Sunday, 28 October 2018

How Writing Works

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I've been looking for this graphic for a long time, and wouldn't rest until I found it, because it's too true.

As a young author, I discarded all writing that was not that glorious inspired first draft stage with stars pouring from your fingertips, the stage where you're rocking it and getting high on your muse and you are the Creator of Worlds and... you get the idea.

What was written in inspiration could not be wrong. The inspired first draft was a gift to humanity. Any editing and correcting was menial drudgery and was beneath me. So was plotting, because it took away from the spontaneous artistic expression.

No wonder I never finished a book before I changed my mindset.

Today, I still live for the beauty of that first stage - of creating a story and characters from nothing. But as an author, I don't exist in a vacuum, and if I ever want to share something I wrote with the public, I owe my readers a plot that works, a text with no inconsistencies, and as few grammar errors and typos as possible. 

In this sense, writing a book is like cooking - the core is the inspiration (the recipe), but you can't make a dish without the seemingly mundane tasks of peeling vegetables, chopping, stirring, kneading... and, if you want people to enjoy the meal, you must clean up as well. 

You don't have to do it all yourself - you can have sous chefs (editors and proofreaders), but the work must be done if you want to end up with something edible... I mean, readable. Nor can you blindly trust an editor/proofreader. As someone who is an editor as well as a writer, I always work closely with my clients and expect them to review whatever I send in. The final responsibility is still the author's. 

I might also compare this to raising a child - what makes parenting all worthwhile are those magical moments when a little child wraps their arms around your neck, or when a child first learns to read, or when you see your kids peacefully playing together or absorbed in something creative around the table... but you can't have parenting without a whole lot of dirty diapers, messy rooms, sibling fights and mud tracks on your clean kitchen floor. 

Bottom line: all great projects require the support of little acts. Don't shy away from it; embrace it, and you will be rewarded.

Monday, 22 October 2018

2018: a (somewhat early) recap

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There are still over 2 months left till the end of 2018, but I feel I can already do a yearly recap, since most of my work plan for 2018 is complete.

Like in 2017, four of my books came out this year:

In January, I opened the year by releasing The Last Outpost, a sci-fi/government conspiracy/dystopian novel set in Antarctica. This soon became, and still is, the book that earns me my highest number of KU monthly reads, and confirmed me in the decision of sticking, for now, with KDP Select, despite Amazon's underhanded tactics that often harm authors.

This busy start was interrupted by some months of Real Life - in March, I had a baby girl who joined the merry bunch of her three siblings. The upping of our total kid number to four resulted in a long period of happy chaos.

Meanwhile, we prepared for a house move, which was completed in August and turned our lives upside down for a time. Thank goodness, most of the boxes are unpacked now, but it will take a while until everything is quite in order.

In September, just as I was fighting to get out of the mess of cardboard, I celebrated the release of not one, but two books: The Hourglass and Freeborn, books 2 and 3 in the Wild Children dystopian series. The decision to release them both at once was based on the reasoning that the promotion of a series always leans heavily on the first book, and the more subsequent books you have available for your new fans, the better.

October was the official release month of The Ice Fortress, sequel to The Last Outpost and the second book in my Frozen World Antarctic series. I say official, because I actually uploaded the book back in August, but didn't do any promotion at all while I was busy with the release of the Wild Children sequels.

Phew! This has been a whirlwind year, and I feel like I can reward myself by sitting back for a bit, having a nice cup of coffee, and fueling my creativity by some good books and movies.

So what are my plans for 2019?

Four books a year isn't a crazy pace for an indie author, but for me, it has been really intense because balancing writing and family time isn't easy when you have a houseful of young kids. Therefore, 2019 is definitely going to be a slower year for me.

Nevertheless, I am tinkering with some new projects.

I already have the overall concept for the next book in the Frozen World series, which will include more world cataclysms, climate change, and government corruption.

After a long while of writing primarily sci-fi and dystopia, I have started working on another historical fiction novel set in Ethiopia, in the same world as Land of the Lost Tribe. I'm not rushing it, because to my chagrin I realized that readership interested in that epoch and place is extremely small, but I also know that this story will drive me crazy if I don't get it written.

I'm toying with the idea of self-publishing a Middle Grade fantasy novel I've had sitting on the shelf for a while in the hopes of finding an agent, because trad pub is still the best deal for Middle Grade. Meanwhile, I've mapped out the sequel and started writing it.

So 2019 is going to be a year with more diversity of genre and less deadlines. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Different hats, different genres

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Check out this excellent post on Joanna Penn's blog, about writing in multiple genres and wearing many hats as a writer. This really resonated with me, an author who has published books in genres as different as dystopia/sci-fi, Regency with a paranormal touch, and epic fantasy. Oh, and I also write nonfiction, under a different pen name.

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.

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.

For me, it is the escapism element; I hardly ever touch upon the contemporary - my books all transport the reader to a different world, whether it is the past, the future, or an alternate reality. I'm still figuring out how I can brand this, but I know that writing across multiple genres is something I will continue doing for a long time to come. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Raveling: a story of indie publishing success

The Silver Sorceress (The Raveling Book 2) by [Hutson, Alec]

I don't usually post book reviews on this blog, but The Silver Sorceress, sequel to The Crimson Queen, isn't just a delightful read for every lover of epic fantasy - it's another page in the success story of an indie author who thoroughly deserves it. 

I was privileged to watch Alec Hutson's self-publishing journey unfold, basically from the ground up. He started out as one of the Wattpad crowd, did the usual cold querying route, and eventually self published with a very modest platform and no particularly aggressive book promotion. The Crimson Queen began to roll, and I've been waiting for the sequel ever since. 

So what is the secret? Alec has put a lot of time and work into his project, and delivered not just a brilliantly written book, but a high quality product all around, with a beautiful cover, professional formatting, and gorgeous maps made by a talented fantasy cartographer. He cut no corners. The book was so good that it tapped into the ultimate advertising venue - word of mouth. People genuinely loved it and recommended it, which is something you can't buy. I'm sure there was also an element of luck, but not the kind of luck that makes you shrug and say, "I don't know what people find in this". 

In case you haven't heard of these books yet, they are like The Song of Ice and Fire without the smut. It's epic fantasy at its best, with a complex, intricately built world, and thoroughly believable, very well-rounded characters with highly realistic motives. 

The Raveling features classic sword and sorcery elements: an epic quest, a battle between good and evil, a Chosen One... Which just goes to show that people still love and read traditional fantasy that doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. As literary agents try to force something groundbreaking into fantasy and scoff at what the public knows, loves and seeks as "unoriginal", readers turn to indie fantasy authors that focus on the important thing in writing fiction: delivering a good, really good story. Do I need to say this makes me happy?

So, epic fantasy readers, if you haven't started on The Raveling yet, you are in for a treat. The books can be found on Alec Hutson's Amazon page.