Tag Archives: new writers

Calling all readers of humorous sci fi and fantasy …

Want to do a fun fast quiz?

Yep. A really quick one and when I say quick, I mean Usain Bolt quick, or maybe cheetah quick … Lewis Hamilton quick? Thrust II quick? Concord quick, stealth bomber qu- Sorry that’s enough stuff about quickness.

So basically, it’s like this …

One of my current projects is a new humorous fantasy series called Space Dustmen. As I was messing about with an outline for it the other day, I had a bit of a scales from the eyes moment and I have now hatched a cunning plan.

My cunning plan.

My cunning plan is this; rather than spend a couple of years producing something which is a gas to write but has zero market appeal, it occurred to me that I might be smart to ask the people who like funny sci fi and fantasy books what they actually enjoy in a book – and what they loathe – before I start.

The idea is, once I now what kinds of things my readers enjoy, I can produce the kind of stories they love to read and characters they – and other folks like them – will click with.

So, if you read humorous science fiction and fantasy books and would like to help an author write the kind of stuff you will enjoy, please feel free to have a go at my fast five question quick quiz – OK there are seven questions but the other two are stuff like, ‘what is your name?’.

If you like the idea, you can do the quiz here:

Do The Quiz … Yeh!

If you decide to do the quiz, many thanks, if quizzes aren’t  your thing that’s fine, it’s not obligatory!

Make the dragon happy, do the quiz.

 

 

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What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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Turning the kaleidoscope

Blog_tour_banner_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Scavenger_day04.

orning all.

Today I bring you a guest post from my cyber buddy, A.F.E. Smith, fellow member of the Guild of Writers Who go By Mysterious Initials, who is dropping in to say hello to you part of a blog tour to launch her first book. Darkhaven is out soon with Harper Voyager (Yeh, I know big few trad pubbed! She is my ritziest guest ever). In fact, it will be released in ebook format on 2nd July for £1.99 or $US3.99.  As well as the blog tour there’s a giveaway and a scavinger hunt and a big launch event on Facebook today, Thursday 2nd July! Oh yes, it’s all go. More on that story … later.

But first, without more ado, let’s welcome A.F.E. Smith…

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” – Mark Twain

People often want to know where writers get their ideas from. The answer is, of course, that inspiration can come from anywhere. But given that most writers are also compulsive readers, I’d guess many of their ideas actually come from other books.

I’d better add at this point that I’m very definitely not talking about plagiarism. Taking an entire storyline, unique concept or specific wording from someone else’s work is stealing, not inspiration (though even here the line is blurred; think of fairytale retellings or modernisations of Austen, neither of which are forms of plagiarism). My point is that writers are sponges, absorbing everything they come across. And as a result, when they create a book, there are often echoes of other books to be found alongside the rest of the influences.

Take Darkhaven. As it happens, I can actually figure out the literary inspirations for some of its ideas. When I started writing it, I’d recently reread I Am David by Anne Holm and so I wanted to write something that also began with that atmospheric kind of escape (indeed, Ayla’s flight from her home is still the very first scene in the book). The structure of Arkannen, the city in which the novel is set, may well have drawn on both Tolkien’s Minas Tirith and the game from Albion’s Dream by Roger Norman. And the idea of the Nightshade family and their ability to change into different creatures owes more than a little to Stephen Donaldson’s short story Daughter of Regals.

It’s not that Darkhaven as a whole has anything significant in common with these works, or they with each other. I don’t think a reader would have identified any of these influences without me pointing them out. It’s simply that bits and pieces of other books have added their flavour, just as bits and pieces of the real world have (the British industrial revolution, Western and Chinese ‘elements’, a little bit of steampunk, a little bit of murder). Reading is, after all, as much of a genuine experience as anything that happens in the physical world – so it’s hardly surprising that the books I read combine with everything else in my head.

Of course, there are also plenty of ideas in Darkhaven that belong to me alone. I’m not aware of any other city, fictional or otherwise, where the streets are paved with stripes of different colours – like a life-size underground map – to help you find your way to the right place. And I’m pretty sure the actual plot holds a few surprises. But in reality, the only difference between those aspects and the ones I mentioned above is that it’s harder to trace back through the thought process to the seed of the idea. Because sometimes, that seed can be as simple as I don’t want to do it that way. Consciously seeking to be different puts more distance between yourself and the original, but it still leaves you with a debt to another book.

And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are so many books in the world now that it’s impossible to be completely new. People have been around too long for that. We have entire websites dedicated to tropes. Our creative process is always going to be one of synthesis rather than wholesale creation: selecting and rejecting the experiences we’ve already had in an attempt to build something new. And that’s fine. Because old bits of glass arranged in a new configuration can become something different enough to be interesting. The key is to keep turning the kaleidoscope until you find it.


 

Wise and true words. Thank you very much A.F.E. Smith, it’s been an honour to have you with us. Now, I promised to give you some more information about Darkhaven, A.F.E. Smith, the blog tour and the facebook event so here is some more info.

Cover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithDarkhaven

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

.

Buy links

HarperCollins
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play
iBooks
Kobo

Author biography

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links

Website
Facebook
Twitter
DARKHAVEN on Goodreads

The main points again:

Tour homepage
A.F.E. Smith’s Rafflecopter giveaway
Where to find A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook Event on 2nd July

 

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Words With A Fellow Petrolhead

I have been very tardy with this one but my good friend, fellow member of the Gumbee Fantasy Authors’ Guild and also, fellow Petrolhead, Will Macmillan Jones has been kind enough to let me witter on about my books, my theories on economic stability and all sorts of other cobblers, on his blog.

So Will, a belated thank you, and everyone, Will does write a cracker of a blog post so pop over to say hello and do have a look around his blog. You can find the article here.

And if anyone’s come here from there the books page I mentioned, and cleverly forgot to give you the link for is here.

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Excellent books at knock down prices

Just a quickie. Awesome indies is doing another promotion – it’s well worth checking out. You can find it here.

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Indie Bites

Just a word up about Indie Bites. I was lucky enough to have a chance to take part in an anthology of stories by indie writers on Amazon. Mmm, check the link in the sidebar.

It took an impressive amount of organising by Steve Roach and my story apart, there’s a cracking collection of stuff in there. It’s a big magazine style format, think… I dunno, glossy art catalogue, straight back and glued rather than stitched or stapled but it looks great and I’m really pleased to be a part of it.

If you want to take a look, it’s here. It isn’t available as an e-book, it’s paperback only but if you like the idea of buying a copy, don’t let that put you off; it retails for a mere £3.77 at the moment for 156 pages, not bad, I reckon.

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Why Can’t Indies Punctuate Dialogue? I Think I Know.

Gah, welcome to the world of Victoria Meldrew. I was reading a post on a forum somewhere recently, complaining that self published authors are rubbish at dialogue. Well, sticking my neck out, I’ve just discovered a lot of my dialogue tags are wrong.

So once again, I am at home to Mr Cock up. Frankly, he’s going to be moving in at this rate. I dunno what’s wrong with me at the moment. I seem to be dead from the neck up.

So, now that I’ve bombed, I may as well tell you what I’ve learned so you don’t have to.

At school – and sodding heck, it’s only 20 years ago – I was taught to write dialogue like this:

“Writing speech is a pain in the arse.” Said M T McGuire.

Sometime, between me leaving school and starting to write books for a living it changed to this.

“Writing speech is a pain in the arse,” said M T McGuire. “Never mind. On the up side, entirely fortuitously it’s right in book two.”

So here’s what Mr Cock up has taught me on my latest visit.

Golden Rule Number 1, then: Even if you left school five minutes ago, question the rules of punctuation you were taught.

After all, you only have to look at how often government policy on education changes to realise that the shelf life of any received theories propounded to you as a child, will probably be out of date before you leave school.

So yes, I’m afraid those rules of grammar that it hasn’t occurred to you to doubt may be completely at odds with the way things are done now. And if they are, you will be looking like a spanner. NB, even if you write business English for a living, check the types of grammar you don’t use in your every day job that you will use in a book. Like speech! Gaaaah.

Can you guess who didn’t do this? For heaven’s sake, I have a very high IQ – I really should be smarter than this. It’s a bit like being one of those people who can build something really pointy-brained, like a satellite, but can’t boil a kettle… except that I haven’t got any satellite-building abilities against which to offset my piss-poor kettle boiling skills.

Bum.

Oh well, on we go.

Golden Rule Number 2: Don’t trust the internet.

Having realised I may well have ballsed up a lot of the dialogue tags in all my work, I tried to find out what was the right way on the internet. All I could really discover is that one, there is a lot of disagreement and two, none of it looks like the way I was taught at school.

You can google a lot of things but not grammar. There are too many strains of English round the world and not everyone knows which is which. Hmm… Which leads me onto number three.

Golden Rule Number 3: Ask the right questions.
Because I remembered what I’d been taught it didn’t occur to me to ask at first but when I saw what the editor had done, and failed to understand what was going on, I did ask her. The answer she gave was that I should treat the whole thing, speech and tag, as a sentence. That was right but it still gave me plenty of scope to do it like this.

“Punctuating dialogue drives me crazy.” said M T McGuire.

Which is still wrong, wrong, wrong.

Golden Rule Number 4: Ask the right people.

I now use a different editor who is pretty good. I was still confused when I first started working with him though. So why didn’t I ask him? I haven’t a blind clue. So when you find someone who knows what they’re doing and you trust ask them. If you can find somebody who is absolutely pukka writing, trad pubbed establishment ask them too.

Golden Rule Number 5: Always be open.

One day I might get this writing thing sussed but I suspect not. Language is a living thing. It’s always going to move and change. So even if you begin to think you know what you’re doing it’s worth remembering that actually, you may not.

Which brings me onto the 6th rule.

Golden Rule Number 6: Always use an editor.

This is really important. Seriously. Unless you are some kind of grammar savant, use an editor. Hell, use two. I do… and beta readers and I’ve still stuffed up. Ninety nine point nine percent of authors cannot proof their own work. Trust me on this. Get somebody else to do it. Then if you have any gimlet-eyed reader friends, get them to look at it.

Golden Rule Number 7: Keep an eye on what you learn.

As you learn more your work will get better and your punctuation more professional. Each work you produce is a shop window on your talent. If the punctuation is a bit dodgy, or old fashioned, it doesn’t reflect well on you so if you learn something new that hits you out of the blue or change the way you punctuate, I dunno, interrupted speech or something, remember to apply it retrospectively to all your work. Not just the one it’s cropped up in.

Sure your skill with the business of arranging words will grow but so will you knowledge and while your actual writing style may change, editorially continuity is best – a house style if you like.

So there you go, in a nutshell, think about what you’re doing. Always.

I hope that helps.

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