Writers discuss…

Where writers discuss the art and business of writing

Discussions on hold for now…

Well, I really thought that more writers would be interested in having a discussion forum like this. But I am not into hassling people to take part for the sake of the forum itself – my idea was that people would want to take part because they found it of value to them.

So I am going to pause the whole thing for a while – I won’t take it down just yet, but will just put it on hold for a bit and see what happens. If it continues to get comments, and if there seems to be a group of people who are interested in participating, I will get it going again.

So, if you would like that, then please leave a comment to this post, and please suggest topics that you would like to see discussed if we open up again.



Topic 5: Do we actually need WritersDiscuss?

Well, I thought this was a good idea… but the response has not been as enthusiastic as I’d hoped for.

It was definitely an experiment. Personally, I really appreciate the chance to discuss ideas, and to share information, with like-minded writers. I saw this as a chance to really connect with other writers from all around the world – to stimulate discussion, to open our minds and also to just share practical information.

But, like I said, the response has not been amazing. I was happy to put in a lot of work the first few months to make sure that people hear of it. But I am not into kicking butts to “make” people participate. The idea was that people would see this site as something of value to them as a professional or working writer, and would want to participate. I don’t want people to participate because I asked them to – I hoped that people would participate because they got something out of it.

So, this week’s (possibly final) topic is:

  • Do we actually need Writers Discuss? Do we need a forum like this where we can both ask questions and share ideas?

And a few other questions:

  • Do you already have a writers discussion forum in your life, and that’s why you don’t need this one? If yes, please let us know – and if it is public, please share the link?
  • Is there something I could have done to make this site more inviting to you? Perhaps discussion topics that are different to the ones I have proposed? Or perhaps a different format or venue?

So I will see how the response to this discussion is.

If you want Writers Discuss to continue, then please participate! If there’s not much participation this week, I will classify it as an “interesting experiment” and shut it down…



Topic 4: Revealing the greater truth, or message, through fiction

Well, last month we talked about truth in non-fiction. But it is so often said by writers that the greater truth is achieved through writing fiction.

So let’s take a look at that.

There are two avenues that I would like to pursue here… but of course, I am open to people taking this anywhere they want.

What is the “greater” truth, and how do we get to it? How is it that, by not sticking to the facts, by making things up, we can approach truth? I think most of us probably have an idea of this already – but I think it would be interesting to hear about examples, from your own work or from a work that you have read and that impacted you.
And especially, if you have a work-in-progress in which you are struggling to achieve this – I think that would be interesting too. What you are trying to do, and why you are choosing fiction to tell this particular truth.

OK, in a way this is quite a different branch to the subject, but it is related: What about when the purpose of writing fiction is to deliver a message? I am thinking especially of Ayn Rand, as a classic example. Her works of fiction (Atlas Shrugged, especially) were vehicles for the delivery of her philosophy of Objectivism. But there are more recent (and popular) examples of fiction aimed at delivering a message, too  for example James Cameron’s film Avatar, which had a pretty clear theme (and message, as there was a “right” and “wrong” to that theme) about First Nations land rights, and colonization and resource extraction.
So what do you think about this? Is fiction an appropriate medium for delivering a message? Or should the overall aim of fiction be “telling a good story,” and does inserting a message detract form that?

And just a quick word about our next discussion… This whole Writers Discuss thing is an experiment. I feel that there is a need for a forum like this, where interested writers around the world can discuss topics that relate to our creativity and our work. But the level of discussion in this forum so far has been less than what I had expected – so perhaps other writers are not feeling the need for that type of conversation or interaction as much as I do?

So, if you feel that this is a valuable forum, please don’t be only a lurker – please participate, and help spread the word and encourage other writers to participate! And then our next discussion topic (October 15) will be on whether we need Writers Discuss, and what we can do to make it a more active discussion forum for working writers. After I see how that discussion goes, I will make the decision on whether to keep this forum happening or not.

OK, let’s go! What do you think about searching for the greater truth, or a message, through fiction?

Topic 3: Go with a traditional publisher, or go independent?

So, any writer who has paid attention to the biz will know that the publishing world has been turned on its head these past two years. The advent of cheap paper-book printing services, and the proliferation of ereaders and ebooks, has suddenly made independent publishing become a realistic option for authors.

I am constantly blown away by how many writers do not know what standard publishing terms are. (Briefly, most “standard” publishing contracts for paper books result in earnings for the author of about 10% of the book’s retail price – so, for a book that retails for $20, the author would receive $20). The publisher handles printing and distribution, and receives 40-50% of the retail price for doing that – which seems fair to me (the remaining 40-50% goes to the bookseller). Formerly, the publisher would also do editing and marketing – but these days, depending upon the publisher, sometimes these tasks may fall more upon the author.

With the advent of ebooks, publishers have attempted to set a “standard” royalty to authors of around 25%  – trying to make that sound generous. But with ebooks, the publisher is not paying for any printing or distribution or warehousing, yet they are receiving a whopping 50-75% of retail price (for doing less!) because there is no longer a physical bookseller. Hmm, now that is not sounding so fair…

So authors do have a legitimate option, of focussing on ebooks and doing it all themselves. For example, selling a $2.99 ebook, where the online seller (e.g. Amazon, Apple) takes more like a 30% royalty for the service, leaves the author with $2.10 – more than they would have received for their $20 paperback published traditionally.

And authors do have the option of printing a paper edition of the book too. Printing options abound. But, from the limited research I have done, it seems that an independent author’s biggest challenge is getting our printed books out into physical distribution: both into physical bookstores, and on to the major online sellers such as Amazon.

So, let’s talk about it.

Here are a few links with background info (there is a wealth of info out there is you start googling it):

8 Reasons Self-Publishing is Entering a Golden Age
byJoel Frielander (one of the gurus of self-publishing)

Should you self-publish—or wait for a traditional deal?
by Sue Collier

You should self-publish
by Joe Konrath, another self-publishing guru and successful example (this is just one of his many articles chronicling his own self-publishing story – his whole site is worth spending time in if you are considering this route).

Think hard before self-publishing
by literary agent and blogger Rachelle Gardner

Yes, think hard before self-publishing–but understand what “true” self-publishing is first
a response to the above article, by Sue Collier

And a few questions – just answer the one(s) that grab you:

1. For people who are currently weighing out whether to seek a traditional publisher or to go independent, what are the factors you are looking at in making your decision? What questions do you have, that will help make your decision? (Maybe others will respond here).

2. To writers who have chosen to stick with traditional publishers: why?

3. To writers who have chosen to go independent: why? Are you facing challenges that you did not foresee in going this route? What advice do you have to other authors who are considering this?

4. As I noted above, I think the greatest challeneg to authors who chose to go independent is the distribution of the physical book. Does anyone have advice or info or experience in this that they can share?

5. And, if anyone has links to resources (good articles, or supportive companies that we should know about) – please share it here.

I look forward to this discussion! Please remember, comments using your real name are preferred – the idea is that we network, share, get to know one another.

Topic 2. Truth and baloney in creative nonfiction

I like the phrase that Alex Heard tweeted the other day – enough that I am stealing it for the title of this discussion!

Heard is editorial director at Outside mag. He also wrote an article in 2007 for The New Republic called This American Lie, which challenged the veracity of some of the incidents recounted in David Sedaris’s so-called “memoirs.” Heard concluded: “I do think Sedaris exaggerates too much for a writer using the nonfiction label.”

But this brings up a question that most writers of creative nonfiction have had to deal with at some point:

We write in a genre that is defined by what it is not. Creative nonfiction is “not” fiction… therefore we can’t make things up. Or can we?

After all, that word “creative” is in there, right?

The general genre of “creative nonfiction,” and in particular its sub-genre “memoir,” have had a rough go these last few years, as more than a few memoirs have been exposed to be more fiction than truth.

The first that I became aware of this issue was back in the early 90s, when my sister sent me a copy of Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Messages Down Under. I was actually living and working in the Australian outback at the time, and it was clear to me, from what I knew of the place firsthand, that there was no way that much of that story could be true. The subsequent controversy eventually led the publisher to relabel the book as a work of fiction.

Probably the most publicized example has been James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces – a  memoir about the author’s drug addiction and recovery, the truth of which Oprah publicly tore to shreds. And, in a similar vein, Margaret Seltzer’s memoir (writing as Margaret B. Jones) Love and Consequences, about growing up in LA in a world of gangs – again, turned out to be entirely fabricated. And of course there was this year’s example – Jon Krakauer’s exposé of numerous fabrications in Greg Mortensen’s memoir Three Cups of Tea.

As we all know, there are numerous other examples of so-called “memoirs” that were later exposed as lies… Wikipedia even has a page devoted to Fake Memoirs!

  • So, what do you think? Does the label “nonfiction” mean that we writers must stick to the facts?
  • Just what does that adjective “creative” apply to? Does it mean that the writing itself is “creative” – or does it mean that we can be creative with the “non” part of nonfiction… that we can invent a bit?
  • Is it OK to omit or combine characters, or change the order of events (or even omit events… or even create events) in order to streamline our narrative? Or, if we choose to write under that label of “nonfiction,” does that constrain us to stick to the facts – even if they don’t really serve our narrative well?
  • And of course, we all know that we never have all the facts, all the information – especially when we are writing memoir. Memory is fallable. Sometimes no one really knows what happened in that room. Sometimes other people who were also there have a different recollection of what actually happened than you do. How do you get around that, the unreliability of memory?
  • What is a writer’s “contract with the reader”?

I think this is going to be a great discussion – I’m looking forward to your answers… and your questions!

And, I just want to mention – this discussion is inspired by a great blog post by Lorne Daniel, and the comments/conversation that followed. I urge you to check it out. And remember to look at our ABOUT page if you want to know what this site is, umm, about…

Topic 1. Google+: Are you using it? What do you think?

Hello everyone, welcome to our very first discussion topic, and thanks for checking in. If you haven’t already checked out our ABOUT page, please take a look to see what this site is all, well… about!

Please remember:
The aim of this site is to promote networking and mentoring while sharing our knowledge. That helps us all. In keeping with that, it makes sense that we all know who we are talking to – so please use your real name! Anonymous comments may not be approved. To participate, simply comment at the bottom of this page.

Today Writers Discuss our experiences with the new social network Google+.
To start things off, I’ll first link to a few references about Google+, then put out a few discussion points. Feel free to follow one of my leads, or to take things off in a completely new direction.

This discussion will be open until September 15, 2011.

Google+: The Complete Guide

Debbie Ohi’s GOOGLE+ GUIDES & TIPS FOR NEWBIES (especially writers & illustrators)

A Guide to Google+ Privacy and Information Control

Promotional Tools for Writers on Google+

Debbie Ohi’s compilation of various lists of writers and other literary people using Google+

Social networks:
There are a lot of social networks out there already. Although I’ve avoided Facebook because I never was comfortable with their ever-changing privacy policies, I know there are a lot of writers on Facebook. And on Twitter (which I do love!).

So, what do you think? Do we actually need another yet social network? Or does Google+ offer something new?

Google+ vs. Facebook:
Google+ is a direct competitor to Facebook – so I’m really curious to hear from the people who are on both. How do the two compare? What do you like, or not like, about Google+ compared to Facebook?

Are you avoiding GooglePlus because Facebook is already working with you? Or are you thinking of ditching Facebook now?

Putting all of your eggs in the Google basket:
Google uses the fact that everything they do is integrated – all linked together – as a selling point. To me, that is actually a worry. I don’t want everything to be linked together – because that means if one goes down, everything goes down.

What do you think? Do you like the fact that you can integrate everything under the Google umbrella? Or do you think that is too risky?

Terms of service for content creators (i.e., us!)
OK, this is the one that I am most worried about. For me, the big issue about Google+ is that, by signing up for the service, although we retain copyright to our work, we hand over to Google “perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive” rights to “reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute” our content.

Although this is more of a worry for photographers and illustrators (who are more likely to post samples of their work online) it is something that we writers should be aware of too. Our words are our content.

According to this article, Google+ Outs the Fox in Henhouse by Steve Rosenbaum, we should be worried about the Google+ Terms of Service because we lose control of our work: Google can use it in almost any way they want.

However, according to others, e.g. How I Evaluate Terms of Service for Social Media Web Sites – Google+ by photographer Jim M. Goldstein, these Terms of Service are necessary for Google to be able to reproduce any content online (which is what any social media site does:  broadcasts our content).

So… what do you think of this? Did you even read the Terms of Service before signing on? Or is that what is keeping you from signing on? Do you think that we writers, as content creators, should be concerned here?

I look forward to the discussion! What is your experience with Google+?

Discussion schedule

Writers Discuss is a forum for writers to talk about both the artistic and business sides of being a professional writer. For more information about this site, please see the ABOUT page.

Discussions begin on the dates indicated, and are open for one month.


August 15th, 2011: Google plus for writers: Are you using it? How does it compare to Facebook? What do you think about issues of: putting all of your social media eggs in one basket via Google; privacy issues; issues of ownership of content that creators post?

September 1st, 2011: Fact and fiction in creative non-fiction. How much must we stick to the facts when we write creative non-fiction? It is OK to create composite characters, or change the order of events, or pretend certain people were not there? Is there such thing as writing fact at all, when our “facts” are based only upon memory – which we all know is fallible?

September 15th, 2011: To go with a publisher, or to go it independently? The publishing world has turned on its  head these last two years. Lower printing costs, easier online distribution of print books, and the proliferation of ebooks all make it easier for authors to by-pass the publishing houses. But should we? What are the pros and cons of each system? Hopefully writers with personal experience in both camps will chime in on how it worked for them, what are both the advantages and disadvantages of each.

October 1st, 2011: TBD

What topics would you like to see discussed? We cover topics that relate to both the artistic side and the business side of writing. Please post your suggestions as comments below. If possible, please also post links to relevant articles or blog posts that will provide some background to the discussion.