My Author Page on Amazon

This is a short post, just to share the fact that, as of now, I am another slave in the galley of mighty Amazon. This is my author page there:

amazon.com/author/irynatymchenko

If you are also an Amazon author, you are welcome to share the link to your author page with me, so we can connect there and follow each other.

Alright, I am off to my galley now. Time to write more books…

There I am, behind the last oar, see? ūüėČ

Speed Thinking? Hmm, Maybe…

Due to the nature of my job, reading ‘eats up’ at least two thirds of my time every day, it has always been so. The rest of the time goes on writing and living my human life, but this kind of lifestyle leaves me little to no time for thinking– I mean, the efficient, productive thinking that normally leads us to something new.

As a teacher, I read through lots of student materials daily; I have to learn a lot, because otherwise I will have nothing to teach them. As a translator/interpreter, I have to know a lot and this makes me read endlessly about so many diferent things. As an author… well, I don’t even have to begin explaining it: reading is critical.

This is why whenever I read an article, a coursebook text, or a piece of fiction, I catch myself on thinking: “Eww, too many words! Too many words! Guys, please!” I want to finish every piece as quickly as possible, because my ‘to read’ list is itself as long as a novel.

man scrolling old book pages at the table fast

I am sure I am not alone in this. Many people regret having to waste their time even when they are reading a fiction book with no practical reason, for pure pleasure. Time is becoming our strictest warder; we simply can’t afford to spend days on reading a book anymore.

I thought I found an answer by starting to listen to audiobooks when I am in gym or while cooking and doing stuff with my hands. It helped, not for a long time, though. My ‘to read’ list is still growing fast, and my time is still slipping away.

Some colleagues suggest that it’s good to study speed reading. I am sure it is, but is this going to solve the problem? Just a little, but– no, I’m afraid. I believe that we are going to end up inventing a way of speed thinking soon. But isn’t thinking in a hurry the most dangerous business of all?

I think the best answer for readers would be to ‘brush up’ their ‘to read’ lists and start reading more selectively, while writers will have to accept the approach of condensed writing — when everything is put in the most precise and well-structured way, so that the reader can easily grasp the idea of every passage and quickly move on.

In fact, the process is taking place already, even for the fiction books. I just analyzed a dozen of bestsellers published in 2018 and compared them to a dozen of fiction bestsellers which were first published between 2000 and 2005. The results are very interesting: on the total, the more recent novels have become more ‘visual’ and imaginative (the descriptions are built to create fast images in the reader’s mind); the passages in novels have become shorter; there are more dialogs, in which sentences are becoming shorter, too, and it is not unusual to see chapters of the cize of a page anymore. As far as I know, this was not a usual thing in the literature published in the 20-th century.

So, condensed writing is taking over little by little. I think I need to study and compare more texts — who knows, maybe a deeper research is going to reveal more tendencies which I have not noticed yet?

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.

learning1

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 ‚Äústory question‚ÄĚ;
  • 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.

writing01

 

 

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

 

Dealing with Rejections

I’ve been wondering, how many rejections should an author bear before he/she begins to suspect that his/her novel is not perfect? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand?

dWebFimRejections wear you out. They kill inspiration and boost the author’s inferiority complex, especially when the writer is new to the publishing world.¬†When taking their first steps in fiction writing,¬†the debut authors have no experience to rely on, and quite often, they have noone to ask about the industry’s ‘rules of conduct’. At the same time, it is very important¬† for a beginner to build some expectations about what they are going to face.

While writing, an author of a fiction book usually works alone; it is quite common for many full-time writers not to leave their home offices for weeks.  With such lifestyle, it is  difficult to create realistic career expectations, and to many beginners, even the information in the post below would be a discovery.

agented-submission

I made a screenshot of this Emily Rodmell’s Twitter post to share the list of ways how books can be sold to publishers. In my opinion, the most reliable and realistic way is the last in the list, but how can a debut authir obtain a personal recommendation from trusted source when he/she does not know anybody in the industry yet?

The other ways in the above list also involve a big deal of entropy, first of all because you can’t learn much from your rejection letters. You never know why they decided to say no to you.

Yep. This is the most upsetting thing about the business: you’ve got to be someone if you want to be noticed.

They say, everybody gets rejected, it is quite normal. Well, maybe. At least, it is better to receive a rejection email than to get no answer at all! They say, go on, send your query, keep submitting and maybe some day…

I think the best formula here would be–

— Submit your book to a few places (five or so) —

— Revise your query and rethink your book —

— Edit your submission package —

— submit to another five places —

— repeat the whole cycle —

It is good to have a set-up process for dealing with publishers. By repeating it, you can overcome the stress of rejection and your every next submission package will probably be better than the previous one.

There is a big advertisement board in my gym, showing a picture of a sports woman training. It says:

You think training is hard? Try losing.

I prefer not to take rejections like losing. I take them like training. Just training before the big game.

What are your ways of dealing with rejections? Please, share your thoughts. Thank you!

athlete

 

A Checklist for Your Query Letter

suspense3

I sincerely enjoy reading every piece of advice posted by¬†Carly Watters¬†(a literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency), especially her tips on writing query letters. I like her ability to put the most valuable information together in a short, easy to comprehend and remember manner. I came across this little checklist on Carly’s blog and found it really helpful in work on my query letters:

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU QUERY IS ACTUALLY A QUERY?

  • Does it read like back cover copy?¬† (1)

  • Does it refrain from giving away the ending unless it‚Äôs absolutely necessary? (2)

  • Is it three paragraphs long? (Intro, Pitch, Author bio.)¬† (3)

  • Does it focus on why your book is different?¬† (4)

  • Does it directly or indirectly touch on all of these things: character, their growth, their stakes, and their motivation?¬† (5)

There is practically nothing to add to this. You write your query, check it for compliance to these five items, and you may rest assured that the query is sufficiently good. Certainly, there is no end to making improvements to every query, but this checklist helps you create a good structure for your document, and then you only need to add some flavor to it.

The only thing I would rather add to this list is one more question, which is not directly related to the book which is being pitched, bu to the personality of the author. In my opinion, the question (6) should be–

  • Does my query look like a business letter or not?¬† (6)

I would add this item because it seems to me that many authors fail to demonstrate their committment to having long term business relationship with their potential agent. I don’t know if I am right or nit here, but I have read hundreds of sample queries and tried to imagine myself being an agent. Suppose, an agent liked an author’s idea and is considering giving this novel a try. What would the agent’s major concern be at this point? I think it will be the fact that they are not acquainted and the agent has no idea what kind of person the author is.

As far as I understand, the author/agent work involves lots of interaction on person-to-person level, as well as lots of negotiation, counseling, learning from each other, and following multiple rules, conditions, and time limitations. All this is only possible when the two people are compatible and when both understans the business nature of this relationship. This is why I find this item important: the business-like style of the query can tell a lot to the agent about the author and thus, it can influence the agent’s final decision about working with an author or rejecting him/her.

 

Agents Have Their Blocks, Too!

I have just ran across a blog post about reading blocks: a common problem for book editors and literary agents. The author explained that reading blocks may occur to everyone who works with books on daily basis, because they hardly ever read books for pleasure: to them, reading every new book means a hard work of mind, asking and answering questions like: ‘Can I sell this book?’ or ‘How am I going to promote it?’

The author of the post tried to convince her readers that even today, in the time when the world is facing terrible challenges like wars, economic stagnation, terrorism and increasing violence, the job of literary agents is needed, anyway, because they help create new voices in literature. Still, the gereral intonation of the post was a bit apologetic (at least to my mind), as if the author was trying to justify herself and her colleagues, so I felt bound to share my opinion on this.

Female student writing at desk

I am convinced that the work of finding new voices in literature IS very important: it is as important as finding new voices and discoveries in every other creative area.  Still, majority of people today tend to underestimate it, because they have already swallowed the poisonous pill of ignorance. This makes the role of humble publishing industry workers even more significant now, when the world is being shrugged by violence, terrorism, wars, arrogance and populism (in my mind all these phenomena grow from the same root of ignorance). By finding new voices and by bringing them to the world, editors and agents help promote education, intelligence, and ethical values, which altogether may help us overcome the disease of mass ignorance.

I would like to thank the editors and agents, who are not afraid to share about their work-related problems and chores. Knowing about your reading blocks helps us, authors, to see you as real people, rather than as ‘callous rejection machines’ with no emotions whatsoever (I picked this from Facebook).

The more talented voices are discovered and displayed to the world, the better our life will be, the less violence we will witness and the fewer ignorant minds will govern our lives. I am a strong believer in this principle, so I want to support and encourage you, editors and agents, to go on and do your work well.

As an educator, I have a similar professional goal: I share knowledge with those who can’t stand ignorance and I continuously look for new voices and smart ideas among the students I work with.

By the way, we, teachers, have teaching blocks, too. In fact, my recent block was so bad that I wrote a novel while trying to overcome it. But, as a popular saying goes, ‘once a teacher, always a teacher’, so I never stopped pursuing my mission: I teach. It does not matter where and in what form: in classroom, in the open air, online, or through the books I write.

To be able to teach¬†really well, I need to learn from the new voices which you, editors and agents, create. So please, do not stop. Give us, readers, more food for thought… every day!

writing001

Building Tension in a Story

Suspense Wilde quote

In her recent article Plot Devices that Work, Myra Fiacco suggests two winning techniques that help create anticipation in a story: ‘the clock’ (which is really popular among authors) and the so-called ‘the other shoe’, or “the point in a story when one or more of your characters has a moment of realization, revealing the missing piece of a puzzle that ties the story together.”

Making these two techniques work in a story is not so easy; it certainly takes working on every scene again and again after the first draft has been finished. I am not surprised that writing every novel takes brilliant authors like Donna Tartt nearly a decade; I am sure such authors rewrite their works hundreds of times before they can feel satisfied… So, what are other writing techniques to create and keep tension in a novel?

I have been thinking about these:

The increasing feeling of time pressure. If my character has a goal that must be reached really soon, plus some circumstances will keep breaking in and making the charcter hurry even more, then the reader will probably be more satisfied by the pace of the story.

The tension should come from all sides. If the pressure us high, plus more and more troubling signs of impending danger are revealed to the main character, this may also help a lot. But in this case, the author should not forget about balancing tension with the other elements of the plot. Too many elements of tension in a story may turn the book into a real rollercoaster for the reader.

I like it when the protagonist is a thinking preson, who keeps asking questions and trying to find answers to them. The questions should arise from internal and external conflicts of the story, and it is very important to reveal every answer for the reader before you write ‘the end’ phrase.

The¬†chrescendo technique is a method of keeping the reader interested by gradually increasing emotional tention in the story, and it says: avoid too many sudden jerks in the plot. As a reader, I don’t care for the plots where every plot point comes a real catastrophy: this makes me emotionally tired of the book.

Well, I am sure there are more ‘tricks’ to develop tension in a story; here are just a few articles I read recently on the topic. I hope they might help you answer your questions just like they helped me:

How to Build Tension to Heighten the Stakes by Jessica Page Morrell;

Seven Tension Building Tips for Writing Action Scenes by Joan C. Curtis

How to Create Dramatic Content¬†by Sean D’Souza

Here is some infographics from nownovel.com blog:

Infographic-how-to-create-tension-in-stories

 

 

 

On the Importance of Page One

(3 min. read)

beautiful journalist looks typewriter

Page One challenge

Whenever I happen to read my students’ essays and theses, I seldom need more than a couple of minutes to make an opinion about the quality of their work: evaluation of research always involves the same sequence of steps–

  • read the title to pick out the most significant words (keywords) in it and to learn about the subject of the research paper;
  • study the Contents page, which is supposed to outline the general logic of the research;
  • look through the introduction really quickly, to see how the author identifies the goal, the tasks and the main methodology of the research; and
  • take a quick look at the section called ‘Conclusion’.

If I see some red flags in these parts of the thesis, I open the text at a random page and read a couple of random sentences: this gives me understanding of the author’s level of professionalism, awareness of the ‘rules’ of academic writing, and the amount of effort put into the writing of this thesis. After reading of a few sentences, I can easily say whether the author did a thorough, diligent work of writing or not. Quite often, when the writing style is complex and even unclear, it reveals quite the opposite of professionalism. This is why the best works of science are written in such a language that even an 8-year-old can understand what the talk is about in the research.

Before I started writing fiction, I thought that similar evaluation of fiction manuscript swould be impossible, because fiction writing is such a creative process and it is always absolutely unique. Now, when I have finished a few works of fiction, I realize (and strongly support) the fact that evaluation of a fiction manuscript by editors and agents is also done in a similar way, by means of applying a certain sequence of actions which serve as¬†bench mark measurements to identify the level of the author’s professionalism and talent.

Johannes_Vermeer_The_Geographer

Johannes Vermeer. The Geographer. 1668.

 Every evaluation involves applying some system of measurements to the object of evaluation; even such thing as talent of a master in any form of art can (and should) be measured.

This is what Carly Watters, a literary agent, writes in her blog about reading manuscripts of fiction authors:

“I wish I had time to give writers (and their books)¬†more of a chance but I can tell a lot by one page: sense of dialogue, setting, pace, character, voice, and writing talent‚Äďyes, usually all from one page. Five at the most.”

Carly gives us her measurement criteria:¬†sense of dialogue, setting, pace, character, voice and the general impression of the author’s writing style which she calls¬†writing talent. I am very thankful to Carly for sharing this with us. Isn’t it great to know how your first page will be assessed by a professional?

But how can we measure talent? I kept asking myself this question until I have done evaluation of dozens of graduate students’ thesis. The answer is quite simple: the talent of a scientist is measured by the readers’ ability to understand and follow his/her writing.¬† During life, with lots of reading and learning experiences, every person develops a certain pattern (stereotype) of mental strategies which help us understand each other’s way of thinking. The professionalism (and also the talent) of a scientist is his/her ability to use commonly accepted patterns to explain their unique ideas in a simple and attractive way.¬† I think the evaluation of a fiction writer’s talent is done similarly: if the narration ‘sounds’ attractive, realistic, exciting and quite simple to digest, the manuscript is good and is worth reading. The very first page will inevitably reveal this.

In her article, Carly Watters suggests a few tips to attract the reader to your manuscript from the very first page:

  • Learn how to balance what readers¬†need¬†to know vs. what you, as the writer,¬†want¬†to tell us;
  • Learn what ‚Äústart with action‚ÄĚ really means;
  • Let us know who has secrets; keep the reader curious;
  • Be wary of information dumps;
  • Introduce characters on a need-to-know basis; and
  • Never assume a reader is going to finish your first page, first chapter, or whole book.

You can look up her explanations about each tip in her article. The bottom line is, every author needs to know these ‘tricks’ and check their whole manuscripts for¬†compliance with the editors criteria, because, in fact, they are not the editors’ whims, but the common, universal patterns of perception of fiction, which form readers’ expectations of our books. This is why her majesty Page One is so important, and this is why I am off to¬† sit down and check my own Page One for compliance with these requirements– right away!

William_Howen_allchin_Open Book

William T.Howell Allchin. Open Book.

Writings from the Couch

Processes of Discovery in the Mind

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life