Saturday, 30 April 2016

Parallel Lives: Branching Out Into Indie

This is what a learning curve really looks like
There’s too much going on. That’s always my problem. I’m too prolific. (I like that word — it makes me sound important, vital, somehow successful. No?) I write too much.

I’ve always done that. I’ve always had at least half a dozen stories in my head and several on the go at the same time. I’ve twittered on about this before on this blog, muttered on about the struggle of different books and how to promote them. But this is the official announcement of my leap into a parallel life. I’ll keep submitting books to my publisher (and hopefully they’ll keep accepting them) but I’m going to self-publish my next book.

I’m apprehensive, and not just because the indie author’s to do list reads like one of the more fiendish tasks from The Apprentice, though at least it comes with the saving grace that I won’t get called into the boardroom at the end of it to explain my abject failure to Lord Sugar. 

There are things on it I can do with relative ease (write the book is the obvious one) or slightly less ease (produce the blurb). There are things anybody can do but are extremely tedious (produce and contact a list of potential reviewers). There are things I’ve deemed to be beyond me and have contracted out to people I can trust to do them rather better than I can (editing and cover design). And there are the things I might contract out if I could afford them but which, in the interests of parsimony, I’ve decided to do for myself.

These things don’t give me nightmares. They are things that fall within my technical capabilities, but only at a stretch. Specifically, they are computer-related. Yes: formatting. Putting a book up on Amazon is not, in actual fact, that difficult. But there are other platforms. And uploading to Amazon doesn’t give you a file you can distribute to reviewers; nor does it give you a PDF file or an ePub version. If you want to reach readers beyond Amazon, you have to go beyond Amazon yourself.

Less necessary, and rather more daunting is the shift into movie production (please allow for exaggeration). I’ve decided to make a book trailer. I daresay you’ll hear more about this in posts to come, but suffice it to say…I’ve got a few more grey hairs after a couple of afternoons wrestling with iMovie. And I’ve produced a sort of something — twenty seconds of random pictures, a rambling voiceover above a clip of crowd noise. No script, of course. But hey…I can worry about that later.

There’s one thing about this self-publishing lark. I’m certainly learning new skills!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Life Lessons From a Walk in the Countryside

Ten thousand saw I at a glance...
TI like a good walk; and I like a walk with substance — a purpose, if you like. So where better to go on a spring afternoon in April than the English Lake District? What better objective, on a day when every garden is bursting out in patches of daffodils brighter than spilt tins of sunshine yellow paint, than the place where William Wordsworth first saw the sight that inspired him to write his most famous poem?

That place is on the shores of Ullswater, easily accessible, so the guidebook tells us, from the road. A couple of miles up a valley, with spectacular views. What could be closer to perfection on a bright and breezy day? So that was what we did. And this is what I learned.

Writers Are Not Always Strictly Accurate

We knew that anyway. Didn’t we? Or did we really expect to see ten thousand daffodils tossing their heads in sprightly dance? Come to that, did we really expect to see a lonely cloud when anyone who’s ever set foot in the lakes knows that these are the feats of nature that appear ten thousand at a time?

Every Word Counts

Yes, every word. Every and and every but. One in particular counted on this particular day. ‘Keep walking with the wall on your left and you will eventually reach a gate.’ Guess which. 

Oh, and what you don’t say counts as well. There was one word missing from the description of the walk. That was the word muddy.

Read the Small Print

I freely admit that it was my fault that the so-called daffodil walk never produced more than a handful of daffodils in a farm garden. As twist in the wall after twist in the wall failed to make good the floral display, I stopped to read the directions in more detail. And discovered that it promised nothing more than ‘a view down to Ullswater where the poet was walking when he saw the famous daffodils’.


There’s Always a Silver Lining

It was a long upwards struggle on a day warmer than expected. But when we reached the top of our daffodil-light trek and turned to look down the valley, the many clouds showed their silver linings. The view back down towards Ullswater more than made up for a few flowers.

As it happens we did see the daffodils, on the drive back along the lake shore. They looked a bit sheepish, a few clumps of wild ones hiding among the trees and rather more than a few domestic ones (larger and brasher) marching along the grass verge on the other side of the road. Still not ten thousand; at least not at a glance.

It was a stupendous walk, though. And so to the last and the biggest life lesson to be plucked from our foray into Wordsworth country. Reader, he may have lied about the daffodils. And it really doesn’t matter.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Too Many Balls in the Air...

Different genres require different approaches...
Can you really work on two projects at a time?

Some may say I have a butterfly mind, an inability to concentrate on a single thing for too long. Or, in a mangled piece of management-speak, you might accuse me of not being a completer-finisher. I prefer to think of myself as a multi-tasker, someone who can cheerfully talk you through the chances of seeing (or not seeing) the aurora borealis while choosing a dinner menu and, as a bonus, taking note of your somewhat confused expression so that I can sneak you into my next book as a puzzled bystander.

Just now, I’m finding myself pulled both ways. Creativity is a terrible thing when it’s stifled (just think of writers’ block, if you dare) and a magnificent thing when it’s working well. Once you start you can’t stop. Barbara Cartland wrote 723 novels, 23 of them in a single year (that’s a world record, by the way) AND they were mostly historical so required at least a pretence at research. I know several authors who can turn out a book every couple of months — how those who take ten years to produce a first draft must envy them!

I fall somewhere in the middle. If I’m concentrating, I can produce three, possibly four, full length novels in a year. But the process is not a simple one. It isn’t a case of write, edit, publish, promote. From beginning to end the process might take a year (going via a publisher) and probably somewhat less (if I bite the bullet and self-publish some of the log jam that’s backing up). So, inevitably, I’m going to be working on more than one at once.

...are they clashing or complementary?
And then there’s the promotion. That’s the ball that always stays in the air, each novel, as a fellow novelist warned, another mouth to feed. When you finish one book and move on to the next you have to keep promoting the first. Now I have five active (so to speak) and have just finished the sixth. 

Number six is a different genre from the first five. It’s romance, sure enough, but it’s more heavily inclined to suspense and if the story continues into books two and three and more, it’ll end up as crime. That’s my headache. 

I can manage multiple plots and I can (just about) remember the names of my characters, which one’s the blonde and which the brunette. But I have to assume that some of my readers are more interested in romance than crime. Some, of course, might hate the romance and prefer the slightly grittier conflict of romantic suspense. Without creating a totally separate brand for myself as a writer, how can I satisfy them all?

Do I do a couple of weeks of promotion based on a sun drenched Mediterranean theme and then ditch it for a tranche of graphics of burning buildings? Or do I run them concurrently and confuse everyone as much as I’ve confused myself.
It’s an unanswered question right now; and I suspect the only way to find out is trial and error.