The Magic of Story Telling

Who doesn’t love fairy tales? Fairy tales witch reading From that lyrical “Once upon a time”, which tells us we’re entering another realm, to the “Happily ever after”, which we all seek, children and adults alike. Of course there are fairy tales with unhappy endings, too – but you won’t see many of those on Disney.

Now, researchers have examined the evolutionary development of fairy tales  and found many to be much older than we thought. Thousands of years older.

Sara Graça da Silva, a social scientist/folklorist with New University of Lisbon, and Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist with Durham University, have conducted a phylogenetic analysis of common fairy tales, using a technique that traces linguistic attributes back to their origins. The origins appear to be much older than modern linguists and anthropologists believed.

The part of the report that caught my attention was: “they started with 275 fairy tales, each rooted in magic, and whittled them down to 76 basic stories…”

Each rooted in magic. for fairy tales blog 1I loved that. I don’t know about you, but I find all creative writing to be rooted in magic.

That doesn’t mean it has to be about spells and fantasy. All sorts of magic can be yielded by a blank page and a quiet afternoon – though maybe not so quiet if you count the barking dogs, beeping mobile and husband yelling, “I said dinner’s ready!”

I’ve found that, like in so many fairy tales, what we end up with in our own writing is not what we started with, after all the editing and changing and rewriting is done. But, hopefully, we retain the core of the story we’re trying to tell. That’s where the magic is.

Physics teaches us that a pure element cannot be destroyed. I think fairy tales are literary creativity in its purest form and no matter how we rewrite them, edit them, disinfect or Disneyfy them, they will endure. The core remains. Stripped to its core element, the fairy tale is pure story.

Here’s how one core element changed over the centuries:

Cinderella Manga

Cinderella started life as Yeh-hsien, believed to have been written down by Tuan Ch’eng-shih in mid 9th century China. In the original version there was no fairy godmother; a magic fish helped Cinders. In Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s version, a hazel tree helped her, the ugly sisters cut off their toes and heels so their feet would fit the shoe, and their eyes were pecked out by doves. Can you imagine the collective fits of apoplexy at a Disney editorial meeting if they read that story board? I’d love to see it.🙂

Yeh-hsien went on to be called Zezolla by Giambattista Basile in 17th century Naples, then Cerentola. Joseph Jacobs called her the Cinder Maid. Charles Perrault (end of 17th century) introduced the fairy godmother and the pumpkins and mice… And what story do you think the film Pretty Woman depicts? Same core, different clothes.

If Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid Tehrani are right and fairy tales are more ancient than we thought (Wilhem Grimm also believed this), then these core stories are even more embedded in our psyches than we thought. Which is great news for all story tellers. Fairy tales teach us much more than the ultimately unchanging human condition – they hold good lessons for writers too: keep structure and plot simple. Remember, “character is destiny”, and be aware that rhyme, rhythm and poetic sentence structure are important. Symbolism is universal. The words “once”, “long ago”, “far away” and “for ever and ever” can give us instant access to the reader’s unconscious, especially children.

fairy tales fineryI’m delighted that, as a story teller, I’m carrying on an ancient tradition and, yes, I believe it is rooted in magic.   As writers, we can take these cores and dress them in whatever finery we choose. And that feels magical, too.

Kay Leitch
Author of   Treasure This
Founding member of Electrik Inc

pictures courtesy of pixabay.com

Posted in Children's books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Write a Bestseller

I’m always on the lookout for good advice that helps us hone our writing skills. I loved this Ted Talk video with literary agent, Jonny Geller, about what makes a bestseller, and what agents/publishers look for in new writers. Think about his comments when you’re editing your own work because everyone wants to sell their books and the more we get right, the better it is for our readers as well as our bank balances.

There are lots of how-to-write-a-bestseller tips, from Dean Koontz to Matthew Sparkes writing in The Telegraph on how scientists developed an app in 2014 that analysed best sellers. The findings were very interesting but guaranteed success remains elusive. And so the advice is just that: advice. Remember, what works for one author may not work for you.

I especially like how Mr Geller looks for the “space between the sentences” in any piece he reads. There is often a temptation for writers to give too much description, too much information… I’m always advising my clients to trust their readers to fill in some of the blanks themselves.

Mr Geller’s five-word sentence example is excellent too – a fun way of learning the importance of varying sentence length.

Personally, I would add story to the list. Not the plot or pacing (though they’re important too), but the story: is it strong enough to hold the reader. I always think of that in my own writing. Will the reader care enough to keep reading to find out how this story unfolds – and ends. For me, story is vital. Of course great characters, tight prose and sharp dialogue help, but if I don’t connect to the story, I lose interest. Whether I’m assessing manuscripts, reading for a publishing house or writing my own novels, I keep that in mind.

Jonny Geller also mentions how it all comes down to us, the reader. That reading “makes us better people”, that original writing is so often harder to place because publishers find original material “very hard to market”. Yes, some of us have figured that out already.🙂

The five things Mr Geller looks for are:

The bridge: does it take us from the familiar to the new?

Voice: the unique sound of the writer, which is nothing without the next part:

Craft: writing is difficult. Amateurs and professionals alike do draft after draft to get it right. Does it have resonance? Will it reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible?

The gap: the space between the sentences. The gap the writer leaves for the reader to inhabit.

There’s lots more. Jonny Geller has a natural style that’s easy to listen to without feeling you’re being lectured. Check it out. Also published on electrikinc.wordpress.com

Kay Leitch
Author of  Treasure This
Also published on electrikinc.wordpress.com

Posted in advice for writers, creative writing, Dean Koontz, How to Write a Bestseller, Jonny Geller, Kay Leitch, secrets of writing a best seller, Treasure This, writing, writing as a career, writing tips, writing tips for children's authors | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Make Profit Selling Your ebooks

More good news for established authors. Wuthering Ink – wutheringink.com – is a new Australian portal, set up by author and writing teacher, Sue Woolfe, along with other authors: Bem Le Hunte, Libby Hathorn and Louise Katz.

Macmillan Publishing Solutions in India built the website, and they take 10% of profits. Woolfe also takes 10%. The rest goes to authors. Woolfe says she hopes to find a way to work with traditional publishers, and has no plans to demand exclusivity. Authors are free to publish and sell their work through any outlet they can.

While Wuthering Ink is for established authors only, rather than independents, it’s still good news. Publishers take a disproportionate amount of profit from ebook sales, leaving them open to accusations of – dare I say it? – greed. Yes, I dare.🙂  Perhaps if they were less greedy and treated the people who pay their salaries with a bit more respect (without writers there would be no publishing industry. Why don’t they get that?) authors wouldn’t feel the need to use worthwhile portals such as wutheringink.com.

Anything that gives more power (and profit) to authors is great by me.

Kay Leitch
Author of  Treasure This
Founder of  Electrik Inc

Posted in authors' earnings, Make Money Selling Your Ebooks, Uncategorized, Wuthering Ink | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Author Self-Promotion That Works…

Worried you’re wasting precious writing time banging away at the social media drum trying to sell your book? I’ve just read a great author blog by Delilah S Dawson at whimsydark.com. A traditionally published author who also “plays about with self publishing on the side”, she talks about author promotion that might just work – and what certainly doesn’t. Great advice. I liked the blog that preceded it, too: Please shut up: Why self promotion as an author doesn’t work. Both these blogs are from last year, but good intel doesn’t have a sell-by date.

And no, I don’t know this writer at all. It’s just refreshing to hear some honesty on this subject, instead of the usual message about how we have to promote ourselves by joining the big — and so boring — not-so-merry-go-round of social media. Lots of good information here.

Worth checking out.

Kay Leitch
Author of   Treasure This
Founder member of   Electrik Inc

Posted in advice for writers, author self promotion that works, Delilah S Dawson, how to promote your books, how to use social media to promote your writing, Kay Leitch, Whimsydark.com | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philip Pullman Resigns From OLF

Iniquitous is a good word. I use it only when I believe something is very wrong, very unfair and, at the same time, reeks of dishonesty.

So while I’m sorry to hear Philip Pullman has resigned as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival, I applaud his defence of authors being paid for their time and work. I applaud his suggestion that the OLF, which would not exist without authors, should pay them to speak at their festivals. And I applaud the Society of Authors, of whom Pullman is the president, for campaigning for authors to receive fair payment for speaking at literary festivals.

“Expecting authors to work (because it is work) for nothing is iniquitous,” Pullman says. “It always has been, and I’ve had enough of it.”

Yes, authors get a bit of “publicity”, yes, it’s good for “exposure” and, if they’re lucky, they might sell some books and make a few pounds – though the publisher will make more. But by now everyone knows professional writers and authors are becoming an endangered species because of the many predators out there: from the seemingly benign publishing houses, who slash advances and royalties to protect their own profits, to Amazon (you know why), to every other parasite determined to exploit the creative industry and get something for nothing.

There will always be those ignorant people who bleat that books are overpriced anyway, so why should authors get any more. What do they care that profits go mainly to publishing houses or that most working authors are lucky if they earn £11,000 a year?

It’s a pity Pullman has resigned over this, but I agree wholeheartedly with him. If we value writers, artists, musicians – all creatives – then we must be prepared to pay them for their time and work. There are many other book festivals that do pay their authors to speak – and manage to keep ticket prices reasonable – just as they pay their caterers, electricity companies or directors (though Sally Dunsmore and her team of mainly volunteers put the OLF together without pay, if the Oxford Mail’s report is accurate).

Even so, expecting authors to work for nothing is iniquitous. Try telling the caterer or the landlord the exposure will be good for them, and that they’d better have a nice big private income to fall back on when they offer their services, because you ain’t paying for them. Yeah. That’ll work.

Check out this humorous take on the subject at u-tube.

Kay Leitch
Author of   Treasure This

Posted in authors' earnings, Campaigm to pay authors fair fees, campaign to pay authors fair fees, electrik inc, festivals that rip off authors, Kay Leitch, Oxford Literary Festival, Philip Pullman, Philip Pullman resigns, Society of Authors, Treasure This, Uncategorized, what authors earn, where is the money going?, writers being ripped off | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Waterstones Can Teach Writers

Don’t you just love mavericks?

Stephen Heyman writes on slate.com about how Waterstones’ fortunes changed for the better when Alexander Mamut, described by one broadsheet as: “The most powerful Oligarch you have never heard of”, bought Waterstone’s (when it had the apostrophe, but no profit) and put James Daunt in charge.

Waterstones_WDaunt was already a very successful businessman. He founded Daunt Books in Marleybone High Street in 1990 when he was just 26, and ended up running six independent book stores across London, all of which remained profitable even in difficult market conditions. The first thing Daunt did as Managing Director of Waterstones – apart from getting rid of the apostrophe – was to tear up the existing business plan for the failing book store and implement his own, rather unconventional, ideas.

He took power away from publishers and gave it back to the book sellers, promoting what he believed would sell rather than what the publishers wanted to advertise. All those “Best Seller” spots in the window of big book stores didn’t actually mean the books were best sellers. The publishers paid for those spots.

The great thing about Daunt, in my opinion, is that he’s not an accountant, a marketing executive or a PR man. He trusts the book lovers he works with. One thing he said made me laugh out loud: when he discussed his individual marketing plan and how he wanted to shake up the business he loved, he knew publishers would not be happy with his decision to cut their advertising space in his stores. “But,” he said, “we had the advantage of being bankrupt…” Talk about turning a negative into a positive!

He also gave each Waterstones almost complete autonomy over how to arrange their merchandise. So, no more homogeneity, where Waterstones in Glasgow looked exactly the same as the one in Chiswick. Each Waterstones looks different, individual, inviting. The one thing they all have in common is good books, tailored to individual local areas.

What has this got to do with writing and publishing? Everything. Rules are great when they work, and lethal when they don’t. Sometimes we’re so used to following old rules and procedures we don’t realise they’re so past their sell-by date they’re doing more harm than good. Many publishers have been following restrictive rules for a long time: pay lots of money for advertising space in shop windows (take it out of authors’ earnings) … tick. Avoid risks … tick. Ooops, not making so much money – cut authors’ earnings a bit more … tick. Watch the rise of independent author publishers…

I love that as independent publishers we are the mavericks of the publishing world. We’ve stopped trying to second guess anyone, least of all fickle publishers, and write what we want to write. We make it the best we can. Yes, we follow the rules of editing, punctuation and good grammar. Yes, of course we’re aware of the market, but we don’t let it tyrannise us. We don’t jump on band wagons for the sake of a quick buck – we don’t let the bottom line dictate what we write. Where’s the joy in that?

We can’t all be the kind of maverick James Daunt is. But we can learn from him. If you make any resolutions for 2016, make them be to trust yourself, ignore the “rules”, and write from your heart.

Kay Leitch
Author of  Treasure This
This blog was also published on electrikinc.wordpress.com

Posted in Children's books, creative writing, independent publishing, James Daunt, Stephen Heyman | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Successful Marketing for Writers

Any writer who wants to see patience and perseverance in action, read this piece by Claire Kirch in Publishers Weekly, on Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin. He self-published his children’s book The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep about five years ago, in Sweden, and it has slowly built up a strong readership over the years, becoming a best-seller, and gaining the author a seven-figure deal with Penguin Random House.

Carl-Johan explains how sales grew slowly, how he enlisted friends and family to help him translate the book into other languages so he could self-publish abroad; how he used social media to help spread the word, giving away e-book editions of the title on Facebook, and how sales took off. This took years. Patience, perseverance, and yes, hard work. Good for him! I’m delighted to see success like this come to someone who has put the effort into one piece of marketing after another.

This is a book for children, but I think the lessons apply to any writer interested in independent publishing – or traditional publishing (because most publishers will expect you to do a lot of marketing on your own). Whether you like the book or not, whether you write for children or not, the lessons in marketing work. Keep at it. Try everything. Don’t give up. You never know when some outside force will pick you up and run with you, and lead to that “overnight success” so many writers dream of. Remember: if the plan doesn’t work, change the plan – not the goal.

Kay Leitch
Author of  Treasure This
F
ounding member of Electrik Inc

Posted in Children's books, creative writing, editing and publishing, how to market your book, independent publishing, Kay Leitch, marketing your novel, secrets of writing a best seller, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment