotes left by grateful readers, and I love nearly all of them. When I look for novels by James Patterson, there are also lots of quotes, but they are not always good to my liking. At this point the choice becomes personalized, and this is very good, because everyone can quickly determine for themselves, who of the authors they like more.

pick-a-book2

Novel Chapters of the Size of Tweets?

Whenever I come across an attractive piece of reading, my first thought is: Why don’t I check out the Internet for some quotes from the book first? If I like the quotes, I can devote a few minutes to reading about the book and its author, and only then I would take the book and start reading it. shrinking-1

In the new millemium, this tendency has grown into a common pattern for many of us, because our time is too precious and the abundance of books which are marketed as bestsellers is so mindblowing that we simply cannot afford to ‘read everything we can get our hands on’, as many readers use to say about their childhood habits.

This change is going to influence the writers’ work, too. Today, the life of an author is such that in order to conquer readers’ attention, one has to compress every thought to the size of a tweet. I won’t be surprised if I see a bestseller with chapters of the size of tweets some day. This is the specificity of our time, and authors will have to adjust to it.

Our available reading time is shrinking, so do the lengths of fiction and non-fiction works. This is the thought that I wanted to share here, so I will wrap up the post, hoping that somebody will read it to the end.

shrinking-2

 

Romantic Mystery: A Man in the Knitted Scarf

At dawn, when the first beams of the April sun gilded the porch of the house and started crawling along the lawn toward the old apple tree, the door of the house opened with a creak and released a man of indefinite age, wearing sunglasses, a gray denim jacket and a nifty knitted scarf. The man fastened up his jacket and hurried out of the yard.

Having reached the mailbox, the man paused to study the sign. It said:

#12, Sara Bonk. Writer.

The man smirked. He took out a cigarette, lit it, and drew on it with a sigh of relief. Then, he threw the used match on the ground, and said quietly to himself, as he walked away:

“For sure, the book was better.”

Since then, the man in the knitted scarf has never been seen in the neighborhood.

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The Thing About Luck

luckHuman luck is real, and it is a she. I have always known this with my subconscious mind, and now, when I have spent enough time studying it, I have learned to stay inspired with it. Luck shows itself to those who really want to see it, and Alice Hoffman’s words are correct: you don’t know if it is good or bad until you have some perspective.

My heroine Inga in A Soft Spot for Luck believes that–

…luck is a careless moth. It appears all of a sudden, circles around your hand, even touches it jauntily, and flies away, so you can’t catch it. We spend our whole lives chasing and trying to catch our luck, when in fact, all we need to do is just stretch out a hand and let it land there… Moreover, while we chase our moth of luck, we balance on the edge of an abyss, and the name of that abyss is Fate.”

moth2

To those who needs a vivid image of it, Luck looks like a moth. To some it is a myth, a thing to believe in; to others, it is an invisible being – a smart one – which offers us chances to pick from. But finally, luck is always drawn to the feeling that can be developed in us: inspiration of love.

Let me say this again: Luck is real. It is everywhere, inside and around us. We live in it like fish lives in water. Luck is our natural habitat, it is our other air. We simply don’t realize its presence, because we can’t see or touch it.

We tend to forget this at times – like breathing the air. But whenever we walk into a stuffy room, we start worrying about air conditioning, don’t we? The same thing with luck. We start complaining about luck insufficiency or luck failure when we don’t have enough of it. There is no need to follow or chase our luck; we just need to prepare ourselves to live with whatever it offers us.

Blow-dice

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ALEX MARKOVICH

Author, scriptwriter, theater director