Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Back on the Submission Train

After a three-year hiatus, I'm finally back on the submission train. Prose works, that is. I regularly submit to screenplay contests, and I'm still working on a sale or option.

So far this year, I've submitted a short story, a novella, and a novel. My goal is to submit at least one other novel, maybe two more. I haven't been idle, writing four novels and two novellas, with one novel half completed.

I can't explain why it takes me so long to submit something. Scared of rejection, most likely, although I deal with it. (When that Film Freeway notification doesn't begin with "Congratulations," I know my screenplay didn't get in.) Contests and publishing are both subjective. I'm grateful there are more opportunities for writers than when I was in college.

Hopefully, my books will find a publisher. As for finding an agent, at this point, I like being in control of the submission process. Perhaps in the future, I'll submit a novel to an agent, but probably not in the genre I'm currently working in. Depends on the certain factors. Right now, I want to write what I enjoy and not what's supposedly "marketable," since the market is in a constant state of flux. It's another reason why I like to write multi-genre, although suspense is always an underlying component of my stories, whether paranormal or contemporary.

Fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Musings on Screenplay Contests

Screenplay writing contest season is upon us. From (hopefully) making the early bird deadline to (again, hopefully) being a finalist and even a winner, the months are filled with anticipation, excitement, and even a little dread.

This weekend, the quarter-finalists for the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards will be announced. My fingers are crossed. I recently received notification The Indie Gathering International Film Festival has awarded my short screenplay "Cemetery" an honorable mention. And my full-length crime drama Final Curtain is a finalist in Action on Film Festival (AOF). Winners will be announced in August.

Winning awards for my writing is great. I won't deny that. It's a validation for those times when I don't win. Like publishers, contests are subjective. Just because one contest didn't accept my screenplay, doesn't mean it's bad. Now, if all contests reject it, well, then, obviously something's wrong. :-) It also depends on the contest and the number of entries. Austin Film Festival? If I'm ever lucky enough to semi-final in that one, you can guess I'll be celebrating. However, I tend to be pragmatic.

One thing I've learned about submitting screenplays to contests is when I final or even win, I set the bar higher for myself, especially if I enter the film festival's competition a second or even third time. There's a level of consistency  they expect and I need to make sure I deliver. And because screenplays have a specific format and rely on what can be seen and heard, certain novel conventions can't be used, such as inner thoughts. That means when I adapt my books into screenplays, I have to change scenes that wouldn't translate well to the screen. If you're wondering why the book and movie can be so different, that's one of the reasons why. And writing a work of fiction (novel, short story, etc.) from a screenplay also comes with its challenges.

But it's worth it.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Ten Commandments of Writing #10: Thou Shalt Never, Ever, Give Up

I get quite cross with people who imply that I write 'for fun'. Or 'for pleasure'. This generally comes into a conversation where I'm trying to explain why the writing is not my full-time profession. I'm trying to explain that I don't make enough money from the writing to do it for a living, and so they say, "oh so you do it for fun then."


There is nothing fun about writing. Yes there are moments of exhilaration, like when the WIP is going well and words are flowing, when you're in that stage when you can re-read the words you've written and think to yourself, "actually this is pretty good. And I created it." But you know this is going to be followed by a period of crashing self-doubt, when you are absolutely convinced that everything you've written is a steaming pile of turds and you should give up deluding yourself that you're a writer and go and spend your time watching TV instead. This bit of the process is not fun. Neither is the constant lurching from self-confidence to self-loathing that I am convinced absolutely every writer, no matter how successful they are, experiences.


No, we don't do it for fun. So why do we do it? It's more a need, an urge. We need to write to keep on living, the same way we need to breathe.


You need to remember this once you have accepted the fact that you are a writer, because the road will not be smooth. There will be rocky patches. There will be times when you want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out again. Every time you submit something to an editor, you will spend the next few hours, or days, or weeks, on tenterhooks. You will be checking your email every two minutes to see if you've had a response yet. When you discover there isn't one, you will experience conflicting feelings of disappointment and faint hope, because no response at least means no rejection. Yet.


And then when the email finally comes you'll be afraid to open it, trying to put off the inevitable rejection and the crashing self-doubt that follows for as long as possible.


But then one day it won't be a rejection. It will be an acceptance. And it will all be worth it. On the dark days, it can be tempting to just pack it all in. But it's important to keep on going. When each rejection comes, give yourself a few days to pick yourself and dust yourself off, and then send the story back out into the world again. And carry on working on the next one. Whatever you do, you have to keep at it, because being a writer is in your psyche and no matter how hard it can be sometimes, it will always be who you are.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monthly Round-up: June 2017

Well, summer is here. The UK enjoyed some sweltering hot weather this month, over 30c for several days. This is pretty unusual for us - so much so that we all bake, since very few places have air conditioning. Fortunately for us, our office does. The underground does not, however, and being packed in like sardines on the Central Line in rush hour when it's so hot is pretty close to being in Hell.


But of course British weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and now we're back to rain again. I love the long days at this time of year, and there is still plenty of summer left before we're back to the long nights of winter.


Anyway. On with this month's news.


OUT NOW/COMING SOON


There's nothing new to announce, and I've got no further news on when SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH is coming out. So this month I'm just going to plug my current publications. They are all available on Amazon US and UK, so why not have a browse?


PUBLICITY


On 4 June there was an interview with me on Rochelle Weber's blog, in which I talk about the Shara Summers series.


There's another Goodreads giveaway running at present for THE WHISPERING DEATH. It's only open to UK readers, due to postage costs, but if you fancy a free signed copy of THE WHISPERING DEATH, the contest is open until 15 July.


WORK IN PROGRESS


I was aiming to have the first draft of the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, done by the end of June. Well it's not quite done yet, but I am nearly there. I have over 60,000 words done and I reckon I've only got another 10,000 or so to the end. If all goes well I should get there in July. So, hopefully there'll be more news on this next month. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Software Survey

I'll confess. I'm a software junkie when it comes to writing. Oh, sure, there's been some software I've either no interest in, or that I've tried and decided wasn't my thing. Even some software I've liked in the past I've given up for another.

So today I thought I'd share some of the software I use regularly. No endorsement is intended, and my opinions are mine only. Note: I won't talk about Word 2016, since many authors, myself included, use it.

In no particular order, they are:

Scrivener
Scrivener's power is in its versatility. You can organize your writing, research, character descriptions, and outlines into what it calls binders. There's a split screen option. For example, you can have two windows, one for your plot/outline and the other for your manuscript. Depending on what template you use, they have setting and character charts, and you can output your book to such popular formats as Kindle. PDF, and ePub. And yes, you can import and export files into and from Word.

Dramatica Pro
Dramatica Pro is a story engineering software, although I haven't used it to its full potential. One of its features is helping you flesh out your story through a series of questions. There are three levels of questions, so you can get as detailed as you want. I've found that sometimes it helps to already have a first draft or outline so you can answer the questions, which can build on one another. It also focuses on the relationship between the main character and the impact character, the latter who might be the antagonist, but not always.

Power Structure
Power Structure is another story engineering software. It lets you outline, create characters, develop conflict, etc. There are templates available for novels, TV, and screenplays. And if you're someone who likes the Hero's Journey, Power Structure has that feature, too.

WriteWay Pro
WriteWay Pro is another story organizing software. For example, one can take notes for particular scenes, including plot, conflict, setting, dialogue, suspense, and revision. And the completed manuscript can be exported into various files, including Kindle and Nook. Note: At this time, WriteWay Pro is free, but there is limited support and it's not available for Mac.

Fade In Pro
Fade In Pro is the software I use to write screenplays. It has Unicode support, works with Linux, has Final Draft and Scrivener support (among others), and formats screenplays and teleplays automatically. The nice thing? Once you buy the program, there are free updates.

All these programs come with free trials.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it's sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher's minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department - and even then you'll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange - you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there's no point in setting up social media accounts until they've got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you're published, and at least by the time you've got something to sell you've built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or Wordpress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don't require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I'm half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don't live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don't be that person that only ever Tweets 'buy my book' because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I'm on holiday, if I have cause to mention I'm a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, "oh, what do you write?" I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I'd packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that's where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I've never made that mistake since.

Once you've got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It's mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn't cost anything to do it. Go to conventions - as many as you can afford - to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can - you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.


 You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you're with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop's buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren't interested in taking anything they can't buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that's generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn't hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.


In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven't sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it's something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.