Tag Archives: novels

Test the Waters

OK, OK, I’ve made the obvious analogy of the literary ocean and throwing your work in it before, but sometimes it really can feel like that. Writing is hard. Marketing it is harder.

Sure, you can throw your hard-earned at any number of social media-savvy agencies who will promote your book and it may even work, but the hard truth is that with the freedom of self-publishing comes the reality that everybody is doing it. And that’s great. Let’s just make that clear SELF PUBLISHING IS GREAT.

So what does it mean? It means that even with a serious advertising budget, you’ll be up against some serious competition to get noticed. That’s why it’s a good idea to test the waters with your first foray in to self-publishing. OK, so you’ve been slaving away at your 100,000-word fantasy epic for months – years and it’s finally ready. Now, the world will know the true power of destiny and the irrepressible lure of the Tanthis Stone…but wait. Rush headlong into marketing it with no experience and it’ll probably just end up being read by your eccentric Auntie and Jeff your old college friend. And maybe Alison from work.

When I say experience, I don’t mean time served as a social media executive, either. I’m just talking about the experience of self-publishing and marketing and everything that brings. It’s tough, and a relentless grind. Doing it first with a shorter novella, like I did, is a sensible idea. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my novella Whisper Wood and worked hard at it, but I’m glad I used it to get some experience. I’m always learning and that’s the best way to look at self-publishing. Don’t expect readers to come to your book, take it to the readers, tell them why they should read it.

Comment on other authors’ stuff and write too. I’m genuinely grateful to fellow bloggers who follow and share my updates on here – each of them on their own creative journey. The same goes for Twitter’s supportive and fun #WritingCommunity. There’s enough space for us all, so let’s get writing!

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To Club or Not to Club?

No, I’m not talking about hitting the dance floor. This isn’t that kind of blog. Though that said, throwing some shapes like nobody’s watching is a guaranteed wellness tip I can certainly get behind!

I’m talking about the book club, reading club, reading circle or whatever you want to call it. Whether it’s a classic library meet-up in person (something which I guess will have become a bit of a novelty again after the last couple of years) or as part of an online community like Goodreads, book clubs are certainly alive and well. The thing is, I just don’t get them.

If you’re still reading, either you don’t either, or you’re a tensed-up ball of book club-loving anger, only sticking this out to the end so you can take me to task in the comments. Well, please feel free! I’m not here to pour scorn on the idea of like-minded peeps getting together to discuss a book, just sharing my general ignorance of the whole thing.

If I like a book, I’ll recommend it and most often lend it to a friend. I’ll also occasionally offer my opinions of one retrospectively in an online discussions page. However, even though I’m a very sociable person, paradoxically, I’m also a bit of a loner in some ways too. I go for a run alone, I’m not interested in team sports and I like to read something in my own time and on my own terms. I guess if there’s a book that ‘everyone is reading’ or is the ‘big hit of the summer’ I’ll automatically avoid it and come back to it when all the fuss has died down. I think it’s just wanting to do my own thing, and pick up a book at random, whether it’s an old Iain Banks paperback I’ve found in the charity shop, some Sherlock Holmes on my tablet, a Michael Moorcock I picked up years ago and never got round to reading (I know, sorry!) or Dave Grohl’s excellent The Storyteller that I got for Christmas. I mix them up, don’t have a plan and just go for it.

For me, reading is a very personal experience. Certainly as far as fiction goes, it’s pure therapeutic escapism, and I want the characters to be preserved in my mind exactly how I imagined them. It’s my little world and I want it to stay that way. I say to people who don’t read fiction that really for me, it’s like a film or a box set in my mind. I love movies, I love video games and I love books. I’ve no time for the snobbery that I’ve sometimes seen on social media regarding all these. Why can’t I enjoy a bit of everything? It’s all escapism and it’s all fun. As long as there’s a story, I’m in.

Well, that turned into a bit of a rant didn’t it? I guess if you’re as passionate as I am, they why shouldn’t you meet with other like-minded people to talk about what you’re reading and share the magic? I might even join you. Just not yet.

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When writing’s a chore, get in the game!

I’ve blogged in the past about keeping irons in the fire when it comes to your writing, and it is indeed good to have a few projects on the go. These don’t all have to be novels though! When building a believable world seems like it’s the world away, the last thing you’ll be wanting to do is try to dream up another!

That’s why I have a mental list (but you can physically write one, if your a list type) of projects to work on. When I was finishing off my novella I was also Dungeon Master with a group of friends who love the escape is of a good old RPG! I started off by running a pre-written adventure, and loved it so much that I wrote a sequel to it myself. I got great satisfaction from seeing the party negotiate the dungeons and forests I’d mapped out, fight monsters I’d thrown in their path and bring some of my NPCs (non-player characters) to life as they met the part in any number of situations. If you’re a gamer yourself, writing your own adventure is a great way to keep those creative juices flowing and try out some of your imagination’s creations on a captive audience!

Another thing on my list was lyrics, though you could easily create some poetry or just catalogue your free-form thoughts. Being in bands, I’ve found it’s always useful to have some spare lyrics lying around, even if you’re not the singer!

Short stories are great too! If a crazy idea fleetingly pops into your head while sat in front of your computer – don’t let it pass and just run with it and follow where it goes. The short story format is great because you don’t have to worry about creating lots of characters or excessive world-building. It’s just about capturing that burst of imagination you had in an effective way.

And lastly, you could do what I’m doing now – just blog! There’s sure to be something that’s on your mind, and it’s always rewarding to get it out there and get some opinions. It’s a great way to share your knowledge too.

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Always have another iron in the fire

Aside from the (very) rare flash of inspiration which has produced a short story or a lyric, I’ve always been a methodical plodder, a workhorse doggedly sticking to one project through fear of distraction. The problem was, ‘sticking to it’ for me meant hammering away intensely for a bit, then leaving it for a few months because life got in the way. Hardly living life at the literary coalface.

Sound familiar? Maybe you know who all your characters are, what they’re going to do and how everything turns out, but you’re procrastinating over that first edit or beta read submission, fearing it might come back tattered, bloody and full of holes.

After finishing the first draft of my novella, this was me. I felt like I’d done all the creative stuff, but still needed something to keep me occupied when the editing stage got a little bit much. So I started a ‘no pressure, just for fun’ project; something I could chip away at in between bouts of editing and worrying. I found this really useful, because it kept my creative juices flowing while I was wearing my editing hat. Because my mind was still in a creative mode, I think it helped me resolve a few things with my main manuscript, and I also managed to create something new along the way. (In my case, a novelisation of a Dungeons and Dragons adventure I’d written for my players.)

If you haven’t tried this, why not give it a go? Who knows, your ‘just for fun’ project may end up growing some serious legs and scurry off to enjoy a life of its own. But if dragging out the toolbox for another bout of world-building sounds like too daunting a prospect, no pressure. Just write a bit of your own fan fiction and take some of your favourite characters on a whole new journey. The world’s already there, so just have some fun exploring it.

Another approach is just to write. It doesn’t matter what it is, just stream-of-consciousness musings, some poetry or maybe even a blog like this one.

So go on, add a few more irons to the fire and see what you can forge.

Photo by C D-X on Unsplash

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*SPOILER ALERT*

It’s so much a part of our modern-day lexicon these days. Indeed, I’m hoping you read past that one, or else this blog would be rendered completely pointless!

Thanks to social media, and the internet in general, the latest film or book can be pulled apart, mercilessly dissected and strung up for all to see as soon as it’s released (and quite often before). Who among us actually wants to know all that stuff, if it’s something we’re passionate about? Why would someone, presumably of a like mind to us because they’re into the same kind of things, want to ruin it for everyone else? Is it just a power-crazed keyboard warrior mentality, that they have the power to put a downer on someone’s day, or is it that they’re simply just truly rubbish at keeping a secret? Is the irresistible urge just to blurt out what they know, like the knowledge is just too much for their brain?

I guess I’ll never really know what makes that kind of person tick.

Because I never went in search of my Christmas presents as a child.

I don’t want to see behind the scenes.

I don’t read blurbs for books or films.

For me, it’s always been about keeping the mystery alive. But why? Is this me desperately scrabbling for that lost childhood innocence, or merely just seeking out a bit of escapism? OK, contradiction time. I said I don’t read blurbs, but I was faced with writing one for my novella. Not everyone’s weird like me, and let’s face it, I can’t expect people to part with a bit of their hard-earned if I don’t tell them just a little about what they’re getting themselves into!

So, I gave them just one tiny stocking filler, one little sneak-peek behind the curtain. I think self-publishing has taught me a lot of things, but the willingness to dangle the ole’ literary carrot was one of the most important ones. When it comes to your blurb, it should do two things:

1) Entice the reader

2) Not give too much away.

It’s sometimes a fine balancing act. Even now, (only after I’ve finished reading a book, obviously!) I read the blurb, and quite often think that it’s giving too much away. But well, that’s just me. I enjoy being whisked away on the journey and never try to guess the end, so my way suits me fine.

Your readers however, may want a couple of the key map points laid out to help them on their way. That’s fine, but just make sure you don’t lay down too many clues as to where the treasure’s hidden.

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Change of seasons, change of format?

If you’re anything like me, your inbox has been mercilessly bombarded of late with ‘end of summer’ ‘back to school’ and ‘last of the summer savings’ emails, heralding the inevitable change of seasons that happens every year, but somehow seems to catch us unawares.

I think reading is tied in to all this. ‘Summer reads’, ‘holiday reads’ ‘curl up with a good book’ are all phrases you’ve no doubt seen or heard numerous times over the years. They’re emotive though, and this recent flurry of in-box activity got me thinking. What’s the ideal book format for the time of year?

The humble paperback is synonymous with summer. It’s more portable and less valuable, so if it succumbs to a poolside splash or some scuffs of sand, big deal! It weighs less and is smaller so easier to carry around. An oily fingerprint from your sun tan lotion can add its own story to the existing one, reminding you of where you were when you read it.

You’d be less likely to take your hardback, dust-cover volumes away with you though. After all, you probably reserve this more pricey format to add to the collection populated by your very favourite writers. Though they’re far less practical, I do like hardbacks. Aside from the pages staying open much easier, there’s something instantly scholarly about them. For me, the idea of ‘winter reading’ conjures up images of Holmes and Watson, combing through musty old volumes from the Baker Street archives by lamplight in a bid to track down their latest adversary. Oh and they look great on the shelf too!

Then there’s Kindle. Whether it’s the device itself or through an app on your tablet, the e-book format has made millions of books available to everyone, everywhere. No need to agonise over which book to take on holiday with a digital library at your fingertips. Of course, it’s great for self-published authors too, and – here comes the plug – it made my novella available instantly to anyone around the world.

An audiobook is certainly your best friend at bath time. No book-drop mishaps or steamed up glasses for the short-sighted here. Of course, they’re great for car journeys, park runs and gym workouts too, making them the perfect choice for any multitasker.

Whatever format you prefer, losing yourself in a new book is the perfect way to ease yourself into autumn.

Let me know your favourite format in the comments!

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You don’t always have to box off

Believe me, that was a hard heading to write. I’m the kind of person who likes to box things off and get one thing done before starting another. It makes me feel good because I’ve achieved something and not left any loose ends. It doesn’t always work that way with writing though.

Sure, you want to get that novel finished above all else. You want to commit dedicated time to it and not procrastinate. I get it. But I’m guessing that if you like writing, you’re an imaginative person and you’re always getting random ideas. These could be a scenario, a sentence, or even just a bit of dialogue – it doesn’t matter. Write them down. Make sure you keep a notebook for all your random ideas and don’t worry about keeping them spinning away while slaving over your main story.

This is great for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll have a few ideas floating around, which is always rich food for the imagination. Secondly, it’s a brilliant solution if you’ve set aside time to write but you’re hitting a literary brick wall with your main project. That time will never be wasted, because you can pick up on one of your other ideas and see where it goes. You may develop a storyline for a sequel, or a whole new series. You may even dream up something so amazing that it becomes your new main project. Lots of fantastic things have grown from the germ of an idea, and your next idea could be one of them.

So, don’t be afraid to start something new and keep all those plates spinning. Great things could happen.

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Now’s the time to read and write

OK, you may argue that any time is a good time to do one or both of those things, but hey, let me jump on the Corona virus bandwagon for just a short time.

While it’s important to keep track of everything that’s going on and all the latest updates for the sake of our own health, it’s also important not to get bogged down with feelings of foreboding and desperation. Our own mental health is as important as our physical health and if we don’t keep our minds occupied in these times of social distancing and self-isolation, we risk putting ourselves at serious harm.

I realise that’s easier said than done in a lot of cases, but finding the time to read and treating yourself to a little escapism really can help. (Just stay away from any post-apocalyptic epics if you’re feeling particularly susceptible!)

It’s also a great time to start writing that book you’ve always wanted to write; you know, the one you spend so much time procrastinating over. If you’re in a situation where you have a lot of time to yourself – get writing. Now is the time. Not only will it keep your mind exercised and active, but it’ll help your well-being by just having your mind on something else for a while.

Of course, life goes on. Don’t lock yourself away expecting to churn out 100,000 words in a couple of weeks. Plan your day, get a routine. Work in some writing time. This could be the moment you finally get started. Or maybe you’ve already written a book and are putting off the dreaded re-draft. Again get stuck in while you can, and grow your next novel some legs.

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It’s fine to sit on your first draft

After months (maybe years?) of sketching out ideas, procrastinating, fleshing out characters, developing plots, then procrastinating a bit more, you’ve finally got your novel finished. Well, the first draft of it anyway. So what to do now?

It’s safe to say that nobody ever got their first draft published, so the next logical step is your second draft. The important thing is here though, don’t rush it. After all, it took you this long to get here didn’t it? Sit on your first draft for a while. Leave it alone. Don’t look at it and try not to think about it. Go off and write about something else – maybe that short story idea you’ve had simmering away in the back of your mind for a while, or even just another blog post.

This will make it much easier to look at your writing objectively when you do get to your second draft. After being immersed in your book’s own little world for months, you need some time to purposely forget some of the detail, so when you do come back to it, you’ll find it much more easy to notice all those parts you want to develop or change. And, because your brain has still been creatively active, but in different ways, you’ll be able to look at your book with fresh eyes. Who knows? Maybe something else you write may trigger off an idea on how to fine-tune that character who in your heart of hearts, you still have niggling doubts about.

Read as much as you can, too. It’s a great way to improve your own writing. Obviously I don’t mean you should go and steal someone’s idea, but you’ll subconsciously absorb lots of things you don’t even realise. After all, what you read for most of your life shaped you into the writer you are today, and you probably didn’t even know it! When you think you have your final draft ready, send it over to me, and I’ll put the finishing touches to all your hard work!

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It doesn’t matter what you write

woman typing writing programming

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

OK, that’s a statement that could be viewed in a positive or negative light.

But what I guess I’m saying is, the ‘act’ of writing is often more important. You know, in that ‘the point of the journey is not to arrive’ kind of way. It’s what I’m doing right now. I decided I wanted to share my thoughts on the act of writing. I won’t be any worse off if you don’t read this or share it, but obviously, it would be great if you did!

Just getting those creative juices flowing and stimulating the mind with some good old-fashioned ramblings is a great way to start the day. You may find the very act of writing too daunting, and think it’s somehow the preserve of people who wear no socks and work on their novels in coffee shops, or sage journalistic masters, who enjoy telling anybody who’ll listen about the dark days before the internet. The truth is, anyone can write and modern technology makes it easy.

If you’re unsure of where to start, start small. A review of a book or an album you’ve just bought, some of your favourite travel destinations – all these things can be left in the feedback sections of the site you bought them from. It can be a good way of finding your voice if you’re not sure what it sounds like, and you’ll be informing people too.

So, get writing! And when you’ve worked your way up to that novel you’ve always wanted to write, give me a shout!

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