Guest post: How we’ll read and write our way to the future

51aPpsswguL._UX250_Author of award-winning short stories and internationally acclaimed novels Rosanne Dingli says clues to the future lie in the past.

I’m often asked for an opinion on the future of books, writing, and publishing. Good questions come from those who have been writing for some time, who have seen changes that have profoundly and permanently shaken the industry.

Publishing has transformed since 2009, and even if some fundamental things have stayed the same, the paradigm shifts and swings experienced can never be reversed.

Clues to the future lie in the past. The book world has always been subject to upheaval and disruption, especially with language and vocabulary. Political topics caused splits in families and communities, but also had a hand in altering and varying what appeared in print, so habituation and expectations of the reading public evolved.

The evolution can be attributed to four causes: affordability of books and universal education, establishment of book production and selling processes, increased rapidity in communication, and enormous innovations in printing and computer technologies.

  • Mass production of books, widespread literacy, and more leisure in people’s lives led in the post-WWII years to burgeoning entertainment, including a sharp rise in publication of fiction.
  • Publishing houses experienced their glory years, and the production/distributing cycle was established, enduring to this day.
  • The mass media of communications shrank the globe; news travelled rapidly, as did current affairs, celebrity gossip, and popular psychology.
  • Offset printing dramatically changed the speed and quantities of print runs.

Nothing, however, exerted as much power and turbulence as the advent of the home computer. Owning the means to record and process words has revolutionized writing. And the internet made magic happen. By 2006, people were writing more than ever before. It was not long before self-publishing became available through companies such as Amazon, Smashwords, Ingram Spark, and others.

Having the means to produce a manuscript and have it published cheaply or at no cost created a tsunami of material by writers who understood the tools. Still, just because one has the means and tools does not always mean the product is excellent. Many people own sewing machines, but not all are good enough tailors to make and sell clothing for a living.

It’s possible to predict that gross over-supply of self-published material will eventually plateau and subside, simply because it’s not possible for all who try to succeed. It is inevitable – even by the law of averages – that many will fail. Fail to finish a manuscript. Fail to publish it adequately well. Fail to attract enough sales. Fail to reach potential or reader expectations. Even if one follows advice of those who have done well, ticks all boxes, acts professionally, and “does not give up” there is absolutely no guarantee every book will succeed. Even very famous household-name authors have a few titles that bomb.

Many books by thousands of amateur and professional authors who have done their utmost to write, produce, and promote have sunk to the bottom of the pile at Amazon, never to rise or be seen again. In the next five years or so, many writers will give up. The difficulty to do well at this game – however one chooses to publish – will be widely recognized.

Careful observers of the book world noted in the past six or seven years that publishing has split into two (or more) streams. Traditional publishing and bookshop distribution and selling is one. Online production and selling, of both ebooks and paperbacks, is another. There is a bit of overlap, but it’s an intersection used mainly by readers, who might swap streams from time to time. Very few authors can say they belong squarely and lucratively to both sides. An independent author who ventures into a bookshop after spending a lot of time online quickly observes how different the two streams are. If the products were not so similar, one would be forgiven for thinking they were two completely separate industries. And in many ways they are. One can predict that in the next few years, this divide will become wider and harder to traverse.

The future will introduce more publishers, aggregators, and distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords. Trying for a corner of the market can be very tempting. Small publishers, too, will proliferate, but not for long. The big publishing conglomerates will hold their solid position. But only if they adapt, and adopt efficient resources to compete with the slickest, fastest, and most innovative of the independents; and if they keep their prices down, which has always been difficult.

It won’t be enough to publish electronic, paper, or audio editions. One will need to provide incentives such as background music, animations, and other additional material for ebooks, interactivity, well-illustrated paperbacks, fold-outs, and a number of ingenious inventions to keep books at the forefront of competing entertainment on various media.

Although edification and education are the other two reasons the world wants books, entertainment is the foremost reason they stay popular, and will continue to do so well into the future. Going back to those four points above; if we adjust innovation and progress according to the times, we can expect more of the same, with a few surprises and twists in the tail.

Visit Rosanne’s Amazon author page.


Write an effective media release

Book reviewer and freelance journalist Maureen Eppen highlights the importance of taking a professional approach to promoting your book.


If you want to be taken seriously as a published author, you should prepare a professional-looking, single-page Media Release to accompany your book when you send copies to book editors of newspapers and magazines or to writers of blogs about books.

It is a relatively straightforward document, but it’s surprising how often even the most highly regarded publishers and authors forget to include some of the key pieces of information that journalists or bloggers might need when writing about their book.
The most obvious details to include are – of course – the name of the book; the name of the author (your name); the name of the publisher; when it is being published (or was published); the formats in which it is available (such as Trade Paperback, Hardback, eBook etc); and the recommended retail price for each separate format.
It’s also a good idea to include contact details – the name of the best person to speak to (either yourself, or your publicist, if you are lucky enough to have one); phone number or numbers (including international and national area codes); and email address – in case the editor or blogger wants to touch base for more information, to ask questions about the book, or to arrange an interview. Don’t forget to include details of your social media presence, if relevant.
Some publishers and authors also include the genre of the book (this is something I really appreciate in a media release), and others include the ISBN, which probably isn’t necessary, but it never hurts to provide more information than might be needed — up to a point. You definitely want the remaining information to be concise yet informative; short, sharp and to the point. Many editors and bloggers are very busy people, and most are bombarded with requests for reviews or other publicity every single day.
I recommend that your Media Release includes an image of the book cover and, if possible, a recent image of yourself. For the author photo, try for a look that reflects the type of writing you do – although I’m not suggesting you be photographed in bondage gear if you happen to write BDSM erotica.
For example, if you write children’s books, you should aim for something fresh, colourful and cheery; if you write thrillers or spy novels, perhaps consider a slightly broody or enigmatic look and a degree of formality in what you are wearing. You don’t need a suit and tie, but a jacket and collared shirt might be worth considering. If you write about mathematics or science you could have your photo taken with a smart board in the background (although make sure any equations or text on the board are appropriate and accurate).
If you write romance, take inspiration from the publicity photos used by romance authors Claire BostonClaire Boston and Shona Husk: Claire’s photo is bright and pretty, full of hope; while Shona’s has a decidedly sensual shona-289x300edge – yet both are definitely professional looking, and are likely to inspire a degree of interest from potential readers.
Above all, ensure the author photo that you use is one that you are happy with – the hope is that you will see it make regular appearances in newspapers, magazines and online.
The image of the book’s cover should be sharp and of high resolution, to ensure the title and author’s name can be clearly read. If you are emailing your Media Release and request for a review to an editor or blogger, make sure you include high-res versions of both photos, so that they can publish them, if needed, with a minimum of fuss.
Now, getting down to the text of the Media Release, you need to start with a brief, tightly written grab line about the book – something to immediately attract attention and inspire the editor or blogger to read more about your book and, from there, hopefully read the book itself.
This is not necessarily the 10-word teaser line that you might use when approaching potential publishers, but it could be something similar. This line could be a quote about your book from a well-known published author (preferably one who writes in a similar genre or for similar readers to those you are targeting); or it could include a reference to other books you have previously published.
If you’ve won awards, you might want to mention that. Or it could simply be a summary sentence about the subject of the book. Whatever you do, make it intriguing; keep it short; and make sure it accurately reflects your book.
Examples I’ve received in releases from various authors and publishers include the following:
“From the prize-winning author of Room and The Sealed Letter comes a fascinating collection of short stories.” (Astray, by Emma Donoghue)
“Six lives, six loves, and a precious garment that binds them all…” (Saree, by Su Dharmapala)
“A startling, inventive novel by one of Germany’s most original young authors.” (The Giraffe’s Neck, by Judith Schalansky)
“The first contemporary thriller from Echo Publishing. Something is Rotten is a page-turning and suspenseful morality tale.” (Something is Rotten, by Adam Safaris)
“The eighth novel in the bestselling phenomenon that is the Outlander series.” (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, by Diana Gabaldon)
“A heart-warming debut by a remarkable new Australian talent. Perfect for those who loved The Rosie Project.” (Lost & Found, by Brooke Davis)
As you can see, these are almost like sound bites – a little titbit about the author or the book, designed to pique our interest and encourage us to learn more about the writer and what they have written. Some are more successful than others… Some media releases I’ve been sent with books for review don’t include a grab line, but I have to say I like to see them included and find them useful.
After this grab line, you should include a slightly longer description of the book – something along the lines of the information provided on a back cover or inside cover blurb. Provide a little bit of information about the protagonist and the plot, tell us where and when it is set, and try again to entice us by giving away just enough information to make us want to read more, and to make journalists and bloggers think their readers might want to read about the book.
This section could be two or three paragraphs, up to about 100 or 120 words. Don’t try to cover every single aspect of your book – and try to imagine what you would want to know about it if you picked it up in a book store. Without giving away plot twists or surprise revelations, try to think of the main idea of the book, the hook for your story – whatever it is that makes your book unique.
If you think your book might tap into an existing market that is currently in demand, don’t be afraid to compare it to the works of another well-known writer in a similar area… There were so many erotic fiction novels published in the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and authors of these books unashamedly tapped into the popularity of the originals.
If you’re writing a thriller in a style similar to those written by John Clancy, for example, don’t be afraid to say so: “If you are a fan of John Clancy, this debut by Peter Smith is certain to appeal.” If you have written a sentimental coming-of-age story targeted at female readers of a certain age, try something like this: “If you loved Anne of Green Gables, this contemporary coming of age tale with another feisty red-headed heroine is likely to delight you.”
Ask yourself, what other books on the market are like my book? Can you say that it combines elements of two or more other books? If so, you are potentially attracting the attention of people who bought one or more of those titles, and the reviewer or blogger will recognise that you have a target market in mind. If your book is similar to the work by a specific author, you may also appeal to people who enjoy his or her books.
Of course, you also need to include some brief biographical details – but the journalists and bloggers don’t need your whole life story. What we do need is information that makes you stand out from all the other authors pitching their books for review or interview. Tell us something about yourself that is unique; something that is intriguing or unusual; something a bit quirky, if that’s at all possible.
But we also need to know what it is that qualifies you to write the particular book that you have written. If your story is set in a small industrial town in the 1970s, for example, and you grew up in a similar town, then make sure you mention this in your biographical information. If you teach computing at the local TAFE and your book is about hackers taking control of a bank’s database, use that area of personal expertise to indicate you are qualified to write on this subject. If you are writing about a boy who was too short from the local basketball team and spent every season on the bench dreaming of the chance to shine, and you grew up as the water boy for your local team, then tell us.
This isn’t a resume or Curriculum Vitae but if you’ve won prizes for your writing, try to incorporate that information into your biographical notes. And if you have an unusual hobby or interest – particularly one that seems to contradict any potential general impressions about you — then add that to the mix, too. This is particularly useful for authors who are completely unknown.
For example, I have read To Kill A Mockingbird every year since I was 15, and I still cry at the sad parts; and in my mid-40s I discovered the joys of marathon running – these are details about myself that I include when I submit articles to magazines.
Try to think what it is about you that might make your book stand out, or that might entice an editor or blogger to consider interviewing you. I interviewed an author last year who was one of the first women to become a commercial airline pilot in Australia. That fact had nothing to do with her latest book, but it was still interesting enough to justify further exploration – and to compare her life as a pilot with her life as a writer of romantic thrillers.
What is it that makes you special? What can you share about your life or your personal history that just might intrigue an editor or blogger – and from there, his or her readers…?
Finally – and this really is vital – please make sure that the information you provide is accurate, up-to-date, and that there are no typographical or grammatical errors. Check your spelling; check your sentence structure; check the contact details; check the pricing. Believe it or not, I have been sent Media Releases that have the title of the book wrong; and others that have left a series of question marks where the pricing should be typed.
Try to look at yourself and your book through fresh eyes when you are preparing your text – and aim for information that is tantalising and appealing. Avoid boasting, but don’t be shy about positive comparison.

Inspiration for a book

 by Victor Kline

The role of the artist is not often talked about these days. But I fear there is a subliminal idea of what it is, which has slowly permeated our western culture since the turn of the twentieth century. The original ‘permeators’, as far as I can tell, were that morbid trio of northern European playwrights Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg. These happy campers shared the view that life was pointless and hopeless and that it was their job to draw this cheery fact to the attention of lesser minds, who may have suffered from the delusion that life had a point, or who were foolish enough to imagine there was some hope.

In theatre at least, that viewpoint persisted up to the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the British stage of the 1950s. Only now there was a subtle change. The idea had become not exactly that things were totally hopeless, but rather that they were pretty damn bad, and it was the author’s duty to draw this to the attention of an apathetic world, so that those who held the reins of power would say: “Aha, thank you angry young playwright for alerting us to the fact that there is social inequality. We’ll now rush off and legislate that away.”

Of course the holders of the reins of power, in reality, remained unmoved. But the playwright didn’t care. He had done his duty, and now could go down the pub for a beer with his mates and tell them all what an activist he was.

In the world of novel writing there was a greater variety. People wrote romances and bodice rippers and science fiction and all manner of escapism. But if ‘serious fiction’ be their intention, then of course they had to embrace the hopelessness of the snowbound trio, or the preachy ‘fix this’ of the angry young men.

It never occurred to anyone to think it may just be the real duty of an author to go beyond the winging and offer a solution. Well I guess I have always thought that if you can’t offer a solution, don’t bother. In the modern world we all know very well, from the 24 hour news cycle, just how bad things can get. So just re-affirming, in literary form, how bad things can get, adds little of value to the mix. Give the politicians and social workers and medicos a bit of a blueprint to work from. Use your contemplative time to offer ideas to those too busy to contemplate.

That was the attitude I brought to the writing of The Story of the Good American. I wanted to show how things just might get fixed. But I didn’t want to lock myself away in the British Museum, there to invent theories that took no account of human nature. I wanted to write about something I knew could happen, that I knew was happening.

I chose the amazing work being done by people like Bill and Melinda Gates, whose aim is nothing short of the total abolition of world poverty and disease. But they are no theorists. They are getting out there and making it happen. Their method has its genesis in a simple mind shift. Instead of making the business of business the centre of their world, they have the business of philanthropy at the centre, and their ‘normal’ business becomes a feeder for that. Their shareholders support them because any temporary loss of income will be more than compensated for by the huge extra market they are creating. The destruction of poverty and disease means the creation of a whole new world of consumers for their products.

Then they are also in the business of enlisting other billionaires to their way of thinking. At this stage they have commitments from one-third of the world’s 200 richest individuals. Even that is enough cash to get the job done, and it will get done.

My characters are not Bill and Melinda Gates. They are fictional, exciting characters who find themselves caught up in all sorts of adventure and romance. It is a novel after all. I wanted to write something that was fun to read, that put the emphasis back on old-fashioned storytelling and empathetic characters. But the Gatesian thread is there for anyone who wants to pick it up.

Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted to give the average person like myself a bit of a blueprint too, for how we can fit into this new era which is dawning. How we can shrug off the despair that all the angry young men have been laying on our shoulders for a century, and joyfully do our bit. But if you want to know how that all works, you’ll have to read the book.

Headshot 2Victor Kline started his working life as Sydney’s youngest barrister. He worked as a Federal prosecutor in Sydney and later as a defence counsel in the Northern Territory in its Wild West days. He has been a playwright, theatre director and actor Off-Broadway and in various parts of Australia. He is the author of the novel Rough Justice and the bestselling memoir The House at Anzac Parade, as well as several produced plays. His most recent novel is The Story of the Good American. As well as New York and Central Australia, Victor has lived and worked in London, Paris, the South of France and New Guinea. He currently lives back in Sydney with wife Katharine and a little grey cat called Spud.


A hobo, a billionaire and the woman they both love. An unusual prescription. Some remarkable cures.

Joe Starling was Pete A. Vanderveer’s right hand man. But one day Joe just up and left the billionaire. He left New York City too. Turned up years later in his home town of Sydney Australia, shining shoes in the Pitt Street Mall. What happened in between, to Joe and Pete and to the woman they both loved, was very likely to change the world. The book is available in various formats from


Bec-Headshot-02a_201406_600x900I’d like to thank Rebecca Laffar-Smith for contributing this guest post. Rebecca is a West Australian science fiction and fantasy novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves: family, community and fiction. Now, she coordinates Write Along The Highway and the OzNoWriMo Young Writers Program, supporting local writers and bringing industry events and awareness into the local community. The Flight of Torque is her debut novel, released June 2014.


by Rebecca Laffar-Smith

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But we do, don’t we?

The quote above has become a well-worn adage and while the advice is sage it’s simply not in keeping with normal human behaviour. Humans do make surface judgements. When going for a job interview the way you dress matters; people make judgement calls about the intelligence quota of a blonde woman and the fiery temper of a red-head; those piercings and tattoos you thought were a great idea in your early twenties cause quite a few stares; over-long grass on a front lawn keeps people from finding the oasis in the back yard; and readers do judge a book by its cover.

Today, with billions of books in the marketplace, it’s more important then ever to have surface marketing that catches the eye of potential readers. The right cover sets the tone and voice of a story, it conveys genre, theme, and setting. As much as they might try to deny it, most readers will decide to look more closely at a book based on first impressions. If the cover catches their eye, they’ll read the blurb, but if it doesn’t they slide on by to the next forward facing book on the bookshop shelf.

On side-stacked bookshelves such as the mid-listers in bookstores and 99% of the books in libraries, first impressions come from titles, author names, and spines. These cover elements require careful consideration when preparing a book for publication. These days, the cover design for the spine is almost as important as the face.

Thankfully, most traditional publishers, particularly the big five, have marketing experts well versed in making these hard decisions. It’s usually safe to trust their judgement, but with self-publishing becoming increasingly popular, authors more than ever are in charge of these kinds of decisions. It’s important to approach cover design professionally, invest in a talented cover designer, and think with a business head rather than an artist’s heart. Something I learned in a very expensive and difficult way when I published The Flight of Torque in June 2014.

When I was working on early drafts, I came across a beautiful illustration by Selina Fenech that inspired me. It epitomised my main characters and beautifully portrayed a special something that I became enthralled with. Unfortunately,  the artist wasn’t taking on new commissions at the time so I held off designing a cover while I continued working on the book.

Selina still wasn’t available when I was finishing up middling drafts, so I commissioned another artist whose work I admired. I showed her the image and gave  descriptions based from heart-judgements rather than marketing ones.

FlightOfTorque_Cover_Laffar-SmithJamie Dougherty created a beautiful cover and I absolutely loved it, it was everything I asked for. But when the book was finished and I hit ‘publish’ some of the early feedback from readers and potential readers shocked me.

One comment that most hit home at this crucial time in the book’s new life came from my best friend. I’ve known him almost 15 years and he’s been a staunch support and steadfast cheerleader through my whole writing career. He’s followed the journey of this book and knows how challenging I found the writing of it. And the truth is, even while writing it I had him in mind and wanted to write a book I thought he’d enjoy reading. So when he admitted this, I had very good reason to pause and assess exactly the mistake I’d made:

“I want to read your book, but … I can’t get past the cover. It is … um …. yeah. Well, romance novels are not my thing. I have picked it up many times and … then I have to put it down. I want to be supportive, but …. I just can’t.”

It blew my mind! I wasn’t angry, I was horrified, because I don’t write romance books. I’m a science fiction and fantasy novelist. While there is a degree of romance in the story, it’s purely subplot and not even crucial to the story. But he was right! The cover design I’d commissioned gave the book a very definite romance feel which set the wrong tone for the book. While I know paranormal romance readers will enjoy the book, by having a cover that targeted them I was potentially eliminating my true audience, urban fantasy and paranormal suspense readers.

Thankfully, as a self-published author I could fix the mistake. Of course, it’s an error one of the big publishing houses never would have made (I would hope), and it’s a costly error to make. By the time I realised the error I’d already paid $1500 in production, marking, and printing. I’d paid for the original design, I’d paid for a 100-book print run, I’d paid for posters and postcards and bookmarks all promoting the book with the original cover. Not to mention the time I invested in preparing the book for publication and uploading files to distributor websites. I knew I would have to invest all of that again to get my book right.

So, here I was, with 100 paperback copies burning holes in their boxes and the knowledge that I needed to commission a new artist to design a new cover that better suited the true genre, tone, and setting of the book. I completely ceased my marketing efforts as I set about finding the right design.

To the rescue came and their support and promotion of a fantastic e-lance website, I signed up and within hours a dozen different designers had mocked together some truly beautiful cover designs. I knew I was on the right track and had a wonderful time over the next week or so working with 26 different cover artists who presented a total of 130 designs. Then I was able to send my top picks to my readers to get their feedback.

Eventually, a cover was chosen and it is stunning, beautiful, and perfectly portrays the book in a way that I hope compels readers to look more closely. And that’s just it, isn’t it? Finding the right cover for your book isn’t as simple as throwing elements onto the page and hoping it works to captivate potential readers. There is an art to it that is something a professional designer has a better sense of than an author does. No matter my 12 years experience as a Web designer and my intimate familiarity with Photoshop, there was no way I could have created a cover as stunning as the one Rio Bagoes Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]Nugroho put together for me.

Yes, cover design is an aspect of self-publishing where you really should invest some cash, but ultimately, the right cover will pay you back in reaching the right audience and drawing in a larger crowd of readers. In the end, it’s reader feedback that makes the investment worth every penny.

“It is a gripping supernatural mystery thriller. One should never judge a book by its cover. This is not a Mills & Boon Twilight novel. It is a terrific paranormal suspense edge of your seat read.” ~ Mark Parker-Roy

ABOUT THE BOOK: When investigative reporter, Tori, chases the story of an underground smuggling network, she stumbles into something significantly more sinister. Instead of the illegal trade of exotic reptiles, she finds a temple of devout snake worshipers. Taken by the cultists, Tori is subjected to a savage ritual and irrevocably transformed. Now something dark and primal slithers within. Lucas, charged with Tori’s protection, struggles against an overwhelming sense of helplessness. He should be stronger, faster, and more powerful than any human, but in the past twenty years all of his charges have been murdered. Their deaths and his failures linger in his nightmares. They writhe in his mind like the chilling sense of brooding hunger that floods Tori’s thoughts. Filled with violent rage and dark jealousy, the cult’s High Priestess rears up between Tori and the truth. The only thing protecting Tori from the long, cold embrace of death is the darkness within and the tingling warmth and light of her guardian angel.

Flight of Torque is available from