Tag Archives: writer

Flops, Failure and Learning Experiences

So, about a month later than usual, I’ve finally gotten around to starting my taxes for 2017. Which gives an opportunity to reflect on my situation as it pertains to my writing.

2017 was the year I released my most recent book, namely this one:

It was also the first year since 2011 – when I first started publishing – in which I have not made money from my writing, in fact I racked up a financial loss large enough to be uncomfortable if bearable. The reason for the loss is on the face of it simple, Out of Era flopped. Completely and utterly. A bit of a pisser but there we are; it reviewed well but it didn’t sell beyond a handful. You hope that somewhere down the line it will pick up but really that’s grasping at straws, if it doesn’t kick off pretty much straight away it’s not going to.

So where did it go wrong?

So from here on we’re going firmly into the realm of anecdotal evidence. The last of my successful Nameless War series was released in September 2014, Out of Era came out in October 2017. That’s a big gap. In fact to be brutally honest it was probably too big a gap. I never stopped writing during that time but there were other priorities – I started dating a woman who I’m please to say has recently become my wife, I moved house into what was a bit of a fixer-upper and changed the day job for the first time in over fourteen years. The time slot for writing and its attendant activities basically took one hit after another. Meanwhile the world moved on and I suspect, most of the people that read and enjoyed the Nameless War forgot me enough that the name Edmond Barrett, stopped triggering any kind of mental response when looking at Amazon for something to read. Years ago, before I started publishing I heard another writer claim that to make a living at it you needed to put out at least one book a year. I always found that extremely believable but I never came even close. To manage it I would have had to give up the day job, which when you have a mortgage and are the sole source of income to your household, isn’t really a runner unless you’re prepared to really live up to the starving artist cliche.

The next factor which compounded the first was that I changed genre. My name and reputation as a writer was made in military science fiction; Out of Era is time travel. If you aren’t into science fiction that distinction might sound wafer thin but in fact is a significant gap. I’m not a known name in time travel stories so Out of Era had to go it alone. Had there been less of a gap between books, meaning had it come out while the final book of the Nameless War – the Last Charge was still selling in significant numbers there would have been a better chance of readers following me into the new genre. Which in turn would have boosted my visibility to potential readers who never heard tell of me. So Out of Era just got lost in the crowd. I did try some advertising but the problem there is you can burn a lot of money very quickly for very little return.

Another fact is that to my mind self publishing in 2017 isn’t what it was back in 2011. I know e-readers have been around since well before then but in 2011 they were the new must have gadget. Since there is nothing as useless as a e-reader with no books, people were looking for content and when Amazon opened its system to the self publishers there was suddenly a lot of cheap content. There’s no doubt a lot of it was bad but there was also some real gold and I had the good fortune to be a part of the first wave of e-book self publishers. There were a lot predictions that self publishing and e-books were going to kill publishing and paper books stone dead. That hasn’t worked out. What I think has happened is that e-books found their level. They aren’t going to go away but equally that first great rush came to an end.

My run with writing has been a pretty privileged one. I got to make money in reasonably significant amounts straight off the bat which certainly did a lot to justify the time spent on it. I knew the figure weren’t going to be good but it’s another to look at the cold hard numbers. I’m still going to write, it is and always has been as much a pass time as a profession but have had to re-think my expectations.

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Frustrations of the non-famous writer

Very definitely not mine but it gave me a (semi) bitter laugh.

m-carroll

(SOURCE)

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End of Amateur Hour?

Back in the days of yore otherwise known as 2011 the self publishing thing was still basically only getting off the ground (yes I’m ignoring pre ebook vanity publishing) and I had no way of knowing whether The Nameless War would be a success. Splashing out on cover art using money I didn’t really have spare didn’t seem like a great idea. So when I launched the Nameless War, the cover art was among the tasks I decided to tackle myself. I’ve upgraded a couple of times since then but if we are to be brutally honest, my best efforts come out at passable. Back in 2011 however that was enough. Every so often I peruse through the Amazon categories that are relevant to my books to see what’s popular and I’ve noticed that the quality of cover art has improved. Yes, there are still some god-awful covers on books that based on their position in the Amazon charts still sell but they seem to becoming an ever shrinking minority.

I’ve been saying to friends and family for a while that my current WIP (which is probably about a year away from release) so going to be getting a professionally designed cover but what about my older works? Well at the moment I’m currently investigating the possibilities of commissioning an artist who’s work I find attractive. One of the questions however is whether such as investment on my older works worth it at this stage of their life? The answer I’m edging towards is yes on a number of grounds. Unlike paper books, ebooks can remain available indefinitely. Even though we’re still in the early days of ebooks, it isn’t hard to imagine that a title published today could continue to earn for decades, even if annual sales are small a revenue stream is still a revenue stream. Certainly there is going to be a balancing act between spending enough to keep the title attractive to potential buyers and spending more than the title will every pay back.

The other reason I believe is that we have reached the end of line for the amateur looking works. I don’t mean an end to self publishing, much as some in the publishing industry would wish otherwise that’s here to stay. No what I mean is that works produced by individuals like myself – part-time, self published writers, can no longer expect to prosper unless our products can match the production qualities of traditionally published works. A book can be written by an amateur, but it can not look amateurish. In some respects this is a new barrier to entry but it one that comes from demands of the book buying public as opposed to any kind of artificial construction.

 

I suppose on a side note this is the reply to those* who a few years ago were predicting that self publishing would drown literature in a wave of rubbish.

 

* A self serving few in my experience.

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Beating your own drum

I am a natural to self promotion in much the same way that an African bull elephant is a natural to riding a unicycle. Which is why this blog is only active in spasms, I mostly ignore my twitter account and Facebook I primarily use to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Self promotion is not my thing, I’m not good at putting myself forward, my sense of humour leans towards self deprecation and I am on the whole a very private person*.

Why do I mention this?

Well as I put up on my previous blog entry last weekend I was at Octocon 2015, I was a speaker on five of the discussion panels which covered topics like the dangers of time travel, how much military science fiction borrows from the past and renewing genres. All good stuff and I had a great time, in fact the panels all went a lot better than I expected. There is no doubt that in recent years I have become a lot better at public speaking and actually if you’re looking for public speaking experience, a panel is potentially a good place to get it since if you do stall out, one of your fellow panelists is probably waiting to jump in.

When I released the Nameless War back in 2011 it was sent off without any form of advertising or promotion. The book was launched off into the world and…

Bell curveas I’ve said in an earlier blog post from what I can tell – because hard numbers are few and far between and my links to the writing community in Dublin are tentative at most – I’ve done a lot better than average. Without advertising*2. Which was fine by me. There was the potential to be interviewed on local radio during this year but unfortunately that fell through and most of the other things that so many writing advice websites will grandly declare you have to do, I haven’t. Because I don’t enjoy self promotion and because by books did so well, it was an aspect of the whole process that I continue to know very little about*3.

I guess one of the things that fears/concerns/worries I have when it come to promotion is that I’ll get boring, that if I continue to endlessly beat the same drum there likely won’t be any unpleasantness but will become part of the white noise of life.  There’s also that irritating tendency to do myself down and diminish my own work. As I said someone not that long ago ‘don’t do yourself down, there are plenty of people who will happily do it for you‘ very much in finest traditions of suggest to other advice you should take yourself.

So on that note without self deprecation or false modesty, let me say that I am an author, a modestly successful one in an industry where such an achievement is a mighty one and what I have achieved so far is just the beginning.

 

 

* Yes, I am aware of the contradiction of saying that on a blog that potentially be read by anyone in the world with an internet connection.

*2 Up to now but that’s something for another day.

*3 Actually Octocon had a panel on Friday night entitled Promotion in the Age of Social Media which I would have like to have attended but basically, I was hungry.

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Filling the gaps

I heard it said that there are basically three kinds of writers:

1) Those who plan everything to the Nth degree

2) Those who wing it

3) Those who fall somewhere between the two extremes

I’m a three leaning towards two, I did try writing out a plan for I think the Landfall Campaign but then once I started writing, never remembered to refer back to it. What I do have for each work is a set of mental notes in the form of key scenes. These might be battles or a brief conversation, either way they’re important points for the creation of the story. I like to think of it as an incomplete alphabet. When I know I have A, B and D, I know have to go through C to logically get from B to D. It helps break huge looming task that is book writing down into more manageable lumps while at the same time keeping at eye on the endgame*. There is no such thing as a one perfect method of writing that works for everyone – no matter what people who are usually trying to sell their ‘perfect’ method claim – what there are is a number of techniques and what you have to do is find the combination that works for you.

 

 

*Quite a few of the early Discworld books by the late Terry Pratchett were chapterless and I don’t know how he managed that.

 

I’ve now started twittering and can be found:

HERE

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Clean Reader and why I don’t think you should use it

Up to a few days ago I hadn’t heard of Clean Reader, then someone I know retweeted the following from John Scalzi

Asked for my thoughts on Clean Reader. They are: you bought the book, do what you want, but if you use the app, it’s not the book I wrote. [LINK]

My first thought was – that’s just dumb. Since then I’ve read a few more articles and blogs on the subject with more… colorful responses[LINK] and  [LINK] (you have been warned) and I have come to the conclusion that Clean Reader isn’t dumb, it is dangerous.

This censorship of swearing is to me the thin end of the wedge. In itself if someone told me that they had read a book that had been subject to Clean Reader, what I would take from that is that they have actually read the book at all. In much the same way that if you read a book originally written in another language that has been translated into yours, then you are reading a version not the original. With a formal translation the objective will be get the most accurate conversion possible. While Clean Read is designed to be inaccurate. So in itself Clean Read doesn’t seem that big a deal; it is a clumsily and inferior version of the original.

But the more I think, the more I see things I don’t like and that might provide unwelcome precedent.  To start with by using such a system you are effectively attributing words to an author that they didn’t actually write, something most us would react badly to. Secondly what next? This is just replacing individual words but assuming it doesn’t exist already, then if given the opportunity could we see programs that are even more invasive? One that edits away the subject of your preferred prejudiced, like people of colour?

Other religions?

Homosexuals?

Women?

It is worth noting that while Clean Reader is the product of an American Christian couple, this tendency isn’t unique to them. They was some argument a year or two ago about the removal of the word – and I apologize for its use – nigger in the works of Mark Twain. To put it mildly, it’s not a nice word but for better or worse, it is part of language and mindset of the time. If it is okay to change individual words in Twain’s work then is it for example okay to rewrite Jane Austin various heroines, so that they go out and make their own fortune rather than wait around for a man?

It speaks of a bland or cowardly mindset that decides to take out anything that doesn’t fit into its existing worldview. One that doesn’t want to be challenged and while Scalzi is right, you can do are you want, I can’t help feeling that there is a better solution:

Don’t read the book.

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Update

Alright, I’m aware that of late this blog has been so quiet there might as well have been tumbleweed blowing across it. I’ve been putting together a paperback version of the Ships of the Fleet Volume 1 and beginning to put together Volume 2. Now right this second I’m not sure if the paperback version will ever actually see the light of day. It really depends on how the images look when the proof copy reaches me in a week or so. On volume 2 productivity is beginning to happen mostly because I’ve got back into the habit of dragging my old laptop into the day-job to do some work at lunch time. I say dragging because it is like I said old and it weights a bloody ton. So if I’ve carried it in and I’ll have to carry it back home, then I’m damn well going to do something useful it! So productivity through back pain, probably not one you are ever going to find in a writing book, but you can have that one on me.

Regards.

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