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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: International Thriller Writers

My first signing at Craftfest. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!
My first signing as a Craftfest presenter. Um, never mind there are no books. I TRIED!

Thrillerfest is a phenomenal conference packed full of experts and even heroes. It’s also a unique conference in that it takes place in NYC, right in the heart of traditional publishing. One of my major goals for WANA has been to serve writers—ALL writers. Publishing has been a One Size Fits All model for generations, and a lot of great writing has been collateral damage.

In fact, the paper-driven paradigm had driven many forms of writing to the brink of extinction—short stories, novellas, poetry, serials, pulp fiction, epic fiction, etc—simply because these types of works were a bad investment for a business that must turn a profit in order to survive and keep investing in new authors.

WANA LOVES ALL WRITERS

WANA has always made it a point to never make authors feel they needed to choose sides. Traditional is a better fit for some authors and indie isn’t for everyone. Self-publishing is far from a panacea. Each one has strengths and weaknesses and I explore that in Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

The key to building the perfect platform for your career is to make an honest assessment of which publishing path fits your personality, your work and your needs. WANA is not a Social Media Snuggie.

I’m a huge fan of the new paradigm, namely because we are seeing an explosion of creativity. New genres are being birthed and old forms are being resurrected. I’ve spent many, many blogs imploring NY to realize that self-publishing and indie publishing do not have to be enemies. Yet, last year I was excruciatingly frustrated when I returned from Thrillerfest.

Some people felt I was being mean in that post, but when you love something you sometimes need to be tough. Last year, when few seemed to be acknowledging the pink elephant (Amazon) in the room and some comments about self-publishing were utterly inappropriate, I was annoyed at the lack of foresight.

And, when I kept hearing mantras like, “E-books are a fad” “People love bookstores” and “Readers will always want paper”?

I wanted to scream.

Borders was already dead and gone and Barnes & Noble had been experiencing major losses. If things didn’t change? Authors would be hurt the most because (at the time), I believed leadership wasn’t looking ahead. They were too busy protecting what had always been.

I felt like Jerry MacGuire:

Help me, help you!

Thrillerfest 2013---Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn't THAT bad.
Thrillerfest 2013—Kind of a scary welcome. My blog wasn’t THAT bad.

“If You’re Not at the Table, It Means You’re on the Menu”

I read the above quote out of John C. Maxwell’s latest book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. It really spoke to me and helped me realize the root of my frustration with traditional publishers over the past few years. They’ve consistently refused to sit at the table of the new paradigm and that meant they were on the menu (placing its authors on the menu as well).

The Publishing Apocalypse

A federal judge recently ruled that Apple illegally conspired with five of the six biggest publishers to inflate prices in the emerging e-book market. Apple will be disciplined and the big publishers are certain to take a hit as well, though actual damages have yet to be ruled.

While the big publishers remain insistent they’ve done nothing wrong, it seems unlikely they will take on the Department of Justice a second time. This means Amazon is poised and ready to absorb even more of the book market.

William Lynch, CEO of Barnes&Noble resigned early this month after devastating earning reports made it clear that Barnes & Noble was losing the battle to Amazon. Their Nook had failed to keep pace with other devices like the Kindle Fire and the iPad, despite B&N’s partnering with Microsoft.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Aaron Charlton

According to the New York Times article by David Streitfeld, E-Book Ruling Gives Amazon and Advantage, “The verdict in the Apple case might have been a foregone conclusion, telegraphed by the judge herself, but it emphatically underlined how the traditional players in the book business have been upended. Only Amazon, led by Mr. Bezos, seems to have a plan. He is executing it with a skill that infuriates his competitors and rewards his stockholders.”

Barnes & Noble, upon Lynch’s departure, appointed Michael P. Huseby former CFO to CEO. Additionally, according to another recent article by Julie Bosman in the New York Times Chief Leaves Barnes & Noble After Losses on E-Readers“Max J. Roberts, the chief executive of the college division, will report to Mr. Huseby, while Mr. Huseby and Mitchell S. Klipper, the chief executive for the retail stores, will report to Leonard Riggio, the company’s chairman.”

These decisions hint that this is a likely a step toward “separating the digital and retail divisions, as the company has indicated it might do. Barnes & Noble has been in talks over a potential sale of its digital assets, as well as its 675 bookstores.”

What Does This Mean?

All of this points to an ominous sign that the bookstores likely will be broken up, which is why I’ve been adamant that writers (and traditional publishers) stop relying so much on the brick-and-mortar-model, since it was clear from history (Tower Records & Kodak) that these retailers would likely experience record contraction or go away altogether.

(I doubt bookstores will disappear completely just reinvent as I mentioned in this post last year The WANA Plan to Save Bookstores & Revive Publishing).

This has been another reason I have been passionate in my crusade to educate writers how to create an author brand on-line using blogging and social media. If the bookstores go away or shrink to the point of inconsequence, our only lifeline for success is the Internet.

Historically, bookstores have been the main hub where readers discover authors. That has completely changed. If we fail to appreciate this, we plan to fail.

After All of This, Why Was Thrillerfest So Encouraging? Welcome to the “Lifting of the Veil”

Rather than bringing in a big publisher to talk about favorite books and ignore the consumer landscape, ITW (International Thriller Writers) recruited Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content and Kindle Direct Publishing to speak. They also invited Createspace to be an active part of the conference and allowed ME to teach blogging at Craftfest, which shows they are looking to the future (or that they need better security :D).

Grandinetti’s speech left me in tears.

FINALLY!

Grandinetti spoke about how it is a brilliant time to be a writer and how traditional and non-traditional don’t have to be adversaries (Sound familiar?). By using the new tools available, authors (even traditional authors) can keep fires burning with fans in between books and help big publishers reinvent and become more profitable.

Authors are now free to write serials, shorts, prequels and maybe even try new genres. Authors can stretch as artists after being in a severely restrictive business model for so many generations. We now are seeing the emergence of the hybrid-author, just as indie giants like NYTBSA Bob Mayer predicted years ago.

(And a major reason WANA never chose sides. I always believed one day they might work together).

I nearly passed out when mega-author-legend David Morrell asked for help understanding how to improve his metadata and when Anne Rice spoke about her love for Facebook. The energy this year was completely different. Rather than attending a wake, it was like attending a baby shower. The excitement for the future was palpable and it was a joy and it was an honor to witness this.

*and the choir sings*

Yes, an apocalypse can mean destruction—destruction of outdated operations, old thinking, ineffective models—but like a forest fire, an apocalypse also opens room for something new and vibrant and even stronger to emerge.

The fact that the biggest authors in the business were now looking at new ways of doing things? *happy dance* Finally, everyone agrees that stories and information, authors and readers are more important than keeping the status quo. YAY!

We are in scary but wonderful times and no matter which path you choose to take, please know two things:

1. ALL authors need an on-line platform.

2. It is the best time in HUMAN HISTORY to be a writer.

I knew NY had it in them. And, though the judgement against Apple and the major publishers does have a dark side (namely that competition keeps markets healthy), we can at least rejoice in this awakening and hope this leads to improved business creativity. Hey, NYC can learn a lot from writers :D.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel encouraged? Overwhelmed?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

Also, Remember there is a class on Antagonists THIS Friday (recorded if you can’t make it). Use WANA15 for 15% off.

 

For the past several weeks we have been exploring structure and why it is important. If you haven’t yet read the prior posts, I advise you do because each post builds on the previous lesson. All lessons are geared to making you guys master plotters. Write cleaner and faster. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. Think of this like stocking your cabinet with spices. If you like to cook Mexican food, then you will want to have a lot of cumin, chili powder and paprika on hand. Like cooking Italian food? Then basil and oregano are staple spices. In cooking we can break rules … but only to a certain point. We can add flavors of other cultures into our dish, but must be wary that if we deviate too far from expectations, or add too many competing flavors, we will have a culinary disaster. Writing is much the same. We must choose a genre, but then can feel free to add flavors of other genres into our work.

Ten years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants. I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

I believe there are three kinds of writers. One type of writer is the Born Genre Author. This type of writer knows the genre he wants to write from day one. He is a born horror author or fantasy author, or whatever. This type does not start on a horror novel and then suddenly start thinking that YA is more his stride…or maybe sci-fi…or literary fiction. This author’s laser-focus is a tremendous asset, but tunnel-vision can get him in trouble. The greatest weakness I see with this type of writer is that they often don’t read outside their genre and so their work can lack that je ne sais quoi that makes their writing stand apart from others in their genre. Of course, this is easily remedied if this type of author can make a conscious effort to diversify.

Another type of author is like I used to be (and still have to fight). Meet The Dabbler. We love everything and have a hard time making up our minds. We love all kinds of writing, but this lack of focus can hurt our platform and spread us too thinly to be effective. Dabblers also are bad about making the mistake of trying to write a book that is all genres and what they end up with is an unpalatable mess. On the flip-side, though. Dabblers who can finally choose a genre usually are very innovative creatures because they have the knack and ability to draw flavors of other genres into their writing. The trick is getting them to pay attention and focus long enough.

Then there is the third kind of writer, The Profiteer. These writers are in the business for all the wrong reasons, and, because of that, usually never end up finishing, let alone publishing. They are writing for the money and fame and often are genre-hos. They keep a finger in the wind searching for what is currently hot. Vampires? Chick-lit? Whatever is flying off shelves, that is The Profiteer’s  new love. Of course what this writer doesn’t understand is that by the time they finish the novel, land an agent and that book makes it to print, the trends will have changed. But most Profiteers fall by the wayside, so that’s all I will say about them.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at a French restaurant.

Part of why I stress picking a genre is that genres have rules and standards. For example, I had a student drop out of my Warrior Writer Boot Camp because I told her that her hero could not be the Big Boss Troublemaker (main antagonist) in her romance novel. I advised her that the hero could be an antagonistic force, but that she had to choose another person to be the BBT. Why? Because the genre of romance has rules, and guy and gal MUST come together at the end and live happily ever after. This cannot happen if the heroine defeats the hero.  Great love stories generally do not involve the hero being beaten up by a girl. I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit. Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the Lambs. A murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your main antagonist.  Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance.

Literary Fiction-is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association. The Dark Fiction Guild seemed to have a lot of helpful/fascinating links, so you might want to check them out too.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin. This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like YA or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

Make sure you tune in for Wednesday’s blog where I continue walking you through blogging for platform :D. What do we blog about to gain a fan base?

Happy writing!

Until next time….

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books! Enter to win a FREE copy. Check out Author Susan Bischoff’s blog.