An attention seeker by any other name…

If self-publishing can be analogised as pregnancy, I'm experiencing labour pains.

If self-publishing can be analogised as pregnancy, I’m experiencing labour pains.

Part one:

Since self-publishing went digital, people (writers who self-publish mostly) have been coming up with ways of referring to themselves that don’t have the old derogatory connotations of traditional vanity publishing attached to them. No one wants to be tainted with that label. The publishing industry has always looked down its collective nose at such enterprise. Vanity publishing is conventionally associated with people who believed they could write, were not able to get traditionally published and who then paid to have a print run of their books produced. These they would often try to shift themselves only to end up with large numbers of books in their garages awaiting processing for mouse-nest bedding. Even in the digital age it still goes on.

On my email signature I refer to myself as an ‘author-publisher’. I think I got that from Joe Konrath, a phenomenal success in the self-publishing business and something of a self-appointed champion/mouthpiece for self-publishing, like him or loathe him. I thought if it’s good enough for Uncle Jo, it’s good enough for me. It is, I think, tinged with a little more respectability than a term with the word vanity in it. Vanity smacks of attention seeking. But are we self-publishers in the digital age conceptually any different to the vanity publishers of old and new, regardless of how we label ourselves? Are we not all seeking attention for our work and therefore for ourselves?

It occurred to me a little while ago that I wished I hadn’t self-published under my own name. The more I have come to think about it the more I see that as the single defining standard regarding whether one is a vanity publisher, as putting the vanity into vanity publishing – is the author self-publishing under his/her own name? I’m referring to those of us who are going it alone from nowhere in the hope that we might receive some positive reader attention, maybe even be ‘discovered’. Of course, we want attention for our writing. None of us is writing to be ignored. But I can’t help equating self-publishing under one’s own name with walking around sporting face piercings and exposed arms covered in tattoos – things that shout look at me!

Hindsight is often a wonderful thing. I wish I could start again. I would write under a pseudonym because writing under my own name makes me feel like an attention seeker in a bad way. And the older I get the more I dislike attention seekers and attention seeking.  I don’t know what pen name I would have used and there is no point wasting time on that aspect of this attention seeking lament now.

Being honest, part of why I decided to write under my own name was that when I was in my first flush of self-publishing youth I hoped that enough readers would like my books enough and then I might make something of a name for myself. I was seeking attention for my name. It’s vanity. It’s ego. It’s narcissism. It’s self-importance. I feel like doing a penance. Has that hair shirt been through the wash, I wonder.

Part two:

Last weekend I received Smoke & Mirrors (Acer Sansom #3) back from the gentleman who proofreads my books. That gave me a decision to make: devote my time to looking at his comments, corrections and suggestions with a view to getting the book on to Amazon post-haste, or finish my own final read throughs of He Made Me (B&C #2) so that I can get it off to him. I flipped a coin and option B won. So, this week I have made the best that I think I can out of He Made Me and sent it off. Now I can turn my full attention to Smoke & Mirrors. I’m looking forward to it. All being well it’ll be out shortly.

I’ve been working on the Amazon blurb and it’s looking like this:

Reeling and vulnerable from news regarding the sudden death of a woman who he thought he might have had another chance at life with, Acer Sansom has agreed to do a one off job for Crouch of British Intelligence. He’s not doing it for money. He’s not doing it for his country. He’s doing it for the children.

Acer has gone undercover in Iran in search of evidence that British scientists believed dead are, in fact, alive and being forced to work in one of the regime’s nuclear facilities. 

A straightforward reconnaissance assignment becomes something far more involved, more complicated and more dangerous. In light of new knowledge and reason, Acer finds himself with no alternative but to risk his life and the lives of others with a change of plan.

A fisher of men

Rainy day fun.

Rainy day fun.

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19.

Have I finally found God?

Walk along any shoreline in Istanbul and you will often see men fishing. In fact men fish from anywhere here: boats, bridges, beaches, banks, trees. I even once saw a man fishing from his moped. When I walk with the Halfling down by the sea we often exchange a few words about the men fishing.

David: Look. Fishering.

Me: Fishing.

David: Fishering.

Me: FishING

David: Fishering.


David: Fishering.

Me: Whatever.

A couple of weeks ago, because I’m basically a good dad, I blew last month’s royalty cheque from Amazon on a 6ft bamboo cane. (It’s only money.) The type people use for constructing runner bean frames back home. I thought the little chap and I could go ‘fishering’ together down at the seafront. I fixed a length of string to the end and off we went hand in hand. We had fun. Because we didn’t have a hook or bait we didn’t catch anything. But it didn’t matter. It was all about the taking part.

Last Sunday it was raining. We didn’t go out. David wanted to go ‘fishering’. I had a good idea. I set him up on the sofa and spread out some of his toy cars on the floor and then I attached one of those massively over-sized paper clips to the string of his ‘fishering’ rod. I encouraged him to fish for his cars. He cast (He’s not bad. Might make a good fly fisherman one day.) and I crawled around on the floor hooking cars on the paperclip that I’d bent to enable such. Then he would ‘strike’ and reel them in. We had a lot of fun and he was thrilled with the activity. I’m so creative.

After an hour of this I was getting a bit bored and my knees were hurting. I decided to have a bit of fun with the lad. Next time he cast I scrambled around on the floor with my back to him. When I turned to face him I had the paperclip in my mouth. Like he’d caught me. His little face lit up. He let out a squeal of delight and before I could react to the wicked glint that came into his eye, he yanked back hard on his fishing rod like the compleat angler he is becoming.

They said they heard my scream four floors up. And this is a well-insulated solid concrete apartment block.

My howling and thrashing about on the slippery laminate flooring seemed only to encourage the little ‘fisherman’ in my son, much as, I suppose, a real fisherman is encouraged when he has a big fish on his line. David sprang down from the sofa still clutching the rod in his pudgy little fists and started for the door. I had little option, as I didn’t want half my face torn off, but to go after him on my hands and knees as fast I could. The corridor between the lounge and the end bedroom is a good fifteen metres and over fifteen metres the Halfling is pretty quick.

I was shouting at him to stop but to be fair to the boy, with a mouthful of over-sized paperclip and blood I probably wasn’t being too clear about it. I like to think that if he had understood the pain I was in and my terror at not being able to keep up with him as I scrabbled along like his leashed pet chimp he would have stopped. As it was he seemed to double his efforts, and his cruel mocking laughter echoed down the hallway.

In the end bedroom he soon ran out of room, if not steam, and I quickly closed the gap between us thereby taking some of the tension out of the line. Because I no longer needed my hands to propel myself along the floor I was able to grab the line and yank the rod out of the boy’s fists. He immediately began to howl. (Turns out he got a splinter, but that’s a story for another day. Yeah, I know, a splinter from bamboo. They don’t make those canes like they used to.)

I rushed to the bathroom to assess the damage in the mirror. There was a lot of blood by this time. The face that stared back at me with the metalwork sticking out of one cheek reminded me of an aging punk-rocker I’d seen somewhere.

The paper clip came out easily enough. Thank goodness I hadn’t gone as far as fashioning the end of it into a barb. No doubt a hospital visit would have been necessary. And embarrassing.

Start to finish my ordeal lasted only about thirty seconds but the skin-chilling horror of what could have become of my ‘best side’ has plagued my dreams all week. The puncture wound is barely noticeable now. I still have some rather nasty friction burns on my knees, however. (I was wearing shorts.) They needed some explaining.


Last week I blogged about having a German translation of Rope Enough/DOVER (The First Romney and Marsh File) listed on Daniela and I had decided to give it away for the weekend. By Sunday evening it was number one in all Kindle categories for free books. That was a strange feeling. Very encouraging. We’re charging for it now and it’s climbing the paid chart, and it’s got two five star reviews.


I’ve really been thinking about the craft of writing this week and it’s because of the current project I’m involved in. (As a writer, shouldn’t I be thinking about the craft of writing more often than that?)

When I started this book I thought I was looking at a labour of love that would span years of my life and hundreds of thousands of words (I honestly think that the concept could survive it, if I pursued the detail) – something I would work on between other books; something I would attack sporadically and then leave to fester before another burst of feverish activity. But I can’t write like that and more to the point I don’t think that I want to.

There’s nothing puts me off reading a book more than seeing it’s several hundred pages long. I just know it’s going to drag. I just know there’s going to be sooooo much to retain and most of it will be stuff the book could have done without (says me). It’s going to take me weeks to read it and I’m going to end up resenting it for that. I like to read a book in a short space of time – a couple of good sessions on the sofa, or a week of bedtime/commute reading, for examples, something that I can get deeply into the narrative and stay there for a devoted, concentrated short burst, as it were.

Some memorable reads that spring to mind that were not long reads: Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness. (Why do I always mention these titles when I talk about books? It’s always the same ones.) These are books that stay with one for life. (Maybe that’s why.) Imagine the pleasure to be taken from writing something that stays with a reader for years, and that is doubly impressive because it was short.

And so my thinking progressed to, what if I could tell a really big story in as few words as I possibly could but still retain the enormity of the idea. So much would be left unexplored by me, the author, but the reader would inevitably (bit presumptuous) want to consider the untold aspects of the story. Is that what I would want as a reader? Finishing a book with questions crashing into each other in my mind? (I don’t mean cheating the reader out of information, like having a murder mystery and not revealing whodunit.) Or do I want everything I read to be neatly tied up and explained so that I just forget it and move on? I don’t imagine my thinking is anything original. The point is it’s new for me.

And so it was that I found myself finishing the first draft of this current project, exactly eight weeks to the day after I wrote the first line – the one I shared on this blog that week and that does NOT now have the ‘f’ word in it – ‘the blockbuster’ aka ‘my magnum opus’… with only sixty-two thousand words on the clock. (It’s officially my shortest book by over ten thousand words.) It worried me at first. But then it didn’t. A week later, after time to reflect, I still feel positive about the word count aspect.  Good things come in small packages and all that. And really, when a story is told, it’s told. It’s just the story I’m not sure about. One for the bottom draw, maybe.

The End.

Vorsprung Durch Technik!

Dover (Medium)

Some interesting and exciting personal writing news to enter into my writer’s diary blog this week. Rope Enough (The First Romney and Marsh File) is now available as a German translation on as well as and .com. It is titled simply Dover. That’s the German cover up top.

A few months ago I was contacted by Daniela Brezing. She said she’d read the first couple of R&M Files and wondered whether I’d like to enter into an arrangement with her whereby she translated my books and we split the proceeds. She wasn’t without experience of translating English to German in book form. She said that the R&M Files might go down well in Germany. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Who knows, they just might and if you don’t try you never know. So we drew up a contract. Daniela has done the translation and the rounds of her beta readers and this week she uploaded the book to Amazon.

More than just the excitement of having one of my books (hopefully more to come) available to be read in the German language I’m thrilled to be part of, dare I say at the forefront of, a development in the evolving self-publishing scene. And I didn’t even do anything.

Not so long ago, with all the financial issues and language barrier issues and editorial issues and printing issues and distribution issues, if you weren’t being published by a proper publishing house who would organise and pay for everything to get your physical book translated into a foreign language and into foreign bookshops then forget it.

But today with Amazon’s dedicated markets all over the world people are seeing and seizing opportunities. People like Daniela. Bi-lingual people who have a passion for books, who are ready to embrace technology, who have a good entrepreneurial business idea and who aren’t afraid to ask the big question and then do some work to create and develop a market.

I think that I’m right in saying that Daniela is not a professional translator just like I’m not a professional author. We both have families, other commitments on our time and other responsibilities before we can find time to sit down and devote some of our ‘spare’ time to our sidelines. Part of my point is that today you don’t need to be a professional, as in it’s your main occupation and main source of income, to be able to succeed in the ebook market place. So long as your approach is professional and your commitment is professional then the gap between professional and semi-professional is closed right down.

Technology, self-publishing and platforms such as Amazon have levelled that playing field for those of us who want to make the effort to close the gap.

I have no idea how far advanced is the practice of people like Daniela and me – non-professionals from different cultures, countries and languages, and who are quite unknown to each other – getting together and going on to collaborate on translation projects of self-published books. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there wasn’t a lot of it about at the moment. Equally, I won’t be surprised if such practices don’t become more and more common. And why not? There’s Amazon France, Germany, Italy, Spain for starters. Millions and millions of readers who are going to come to the ebook and ereaders sooner or later – it’s all going to catch on and catch up like all technology – and most of these people will want to read books in their own language and a good lump of them might like to read good old British police procedural novels set in Dover that are being offered for sale at a fraction of the price of the translations being offered by the big publishing houses because our overheads are so much less, while our product is able to compete. (I’ve had enough feedback on the R&M Files now to know that readers generally enjoy them, the cover is professional, the translation’s professional and we’re all using the same technology.)

Anyway, viel glück (that’s good luck in German) to us for our venture and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a few of my self-publishing chums read this and thought it’s worth getting involved too. I’m sure Daniela would be pleased to hear from you…after she’s finished mine. 🙂

Just in case I have any followers who crave a German language copy of Dover aka Rope Enough it’s free to download from the following Amazon outlets over the weekend. Just click on the links.

Do authors dream of electric chairs?


Over the weekend, whilst recuperating in bed from a rather nasty brush with outdoor exercise (see previous blog-post), I was surfing the Internet, checking out the competition among other things. I like to read about other authors who write in my genre, especially those whose writing I have enjoyed. I learned a couple of things that have had something of an effect on me as a writer, a reader and a human being.

First guy I checked out was John A.A. Logan. I’d just finished his rather excellent book The Survival of Thomas Ford. It was a free download for a few days (why I got it of course) and one of the best I’ve read in a long time. I tracked him down on the web and found this blog-post, which is really worth reading for any aspiring author. It’s interesting and saddening.

Later, I found myself looking at the website of Damien Boyd who has been having a rich roll of the dice in the past year if his Amazon placings and feedback are anything to go by. The following blog entry, naturally, inspired a potent cocktail of emotions in me. For the record good luck to him. (There, that wasn’t so hard was it? My anger-management therapist would be so thrilled with that response…if I hadn’t killed her in a fit of rage when James Oswald got sorted from the chaff and she told me to simply get over it.) I urge you to read Mr Boyd’s blog-post now. (If you’re an aspiring self-publisher it might be best not to have any cats in the vicinity when you do this.)

Another one who’s made it over the fence. I’d dearly love to know what the Amazon UK deal entailed. Imagine being approached by not one but two literary agents and a tv producer and then Amazon trump them all with a deal. (Deep breath, Oliver.)

John Logan has all that great stuff said about his book by people that count – the gatekeepers – and it is very good in my opinion, but he can’t get a publishing deal and Damien Boyd knocks out a few police procedurals (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them. I’ve only read one) and gets courted by the same people who have just ushered Mr Logan out of the back door.

I don’t want to make comparisons on the quality of the writing of these guys. I’ll leave that to others. But it does show you that even if you write a bloody brilliant book, if the people who judge these things don’t see publishing it as economically viable then it won’t get published. Market forces, I think they call it. What a travesty, I call it. But I must admit to understanding it. It should not be forgotten that publishing is just a business to these people, a money-making merry-go-round and if your prose don’t fit, you’re screwed.

I do feel for Mr Logan. It must be particularly frustrating to be told by the people that one needs to impress that you’ve impressed them in spades but it doesn’t matter because the bean counters don’t have a good feeling in their water about it and so they aren’t going to publish you anyway. How many books and authors a year suffer the same fate, I wonder. How many fantastic lumps of writing get rejected simply because of the bottom line, trends or fashion or whatever you want to call it? It must be devastating to hear, ‘Sorry, it’s brilliant but that’s not what matters.’ I mean, where do you go from there as a writer? Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with that kind of rejection. (Yeah, I know what I’m saying there. Very funny.)

If anyone is looking for arguments as to why the ebook revolution and the self-publishing of ebooks are good things or not, you should look no further than the examples of both of these authors. Mr Boyd might not have made it if he hadn’t had such a terrific response to his self-publishing venture, and without the option to self-publish, readers would have been denied the opportunity to read Mr Logan’s excellent writing.

I hope Mr Logan’s writing gets the recognition it deserves from readers and that one day soon he finds himself in the position of having those same publishers who wouldn’t take him on standing on his doorstep with their hats off, looking a bit sheepish. (Cue boiling oil from the battlements.)