Looking back on 2019

This is what I said a year ago: http://gerald-hornsby.com/blog/2019/01/01/jumping-into-2019/
So let’s see how we’ve done.

My Writing
MELTDOWN (apocalyptic thriller): not out yet, but due out on 1st February. It’s currently re-plotted and rewritten, and awaiting my alpha reader. So almost a win.
DECEIT (political thriller): It’s out, and for sale in both paperback and ebook on Amazon. WIN!
Ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deceit-gripping-thriller-deception-government-ebook/dp/B082WHN26P/
Pbook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deceit-gripping-thriller-deception-government/dp/1677186909/

SHORT FICTION: My collection of 500-word (and shorter) stories is out and for sale on Amazon. WIN!
Ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Dark-Corners-collection-micro-fiction-ebook/dp/B0829D92WR/
Pbook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Dark-Corners-collection-micro-fiction/dp/1671412567/

NON-FICTION: The SaveTheSnowCat is still in progress, although I did complete and publish a Self-Publishing, Pure and Simple guidebook. WIN!
Ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-Publishing-Pure-Simple-Three-Guide-ebook/dp/B07RPP3X1M/
Pbook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-Publishing-Pure-Simple-Three-Guide/dp/1098561392/

My writing businesses
I said last year that we were setting up two writing-related support businesses. They are now both up and running.
http://writer.support
At the Swanwick Summer School, we delivered two one-hour workshops on NaNoWriMo and Self-Publishing, both of which were well-received. Also, and as a result, I was the ’2019 top seller’ in the book room for my writing craft books.

http://thenovelmakers.com
We delivered an introduction to getting your novel published as part of Essex Author Day. We had a full house of 30 delegates, and had lots of interesting conversations afterwards.

Vlogs
I completed an almost vlog-a-day during NaNoWriMo this year, which was part personal update, part sharing of hints and tips from my NaNoWriMo book:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyFWTTA81BpiArggmU0Bupx5QPnkhwQct

I have now started running a vlog on my VisionFor2020 – more of which in the look forward to 2020:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLyFWTTA81BpjrELRFcBWjLGi9F40hct2V

And we do need to get on with “Two Writers – One Sofa” in the New Year

Podcasting
The short story podcasting continues, but it’s currently a bit hit-and-miss, as we’re having difficulty getting people together at the same time. Hopefully, in the new year, things will pick up again.
https://www.literaryroadhouse.com

SO, all in all, a busy year. A good year for publishing, and we’re beginning to get our names ‘out there’ for advice on writing and publishing.

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Deceit – how and why?

One of the questions writers get asked a lot is: where do you get your ideas from? I think this is particularly interesting when discussing a novel like Deceit.
The story began as an idea for a idea NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – in 2018. I had been watching news coverage of the civil war in Syria. I was particularly appalled by the indiscriminate killing of civilians, including attacking clearly-marked hospitals in the rubble of cities.
It is a confused picture over there, and no one seems to know who is doing what. The Russians are supporting the Syrian government. There is talk of war crimes, inflicted by the Syrian government on its citizens.
And we, in the UK, tut-tut and shake our heads at this mess of a civil war that seemingly no one can win.
And then I asked the age-old writers’ question: what if?
What if it’s not a Syrian or Russian plane that drops a bomb into a civilian area? What if the real culprit is somewhat closer to home? What are the stakes that someone would need to investigate this?
And slowly, I built up the story. The British doctor, working for Médecins Sans Frontières, in the hospital when it gets bombed. The sister of the doctor, devastated by his death. The friends she would turn to for help when looking into her brother’s death.
The father of the doctor, in government, but coerced into lying to his daughter. Because everyone in government is corrupt, right? Everyone knows the truth, and no one tells the truth.

After NaNoWriMo, the story was a healthy 69,000 words, but it was a mess. It had good bits, but there were plot holes all over the place, there were no character arcs, and there was no redemption scene. And there was no killer twist at the end.
So I took it apart. Like a house that’s been thrown together from a collection of parts. It was a house, but no one would buy it. This was a story, but no one would take time to read it.
So I took all the parts off, kept the good bits, threw the bad bits away, got some new good bits. Then I built a framework, foundations in solid concrete, to build the skeleton of a story. Then I started to hang onto that skeleton the good bits. Most of them fitted okay, some needed a bit of adjustment.
So now I had a story, with a great structure, but it still looked like a collection of parts. So that’s when I set to work. I adjusted them, smoothing out the connections between the parts, reading it through from start to finish, smoothing and painting and adjusting. It was looking pretty good.
Then I gave it to my beta reader – who is someone who reads the novel, sees if the story works, and highlights any inconsistencies as they read.
But they loved the story. They were totally engaged with it, kept turning the pages.
So now it was snagging time. When building a house, there are always bits that aren’t quite perfect. Maybe the paint needs fixing, or the plumbing doesn’t work like it should, or light switches are upside down. So it is with a story. You need fresh eyes, someone who doesn’t have the emotional investment of the author.
I had a professional snagger look at it. Made sure everything was exactly as it should be.
The story is now 67,000 words, but a whole lot better than it was after NaNoWriMo. It’s a different story, with character arcs, tension, backstory, and a sickening realisation for the reader just before the end. And there is redemption.

The first three chapters are uploaded to Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/208786264-deceit so you can have a read, and see if the book is for you.

Ebook UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deceit-gripping-thriller-deception-government-ebook/dp/B082WHN26P/
Paperback UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1677186909

Ebook US: https://www.amazon.com/Deceit-gripping-thriller-deception-government-ebook/dp/B082WHN26P/
Paperback US: https://www.amazon.com/Deceit-gripping-thriller-deception-government/dp/1677186909/

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Novel Announcement!

I am pleased to announce that my new novel, written under the pseudonym Jack Warwick, will be released soon (Jan 1st 2020)
Here is the blurb:

Abi Gillespie’s life is turned upside-down when a bomb destroys a clearly-marked hospital in Syria, killing her brother Adrian and the young patient he was working on.
As she is dealing with her grief, a stranger brings evidence that all might not be as it seems. She begins an investigation which will link terrorists in Syria, the British Government, and dark forces who will stop at nothing to get their way.
Abi risks friendships, old and new, and even her own life, to find the answer to the question:
Why was Adrian killed?

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Final, final update

And with this, I really do promise to move on.

Ros Barber was written a blog post. You can (and should) read it here: http://rosbarber.com/you-one-me/

In it, she tells the story of how she came to write *that* article, and of some of the ‘feedback’ she’s received from it. I have written a reply, but I don’t know if it will get approved. I hope so. I shall put it here as well, just in case (for some reason, I can’t copy and paste it from there, so here’s a screencap) (and it’s not particularly well-written, and unedited)

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 23.41.11I didn’t agree with the original article. I felt that it demeaned self-published authors, and much worse, could harm the reputation of someone who does use an alternative method of publishing to the traditional one. I was angry and disappointed.

But I would never, ever, abuse someone online for something they’d written. As someone I once worked under (for literary short story writing – hi, Alex) said: critique the writing, don’t criticise the author. We may take issue with the words, dislike those words intensely, but we should always try to maintain a courteous relationship with the real person that wrote them.

And there is never a good reason for abusing someone online, and using foul and abusive language against them just because they wrote something you disagree with.

UPDATE: My comment has been approved on Ros’s blog.

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Update on the Guardian self-publishing article

Not that I’m obsessed about this nonsense in any way whatsoever.

But …

I was wandering around Facebook spending 90% of my time telling people to BUY MY BOOK because, well, that’s what all us self-publishers do, isn’t it? Anyway, someone appeared who I thought was Ros Barber, but wasn’t, so I decided to have a shufty at her page.

Of course, a few people (who almost certainly haven’t a clue what they’re talking about) agree on what an absolutely awful idea self-publishing is, and up pops the following comment:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 19.36.29So there we have it. Controversial article = lots of “engagement”. Which, by the way, equals lots of page views which equals lots of advertising revenue for a newspaper that’s shedding journalists and property.

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/guardian-cutbacks-250-staff-go-30000-square-feet-shed-events-space-kings-cross-scrapped

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Are internet marketers hijacking self-publishing?

I’m noticing a worrying trend. Some authors are getting so excited about making money from writing that the marketing is taking over from the writing. They’re not authors who are self-publishing any more. They are internet marketers that happen to be able to string together words in what they describe as a ‘novel’.

My hypothesis has a number of different strands of evidence to support it.

One of my ‘go-to’ places for self-publishing information is Kindle Boards. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, you need to be on there, and reading. It’s a busy place, and it does take you away from your writing, but if you’ve produced stuff, there’s a heap of information about how to self-publish on there. However, you could spend a whole day just following threads, commenting, asking questions, and then checking the threads you checked five minutes before. It’s become a bit of a monster, but the monster has some interesting bits. Go read.

But …

I’m a bit tired of reading threads from authors who have one, or two, pieces of work out there, and complain they’re not selling much. So the questions are not “how can I improve my writing so that it’s more appealing to people?” but “how can I market the hell out of what I’ve written so I can make more money?”

And then you have the witches covens. The little groups of authors, mostly on Facebook, but elsewhere too, who do the ‘back scratching’ thing. “You Tweet my book, and I’ll Tweet yours.” “Here’s my latest book. Please share.” “Anyone want to write a 5* review of my book? I’ll write one for you.”

I used to be part of one of these scummy organisations. Until I found myself promoting books that were awful. Truly awful. Clichéd, derivative, boring, predictable, and many more such adjectives. So I stopped. My writing integrity is worth more to me than a few sales. If I recommend a book, it’s because I love it. It’s not because I’m part of some circle jerk society.

Don’t get me wrong – in 2010, when self-publishing was really starting to take off, when the Kindle publishing system was starting to make inroads into the ebook market, it was a great time. We were like great explorers, banding together, finding new ways of doing things, fighting against what was already there. Sales figures were shared and applauded, big sellers were all over Kindle Boards, telling the rest of us what was working for them, and how many books they were selling. Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, Michael Sullivan, and many others. They’ve made tons of money, and they were our flag bearers in the indie publishing revolution.

But things are beginning to change. There are authors popping up who aren’t really authors. They’re intelligent, literate marketers. One in particular comes to mind. He wrote popular books, and he had a clever marketing strategy, which worked, and which sold him a million books, probably more. And then he wrote a book which told desperate authors how to sell a million books. And yes, I bought a copy.

There’s no discussion of writing craft. At all. It’s all marketing. How to reach out to potential purchasers. How to convert interested parties into buyers. How to use social media to improve the sales of your writing. Stuff like that.

And then we have the sock puppets. Used by an awful lot of authors, both minor and well-known. What’s a sock puppet? Wikipedia defines it as an online identity used for the purposes of deception. When an author creates a sock puppet (or several), they use that identity to post favourable reviews of their books. That’s poor. But some even use them to post bad reviews of those authors they perceive as competitors. That’s very poor indeed, verging on the fraudulent.

And you can buy reviews. You can send some money to a far-off land, where they have hundreds or thousands of different identities created, paying people a dollar a day, and they will post a positive review of your book. Yes, they can, and yes, they do. Use your local, friendly search engine, and you can find people who will review for cash.

To be honest, I’m starting to be offended.

Writing is hard. Writing takes a lot of effort, and a lot of practice. Traditionally, becoming a successful writer involves a lot of heartache, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of learning about the craft of writing. It involves sending your work off to an agent or publisher, who may, or frequently may not, give you a contract for it and subsequent works. Or, if you write short form, your work may appear in some sort of publication, you receive a bit of money, and you write some more.

Nowadays, people can write mediocre books, and then use principles of internet marketing to make those books successful. They can use underhand techniques to game the system, work the algorithms, get their books into the bestseller charts.

So what prompted this grumbling blog post?

I listen to a number of podcasts, and one in particular, I listen to every week. They had a guest on this week, an author, a successful author no less. And they spent an hour talking about how to be successful. What techniques to use, what services they employ, what other strings to their bow they have. Including public speaking, where they speak about self-publishing, and get paid to do so. And in doing that, they improve their profile, which sells more books, which raised their profile, which … you get the point.

So, has bookselling become unethical? Probably not. Selling books is about selling books, not being ‘fair’ or ‘moral’. It’s a business. Like publishers paying for premium space in book stores. Like choosing which books get put forward to competitions. Like conventions, where attendees pay money to sit and listen to people who talk about the book business. There is now a whole industry which has appeared from nowhere to ‘support’ indie authors. People will design your covers for you, edit your books for you, format your text for you, and market your books for you. All for a price. Welcome back to the world of vanity publishing.

Even worse are the agents and publishers who will send you a rejection letter, but suggest you get in touch with XYZ literary agency who, (for a modest fee), tell you what’s wrong with your novel and help you self-publish it. And market it. Here is a breakdown of the services they offer … (where, if you look closely, you will see strong personnel links to the agent / publisher you originally contacted). So the traditional publishing system can reject your manuscript, and in the past, that would be the end of it. But now, they can ‘help’ you, and make a little money for themselves on the side.

All business has its seedy side, and if you’re involved with that business, you need to be aware of it. But I’m an author. I love writing. For me, it’s not about how much money I can make from my mediocre meanderings. It’s about what sort of story I can tell.

For a proper author (as opposed to an internet marketer who writes), there is nothing which can compare to that first, second, and subsequent, message from a reader, congratulating you on your writing, and telling you that they loved your book. For me, that is more important than any amount of constructed wealth from an highly efficient (and, perhaps, slightly unethical) online marketing campaign.

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