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  • Does my world need an economy?

    Recently, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    The short answer is: yes, your world really does need an economy.

    It's also important to ask yourself, is it important to me to write a tight, well-written economy? as well as, what will the market bear? The amount of worldbuilding that may go into a hard sci-fi novel may be vastly different than what a YA novel set in the suburbs near Denver will require. You, the author, should have a pretty good grasp on what's going on in your world, but all ideas are subject to plot and pacing. You might know very minute details that won't make it onto the page. In fact, most economies are implied. You'll do far more work on your end, because it's really the results of your economy that are shared. Know when to say that's enough with the details, because your story should be, first and foremost, entertaining. Worldbuilding is important, but if you have a great setting lack compelling characters, no one will care.


    Your world's economy drives the stakes of the story. Without money to be made, people won't stay in an area. Is your story set in the remnants of what was once a booming industry? A thriving trade hub? Your world's economic status will have had some effect on how your characters were raised, and perhaps what their view of the world is. (Think of Katniss' reaction to the Capitol, for instance) Are your people dependent on other countries to get the resources they need, or are they self-sufficient?

    The geography of the world will dictate what kind of jobs are available, as well. A trade city will need to be accessible, not stuck at the peak of the mountains. You probably won't find many fisherman or farmers in the desert, but a jeweler would operate best in a thriving city. Think back to who settled your cities - the first successful settlers, in the long run, tend to become the people with influence and resources there. What drove people to settle there?

    Economy isn't limited to money, but includes bartering goods and services - so long as people with valuable skills are around. What does your character offer to those around them? What would happen if your character came from a bartering community and found themselves in a currency based system - or the opposite?

    Economy matters to everyone. The status of the economy determines whether (and what) a family eats, whether a country can afford to go to war. Economies can drive acts of desperation or lull them into complacency. Even the little guy can have more power than a king if they have enough resources to pool together.

    While we tend to think of economy in terms of money, it can also come in the form of social exchanges, such as gender bias, or marriage for alliances. In our society, our careers are a form of economy. We suss out our standing in society and who our advantageous acquaintances are with the question what do you do?

    Also, if you want to be 'outside the box' with your economic system and draw attention to it (which is totally cool!), try to make it strange enough to be interesting, but recognizable enough to sustain interest and not scare away readers.

    Hopefully you found some decent food for thought in this. I know that for me, world building is something that I love in concept, but struggle with knowing what questions to ask. After sitting through this panel, I feel like I have a much better grasp on how to shape an economy.

    (Authors leading this panel: Rae Carson, Cherie Priest, Ron Collins, Brian McClellan, Ferrett Steinmetz)

  • Publishing House Consolidation

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This panel was an amazing wealth of information for me, though I'm a little concerned that I won't be able to translate the information very well. The main topic was how large publisher consolidation affects writers, though it had a lot of good publishing knowledge and pros and cons. Hopefully you find something in here as interesting as I did.

    To answer the main question, how does publisher consolidation affect writers? - well, here are some things to consider:

    • With the rise of e-books, better means of self-publishing, and legitimate smaller publishers, this isn't as damaging to writers as it would have been ten years ago.
    • The main power of the big houses is in their money. They are more stable, financially, and the house is less likely to fold under you while trying to get your book published. They also can make better distribution deals with sellers like Barnes & Noble to get your book on more shelves, faster.
    • However, with publisher consolidation comes less competition. There are already too few people in control of choosing what 'trends' are within the industry (and therefore, controlling what gets published), and fewer houses means that even fewer people set the tone - which stinks for you and me.
    • This also means that there are fewer big houses to submit your work to, though this is probably the most obvious problem for writers.

    So, what does this mean?

    Well, you can try submitting your work to smaller (the panel referred to them as "mid-size") publishing houses, as they are becoming more viable options. The two main drawbacks to these are money related - they don't have as much money, so they're a riskier bet, and your advances with a mid-size house may be substantially smaller. But, here's an interesting tidbit - the closing of the Borders chain a few years ago really messed up advances for just about everyone. Distribution numbers went down substantially because Borders, along with B&N, was one of their biggest buyers. With that, advances have tanked.

    Mid-size publishers have some great things to offer to writers. First, they are more flexible than bigger houses. Often, they can make decisions faster, because larger publishers are bogged down in being corporate behemoths. They may be more likely to take risks and look for works that wouldn't fit in the main stream (depending on the publisher, of course!).

    Additionally, mid-size publishers tend to have a better view of the long term. Bigger publishers very rarely sign for more than one book up front, because they want to see how it will do. Their expectations are higher, and if you don't do well enough, you'll be cut before the prologue of book two. But smaller publishers understand that with a series, each new book will bolster the sales of previous books, and that sales tend to grow over time. They are better able to make long term investments in writers, and it's paying off.

    Obviously, this doesn't mean that bigger publishers aren't still an option. They are a completely legitimate option, but it's good to know your options and try to figure out where you might fit best. The world of publishing is still up in the air - they still haven't figured out how to deal with digital publishing yet and personally, I think we're going to see more upheaval before writers and publishers find a new groove.

    In the meantime, for writers who are willing to be entrepreneurs, there is hope and new avenues opening up. Just keep looking for them.

    (Authors leading this panel: Laura Resnick, Myke Cole, Bradley Beaulieu, Michael R. Underwood.)

  • Researching Historical Fantasy

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This Historical Fantasy panel, led by author Howard Andrew Jones, brought up different ways to research for novels and various things to think about. Good stuff!

    I could sum up this panel in two words: Don't assume! But that's not very fun. So, here we go.

    When doing research, look into a mix of primary and secondary sources. (If I remember correctly) Primary sources are those that would come from within the culture/time period directly, and secondary sources are anything else. A mix is important, because there are certain things that we don't talk about when we're in the moment. First hand descriptions may give you a better look at how that culture functioned, but may lack descriptive details about clothing, foods, etc. It really depends on what you're researching, but finding a good mix of sources is your best bet.

    If you need help, professors are potentially a good resource, as they may have a wealth of knowledge on obscure topics that they'd love to share with someone who is actually interested. Another potential resource? Roleplaying guides, for names, art, and the like. (The author recommended the GURPS system, of which many books are out of print, but you can find them if you're savvy.)

    But what are some things, specifically, that are good 'food for fodder' when building your historical fantasy?

    Well, one thing to remember is that, at the core, humanity really hasn't changed. We're a bit more civilized (usually), we're more educated as a whole, and our tribes are larger, but we still have them. How we go about accomplishing things may have changed, but we're still trying to feed ourselves, put roofs over our heads, and build relationships with others.

    Keep in mind that travel is a fairly recent phenomenon for most of the world. We can go further, for cheaper, and faster than was even conceivable a few hundred years ago. Some people did travel, yes. But keep in mind the scope of these things, and the toll they could take. If your relatives headed out west via the Oregon trail, the odds that you were ever going to see them again were pretty dog gone low. In Pride & Prejudice, Darcy makes a comment that Mrs Collins is fortunate to be settled so near her family. Elizabeth points out that fifty miles, at the Collins' income level, was not near her family.

    People didn't travel the way we do now. For some, going to the next village may have been a real rarity. Remember things like geography, seasons, and income restrictions before sending everyone in your novel on road trips.

    Also remember that innovation was slow up until the industrial revolution. People were fairly resistant to change unless there was a profit to be made. If it wasn't broken, chances are, people weren't trying to fix it.

    But, all that aside, sometimes, there was really cool technology available that we may not readily know about. For instance, in the Byzantine empire, they had sun telegraphs. This means that they could communicate far faster than your standard horse and parchment. What kind of communication patterns apply in your culture? What kind of technology might there have been that we don't really pay attention to now?

    Try to resist the impulse to info dump on your readers when establishing differences in culture. The truth is, much of the research you do will stay behing the scenes. Accent your world with new information for your readers, so as not to overwhelm them. Show how their lives are different through their 'everyday' patterns - through their thoughts and actions, not through paragraphs upon paragraphs of text.

    What kinds of things have changed in our culture over the years that we take for granted? One thing I learned about was the concept of "two sleeps" - I had never heard of it before. Apparently there's quite a bit of evidence from various sources that points to our ancestors sleeping for a few hours, waking for a period of time, and then sleeping until morning. You can read more about the concept here. This is why research is important - what else don't we know about because it has died out in our culture?

    As it comes to magic, think about the roots of mysticism. Now, if you want to write straight up "everyone has a wand and casts fireball" fantasy, that's fine. But in a more historical grounded perspective, keep in mind that in pre-science/education days, superstition and mysticism was far more common. People would view things that we might consider mundane as mystical. If you were bitten by a snake, you might very well assume that someone had cursed you, rather than your clumsiness being to blame. While we now understand some of the medicinal properties behind herbs, a lot of these were just magical concoctions then. People who were able to do 'magical' things would have been feared. They'd have been on the fringes of society, visited by desperate people in the dark of night. Some things actually worked, and some were deeply rooted in superstition. How that plays out in your historical fantasy or in the perceptions of your characters is up to you.

    In the end, as I said earlier, don't assume anything - do plenty of research and question everything. But, err on the side of writing a good story over being accurate. Even the most well-researched novel will have errors, and you will get called out on it by someone who knows more than you do, or doesn't appreciate your take on it. Mention it in the afterward if you feel guilty - if you're writing fiction, take some liberties and write a good story.

  • "If I Knew Then What I Know Now..."

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This panel featured authors Lucy A. Snyder, Ron Collins, Jacqueline Carey, Tobias Buckell, C. C. Finlay and Ian Tregillis talking about the things that they wished they had known prior to becoming published, as well as some general writing advice.

    - How much writing time would be spent in the business and self-promotion side of things.

    As a writer, you are your own business. (Definitely for tax purposes) Treat yourself as one. We tend to think that when we get that book deal, we're golden. But the truth is, you are your own best advocate. Take the initiative and look for events and ways to get your name out. Learn to set up and interact on social media. Publishers may want your book to succeed, but you'll need to help.

    Along the lines of social media, specialize in the marketing that makes you happy and brings you results.

    - How important a community of other writers is.

    A good community of writers can help you grow creatively, and if you're at different places in your careers, you can benefit from their experience. While writing itself might be a solitary thing, having a community is really under-rated.

    - Love the craft of writing, and don't focus so much on just selling your work.

    If you don't love the art of writing, it's just going to be another day job when you have to do it full time. It's not a career with guarantees, and you'll end up pouring more of yourself into it than most day jobs. So make sure you love the writing process, the art of it, or consider keeping writing as a hobby.

    If you worry too much about 'getting things sold' and don't work on actively improving your craft, you'll hit a wall. Focus on the art and your work in order to improve.

    Challenge yourself. Write in different tenses, try different styles to keep your writing fresh, to give yourself new tools, and hone your voice.

    - If you take care of yourself, you will be able to produce good work.

    Watch your energy levels and make sure you refill your well. If you're constantly running yourself ragged, it will be a lot more difficult to sustain creativity, and you will burn out. Take care of yourself.

    - Learn how to give and receive feedback as part of your toolset.

    Feedback is generally good for telling you that there is a problem, not necessarily what that problem is. Learn how to take feedback from others and discern what really needs to be fixed. One of the best ways to build up this skill is to practice. Find a trusted community, and give feedback of your own.

    - There is no formula for success, and it is not a race.

    Take your time and soak up information. Learn about the business, about editing, about the craft. Learn from other people. If you are very good, your work will find a home. It may take a while, and it may not be the first path you try, but it will happen. Keep working. Keep honing your craft. Make sure your work is actually improving in quality. Go back and read samples of your writing from six months, a year ago. If you're not perfectly happy with it, it's likely a sign that you're still learning and growing, which is good.