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.

No Comment?

Writer’s blog: Stardate: 21.06.2013

­Part 1:

It is my policy to comment on all the Amazon comments that my Romney and Marsh Files encourage – the warm, the tepid and the frosty. It wasn’t something that I determined to do from the outset, from the moment I went off the rails (self-published). It just sort of happened. I got a couple of good comments and I thought that it would be polite to say thanks (I was feeling a bit euphoric, naturally).

Of course, when one starts something like that one can start to feel obliged to continue the practice in case one hurts someone’s feelings. Like buying flowers for a spouse, or giving pocket money to offspring it can become a rod for one’s own back. That’s one reason why I do neither.

But to my mind, it has to be done for all the comments – the good, the bad and the fugly. If you ignore a comment that isn’t very complimentary, people would soon probably start thinking of you as some variety of chicken-shit – all right all the time things are going well, sucking up to the five star reviewers, but as soon as someone has a pop you retreat behind the curtain of invisibility that is your ISP number and sulk.

After I’d been commenting on comments for a few weeks, I started to see it as quite a good thing to do. Mostly, they don’t take longer than a text message or a tweet. It’s not a chore. Clearly, hardly anyone reads them – I’ve only had a handful of replies to my comments on comments – but those that noticed them seem to have been pleased at my engagement. And I’ve had some very interesting discussions with a couple of readers that I know led to a revision of the reader’s thinking of me as an author and more importantly of my writing – in a good way.

I still think that it makes sense and I cannot understand why more authors, especially the self-published desperados like me, don’t use the opportunity to engage with readers and, in so doing, demonstrate to other prospective downloaders who might be thinking about taking a chance on one’s books that one is a seriously nice bloke who, although one is obviously a really busy creative type can still find time in one’s cramped schedule to ‘reach out’ to one’s readers. Also, prospective downloaders might be persuaded to take a punt on a book if they see the author as prepared to engage with readers and show some gratitude for their time and trouble and purchase (if relevant).

So this week, I would really like to hear from self-publishers who do or don’t reply to comments and their reasons for their policy. Go on, share. Or are you a chicken-shit?

Part 2:

For those who are interested, I am still working on my two Acer Sansom novels. They are shaping up very nicely and I’m sure that they will be worth the wait.

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 Power of Praise

Note to self number thirty: Patience is a virtue. Don’t forget it.

Remember that film, ‘Field of Dreams’? There was a great line in it somewhere that went something like, ‘build it and he will come.’ I don’t know why it has always stuck with me; I never wanted to build a sports stadium (even if I did, I couldn’t afford it) and have the ghosts of soccer legends come around for a kick-about in my back yard – even if it would be pretty cool.

In my (sometimes) tenuous way of making links, I’m equating Ray Kinsella’s baseball park to my books. Not so much build it and he will come, as, write them and they will read (especially if they are free). That’s not meant to sound as arrogant as it might come across. I just have absolute faith in my writing and my books to do a job at a certain level.

I feel strongly that what I write is not awful. That it is readable. That it works in its genre. That it’s not full of holes. I believe that it can provide an enjoyable reading experience. I don’t hope for more than that. Yet.

So, I wrote them and I put them out there (two of them at present) and I watched and I waited. And, lo, the downloads did begin to accumulate and still I waited for what I craved most – feedback (see earlier posts for why). And now that has begun to trickle in. And I was not mentally prepared for the experience of receiving them; I had not sought to ready myself for what I would feel about, how I might deal with, reading the comments of strangers regarding my creative output. I had no idea how truly moving that was going to prove. I am finding it emotionally disturbing (in a good way). Really.

There have only been a few comments – I couldn’t claim to be inundated, swamped. And people are not exactly raving psychotically about my writing; no one is nominating me for literary awards, but people are being positive, encouraging and helpful. People are commenting, saying nice things, taking the time and trouble to let me know what they think and I am just overwhelmed by that little experience. I wonder if I might be a little unstable to be thinking like that. Maybe I’ve just been working too hard lately.

I suppose that, if I’m taking something specific from this little episode in the grand scheme of my self-publishing it is that one should never underestimate the potential effect of what other people are going to say about what one does. People who say that they couldn’t care less are lying. I have had something that I already knew, but had largely forgotten about, reaffirmed: praise on any level can be deeply affecting. Believe that.

What will I do if someone pans me? How will I deal with that? Probably, what I did to the guy who took my parking space – he doesn’t park there anymore. I don’t think that he even owns a car these days. There wouldn’t be much point.