Tag Archives: fantasy writer.

It’s not who you know, it’s what you know …

It’s time to see if I can boost the visitor numbers to my blog a bit and for that purpose, once again, I have procured the services of a celebrity guest. Yes you have a special treat in store today. The ever popular Tallis has returned to my blog – along with a little help from Jim Webster, his publisher and agent. Enjoy.

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It’s not who you know, it’s what you know.

It’s not what you know …

I realise that it might not be a fashionable view. Indeed I know some people who would disagree vehemently with me on this. They will boast of their wide circle of acquaintance, and the fact that should they want a decision making in their favour in high places, they merely have to drop a hint into the ear of the right person. Yet I would suggest that if you don’t know what’s going on, you can drop all the hints you want, you’ll never achieve the result you desire.

It was the interesting affair of Doughty Voile which illustrates this best. Doughty comes from one of the small villages east of here, along the Paraeba river. Doughty’s parents came from the city of Oiphallarian, which is even further east. His parents abandoned city life, (for unexplained reasons) and settled to the life of peasant cultivators. The area was isolated, Doughty grew up speaking with a pronounced Oiphallarian accent, and occasionally people from the city did visit them. They would stay for some time and spend most of it inside. Often they spent it in bed being treated for various injuries. Doughty truly had a nice knack at sewing up knife wounds.  But apart from these occasional highlights, life was quiet. Doughty worked hard, but was a great reader. He seems to have read everything that crossed his path. Apparently he used to sail out in his skiff to meet the steamers. He’d trade fresh vegetables with the purser for books.

His big chance came when a visitor arrived from Oiphallarian. He’d taken a cottage in the village and Doughty got to know him. Apparently the visitor, one Montain Calm, was in the book trade. He worked for a publishing house in the city. Ostensibly he had been sent to reconnoitre Port Naain with a view to exploring the literary possibilities. Not only was he to search out for new writing talent, but there was also the possibility of forming partnerships with local publishers, or having books written in Oiphallarian printed locally by Port Naain printers. To be honest, Montain wasn’t particularly keen on heading further west. His real aim was to linger in the village with his mistress for a month or two. He would then return to Oiphallarian explaining that he’d explored the opportunities and there weren’t any.

Doughty pondered this and a day or so later, casually mentioned, as if in passing, that he had to go to Port Naain anyway, and would Montain like him to check things out for him whilst he was there. It would give his report to his superiors a degree of verisimilitude if he could mention a few contacts by name. Montain thought briefly and agreed it would be an excellent idea, and even gave Doughty a few vintenars to buy himself a drink or two with whilst he was in the city.

Doughty next had to work out how he was going to get to Port Naain. He had virtually no cash, and what he had, he felt he’d need when he got there. So he decided to just sail down river in his skiff and if the worst came to the worst he could always sleep in it as well. So with a change of clothing, and his father’s business suit which Doughty had recently grown into, he set off.

It was entirely fortuitous that he stumbled upon me. He drifted past the wharfs of the city, temporarily unmanned by the sheer size of the place. When he got to Fellmonger’s Wharf he contemplated tying up, but there was no wharf space available. To be fair that is normally the case. Boats and barges are tied up to seven deep on Fellmonger’s Wharf. It’s a residential wharf, and our wharf-rat, Marson, likes it well stacked. It ensures he’s got plenty of tenants and those nearest the wharf will struggle to skip without paying the rent.

Doughty passed onwards and arrived at the Old Esplanade. The tide was in and there were a few loafers waiting for it to turn. So he paddled close to the shore and after some thought he asked if anybody could direct him to, “A literary gentleman.”

It must be confessed that on the Old Esplanade I am well known, even if it is only as Shena’s husband. Hence, it was my name he was given. Not only that but they gave him directions as how to get to our barge.

Thus it was as I was meditating in the sunshine, contemplating my muse, I was rudely awakened as his skiff scraped alongside. I welcomed him aboard and he told me his story. Let us be honest, he was obviously not a senior agent for a major publishing house. He lacked the arrogance. He lacked the belief in his own divine right to succeed that one finds in such people. To be honest, if he was in publishing I would have placed him as a literary agent who made a poor living touting his finds to small independent publishing houses.

After an hour and a glass or two, I got the entire truth out of him and it was then I made my decision. I liked him. He was a decent enough young man and remarkably well read. Thus I spent the rest of the afternoon coaching him. By the time Shena arrived home, Doughty was almost convincing. So she joined me in my work and by the time we retired for the night, he could discuss business with businessmen and literature with writers. All that needed to be done was to arrange a few introductions.

Thus under the name of Montain Calm, Doughty was launched on Port Naain literary society. He was a considerable success. When introduced to writers he was measured. If he hadn’t read their work he’d read similar. He was happy to discuss their current projects and showed a genuine interest in work they had close to completion. If he had a failing, it was that he didn’t have a large budget for entertaining. In all candour that was one area where I couldn’t help him. But we discovered that people were so keen to speak to him that they insisted on paying for his drinks.

Having caused a stir amongst the writers, we moved on to the printers and publishers. They pleaded with him to dine with them. Had he been a person with fewer moral standards he could doubtless have walked away, his pockets jingling from the bribes they wanted to slip him. As it was he amassed crate after crate of samples. I honestly believe he had acquired a copy of every book published in Port Naain in the previous decade!

Once writers saw the publishers wining and dining Doughty they redoubled their own efforts. It was now obvious that he was the man who held their fortunes in the palm of his hand. The poor chap was virtually besieged. He made an unfortunate strategic error. In a desperate effort to calm people down, he let it be known that there was no point in negotiating details. This was because his employers were sending their legal representative out to join him in a couple of weeks and this person would draw up the contracts.

In one way this worked. The writing community could see that there was no point in worrying him with details. Unfortunately each writer also decided that they ought to use this period of grace to win Doughty over to their side, so that when the lawyer appeared, they would be the first in the queue and would be signed up on good terms before the money ran out.

In the next week, eight lady writers of some merit invited him to picnic with them and took the opportunity to propose what might be described as, ‘an informal marital arrangement.’ At the same time, other writers would invite him out, ‘for a convivial evening.’ On several occasions the convivial evening barely finished in time for him to join a lady for the lunchtime picnic.

Finally I had to step in. The social whirl had become manic. As he said to me, it wasn’t waking up and thinking, “Where am I,” that told him it was time to stop. It was when he turned over in bed, looked at the individuals who appeared to be sharing it with him, and asked, “And who the hell are they?”

Apparently on one occasion he was only spared embarrassment because the lady’s maid had the habit of sewing name tapes into her mistress’s clothes so that they were easily identified by the laundry.

At very short notice I got him a passage on a barge heading east. Given his personal effects included eleven crates of books and nearly as many of rather good wine, there was no way he could get them all in the skiff.

“And what,” I hear you mutter under your breath, “did Tallis get out of it?”

Well to be fair both Shena and I ate rather well that week. Also, as Doughty commented, he wasn’t somebody who normally drank wine with every meal. Thus whilst he took a number of crates of wine with him, it must be admitted that he left twice that number with Shena and I. But perhaps more importantly than that, it’s always good for a chap to discover what sort of folk he lives among.

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Well first there’s:

‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’

The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-guide-writers-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRXJH8C/

Then we have

‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’

Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Gentlemen-behaving-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRYZV6C/

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

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Just a final note from me, MTM. This is the last story in this tour, but if you want to read the other stories, not to mention discover some cracking blogs, I can heartily recommend starting from the beginning. You can find the first one on our lovely friend, Chris Graham’s blog here:

A fine residence – Guest Post (and Book Promo) by Tallis Steelyard (Jim Webster)…

If, for some reason it doesn’t work, or you get lost on the way, the first part of each story appears on Tallis’ own blog, starting here:

A fine residence …

 

 

 

 

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When it feels right but is … wrong. #writing #indiebooks

This week: you have another opportunity to benefit from the vast store of wisdom I have earned by royally fucking things up so that you don’t have to.  

It started like this.

Wednesday; visit the parents day, and this week I arrived in extremely dire need of a wee. It is fairly usual that the pint of water and two cups of coffee I need to kick start my day turn into about five pints by the time I’ve driven fifty miles or thereabouts and I drive the next ninety in some agitation. This Wednesday was no exception.

At Mum and Dad’s the downstairs loo is just off the lobby before you go into the house proper and I usually use it before I announce my presence, otherwise the ten minutes of hellos can be a bit excruciating for my poor bladder. Into the loo I rushed, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as what felt like about a gallon of wee went into the pan. Except that each of the lavs at Mum and Dad’s has a riser for people with dodgy hips, and if you sit on the riser in the downstairs loo wrong, the wee runs down the inside of it and despite being positioned over the bowl, the gravitational wonders of surface tension bend the wee round and under the edge of the riser and it then falls over the side of the pan onto the floor. Well, it came from a skip, still in its wrapping, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But yes, you guessed it. A significant portion of my wee deluge had missed the pan entirely and puddled on the floor.

Joy.

The original dribbly-wee loo riser of doom (centre) among other skip scored offerings.

There I was. I’d done the right thing, sat on loo, weed into hole but somehow, despite following the instructions it had all gone somewhat awry. I spent the next five minutes wiping it up with loo roll and anti bacterial floor spray. It’s not just me, the foibles of this particular loo riser are a known problem and I soon had it all ship shape again with no harm done. The point was, sometimes, even when you do things the right way it all goes horribly wrong.

So how does this tale of substandard urinary aim have any connection with writing?

Well, it’s like this.

There’s a quote that appears on something I use – my Kobo Writing Life dashboard, I think – that goes like this:

‘If you want to read a book that has not been written yet, you must write it.’

Way back in 2008 when I finally finished my first decent novel that is, exactly what I had done. But to be honest, while this is great advice, it only works if you are in touch with the popular Zeitgeist on some level. I sell my books on the internet which, to all intents and purposes, is American. It is devilishly hard to reach non Americans but back then it was even harder (except on Amazon at that point).

Therefore, I shot myself in the foot instantly by writing a very British book set, mostly, in a fantasy world but when it came here, it came to London. Yes Dr Who is like that but it was put on by the BBC and when they first did it, they had a captive audience comprising all of Britain. I wrote British because I was bored of books and films where the main protagonists are American and the setting America. I wanted to see some shizz go down in my own country. What I failed to grasp was that there is a reason the vast majority of books are about Americans in America. It’s to connect with Americans; the biggest and most easily reachable group of readers in the market place.

Yes, I’d done kind of the right thing but … wrong.

The problem wasn’t even that I was writing a book that could well hold more appeal to British or Australasian readers. It was that I hadn’t researched my market – I thought I had but, no. That’s why I didn’t understand how hard to find they would be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be unable to reach British readers without taking special measures. OK so that was 2008 but even now, in 2017, you have to work at finding international readers and even harder at finding readers who buy from sites other than Amazon.

Likewise, I’d read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy: the Narnia Books, The Five Children and It, The Incredible Mr Blenkinsop (I think that was its name) the Borrowers, the Wind in the Willows, The Lord of The Rings. I’d seen films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I’d read Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett. In most of those books, the writer has invented a completely new world, or a new creature, or a new something. The point is, while they may have broad themes that are similar, good versus evil baddie, etc, each one takes place in its own fantasy world or hidden world within this one, often there are specific and new creatures created for purpose of the story. The notable exception is Terry Pratchett, who took the tropes other people used and poked gentle fun at them.

In the same way that I thought, at my parents, that rushing into the bog, sitting down on the ice cold, thigh freezing riser and letting it all out was enough, and discovered that oh it so wasn’t, I genuinely thought putting my book on sale and supporting my efforts with advertising on the big promo sites was all it would take to find readers. It wasn’t. I wrote weird books, that are funny and I had covers made expressly to say, ‘this book is like nothing you have ever read’ because when people saw my books, I wanted them to think, ‘Pratchett’. When I got reviews that said that, I quoted them. I wrote my book the old way. The E Nesbitt way. And I sold that as an asset … the wrong way.

When people talk about wanting ‘different’ I suspect that what they really mean is that they want the same old ware wolves and sparkly vampires but with … say … slightly different lighting.

That is where Sir Terry cleaned up. He kept to the standard tropes, and spun them differently. If you want to succeed financially, I think, possibly, the trick is to write something bang on genre that has a different angle; a standard, boilerplate, trope made interesting enough to you for you to be able to stand writing in it.

When it comes to making choices, I guess it’s wise to think through the ramifications, but with writing it’s hard to anticipate what they might be sometimes. If you like writing wacky but want to produce a well edited book with a professional cover, it’s worth looking at how much cash you have to throw at it and how long for. When I started this game, the estimate was that once you’d produced six books you’d reach tipping point; momentum would be easier to maintain and sales would rise.

‘Great!’  I thought, ‘I have budget for six novels.’

Now that I’m writing my sixth book, that magic tipping point number is more like twelve! Things change and move. How long can you sustain your business without making a profit? OK now double it. Hell, quadruple it to be safe.

Likewise, when you plan what you’re going to do to reach readers, I’d thoroughly recommend keeping as much of it under your control as you can. This is why so many writers ask readers to sign up to their mailing lists. I had an amazing three months back in 2014 when I optimised my book listings for UK readers and started getting a ton of downloads on Amazon and, even better, a really good read through rate – seriously it was massive, about 20% of the folks downloading the first book bought the others But then Amazon changed the algo – which they do around April or May each year, it seems. Overnight the downloads of the free book ceased. And that was that.

These days, however many author lists readers are signing up to, I still believe that if you can make your emails personal, fun and interesting enough they will stay with you. Just don’t make them too fun or your readers will sign up for the emails rather than your books or if they do, be prepared to monetise your blog posts, newsletter etc – either as non fiction books or paid content. The great thing about mailing lists is that if someone doesn’t get on with your books they can unsubscribe so you should end up with a list of folks who might, eventually, read your books! If you’re really lucky, some will part with cash for them.

Once you have some readers, it’s also worth listening to them. I always sold my books as fantasy and when asked to cite comparable writers I’d suggest Holt, Prachett, Rankin … When people started reviewing them, the bulk of them cited Douglas Adams. I now publish them in sci-fi. They don’t sell as well there as they did in the days when I could put them in fantasy and they’d be actually visible. But now that fantasy is kind of, ware wolves and shifters with a small corner for epic, my books definitely do better in sci-fi! Sci-fi seems a bit less rigid in the genre factors required, too, hence the next series, Space Dustmen, is going to be sci-fi with the odd planetary visit.

To sum up, what I am trying to say, I guess, is that now, more than ever, you need to think long and hard before you even start to write that book and you need to keep pretty nimble afterwards. So, if you’re thinking having a pop at writing or are working on your first book, maybe you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you are writing for?
  2. Where you you find them?
  3. Can you find them easily and inexpensively?
  4. How often do the authors they read release new books?
  5. Can you keep up with book production rates for your genre? or to put it another way …
  6. How much time do you have? Even if you give up your job.
  7. What kind of writing career will fit with your life?
  8. How and where will you sell your books – it’s no good being wide if everyone in your genre whose books you like and who might like yours too and do mailing swaps or promos with you is in KU.
  9. How long before you need your books to start funding themselves to keep going?
  10. Are there other ways you can monetise your writing to support book production until such stage as your book business is self financing.
  11. How big is your social media following? Are you up to a kickstarter to fund book production?

The way I see it there are two broad choices about what you decide to write.

The first choice is to conform. You, write to market, so if it’s fantasy, you write about ware wolves or witches and yes you light them differently or whatever it takes and you write about six books (minimum) a year. And you thank your lucky stars you’re not in Romance where you have to write one a month!

Alternatively if you really can’t face the prospect of writing about creatures someone else has already invented or making your hero American, or 101 other must haves for the best selling book, accept that you are unlikely to earn diddly squat for a long, long time and just go for it writing the kind of stuff you love, that fulfils you as a reader and writer, stuff you want to read that hasn’t been written yet. But if you choose this route, you have to be extremely pragmatic about your chances of earning anything for many years and extremely lateral and original about what you do to earn from your books in other ways.

It’s quite good if you can avoid combining motherhood to a small child and trying to look after sick, elderly parents, at the same time as trying to have any sort of career, too.

This is where I am right now. But hey, my sixth book will be out next year and who knows, 2027 I may even have written twelve and if I market the hell out of them, well who knows, they might pay for the thirteenth book.

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

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Results. Box 010: Number 1, Michael Brookes

This week’s special guest was Michael Brookes author of The Cult of Me’ and its brand-new, just-published sequel, ‘Conversations in the Abyss’. You can find his Amazon author page here or visit his blog here.

Well everyone, the votes are finally in and I am delighted to report that two of Michael’s choices have been voted into Box 010. Yes, here they are:

  1. People who drive without lights in fog.
  2. Film remakes.

Michael, thank you for joining us, we will put your choices into Box 010, with great glee, I might add, and seal the lid closed with an industrial sized nail gun, oh, and a great deal of super glue.

Thank you for joining us. Next week Simon Royale will be joining us with some more items to put into Box 010.


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