Keeping Sight of Your Goals

Once again I have found myself stuck between two stools in my quest to become a full-time writer. I had previously been torn between the artistic freedom of self-publishing and the time liberating experience of the traditional route. In the end, I saw sense and decided to stick with the former approach given all the videos, podcasts, and literature which provided a persuasive argument for being one’s boss. And the more I think about this, the more it makes sense to be an indie, in fact after observing the e-book revolution, it would now seem to be only a matter of time before musicians, songwriters, and filmmakers follow suit.

So, I am resolved to riding the wave of Kindle, etc. and yet, with this comes the quest for knowledge of how to work the system. The hard part is not the writing of the book but the marketing; getting “eyeballs,” one may as will be the invisible man having to resort to pouring ink on himself to be seen, to take shape.

And so I have entered my email address into more correspondence boxes than I can recall. I open my inbox every morning to find myself snowed under by some blog posts and videos showing the secrets to author success, warning me of the pitfalls and mistakes made by so many other writers who failed to put various marketing strategies into place. Now, I want to be as successful as the next aspiring writer, or at least be able to make a living from it, and while not being naïve enough to think my books are going to sell themselves, it’s only in the last couple of days where it seems I have finally woken up to the realisation I am chasing the crowd. Trying to work the system and, worst of all-something I should know better about-second guessing the market.

I seem to have forgotten my original reason for writing: the love of flow and creativity. It appears I am running off fear; fear of failure, of poverty, not being able to provide for my family. I seem to fear this even more than critical rejection. It’s the marketing world which has, until recently, filled me with some dread. While I like the idea of building a “Team” around me of cover artists, typographers, editors, proofreaders, beta readers and reviewers, I also have found myself doing ridiculous things such as scrolling through examples of successful Facebook ads and newsletters which tend to contradict each other’s advice. I suppose it’s ultimately a process if trial and error by which I will find my route to success, in whatever form it decides to reveal itself to me.

So, yes, there are pros and cons of going down the indie route, and for someone like me who is relatively new to it, the amount of information out there can be overwhelming. One thing which has helped keep my head above the waters of madness is the idea of being my boss, and after 20-odd years of working for other people with very little to show in return,  I’ve become very attracted to this idea indie publishing affords. In fact, everything seems to point to the direction of self-publishing, self-sufficiency, the DIY, punk rock school of thought and action which time and time again sprout so much trail-blazing and original ideas. But, of course, being your boss means you have to put in the work yourself, you have to get to know the business, the pitfalls, and goldmines, this is where the e-book gurus come hunting, each one guaranteeing you Hugh Howey-esque success if only you will slavishly follow their rules. Hugh Howey didn’t achieve his success through algorithms and hashtags; he did it through word of mouth and because he loves writing enough to put out something he and millions of others wanted to read. Perhaps the best advice to take is your own

Growing Pains (of an indie author)

In early May 2016, I published my first book Nameless and Other Stories. While I may only have shifted five copies, despite running a few days of paid promotion on Facebook-more of that later on- I can finally say I am a published author. This, however, has left me wondering whether it has been worth it. Some of you may think it has, while others, looking at my slim sales, may disagree.

The book I published is a collection of short stories, which I already knew didn’t sell nearly as well as novels, but the venture was done as more of a learning experience, a chance to make some mistakes which I could hopefully learn from before embarking on the serious business of publishing my novel.

So far, I’ve made plenty of errors which I’d like to think I’ve learnt from, but it was a lot of effort and the time and money it took were, in the case of the former, substantial. I can’t say for sure how long the process took, but it was more than a month, perhaps two, and in all that time I hadn’t written a single word of original prose, so consumed with editing, purchasing software and domain names.

Once I had done the editing and proofreading, which was relatively easy, the next step was formatting the text and building the front of the book. This was particularly time consuming as I found myself messing about with the likes of Scrivener, which is supposed to be easy to use, well maybe if you are familiar with, and are willing to learn how to write code, which I’m not. Although having said that, perhaps this is another skill which the indie author will have to acquire in the future? Never the less, I quickly abandoned this approach and in the end decided to use Kindle’s own software which was what I should have done in the first place.

Next, came the challenge of designing the artwork, for this I found myself using, or should I say floundering about with Photoshop. I managed to cobble together a simple, but I think suitable, cover for the book. It was when I tried using it to design the cover of my novel I realised how desperately out of my depth I was. I quickly became discouraged with this and gave up trying to do something I am no expert in.

Then came the promotion, the posts, and tweets all about how my book was firstly available to pre-order and then out there in the world to buy. I will admit that I’m far from the best when it comes to blowing my own trumpet, but one of the things I do like about the internet is how it can enable anyone to be an actor in the digital domain. So, harnessing my alter-ego, I found myself becoming more and more confident with each post and tweet, even though I still feel a little like a second-hand car salesman when I venture out to bang my own drum. This generated a few likes on Facebook, but virtually no likes or RT’s on Twitter, which I had previously seen as the more writer -friendly tool.

Around this time I met up with an Annie Jai, a successful Amazon author who told me how I should be promoting my book using paid ads if I wanted to generate “organic” sales. So, I tried this out for myself; it took several attempts until I had my own campaign up and running. This was another aspect where I felt as if I had to act like an expert, only this time in marketing and demographics. So I tried my best; I entered that the ad should be targeted at both sexes between the ages of 18-65+. It’s not as if I’m writing YA or a murder series, and therefore would have a clearer idea of the sort of person who would read my work which is hard to pin down. As for the other sections; behaviours(?), politics, etc. I opted, instead, for interests, and that coming under the umbrella of entertainment. I remembered Annie saying it is good to target E-book readers (obviously), so I went with that. Then I added other criteria such as short stories and fiction which I saw gave me a very broad reach, which is good, but also can stop you from more accurately finding your audience. The thing is you don’t want to target an audience which is too wide to pin down, while, at the same time, you don’t want to end up with a niche audience which is going to limit your appeal. Having said that, it would be great just to have any kind of “organic” audience. This, people, is the art of getting complete strangers to pay money for your work. Easier said than done, of course.

So, after a couple of days, I shut the campaign down: I’d had 71 clicks to my website in total. What was I doing wrong? I wondered. Was the cover putting them off, the blurb, or was the link not working? I mean, after all, the book is selling at the lowest price possible ($0.99), and it’s hard to imagine none of those people clicking on my website decided not to purchase it.

So, all is not well in the self-publishing paradise. It was a couple of days after pulling the campaign that I watched a YouTube video hosted by a group of self-published authors, One of them stated the worst thing an aspiring writer could do in terms of promotion is to endlessly post and tweet about their book, especially if they don’t already have some kind of following who know about their upcoming releases. This advice also applied to paid ads. It would seem these are basically useless if no one knows you beforehand. And for all those Facebook friends and Twitter followers you’ve collected in the thousands? They don’t care about your book. Let’s face it, where are they going to find the time to read a book by an author who may well be terrible? I understand where they’re coming from; when I first started on Twitter, I had followers tweeting me about their latest book, or offering it to me for free. Did I attempt to read any of these? Of course not. Sitting down to read a book is a huge commitment. If it’s self-published, it’s less likely to be of high quality, especially if the author decided to forego beta readers and hiring a professional editor and proofreader (yes, despite what people may say, there still persists a stigma when it comes to going down the DIY route). Also, the books sent my way were not the kind I was interested in i.e. Lee Child, E.L. James, Suzanne Collins, etc. genre heavy, commercial wannabes.

Also, there is so much contradictory advice out there: on one hand there are writers who extoll the virtues of marketing and Ad campaigns, as I’ve briefly experimented with. While others such as Hugh Howey say word of mouth worked best for them i.e. giving their work to friends and family to grow an initial fan base (this I’ve tried myself, and while many of them expressed an interest in my writing, few of them ultimately got round to reading/purchasing it.)

I even thought at one point of going down the traditional publishing route. I reasoned to myself at least then I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for editing, proofreading, and cover design, while someone else could concentrate on the marketing side which would free up more writing time. But this, of course, is a fallacy, as I’m sure we all know. It could take years to get an agent and a publisher, and even then one would have to compromise on artistic control, while still having to self-promote online like a Kardashian, and all for a measly 5-15% cut on royalties.

While the tone of this post may be in danger of sounding bitter and self-pitying, what I’m trying to get across is the, at times, frustrating nature of self-publishing and publishing in general. I’m aware of the learning curve required for anything which is worthwhile, and with a novel almost ready to publish, I’m not about to give up and skulk away feeling sorry for myself.

 

 

 

“Nameless and Other Stories” pre-order

An eclectic assortment of short stories with themes such as the aftermath of a one night stand, the musings of a washed-up rock star, or broken dreams, and more, on the set of a reality TV show. Meet characters such as Larry and the seemingly unobtainable object of his desire, Nora the little gipsy girl who appears from out of the fog along with her Shire horse, Sugar in a tormented writer’s garden, and Patricia, and the Beast of Fen Rig, urban myth or wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Just thought I’d let all you lucky people out there know my debut publication, “Nameless and Other Stories,” is now available to pre-order.

There, that’s my sales pitch done with…for now.

 

The 83rd Floor

It is 9.21am, just 4 minutes since the second hijacked plane impacted between the 77th and 85th floors of the south tower of the World Trade Centre which will collapse in 53 minutes and take just eleven seconds to fall to earth.

Her name is Lori. It is 9.21am, just 4 minutes since the second hijacked plane impacted between the 77th and 85th floors of the south tower of the World Trade Centre which will collapse in 53 minutes and take just eleven seconds to fall to earth. Lori, along with her work mates, has been forced to lie on the floor, which has already begun to cook, in a desperate bid to breathe what little air remains.

The heat is becoming unbearable, an oven with windows which won’t open. While on other floors of the towers, people with this mercy are flinging themselves to their deaths. The 911 operator is trying to reassure Lori help is on the way. The operator knows what has happened. Everybody knows what has happened, but she needs her to understand it will take the firefighters a little while to reach the floor she is on, the 83rd.

The elevators are mostly unusable, gutted by burning aviation fuel. The only other route being the stairwell, miraculously undamaged, has become clogged with a slow moving procession of civilians and emergency workers. The firefighters, each carrying 100 pounds of equipment, will take an hour to climb the stairwell to reach the upper floors as the metal supports slowly warp and bend from the furnace eventually reaching temperatures of 2000 degrees.

The operator, just like anyone else, has no way of knowing the building will collapse, but if she has seen the pictures being broadcast then she must have a sense of the dire straits Lori finds herself in, and of her chances.
Lori says more than once she is going to die and asks the operator for confirmation of this, maybe as if her honesty might give some minute grain of comfort, but the operator cannot do this.

‘Say your prayers,’ she is told instead.
Lori thinks she can hear some voices and begins screaming for help. For a few, brief seconds the hopes of both women are lifted, but no reply ever comes. She asks the operator to find out whether anybody has reached the 83rd floor. The operator can be heard conferring with a third party (the firefighters only managed to reach the 78th before the building collapsed), but she can only tell her help is on its way.

Then Lori asks the operator if she will stay with her and in a small, trembling voice announces she is afraid to die. She will stay with Lori for the next 20 minutes as her words become fewer and further apart and she along with her colleges are slowly overcome by the smoke and the inevitability around them. Each breath now a rare commodity, each second dutifully falling away into the final minutes. Eventually, the line falls silent, and the operator is forced to conclude she has lost her.

 

***
You are rushing from your apartment; keys jangle from your busy hands. Maybe you had time for a parting kiss as you left and a few brief words about the evening’s meal. You can’t be late, you need to get to work, it’s all that matters right now as you emerge into the steadily rising warmth of the early morning sun. The air is fresh and feels keen against your skin, even raising a few goose bumps.

By the time you hit the main throng, the sun is beating down on your shoulders and every exposed part of your flesh. You wonder how long it takes for skin to burn. Now as you move along with the other commuters you see this Tuesday morning as the latest to be pulled from the shelf, uniform but undeniable, to where it will, you believe, ultimately return, bookended by 32 years of the past and the given future.
It seems you were in good time after all as you dab the sweat from your brow and check your perfect hair. The heating rays of the sun are muted by the relative cool of the long shadow you now stand in. You crane your head upwards, as always, at the tower of cement and glass rising above. Glad to get out of the heat, you emerge from the revolving doors and into the sunlit, air-conditioned lobby. You smile and exchange brief pleasantries with the security guard, as you do every morning, before moving off through the warm bodies of suits and uniforms as you make your way to the elevator. You break into a trot as the doors begin to close, until a friendly pair of hands holds them ajar and you gratefully squeeze inside the crowded, but airy space. Everyone is reserved and calm and is either minding their own business or chatting with their neighbour. The man who held the doors open asks which floor you want. He has a warm if unremarkable, face and something about him tells you he is a good man. It is 8.35 am and the good will you have received from this stranger has filled you with a welcome optimism. ‘The 83rd floor,’ you tell him with a smile as the doors finally close on you.

 

Finished My Novel (for the time being)

So, finally after seven years of hard work, false dawns and bitterly regretting deleting hours, if not weeks and months of documents, I have finished the second draft of my first novel, The River (working title). Hopefully my next novel won’t take half as long.

 

So, finally after seven years of hard work, false dawns and bitterly regretting deleting hours, if not weeks and months of documents, I have finished the second draft of my first novel, The River (working title).  Hopefully my next novel won’t take half as long. Yes, it’s been a long drawn out process, but I’ve come out at the other end.

I’ve put the novel into several different formats, those being a file in which all the chapters are separate, which will be ideal for posting on Writer’s Café where I intend to put the novel out as a weekly serialisation, another file of just the first three chapters for sending off to agents, and then finally a one whole document containing the entire novel which I have printed out for the older members of my family who are not quite so tech-savvy.

Now I enter the next phase of the novel’s gestation period: waiting to see if any of the agents will get back and hoping for feedback and trying to pick up an online following and creating awareness through Twitter, Facebooktrausti_flyer, and of course, this blog. When I told my wife last night of my plans to serialise the novel she voiced her concern that people would end up reading my novel for free instead of eventually paying for the privilege. I said it was one way of building up a fan base and the amount of people who might read the story on my webpage would be nothing compared to the readership I could eventually find via publishing. It was a stepping stone. Still she had a point: if writers are tempted to give away their work online why should anyone bother to buy the book?  But then there is also the example of Andy Weir who wrote The Martian. He originally posted chapters of his book on his website, a tactic which exposed him to plenty of helpful feedback. He was then asked by people who had struggled downloading the chapters if he would put the book on Kindle as an E-book, which he did for the princely sum of 99 cents. To his amazement he found more people were willing to pay for the Kindle version than to read it for free. This further helped to grow his readership which in turn saw it create enough sales to get into various top tens (sci-fi, technical, etc.) which led to it being picked up by Random House, and the rest, as we possibly all know, is history.

It makes perfect sense, to me at least, his readership should want to pay for a Kindle edition or print copy of his book even when they could read it on his website for free. The reason being there is something about reading which goes beyond the eye processing text, by which I mean it is a personal and intimate experience which is perfectly encapsulated by the form of a book or even (though I’m no fan) a Kindle reader. This is something one can take with them on a bus, or to a hotel to help to while away the hours and at the same time to escape into a medium which simultaneously broadens one’s imagination and vocabulary and helps us understand one another.

Hopefully while people are still attracted to the physicality of owning a book and bookcases writers may still be able to find a loyal (and paying) fan base.