Category Archives: Thinking

Look at me, blogging an’ that

I seem to be doing better on my interaction with people lately. Which is not very secret code for hanging around on social media a lot.

Anyway, last night I brought my wordcount spreadsheet up to date. I keep my own Excel spreadsheet, recording my daily wordcounts on various projects. It’s a good idea, so I can try to keep myself on track, and give myself motivation. It also allows me to track my endeavours on various writing challenges (I love a good challenge, me).

So, after adding up the blog posts I’ve written (few of which have seen the light of day), and the short and flash fiction I’ve written (none of which have seen the light of day), and my faltering, stumbling steps on Death In Print, my Danni Monroe crime novel, I added a whopping 19,257 words to my word count, and my 2016 total now stands at 62,907.

One of the challenges I enjoy is the #100kwords100days project, which has been running twice a year for several years now. To achieve my goal (100,000 words in 100 days, of course) I need to write just over 3,000 words a day for the next 12 days.

So I’m off to write.

Pip pip!

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.

It’s not often I get annoyed …

For me, writing is a delight, and allows me to create characters and worlds out of thin air.

And then I read the following article:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/mar/21/for-me-traditional-publishing-means-poverty-but-self-publish-no-way

And it made me angry. Because, yet again, here is a traditionally-published author pouring scorn and derision on the world of self-publishing, and making the same old clichéd statements that trad authors, publishers, and the whole traditional publishing industry spew forth.

Go read it, and come back here. Because, in the great tradition of Joe Konrath http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/, we’re going to do some fisking http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Fisking

* I exploded the myth of the wealthy writer.

Only a fool would try and portray writers, as a profession, as being rich. However, it’s not a myth. Some authors are incredibly wealthy; most are not. Think of everyone in the UK who plays football – there are people at many stages of the game, and many who only play because they enjoy it, not because they expect to accumulate great wealth doing it. I would venture to suggest that 99% of football players know they’re never going to become rich, but they continue to play anyway. 99% of authors know they’re not going to become a Stephen King or a James Patterson, but they will continue to write anyway.

* You might as well tell Luke Skywalker to go to the dark side.

I think you have to be careful about how you choose words. Associating self- or indie-publishing (and they are not the same) with the “dark side” supports a certain narrative, which those of us who do self-publish find quite offensive. Self-publishing is not a “dark side”. It is a viable and useful alternative to the traditional system which has been in existence for decades.

* Self-publishers spend 10% of their time writing, and 90% of their time marketing.

What nonsense. The whole point of self-publishing is that you choose what to spend your time doing. It’s a choice, pure and simple. There are no rules, no contracts drawn up by a team of solicitors, to which you can be held for the lifetime of that contract. I self-publish, and I spend far more time writing than I do marketing. And I spend far more time than either of those messing about on social media, but that’s my choice. No one is telling me to do anything.

* Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool.

And traditional publishing can make you behave like an egotistical, arrogant idiot. I mean, really? This cliché of the pushy author/marketer is indicative of some, but by no means, all, self-publishers. In fact, most professional self-publishers I know do not employ these tactics, because they are self-defeating.

* Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego.

Did the twelve publishers who rejected Harry Potter save J.K. Rowling from her own ego? Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell? Thirty-eight rejections. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight received fourteen consecutive agency rejections. Need I go on? There is a perception that publishers and agents know what is going to be successful. The truth is, they don’t. The gatekeepers of traditional publishing, as I’ve shown, can reject very successful books for any one of a number of reasons. Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Katy Price? Dan Brown? E.L.James? None of those is lauded for the quality of their writing. They are lauded for writing compelling books that millions of people want to buy.

Self-publishing gatekeepers do exist, and they are the only ones that matter – the book buyers.

* Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship. Serving your apprenticeship is important.

I think I almost actually agree with this. But let’s not be prescriptive, eh? Some writers have to work at being good. Some writers are just good straight out of the box. Just because one’s own experience has involved a lot of writing and a lot of disappointments, it is not to say that others will, necessarily, be the same. There are plenty of blockbuster debut novelists.

* You can forget Hay festival and the Booker

Some of us might not be interested in them, actually. I’m not a fan of awards, and awards events are a chance for the traditional publishing industry to preen and pose. ‘Quality’ of writing is extremely subjective, and I’ve read Booker-nominated and short listed books that had me shaking my head. I was a member of a book club that featured, one month, a very well-known prize-winning author, and their Booker-nominated latest novel. Only one of the twelve members of the club managed to finish it, and then only because they felt they needed to. No one enjoyed it.

* You risk looking like an amateur

And writing articles attacking a different method of publishing makes you look self-obsessed and out of touch and, actually, a little worried. And arrogant. If you care for your writing, and if you get quality feedback, your writing will stand toe to toe with anything the traditional publishing industry can offer.

* 70% of nothing is nothing

She quotes another writer, who tried self-publishing, but it didn’t work for her. Oh dear. Just because your self-published books didn’t do well, no one else’s can?

* With Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace as the major outlets, it continues to put money in the coffers of the company largely responsible for destroying author incomes in the first place.

Ah, here we go. The traditional publishing swipe at Amazon, and probably the reason for this article in the first place. Traditional publishing, with agents taking 15% before passing money onto authors, low royalties, bi-annual accounting, delays on payments, restrictions on author’s writing. None of which is good for authors. Traditional publishers have ruled the roost for decades. Before self-publishing came of age, there was no other route to getting your work in front of readers than to be subjected to the humiliation of the submission – wait – reject merry-go-round (unless you count vanity publishing, of course). Now, authors can bypass all that, and put their writing out into the market, for whatever price they like, and how often they like. And let’s not forget – trad publishers are a business, and their business is to make money. They can afford to take a punt on a very few new novelists each year because of the money they make on the blockbusters. The celebrity biographies, the TV chef cookbooks. They sell enough, and make enough money, for them to contract a few new authors a year. Repeat after me – publishers are in business to make money.

* For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventures than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer.

So, anyone who self-publishes isn’t a proper writer? Really, this is one of the most obscene comments. How arrogant do you have to be to be able to sit on your perch, spitting on those who haven’t managed to attain your lofty (or, actually, not so lofty) status?

screenshots-twitter-rosbarber

Whilst trying to maintain an innocent face, Ms. Barber has written a rather nasty piece. It’s not, as she suggests, her personal reasons for not self-publishing her literary fiction. It’s an attack on the ethics and skills of anyone who might choose to self-publish. And she has, indeed, exposed herself to a number of cross people – good, professional authors who made a different choice to hers. And that is no reason to attack them.

The comments section of that article is awash with strong responses. Here’s one of the best pieces I’ve seen.

https://medium.com/@edrenehan/the-elites-vs-self-publishing-85e093b1ae65#.mjhag5q9i

UPDATE: 23rd March 2016 14:10

There was a Twitter exchange late last night. I reproduce it below:

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 14.09.47I haven’t engaged any further with Ms. Barber. It’s clear from her Twitter comments to me, and others, that she thinks she was making a personal point about her reasons for not self-publishing her literary fiction. But she paints a picture of “if you self-publish, this is what you do, what you have to do, and what I see people doing”. The article was biased, unfair, and used the same old tired clichés to talk about self-publishing. She implied that self-published books were of poor quality, written by bad writers, and if you self-published, you needed to spend 90% of your time marketing. She was never specific, except in the article headline, and never acknowledged that self-publishers can produce good quality books and write good quality stories. It was throughly negative, which irritated many in the self-publishing community.

Anyway, the more that certain authors retain attitudes like this, the more self-publishers will execute a fundamentally fairer way of publishing their work, and readers will be able to read the books they want to read, and not what some corporate big-wigs in posh offices tell them they want to read. Long live independence!

Moan, moan, complain, complain …

write for love

Once again, I’m inclined to write about the ability (or otherwise) of writers to achieve commercial success and / or recognition for their writing. This follows complaints from some would-be authors:

a) An indie author complains that their books aren’t selling enough to enable them to give up work and write full time.

b) An unpublished author complains about continuing rejections from agents and publishers.

Both complainants stated that they’d been working hard for some time to produce the best books they could, and they’d paid out for editing services – one of them, a considerable amount, well into four figures in dollars.

I know, I know. I sighed, too.

But the thing to remember? No one owes you a living. And the other thing to remember? The best books don’t necessarily sell, and some bad books sell tons. Fifty Shades of Whatever-It-Was sold HUGE numbers, but everyone freely admits the writing was a bit dodgy. Dan Brown is a multi-millionaire on the back of his conspiracy thrillers. Quality of writing? Meh.

If you look at the best sellers in any book list, you might be surprised at what you see. I’ve just looked, but I’m not surprised. The first fiction book (Girl On A Train) comes in at 14th . And it’s the only fiction book on the list. The rest of the top 20 is made up of colouring books and food / diet / body and mind health books. How can you expect to make money writing fiction these days? What can you do?

I know.

WRITE

It’s simply that. Too much time is spent on whining about making money from writing, when time can be better spent actually, you know, writing. Because that’s what writers do. And if you’re already self-published, what’s the best way of increasing sales? Write more stuff.

Slowly, authors and self-publishers are realising that they’re shifting away from the core desires that got them into this game in the first place. They want to tell stories. But self-publishing has turned authors into entrepreneurs. Even traditionally-published authors are requested to have a presence on social media, and run a website and blog, and update on Facebook. Although that is important for sales, it’s sometimes tempting to do too much of that, and less of the storytelling.

So make 2016 the year that you write some more new stuff. Novels, short stories, any creative fiction. You won’t regret it.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Here’s Joe Konrath: http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/pay-writer.html

Here’s Kristine Katherine Rusch: http://kriswrites.com/2015/12/30/business-musings-the-upcoming-year/

Here’s Elizabeth Hunter: http://elizabethhunterwrites.com/2015/12/28/ten-things-i-learned-about-publishing-in-2015/

Welcome, 2016

2016So, here we are again. Another New Year – countries to the East of us here in the UK have dropped into 2016 already. So in this increasingly globalised society, we are all in the New Year. Sort of.

None of us knows what lies in store for us, as individuals, as a country, as a society. And yet, each year, we make resolutions – promises to ourselves, made public, to lose weight, exercise more, join a gym, drink or smoke less. All things designed to make us healthier, and maybe to live longer.

Inevitably, a lot of these so-called “resolutions” go by the board. Promises get broken, the healthy living takes a turn for the worse, and we’re back into the same old, same old.

I don’t make resolutions. I don’t give myself nominal binaries which can be judged a success or a failure.

So here, then, are my targets for 2016:

1. to write one short story a week for the whole year (a.k.a. the Bradbury Challenge) https://www.facebook.com/groups/1531196743840045/  I love writing short stories, and don’t write enough of them these days. I have the outline idea for the first dozen, linked, stories.

2. to write 100,000 words @ 1,000 words a day (a.k.a. #100kwords100days https://www.facebook.com/groups/100kwords100days/ I have done this challenge before – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. And you could say, I have a big enough pile of work that I don’t need to write more new stuff. But you know me and challenges …

3. to do first edits on two previously-completed novels Here I want to make use of some of that back catalogue of zero and first drafts. I have five finished pieces, and I reckon two of them are in a form that can be edited up into publishable works.

4. to self-publish two collections of short fiction for halloween and Christmas Again, I want to make use of my short story writing. I have a handful of stores already in the can, as it were, but I’m sure some of the Bradbury Challenge stories will be of a suitable genre to include.

5. to write a blog post once per week (minimum) Yes, I know. There are so many bloggers, and people who blog (there is a difference) who don’t blog often enough. I’m one of them. So this will change this coming year.

6. to write book and short story reviews on the blog. I read a lot, and it might be useful (and good for creating traffic) to write short reviews. Again, it’s a case of having things that I do that are related to writing, and it seems reasonable to record them somewhere.

7. to be more active on Goodreads, posting reviews etc. Goodreads is one of those places, like Facebook, Twitter, and other places, where time can be sucked away, drifting in and out of conversations and reading what other people are doing. I shall limit my time there, perhaps having specific days where I will be updating.

So, all in all, a pretty mixed bag of writing and reading-related goodliness. But I’ll leave with a quote from Joe Konrath, a leading light in new writers and self-publishers, who does a look forward each year. If you want to see the complete post, it’s here:
http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/konraths-new-years-resolutions-for.html

2016

This year, I’m boiling my resolutions down to the essence:

WRITE.

It’s so easy to get caught up in different aspects of a writing career. I’ve had phases where I tried to help other writers, started my own company, blogged, collaborated, fought the publishing world, evangelised, experimented, promoted, tried to figure things out, and spent a whole lot of time doing stuff other than writing.

I’m happy I did all that. But it has taken me away from the thing I like most.

I might be a blogger, and a teacher, and an innovator, and a pundit. But first and foremost, I’m a writer.

And writers write.

So for 2016, I’m going to write more than I’ve ever written before. I’m going to finish those stories I’ve put aside, I’m going to break new ground, and I’m going to get back to my roots. I’ve spent a lot of time tending to my career. And for good reason. A backlist is a garden that needs attention to grow and prosper.

But now I’m going to spend the lion’s share of my time planting more seeds.

I’m looking for 2016 to be my most productive year ever.

Not much to disagree with there, I think.

2015 – what was that all about then?

2015-Web-TrendsAs is common, I’m using this blog post to look back on the year that is past, and then writing another blog post looking forward to the year which is to come.

Firstly, let’s see what I achieved in 2015:

1. NaNoWriMo. I ‘won’ NaNo again – my 11th win in 12 attempts, writing over 56,000 words of a political conspiracy thriller. This year, I used a slightly different method of planning the book. I had the whole novel planned out in broad terms in advance, then detailed plans were drawn up a few days in advance of me writing them, changing the specifics of the plan according to how the narrative changed as I actually wrote it. If that makes sense to anyone else. And it seemed to work really well. I’m going to be using this planning method as a basis for a ‘How To Write That Novel’ ebook, sometime in 2016. Probably.

2. Literary Roadhouse. I began as a co-host to the Literary Roadhouse podcast, where we read one literary short story a week, and then come together via a Google hangout to discuss it. After a change of host around halfway through, we now have a settled group – Maya (whose idea it all was to begin with), Anais, Rammy, and myself. If you have an interest in reading, writing, or expanding your understanding of the written word, it’s worth popping in and giving us a listen. Links are available at http://www.literaryroadhouse.com/

3. Literary Roadhouse Book Club. Along with the weekly podcast, Anais has started a monthly novel book club, with associated podcast. So far, we’ve recorded one discussion – of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Heart Goes Last’. I was surprised at how different the podcast felt compared to the weekly short story version. If you’re more into longford writing, give us a listen, or just use us as a book club. We don’t mind. But if you do, you might as well listen to the podcast.

4. Word count. I wrote over 150,000 words during the year, across a whole variety of projects. Somewhat crucially, I wasn’t able to complete anything except the NaNoWriMo project, although after completing the ‘novel’ (draft zero), I then moved back to something else I had started but hadn’t finished, and moved closer to completion on that project. So this is a movement towards a ‘Complete Something’ state of mind that I want to encourage.

5. Writing groups. I began attending two local writing groups – one a more traditional writing group, with challenges and a ‘good news’ portion of the meeting; the other was a critique group, aimed specifically at novel writers. Two great local groups, with a strong core of members.

6. Pub book club. I continued my membership of the Pub Book Club (I know, a book club that meets in a pub – what could be better?) Members suggest books that the club might consider, and the leader of the group speaks to the local library, and between them, they choose books which are available through the local library network. The members are split roughly 50-50, between the Kindle readers and the tree book readers, and all mature adults. What’s that about ebook reading dropping?

So, all in all, it was a busy year, creative fiction-wise – a real mix of different projects. Emotionally, I’m both pleased and disappointed with the year. Pleased that so many new things have been achieved; disappointed that I didn’t get any more of my writing into the outside world.

2013 – a look back, but not in anger

2013

SUMMARY

It’s been a bit of a mixed year for me.

On the positive side, I had two successful #100kwords100days challenges (January and July), and a successful NaNoWriMo. At the time of writing (December 30th), I’ve written 409,575 new words this year. Not all were fiction – the ‘rules’ of #100kwords100days allow for blog posts and planning to be included in word counts. But that’s still a good total for one year.

On the negative side, I didn’t publish anything this year.

SHORT FICTION

One of my aims this year was to complete a selection of dark Christmas-related tales, and to publish them in time for the Christmas

But … I wasn’t pleased with them. Soseason. I did this – I created ten new short stories, at around 21,000 words in total, which I was going to bundle with three previously-released short pieces which had a Christmas theme. Some of them worked, but one or two didn’t – they weren’t strong enough stories, and my writing wasn’t the best. So I shelved the project. I didn’t delete it, and They Will Return, with tough rewrites to sharpen up the writing. Depending on the situation when next Christmas trundles alone, I will either publish them as a collection or release them for free as singles. Watch this space.

The bottom line is – I’m not going to release my writing unless I think it’s the best it can be. The quality of the writing is more important than any seasonal-related marketing strategy. I only wish that were the case with some other self-published writers.

LONG FICTION

I’ve completed 3 long works to “draft zero” status – a 65,000 word crime story, and two thrillers at 45k and 47k each.

But therein lies the problem. I love writing, I love the buzz I get from creating new characters and situations. But, before 2013, I was a terrible finisher. I never really completed anything but short fiction. So one of my goals for this year was to finish some long fiction, and I’m pleased I’ve been able to do that.

However, I’m still not completely happy with my stories. At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether they’re going to be edited, or put to one side. All is not lost, and I have good news in my “2014 – look ahead” post, coming soon, including a new life for a piece of writing that’s over ten years old. NaNoWriMo 2003, your time is up!

Late summer update. Busy busy busy.

Tonight, I had cause to log in to my WordPress account, in order to comment on a friend’s blog. No problems occurred, but I did look at my blog, and saw that the last item was posted way back in early April. Ugh. Bad blogger.

As a way back in, I’ll give you an update on what’s happening. Summer is happening, that’s what. For once, the UK, and especially the Eastern side, has been bathed in beautiful sun for what seems likes weeks on end.

Which makes it hard to write.

It always seems that there’s something else that needs doing, whether it really needs it, or whether that need is perceived. Gardens need tidying, planting, cutting back, mowing, watering. Summer houses needed to be built, which necessitated quite large changes to groundworks in the back garden. Social events had been organised, and enjoyed.

Cycling happened. A lot. I rode from London to Paris in less than 24 hours. That was fun. Shortly, I’m going to be riding from Shenfield (bottom of Essex), through Harwich / Hook of Holland, to Bruges (or Brugge, if you’re Belgian). And back again. There’s various other cycling-related things going on, too, either watching or actually doing. And a new bike has entered the collection, which is lovely and a joy to ride.

Oh, and I’m doing #100kwords100days again.

The group seemed to have an appetite for more of the pain and anguish, although word counts have been somewhat down on the winter version. I suspect others have the summer distraction thing going on, too. This one runs from the 1st of July through to early October, when we’ll breathe a sigh of relief before girding our loins ready for NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing about the end of the world again, albeit this time in a fairly small area in the USA. But there’s death and destruction going on, forces unimagined by man (or woman), and I have a strong female lead. Again.

On word counts, I’m somewhat down on the target. I’m at 41,579 for the story and 48,435 for the challenge (the challenge includes blog posts and other creative writing). I am supposed to be somewhere near 66,000 words right now. My rolling average word count per day is creeping up and is now 734 words per day, which is pretty good, and I need to write an average of 1,517 words per day between now and the end of the challenge to reach the 100k.

More importantly, it looks like I’m going to finish this work. Mr. Work In Progress might actually get to finish something (unlike the other 17 or 18 WIPs which lay unloved on various parts of my hard disk).

And how has this been achieved? I think it has been achieved with more structured planning, clear and interesting characters, a vision for the whole story from start to finish, and using the classic 3 act / 8 sequence structure, often used in film making. I’ve been able to keep my story on track, writing scenes (In Scrivener, of course), and kept the plot rolling along.

I also have an outline for another long piece, which may end up being my NaNoWriMo project. When this story is complete, I shall put it away for preliminary editing, and take up my crime short novel series. I really would like to get 2 or 3 of those written before the end of the challenge.

Wish me luck!

Please! How can I sell more of my books?

money-bagI’ve been writing for over 40 years. Okay, so for many of those 40 years I was working for a living, having children (not literally), and generally being too busy, or lazy, to write, but I’ve taken writing much more seriously over the past ten years. In that time, I’ve written getting on for three-quarters of a million words. I’ve submitted short stories and flash fiction to online publications and competitions. I’ve been part of writing groups, where my writing was subject to open, honest, and sometimes harsh critique. I’ve completed (‘won’, if you will) eight NaNoWriMo’s. That’s 400,000-odd words right there.

So, I get quite grumpy when I see questions from writers asking “how can I market my book?” “How can I sell more of my books?” “What’s the best way of using Twitter and Facebook to market my book?”

Quite often, these questions are from people who’ve written one book. No writing CV. No other writing success. They’ve written one book, and they’ve read how some writers (Amanda Hocking, John Locke, J.A.Konrath, Michael J. Sullivan, Louise Voss/Mark Edwards, Stephen Leather, Bella Andre, et al) have made a ton of money from self-publishing, and they want some. They think all they have to do is write one book, upload it to an online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBooks, Smashwords), and promote the hell out of it, spamming Facebook groups, endlessly Tweeting about it, and generally getting on everyone’s nerves. And then they think there’s something they’re not doing, some magic bullet which, once they’re told about it, will rocket their book up the bestseller charts, earning tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

I used to avidly follow the posts in the Writer’s Café section of Kindleboards (i’m not going to give you a handy clicky link – if you can’t be arsed to drive Google to find it, then you’re not serious about this), and it was a great place for the new self-publishers. Writers shared successes, with numbers, and dollars, and what they did, and how they did it. Now, most of those fascinating self-publishers have gone away, tempted by the Big K – Kudos – that a ‘proper’ publishing contract can bring to them. And I don’t blame them for that. Publishers are in business for one thing – to make money. And if they can sign up a writer with a proven record of selling huge quantities of books, then they’ll come a’ running, with cheque books open. But the rest have got pretty tired of the new members. “I’ve written a book, and uploaded it to Amazon, but sales are disappointing. How can I improve my numbers?”

I’ll tell you in the next blog post, coming soon.

New Year Proposals

I don’t do resolutions. The dictionary definition of “resolve”: to come to a definite or earnest decision about.

I have intentions – things I would like to do, to achieve, but if I don’t, I wont feel bad or upset with myself.

Anyway, here they are:

1. Do 100k in 100 days.
2. Write 500 words before looking at Facebook
3. Do River of Stones in Jan 2012.
4. Write at least one piece of short fiction each week.
5. Produce 3 novel-length pieces of work – 100k100days, finish something else, and NaNoWriMo in November

All these are achievable. I’m not going to make empty promises about losing weight, exercising more, or any of that nonsense.

Let’s see if, by this time next year (2012), I’ll have kept to these. What are the chances?