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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing It For Fun?

It's sometimes hard to explain, to a non-writer, why I write. The confusion generally comes when the non-writer discovers I am not a full-time writer. "So it's a hobby," they say. "You do it for fun."

I can't explain that it's not a hobby - more a need. And most of the time, it's not fun. It's not fun to experience the crushing self-doubt that arrives on a regular basis and convinces me that every word I've ever written is complete rubbish. Or that feeling of rejection that comes with every email beginning, "thank you for sending us your manuscript. We regret to inform you that it will not fit our list at this time." Or, for me, getting up at 5:20am to write before work when really I'd much rather have an extra hour in bed.

Generally when such conversations come up I have to start by explaining that much as I would love to write full time, it's not economically feasible. It doesn't help that these conversations are generally with people who are not only non-writers but pretty much non-readers. They might have read Harry Potter, or Fifty Shades of Grey. So they think 'writer' and JK Rowlings and EL James spring to mind. And they're rolling in it, so all writers must be loaded, right?

My last royalty statement was for all of £5, and that represented a year's worth of sales. I am so far away from being able to make money from the writing that it seems an unobtainable goal. Giving up the day job is simply not an option because I have no other form of income.

At times I get completely overwhelmed. I leave the house at 6:20am so I can write before work. I generally don't get home before 7pm. I have French lessons and bass guitar lessons and admin stuff to deal with like emails and blog posts. And this is before we get to household stuff - laundry and remembering to pay the credit card bill and so on. Sometimes I get to a point when I feel I just can't cope with it all any more.

Logically, the thing to give up is the writing, because I kill myself trying to do it for no apparent reason. But even the mere thought of doing so makes me die inside.

And that's really why I write. Because I need to do it to keep on living. Not writing is as unthinkable to me as not breathing.

It may be I never manage to make enough money from the writing to give up the day job. But I will, somehow find a way to fit it into my life because there's just no other option.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Monthly Round-up: April 2017

Time, as they say, waits for no one. A third of the year has already gone. However, the best thing about this time of year is that I actually see my house in daylight during the week. Technically, it's spring. But I think someone forgot to tell the weather that, as the temperature in the UK has been more winter-like the past few days. Some places even have snow. Anyway, enough about the weather. On with the news.
OUT NOW/COMING SOON
Seven years ago this month, my first novel was published - SUFFER THE CHILDREN was released in e-book format by Lyrical Press. It marked a major turning point in my life, fulfilling a dream that I had chased for thirty years. And now the book is available again, from a different publisher. If you haven't yet read the book that started it all for me, you can buy it here from MuseItUp Publishing.
Coming up to the present day, I have been in touch with my editor and the edits for SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, the new Shara Summers novel, will be underway shortly. I'm still optimistic for a 2017 release.
PUBLICITY
I've been a bit quiet on the publicity front of late. It's now been nearly a year since anything new came out, and I always feel it's difficult to plug a new book when it's not really new at all.
I did run another Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH, however, that finished on 15 April. The winners were: Rachel Sanders in Sutherland, and Adam Bradbury in Surrey. Their prizes were posted last week, and indeed should be in their hands by now. The plan is to run some more Goodreads giveaways between now and October, so if you're still interested in winning a copy of this book, keep an eye on the Goodreads page.
I'm a bit light on the convention side of things this year as well. However, that's largely because I'm going to Bouchercon in Toronto in October, and not only is that a con that requires an international trip, it also clashes with most of the other cons I generally go to (FantasyCon and Bristol Horror Con, to name two). But I've been wanting to do Bouchercon for years, and with it being in Toronto it gives me a good reason to go visit family and friends in Canada at the same time.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, is going well. I've agreed a deadline with my publisher at KGHH on this one, and it's full steam ahead.
That's it for now. I've got to get on with the writing!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Are You an Yin or Yang Author?

Cover of How to Write a Movie in 21 Days
I've been using Viki King's How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days as a way to jump start my latest screenplay. I'd been having trouble coming up with a plot and figured this book, which I'd had for years but hadn't used, might be a way to approach my writing from another angle.

Finished the first draft last week.

Anyway, during my reading, I came across what she describes as Yin or Yang writers. For example, she asks how do we see ourselves? If we tend to be more rational, interested in world affairs, and such, we could be considered Yang. If we're intuitive and see life through personal experiences, then we're probably Yin.

So what kinds of stories would a Yang author write? According to King:

"Your script structure probably hinges on external events and actions. It's in the mystery, thriller, or crime-action-adventure genre."

Whereas, with Yin authors, King goes on to say, "Yours is probably an inner story. The character is on a journey of self-discovery. Themes are love and personal growth."

Of course, there are those who combine the Yin-Yang aspects. It's sort of like saying one is either a pantster or plotter, although many writers fall somewhere in the middle. While this screenplay is a suspense screenplay, the main character is on a journey of self-discovery while on a literal journey to save her team.

Knowing I lean more toward the Yang style of writing also explains why I have an easier time writing horror, suspense, etc. and struggle with romance or more personal stories. Not that I won't write or read them, but now I understand it's part of my mindset why I write the stories I do.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Authors, keep writing the stories you love.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Monthly Round-Up: March 2017

I realise I missed February's round-up, which is a bit remiss of me. I lost quite a lot of March to a lingering virus that turned into a sinus infection. Happily, after over two weeks of feeling terrible, I am feeling good again.


OUT NOW/COMING SOON
No further news on the third Shara Summers book, SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, which is meant to be out this year. However, if you have not yet met Shara Summers, you can pick up the first book, DEATH SCENE (in all e-book formats) directly from MuseItUp Publishing's online store.


PROMOTION
I'm running another Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH. If you are in the UK and like horror, you can enter now to win a free copy of the paperback. Contest closes on 15 April.


This weekend I'm heading off to the SF Weekender in Wales for a few days of sci fi geekery. And I'm doing a couple of panels for the writers' track as well.


WORK IN PROGRESS
The virus left my brain feeling too mushy to write and I lost a couple of weeks of writing time. However, I'm back on track now and work on the new horror novel continues apace.


That's all to report for now. Catch you next time!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where'd I Put That Darn Idea?

Dime image courtesy of Morguefile.com
Ideas. A "dime a dozen," as some people would say. Not copyrightable unless presented in some tangible form: treatment, synopsis, novel, screenplay, etc. (But I'm not going to get into legalities here. I'm not qualified.)

What I am qualified for is being someone who often struggles to come up with ideas for stories. Or, I do come up with one, and upon further examination, realize it's the dumbest thing ever. Back to the proverbial drawing board. (On those days, I think maybe I should trade in my keyboard for my Wacom pen and pursue an art career. But then I look at my artwork and reason pats me on the head.) Don't worry, I'm not giving up on writing. I don't really know how to do anything else.

I've been needing to write a new feature-length screenplay. Winning first place with a short and a feature is great, but an author doesn't live by two winning screenplays alone. And, since there's a writing challenge coming up next month, I need to find a new idea for a novel. (This while revising an older one.) While I do have a one-page synopsis for one, and I do want to write it, part of me wants to write another one based on a documentary series I've been watching. I'll probably write the former one, since the latter, a historical mystery, will require research.

But didn't I say I needed to find ideas for stories? How could I say I had a couple of ideas then? (To be honest, the synopsis was written a while ago.) I guess, for me, ideas come organically from my experiences. Like the documentary, which reminded me how much I loved the subject and inspired the current plot idea.

Ideas have also come to me in song lyrics and in paintings. There's no consistency, and what worked before may not work again.  Ideas are mercurial like that.

What about the screenplay? That was a bit harder, since I knew what I wanted to write about, but didn't have enough information about the organization to write a plausible scenario. But then I got the idea of how to work around that while doing some of the exercises in Viki King's How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. I'd bought the book when I was first learning how to write a screenplay, but had never used it. This time, I thought it might be the jumping off point I needed. And it seems to have worked. I don't know if I'll do every exercise in the book, and I'll probably write the script in less than 21 days, as soon as I get my characters developed.

And did I mention how difficult it can be to create a well-rounded character? But that's a post for another time. :-)