Monday, 28 October 2019

Walking on eggshells: diversity in literature

Image result for diversity

Here is another article that serves as a perfect example of how diversity in literature is becoming a scattering of sharp eggshells authors find extremely hard to walk on, because whatever you do (or don't do), there will be people wielding a large magnifying glass, scrutinizing your work and tsk-tsk-ing about your shortcomings. And the shortcomings are there, believe me. Because whether you underplay or emphasize race, whether you include many minority characters or not enough, someone out there will complain.

And even if you have the perfect nonwhite, non-standard main character and do it all perfectly, it's a shame you had written this at all, because #ownvoices, you know?!

A disclaimer: I hate racism and bigotry. I hate those things with a passion and whenever I encounter them, my blood pressure rises, my heart starts racing, and I normally won't walk away without taking a stand. You want some background? Hitler nearly wiped out my family. Being Jewish, I belong to one of the most ethnically diverse peoples in the world, with a Jewish diaspora having existed in almost every country from Finland to Ethiopia (and yes, they are all MY people! Jews from Yemen and Jews from Ukraine. People who speak Yiddish, Arabic, Amharic. People who make gefilte fish and people who make couscous. Isn't that awesome?)

I find the very beginning of this article - "adding diversity to your writing is a difficult task" - a bit problematic. I can honestly tell you I have never gone through a manuscript saying, "hmm, is this diverse enough? Have I included enough minority characters?" - nor do I think it would be reasonable. My books don't generally focus on race. Neither do, or should, most books. I do have characters of various ethnicity, but it has always been a part of who I was, not a "let's include this character and that character because DIVERSITY!" thing. 

And how about, "Also, don’t dehumanize us. A common example is equating skin tone to food. Avoid this insensitive technique as it’s a grave reminder of our history as slave labor involving commodities like coffee, cacao, sugar, et cetera. We are not products to be consumed, so do not treat us as such."

Really?! What about peaches-and-cream skin? Honey-colored hair? I could go on but you get the idea. Once, I recall reading about a farm worker's freckles described as "a smattering of golden wheat grains". Does this allude to social oppression?

It is true, however, that description of characters' looks shouldn't boil down to redundant cliches. I have learned some important lessons in this during my work as an editor of translated Chinese novels. In books written by Chinese authors where all the characters are Chinese, nobody has "silky black hair and almond-shaped eyes" (you could as well describe someone as 'the dude with two ears and one nose'). Characters are described as having heavy brow ridges, high cheekbones, light or heavy build, thin or puffy lips, and so on. And the occasional European or American foreigner? He doesn't get any description beyond "the middle-aged Caucasian man". 

My own novel, Land of the Lost Tribe, takes place in Ethiopia. You can bet I didn't describe any character as "dark-skinned" or "with kinky hair" (beyond the encounter with different-looking foreigners). I had to get a lot more creative!

As usual with diversity posts, I feel I could go on and on. But you know what? I won't. Just go ahead and write that story. A darn good story with awesomesaucy characters and spot-on brilliant descriptions. Write what fires up your imagination and don't worry about anything else, because you can't please everyone anyway.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Marketing a book series: initial insights

It has been a month since the release of The Breath of Earth, the third book in my Frozen World Antarctic sci-fi saga, and though I am not a metadata whiz like many of my fellow indie authors, I can share two observations:

1. The amount of sales and KU page reads for the whole series has definitely jump-started.

2. I see the most dramatic increase in the sales of book 2.

Part of it is no doubt thanks to reader-funneling after a free book promo for book 1 (The Last Outpost) which I ran on the release of book 3. However, even taking this into account, the read-through from book 1 to book 2 has definitely increased with the release of book 3, even though book 3 hasn't made any substantial waves yet.

Which brings me to the following conclusion, which might or might not be accurate:

Readers are more eager to keep reading when they see an actual ongoing series, not just a book and a sequel.

Psychologically, I know this is definitely true for me as a reader. When I read the first book in a series and like it, I'm more motivated to keep going with the next books in the series if I see I have a lot to look forward to, and the more the better. Therefore, you could argue that the very existence of book 3 is prompting me to buy/read book 2, even though it will be a while before I get to book 3 yet.

All this tallies with the advice to indie authors to not even bother doing much marketing for a series until at least three books are out.

Bottom line: keep writing and getting those books out there! The books in a series work as a team, promoting each other and making it easier for you to make sales.

Also check out this excellent article, How to Launch and Promote a New Book That's Part of a Series

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Author interview on Paul's Fantasy Writings

In perfect timing with my latest release, I've been granted the honor of an interview on Paul's Fantasy Writings. Pop over and check it out:

The Breath of Earth (the third instalment in The Frozen World series) is your most recent book. What would you like readers to gain or learn from the story?
What is your next book called and when will it be released?

The entire Frozen World series is in the sub-genre of what can be defined as environmental science fiction. It tells about a near-utopian society of the Anai, an isolated tribe living in a warm microclimate pocket in Antarctica. The themes, or rather the universal questions of these stories, revolve around humankind and its relations with nature. Namely, can people coexist with nature without despoiling it? Can the desire to do right and preserve the world we live in overcome greed and power struggles? What are some things one is never justified in doing, not even in the name of survival?
I am currently outlining the next book in the Frozen World series. It will be titled The Bloodthirst Gene, and it will explore the question of whether violence is a necessary trait for human survival. It will also, of course, include elements from the previous books in the series: an Antarctic setting, a dystopian world, and an oasis of harmony between man and nature.