The Master and the Knave

Writer’s Blog – Stardate – 22.01.2013

Eight days since my last blog. That’s OK. I’ve been having a lazy time of it since publishing the third R&M. I deserved it. Actually, since uploading the book I’ve spent the week since feeling the same as I did after finishing my four year degree course. Free. Unchained.

I had intended to get the last book in my series out there and then start investigating self-promotion in a serious way (as everyone says one must pppfffttt). I need to do something. I just read on some guy’s blog (he knows his stuff by the way) that self-publishing a book is a futile exercise if you’re not going to follow it up with self-promotion and all that that entails. Sigh. My download figures would lend weight to that argument.

But alas, I’m not in the mood. What I am in the mood for is writing.

Another guy who I was reading about said that authors have to read, read, read. He’s right. Experiencing the writing of others can have a big effect and influence. It does for me anyhow. Take this week for example.

I had a few books lined up for reading when I was free of my own. The two and a half that I’ve read so far have impacted on me as follows.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Any praise that I heaped on this book and this writer would be a drop in the literary ocean for the praise that he has received from his peers and the critics. More than a few times, I found myself reading a passage or some dialogue and having to put the book down because it was so good I just wanted to hang on to it for a few seconds longer; just savour the sublime brilliance of a craftsman. Philip Marlowe is such a cool dude. Descriptions and similes are utterly original and wholly appropriate. Chandler must have worked so hard at his craft. Absolutely brilliant.

Killing Floor by Lee Child. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book (the first in a long running series) for a good while, ever since I borrowed it from a friend. I had a fancy that I could learn something from someone who has proved a huge success in the thriller genre before I go on to get stuck into my Patrick Sansom re-writes. I see them as similar in genre. Having finished Killing Floor I don’t see them similar anymore. Killing Floor is utter shit. One of the worst books I have ever forced myself to finish. And I am amazed.

Child has tried to imitate Chandler (I read that somewhere and it is weakly and painfully obvious) and failed so utterly miserably. Child’s prose and dialogue, plotting and form is so, so, so… childlike. Absolutely appalling. What reading this man has done is made me think that my Sansoms aren’t that bad after all.

I’m including a link here for myself for future quick reference. When I was part way through reading Killing Floor and thinking how awful it was I had the idea to check out the feedback page on Amazon for the book to see if it was just me. Really, that seems like a yard-stick these days. Out of 405 reviews there are 24 one star reviews and 22 two star reviews. That says a lot. And I agree with all of the 1 stars. Total rubbish. Wait till I see my friend.

The Long Good-bye by Raymond Chandler. Please see above comments for TBS. Just too brilliant for words. I hate finishing every page because it means I’m one page nearer the end and I haven’t got any more of his books.

So what am I up to now? I’ve started a new book in a new series (another one?). And Mr Chandler has had his influence. I’m trying a bit of hard-boiled detective. Writing and enjoying it. I just like writing crime, I suppose. As a tribute to Mr Chandler I’m stealing a phrase from The Long Good-Bye for the title – A Rich Full Sadness.

It’s a bit of a relief, actually.


Horsemen in the Pantheaic Procession

Writer’s blog – stardate – 14.01.2013

Late last night (too late for me to commemorate the occasion with a post, as has been my custom on self-publishing my previous two books) I waved bye-bye to Joint Enterprise – The Third (and final?) Romney and Marsh File. And as the drunken archaeologist once said after urinating up against a fresco of antiquity, ‘What a relief it was.’ I pinged it off into cyber space towards the planets of Amazon and Smashwords, powered off the laptop and burst into…the kitchen looking for alcohol.

The Romney and Marsh Files have plagued, amused, frustrated, consumed, entertained and owned me for longer than I care to remember. And now, like the three little pigs, they have all left home. Yesterday, I sent the last little pig of a book into the big-wide-world to get on with it.

And all day it has felt like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel like I’ve just wandered out of out a dark, musty, damp, labyrinth of confinement after years of aimless incarceration into crystal clear light and fresh clean air. I feel like…..enough. I’m just pleased that I can move on.

I don’t want to forget what a wonderful and interesting and educational and emotional experience the whole process has been. (That’s why I just wrote it down.)

What will I do now? Well, I have two other novels in a different series written that I feel I can do something with. I feel that they have some potential to be something better than they are.  I’m going to have to work on them. I’m going to change a few things that I’ve come to realise could be better. I might even re-write them from the third person into the first person. I’m almost certainly going to change the name of the central protagonist.

But before I do any of that, I’m going to get stuck into some serious reading for pleasure. I have two Raymond Chandlers, two Gerald Seymours, The Mosquito Coast (I read the first couple of pages yesterday and understood something more about what it is to write well), an Elmore Leonard and I’m sorely tempted to re-read the Patrick O’Brians, or at least a couple, before I do anything else.

Life is good.

I’m doing it my way (still)

This post is really just for my record of self-publishing posterity. (Something which I have decided to make public. Warts an’ all.) You have been warned.

I’ve had Rope Enough available at Amazon and Smashwords for a month now and Making A Killing available at both since before Christmas. In that time I’ve had some helpful feedback. What particularly interested (concerned) me were the number of mentions of typographical errors, missing/repeated words and incorrect use of names. Every time I read something to that effect it was like driving a six-inch nail into my bare foot.

So, because it’s important to me to make the books as perfect as I can (as it should be for anyone who wants to be taken seriously) I have naturally amended them to take into account the necessary corrections that have been high-lighted. I also read them both again (again! unbelievable but true) and found a few other things that I had obviously missed on my previous proof-reads. These were mostly punctuation marks, but there was also another wrong name.

I have now resubmitted the updated versions of both titles to Amazon and Smashwords.

I do not intend to read either of these books again for at least a year.

I am half-way through my final, final proof-read of Joint Enterprise the third (and final?) Romney and Marsh File. It is my hope and intention that by the time the other two have been accepted into circulation by Amazon and Smashwords Premium Catalogue, I will have Joint Enterprise ready for submission.

Regrets? I have a few. But only one I care to mention. I regret that the people who have downloaded the two books already will probably end up harbouring some negativity for my output because of the errors. Time cannot be reversed, so I can only learn from it. I still don’t think that I particularly rushed getting either book out there. I was as certain as I could be that they were as good and error free as I could make them – at the time. This, I suppose is why there are  professional editors and professional proof-readers. It’s just one of the advantages that industry supported published authors have over penny-less self-published authors. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m really not. I’m cross about it. I might be giving them away but I can’t get away from the idea that, freebies or not, the people who download them are customers. Now, they might be customers who don’t come back. Bugger!

The acid test aka a cunning plan.


Note to self thirty-two:

I have been fortunate for the last couple of days that it has snowed in Istanbul. Istanbul city zoo has been closed as a result of this spot of seasonal weather and I haven’t had to go to work. But I have been busy.  I have been organising my entries for the CWA (Crime Writers Association) annual competition. Closing date 2nd February 2013.

The CWA, for those who don’t know, is an organisation that runs the annual Daggers competitions. These are various prestigious awards handed out to authors who have been deemed to have written superior crime-fiction works through the year. See here if you’re interested.

The CWA have a Debut Dagger category in their annual competition for previously unpublished authors. Self-published authors can enter providing they have met all of their self-publishing costs themselves. I am a self-published author of crime novels and I have met my own costs. I’m entering.

I don’t expect to win. I really don’t expect to win. I am not entering to win. I am entering because it is an opportunity to get my writing under the noses of some influential people – the judges: literary agents and the like. The CWA website boasts that from past competitions many of the authors who didn’t win still found themselves being courted and subsequently taken on by the gate-keepers. And that is why I’m entering.

It costs £25 per entry. Enter as many books as you like. Submit the first three-thousand words and a five-hundred word synopsis. I’m entering my three Romney and Marsh titles and I think that it will be worth the £75 to get my work in front of people in the industry – as long as it’s not just another con: a slush pile, lucky dip scenario. I don’t want to believe that it is. Not when I’m actually paying for the privilege.

The website suggests that writing the synopsis for one’s book can be challenging for a variety of reasons. I found it surprisingly easy. And I think that my synopses are pretty good. This process was made easy for me because in the last month or so I’ve read each of my books something like three-hundred times – well it feels like it: round after round of proof-reading and editing. At least all that suffering had an upside, as well as improving my books’ content and quality, of course (I hope).

I called this post the acid test aka a cunning plan. Here’s why.

The acid test: I’m working on the premise that because I’m paying handsomely to enter the competition my writing will actually get looked at and considered, unlike when one submits to a literary agent (allegedly). Because my writing will get looked at by professionals in the industry, if nothing comes of it, if my efforts are scorned, ignored, passed over, then that will be a form of proof that my books are shit. Maybe I should rename it the shit test. I don’t like to think they are shit. If I have to face up to the fact that the people that know about these things think that my books are shit I don’t know what I’ll do. Take up writing erotica, perhaps. That seems to be selling well at the moment. But my heart wouldn’t be in it. I’m essentially a British police procedural crime-writer and I’m proud of that label.

A cunning plan: I’m working on the premise that because I’m paying handsomely to enter the competition my writing will actually get looked at and considered, unlike when one submits to a literary agent (allegedly). Because my writing will get looked at by professionals in the industry…hang on. Déjà-vous anyone? Well that’s part of it. The real cunning bit is that I believe that because I’m entering three books in a clearly defined series (each page’s header must contain the title and my titles are all followed by The First/Second/Third Romney and Marsh File. A shrewd and astute subliminal marketing ploy, I like to think.) an equally shrewd and astute literary agent is going to see them and think something like, ‘Ah! This one’s got three books written already. We won’t have to invest lots of time and money on a one hit wonder. He’s ripe for the plucking. Let us snap this author up immediately in a three-book deal.’ Alternatively, said literary agent will see that there are three books that I’m peddling and just feel particularly sorry for me that I wasted so much of my life and self on writing so much shit.

My Learning Curse (curve?)

Before you read this blog: For anyone reading this who has commented on either of the books that I’ve published a massive thank you to you. I have taken on board your comments, suggestions and made the corrections. I’ve also read both the books again with a different coloured highlighter pen (the hard-copies now look like sketch books by someone trying to work out the division of light into its separate colours) and will shortly be uploading revised and improved versions. I found a couple more minor errors myself. Fume. I think that it is very important to continue to update and improve, although obviously bloody annoying from a self-publishing point of view. I wanted to be perfect first time that I put them out there. No one wants to read books with mistakes in. It just looks so ‘self-published’.

Disclaimer: My last post – about how getting some positive feedback made me a bit emotional – was summed up by my greatest critic (my daughter) as a ‘Pity Post’. (When I say my greatest critic, I don’t mean of my writing [harsh bark of self-pitying forced laughter] you don’t think that she’d ever dream of reading one of my books do you?) This isn’t meant to be another ‘PP’ (so, Sam, you have no need to publically ridicule me over that again, especially if you want your allowance this month. Make myself clear?) but at least I heard from her and…it follows that she must have read something that I wrote! Ha! Every cloud and all that.

The Post: When I started out blogging, the purpose was three-fold (1) to keep a record for posterity and myself (and my legions of devoted fans, of course) of my attempt (and subsequent megatastic rise to success) to make it as an author (2) to provide (yet another) self-publishing blogging resource for anyone who might be thinking of going down the same route with their work (a glimpse of my often well-hidden altruistic side) (3) to provide a link for somewhere that anyone who downloads one of my titles can visit to find out more about the other books that I’m writing, my fascinating journey, the trials and tribulations of being a best-seller. It still is all three – when I’m asleep. But as it goes on the reality that I should view blogging as essentially just a record for posterity and for myself becomes clearer, more sensible. I will attempt to explain, for posterity and myself, why I think like this these days. It might help anyone else who is thinking of blogging about their decision to self-publish to think again, unless they just want it for something to reflect on in their old age, of course.

It’s a good job that I enjoy my own writing. And I do. I like writing and I like reading my writing. (It might seem a stupid question to pose to myself, but I wonder if every author really enjoys reading and re-reading and re-reading their own work, especially when it’s out of necessity aka discovered mistakes and the (reasonable) fear of more. Would that be a litmus test or something? Whether one enjoys continually reading one’s own writing, or an indicator of something altogether more suspect? [Please, that’s a metaphor. I know what a litmus test is.]) It would be a real chore for me to have to proof-read the books again, if I minded reading them again. Actually, it is a real chore because I have other (not necessarily better) things to do, but I still enjoy reading my own stuff. That goes for the blog too. I’m not so narcissistic that I’m poring over my own entries on a daily basis, tickled pink with my witticisms and nodding sagely at my incredible insight, but occasionally I have looked back over what I’ve written here, for a bit of nostalgia, and got something out of it: a smile, a prickle of embarrassment, a sharp intake of breath, an erection.

I started blogging in September (how time flies) and so, after four months and a look at some statistics (I’m bored) I think that I’m entitled to claim an understanding of how the second and third reasons for taking up the waste-of-time (pastime) that blogging seems to be, have been justified, or not.

Reason two: to provide (yet another) self-publishing blogging resource for anyone who might be thinking of going down the same route with their work. Forget that. Every other blog seems to be about people, like me, who want to share their experiences with the world about things ranging from recovering from, well, you imagine it and it’s out there to you imagine it and it’s out there. That is, obviously, the essence of blogging: to tell people things, to share. Well, that becomes a bit of a problem if everyone is ‘talking’ at the same time. No one’s really listening. They haven’t got the time.

I suppose that everyone has different personal reasons (although there can’t be that many to manufacture) for blogging. Is blogging just another form of attention seeking made possible in the technological age? I shudder to think that that might be me. But then again, as a writer, of course, I want bloody attention. Or rather I want attention for my work, not me personally. There is a difference. To further scotch this reason for blogging, WordPress have a handy tool that enables one to view statistics of site visits to one’s blog among other things (I’ve got a kick out of this before and a blog post). After four months of blogging, I can (almost) categorically say the only time (almost) that I appear to get hits is when I publish a post. There are never that many and for the most part I would guess the majority of the hits are from people who saw the post when it was freshly printed and were so bored with their own day that they clicked on it as they happened to drop by the WordPress blog-o-sphere: a shop window of other peoples thinking. (As an amusing aside, [sorry, interruption: my current-future-ex-wife has just shouted at me from the other room to get off the laptop and stop wasting my time (oh, how truly insightful she can serendipitously be sometimes). She has tidying up to do and the baby needs watching, ‘Everywhere is in everywhere!’ What a wonderful expression, but maybe not so much when it is screeched.] … as an amusing aside I did note that I had a hit from Bulgaria recently. Interesting, I thought, until I saw the title of the blog post that (presumably) he had viewed: Female Ejaculation and Gay Men. What a disappointed fellow he must have been.) I digress. I’m a writer. It’s what we do. (Am I now a writer/author? People have downloaded, read and commented on my work. I can say I’m a writer, right?)

This leads me nicely on to reason three: to provide a link for somewhere that anyone who downloads one of my titles can visit to find out more about the other books that I’m writing. I don’t think that this is panning out. In each of the two books that I have published thus far, as well as my blog address hyperlinked on the title page, I have included a short piece at the end of the work inviting (begging really) readers who make it to the end to visit my blog space, or email address and hopefully leave a comment, or just have a mooch about.

Through Smashwords I have now had a total of four hundred and fifty downloads for my two books. Looking back over the stats of blog visits in the last week puts me in mind of a cardiogram of a dead person: one long flat line. As I’ve mused before, just because people are downloading doesn’t mean that they are reading and, if they are reading it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will be liking, or even finishing the books. But still. I’m inclined to think that, as a method of self-promotion, it isn’t paying the dividends that I hoped that it would. Sound fair? Maybe it’s why ‘real’ authors don’t blog. It doesn’t help.

This brings me onto to something else that I have increasing suspicions about: those Smashwords download stats. Maybe, my suspicions are just the product of a poisoned mind (and three broken marriages). Are those stats real? I seem to be getting downloads just about every day. Can that be right? If more people were letting me know what they thought about the books I could believe it more. I want to believe it. Is it just a general apathy on the part of downloaders not to take up an invitation to comment? Is it another illustration of our take, take, take world, our lack of manners? If someone stood out in the street with a stall of books and gave you the opportunity to browse and choose a free one, as you were passing, wouldn’t you at least say thank you. I would. I know, it’s not the same, and yet it is, you know. Mind you, if my random snap-shot of my own circle of family and friends is anything to go by then the phrase, abandon hope all ye who ask for feedback, would seem appropriate. I have a link to my Facebook page – part of that canny self-promotion – so that any time I blog all my contacts get it shoved under their noses and in their faces. Naturally, my blog posts include the publishing of my books. Has one of my family or friends read either of them, commented that they’ve downloaded a title, promised feedback? Yes, actually. Two. Thanks to them. But still, two. (This blog will not be linked to my Facebook page. I’m not completely stupid. No one likes whining, pissy, moaners.)

Well, that’s one, two, three explored a bit. For posterity. This was meant to be an objective review of the few reasons that I chose to blog. It’s not supposed to read like some self-pitying outpouring of a bitter and twisted disillusioned failure. But, in parts, it might. Maybe it is.

Ultimately, I suppose, as one Smashwords author writes on his homepage, everything he (one) writes and publishes is done for his (one’s) own amusement. He is entirely right. And that goes for blogging too. It’s worth remembering.