Tag Archives: self publishing

Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
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Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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Filed under About My Writing, Blimey!, General Wittering, Good Advice, Useful Resources

I bring you tidings of great joy … probably.

I hope this finds you well and that you survived hurricane Doris, if it hit your part of the world. We have, although unfortunately, it appears that our garden fence has not. It’s currently lying prone in the garden but at least it’s not blocking the street anymore! So, it occurred to me that I should, perhaps, make this week’s blog post a little lighter in tone. To that end, I bring you freebies and some writing news.

First up, writing news, because I’m not egocentric or anything. Phnark!If you follow my rantings and witterings on a regular basis, you may remember me saying I was going to try and write some shorter stuff. This was, mainly, because my life circumstances aren’t always conducive to writing long, complicated stuff. To that end, you will be glad to know that I’m now 26,500 words into another ‘short’ story about K’Barth. I have also binned 19,000 words, or at least reallocated them for use somewhere else, because they don’t fit with this story, because, as is my wont, I started in the wrong place. I really, really hope I’ll be able to stop doing that one day, but on the upside, at least it means I usually get two books when I work on one.

It looks as if this will probably pan out at about 40k words, possibly 60k so, I think we can safely say that as efforts to write a short go, it’s an epic fail. It might, however, see me end up finishing an novel in record time if it continues the way it is. Mwah hahahargh. Swings and roundabouts, eh? It’s all go!

In addition, the Space Dustmen characters are getting excessively antsy and their world is becoming more and more vivid so I am going to have to write something about them soon, or they’ll find and have a word. They are indentured labourers living at a space base and obviously, as the scum of the earth, they all live near the sewage processing plant, on P Deck. Oh ho ho! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you saw that joke here first! I’m just letting it ferment for bit more – the story I mean, not the sewage on P Deck – so it’s more obvious where I’m going when I start working on it again.

Lastly, on the writing news front, I thought I might have a pop at some non-fiction. This is a project that I may even try to do the trad way, I’ll have a think. However, I was out taking photos for it this morning and having thought I was nowhere near, I now find that I easily have enough illustrations to compile the book.

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Happy me!

So, what else do I have for you this month? Two lovely promos, that’s what. Yep!
First up, the lovely Andrew Q Gordon is running a promo for fantasy books this month. There are ten books featured and you can grab yourself a freebie in return for mailing list sign up. To find out more, the promo page is here or click the picture. This one runs from 27th February to 3rd March.

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Second up, once again, Patty Jansen is running a monthly promo which segues effortlessly into position on 4th and 5th March, just as Andrew Q Gordon’s promo finishes! Handy.

This one is for no strings attached free books on either Instafreebie and Bookfunnel. So, no mailing list sign up is required but you need to feel confident side loading them to your reader/tablet/computer yourself.

You can cop a load of that one, here or click on the picture, as before.

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Anyway, I hope the promos are useful. I was rather chuffed to see that they are are full of fresh books (to me). So I’m hoping there is lots of interesting stuff in them for you too.

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, General Wittering

On book covers? Am I nuts? #notosexism #isitjustme #yesitisjustme

Today, McMini was invited to a tenpin bowling party and I went along. As we stood watching the kids bowl I was chatting to the Birthday-ee’s mum and we got talking about the portrayal of women in the media and how difficult it was to find books to read. Run with me, I’ll get to the point but the background makes sense, I promise.

It turns out that, as a teenager, she, like me, discovered fashion magazines. I enjoyed many aspects of them, as in, I loved clothes and fashion, but we agreed that both of us found them a bit depressing because the women in them were always the top 1% of beautiful and yet presented by the magazines as the norm. And because of that, we both found that though we loved clothes, and fashion, buying the actual magazines was a slightly depressing experience which left us wondering why we didn’t look like the glossy women on all the pages, whether we should, whether the fact we didn’t was normal, and whether finding out about clothes and fashion was worth all that shit; all that angst that we didn’t conform to the magazines’ idea of ‘the norm’ which wasn’t normal at all. As a teenager, I was pragmatic enough to decide that life was too short to feel shitty about myself. So I stopped buying them. So did my friend. For each of us, meeting another person who felt this way was a first.

As a kid, at school, my study walls were plastered with pictures of animals and stunning views clipped from the pages of National Geographic. The only people on there were the Beatles. Most other study walls in that school were covered with pictures of the kind of women my peers aspired to being; fashion models who were miles prettier than any of us … because well not necessarily because they were but because … Photoshop. And mostly, when they stuck them on the wall, that’s all my peers knew about these women. That they were pretty. And they thought that’s all you needed to be. Pretty. And I’m not 100% certain that magazines, adverts, book covers, or anything else that reinforces this view is a great idea. Because if you self actualise through your looks, you’ll never know who you really are, and when they start to fade it will do your head in.

You see, I’m older now, there’s a lot of spare M T where the bump was when I was gestating McMini and it has forgotten to spring back. I still have an hourglass figure but it goes further out and less far in. I need a lot more whalebone to keep my boobs in a place where they used to sit quite happily without artificial help. I often lose them under my arm pits at night and yes, dropping a couple of dress sizes would be convenient because it would make clothes easier to buy. And yes, some mornings, dressing myself feels like trying to find the most interesting and artful method to drape camouflage netting over a Zeppelin. But I’m OK with that because I may be a bit of a twat, a lot of a twat to be honest, but I am nearly fifty now and I’ve learned to like me, on the whole, and what I look like is just puff.

So, what worries me about all this body idealisation is that I can’t help wondering if the reason I’m content with my greying hair and ageing looks is because I was pragmatic enough, as a kid, not to buy into this women should be beautiful and look decorative shit; to avoid fashion mags and the idealisation of physical beauty for its own sake. And what happens to the folks who did? As their looks fade, are they hanging on by their perfectly manicured fingernails, surgically nipping, tucking and enhancing themselves until they finally wake up one morning, look at themselves in the mirror and think, who the fuck is this?  Is the loss of their looks like the loss of their personality for them? Is that what’s wrong with us today? Is that why the current POTUS would rather walk about looking like an oompah loompah with a brillo pad on his head than admit that he’s knocking on a bit and going bald? Fair play if he wants to but …

A few years ago, I read an article which cited a study into male eating disorders, needless to say I can’t find it now but, basically, the posit was that male eating disorders were growing. The article claimed the rise of eating disorders and poor body image in men was directly proportional to the increased portrayal of perfect six pack wearing chaps in lad mags. I admit I found it kind of strange, at the time, that there was more for me to ogle in a copy of Loaded than there was in Cosmopolitan, but I’m drifting off subject.

What my conversation, today, revealed was that I am not alone. That, there is another person who thinks that, self image-wise, fashion magazines are full of bollocks that makes us feel shit about ourselves, and therefore best read with the cynical goggles set to maximum, or, if that doesn’t cut the mustard and they still make us feel shit, not at all.

So we went from this to a conversation about book covers. Friend went on to say that she also hated book covers with people on, found them hugely off putting because:

  1. They’re always unrealistically attractive.
  2. Most of us want to imagine the protagonists for ourselves and if the image doesn’t match what’s in our head it will be annoying and possibly off putting as we read the book.
  3. Most women have trouble identifying with some pert, impossibly thin, scantily dressed, six foot teenaged girl model so it puts them off buying the book because they think they will not identify with the protagonists.
  4. It’s fucking sexist for heaven’s sake. Enough of the bowling ball bums in leather onesies or chain mail bikinis. It was shit the first time in the 1970s and guess what? Yep, it’s still shit.
  5. Same for the guys, but at least if it’s a ripped torso the head is usually cut off, because otherwise we can’t imagine our perfect man’s head on top. Well that isn’t a pleasant thought is it really? But it’s the truth and at least, on the upside, we’re not, by implication, telling blokes how their faces should look.

Or as my friend put it.

‘I won’t buy a book if I don’t like the cover and if it’s sexist or objectifies women then no, I won’t like it. In fact that’s the main thing that put me off reading sci-fi and fantasy books when I was young. Also, why would I be interested in reading about someone I cannot realistically identify with? If the cover shows a skimpily dressed size zero model, I’ll assume it’s erotica, or that these are characters I will have no sympathy with and I’ll move on. Where is the logic in cutting off half your readers?’

This is why almost all the scifi and fantasy I enjoyed as a kid, short of a few titles, was stuff I saw on TV. There might have been scantily dressed ladies involved but the big difference is that they were never pitched as the reason to watch.

So, that’s two of us, then, standing alone among the sheep. That’s how it feels, anyway. At times like this I feel my fellow authors are bastards and my fellow humanity comprised of pliant idiots but that’s just hormones messing with my donkey.

Obviously, that isn’t how it is but oh how glad I am that, finally – probably thanks to some severe tweaking of the algorithm by Amazon, I am, occasionally, able to find fantasy book without a really off putting picture on the front of some young woman, who’s way more attractive than me, and far younger, pouting grumpily at me the way the girls who bullied me at school used to do, or a muscly torso, neither of which will encourage me to pick up a book. Maybe that’s why the main readership of my books turns out to be older, wiser men and ladies between 45 and 50. Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels the way I do about the images of humans that surround us.

There are so many ways to make a book look interesting. Fine, I know I’m on very shaky ground critiquing covers with the ones I have which I, personally, love but which, I appreciate, are an acquired taste. Also there has to be a grain of truth in the idea that having people on stuff sells, and my psychometric profile is rare: something like 6% of humanity – or was it 4% – so I’m unlikely to ‘get’ what the rest of the herd loves but guess what? Of the three books I have on instafreebie, this crappy home made cover is the one that gets the most downloads when I do a promo. Crappy home made cover, 6,000 words as opposed to 103,000 or 80,000 respectively. Hmm. Go figure.

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Runner up for instafreebie downloads is this one, even though, from the point of view of appealing to American readers, I might as well have called it ‘Escape From B-Movie C**t’ since they seem to view the word ‘hell’ as about the same level. Null points for research there! MTM slaps own hand.

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So basically, I, the very very murky looking pot, am about to accuse a kettle trend of blackness. But the fact is, I would prefer to avoid contributing to the deluge of images of ‘perfection’ which, I think, cause damage to young women and men and cause mid-life suffering to the pretty ones who come idolise their looks above all else as a result. So I will not knowingly put attractive models on the front of my books, unless it’s really obviously a joke.

So, back to sexist book stuff.

Here’s an advert that made me think, eeeeesh.

So, it’s a great design, the colours are fab, the idea is great, and even though the actual cover of the book (bottom left hand corner) is fine. Even if it looks more like the cover of an issue of Cosmo than the cover of a book it’s a cool image.

However, back to the surrounding advert. There are some things about this advert that make my skin crawl. I feel really guilty about only picking the one I’m displaying here, because it is a very skilful drawing and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it and the author is extremely professional and talented. But I think there’s a judgement error here.

First up, it’s quite a sexual image. There’s a LOT of flesh on display and there is also a hint of nipple, but our skimpily dressed elfin lady has the body of a teenager, a young teenager, and I think that’s why I find this image disturbing. Which side of the age of consent is she? I’m wondering. And the answer I’m coming up with is, the wrong side. OK, look, getting a bit basic here, but if she had any pubes they’d show at the bottom of that v in her trousers, so now I’m thinking please let them be waxed as opposed to not there yet. And worse, if you look at her, her features are kind of simplified, so not only does she have the body of a 12 year old and NO pubes, but she has the face of a child which is really freaky. I am absolutely certain that wasn’t how it was intended, indeed, I’d lay bets that’s a truly excellent book, but I just can’t bring myself to read it, because of the way that ad comes over. Am I the only one who thinks this is creepy, a bit paedo-tastic, and somewhat demeaning to women?

It is becoming a parent that has made me see the world differently. Or I am just turning into a massive prude. I probably need to lighten up. After all, t’was ever thus; catsuits, or the lack thereof, perky nipples and bottoms like two bowling balls in a sack have always been ten a penny on sci-fi and fantasy book covers.

But listen peps, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing, or that we have to carry on with that shit now many of us are in charge of artistic direction, ourselves. Three examples of buttock clenching cheesiness in the modern vein, though drawn with consummate skill, can be found under discussion here. I’ve included one of them here.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

All three of the ones on the page linked, and this first one especially, would get a ‘not on your fucking life’ vote from me despite the artistic skill of the drawing – although on the poll in the article, many women really liked this image. At least it’s a lot clearer that this woman is not a minor.

Talking about cheese, if you want a good chuckle, there is a selection of amusingly dreadful sci-fi and fantasy book covers on display here – and yes those are the kinds of things I was trying to take the piss out of with B-Movie Hell.

So what’s to do? Nothing really, I can’t stop over-excitable folks from drawing shag-worthy fantasy vixens and I should probably be saying, ‘she can dress the way she likes even if the sword is a really cheesy metaphor for a schlong.’ Likewise, I can’t stop people thinking that a bitchy-looking pouty girl on the cover will sell books. Especially when it appears that they do, indeed, sell books.

And to women.

But why?

Heaven only knows.

And will I?

No.

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My Permafree Experience … #bookmarketing #nicholasrossis

This week, I have mostly been doing a guest appearance on Nicholas Rossis’ excellent blog. He invited me to write about why I made Few Are Chosen free and why, for me, that has been a good move. If you’re into that sort of thing and want to know more, you can find the post here:

http://nicholasrossis.me/2016/05/17/my-permafree-experience-guest-post-by-m-t-mcguire/

 

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Forget selling. Focus on #writing.

A while back, I read this post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog and it got me thinking.

The basic gist is that there are gatekeepers for every writer. While, with indie publishing, it’s fairly easy to get your book out there, it gets much harder after publication than it is for trad published authors because most of the gates indies must go through turn up after the book is published.  So you get things like review sites that won’t touch anything self published; different gate, different place in the process but it’s still there. He explains how completely saturated the market is and links to an article from a fellow who has 150 books each day sent to his review magazine from trad publishers alone – which is why it only accepts trad pubbed books.

The message of Chuck’s article is, basically: there are gatekeepers in any part of the process, self published or trad. Know they are there. Accept they are there. Cease your raging against the machine. Deal with it. Write more books.

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Here, let me help.

As messages go, it’s spot on.

Except…

As a writer I’d like to think I can accept that nobody owes me jack.

As a human, I find complete stonewalling, or a terse ‘no’ rude. But then I haven’t 150 other people expecting more than a terse ‘no’ to try and deal with every day. If I did, doubtless I would soon be sending out photocopied ‘no’ messages with the best of them.

So, while I do not condone or recommend it, I understand why wannabe writers; self published or aiming at trad, get pissed off and throw a hissy fit. Because while, as a writer, I accept the stonewall as a sanity saving necessity for publishers and agents; as a human it still feels a bit off. And, of course, there’s the frustration. Whatever path you choose in writing and whichever set of gatekeepers you aim to deal with, you need to learn what unlocks them. You need to learn why they are closed to your book and then you have to learn how you can write a book that they will be open to. It may even be as simple as needing to know that the key is on that shelf up there on the left. Point is you need to know. And in the old days, when you sent your book in, chances were, someone’d point you in the right direction. These days the poor buggers don’t have time.

Where to find out these things then? There are courses, there is further education, there is the internet, if you have lots of time at your disposal. But for many of us there is also real life. Or where courses are concerned, things like child care, and no matter how much time you make, those things put stop to much of that before you start.

So, many of us have to learn how to write work that is commercially acceptable – in all respects, not just a good book – with only one word of guidance. An that word is…

“No.”

That’s OK, I know it’s the deal. As Chuck says in his post. Writing is hard. And it’s the only option they have because I’m one of millions.

But it is disheartening. Especially if, like me, you’re a bit dense and slow to learn from a whole plethora of words let alone one. Yes, it’ll take me a while to learn the things I need to know from the word ‘no’. Indeed, I have to be realistic and accept that it may never happen. So yeh, if you’re a wannabe writer, reading this, thinking, ‘AAARGH!’ I do understand how you might feel frustrated and cynical, or even angry, about that. But try not to. Because you’re a writer and sucking this up is your job.

These people have work to do, the relentless pressure of submissions to read and deadlines to meet and many operate under a constant barrage of interruption in the form of calls from writers. It must be like having their brains stirred with a huge wooden spoon. It’s worth remembering that the terse, ‘no’ or stonewall is probably quite impressive given the provocation some of these people must be under.

It’s not their fault.

It’s not yours.

It just is.

All the sales advice I was ever given talked about establishing dialogue – that’s why the cold callers always ask you how you are today. Then again, there’s little point in doing that if your attempts are going to piss people off.

So what to do? Well, perhaps the way to go is to avoid trying too hard. That surfeit of effort can be misinterpreted as a sense of desperation and that can make people wary or even get their backs up.

So to any writers reading this who are desperate to be heard, here are some pieces of advice that have stood me in good stead dealing with the frustration of learning from ‘no’.

  • Be patient.
  • Write a good book.
  • Avoid the hard sell.
  • Write more good books.
  • Forget about learning to flog books, instead concentrate on learning to write better and harder and with more soul.
  • Self publish and be damned!

You see, the way I look at it, if you get that second bit right, and your books are good enough, then eventually, if you self publish then, when enough people have read them, you won’t need to sell them. That’s right my young Paduan. Your readers will do that for you. This, I believe; passionately, wholeheartedly. Sure I wobble every now and again but I still cling to my deluded belief that cream rises to the surface. I’m going to ignore the words of whichever one of my characters it was who pointed out that scum also rises to the top and often ends up on top of the cream.

So if you’re feeling down, like you’re not getting anywhere, ask yourself, are you spending too much time learning to sell and not enough learning to write? Are you being unrealistic expecting to replicate x, y or z author’s strategy and hit the big time straight away? Because that way madness lies. This isn’t a straight away profession – and maybe that’s where some publishers are going wrong, too. The whole reason there are publishers in the first place is because most authors are a long term investment. They have to write a lot of books before they start to earn.

To my amateur (and probably very gauche) eye, the problem throughout the entire publishing industry seems to be the fact that because a few people have been overnight successes, there is now this daft idea that everyone has to be and that anything else is failure. Surely, historically, it has taken time and work(s) for authors to make money. They’ve needed someone who is prepared to believe in them, and pay enough money up front to prevent them dying of starvation while they art their arse off. Someone who’ll foot the bills (while the author writes enough books to get enough momentum) in return for a share in the profits, when they start to earn it back. A venture capitalist, in other words.

To be honest, I haven’t run across many venture capitalists, but the few I have are strikingly pragmatic. They take risks and spread their resources knowing that many of the businesses they invest in – however great the idea – will fail. Perhaps I’m wrong but I have this notion that there was once a time when, instead of giving a huge advance to one or two authors, or spending 90% on the marketing budget on a handful of big names, publishing houses spent a little less on several authors and hedged their bets. It’s like the football clubs who train up young players. It’s win-win for everyone when you sell them to Real Madrid.

Yes, success comes straight away for some of us, but for the rest of us, it takes as long as it takes. And that may be a very long time. Overnight stardom is the exception, not the rule. In a world of screaming noise, sometimes silence stands out.

Write those books, youngling. Create them with love, craft them with care and set them gently on the waters. They may float away to a far off place but if they are good and honest they will not sink.

As Mr Wendig says, ‘art harder motherfucker!’

Oh and did I mention patience?

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Metal detecting, and its relation to my hopes as an #indie #writer

This week, I’m unsure how to go about my blog post. TI have several things to say so bear with me as I try to work out a way to jemmy them all in at once.

Ever in pursuit of the elusive hammered coin or interesting… thing, I went out metal detecting yesterday. I learned three things.

  • First that no matter how many smashing Saxon artifacts other people are digging up you have to walk over one to find it.
  • Second, I learned that my waterproofs are not waterproof any more. This lesson delivered as I was the wrong end of a field, about half a mile from the car, in a deluge. More waterproofs required, I think. The manner of my learning this rather sums up my day.
  • Third, on returning home, after steeping in a hot bath, I learned that basically, I’m doing setting the detector up right, choosing sensible places to detect and doing the right thing. I am finding tiny things as well as big things, I am finding things made out of metals and alloys that mirror the good stuff but unfortunately, they are bits of tractor and modern stuff rather than interesting finds. I’m finding miniscule things the size of a quartered silver coin, but they’re tiny pieces of metal. All are things which, in happier circumstances, could be good stuff. My point is that, for the most part, I’m doing it right, it’s just that the artifact gods are not smiling as benignly upon me as sometimes.

In a sop to my efforts, they (the Small Gods of Lost Things) did throw me this fantastic fossil of half a sea urchin. It holds a level of detail I’ve not seen outside the real thing so my day wasn’t wasted.

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That white discolouration on the flat side means it broke in half several million years ago.

Onwards and upwards. There’s another dig next week.

Which kind of brings me onto the second thing. As you know, I’ve been a bit worried about my book sales recently. This is because I’ve been doing that fatal thing, comparing myself to other people. Really I should know better.

In order to feel some semblance of control, and in pursuit of social media savviness, I bought and read two Rayne Hall books: Twitter for Authors, and Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft).

OK, if I can go off at a bit of a tangent here… I cannot recommend these books highly enough. I’ve always wondered how to interact with people on Twitter, Rayne Hall gives the answer. If the worst comes to the worst just go to her feed, eavesdrop on some conversations and have a chat. Her advice has definitely worked really well for me. Even in a week I’m having conversations and enjoying Twitter the way I wanted to but hadn’t. She also has what I consider to be an excellent attitude to social media, ie that it is social and that the more social and less of a book seller you are, the more likely you are to achieve book sales. This advice has been borne out by my own experience.

Likewise, while I’d got more of my book production performance in line with Rayne Hall’s there are still plenty of things in Why Does My Book Not Sell? 20 Simple Fixes (Writer’s Craft) that I can apply to my own books.

However, what I have learned from these two books, above all, is that for the most part, and barring a few tweaks, I’m doing the right thing.

My book sales are not lighting up the sky, though. Perhaps, like my efforts at metal detecting, the small percentage of fairy dust required is just absent from that part of my life at present. Perhaps. But if I’ve learned anything from metal detecting, it’s that perseverance pays off. If you keep believing and keep digging you will find interesting things. The law of averages demands it. You can’t find nothing but crap. Sure a big part of your detector finds may be but they can’t all be. And they aren’t. Not even for me.

Which begs a question.

Am I simply lacking fairy dust. Or are my book sales better than I think?

Comparatively I mean.

You see, it may be that for someone who has written a book that is, as a friend who works in magazine publishing put it, “Absolutely wonderful, but a very hard sell. I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole if it was submitted to me,” I’m actually doing better than I think.

Usually, a handful of people download my free book each day. Since it went free, in February, I’ve seen a sudden increase in sales of the second book after which, in June and July, I definitely saw an increase in sales of books 3 and 4. From selling a couple of books a month if I’m lucky and shifting a couple of my, admittedly, dodgy free shorts a month, there are now only a couple of days each month when nobody downloads anything.

Don’t get too excited. I’m not ready to make one of those gushing, “I can’t believe that my book is number one on Amazon!” posts on Kindleboards. I’m not even ready to make one of those “my sales have plummeted! I’m only selling 500 books a month” posts either. Mwah hahahargh! I dream of selling 500 books a month.

However, it’s all relative. This time last year I’d failed to sell a single book in three months straight. This year, to my eternal delight, even Kobo users are buying them. The Amazon stats are showing international sales. For the first time, people in France, Italy, Canada and Australia are buying them. For the first time since 2010 I am achieving monthly book sales that go into double figures.

The free book, Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 is even being downloaded from Google books – although I’m not sure what’s happening there because nobody has bought the others, I’m not even sure if Google is selling them or just pointing people to the vendors links on my website, but it’s a start.

And it brings me back to a piece of advice that has probably kept me sane in periods of recovery from my various knee injuries. Nevertheless, despite the fact I’ve been happily doling it out left right and centre this month it’s one I’d forgotten to apply to myself until now. It’s this:

Forget about how far you have to go, instead see how far you’ve come. Trust me. The answer to that question is always going to be, a lot further than you think. Which is kind of where I am about now.

So, am I earning much? No. The people around me, the authors I chat to from day to day, are earning far more.

Am I successful? No. My literary mates are, for the most part, several orders of magnitude more successful then me.

Am I doing better than last year? You bet your arse I am!

See how it works?

Yes, sure, as flat figures, my book sales are risible. But as a percentage increase on previous efforts they are flying. It’s all a question of how you view it. Sure, in the order of publishing species I’m so low on the scale that I’m aspiring to be a molecule – BUT, and here’s the rub, things might be different next year.

Onwards and upwards.

Coming next week… news of my latest story, out November 1st.

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What makes a good bad guy?

Recently, as my thoughts turn to planning a new book, I’ve been wondering what makes a good baddie? If you see what I mean.

In my current w.i.p. the baddie is a politician, and I suspect, he will be not so much evil as morally bankrupt. To make things right, our hero will have to manipulate things so that the politician, in getting what he wants, will unwittingly deliver justice for the goodies of the book. In so far as there are any. A bit more like real life then, even if it’s set in space.

But I do want my villain to be bad. And while you can fiddle with the circumstances and the dynamics; on their own, they don’t always make the actual being evil. So I’m trying to work out if I want my latest bad guy to be greedy and selfish and incidentally evil or whether I want to go for a full on supervillian: a being who is intelligent, pointy-brained, and who plans (and revels in) his malevolence. The first is more real, the second an absolute gas to write and great fun to hate.

To get my head around concepts and ideas of ‘evil’ versus ‘bad’ or just ‘greedy’ I have turned to current affairs. I find current affairs intensely distressing if I look them directly in the face. Even so, they seem to be even worse than usual right now. There’s nothing like a bit of economic trouble to bring out the hatred in all of us it seems.

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Here we are in a modern and supposedly enlightened world and the various peoples of The Book are still trying to kill one another with gusto – and anything else that comes to hand.

We have an organisation of people pretending to be Muslims who believe half the population is shameful and valueless. It’s better to be a goat than a woman under the Taliban. After all, even their livestock can roam freely to find food. But if the male folk in a woman’s family die, the honourable thing for her to do is stay at home and starve to death rather than go out into the world unchaperoned to buy supplies. Yes that’s how much a woman is worth to them. Nothing. Because having kids and periods makes us unclean – Lord above if ever there was a bit of biblical health and safety advice that went big time wrong it’s that bit – oh and we don’t have a cock to think with, which makes us bad. And heaven help us, the Taliban seem quite moderate compared to ISIL, the Islamic State.

And then you get Israel which has had it’s foot on Palestine’s neck for years and just. Won’t. Lift. Off.  I wouldn’t pretend to be able to fathom Middle Eastern politics, there is no knowing Who Started It because the fighting there began at the dawn of time. I’ve read enough of the The Book – Old Testament/Torah/Koran – to appreciate that. But historically, countries like Britain, America and Russia have exacerbated the problems in an already volatile area for their own gain; fanning the flames of enmity, promising everyone what they wanted and delivering it to no-one: for years. And in return we get ISIL, the Islamic State. I guess it kind of serves us right.

Then… enter the ‘Christian Right’ and holy smoke, there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one – who vilify women and single mothers, not to mention the poor. They justify the hatred-filled crap they spew as the word of God when all it’s about is power and more money for them. I thought god was supposed to be a loving father – you know, ‘love they neighbour as thyself’ and all that – not a psychopathic, vengeful shit-head. Maybe I’m wrong. It would be funny if there wasn’t an actual, realistic chance of these people gaining power in America, a country which looks, from the outside, as if the political choice is between rabidly conservative and a few steps to the right of Atilla the Hun.

And when I turn on the news and see the latest venom-filled cleric screaming spittle-flecked hatred in the name of whichever version of God they purport to believe in, I confess I feel contempt. Contempt for someone who uses their intelligence, or presence, or social standing to persuade others to maltreat people in the name of a supposedly loving god. And contempt for the brainwashed sheep who follow them.

Which is where it all starts, of course.

The minute we stop seeing extremists as human beings, we become like them. Because that’s what they’re doing to us. That’s how they can justify massacring whole towns, that’s how they can justify institutional peadophelia – selling 12 year old girls into sexual slavery because they dare to get an education: learn to read, learn to think, is peadophelia in my book. No wonder extremism is so attractive to every tinpot fuckwit with a Kalishnikov. What better excuse for violence, bullying and sexual depravity than ‘god told me to do it’? Even if it’s patently, bollocks. I really feel for the world’s quiet, moderate people of faith, who have to put up with people thinking that nutters like the Islamic State and the Christian ‘Right’ represent religion.

What the angry rationalists fail to realise is that using religion to manipulate people is a completely different from having an actual faith. I suppose that’s what a lot of the K’Barthan Series is about: that just because the extremists are in power, it doesn’t mean everyone is one. Even so, it seems that nothing is more guaranteed to make you despise and kill your neighbour than a jolly good argument as to whose philosophy you should employ to go about loving him. Weird isn’t it?

You know, I wanted to make my villain female in this next book – think Servalan out of Blake’s 7 – but, in light of the state of world affairs, I really don’t think I can. There’s enough hatred directed at us women without my making one of us a love-to-hate baddie. The saddest thing is that every time I make stuff up, on the grounds that it’s chillingly evil, I find someone, somewhere, is already doing it.

Servalan: Scary baddie from Blake’s 7 Image: from http://jasonnahrung.wordpress.com

Stepping off the soap box and dragging this back to the point, apart from depressing me profoundly what does the state of world affairs have to do with writing credible bad guys?

In a nutshell, because what current affairs show us is that contempt is the key. A good look at history is an excellent place to start if you want to analyse the subtleties of evil. All you need to do then is give your baddie a healthy dose of idealism at the expense of any practical consideration whatsoever. He doesn’t have to be all-other-beings-are-inferior-my-pawns-to-be-used-and-discarded, supervillain bad. All he has to do is believe, passionately that the ends justifies the means and forget that the populations of the nations he is playing with are actual real humans. There are many faces of evil and often one begets another. So you can have some seriously bad karma starting off with deeds done with good intent.

Hmm… for all his supercilious air I think I prefer the supervillain like Lord Vernon. At least he’s honest.

So, what are your thoughts folks? Who’s the baddest of the bad? Love-to-hate superbaddie or vainglorious politician. More to the point, which one do you most like to see in books?

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