The Woolf Ranging the literary landscape
On moonlit nights, the Nuance gals pad through the literary landscape of Z端rich and beyond, pouncing on anything wordy and dragging it home to share with the pack. Sometimes we howl.
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Welcome to The Woolf. In which the Wolves recover from WriteCon 2012 and wonder if we are, indeed, in the throes of a publishing revolution.
In conversation... Orna Ross: writer, poet, and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Charlotte Otter, first-time novelist: her story. Sarah Nickerson, local writer: on Writers' Groups.
Sound bites Bite-sized tidbits from WriteCon 2012 attendees.
The Lighthouse Illuminating the literary landscape.
Making Tracks Goings-on in Zürich and beyond.
Editorial team Masthead
Libby O’Loghlin “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” —Virginia Woolf
Photographic images (unless otherwise attributed): Libby O’Loghlin
Contributions are always welcome! Zürich, December 2012 /3
In Conversation with
The Woolf talks to a successful author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Firstly, tell us a little about the Alliance. What is it? The Alliance is a writers association, a non-profit organisation for self-publishing writers. It provides support, guidance, advice, contacts, advocacy and connection as well as fostering excellence and advancing the interests of self-publishers. We welcome any indie author interested in working together in a spirit of mutual co-operation and empowerment. And, of course, service to the reading and writing community. Why did you decide to found such an organisation? I’d been a writer for 22 years when I self-published my first ebook and from the off, I just loved it. Not just because the books sold more than they had before but mainly for the way it restored to me something I’d lost by working within corporate structures.
For a writer with a passionate interest in the creative process—my blog is called The Go Creative! Blog—it was clear this was the most creative pathway to publication, forcing a writer to think not just about the book, but also how to present it, format it, cover it, blurb it … All the things I had struggles with my publisher about before. Now I had all the freedom. And all the responsibility. It was heady stuff. Soon I was having more fun, garnering more readers and making more consistent money, than at any time since I’d started to publish fiction. But there’s no such thing as an unmixed blessing. It soon became clear to me that writers wanting to harness the opportunities inherent in this revolution needed support, information, collaboration and self-belief. I looked to see if I could find a non-profit association of writers working together for each other: not a group that was jumping on the bandwagon, but one conscious of the issues of ethics and excellence and had the democratisation of publishing and
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the empowerment of writers and readers at its heart. When I couldn’t find such a group, it gave me pause. The more I looked, the more urgent seemed the need for one. Self publishing writers were marginalised in a way that made little sense to me —excluded from most writing organisations on largely spurious grounds, not featured in literary events and festivals, ignored by prizes. An organisation was needed to promote their interests within the literary and publishing industries— booksellers, wholesalers, agents, trade publishers and media, expressing their particular (practical and creative) needs and the self-publishing writer’s position on the most important debates, as well as offering world-class advice and collaboration between writers. When I thought about it, I realised that when asked by my grandchildren where I was when this revolutionary shift was going on in the writing and publishing world, I want to be able to
say: in the heart of it. Not just stretching my own creative boundaries but also helping other writers to recognise and relish the potential in this new creative freedom. So I cleared the decks of everything else but my writing, gathered up all the knowledge gleaned from two decades in media and publishing and ALLi was born. Much media has focused on an ‘us and them’ mentality, regarding indie publishing versus traditional. What’s the ALLi angle? This is a phoney war. Media analysis of selfpublishing almost always tends to take a business, rather than creative, perspective. What makes me sad is when writers do that too. I know that many indies fight shy of the publishing and literary industries, because they have been hurt. I don’t think most publishers and agents have any idea
Image courtesy: Orna
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how just how painful their processes have been for many writers—I’m speaking as much of writers who were considered successful as well as those, often very fine writers, who were serially rejected. What has hurt most, I think, is the disrespect for the writer’s role, whether in terms like the ‘slush pile’, or poor terms and royalties, or lack of creative input. The only way forward out of this is respectful partnership and openness to change.
making partnerships with reading agencies, libraries, literary festivals. And we have our Author Picks, Book of the Month, a group giveaway on Goodreads each month. We have an agent who sells foreign rights to our members’ books and are seeking one to handle TV & film rights. There are so many things we can do and will continue to do and it’s so heartening to see the profile of self-publishing writers rising all the time.
When you step back, it is simple. Writers create a book, then bring the book to readers we hope will appreciate it, whatever way we best can. Trade publishing is route writers use to reach readers. Self-publishing is a route writers use to reach readers. Different routes will be right for different writers, for different stages in a writer’s life, for different projects. It’s very straightforward, really, but the press does so love a bunfight.
ALLi members have a range of opinions on what independent publishing actually means. What’s your personal view?
There are numerous benefits, falling into six broad categories: Advice, Connection, Excellence, Information, Advocacy and Incentives. (See here for more detail.) The best thing about the Alliance is the sense of being in a caring organisation of indies, working together for each other.
For me, self-publishing is at the heart of a revolutionary shift that is moving from seeing the author less as a resource (in the new parlance ‘content provider’) and more as the creative director of the book all the way along its publishing journey. Both ‘independent’ and ‘selfpublishing’ are misnomers, really. A good book almost always results from a collaborative process that takes in editors and designers, distributors and sellers. For me, ‘indie’ does not necessarily mean ‘self-publishing only’. As creative director, the indie author is open to mutually beneficial partnerships, including trade publishing deals where appropriate, so long as that role as creative director is acknowledged (in terms and contacts, not just lip service).
I know you’re working hard to raise the profile of independent publishers—what kind of things does that entail?
I love the creative freedom inherent in selfpublishing and I’m proud of my indie status, which I carry with delight into all my ventures, negotiations and collaborations.
What are the advantages to becoming a member?
I see it largely as bringing the best indie writing to the attention of readers, other writers and other publishing professionals and organisations. There is already a vibrant literary community enjoying books and literary discussion. It’s about self-publishing taking its place at the heart of that, rather than remaining in a ghetto. That involves changing minds and hearts, in readers, in the publishing industry and, surprisingly often, in indie writers themselves—who have often been very hurt by the industry and are angry and rejecting of it. So as well as advising and guiding people in how to self-publish well and aim for excellence, we are
How do you find time to write as well as run the Alliance, curate the Indie Authors Daily and indulge in your various passions, such as wild swimming? Everybody is always asking that! There are three keys, all equally important. The first is that I love being a self-publishing writer and I love running ALLi—and all tasks can be managed in a flexible way that also allow me to enjoy fun and frolics. You might get an email from me at three in the morning but I can (and do) take a nap at three in the afternoon, if I fancy. Zürich, December 2012 /7
The second key is the incredible support I am lucky to have, from Karen and Geraldine and Alex. They hold me up in a thousand ways, as do our fantastic team of ALLi advisors. Without them, it would all collapse in a heap. The third key is putting the creative process at the heart of each day. That means beginning each morning with meditation and F-R-E-EWriting. Then I parcel out the pleasures. I follow in first with the most creative task on my to-do list, whatever is most nebulous and easily overridden. Such work requires me to be vigilant, to protect it from outwardly more urgent claims
of book promotion, editing, other peopleâ€™s issues, emails. I also take regular retreats, sometimes to write, sometimes to do absolutely nothing. Life is varied and exciting and I can honestly say that nobody ever lived who enjoyed their work or their life more than I do right now. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate.
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Charlotte Otter Novelist, author of Balthasar’s Gift
Having earned my living as writer since leaving university, it still took a big leap of faith to start writing a novel. However, I had a burning urge and I was tired of reading crime fiction that centred on the mutilated bodies of beautiful young women. Surely a crime novel could be intriguing and thrilling without any women having to be naked and dead? I started my project in 2008, signed with my agent Michaela Roell of the Eggers Agency, Berlin, in 2010 and signed a deal with a publisher in 2012. Tucked into those milestones were 14 full-book revisions – three with my agent, three with her co-agent in London and one with my publisher. I had learned how to write a novel by writing a novel. And still no women were naked and dead. Balthasar’s Gift will be published by Argument Verlag mit Ariadne, a Hamburg publisher that focuses on crime fiction by women, in Spring 2013. I am still actively seeking an English-language publisher. I blog at Charlotte’s Web (www.charlotteotter.wordpress.com) and take my coffee breaks on Twitter (@charlwrites). Please feel free to visit me at either.
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Sarah Nickerson The Woolf talked to a local writer about establishing a writer’s group.
Hello Sarah, can you tell us a little about yourself ? I’m a Canadian transplant to Switzerland. I came to Zürich two years ago to work on my doctorate in computational astrophysics. On the side I write science fiction and fantasy. I’ve managed to get a few short pieces out there and I’m currently shopping around a novel, fingers crossed. And you’re a founder member of the Zürich Writers Group. How did it start? Wow, you make it sound so official! Back when I lived in Toronto I was a part of a writer’s group with other speculative fiction authors and loved it. When I moved to Switzerland, I was feeling isolated being an English writer with German all around me. I made some posts on the English forum, I collected the emails of random people who also wrote and we got together to read each other’s work and critique. This has been going on for a year now. Those random people turned out to all be awesome people! Can you expand a little on how it works, how often you meet, what you do, etc? Usually we meet once a month, though sometimes more if we like. The difficult part is choosing dates to make sure everyone can get in. Those who have it send out work prior to the meeting, then we read Zürich, December 2012 /10
it, and we meet to go over everyone’s piece to discuss what worked andwhat did not. We also discuss writing in general and catch up on how everyone has been doing since last meeting.
What about rules of behaviour?
Are there any genre restrictions?
What advice would you give to someone thinking of establishing such a group?
There are no genre restrictions, not even format restrictions! We see everything, from novels to short stories to screenplays and essays. There’s historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, literary, children’s books, and more. It is quite healthy, I think, to see outside of one’s writing box and look around. I had never critiqued screenplays before, or even spoken to anyone who wrote them, and I find learning about the process there gives me a greater appreciation for the different skill sets and conventions that go into the different forms of writing. What’s the advantage of having a writers’ group? Writing is a very solitary process. Sometimes, you can forget that there are others going through what you are, in different stages on the same road. The companionship of other writers can be motivating in itself. I love talking to writers about their writing. I want to see how they write and what thoughts went behind the material I read. It gives you ideas for different approaches, and different eyes for your own manuscript. It is difficult to get a good critique from people who are not writers or editors. They might say that they liked this and not that, but usually not why they feel this way. Other writers can zero in on your problems, because chances are, they’ve had them too.
I don’t think we need to set down any rules yet! Writers are generally well-behaved creatures.
Group dynamics is key. The most important thing for a successful group, in my mind, is that everyone can take criticism of their work. It does not matter how good a writer you are when you join the group, but how much you are willing to improve does matter. The writer who starts out with lesser skill, but learns from feedback and is critical of her work will get further than a more skilled writer who thinks they don’t need any critique. By the same token, critiquing should befriendly and in the spirit of helping to improve the work. Unfounded bashing of another’s piece benefits no one. For your group to work you need writers who want to improve from it and writers who give out constructive critiques. And what have you personally learned from working with other writers? I have gotten to read outside of my comfort zone in detail. It is fascinating to get close to people who write these diverse pieces and see the detail and work that goes into them. It shows what we all have in common and our differences are not so great. Most of all though, it is just plain motivating to see others writing. It keeps my own writing on the ball.
Mini-lit quiz Which book describes meteorologist Cline and the 1900 hurricane, which devastated the town of Galveston, Texas? Last issue’s answer: The city of Geneva (What links Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes, The Fear Index by Robert Harris and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons?)
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Sound Bites This month, The Woolf wraps up—and proudly shares feedback from—WriteCon 2012. Seven tutors. Over fifty writers. Hundreds of ideas. Fiction Masterclass was led by historical fiction author Emma Darwin: “Every moment was brilliant.” “Great that the focus was on fewer, bigger topics.” “Emma was very approachable and enthusiastic.” “The workshop exceeded expectations —more please!” Writers’ Boot Camp was run by Libby O’Loghlin, Jill Prewett, Kelly Jarosz and Joanna Penn: “Excellent workshop, very inspiring.” “Can’t wait to start writing now!” “So much helpful information.” “I really enjoyed all the sessions and found it very motivating.” On Sunday, The Future of Publishing featured a panel of experts (agent Andrew Lownie, author Susan Jane Gilman, author Emma Darwin and author entrepreneur Joanna Penn). They discussed the current landscape and took questions from the audience. Questions included: how to write a synopsis; why the European market is different; the responsibilities of the author; marketing tools; audiobooks; creative writing degrees; piracy; novellas; and independent publishing. Over lunch, participants had the chance to chat to the panel about their own particular interests. Are we biased? Of course we are. This was a first for English-speakers in Zürich—and a proudly collaborative venture for Nuance Words and The Zurich Writers’ Workshop. Roll on WriteCon 2013! See photos on the Nuance Words facebook page. Zürich, December 2012 /12
The Lighthouse Illuminating the landscape
Distractions http://www.wordwebonline.com/ Refreshingly simple and extensive site for finding refreshing alternatives. For example, if one has a tendency to overuse the word ‘refreshing’. http://www.grammarly.com/ Automated proofreader. All well and good but I (Jill) suspect it lacks the personal touch. My reallife proofreader makes comments like this: “If you make this punctuation mistake again, I’m going to give you a colonoscopy.” [Ed: No! Did I really say that?] http://prowritingaid.com/Index.aspx Excellent writing software that helps you check for over-used words, consistency of spelling, cliché, repetition and alliteration. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php The roots of words (terrific resource for historical fiction writers) http://www.lexicool.com/ A round-up of all the online bilingual and multilingual dictionaries. Specialist vocabulary available. http://www.nanowrimo.org/ And you might just be able to catch the tail end of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, in which participants aim to reach 50,000 words over the month of November. No pressure. Especially if you start in the last week of November …
http://www.synomizer.com/index.php Break out of your lexical rut with Synomizer. http://vimeo.com/52608908 Take a look at Libby’s Creative Mornings talk from last month: “How to get our ideas heard: Context, Content and Collaboration”.
Inspiration Congratulations to Zürich writer Nicola Hodges, whose story was published by Grey Sparrow Press. Read it here! Take a look at Joanna Penn’s video on ’Presentation Tips’, which she shot while here in Zürich. http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=tShmpLsOXfM/
Online Adventures Hats off to Boot Camp participant Viktor Steiner, who took the advice of Joanna Penn and started a blog about his emerging book, Aquila. http://www.aquilaelba.info/ He has even started a facebook page for his main character: https://www.facebook.com/AquilaElba?ref=hl
Competitions http://www.prizemagic.co.uk/html/writing_co mps.htm Mostly UK competitions but worth a browse simply for variety. Zürich, December 2012 /13
Making Tracks Goings-on in the city of Zürich and beyond
Kaufleuten readings—fantastic array of writers coming to town. Coming up: John Lanchester, Eduardo Menoza, Christopher Brookmyre, Dana Golan, Vladimir Sorokin, Anna Stothard—all coming to Zürich this winter. (Do check the languages in which the reading is performed.) http://www.kaufleuten.ch/events/kultur/
Weekend movie-writing course in the UK http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/Eventsall/writingmoviescourse.aspx
Panto in Zug! Snow White, the pantomime, is on stage in Zug. A peculiarly British tradition in which one is obliged to shout contradictory statements at the characters, throw things, boo loudly and yell, ‘He’s behind you!’ at regular intervals. Excellent festive fun. http://zurich.angloinfo.com/whatson/featured/ 22794/snow-white-and-the-7-dwarfs
Powerhouse @The Hub Jill Prewett will be speaking at The Rise of the Female Entrepreneur event on November 27th. She will give POV on being an indie author and columnist. http://www.powerhousecollective.com/events
Workshops with Geneva Writers’ Group http://www.genevawritersgroup.org/program/w orkshops/ Gotham Writers’ Workshop Online courses in just about anything http://www.writingclasses.com/ The Best Science-Fiction Story of the Year Save this multi-award winner for a coffee break. It’s worth it. http://io9.com/5958919/read-ken-liusamazing-story-that-swept-the-hugo-nebula-andworld-fantasy-awards British publisher Faber & Faber have uploaded an online gallery of publicity photographs, which feature some of their signature poets, writers and dramatists. James Joyce, Paul Auster, Harold Pinter and Sylvia Plath are among the faces. http://www.flickr.com/photos/22703722@N04 /sets/72157603835974651/
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