So, what’s next?

A_Control2017 turned out to be a very peculiar year. To cut a long story short, I got cancer; I got rid of cancer, now I’m recovering from the cure.

In terms of writing the whole year has almost been a write-off, but I’m not dead so I’m not complaining.

Amid the crippling fatigue, insomnia, nausea, inability to concentrate and confusion (scratch that last one, that’s nothing new) I have managed to battle my way to the end of the second draft of a whole new book. Not the next instalment of Jack Canner’s adventures, but a stand alone sci-fi horror.

I now have an interesting writing decision to make. Do I carry on and complete this new book before doing anything else. Or do I leave it for a while to mellow and instead write the first draft of another new book and return to the other later?

It’s a split decision, one or the other; they both have lots going for them.

I have been sitting on my current Work In Progress for longer than I usually do, mainly due to not being able to string five words together for the past year, so it feels a little stale. Writing something completely different for three months would do the trick, I’m sure. After such a break I could return to my old project with renewed vigour. However, there is a lot to be said for persevering with a project until it done, wiping the slate clean and starting something fresh.

The other slight complication with starting the new project is that the book would link to others and I’d have to plan them all in detail before breaking ground on the first. To some this will sound daunting, outlining three stories and figuring out how they overlap, but I think it sounds like fun, in a mind-bending sort of way, but then I am a glutton for punishment, a literary red shirt. Also if I start a new project I could have both books published close together in the second half of the year, like I did with my first two, and I like the sound of that, a symmetry that appeals to my mild OCD.

While waffling at this post, I think I’ve managed to convince myself to start a fresh WIP. I quite like the idea of taking a break from the current WIP and coming back to it later with a refreshed perspective. In the long run I’m sure that will be better for the book and me and the other me, well, it will shut him up for a while.

What’s next with the blog? Well, assuming improving health throughout 2018 and not a relapse, I hope to blog more regularly, see if I can get into the habit. Also, I’ve decided to dispense with the categories of blog posts I was using, they only seemed to be getting in the way and not contributing much. So from now on, I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind, regardless of how it fits in. Hopefully this will feel less restrictive and allow me to be more spontaneous, while still making some kind of sense.

Time will tell. If last year proved anything to me it’s that you never know what’s around the corner.

Progress: Part 4

DSCN3116cropSelf-publishing the first book (Guardian Demon) was amazing in so many ways. To actually hold a copy of my own work, the booky smell of it, the silkiness of the cover, the weight of it, was a sublime moment. I knew it was going to feel great, but I wasn’t prepared for what a transforming experience it would be. Suddenly, my hobby was a second job; I wasn’t writing for myself anymore, I was writing for an audience – some of them strangers. But what struck me even more was the reaction of my friends and family, in particular the outpouring of collective pride in my achievement, but also, rather disturbingly, an undercurrent of, “wow, so you were serious after all!”, as if I’d only been pretending to be a writer for all these years.

However, what came next was a bit more awkward. About a month after publishing people started asking the inevitable questions about how many books I’d actually sold. I’m not exactly sure what everyone was expecting; perhaps they thought I might be an overnight success. When I replied that I hadn’t sold many books they invariably didn’t know what to say, usually following up with something encouraging or changing the subject altogether, while looking as if they now wished they hadn’t bothered asking. This is something I was unprepared for, managing the expectations of well meaning others. Perhaps I’ll blog about it later when I’ve figured out the best way to handle it.

Of course, I hold my own dreams – in a small dusty drawer – of overnight success, of meteoric sales figures and rabid fans clamouring for my next offering. But, more importantly, I understand that such an outcome, although possible, belongs in the realm of incredible good luck where a winning lottery ticket is found in a wastepaper basket and not as a ball of mush in the bottom of the washing machine. Distilled from what I’ve read, I’ve formed a plan for improving my chances of success that involves more than just writing a good book and then throwing out into the world and hoping for the best. I’ve decided to do two things, to set up a mailing list and to publish more books.

Everywhere, there seems to be indie authors lamenting that they didn’t set up their mailing lists early enough and missed the chance to capture many of their early subscribers. So, I set up my mailing list before my second book was published. I used opted to use Aweber, instead of Mailchimp, despite the former being a paid service from the outset, because I liked its features and I wanted to start thinking of my publishing on professional terms right from the start, I wanted it to match my growing ambitions. I’ve incorporated links to my mailing list in my blog, twitter, my e-mail signature and in the back material of my books. This is very early for this part of my plan so I will blog about it sometime in the future when I’ve gained a little more experience with it.

As to publishing more books, there is only one thing to do about this and that is to get writing. So, I’ve set myself the challenge of publishing as many books as possible in the next three years – between now and when I turn fifty. Hopefully, a minimum of six titles, and I’ll blog later about how this fits into a marketing strategy that will evolve and grow over the coming years.

So, sticking to the plan, I’ve published my second book (The Red Bothy). Initially I hope to run promotions on the first book, and hope they translate to more lucrative sales of the second. Only time will tell, and of course I will share what I discover in this blog.

As it turns out, self-publishing another novel was different the second time around. I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t as much of a thrill, and it took on a rather startling feel of normality, as if, yeah, so what, this is what I do now, I write stuff and publish it myself. I never imagined this would feel so mundane so quickly, as if it was just another job (shudders at the keyboard). I’m sure – I hope – this is just a phase, like my psyche swinging too far the other way, over-compensating?

So, what to write next? Do I write the third book in the series? The first instalment of a second series? A stand alone story or a book of short stories? The latter being an excellent free giveaway to attract potential subscribers to my mailing list, but more of that in a later post. Right now, I think I’m going to write a stand alone novel while working on the short story anthology in the background. I think it’s time to let my first series percolate for a while, or rot down a bit and go all squishy.

Adventures in self-publishing: Part 2

laptop02First: a bit of housekeeping. Hopefully, as I get better at this blogging malarkey I want to post content on a more regular basis, and to structure them better. I’ll categorise my posts as one of three types. Adventure posts, like this one, where I’ll ruminate on things I’ve read, ideas I’ve had and decisions I’ve made. Progress posts, where I’ll share what I’ve actually done, how things have turned out and any lessons I have learned. Sometimes I’ll add posts about how much writing I’ve got done and on which project. And finally, there will be general posts about writing and writing matters, and literary things that interest me.

So, since this is an adventure post—I’ve got a little ahead of myself, I know I’m backtracking a little as I’ve already published my book—I wanted to flesh out the detail of some of the ideas and decisions I made while putting my book together.

One of the most important aspects of a book, apart from the quality of the actual content, is the cover. Every self-publishing guru goes on about it, and I think, it’s obvious. And I’d like to say, up front, that spending money on getting a cover properly designed is money well spent. It is so easy to spot the cheap ones because they generally look so bad. Now, having given that nugget of sagely advice—and at the risk of appearing contrary—I’ll tell you I didn’t do it. Instead, I opted to have a friend design my cover for me. But I think it depends on the cover. I think too many books have over-cluttered covers, with too many colours, and generally look a mess. And this is exacerbated by viewing the book covers as thumbnails on Amazon – one of the primary ways a customer will first view any book, usually when they see it as one of the “customers also bought” titles. So, with this in mind, I decided on a stark, clear cover, where the title is bold and dominant and easily readable as a thumbnail. Now, obviously this would not be applicable to all books, but it suited my pared down no-nonsense writing style, and horror/thriller content. Only time and accumulated comments will tell me if this was the right thing to do, but I’m prepared to run with the idea until I get proof that it’s not working. I expect my choice will divide opinion.

I’ve also read elsewhere, self-published authors making the recommendation not to bother with hard copies. In general, the reasoning is that the sales from such books will be too low to justify the outlay of effort required to produce them. I understand this, and I agree that the majority of my sales will be e-books, but I want a paperback option. I want to give them to people as gifts, give away as prizes, and to give as a thank you, and not everyone wants an electronic copy anyway. So, I chose to go down the Amazon Createspace route which allowed me to produce paperbacks as required, but also gave me the option to publish a version direct to Kindle. Besides, it was something else entirely to actually hold the physical copy of my book in my hands.

At this time I also noticed Goodreads, which is Amazon’s own social network for dedicated readers, and if they’re careful and quiet, some authors too. It seems to be a good place to get in touch with a wider readership so I’m joining up and giving it a go. I want readers, so being where the readers are makes a great deal of sense.

So, there are some of the big decisions I made, and why, on my way to publishing my first book. Next, I’ll write about dipping my little toe into the deep and scary waters of marketing.

Progress: Part 3

DSCN1953

I’ve done shed loads since my last update, which is partly why I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I would have liked. I feel I should apologise for the tardiness of this post – being after the fact – but the last quarter of last year was manic.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, Unforeseen Delays, I sailed headlong into the doldrums with my first attempt to get my books edited; I was blown so far off course it took me ages to get heading in the right direction again. Serendipitously, I had the help of another friend, who managed to sort out my novels in a matter of weeks, and thus gave me a chance to get the first book on sale before Christmas. I didn’t realise how time consuming this process would be, and I’ll go into the details of how I actually published my first book in a later post – again, sorry for the delay. Also, at the time I was working on the first draft of the third book, which I had to put on the shelf in favour of the publishing project.

After quite a bit of work, wringing of hands, brow mopping and a lot of fiddling, I finally had my book on sale on Amazon:
Guardian Demon

What a strange moment that was, after all the hard work it felt almost anticlimactic pressing the publish button, and it didn’t really sink in until I had held a hard copy of it in my hand. I was bursting to tell all my friends and family, but held off until I was happy with it. The paperback looked and felt gorgeous and was a sublime thrill to hold, but I was glad I’d held off with the big reveal because I did notice some formatting errors – particularly with the Kindle version – and a few spelling errors that I had to correct. I made the changes, uploaded the file again, and then I was then ready to go public.

That was a rush; it suddenly felt as if I were an author instead of just a writer. For some odd reason, I felt as though I could now hold my head up when I told anyone that I was a writer, instead of feeling as though they pitied me when I told them. I could actually wave a hard copy in their faces. Even though I was self published, I felt such a swell of vindication, it was marvellous. However, this was nothing compared to when people started complimenting me on the quality of the book. I know some of them were close friends and family, but still, it was a fantastic feeling.

So, right now, I am a self-published author with one novel on sale, a fully charged confidence battery, and a second book to publish very soon…

 

Stuff I think about

Thinker

I’ve added a new section to the website called “Thoughts” which is basically the stuff I think about when I’m not writing or self-publishing, as such they do not belong in my main blog. These thoughts will usually be about big questions, and some of them will have a direct connection to the kind of fiction I like to read and write.

I’m hoping these thoughts will be entertaining and informative, and give some insight into the background ideas that influence my fiction.

So, dear reader, if you’re interested in discovering what kind of things make me tick then read on, I hope you enjoy.

https://darransf.com/thoughts/

 

Prologues kill novels

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The title of this entry is a bit of a spoiler, so it will be no surprise to you that I have a very low opinion of prologues. In fact, my opinion is so low that I’ve been known to close a book and not read it if it starts with a prologue.

Years ago I came to the conclusion that not a single novel I’d ever read had been improved by the prologue it started with. I later confirmed this by skipping prologues and only reading them after I’d finished the rest of the book and – without exception – I found the prologues to be unnecessary. Since then I haven’t found a single novel that I ruined or rendered unreadable by skipping the prologue.

Later, when I began to write, my relationship with books changed (sadly, in most cases, not for the better – but that’s for a later post). I began to analyse the mechanics of prologues and found, in most cases, the author had included one just to prop up shoddy writing. There seem to be two scenarios that convince an author that a prologue is not actually a hideous wordy pustule but something like a good idea.

One: Apparently, sometimes an author feels it’s so important to state a vital piece of information, up front, that they’ll add a prologue just for that purpose. Such prologues often appear as nothing more than info dumps, which are a kind of literary cancer anyway (so why you’d do this as the first thing anyone would read is beyond me). This either shows poor planning or the author’s lack of faith that their own writing is understandable, or worse, they don’t credit the reader with the gumption to understand what they’ve written in the main text.

Two: More often, an author seems to feel the need to include a prologue simply to make their book begin at a more interesting point in the story. If the author recognises the first half or their book is dull and in need of perking up, then as a potential reader, I’m not going to be fooled by an action filled prologue they’ve just tacked on the front to try and disguise the fact.

Neither gives me any confidence that the writer knows what they’re doing, and that’s why I will close the book and read no further.

However, I have made the odd exception, usually when I’ve been persuaded by a friend, as with the Belgariad series of fantasy books by David Eddings, and the Millennium trilogy by Larson. In both cases I was coerced into reading beyond the prologue and I was glad for it, but I would still maintain that these examples would have been just as enjoyable without the prologues.

There may be good prologues out there, I wouldn’t know because I’ve been avoiding them. I’ve heard that the Harry Potter books have well written prologues, that they serve as abridged summaries to ease the reader into the new book?

But these examples do not convince me to change my opinion, life is too short, and reading time is too precious. Unless I have persuasive evidence to the contrary, if I see a prologue I will automatically assume that the text that follows is not worth reading.

In the future, my reader will no doubt criticise my writing for many things, but my inappropriate use of prologues will not be one of them.

Unforeseen Delays

roadsign

Since I started writing properly, and by that I mean with the goal of eventually being published, I’ve run into many different obstacles over the years. More often than not I’ve managed to overcome them. That was true, until recently, when I hit a real snag.

I simply didn’t anticipate how long it would take to get my first two books edited. I’ve held off starting anything new because I wanted to keep both books fresh in my mind to make it easier to finish them off when the edits did eventually come back. Unfortunately, as a result, with this old material bunging up my thinking I’ve not been able to write any new fiction and very little new content for the website.

Finally realising the situation has gone on for too long, I’ve forced myself back to the keyboard to press on with something new.

This, I now recognise, has been a bout of writers block (although I’ve been kidding myself that it was something else for months). As I mentioned in my earlier post on the subject, I believe that most – if not all – writers block, can be traced to some form of fear. In this case, my fear of distancing myself from my older material guided me to make the wrong choice, and thus stifling the development of new stuff. As the editing delay got longer, my self imposed writing dry spell became a full blown drought.

What a dummy I’ve been. I know hindsight is considered by some to be wonderful, but really all it’s done is mess with my melon. Realising I could have knocked out a new first draft in the time I’ve been dormant makes me feel like a prize numpty.

However, I don’t really believe that self recrimination is the correct response. The right thing for me to do, having identified the problem, is to do what dogs do and just kick some grass over it and move on.

So, hence this rather rambling blog entry and my own shambling stagger from the literary gutter.

Right then, where did I leave my writing mojo…?

Halloween Fright

DSCN1748Although I write about strange stuff, full of occult magic, the paranormal and eldritch mystery, my thinking and life are grounded firmly in science. I’m not prone to fanciful indulgences, a spade is usually a spade and if it quacks it’s most certainly a duck. However, on occasion, I have witnessed things that have made me wonder if I’m right. I’ve had one, perhaps two, ghostly experiences that I find hard to explain, other than one being a vivid dream and the other an auditory hallucination that would put any cinema surround-sound system to shame. And in nearly forty years of gazing at the wonders of the night sky I have seen many odd things that I’ve later reasoned away to my own satisfaction – except one, and I don’t imagine the pilots that were chasing it could either.

So, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not usually one to let myself get carried away, although I often jump at shadows, I still do know they are only shadows.

However, this Halloween, I saw something strange.

I parked the car in a darkened suburban street, open plan with nice manicured gardens, to drop my son off at a Halloween Party. I decided he could manage his own gear; sleep over paraphernalia, lantern and six foot scythe, but my wife wanted to help (and she wanted a chat with the party hosts). After a short while, she reappeared and I watched her in the side mirror as she walked up the pavement. She was dressed in her own costume and made quite an enchanting sight.

Then a figure, dressed in black jeans and a black hoody, appeared and ran up behind her. For an instant I thought it might be a would-be attacker and I went straight to DEFCON 1, ready to leap into action, but then I realised it was probably my son, running to catch up because he’d no-doubt forgotten something. So I calmed down, and watched the approaching figure for several seconds, still convinced it was my son, and feeling that nothing was unusual.

Then as my wife left the pavement to cross to the passenger side of the car I lost sight of her in the side mirror and switched to the rear view, but the other figure did not appear with her. The side mirror was empty also. I turned around and scanned the street but could see nothing.

When my wife got in the car she was unaware of there being anyone else anywhere near her. In fact, I unnerved her more by telling her what I’d seen.

It could have been someone with malicious intent that reconsidered when they realised she was heading for a car that was already occupied, but as far as I could see, there was nowhere for such a would-be assailant to hide.

I don’t know whether it was my imagination, or we had a lucky escape, or that I saw something truly strange…

Web Presence

DSCN5277As you might have noticed, I’ve been slowly growing a web presence as a prelude to actually publishing a real book that a real person will want to buy. It might come as a surprise but I have given the matter some thought, and will continue to do so, but much of what I’ve done has evolved naturally from the intent to simply entertain. But I don’t want to get all preachy, these are just my thoughts so far, that you may or may not find useful.

I haven’t figured out Facebook yet, or how to make the best of it, and this website and blog is still developing. However, I’ve found Twitter accessible and I’m having a lot of fun building what I hope is an interesting Twitter personality. I don’t just want to post endless tweets about my new book, or about my latest book reviews. Although, I will post some tweets like that, but hopefully not too many. But why? Isn’t that what social media is for? To help you sell stuff? Well, yes, partly, but what is it that I’m trying to sell?

I’m a writer, and soon I’ll be an author, the former because I can’t help it and the latter because I want to share. I’m writing my books to entertain, and here’s the crux of the matter because I want everything I do to emphasise that. I want my web presence itself to be entertaining. I don’t want a potential reader to look at my blog or twitter feed and think – blimey what a bore, I bet his books are just as dull, because if they do then I’ve torpedoed myself. I think this is so important, and it adds value. So yes, I want my reader to buy my books – when I publish them – but I don’t want that to be all I do.

I’m not saying for one minute that I’ve got all the answers, or that I’ve got it right, but I am saying that I’m trying to make everything I do as interesting as possible. That’s not such a bad goal is it? I just want to entertain.

I suppose it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if I’ve actually been successful so far.

Progress: Part 2

So, dear reader, if you’re interested, here’s where I’m at… laptop02

It’s taken me about three months to get the second draft of the second book finished, and that’s with a lengthy decorating interruption early on, so all things considered I don’t think it’s too shabby.

But woo, what a feeling, I’ve finished a few books in my time, but never before have I done so knowing that it would certainly be published. I would say I feel so Money Super Market, but I won’t because I’d hate myself.

Anyway, this means that sometime soon, another person, perhaps you, perhaps someone I’ve never met and likely will never meet will read those words and peek inside my head, and that’s both scary and exhilarating. Towards the end, as the number of pages yet to be edited dwindled, this thought grew until it became a serious preoccupation, it never stopped me, but it was there, like someone looking over my shoulder as I wrote. I began to imagine what my reader would say, and it was a fight for me to ignore that thought and simply write the truth of the story.

But wow, what a thrill, I could say it almost felt as good as washing with Herbal Essences but I won’t because I’d hate myself and you’d hate me too.

I’m guessing that this feeling will fade with each subsequent novel I write, but I hope not.

I didn’t give myself too much time to bask in my own self-assumed glory and cracked on with the changes I needed to make to the first book to make it fit with the second. That wasn’t too difficult, but it was surprising the things I’d forgotten, like family members and habits and hair colour (things I should have written down in the first place) and it was difficult not to beat myself up over these lapses. Not only did I have to retrofit changes into book one, but I found new changes I had to make to book two, which this took several iterations to complete.

However, here I am with two complete novels, so what’s next?

Well, it’s off to copy editor to clean them both up and make them presentable, and in the meantime I need to work on the jacket blurbs and the cover art which is a step outside my comfort zone.

I’m starting to get very excited and just a bit scared, a bit like standing in line for a new roller coaster…