What is the heroine’s journey and how can it help you write a story that readers will love? Gail Carriger shares her writing tips in this interview.
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Gail Carriger is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of steampunk and urban fantasy, comedy and queer romance. Her books have sold over a million copies in print and include The Parasol Protectorate and The Finishing SchoolSeries. Her latest nonfiction book is The Heroine’s Journey.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- The differences between the Hero’s Journey and the Heroine’s Journey
- The importance of supporting characters in a heroine’s journey
- How hero and heroine’s journeys endings are different
- Why the heroine’s journey has been disenfranchised and how indie publishing has played a part in changing that
- Tips for writing non-fiction when you’ve mostly written fiction
- Differences between marketing fiction vs. Non-fiction
You can find Gail Carriger at GailCarriger.com and on Twitter @gailcarriger
Transcript of interview with Gail Carriger
Joanna: Gail Carriger is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of steampunk and urban fantasy, comedy and queer romance. Her books have sold over a million copies in print and include The Parasol Protectorate and The Finishing SchoolSeries. Her latest nonfiction book is The Heroine’s Journey. Welcome back. Gail.
Gail: Thank you so much for having me back. I’m delighted to be here.
Joanna: I’m thrilled to be talking about this. And I was just telling you, I’ve got the book on my desk. It’s really fantastic.
I want to start by taking up a level. There are so many books on writing and you have this incredibly successful fiction career.
What drove you to get into nonfiction?
Gail: It’s really funny because you started out by saying ‘Her latest nonfiction.’ And think this might be my only nonfiction. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with it.
I was actually pretty much driven to write this because my mother is very fond of saying that ‘she who spots the problem is responsible for the solution’. And for many, many years I talked about the heroine’s journey on panels or invited gather, as you do, because people would bring up ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and I would always say that there’s an alternate, there’s ‘The Heroine’s Journey’ as well because I studied it way back when I was in university, when I was doing a classics minor.
And then somebody in the audience or someone else would have definitely raised their hand to say, ‘What’s that?’ And I’d be like, ‘This is a 45-minute panel and I don’t have time to teach you all about the Heroine’s Journey. There’s a reason that I took a course on it in university.’
Eventually, I thought, ‘Well, there needs to be a book on this.’ And there are Jungian psychological analyses of ‘The Heroine’s Journey.’ But I wanted to write something that was very accessible for people who make their living storytelling or people who really enjoy reading these narratives so that it could be easily identified and so that I can explain what it was and how you do this.
Eventually, I just felt compelled to do it because no one else was doing it.
Joanna: I was just saying before, I’m now seeing The Heroine’s Journey everywhere, and which is really funny because I thought I knew what I was doing and then I read your book and I’m like, ‘Oh, this seems like a new take, but actually it’s an old take.’
For people listening, obviously, again, the book is great and we can’t cover everything because it’s just fantastic.
What are the high-level differences between the Hero’s Journey and the Heroine’s Journey?
Gail: I’m going to have to speak about this assuming that there are people who are listening know what the Hero’s Journey is and we’ll just put that to one side.
One of the things that I do in the book is I go over the Hero’s Journey from a purely writer perspective because I think readers are more familiar with it so they’ll be more familiar with how I talk about it and under the vehicle of narrative analysis and so that you’re comfortable as a reader with my syntax and how I’m going to talk about the narrative.
Essentially, the core differences between the hero and the heroine’s journey has to do with motivation and objective and goals and also how concepts of victory and strength are defined.
Both journeys, at least in old Western mythos, Greek, Assyrian, Egyptian, etc., have the same kind of pattern, basically, which involves withdrawal and return from civilization into liminal spaces and nature or the outside world, and also journeys to the underworld, and that kind of thing.
But they are different in how the success of that narrative is generated. And by that, I mean the Hero’s Journey is strength in solo action, achieving your goal. Generally, there’s narratives of continued separations like Gilgamesh, those within Edo, and stuff like that. And in order to achieve his ends, a hero achieves victory usually through physical prowess by himself. The strength is defined as the self-actualization and victory over enormous odds and strife.
The heroine is basically the opposite in that, generally speaking, she acts a little bit more like a delegator or a general. She activates the network in order to achieve her ends, and usually does so by gathering people to her who will help her achieve her goal and by portioning out that achievement.
She doesn’t really celebrate victory, the heroine. She usually wants compromise and unity. Strength for her is just defined differently.
The heroine is very good at asking for help, identifying where she can’t achieve something because she doesn’t have that particular skillset, and then finding people who have that skillset and using them for mutual gain.
It’s really different in the concepts of how your protagonist essentially is going to be motivated. As a writer, in particular, if you’re coming up against writer’s block, gives certain aspects of your story, if you think you’re reading a hero’s journey, the narrative solutions for that writer’s block are going to be certain things like putting your hero in more and more strife and isolating them more and more so that they can then achieve their goals.
Whereas if you’re writing a heroine’s journey, you’re probably going to throw a new character into the scene that has advice to offer or something along those lines.
So, the actual solutions to writer’s block are different depending on which narrative you’re writing, for example, which is one of the reasons it’s important to know which journey you’re on as a writer, as a fiction writer.
Joanna: I want us to stress at the beginning here that
The sex and/or gender of the protagonist, or the writer, doesn’t define which journey you’re writing.
So, I was reading it going, ‘Okay. I do write a hero’s journey for my female character, Morgan Sierra in my ARKANE thrillers, who’s like a James Bond or Lara Croft or Jack Reacher, a solo character.
But then my Mapwalker fantasy series is a teen series with a group of friends and there is Sienna, but it’s Sienna and her friends and it’s all a group sort of together.’ I hadn’t known that I was doing that differently.
Gail: Yes. Thank you. I usually remember to say at the beginning of these interviews, that gender is irrelevant. And I will use him and her.
The example I have is that the recent Wonder Woman movie is a classic hero’s journey. There’s almost no deviation from a hero narrative. It’s practically Gilgamesh on screen. In fact, like, everything about that movie is a hero’s journey.
And Harry Potter, both the first book and the series as a whole is a classic heroine’s journey. And obviously, those are, as I say, a biologically masculine male protagonist for Harry Potter and yet he is a heroine.
We have been given have gendered narratives because of their original sources, but as they present in the modern-day, they’re not gendered.
Joanna: I think that’s really important. And coming back to the the solo versus team approach. If we are writing a heroine’s journey, what are the things we need to think about when we’re coming up with our main character and also the supporting characters?
Do we need much stronger supporting characters than we would if writing a hero’s journey, for example?
Gail: I think probably yes. The thing about a hero’s journey, and you can think about this in context of something like Jack Reacher, is he does often have aid. And sometimes that aid will end up being a betrayer, in fact, about 50% of the time. But sometimes that aid is actually very helpful.
The hero often does have the romantic interests and stuff. But most of the time they’re killed or removed from the narrative because he has to be continually isolated to get stronger.
The heroine is sort of the opposite. Now, you can write very, very vibrant ally characters for your hero, and then when they die or disappear or betray, it’s 100 times worse, obviously. But putting that aside that heroine, you, as a writer are going to be writing these incredibly vibrant characters for your heroine’s side characters that are going to be assisting her and very rarely betraying her. That’s pretty unusual in a heroine’s journey.
But what you then have from your readers is readers who fall deeply in love with these side actors. And then because you don’t have to kill them you can pick them up and write more books with the side character as your heroine.
From a purely career perspective, the heroine’s journey has this really vibrant side effect where you can have what you often find in the romance genre, in particular, but it’s also leaking into cozy mysteries and other heroine’s journey dominant narratives, which is you can pick up and write a whole new series as one of your side characters, or you can write a spin-off novel with the side character getting their romance.
This builds a really voracious reader base.
So, the Heroine’s Journey is actually really great at creating a heroine’s journey for its writers, in a way, because you end up with all these great side characters. The side characters are particularly important.
And then sometimes a side character is like an animal companion in YA fantasy, for example. That’s pretty common. Your side characters are extremely valuable and very, very useful. And yes, you will probably end up having to write a number of them and they’ll be very vibrant and you’ll have readers who get very attached to the side characters.
Joanna: If we want to write a heroine’s journey, we know we’ve got our character, we’ve got our side characters. What are some of the aspects of structure and plot? You mentioned a little bit about the withdrawal and the return, for example.
Are there any key aspects in the heroine’s journey when it comes to plotting?
Gail: One of the things that are very important for the heroine is that isolation usually immobilizes her. And so it’s the opposite from the hero, in that the more alone she is, the less she’s going to do anything because she has lost her network and so she often will spiral when she gets alone.
The Twilight books or movies are a very good example of that. So, the initial driver for our hero is usually a quest of some kind or a boon that he’s going to go out of civilization to achieve, war, invasion, enemies, something that’s a big baddie that he has to battle.
The heroine usually has something taken away from her and it’s usually a network of some kind. So, for example, in the Demeter myth, Demeter’s daughter is stolen away and hidden from her and everything. And so her motivation then is to leave Olympus, leave her position of power, and go seek her daughter.
There’s a psychological challenge for a lot of western authors, in particular, in the idea that something has been done to her and so your character doesn’t have agency, but that very idea is because we glorify the hero’s journey, so it’s kind of hard to get away from.
But generally speaking, you have a broken network, a broken familial or friendship network action. And then the heroine often will disguise herself. That’s a real common trope in these narratives. And that’s partly because her abdication of power means that she must literally sort of try on different identities in order to formulate new networks and attempts to get her reunification in place.
She’ll go through these steps of invisibility, and then down into the underworld and exploration. And then part of the uptake is reclaiming her identity and her power through forming all of these new connections that eventually, hopefully, re-establishing the old ones if you’re writing a happy book. So, those are some of sort of the core competencies.
Joanna: I don’t know if you’ve seen this, that there’s a show on Netflix, a movie called Into the Beat. It’s German movie. Have you seen this?
Gail: No, I have not.
Joanna: It’s on Netflix right now and it came out last week. And it’s a YA movie, really. It’s about a young ballet dancer who has this group and her father is a ballet dancer, and then she essentially goes and discovers hip-hop and street dance. And of course, what’s she going to do? Is she going to give up her ballet?
She’s turned away by her father in the ballet group and she finds a new family and the hip hop. And it was so funny because I watched the movie, then I read your book, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is a heroine’s journey because there’s the friendship group and the return into the network and the broken family and then the complete family.’
I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is beat for beat this heroine’s journey.’ It’s a young person’s dance movie, and I really enjoyed it.
Gail: I have to say that dance movies are in my total wheelhouse. I love these types of movies. I used to be a dancer.
Joanna: Oh, you will enjoy it.
Gail: In line with that, also on Netflix, there’s a great Korean drama called The Uncanny Counter. It is also a pitch-perfect heroine’s journey. And I thought it was going to derail into a hero’s near the end, and then they brought it back around, and I was like, ‘This is great.’
That’s one of these things because the plots are so similar between the two journeys. Sometimes you don’t really know whether you as a watcher or a reader or a consumer are on a hero’s journey or a heroine’s journey until the end. It’s often the particularly ending sort of iconography and visual as well as plus that in television and movies that tell you which journey you’re on.
The hero’s journey often ends in images of soloness and pathos because one of the hero’s defining characteristics is usually he achieved so much that he can never really fit back into a family life and civilized society. That comes directly from Gilgamesh and Hercules in characters, ancient archetypes like that.
Sometimes when you’re watching one of these shows, you’re like, ‘Where are we going? Where are we going?’ And then you go, ‘Oh, yeah…’ if you’re me, ‘it’s a heroine’s journey. It’s going to have a happy ending. Everything will be okay. I’m going to be pleased to the show.’
The Uncanny Counter, which is also in Netflix is a great, great example as well. And that one’s kind of urban fantasy.
Joanna: Although I find a lot of YA directed at adults anyway, obviously. But let’s just talk about the genre aspect because the book talks about the commercial side of romance, comedy, cozies, and other genres that typically, more typically, use the heroine’s journey and are undervalued by the traditional industry, although not by readers.
Gail: Not by readers.
Joanna: Is this why we have more of a predominance of the hero’s journey? The books before the rise of indie have not been valued so much really?
Gail: I think so. I talk a little bit about the Zeitgeist and critical acclaim in terms of preferential value being placed on the hero’s journey instead of the heroine’s. And I think some of that is cultural.
We’re very attracted to this idea that individualism and solitary action and not needing anybody and achievement is valued, is better in a way than having. Even the language we have read or write, having to ask for help.
Whereas the heroine is like, no, identifying that someone can help you and asking them is a very strong and powerful thing to do. But as a culture, we really struggle with that, which I think personally has damaged the western cultures in general. But this goes back to kind of the rise in genre, in particular, of the Gothics during the Victorian era.
For those who aren’t aware of the history of genre fiction, in particular, it owes a lot of its tropes and archetypes to the Gothic literary movement. And that has to do with the rise of industrialization and the education of women, the rise of the middle class of women being not only literate, but having more leisure time.
It saw this as the quest, the rise of yellow backs, The Penny Dreadfuls, and a whole narrative that was targeted at a female reader for the first time.
We had this simultaneous series of events going on in the mid to late 1800s which, essentially, resulted in women being associated as a reader base with the Gothic literary movement and the Gothic literary movement is what gave birth to romances, adventure novels, but also science fiction and fantasy and certain aspects of young adult literature as well.
And so you end up with this reader base and this narrative all being kind of packaged together with genre fiction, in particular. Now, genre fiction doesn’t necessarily always use the heroine’s journey, but it is the predominant activator of the heroine’s journey. And in the long term, you had male critics being very, very sniffy about these Gothic books that women were reading because they were sadly popular and because women loved them so much and because they didn’t deal with serious themes.
There’s a whole anti-strike against science fiction and fantasy, in particular, romances, of course, which persists to this day, this critical disenfranchisement and dismissal of these genres, which if you’ve come up in sci-fi fantasy, you’ve experienced that, especially it’s not as bad as it used to be.
But definitely, when I was younger, the idea that you would read sci-fi fantasy for fun was disenfranchising. That was embarrassing in a way. And it still persists to this day with romances, in particular, where to admit to being a romance reader at a cocktail party is asking for trouble.
And that, largely, has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the work, but instead with the narrative chassis that those works are dependent upon and the fact that one of them is, for lack of any other way of putting it, associated with women and the other one is not.
Joanna: I’m not really a romance reader, but, obviously, I’ve been very aware of the stigma. And then when I came into the indie space, over a decade ago, the people who were doing the best were romance writers, and still are romance writers. And then I started to meet some of them and learning more and I discovered that a lot of romance writers are incredibly well-educated businesswomen, lawyers.
Joanna: Some really incredibly powerful women. And some men, obviously, write romance as well. After all the years of accepting the traditional narrative of what romance was, it was just incredible to meet the romance writers and then start to find this whole community, which I think the indie movement has really helped.
So, yeah, I agree with you on the acceptance of a lot of these genres, and that probably is why we don’t recognize the heroine’s journey as much even though as we’re discussing, it’s there. And as you said, and the classic stories as well.
Gail: Jane Austen wrote romances. I’m sorry there’s no other way to put that. Not only did she write romances, she wrote basically six of the most classic tropes; enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, which is enemies to lovers, Pride and Prejudice. She wrote classic romance tropes that are still some of the most popular chassis for romances ever. And the Brontes are writing tragic romance. Shakespeare wrote romances.
Gail: Generally speaking, the heroine’s journey is more likely to end happily than a hero’s journey. Most comedies are also about connection. They’re about humor, but they’re about connection and being on a journey together. That’s how you bounce comedy off to characters. So they also tend to be heroine’s journeys.
And one of the fastest ways to realize how disenfranchised the heroine’s journey is, is to look at how many comedies win awards, the Oscars or the Golden Globes or whatever. Almost never.
Joanna: I was going to say, ‘I can’t think of any.’
Gail: Right? That doesn’t say that comedy is any better or worse than tragedy or, you know, ‘serious drama.’ It’s just that we don’t reward it. One of the things I always say, because I tend to write comedy, is, ‘I can make someone cry so easily. It is so easily to make some cry. But to make someone laugh in fiction is really hard.’
I think comedy is a lot harder to do well in a way. It’s so startling to me that it’s never rewarded on the awards circuit and stuff, but that is a direct result of disenfranchisement in the heroine’s journey.
It also has to do with the fact that psychologically we have this thing about negativity where you de-value something that makes you feel better and it makes you happy in a strange way. And it’s a little bit like you’ll remember a negative review until the day you die, but all those positive ones go right over your head.
Joanna: It’s interesting, though, because there’s definitely been a change in the pandemic year, as in, there’s been a real rise in happy narrative. For example, Bridgerton coming out during the pandemic. I don’t think Bridgerton would have been as big in another year.
Sure, the Duke is hot and everything, but I actually think a more gentle, happy-ending type of story is what people are craving in the pandemic. And cozy mysteries have had a really amazing year.
I also wonder; you mentioned about the issues of the culture asking for help. And I also wonder whether the millennial generation is better at that than… I’m Gen X.
We’re similar ages. And we were certainly raised more like heroes; don’t ask for help and all of this.
I feel like maybe there will be a change, that it’s more acceptable now to say, ‘Look, I’m having some mental health issues,’ than it used to be.
Gail: I could not agree more. In the younger generations, in particular, there’s an ownership of escapism, like, it’s okay to want to escape a grim reality by reading or enjoying something positive and upbeat. And that kind of ties to ideas, like, embrace your hyper fixation.
If I’m obsessed with this one author because they make me laugh and I just want to comfort read them for a year, that’s fine. Do that. And I think we didn’t get that and perhaps we are the last or the second to last generation who has to pretend we don’t love this kind of thing. I don’t know.
But I think you’re absolutely right. I think there is a generational shift, especially in the Western world, but I think it’s percolating into other countries also that entirely has to do with this idea that it’s okay to be dorky about something, it’s okay to love something, it’s okay to want to escape something, it’s okay to seek comfort in art.
And for that art to be comforting and not necessarily have to challenge you all the time in terms of self-judgments. I’m hoping that that leads to a broader acceptance in the critical world and in the academic world of these narratives in general.
Joanna: I hope so too. I want to ask you a bit more about the writing process, first of all, because you’ve written, goodness knows how many now, novels, tons of novels.
Gail: So many.
Joanna: So many novels. And you’ve sold over a million copies in print and tons in digital. But as we said at the beginning, this is a nonfiction book. It might be the only one.
How did you find the writing process with nonfiction when you’re so used to fiction? And any tips for fiction authors who want to try it?
Gail: One of the tips is talk to and listen to Joanna Penn. Because I am a fiction writer and I have been in this industry for a long time and because, in a strange way, I have always acted like a heroine in terms of my career as well.
I tend to gather people around me whose advice I consultant and take and stuff. Mur Lafferty is a good friend of mine. And so basically, when I was like, ‘Okay. I’m going to try this nonfiction thing,’ I reached out to a bunch of my fiction author friends who I knew who also wrote nonfiction. And I was like, ‘Tell me what I’m in for. Can I ask your advice on how to do this, whether I should do this, whether I should distribute, you know, traditionally or not?’
I had a whole conversation. I am a hybrid author of both traditional and indie and small press and everything. And so I talk to people like you, but I also talk to my agents, who only read fiction, and I was like, ‘If I wrote nonfiction, would you be willing to give it a try?’
I did a lot of gathering of information as part of this process. But from a purely mechanical perspective, I started, like I said, mentioning this journey at conventions, and then more and more people, particularly, the romance authors got interested in it. And so I was invited to speak on it, and so I did, let’s say a one hour talk with a deck.
That became a whole day seminar, a six-hour with a deck and everything. And that basically turned into the book. So, the presentation and the book aren’t exactly the same, but, essentially, that presentation gave the layout for a nonfiction book without really realizing it.
And so what I essentially kind of did was kind of gave the talk and dictated it section by section as if I were doing that a lot. And I recorded that. I recorded that. I had it transcribed by my computer as I dictated, which is a lot easier, let me say, with the nonfiction mental picture because the fiction have all these weird names and places, while nonfiction it’s just sentence by sentence. It required a ton of editing and research and I had to go in and refine all of my sources and all of that sort of thing.
It was hard work. For me after 30 odd novels or whatever it is, writing nonfiction was so much harder than fiction because it’s so much more meticulous. There’s so much more. And I’m such an academic at heart that I was like, ‘Well, I can’t make that statement if I don’t back that up. I have to double-check and make sure I can include a movie quote. No, you can’t…’ I was like, ‘You can’t read that.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’
So, I had raw quotes of the mythological translations, and then I was like, ‘Technically, if you’re doing critical analysis, it’s allowed, but if I’m going to go indie and I want to open myself up for legal stuff, so I’ll do paraphrasing instead.’
So, I had to rewrite three core myths in this book where I talked about that are foundational to the Heroine’s Journey. And I had to rewrite them in my own tone. But that’s fine.
I just took that as a challenge. I can be silly and funny with these myths, but it was a lot. It was a lot of work. It was way more work than the fiction is for me, personally.
Gail: And one of the reasons, I’m lazy, which sorts of reasons I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this again.’
Joanna: As you said, you’re an academic at heart and the book is incredibly well referenced. But it’s interesting you mentioned these myths there because people do this with myths, they think, ‘Oh, it’s the Odyssey or whatever. So, I can just copy bits because it’s out of copyright.’ But as you said, the translation is possibly not out of copyright.
Joanna: The same with the Bible, for example, although, to be fair with the Bible, it’s often a fair use because it’s just a quote, just one verse or whatever. But I think that’s a really important point for people to consider with mythological things and stuff that you think, ‘Oh, that’s really old, so it must be out of copyright.’
Gail: Exactly. Translations are copyright especially ancient language translations. And you can look into the debate over something like more recent translations of the Odyssey or what have you to understand and why, and that’s because the translator has to put an interpretive bent on what they’re translating because of the nature of language and linguistics and the bifurcation of modern, you know, linguistic references and ancient ones. And so as a result of translation is almost an interpretation. And that makes it entirely copyright.
I don’t want to get into any of this legal territory. I’m going to avoid the whole thing. So, fair use is also for those who don’t know. It can be quite a gray area. So, you have to be very, very careful with fair use especially in a litigious country like the United States, which is where I’m currently published. So, I just tried to avoid the whole thing.
Joanna: Fair enough.
Gail: That was like paraphrasing and retelling things and then being like, ‘And here’s the original if you want to go and read it yourself. Go read it.’
Joanna: I just ordered a feminist translation of Beowulf. It’s only just come out.
Gail: I’ve heard about that. Yeah.
Joanna: Really interesting. I love this because these old myths you can take and rejig them. And obviously, we have a lot of alternative fairy tales that have been published.
I love this because our literature and myth it’s so deep and resonant and full of imagery that we use in daily life, but in questioning it, as you’ve done with The Heroine’s Journey and this feminist Beowulf. I bought it because I was like, ‘How on earth is this going to work?’ But it’s very interesting.
Now, we’re almost out of time. I also wanted to ask you about book marketing because marketing nonfiction is very different to fiction. And you’ve put this under your same name. You’ve just used Gail Carriger.
What have you noticed around marketing nonfiction?
Gail: One of the things that is one of those action items on my calendar, but I keep moving from one Monday to the next Monday, which is Mondays are my business days, is run an advertising campaign on The Heroine’s Journey. I still haven’t done it and I really should probably because I’m a data junkie and I will be very interested to see how Amazon ad run works compared with my fiction.
So, putting that aside. Admitting to the fact that I actually haven’t read any pay out marketing, there are a couple of things that I have noticed are particularly significant with The Heroine’s Journey.
The biggest one is how high my print sales are compared to my digital ones. It is insane. There it is, mostly on my Amazon dashboard, but, in general, the spikes of print versus digital sales. We’re all used to seeing those.
The number of print editions that I sell for nonfiction is four or five times what I sell in fiction. It is insane. And I come out of traditional fiction, so I already have more print sales, in general, for my indie stuff than most purely indie authors. But the nonfiction one, phew.
Gail: I even used your code. So, you’ll get a kickback.
Joanna: Thank you.
Gail: Yes. Which everyone should do. But specifically, with this book in mind because, again, coming out of academia, I knew how important for me as way back in the days the layout and presentation of a print nonfiction was and because you want to be able to take notes and you want to be able to flip through the right chapter quickly.
You don’t necessarily read a nonfiction book linearly. Sometimes you just jump over the mythological retelling section to the beat section where it’s broken down. You want to cater to the taste of a nonfiction reader differently than a fiction reader. And being aware that I was solving a problem as a nonfiction author for a couple of different readers, writers primarily, but also screenwriters and scriptwriters, but also a reader base who’s interested in understanding their own tastes and why they gravitate to these.
I presented it in such a way that you could split it to different sections depending on what your background is as a reader coming to this nonfiction book.
The layout of nonfiction is something that you really, really have to be thoughtful about and focus on as far as I’m concerned. I’m deeply proud of the print layout of this book, which turns out to be a good thing because it sells so much. So, those are big things for me, is like if you are writing nonfiction, definitely pay much closer attention to a focus on…even if you’re indie, on your print edition. And I would encourage everybody to try and get a print edition out to the market as quickly as possible.
Joanna: Are you going to narrate the audiobook?
Gail: No. It’s done already. Now, the audiobook is performing way less well for me than my fiction audio.
I had a friend narrate it who is an author friend of mine who also does audio. And she has a similar kind of voice tone to me and also she’s very familiar with my voice and style because we do writing retreats together pretty regularly. So, I chose her because she sounded totally like me. I thought about doing it myself, and then I decided that, no, I hate my own voice. I don’t want to do it.
Joanna: What about a workbook edition? Have you considered that?
Gail: No, because, essentially, I don’t really think about this as a crafting book. I don’t want to teach people how to write. That’s really not something I want to do with my life at all.
It’s more, like, you open this conversation saying, ‘Now you see the Heroine’s Journey everywhere.’ And for me, that was really my end goal with this book is mostly to train people’s eye so that they notice it more and realize it and for writers realize when they’re using it and for readers realize that they like it and why they gravitate towards it. That was really my end goal.
I genuinely stick it out into the universe. And now I’m really hoping that more people write about this, more people study it. I could not have been more thrilled to be contacted recently by somebody doing a PhD on this finally. I’m really hoping we just get someone else writing a workbook for it and someone else writing an actual solid craft book for it and stuff like that. Please, other people pick this up and run with it.
That is something I would really encourage people switching from fiction to nonfiction to think about also, which is,
‘What is your actual goal with the nonfiction book? What problem are you attempting to solve for?’ because that’s primarily what a nonfiction book should do.
But also what is your SMART goal with that book? Are you writing… S-M-A-R-T, smart goal. Are you writing this to make money? Are you writing this to diversify? Do you want to pursue that? Are you writing this because you’d like to do speaking gigs on this particular subject?
None of those were my SMART goals for this book. My real SMART goal was to, when I do conventions for the rest of my life and I start talking about the Heroine’s Journey and somebody says, ‘How can I learn more?’ I now have a thing that I can be like, ‘Strangely enough, I wrote a book. That’s how you learn about it.’
My end goal was really just to start the conversation on this. That was it.
Joanna: Fair enough. I often do the same thing. It’s like, if you get the same questions over and over again, then write a book on it, and then you don’t have to keep answering those questions.
I do want to point out to people that in the book, you do have a whole section on how to write like a heroine.
Gail: I do.
Joanna: So, even though it’s not entirely a how to write in this way, there is a massive section on it and it’s really useful where you do go into more of that.
Gail: Yeah, that’s true. I do.
Joanna: Yes. So, that is very actionable.
Gail: It is. There is a whole section. But it’s not written like, ‘Here’s, like, set of structure on how to write.’ It’s more written, like, ‘Here are the most common tropes and characters that you can activate in your style in your way, however you’d like to apply it. Here’s the basic structure. I do do that all for you. Yes.
But I don’t know. I’m just weirdly nervous about instructing people on how to write. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.
Joanna: Which is crazy because you’ve written so many books. But Gail, it’s a fantastic book and, obviously, you’ve got your wonderful fiction as well.
Where can people find you and everything you do online?
Gail: You can go to my website, which is gailcarriger.com. But if you google any iteration of Gail Carriger, my website should come up first. I tried really hard to own that SEO.
I’m a wide author, so The Heroine’s Journey should be available as widely as possible. On my website, the book page for The Heroine’s Journey also has all of my references and all that sort of thing because I wanted to make sure I didn’t want to have my audiobook narrator have to read all of my references.
So, they’re just all their online as well as its current digital edition, and that’s including live links to online sources and all that sort of thing. And that’s also because I really want this to be as open-source as possible in terms of the knowledge and trying to get out to the world.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Gail. That was great.
Gail: Thank you so much for having me. And have fun identifying the narratives all over the place now.
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Author: Joanna Penn