Why do all author interviews fail miseraby?

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In my view, because they tell you absolutely nothing about the author. Read one and you’ve read them all…

I’ve read literally hundreds of them over the decades. Without exception they follow an inevitable mind numbingly boring formulae.Β  I’m sorry, but the last thing I wish to know about is an author’s favourite book, or where they live and with whom. Or even what their latest book is all about and other entirely banal questions!!!

What I really want to know is how their mind works. Don’t you?

To begin to gain an insight into what makes any author tick, all you have to do is read their books for yourself. It couldn’t be simpler! Do that and there is no need for the totally redundant author interview.

Each and every single one of us reveals far more about ourselves in our storytelling than any damned interview ever will. You just have to have the intelligence to sift out the often unconsciously inserted clues which we leave about ourselves by the way we write the text. Believe it or not but actually reading our blog posts (not just liking them) will also help you to get to know something about us you never knew before as well.

Only a publicity seeker (you know the beast – those who refer to themselves as Author Bill or Belinda Smith across the entire social media system) will ever delude themselves into thinking that by having taken part in an author interview, that somehow or other, by osmosis their book sales will automatically increase. What total bunkum – they won’t!

Book sales still only occur after someone has actually bought and read your work, and told their friends about it. Granted, these days they may have been initially attracted to it by its often lurid cover and quite possibly, its range of good and bad reviews.

If you are a fellow writer, take my tip, get on with your writing and forget about participating in any interview until the questions on offer show a far higher degree of intelligence. As far as I can ascertain, the day when interviewers pluck up the courage to dare to break the mold and ask truly pertinent questions of their interviewees, is the day when hell will finally freeze over!

PS – As you will have gathered I have little time for time wasting foolishness in its many forms. Something else you’ve just learnt about me. πŸ™‚

Come On, Own Up, How Many?

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Here is a question for all my fellow writers, both published like myself, and those who just love to write for the sheer joy of doing so. How many hours do you spend writing each day and how many words is usually involved?

Ever since I changed the way I write from how I used to in the past, when I would spend hours to achieve a daily word count in the thousands, I now stick rigidly to a short but extremely intense daily session. I find this is the method that works best for me. If you are wondering how long, these days I limit myself to adding no more than one to two hundred words per day. In my case I start writing at five in the morning, finishing promptly at eight am. I find that to continue beyond that three hour working window of 100% concentration, means that silly errors will inevitably begin to creep in due to my state of total mental exhaustion by the end of each session.

The rest of the day is taken up with a lot of thought about where the story wants me to go next, not the other way round, while I carry on with my normal daily activities. You must remember that a story is a living thing…

Years ago when I was still in the workforce I used to spend two to three hours writing each night from Monday until Friday. Then on the weekends I would write for twelve hours on both days. On public holidays the number of hours sometimes stretched from twelve to eighteen. While to the unitiated, endlessly pouring out words might seem to be the only way to write a story, trust me when I tell you it isn’t! In fact its often the worst possible way of going about it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the hundreds of thousands of poorly written books out there by writers who convinced themselves that high daily word counts is the only way to go. A daily three hour session is by far the best way from my point of view.

I would love to hear how you go about it, but I know you lot of old. Most of you are too damned shy! Don’t just leave it up to the normal three or four regulars to comment. There is absolutely no excuse for you not joining in. You never know, you might even gain some useful ideas and tips on the subject from one another. So leave your thoughts for others to read as comments below this post.

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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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Which is more important to you?

Think back to when you were a child opening your Christmas or Birthday presents. What mattered to you the most? Was it the packaging, or was it the content? If your preference was for the packaging, you need some serious one to one time with a psychiatrist!!!

Click to buy from Fishpond

As a typical example of packaging, the above cover for Matthew Wright’s – The New Zealand Wars – A Brief History, could hardly be said to be attractive to the eye. What sells the book to students of New Zealand’s history is its content and Wright’s reputation as a serious writer, not what the cover looks like.

I don’t know how many times I have to say it – forever it seems, but far too many of today’s writers become totally obsessed with relying on the literary equivalent of packaging, believing that somehow or other it will sell their book on its own, or at the very least make their book stand out from the crowd. Many times I see examples of an author desperate to bring their book(s) to the attention of potential readers, either by changing the cover or the title, or both. If the book failed to sell in the first place, no combination of fancy cover and title, original or new, will ever help.

I tried it once, never again. In my own case when my fantasy anthology wasn’t selling, I altered the title from Globular Van der Graff’s Goblin Tales for Adults to Goblin Tales. It still failed to sell even though the original version had received seventeen five star reviews like the following:-

“While I read this book, I must have thought at least a dozen or more times to myself, “This should be made into a movie.” The storyline is perfect for it. Magical characters. Battles of good vs evil. It has everything it would take to make another Lord of the Rings. I would see it in the movies and then buy the DVD.”Β 

So you see, you are not alone. Even mid-listers like myself have our failures from time to time.

In light of this example and others, it appears that once again I need to restate what really matters when it comes to any book is not the packaging, but the book’s content. Unless your book holds a reader’s attention, it matters little that you have found a title that not too many others have also used, (bearing in mind that there is no such thing as an original title these days) which you think will appeal, and spent your hard earned money on having a cover created.

I can just hear book cover illustrators hackles rising at this point as they read this, but the simple fact is this; no matter how good a cover and title may be, unless the book’s content is up to scratch, you’re book will never sell!

If you are pinning your hopes on gaining regular readers by your book’s titles and covers, I would argue that you are deluding yourselves. While catchy titles and pretty pictures may appeal to some, mainly those who occasionally read something other than gutter press newspapers and glossy magazines for airheads, written by airheads, neither a book’s title nor its cover picture will sell your book to serious bibliophiles.

They couldn’t care less either about the cover, or the title. What the book contains within its pages is what interests them. That is what you should be concentrating all your efforts on. Its worth spending all of your time getting that right first. Any book wholly reliant on its title and cover to attract sales, is nothing more than mutton dressed as lamb; currently there are millions of examples on offer. The only time most of these shift any meaningful numbers is when their authors offer them for free, or as an online promotion on social media sites.

Is that the fate you had in mind for your book?

It is a fact that for a book to sell more than five copies, first of all it must be well written. In most cases it needs to be fast moving. It must have a good plot as well as a concise, well written ‘hook’ to even begin to pique the genuine bibliophile’s curiosity.

Everywhere you look on the internet these days, there are writer’s sites and blogs telling you that unless you have an appealing cover and title, your book will soon disappear from the public gaze. While that may be the case for most new writers, the reverse is true if you are a mid-lister. My own book sales back up what I’m saying.

Yes, that first book you published probably did need a cover and title to make it stand out from the rest at the time it was published. But once you have published several books, and by definition gained a loyal readership, they couldn’t care less about the cover and title. What matters to them is that you have built yourself a reputation for telling stories they enjoy. Consequently they look forward to reading your latest.

I would further argue that if you want to attract even more readers, get yourself a blog like this one. Don’t just constantly advertise your books on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Twitter as many hopefuls do. Instead, regularly contribute to your blog about anything which interests you, giving your potential readers an insight into how you feel about all kinds of topics. As for advertising your books, do what I’ve done, add the links to the sites where they can find your books on your blog’s ‘About’ page.

What people really want to know about is you. By letting them glimpse your life through your blog posts, it helps them to realise that you are just another human being like them. As a sub-species of humanity, writers are not unapproachable. Instead we’re constantly thinking about and writing our current WIP, and blog posts like this one.

When it comes to your latest Work In Progress, why not do what I do. Produce ‘Progress Reports’ concerning it on your blog from time to time. By the time it is finally published, and always providing that your blog followers are anticipating reading it, in effect what you have done by providing those ‘Progress Reports’ is a bit of pre-publication advertising. My good friend, and fellow author, Robert Bauval, does exactly the same thing as I do, in his case on his webpage – http://robertbauval.co.uk/books.html with links to his blog and his books. As a consequence our readers are chomping at the bit, continually asking us when our latest book will be available for purchase.

Remember this as well – endless advertising of your books on any social media site is guaranteed to put off potential readers. It looks like just another case of sheer desperation on the part of the book’s author…

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Of Pie Charts And Other Things

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There is always a very real danger when producing anything related to a specific subject, in particular when presenting facts, that unless you offer a true representation of the said subject you are offering an opinion on, as in the blog post linked below, which states that only a few genres are doing well with one reader group – children, that you will be seen at best to have offered an incomplete view.

Recently I followed the link provided by Chris The Storyreading Ape’s blog to this post published on the blog Taipei Writer’s Group – https://taipeiwritersgroup.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/books-sold-by-genre-or-why-you-should-write-childrens-books/

While it is clearly headed ‘Books sold by genre, or why you should write children’s books’, it can never be considered to be a true representation of all book genres’ sales to children when so few genres are included. In this particular case I suspect that the author of the post has either created, or imported, Pie Charts to suit their purpose. At the time of reading it, I left a comment on both Chris’ site and TWG’s – “Why isn’t Science Fiction featured?” So far TWG have failed to respond to my pertinent question. In Chris’ case all he could say was that he had merely reblogged their post. Like me, he had no clue why sci-fi did not appear in the breakdown of books for children.

To TWG, I merely say this – be fair. Don’t think I am making a mountain out of a Mole hill, far from it. Nor am I suggesting for one minute that you are wrong. But like most sci-fi writers, all I want is an honest reason why you decided to leave out our genre, let alone infer that today’s kids don’t like reading sci-fi based stories, when you and I both know that isn’t the case. Thanks to popular science fiction television series like Dr Who, sales of sci-fi specifically written for children is doing fine thank you very much. You would have known that TWG, if you had bothered to do your homework.

One other thing for anyone contemplating producing a post like the aforementioned, purporting to show the ‘facts’, make sure that you are doing just that, not merely using certain facts to support your argument.

To use a quote, attributed to the sixteenth American President, Abraham Lincoln – “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time”. Those of us who make our living within the literary world are not fools TWG. We are all fully aware of what sells to varying age groups and in what quantities. Being selective about the facts to suit your personal or collective point of view is never a good idea. If, on the other hand, your blog post was published to cause debate, you have succeeded. Although probably not in the way you envisioned…

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Answer Me This If You Can

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Editor at work – Yeh right!

For as long as I’ve been writing full time (since 1995), one aspect of our chosen career path has always bothered me. We all know that writers in publishing house stables are expected to apply all the corrections that their editors deem necessary. More fool them!

Why should Indies suffer this totally illogical practice as well? For many, myself included, we parted company with traditional publishing to get away from this less than satisfactory aspect of the writing game, and the often dictatorial way in which publishers rule over their writers, amongst other things.

I’ve given up counting the number of times I’ve heard fellow Indie’s complain about their editors, and the hard won money they’ve spent on their sometimes dubious services.

If you take the sensible decision to go it alone and self edit, you’ll soon find any errors and correct them. Whereas if you pay for an editor’s services, while they give the impression of doing a so-called professional job, what do they actually do for their often exhorbitant fee? Not enough! They only do half a job, then send it back to you to do the rest. What’s the point of that? A writer can do it all themselves and for no cost to them except time.

Yes your editor will tell you that they have judiciously gone through your manuscript, purportedly working their way through your story word by word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, picking up on bad grammar, spelling mistakes, incorrect punctuation, plus suggesting you change this or that aspect of your story as if it was them who wrote the darned story in the first place, so that when pedants, armchair critics and literary snobs challenge you (and believe me they will), you can honestly say that your work was professionally edited.

Big deal!

Logic dictates that if someone is employing you as an editor to find all of the errors, that once found, you should correct them yourselves, not send the manuscript back to the writer to do your job for you! Otherwise, what’s the point of employing you in the first place. If a writer does the sensible thing and sends their manuscript to a few dedicated beta readers, hopefully they will point out any and all errors for free!

Remember this, no book is ever perfect. Even the very best editors employed by the major publishing houses will miss the minutiae, after all they are human just like the rest of us. Paying for an editor’s services, as they stand at the moment, is a waste of money. Before you even begin to show a profit from the sales of your books, you have to recoup your financial outlay first, ie, editing, layout, cover design. From a financial point of view its far better that you do it all yourself. Thinking about it, so-called professional editors are little more than failed writers.

If you are a truly dedicated Indie writer, don’t think that once you have written your manuscript that you have finished. You haven’t. Your work has only just begun. Above all don’t fall into the trap that your manuscript need the services of a paid ‘professional’ editor. It doesn’t. If you are any damned good, you will do it yourselves!

Here endeth today’s lesson…

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