Plotting a Novel–Difficult Choices Authors Have to Make

Run, an historical YA novel by Linda Aksomitis

Run, an historical YA novel by Linda Aksomitis

Plotting a novel sounds easy, doesn’t it? After all, it’s just telling all the things that happen in a story.

The trick, though, is to make the story exciting enough for readers to keep turning the pages. That takes a lot of thought and consideration, and sadly, some tough decisions.

I recently received a letter from Northcote Primary School in Australia asking about my novel, Run (reviewed here on CM:http://umanitoba.ca/cm/vol15/no13/run.html ). Here are the five questions and my answers.

1. What inspired you to write this book, Run?

I enjoy writing historical fiction in this time period, just after the turn of the 20th century. When I write a novel I start with a setting or time period, then look for a subject that interests me and start plotting a story around it. Here, I wanted to learn more about polio and how it affected people’s lives, because by 1910, polio had become a huge concern with major epidemics throughout the developed world.

2. Who inspired you?

There really was no single inspiration for this story other than my limited experience growing up with the dread of polio. While the vaccine was developed when I was a child, I still met some young people who’d had the disease. This CBC archive talks about the 1949 epidemic in Canada:http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/health/public-health/polio-combating-the-crippler/1949-polio-epidemic-hits-northern-canada.html

3. Why did you make Jacob and Victoria come from different families?

Good question! One of the decisions that an author must make when plotting a book is how to introduce conflict to keep readers wondering what will happen. You can do this in a few ways, but having two main characters who don’t see eye-to-eye is one of the easiest. Sometimes I use a main character and an antagonist, or person who comes between the main character and what he or she wants to achieve. And sometimes, like in Run, I use two main characters who have significant differences.

With Run, I also wanted to explore more about the ways that we become knowledgeable. Jacob and his mother, being farmers, have a different way of knowing than Victoria and her well-to-do family. I wanted to put Victoria, my main character, in a position where she’d learn to appreciate the differences and learn not to look down on people.

Many of today’s young readers can readily identify with Jacob and Victoria and the challenges of becoming a family. While step-families may have had different reasons for coming together a century ago, the challenges they face as they learn to live in one household are still very similar.

4. Why did you include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?

There were lots of reasons! Run is part of a literary reading series, and one characteristic of this type of story is that it often has ties to other literary books. Also, I love the Oz books, and hoped that young people reading Run might get interested in those books and read them too.

Something that fascinated me as I wrote my novel, though, was how easy it was to parallel the growth of my main characters, Victoria and Jacob, with the growth of the Wizard of Oz characters. While Oz is a fantasy and Run is historical fiction, linking the two stories so closely showed me a lot about the commonalities in all good stories.

5. Why did you get Elizabeth to die?

That was difficult! I didn’t start out the story that way, but as I wrote I knew that having Elizabeth die was the best way to both strengthen the plot and increase the tension for the other characters.

Why? Well, Elizabeth is actually the reason that the step-family exists. Without the younger sister, Victoria’s father might not have remarried at all, since Victoria was old enough to take care of herself. But Elizabeth was so young she needed someone to care for her. And Jacob’s mother remarries in order to provide her son with what she hopes will be a better future, since Jacob’s uncle ended up with all of the farmland.

When Elizabeth dies, the reason for the family to exist disappears in an instant. Then, the characters must decide whether they really want to stay together or not. They must find ways that they can relate to one another without little Elizabeth. And that’s what a large part of the plot is about–forging relationships.

If you have any questions about Run, or any of my other novels, I’m happy to answer them!

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Three Predictions for eBook Sales in 2015

Ebook sales–will they remain stable, go up, or as some would-be-hopeful’s keep insisting, go down?

Tablet

Read e-books on your tablet.

So, here we are, the end of 2014 nearly upon us and we’re all wondering what’s going to happen in ebook world next year.

This year, we were lucky to have some great research and analysis on the industry from Author Earnings — see my article at: http://aksomitis.com/2014/07/e-book-sales-statistics-every-author-needs-to-know-before-signing-a-book-deal/

Here are a few more interesting stats from that report on e-publishing in general:

  • 86% of the top 2500 selling titles on Amazon were ebooks (combined traditional and indie published). The remaining 14% of sales were audio books and print books.
  • 150 authors of those top 2500 titles each earned over $100,000 a year on Amazon
  • Nielson sales statistics, according to Dennis Abrams at Publishing Perspectives, indicate that in the first half of 2014 ebooks had 23% of unit sales, with hard cover at 25% and paperback at 42%. The article, however, doesn’t account for the missing 10% of sales…which seems like a whole lot more audio books, the only format missing, than one would expect.
  • The AAP, however, (see below) reported in December, 2014, that overall ebook sales increased by 5.6% in trade publishing, even though they’d been thought to be in decline. They had marked e-book sales in 2013 for adult markets at 26.6%.

Take a quick review of the growth of e-book sales with this video:


The AAP (Association of American Publishers) weighed in this December as well, reporting on sales so far in 2014. In good news, as reported on a Flavorwire analysis of the report, book sales were up 4.9% overall. No matter what formats you publish in, that’s good news!

I found the most interesting statistics, though, were those on the rising popularity of Children’s and Young Adult books — a whooping 23% overall. Writers in this genre can pat themselves on the back and celebrate, that’s for sure.

Children’s ebook publishers have even more cause to celebrate, since that category is up by nearly 53%!

The tough thing about publishing for children though, is that kids and young adults generally declare they prefer reading print books compared to the ebook format. Add that to parents worrying about how much time their kids are spending in front of monitors and it can be tough to figure out how to market to this age group.

Series are the one thing that both authors and publishers know attract young adults. And, book sellers are becoming increasingly aware, also draw adults to books marketed as children’s, young adult, and new adult.

While novels with storylines that also appeal to adults seem to be the biggest winners in reading trends in 2014, there’s lots of hope for picture authors on the horizon too.

Why?

Well, while novels for young reader ebooks are formatted exactly the same way as adult materials, seeing a picture book in reflowable text often detracts from its appeal. Instead of extras like creative borders and text inside print images, everything is blocked in one long–often boring–line.

The good news is that the three largest ebookstores have all released free tools for the authors of illustrated books. That promises a revolution coming, to be sure!

If you’d like to learn more about the capabilities of each tool for creating fixed format ebooks, check out this article from EBook Architects: http://ebookarchitects.com/ learn-about-ebooks/childrens-ebooks/

Think animations and videos and pop-up boxes with information for readers. It all sounds very exciting, doesn’t it? However, many of these books will need to be viewed on a tablet rather than a dedicated e-reading device until e-reader technology catches up to the latest formats.

So, my predictions for 2015:

  • A 50% increase in the number of fixed format children’s ebooks published due to the availability of new fixed format ebook creation tools
  • A corresponding 50% increase in the number of children’s ebooks purchased
  • A steady 5% growth in overall ebook market share

What are your predictions for ebooks in 2015?

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