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Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
In part 1 of my World Building series, I talked about constructing a fantasy world from the Top-Down, starting with a million-mile view and zooming down to the continents, the countries, the cultures, economies, and so on.
In part 2, I talked about constructing a science fiction universe from the Bottom-Up, starting with people and their stories, then hanging a framework on top of that to support the plot.
In part 3, I discussed a hybrid approach that lets me switch from an idea like Martian colonies (Bottom-Up) to planning out the locations and people living there (Top-Down) as needed.
History - This was always a boring subject in school, wasn't it? That's because most teachers focus on memorization of names and dates. When you think about the people who were there and why they were doing what they were doing, history becomes a fascinating look into what motivates people. Whether you are creating a fantasy world, a science fiction universe, or an alternate Earth, you should think about the history of that world and how it affects the stories you are creating.
Language - Maybe you want to start with an ancient race's alphabet and plan out how the discovery of that affects the people in your world. Starting with an interesting language idea and developing a mystery around it could certainly be the seed for a few plot lines.
Politics - Whether it's a fascist faction in the future or a group of fanatic supporters of a deposed king, creating tension in your world can be accomplished with a number of political ideas.
Races - Creating monsters or races that are unique to your world is a great way to separate your creation from others. How those new races interact with the others can be a great source of tension.
Religion - This is another point that works in fantasy as well as science fiction. Create a deity and a religious group that follows it. Before you even finish drafting those ideas, you should have thought of at least one other group that would be in conflict with them.
I'm sure there are lots of other ways to approach world design. One thread weaved throughout all of these ideas is conflict. Most of our history is about conflict - conflict over ideas, territory, religions, people, and property. Think about the people living in your world and what conflicts they would have with each other, and build on that. Even Utopian stories are really about the conflicts going on under the surface of the society. I don't really want to read 400 pages of people being happy and having everything they want handed to them.
There's no way anyone could craft a world as diverse and detailed as our own Earth, and there's no way I could walk you through the entire process of creating a world in four blog posts. But I hope this series gave you some things to think about as you set out on creating your own fantasy or science fiction world.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
In my bio I state that I am currently looking for an agent. This is true. I want an agent for the high fantasy novel I wrote. When I was working toward my MA in writing, I was taught that after you finish your novel, you go and get yourself an agent. It is the agent who sells your book to the publisher. The agent will get you the best deal; negotiate the best advance and royalty rates. Their role doesn’t end there. For a mere 15%, they are with you for the long haul. They will advise you on your career, guide your steady advance from new author to midlist and hopefully to bestseller. They have their finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. They know who’s who and have regular meetings with editors who trust their judgment on which new books to buy.
Yes, agents are a career guide for their clients, but if an author publishes ebooks there is no reason to have an agent. Therefore, the author doesn’t have that advisor. Authors who publish ebooks will have to be business savvy as well as tech savvy, or turn to their fellow authors for guidance.
With traditional publishing agents are necessary. Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts--they don’t want the slush. So you send it to an agent who has tons of contacts with publishers. The agent gets the slush. That unmoving pile of manuscripts that may or may not contain the next best seller that will make them rich.
A few years ago I worked at a very small poetry publishing house, Alice James Books. Back then, they ran two poetry competitions a year and had about a thousand manuscripts come in for them. I had the pleasure of opening the submissions and filing them for judging. And I even took a glance at some of it. Some of it was horrid. A very small amount was amazing. There was a lot in the middle. But a thousand manuscripts are not much compared to what some agents and smaller publishers get.
I know that a lot of decent stuff gets passed because the one person who is reading it doesn’t like it, or they are so tired of scanning all the crap that came under their nose that by the end of the day nothing looks good to them. That is how I envision a full-time slush-reader’s day, and from the perspective of someone searching for an agent, it scares me.
However, if publishing goes the way of ebooks, and books are self published by the author, there will be no slush-filtering agents and editors. The Internet will be full of slush-piles-come-ebooks. And readers everywhere will get the pleasure of reading it, or only reading the first page and passing on it, like the agency and publisher slush readers. Word of mouth, via the many social networking options available, will be critical for weeding the good from the bad.
However, people won’t be too upset if they paid $2 for something moderately entertaining, and they might tell their friends about it too. Two bucks is cheap for entertainment (think movie ticket costs here), and you didn’t even have to burn any gas to get there. But even with the low cost, an author won’t make any money if their book is bad.
With e-books, a publisher’s reputation (and bank account) isn’t hanging on the book’s sales, only the author’s. In my opinion, having an ebook out there that doesn’t sell would be worse than getting a rejection letter. I like the way agent Nathan Bransford says it, "the rejection letter of the future will be silence." At least when you get a rejection letter, it’s cut and dried, black or white. You’re in! Or this sucks! Once the ebook is “published” it’s done, that’s it. There’s no opportunity to make it better before the book-buying public sees it.
What worries me the most is that agents and publishers will likely soon establish a standard digital royalty rate. If they have, I haven’t heard about it. Then, even if I publish a book traditionally, I won’t be able to keep my erights for that story. Guess I better get going…