Tag Archives: publish

You can’t go back

A friend of mine, one who bounced ideas off for years, is currently hard at work on his first novel and now when our paths cross it’s his turn to bounce ideas off me – what comes around goes around. I won’t say anything about the nature of his work because that’s entirely his to introduce. What I will talk about it a sentence from him that started with: “I’m thinking about going back and-”

No

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes from mixing up character and place names to wacky typos to find and replace errors. All of which pale in comparison against the cardinal sin of writing that I have committed. Namely going back and tinkering. Now I will add a qualification. What I refer to is going back while writing the first draft. Yes, you will have to go back and make repeated passes through it if you have any sort of notion of putting the work forward for publication, because gods know, the chance of it being perfect on the first pass is about the same as the metaphorical thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters producing the works of Shakespeare.

Writing is by its nature a learning experience where to be honest I think the only way to stop learning is to stop writing but your first serious attempt is the one where you’ll learn the most the quickest. When I start a story I have one or two characters, some basics for the setting and maybe a couple of scenes. As you go a long things get fleshed out, gaps start to get filled in, you start to get a handle on the process, the words are starting to pour out of you. Then you look back.

That section or chapter you thought was great now seems clumsy or you’ve come up with a something that really needs to be put in a few chapter earlier. So you go back, you tinker.

You stop making forward progress.

A story, be it novel, novella or even short story, needs to have a start, a middle and an end. No matter how cracking the first line, paragraph or chapter is, it isn’t a story because it isn’t complete. Going back becomes a cycle. You go back to make a change and that change cause knock on changes so you end up working your way up through the existing text making more changes. By the time you get back to where you left off you’ve learned a few more things, had a few more ideas and you go back again and the cycle continues. All the while the story doesn’t get really any closer to actually being finished but does get closer to being abandoned.

The Nameless War was my slowest book to write, several years, because during the first and second draft I kept going back. The Last Charge was done in less than two because I was more disciplined, yes I did change my mind about details as I wrote but didn’t go back to change them straight away. In fact when I finished each chapter I tended to mutter to myself “That needs a lot of work.” then open a new file for the next chapter.

I’m currently writing a time travel story which as you might imagine does involve a lot of double checking but I’m not going back to change anything. Not yet. As I said before writing is a learning experience which makes going back a false economy. Changes while it is all work in progress could and likely will be changed again. With first drafts don’t be afraid of changes in writing style as you go, you’re learning. Once you have the full text, then you can apply all the things you have learned. If you are afraid of forgetting to make a change to an earlier chapter, then add a footnote to it.

But above all else, keep going forwards.

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Book Three – The Last Charge is now available for Pre-order

If the end was near in my last post it is getting nearer. Book three is now available for pre-order on Amazon.UK and Amazon.COM. Publication date is now set for the First of October. (Yippeee)

Last Charge cover

Those of you on my mailing list will be getting a sample chapter later this week just to whet your appetite.

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Writer Beware

A celebrated children’s author-turned-publisher has left the country, with a trail of unpaid debts and angry authors in her wake.

It started so promisingly and ended so horribly. Twenty months ago Jill Marshall was a local hero, albeit an adopted one. In 2011, Next magazine chose her as its Woman of the Year (arts and culture), an honour still listed on her profile on internet site LinkedIn.

Marshall is now back in England, having left behind a posse of irate and disillusioned authors, a trail of debt and no forwarding address. A “desperately-seeking-Jill” message by one of the authors on Marshall’s Facebook page has gone unanswered, attempts to contact her by email and via the two vice-presidents appointed to her company have proved equally fruitless…

The above quote is take from the New Zealand Herald and the full article can be found here. Now I’ve talked quite a bit about self publishing and traditional publishing but now I’d like to say a word about publishing in general.

For the would be writer I believe we have entered a golden age. With the advent of e-publishing the writer has never had more potential routes to the book buying public. But while there are readers out there, there are also sharks. The vanity press industry has of course a long and inglorious history and somewhat inexplicably still exists. But they aren’t the only ones a writer should beware of.

In the case of the article at the top I would guess1) that the individual in question went in with honest intentions but found herself in over her head. What can be taken from that is that someone can be honest but that doesn’t make them competent.

So what I my watch out for points? Well…

1) Money. Lets start with the sordid one. If a ‘publisher’ can make money without you making money, that’s not a warning sign, it’s all the reason you should need to walk away2).

2) Know what level you’re aiming for and develop the necessary skills. Self publishing mean developing certain computer skills3). Traditional publishing means entering into business relationships4). Either way do the research to know what you’re getting into – do not assume it-will-be-all-right-on-the-night.

3) Research anyone/organization you deal with. There are plenty of places on the net where other writers will have reported the dishonest and inept. Find them.

At the end of the day if you have written a book, then what you have is probably the fruits of several years of effort. You have likely poured yourself into it and regardless to what it is, how good it is or how you would like to put it out to the world you are proud of it. Don’t you want to stay proud? You don’t want in a few years time to be looking back on it with anger and bitterness because you or someone else screwed it up.

So take a step back, engage what in the world of accountancy is called Professional Scepticism to take a cold hard look at your options, then proceed.

Regards

 

1) Emphasis on the word ‘guess’

2) Obviously there are a couple of qualifiers to that statement. If you self pub editors and cover designers are going to be paid before you make anything. But the point is these individuals offer only one service. Anyone calling themselves a publisher is in theory offering the full range of services needed to bring the book to market. If they’re looking for you to pony up cash… well then you’re effectively taking all the financial risks of self publishing without the potential rewards or put more succinctly – a sucker.

3) Which are surprisingly limited. I am not a computer expert and my first port of call when the computer acts up is to swear at it. After that I generally muddle through.

4) It is especially important that once contracts are mentioned you damn well read it. If it is over your head get someone with the necessary know-how and training to read it. Sign without knowing what you’re signing is just asking to be ripped off.

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords and paperback.

The Job Offer, available on Kindle Smashwords and Kobo.

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Self Publishing Question – Are the other platforms worth the bother?

At this point in time Amazon’s system is the dominate one in the world of self publishing. However it isn’t the only show in town. The question I would like to offer a few words on is whether it is the only one worth bothering with.

To date I have published ebooks via Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback via Createspace; the links for them can be found at the end of this post. Now this post is probably pretty worthless without some numbers. So as of end of 19th May 2013 I have sold – and I would like to put emphasis I mean sold, not given away – over Thirteen thousand units for the Amazon Kindle, twelve via smashwords, thirty five for Kobo and about forty for Createspace (a few went to friends and family so lets call it thirty). Now I would point out that my launches have always been a bit ragged and I have yet to put my second book or novella up on smashwords so it is far from a perfect like for like comparison but based on those numbers the Amazon system wins hands down so obviously it isn’t worth putting your work anywhere other than Amazon. Right?

I don’t think so. Now there are those – especially in traditional publishing – who view Amazon as the Devil incarnate. I don’t subscribe to that view either. I think that a couple of different factors have to be considered.

1) It isn’t a great idea to hitch your wagon solely to one system. Amazon may be dominant today but what about tomorrow or next week or ten years from now? Like I said in my last post we have to think long term as well as short.

2) Like I said not the Devil incarnate but Amazon is a big rich company that barely knows I exist. It will do what suits it, not what suits me, however for as long as other systems are out there, Amazon knows that the self publishers owe it no loyalty and can abandon it just as quickly as they arrived.

3) Until your work goes up on a platform it is impossible to know how well it will sell. Obviously if it is not there it won’t sell at all.

4) Exposure. What kind of person can I guarantee will never buy my books? The one who has never heard of them. When one of my books appears one a person’s  screen I stand a chance of making a sale. The more places my books can be found, better the chance of a possible reader/customer coming across it. Think of it as a minefield, the better the density the more likely someone is to step on one (for the record my writing will not remove your leg)

Now the flip side of this is time and labour.  With the exception of actually writing the book, setting up the file is the most time consuming part of the whole process. It is also one of those unromantic parts of self publishing that I doubt anyone enjoys. Obviously based on my numbers none of the others have paid for the time spent on setting them up however given time they might. Obviously there is an element of trade off to this. Publishing via a route that has too small a chance of yielding a financial reward is not a good use of my time.  Still this is all part of the judgement a self publisher has to make. We are currently in the first generation of e-publishing. One of the problems I foresee is updating. As new ereaders – or their conceptual successors – come on stream file formats will change and odds are, to keep our work available, we’ll have to be ready to change with it.

I will admit that this post has more than a whiff of Do-as-I-say rather than Do-as-I-do since Amazon is at the moment the only place where everything I have is available but it is a reflection on the difficulty of multiple platforms.

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo and paperback.

The Job Offer, currently only available on Kindle.

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Professionalism and Future Earnings

Since I started self publishing I’ve occasionally been asked whether I plan to become a full time writer. To date the answer has been a firm no for two reasons.

1) Without a reason to leave the house each morning I suspect I’d go barking mad inside six months.

2) Whatever the aggravations of the day job I am rather attached to the steady income that it brings.

Writing is not the easiest way to earn a living wage. The amount of money I’ve made from writing in the twenty months I’ve been active would class it as a very well paid hobby but a very badly paid job.  To put a number to that, last year was my first full twelve month period.  I made (after deductions) the equivalent of 20% of my day job take home pay, so like I said, well paid hobby. In my previous post I commented that being a published writer – be it indie or traditional – means being a self employed businessman(woman), which in turn means basing decisions on the best information available.  So coming across a blog entitle What is Your Novel Worth by Jeff Posey, twigged my interest.

This blog revolves around the financial concept of NPV – Net Present Value. Loosely put this is a measure of what the potential revenue stream from your work is worth today. To take directly from Possey:

It’s easiest to imagine NPV in reverse. Let’s say you go to a bank and ask their financial wizard how much you’d have to give them to get, say, a $50 check every month for forty years. The number they give you is essentially the NPV of the future cash flow of $50 per month. NPV has a long track record in business and law.

We’ll make these calculations over forty years…

NPV was something I came across in university but haven’t really used since but it is a tool which has pretty solid applications for a writer. It’s useful for comparing two schemes that do the same thing in different ways. It tends to make a lot of assumptions but as a forecasting method it has its uses. Especially for a writer comparing self publishing to traditional publishing. Now it is hard to think forty years down the line. After all ten years ago who saw the rise of e-readers and self publishing as a viable means of reaching a mass audience? Well probably a few people in Amazon, who knows how many but likely no more than the number of fingers on the hand of a blind butcher. But a great many people out in the real world already do sign up to long term agreements. Do you have a mortgage? When then you’ve signed up to an agreement that is fundamentally based on the hope that you will be in a position to pay the monthly installments.  Sure various financial tests are applied but basically the whole thing is based on the hope that past performance does guarantee future returns.

Anyway, how do I think this relates to writing? Prior to the e-reader revolution an individual novel had only a fairly short life span. Once a book went out of print then it was of no further financial value to to the author. Copies might float around in second hand bookshops for decades but that has no effect on the authors bottom line. True there are timeless classics that will likely stay in print indefinitely but the seventy years of copyright post death was irrelevant for the average novel since a work that stayed in print ten years was probably doing well. Now, at least in theory, a book could remain available for the whole of the copyright period. Even if the number of sales per year is small, if those continue to tick away for years on end, the sums of money could be significant in the long run. Or to put it another way be the gift that keeps on giving. Just as important a writer’s entire work could remain available and if I have noticed anything it is that the best advertizement for one of your books is the existence of another.

Success in writing has by any measure always been about the long game, with most overnight successes being the result of years of effort, the changes in nature of publishing have made it even longer. If we take on board what Jeff Posey has said then we have to think in the long term as well as the short, make sure we make best advantage of our work. With a potential earning period of decades, it becomes important to keep that in mind when asked to sign any kind of publishing contract. Certainly any request for the rights for the whole of the copyright period should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

Jeff Posey’s article can be found here and I strongly recommend a read through.

There is also an interesting series of comments on this topic on the Passive Voice.

I’ll finish off with a final word from Possey

Lesson: Write more, do other stuff less.

Regards

The Nameless War, available on Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and paperback.

The Landfall Campaign, available on Kindle, Kobo and paperback.

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365 days in self publishing and what I’ve learned so far

The 20th of July 2012 was for me a small anniversary. One year ago with a cry ‘lets see what happens when you do this’ I published my science fiction novel The Nameless War on Amazon for the Kindle. So 365 days on where am I?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nameless-War-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B005DTO04K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328569613&sr=8-1

To date 5484 copies have been downloaded. Of these 2057 went through Amazon.com, 3420 through Amazon.UK with the remaining 6 via the European Amazon sites, finally in the past week the paperback version has begun to go live (one copy sold so far).  It’s been a fun ride and I would like to pass long my top three tips to any others who are considering taking the self publishing plunge.

1) Professional editing is a requirement not an option.  One of the huge advantages of the kindle self publishing is the capacity to reach the world without heavy upfront expenditure. It’s tempting to go solo or rely on the assistance of friends and family. It is also a mistake. Without doubt those last two are important but they should be viewed as a supplement to rather that replacement to professional help. Now when I say Editing what I mean is copy editing – error finding in short. Content editing is something different and for the first timer, I’m not entirely convinced of its usefulness. So make sure your editor knows they are there to find errors and what medium the resulting work is going to be published on. On the whole finding a good editor is a hassle and expensive but believe me, it is a necessary one.

2) Reviews are important but take them calmly. If you look around the net it isn’t hard to find writers who have managed to make a holy show of themselves by taking reviews badly. Yes there are Trolls in them thar hills but here are also people who honestly and without malice just won’t like your work. Accept it and move on or – as I have occasionally done – shout abuse at your computer screen until you feel better.

3) Niches are your friend, sub niches are close friends.Small niches aren’t to be feared, far from it. It is a lot easier to make a big splash in a small pond and the tighter the niche the smaller that pond is. I have in the past year noticed that while Amazon.UK has Military Science Fiction and Space Opera, Amazon.COM only has the latter. Which means on Amazon.COM my book is sharing digital shelf space with big names like STAR WARS. Which frankly is not to my advantage but for the time being there is nothing I can do about it.

 

 

Well I think that is enough from behind the curtain, my next post will be the start of a series on Ships of the Fleet.

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