Traditional Publishing

A.R. Capetta’s Top Ten Tips For Writing Speculative Short Stories – Sunday February 12, 2023

To celebrate the release of their sensational new YA sci-fi anthology, Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perception, co-editor A.R. Capetta, shares their top ten tips for writing speculative short stories.

1. Write that first draft as quickly as you can get it down—without giving yourself time to judge it. If your story involves worldbuilding or even research, like many of the science and tech-inspired stories in Tasting Light, you can do that beforehand and layer in more afterward. But as you write a first draft try not to interrupt your brainwaves while they’re chasing the single, brilliant beam of light that is your idea.

2. Speaking of light! A great speculative short story is like a beam of light that’s gone through the facet of a prism. It is focused and transforming. As part of your writing process, read some of your favorite SFF stories. Look for the focus. Look for transformation—both in the story itself and in how it changes things for the reader.

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Why publishers are such cowards – Sunday February 12, 2023

After publishing 17 books, I’m no stranger to the publicity campaign. In my no-name days, my publicist would purr that my novel’s release would be ‘review-driven’ – which decodes: ‘We don’t plan to spend a sou on your doomed, inconsequential book.’ By contrast, as we’ve seen writ large with Prince Harry’s Spare, your volume can be cast upon the public waters as not a mere object but an event. The intention is to convince book-buyers that unless they snap up a copy sharpish they’ll be caught up short at cocktail parties.

Thus quite some time ago, some editorial Baldrick at William Collins must have whispered to Nigel Biggar, a newly signed author at the HarperCollins imprint: ‘I have a cunning plan.’ Clearly the concept driving this week’s release of the Oxford professor’s Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning, which before our current Year Zero would never have caused a stir, was to convert misfortune to opportunity, much as manure can convert to fuel.

As I’ve read the story in some ten different articles, interviews and reviews, including in last week’s Spectator, we’ll keep the recap short: Bloomsbury commissions book on British Empire; Bloomsbury loves book on British Empire; Bloomsbury gets the willies about too-hot-to-handle manuscript claiming British Empire did some good things as well as bad and pays off author to go away. Behold, yet another ‘cancellation’ in an industry that once audaciously scandalised genteel sensibilities with the likes of Ulysses or Lady Chatterley’s Lover and is now renowned instead for cravenness, fearfulness and slavish conformity.

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One brash request, 7 books, and 34 bits of advice for writers – Thursday February 9, 2023

How a whimsical invitation featuring the Rolling Stones and a Shelley poem led to some essential writing advice.

Early in October I received a small package from England, which looked most interesting even before I opened it. The envelope celebrated “Her Majesty the Queen’s PLATINUM JUBILEE.” Five stamps carried the postage, each with a distinctive image: Soldiers from World War II; three lines from my favorite Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, “To a Skylark”; four members of the Rolling Stones; and a gray cat with its eyes closed.

When I flipped it over, it was sealed with a Mick Jagger stamp and a handwritten note: “He also can’t get no satisfaction …”

I was intrigued. Whoever sent this seemed to know something about my interests and sensibilities. The sender was a writer named Paul Khanna. He described himself as a scribe who was, like Jagger, not getting satisfaction from his work; no mention of his acting career. He had written three diet books and had taken a course on screenwriting during the pandemic. He experienced personal setbacks. Both parents suffered serious illnesses and his cat went blind. (I thought of that stamp of a gray cat with its eyes closed.)

What did he want from me? It turns out he had read two of my books and found them helpful. He then caught a notice of my new book, “Tell It Like It Is: A Guide to Clear and Honest Writing,” due out April 11. He wanted a preview copy. “Just like the Apollo 13 which launched on that day,” he wrote, “I’m feeling lost in space and can’t wait to find my way home.”

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Mysteries Contained Therein: In Praise of the Literary Journal Longform Interview – Sunday February 5, 2023

“I’ve never consciously strategized about how to make a sentence, let alone a poem. But I can see, even in the earliest poems, that my way of making a sentence involves enacting the push and pull of my interior life, a way of approaching a statement while also making room for its opposite.” In the year since the poet Carl Phillips wrote those lines in our conversation for Image, I’ve lingered over their sound and sense. Their wisdom. How we might discover ourselves through syntax.

No literary action is more instructive for me than the longform interview. At Image, we feature one interview per issue: an anchor for the surrounding words and art. I’ve long admired Phillips as a poet, but after our conversation I more fully appreciated his method. Interviews partially reveal the mysteries of process and vision. Literary magazines—spaces where craft and contemplation reside—are the perfect homes for these conversations.

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7 Newsletters That Will Improve Your Writing – Saturday February 4, 2023

The resurgence of the email newsletter over the past couple of years is great news for writers. So much of our work requires probing our deepest thoughts in isolation, biting our cuticles, staring at cracked paint on the walls. Whether online or IRL, sharing insights and developing community is essential for survival. Subscribing to newsletters by writers, for writers is a way of staying in conversation with peers. Email newsletters can offer emotional support, tips and exercises for improving craft, and resources for getting published that might otherwise be inaccessible, especially to writers beginning their careers. Some even promote community-building by establishing writing challenges and providing platforms for writers to discuss their experiences. The seven newsletters below offer the best of craft and publishing advice, writing prompts, pitch calls, and encouragement and commiseration about the writing life.

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What Is Tone in Writing (& Why Is It Important)? – Thursday February 2, 2023

When it comes to learning about the many dynamics of screenwriting, including the key aspect of tone in writing, screenwriters are tasked with reading about the endless go-to elements of screenplays. Some of these elements include structure, conflict, genre, theme, and characterization. Books, workshops, classes, tutorials, and panels focus solely on these vital elements of screenwriting — and rightfully so. However, very little attention is paid to perhaps the most essential ingredient found within all screenplays and their eventual adaptations into movies — tone.

In cinema, the definition of tone is a mystery to most — lost in translation. People debate the difference between tone and mood in relation to the cause-and-effect elements of a screenplay. The atmosphere also plays a role in this discussion.

Let’s simplify the definition of cinematic tone, explain why tone is important, and learn how the tone of a screenplay and movie affects its cause and effect.

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Woke publishers don’t stand a chance against Jane Austen – Friday January 27, 2023

This week, during an insomniac night, I was yet again re-reading Persuasion – no one else soothes quite like Jane Austen. Delighting in its colourful characters and gentle humour, I paused when in the final pages I came across two references to property held in the West Indies. How is it this beloved book has escaped the cancel mob, I thought, given that the fictional Mr Smith can be associated with a plantation?

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Save the children's – Wednesday January 25, 2023

Children’s publishing is in crisis and we need to take a stand for more thoughtful, challenging books.

I felt a jolt of righteous gratitude for the "Today" programme’s coverage last month of the declining attention paid by the media to children’s books and of the effects of the publishing industry’s focus on celebrity authors. How reassuring to hear the BBC acknowledge what many of my colleagues and I consider to be a genuine cultural crisis.

I represent authors who write for children and teenagers. And I think British children’s literature is under threat.

It’s already hard to make money as a writer (the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society Authors’ Earnings report makes this plain); it’s even harder for children’s writers. The recommended retail price of a children’s novel is rarely higher than £7.99; publishers sell the majority of children’s books to retailers at high retail discounts, earning authors decreased royalties. For most authors, advances have been stagnant for years; very few break the £20,000 ceiling, and most don’t get nearly that much. It is nearly impossible for writing children’s books to be a full-time career, particularly for authors who don’t already have the support of socioeconomic privilege.

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Jack Kerouac’s Guide To Writing Spontaneous Prose – Sunday January 22, 2023

You too can be a writer. In 1962, Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922–October 21, 1969) , the Beat Generation writer who tamed his fears by writing, assured subscribers to Writer’s Digest that “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write”. He continued with a word to the wise that “geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.”

If Walter Pater (The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Literature, 1870) is right and “all art  constantly aspires towards the condition of music”, you might be interested in what composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky thought of it.  In a letter to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck on  March 17th, 1878 (from The Life & Letters of Pete Ilich Tchaikovsky), he wrote:

There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work…

I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge. This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.

Discipline matters. You can adhere to Kerouac’s 39 Rules for Writing Prose – and this from the writer with the musical ear whose rhythmic and spontaneous stories and poems had “no form” because everything comes at you “in piecemeal bombardments, continuously, rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of Mind essence.” Putting the fleeting and universal into a book is hard work. So, you can also study Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Writing Modern Prose In 30 Bullet Points.

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Diversity ‘box-ticking’ could cost us the next John Grisham, says top publisher – Saturday January 21, 2023

Diversity “box-ticking” could mean the next John Grisham or Dan Brown is lost, a leading publisher has warned.

Stephen Rubin, who has published more than 4,000 books, including 23 of Grisham’s novels and Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, told The Telegraph that  an “almost bizarre reliance on diversity and inclusion” threatens the future of books.

Mr Rubin, a consulting publisher for Simon & Schuster, who has been in the industry for four decades, said that writers are having “potentially wonderful books” rejected because of a preoccupation with being politically correct.

“The almost knee-jerk response to diversity and inclusion has ultimately – and ironically – made publishers less diverse,” he said.

“If you’re publishing mostly books by people of colour and people who are gay, then where’s the diversity?

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