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Friday 31 May 2013

Imagine that

The Angst of Acceptance, a recent post by Chris James at Indies unlimited taps into the discussion about who is worthy to sit at the literary table and pick over the spoils, he begins with a humorous story about a "Traditional" published writer being embarrassed to admit his status in the company of self-published authors.

A scenario that is pretty unlikely to happen today. The long road to acceptance for many self-published writers has been dogged by the stigma which has attached itself to the title for so many years but strip away the pretentious snobbery, and let's be honest isn't that where some of this comes from; didn't it all start with independent writers publishing their own works who gradually grew into the publishing companies of the past and then conglomerated into the bigger companies dominating the present day market?

I posted a comment at the foot of Chris's post and part of it reads

 Indies have always been part of the literary scene, but regarded as the eccentric relatives which maintained their status as curios and their output as a trickle. Today the trickle is a flood and the criticism of the Indie almost always falls against a technical criteria – proofreading, editing, or whatever, elements the traditionally published writer hands over to someone else to do!
Nobody ever said we are bad at storytelling,

I am an Indie Author, I have never made any secret of the fact, nip across to the writing page at www.cheekyseagull.co.uk  and there's a little note about my feelings on the matter. Chris has an excellent piece and links in the article itself and the comments provided by readers below expand on the discussion, including how a number of well established and respected literary groups are discussing their future relationships with the constantly growing self-publishing community and people firmly embedded in the "Traditional" publishing world are effectively being forced to shift their views on the new generation of self-publishing.

My comment touched on something that has niggled at me for a long time, the sub text that when it comes to checking the details of the finished work (proofreading, editing) somehow I can't do it! I wrote the book, and I can't spot my own mistakes? Paying someone to do the donkey work is fine, employing a professional is good, but being professional is not just about being paid. Being truly professional has nothing to do with being paid and everything to do with your state of mind.

Self-publishing is not the road of the damned and the desperate, not any more, and the names of established writers who are stepping out on to the road with the myriad of unknowns, hopefuls, dreamers and professionals are saying it loudly with each step they take along that road. People attack what they fear, they run down the things they feel threatened by, it's natural, but the writer, you, whoever you are out there, you are extraordinary. You have an independent mind, an independent spirit, enjoy them.

Whatever form of publishing route you take remember this, without the writer there would be nothing to publish. Our words, thoughts, ideas, the stories that catch the quintessence of humanity are served up for the reader to enjoy. We have a feast in our hands so bring what you have and share it.

Monday 27 May 2013

So who tells the Wookie he can't park it there

Lego gave me hours and hours of pleasure as a kid, stretching the imagination inside my head to a physical reality through the box of bricks and the models I built.

E-junkie.info - Small Business, Self Publishing, E-Commerce Blog: World Largest LEGO Model - ‘Star Wars’ X-Wing Fighter Unveiled In New York

So how cool is that, to park an x-wing fighter in Times Square. Who wouldn't want to be the one to say I did that! Brilliant, well done to everyone involved at Lego.

Saturday 18 May 2013

How Much!

The big question when you put anything out into the open market, and probably the biggest conundrum facing any author, self-published or otherwise, how much will the book sell for. Being an Indie I can't hand it over to marketing to do the calculations for me, but I know that Mark Coker at Smashwords has given the subject considerable time and thought. He's posted on the Smashwords blog and at Slideshare a couple of presentations (here and here) based on his research into the dynamics of ebooks sales.

Both presentations are worth a look at, and provide considerable food for thought. There is no magic bullet that I can see but more helpfully a solid appraisal of the situation facing any writer in the market place today.

There are likely to be as many ways of selecting the price for a book as their are writers, but one or two common factors seem to pop out. Obviously free shifts more dowlnoads than anything else, about 92 times more than, and ebooks come in a variety of prices but there is a correlation of approximately 30000 words per dollar, putting a full length novel edging towards epic length, (70000 to 1000000 words) around the $2.99 tag.

Have a look at the presentations, and see what you think.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Admissions and submissions

Iceline, the first of The Grange novels took a long time to get where it is today, and the delay was not down to the amount of rewriting it required. The manuscript sat on the bookshelf for ten years. A sealed copy with a Post Office date stamp on the seal is still there, and whatever the merits of proving copyright,  the interaction with Post office staff when you explain why you are sending a parcel to yourself is worth it.

It was down to confidence, in myself and my abilities as a writer, I needed that encouragement, and the kick up the backside to get the thing off the ground, and like many writers I was looking for that way forward, the road to find an audience.

Reading through Mark Coker's blog at Smashwords and listening to an interview with him on Late Night Library from Portland  Oregon, via a link in his blog and hearing him recall his own experiences and the journey that brought him to establish Smashwords, and then how the company has developed and contributed to the revolution in publishing over the last few years. He refers to the time just over five years ago as the dark ages of publishing.

I can procrastinate when it suits me, and when I shouldn't but isn't that a common situation. Hanging fire and waiting for the right moment, but that moment has a nasty habit of never actually coming, so the kick in the pants becomes a useful tool. Perhaps that's a bit harsh, let's agree a healthy shove in the right direction is more diplomatic, but it amounts to about the same thing really.

Tradition is a great thing if you know why you are doing it, and for so many years the respectable way to publish has been "Traditional" publishers, with the Vanity and self-publishing apparently lumped together as more or less the same thing, (I'll leave that discussion for another time maybe), with each one looking up or down at the other depending on where they saw their niche in publishing society.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of the various strands of publishing they had their way of doing things, their own traditions and amongst writers there are tradition and mythology. I picked up a tweet a day or so ago, retweeted across the system and it irritated me; the gist of it was that "The first draft is supposed to suck" reposted with a twitter link to the The Indie View photo and taken with the context of the picture the advice is sound, but I have never set out to write anything that sucks, my aim is and always has been to be the best from the first word. the reason is simple, I really don't like proofreading, editing, etc, and yes I know everybody says you should get somebody else to do it, but there are perfect worlds and there is reality.

Reality, the stark reality portrayed to the aspiring author, the barely hidden subtext I found in so many books on how to get published always pointed to how difficult, nay, near impossible it could be to get into print.

They make it sound like rules and stuff, you do this or don't do that, and I find myself drifting back to Kenneth More's portrayal of Douglas Bader, in Reach For The Sky and two particular scenes. the first he turns up to rejoin as a pilot, already due to a flying accident a double amputee and is told that there is nothing in the regulations that says he can fly. His response; there is nothing there that says I can't. The second clip is when the much needed spares he requires to get his squadron operational arrive and he admits to having by-passed all the proper channels declaring that "rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men."

There had to be another way, and most of my life I have been an admirer of Bader, I wouldn't nominate him for sainthood. He was no plaster saint, to borrow from Rudyard Kipling and like many of his compatriots who were single men in barracks they had a job to do, and Churchill's rubber stamp  of "Action This Day" gave them the motivation. I needed a way and the motivation, and eventually found both.

I found Smashwords by accident, researching something else and looking for a book by the American Criminal Profiler, Pat Brown, and was wary of anything that said it was free, but the claim held good, and I found my way. Publishing on Smashwords was my Bader moment, I bypassed all the traditionally accepted channels, and took Mark Coker at his word, that every writer has the right to be published. That was motivation.

When Bader wanted his spares he went straight to Fighter Command, and I'm doing the same. You, reader, are the one I want to send my book out to you and they won't cost you an arm or a leg, maybe the price of a cup of coffee, Iceline (use the Smashwords discount code SG33N) and Control Escape (Smashwords Discount Code VK56T) are out already and What You Ask For, the third novel in the series is nearing completion, and while it is still a work in progress is a freebie from Smashwords. The other two are already out through the major ebook channels, nip across to www.cheekyseagull.co.uk/iceline  or /control_escape  and follow the links or use the links on this blog to reach my website. Have a look around while your there.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Registration Call

Names, our own personal keywords, the labels that pick us out from the crowd and are almost never chosen by ourselves, even the characters in books are chosen by me, and getting it right can be difficult. Tagging a first name on to a surname sounds easy but when you say it for the first time it can feel strange, artificial even. It doesn't ring true. (If you're really stuck, wander around an old graveyard or church and read the monuments).

I haven't done that yet, but I do find myself reading names on memorials and monuments. My characters draw their names from a variety of sources, even down to snippets of conversation. Take the feisty auburn haired female in the Grange stories, Josie Burke, her first name is diminutive, shortened from Josephine (she would call that her best name, a Sunday name, only used formally) Josie is the name she lives and works with and Burke, that came from a number of suggestions. Burke and Hare were the infamous body-snatchers supplying the Edinburgh medical schools with cadavers, James Burke was a presenter of science and technology programmes in the Seventies (Do you remember Connections?) and someone is a Berk when they do something daft. Josie refers to Burke and Hare in Control Escape, and she expresses something about how names influence our character and development. Names can become nicknames, and a source of humour for other people, and discomfort for the carrier.

Steel carries that baggage, Don Steel, what on earth was I thinking about, a character who reportedly grew up in Sheffield called Don Steel. Sheffield steel has been known about since the days of Geoffrey Chaucer. In the Canterbury Tales he mentions a simple working blade called the thwitel, made in Sheffield, and the earliest literary reference in fiction to knife making in the area.

The River that Sheffield straddles is the Don, can you see where this is going, his name caused trouble for him, and if you call him by his full name, Donald, it doesn't seem to be getting any better does it, but that was part of the selection process, the thinking behind his insistence that people use his surname, an expression of character. The inner circle who know his full name are people he can trust, and because of the trust he can accept the banter, but the banter is absent because of the trust. The logic is circular, but it works.

His first name is used, usually by Josie and only in specific circumstances, whereas Kurt Langhers uses and is referred to by both names on an almos casual basis. Kurt's name originated with the Commando comics I read as a young boy, given to a German officer in one of the stories, I liked the name and remembered it, and the character grew out of that. A German name, but with a Yorkshire accent? Unlikely, but not impossible perhaps a German grandfather, POW, who stayed behind after the war because the part of Germany he grew up in was on the other side of the wire. Did it happen, could it happen, turn the parts around, a National Serviceman from England posted to Germany after the war returns with a German bride, and they ran a local shop for years just down the road from where I grew up.

Fiction, isn't part of that taking what is real and making something novel out of it, recreating it with the imagination as another reality? Then we come to Bill Jardine; Jardine is a Scottish town, in one part of Sheffield it's one of a cluster of street names with a Scottish connection. Bill, is a name with many connotations, Dicken's Bill Sykes the thuggish criminal, Bruce Bairnsfather's World War One cartoon character Old Bill,  a world weary soldier with his distinctive walrus moustache (the cadet pub "Bill and Alphie's" at the Royal Military College of Canada is named after him) and the Metropolitan Police are  "The Bill"  Richmal Cromptom created Just William, mischief incarnate, but William grows up and somewhere along the line becomes Bill, and that was the transition I saw as Bill Jardine developed, a poacher turned gamekeeper, his wilder younger days a precursor to the activities and operations he would oversee at The Grange, and the place itself, a grange, historically a farm, a working place with an air of its own identity planted by time in the ground on which it stands. Not pretending to be something it isn't. Grand enough, but not too much. It's about playing with words, turning them around and seeing what happens and I'll leave the last word to Wally Barnes. Here again Wally can mean someone a bit daft or stupid, but he used his own name and the way the school register was called, especially when answering the phone. He wrong-footed people, and catches Steel in What You Ask For (currently a work in progress at smashwords.com), with "Barnes, Wally speaking."

Formally he is Wallace Barnes, a bit of a mouthful, the school register called him out as Barnes, Wallace. Now there's a name to play with, and if you think fiction is strange, imagine trying to sell the idea that a 500lb bomb will bounce along the water like a skimming stone. We can look back and see how it works, Wallace couldn't,  I could not resist that homage in one of the technical crew of the Grange.

Some names work well, others are more difficult to find a character for, and the most challenging one, Azubah, I found it on a gravestone, it means Desolation, Biblically, she was the wife of Caleb.
But then, hmm, maybe there is something...I am going to think about that one!