Pseudo-experts and other lunatics

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Here’s another post about some of the sharks waiting to pounce on the unwary writer…

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As a published writer, sooner or later you will encounter one or more of the following!

Once you have published a book or books, it is inevitable that you will attract the attention of individuals with a doctorate obtained via the internet specializing in incomprehensibly stupid!

The day when Amazon opened the can of worms by giving everyone and their dog the privilege of being able to offer their opinion on your work on their sites worldwide, was the day the age of the internet troll and other non-entities was born.

Today, not only Indie writers, but also traditionally published ones find themselves on the receiving end of what can only be described as complete hokum by pseudo-experts. For the latter its bad enough that their editors are imposing their often misguided personal opinions on how a book should be written, often to the detriment of the story, instead of sticking to correcting grammar and punctuation. But now all writers are endlessly being bombarded by totally baffling comments by some other published writers, who quite frankly should know better than to openly criticise someone elses work in public.

What you and they have to realise is that they are expert in only one thing – destroying their own reputation just for the sake of pouring scorn on a fellow writer’s work. Not everyone can write a story worthy of being read, let alone be published. Which is why so many who entertained the idea of fame and fortune by writing the definitive novel of the age fail and soon resurface as literary experts and critics. Or worse, offer their services as editors, always for a fee of course!!!

What none of them are willing to accept is that first of all your story is yours not theirs. Secondly, who better than you to know its ins and outs, plot and counter plot?

If you are lucky, people will find it among the millions of books on offer and read it. Some will like it. Others not, so they do their damnedest to convince the public to stay away, which begs the question why? In the case of failed writers, it has to be that they are quite literally green with envy. More than likely, they’re angry that they didn’t come up with the best seller first. What other reason could there possibly be for all the bile and invective showered on successful writers that we see on most social media sites on a daily basis?

What about what the literary snobs, pedants, anal retentives, pretentious poseurs, grammar nazis and other self-important armchair critics who inhabit the internet these days say? If you will take some advice from an old campaigner – JUST LIKE THE TROLLS, IGNORE THEM ALL LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Having read this, you will now know that I have zero tolerance for any of the above types. Guess what, neither have any of my published writing colleagues either…

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Totally Irrational Thinking

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The one thing that every writer, whether traditional or Indie, whose books are published in e-book form have in common, particularly in non American markets like here in the land of the literary curmudgeon where the printed book is still preferred, is the vehement prejudice against the relatively new publishing format we choose to use. Because they hate the idea of the e-book, they are missing out on so many great tales. Whether they like it or not, the e-book is the next evolution in the history of publishing.

As far as they are concerned, if they can’t hold a book in their hands and physically turn the pages, from their completely illogical point of view the electronic file is not a proper book.

What utter bilge!

I wonder if any of them realise how totally irrational they sound? Whether they like it or not the e-book is here to stay.

Before the first seed change in publishing occurred when the printing press was introduced to the UK in the fifteenth century by William Caxton, the only way itinerant storytellers could pass on their stories was by word by mouth. What the printing press did was to collect their stories in one place, the printed book, for everyone that could read and write, long after the stories would have disappeared when the storyteller eventually died.

Despite the gate keepers, today’s storytellers can be published in a format available to literally everyone who owns a smart phone, laptop, desktop, tablet or a purpose-built ereader such as the Kindle. What the traditionalist stick in the mud’s simply fail to understand is that they are a rapidly diminishing minority.

From the point of view of today’s publishers, it makes good financial sense to publish in e-book form rather than paper. This is a second seed change in publishing that is slowly being accepted by all five major publishing houses. From their point of view, if an e-book doesn’t sell they haven’t lost much financially, unlike remaindering, where to sell the printed copies in stock they have to offer them at a much cheaper price. Either that or pulp thousands of them after taking a financial gamble on what they thought would be the next best seller.

If the publishing houses fully adopt the e-book, it would not surprise me in the least if they cease incentive payments in the form of a financial advance to writers they are considering signing up in the future. Every publishing house is driven by the fact that to remain solvent, above all else they must make a profit. If they spend a lot of money on their stable of writers, they need to recoup it for every book they publish before they show a profit and can afford to pay out royalties. That simply does not occur with an e-book…

A thought just occurred. Maybe the reason why curmudgeons hate the e-book so much is because they cannot bend the ereader back on its spine like a paperback, nor fold the top corner of a page over to act as a book mark. What do you think, am I right??

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A Message To The Slackers

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If you get a free copy of any book, it behoves you to at least read it!

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Unfortunately for independant writers, the downright miserly of this world will never deign to purchase a copy of anything you write. Instead they wait for a free copy to become available. Which brings me to the free giveaway of my latest scifi novella last month. So far out of the one hundred and five free copies of The Guardian taken up, it has received a grand total of five reviews – two five star, two four star and one three star. Does that mean that only five people read it? You could be forgiven for thinking so.

I can just hear the weak-willed apologists right now saying something like “ah but they probably have it on their TBR lists. Besides, reading a book, let alone reviewing it, is not compulsory.” To which I would readily reply, “in that case why did you help yourself to a free copy of the book?” I would go further by pointing out that good manners and common decency demand that you must read and review it.

On the odd occasion when I do read a free book, even those I beta read for other writers, I always review them without fail. Yes I have a TBR list, but when I owe someone the courtesy of reading and reviewing, I get on with it! Think about it, how else will any author know if their books are being read? Book sales figures don’t tell you.

Five out of one hundred and five definitely have read it. Its high time the rest of you got your backsides into gear. You know who you are, so please read and review it, preferably during the next two weeks! I gave it to you for nothing. So you owe me…

At the moment on Amazon US The Guardian sits at 2066th place in its genre (Science Fiction), while here in the UK The Guardian is placed at 1020th. What does that tell you?

I know what it tells me. The Guardian aint dead yet.

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What’s The Ultimate Conundrum?

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No not the Dodo – read on!

When it comes to that book we as writers have spent many months working on, sooner or later we are all presented with the same conundrum. Will it sell, bearing in mind that this business is extremely fickle?

Daily I see countless writers both new and old, endlessly talking/blogging about spending not only a considerable amount of time and effort, but also their hard earned money, on a book they wrote some time back that simply isn’t selling, in the vain hope that what they’re doing will increase it’s chances in today’s saturated market. In short we’re talking about idiots!

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until the day I die. If your book doesn’t work, no amount of spending money on changing its cover or having it properly edited, together with purchasing a number of copies of the new version from your publisher to give away in a book store or writer’s convention in the vain hope of promoting it to an already jaded public, will make one iota of difference in the end. What you are doing is flogging a dead horse!

Despite what so many still foolishly believe, the fact that you have availed yourself of the services of an editor and maybe even a publicist, or perhaps you have spent money having it’s cover, hook and link added to one of the countless number of book advertising web pages who demand payment for your doing so, spending your own money before the first sale has even taken place. Or maybe you even shelled out yet more money by employing a professional reviewer to help kickstart your book’s chances. Even then, using all of these options still doesn’t guarantee sales. No marketing strategy ever does, no matter how professional it may appear to be to the average man or woman.

There is no magic formula for literary success.

In the end, the only thing that does matter when it comes to sales, is whether or not the story in question actually appeals. It’s immaterial that you and your immediate family circle and close friends loved it. After all, you and they are too close to it to be objective.

So, what might the discerning reader be looking for? I can’t speak for others, but when I am perusing the millions of books currently available, first of all I narrow down my search to the genre that has appealed to me my entire life. Next, I totally ignore the often gawdy covers, if I want to look at pretty pictures I’ll buy a glossy magazine, published for air-heads who don’t read!

Instead I begin with a book’s hook. If what I’m reading intrigues me, bearing in mind that as a successful science fiction writer, I am extremely hard to please these days, then and only then will I read the first few pages. If I feel that the story appears to show promise, I’ll buy a copy. If not, I move on to the next one.

Oh, and before you ask – no I don’t take any notice of a particular book’s reviews, no matter whether they are good, bad or indifferent. Unlike the vast majority, aka ‘The Great Unwashed’, I prefer to make up my own mind. The other thing to remember is that having enjoyed reading a specific work, when I see another by the same author, I will always seriously consider it.

What do I mean when I say does a book appeal? There is nothing mysterious or complicated about it. If a story has been carefully thought out. If it builds towards a climax, with the odd red herring thrown in for good measure. If the characters and their relationships with one another are believable. Then and only then do I consider that any given book appeals/works.

There are a few other things to remember. In this business, to succeed you have to gain a reputation as a storyteller – not an easy thing to achieve. To do that first you have to have written several books, preferably honing your skills with each one. Normally your first few won’t do it for you. Secondly, you will find that even though your book or books are beginning to be read as a result of those free giveaway promotions, (more often than not by tightwads) there is no guarantee that you’re book(s) will actually sell in their thousands, meaning that you will earn serious royalties. Even if they do sell, the chances of more than ten to a dozen copies per year is slight, no matter how much time, effort and money you may have put in to promoting them.

Only one of mine ever became a best seller. Because of it, I earned that most elusive of epithets from my fellow published writers – consumate storyteller.

At the risk of repeating myself – unlike so many of you today, never once have I pinned my hopes on whether or not any of my covers appeal. What ultimately matters is what’s contained within any given book’s pages, and whether or not the story actually appeals. Remember, in this game you are only as good as your last book…

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What recognized qualifications do I need to become a published writer?

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This is a long post aimed at all current writers and those waiting in the wings, so please bear with me.

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A couple of days ago while perusing the latest posts on Facebook, I came across one that my friend and fellow writer, Stuart Aken, had found on a question and answer site called Quora (Google it if you want to find it’s location). Along with a couple of others in the game, Stuart and I added our comments to a query put forth by someone, on the subject of which qualifications were needed to be able to become a writer and to break into the publishing world – Click here to read it.

Together with Stuart’s initial comment on Quora, the ones John Yeoman, Karen Wolfe Whitchurch and myself added on Facebook, hopefully helped to back up Stuart’s views, and to quash the ridiculous notion once and for all.

Yes, you can go to the expense time and trouble to gain as many literary qualifications as there are stars in the night sky. But no amount of academic study will somehow infer that you are a writer. All any formal course related to the English language will inevitably tend to do, is to kill off any talent you may have thought you had, rendering gaining any qualification so-called, counterproductive.

In other words, as a potential writer you are completely wasting your time chasing any form of formal qualification. In fact even considering gaining any on offer under the headings of English Literature, or Creative Writing is guaranteed to be a monumental waste of your time. Why? Because all participating in any course designed to gain these academic qualifications ever does, is to burn the personal views and opinions of your teachers and lecturers into your subconcious, which all published authors, myself included, would argue renders you incapable of original thought, the absolutely fundamental requirement for any writer!

The following statement is a lose amalgamation of what we all said in our different answers to the article on Facebook:

“The best way to break into publishing is NOT to have an MFA in creative writing. Still less, a PhD. Academic laureates have no correlation with publishing success. Still less has ‘good writing’. All any writing course will do for you is to impart your teacher’s views and way of writing on you. Be a reader first. Be an observer and an eavesdropper. Your voice will come.”

And yet so many newcomers to our calling still fervently persist in clinging to the absolute myth perpetrated by those within the industry, who quiet frankly should know better, such as literary agents, editors, publishers and professional reviewers, that you need to be formally qualified, hoping that by doing so the vast majority of newcomers will be disuaded from ever writing anything other than their own names, now and in the future.

Yes I’ll grant you there are two notable exceptions to the rule. The difference being that both of them were brilliant academics in their own right, long before beginning to write. I refer of course to two of my literary hero’s – J.R.R Tolkien and his friend and colleague C.S Lewis. But without a natural bent for storytelling, no one beyond the academic world would ever have read anything written by either of them, other than their academic papers.

Remember this – Storytellers aren’t manufactured, they’re born!!! So let’s hear no more nonsense about which recognised qualification you need! The only way to nurture your natural talent for storytelling, always providing you have one in the first place, is to first of all become widely read. In other words read anything and everything. Peferably books not tweets!

Secondly, don’t believe for one minute that you need the help of any form of so-called professional editing service. If you are any damned good, you don’t!

The other point to remember about employing any editor, is that unless you are extremely vigilant your work will become coloured or contaminated by them. In other words the story is no longer solely your own. Instead it ends up being co-written by both you and them – something to think about!

Some of the more unscrupulous among their number see absolutely nothing wrong in adding their names to your book as co-authors. I tell you this from bitter personal experience. It was done to me years ago with my very first published work, before I finally saw the light and rapidly left the murky world of traditional publishing to become an Indie.

All any of us really ever needs, apart from the courage of our convictions, is a team of reliable beta readers to take a look at our latest MS and tell us whether or not it works. How? By pointing out things that you have missed or perhaps glossed over, as well as the inevitable spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

I’ll spell it out for you one last time if it still hasn’t sunk in quite yet – you have to be born with a natural bent for storytelling to become a writer.

Turning your latest tale into a work worthy of publishing comes much, much later via nothing more or less than sheer bloody hardwork on your part in the form of endless re-writes – aka polishing. I suppose what I’m really saying here is that in the end, to be a successful published writer means quite literally that its all down to you and you alone. So in the meantime get busy reading every book you can lay your hands on, before you even begin to contemplate writing that future best seller. Why? Think back to when you were a child. Before you mastered walking, first you had to learn to crawl – right?

For what it’s worth, as a successful publisher writer, I’ll always tell you to go for it. Even though many online book sites like Amazon are currently choked with literally hundreds of thousands of badly written new titles by wannabes, making it practically impossible for anything we write to stand out from the crowd.

Just remember this – unless you possess a God given natural talent for storytelling, writing ain’t easy by any stretch of the imagination!

Instead it involves a hell of a lot of hard work often for very little gain, except for the personal satisfaction of having written an absolute belter of a yarn. As sure as eggs is eggs, while we all slowly gain a reputation for storytelling with each title we put out, the newcomer won’t gain one first time out!

So for now just take my advice – keep your head down and write, write, write and write some more. Oh, one other thing for those among you who think that writing will ensure overnight fame and riches, bear in mind that 99.999% of all writer’s annual earnings from royalties fall well below the poverty line.

Lastly, the world is full of wannabes who think that by rubbing shoulders with those of us who actually are successful, that they will somehow become writers themselves by osmosis. Just take note of the number of unpublished wannabies who currently inhabit the various social media sites, labouring under the misconception that by adding the word ‘Author’ to their name, it will somehow elevate them within the literary world, without partaking in all of the hard work being a writer entails. It won’t! Like everything else we do, it takes a lot of dedication and self-sacrifice on our part to gain a worthwhile reputation. Insisting on adding the word ‘Author’ to your name impresses no one. If anything it has the opposite effect! Think about it for a moment, it wasn’t the brightest move you ever made was it. Genuine published writers don’t do it. Neither should you.

None of us are in it for the money. Only the absolute joy of sharing our tales with the world through our writing…

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