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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

November 2011

Cyber Monday

I'm dashing about, doing laundry, making packing lists, getting the red nose and antlers put on our car, and trying to get organized before we leave for South Carolina and more book research.  Blog posts may be a bit spotty for a few days, but I'll check in as often as possible. In the meantime, here are a couple of views of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Redcar,"  in case you see us tootling down the road.






  




I also wanted everyone to know that there is a special Cyber Monday offer on the Katzenhaus website. If you fill in your name and e-mail address, I'll send you a coupon code.  You can then take that code to Smashwords and download a free copy of Beyond All Price in any e-book format -- HTML, Kindle, Apple iBook, Sony, Kobo, or Nook. 

If you haven't read Nellie Chase's story, now's your chance.  If  you already have your copy, give this one as a gift.

History Students Look at Historical Fiction

Last spring semester, a history professor at my old college used my book, Beyond All  Price, as a a reading assignment in a class for 4th-year history majors. I was slightly disappointed, although not surprised, to learn that  while the students enjoyed the story, they felt it was somehow "out of place" in an academic setting. After all, the faculty had just spend the better part of four years teaching them to document their papers and to be sure of their facts. They were conditioned to regard historical fiction with skepticism, and the fact that this particular book had been written by an emerita member of their own faculty did not help much. In light of that experience, I found the following article from the "Novel Approaches" website to be quite interesting. I particularly like the statement at the end of the article by a student who recognized that the question was only a problem within a school setting.

ARTICLE
Lucinda Byatt

I asked my history class at the Open Studies department of Edinburgh University, who have been attending a course with the somewhat provocative title ‘Rome Caput Mundi: Curia, Cardinals and Courtesans 1300 to 1590’, to give me their thoughts on historical fiction.  More particularly I wanted to know what they thought about including it on the course reading list.

The answers I received covered the full range of opinion: clearly some were horrified by the idea while others possibly thought my questionnaire a waste of time, or had more pressing engagements at four o’clock in the afternoon.  Presumably those motives, and the fact that I had premised my request by saying I would not be lying in wait for them after class, accounted for the absence of answers from about half the class. However, we had a lively discussion before class ended and some of the written answers were enlightening.

Yes, historical fiction was a useful way of getting into the atmosphere of the time, or ‘setting the scene’, as well as revealing ‘the way of living, perhaps indeed the ways of thinking.’  Many agreed that it offered an excellent quick introduction to the dramatis personae of any given period. Although at least one person felt that a greater danger was posed by television historical series and films: an interesting point because they were content to rely on an author’s written interpretation and their own imagination while reading, but not on the visual, ‘less reliable’ interpretation in films and TV. 
Some gave examples: Dorothy Dunnett, an Edinburgh writer, was a favourite for one student who wrote: ‘irrespective of the “romantic” central characters, she leaves her readers very familiar with the geography of mid-15 century Bruges, the relationships between the traders, even how goods were transported. I learned what a “cog” was from her books!’ 

Historical crime was also popular: C.J. Sansom was noted by two or three as having enticed them into history.
One person commented on what she termed ‘cross-over’ books that manage to keep a foot in both camps: she cited John Guy’s ‘jolly good’ biography of Mary Queen of Scots which she was prompted to read following a course she took at the university this summer.  ‘Something by Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir’s book on Katherine Swynford are good cross-overs.’  However, she also added (as did two or three others) that Wolf Hall is ‘unreadable’.   (Someone described it as ‘incredibly tedious’ – but then you can’t please everyone).  However, for academic writers, the ‘revival of well-presented narrative history can be a plus – although it can be at the expense of analysis.’

A difference in the focus between academic history and historical fiction was identified by three people, also because we had been talking about it in the discussion. When talking about whether literary authors and academics learn from other, someone commented that ‘each reinforces the other. Academics tend to concentrate on the elites, while fiction [and he was thinking particularly of Sansom] provides more insight into ordinary life.’   Someone else also commented that ‘fiction can use isolated facts as a source of story and then use conjecture to elaborate on them’ – very true.  The crossover between fact and fiction was also debated: ‘some supposedly academic material, presented as fact, is fiction: i.e. theories of authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.’ 

At least one person noted that our understanding of history, or of any one period, is constantly evolving in the light of new research, and that it is also affected by our changing understanding of our own times.  However, the fact that some historians are turning their hands to historical fiction was generally seen as a money-making wheeze (no harm in that!): ‘Historians write fiction for money, which is fine if they can write good fiction!’  The same person underlined the fact that ‘historical fiction is not correlated to academic history’, adding that ‘fiction should be about people … imaginative and exciting’.

In conclusion, on the question of the popularity of historical fiction and whether it threatens academic history, various people stressed the importance of understanding where the boundaries are.  I liked the student’s comment that ‘It may be a problem in schools, but not beyond.  No harm in making history accessible, so long as it is accurate.’   This was reinforced by another who wrote that he would read historical fiction as course reading, ‘if I had confidence in the sources – otherwise it’s pure escapism’. Well, that’s the pot of gold at the end of the historical fiction rainbow, isn’t it?


Lucinda is also Features Editor for Historical Novels Review, the quarterly magazine published by the Historical Novel Society.

Let Your Awards Keep On Giving!

Here's one more excerpt from Carolyn Howard-Johnson -- this time on what to do if you win an award for your book.

A list of things authors should do with their awards once they’ve won them appeared in the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter and, because that information is so important, it appears in the just-released second edition, too. Here is the list authors (or folks in any business, really!) will want to keep for the day when they have an award they can use to help with their branding.
  • Add your new honor to the Awards page of your media kit. If it’s your first award, center it on a page of its own. Oh! And celebrate!
  • Write your media release announcing this coup. (See Chapter Eleven of the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter to learn to build a targeted media list and Chapter Twelve to learn to write a professional media release.)
  • Post your news on media release distribution sites. Find a list of these sites here.
  • Notify your professional organizations.
  • Notify bookstores where you hope to have a signing and those where you have had a signing.
  • Notify your college and high school. Some have press offices. Most publish magazines for alumni and their current students.
  • Add this information to the signature feature (see Chapter Twenty) of your e-mail program.
  • Add this honor to the biography template you use in future media releases—the part that gives an editor background information on you.
  • Use this information when you pitch TV or radio producers, editors of newsletters and newspapers. and bloggers. It sets you apart from others and defines you as an expert.
  • If your book wins an award, order embossed gold labels from a company like http://labels-usa.com/embossed-labels.htm. You or your distributor can apply them to your books’ covers. If you win an important award, ask your publisher to redesign your bookcover or dustcover to feature it a la the Caldecott medal given for beautifully illustrated children’s books. If you don’t know this medal, visit your local bookstore and ask to see books given this award. It’s one of the most famous and most beautifully designed.
  • If your book is published as an e-book only, ask for the contest’s official badge or banner to use. If they don’t have one, make one of your own using http://bannerfans.com/banner_maker.php.
  • Be sure your award is front and center on your blog, your Web site, your Twitter wallpaper, and your social network pages.
  • Your award should be evident on everything from your business card to your checks and invoices. I use the footer of my stationery to tout my major awards.
  • Don’t forget to put your award in your e-mail signature.
  • Frame your award certificate and hang it in your office to impress visitors and to inspire yourself to soar even higher!

Ten Reasons Your Book Should Be an E-Book, Too

 While I'm cooking, here's a guest post from Carolyn Howard-Johnson:

I like to think of myself as a writer of fiction and a poet. So I had a tendency to resist the e-book landslide when it first came tumbling around the ears of creative writers. But then—thankfully—my past retail experience took hold. (See my how-to books for retailers at www.howotoditfrugally.com/retailers_books.htm.)

I realized that that authors are retailers. We sell books. We sell our books to agents. We sell books to publishers. We sell books at the back of the room when we speak. We sell books on online bookstores. We’re selling books when we do book signings or workshops. And I remembered that old retail maxim: Give your customer (in this case your reader) what they want, when they want it, and let them pay for it the way they want to.

E-books are all electronic but they come in all sizes from whitepapers (short how-tos or informationals) that should, by all rights, be called e-papers to full-blown books. Some are given away. Some are sold. They are offered as .pdf files, ready for readers to read on their screens or to be printed out. E-books can also be downloaded to multimedia readers. Surely one of these iterations can be used to your advantage.

I believe that every book should be issued as an e-book—either only as an e-book or in addition to the paperback iteration. Here is why:

1. When your book is published as an e-book, in addition to a traditional have-and-hold book, you let your readers get your book in whatever form they want.
2. You let your customers who want to read your book immediately get it fast.
3. People who live in other parts of the world can access your book without the wait and without the shipping expense.
4. E-books can also be published fast. Once written, I was able to have the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter ready to use as a syllabus of sorts for my UCLA Extension Writers’ Program class in less than thirty days.
5. You can update your book fast. Maybe you discovered a last-minute typo in your novel. Books on tech, as an example—require frequent updates.
6. E-books can be offered inexpensively to starving students or budget-conscious readers.
7. The number of pages is not an issue; you can include whatever you think best fills the reader’s (or your story’s) needs.
8. You can reach niche markets without much upfront expense. That means you could take a book aimed generally at marketing and refine it to meet the needs of the publishing industry. Or the retail industry. Ahem!
9. An author can publish an e-book absolutely free.
10. But mostly—tada!—e-books are great tools for promotion.
And just how do you use an e-book to promote or drive your writing career? Lots of ways.
  • Write an e-book to get your readers to sign up for your newsletter. Give it away free if they do.
  • Write an e-book to get your readers to subscribe to your blog. Give it away free if they do.
  • Get your reader to love your writing by giving away one of your books as an e-book. Be sure to include a teaser for your new book in the backmatter.
  • Write a sequel to your book and publish it as an e-book to spur sales that have become stale.
I’m sold on e-books. I even make the poetry chapbooks I publish myself available as e-books (www.howtodoitfrugally.com/poetry_books.htm) . People who love poetry take their Kindles when they travel to Paris as readily as people who read nonfiction business books.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including the second edition (Updated! Expanded!) of The Frugal Book Promoter as an e-book (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromoKindle) or as a paperback (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo).

New Books and Older Ones

I'm in the midst of a busy day. Proofs have arrived, asking me to make decisions about my new book cover and its interior layouts. Here's the cover I've chosen.  Layouts will take a bit more work. These are exciting days, and I'm trying not to push ahead too fast. The temptation is to get the book out as soon as possible to catch the holiday shopping frenzy that is sure to erupt as soon as everyone has finished eating turkey.  But since I don't want to publish a "turkey" I'm trying to slow down and edit carefully.

In the meantime the IHR Virtual Conference on Historical Fiction is in full swing.  Here's a brief summary of today's events.

There's been a lot going on today.  Starting with Elizabeth Chadwick's research into why readers of historical fiction enjoy the genre conversation moved onto questions of why academic history is perceived to not be able to recreate the human condition adequately.  We then heard from Justin Champion, Tracey Loughran and Peter Straus.  In these papers, amongst much else, the issue of e-book readers came up and in other conversations the rise of the internet was discussed as revolutionising the communication and interaction between author and reader.  

It seems that historical fiction is regarded as a popular form of writing and reading about the past, leaving academic history failing somewhat in its targets for impact!  However, the inter-relationship of the two are time and again shown to be strong - one could not survive without the other.  I suspect we'll return to that topic tomorrow as we look at the differences and similarities between historical fiction and academic history.

Elsewhere, Jenny Benham's book review focused on Swedish historical fiction is a gentle and much welcome reminder that in this conference so far we have largely talked about British and perhaps a little American historical fiction.  What about elsewhere?  It would be great to see if anyone else has any views on non-English historical fiction!