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…

What to do with a really long book

Books in the DarkA question for all of the readers out there. I’ve just broken through the 60,000-word barrier on the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times. It’s been a long, incredibly drawn-out process so far, of which I’ll probably talk about soon. I’m heartened by the fact I’ve got so far.

The thing that finally helped me break through the barrier of actually attempting to write the book was to simply focus on the idea of ‘making progress’, rather than eyeing up an end goal. Even if I only managed to write hundred words; that’s still productive, and it’s still useful. It is infinitely better than not bothering to write anything because I know I won’t be able to make a huge dent in the total word count.

I’m not intending to abandon that attitude anytime soon. Considering the restrictions on my time, it’s the only attitude that is going to allow me to make any progress at all. If I only write when I have the time or inclination to make significant progress, or if I set myself a target for when I want the book finished, I’ll go back to being overwhelmed by the scale of the task in front of me and give up again entirely.

However, having made such significant progress on the novel so far, my thoughts have started to drift ahead to what will happen when it is finished. I’m excited to get another book out there. It’s been far too long since Fallen on Good Times was released, and I can’t wait to see it side-by-side with its ancestor.

There is, however, a slight problem, which will lead me onto asking the question I alluded to in the intro.

BOOK TWO IS GOING TO BE KIND OF BIG

I’ve arrived at the 60,000-word mark while halfway through plot point 21. The total number of scenes/developments in my synopsis is 49. If you do a quick average of the number of words per plot point, this means I am looking at a final word count of around 137,000 for book two. If I were writing Fallen on Good Times, I would be only 7,000 words away from finishing the first draft at this point, but as it stands with book two, I’m not even halfway through.

We can of course assume that I can cut down on the word count significantly with a few rounds of decent editing and some reader feedback. However, there are aspects to the novel that I know I’m going to want to expand upon. In several instances I have simply glossed over a development or description because I was more interested in getting the first draft done than making sure everything was in place. So I think it’s probably fair to assume that the additional material I plan to add will counterbalance any edits I make. Also worth noting is the fact that I did the same sums when the hit the 50,000-word mark and calculated the finished novel would be around 125,000 words.

Which leaves me with a bit of a problem. In the grand scheme of things, 137,000 words isn’t massively long in terms of a novel. If you assume a reasonably large font and 250 words per page, you’re looking at 548 pages. That’s still pretty slim compared to the average Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, or Alastair Reynolds book. Decrease the font a bit, or make the margins a bit narrower, so that you can put 300 words on the page and you cut out a hundred pages. 450 pages is approaching something like the average length for a traditionally published novel.

But in terms of my work, it’s very long. It’s twice as long as Fallen on Good Times. I’m not sure if that’s an issue or not. On one hand, it’s a lot more book, which is surely a good thing for people who enjoyed Fallen on Good Times, as they get to spend twice as much time in the company of the characters and inhabiting the world that they enjoyed the first time around. On the other, it is quite a drastic change of pace, and I don’t want people thinking that book two is simply the product of overstuffing description or poor editing. Obviously that’s a judgement from my beta readers, when I finally get around to sending them a copy, but I’m confident this isn’t the case.

Book two is so long because there is more plot, more characters, more nuance to the story than the first book. I believe it is going to be an improvement in every way, building on what (judging by the reviews of book one so far) is a solid foundation.

THE MANY PROBLEMS OF HAVING MANY PAGES

University Library, Basel, SwitzerlandSo that’s the first issue: one of perception. Will people be happy with a longer second book, or will it put them off? And as self-published novels go, I expect 137,000 words is actually quite long.

The second issue was one of practicality. Fallen on Good Times is available in both eBook and paperback formats. This is the way I want all of my future work to be. Not very many people buy the paperback (or the Kindle version, for that matter), but it is an important part of the publishing process for me. I wouldn’t feel the same way about my books if there wasn’t a physical copy of them available. Growing up, before self-publishing or eBooks really became a thing, I’d naturally pictured my books in paperback, piled on the table for book signings and lining the shelves of bookstores. It is therefore an intrinsic part of convincing myself that I have achieved my dreams for me to have a physical copy.

However, the costs would be prohibitive. I make very little from each sale of the paperback version Fallen on Good Times, despite the standard £7.50 retail price. I actually make more money if you buy a Kindle version. The issue here is that Amazon is offering a print-on-demand service. Normal publishers print thousands of copies of their books in one go, reducing the cost per unit to the point where they can pay for materials, production, author royalties, delivery fees, and still make a decent profit (well, the last part is arguable these days). Because Amazon prints each book as it is ordered, they are much more expensive. There is a flat fee per book and another charge based upon the number of pages, then Amazon’s royalties to think about, and finally I get whatever is left.

A quick look on Createspace’s royalty calculator page tells me that if I were to opt for the small font 450-page version of the paperback, I would have to set the retail price at £9 in order to make any sort of profit, of which there would be 20p. If I wanted to make what I think we can all agree is a not-extortionate profit of £1 per paperback copy sold, I would need to set the retail price at £10.33. In the grand scheme of things that’s not exactly expensive, but for a book, in the wider market, it is a bit. I wouldn’t even expect my friends and family to pay the extra three odd pounds over the going rate for a book for my work, let alone readers in general.

It seems there are three options available to me, which I’d like to walk you through:

  1. Publish the book on Kindle only
  2. Publish a ‘collected edition’ on Kindle and split the book into two volumes in paperback
  3. Split the book into two volumes on both Kindle and paperback.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of practicality, value to the reader, and profitability.

OPTION ONE: PUBLISH ON KINDLE ONLY

Reading Kindle OutdoorsAs I’ve already said, having a paperback copy is quite important to me. I suppose I could still publish it on paperback, at the high retail price just to make sure that I broke even with every copy sold – buying copies through Createspace’s trade price option for authors would work out and about the average price per paperback novel anyway, including postage, so I’d still be able to get copies for myself and my family without making a real loss.

The real advantage in publishing solely on Kindle is that it cuts out the impracticalities of a large paperback. People don’t really buy paperback versions of self-published novels anyway, if statistics are to be believed. Therefore, I’m not exactly losing anything, and it’s practical for the reader to have a large book on a Kindle.

There is still a monetary issue. Fallen on Good Times is £1.99 or $2.77 on Kindle. I feel like it’s a fair enough request to ask for a bit more if you’re paying for double the book, but I don’t know if readers would agree. Some might interpret it as me getting greedy, although sales of Fallen on Good Times would really have to take off before that argument becomes in anyway realistic. Although the idea that I might have ‘hooked’ people with the first book, only to be charging them more for the follow-up, might be a little more believable to someone who doesn’t know my actual motivations.

With all the other self-published novels out there, £1.99 is already expensive compared to all the 99p deals (and that’s already a reduced price from the original of £2.50), so while I’m still an unknown, un-reviewed, unproven author, is anybody going to want to spend £3 or £4 on my second book?

OPTION TWO: PUBLISH A ‘COLLECTED EDITION’ ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

I could split book to into two individual volumes, each one as long as Fallen on Good Times. From a consistency point of view at least, that’s a winner. It would also give Laslo Kane a trilogy of stories. Three is the magic number, after all. I was intending to introduce a new character as the protagonist of the fourth novel (I intend to follow the patterns of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, in which over time he established several pockets of different characters, each with their own plots and troubles to deal with, many of whom occasionally interlinked) and for some reason I feel as though Laslo having three books is neater before moving on to focus on someone else, at least for the time being. And most trilogies do seem to follow the pattern of having one stand-alone book to begin with, followed by two novels which work more as two installments of the same story.

On paperback, it allows me to do two things. Firstly, it allows me to make my personal bookshelf look a bit nicer, as I’ll have three volumes in the Pilgrim’s Wane collection. Secondly, it means I can actually sell paperback novels of the books at a reasonable price, for those who want to buy them. I’ll also be able to purchase paperback copies at an affordable rate to give away as competition prizes.

Of course the big picture here is that in actual fact buying these two paperbacks would add up to more than the cost of buying the one larger volume, but from a psychological point of view I think people would actually prefer that. Each volume would be treated as a book in its own right anyway, with separate release dates and marketing, so this would certainly not be a ‘profit-making’ exercise. If anything it would lose me a hell of a lot of money, as I have to pay for two separate cover designs and two lots of formatting, the cost of which I am unlikely to recover in sales for a long time.

On Kindle I could solve the problem of getting people to pay twice by offering the two volumes together as a ‘collected edition’. I’d also be able to instantly create a third product, a trilogy ‘box set’, which will include Fallen on Good Times. I’ve heard that these tend to sell quite well, and it will be a good way to introduce somebody to my work. People aren’t necessarily going to become fans after reading one book, but if they get hold of three, whether as a free giveaway, when they’re on sale, or because they liked the value that the three book edition offered, they are more likely to take an interest in me as a writer.

OPTION THREE: PUBLISH TWO VOLUMES ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

The paperback situation would remain the same as above. Another benefit of doing this is that it would help me to create some more momentum in my marketing, something I’ve struggled to do in recent times, especially considering I’ve always known that book two would be a long way off. If I scheduled what would become book three to be released a few months after book two, I would have a goal to work towards as I (hopefully) began writing book four. It could help bridge the gap between the next Pilgrim’s Wane novel, giving me a way of keeping people interested in the interim.

Publishing two volumes on Kindle would simply be for continuity’s sake. I could still create the ‘box set’ versions mentioned above, it would just mean that volumes two and three were also available separately. Prosaically, paying £1.99 for two 300-page instalments of the same story is no different to paying £3.98 for the 600-page version. However, again, it would be easy for someone to accuse me of ‘moneymaking‘.

THE THORNY ISSUE OF CLIFF-HANGERS

Lady on Cliff EdgeThe elephant in the room is what would happen to the story itself. Because it is a complex, flowing narrative, there is no point at which I could cut it in half and neatly round it off into two entirely self-contained volumes. The only way to do it would be to leave volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. Now, as long as you build a satisfactory story throughout the novel, and give readers some form of resolution, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing this. I’ve also identified point in the story at which it could potentially happen.

But I know that a lot of people don’t like cliff-hanger endings, especially in novels, where they can often feel cheated without a proper resolution. And again, it can instantly raise accusations of profiteering, as though I’m deliberately withholding the rest of the story until they pay me more money. This can sort of be circumnavigated on Kindle at least by making both volume 2 and volume 3 £0.99, so that buying them together only costs the same as buying the first book. Of course, in paperback, this is a different problem. Although considering no one buys paperbacks, perhaps the issue is moot.

I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable, or feel particularly fulfilled, if I left volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. However, the prospect of having three Laslo Kane books and a host of different Kindle products does excite me.

It all comes down to reader tastes.

BACK TO THE QUESTION AT HAND

Which, a couple of thousand words later than planned, leads to my questions:

Firstly, which of the options above do you prefer? Which is best for you as a reader, and which would you be most happy with?

Secondly, what you think of books with cliff-hanger endings? Do you avoid them, or love the suspense? Have you come across a lot of books that do this, or is it a rare occurrence?

Do leave your comments below. This post is simply a brain dump, rather than any concrete planning and I still have half the book left to write just to finish draft one, after all – so your thoughts can shape the way in which I finish, market, and release this book.  Or books.


You can also ‘Like’ my page and let me know your thoughts on Facebook.

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.

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.

Book Two in progress

TypewriterNext year Laslo Kane will be returning in another paranormal comedy that mixes gangsters and ghosts, trilbies and terror. I’ve been plotting both on paper and in my head, and have recently passed the 10,000 word mark on the first draft.

It’s always great to get back into the creative side of writing. The last few months of Fallen on Good Times were about fine tuning, editing, and marketing. It’s a very binary process, involving reading the text through until my eyes bled, looking for mistakes, inconsistencies, and continuity errors. You always love the book, the story, and the characters, but it wears a little thin.

So to be sitting facing an empty Word document, with nothing but a blinking cursor and a head full of ideas, makes for a very nice change. Hitting those important marks does remind you how far you have left to go, but that’s half the fun. Anything could happen in the other 70,000 words. My writing process is very loose and flexible, so I get to discover the story as I write it. It allows me to have the same experience as you will when you have the finished copy in your hands or on your Kindle. I know roughly what it’s about, but I’ve already digressed from my plot outline in the first 10K, so I have no doubt even I’ll be surprised.

You definitely will. This one’s weird. That much I can already promise.

Photo Credit: Gary Bridgman, southsideartgallery.com

Buy the first paranormal detective Noir starring Laslo Kane: Fallen on Good Times now

Fallen on Good Times Front Cover

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Want a free book? Win a signed copy of Fallen on Good Times

Fallen on Good Times Front Cover 600x375There are 3 signed copies of Fallen on Good Times, my paranormal detective noir, up for grabs. All you have to do is head over to my Facebook page and ‘Like’ the page to be in with a chance of winning. Three of my Facebook fans will be randomly selected after the cut-off point of 5pm (GMT) tomorrow (Wednesday 8th).

Paranormal private detective Laslo Kane is ready to leave the game, but how can he resist one last case when the fee could change his life forever? All around the city, people are being murdered, but the mob seems to be acting like it is doing them a favour. Can Laslo find out why? Can he reconcile himself to his ex-girlfriend, Kitty?

Most importantly – can Laslo stay alive, when earning a living threatens to be the death of him?

 

So what are you waiting for? With two clicks, a free paperback copy of my ‘whirlwind debut’ could be yours!

Good luck.

Find out more about Fallen on Good Times at the Amazon pages below.

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Out now on Kindle – Fallen on Good Times: a paranormal detective noir

Fairy tales are warnings. Legend is history. Monsters are real.

Fallen on Good Times Front Cover 600x375Paranormal detective Laslo Kane wants to escape his dangerous life. When a terrified investor offers him a huge sum of money to solve the murder of his business partner, Laslo sees his chance. But to claim his fee, Laslo will have to follow a trail of connected murders right back to their source: the mob.

On his side are an oblivious journalist, his reluctant ex-girlfriend, and a spiritualist medium who hasn’t realised that he himself is dead. But against him are vampires, a pet werewolf, and the mob’s most terrifying weapon of all – the ghoulish Pottelli Spectres.

Can Laslo solve the case and collect his fee, or will earning a living be the death of him?

Laslo Kane, Paranormal Detective

For Laslo Kane, life hasn’t quite turned out the way he imagined it. Being a private detective is nothing like he thought it would be, and it’s all because he discovered the truth about Pilgrim’s Wane. When you are a terrible detective, the only people that come to you are those with nowhere else to turn.

Laslo is used to hearing extraordinary tales from people other detectives would dismiss as crazy. Laslo can’t afford to do that, and that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that, more often than not, these tales turn out to be true.

There’s a lot more to Pilgrim’s Wane that meets the eye.

A paranormal crime novel

Fallen on Good Times is part comedy, part Noir, and all mystery. You can find out all the latest news about this mystery novel by signing up to my mailing list below, or visiting me on Twitter and Facebook. Don’t forget to follow me and Like my page to ensure you don’t miss news on the novel.

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Out now on Amazon Kindle – Fallen on Good Times Kindle eBook

Fallen on Good Times is a paranormal mystery novel available as an eBook from Amazon. Click the relevant button below to go to Amazon and buy your copy today.


 

 

Prefer a physical copy? Paperback book released on Saturday June 7th

Keep in touch for all the latest updates to ensure that you don’t miss the release of the paperback version.

 

Busy blog touring and paranormal detective noir book launch

So, as you might expect for someone launching a book, the past few weeks have been pretty hectic. The trailers have been released, the covers finalised, the manuscript typeset.

There’s also been the matter of a blog tour. Mine has been rather haphazard, I must admit, but I’ve still managed to get some interesting articles written and featured on some fantastic blogs, as well as being interviewed by some great people. Each stop on the tour offers something slightly different, so do check them all out. I suppose in a way it’s quite fitting that I tell of my blog tour after it’s (mostly happened), considering it is for a book set in 1920s America.

You can keep up to date with all the latest news as it actually happens by Liking my page on Facebook.

Where I’ve been touring:

Chaosmos – Writing my way to self discovery. And biscuits.

Paddy’s Daddy Publishing Blog – Getting discovered at the perfect time.

It’ll All Work Out (Janet Rundquist) – Questions on reading and writing

Books Are Cool – Interview

Ellen Gregory – Interview about Fantasy/Paranormal writing

Sharon Sant – From hobbyist to professional. A reader’s guide to a writer’s plight.

Nyx Book Reviews – Interview

Paul D. Brazill – Short, sharp interview

Ryan Bracha – Jeremy Bracsman vs Rewan Tremethick

29th May – Ever on Word – Gosh, would you mind? Promoting as a British Author.

30th May – Emerald Barnes – Fallen on Good Times character bios

Fallen on Good Times – out Saturday May 31st

Fallen on Good Times Front Cover 600x375

Watch the trailers below, and then go here to sign up and get the first three chapters for free, in both Kindle and PDF format, so you don’t miss out no matter what device you want to read them on.

 

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