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michellemoran
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Post by michellemoran » Sat December 4th, 2010, 2:58 am

Michy - we posted at the same time :) Something about MLE's post must have rankled with both of us. It's a frustrating subject. More of the same please, only different...
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Sat December 4th, 2010, 3:04 am

[quote=""michellemoran""]Michy - we posted at the same time :) [/quote] We sure did, how funny! I'd never given South American fiction a lot of thought, but MLE's comments are very intriguing. Because quite often a particular author's success opens the door for others writing in the same genre or setting (M.M. Kaye and fiction set in India is one that comes immediately to mind). Just wondering why Allende hasn't had this effect on South American fiction? And perhaps there are other current writers whose success hasn't necessarily opened doors for others - ?

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michellemoran
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Post by michellemoran » Sat December 4th, 2010, 3:16 am

If I had to guess, it would be because her work isn't marketed as historical fiction. Once a writer is popular enough - with the curious exception of Philippa Gregory it seems - they become "literary" fiction writers versus historical fiction writers.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat December 4th, 2010, 4:15 am

As to why fiction in South America doesn't sell, the reason is simple: most English-language book readers know next to nothing about the place, and what you don't know about doesn't interest you. The 'gap theory' says that we are most drawn to filling gaps in existing networks of information rather than starting new ones, which is why we never get bored with the topics we like.

Plus I have an 'aversion theory' that says we tend to avoid topics that we suspect will be depressing. Like sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America has always been a political hell. It's not a place we want to spend recreational time.

I realized that if I wanted an Inca-themed book to sell, it should emphasize llamas and NOT the conquest (where the bad guys win), and that was a YA topic. So I put a year into working on a humorous YA book with a llama character and a paranormal thread (animals can see spirits). Did a bit of a market-test around my llama-raising circles, and they were all really eager to get it as a handout. But the more I thought about launching my public career on a YA-fantasy platform, the more I realized it wasn't me. And being 'the llama lady' is getting pretty old.

I suppose the problem is that I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, and I don't want to be stuck with something I wish I hadn't put out there. (Been there, done that.) When I've got a product I like, that the market will like -- the market I want, not the easiest one to reach -- I'll start querying.

Right now, I'm shooting for renaissance Spain on the theory that all the readers who are gobbling up English stuff will begin to get curious about some of the other countries that had an effect on the people and places they are already familiar with. So I love to see novels set in Spain, and it really bugs me if they are poorly done.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat December 4th, 2010, 4:31 am

[quote=""Michy""]Interesting.... what do you think is the secret to her success? (I have no idea, as her books don't appeal to me and so I haven't read any of them). I would think her popularity would serve to open doors for others to write books set in South America. Why do you think this hasn't been the case?[/quote]

Isabel Allende hit the lucky lottery with her debut, 'House of the Spirits' and started picking up steam from there. The reality is that once a writer builds a following (a 'tribe' if you will) then s/he has a good shot at continuing to do so, unless a string of really awful reads follows. And although I found a few of hers lackluster, on average Allende delivers a good workmanlike quality of writing that can rise to brilliant. I thought Zorro in particular had a very good feel for the market--for one thing, she set it in Early California, a much more positive place, in most English-readers' minds, than Mexico, the setting of the original Zorro.

Mostly Spanish-language writers fall into the 'literature' category for English readers, stuff like One Hundred Years of Solitude-- a classic which I confess I have yet to read, although it glares at me from the shelf daily. And literature doesn't sell well enough that publishers are falling all over themselves to put it out.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Sat December 4th, 2010, 4:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Sat December 4th, 2010, 6:55 am

A number of my all-time favorite novels are quite long, but since I started getting novels to review, I've begun to realize there really is something to the word-count issue. Many if not most of the long novels I get for review are overlong, and I find myself getting impatient for the book to end. I'm finding that I tend to give preference now, in reviewing, to shorter novels. I can read two (or three) of them in the amount of time I would have to devote to one monster like Drood or Rebels and Traitors.

At the same time, there really can't be a hard-and-fast rule. Some short books feel long (The True Memoirs of Little K is relatively short for a historical - 373 pages - but felt interminable to me), and some long books feel short (I wanted more of Wolf Hall after I turned the last page and am looking forward to the sequel). It's true that more length is often needed in a historical novel because more world-building is necessary. However, it's surprising how vividly a historical setting can come across in a relatively short novel. Case in point: Cecelia Holland's The Secret Eleanor (see review). Quite short. As good as any of Cecelia Holland's work at vividly evoking a historical period - and with a much more galloping plot that Holland's novels usually have.

Two tips on cutting word count:

Comb through the manuscript and eliminate unnecessary words and phrases. I did this with a short story once and was astonished to find I had cut the word count by 15%. Not only was it shorter, it was a lot better, and it's one of two short stories I have sold.

A writer (I wish I could remember who) once said, "I try to leave out the bits readers skip over." Wise words, which apply especially to history lessons and backstory. It may seem utterly essential to the author, but if the reader is going to skip over it, it evidently isn't so essential to the reader.
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Post by fljustice » Sat December 4th, 2010, 5:16 pm

Word count is a tough one. My first manuscript was 130,000 covering a 3-year time period. I was told it was "too long" for a first time author. I made a point of bringing my second manuscript in at 90,000 (covering a 40-year time period) thinking to sell it first then bring out the longer one second (they aren't a series.) But life is funny, and the longer one came out first. No complaints so far!
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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Sat December 4th, 2010, 5:52 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]A writer (I wish I could remember who) once said, "I try to leave out the bits readers skip over." Wise words, which apply especially to history lessons and backstory. It may seem utterly essential to the author, but if the reader is going to skip over it, it evidently isn't so essential to the reader.[/quote]

But how does one know what the average reader would skip over?

I know what I would skip but I seem to be a non-average reader as I like books that no one has heard of and books set in places I know little or nothing about.

Congrats on the Target pick, Michelle.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3562
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat December 4th, 2010, 6:14 pm

Read your own manuscript 10 times. By the time you're done, you know what you want to skip, as well as the parts that still grab you. If it bores you, it'll bore the reader.

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michellemoran
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Post by michellemoran » Sat December 4th, 2010, 6:39 pm

MLE: Read your own manuscript 10 times. By the time you're done, you know what you want to skip, as well as the parts that still grab you. If it bores you, it'll bore the reader.
Great advice. Whenever I'm rereading my work there are always parts where I want to skip because there's simply too much history involved (or long-winded explanations), and that's when I know: this has to go.

Thank you, Lovehistory!
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