Friday, September 21, 2012

Following the Dream

I started this blog six years ago with the tag-line: “Making the journey from enthusiastic amateur to paid professional” It’s been a long journey, full of fits and starts, and highs and lows (though, to be frank, it was mostly lows), but if you accept that having a book contract and making a modest (here’s another one of those lows) monthly income from writing qualities as being a “paid professional” then I would argue that I have arrived.

Yes, it’s true: I am living the dream. Six years ago I was just another guy with a laptop (actually I didn’t even have a laptop back then) and a head full of hopes. Now I’m a guy with a novel coming out and enough dosh rolling in each month to buy me a nice meal at McDonalds (super-size, no less; ooh, look at me!). But the dream, as dreams should, has grown, and now I’m looking forward to having two novels out, and signing a bigger contract, and having dinner at a Harvester. The journey didn’t end with a paycheck (or a direct deposit into my PayPal account); it is just beginning. But my rambling about writing has pretty much fulfilled its purpose.

All of this is simply a preamble to saying I really need to stop this blog. I won’t bore you with my reasons; most reasons are cherry-picked to support decisions that have already been made so I rarely trust them, especially my own. But I do trust the squiggy feeling I get in my gut every time I think about putting a bullet through the back of The Life of Writing’s bloggy head: if you fear losing something that badly, then it’s time to ask yourself why you are hanging on to it. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

At the top of my blog template (that’s the default document I use for blog posts; I’m not OCD for nothing, you know) I have the words “Inform, Entertain, Connect” centered in bold, red letters to remind me that writing a blog post is not about me, it’s supposed to be about you, and giving you something in exchange for the time you spend here. In my view, I am not doing enough.

I would love to have a great writing blog, really, I would, but I do not consider myself a good enough writer to be handing out advice, or savvy enough to impress you with innovative methods for lightening your writing drudgery. At best, I can be looked upon as a cautionary example. But this doesn’t bother me; not all of us can be mentors, and there are some very good writing blogs out there. Read them for inspiration, education and topic-appropriate entertainment; go on, it will do you good.

The bottom line is, this never was—nor was it ever meant to be—my primary blog. I never anticipated it going on for so long, but then I actually gained a following and I felt obligated to continue. Granted, it’s not a huge following, but I still feel responsible for misleading you all; I mean, you could be reading Madam Bovary, or Moby Dick, or even Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, but instead you’re reading me. That’s a heavy burden.

In closing, I wish you all luck, and encourage you to follow me on Postcards From Across the Pond: it’s not only more entertaining, it’s also trustworthy—believe me, I know more about being an expat than I do about writing.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Fifty Shades of Pay

Like everyone not living under a rock or in a very, very deep hole, I have heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, and like most people, I have not read it, except to thumb through the first few pages at the bookshop (or, for the more timid, skim the “Look Inside” sections on Amazon) just long enough to confirm what has been widely reported about the trilogy, namely that it is, indeed, nothing but straight porn masquerading as literature due to its inexplicable yet immense popularity, and poorly written porn at that.

This made me wonder how some people define success, and whether it really is possible to have a truly popular, profitable, literary work.  Or if it is necessary.
Is this possible...

Aside from introducing sheltered housewives to the concept of anal fisting, I doubt this trilogy will contribute much to the world at large.  What it will do, and indeed, has already done, is make Ms James a very rich woman.  And if Ms James’ intention was merely to add some welcome titillation to the long, dreary hours of housewifery, and perhaps generate a little coin on the side, then I would say she has succeeded in spades, as well as the occasional gimp mask and ball gag.  (NOTE TO READERS:  I do not actually know if those items appear in Fifty Shades, as I have not actually read the books, I merely wrote them for comic effect.  I did, however, Google them to make sure they existed and were spelled right and, oh, my god…!  Really, I advise you never to do that.  Trust me, just don’t.)

Anyway, if Ms James is humming merrily to herself all the way to the bank, and is happy that she has taken the title of fastest-selling series away from Harry Potter then I wish her well.  But all I can see, when I read about the books, is the constant reference to their quality, which is not good.  I, myself, would not be happy with that.
...or is this all we can hope for?

 I am currently making revisions based on the suggestions of my publisher and I can feel the doubts creeping in.  The manuscript came back to me marked up with numerous comments about passages that make no sense, awkward phrasing, exposition in the wrong place, etc.  And it makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just chuck the book into the virtual paper shredder and start on a new one.

Yes, I am making my way, comment by comment, through the editorial suggestions on my manuscript, but what if that isn’t enough?  What if I actually make the book worse?  What if there are bits of the book the editors missed that are also rubbish?  I do not want to put a book out there that is going to cause people to arch their eyebrows and think, “My, this is poorly written.”

I’m not saying I need my modest book to become a best-seller, or be touted as great literature; I just want it to be good.  I want people to read it, and enjoy it and not think about how it is written other than that it delivered an entertaining story.  That is worth more than money to me.

It wouldn’t matter to me how popular it became or how much money it made—if reviewers and readers merely pointed out how poorly written it was, I would have to throw away my laptop and take up some other profession.  Manufacturing nipple clamps, perhaps; I think there might be a rising interest in them soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Anatomy of a Book Deal

My goodness.  The announcement of my book contract certainly grabbed more attention than I thought it would.  I am humbled—and appreciative to everyone who sent their congratulations—and just a bit chagrined.

I know I don’t have to explain this to the writers among you (and seeing as how you’re reading this blog, I expect you are one) but there may be a novice or a non-writer out there so I would like to set the record straight:

The average person, when they hear “book deal” thinks “Macmillan Press!  500k advance!  Book tours!”  The reality is not quite so grand; they’re thinking New York City when they should be thinking, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  And I mean that in the most sincere sense: there is nothing wrong with Stockbridge, it is a perfectly adequate place—affable, approachable, amenable—it’s just not as big as NYC, nor as lucrative.

So here’s the deal:
  • No advance, but that is quite common these days, especially among small publishers.
  • Marketing/publicity guided by them but the grunt work is up to me, which is also becoming an industry standard.
  • My novel will be released as an ebook
That final item was a sticking point with me; I’m old school, and to me a book isn’t published unless the publishing of it results in something you can hold in your hand that doesn’t require batteries.  But I suppose—old dog though I am—I need to move with the times; ebooks are the future and they make it possible for worthy books, that otherwise would not have had the opportunity, to reach readers.  (I read that somewhere.) 

There is also the possibility, albeit a slim one, that my little book may someday grow up to be a real boy, but that’s not anything I have to worry about at the moment.

The bottom line is, I looked at the codicil about my novel being released as an ebook, and then at the long list of agents and publishers I would have to prepare and send submission packages to if I didn’t accept the offer (believe it or not, this was only the second publisher I sent the manuscript to).  So, after considering all the time, effort and expense getting back into submissions-mode would entail (and taking into account my terminal slackerliness), I thought “bird-hand-bush” and signed the contract.

"Sign ze papers, old man" (bonus points if you recognize where that is from).

I suppose, if I wanted to come at this from a glass-half-full angle, I might consider this a sort of consolation prize, or an “almost but not quite” publishing contract, but in truth I feel pleased and privileged; last week I was a guy (one of many, many thousands) with a finished manuscript looking for a home, and this week I am a guy who is about to have his book published by a publisher, which puts me in rarer company and, as noted in my previous post, propels me a bit further along this journey called “writer.”

Add to that the fact that my Postcard books are currently being herded into the publisher’s corral and you will find that I am quite happy, indeed.

So I am now looking forward to being very busy over the coming months—prepping my novel, re-jigging my Postcards books, working on my next WIP—and, of course, telling you all about it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Victory Cigar

Fancy that; I just signed a book contract for my latest manuscript.

Now, I’ve been hanging on to my last Cuban cigar for just this occasion, but when the opportunity to go out on the balcony with a beverage presented itself, I picked up a broken el Cheapo cigar that I had repaired some days ago.

For those of you who do not know, I’m a cigar aficionado.  Or, at least, I used to be.  The days of cigar gatherings, collecting, trading and sampling exotic brands are long gone; these days I just smoke what I can get and try to enjoy myself by myself.  There are many reasons for this—the anti-smoking laws, the fact that I am in a new country with few acquaintances, not as much money to burn, etc.—but the biggest one is, I just can’t be arsed any more.

I keep a reasonable collection of mid-priced cigars on hand, and I try to make them last.  One of the ways to do this is to repair unfortunate stogies that have had poor cutting experiences.  Like the one I just smoked.  I had prepared it for smoking last week, but when I cut it, the cigar wrapper split and, as any cigar-knowledgeable person can tell you, that makes the cigar unsmokeable.  Unless you know how to fix it.

When I was deep in my fixation, I always kept a small jar of pectin for just such emergencies.  These days, I have no pectin, but I do have strawberry jam and, as you know (or should if you paid attention in nutrition class) pectin is the binding agent in jam.  So I smeared a dollop of strawberry jam on the crack and put the cigar back in the humidor to dry.  And it just happened to be the one I picked out today.

Emergency Cigar Repair Kit

The thing is, once I realized what I had done, I didn’t mind.  I had always expected that signing a book contract could be a hallelujah moment, one that would alter the course of my life, but it was more of an “Okay, that’s great…next” sort of moment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch (or as much as punch can be pleased) but it seemed like the next logical step rather than a bolt out of the blue.

Like all writers, I’ve dreamed of this moment since I first put words to paper (for me, that was back in 1967) but over the years, as I have slowly progressed up the writing ladder, I’ve come to see it, not as the holy grail or the lost plateau, but as another rung to be climbed onto so I can reach the next one.

This contract—for a modest (if I say so myself) book with a small publishing company—is not the end all; it’s another step on the journey that is being a writer.  A journey that has no end.

I’ll make the best of this, you can bet on that, but what I am looking forward to now is the production of the book, the release, the (gulp) marketing and seeing how far I can take this so that my next book will go even further.

That’s what being a writer is all about; not arriving somewhere, but being the best you can be and always striving to become better.

No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this journey in the weeks to come—including other, peripheral details such as the name of my book and the publisher—but for now I am content to ruminate on the small step I have taken on this long, long journey called “writing.”  A step that, perhaps, is not worth a Cuban cigar, but certainly worth one smeared with strawberry jam.

Not how I look, but certainly how I feel.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seeking Its Own Level

While poking around in my archives yesterday, I ran across a very old post (very old in Internet terms, that is). It was about websites (remember those) versus blogs, and it echoed my feelings about self-publishing and where it might be headed.

For some time I have been thinking of posting my prognostications about the future of self-publishing, but realizing I once had to trash a large collection of 8-track tapes and that I still have a memo I wrote to my boss many years ago explaining that there was no future in Microsoft Windows (though, to be fair, if you had seen Microsoft Windows version 2.0, you’d probably have come away with the same opinion) I don’t really have a lot of faith in my business acumen. But reading that old post about blogs and their development arc confirmed that I am not “always” wrong; merely “almost always.” So pull up a chair; I have a story to tell.

Back in the old days, sonny, when the Internet was still the wild frontier, if you wanted to get your words out there, you needed a web site. This required mastery of HTML code, knowledge of file transfer protocols and the money to purchase some Internet real estate (ISPs weren’t free in those days, Bucko). In short, there were hurdles to clear; if you wanted to see your words on the web, you had to earn that privilege.

Then came these abominations called “blogs,” offering a simple (and free) way of posting content to the web that even your aunt Tilly could comprehend. With no hurdles to clear, the web was suddenly awash in the angst-ridden meanderings of 12-year old girls, the sad attempts of 13-year old boys pretending to be 24 year old nymphomaniacs and the rambling of middle-aged spinsters posting articles pretending to be from their cat.

It was chaos; a cacophony of poorly edited drivel drowning out our cultured voices. But we web-devotees didn’t mind. We knew that blogs were just a passing fad, a shiny toy people would soon tire of, so we sat in our caves scratching on the walls with burn sticks while the world moved on.

Sound familiar?

I’m not going to stretch the analogy further than that; I’m simply going to point out what happened to blogs. The websites had the advantage over blogs because they could link various pages of content together with a menu, as well has host an entry page of changing content. This became the default design because it was the most logical and no one, as ye, has discovered a better one. But blogs soon emulated this design, until they are now functionally indistinguishable from the websites they replaced.

In short, the status quo returned, and I expect the same thing to happen with self publishing.

The gold-rush is over; the early prospectors have hit it rich or gone home with their tails between their legs. We’re into the second wave now, where a more orderly route to setting up a claim has been established, and support businesses are starting to pop up. Just like in the real gold-rush, people have arrived and now they need services, but instead of setting up rooming houses, bars and brothels, the new support businesses offer editing services, cover design and the like. And also like the real gold-rush, there are shysters hanging out their shingles along with the reputable businesses.

In my opinion, this is where we are now; the towns are beginning to be built, it’s not so much of a frontier any longer and phase three—regulations—are just around the corner.

Keeping in mind that I am a crap prognosticator, and that I am not saying any of this might be good or bad, allow me to make my predictions:

Some sort of confederation of self-published authors will be formed. Its aim will be to raise and preserve the quality of self-published books. If I self-publish a book, I will have the option of submitting my manuscript to this confederation for review. If the writing is deemed to be of sufficient quality, then I will earn the right to display some sort of notification that my book has been vetted, signaling potential buyers that it is not a poorly written, error-riddled pile of pooh.

How this will come about and what it will look like once it arrives I cannot say, but I know that every movement seeks to return to some sort of status quo, and that regulation is inevitable. So I see some sort of peer review/quality check in self-publishing’s future. I think it is inevitable

But then, I bought a Betamax.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

It's My Website and I'll Shill if I Want To

I wasn't planning on pushing my book on this site because I somehow felt that violated my Twitocratic Oath and Passive Marketing ethos, but I does occur to me that my book does need some advertizing, and no one else is going to do it.
So here you go--an ad for my latest, and last, Postcards book.  Enjoy:

Postcards From Ireland is now on sale.  You can buy it at Amazon.comAmazon.UKKindle.comKindle.UKBarnes and Noble Nook or Smashwords.
Additionally, to help heighten the festivities, I am offering my first two books—Postcards From Across the Pond and the creatively titled More Postcards From Across the Pond—as 99-cent eBooks.  (This is a limited time offer, which means they will stay at that price until I can be arsed to change them back.)
And now I’m going to do something I expect you’ve never seen another writer do: I’m going to warn you off buying it.
If you are a fan of my first two books, then you will know they are books of hilarious essays about my life here in Britain.  And if you are expecting the third book to be a continuation of the first two, you would be mistaken.  It is not a collection of essays, but a linear narrative recounting my Ireland adventure from ten years ago.  This is not to say it isn’t funny; it is.  Even I had to laugh at my ten-year-old self when I was reminded of how hopelessly ill-prepared I was for a solo trip to Europe; in looking back, I am amazed I pulled it off without being killed or arrested.  But there is, in addition to the frivolity, a thread of romance, a revelation of my impressions about seeing my soon-to-be-wife for the first time and how I ended up in the very circumstances I had originally gone to Ireland to avoid.
So, if you’re looking for a book of essays, don’t buy it, but if you want a fun read about a clueless American let loose in Ireland, then you might enjoy it.  I hope you do, for I certainly enjoyed sharing the story with you, and finally getting the chronicle down fully and completely.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Twitocratic Oath

 Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing.  This is what I have come up with:

 The only way to sell your product—be it a book, a software program or crocheted condoms—is to tell people about it.  (Incidentally, I made up “crocheted condoms” as a joke, then Googled it on a whim.  Yup.  Heaven help us!)

 The best way to get people to know about your product is to get other people to talk about it, spontaneously, for free and, hopefully (but not altogether necessary), in a good way.  That is something I consider achievable, if unlikely, but it harkens back to the Prime Directive of introducing people to your product in the first place.

 You can do this by spending money or for free: no real choice to make there, then.

 Fortunately, these days, there are numerous way to advertise for free: blogging, twitter, Facebook, YouTube…etc.  Due to my lack of specialized talents, however, I am limiting myself to blogging and Twitter.  (I really want to give YouTube a go, but I am not keen on embarrassing myself in front of 7 billion people, even though it would probably shift a lot of books.)

 Blogging is my strong suit, but that gets you nowhere unless people are made aware of the blog, which leads back to Twitter.  (Guest blogging is another great publicity source but I have decided not to do that this time.  For my other books, people have kindly allowed me to do this but I feel I am incurring karma debt by not yet being in a position to reciprocate.  I am willing to help anyone who asks, but no one wants to guest post on my blog or solicit advice from me so, until that happens, I’m trying to keep my Karma Credit Card in my wallet.)

 So, Twitter and commenting on other people’s blogs: both great ways to let people know you are out there.  However, I see a lot of people Twitting and commenting in ways that make me cringe; I want people to be aware of me, not think I’m a dick, so I came up with a list of rules for me to follow and I’m calling it my Twitocratic Oath because calling it my “Don’t Be a Dick” list sounded too snarky.

The original oath; oddly, it was not published
in eBook format.

The Twitocratic Oath 

 I swear by Twitter, Wordpress, Blogspot and all other social networks, and I take to witness all the Cyber-gods and Cyber-goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath and agreement:
  1. I will not blast hundreds of tweets at a time so that my followers will see only page after page of my tweets when they log on.
  2. I will make every effort to be sociable and accessible on Twitter and to interact with others.
  3. I will limit publicity Tweets to announcements about book releases, notifications of price changes, special offers or to draw attention to a review or other media appearance.
  4. I will post Tweets about my blog updates (or special announcements as noted in Item 3) no more than six times to Twitter (to cover all time zones) and only once to Facebook.
  5. I will post Tweets about past blog posts no more than twice a week.  (I have never done this, but it sounds a great idea and I want to leave the option open.)
  6. In reference to Item 4, my blog posts will be not be overt advertisements for my books (except in the case of announcements, as listed in Item 3) and will continue to provide the same, quality entertainment they always have.  In short, I want people to visit my blog because I can do something for them (i.e. entertain them) and if they like what they see and want to buy my books, all the better.
  7. I will comment appropriately on other people’s blogs and if I ever post a comment along the lines of, “Hey, great post! Reminds me of my book, Best Book Ever Written, available at (link), (link) and (link), where I mention something very similar…” I will go immediately to the nearest pig farm and dunk my head in the biggest pile of manure I can find because that is what I will deserve.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all humanity and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.

Hippocrates: "Do no harm."

 Do I expect to sell a lot of books following this oath?  Not really, but I do expect to be able to sleep soundly at night.

 (Update:  I have just been  reminded--by a visit to Nicola Morgan's site Help I Need a Publisher--about DMs, or Direct Messages in Twitter.  I didn't mention them because I have never used them and don't intend to.  I think that's a good plan.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My Self-Publishing Manifesto

With the Postcards Trilogy put snugly to bed, it’s time to pose the question, “Now that you’re in the Self-Publishing Groove, are you going to self-publish your novels?”
The answer:
There are many valid reasons to join forces with the self-publication beast, and many, many more specious rationalizations for taking its paw and skipping down the yellow-brick road with it.  That the decision to self-publish (or not) is fraught with writer-angst is made manifest by the nearly equal number of Why I Chose To (or Not To) Self-Publish posts that follow the decision.  Consider this just one more in the churning Sea of Rationalization.
My self-published Postcards series was a textbook case for self-publishing:
  1. do it yourself to see how hard it is
  2. get it professionally published to learn how it should be done
  3. keep the self-publishing option open in case the writer/publisher relationship breaks down
That’s all well and good and I am proud of the books and pleased with the results but I see my fiction work as something totally separate.  All my life I’ve wanted to be a published novelist, and I think I owe it to myself to not short-circuit that dream by slinging some sub-standard manuscript up on Kindle.
Patience has always been part of the game, but self-publishing appeals to our not-so-latent desire for immediate gratification; my manuscript shouldn’t be sitting with an agent, it should be up on Kindle right NOW so I can start reaping the rewards I so richly deserve.  And while I admit that the idea of my WIP sitting lonely and unloved on some publisher’s slush pile does make the siren call of self-publication appealing, it’s still not something I want to do.
Writer’s are in the absurd position of needing validation.  It’s ridiculous and unfair and causes us to put forward arguments like, “If a person paints, we call them an artist, if a person builds cabinets we call them a carpenter, ergo, if a person writes, they are an author.  Why do we need one of ‘The Big Six’ to bestow that title on us?”  And that is true.
The problem with this comparison, however, is that the writers are choosing who to compare themselves with.  What about actors?  Does practicing acting in your home make you an actor?  And if you met a person who claimed to be an actor who said to you, “I don’t believe in the antiquated model of auditioning for parts—I follow a new paradigm, so I’ve rented a hall and written my own play for me to star in.  Would you like to buy a ticket?  I have plenty left,” would you consider that person an actor, or a self-deluded wannabee doing something any idiot with more money than sense could do?
(Incidentally, what we learn from this is that self-published writers need to keep comparing themselves to artists and carpenters and if someone says, “But what about actors” it would be best to change the subject immediately.)
And so we arrive at the heart of the matter:  I don’t want to self-publish because, like the antics of the wannabee actor, anyone can do it.
Until a few years ago, aspiring to be a writer—a published author, someone who wrote a novel good enough to put between the covers of a book—was a noble ambition.  There was no shortage of people who said, “I could write a book,” but those who actually did it were few.  But now, anyone can; they can, their little brother can, their grandmother can, their great aunt Tilly can and, seemingly, they all are.  Having a book with your name on it these days is meaningless; the only thing that injects any significance into the phrase “I have a book out,” is if you can truthfully follow it up with “and I’ve sold a quarter million copies on Kindle” or “and it was published by (insert Big Name Publisher here).”
I’m not likely to sell a lot of books, so the only thing I can do to make saying “I have a book out” worthwhile is to secure a publishing contract.  Anything else would be a compromise and an admission of defeat.
Here’s hoping I won’t be back in six months admitting defeat.

Monday, February 06, 2012

I Solemnly Swear

This past weekend, I went through my Postcards books and deleted the swear words.
This is something I have been thinking about for a while (ever since the final Postcards book was completed—but more on that in a moment) and I was not sure how I felt about it.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it is done, and I believe it was the right decision.
The swear words included only the F-Bomb.  It’s a word I quite fancy, and one I use often; just ask my wife or my co-workers.  They will, however, (if interrogated deeply enough and choose to answer honestly) admit that I don’t use the word with quite the same alacrity as I used to.
Consequently, the first book had six instances of the Eff-Word, book two had three and the final installment has none at all.  More tellingly, the final book did have two but—despite them being used in context and for comic effect—they jarred with the rest of the text to the point where removing them was obviously the right thing to do.  I remain glad I did; the book reads much better because of it.
But what about the other two?  I always saw them as a set, so would having one book with no swear words fit in with the rest of the series even if the language wasn’t quite as—how shall I say—gentle?
Altering “completed” works is nothing new: Dickens’ two endings for Great Expectations is a notable literary example, Paul Simon went back, years later, to add another verse to The Boxer, and of course they painted clothing on the naked angels during the Middle Ages.  But is this right?  One of the great advantages of self-publication is this ability to alter the “finished” work at any time.  But just because we can, does that mean we should?  With this new-found freedom, can we now beta-test ending of our novels the way the film companies try out several different endings to some movies?  Will people buying a book in this brave new world now have to worry about buying it again because, in a year or so, it might be different?  And if that is to be the case, shouldn’t they be allowed to “upgrade” at no additional cost?
And will my books start appearing on eBay with the claim “Like New!  The original paperback, with the swear words!  £276.65”?
These were the questions that kept me of several minds while I was attempting to decide what to do with the nine “bad” words out the nearly 200,000 that make up the three books.  Strange how we choose to torment ourselves.
The reasons I decided to do it were individual to this piece of work, and I might not make the same decision on another book, but this is why I ultimately put myself through the hell of re-formatting and re-uploading a set of very similar books to multiple sites over the course of an exceedingly long, and dreadfully frustrating Friday:
  • The books, being part of a greater whole, need to be consistent, and instead of bringing the tone of the last one down, I chose to bring the tone of the other two up.
  • Although the first two books handled the profanity well, the final book changes the tone of the series, making hard profanity out of character.
  • Oddly, over the years, my sensibilities have changed to the point where I didn’t like the swear words in the text and—this being the pivotal point—they were MY books and I could do as I bloody well saw fit with them.
And so, future readers who buy the complete set of Postcards books, will be getting what is, for now, the final cut—a humorous, but profanity-free—romp through Ireland and life in Great Britain.
I just hope they appreciate all the fucking effort I went thought.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun With Kindle

The good news is, I managed to upload both books to Kindle US, Kindle UK and Smashwords without too much difficulty.  The bad news is, there was difficulty.
There is no room for complaint, really; I did the formatting and cover tweaking for both books in the space of an afternoon and still managed to fit in a cigar break, so this should tell you how easy it is to upload an eBook (and why I get so incensed when I see people or companies charging hundreds or thousands of dollars for the "service").  But easy as it is, it is not without pitfalls.
Take the cover for my original PC book.
After my publisher returned the rights and told me I was free to do as I wished with it (i.e. self-publish it), I wrote back and asked permission to use the cover.  He never answered.  So, assuming no response is as good as a "Yes" I nicked the cover.
The copyright gods must have been angry, however, because this is what I uploaded to Kindle:

And this is what appeared on Kindle:

Repeated uploads—using different graphics—yielded the same result.  Eventually, I managed to get one to "take" and it now looks as it should.  But it was a perplexing week, and a bit frustrating when you take into account that, after each upload, there was a delay of up to 24-hours before the book appeared and I could see if the cover was all right.
And then there was the matter of the font.
I used the same template I used for More Postcards and even copied all the text from the manuscript, pasted it into Notepad and then copied it into the template, effectively removing all of MS Word's formatting.  But after setting the book up for Kindle and Smashwords and uploading them, both versions came out in Arial font.
Now, Arial is a fine font, and each version looks fine and reads okay in that font, but it is not the font I formatted the book in, and it is not the font I uploaded.  The fact that they both turned to Arial tells me there is something wrong in the template, but I cannot imagine what.  But seeing as how they look all right, I can't be arsed to track that particular formatting anomaly down; I would be at it all week and it simply would not be worth it.
The best thing, however, is finding out how Amazon Kindle deals with having two books on the site with exactly the same name and exactly the same cover.
My publisher told me they had "unpublished" the book, but you can still find a Lulu version of the book I removed from publication back in 2007, so I don't expect their version to go away anytime soon.  I am merely hoping my readers are smart enough to purchase the $0.99 version (which retails for $1.59) instead of the $9.89 version.  Otherwise, they are identical, except the new one has more reviews.

Two books, same name, different price--pick the better value
For some reason, Amazon has put all but one of the reviews gathered on the old version of the book onto the new one.  I am truly grateful for that, but I can't think of how that might have happened, or why, if they did move them, they didn't move them all.
Like the rogue font, however, it doesn't merit looking into; it's better just to accept it and move on.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Feel Like a Writer

Six PDF files, Four graphics, four days, three formats and two books.  It's been a hectic weekend (yes, my weekends are four days long; jealous?) but I have both my books – Postcards and Son of Postcards – revamped, re-priced and republished on Amazon, Kindle and Smashwords.  (But don't tell anyone, it's a secret; I'm not announcing the re-release until 1 March.)
Materially, it's been the most productive few days I can remember in a long time.  So why don't I feel like a writer?
Probably because I haven't actually written anything.  In fact, I haven't written anything substantial since Christmas Day when I finished up the final draft of my Ireland book.  That's a long time for someone like me to be doing nothing but the occasional post and researching Spiritualism and Home Schooling in the UK.
Somehow, no matter how much time I put in doing writer-type things, unless I end the day with some new words created on virtual paper, I feel like a guy who used to write, not like a writer.
When I get to the end of a major work, I feel really good for about two days, then I start looking at my writing log and noticing there are no Words Per Day adding up and I start thinking that maybe I should write something, anything, just to keep the momentum going.
But I can't simpy jump into a novel; I'm one of those people who research a novel to death and then make a detailed outline that falls apart after the third chapter.  So I research and try to convince myself that, yes, it actually is writing, of a sort, even if it doesn't involve tapping keys and watching words accumulate.
All this formatting work may be behind me, but very soon I will begin production work on the Ireland book, so I know it will be some time before I can even get back to the non-writing work of researching the next novel.
I'll get over it; especially when the proof copies of the books arrive and I can hold them in my hands and oh and ah over them.  Then I'll feel like a writer again, for a couple of days, at least.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Self Publishing

Life is not a static thing.   The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, and those in cemeteries.   - Everett McKinley Dirksen
As you may know, I am no fan of self-publishing.  A lot of that has to do with the prejudices and the aspirations I have been holding on to since childhood.  Self-publishing, to me, means you have given up.  You can’t cut the mustard so you are going to foist a steaming pile of prose on the public; real writers find real publishers, at least in my world they do (that would be the world where the family all gathers ‘round the dining room table for dinner and then retires to the sitting room for a rousing game of Parcheesi and hot cocoa with marshmallows).
And yet I fell for it.  The businessman in me knew it was a mistake, my publisher urged me not to, but the geek in me was keen to try out all those whizzy new gadgets available on Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  And you know what?  It was a hoot!  I put in the hours to create a good cover, had the good fortune to have the manuscript read and corrected by some very talented people and I enjoyed the technical jobs of formatting and uploading immensely.  I was (and remain) proud of the final product.
But it was a self-published book.  And despite the respectability self-publication is supposedly earning, all I got was a rolling of the eyes and a “Oh, so it’s SELF-published…I see” from the people I admitted it to, and a literal “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” from the proprietor of my local bookstore, the same woman who had been very receptive of my first, properly published book.
And then, of course, there was the marketing.  Big FAIL.
So when it came time to publish the final Postcards book, I decided I wanted to go with my publisher.  The big reason for that is, they had my original one and I wanted all the books under one banner.  I figured if got book number 3 published there, they might take book number 2, as well.  I would lose control of the manuscripts, have no say about the covers or the lay out or the pricing and have to settle for a percentage of whatever the publisher’s take was, but I was willing to go with that in exchange for the marketing assistance they could provide.
Long story short, my publisher and I could not reach an equitable agreement, and at least a portion of the blame lay in the fact that I had self-published my previous book and I knew I didn’t have to settle for a bad deal.  The downside to self-publishing might have been the eye-rolling, the “So it’s a piece of shit” looks from people who would never know and being treated like a red-headed step-child by the proprietor of the local bookstore, but the downside of being “published” would be the loss of control over the manuscript and a paltry return.
So I’m back in the Indie business.  You’ll be hearing more about this adventure in self-publishing in the weeks to come, and hopefully I’ll get to grips with marketing a little better this time around.
I wrote the above on the bus coming home.  When I got home I had a message from my original publisher* waiting: they were discontinuing the expat book line and had returned all rights to the manuscript to me.  So now all three books can be put under my own banner.  If I had accepted the publisher’s offer, I would be banging my head on the table right now.
The self-publishing gods must be smiling.
*My publisher and the original publisher are essentially the same outfit, but with mergers and acquisitions it all got a bit confusing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Time For a Change

I was going to use the excuse of my upcoming Tin Jubilee Celebration as a reason for changing the blog yet again, but the truth is I always hated the original design and have been looking for an acceptable replacement since I first put the blog up.  Wordpress, however, has not made it easy.
The reason I hated the old blog theme—which was Bueno—was first and foremost because I couldn’t fit the title of my blog in it:

Add to that the fact that each graphic was surrounded with a clunky, gaudy boarder and that the entire look of the blog was rather stodgy, and you’ll understand why I started looking for a substitute almost immediately.
I decided to give Wordpress another try after my first disastrous attempt some years back because every blog I ever saw that I liked the look of was, without exception, a Wordpress blog.  So in June 2011 I made the switch only to find the world of Wordpress was not as benign as Blogger.  The first thing I came to realize was that a free Wordpress blog is not, in fact, free.
Any decent looking theme is a premium theme, meaning you need to buy it.  But even the free blogs come with a price tag attached.  If you find a free theme and check out the options it comes with, then switch to it, you often find that the advertized options only become available if you pay a fee.  Now, I don’t mind paying for something, but in Wordpress, you don’t actually buy anything, you merely rent it, so a $60 tag for the ability to change the colors on your blog is not something you pay for now and enjoy for the life of your blog, it is a fee that eats into your disposable income year after year.
But that’s not all; want to embed video from YouTube (something I can do in Blogger for free), then cough up another $60 a year.  Want a redirect (something I can do in Blogger for free), that will be $12 a year.  Want a blog with no ads (something you get in Blogger for free) that’s another $30 a year.  Pretty soon, especially if you have a variety of blog like I do, you’re talking real money.  Every year.
And so I finally found Coraline, a clean, simple design that is 100% free.  It should be, all it offers is black text on a white background and the ability to change the header photo.  I suspect the photo option will soon be moved into the fee area, and I’ll be hit with a $45 a year fee if I want to alter the header, but for now I’m happy.
At the very least, I am finally able to put the entire title of my blog on my blog, which I shouldn’t think is too much to ask.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Fresh Stop

2011 has been a great year for me.  I have a good, solid novel manuscript in the hands of a terrific agent, I have recently finished the manuscript for Postcards From Ireland and, In June, I self-published More Postcards From Across the Pond, just to see if I could do it.  To accomplish this latter feat, I read Catherine Ryan Howard’s fine book, Self Printed and followed the model therein.
The results were most pleasing; it is a great looking book and has received great reviews, most of which called it better than the original, which was professionally published.  That was gratifying, but overall it is an experience I hope never to repeat.
I have talked before about my method for becoming successful at something; namely, find someone who is successfully doing what you want to do and do what they are doing.  I have done this over the years with good results, and I thought I was on to something when I began following Catherine’s blueprint.  But when it was over, I realized I was following the path for being a successful entrepreneur when I actually wanted to be a successful writer.
Now, being a successful entrepreneur is all well and good, and to be a successful writer, you have to have a little of that entrepreneurial spirit in you, but if your goal is to be a published writer, which is what mine is, then you need to follow the examples of other published writers.  Whether they have the entrepreneurial spirit or not, I expect Stephen King and Janet Evanovich enter “Writer” in the “What is your occupation” box, not “Entrepreneur.”
So I have singled out one or two writers (not Stephen or Janet) who I would like to emulate and have, as a sort of 2012 New Year’s Resolution, proposed to follow their methodology.
Here are some commonalities I have found among the professional, published writers I have chosen as templates for success:
  1. They don’t tend to blog about writing.  Instead, they write.  Their blog, if they have one, is to keep their fans up to speed on their latest work/appearances/successes, not to talk (or obsess) about how/why/when they write.
  2. They don’t write for free.  A guest post on a blog, sure, but a steady gig in an on-line (for profit) magazine that pays you in “exposure,” no.
  3. They write, they ask for peer review, they rewrite, they revise, they edit, they submit, and start again.
  4. They don’t self-publish; that would make them self-published writers, not published writers, and that is what I am aiming for.
I am not saying I’ll never self-publish again—I expect I will—but I’m just saying I don’t want to, not at this point.  I wish all the self-publishers the best of luck, but I’m going to follow the points listed above, and go on searching for a publisher.
Wishing you a happy, prosperous and published 2012.

Happy 2012

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reality Check: The Rise of Vanities

Just a quick post to clear up a bit of confusion that seems to be distracting some writer/publishers lately:
VANITY PRESS:Money from Author
If money goes FROM the author TO the publisher IN ANY WAY, that publisher is a VANITY PRESS.
I say this because a lot of agents and small presses and – with the Penguin Group leading the way – even mainstream publishers are scrambling for a piece of the self-publishing pie by offering “services” to would-be authors in exchange for publishing their books.  That makes them VANITY PRESSES.
Full Stop.
No Argument.
“But we offer services that will benefit the entrepreneur author in ways…”
“Ah ah ah.  Do you take money from the author in exchange for publishing their books?
“We charge for services, just like any business…”
“And an independent author can buy them, or not, from anyone and then publish their book as they see fit; but do YOU charge for these services as part of a publication package.”
“Our pricing policy is one that…”
“Ah ah ah!  Do you take money from the author in exchange for publishing their books?”
“Well, it’s not as simple as that…”
“Yes, it is.  Do you, or do you not take money from authors?”
“Okay, yes, we do.  Bu it’s…”
“No buts.  You are a VANITY PRESS.  Live with it.”
Just wanted to clear that up.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing at the Speed of Thought

I mentioned this blog post (How I Went From Writing 2000 Words a Day to 10,00 Words a Day) by Rachel Aaron in my last entry, but I wanted to explore the idea of writing fast a little further.
I write slow.  And like writers who outline versus those who fly by the seat of their pants, I think speed is something specific to individual writers: you are either fast, or not.  That said, I think we all have the ability to write faster, to a point, but no matter how good I get at slinging words on a page, I doubt I will ever attain 10,000 words a day that Rachel has.  I am just not made that way.
Writing fast is a relatively new concept to me.  Up until a few years ago I thought all writers took a year or so—or at least a few months—to write a novel, but then Joe Konrath noted that he wrote his books rather quickly.  This surprised me, and I took it be an anomaly.  But then Dean Wesley Smith startled me with the admonition that there was no excuse for not writing three novels a year.  His math was infallible: 1,000 words a day equals a 90,000 word novel every three months, leaving a month to revise and edit each one.  This model should give anyone ample time to write three novels a year, especially when he insists that the 1,000 words should only take you an hour, leaving the rest of the day to plot, plan and procrastinate as you see fit.
Dean’s wife, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her book The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, also recommends the 1,000 words an hour rate, but—and here is where it falls apart for me—she advocates doing this for hour after hour.  The basis of the blog post by Rachel, “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day,” centers around that same idea: write fast, then write faster, and do it consistently.
I can, and do, write at the rate of 1,000 words an hour.  Much of my writing is done on the bus commuting to and from work, a trip of, coincidentally, one hour each way.  And in each of those hours, I generally produce about 1,000 words.  So that’s 6,000 words in three days, if I’m feeling inspired and I manage to get a seat.  I do not write that fast during my “writing at home” days, however, for two reasons:
Mainly, I don’t feel the pressure.  When my stop is coming up and I am in the middle of a thought, the words flow fast and free, but when I can wander into the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee, or enjoy the sunshine out on the balcony with a beverage and a cigar, my daily quota tends to slip.
Dilly-dallying, however, can be overcome with a bit of discipline or a hard deadline, unlike the other reason I don’t write 1,000 words an hour on a continual basis: I lack the stamina.
Banging out between 5 and 6,000 characters on a keyboard every hour amounts to one and a half keystrokes every second, second after second after second for 21,600 seconds in a modest, 6-hour day.  Granted, at the end of that time, you’d have 6,000 words but, in my case (and in many people’s, I suspect) after the first 90 minutes the words wulod lok smoetinhg like tish and, if not totally unintelligible, would read like total shite.
Add to that the fact that I would probably have had a nervous breakdown after hour three and you’ll understand why I am not now, nor ever expect to try, shooting for 10,000 words a day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The End -- Finally Finishing My WIP

At long last, I have typed THE END on the final page of Postcards From Ireland.  It has not been fun.
I find this very strange, because this was a memoir, an amusing romp into a very pleasant time in my past, it should have practically written itself.  But it didn’t.  To steal a phrase from Meg Gardiner, it was like pulling my own teeth: slow, painful and messy.  Every sentence was agony.
And when I say I have finished, I don’t mean the first draft.  A first draft to me is when you can read the manuscript from beginning to end without bumping into the notes I leave behind, like breadcrumbs on an unfamiliar trail:
-          TK: is this how you spell Cladda?
-          TK: check this for accuracy; Wikipedia isn’t always right
-          TK: this paragraph is shite; fix it!  I don’t care how, just do it!
-          TK: Insert the hippopotamus story here
So I still need to go over the manuscript, rewrite it and fill in all the gaps before I can actually call it the first draft; what I possess now is a rough draft and fervent hopes that the future work goes faster and is less painful.
The hows and the whys of the difficultly are no longer important; all I care about is that it is behind me and that it is not normal.  I finished my previous novel in 88 days with a final word count of 93,000 words, but I have been kicking this book around for 262 days and only managed 44,000 words (for those of you keeping score, that s about 167 words a day).  Granted, I complied and published More Postcards From Across the Pond and rewrote my novel to my agent’s specifications during that time, so I wasn’t completely slacking off, but still, that is an appallingly long time for such a paltry output.
If I’d been following Rachel Aaron’s method of producing 10k words a day, I would have had it done in less than a week.
(By the way, Rachel’s claim is not an empty boast, it’s a step-by-step, achievable method.  Well worth a look.)
I don’t think I’m quite ready for 10k a day—I’m far too disorganized and I have an amazing talent for frittering away time—but I’d better step up the pace on the revisions and the rewrites or my “10-Year Anniversary” book won’t be out until my 20th.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Size Does Matter

I moved again. Not from one flat to another, or to another blog, but to a different PC, and I’m a bit knackered by the effort. Strange how each of those occasions seems to require the same amount of time, tenacity and heartache. Granted, the latter two don’t involve lugging a sofa up and down several flights of stairs, but in some cases I think that might be preferable.
The move came about due to a miscalculation I made two years ago.
When I first came to England, I was writing on an AlphaSmart, but after a while I longed for a laptop, so when I began carrying one around for work, I put all my files on it. The problem with that was, when I was unable to get a front seat on the bus, I was unable to open it up and had to spend the trip just staring out the window. This became a pressing problem when a sudden surge of people began riding the bus. Usually, I was the only person on when I boarded, but over time more and more people appeared. And they all sat in the front seats.
My brainstorm was to buy a mini-laptop that I could open even if I was sitting in one of the regular seats.
It seemed the perfect solution, so I bought an Acer netbook over the 2009 Christmas holidays—a sort of belated gift to myself—and spent several days configuring it. Then two things happed simultaneously when I went back to work: first, the people disappeared, then they brought in a new style of bus that had a much roomier front area containing as many as eleven seats I could use that had no seat in front of them. But I had bought the netbook, so I was going to use it, dammit.

Acer Vs a full sized Dell
It wasn’t a bad little PC; it was light and as easy to carry as a hardcover book and had all the power I needed to write, manipulate photographs and manage my website, but it had a tiny little screen. Working is such a confined viewing area made my life difficult. My spreadsheets wouldn’t fit, photos looked too large and the area I had to write in was limited. Also, when handling my e-mail, the Yahoo page header, e-mail header and all the other shit Yahoo throws at you made the text area of the e-mail so small I could only see a few lines.
To top that off, the cruelest irony of all occurred when I did have to sit in a regular seat, where I discovered that the laptop, small though it was, still could not be opened without bumping into the seat in front of me: the entire reason I purchased it was based on a fallacy. Writing on it was not impossible, but it was very difficult indeed. Still, I bought the damn thing, so I was going to use it.
But this week I figured two years was enough, so I spent the last couple of days configuring everything back to my work laptop. And unlike last time, I created a second user account so my business self could log in and get all my work stuff and my writing self could keep the writing area free of distracting clutter (sometimes working on a client specification is preferable to tackling the next chapter in the novel).
So far, it’s working a treat, but the time-suck has been amazing. No matter how many times I do this, it never gets any easier.
Now you just know that when I go back to work next week a whole gang of people will be on the bus taking up all of the front seats.