Chipping Away at New Year’s Resolutions

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Well, rest in peace January. We had a good run, but now it’s over. Time to abandon your New Year’s Resolutions, everyone, and go back to the bad habits.

What exactly were my New Year’s Resolutions again? Hopefully not ‘Improve your memory’, because in that case I’ve definitely failed.

In actual fact, my resolution this year was basically just ‘2016 and then some’ (I originally wrote ‘2016+1’, but realised that’s just 2017, which I technically what everyone will be doing). I don’t mean ‘kill beloved celebrities’, though. Last year I took a leap towards unlearning my habit of thinking that progress can only be made in big steps.

I spent a lot of time thinking that I wasn’t getting very far on the second Laslo Kane book. Partly because I managed to get my dates confused and was therefore under the impression Fallen on Good Times came out around five years ago. It’s more like half that. Taking around three years to write another book isn’t bad, in my opinion (assuming, that is, I get it finished this year). Even full time professional authors usually have a couple of years between books. Considering all my other commitments and time drains, I’m doing pretty well.

The bigger issue was that I often didn’t make any progress because the task seemed so big that I couldn’t see the point in writing 100 words or so; in my mind each session should have been a few thousand or it wasn’t worth bothering to switch the computer on. But when you have a baby who could wake up at any second, you can’t guarantee that you’ll have a couple of hours of writing time. Thus, little got done.

At the beginning of last year – downtrodden by the misapprehension that it had been four or so years since Fallen on Good Times had been published – I decided I needed a change of attitude. And so I vowed to do whatever, whenever. I forced myself to view even a single extra sentence as progress. On occasions I wrote just 100 words before closing the document; on others I wrote several thousand.

It worked. On New Year’s Day 2016 I already had around 30,000 words of book II written. By New Year’s Day 2017, the word count had risen to 110,000. I wrote 80,000 words last year, all while learning to value every word typed as a little victory. Fallen on Good Times is just over 65,000 words; so just in terms of word count I wrote more than another book.

It just goes to show that making glacial progress is much more effective than making no progress. I was genuinely surprised last year when I realised just how much I had managed to write.

So my resolution for this year is simply to take that attitude and try and keep at it. I’ve had lots of dormant projects lying in wait for me to have the time to pay them attention. I don’t think I’ll ever have ‘the time’, but from the outside I didn’t really have the time to write 80,000 words last year. I still did.

2017 will be another year of chipping away. Even if I end the year only having added a hundred words or so to each of my other projects (or the equivalent of a hundred words if it’s not a writing project), that’s still an achievement.

Then again, January’s over now. Who keeps their New Year’s resolutions past January? February is the month of ‘Drink a Pint of Cigarettes While Eating Pizza in Your Old Job’.

Good luck, everyone.

I Never Thought I’d Be This Happy to Get Rejected

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Aspiring novelists must have issues. Getting published is a process which involves being rejected so much you could probably put it on your CV as a part-time role. In order to be an aspiring novelist, you have to have a very thick skin, or at least the ability to keep your crying on the inside when you’re at a party and someone asks: ‘So, how’s the writing going?’

Like any wannabe famous published author, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. If anything, I haven’t had nearly as many as I should have, because I’ve been busy; because I’ve been afraid; because I didn’t think I was good enough to even bother sending it out; because I spilled jam on the keyboard – the list goes on.

I did, however, rather recently get rejected again. And, surprisingly, I’m now going to tell you why that’s made me very happy. All right, I admit, I’m actually going to brag a little bit. But I need to tell as many people as possible, so it is either blog about it, or stand out in the street with a megaphone and accost people trying to buy shoes, and mobile phones, and cabbages, and bits of string, et cetera.

It all began just under a year ago (cue wistful, memory inducing harp music). The fantasy and science fiction publisher HodderScape held an ‘open submissions’. Basically these days if you want to submit your manuscript to a publisher, you have to go through an agent. Getting an agent involves pretty much the same process as you used to have to go through to get a publisher, which means your book now has to do it all twice, and the odds of success are probably considerably lessened. Open submissions are when a publisher invites people who don’t have an agent to submit their manuscripts.

Considering how hard it is to get an agent, an opportunity like this is golden for aspiring writers. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would jump at the chance to have. In fact, a lot of people did. That’s important to remember.

 

I submitted a couple of things. One of them was a book I’ve been working on pretty much since childhood, which keeps accidentally evolving and getting more complicated (although not a boring, overworked kind of way) and so was never actually finished. I got the first three chapters all nice and polished – for what felt like the 15th or so iteration – wrote a synopsis for the novel, which is painful by the way, and sent it off along with a covering letter.

Incidentally, I also submitted Fallen on Good Times, just because I could. That one didn’t get very far, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s already published, after all.

Shortly after this – five days in fact – my son was born. This somewhat altered the paradigms of my life, and I forgot about such trivial things as hopes and dreams. Over the next 10 or so months my focus became one of eagerly anticipating and celebrating the micro things in life: Logan opening his eyes; my wife allowing me to get Logan a Batman onesie; Logan saying ‘Guuuuu’. I didn’t have time for my future; his was all that mattered. And it was happening a lot faster than mine.

It did occur to me once or twice to wonder what happened to my other book. It hadn’t been explicitly rejected, but publishers and agents are a bit like jobs – you’re very unlikely to hear back if you don’t get one. I assumed that the book had been read and passed over not long after Fallen on Good Times, and that HodderScape were simply too busy to get in touch and let me know.

I was wrong.

 

So fast forward, or rewind depending upon whether you are still living in my narrative past or your actual present, to last Thursday. Walking home from work I checked my emails on my phone and found one from a certain large fantasy/science fiction publisher. It was largely a form rejection, but there were a couple of interesting pieces of information, namely the fact that 1,500 manuscripts were submitted, under this paragraph:

‘We are aware that you submitted your novel to us quite some time ago. Multiple members of the team read and discussed your manuscript before we came to a decision, and we were all very impressed with it, which is why it has been a while since you last heard from us.’

I’ll come back to the number of manuscripts in a minute, because there is something very cool about that which I want to tell you. But I didn’t find out the really cool thing until later that evening. The information in the paragraph above is cool enough, though.

When a book is submitted to a publisher it is usually assessed by the aptly named ‘reader’. This is a person whose job it is to wade through the hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts from aspiring authors and to sift out those of some merit. The huge majority of submissions to a publisher or agent fall at this first hurdle. If the reader finds a manuscript that they think has promise then it gets passed higher.

So the fact that this email from Hodder told me that my opening chapters had been read by several people in the team was incredibly heartening. This meant those chapters hadn’t just impressed one person: they had impressed several. While they were eventually rejected, doing so was a tough decision. This was not a case that one person picked up my opening chapters, read the first few lines and went ‘Well this is terrible’, before shredding the pages, setting fire to the shredded debris, burying the burning embers under three feet of concrete, and then blowing up the concrete. They were ‘very impressed’, and my opening chapters must have shown a lot of promise.

vintage clock

But now let’s get onto the really cool thing. The really heartening thing. You see, about this time I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I saw a status from a previous university lecturer of mine – the insanely prolific creator of National Flash Fiction Day, Calum Kerr – saying how excited he was that the book he had submitted to a publisher who had an open call for submissions had made it into the top 25. It was the fact he said that the publisher had been assessing 1,500 manuscripts that piqued my interest.

Could this have been the same publisher, HodderScape? But as soon as I wondered this I was confused. His status had been posted a couple of days before I received my rejection. So if he knew that his book had made it into the top 25, and he knew that before I was rejected, what did that mean for me? Sure enough, I got in touch and discovered that it was the same publisher. Not only this, but I found out that he only knew his book had made it into the top 25 because Hodder had been commenting on a recent blog post they wrote to keep everybody up to date on how they were progressing through the huge pile of submissions. And at just after midday, on 5th July, they commented to let everybody know that:

‘We’ve got about 25 manuscripts left to make decisions on, which means we have contacted slightly more than 98% of everyone who submitted to us.’

That was two days before I received my rejection. Which means that out of 1,500 (yes, 1,499 once you take Fallen on Good Times into account, but I’m sure they rounded the figure, and so will I) my opening chapters made it into the top 25. My chapters, my synopsis, my idea, survived the process where 1,475 others did not. My work made it into the top 1.67%.

I said at the beginning that getting rejected is a big part of being a writer. Well, so is self-doubt. I have plenty of comments, compliments, and indications that I am a good writer. It should be enough to have an unshakeable faith in my ability, but it’s not. I still fear, in my darkest moments, that I’ll never make it all of the way.

Developments like this remind me why I keep going. They remind me why I’ve always had the determination to keep on working. Being in the top 25 of most things is good (unless you’re in a ‘Best Door In An Advent Calendar’ competition, or ‘Best Episode In A Season Of 24’ countdown). Yes, I got rejected because there were better books. There are always better books.

libro antico aperto

One of the problems with being a writer is the uncertainty. I have plenty of rejections that comprise of nothing more than a couple of polite sentences on a sheet of A4 paper. Agents and publishers are usually too busy to provide personalised feedback. Which means you usually never know how your work really fared.

They might have thought it was the worst thing they had ever read; they might have thought it was great, but just needed one more rewrite. There is a huge spectrum spanning failure and success upon which your work could fall at any point, yet the average rejection letter gives you no indication whatsoever as to your bearing. It can be excruciating.

On the other hand, you could be holding something brilliant, but only failed due to the personality, tastes, or idiosyncrasies of that particular reader for that particular publisher. The next one on your list could be the one who absolutely loves it. We all know the stories of the famous authors who got rejected multiple times. But at the same time, the words on the page could be all wrong, the characters could be weak, the plot could be boring. You could be wasting your time, and opportunities, by sending out dirge.

Which is what makes this rejection so special. It’s why I’m so happy to have been rejected. Because this rejection tells me something that rejections usually don’t. It might seem oxymoronic, but this rejection has told me I’m good. I nearly got all the way to the end (although, in this case the end is actually technically the beginning: having the opportunity to submit the full manuscript to the editor for assessing).

So now I know that those opening chapters are solid. They did get rejected, so maybe they need a few tweaks here and there. Maybe a key essence of the character was missing, perhaps the world wasn’t quite as developed as it needed to be. Maybe the sentence structure exhibited some repeat issues. But overall it’s got a lot of promise. I know that I can send those opening chapters out to other agents and publishers, knowing that they are good enough to get far. They might not have quite worked for Hodder, but they might work perfectly for someone else.

Oh, and there’s also the small issue of the fact that, because Logan was born pretty much as soon as these chapters were submitted, I never actually had time to rework the rest of the book in-line with this new opening. So, to be honest, if they’d accepted them and asked for the full manuscript, the next few weeks of my life would have been frantic, frenzied, and frenetic.

I mean I do have a book to be writing – the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times isn’t going to produce itself. But finishing the second book is going to be somewhat easier now. I’m still level-headed, I’m still objective, I’m still well aware of my flaws, but thanks to the events of last week, I can sit back in my chair and get to work on book 2 knowing that every sentence I dictate is coming out of the mind of an author who, if he works hard, has a tangible – if remote – chance of getting all the way.

70,000 words and counting

quill pen in inkwell on antique paper

A few days ago I broke through the 70,000 word mark on the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times. It’s really opened my eyes to what you can achieve when you chip away at something a little bit at a time. What always held me back was the sheer size of the task ahead of me. Every time I would sit down at my computer, or think about working on the book, I would simply realise just how many tens of thousands of words were required from me and give up, overwhelmed by the scale of it all.

But since Christmas I’ve been reinvigorated. I started 2016 with a very old draft of the book that was about 30,000 words long. Simply by adopting the philosophy that writing even 100 words was better than writing nothing, I find myself now having averaged 10,000 words a month and well past the halfway point. I’m currently in the middle of writing one of the key scenes in the book – a scene which I’ve been visualising for over three years now.

It reminds me of that Lao Tzu proverb – overused, but incredibly accurate (as cliches often are) – ‘a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step’.

I’ve begun building up momentum now, driven by the fact that not only am I approaching the finish line, but also the realisation that the finish line has moved closer towards me.

If you read this post on the fact that book II is going to be a very long one, you’ll know that I estimated the final word count at around 135,000 words. I arrived at that number by dividing the amount of words I had done so far by the number of plot points I had completed writing, then multiplied that by the total number of plot points in my synopsis.

Well, as I progressed through the synopsis, I realised that in shuffling scenes around I’d accidentally duplicated five of the plot points. This takes the synopsis down to 40 key developments, which has had the effect of shaving about 15,000 words off the projected total.

All of a sudden, I’m excited again. I’m no longer just trudging along, reminding myself of the big picture (that one day I’ll turn around and give myself a damn good kicking over the fact it’s taken me four years to write another book, all the while lamenting the other volumes I could have written if I just had the discipline and the motivation). Now, I’ve begun to think about the finished book: about how exciting it will be to market another volume; to hold the finished novel in my hands; to put on the shelf with my other work. I’ve started dreaming up ideas for book trailers and other such promotion.

But it’s not that I’m getting ahead of myself: there’s still a long way to go before I’ve even finished draft one, let alone the extensive edits and reader feedback that are going to come before this book is ready to go. This foresight is not jumping the gun, it’s simply the by-product of enthusiasm. It’s similar to the way in which you speed up the pace of your reading as you reach the most tense part of a novel; you aren’t wishing it away, you’re simply eager to see how it unfolds.

Plus there are lots of things that I didn’t get to do when marketing Fallen on Good Times, which I’m excited to try out for book II. I’m also interested to see if the simple act of having two published novels will improve my sales (it couldn’t make them any worse).

There is still quite a way to go yet. Which reminds me: 80,000 words beckons. If you’ll excuse me…

The ‘scam’ email that turned out to be a $150,000 writing prize

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

First of all, no, this hasn’t happened to me. Second of all, damnit.

It’s a fact of modern life that we will come across attempted scams scarily often. So it’s no wonder that Helen Garner, an Australian writer, initially ignored an email attempting to contact her about a ‘prize’ that she had supposedly won. Most of us get dodgy emails with alarming frequency. I get five or six a day thanks to the fact that my email provider has an open prison with Japanese Shoji walls.

An email supposedly claiming to be from someone at Yale University, who needed a phone number to contact with the ‘good news’, seemed to Helen to possess all the hallmarks of a classic spam message. Especially considering some of the attempted fraud these days is incredibly sophisticated, although mostly it does seem that criminals still rely upon error-ridden messages purportedly showing you the key to making £1 million in a year working from home, or medication promising to make bits of you work like they used to, or better than they currently do.

Luckily for Helen, she double-checked with both Yale University and her publisher. It’s a good thing she did, as it turned out that the ‘scam’ message was in fact from Yale prize director Michael Kelleher, attempting to inform her of the $150,000 (£107,000) literary prize she had scooped.

On top of Helen Garner, eight other writers won the Windham-Campbell prize, a literary accolade setup using a monetary gift from late writer Douglas Windham, to celebrate the memory of his wife, Sandy M Campbell.

“I thought it was ‘Congratulations, you’ve won a cruise to Florida if you pay $200’,” Hannah Moscovitch explained.

At least two of the other writers, Abbie Spallen, an Irish playwright, and Hannah Moscovitch, a playwright from Canada, were initially dubious about the validity of their congratulatory emails as well. Had Abbie deleted the voicemail without listening to it in its entirety, or Moscovitch ignored her message, they too might have missed out on $150,000.

The Windham-Campbell prize differs somewhat from a lot of other literary accolades in that there is no entry process and it is judged anonymously. I personally like this, as I think I would find it a bit hollow to win an award for which I’d have to nominate myself in the first place (although I’m bound to put myself forward for some in the future – you got to spread the word somehow).

Because writers don’t have to enter the competition, those who win have no idea that they have even been shortlisted. With so many literary prizes out there, it is unsurprising that many of the winners have never heard of the Windham-Campbell prize.

I’m glad these writers made the right judgement call (and naturally quite jealous). For many of them, the prize-money gives them the chance to write full-time, giving them a great – and obviously well-deserved – opportunity to take a part-time job and turn it into a career and their life’s focus.

On that note, I better go check my spam folder again. There’s a man claiming I won the Nigerian lottery, a prince who wants to send me £2 million because he’s got too much money lying around, and a woman who wants to… Well, never mind.

Fallen On Good Times Isn’t Selling: Here’s Why I’m OK With That

libro antico aperto

If you’ve been here before you might know that almost three years ago I released my first ever novel, Fallen on Good Times. The story, a comic paranormal noir set in 1920s America, follows soft-boiled detective Laslo Kane as he gets embroiled deeper and deeper into a strange case of blackmail while desperately trying to escape his chosen career path.

I had big plans for it. Unsurprisingly they’ve all fallen flat.

It does, on many levels, pain me to say that Fallen on Good Times hasn’t sold many copies. Obviously three years later I’d rather be sitting here celebrating a sales milestone, perhaps the 1000 copies mark, or the 5000, or the 10,000. I can’t tell you how many it has actually sold, because I honestly don’t know. I haven’t even checked my Amazon dashboard in about a year.

But that’s not to say I have given up. On many levels I’m actually okay with the fact that the book hasn’t sold. Here’s why.

WRITING IT WAS THE IMPORTANT PART

Books are hard to write. That’s not an industry secret. They get harder as you get older, because adulthood grabs you from behind, rifle through your pockets, and runs away with the majority of your spare time. Jobs, and children, and bills all take precedent. I know that starting writing so young was an advantage, as I’ve been able to develop a talent for it, but in some ways it has been a curse, in that I’ve seen my availability to write decline as I get older and more barriers pop up between me and my dreams of authorhood.

The fact that life makes writing books hard is evidenced by the fact that, nearly three years after I first started thinking about it, I am still only about 35,000 words into Book II, which is just over a third if my estimates over its completed length are accurate. Although a good chunk of progress has been made in the last couple weeks, but if you look at it from a purely mathematical point of view, it could take me in till 2022 just to finish the first draft.

The harder it is to get that second book out there, the more I realise how advantageous it is that Fallen on Good Times has been written, edited, branded and published. It wasn’t a waste of time, or energy. It’s always going to be there, waiting for a follow-up, and for me to have the time, energy, and discipline to do it justice.

A SOLID FOUNDATION OF QUALITY

It may be that not enough people have read Fallen on Good Times for me to get an accurate statistical picture, but as it stands at the moment those who have read the book have loved it. It may not have many reviews, but the ones it does have say some pretty complimentary things about it.

It might not be selling, but the fact is I think I gathered enough evidence to help soften my own doubts and accept that I’ve written a good book, with good characters and a good premise. Those are all things that will serve me going forward. Luckily for me, books don’t diminish in quality the older they get. And being set in the 1920s means it’s hardly likely to slip out of relevance – it’s not the biography of the latest TV talent show winner whose celebrity status will flicker and die within a few months, making the book obsolete.

I’d rather have a quality book that nobody has bought yet, than one that has sold several thousand copies and collected an overwhelming majority of negative feedback. It’s a lot easier to generate more sales than it is to make a book less crap.

I KNOW WHY IT’S NOT SELLING

The thing that softens the blow of poor sales the most is the fact that I understand the reason why sales are poor. My time as a freelance writer running my own business and my research during the run up to publication has given me a good understanding of the basics of marketing, and more. So I know that the reason Fallen on Good Times isn’t selling is not necessarily because people don’t want to buy it, but because they have no idea that it exists.

I have not been able to do the things that I know I need to do in order to get the book in front of readers. Before publication I compiled a 10,000-word marketing plan, and I know that if I had stuck to that religiously, I probably would be here writing a post celebrating at least 1000 copies sold, but likely a lot more. But for a large and complex cocktail of reasons which I don’t need to go into here, I haven’t been able to do much marketing.

Basically, I haven’t finished this endurance race because I never filled my car up with petrol. That is a far more preferable handicap to have than being a terrible driver or having a crap vehicle. There’s always more I can do to help promote my book, and getting the second one finished is one of those things. And then the third, then the fourth, and so on. Writing this blog post is one of those things, even if it is only the merest drop in the ocean compared to what I have to do.

WATCHING MY CURRENT STEPS, NOT DREAMING OF FUTURE ONES

I spent too long thinking about the end goal. Too long convincing myself that it wasn’t worth doing anything because the dream was so far away that to take a few steps wasn’t going to bring the horizon any closer. But now, for the moment (and I’m choosing not to blow it by convincing myself that it is permanent, or placing expectations of it being so upon myself) I discovered a new attitude. And that attitude is that I would rather give the faintest whisper about my book in a quiet corner of a dark building than continue to stand in silence in the middle of a crowded street.

Fallen on Good Times hasn’t sold many copies. But it will: not today, not tomorrow, maybe not for a few years. But I know I have the potential inside me to keep writing great stories, and the right combination of knowledge and skills to eventually get those stories in front of people who want to read them, and will enjoy doing so. And I’m okay with that.


If you want to help me in my quest to spread the word about Fallen on Good Times, you can ‘Like’ my Facebook page.

The Wilderhark Tales come to an end

I think Danielle E. Shipley is just doing this all to spite me, really. She seems to have taken it upon herself to make a lot of self-published authors look bad. A couple of years ago she published Book One of the Wilderhark Tales – a clever reimagining of some classic stories and fables. It was entitled The Swan Prince, and it was very good. Now, with the pending release of the aptly titled The Story’s End, the 7-part novella series comes to…well, an end.

Today is the cover reveal for that final book. And what a cover it is, too:

storys-end-cover-update-full

As if the cover alone wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, here’s some info:

For Gant-o’-the-Lute, “ever after” has been less than happy. With the last of Carillon’s charm over him gone, the minstrel-king puts royalty behind him in pursuit of the music he once knew and the lifelong dream he let slip through his fingers. But dark whispers on the wind warn that time is running out – not only for Lute and the apprentice in his shadow, but the whole of earth and Sky.

The Story’s End (Book Seven of The Wilderhark Tales”, coming October 13, 2015; now available to add to your Goodreads “To Read” shelf.

You can buy and read the other six volumes from Amazon. Head on over to Danielle’s website to learn more about them.

Can’t wait to see what you’ve got planned next, Danielle.

 

Author interview – Danielle E. Shipley, The Surrogate Sea

Danielle E. Shipley Author Photo, Amazon JPEGIn between running around like a madman these past couple of weeks, I caught up with Danielle E. Shipley to ask her some questions about writering and her latest book. So what have you got to say for yourself Danielle, eh? Eh?

This is book 6 in The Wilderhark Tales. So that’s where we are as readers, but what about you as a writer – you must be at least one book ahead in your mind?

Always one jump ahead, Disney Aladdin-style! I’ll be spending at least the first part of Camp NaNoWriMo (the spring/summer version of National Novel Writing Month) in April getting a collection of shorter Wilderhark pieces into publishable shape for Book 6.5 of the series – “The Sky-Child (and other stories)”. That will provide some additional context for how it all ends in Book 7. And I’m putting you all on notice right now: There will be heartwreck. …which may or may not be an actual word, but nonetheless describes Book 7 all too aptly.

People might assume that by book six, you’ve got this whole book writing thing down. What specific challenges did book 6 provide?

Every new story is its own beast – some of them even more beastly than others. Keeping everything straight in “The Surrogate Sea” was tricky, because the story isn’t straight. It twists and tangles all over the place, with a number of motivations in direct conflict with one another, and characters making their moves at supernatural speed. I had to keep a careful watch on the choreography of events to avoid a mess of implausible plot holes, and couldn’t turn my back on anyone for long, or they’d run smack into a corner there was no writing them out of. And then one of the main characters had to go and— well, I won’t tell you what she did, but let’s just say it left a lot of us pretty rattled.

Do you have an end point in mind for The Wilderhark Tales, or will it continue as long as your funny ole brain comes up with ideas?

There’s a definite end for the main series in Book 7, though it’s not the last you’ll see of the characters by a long shot. For one thing, see Exhibit A. For another, I’ve got legendary plans for someone who won’t be properly introduced until the last book, and as for the world as a whole… I’m still toying with ideas for down the road. Even a firm “The End” only means the end of so much. There’s always more story out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

Where do you keep the collected works of Danielle E. Shipley in your home? Special display cabinet? Glass case protected by laser beams? A shrine?

Secreted behind a framed print of a mysterious woman attended by ravens and wolves on decrepit castle grounds. …No, wait, that’s my baby nephew’s room. The Shipley section of our personal library is duplicated on both my bookcase and my parents’, with Wilderhark Tales, my debut novel, and various anthologies in a steadily expanding row. Looking at the parade of spines is both gratifying and an obvious testament to my inclination toward shades of blue.

Any other projects in the works you can give us a teaser for?

Surrogate Sea cover, frontNext on the publishing docket: The refugees of Skycastle survived the end of the world only to fall prey to the dreaded Lord of Wings. Together with an assassin princess, a young man gone mad with missing memories must venture into the monster’s mechanized fortress to vanquish him once and for all. But the threat against Skycastle takes a most unexpected shape, forcing both princess and madman to brave the pain of the pasts that left them broken.

“A Mind Prone to Wander”, coming this summer! It will be my third short story included in a Xchyler Publishing anthology, and my first go at Steampunking a fairytale, so I’m pretty darn excited.

You’ve published or been featured in several books now. How does the reality of the position you’re in now compare to how you imagined, all the way back before The Swan Prince?

Oh, gosh, not counting some charity anthologies from a few years back, we’re at 10 books out in the world since the end of May, 2013. That’s… wow. I think I underestimated not only how fast I would move on my own (I’m a machine! Somebody stop me!), but how many doors would open to me through independent publishing houses right when I’d determined to take my career by the horns.

My past self being more optimistic than realistic, she figured I’d have more riches and fame already. And I mean, fatter royalty checks and exploding popularity still have their appeal, but in lieu of that, I’m happy with the work I’m getting out there, and my heart’s been touched time and again by some of the reactions I’ve gotten from readers. That’s worth a lot.

I also probably trusted me to know how to balance work and leisure time better, by now. That’s cute, Past Danielle. Downright adorable.

Does that feeling of holding your latest book in your hands in print form ever get old?

Never. Stroking, smiling, and the sniffing of pages happens every time a new title arrives in the mail. That reliable high is part of the reason I stick with this authorial nonsense through thick and thin.

When was the last time you read your earlier books? Have you ever read them back after all the editing/proofing/launching has been done?

By the time I’ve gone through proofread number gazillion-and-nine with a Wilderhark Tale, I am heartily sick of looking at the text. I recently managed a brief glimpse back at the first few chapters of “The Swan Prince” – (heh-hey! That only took almost two years!) – but since each book of the series is an extension of the ones that came before, part of me is still wailing, “Too soon!” I think it may be different once I’ve had some closure time after Book 7’s left the nest. ‘Til then… time to sicken myself over the perfecting of the next book!

You can buy The Surrogate Sea on:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Cover Reveal – The Surrogate Sea (Wilderhark Tales Book 6)

Surrogate Sea cover, front
It’s time for another of Danielle E. Shipley’s Wilderhark Tales. Book six, The Surrogate Sea, comes out next month, and I’m taking part in the cover reveal. Look at it. Yum. So what’s it about?

The Sea’s storm brought them together, and the Sea’s rules will keep them apart, unless the mute but melodious Muirigan can find another to take her place, freeing her to pursue the human man she loves. But when her plan collides with the schemes of the sly South Wind, a princess’s agenda to look for love in all the most fantastic places, and a prince whose head and heart have been long years at war, the result is a tragedy of errors from which the world might never recover.The Surrogate Sea (Book Six of The Wilderhark Tales)

The Surrogate Sea, out Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Find it on Goodreads here.

Genre = Young-Adult Fairytale / Fantasy / Romance

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An enchantress’s curse turns a spoiled royal into a beast; a princess’s pricked finger places her under a hundred-year spell; bales of straw are spun as golden as the singing harp whisked down a giant beanstalk – all within sight of Wilderhark, the forest that’s seen it all.

You’ve heard the stories – of young men scaling rope-like braids to assist the tower-bound damsel; of gorgeous gowns appearing just in time for a midnight ball; of frog princes, and swan princes, and princes saved from drowning by maidens of the sea. Tales of magic. Tales of adventure. Most of all, tales of true love.

Once upon a time, you knew them as fairytales. Know them now as Wilderhark’s.

Author Bio:

Danielle E. Shipley Author Photo, Amazon JPEGDanielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. …Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof.When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: Packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble.

When she’s not living the highs and lows of writing, publishing, and all that authorial jazz, she’s probably blogging about it at EverOnWord.wordpress.com.

Kicking off 2015 with a dark, paranormal fantasy anthology

Gates of Erebus CoverIntroducing Gates of Erebus, a dark paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction anthology featuring some of the best indie authors from around the world. And me.

Towards the end of last year I was approached by Su Williams about a fantasy anthology she was planning on putting together. Su wanted stories a bit on the darker side, and I jumped at the chance to have something published in the company of some great writers.

It had also been a while since I had written a short story, and I felt like stretching some unused writing muscles. Short stories are very different to novels, being more of a snapshot of narrative. I think of them more as raising a point, where a novel would raise the issue, explore its themes, and resolves its plotline.

My story started with a very simple concept. If you were to imprison a vampire, because they live forever, their guards would spend their entire life in the monster’s company. What would happen if a guard, on her way up the ranks and fighting in wars, had to chance to understand killing and evil from the point of view of the vampire?

On One Side, a Monster tells the story of an ambitious soldier who returns to the vampire at various points in her life. But is she looking to understand, or is she looking for guidance?

Gates of Erebus is an anthology featuring short stories on a range of subjects, from deadly serious to darkly humorous. You can get it in Kindle and in Paperback, and all profits go to the charity Reading Is Fundamental. You can find the buy links at the bottom of this page.

So that’s another book on my published shelf. Hopefully a couple more will join it; the second Laslo Kane book for starters. Which reminds me, I’ve got some chapters to write.

Gates of Erebus Amazon UK

Gates of Erebus Amazon US

If Zoella did need a ghostwriter, why is she writing books at all?

Zoella Girl Online
Zoe Suggs – AKA Zoella – with her new book, Girl Online, which has become the fastest selling debut novel of all time. Image Credit: Nerve Media

Beauty and fashion blogger Zoella has become one of the UK’s biggest YouTube stars. With six million YouTube subscribers, nearly 2million Facebook Likes, and 2.6million Twitter followers, Zoella has amassed a legion of fans, and is a demonstration of the powers of social media when used correctly. She’s even released her first novel, although perhaps a writer she is not.

Girl Online has become the fastest selling debut novel of all time, recording 78,000 copies in its first week. The writer part of me wants to be mad about that, but the business part of me understands how branding works, and thinks that’s fair enough. Maybe. Except that it’s now emerging that Zoella collaborated with a ghostwriter to craft her record-breaking debut. Depending upon which sources you trust (from Zoella to the broadsheets), she either had help, a co-author, or someone who wrote the whole book for her.

Penguin, the publishers of Girl Online, have said in a statement, that “to be factually accurate you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own”.

Zoella herself has said that she of course had help – this is her first novel, after all. In her acknowledgments she thanks two known Penguin ghostwriters: Amy Alward and Siobhan Curham. Alward was Zoella’s editor for the book, but the extent of Curham’s contribution is what is causing speculation. A deleted blog post from Curham’s blog suggests that a publisher asked her to write an 80,000 word novel in six weeks, which coincides with the timings and lengths of Zoella’s announcements regarding the book, and the book itself. Hardly conclusive, but worth an ‘hmmmm’.

If it turns out that, in fact, Zoella’s only contribution to the book was to have her name put on the front and sign lots of copies, we shouldn’t be surprised. In the same way we shouldn’t be shocked that Katie Price didn’t write any of her books. Or that not every footballer who releases an autobiography has suddenly become articulate and literary enough to tell their own story. It’s not unexpected. But it is wrong.

Here’s why. Zoella is a very talented and hardworking person. She’s done a great thing to become so well known and build her brand. Kudos to her. Vlogging, blogging, social media marketing – that’s her thing. She’s good at that. But if she used a ghostwriter to write her book, she’s pretending to be good at something she isn’t.

The charts are full of books that are being bought because of the name on the cover and not the content of the pages behind it.

We see it a lot with pop stars who suddenly decide they want to be actors. They’re too famous and successful for anyone to tell them the truth – that acting requires a lot of talent and hardwork, and is very, very different from writing and selling a few million albums – so they go for it, and everyone encourages them. It usually turns out to be bad.

Celebrities who use ghostwriters are making it all about branding. The charts are full of books that are being bought because of the name on the cover and not the content of the pages behind it. Sometimes it’s fine – many celebrities and other people have great stories that deserve to be told, but don’t have the skills to express it themselves in a compelling and accurate way. But Zoella’s book isn’t her autobiography, it’s a work of fiction.

If Siobhan Curham wrote Girl Online on her own, she should be getting the credit. She is the writer with the skillset and drive to create the book.

There’s plenty of great fiction out there struggling to get noticed. Fantastic works that deserve much more credit than they are getting, but are ignored because their writers haven’t yet built up a huge platform from which to market themselves. Zoella is a brand, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t use that brand to promote products and make money. But why is she going into fiction when there are a lot of relevant industries she could be working with. As far as I’m aware, Iain M Banks never released his own nail varnish. Robin Hobb doesn’t have her own set of curling tongs on the market. Yet those are products, not works of art. It’s OK to endorse something like that, because no one expects you to do 10 hour shifts in the factory that makes them.

What is worst about this, assuming it is all true, is that it once again reinforces the idea that celebrity is an adequate replacement for talent. If Siobhan Curham wrote Girl Online on her own, she should be getting the credit. She is the writer with the skillset and drive to create the book. Zoella says the characters and story are her own, but a lot of people I have talked to have tried writing a book at some point in their lives. Coming up with a story and characters is only a small part of the process. The part she may have missed out is the hard work and drudgery – the bit where mediocre ideas can be realised as fantastic concepts and situations.

People who can’t really sing have albums in the charts, pop stars are in major Hollywood films (and often doing a terrible job), and people who can’t write books have bestselling novels sitting at the top of the book charts. Why is this happening? Why have we entered an age where having people know who you are is more important than actually being good at something?

But Zoella is talented. It just might be that she doesn’t have the ability to write books (or that she doesn’t know that she has because she has never actually tried it). Why is she diversifying into a format she isn’t familiar with when there are so many natural avenues open to her?

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’ve got to get busy making my name as a writer so I can finally achieve my dream of having my own brand of cupcake moulds.

Do you think Zoella wrote Girl Online? Does it matter if she didn’t? Tell me your thoughts in the comment’s box below.