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.

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

Five tips for making this NaNoWriMo count

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. The time of year when blog posts across the internet begin with the phrase, ‘Yes, it’s almost that time of year again’. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) will be upon us in just over a month’s time. It’s the highlight of the writing year for many of us, but rather like an irresistible chocolate cake filled with nails, the rewards often come with a lot of pain and tears.

Lots of people see NaNo as a challenge they are doomed to fail. They give it a go, but for many writers, the end goal of 50,000 words in one month is just too demanding. Some people will have too many commitments in the form of work or those small humans that require lots of attention. Those who do complete it may find that, come December 1st, their momentum and drive give out completely.

For those who have the time and the drive, here are my five tips for getting through NaNo successfully, and making use of the novel you have created in that time.

1. Have a plot ready

Not all of us are plot writers, and not all of us like to plot. But if you want to complete NaNo with a novel you can do something with, having some sort of framework really helps. It doesn’t have to be a document of 10,000 words, or a mind map on a piece of paper that takes up several acres. Just a single page of rough ideas is enough to help give you some focus.

NaNo is all about writing fast, so having to pause for a few days to figure out in which direction you want the story to go is the worst thing that could happen (barring alien invasion, but that doesn’t count). Being able to write when you know where the story needs to go makes it much easier to get those words out onto the page.

2. Find your perfect writing haven

We’re all different, so in order to maximise your output, you need to find the way to write that makes things easiest for you. Whether that’s in a shed at the bottom of the garden, a café, the loft, or a small nuclear submarine at the bottom of a duck pond, taking some time before NaNo to work out where and when you write best will give you a boost in productivity right from the start.

Something as simple as writing in a different room to the one you spend all your time in can drastically affect your discipline. Cafés are a classic choice, but remember that it’s not about appearing to be a writer, it’s about finding your own rhythm. Try different ways of writing as well – pen & paper, laptop, tablet, phone – to find the most comfortable and productive for you.

3. Write with a particular publisher in mind

Thinking about the future of your novel can help you keep your focus during NaNo. Knowing the future of it makes it much easier to focus on the end goal. Having a particular publisher in mind (whether that be a large international publisher, a small indie publisher, or even yourself), can allow you to see your novel as something that needs to be finished, rather than a hobby project. Publishers don’t like unfinished novels (many of them don’t seem to like finished novels either), so suddenly you have greater motivation to actually get it done.

It can also help if you find yourself stuck at an important moment, where the story could go in one of several directions. Thinking about what your target publisher likes could make it clearer which choice is best for your story.

4. Don’t give up

This goes without saying really, but you can’t finish a novel if you aren’t writing it. As long as you persevere, there is a huge amount of potential for your book. If you give up, there’s only one thing it will be; unfinished. If you know you aren’t going to make the 50,000 word target, set yourself a more realistic one. Make it still slightly unreachable, though, otherwise there won’t be a challenge to get you motivated.

Successful people are the ones who become more determined at the moments where others give up. Think positive, and focus on doing the best that you can, even if it means you don’t complete the challenge.

5. Schedule life after NaNo for your novel

A lot of people finish NaNoWriMo with a completed novel only to put it in a drawer and forget about it. After the intense focus of the writing challenge, they have no idea what the next step should be.

You can keep your project moving forwards, and your determination strong, by already having a post-NaNo plan. Schedule a couple of weeks away from your novel, then spend the run up to Christmas reading through it, for example. Plan redrafting time, editing time, finding Beta readers and getting their feedback, which agents and publishers you will query, and the time it will take to submit.

Keep focussed and good luck

NaNoWriMo is a great way of achieving that dream of finishing a novel. With the right advice and determination, you can achieve the target and make a success of your finished project. Be tenacious, be pig headed, don’t come out of your room ‘til it’s done, and enjoy it.

Good luck.


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