They’re coming to take us away…

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Vain, selfish and lazy? Speak for yourself Eric. That may have been true in your case, but not mine! Most writers I know are none of those things. These days the only people you will come across like that are certain editors and literary agents as well as most literary critics. The latter category, especially the odd one or two who write for newspapers and literary magazines here in the UK, can definitely be said to be vain and selfish. To those two unsavoury qualities I would add a few others – condescending, snobbish, scathing and vicious, particularly when it comes to one leading newspaper’s literary critic and his deep loathing of Indies. Compared to him, internet trolls are rank amateurs.

As for the rest of what Eric is quoted as saying – writing is a long exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness, he’s perfectly correct. It is. With a few exceptions, I seriously doubt that anyone who reads books has the faintest notion of what we go through when writing one. Blair was also right when he said that – one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist, nor understand.

In my own case, what drives me to write is not so much a demon as the burning desire to share a story with the reader. So the next time you read any book, whether you liked it or not, ask yourself what kind of hell did the author of this book put themselves through when he or she wrote this? How many sleepless nights did they suffer to bring the story to me? How many times were they afflicted with the one problem all writers suffer from time to time – writer’s block?

As if all of that wasn’t enough for the writer to contend with, there are the endless attacks by internet trolls. In some cases they are actually disgruntled fellow writers who are seriously annoyed that people buy, like, and praise your work while shunning theirs. Some trolls are nothing more than malicious individuals (sociopaths) hiding behind pseudonyms, thriving on hate while wanting you to react so that they can make your life hell!

Do I still want to write for a living? Hell yes, even though it often drives me to distraction. Once you have been bitten by the writing bug, everything else in your life apart from writing posts like this, and chatting to readers and friends on Facebook and Twitter, rapidly vanishes into the distance.

You heard it here first folks. It helps if you are completely bonkers with a masochistic streak when it comes to writing.

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Time to fess up!!!

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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 does it involve?

Ever since I changed the way I write from how I used to in decades long since past, when I would spend all day and long into the night to achieve a daily word count in the thousands, I now stick rigidly to a short but extremely intense daily session when I have a new story in mind.

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.

Once I get back into the swing of things, 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 while I carry on with my normal daily activities.

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 novice, 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 most of you are reluctant to own up. There is absolutely no excuse for you not joining in here. 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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Let’s face facts – these days many people simply can’t be bothered to read a book, especially here in the UK, particularly if its an e-book!

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There is an old saying – “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” The same applies when it comes to asking people to read your books, especially here in the UK where e-books still take a back seat to their paperback and hard cover cousins.

The one thing you can never do is force someone to read your book. All you can hope for is to make them aware of its existence by using all of the social media sites as well as word of mouth and emails to advertise its existence. Why is that? Because the numbers currently waiting to be read is quite literally in the millions. So, don’t be too surprised if after all your hard work writing it, plus spending money having it edited and marketed, that apart from the few taken for free on promotions by the growing number of tightwads who begrudge paying money for a book, that any and all interest in it will dramatically fall, often within a single twenty-four hour day once the promotion is over.

Don’t be tempted to beg potential readers to read your book with ‘buy my book’ pleas, or for that matter to bombard every book site you can think of on a daily basis with your titles. Both practices only highlight how unprofessional you are!!! All it does is turn people off, especially on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Unless your name is Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown or Stephen King etc,etc, like todays painters we have to have another source of income while we’re alive. When a painter dies, normally their works increase in value. In our case, our publishers continue to make money. In both cases neither the former writer or painter benefits.

So do you still want to write? If your answer is yes, be prepared for a hell of a lot of hard work for little gain, let alone recognition.

One thing you must do is maintain a high profile on social media at all times. The other thing I would also advise you to do is to operate a blog like this one. Don’t just talk about all things writing as so many tend to do. Your potential reading public want to know about you, what makes you tick. Your likes and dislikes. But don’t bore them to death…

During your writing career you can expect a hell of a lot of criticism, not only by the reading public, but also by some of your fellow writers, who think they know far better than you how to write your story.  TAKE IT FROM ME – THEY DON’T! If you want my advice – grow a thick skin. Turn the other cheek and never stop writing.

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Tell me something, what do you see when you read a book?

105f482a4a4b9f1132cca9c74c5606caI swear that the first idiot to say “just words what else?” will be taken out and shot at dawn, once every day for a week!!!

Seriously though, do you just read a work of fiction for escapism, or do you do what I do – read between the lines while enjoying the content? In both cases they are pastimes that cannot ever be properly achieved if you are an adherent of speed reading.

I’ve always done the latter of the two for decades. After all, what better way is there to gain an insight into the writer responsible for the book you are reading, without actually talking to them in person to confirm what you have deduced?

As it happens I’m doing just that at the moment while I read a book by a very dear friend of mine who’s friendship and warmth towards me, gladdens my heart. I shall refrain from revealing her name here, because the last thing I want is to put her on the spot. Fortunately for me she is not here to tell me off, not that I think she would. I hope that one day I will be lucky enough to meet her as she doesn’t live a million miles away from me.

Trust me when I say she will know exactly who I’m talking about when I reveal a comment I made to her recently in conversation. It went something along the lines of her being an extremely talented writer par excellence. Which, by the way, she is!

If you are at all astute, by reading between the lines you pick up on all kinds of tidbits about the author in question that would simply fail to register with the average reader. Every single one of us consciously or unconsciously reveals facts about ourselves to the average reader. If only they had the eyes to see, and the intelligence to comprehend what is not actually being said in so many words.

Writers are not just a photographer of thoughts as the glib quote above this post by Brandon A.Trean would have you believe. Plus, there is nothing about a writer that could remotely be considered as simple, even though he says so. We are much, much more complicated than that. At the very least we are able word smiths who make use of life itself by observing its nuances.

At one time or another, if you have been paying attention to what all writers say, you have read what we all preach – that the best writing always comes from personal experience. It also helps to pay attention to the world around you as well…

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The last chapter beckons – or does it???

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With five chapters done and dusted, at the moment from my point of view, I only need to write just one more for Céleste to be novella length – approx thirty thousand words. It’s already knocking on twenty-seven thousand as it is.

For a while there I briefly toyed with the idea of maybe expanding it to fifty-thousand. But I quickly abandoned that notion simply because that would mean slowing the pace of the story, by bogging it down in mind numbing info dumps. To my great shame, I’ve done it in the past to pad out a story. No one wants that kind of thing interrupting the story line, myself included if I’m being brutaly honest.

So at 2am yesterday morning, once again I began the thought process necessary to carefully come up with all of chapter six’s twists and turns and maybe even an ultimate twist at the end, or not, as the case may be. Only time will tell when it comes to the latter point.

Meanwhile while I’m doing that, I’m also going back over the previous five chapters once again as I’ve done each time I’ve completed a chapter, looking for errors, inconsistencies, etc, etc while bearing in mind what both my fellow writers Nicholas Rossis and Derek Haines, have already commented on after they were good enought to read the .pdf copy I sent to them a week or so back.

Click on their highlighted names above to see their books on Amazon.com.

Now ladies and gentlemen I’d better get back to work, writing about Céleste and her love affair with David O’Leary, demands all of my time, not that I’m complaining mind you. Face facts, if you were me and you found yourself briefly sharing your life with an absolute stunner of a woman, albeit only in your mind, would you complain?

She’s got David firmly wrapped around her perfectly manicured little finger in the story. For him and me its a case of whatever Céleste wants, she gets. What can I tell you, we’re both madly in love with her. Were he real and we happened to meet, I would gladly punch him on the nose. That’s how jealous I have become of their relationship. Will I kill off the man she loves? We’ll see…

Now before you go, do yourselves a huge favour and click on her cover above to take a closer look at the fictitious women David and I positively worship before you hit the return key on your computer’s keyboard.

Thanks folks, more later,

Jack

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As Writers We Need An Official Voice

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Remember my post about the pitfalls of ‘free books’ the other day https://havewehadhelp.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/whats-wrong-with-getting-an-ebook-for-nothing/ not forgetting this one about reviews https://havewehadhelp.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/are-book-reviews-really-necessary/ Here is another one from Derek on the subject we all hate, but have to participate in to gain publicity for our book(s) http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2014/11/the-land-of-free-shit

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Now back to the reason for this post. As independant writers, from time to time don’t you wish we had a vociferous champion to protect us from the machinations of publishers. Yesterday I chanced upon a possibility in the form of a guild.

Guilds for professional writers are spread throughout the world. In effect they are the literary equivalent of a union. While we Indies are not salaried, (paid a wage for what we do) there’s no getting away from the fact that many of us write full time. In my book that makes us professional writers as well.

So long as we continue being individuals, we have no teeth! But if our publishers knew that we were members of a powerful writing guild, maybe, just maybe, they would think twice before treating us with disdain. Either we amalgamate into an organisation like a guild or we continue on in the same old way as a bunch of individuals tilting at windmills.

Well, what do you think? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m heartily sick of being treated like a second rate citizen and cash cow by my publisher. Here is the link to the guild in question:

http://www.independentauthorsguild.com/

If any of you are already members, perhaps you can enlighten the rest of us about it. How much clout does it have? In other words, does it stick up for its members interests? I’ve read its mission statement. Like all mission statements it says a lot but promises damn all. Therefore I have my doubts as to whether or not it is a true guild and as such is a force to be reckoned with. Judging by what they don’t say, it looks as if they are merely a collection of self-important individuals. In which case calling themselves a guild is a complete misnomer. If I’m proved correct, then its back to searching for the real McCoy. In the meantime, make your own minds up about it by clicking on the link above to examine it. Then leave your thoughts here.

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The Latest Progress Report for The Guardian

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If you read the lovely Jo Robinson’s post yesterday on getting bored with your current WIP, https://litworldinterviews.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/do-you-love-your-book/ all is not lost. It might just be that you are nearing the end of the particular WIP, even though you don’t realize it.

What do I mean? Read on…

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I’ve finally realized after many sleepless nights and endless hours of thought that my current science fiction WIP – The Guardian in all likelihood will end up as a long short story. In fact, the more I think about it – it’s a given. Each story always dictates its own length. Despite what many may think, the writer often has no say in the matter. Why? Because once we start a story in a specific way, it inevitably guides you towards where it needs to end, regardless of what you want. In other words, the story is in charge, not you.

In this particular instance, one thing and one thing only brought me to this conclusion. The Guardian’s natural fast pace. The very thought of trying to maintain such a pace until I pass the eighty or one hundred and fifty thousand word mark, simply doesn’t bear thinking about. I did that once many years ago to the detriment of my health, never again. Yes I could have written endless pages of totally boring, nauseous descriptive prose and mind numbing dialogue. But that’s not me these days. That’s not the way I write any more. After many years I’ve finally seen the light!

For the handful of individuals who actually bought and read my scifi novella Cataclysm, (published last year) who got in touch with me privately, the one thing that the majority of you communicated was the fact that I kept it uncluttered and fast paced.

Maintaining a blog like mine soon teaches you how to convey what you want to say with the bare minimum of carefully chosen words.

Many writers still prefer to delude themselves into thinking that writing between eighty and one hundred and fifty thousand words is the only way to go. Not necessarily so, especially in this day and age. The times we live in along with reader tastes have dramatically changed in the last ten years or so, in favour of the shorter literary work. Both of the aforementioned are signs which no writer can now afford to ignore.

Think about it, how many times recently have you read a book from beginning to end, only to forget what it was all about by the time you eventually arrived at the last page, or far worse, wound up totally confused from information overload? Even the top one percent of writers hate having to artificially fill a manuscript merely to keep their literary agent, editor and publisher happy.

I recently learned that busy commuters across the world are my main reading group these days. Fifteeen years ago it was my contemporaries. Times definitely change…

As an Indie, I now only have to please myself and the wishes of the modern commuting reader who wants a fast paced story, paired down to the essential nitty gritty, and of course, told well. So now that I’ve finally made the decision, based purely on the way the story is panning out, I’ll be heading towards the first of several possible conclusions. I’ll settle on which one over the next few weeks.

I’ve only ever written one novel (back in 2003) that exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand words. The fact that writing it led to my suffering a total mental breakdown brought on by the stress of it all, which damn near ended me, should be a salutary lesson for anyone contemplating writing such a lengthy work.

The novel in question became my first published work back in 2010. It was a science fiction space opera entitled Onet’s Tale. While it still appears on Amazon, it is no longer available. Besides my paperback ‘author’ copy, and my Kindle one, I still have it as an unedited .pdf file for anyone who wants to read it. If you want an unbiased view about it, ask Chris The Storyreading Ape what he thought. He read the .pdf version.

I’m not an old stick in the mud. I do take notice of trends. Now I’d better get back to it. If anyone thinks that writing is easy, tell them to just try pairing down a story to its absolute essentials as I did with Cataclysm last year, and am currently doing with The Guardian, to suit a specific emerging eBook market – the busy commuter. The things we do for our readers eh?

PS – because it will be a long short story, when the time comes I’ll price it at a mere US$0.99. If Amazon allowed it, I would like it to be even cheaper. But unfortunately Amazon doesn’t do Permafree.

Be good…

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At last, I’m back at the coalface once again

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How I picture my heroine, Lynne Crawford

After almost three weeks of endless pontificating I’m once again back writing my science fiction WIP, The Guardian.

The story was at a crossroads. I had several ways in mind for where it may go next. Each one wholly dependant on a specific character, or characters, and how they had reacted so far. I gradually eliminated each of them in my mind for varying reasons. That’s why it’s taken me all of this time to finally decide on which character, so that the story can continue.

If you are at all familiar with the way certain wooly headed academics behave, it will come as no great surprise that I’m using my character, Professor Ephraim Adelmann, once again. Having worked with academics like him for a quarter of a century, I know how they think. Most of the ones I knew seriously needed a notice slung from around their necks, clearly stating to all and sundry that under no circumstances should they ever be left alone for one second. When it comes to common sense, most truly classic academics have none. Ephraim is no exception. In short, he has… Whoops, I almost told you then. All you need to know for now is that this part of the story unfolds back where Adler and Lynne first became aware of just how much danger they faced when they arrived in the Valles Marineris on Mars.

Here’s hoping The Guardian keeps its distance!

More later

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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.” 

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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The Guardian – Another Progress Report

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Is This The Guardian?

As of now, I’m four thousand, three hundred and forty-seven words, or if you prefer it, ten pages into the WIP.

Finally, I’ve solved the previous problem I had regarding the addition of more characters. Plus, I’ve more or less completed the core of the second chapter. At least now, I’m satisfied with what chapter two is all about.

There are three new characters, loosely based on people I knew way back in the nineteen sixties when I served alongside them in South East Asia. The new characters are an ex Royal Marine, an ex US Special Services soldier, and a former nurse in the Israeli Defence Force.

How long each of them lives for, how much we will learn about them; whether or not they can handle themselves in the situation I am about to drop them into alongside Adler and Lynne, only time will tell.

One thing is certain; Lynne will have to watch the nurse like a hawk. On that subject, I’m saying no more. You will just have to read The Guardian to find out why when I publish it won’t you.

Sorry this progress report is a short one folks. But by now those of you who have been following the reports will realise that I do a lot of thinking before I write each chapter, and each mini scene within any given chapter. Chapter three definitely needs a lot more thought, and some more research, this time on future weaponary which might be available in the twenty-second century, even though I have already begun to write it. It’s high time I stirred things up a bit. Up until now the storyline has been steadily building up to this next chapter and the ones to follow, while establishing a few facts about the characters.

PS – I already did the weaponary research last night. Made my selection of weapons needed. That leaves me more time for thinking. 🙂

More later

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