Friday, 10 January 2014

The Empire Strikes Back

It's perhaps taken longer than expected but the big publishers seem to be getting their acts together when it comes to fighting back against the self-publishers - especially when it comes to ebooks.

There's plenty of stuff on other people's blogs about marketing campaigns and sales figures and stuff like that.  Whilst it does make for interesting reading it's all a bit distant, a bit removed from every day life.  What does it all mean to the humble indie, tapping away on his or her laptop, trying to make it big?

As a writer I need to stand strong against the onslaught of the big five, or six, or however many houses make up the publishing elite.  I need to learn to shout louder and longer so that my voice will still be heard along the ethereal corridors of Amazon and Smashwords and traffic will still flood (a steady trickle would be nice) to my website to sample my wares.

The problem is, as a reader I've fallen into the trap and shot my writer-self in the foot (apologies for the mixed metaphors there).

When James Herbert's novel Ash was published a large collection of his back catalogue was made available for Kindle for only 20p.  I resisted the temptation and was rightly proud of myself.  When James sadly died last year there was a posthumous sale of the same earlier works for 49p.  I bought half a dozen of them.

In the run up to Christmas I was looking on Amazon for a boxed set of the Song of Fire and Ice Novels (Game of Thrones etc) for my son.  Whilst nosing around I found the entire collection for Kindle priced at 99p per book.  I bought the lot for less than £7 (the hard copy boxed set was over £30 and no, he didn't get the paperbacks).

It's always going to be hard compete as an indie when top titles are made available for those kind of prices.  Then again, it's always been hard to compete.  At least now though, indies are able to get their books onto the market place.  We're just going to have to work harder to muscle our way to the front.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Any Ideas?

I'm sure we all have different ways of coming up with that small seed of an idea that we can then nurture and turn into a novel or short story.

Just to show how varied (and random) my thought processes are, this is where the original ideas came from for my recently published short story collection, Who Will I Be Today?
I say "original" because some of the stories evolved in rather different directions once I began to write them.

Who Will I Be Today? – This all stemmed from the times I've lain awake in the early hours of the morning worrying about something that, in the cold light of day, always proves to be trivial.

Billy Draper’s Dream – The main character in this story appeared in my first ever published short story, The Boxer, back in the late 90s.  The idea to write him into another story came from a friend who said she would to know what happened to him after the end of the first story.

The Door – We were on holiday, in Florida, in a small motel-like room.  My bed was very close to the door and I remember lying there with the door virtually filling my vision.  The image stayed with me and the story grew from there.

Morning Deliveries – With this one a lonely old man and his cat popped into my head one day and refused to leave until I'd given them a voice.

Mule – For some reason I was thinking about the old PC space game Elite.  Mule was the by product of that random musing.

Butterfly – I was going through a spell of wanting a twist in the tale ending for all of my stories (a bit daft, i know) and I'd got this notion of domestic abuse running around my head.

Playing God – A simple "what if" scenario here relating to the (repeatedly mis-interpreted) 2012 Mayan prophecy.

Specify and Classify – "There are beings out there watching us and they don’t like what they see."  This is the tag line of the story and is the premise I used to write it

The Final Tally – The start point of this story was a miner's tally from an old colliery.

ps To The Angels – Just a single word for this idea - haunting.

Railings – Another "what if" scenario.  This time it was, what if the past doesn't always stay there?

The Impassive Moon –The final idea came from two existing characters.  These were policemen who had appeared in my second novel, Darkest Corners of The Mind.  I decided that I wanted to develop one of the characters further, possibly writing a complete novel about him at one point.  For the time being though he'll have to content himself with appearing in this short story.

If this has wetted your appetite you can read the title story in its entirety on my website.




Saturday, 31 August 2013

Mum, Will You Help Me With My Homework?

Wendy and Charlie Siefken are a mother and son writing team from Iowa.  They began writing together while Charlie was still in high school.  Charlie had issues with cross modalities and though he really liked writing stories he found it difficult to get his ideas from his head onto paper.  To try to help with this, Charlie’s school principal gave Charlie a challenge of writing and publishing a book.  Wendy got involved and took the lead on researching how to get published.  Five years on they are still working together and have published their first book, ‘Kai's Journey.’
Wendy and Charlie admit to knowing nothing about publishing when they started out.  They know they still have a long way to go yet, but they also recognise that they have already come a long way as well.
The Siefkens invited me to their Iowa ranch for this interview (actually they didn’t, we did all this through Facebook; but we can pretend can’t we).



Writing is generally a solitary business, so partnerships are quite rare, with mother-son partnerships even more unusual.  Do you each take an equal share of writing and marketing or do you have specific roles?
We each do our specific roles with the inclusion of letting each other know what we are doing. Charlie comes up with the story ideas and we collaborate together on them, fleshing them out. I take the lead on marketing but I talk things over with Charlie to get his opinion on things as well and so he knows what I do and how.

Do family ties or the generation gap present you with any creative challenges?
No we don’t think there is anything like that between us. We are both good at describing what we see in our heads. I have learned to explain differently to help another understand what I am thinking or seeing. He is very good at it too. He can explain verbally very well, but like I mentioned before he has problems writing those things down.

Similarly, have you been able to capitalise on your relationship when it comes to promotion and marketing or have you encountered any obstacles because of it?
We do capitalise on the fact that we are a mother and son writing team with the emphasis of Charlie being the creator of the stories. The only obstacles we have run into is they either want to choose one or the other to single out and not mention the other.

Do you write everything as a partnership or do you have solo projects as well?
We do write most things together because we feel we are better writers together then solo. We have written solo pieces but feel they don’t have the same feel to them.

You describe ‘Kai’s Journey’ as a YA novel suitable for young readers.  Did you deliberately target this growing market or do you simply prefer to write in this style?
I think that is just the style we like to write in. We feel most comfortable with that genre.

What lessons about working together have you both learnt from writing and publishing Kai’s Journey?
We have each learned our roles while keeping the other included on the day to day partnership. I keep in mind that someday he may want to be or wind up being a solo writer and I want him to be able to carry on. I have learned to make sure when editing that Charlie doesn’t see some of the changes and that we keep Charlie’s voice in the story. (sparkly dragons are a no no!) J

Has writing Kai’s Journey helped Charlie overcome the problems he has with cross modality?
Yes and no, It helped him to write better and he is better able to get his ideas down on paper, but since he has gotten out of school he has gotten away from writing and we just talk about the ideas. His writing in general his improved greatly though

You initially self-published Kai’s Journey through Createspace.  Why did you switch to Master Koda Select Publishing (MKSP)?
Because we knew that we needed a professional editor but couldn’t really afford a good professional editor. Although MKSP is a small publishing company and we are still pretty much in charge of marketing and such they have resources we just don’t have. A professional editor, a character developer, a book illustrator and a group of people that help out with the marketing and promoting as well.

You say you have a long way to go but have also come a long way.  Where do you see your current strengths, writing or publishing and marketing?
We see our strengths in writing. We have learned a lot about publishing and marketing but still feel writing is our greatest strength to date.

What are you both currently working on?
We are working on the edits for Kai’s Journey book 2. We are also working on the third book of the series of Kai’s Journey as well as a new book called Fallen Angel about a pirate crew who finds a spaceship with an AI on board.

Many thanks to Wendy and Charlie for their time.

You can find out more about Wendy and Charlie Siefken on their publisher’s website
on Facebook
and on Twitter

@WendyandCharles

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Case for the Independent Editor

Does there come a point when, as an author, you see more in your story than is actually there?

By this I mean can you become so absorbed by what you're writing that you see more than is written?  Having lived with a character for months (or even years) there's a risk, when you read back through a certain passage, that your mind fills in the back story and character traits around the words on the page or screen.

That's great.  You probably have a fully developed character and a story with plenty of depth to it.  The only problem is that half or more of all this is still inside your head.  Will a reader, picking your book up for the first time, be able to fill in all of the unwritten parts of the story from what you have actually committed to paper?

There's a lot of advice out there that says part of the strength of a good story is in allowing the reader to use the own imagination to complete the picture that the author has started to paint (apologies for the mixed metaphor here).  The idea is that you give the reader enough of the story to allow them to visualise each scene and character however they wish.  That way, in theory, one book can be read in thousands of ways.

So, how much of the story is enough and how much is too little.  We can find ourselves in a bit of a baby bear's porridge situation here.  Some readers like to know more than others.

This is where an independent editor can be invaluable.  They are a cold reader.  They've never seen your book before and know nothing about the storyline or the characters.  Any decent editor will quickly pick up the holes in your manuscript.
The problem is, a good editor will cost you a fair amount of money.  Mind you, a bad editor could cost you a lot more.

So, can those authors on a restricted budget be an effective self-editor.
Yes, they can.
The key thing here is for the author to ask themselves, "how do I know this?" about a situation or character.  If you know, "because you know" and there is nothing in the preceding pages that at least signals what you're querying, then there's probably something missing from the story.

If someone acts out of character ask yourself if you've given earlier indications that they could or might behave this way.  This is more credible that having to go to explain why they did what they did and your reader is less likely to feel duped.

When I can finally afford an independent editor I'll use one (probably).  Until then I'll keep using the "how do I know that?" approach to my editing.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Writing isn't Sculpture, it's Pottery

I've always used an analogy to describe my writing process - but I've now realised I've been using the wrong one.

Until recently I thought of writing as akin to sculpture.  You start with a rough draft (slab of stone) and edit it back (chisel and chip away) until you have your finished story (sculpture).  I always saw things this way as I slavishly followed the often published advice that you should produce a first draft then cut, cut, cut.

My latest novel didn't work out that way though.  Once I had my first rough draft things changed.  Instead of cutting away to my heart's content I did a bit of judicious trimming then concentrated on honing what was already there.  Through each successive edit I added to the story, building up the depth and adding to the detail.

I saw this as pottery.  Now, I haven't done any pottery since I was at school, well over thirty years ago; so I'll stand correcting on some of the finer points.  I started with my rough draft (lump of wet clay) then carefully edited (trimmed the clay here and there).  After that I started to finesse the story (shape the clay, add the handles and carve pretty patterns in the side - things like that).

This is all just  a means to an end but it did mean that my second novel was written faster than my first one was.

This had had a positive spin-off for my short story writing as well.  I used to adopt the "sculpture" method for my short fiction.  One reflection this made my short story production unbelieveably slow.  By switching to the "pottery" approach I've just written two shorts in the time it would normally take me to come up with one.  This will give me quite a productive summer until it's time to kick off novel number three for NaNoWriMo 2013.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Opening Lines

Writers are often told to make sure their opening lines are as catchy as possible.  Hook the readers and make them want to continue.  This is all sound advice but we should consider that the opening line of the story isn't always the first sentence that follows 'Chapter 1' - quite often it's the title of the book itself.

My current WIP started life with a working title of 'Bad Things Will Happen.'  Initially I was quite happy for this to become the final title.  Then the doubt set in.  As the story progressed and became darker I decided that the original title was too light weight.  It was starting to come across as the title of a YA novel.  While I'm not specifically aiming the story at the adult market, I don't want to give potential readers the wrong impression about the theme of the story either.

With this in mind I began to think about the underlying basis of the story - the 'hook' if you like.  This led me to a really appropriate title.  Unfortunately, when I checked on Amazon, lots of other people had the same or similar ideas.  This was not good.  As well as being closely tied to the theme of the story , I wanted the title to be unique (or as much as possible).  Finally I came up with 'Darkest Corners of the Mind.'  Quite a departure from the working title, but one which is strongly indicative of the nature of the story to follow.

Sometimes a more subtle change of title is needed to give the right tone to the story.  My first novel took its title from a line of dialogue. Originally, this was 'Dead Men Cast No Shadows.'  Right from the start though, I felt that there was something not quite right about this.  I didn't want to alter the title completely but something needed changing about it.  It took quite a while for the penny to drop.  The title was making me think of 1950's detective stories.  This was completely wrong.  Readers would be very disappointed if they thought the same and bought the book expecting a gumshoe story - it's actually about the after life.  A slight edit to the title gave me 'The Dead Have No Shadows' which, I hope, gives the right impression.

Both of these titles have taken some thinking about.  The title for my next project has been much easier to decide on.  Without a single word being written, I've decided that my third novel will be called 'Green Eye' - but you'll have to wait for another day to find out why.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Plans and Strategies? - I Don't Think So

Your turn now.  Come to the front of class.  That's it.  Now, what did you do last year?

Hmm.  That's a good question actually.  What did I do? (scratches head, trying to remember).  Well let's see.

I spent the first six months working on my script from NaNoWriMo 2011.  By the end of June it had been converted into a finished e-novel and published.

Somewhere along the way I also wrote, tidied up and submitted some short stories.
One of these was accepted and is due for publication in early 2013.  A lot of them are still out there on various slush piles waiting for the 'yay' or 'nay.'

One of the new stories was a competition entry for Writing Magazine (in the UK).  A bit carelessly, I let the story grow too long and also become something that would be totally inappropriate for the magazine.
I sent the story to a couple of publishers instead and it has now appeared in a short story anthology which was published in early December.

That's it, I think.

Well that all sounds a bit random and unplanned.  
What was your measure of success for last year and what are your plan and strategy for 2013?

Measure of success?  Plan and strategy?
I try to avoid those last two, if I can.

It's one of the sad things about the world we live in, everything has to have something that it can be measured and assessed against.  We all seem to be under pressure to constantly perform to the best of our ability and then improve on that the following year and so on.

Life should be lived and enjoyed.  We each only get one life; it seems a shameful waste of time assessing and analysing how successful we've been at it.

But, to answer the questions.
I've got work published, with another project under the way.
I had a great time writing (and editing) in 2012 - so, as far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty good measure of success.  I put hundreds of hours into writing - it wouldn't have seemed a very successful use of my time if I hadn't enjoyed it.

Commercial success is another matter -  it would have been nice if it had been better (but then most people will say that).

Looking ahead - I don't really have a plan and I don't really have a strategy (I can hear the howls of anguish from certain friends there).

If I have plans and strategies and set myself goals I'll put myself under too much pressure to better them and then beat myself up if something goes wrong and I don't hit the targets I set for myself.

I will finish my novel sometime this year (it will take as long as it needs to get it as good as I can make it) and publish it (at some point, once I've sorted the cover and the formatting).  It's likely to be another self-publishing venture but nothing is ruled out.

Once all that is done I'll probably start another novel; or I could write some more short stories and wait for NaNoWriMo 2013 before I start the new novel - it's not as if I'm short of ideas.

I'll do some marketing, trying tips and new techniques along the way.  I'll probably do this as the mood takes me.  I don't particularly like marketing but it's a necessary evil if you want to reach readers, and make some money.

I might join my local writing group - then again I might not (I've been trying to pluck up courage to go for over 12 months).

The nearest thing I have to a plan is the fact that I plan to write as much as I can and enjoy doing it.

Writing is organic in its creativity.  That's partly what I love about it.  The spontaneity of the craft can't be tied to objectives, success measure and performance indicators.

I write because I love doing it.

I would really like it to become my day job one day, and I know I'll have to adopt a more structured approach, especially to marketing if I want to generate the necessary income.
But if writing ever starts to feel like work then I'll probably have to stop doing it - and I don't plan on doing that.

Happy New Year, everyone.
Have a "successful" year - however you choose to measure it.