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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to Work

Yes, it has been three full weeks since I have written anything. Well, anything much.  I put a post up on my main website—a throw-away post which, for some unknown reason, garnered 10 times the usual amount of traffic—and continued my weekly 450 words for Pond Parleys, because that is an obligation I take seriously.  But otherwise, nothing.
Instead I read, surfed writing blogs, visited Kew Gardens, researched, exchanged a few e-mails with my agent, played Pooh Sticks on the actual Pooh Bridge in the Hundred Acre Wood, went to a book festival, toured a bird sanctuary, had a brief but illuminating conversation with Meg Gardiner, bought my wife a Kindle for Christmas (don’t worry, she doesn’t read this blog) and thought a lot about my writing career.
After weighing all the facts at my disposal and checking all the angles available to me, I have decided, once and for all (and for now), that self-publishing is not a path I want to pursue.
I don’t regret my recent detour; the result was a champion book that looks, feels and reads like a “real” book.  And despite my claims about low sales, when compared to the other 99.9% of self-published books out there (the ones not cranked out by the self-pub prophets), my sales were actually above average.  So I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I just don’t want to do it again.
This also does not mean that self-publishing is not what you should do: this is a highly individual decision.  Go make your own.
Having been distracted by the bright and shiny baubles that we writers now have at our disposal, I am back with the basics, back to the only thing that ever did matter and ever will matter to a writer—you and your manuscript in cage, fighting it out to the death.
You can have all the electronic wizardry, spelling and grammar checkers, formatting, PhotoShopping, One-Stop publishing and direct marketing programs you like, but in the end, if you haven’t wrestled you manuscript to the ground and made it submit, you have nothing to work with.
So, having ignored my work in progress for nearly a month, I walked back into the cage with it this morning.  Turning your back on it is never a good thing, as it grows in your mind to something terrible and fearsome, but when I sat down and opened the document, the fear subsided, and the beast rolled onto its back and let me rub its belly.
There is nowhere to go now but forward.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I Quit

Yeah, I quit writing again.  Don’t get too excited; I got better (I’m writing this, aren’t I?)
I quit writing the way a lot of people quit smoking: I argue with myself, dwell on the downsides of continuing, beguile myself with fantasies about all the money and time I will save by quitting, then stop cold turkey, only to find myself, a few nights later, standing in the drizzle in back of the pub sucking on a fag.  (That probably didn’t sound right to my American readers; that’s just British English for smoking a cigarette.)

No Writing
And quitting, from time to time, is a good thing. It allows me time to think, it lets me step back and have a good look at what I’m doing and where I’m going.  And, occasionally, it seems to trigger some amazing events.
During the bulk of my life—while I was raising children, getting divorced and entangling myself in a series of ill-advised relationships—I never quit writing, I simply ignored it for long periods of time.  I always considered myself a writer, however, and always knew I would get back to it.  One day.  But despite sporadic success, I was never really able to totally pull myself together.
Then I became an expat.  And happily married.  This sudden infusion of calm into my life allowed me, for the first time, to really settle down and treat my writing seriously.  So I wrote articles, researched markets, submitted and got rejections.  After a year or so of that, I wrote a novel and got an agent but never a publisher.  Then I lost the agent.
After nearly four years of achieving no concrete success, I read a blog post that laid out some solid guidelines for people thinking of being writers.  Basically, it told you all the things you should do, but ended by saying that, if you haven’t made any money after four years, maybe you should think about going into another line of work.  I thought that was good advice, and determined to follow it.  As the end of my fourth writing year drew to a close, I genuinely committed myself to this.  It was the first time in my life I seriously, calmly and rationally considered just stopping.

No Writing
Then something happened—the type of thing that, if you put it in a novel, no one would believe it.  On the evening of my last day, just before I went to bed, I checked my e-mail and found a letter from the editor of a writing web site.  She wanted to buy one of my articles.  For $5.  It wasn’t much, but it threw my dreams of having excess time out the window.
Some years later, after a stint of selling articles to various websites only to have them all dry up and finding nothing to replace them, and finding myself with another novel no one wanted, I once again took stock of my writing life and decided it was not worth continuing.  This was another rational, well thought out plan that I was honestly committed to.  I remember sitting on the balcony, finishing my cigar and making the final decision; it was over, it was done, and it felt right.  I went back inside, checked my e-mail and had another one of those “this could never happen in real life” things happen: I found a letter from an agent who had read my blog, liked my stuff and wanted to know if I had any novels lying around she might be interested in.
Naturally, I was dubious, but she checked out (very well, I might add) and liked my first novel enough to ask for my second (not enough to represent it, mind).  My second is still with her, on its second viewing.  My fingers and toes are crossed.
And, of course, I’m still writing.  Or I was, until this past weekend.  The impetus for this decision was nothing rational or thought out, however, it was a web site.
Lately, because I am reminded I have two books out there that could do with some readership, I have been spending a staggering amount of time pimping myself on social media.  It then belatedly occurred to me that this was doing little good because my social media footprint is very, very small.  So I began spending even more staggering amounts of time attempting to gain Twit-mates.  And that, incredibly, worked.  I saw my followers rise—albeit very slowly—from two-digit numbers, into three.  I was a long way off of four-digit numbers, but I was at last seeing some progress and felt confident that, as long as I continued to devote a staggering amount of time to it, I would succeed.

No Writing
I wasn’t getting much writing done during this time, and I was falling further and further behind on my deadlines but, hey, I was making progress.  Then I clicked on a link I thought would lead me to an article on how to build Twitter followers.  Instead it brought me to a website where I could buy them.
I stopped and gaped at the page (I admit to being terrible naïve here; this is hardly a new phenomenon, but it was new to me) and felt the earth give way beneath me.  As I took in all the pricing bands for purchasing Twitter followers, Facebook friends and even youTube viewers, I felt, not my will to write, but the very will to live, drain from me.  I know this seems an over-reaction but, coupled with everything else that was going on, and all the time and effort I was spending on social networking, finding out I could buy friends made me lose all hope in humanity.
So I walked away.
Over the next few days, I caught up on some reading, which was very enjoyable, told my wife I was quitting writing (she didn’t believe me, either) and not-so-secretly hoped for another “couldn’t happen in real life” happening.  None came.  But last night, as I was having my postprandial cigar, I started thinking about my idle novel, and what I might do with it, and how I could get back on track with my current work in progress, and about some other article ideas I had been kicking around.
So no major event this time, just a quiet reminder that, like it or not, I am a writer, and I cannot quit, and that was enough.  Still, a call from Random House would have been nice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Writer of the Future

I think it’s becoming obvious—and I have read similar thoughts on other blogs—that the model for literary success no longer lies in the writer/agent/editor combo, where the agent recognizes the author’s genius, takes him under his wing and finds a benevolent editor to nurture his latent talent.  If this model ever really did exist, it is long gone now, and replaced by the one-man-band.  These days, if a writer hopes to be successful, he must do it all—the marketing, the advertising, the business planning, the networking, the artwork—which does not account for the fact that creative people tend to not be very good at those things.
I don’t see myself fitting in.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a poor marketer and self-promoter.  Much of this (more than I like to admit) has to do with laziness, both the physical “I can’t be arsed” type and the mental “Okay, now I’ll brainstorm 100 new marketing ideas before lunch” type.  A lot more of it has to do with a lack of ability, meaning that, when I do attempt to brainstorm 100 new marketing ideas (or even 10) I generally come up empty.  But ultimately, what keeps me from connecting with my inner huckster is a fear that I will end up looking like…well, a hunkster.
Is it, therefore, up to the people who have marketing in their blood, who possess the soul of a salesman and can exude unflagging sincerity for their product to fill the shoes of Hemmingway, Woolf and Wolfe.  Will the new literary stars be like Stephen King—laboring in obscurity until their audience discovers them, and then being surprised and slightly embarrassed by their success?  Or will they be more like Ed Wood on the set of Plan Nine From Outer Space—genuinely, enthusiastically and evangelically convinced of their own genius?
If writing success becomes the territory of those who excel at marketing, not those who are good at writing, are we doomed to a future of mediocre books?  I can openly point to John Locke, because he openly admits his books aren’t great; they are serviceable, they fill a purpose, he sells ‘em cheap and often.  He understands he is a salesman, not a writer.  But others are not so honest with themselves.  There are a few writers I follow, not for their books, but because I am awestruck by their marketing.  These aren’t the heavy hitters, but they have each built an impressive soapbox and wield an effective megaphone, and they preach with zeal and infections confidence.  There is much to be learned from people like that about marketing and getting your message to as many people as possible.  But, alas, they have little to teach about writing because their books are uniformly bad.  In one instance, a sample of the very first chapter left me with my mouth literally hanging open at its awfulness.
Is this what we have to look forward to: bad books shilled by good marketers who happen to have the perseverance to string 90,000 words together?
Some pundits maintain the market will self-edit, that good writing will find its audience, but I am less optimistic.  If I buy a Kindle and download a couple dozen 99-cent self-published books based on the glowing reviews the authors gave themselves, and each and every one of them is total tosh, I’m just going to stop buying self-published books.  Sure, you can find a gem in a small pile of manure, but this is a massive cesspit we’re talking about; it’s not a case of quality floating to the top, it’s finding a needle in a haystack.  Because of this, people are going to eat a lot of straw (we’ll keep the metaphor firmly on the haystack here, oaky?) and the few needles are going to remain undiscovered.
This isn’t a future I’d like to see.  Our only hope is that a new breed of writer—one equally at home in a boardroom or a garret, who can nurture their own talent while being honest with themselves, command respect, remain empathetic and balance the books at the end of the day—arrives on the scene.  This new writer will need to be versatile, multi-competent and a multi-tasker.  Does this mean, then, that the future of writing belongs to women?
That may be better than the alternative, but I still don’t see myself fitting in.

Monday, September 05, 2011

What About the Writers

I am very fortunate to live in a town that pays a lot of attention to its artistic community.  There is a folk club, music festivals, festivals for dance and an annual art exhibition, all of which feature local talent.  Just yesterday, at the music festival, there were six stages set up around the town and at least six acts scheduled for each stage throughout the day.  That’s a lot of exposure for a lot of bands.  And the day of dance shakes loose more Morris Men, Morris Women, Irish dancers and Cloggers than I knew existed.
But what about the writers?
Sussex has a grand and long-standing literary tradition, from William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Rudyard Kipling, A A Milne and Virginia Woolf right up to today’s Tom Bale and Peter James.  Yet there is never any sort of recognition or outlet for local writers.
I suppose I shouldn’t find that strange; writing is such a solitary occupation it would be difficult to collect enough of us together to make an event.  And then what would we do?  The bands had no problem drawing and entertaining a crowd, but a group of people jotting in notebooks or discussing the relative merits of adverbs isn’t exactly going to get anyone’s feet tapping.
I’ve often thought, when things are going slow, that I should take a small table and folding chair out to the high street and sit amid the rest of the buskers, typing away into my laptop, next to a sign reading, “Writing as Performance Art,” or something equally enigmatic.  It probably wouldn’t earn me a lot of money, but at least it would provide a change of scenery without obligating me to drink the coffee at Starbucks.
An option—an actual, viable option—that keeps poking its nose into my mind is that of a writer’s group, either joining or starting one.  It seems a great idea, until I start thinking it through; then I feel I’d rather get the table and folding chair out and sit on the high street.
I did, once, long ago, try joining a local writers group.  It was in a town about 18 miles away so it wasn’t exactly local, and although I attended three meetings, I cannot honestly recall anyone actually saying anything to me.  Mostly, it seemed like a mutual admiration society whose purpose was to ooh and ah over the samples people read; there seemed to be no real critical analysis, no helping people become better writers and, most importantly, no social interaction, so I stopped going.  When I checked their web site a year or two later I found they had formed their own publishing company and had set about publishing each other’s stuff.
This experience didn’t encourage me to try again elsewhere.  Lately, however, I have to admit that I am becoming a little tired of tapping away in my garret all by myself (okay, it’s really my living room, but you get my point).  It would be nice, just once in s awhile, to chat with some other people who “get” it, who know what it’s like and suffer the same frustrations and triumphs and setbacks that I do.
There is a nice pub not far from my flat with a beamed ceiling and an inglenook fireplace; it seems the perfect place for a group of writers to gather on an autumn evening to sit beside the fire with pints of ale and talk about their latest work, or read a few pages or just sit and enjoy the company.
I could do it; I could post a notice on the community bulletin board and take an ad in the free newspaper and then go down there on the appoint evening.  But I know that prying other writers out of their respective garrets would be a difficult task, and I would probably end up sitting there alone.  Just me, a pint of ale, a warming fire and my laptop.
Actually, that really wouldn’t be so bad; it would be a great opportunity to get some writing done.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Secret of Blog Longevity

I’ve been making a point, lately, about my blog (my main blog) being ten years old.  It’s all part of a self-promotional scheme that you don’t need to concern yourself with.  But I think the fact that I have the longest running blog I know of (I have been asking, but so far no one has come up with one as old or older) might be something of interest to writers.
How, exactly, is that done?
Actually, I think a better question is: Why should it be done?  The answer to that, of course, is: It shouldn’t.
Blogs are ephemeral by nature.  They are of a season, an interest, a point of view, designed to cover a certain period in our lives and then fade away as we move on.  Maintaining the same blog on the same topic for so long merely points to a person who can’t let go.
And having attained this milestone, I can’t say as I feel like a sage sitting on a mountain top dispensing advice to pilgrims.  I’m more like the annoying dad who’s every sentence to his kids begins, “When I was your age…”  (…we wrote in HTML, we had to start our computers with a hand-crank, and it took two weeks to upload a 3k file…)
Anyway, if you want to have a blog that has lasted as long as mine, my advice—even though you didn’t ask for it—is write about something you will never get tired of writing about.
The only blog author I can point to who was around when I was first blogging is Rob Rummel-Hudson.  His blog followed his life’s arc from one adventure to another.  He wrote well and managed to make his life sound interesting and amusing.  Then his daughter was diagnosed with a rare disorder and he started a new blog about that.  He is still keeping that one up.  He chronicles their triumphs and failures, the progress and setbacks, he’s become an expert on bilateral perisylvian polymicrogyria and has, in fact, written a book about his experiences.  We go where life takes us; sometimes we blog about it.
Another long-standing blog is Joe Knorath’s “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” (20 March 2005).  In retrospect, I’m sure Joe wishes he had picked a different title; his blog has not been for or about newbies in a long, long time.  But he has discovered the other secret of longevity: diversity.  Joe was an enthusiastic newbie and more than ready to share all his hard-won knowledge.  This earned him a devoted following.  Then he became the poster boy for self-promotion, he became an early proponent for e-books and now he’s the poster boy for self-publishing.  He has gone on a journey and brought us along for the ride.
In fact the only reason Joe’s blog has not been around as long as mine is that he made the mistake of starting it in 2005 instead of 2001.
There are a lot of good blogs out there (and an unlimited number of really crap ones) but most of them, to my way of thinking, were created with a sell-by date.  Two of my current favorites are The Passive Voice and Catherine, Caffeinated, but I can see both of them running their course.  The Passive Voice is about self-publishing and author contracts, but even now I feel he is preaching to the choir (though, as a member of that choir, I am still an enthusiastic reader).  Catherine’s blog is also about self-publishing, but the title allows her a lot more leeway and she is already using the self-publishing podium as a means of self promotion.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course; that is what blogs are for.
And this is what makes mine different; it was never about self promotion.  Okay, I have ads for my books on the site and, currently, at the end of my posts, but I don’t tuck sales ads into my posts.  My post are what they have always been, humorous, personal essays.  I do write about being an expat a lot, but I have also written about throwing up, encounters with spiders, sitting in a café in a train station and simply riding the bus.
In short, I write about my life; and that’s not something I don’t plan on getting tired of anytime soon.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Divining a Doctrine

...that we henceforth be no more like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine...                                       Ephesians 4:14
No, I’m not getting all religious on you, I just thought that quote from Ephesians was apt, and will maybe get me listed in some different search engines, like Godgle and Ask Jesus.

(Wouldn’t you know, after coming up with that joke, I found out that Ask Jesus is an actual web site.)
But my point is, with the once-stable publication industry now shifting under our feet, and different theories about how writers should react to it careening about like sugar-crazed toddlers at a fun fair, it’s hard to not get carried away, thinking one thing one minute, and another the next.
In reading various articles over the past few weeks, I’ve become convinced that traditional publication is the way to go, and then that only an idiot would consider it, that social media is an absolute must, and then that it is a time-suck to be avoided, that I should be concentrating solely on Amazon sales, and then that the other eBook outlets are every bit as important. My plans for the future, it seems, rest on whichever article I have most recently read, and that is no way to plot a career.
In the old days (say, about 18 months ago) the path was well-defined. The way to publication was rocky and treacherous, but it was stable. Likewise, the ‘alternative’ route—the broad, smooth way, paved with stones from the Good Intentions Construction Company—led to a place no real writer wanted to go; as it always had been and forever would remain, amen. But now the paths are inexplicably merging and the temptation to step off of the rocky trail onto the smooth slip road is becoming harder and harder to resist, especially when those further ahead are telling us that the wide road leads to a better place.
So I’ve been, shall we say, a bit distracted. Oh, I had good intentions: I did set alarms to keep me on track, as I promised I would, and I did my best to make peace with social networking, but I kept sliding deeper into frustration.
Despite the alarms, I would keep hammering away at the social networks, determined to get at least one tweet, post or comment out in the allotted time. I rarely did, which did absolutely nothing to assist my marketing efforts and merely assured that I would start each day off with a magnificent FAIL. Only then would I attempt to write (‘attempt’ being the operative word). After a time I gave up attempting. Then I gave up social networking.
This wasn’t an altogether bad thing; sitting and doing nothing for a few days gave me time to reflect. Soon enough, the answer came, as it always does: it’s all about the writing.
As a writer, I should be writing; tweeting, commenting, posting or working up graphics for my next book ad are all secondary. The writing is the thing, working on THIS book, not the last one, not the next one. By making that the center of my day, all the rest will fall into place.
So, after weeks of angst and soul-searching, I have decided on this as my definitive doctrine. Until I read another article.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cult of the Self Published

Back when I was in the cult, I had—shall we say—a selective view of the world.  Cults, to no one’s surprise, tend to associate only with like-minded people, and for our part, we spent much of our time preaching our own message to ourselves.  AS such, we were not known to be well-balanced individuals.  Over time, we pile one truth upon another and extrapolated a new truth from that, and then another, and another.  Eventually, our beliefs parted company with the real world, but in our view, we owned the monopoly on reality; it was everyone else who was wrong.
I got out, but have remained wary of evangelists—of any flavor—ever since, which was why I resisted the self-publishing revolution for so long; it smelled like zealotry to me.  Eventually, I joined the uprising, but now that I am on the inside I wonder how skewed my perspective is becoming.
It’s something that merits sober thought, especially as it happened so fast: not too long ago self-publishing was a prohibitively expensive and unattractive option, then it became affordable but still undesirable, and now, of course, it is such a cheap, easy and attractive option that only an idiot would agree to be shackled by a traditional publishing contract .  Or would they?
The arguments against tradition publication are compelling, and based on undeniable truths.  The web—at least the part of it I haunt these days, looking for like-minded people—is  filled with horror stories where publishers play the Big Bad Wolf and the formerly hapless writer is Little Red Riding Hood.  (I suppose this would make self-publishing the Heroic Woodsman, who chops up the wolf in the nick of time and sets Red free to gather her royalties and residuals.)
I don’t doubt the stories—someone is always ready with a “How Things Went Horribly Wrong” epic—and I trust in the logic, but still I wonder if there isn’t another reality out there.  I find it hard to believe that publishers are swirling around the rim of the drain, begging for writer’s to sign with them.  Especially not when the lowest earner on the list of the 53 largest publishing companies (you thought there were only 6, didn’t you) managed, even though they took a small loss, to pull in $232,000,000 in revenue last year.  Admittedly, that’s not a lot by many people’s standards, but they are certainly not headed for the poor house any time soon.  Neither are the top twenty publishers on the list: every one of them (and there were an even number of winners and losers) registered income in the billions.
So why am I being assured they’ll all be bankrupt in a matter of days while we’re all happily self-publishing ourselves onto the Fortune 500 List?  I am certainly no prognosticator of business, or trends, but there must be people out there successfully selling to traditional publishers, who are perfectly happy with their contracts and who don’t feel like a mug for having chosen to not self-publish.
I hope so, because I would like to be one of them someday.
It’s hard to think that way, however, when you find yourself surrounded by people who believe, quite passionately, in a different reality.  And it’s hard to think beyond this reality when the foundation is so undeniably sound: “You’ll maintain creative control” is a prospect almost any writer welcomes, “You’ll keep most of the profits,” is another, but “Most people buy their books online,” is where the reality begins to thin.  Do they?  We like to say they do, and we point to facts and figures that purport to prove it, but how much of that is wishful thinking.  And how much of that wishful thinking is there simply to shore up the next truth: “You can sell on Amazon just as easily as anyone else.”
This is where we part company with reality because that is patently false.  And, paradoxically, if it were true, none of us would sell much of anything.  Imagine what would happen if each one of the millions of self-published writers suddenly acquired the drive and determination of Joe Konrath, the inspired weirdness of Russell Blake and the marketing chutzpah of John Locke?  I’m trying to, but I’m sure even my most radical fantasies fall short.  I do know, however, that none of them would sell many books because readers would not be able to reach beyond the competing babble.  Not that it would matter, because none of them would find the time to write more books, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Self-Publishing Denier, and none of this has made me sorry I self-published; I’m just wondering, that’s all.  And seeking balance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Russell Blake’s Satire Nails It

Self-published authors, I am assured, read a lot of self-published “How To Self Publish” books.  I can believe that; it makes perfect sense, and it is certainly true in my case.  The one I’m reading now, however, is not your typical How-To book.
If Self-Publication is the New Religion, then Joe Konrath is its John the Baptist, a voice crying in the wilderness, showing the way, and Catherine Ryan Howard would be all of the Apostles (with the exception of Judas) rolled into one, who wrote down the story and plotted the path with precise, sometimes poetic, prose.  John Locke, then, would be Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who took The Message and perverted it into something as titillating and lucrative as hard-core porn, which can only mean that Russell Blake, with his parody, How To Sell A Gazillion Books, is Pontius Pilate, nailing the Holy Grail of Self-Pubbed Riches firmly to the cross of satire.

Now, you can go with that tortured analogy or just believe me when I tell you that this is one funny book, as long as it keeps within its target audience, which is anyone who has tried or is considering self-publication or someone obligated to suffer through the process due to the unfortunate “through better or worse, richer or poorer” codicil in the marriage contract.  But let’s face it, these days that’s about 98% of the population.
I stumbled across Blake’s blog not so long ago; it would have been difficult to find it earlier as he seems to have popped up out of nowhere right around the time John Locke’s book hit the Indie market.  Blake appeared to be your basic middle-aged guy who wrote a book and slapped it up on Smashwords and Kindle, but his blog had a nice professional-esque polish to it and his sporadic posts were highly entertaining.  Blake admittedly read John Locke’s book, and I noted, as he tweeted and tweeted and tweeted, that he was following Locke’s road map but, unlike the pedophile mentioned in my previous post, he was doing it correctly.  His tweets were frequent, but they were funny and they linked, not to his Kindle book page, but to his current post, which provided a bit of entertainment for your trouble.  Once on his website, if you connected with the persona he invented for himself, and happened to notice that he had written a thriller book, you might be interested enough in the Russell Blake persona to buy it.  I wasn’t, but his posts are funny.
He has also pulled a page from Locke’s formula by having both his books reviewed early on.  All the reviews are 5 star and about half are from people who have only review that one book.  Or in this case, both his thriller (5 stars) and his parody (5 stars).  Some of the other reviewers have a handful of non-Blake related reviews (5 stars) that include, (intriguingly) John Locke’s books.  (Before we move on, allow me to confess that my few Amazon reviews are also almost exclusively 5 stars.  If I don’t like a book, I can’t be bothered to review it.  So 5 Star reviewers are not necessarily bad or dishonest, they are just not balanced.)
The fact that some of his reviewers are John Locke crossovers, and the way he is flawlessly following John Locke’s Million Sales instruction manual coupled with his sudden appearance in cyberspace (coinciding, as mentioned above, with the publication of John Locke’s book) and my inability to find anything else out about him leads me to speculate (not believe at this point, but I think the evidence is clearly pointing in this direction) that Russell Blake is John Locke.  My theory is he’s attempting to recreate his success under an assumed name so he can validate his Method, sell a gazillion more books and laugh even harder on his way to the bank (or when he checks his Kindle stats on-line).
Remember, you heard it here first.
But, whoever he is, he wrote a brilliant parody, and if you are one of the many caught up in the self-publishing hype, you might enjoy the way Mr. Blake (or Mr. Locke, as the case may be) punctures the pomposity that is building within the self-pubbing community.
I enjoyed this book.  You mileage may vary.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Second Look

There’s been a lot of soul-searching on this blog lately.  That’s okay; it’s what it was originally meant for.  I never imagined this blog to be much-followed, unless a vast supply of people—eager to read about the angst and dead ends that creep into a fledgling writer’s life after the decision to “go pro” is made—suddenly appeared.
The angst and dead-end of the moment revolves around Social Networking and my reluctance to use it for marketing.
I was living happily in denial for a while but, over the past few days happenstance intervened in the form of some relevant link I found myself on the business end of.  These articles, that I never set out to read, led me to the regrettable conclusion that Social Networking is a must.  My reaction to it reminded me of when I was a PC co-ordinator many years ago, removing typewriters and putting computers in their place.  The typists nearly rebelled, refusing to use the new technology.  And it was my job to tell them, it didn’t matter how they felt about it, these were the tools they needed to use in order to do their job.  Their choice was to use the tools or get another job.
So, after a second look, I grudgingly accepted the fact that, like it or not, Social Networking, at this time, is absolutely essential to marketing (may it soon pass), whether you are traditionally published or self-published.  Once I accepted this, I realized that I didn’t object to Social Networking, or Marketing, so much as some of the tactics.
This is where I felt I could safely draw a line.  The tools are a necessity, but how I use them is up to me.  What was stopping me was seeing what other people were doing and me thinking, “What an asshole!” and, unsurprisingly, deciding I didn’t want to do that.
There is a guy I ended up following on Twitter who, every single hour, night and day, tweets a link to his book with a variety of messages that all say the same thing: “Buy my book.  Retweet this.”  Early on, I had a look at his book (you cannot deny this method is effective) and the cover looked as if it was created by a talented eleven-year-old and the book itself, as the single, honest reviewer noted, read like it was written by a child.  The other reviews (and there were many) were all five star raves by reviewers who, oddly enough, had not reviewed any other book.  And to top it off, the guy’s profile picture made him look like a pedophile.
This is not something I want other people to be saying about me.
It now occurs to me that I was looking at it from a negative point of view, and as if I had no control over any of these factors.  All I could see was what I didn’t want to do, not what I could do, not the things I had control over.  So I changed my profile picture (my old one made me look a bit like a pedophile) and developed a workable social networking plan that I could live with.
In a way, going part time at my job in order to provide more time to write was working against me.  It encouraged me to log on to Twitter and/or Facebook (and now, and/or Google +) at 5:30 AM, when my writing day began, and agonize endlessly over what to say, if to say it, who to respond to and, of course, follow endless links until it occurred to me that I was hungry and it was approaching noon.  Each day I had a ToDo list, but I rarely completed every item on it and production fell further and further behind, because there was always tomorrow to get it done.  Except tomorrow I would wake up, log on to Twitter the day would bog down in frustration.
So this weekend I made a schedule.  A realistic one that includes set times to be on line and set goals for each session.  Not big goals or goals that I have no control over.  The focus will simply be on interaction, making a few posts and following relevant people in the hopes I will get followers in return.
Items on my ToDo list now have set times of the day to deal with them and I scheduled in a time, once a week, to review the previous week and plot out my goals for the next week.  It’s not a grand plan, or a foolproof one, but it is a plan, and having one will at least help me make more progress than the random way I have been going about things.
I think this will clear up a few dead ends; now to do something about the angst.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Passive Marketing

I received my quarterly royalty statement yesterday.  (If saying that out loud doesn’t make you feel like a writer, I don’t know what will.)  It’s for my first book, Postcards-I as I now refer to it; incredibly, it is still selling.  Not a lot, but consistently.
This, recall, is a book with an off-putting price tag and one that I have done no marketing for during the last two and a half years.  Yet people are finding it.  And buying it.  Compare that to Postcards-II, the better book (as some have said), the more reasonably priced book, the book I am pushing on anyone who will listen, the book that sits on the virtual shelf right next to Postcards-I.  And that book is not selling.  The mind boggles.
Well, the mind boggled a bit, but mostly it’s not thinking about it.  I’ve made peace with the fact that I am simply not a good marketer.  It is huge handicap, but there is not a lot I can do about it.  As the saying goes, “You can lead a writer to Twitter, but you can’t make him tweet.”  Some writers are naturals at virtual socializing.  I am not.  For those who are good at it, virtual socializing becomes an enjoyable part of their day; to me, it means constant effort, continual mental anguish and the vague yet pervasive feeling that everyone who encounters me on-line thinks I'm a snake-oil salesman.
I needed no further proof of this, but Google+ provided it anyway.  Google’s answer to Facebook arrived in my IN box less than a week ago.  I may be a dweeb when it comes to social networking, but I’m still a geek at heart and so I had a play with it.  Already I am finding writers (of the self-pubbing school) leaping on this new wave, trying to wring every drop of marketing power out of it that they can.  Some of these people already have hundred of followers.  I have seven.
Now, it’s not that I didn’t have the idea that Google+ could be worked into a great marketing tool (I did), it’s that I didn’t have the instinct, imagination or drive to put that idea into practice.
Much as I hate to admit it, social networking, in this micro-age, is an absolute necessity if you are going to sell anything.  Taking that, and my lack of virtual social grace, into account, I have formulated a plan:  Get other people to do it for me.  The key is to do something so interesting or unusual that others will tweet and post and G+ it all over cyberspace without you having to touch a keypad.  Unfortunately, I’m a bit stuck on the “do something interesting” stage; I’ll have to get back to you on that.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep on doing what I feel comfortable with, which is offering my book for reviews, pimping my posts when I think they are interesting enough and popping into Twitter, Facebook and G+ off and on just so people know I’m still alive.  Anything else makes me feel like a huckster.
So, for now, I’m taking a passive role.  My first book found an audience and so will the new one, even if I don’t jump up and down, wave my arms and scream “LOOK AT ME!”  I just wish I could get some real, useful marketing help.
What I would really like is this:
Someone could start a service that would look over your manuscript for you and, if they thought it would sell, they would do all the hard work of editing, proof reading, production and distribution.  And they would handle all the marketing.  Because they were doing all this, they would naturally get a bigger cut of the profits (you might squeal about that, but consider this: if your $2.00 Kindle book sells in a “non-Amazon” country, Amazon will scoop up 82% of the takings, and they don’t even proof read your manuscript for you).  This would allow me to work on a second book while they marketed the first book.  I would do what I do best, they would do what they do best and, in a perfect world, we would both make money.
But we know this isn’t a perfect world.
In a perfect world, Yoko would have jumped in front of John.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Quit

I’ve had enough fun with the "zero-selling book" shtick, and I’ve had a bit of a think about this whole self-promotion business; now it’s time to get back to work.  At the end of the day, it’s all about the words.
Self publishing is an amazement, a miracle that allows writers to get their work in front of an audience.
Self-promotion is another thing altogether.  To many, it is a chance to shine, to gather an adoring audience, to reap the rewards of their hard work.  To me, however, it is a frustrating time-suck, a con, and something I am coming to believe I am better off without.
But (I hear you exclaim) a self-published writer must self-promote.  No one is going to find your book by accident.  True.  But there are a few facts of life that need to be taken into account when it comes to me and self-promotion: when I say I suck at it, I don’t simply mean I don’t like to do it, or that I am not very good at it, I mean I am genetically unable to do it; you may as well ask me to write a thesis on quark physics, I’ll have just as much of a chance of pulling it off.  And this is not something I am just discovering.
Consider this:
  • Back when I was a PC manager, my boss asked me to evaluate new software and I wrote a memo to him (I still have a copy) that says there is no future in MS Windows.
  • I went with 8-track tapes
  • I bought a Betamax
In short, I am rubbish at making business decisions or prognostications, and have no imagination when it comes to exploiting new technology.  I’m also a writer, which means I am not naturally a pushy person.  If you see me at a party, you’ll likely find me sitting by myself in the corner with a drink in my hand, observing.  This leads most people to assume I’m shy or, perhaps, someone with “special needs” but I’m just a writer, doing what writer’s do.
The On-Line Marketing Game is also becoming more frenetic.  When my first book was published, I had the blog, and my followers, and I was encouraged to send my book to reviewers.  I was able to do these things, but it took about all my time and pushed me to my marketing limits.
Now, however, social networking is The Thing, and I MUST be a gadabout on Twitter and Facebook if I hope to have a chance in hell of selling a book.  But Twitter intimidates me and my Facebook friends are, well, my friends, not a marketing opportunity.  And I cannot tweet every hour, on the hour, day in, day out, about my book.  This is what people seem to think you have to do to get noticed (and they not only think it, they do it, and it is highly annoying), so what am I do to in the face of this onslaught, post every 45 minutes?  (I’ve had a look: my balls are neither that large nor made of brass, so this is not something I would even consider.)
Besides, every single person following me on Twitter is trying to sell me something.  So they aren’t exactly a great target audience, either.
And now, as I struggle to get a handle on the basics of social networking, along comes TweetDeck, and ChimpLst, and Google Reader, and HootSuite, and Google+, and TweetSprout, and Social Media Examiner, and there are simply not enough hours in the day to keep up with these things.  And if I read an article on using Social Media to pimp your book, I get advice like “embed a retweet button in a free chapter of your book” and I don’t even know what the fuck that means.
And throughout all of this, the only constant is that fact that I am not getting any writing done.  Not a bit.  All my time, effort, energy and the will to live is being sucked away by futile attempts to conquer Social Networking.
So enough is enough; I quit.  Social Networking: 1, Me: 0.
This doesn’t mean I am giving up.  Quite the opposite; I am going back to what this is all about—the writing.  After all, this blog isn’t called “The Life of Social Marketing.”