August: Worldbuilding, Workshops, Writing in Hard Times

Worldbuilding during COVID-19, writing and marketing resources, turnover in publishing, book awards, and pickles

Greetings readers & writers,

Worldbuilding in the time of coronavirus has been a special challenge for those writing realistic fiction. In her article in The Bookseller, author Gillian Harvey talks to authors about how they’re handling “plotlines in a time when we are literally living through history.” Ben Winters, a writer who has blurred the lines between reality and speculative fiction in many of his books, asked this question way back in April with his Slate article “The Coronavirus is Affecting the Plot of My Novel.” What can worldbuilding look like when realistic fiction takes on shades of the speculative?

Novelist and poet Annie Neugebauer defines speculative fiction as any fiction in which the “laws” of that world (explicit or implied) are different than ours.” That can mean the hardest of sci-fi or the most epic of fantasy, but it also applies to the slightest tweak to our own reality. In a present where the rules seem to be constantly in flux and on the verge of tipping us into a dystopian future, it can be worth examining what those various futures might look like, what the rules are, how they’re changing, and what that could mean for your story. Ask the big questions (or come explore them with us at Speculative Fiction Variety Hour!)

In my upcoming (this Friday!) worldbuilding seminar, we talk about constructing the world of a story through the lenses of its characters and how they interact with that world. Whether you’re contemplating a speculative element or not, what present will allow your protagonist’s story to shine? Is it one set in a pre-COVID reality, whether distant or near? Or one that is examined against a particular outcome?

In an interview with The Arkansas Times, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of the darkly-satirical, near-future novel We Cast a Shadow, speaks of how “time is just a symptom of our limited view. The fight against our darker angels is eternal.” If building the world of your story is a struggle right now, try writing from a place of reflection — on the past, the human condition, those “darker angels”— in order to write from the present moment. What questions are we (or should we) still be asking, even in this time of flux?


Upcoming (Virtual!) Workshops:

Events are remote and require registration unless otherwise noted!

Need some one-on-one marketing a/o manuscript attention? I’m still doing consults!

Book a consult today!


Writing/Marketing Resources

{Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash}

Add more great reads to your TBR with this in-depth list of newly releasing books by native and indigenous authors compiled by author Elissa Washuta.

In “Publishing in a Pandemic: An Insider Interview with a Book Publicist”, debut author Nancy Johnson interviews veteran publicist Laura Rossi on how the pandemic is changing the way authors (and publishers) market books.

It’s Past Time for the Bookselling Industry to Reckon with Its Institutional Racismby Angela Maria Spring, owner of Duende District, a mobile boutique bookstore by and for people of color, discusses the long road the bookselling industry must take to both own, and then reckon with, its inherent bias.

Author Charlie Jane Anders is serially publishing a book of writing advice on Tor.com entitled Never Say You Can’t Survive: How To Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories. Part how-to, part memoir, she tackles everything from imposter syndrome, to idea generation, to how to write when everything feels broken.

Inspiration running dry when it comes to events? Author Kate Reed Perry offers up refreshing ideas in her article It’s Time to Radically Rethink Online Book Events,” pushing writers to think creatively beyond an in-person event’s typical restraints.


Industry News

{graphic from Ladders’s recent interview with Canedy about her new career}

Nan A. Talese announced her imminent retirement, after nearly six decades working for her eponymous imprint at DoubleDay. Her retirement is one of several significant shifts that have given publishers the opportunity to fill major positions from outside the industry, with hopes of transformation. This includes former Pulitzer Prize administrator and journalist Dana Canedy, who, as the recently hired publisher for Simon & Schuster, is the first Black person in such a role.

Harper’s Magazine published the controversial “A Letter on On Justice and Open Debate,” an open letter signed by over 150 writers and artists. Some readers argue it calls out “illiberalism” and cancel culture while others say it ignores the very real dangers facing journalists, both abroad and those who are persons of color. The Slate published an insightful debate that digs into the main counterpoints. In response to the original letter, 160 writers and journalists signed a counter letter, rebuking the original signatories for writing from a privileged position.

Several book awards/lists were announced in July and early August:


Tea + Garden Recipe

My sister sent me this sweet care package back in April from Sweet Birch Herbals in Western Mass. Their Mint Verbena tea is refreshing iced and Murder of Colds is calming served hot with a spot of honey, making for a nourishing before-bed tea. They have a summer sale this week (15% off!) so check out these teas and their other herbal offerings (the lavender lotion pictured is lovely).

And if you, like me, have an overflow of cucumbers in your garden or CSA box, keeping a jar of Smitten Kitchen’s easiest fridge pickles in your refrigerator will quickly solve that “problem.” Zingy, refreshing, and eminently riff-able, these are perfect on sandwiches, burgers, mixed into potato salad, or eaten straight from the jar.


Keep reaching out and supporting each other and your communities. Wear a mask. Buy from indie bookstores. Support #BlackLivesMatter. Always happy to boost any projects, resources, or new books you’re working on!

All the best,
~Allison

Writer & Marketing Coach
Keep Writing, Keep Connecting! Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Website


Allison has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. 

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