If you missed Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Friday here is the podcast of the segment. Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the topic, “Pantser or Not to Pantser”.
If you missed Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Friday here is the podcast of the segment. Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the topic, “Do Your Research”.
Writers Unite! has the pleasure of being featured every Friday on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” program on Impact Radio USA!
Host Paul W. Reeves, an educator, author, editor, musician, and composer, is familiar with all aspects of the writing process. He supports authors by providing them a platform to talk about themselves and their work to his large listening audience.
In a quest to bring the creative writing process to all, Paul has graciously asked Writers Unite! admin Deborah Ratliff to join him on Fridays to discuss the writing process.
Upcoming segments will address such topics as:
Securing an agent or publisher
Writing that first novel
Marketing a book and an author
We hope you will listen and that the information given will help you in your writing career or in taking that first step to writing a novel, short story, or a better letter to the editor.
The Writers Unite! segment airs on Fridays at 11:00 am EDT.
Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” — Isaac Asimov
From the early days of pulp science fiction, the 1920s and 1930s saw the popularity of science fiction begin in earnest with Philip Francis Nowlan’s first Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419 published in 1928. In 1937, John W. Campbell was named editor of Astounding Science Fiction and thus began what many consider the Golden Age of Science Fiction. There is a debate on how long that Golden Age lasted, some feel into the 1950s, but there is no debate that the novels from that era stand today as classics in the world of science fiction.
Among those classics, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series followed over the years by the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, an exploration of the future evolution of humans, and Robert Heinlein’s military sci-fi novel Starship Troopers.
During this time the first attempt to separate science fiction from fantasy began when Hugo Gernsback, at the time editor of Amazing Stories used the name scientifiction to describe the genre. He defined the term as “…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision…”
Notable authors such as John W. Campbell J, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and others added their own opinion to Gernsback’s definition over the years. One point all of these authors agreed on was that the basis of science fiction is scientific theory and technology. Robert Heinlein’s term ‘speculative fiction’ written in a 1947 essay has remained the term most used to this day. The attempt to redefine the genre never completely took hold although speculative fiction is still being used.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a new term arose. New Wave Science Fiction was used to describe a more literary and artistic feel to a sci-fi novel. Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris dealt with human limitations. In 1965, Frank Herbert introduced an incredibly complex and intricate future society in the amazing novel, Dune. Phillip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? spawned the film, Blade Runner. These years also saw an explosion of social and feminist science fiction as exemplified by Ursula K. Le Guin.
The last forty years of science fiction has introduced us to a myriad of sub-genres such as steampunk and cyberpunk as seen in Neuromancer, William Gibson’s first novel published in 1984. Themes such as the environment, the Internet, biotechnology, nanotechnology, post-apocalyptic worlds, and the increasing list of sub-genres like steampunk, biopunk, and others have opened the genre to new horizons.
The most recent trends in science fiction discussed atSpeculate, the Speculative Writers Festival in 2019 were as follows.
Climate Fiction – Dealing with climate change
New Space Opera – A grander, more technology-based and character-driven version of the old Space Opera.
Generation Ship – Where original colonists and their descendants travel on slower spaceships. A recognition of the vastness of space and that faster-than-light speed is impossible.
Gender-Focused – As we see in our society now, the question of gender fluidity is central to the story.
In reviewing the amazing and innovative stories that form the history of science fiction, it is evident that from the beginnings of Buck Rogers to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, science fiction continues to evolve with compelling stories to tell.
Common Characteristics of Science Fiction
While there are many aspects of science fiction that are shared with other genres, there are some characteristics that are unique to the genre. These identifiers should be present in the story.
1. Time Frame – This is the one area where there is some flexibility. While most science fiction is set in the future, a sci-fi story can be set in the present or in the past but other identifying characteristics must be present.
2. Advanced Technology – In the early days of science fiction, advanced technology while imaginative was not as difficult to create. In present day, technology advances at an exponential rate. It is considerably more difficult to imagine technology for advanced civilizations and stay ahead of current tech. Consider the tech, computers, communication, spaceships, ground transports, etc. that you want your characters and those they encounter will have, and be consistent.
3. Worlds and world-building – Probably the most formidable and most exciting aspect of writing sci-fi is alien world building. Some authors spend weeks building and creating their worlds. When you are presenting a futuristic Earth or an alien world and civilization, pay attention to detail. Think about how your characters will live, eat, breathe, and what kind of clothing and transport they will have. Every detail is important and will add depth and reality to your story.
4. Characters–Creating a cast of characters for your story can be as much fun as world building. As we know from some favorite movies, there is no limit to the imagination. Again, pay attention to detail. How they breathe, ambulate, dress, communicate, and appear.
5. Plausibility – This is possibly one of the most important characteristics of your writing. Remember that your reader has one frame of reference, the current world they live in. You need to keep your worlds, characters, and technology within a scope that most of your readers can understand. This does not preclude you from being innovative, but always remember to be plausible. Another thing to remember is to allow your characters to live in this world—nothing that you provide them with, from weapons to transport should surprise them. It should be normal. These guidelines apply to all genres except for fantasy where you can suspend belief. Which is a good thing if you are writing science-fiction fantasy.
Writing science fiction is challenging and exciting. Pay attention to these aspects of the genre and have fun!
We will be covering world building, character development, and plots in upcoming articles.
Asimov, “How Easy to See the Future!”, Natural History, 1975
Asimov, Isaac (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954–1978. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. chapter 24. ISBN978-0-385-15544-1.
Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists, and is known for works like ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’
Born on July 21, 1899, in Cicero (now in Oak Park), Illinois, Ernest Hemingway served in World War I and worked in journalism before publishing his story collection In Our Time. He was renowned for novels like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea, which won the 1953 Pulitzer. In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize. He committed suicide on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho.
Hemingway left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent.
When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Hemingway proved once again to be a master of the “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”
In August 2018, a 62-year-old short story by Hemingway, “A Room on the Garden Side,” was published for the first time in The Strand Magazine. Set in Paris shortly after the liberation of the city from Nazi forces in 1944, the story was one of five composed by the writer in 1956 about his World War II experiences. It became the second story from the series to earn posthumous publication, following “Black Ass at the Crossroads.”
Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937. He showed a knack for writing at a young age, and after high school began his career in journalism while serving in the United States Air Force. Following his military service, Thompson traveled the country to cover a wide array of topics for numerous magazines and developed an immersive, highly personal style of reporting that would become known as “Gonzo journalism.” He would employ the style in the 1972 book for which he is best known, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was an instant and lasting success. For the remainder of his life, Thompson’s hard-driving lifestyle—which included the steady use of illicit drugs and an ongoing love affair with firearms—and his relentlessly antiauthoritarian work made him a perpetual counterculture icon. However, his fondness for substances also contributed to several bouts of poor health, and in 2005 Thompson committed suicide at the age of 67.
Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy and horror author who rejected being categorized as a science fiction author, claiming that his work was based on the fantastical and unreal. His best-known novel is Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian study of future American society in which critical thought is outlawed. He is also remembered for several other popular works, including The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury won the Pulitzer in 2004, and is one of the most celebrated authors of the 21st century. He died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91.
You know the moment. That second when the realization hits you—the book you have sweated over, lost sleep over, and spent hours on—is published. Euphoria is likely your first reaction. Then another thought creeps into your mind. Oh no, now I must market this book.
Yes, you must.
Unless you are a bestselling author, the burden of marketing your book will fall on you. Traditional publishers, who once supported an author in their stable, rarely do more than obligatory publicity for any author other than those with a proven revenue stream. Vanity presses charge for any marketing they do, which is usually very little.
A word of caution—any publisher that charges you for their services to publish your book is not a writer’s friend. As writers become aware of the pitfalls of using them, some vanity presses are spinning their services as “partnerships.” They are not. A traditional publisher will take a calculated and measured risk to do the work and share in the profits. Do not pay a “publisher” for the honor of publishing your book.
This brings us to the subject of self-publishing your book. There are pros and cons to this publishing option, but those issues are not the focus of this discussion—marketing your book is. Self-publishing will tax the limits of your marketing knowledge and probably your patience.
Let’s first explore the two services a self-published author should invest in before publishing. I say “should” because these two items are imperative to the success of your novel. Alone they might not make you a bestselling author, but without them, your chances significantly reduce.
An essential but considerable expense you can incur is hiring an editor. Yes, you can publish without one, but you are doing yourself a disservice. If you are lucky enough to have a close friend who is an excellent editor and they take pity on you, they might edit for free. Not everyone is that lucky.
I know what you are saying to yourself. But—but—I’m great at grammar, I don’t need an editor. Yes, you do. Everyone misses a comma or in my case, adds too many, but grammar is not the only reason you need an unbiased editor. You have written words. As you read what you have written, your mind knows what you meant. The question is whether your mind filled in the blanks and you did not convey the intended message to your readers. While we can edit and edit and edit our work, we will miss incomplete thoughts, leave out words, have inconsistencies in the continuity, and perhaps, plot holes. You need an editor who knows to look beyond the words.
That said, if you have someone you trust to be unbiased, then use them. Trust is our most valuable attribute, and you need to trust the editor you choose. If you don’t have a close resource, then you need to search for the best editor that you can afford. Editing is a skill set, and not everyone who claims to be an editor is one. An experienced editor can be costly, and you should expect to pay for their level of expertise. Before you commit, do your research, ask for recommendations, and make sure the editor you choose has a website with testimonials. Contact the editors you are interested in and ask detailed questions about their process. It’s your money—choose as wisely as you can. Your book is at stake.
Book Cover Design
The other vital component to consider before the publication of your book is the cover design. It must catch your reader’s eye and draw them into your story. It can be stark or elegant, bold or subtle, but the cover must attract your reader to the content within.
Unless you are a graphic artist or even a Photoshop amateur enthusiast, designing your cover is risky. If you consider creating a DIY cover, Photoshop and YouTube offer tutorials. Do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the process before you begin. Also, review the cover dimensions and guidelines on the publishing platform you decide to use. If you choose not to start from scratch, numerous websites offer stock book cover formats for you to use to create your own.
Just a few issues to consider if you design the cover:
Your cover needs to reflect the content of your book. Use images that correspond to a scene or theme of the story.
Stand out—make your cover unique and easily visible.
Study covers from novels within your genre, especially those by successful authors. Determine what drew your eye to their covers.
Use only free-use images and fonts on your covers. Yes, fonts. Some common book fonts are under copyright, and you need permission to use them. There are many sites to find free-use images—among them are pixabay.com and morguefile.com.
Reference your publishing platform for exact dimensions for the cover. Many components go into a cover—book size, number of pages, the font, paper weight, soft or hardcover, etc., and affect the design.
It is essential that the thumbnail of your cover is easily read. That thumbnail is the first thing that your reader will see on the internet—make it clear and highly visible. Only a front cover is usually required when e-publishing.
If you choose a cover artist to create your book cover, all the above are important considerations, in addition to these:
Selection of a designer should mimic the choice of an editor. Find covers you like and, if possible, contact the author and ask who the designer was. Ask for recommendations, check out the artist’s work, and then contact them. Question how they work, if they accept suggestions and if not, can you step back and allow the artist to create their image of your work.
Have an idea in mind. It might or might not work, but it gives the designer a starting point.
When using an editor or book cover artist, don’t be afraid to ask questions or to challenge decisions politely. Be smart. However, you should always be considerate. They are professionals and so are you—behave like one. This is your book, and the quality of the job your editor and cover designer do will reflect on you, long after they have spent your money.
Remember that the title of your book and the blurb that you write to entice readers need as much care and attention as your narrative. We will discuss the blurb and how to write one in another article.
In this first article in our series, we have discussed two aspects of marketing that create a foundation for promoting your book. A well-written, coherent story and an eye-catching cover are the beginning of giving yourself a marketable commodity to sell. Yes, you have an item to sell, just like a piece of clothing or phone. In subsequent articles, we will be discussing marketing in more depth. We will look at the myriad ways available to reach the consumer, hopefully resulting in higher sales.