Happy Publication Day!

Its February! Its the Fourteenth! Its. . .another day?

Look, anyone who knows me (or knows my partner) knows that 14 Feb is not a particularly special day for us. We’re not particularly romantically inclined (which made it really awkward when I handed in my YA fantasy romance for the belated Secret Santa Stories one of my writing groups did this year. Don’t worry, it’s never seeing the light of day past that one reader, who knows who they are, and I sincerely apologies for them having to read it).

But this year is DIFFERENT!

Military Space Ethics

This year, human extraordinaire and a good friend, Dr Nikki Coleman released her book, Military Space Ethics! And I got to contribute a couple chapters! Its not my usual thing, as it’s completely non-fiction, but its an opportunity I thoroughly relished and appreciated. The book covers a bunch of topics, including; the concept of ‘Just War’ in the space domain (in an odd twist, written by Dr Stephen Coleman, my lecturer from <redacted> years ago when I was an undergrad); looking at what a Mars colony would possible look like (Dr Evie Kendal); and examining how the US Space Force and associated projects will interact as they move forward (some random ex-military spec fic writer – I’m just glad I got in a General Naird quote).

Erin And Mark GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

There were challenges in writing this one. First of all, the other contributors are waaaay more qualified than me. Also, writing non-fic is not something I’m particularly experienced in. And probably the most awkward part was writing objectively from an outside perspective about militaries. I don’t often discuss my military career here, because quite frankly, its not the place that I’m comfortable discussing it in depth. But after sixteen years of service, it was nice to delve back into the field from a different perspective.

I’ve put a link in the ‘Links to buying things‘, but if I’m honest, I’m not posting this to sell you anything. Its a niche topic, and by all means, I wholeheartedly recommend it if this is your niche. Buts its been a rough few months/years for everyone, and sometimes it just feels good to share a win.

Even if technically, it’s Nikki’s win 😀

Finally A win!!!! - Captain Picard So Much Win! | Meme Generator

5 Early Lessons from starting in Podcasting

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to start recording some regular author interviews for The Regular, a Words and Nerds spinoff podcast. I like to think I’m semi-competent when it comes to tech. Still, this was a far greater learning curve than I expected. With podcasts becoming more and more popular, as well as becoming more numerous in the various lock downs over the last couple of years, I figured it might be worth discussing what I’ve learnt in my short time so far. This isn’t a Golden Rules of Podcasting post. More a ‘what I’ve learned in the early stages’ post, including some simple lessons that would have made life a lot easier had I known them a few short months go.

But first of all, how the heck did I get into podcasting?

Origin Story

Best origin story ever – Image from https://www.cbr.com

A few years back, a very wise author gave me some sage advice regarding how to start out in the writing industry. Volunteer for everything, she told me. Throw yourself at opportunities.

I’ve never stopped being grateful for that advice, and I’ve never forgiven her for it either. On the one hand, following a Yes Man style mantra has given me some wonderful experiences. It’s also lead to some steep learning curves, few more so than podcasting.

It started with a comfy chair an a needle in my arm (plasma donation – nothing serious) making phone operations somewhat difficult. I received an email from Dani Vee of Words and Nerds fame inviting me to participate in a spin-off series, and I went straight back to that mantra. Terrified and well aware of my ignorance and complete lack of skills, I sent back something quite composed and professional along the lines of OMG YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES!!

See? Professional.

But still, there was much I didn’t know about how to interview, or produce an episode. While I think I‘m getting the hang of it after a few eps, there’s obviously still much more to learn. Yet with three episodes of The Regular out, a couple sitting in the queue waiting for release, and a couple more released as Listener Takeovers, I figured it’s a good chance to share the lessons that are starting to emerge in these early days.

Test the equipment

mike wazowski discovered by Cami on We Heart It
. . .it’s a Mike Check – Image from https://weheartit.com

I’m not going to name who, (I’m hoping they’ll come back for a return interview) but before our local lock down, I had a great interview. Australian spec fic royalty. One of my favourite authors and people. It was great. We had a chat about some really interesting styles of storytelling, how fiction impacted reality, and the impacts of lock down on authors. It was my first in-person interview as well. I was pretty excited about releasing this one.

Then  I listened back; my questions came through clear as day. The answers? Muffled by café background, almost inaudible. Completely unsalvageable.

I lost a great chat, but also wasted the time of a friend and an author I have the utmost respect for. Yep. Learnt my lesson from that one.

Tangents are fun!

For my first few interviews, I stuck almost religiously to the script. I read the media pieces, wrote a few of my own questions, and then asked them. Nothing wrong with that approach, but in the last couple of chats there have been some unexpected journeys in the conversations. Not only are these far more enjoyable and natural, but listening back there is a certain something in the voices that a straight-up interview doesn’t get. It takes an interview from a formal back and forth to a relaxed, friendly chat. I don’t think I’ve quite his the exact sweet-spot yet, but as someone who instinctively follows the plan, I’ve learned that sometimes, going a little off the beaten track can make everything better.

Editing takes longer than you think

Imagine, if you will, a confident Nathan with about five or six episodes all recorded. The first couple are edited and sent odd, good to go. Editing was a breeze, barely took any time. Add a beginning, add an ending, and make sure the conversation flows as best as possible. Simple, right?

Well, for the first couple, it actually was. Then I heard the release along with all the mistakes still present.

Meticulous edits of the next few interviews ensued. I’m getting quicker, but those early few took a long time to get right. Editing is important, and like in writing, the difference between poor and good editing is the difference between an amateur and professional sound. I’m still on the amateur end of the spectrum. But learning to pay attention to editing has made a huge difference to the response to the podcast so far.

Preparation is key.

My preparation has improved. . .that’s something at least? – Image http://www.quickmeme.com

Alright, so tangents are great and all, but they need to come from somewhere. Also, if they go nowhere, they need somewhere to come back to.

I’ve only had one interview that I didn’t properly prepare for. A number of miscommunications meant that the author and I had different times for the interview. I had another interview that day, and got a little caught up in the first one. As a result, I went into this interview with a broad idea, but no specifics on what we were going to chat about.

The result? It was . . .awkward. Not interview-destroying awkward, and thankfully the author was quite forgiving of the situation, and we managed to cut most of the awkwardness in the editing. Still, a simpler solution would have been to do the requisite preparation.

Press record at the start.

I feel like this one doesn’t really need an explanation . . .but yeah, after a Certain Incident™ it is now something I always check. Luckily the author involved in this Certain Incident™ had a great sense of humour about the whole thing.

I’m hoping that people have enjoyed the podcast so far, and aren’t picking up the errors with the same hyper-critical glaringness that I cast upon myself. In the end, all of these are recoverable with the

Octocon 2021 – or My Study is in Ireland

Teletubbies embodying classic horror films, authors falling for their villains over their protagonists, and a list of dinosaurs that would have had 10 year old Nathan more excited that if he’d had nothing but snakes and red cordial for a week. After my local speculative fiction convention, Conflux, was cancelled thanks to the pandemic, Octocon proved a more than apt alternative. Weird in the best ways, full of wonderful people, and the opportunity to meet/fan-out over amazing authors. How much better can a weekend in Ireland get?

Well, for one, it could actually be in Ireland. Not that I have anything against it being online, which was the only reason I could attend, but because I really want to go to Ireland one day. But, like how my study became Wellington for CoNZealand last year, this weekend it was Ireland as far as I was concerned.

Octocon’s other great attraction – apart from books and Irishness – was that it was free. Which meant that it was a pretty easy decision to sign up once Conflux was canned. I didn’t regret it either. It’s back to in-person next year, but if you have a chance, I highly recommend attending. Great content, great people, and as a result, I had a great time.

Panels

I didn’t attend as many as I thought I would, to be honest. In my defence, I was was nocturnal though. Starting around 7-8pm Australian time, through to about 6-7am took its toll. Coffee helped. So did the engaging content, with my favourite happening on the final day.

For anyone who hasn’t read or met Kaaron Warren, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining (or award-winning) Australian horror writer. So when I saw she was on a panel about reboots, I had to attend. Friends, she did not disappoint. The entire panel was asked about what and how they would reboot, given the chance. After teasing with a creepified version of Mr Squiggle or Liftoff (like it needed to be creepier), be got. . .Teletubbies.

This Explains Why Aussie '90s Kids Are Terrible, Terrible People
Like this one needs to be any creepier

But not as we knew them. Instead, each was twisted transformed to match a classic Horror movie trope. Slasher, pre-colour, psychological, or the grotesque maybe. I can’t remember exactly; all I recallis the idea of kids being lured to watch the television bellies of these foul creatures, only to be sucked inside to be fed on like some kind of It spinoff.

There were other reboots discussed too – a Truman Show/The Professionals mashup, the Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, and others too. But the Teletubbies one got me. I don’t think there’s any beating that.

Another favourite was a villains focused panel. I love a good villain, and it turns out I’m far from alone. The panel is probably worth its own post all on its own, but that’ll be another time. For now, I’ll just give the main takeaway (from a writer’s perspective); it is a disservice to the reader as much as the character not to make them as well rounded as the hero. And the point of the writer is the reader (thanks Dan Abnett for that one).

On the topic of Dan Abnett. . .

Authors

Peadar Ó Guilín described the world of Warhammer 40k as ‘just shades of bad guys’ (all in good humour), and he’s not far from the truth. Yet as one of the most recognisable Black Library authors, Dan Abnett is far more pleasant than the universe his characters inhabit. I will admit, as a former player of Chaos, his books are generally about blasting my guys to pieces. But I’ll gladly put that to one side to listen to his advice. I was lucky enough to hear several of Dan’s panels and attend a reading. He was also kind enough to provide some advice on writing for branded universes, like Warhammer. Even without an in-depth knowledge of lore (which still helps), Dan mentioned that tone was the important part. As long as an author got that right , they were in with a chance. Unrelated, the Black Library has a call for submissions, if anyone is interested.

Another that I definately didn’t fan-out and embarrass myself over was Aliette de Bodard. I’ve loved her work in the Xuya since I first read The Tea Master and the Detective, and it was an absolute highlight to meet her, even if not quite in person.

DINOSAURS!

Sean ‘The Dino Guy’ Markey’s presentation was everything a 10 yo Nathan would have dreamed about going to. With Jurassic World Dominion just around the corner, Sean went through all the facts and fiction of the dinosaurs presented in the trailer, with a slight detour into a T-Rex vs Giganatosaurus. Now, as probably surprises no-one, I was a massive dino-kid when I was in primary school. I had magazines, models, and took in every bit of info I could about them. Jurassic Park is still one of my favourite movies, and this talk instantly had me back in the mindset of that kid that gave classes to younger grades on all the different types that used to walk the Earth.

But after a whirlwind trip to to the other side of the world/my study, and working off a nocturnal routine for a couple days, I did eventually have to come home. It was a great trip, but work beckoned and some kind of semi-normal sleep structure was probably in order too. I doubt I’ll get to the next Octocon; aside from the travel expenses, its the weekend as my local con and the rest of the committee may be a little annoyed if I choose another con over our own. Plus I really want to see the old crowd there again. But I’m grateful my friend suggested Octocon this year, and I’m glad I took her suggestion. I’m tired, and probably mistyping every second word without realising, but it was absolutley worth it.

By the time it ended, I only had two questions:

  1. How long can I sleep in>? and,

2. Is 34 too late to become a paleontologist?

~Nathan

The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde *SPOILERS*

The first in Fforde’s Thursday Next series has been recommended to me more times than I can count, and from about the first few pages, I could see why. Anyone who had spent any amount of time talking books with me knows I absolutely love Sir (P)Terry Pratchett’s writing for the way it blends humour and seriousness to amplify the effects of both. Fforde appears to aim for a similar effect, and at times achieves it. Perhaps it’s because I hold Pratchett so high and this was my point of comparison, or because my internal structural editor flared up a bit; but while I enjoyed the book, there were some parts that I really had to grind past. It was good, and I’ll definitely read on in the series, but at times it was a struggle.

But first, onto the blurb!

There is another 1985, where London’s gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave’s Mr Big.

Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.

Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn’t easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Perhaps today isn’t going to be Thursday’s day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out yourself. Fiction will never be the same again.

Okay, first of all, I cringed at that first line. I’m not a huge romance reader, but this seemed a cheap way to introduce a romance subplot. As a reader, I don’t care if a character has romantic interest or not – I care about whether presented relationship is believable. This line left me with a skeptical mindset from the start, as it implied that any boyfriend was better than none. I know it’s tongue in cheek, but first impressions matter. This was not a great first impression.

I’m also not sure this is a particularity accurate blurb. Jane Eye doesn’t feature until quite a way in, and the Shakespeare question is completely irrelevant to the plot. Thursday is only passively involved with the Crimean war, and the romance. . well, I’ll get into that later. I didn’t enjoy or believe that element.

That said, the opening of the book is brilliant and engaging. Thursday is a LiteraTec, part of the London Spec Ops team that addresses literary crime. She’s pulled into a higher echelon of Spec Ops to assist with a crossover crime that is uniquely connected to Thursday’s past. The next section is full of action, some emotive pulls with characters that quickly relatable, and then (*SPOILER WARNING*) are killed. The traumatic event promises a great cat-and-mouse chase, introduces a fascinating world, and puts Thursday back in the hometown she abandoned ten years prior. Delightful awkwardness and absurditities ensue.

Another fantastic element is Fforde’s writing of the Crimean War. In Thursday’s universe, 1985 is the 113th year of the war between Russia and England over the Crimea Peninsula. I was reading this at the same time that coalition troops were pulling out of Afghanistan, so yeah. There were feelings. Thursday has some pretty strong feelings too, and is at odds with other veterans who hold various views. Expected to support her former commander, and hassled by media and the public alike for comment, Thursday is clearly uncomfortable talking about it with anyone. In this, I think Fforde captures an element that I haven’t encountered much in fantasy. Fforde presents veteran opinions as being non-homogeneous, and avoids Thursday’s military experience defining her, while maintaining it constantly at the back of her mind. I connected quite strongly with that element. Also the idea that opinions are presupposed, whether accurately or not, is a very real element that is often not handled well in fiction.

The problem was that the Thursday’s experience in the Crimea is essentially irrelevant to the story. Its part of who she is, but the somewhat intrusive Crimea arc does not impact the main plotline in the slightest. It seemed overdone and in competition with the main plot, and therefore required a conclusion. To put is bluntly, I wasn’t convinced in the slightest by this arc’s closure. If the war was as easy to fix as this conclusion suggested, then the conflict would not have gone on for 113 years.

Similarly, the romance sub-plot was of questionably relevance to the story, yet soaked up quite a bit of time. There were two explicit interactions with the main plot, however neither relied particularly strongly on the subplot. Moreover, I didn’t buy into the relationship. (*SPOILER WARNING FOR REMAINDER OF THE PARAGRAPH!*) As I mentioned earlier, for me a romance needs to be about the relationship. This was a relationship from ten years prior that seemed to go straight to an all-or-nothing rekindling. I didn’t buy that their relationship had remained unchanged in the ten years, nor that after exactly one date (which ended poorly), Landon was ready to marry someone else. His justification seemed unconvincing, and his backflip and proposal to Thursday was equally unconvincing. To be honest, I saw Landon as one who saw family as a personal achievement, and practiced emotional blackmail. I didn’t quite detest him, but it was close.

Now, before I get too ranty and invite all the criticisms of Fforde fans, I just want to reiterate – I did enjoy this book! While there were other elements of backstory that seemed overdone, the irreverent style was fun to read and the idea of stepping into a manuscript to change it is fascinating. Thursday’s not-quite-mad scientist uncle Mycroft is great, and Archeron Hades is an antagonist I can absolutely believe in. Usually I’m a fan of an antagonist being the hero of their own story, but Hades leans gleefully into evil and Fforde nails his characterisation. His henchmen are likewise quite enjoyable to read, though again their relevance at times is questionable.

The plotline itself through, since I’ve mentioned only subplots so far, is enjoyable too, particularly Next’s and Hades’ interactions with fictional characters. My biggest issue was simply that there was not enough of it, because it seemed to be pushed out by subplots. As a result, it was pretty straight forward. (*SPOILER WARNING*) Find bad guy, bad guy gets away. Go after minions. Leads fall through. Find corruptions, go a little rogue and set up an outlandish showdown. It was delivered well, if a little rushed, but it felt like there was so much more that could have come from this, and that was kind of pushed out by the external elements. When cliffhangers are followed by, ‘Oh that? That was just a prank’ styled chapter openings as well, I felt cheated out of a story at times. When that story was present though, it was great.

In conclusion, I think it was a little stuck as to whether it was about literary crime, or about the life of Thursday Next. The main problem and the themes seemed to focus on the former, while the subplots focused on the latter. This wasn’t so much an issue, but the two seemed to work against each other rather than tie in and strengthen the story. I got the feeling some of it may have been referencing Jane Eyre as well, as it had a strong intertextual vibe, so maybe me being a little ignorant of classical texts, I missed something there.

All in all, I would still recommend this book because it is fun more than anything else. The interruptions by Thursday’s father are hilarious, and while bordering on being a distraction, are probably just infrequent enough to still just be fun. Also, if you’re not like me and perfectly capable of turning off your inner editor, and not comparing to (in my opinion) literary geniuses, you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did.

So in that sense, I’m giving it 3.5 chronostars. Its good, it’s enjoyable, but I was just a little frustrated at the distractions and felt could do with a little more direction. But still, there’s enough in there I’ll be reading on to see what happens to Thursday next. . . .er. . .next.

~Nathan

Why I’m Considering Self-Publishing over Trad

I’ve had a re-invigoration of writing recently, specifically in my WIP Unchosen and a decision to explore self-publishing. For those unaware, Unchosen is my fantasy novel about Kithra, a petty thief who accidentally kills a god. Between the rest of the Pantheon sending assassins her way, a sassy voice claiming to be a new god taking shape in her mind, and naive student of her former tutor following her around, she’s forced to decide whether to confront the ruling theocracy, or spend her probably-shortened life on the run. Also, the world may explode, so that’s a thing.

After I pulled myself of a course that pointed out some key issues in the manuscript, I’ve had the time to reflect and put in place a plan to fix it. It’s also given me time to plan a timeline to publication or submission. Previously I’ve always planned on seeking a traditional deal; however advice from a friend prompted me to consider other option. So, I’m taking twelve months to work self publishing and decide whether it’s viable for my WIP.

But why self-publishing?

For my writing journey so far, I’ve planned for tradition. Self-publishing was great for those that had the time, but all I wanted to do was write. Agents and bigger publishers did, in my head, make that a possibility. In reality though, there is still a lot of work for the writers to do in both circumstances. Perhaps more for self-published authors, but percentage-wise the payoff is larger too. Which gets to an awkward topic; money

Lets face it, I’ll use any excuse to include a Grogu meme

I know that writing isn’t a get-rich-quick (or for most of us, ever) scheme. But my measure of success isn’t measured in specific dollars; it’s about whether I can support my family. There are plenty of financial upsides to traditional, and even the lower royalties rate can quickly outperform a self-published author if a book sells well enough. But there are downsides too. If I don’t sell, my return on investment is tiny. A publisher won’t necessarily keep me on. I can’t control the deadlines.

BUT – as a self-published author, I would have much more control over the processes and have an unmatched interest in the success of my book. Key decisions and deadlines are mine to make. As part of a special needs family, I can move deadlines and efforts around our requirements. Also, even though I may not I have a lower sales threshold to meet what I need to succeed, and I can guarantee my publisher won’t dump me if I don’t sell. For me, that flexibility and control over the process makes self-publishing far more suited to my circumstances than I originally thought.

Look! A distraction!

Actual image of me trying to write

Still, there are plenty of challenges in self publishing. When I mentioned this to my writing group, one of them offered some sage advice about the number one thing every self-publisher needs:

A manuscript!

It might seem obvious, but for me it’s easy to get distracted. I see a shiny, I chase a shiny. I love learning new skills, so my friend was completely justified in asking if this was another distraction for me. I’ll admit, learning how to self-publish is hugely tempting for me, whether I use it or not. I love learning, and I’m not studying at the moment, so the temptation is real. Therefore, on the back of this advice, I’ve made a system; before I binge-listen to Joanna Penn’s 570+ episode back-catalogue of podcasts, or write a hundred page business plan based on Jane Friedman’s checklist for self-publishing (both fantastic resources), I need to have done my daily tasks. That is, I need to work on my manuscript.

I have a plan based on a weekly word count that over-delivers words, and if successful will have my latest draft done by mid November. If I’m on track, I can reward myself with learning about self-publishing. But if I’m not on track, I don’t get to publish at all, so I won’t let myself get distracted by the learning. Or rather, my learning won’t be counterproductive by coming at the expense of my writing

This Time Next Year. . .

If I’m going to be done by November though, then why 12 months? To be honest, the timeline is 100% based on subscriptions. In my day job, I always argue for setting the best support environment to enable the desired output. Getting the right programs and systems in place is the start for me, and quite frankly they’re expensive. But by getting them now, I get a solid chunk of time to evaluate and exploit the benefits of a professional website, editing software, and newsletter lists. By doing it now I’m able to use that future date as a solid go/nogo decision point.

If, in 12 months time, I decide I’m able to self publish and don’t have the support network, I’m going to need to set it up in the fly. I’ll be learning marketing, editing, and how to use new software while trying to manage a launch. This unnecessary division of my focus and time will likely disadvantage my book. In the case of a ‘go’ decision, having invested in the right support now means I can focus wholly on the launch and promotion. In the event of a ‘nogo’ decision, I’ve still optimised my understanding and environment. At the very least, it means I’ve supported my manuscript and platform to be the best they can be. Should I submit to agents and publishers, that can only work to my favour.

Really? 100% based on subscription?

Okay, I lied a little. It’s not just based on the subscription timelines. I needed a deadline though and it was a convenient reasoning. Because November will be the end of my current draft, not the end of my manuscript. I also need professional edits, covers, typesetting and all the other bits that go along with being your own publisher.

But wait, there’s more! I’m still learning, but I’ve consistently been told there are two necessities when self-publishing. First of all, having a mailing list before your book is published. Secondly, having a freebie to either entice signing up to the mailing list, and/or to accompany early sales. So even if November comes and I have the most complete and perfect manuscript ready to go, it won’t be enough. Before spending money on an unknown author, I’m always a little cautious. I wouldn’t blame others for taking the same approach. So offering a free novella or anthology de-risks the possibility of a regretful purchase – my writing becomes more a known quantity. Alternatively, you could just read some here, but I’d like to get something newer and more unique to offer as well.

Which means I need to write more than just my manuscript to boost my chances of success in self-publishing. There’s never a guarantee, but by setting myself up over the next 12 months, the best case scenario is I can self publish and move towards full time writing. The worst case, is I have a polished manuscript and a folder full of works ready to go. No matter which way I go from that point, it’s a solid base to give myself the best chance of success.

~Nathan

Writing Truth, Writing Lies: 3 Crossover skills between Fiction and Non-Fiction

I write in two areas; truth, and non-fiction.

I joke, of course. But while I’ve been writing fiction in my spare time for almost a decade now, I’ve also write in my day job. I write more policy and project artefacts (with the occasional foray into academia), but nonetheless, I write. Over the last few years, I’ve been genuinely surprised at how much I’ve been able to practice skills I thought specific to fiction. When discussing this though, people often respond with doubt. One relies on absolute fact, while the other has license to make up every detail.

If you want to know my opinion on whether spec-fic is inherently untrue, I discuss it in my first ever blog post, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I’ve found writing outside of speculative fiction has improved my fiction as well. I’ve been able to practice skillsets critical to fiction, even though I’m writing a very different style. Your experience may be different, and I’d love to hear about it if it is. This, however, is what I have found to work across both areas, and I hope it helps a little for those who write all day, then write entirely differently into the night.

Context!

To give you a broad idea of what I’ve written in the area of non-fiction, it is. . .well, broad. A smattering of subjects, if you will. Ethics, the US Space Force, unrelated project artefacts, and international relations are a few. In fiction, my current WIP is about a Kithra, thief who accidentally kills a god. Other WIPs include Daniel, a space-faring con-artist trying to lie low on a highly religious generation ship, and sci-fi/fantasy cross loosely based on The Day The Earth Stood Still. Not really related topics. Yet writing each one helps writing in each other area with little more than a slight shift in mindset. Hopefully this works for you too.

Crossover Skill 1: An engaging opening with a promise

6 Business Writing Tips That Will Engage Your Readers
Image originally from nectafy.com

A common piece of advice in writing fiction is to write an engaging first line. I believe it needs a little more; it needs a promise too. An engaging first line hooks a readers interest, but a promise gives them something to look forward to at the end. My aim is to give readers an experience, and to promise that experience from the beginning. A good opening sets tone, genre expectations, and promises time spent reading this book is time well spent.

Writing an academic piece or project artefact doesn’t have a genre as such, and the tone is far more limited to the confines of ‘professional.’ But the document must still engage the reader. In both academia and project work, readers are generally time poor. If I can’t tell them exactly why this document should be their priority, it will go the bottom of the reading list. The target reader is different, but I still have the obligation – arguably more so – tell the reader why these words are worth their time. I need to tell them what problem they have, and how the document will help them solve it. Or I need to tell them what new knowledge they will gain, and how the paper will inform the reader. By presenting the document as a priority and by promising a benefit, I am practicing the same skill to improve my fiction.

Crossover Skill 2: Maintaining a consistent theme

so the theme for this book is uuuuuuuuuuuuuuh does anybody know - Tough  Spongebob (I'll have you know) | Make a Meme
Me in English at high school – not my strongest subject, but I like to think I’ve learned 😀

I’ve heard this preached in many fields, but rarely practiced outside of fiction. Maybe that’s because of my reading choices rather than a trend. In fiction, a theme sets up much of the rest of the story. It ties together the characters, the plot, and the real-world message. In fact, in my non-fiction, it is referred to as ‘the message’. One boss I had would always ask for the BLUF first – the ‘bottom line up front.’ This ‘bottom line’ is what I interpret as the theme. When writing fiction, I try to interrogate every paragraph for what it contributes to the story, whether in character development, setting, or theme. In non-fiction, I’m a little more brutal.

Every document exists for a reason – for that ‘bottom line’. For me, if a paragraph doesn’t directly contribute to that reason, it’s cut. A superfluous paragraph is essentially an opportunity for a reader to loses interest. I’ve found that those reading for professional reasons are far less forgiving than fiction readers too. They don’t have time to read irrelevant paragraphs. If it doesn’t contribute to solving their problem, then they’ll prioritise other activities. Lose their interest in a paragraph, and I’ve just wasted all the time I put into the rest. Having a consistent theme, reason, or argument is critical to effective writing, whether fiction or otherwise.

Crossover Skill 3: Reading the f%*&ing submission guidelines

Okay. Breath. I have read enough submissions to know that this basic requirement is all too often ignored. When I was reading for Odyssey, I never outright rejected submissions for ignoring the guidelines. BUT it did leave me less favourably inclined towards those submissions.

In non-fiction, I don’t necessarily have submission guidelines. They exist in academic writing, but I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write rather than submitting. So I don’t really have the experience to comment on that, other than saying my editors have been very accommodating.

In technical and business writing, there are 100+ page style guides. They are absolute rulings, except each person interprets them differently. I’m lucky in my current role – I have clear templates – which unfortunately don’t adhere to the style guide. If a template is provided though, it’s there for a reason. That is the format that makes it easy for the target audience to understand. Writing outside of these guides/templates gives the reader an easy reason to send the document back for redrafting, meaning one less thing for them to worry about right now. It also means more work for me.

By viewing the template and style guide as submission guidelines, I’m able to practice getting a document ready in the same way I would a story. Its different, sure. I get to resubmit, for example. But by reading, understanding, and submitting in accordance with the guide/template, I’m giving myself the best chance to get it through first go. If I do that in all my writing, then it becomes part of the process, not an extra for fiction. So, whether non-fiction or fiction, read the submission guidelines!

Less transferable skills

There are less transferable skills. Some of the obvious ones are that in fiction, I get to make up reasons for things that don’t yet fit. In non-fiction, this is somewhat less acceptable. I still need to explain them at some point in fiction, but suspension of disbelief gives much more leeway. Holding back and subtle foreshadowing is much less effective in non-fiction as well. If I want to make a point, I need to make it clear. Clarity is preferred.

In the same vein, subverting expectation is one of my favourite elements of fiction; but in academic, technical, or business writing, it creates ambiguities. This doesn’t discount arguing both sides of a point or discussing the viability of an option after presenting it throughout a document, but the writing should make it clear at the start. I’ve always been taught to communication the results or recommendations first, then argue them. It’s worked well for me so far, but that said I’m sure there are other ways to present information. In the end, that for me is the key difference.

In both fiction and non-fiction I am communicating a point. But they have different aims. In one I am entertaining and the other I am informing. There are crossover skills, but the crossover is not universal. Those authors who claim differences are not entirely wrong. But the more I write in both, the more I find the methods of achieving those aims can be used effectively across the spectrum of writing.

~Nathan