My ‘author year’.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 26.06.2014

Less than two years into my self-publishing adventure, and already I have established my ‘author year’. And why not? Other walks of life have the calendar year, the financial year, the fiscal year, the budget year, the sporting year and the academic year, for examples.

My ‘author year’ runs from September 1st to June 31st. Because I said so. And I’m in charge. Decisions have to be made and the buck stops with me.

First week of July we are heading back to the UK for the summer for the holidays. And if the weather can manage what we had last summer it will be another wonderful break, I’m sure. If you have never been to Dymchurch beach on a fine summer’s day you’ve missed something special.

In the UK my home is a two minute walk from the beach. Perfect for my three year old boy to commute to and play safely on.

Here is a snap from last year if you don’t believe me. (It’s worth clicking on it for the full-screen effect.)

Halcyon days in The Children's Paradise.

Halcyon days in The Children’s Paradise.

I won’t be hauling my laptop with me because that might tempt me to try to find time and space to write. I want to write. I love writing. I will miss writing. But I also want to enjoy my holiday with my family. If I take my laptop there will be a temptation and I don’t want the conflict to threaten my family holiday. Don’t forget I also have a day job; I need a break from everything, too. (There is no regular Internet connection for me back home, but I’ll try to keep up with correspondence on my trips with the ipad to Wi-Fi zones.)

I anticipate doing a lot of reading. There is a charity bookshop in Dymchurch which always has shelves of good and reasonably priced paperbacks for sale. How I’ve missed browsing bookshops. I anticipate long mornings reclining on the golden sands in The Children’s Paradise under the sea wall enjoying the sun and a good ‘real’ book while my son amuses himself on the beach.

This last ‘author year’ I self-published two books. Bad Sons and A Dog’s Life. I’ve also written the third in my Acer Sansom series, Smoke & Mirrors. I won’t get that out now until I return to Istanbul. It would have been good to, but it’s not ready, it needed extra work and still needs more. One of the great things about being a self-publisher is that there are no deadlines. When it’s ready and I’m happy, I’ll click publish. My apologies to any who were perhaps looking forward to this title for a summer read, but I’m sure you understand.

I’ve made a good start on the second B&C but I’m going to have to shelve it until I return. I had hopes of at least finishing the first draft before we head home but I forgot to factor in the World Cup to my ‘author year’. Watching three matches a night in my time zone is taking its toll on my creativity and energy. Again, it’s a choice and one I’m happy to make.

My realistic predictions for the next ‘author year’ are not particularly encouraging, but it’s best to face up to them and get used to them rather than live in denial. That won’t be helpful, and life can be tough enough without creating additional pressures for oneself.

I start at a new school in September. I’ve walked to work for the last five years and that’s been worth its weight in gold to me as an author and a human being. The new job is an hour’s commute away…by bus. The fact that I’ve done that to my working day is a reflection of how bitterly disappointed I have been with the new administration at my ‘old’ school this year. I’m leaving behind some wonderful colleagues and brilliant students. I’m also leaving behind a position and routine that provided me the opportunity to find time to write. I don’t anticipate that at my new school I’ll find half the time I had here.

Those familiar with this blog will know that I started writing when I came to Turkey five years ago. I’ve written eight books while I’ve been working at this school. (Not during lessons, of course, I mean in my time here.) I can still remember banging away on the first Acer Sansom – the first book I wrote – on the school computer, which kept crashing, in the old staffroom in my free periods. Before I started carrying my laptop to school every day I was always trying to find a computer that worked to practice my hobby. There probably isn’t a computer here that doesn’t have a chapter or two of something I’ve written on its hard-drive. I feel quite nostalgic about the technology here, which is quite appropriate seeing as most of it is from another age.

On top of my new working life, my son is growing up – he was three this week – and becoming  more demanding. Like Elton sang about Mars, Istanbul is not a place to raise your kids. We live in an apartment, which, like most apartment blocks in Istanbul has no play area or garden to speak of. The nearest park to us is a twenty minute speed-walk away. My usual routine is to come in from work, put his reins on him and go there for an hour or two each evening after school. (Coming from a rural area, I can’t bear to think of him not having the space and opportunity for outside play in his day.) This coupled with my new commute, I can see myself getting less time to write at home in the evenings and weekends. I won’t ignore my parental responsibilities with him just so that I can write. I wouldn’t want to. It’s a choice I’m happy to make.

This will be my last blog-post for the ‘year’. That’s something else I won’t be killing myself over while on holiday.

I’d like to take this seasonal opportunity to offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all my readers for their interest, downloads and support of my writing. It’s worth repeating: writers are nothing without readers. I’d also like to say a public and huge thank you to Martin, my gentleman friend, who has worked with me on the Acer books, the fourth R&M and the B&C. Through his diligent proofreading and editorial suggestions my writing has achieved a much more polished and professional finish – absolutely necessary as a self-publisher if one is to continue to attract readers and maintain their interest.

Have a great summer everyone and I look forward to further communication with you all next ‘year.’

Acer Sansom is ‘rubbish’ :-(

Dirty Business Final (Large) Loose Ends Final (Large)

Writer’s diary: stardate: 02.05.2014 😦

This week I broke through the 70,000 word barrier of my first draft for Acer #3, which I might call Smoke and Mirrors. It’s been slow going compared with other books I’ve written, but it’s coming together nicely, in my opinion. I had a couple of good sessions this week and have started to feel quite positive about it.

And so it was with some dismay that I was given to understand that I’m wasting my time on this series. I received a couple of negative comments on Amazon.co.uk just yesterday – one for each of the Acer books: Dirty Business and Loose Ends. They are both from the same reader. For Dirty Business he said: Paul needs to scrap this Acer Sansom killer and go back to Dover and his good books, at least they were readable. (Paul?)

For Loose Ends he left this comment under the title ‘Rubbish’: Just like his other Sansom book rubbish and not worth the money, his books with Dover as the back ground were readable this lot are not.

(Some of my detractors I’d like to run over with ‘de tractor’.)

It’s not often I am left baffled by a reader’s feedback. (I know these book aren’t going to win any prizes but equally I know they’re not ‘rubbish’ because I’ve had too many favourable comments on them from impartial reviewers whom I respect. I accept that they might not be everyone’s cup of tea but that’s different to ‘rubbish’.)

I’ve experienced my fair share of negative comments and almost always I can find a way to understand them. I’ve invited him to enlighten me regarding what it was in these books that so displeased him. I’d really like to know. (There must be a quote from some old sage out there somewhere about understanding alleviating anguish but I can’t be arsed to look for it. Besides, I feel my time is better spent trying to find out where this bloke lives. He only went and used his real name 🙂 )

There are many things I’ve learned through self-publishing. One of the most important to remember, if one wishes to remain sane, is that you really cannot please all the readers all the time. So I try to be philosophical about negative comments. I try not to let them ruin my day. But the truth is: I can deal with them a lot better when whoever leaves them is not so unnecessarily unpleasant. It’s so rude. Rudeness makes my blood boil. Rudeness and stupidity.

The reviewer in question is entitled to have his say over my book. He paid for that privilege. But why is it that some people feel the need to be so horrible? I mean, ‘Rubbish’. That’s not nice is it? Who is he? Who is anyone to say anyone’s book is ‘Rubbish’? It’s such a rotten, spiteful, nasty, lazy thing to plaster as a comment title.

And it’s not just him. It’s endemic on Amazon. Some of the things some people write for comment titles and comment content should make them ashamed of themselves. Passing judgement on a book you’ve read is a subjective thing. You might hate it, but maybe that’s just you. Express that privately if you have to, but why must people be so nasty on public forums?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for constructive criticism. I’ve learned a lot from decent readers who’ve taken the time and trouble to feedback to me constructively. Not everyone loves my books and that’s fine with me when readers comment using language that isn’t inflammatory and hostile. But I ask you, comments like those I’ve copied and pasted above, how do they help anyone? Readers or writers.

People like that remind me of people like this:

 

and I don’t like it. And it’s not about passion; it’s about being civilised. Ah, what’s the point?

He’s not my first and, of course, he won’t be my last. I just wonder how long I will be prepared to bite my tongue and remain affable in the face of such nastiness.

Mind you even smiling nicely and responding philosophically can upset a comment prowler. Example: A little while ago on Amazon.com a woman gave this comment for Rope Enough under the title of Rather boring: Couldn’t get into this book – even though it is an English crime novel. Not sure what the problem was, but it didn’t hold my interest and I didn’t finish it.

Fair enough, I thought. Because of my policy of commenting on every comment I had to write something. And it had to be fittingly philosophical. I replied: Hello Miriam, Just goes to show, I suppose – you can’t please all the people all the time.
Regards.

That seemed harmless enough to me and to the point and honest in an ‘oh well’ kind of way. There was certainly no sub-text of unpleasantness intended.

So imagine my surprise when this week I got this comment from a reader who’d seen my response to Miriam: You are not going to win readers with that kind of attitude. I was about to give this book a shot because I love anything set in England. Most of my favorite authors are English. Your comment is off-putting and I will now pass on this one.

Still, one good thing to come out of all this: I was struggling to find a name for the hunchback kiddy-fiddler in my latest R&M File. Not any longer. Talking of which, oh look, his address came through – now where did I put de tractor keys?

(Please, just in case, I don’t want anyone springing to Acer’s defence on Amazon. I know I have some splendidly loyal readers who might do that, but it’s not what I’m fishing for. This is my writer’s diary and I’m simply sharing something to do with my writing journey that happened this week. That’s all folks.)

A Good Start.

A Dog's Life Final (Medium)

Writer’s diary: stardate: 11.04.2014

A Dog’s Life (R&M#4) was released last week. So far, so good. Sales have gone well. For a few days it hovered around the top twenty for the ‘British Detective’ category. (Nothing to get over-excited about. As Amazon categories go, it’s a very distant, mentally deficient, locked in the attic, bastard cousin twice removed of the ‘Police Procedural’ category.) And there’s been a ripple of benefit for the other three in the series.

Sales of my R&M Files always, every single month, without fail (to stress a point), outsell my other three books by a long way. I don’t think that the R&M Files are better than Acer or B&C. I just think that the ‘Police Procedural’ genre attracts more interest from more readers. It makes me think that if I concentrated on just churning out R&Ms I could make half-a-living. But that’s not me. I’m writing different characters in different series because I enjoy writing different characters in different series. Last night I was looking for something and I came across my ‘False Starts’ folder. I’ve got the first two or three chapters of five books that I’ve started and left to cool. I ended up reading them all (of course) and each one I finished I wanted to put everything else aside and crack on with it. They’re not bad. Really.

Amazon uploaded A Dog’s Life very quickly – it took about two hours instead of the scheduled twelve. That saw the book in the store and available for download on Monday evening. (I wanted to get it out April 1st.) After I’d wrestled the ipad off the screaming-in-protest infant when I woke up Tuesday morning I discovered to my great amazement that there was already a review! I was staggered. Since then I’ve had a few more reviews. These are from readers who have taken an interest in the series and were obviously looking out for the release of the next in it. (Once again, that makes me almost want to pinch myself. This time last year I was an absolute no one on Amazon. Now, readers are anticipating a new release. Not in their trillions, of course. JKR, I’m not, but still…) All reviews received thus far have been favourable, very kind and positive. I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who have downloaded a copy, thereby demonstrating their continuing support for my writing. I mean it. Thanks a lot. Readers are to writers what horse is to carriage; what butter is to bread and what Romney is to Marsh (the place, not the duo. I’m quite sure Tom could function just fine without Joy.)

I had a comment on Amazon.com from a reader who believed I’d made a mistake in R&M#4. In it Romney is moved to discuss his dead mother. In R&M#3, Romney told DS Marsh that his mum and dad were sunning themselves in the Algarve. It was my intention with the Algarve remark that Romney just made it up off the cuff, so to speak, to make Marsh feel a little foolish for her remarks after ‘that’ interview and to deflect further discussion of, and to slam the door shut on, an aspect of his personal life – Tom doesn’t like talking about his personal life with his subordinates (not unless he’s drunk). This is the way I saw it. And it didn’t occur to me that readers might not have taken it that way, or at least questioned the veracity of his remarks. But I can see now how the confusion has arisen. It’s bothered me.

Now that the book is out and it’s been read I think I will indulge myself by saying that there was only one scene in it that I worried slightly over whether to include. I feared readers might think it was too much. And I’ve not heard a peep about it. That surprises me. I won’t spoil my own book for anyone who hasn’t had the ‘pleasure’ yet. Suffice it to say, it’s the last very last scene. Did DI Romney go too far for anyone, I wonder?

I’m still writing – Acer #3. He’s certainly getting about in this one.

I’m also reading. A book I discovered in our school library. I’m having a job putting it down. It’s making me hoot and I’m simply relishing the language therein. It’s called the Oxford Book of Humorous Prose, edited by Frank Muir, who was quite a wit himself, I seem to remember. It’s a weighty tome. Probably why it was being used to keep the fire door open. It’s filled with absolute gems of amusing writing by the great and good of writers in the English language. And it’s made me want to hunt them out in their fullest forms. I think this book will end up in my book rescue centre. They’ll have to find something else to wedge the fire door open. That big useless lump from 2D, perhaps.

 

Delusions of author.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 14.02.2014ish.

I meant to say in my last blog-post that I’d be missing in inaction for the following two Fridays – my usual day of the week for flogging the blog. We’ve just had the fortnight’s holiday that falls between the two semesters which make up the Turkish school year. I went home. To England. On my own. For ten days. My dear Turkish wife didn’t fancy the kind of weather that Blighty was drowning in and she wasn’t going to entrust the care of the Halfling to me for the duration. But I wasn’t going home for the weather. I had things to do and family to see.

I must confess to feeling a little like David Booker as TK1965 accelerated up the pitted and rutted concrete strip that passes for a runway at Sebiha Gocken, (Istanbul’s second airport) dodging discarded wheelbarrows and stray dogs in pursuit of airborne status. (If you haven’t read Bad Sons, I’ve just lost you.) But it wasn’t all doom and gloom that I had to look forward to on my return to Turkey. Unlike DB, life’s pretty good for me out here. Didn’t stop me hailing the complementary drinks trolley to a stop as soon as it started rattling up the aisle, though. I love Turkish Airlines.

It wasn’t a busy flight and I had three seats to myself. I pretended I was flying business class. You can do that when you’ve got three seats to yourself and unlimited drinks. After the first couple of large ones have hit your empty stomach you can pretty much pretend anything you want so long as it doesn’t involve the words ‘hijacker’ or ‘terrorist’.

For company I’d taken along my first hardcopy draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File and a red pen. I’d been itching to get stuck into the first ‘proper’ edit. With hindsight it probably wasn’t too professional of me to start the very important task of editing with a free drinks trolley doing shuttle runs on a half-empty four hour flight. With hindsight it’s also a good job I didn’t rent a car from the airport. That couldn’t have gone well.

Oddly, I really felt like an author on the flight. I made believe I was paying a quick visit to the UK to see my ‘agent’ about something to do with the bidding war that wasn’t going on for my back catalogue or maybe it was something to do with the option to Acer’s film rights that Ronnie Corbett hadn’t got in touch over. (I blame that particularly good French red they were serving rather liberally.) I read and scribbled and laughed a lot. (Again, possibly the wine and my sense of temporary liberation and freedom – think demob sponsored by Merlot.) I imagined another passenger maybe looking over and asking me what was so funny and I’d have had to tell them something like, ‘Oh, nothing. It’s just my latest book. Maybe you’ve heard of me? Oliver Tidy? No? The Romney and Marsh Files? No? Acer Sansom? No? Booker and Cash, perhaps? No? Do you own an ereader? An E…READER. Never mind. (Presses red button to attract attention of cabin crew.) All that happened was that a man who looked suspiciously like the Turkish equivalent of a US sky marshal came to occupy a seat in the empty three adjacent to me. He kept talking into his sleeve (another nut-case) and he looked in my direction a lot. I don’t think he was interested in what I was reading.

As soon as I touched down in UK I felt like somebody. Really, I did. I’ve never felt it before. Normally I just feel completely anonymous. And it was all to do with my books. I know that quite a good number of people have downloaded at least one of my books. I seriously wondered whether I was sharing space with any of them as I fought to retrieve my clothes from my broken suitcase as they made their way around the baggage carrousel in the airport; as I was shoved and elbowed on the escalator; as I stood squashed in with all the other tinned commuters on the overcrowded train (one on which I believed I’d paid for a seat). I felt something and it felt good.

James Oswald has recently recalled how he felt seeing one of his books being read opposite him on a train journey (seeing one in the wild as he so humorously put it). Sensibly, he says he was cautiously optimistic – no point revealing yourself if there is a chance the reader is hating every page. But he must have felt effing brilliant about himself. I was looking around expecting at least every other passenger on the slow train from Gatwick to Ashford International to be reading on a Kindle. Maybe I could have struck up a conversation, although remembering my one and only other attempt at such shameless self-promotion maybe it’s just as well absolutely no one was. Where are they all? I was under the impression that everyone in the UK owned an ereader and read voraciously on them.

I so wanted to be stopped in customs (I’ve never been stopped in customs in my life) and I wanted the pompous, bespectacled, tubby official to ask me if I had anything to declare. Thanks to Oscar Wilde I had my line ready. (Probably a good job there was absolutely no one official-looking in the customs hall. Doubtless all on a tea break while the world’s smugglers were hard at it. I imagine they hear Oscar’s line all the time from drunk twats suffering with delusions of grandeur and they probably have a good time exercising their body-search rights as some form of mocking retribution. Maybe that’s where they all were – some other pretentious self-publisher high on self-delusion and free spirits got in there just before me.)

For the record, it was four days later that anyone mentioned any of my books. That includes family. My eldest son was after a loan for a car. It occurred to him that if I was selling books he might be able to touch me for a few quid. I have the measure of him. I told him that if he’d care to read one, just one, and let me know what he thought, we could discuss the matter further. He pulled a face, got up off his knees and told me how bad things would have to be in his life for something like that to be likely before wheeling away and muttering under his breath. I can read him like the back of my strong hand.

In one of those short intervals where it stopped raining I took myself out for a walk around the village to which I am no stranger. We’re talking Booker and Cash country. I allowed myself to be seen. I waited for some kind of recognition, just a pointed finger, a bit of whispering or a quizzical look would have been nice. An autograph hunter could have made my holiday. Bugger all. Still, it’s only been out a couple of weeks and my trip home did happen to coincide (unwittingly, I can assure all) with the Romney Marsh Sheep Winter Olympics (a festival in which specially trained ewes and rams of the locality are encouraged to ape (!) the sporting endeavours of their more famous human Olympian counterparts currently disgracing themselves through their participation in and thereby support of the shenanigans of an oppressive, homophobic, intolerant and bigoted regime somewhere very cold and dangerous) so locals were understandably distracted. (Talking of cold and dangerous, I stayed out of Dungeness. I came home seeking accolade, admiration, appreciation, not to get my head kicked in. Think The Hills Have Eyes with shingle.)

On the one fine and dry day of my stay, I visited Dover cliffs with some immediate family (I was ever vigilant that son-number-one was between me and the cliff edge at all times.) We walked from Dover to St Margarets Bay in the brilliant sunshine and a gusting wind. We had a good dinner and a good couple of pints in the pub on the front there.

Dover cliffs are the setting for the denouement of the first of the Romney and Marsh Files, Rope Enough. I haven’t been up there in years. It was wonderful to visit and relive some fond real memories as well as some virtual ones. It was something of a relief to discover that I’d got the geography and features of the area about right. The old war time anti-aircraft installation is a bit further on than I remembered and now fenced off because it is teetering precariously on the crumbling cliff edge – didn’t stop me getting in though. I had to. It was that important to me. The whole day was and it was all because of that book. I felt proprietorial. I felt I had rights. I’d have looked pretty stupid if the relic from the last war had decided to plunge into the English Channel on that particular day. (At least I would have been remembered for something and perhaps books sales might have seen a spike.)

Thanks to family I had a good time in the UK. I missed my writing and I missed my two year old son with a weighty longing that cast a pall over my time away. (It would have greatly helped alleviate my anguished mental state had my dear Turkish wife remembered to inform me before I left Istanbul that she was moving flats while I was away and would have no Internet or phone for a while. I’m sure she didn’t do it on purpose. It must have just slipped her mind in all the confusion and feverish activity involved in moving lock, stock and barrel at short notice. It’s a good job the new people in our old flat could tell me where she’d moved too when they caught me fumbling with a key that no longer fitted the lock to my old front door at two o’clock in the morning. That was after we’d cleared up the understandable confusion that arose. Thanks to the Pidgin English speaker in the building’s armed security response team for that. No hard feelings. Those jeans were due to be thrown out anyway.)

I couldn’t write while I was away; I didn’t take my laptop. But I was mentally productive. From nowhere I came up with storylines for both the third and the fourth Acer Sansom. I’m glad of it. I’m pretty keen to get back in touch with Acer but I just hadn’t worked out a way in. I feel that if someone paid me to stay home for six months I could finish the next two in his life. (Offers by email.) And they’d be worth it. I also had a good idea for something to incorporate into a future Booker and Cash – thanks to the Dymchurch Art Appreciation Society for that. (I went along to the village hall with mum on a very wet Wednesday afternoon and really enjoyed the talk on Vermeer. He could paint. One wonders where he found the time what with all that work providing pretty shiny surfaces for antique furniture.)

I got through the fourth R&M and like it a lot. I think I’ll title it, A Dog’s Life.

I want to say a big thank you to all who have downloaded, read and then commented on Bad Sons here, on Amazon, by email and on Goodreads. It wasn’t a condition of downloading it for free that you had to say something nice about it, but many of you have and I’m very grateful. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

So, I’m back in Istanbul. Back in the bosom of my Turkish family (the wife’s unaccountably frosty, like someone who sees a great plan unaccountably fall apart [think anyone who has tried to invade Russia in winter] but the Halfling seems pleased to see me). Back to my laptop (think The Simpsons and their television set). Back to R&M 4 (where did all those red wine stains come from?). Back to my day job (brave face). Back to job hunting for next year’s day job (hopeful/pleading face). Back, as they say, to (crushing) reality.

A brief encounter with my annus mirabilis.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 03.01.2014

It seems like only last week was last year.

It appears to be something of a custom in the blogosphere at this time of year for bloggers to look back on their previous annus (sorry to disappoint my legions of mucky-thoughted followers – no more bum jokes): reflect, sum things up and make lists. I have decided not to subject anyone to that other than to say…

What an amazing year it’s been for me as an author-publisher! I’ve had a positively annus mirabilis. (Sounds uncomfortable, I know, but I’m assured it means something good.) It was December 2012 – just twelve short months ago – that I uploaded my first book to Amazon. I now have five on there and two finished and in the editing pipeline.

Like the famous Mrs Pig of traditional story fame I sent my three little pigs (my three R&M Files) out into the big wide world to fend for themselves. They have managed to support themselves, garner some appreciation and even send a little cash back home to papa like all dutiful absent children should. (The fruit of my loins could do with reading that. In my opinion they have completely the wrong idea about which way money should be travelling in the parent/offspring relationship.)

Generally, the five books (three R&Ms and two Acer Sansoms) have been well received. Comments are overwhelmingly (in both senses of the word) positive and encouraging. I’ve had a few duffers, of course, but you can’t please all the people all the time.  (That’s one of the top five things I’ve learned to accept this year.)

In the books, on the blog and on my Amazon author page I asked readers, who wouldn’t mind doing so, to point out any errors that they came across. (Another thing in my top five of things learned the hard way: the services of a proofreader are essential to any aspiring author.) Readers have been wonderfully helpful and constructive. A huge thank you to all of you who participated and helped me. For the record I am now ‘fixing’ all the errors highlighted. Rope Enough is done. Making a Killing is halfway there. I want to put all the new versions on together before I submit another book.

I’ve been an active social networker. I’ve blogged once a week. I find Twitter and the rest of it a bit dull in comparison. One thing I do have to work on is some proper and effective self-promotion. (Another of this year’s critical lessons. See below.)

I’ve worked bloody hard. I’m always working at something to do with the books. It’s like a second job in nature, only more enjoyable. You’ve got to love it or you’re screwed as an author-publisher.

I started out craving a traditional publishing deal, like a fat person craves cake. I wanted to be ‘discovered’, coaxed, fed from the palm of a kindly literary agent and tamed as a raw talent. Nurtured, pandered to and cultivated. It would still be nice but I’m more realistic about things these days. I’m also more appreciative of the whole self-publishing deal. Self-publishing is not the sad and desperate last throw of the dice by sad and desperate writers. It’s liberating and empowering and it’s also quite groovy.

I’m looking forward to 2014.

So, because I’m in danger of boring myself, on to the top five things learned this year in no particular order:

1) The services of a decent proofreader are essential.

2) You can’t please all the people all the time, so stop worrying about duff reviews. (unless you are getting loads, of course, and then there is probably something wrong with your work).

3) Writing something half-decent is only half of it. In order to maximise success an author-publisher must wear many hats and often. One has to get stuck into self-promotion in a big way if one wants to be big. You don’t even have to be a great writer, it appears. If you are the type of person who can sell snow to Eskimos, write a turd of a book, sprinkle some glitter on it (ie splash out on a great cover) and get promoting.

4) It’s all about commitment. One must have a driving passion for being an author-publisher. Being an author-publisher is like having a second full-time job. Because one must write, correspond, write, promote, write, network often – daily ideally. I know I’m cut out for this life because I enjoy all aspects of the ‘job’.

5) Don’t stop dreaming about success and believing in your ability to experience it. But keep a lid on it. I am reminded of a line in an oft misquoted poem…If you can dream – and not make dreams your master…

Oh, look, I had a summing up and made a list after all.

Finally, two really good blog-posts I would like to share. If you are in involved in writing and self-publishing in any way, shape or form they are worth looking at. One from the legendary Joe Konrath is the practical one and one from a guy who I envy, admire and hate in equal measure, James Oswald, is there to feed the dreams. He is living the dream – my dream. I shouldn’t resent him for it and I don’t, really. Much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bloody good luck to the man.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/konraths-publishing-predictions-2014.html

http://jamesoswald.co.uk/?tag=2013

This time last year I was a self-publishing nobody. And now I’m a couple of rungs up the ladder. It looks like a big ladder. I can’t see the top. There are people climbing over me in a frantic rush. There are people above me losing their grip to plummet to Earth. My knuckles are white and my knees are strong. I’m pacing myself. Upward and onward. I’d like to lead everyone in a couple of verses of that traditional yuletide ditty, What the Fuck by the seasonally appropriately named Sak Noel.  (Does anyone know if that translates to Santa’s scotum?) The title, at least, totally sums up my surprise at the way things went for me in 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBlY53fgN-k

­Talking of poetry, here is a less well known verse than last week’s but no less meaningful for all that. It’s certainly appropriate.

Annus Mirabilis not by Philip Larkin

Self-publishing began
In twenty, nine plus three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending RIP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of wistful scribbling,
A writing for the fun of it,
A shame that started at fifty
And not before.

Then all at once the penny dropped:
Everyone felt the same,
We sold our souls to Amazon
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

I dream life will be better than
In twenty, ten plus three
(And not too late for me) –
Between the end of middle age
And my impending obituary.

You can see the original here

http://www.wussu.com/poems/plam.htm

Happy New Year and sincere thanks to everyone who has supported me.

Taking it personally

 

Writer’s Diary: Stardate: 08.11.2013

An unfunny thing happened on the way to the…classroom yesterday. I was a few minutes early for the first lesson in my ‘day of death’ and as I passed by the computer lab I noticed that there was no one using the computer that works. (The ‘day of death’ is eight straight hours and a lunch duty. When I say lunch duty I mean I have to sit with the last class that I teach before lunch and break bread with them. I shouldn’t name them. Individually they are mostly edible. But the class ‘dines’ in the geographical centre of the dinning hall. (Yes, I know how to spell dining.) Because of the central location I usually end up leaving the experience with blood trickling out of both ears and children’s dinners spattering my shirt. Nice it isn’t.) But I digress.

I thought I’d take a quick peek at my emails before going into battle. I poked the hamster with my biro and after a bit of hamster grumbling it began to trot in its wheel. Power. I logged on. Really great and friendly and email from a gentleman who has been making his way through the Romney and Marsh Files. He’d finished the third and seemed to have enjoyed it. Fantastic.

Take a quick peek at Amazon while I’m there. Oh, a new comment on Joint Enterprise. I wonder if that was him, too. No. It was a one star comment from a reader who was clearly unimpressed with the reading experience. It’s the first one star comment on that particular title I’ve received. And it goes like this:

‘Having read ‘Making A Killing’ I was really looking forward to this, but it quickly descended into a blank featureless read. The plot was feeble, and there was no sense of suspense at all. I kept reading expecting it to pick up pace, but it faded into oblivion. I’ll not be buying any more of this author, unless I need a cure for insomnia.’

That set the tone for the day. Joint Enterprise is many things but it is not a one star book. Yes, the direction that I took this book in has disappointed a couple of readers who had enjoyed the previous books. I accept that. But this? No.

I’ve had three one star comments for one of my other books, Rope Enough, and of course as the author they are not nice to receive. (Unless  you are a creative type you cannot truly empathise with how it feels to have your work rubbished. I really don’t mean to come across as condescending.) But so far I have always managed to understand them. I try to understand them. I want to understand them. If I can understand them the dismay at receiving them is dissipated. One way of doing this is to see what comments the readers have left on other book purchases on Amazon.

Of the three I had already received for Rope Enough one didn’t like the sex. (OK I can deal with that. Still a bit harsh. There wasn’t much of it.) One has never left another comment on anything (still) so it’s probably someone I was married to or a member of my family. And one reader took exception to the rape theme. She was quite scathing. It was clear that she found the subject matter entirely distasteful and by her own admission wouldn’t have downloaded the book if she had known that rape featured as a theme. I understand. Understanding helps. It doesn’t make it all right but it helps.

So, to this new comment. I looked over other comments the reader in question has left. He has left a few of the negative two and one star variety. He expresses himself well. He writes well. Clearly, he is not an idiot and IMHO you’d have to be an idiot or vindictive to give Joint Enterprise one star and leave the remarks that he did. So he must have taken exception to something in the book. A part of the story upset him, perhaps. (I’m just looking for ways to try to understand this shredding of my book without actually asking him. He doesn’t appear to respond to comments, so I’m left to work it out.) And walking to school today I think I did. It hit me why he responded in the way he did. I think that he took exception to something that I made light of. It’s related to a purchase that he made. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I have made sense of it and that’s good enough for me. What was it? I’m not saying. It’s very personal. I could be wrong. But right now that doesn’t matter. I’ve found a way to deal with it. I’ve moved on.

To be me or not to be me…

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 19.10.2013

What did Will mean by that? ‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ A lot of people think he was harping on about living and dying. Maybe he was. I’m asking myself the same thing. Not about living and dying but about my writing, or more precisely my self-publishing. Actually my focus is a little different. It’s more like this: ‘To be me or not to be me, that is the question.’

Not for the first time, I have to ask myself, what the hell am I on about?

I wrote and self-published the Romney and Marsh Files under my own name. No problem. Call it vanity if you like. I like my name and I believe it’s unique. Thanks mum and dad. Then I came to self-publishing my Acer Sansom novels and I did pause to wonder whether I should put them out under my real name. Why? Because they are not like the R&M Files. They are in a different genre. I have written them differently. The R&M Files are studded with my own brand of what I think is funny. There is no humour in the Sansoms. They are different reads regarding content, structure, pace and style. So what? So, naturally, I have been/will be actively encouraging readers who have enjoyed the R&M Files and who follow my blog or Twitter account or Facebook account or my Amazon author page to download the Sansoms. And I have good reason to believe that many have. (Thanks by the way.) But just because someone likes a British police procedural with toilet jokes does not mean that they will enjoy a serious thriller in a different style. And if they don’t enjoy the change it will probably lead to Amazon comments that come across as less than impressed. And we all know how important good Amazon comments and ratings are to sales of self-publishing nobodies, not to mention self-esteem.

And of course, I’m writing this because it’s happened: just yesterday two three star comments that both said the same thing. Liked the R&Ms, but weren’t so keen on the new stuff. Bugger. One even referred to Dirty Business as ‘boring’ in comparison. Ouch!

But what can you do as a struggling self-publisher? A great part of being successful is building a following and a platform. If you go changing your name every time you self-publish a book with a different set of characters in maybe a different genre you’ll be starting over again from scratch as a nobody. The mountain of recognition is steep and high and the climbing is not easy. Ask anyone who’s having a go at it.

So should I have put the Sansoms out under a pseudonym? To be me or not to be me, that was the question. (Was because it’s too late now for anything other than reflection where those books are concerned. The dye is cast.) And in the not too distant future, I will be self-publishing another book with new characters which is different in style again to both the R&Ms and the Sansoms. But its biggest difference is that it’s written in the first person whereas all my other stuff is written in the third. Should I put that out under my own name and risk less than favourable comparisons to previous work?

Once again it seems a case of swings and roundabouts. Because my name is familiar to some readers now through the R&Ms the Sansoms are being downloaded and given a try. Sales go up and the books become more visible in those all important charts, which leads to the possibility of new readers sitting up and taking notice and looking at Amazon comments before they buy. And there have been some very encouraging comments (several by readers who have tried the Sansoms after the R&Ms so it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to you. You know who you are.). But no one really takes any notice of those, do they? Everyone believes that these are comments of friends and family and the product of comments factories in Taiwan where reviews can be bought by the tonne. We gravitate to the one, two and three star comments looking for ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and a dose of schadenfreude.

Of course, it’s not all negative. There are positives. If readers try the Sansoms and like them they might decide to give the R&Ms a try and like those too. More downloads equals more kerching and more visibility. But what if readers who come to the Sansoms first then go on to be underwhelmed by the R&Ms and leave feedback to that damaging effect? Sigh. There we are again.

I suppose what it comes down to is faith. Faith in one’s writing that it is good enough. And I do have faith, more in the Sansoms than the R&Ms, actually. And vanity of course; I like seeing my name on book covers even if I have to pay for it myself.

I have had one question answered through this thoughtful experience. I have often wondered why some traditionally published covers say things like, ‘X writing as Y.’ Clever really, but probably not as useful a ploy with ebooks. Too much writing on the thumbnail images. And it means very little if you are a nobody in publishing terms.

One thing I am now certain of: my trilogy of erotic dinosaur porn during which an Olympic squad of young and busty lady beach volleyball players accidentally fall through the fabric of space and time into a parallel dimension to find themselves in the Cretaceous Period with a bunch of randy reptiles looking for something a little less scaley to have some fun with will not be self-published under my own name. Working title: Fifty Scales of Grey. Just my luck if it turns out to be a massive hit.