Sunday, 29 January 2017

Writing, loneliness and family support

Image result for loneliness

Recently I stumbled across this excellent blog post by Tricia Drammeh - it's an old one, but definitely worth reading, as the situation described is timeless and universal. You are a writer. This is what you are, this is what you do, and it's isn't in your power to change. You work hard, depriving yourself of sleep, leisure and recreation to find the time to write, yet the people in your life don't get it. They see you as a deluded, obsessed, lazy time-waster and a whole number of other unflattering epitaphs. They view your writing efforts with a mixture of alarm, pity and disdain. 

They wouldn't have minded supporting your writing venture if only they could see some success, critical acclaim and, most importantly, money. But there's the catch - once we have all that, family and close friend support is not such a crucial element anymore. It's while we struggle that we need our nearest and dearest. Once success comes, there are plenty of people ready to sign up to our cheer-leading team. 

To quote from Martin Eden:

"Why didn’t you dare it before? he asked harshly.
When I hadn’t a job? When I was starving? When I was just as I am now, as a man, as an artist, the same Martin Eden? That’s the question. I’ve been asking myself for many a day. My brain is the same old brain. And what is puzzling me is why they want me now. Surely they don’t want me for myself, for myself the same old self they did not want. They must want me for something else, for something that is outside of me, for something that is not I. Shall I tell you what that something is? It is for the recognition I have received. That recognition is not I. Then again for the money I have earned and am earning. But money is not I. And is it for the recognition and money, that you now want me?” 

It often happens that, after a writer has a breakthrough with one book - many times not their first book - the public suddenly rediscovers their earlier work and goes on to read and praise and buy it; the same work that had sat unnoticed and disdained for years. And then we might feel like yelling, "It's the same work you had despised earlier! So why do you flatter and coddle me now?" 

As Tricia said

"If you’re an aspiring writer who doesn’t think you can handle the pain of rejection, I’m here to tell you YOU CAN. Rejection is part of life. It’s part of being a writer. We deal with rejection from agents, from publishers, from reviewers who hate our books, from friends and co-workers who are jealous that we’re following our dream."

No one can stop you from following your dream, trite as it sounds. Support is wonderful; it can give wings to the weary and is like the draught of life on the arid and rocky uphill path from first draft to public recognition. But it won't necessarily come from your family or closest friends. Sometimes they won't get you - your goals and your books and what makes you tick. So go ahead and connect to other writers; find supportive people, online and off - they are worth their weight in gold; read what inspires and encourages you. And believe you can do it... even if no one else around you does. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Avoid Writing Burnout: this is a marathon

Image source: Huffington Post

One will often hear fellow writers compare notes on how much they have written that day: 3,000, 4,000, even 5,000 words. And, though those figures blow me away and sometimes make me feel like a real slacker, I'm obliged to stop and remind myself that to each their own, and if I tried to tackle this amount of work I'd soon be an inmate of a mental care center.

I could pull off writing 3K words a day. I could do it for a few days in a row, a week even... but then I would be utterly burned out, and in need of a tech-free vacation in some remote cabin somewhere (hey, I could do that cheapo - stay home and turn off the phone). I know I'm much better off writing 1,000 words a day (of creative writing - not blogs, emails, etc) and doing it consistently over time, than writing in short violent bursts and spending my energy unwisely. Trite as it sounds, writing is a marathon, not a sprint - especially with books as long as mine tend to turn out.

I have forgotten this a bit lately, growing very enthusiastic about a new project I took up. Please note this probably isn't a good time for me to take on a new project at all. There's Wild Children, which is soon to be released and about which my publisher and I email back and forth continuously, working out promotion strategies and looking for final typos and inconsistencies. I'm also working on the sequel. There's The Greenlanders, which has just received its first round of suggestions from beta readers. There's querying for my MG novel. And there's all my non-fiction writing.

So I dove into this new novel, The Landlord (a paranormal/historical romance set in Regency England), giving up on hobbies, friends, recreation, and a good chunk of peace of mind, sleep and showers. Healthy? Not really. I soon experienced tension, continued nervousness, recurring colds, and great frustration for being able to do so little... when in fact I was doing too much, and trying to do even more, all at once.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a rural homeschooling mother. I have three children, a husband with a demanding business of his own, a house, a large garden and a bunch of animals to take care of. I'm also committed to healthy from-scratch cooking. I can't push myself to writing over-achievement at the cost of everything else. But I can plow on consistently, producing a reasonable quantity at a reasonable rate, and before I know it, say with surprise, "hey, I've finished a book".

It's all a matter of proportion: too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. My SmartPhone is great when it enables me to quickly check my KDP account and emails and dash off a quick two-liner reply without starting up the clunky old laptop. But it's bad when it makes me twitchy and obsessive, constantly checking my emails for that World Changing Message. Relax, it won't come. I've waited for a reply from that agent I've queried for two months. They can wait a day or two.

Social media is great as it allows me to interact with fellow authors. But it's bad when it turns to an unproductive, time-frittering activity. I can't read everybody's rant about how the world doesn't appreciate their talent, or flip through the pictures of everybody's pets.

I need time away from the screen. To let my story stew in my brain, no pressure. To work in the garden, do a jigsaw puzzle with my kids, to read for pleasure and not because someone is expecting a review. I'm an indie author. If I feel like I have someone breathing down my neck, it's an imaginary feeling. Shake it off. Be free.

Sit in the sunshine and just breathe. 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Why I fail to choose and stick to a genre

Beginner authors are commonly advised to choose a genre and stick to it, as part of building their brand. From a commercial point of view this makes excellent sense, as the readers grow to associate a name with a genre and know exactly what to expect (i.e., "Nicholas Sparks = romance in small Southern towns"). If I see the name "Dan Brown" or "Stephen King" on a new title in the bookstore, I'll pick up the book almost without a second glance at the blurb, because I already know pretty much what I'm getting.

However, I kind of defy this rule - not because I find branching out to be more profitable, but because  I feel limiting myself to only one genre would make me stagnate as a writer and, ultimately, become bored with my work. To me, writing is more than a way to make a living; it is my passion, creative outlet and favorite escape, and I need variety. It's like limiting myself to watching nothing but Jane Austen film adaptations; as much as I love the genre (and, really, I am almost embarrassed to admit how many times I've watched the 1995 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility), eventually I'd find myself longing for a contemporary romantic comedy, an Alejandro Amenabar film, or even some Game of Thrones.

While I have begun as, and still primarily consider myself, a fantasy author (Quest of the Messenger trilogy and my new Middle Grade novel, A Bride for the Beast), my upcoming novel, Wild Children, belongs to the dystopian survivalist genre with a dash of sci-fi. Yet another novel, The Greenlanders: A Tale of Sea and Steel (which I am currently editing) is a speculative Viking-era historical fiction. And my newest project, The Landlord, is a paranormal/historical book flitting between modern times and  the Regency era. 

Is it optimal? Is it wise from a marketability point of view? I'm not sure; but this is who I am, and this is how I write. The world is so wide and there are so many things to explore; for me, narrowing down my choices is nearly impossible.

For some useful insight on author branding when writing in multiple genres, check out this blog post:

"The first step is figuring out what exactly does all of your work have in common?  Do they have a common audience, common themes, etc?  I always ask my clients to list at least three things all their books have in common.   At first most of them say “nothing, they are all different.”  But when pressed, they can usually find many more common traits than just three."

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Ten Commandments of Book Promotion

Due to being subject to some pretty aggressive book-pushing lately, I have compiled the following Ten Commandments of Book Promotion, meant especially (but not exclusively) for indie authors.

This is an image of an oil on canvas picture by Rembrandt (1659) of a bearded man representing Moses with two tablets of stone of the ten commandments held high in both hands.

1. Thou Shall Not Spam. This includes PMing people you don't know on Facebook, Goodreads and other social media; littering people's Facebook Wall with pleas to buy/promote/review your book; and prancing about in a glittery suit and pom-poms around the mall, singing, "I'm an indie author, please support me".

2. Honor Thy Reader and Thy Reviewer. Thank the kind people who have taken time to read and give feedback on your book, often at the expense of other projects.

3. Observe the Rules of Facebook Groups and Keep Them Holy. Do not profane Facebook groups not specifically designed for book promotion by bookwhacking, direct or subtle. Seriously.

4. Thou Shalt Not Kill (people who have read your book and gave negative reviews). Books are subjective; there are thousands of admittedly great literary works out there I frankly don't care for.

5. Thou Shalt Not Steal (your fellow author's plot, characters, cover, or forum thread).

6. Do Not Speak the Name of the Lord Thy Book in vain (this is called bookwhacking, and for good reason. It doesn't get you anywhere; it doesn't get sales going; it's pathetic and unprofessional).

7. Thou Shalt Not Covet your fellow writer's agent/publisher/book contract/KDP rating.

8. Thou Shalt Not Make a Profane Graven Image (please, no sleazy book-covers. Please please please).

9. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery (if you are under obligations of a contract, stick to them. Be honest and let your professional integrity speak for itself).

10. Thou Shalt Not Hate the Writer of This. She (that is, I) only wanted to vent a little.

May we all find the golden road of book promotion that is professional, effective and ethical.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Choosing to self-publish

When I first began to think of writing as a career, it was my unquestioned assumption that traditional publishing (ideally, being represented by an agent and negotiating a book deal with a major publisher) is the Holy Grail for any author, anytime, anywhere, myself included, and the only ones who self-publish are either desperate losers or people with a massive online following and amazing PR skills.

Fast forward a few years (and many dozens of rejection letters), and I'm a little wiser and a lot more sober. I've discovered many fantastic books and whole genres that don't fit little pigeonholes of traditional publishers; and I've had the privilege to meet successful indie authors who won't trade their creative freedom and high royalties for the carrot dangled in front of them by trad publishing.

I've also acquired a certain moderation to my views. Self-published authors are not the dregs of trad publishing; neither are they all a bunch of misunderstood creative geniuses trad publishing has missed out on. And yes, I am forced to admit that there are a lot more substandard indie books than trad-published books, because uploading to Amazon Kindle is free for all and nobody can tell nobody they can't upload and advertise their unedited Zombie Vampire Werewolf Epic Erotica (and a good thing, too). There are no gatekeepers with indie publishing (except the readers, who vote which books deserve to live and which are doomed to obscurity).

I have also, upon reflection, found myself in a position of choosing self-publishing as a preferred option for my upcoming Viking-era novel, The Greenlanders: A Tale of Sea and Steel. I self-published Quest of the Messenger because I was rejected by traditional publishing. But I'm going to self-publish The Greenlanders (unless one of the best agencies I have already queried gets back to me with an offer of representation - and, let's face it, the chances of that are slim) because I choose to, mainly for the following two reasons:

1. I want to be in control. This is a story which I've been dreaming, breathing and living for many years - long before I began actually writing it (which was six years ago). It is very important to me to tell it the way I envision it and the way I want it told.

2. I am targeting a specific audience. The Greenlanders is meant for Viking-era lovers, who are a pretty specifically-targeted bunch. This isn't to say that people with a broad interest in historical fiction or the Middle Ages can't read and enjoy the book, but the biggest tag of it is 'Viking'. This comes in contrast with my other fiction, which is targeted at much broader audience.

Does this mean I'm burning bridges with traditional publishing? On the contrary, I've signed a publishing contract for Wild Children (and its sequels) and I'm currently seeking literary representation for my MG fantasy novel. But I'm glad to live in an age when authors have more than one viable option.