Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Monthly Round-up: June 2017

Well, summer is here. The UK enjoyed some sweltering hot weather this month, over 30c for several days. This is pretty unusual for us - so much so that we all bake, since very few places have air conditioning. Fortunately for us, our office does. The underground does not, however, and being packed in like sardines on the Central Line in rush hour when it's so hot is pretty close to being in Hell.


But of course British weather is nothing if not unpredictable, and now we're back to rain again. I love the long days at this time of year, and there is still plenty of summer left before we're back to the long nights of winter.


Anyway. On with this month's news.


OUT NOW/COMING SOON


There's nothing new to announce, and I've got no further news on when SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH is coming out. So this month I'm just going to plug my current publications. They are all available on Amazon US and UK, so why not have a browse?


PUBLICITY


On 4 June there was an interview with me on Rochelle Weber's blog, in which I talk about the Shara Summers series.


There's another Goodreads giveaway running at present for THE WHISPERING DEATH. It's only open to UK readers, due to postage costs, but if you fancy a free signed copy of THE WHISPERING DEATH, the contest is open until 15 July.


WORK IN PROGRESS


I was aiming to have the first draft of the new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, done by the end of June. Well it's not quite done yet, but I am nearly there. I have over 60,000 words done and I reckon I've only got another 10,000 or so to the end. If all goes well I should get there in July. So, hopefully there'll be more news on this next month. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Software Survey

I'll confess. I'm a software junkie when it comes to writing. Oh, sure, there's been some software I've either no interest in, or that I've tried and decided wasn't my thing. Even some software I've liked in the past I've given up for another.

So today I thought I'd share some of the software I use regularly. No endorsement is intended, and my opinions are mine only. Note: I won't talk about Word 2016, since many authors, myself included, use it.

In no particular order, they are:

Scrivener
Scrivener's power is in its versatility. You can organize your writing, research, character descriptions, and outlines into what it calls binders. There's a split screen option. For example, you can have two windows, one for your plot/outline and the other for your manuscript. Depending on what template you use, they have setting and character charts, and you can output your book to such popular formats as Kindle. PDF, and ePub. And yes, you can import and export files into and from Word.

Dramatica Pro
Dramatica Pro is a story engineering software, although I haven't used it to its full potential. One of its features is helping you flesh out your story through a series of questions. There are three levels of questions, so you can get as detailed as you want. I've found that sometimes it helps to already have a first draft or outline so you can answer the questions, which can build on one another. It also focuses on the relationship between the main character and the impact character, the latter who might be the antagonist, but not always.

Power Structure
Power Structure is another story engineering software. It lets you outline, create characters, develop conflict, etc. There are templates available for novels, TV, and screenplays. And if you're someone who likes the Hero's Journey, Power Structure has that feature, too.

WriteWay Pro
WriteWay Pro is another story organizing software. For example, one can take notes for particular scenes, including plot, conflict, setting, dialogue, suspense, and revision. And the completed manuscript can be exported into various files, including Kindle and Nook. Note: At this time, WriteWay Pro is free, but there is limited support and it's not available for Mac.

Fade In Pro
Fade In Pro is the software I use to write screenplays. It has Unicode support, works with Linux, has Final Draft and Scrivener support (among others), and formats screenplays and teleplays automatically. The nice thing? Once you buy the program, there are free updates.

All these programs come with free trials.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it's sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher's minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department - and even then you'll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange - you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there's no point in setting up social media accounts until they've got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you're published, and at least by the time you've got something to sell you've built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or Wordpress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don't require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I'm half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don't live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don't be that person that only ever Tweets 'buy my book' because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I'm on holiday, if I have cause to mention I'm a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, "oh, what do you write?" I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I'd packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that's where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I've never made that mistake since.

Once you've got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It's mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn't cost anything to do it. Go to conventions - as many as you can afford - to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can - you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.


 You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you're with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop's buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren't interested in taking anything they can't buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that's generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn't hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.


In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven't sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it's something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing It For Fun?

It's sometimes hard to explain, to a non-writer, why I write. The confusion generally comes when the non-writer discovers I am not a full-time writer. "So it's a hobby," they say. "You do it for fun."

I can't explain that it's not a hobby - more a need. And most of the time, it's not fun. It's not fun to experience the crushing self-doubt that arrives on a regular basis and convinces me that every word I've ever written is complete rubbish. Or that feeling of rejection that comes with every email beginning, "thank you for sending us your manuscript. We regret to inform you that it will not fit our list at this time." Or, for me, getting up at 5:20am to write before work when really I'd much rather have an extra hour in bed.

Generally when such conversations come up I have to start by explaining that much as I would love to write full time, it's not economically feasible. It doesn't help that these conversations are generally with people who are not only non-writers but pretty much non-readers. They might have read Harry Potter, or Fifty Shades of Grey. So they think 'writer' and JK Rowlings and EL James spring to mind. And they're rolling in it, so all writers must be loaded, right?

My last royalty statement was for all of £5, and that represented a year's worth of sales. I am so far away from being able to make money from the writing that it seems an unobtainable goal. Giving up the day job is simply not an option because I have no other form of income.

At times I get completely overwhelmed. I leave the house at 6:20am so I can write before work. I generally don't get home before 7pm. I have French lessons and bass guitar lessons and admin stuff to deal with like emails and blog posts. And this is before we get to household stuff - laundry and remembering to pay the credit card bill and so on. Sometimes I get to a point when I feel I just can't cope with it all any more.

Logically, the thing to give up is the writing, because I kill myself trying to do it for no apparent reason. But even the mere thought of doing so makes me die inside.

And that's really why I write. Because I need to do it to keep on living. Not writing is as unthinkable to me as not breathing.

It may be I never manage to make enough money from the writing to give up the day job. But I will, somehow find a way to fit it into my life because there's just no other option.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Monthly Round-up: April 2017

Time, as they say, waits for no one. A third of the year has already gone. However, the best thing about this time of year is that I actually see my house in daylight during the week. Technically, it's spring. But I think someone forgot to tell the weather that, as the temperature in the UK has been more winter-like the past few days. Some places even have snow. Anyway, enough about the weather. On with the news.
OUT NOW/COMING SOON
Seven years ago this month, my first novel was published - SUFFER THE CHILDREN was released in e-book format by Lyrical Press. It marked a major turning point in my life, fulfilling a dream that I had chased for thirty years. And now the book is available again, from a different publisher. If you haven't yet read the book that started it all for me, you can buy it here from MuseItUp Publishing.
Coming up to the present day, I have been in touch with my editor and the edits for SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, the new Shara Summers novel, will be underway shortly. I'm still optimistic for a 2017 release.
PUBLICITY
I've been a bit quiet on the publicity front of late. It's now been nearly a year since anything new came out, and I always feel it's difficult to plug a new book when it's not really new at all.
I did run another Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH, however, that finished on 15 April. The winners were: Rachel Sanders in Sutherland, and Adam Bradbury in Surrey. Their prizes were posted last week, and indeed should be in their hands by now. The plan is to run some more Goodreads giveaways between now and October, so if you're still interested in winning a copy of this book, keep an eye on the Goodreads page.
I'm a bit light on the convention side of things this year as well. However, that's largely because I'm going to Bouchercon in Toronto in October, and not only is that a con that requires an international trip, it also clashes with most of the other cons I generally go to (FantasyCon and Bristol Horror Con, to name two). But I've been wanting to do Bouchercon for years, and with it being in Toronto it gives me a good reason to go visit family and friends in Canada at the same time.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, is going well. I've agreed a deadline with my publisher at KGHH on this one, and it's full steam ahead.
That's it for now. I've got to get on with the writing!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Are You an Yin or Yang Author?

Cover of How to Write a Movie in 21 Days
I've been using Viki King's How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days as a way to jump start my latest screenplay. I'd been having trouble coming up with a plot and figured this book, which I'd had for years but hadn't used, might be a way to approach my writing from another angle.

Finished the first draft last week.

Anyway, during my reading, I came across what she describes as Yin or Yang writers. For example, she asks how do we see ourselves? If we tend to be more rational, interested in world affairs, and such, we could be considered Yang. If we're intuitive and see life through personal experiences, then we're probably Yin.

So what kinds of stories would a Yang author write? According to King:

"Your script structure probably hinges on external events and actions. It's in the mystery, thriller, or crime-action-adventure genre."

Whereas, with Yin authors, King goes on to say, "Yours is probably an inner story. The character is on a journey of self-discovery. Themes are love and personal growth."

Of course, there are those who combine the Yin-Yang aspects. It's sort of like saying one is either a pantster or plotter, although many writers fall somewhere in the middle. While this screenplay is a suspense screenplay, the main character is on a journey of self-discovery while on a literal journey to save her team.

Knowing I lean more toward the Yang style of writing also explains why I have an easier time writing horror, suspense, etc. and struggle with romance or more personal stories. Not that I won't write or read them, but now I understand it's part of my mindset why I write the stories I do.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Authors, keep writing the stories you love.