Showing all posts tagged: writing

Never revisit your past that includes NaNoWriMo manuscripts

7 December 2022

British journalist and writer Tim Jonze on participating in NaNoWriMo 2021, meeting the fifty-thousand word target in the requisite thirty days of November, and then… reading the work — for the first time — a year later:

Well, it’s been a year since NaNoWriMo. Could this book really be as bad as I imagined? Amazingly, the answer is no.

It is much, much worse.

Aside from the fact I could not meet the average 1,667 daily word requirement, to successfully complete NaNoWriMo, reading what I’d written, would be the other reason why I’d not take part.

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Literary authors are among the lowest paid Australian writers

6 December 2022

The recently released results of a survey of Australian authors and writers make for sobering reading. If you’re considering a writing career, you ought to sit down before reading on. With rare exceptions, most Australian authors need at least one other job to make their writing ambitions feasible.

Income per annum varies according the nature of their writing, anywhere from about A$27,000 for educational writers, down to A$14,500 for literary authors. Bear in mind the minimum annual salary in Australia is a little over $42,000, based on a rate of A$21.38 per hour.

Education authors earned the highest average income from their practice as an author ($27,300), followed by children’s ($26,800) and genre fiction ($23,300) authors. Even though these figures are above the overall average for authors, they are not enough to live on, to support a family, or to pay rent or a mortgage. At the other end of the spectrum are poets, who earned an average of $5,700 from their creative practice. Literary authors earned $14,500, which is a decrease in real terms since 2015.

In case you’re wondering, literary authors are likely the sort of author anyone who wants to write wants to be. They also tend to be winners of literary awards including the Stella Prize, Miles Franklin, SPN Book of the Year, and Patrick White Award. And yet they only earn about a third of the Australian minimum wage for their craft.

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Storywizard an AI for creating instant kids bedtime stories

6 December 2022

Somewhat related to my last postStorywizard is a generative AI story creation app, that composes bedtime stories for children, complete with images, in real time.

We all have vivid imaginations and great ideas, but it’s not easy to express them and put them into writing. We built Storywizard to help parents and kids bring their ideas to life.

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Could AI technologies be the end of writers and bloggers?

5 December 2022

For a long time it was believed the inevitable rise of automation technologies would bring about the end of repetitive and labour intensive jobs. Warehouse workers, drivers, and filing clerks would need to re-skill if they weren’t to be left unemployed.

But as digital and AI technologies evolved, the threat of being usurped by a computer moved up the ranks. An article published in The Economist in January 2014 (I couldn’t find an author credit, surely a machine didn’t write it?), warned that white collar professions such as accountants and doctors were also at risk:

Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors.

Creatives meanwhile, writers and artists among them, always felt immune from these technologies. After all, how could a computer possibly produce an artwork, or write a book? Well, thanks to the likes of DALL·E and Jasper, we now know it’s possible. But creative output is not the limit of these technologies. They’re also capable of creative and problem solving… thought.

For instance, an application called Consensus, promises to seek answers, or consensus, to deceptively simple questions such as “is drinking coffee good or bad for my health?”, and potentially save hundreds, maybe more, of research hours. The app, once fully developed will be able to accurately scan multitudes of research papers on a particular topic, and deliver a pithy yet informative, summary in response to the query, says Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

Consensus is part of a constellation of generative AI start-ups that promise to automate an array of tasks we’ve historically considered for humans only: reading, writing, summarizing, drawing, painting, image editing, audio editing, music writing, video-game designing, blueprinting, and more. Following my conversation with the Consensus founders, I felt thrilled by the technology’s potential, fascinated by the possibility that we could train computers to be extensions of our own mind, and a bit overcome by the scale of the implications.

I expect in time AI technologies will be able to research and write the papers apps like Consensus will scan. But while AI apps can create artworks and perhaps write novels, will they really be any better at being creative? Let’s take blog writing as an example. A lot of people blog, but how popular are all these bloggers? We know some are more widely read than others. Their writing might be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, while other bloggers struggle to attract a handful of readers.

Just because, then, a machine writes something, does that mean the work will automatically have a larger audience? Will they cause every last writer on Earth to throw in the towel, and give up? I’m not so sure. Certainly the AI writers will improve, learn as they go, hone their craft, but will that result in more readers than an article written by a person? Maybe. Maybe not. Human and AI bloggers could be evenly matched. Of course, AI blogging apps will be able to research and write articles a lot faster, and that will be an advantage.

They’ll be able to publish an article on a given topic far more quickly than I can, and that work may rank on the search engines and elsewhere before mine. And that will suit some readers, but not all. And then we come to the human side of the process. Will readers be able to interact with the AI blogging app, as they can with human bloggers, through say email or social media? More crucially though, depending on the topic at hand, will an AI blogging or writing app, have the same authority to write as a person?

Could, for instance, an AI app write about raising a family? This is something most people learn about the hard way, by living through it. How could an AI blogging app possibly claim to be better qualified than a person, through “personal experience”, in this regard? How could the app ever gain the crucial trust to write on some subjects? This I suspect remains to be seen. At their core, AI apps are capable of thinking like people. For better or worse. I dare say, unfortunately, they will find a way.

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Penguin Random House calls off Simon & Schuster merger

23 November 2022

Penguin Random House, one of the world’s largest book publishers, has called off a proposed merger with Simon & Schuster. Last month, a United States court blocked the proposal, on the grounds competition, and remuneration to authors, stood to be adversely effected. Initially Penguin had indicated they would appeal the ruling, in the hope the deal could still go ahead. The merger, had it proceeded, would have reduced the world’s major publishers from five to four.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the deal in November 2021. In hearings held in August, the government argued that the largest five publishers control 90% of the market, and a combined Penguin and Simon & Schuster would control nearly half of the market for publishing rights to blockbuster books, while its nearest competitors would be less than half its size.

Hopefully this is a good outcome for authors and book readers. However, Paramount Global, who own Simon & Schuster, have expressed a desire to divest itself of the book publisher, as the film production company sees ownership of a publisher as a non-core asset. This probably means we’ll see Simon & Schuster being brought to the market again, at some point in the future.

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The Fanzine Scan Hosting Project preserving fanzines fanfiction

18 November 2022

For every well-known work of fiction, there’s an extended universe behind it, called fanfiction. Look at the likes of Star Trek, The Twilight Saga, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and a whole lot more, it’s all there. Stories written by adoring fans of the original books, films, and TV shows, expanding on the creator’s canon, and exploring other weird and wonderful story arcs.

At times not all of these works are sanctioned by the series creator, but that won’t always stop the most die-hard of adherents. If they think there’s a story to tell, they’ll write it. But while works residing online, in electronic format, are likely to be preserved — at least for now — publications such as zines, or fanzines, which usually exist solely in paper format, are another matter.

The Fanzine Scan Hosting Project, an initiative of An Archive of Our Own, or A03, one of the most extensive online repositories of fanfiction, along with a number of collaborators, aims to preserve physical fanzines, and eventually make as many as possible available in electronic format online. Needless to say it’s a big job, but progress is being made:

Over the last year or so, however, Open Doors’ Fan Culture Preservation Project has expanded, finally giving them room to launch the Fanzine Scan Hosting Project. So far, they’re making their way through the backlog of scans that Zinedom has already accumulated, which Dawn estimates is “a couple thousand.”

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November is NaNoWriMo bad writing and vomit texts incoming

7 November 2022

It’s November and that means it is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) time. Writers, whether new or established, have thirty days to pen a fifty-thousand word manuscript. That works out to about seventeen hundred words a day. A daunting task for sure, but it wouldn’t be much of a challenge if it were easy.

NaNoWriMo doubtless makes for an enjoyable way to while away cool autumn days for northern hemisphere participants. A Camp NaNoWriMo event is also held in April and July, and might suit writers based south of the equator, who’d rather be away from their laptops, enjoying the spring weather in November.

And while the vast majority of works produced during NaNoWriMo seldom sees the light of day, the event has launched the careers of several authors. But it’s not for everyone, and some writers are critical of NaNoWriMo. They say the tight deadline encourages bad writing, as people scramble to reach the fifty-thousand word target.

It’s one reason science fiction author and game developer, and past participant, Dale Thomas gave up on NaNoWriMo. But Thomas goes further than describing some NaNoWriMo output as “bad writing”. To his mind, vomit texts make for a more apt metaphor:

You see, the big problem I have with the challenge is that it forces me to write fast. Too fast for my liking. I end up vomiting all over my writing application. And because only wordcount matters and the clock is ticking, there is no time to wipe the drool from my mouth, no time to find a damp cloth to clean up the mess. The vomit just sits there, drying out, and day after day I vomit afresh. Layer upon layer of disgusting, half-digested ideas, dripping all over the once pristine white page.

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Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster merger blocked

3 November 2022

The proposed merger of book publishers Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has been blocked — at least for now — by the U.S. District Court. The idea, first mooted in late 2020, has drawn the ire of many in the publishing industry, who fear the combined entity, and the influence it could wield, would be detrimental to authors and readers alike.

But it was still a dramatic departure from recent history in the book world and beyond. The publishing industry has been consolidating for years with little interference from the government, even when Random House and Penguin merged in 2013 and formed what was then the biggest publishing house in memory. The joining of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would have created a company far exceeding any rival and those opposing the merger included one of Simon & Schuster’s signature writers, Stephen King, who testified last summer on behalf of the government.

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Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami

1 November 2022
Novelist as a Vocation, by Haruki Murakami, book cover

Despite what you might see on bookstagram, the stages of many a literary festival, and many other places, writers are not, and cannot be, friends with each other.

They “are are basically an egoistic breed, proud and highly competitive“, contends Japanese author Haruki Murakami. We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to write books. And if anyone would know, Murakami would. With fourteen novels to his name, no one can say he wouldn’t know.

This is but one nugget of wisdom Murakami shares in his latest title, Novelist as a Vocation, published by Penguin Books, where he writes about being a novelist:

Haruki Murakami’s myriad fans will be delighted by this unique look into the mind of a master storyteller. In this engaging book, the internationally best-selling author and famously reclusive writer shares with readers what he thinks about being a novelist; his thoughts on the role of the novel in our society; his own origins as a writer; and his musings on the sparks of creativity that inspire other writers, artists, and musicians. Readers who have long wondered where the mysterious novelist gets his ideas and what inspires his strangely surreal worlds will be fascinated by this highly personal look at the craft of writing.

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Bramble a literary journal for and by disabled creatives

31 October 2022

Bramble is a newly launched quarterly literary journal for, and by, disabled creatives. Founded by Spencer Barberis, and Scout Lee Robinson, past University of Wollongong arts students, Bramble only publishes creative work by disabled writers and artists based in Australia.

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Australian author Bri Lee on earning income from Substack

24 October 2022

On the subject of Substack, Sydney based Australian writer Bri Lee is another author who has turned to Substack. Asking subscribers for money can be a thorny matter, especially as readers have no compulsion to pay: Substack remains free for anyone to access.

But it comes down to the individual reader. They like a writer’s work, and wish to support them. As simple as that. No one is being forced to do anything.

People who do pay will often be paying to ‘support you and your work’ rather than necessarily paying because they perceive the value of what they get in their inbox is equal to the dollar figure you charge. When I launched the paid section in January 2021 I explicitly told people that I wanted to keep the vast majority of the content freely available, and that anyone who did pay was essentially subsidising the access of the non-paying subscribers.

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Authors with profile can earn money publishing on Substack

24 October 2022

British author Tim Lott writes about starting a Substack page, and how the publishing platform can help writers generate income from their work. In Lott’s case it’s so far, so good:

What do my subscribers get in return for signing up? Anything I want to give them. I have total freedom. There are no editors or advertisers telling me what to do. Independence isn’t without its downsides. You have to learn to sell yourself, you have to understand how online media works and you have to be self-disciplined and dedicated. No editors, no agents, no marketing department. You’re on your own. But we novelists know how to be on our own. Now we have the chance to be multi-media publishers as well.

Profile is key here. Anyone with sufficient followers on the platform of their choosing can make money. While there are plenty of people doing well on Instagram or TikTok, they are what I call visual mediums. But they’re not the best for writing, especially long form writing, as they do not function so well as blogging platforms. Substack then may be the solution writers are looking for.

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Dates announced for the 2023 Melbourne Writers Festival

22 October 2022

The 2023 Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) will take place from Thursday 4 May 2022 until Sunday 7 May. Mark it on your calender. The 2023 event will be held a few months earlier than the 2022 which ran during September.

Update: the decision by MWF organisers to move the event to early May 2023 has upset the convenors of a number of other literary events taking place at, or around, the same time. Most noteably organisers of the nearby Bendigo Writers Festival are particularly concerned, as their event takes place at exactly the same time.

It seems to me the MWF move could have been better thought out. To say the least.

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Shehan Karunatilaka wins 2022 Booker Prize with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeid

18 October 2022

After much speculation as who would win the 2022 Booker Prize, and whether there was even any point in speculating in the first place, Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka has been named winner of the 2022 Booker Prize, for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeid.

Of the winning title, the Booker judges said:

Any one of the six shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner. What the judges particularly admired and enjoyed in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida was the ambition of its scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques. This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west. It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ‘the world’s dark heart’ — the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.

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Love Your Bookshop Day 2022

8 October 2022
Selection of books at a bookshop, photo by John Lampard

Today is Love Your Bookshop day.

Love Your Bookshop Day 2022 is an annual celebration of everything local bookshops do from fostering expert staff and curating fabulous ranges to creating events programs to celebrate authors, readers, and the books they cherish.

Bricks and mortar bookshops may not be so abundant anymore, but they are an integral part of the writing and publishing industry. In addition to being a source of work for their staff, and a haven for book lovers, bookshops are also vital in helping new authors develop some profile.

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Useful resources for creatives working in day jobs

4 October 2022

A collection of useful resources for people juggling day jobs or other work with creative endeavours, put together by Canadian art magazine booooooom.

A couple of standouts include balancing full-time work with your creative side hustle, and advice on turning down ridiculous rates for your work, by Jano le Roux.

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Tom Hanks debut novel fanfare the envy of new unknown authors

1 October 2022
The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, by Tom Hanks, book cover

American actor Tom Hanks has recently finished writing his debut novel The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece. Unsurprisingly the story is film related. And why not, writing about topics you’re familiar with is a great way to launch your literary career, is it not?

The story centers around the opening of a movie that is a “colossal, star-studded, multimillion-dollar superhero action film” and involves a timeline from the 1940s to the present day. According to the publisher, “Part One of this story takes place in 1947. A troubled soldier, returning from the war, meets his talented five-year-old nephew, leaves an indelible impression, and then disappears for twenty-three years.”

Seems to me like the novel blends a bit of Saving Private Ryan (for the soldier) with some Cloud Atlas (for the time travel), both being movies Hanks starred in.

Undoubtedly his debut novel will do well. Even if it turns out not to be all that good. After all, with the profile Hanks enjoys, what could possibly go wrong, at least in terms of sales? And think about all those A-List reviews the title will garner, giving sales another nudge. This is fanfare other, likely unknown, aspiring authors, would give their right arms to bask in.

But when it comes to profile, either you have it, or you don’t. A stack of debutant authors have had nothing like the prominence Hanks has, but have gone on to be successful writers. But unknown authors looking for some profile, be it by hook or crook, could ironically take a leaf from Hank’s role as Dermot Hoggins, in the aforementioned Cloud Atlas.

Here Hanks portrays the resentful writer of a book called Knuckle Sandwich, which was the subject of a poor review, written by a critic named Felix Finch. So bitter is Hoggins (beware spoilers follow) he throws Finch over the side of a tall building, at a literary event. Finch is killed instantly when he hits the ground.

Sales of Knuckle Sandwich subsequently surge, but by this stage Hoggins is behind bars. In another cruel twist of fate, Hoggins had signed over all royalties from the novel to his publisher, so in the end doesn’t see a penny. Perhaps he hoped to profit from the sales of a follow up title he wrote while incarcerated.

For the rest of us though, I suggest slow and steady, with no one getting hurt, wins the race when it comes to making it as an unknown author.

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Only in 2114 can books in the Future library be read

30 September 2022

Since 2014, The Future Library, located in the Deichman Library in Oslo, Norway, has been going about assembling a collection of one hundred manuscripts, at the rate of one work per year. When the library reaches capacity, in 2114, the collection will be made available to one thousand people who have purchased certificates allowing them, or a descendent, access to the writings.

The ‘Silent Room’ where the manuscripts are to be kept is built using wood from the original trees felled to make way for the trees planted for the project. Katie Paterson has been working with the architectural team to design this part of the new public library. The collected works will be on display but the manuscripts will not be available for reading.

The library, which is the brainchild of Scottish visual artist Katie Paterson, has so far invited prominent authors, including Margaret Atwood, Han Kang, and Ocean Vuong, to submit manuscripts. I like the idea, but I’m not sure about having to wait almost one hundred years to read what’s in the collection, even if I knew I’d still be around by then.

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The 2022 National Young Writers Festival

23 September 2022

The 2022 National Young Writers’ Festival (NYWF) runs from Thursday 29 September, through to Sunday 2 October, both in Newcastle, Australia (about one hundred and sixty kilometres north of Sydney), and online.

NYWF is so-called Australia’s largest gathering of young writers, with artists bringing their craft from all around (cities, regional, rural and our beloved regular cohort from Aotearoa). We showcase work in both new and traditional forms including zines, comics, blogging, screenwriting, poetry, spoken word, hip hop, music, journalism, autobiography, comedy and prose.

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Publishing contract morality clauses may be unfair to authors

26 August 2022

Finding a traditional publisher for a novel is becoming ever more difficult. For one thing, aspiring — being unpublished — authors, are up against who knows how many other hopeful novelists. They also have to contend with a shrinking pool of publishing houses, as the industry appears to be going through a consolidation, which is seeing many smaller and independent publishers absorbed by larger players.

Even authors with several published works to their name, are reporting waits of up to a year to hear back about a pitch. But adding to the woes of many authors, emerging and established, are so-called morality clauses some publishers are including in their agreements.

In short, if a writer fails to meet a certain standard of behaviour, they may lose any advances or royalties they’ve received. The problem author advocates — such as the Authors Guild — have with morality clauses are the sometimes vague definitions of inappropriate or wrong conduct.

These contract provisions allow publishers to terminate a book contract, and in many cases even require the author to repay portions of the advance already received, if the author is accused of immoral, illegal, or publicly condemned behavior. Publishers insist they need the clauses to protect themselves in the event an author’s reputation becomes so tarnished after the book contract is signed that it will hurt sales. But most of these clauses are too broad and allow a publisher to terminate based on individual accusations or the vague notion of “public condemnation” — which can occur all too easily in these days of viral social media.

People should be held accountable for wrong-doing, but everyone is entitled to proper due-process. The concern is morality clauses, particularly where the definition of inappropriate or wrong behaviour is poorly defined, could be used unfairly against some authors.

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