I’m a Member of TWUC

Blog 68 ImageA very short blog today to say that my application for membership in the The Writer’s Union of Canada has been accepted based on my book, False Guilt.

The Writers’ Union of Canada is a national organization of professional writers of books. It has about 2,000 members and was founded more than 40 years ago to work with governments, publishers, booksellers and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers.

Not long ago, membership eligibility was expanded to those who have self-published a book that successfully demonstrates commercial intent and professionalism. Among other things, this required that I submit False Guilt to the Union for review.

I’m delighted to be a TWUC member and I look forward to contributing!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Advances

Blog 67 ImageI’m down to my last few posts about a first-time writer choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Today I’m looking at advances.

Advances are a concept specific to traditional publishing. To learn about them, I’ve looked at standard form contracts, spoken to several writer friends including Melodie Campbell and done research.

What is an advance? An advance is a prepayment by a publisher to a writer of a portion of the royalties expected from early book sales. It’s paid in installments, as specified in the publishing contract, from the time the contract is signed to the time the manuscript is finalized. Advances generally are non-returnable, except if the manuscript is not published because the writer fails to complete and deliver on time.

Looking at advances from the writer’s and publisher’s perspective. For a writer, an advance is income to pay personal and book expenses that is received well before royalties on book sales are paid. The lucky and rare writer who gets a large, publicity-worthy advance also has a promotional tool because a publisher is making a big statement about her book.

An advance for a publisher represents economic risk because it’s usually non-returnable. The publisher believes the advance will be earned out by sales. If it’s wrong, it loses money. A publisher might protect against this risk by calculating the advance using low expected sales or offering the writer a higher royalty rate for waiving the advance.

A large advance can be a double-edged sword for a writer. If the publisher does lose money, it could slash advances on future books or not publish those books. A writer who can get by without an advance might be better off long-term if she can negotiate a higher royalty rate in return.

So how big are advances? Public information on the average advance for a first-time fiction writer is spotty and anecdotal. This post from Michael Kozlowski dealing with the U.S. market suggests that the average advance from major publishing houses is between $5,000 and $10,000. Individual advances will vary dramatically based on many factors like market conditions, genre and the publishing house. Now and then, a highly sought-after book earns the writer much more.

The market for book sales in Canada is relatively small, so first-time fiction writers should be prepared for a much lower average advance.

Compared to self-publishing. The idea of this blog series is to evaluate what a first-time writer should think about in choosing between traditional and self-publishing. Average advances by publishers may seem low, but there are no advances in self-publishing. The self-pub foots the costs of publishing her book upfront and bears all the risk of not recouping them.

So, the option of getting an advance, however modest, is an advantage of traditional publishing.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Why I Liked the Movie Whiplash

Blog 66 ImageThe movie Whiplash has stuck with me since I saw it a few weeks ago. I see lots of movies and most zip in and out of my brain. I’m going to blog about why I think Whiplash found a few memory cells. Bear with me. There’s a connection to writing.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a brutally demanding teacher at an elite New York music academy driving a willingly submissive drumming student to greatness. The relationship is wildly at odds with current expectations around appropriate teacher-student relations, but it’s gripping as hell.

So, why? Some of the credit goes to the acting. J.K. Simmons nails the part of Terence Fletcher, the music teacher, who tests the boundaries of abuse in his obsession to push artists beyond mediocrity. And Miles Teller is impressive as Andrew Neyman, the student driven to be the best, even at the cost of his teacher’s savage mind games as well as family relationships and a love interest.

Mostly, though, it’s the story. This is intense mano a mano, testosterone-filled stuff that just pulls back from being too crazy to believe. Though set in the arts’ world, it reminded me of NCAA football coaches screaming at players and slapping their helmets to induce their best performance. Son, if you wanna be picked in the draft, you’ll take my medicine. Yes, sir! It’s my ticket to realizing my forever dream of going first overall.

For me, the connection between Whiplash and writing fiction is that the story has the key elements of a well-crafted psychological thriller. Great pacing, gripping conflict and intriguing characters. A neat resolution that fits the characters’ psychology, yet leaves enough ambivalence to keep one thinking after. And scenes in which characters spar with nuance to reveal themselves.

In other words, the elements I strive for in my books.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

Choosing a Story’s Specifics

Blog 65 ImageAnother breezy blog post this week as I push to the end of my first edit of book three.

Almost every fiction writer knows the golden rule that a story must show, not tell. A lot of nonfiction tells, usually with generalizations. Fiction shows, by using specifics and often setting the story in real time. This allows readers to see and feel the action and conflicts. Then they’re entertained, while having the chance to infer the generalizations.

As I edit book three, I’m constantly vigilant for showing and not telling. I know that a bit of telling is allowed. It often starts chapters, is needed for a brief bit of background and gets readers from A to B. However, for building drama and conflict, I’d better be showing.

If showing is about offering specifics, the real challenge, I find, is choosing which specifics to include. Here are the guideposts I’m currently using.

I write thrillers. My genre is thrillers/mysteries. I’m not aspiring to literary fiction. My readers want the action to flow and that keeps me spare in my use of specifics. For example, increasingly, I avoid describing the colour of clothes that characters wear unless it’s essential to the plot.

Dialogue is powerful. Dialogue of course develops plot and characters. It’s powerful because a lot can be communicated with nuanced choices or absences of words. I rely on dialogue to round out characters economically and even offer specifics I might otherwise exclude. I don’t need to tell readers that a character is a man of few words if I ensure he speaks that way. And when that man is spurred to make a small speech, readers have a clear picture of something that’s important to him.

Is the detail significant? For descriptive passages, I ask myself whether readers really need to know the specifics I give. Some commentators use the term significant detail for specifics. So the question becomes whether the detail is significant enough to include.

Judging this can be trickier than it sounds and takes practice. I try to strip down to their basics the passages that transition between key scenes. However, key scenes must have enough detail for readers to see and feel the action. A good editor will tell me if I’ve gotten it right.

Other considerations may influence a writer’s judgment of what detail is significant. The writer may be more or less detailed in order to create the style he thinks best suits his story. Or he might be influenced by what will make his book more marketable.

Let readers imagine. I need to set scenes for readers but I want their imagination working alongside mine. By adding their details, readers not only immerse themselves in my story, they’re participants in the storytelling. This draws people to fiction and explains why movie renditions of stories can be disappointing. And it’s another reason for me to be sparing with specifics.

Characters’ thoughts are valuable but in small doses. I’m interested in how the psychology of characters drives consequences. So, in addition to describing what characters say and do, I write about what they’re thinking. However, I limit the specifics to quick, single thoughts and brief ruminations about a conflict, which works well for thrillers. I figure anything more will bore readers, probably because it’ll feel like I’m telling instead of showing.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.