“I think everyone who’s able to bring authentic experiences to the table is just adding to a positive overall.” When Arizona Tape told us this during an episode of KWL Podcast a few weeks back, it set the vibe for our June newsletter. We’re all about writing out loud this month, both literally (we’ve got tips on drafting for audiobooks and dictating your work) and metaphorically (with author advice on building confidence, setting your own goals, and selling your work with pride). We’re here to help you broadcast what makes you amazing!
Ruth Ware on building writerly confidence
Ruth Ware knows what she’s doing. Her wildly popular mysteries inspire fervent fan excitement and, on occasion, less-than-responsible reader behaviour. (Like, say, staying up until 3:00 am, and ruining the subsequent workday, because you simply can’t stop turning the pages of The Turn of the Key. Not that we’re speaking from experience.) Her latest book, Zero Days, continues her streak of polished unputdown-ableness that began with In a Dark, Dark Wood in 2015.
But it’s taken Ruth some time to develop confidence in both her work and her identity as a professional author. She always loved to write, but—as she told us in a recent episode of the KWL Podcast, she never thought of it as a career:
“I suppose I’d sort of kind of clocked the idea that the book trade was a thing, and that some people did get paid to do it, but I never really felt like it was something that was open to someone like me. I didn’t know any writers growing up. Being a professional writer just seemed like it was something that other people did.”
After years of hard work and countless drafts (not to mention a massive breakout hit) Ruth’s faith in her capabilities as an author is significantly stronger today. Here’s some of her thoughts on bolstering self-belief:
Recognize what’s holding you back: “I was at the stage when I might have been thinking ‘Maybe I might want to do this more seriously, maybe I might start to want to sub to people.’ It kind of had the effect of sending me right back into my shell. So, I carried on writing, but I didn’t really do anything with the books. They just all went under my bed. And it was only when I was on maternity leave with my second baby that I just suddenly realized: basically my writing was a hobby and I didn’t have time for hobbies anymore. At that stage, I barely had time to brush my teeth, let alone do anything more complex. And I thought, ‘If I don’t find a way to make this pay, to monetize it, I am just not going to have time to do this until the kids have gone to school.’ it was a kind of a ‘use it or lose it’ type thing.
Set a realistic goal: “I thought, ‘I have to try to find a way to justify this space in my life.’ For me, that was trying to get published, and trying to earn enough money to pay for some additional childcare, so that I could cut down on my full-time job and spend a bit more time doing what I loved. And thank goodness I did. That book turned out to be my first published novel.”
Don’t feel pressured to go all-in right away: “I am a full-time writer now, but I was quite a number of books in [before that happened]... I think I had waited as long as I had [to go full-time] because I was fiercely aware of how difficult it is to make a long-term career in writing and how much of a challenge it is to keep hitting the bullseye each time. And so, every book, I thought, ‘Well, you know, maybe the next one I’ll feel confident enough to go full time.’ Eventually, The Woman in Cabin 10 sort of pushed me over the edge.”
Practice gratitude: “Every day I wake up and feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to do this for a living. It’s not something that I take for granted, and I hope it’s something that I will never take for granted.”
Listen to our full podcast interview with Ruth Ware here.
Audiobooks offer tremendous potential to expand your audience as an author. But ask anyone who’s ever written a speech or a script: What works for the eyes doesn’t always work for the ears. This creates an interesting challenge for authors who want their books to live in both read and audio formats. Should you prioritize the needs of one medium over another? Not necessarily! In fact, with some simple tweaks, you can make an on-page manuscript more earbud-friendly. Here are a few suggestions:
Simplify your sentences. Information comes and goes quickly in an audio medium, and listeners are often multitasking. Simple sentences, ideally on the short side, will help them to absorb what they’re hearing. “Imagine your listener as a dog-walking, child-wrangling, commuter wearing tiny earbud headphones. Or (radio flashback) a shortwave listener with a crackly radio in a log cabin in the woods,” advises this post by the Alliance of Independent Authors. “Write with the clarity you need to get through to them. Bigger, bolder, stronger verbs, tight precision.”
Punctuate? Yes—freely! Long, unbroken sentences are tough for narrators—and tiring for listeners. That’s why the folks at The Urban Writers recommend breaking things up: “Use every weapon in your grammar arsenal to make your script narration ready. Excessive commas, exclamation marks, and slashes are great for breaths, inflections, and pauses.”
Flag tricky words. Technical jargon, regional pronunciations, and made-up names can trip up narrators. (Pity the poor soul who had to first enunciate “Daenerys Targaryen” in early books-on-tape of A Game of Thrones!) “The best way to pick up on these awkward words is to read your book aloud,” Reedsy Blog advises. “Or even better, have a very kind friend read it to you. Their stumbles will highlight any potential for trouble.” When you do identify a tricky turn of phrase, add pronunciation notes for your narrator.
If you want to sell your book—to publishers, to agents, and, of course, to readers—you need to be able to sum up its value. That’s why the authors of this very useful Reedsy primer on book proposals stress the importance of preparing a good overview:
“[An overview] will usually be less than two pages long and should hit the key facts about a book: its topic, themes, and intended audience. The overview will also provide insight into the significance and reach of the book, explaining why the subject matter is important and how this book is unique or will fill a gap in the market.”
Organizing an overview is a very useful exercise, as it forces you to distill the key themes, audiences and “talking points” of your work.
But even the best two-page summary won’t help you if you need to talk up your work in a hurry—at a conference, at a cocktail party, or in a lift. That’s why it can be helpful to summarize your book overview even further, into an actual elevator pitch—a few talking points you can easily dash off while bumping elbows with someone who ought to know about it.
Try this simple three-sentence structure, which we’re illustrating with a hypothetical pitch Lucy Maud Montgomery might have used to sell her first novel.
Sentence one: plot. Highlight the broad concept of what your book will cover, and tease out a few points that will pique interest. For example:
Anne of Green Gablesis the story of a precocious red-haired orphan who is mistakenly placed in the home of aging siblings in a rural island community, and gradually, after a series of scrapes, wins them over with her gumption and imagination.”
Sentence two: person. This is where you explain who you are, and what you bring to the table as an author. For example:
“It’s my debut novel, drawing on my years as a schoolteacher, where I developed an uncanny ear for the true thoughts and feelings of children.”
Sentence three: purpose. What does this book say, and why does the world need it? For example:
Anne of Green Gables is a book of hope, imagination, and finding family—one that meets growing demand for stories that appeal to both children and adults.”
See? In three sentences that take less than 30 seconds to read, you can sum up your work, convey its value, and make people care.
Have you ever written by dictating? If not: what’s stopping you? Many successful authors, including Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett, and Nana Malone, have written bestsellers by speaking their stories into a recording device, then transcribing (and—let’s be honest—heavily editing) the results.
In this video, author and self-publishing expert Joanna Penn, who has dictated all or some of several books, lists the benefits of dictation to health (less hunching over a keyboard, more walking-and-talking), speed (think of how fast you can bash out that fast-draft!), and—perhaps most valuably—to quashing inner critical voices that might emerge before they’re needed:
“When we type, we tend to self-censor ourselves. Just automatically. We can’t help ourselves. There’s a thought that arises, but between the thought and the page there will be some kind of feeling that, perhaps, that's not the right word. Or we try and polish it even before we put it on the page. But dictation stops that self censorship.”
Your Next Read: Read with Pride!
“The first in a new series from Jordan L. Hawk, The Forgotten Dead is like the 'X-Files' spin-off you never knew you needed. Full of ghost-hunting, paranormal activity, and an engaging romance, I already couldn't wait to start the next book after beginning this one.”
Tell us: What recent KWL title are you obsessed with? Email to tell us what it is and why you love it—in 50 words or fewer—and your recommendation might be featured in an upcoming newsletter. Please include your full name, and a link to your published work, if applicable.”
The serial renaissance
We’ll admit, it might seem odd to look to Charles Dickens for publishing innovations in 2023. But the Victorian novelist’s penchant for serialization—every one of his classic novels was published in instalments, over time—makes him an unlikely tastemaker for our times. The digital age, and the attendant rise of social media, has rekindled demand for short, sequential stories that build upon themselves—kind of like soap operas you can read. “The concept of serialization appeals as strongly as ever over the internet,” this 2018 Forbes piece predicted, and it’s proven to be prescient: In 2021, no less a literary icon than Salman Rushdie opted to serialize his novella, The Seventh Wave, using Substack.
Last year, the writer Bill McKibben published his novel The Other Cheek in weekly serialized chunks, distributed via his own newsletter. He went into the experiment wondering whether shorter bursts of fiction might appeal to today’s shortened attention spans, and found a groundswell of reader engagement and enthusiasm. In this recounting of the experience at Literary Hub, he sheds light into why:
“[R]eaders seemed to enjoy it, and for just the reasons I had hoped: the story lingered in people’s minds from one Friday to the next, and they wondered what turn it would take. As it spun out across the span of a year I got letters (well, emails) from people regularly suggesting possible plot twists or bemoaning the demise of favorite characters.”
Interested in giving it a whirl? Here are a few of the opportunities that can come from serializing your work today:
It forces you to keep things punchy: In a standard novel, published as a whole, there’s room for the action to ebb and flow. Not so for serialized releases: Every installment must be interesting to keep readers coming back, which, as The Writing Cooperative’s Tom Farr argues, can be a useful writing exercise: “This forces you to put more effort into making each episode of the story the best that it can be because if you keep a reader interested through 13 episodes, but the 13th episode is dry, the reader probably won’t come back for episode 14.”
It allows you to play with audio: If audio is a priority (and why wouldn’t it be?), serialized releases introduce some fun options to play with format and reach new audiences—like, say, releasing audio versions of each chapter as podcast episodes. Per novelist and self-publishing TK Monica Leonelle—who writes YA and new adult fantasy and paranormal romance under the pen name Solo Storm—such options really appeal to today’s busy book-lovers. “The move to multi-tasking with shorter audio and podcasts, especially at home, during exercise, and in the car has increased demand for short-form content,” Leonelle writes in this Medium post.
It gives you a chance to iterate (if you want to): This won’t work for perfectionists or control freaks, but serialization in the digital age offers an intriguing opportunity: the ability to tweak and improve a story based on user feedback. Consider the case of Andy Weir’s wildly popular The Martian, which was originally published chapter-by-chapter on his personal blog. “He gained a following of fellow space enthusiasts who helped him correct scientific inaccuracies in his draft as he went along,” explains Andrea Schlottman at Books on the Wall. “In the self-publishing of The Martian, Weir blended the serializing with the revising.”
It can improve your sales: Serialized releases can boost your overall revenue, while also spreading income out more evenly over time. And many authors who opt for serialized releases also report a boost to backlist sales. (Prices for serialized releases can vary; we recommend checking out how comparable authors in your genre have priced serialized releases to get a sense of what the market wants.)
It gives you room to grow: Want to turn your story into a series, or a box set? Serialization is a fabulous way to whet readers’ appetites and engage them to your world.
YOUR COMMUNITY Four things we're celebrating this month
Cause for celebration #1: Our KWL Podcast is 10 years old! On our blog, we shared our 10 favourite episodes from the last decade, including our very first, which features some serious self-publishing wisdom from veteran storyteller Steve Vernon:
“You have to remember I grew up in a time when if you said the words ‘self-published’ you had to turn your head and spit. It wasn’t considered a thing to do. People shook their heads, they made jokes about you, they decided you smelled funny. But now in the ebook era has brought a whole new sense to self-publishing, and I embrace it. I love the idea that I am a self-published writer. It helps me get my product out there. Basically, you have to understand, I’m not
reallya writer. I’ve been faking it for 20 years. I’m that windbag who loves to sit around the campfire and spin out yarns. I’ve always got one more yarn to tell, and I don’t want some darn publisher saying ‘Wait a minute, we have to market this, we have to broadcast this, we have to advertise this—next year, we can release your next story.’”
Cause for celebration #2: June is Audiobook Month at KWL! We’re celebrating all things audio this month. Last month, we prompted you to check our new-ish Listening In interview series, in which we talk to notable authors about (among other things) what it’s like to have their words heard, as well as read. Here are a few recent interviews you may have missed:
Cause for celebration #3: We’re taking your audio questions—today!
Our next KWL Q&A takes place today, June 29th, at 12:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time. The KWL team is sitting down with Karen Grey—audiobook narrator, author, and founder of Home Cooked Books. Karen (who narrates under Karen White), will answer any questions you might have about going audio. You can find all the details here. Join us via YouTube or Facebook!
Cause for celebration #4: We’ve awarded three emerging writers!
On June 22nd, we announced the winners of our ninth annual Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. The purpose of the prize is to raise the profiles of debut authors by recognizing exceptional books written by first-time Canadian authors in three categories: Non-Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Genre Fiction—with a focus on Speculative Fiction in 2023. The winners are:
Literary Fiction:Tear by Erica McKeen. “Tear is a bold, unflinching bildungsroman that moves, chimera-like, between the real and the imagined; among the confusions and traumas of youth; from the humane to the monstrous,” wrote judge CS Richardson.
Speculative Fiction: The Petting Zoos by K.S. Covert. “The Petting Zoos delivers exactly what many readers look for in their speculative fiction: something bracingly new, but rooted in a fundamental sense of humanity,” wrote judge Robert J. Wiersema.
Huge congratulations to our winners and finalists!
“Luck and time have a far, far greater role to play than we realize (or even want to accept) when it comes to achieving material success in our writing and publishing journeys.
“When we are told that we only have to work hard and keep showing up to eventually get what we want, we forget that there are no guarantees. It is such a common and universal human experience to not get what we want.
“Besides, innumerable factors in this industry (and in life) are not in our control. Yet we may mistakenly believe that we’re not successful because we’re not exhibiting enough grit or discipline or perseverance.
“So if you’re not seeing the kind of worldly success you had hoped for, no matter where you are on your journey, please know it is not your fault.
“Please come back to what had brought you to writing in the first place; I suspect that had little to do with getting rich or famous and more to do with an unadulterated love for expressing yourself through words.
“And when all else fails, please read
And Then We Grew Upby Rachel Friedman for a wise reminder that there can be as many ways to live a creative life as there are creatives.”