The ten most valuable writing tips I’ve received

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image source: mcargobe.wordpress.com

 

The internet is full of advice on how to write and it can be confusing and contradictory at times, especially when you are starting out. This isn’t because people like to give false advice but because each writer – and their writing process – is different. However, out of all the good advice I’ve received, these are the ones that have worked best for me. I hope by sharing them they will be of some help to you too.

1. Allow yourself to write poorly

Some days I find writing easy, some days it’s as if the language centre of my brain has decided to go on vacation, leaving my fingers to fend for themselves. However, even if I’m having one of the latter days I still write. It may be painful at the times, even more horrific when I read it back, but at least I have something on the page to work with when it comes to the all important edit.

2. Write your first draft in haste, edit at leisure

When I start a project my energy levels and enthusiasm are at their highest. I look to harness that spirit and blitz my story down as fast as possible without stopping to self-edit. This is important because it’s often not until you have the full story down that you realise what the story is really about. When it comes to the edit, I always take as much time and care as is needed to produce the best version of my story I can, to tease out the story’s themes and cut back on those bits that get in the way.

3. Write every day

When I write every day, my writing becomes ever easier. If I take regular breaks, or just write when the feeling takes me, I end up using valuable writing time just getting back into the swing of things. This is one lesson that continues to surprise me whenever I take a prolonged break from my writing.

4. Write the book you would like to read

I like books that make you think. I like books where you have to work out what is happening as you read. I like books that explore ideas but not at the detriment to the story. This is why I wrote Second Chance in the way I did. My book shelves are full of speculative fiction, thrillers and a number of horror titles. This doesn’t mean I dislike non-fiction, historical fiction or many other types of books, but it was clear where my interest lay and which direction my writing should take. While I have nothing against romance novels, I wouldn’t attempt to try and write one because I don’t have either the background, skill or knowledge to do the genre justice.

5. Read while writing – but a different tense buggers you up

We are often told to read a lot to fuel our craft, but many writers refuse to read other author’s work while writing something of their own. I don’t understand this. If you can watch more than one TV series at a time without getting confused, you can read while writing. There have been so many occasions where reading another’s novel has prompted new ideas on how to approach my writing. I’m not talking about plagiarising plot points or prose, but learning how to improve dialogue or restructuring a particularly troublesome middle third. My only caveat would be to only read works that are in the same tense as yours. Reading a book in present tense when yours is in past tense can cause some serious issues come edit time.

6. You cannot see your own mistakes

I suffer from self-typo blindness (this should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog). It’s a common affliction amongst writers. While I can spot errors in other people’s text from 100 paces, when I read my own text my eyes skip over the most blatant error as if it wasn’t there. When publishing your book (or preparing your manuscript for submission), use others to help you track these errors down. Start with beta readers to find the big errors (plot holes, character issues), then if you can afford it, use professional editing to correct any typos. But don’t stop once your book is published. Second Chance has had two major revisions, once just after launch and another more recently. Both times I thought my work was error free, both times the kindness of others informed me otherwise.

7. Never turn your back on constructive criticism

One of the most difficult parts of the writing process for me was sharing what I had written with my beta readers for the first time. It was also the most rewarding. That isn’t to say they praised it unconditionally. Quite the contrary, but the did so from the perspective of trying to improve what I had written. This criticism was difficult to take, at least at first, but because I trusted them and knew they had my best interests at heart, I reeled in my ego, listened to what they had to say, then improved my novel.

8. Some people will hate your book but it’s not personal

Not everybody will love your book. Not everybody you like will love your book. One of my good friends, on reading my book, said “sorry, it’s just not my kind of thing.” And that’s fine. We’re still friends. I don’t think any worse of them than before (especially as they paid good money for my book), because it’s not personal, it’s just individual taste. Lots of people love Moby Dick but it leaves me cold. I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Gatsby but when checking the reviews saw that hundreds of people hated it with a passion. That doesn’t make me right and them wrong (or vice-versa). However, if you ever to receive a 1-star review, I suggest you read this great post by Heather Hill to cheer you up.

9. Writers support writers

One of the greatest parts about writing is how supportive the writing community is. If you become active on any form of social media and let people know you write, other writers will seek you out and offer support. Lots of them. In my case it started with blog and has continued on Twitter. Next time you’re having a bad writing day or a moment of self-doubt, tweet about it followed by the hashtag #amwriting and you will find out what I mean. I am continually amazed and humbled by the support and advice I have and continue to receive from other writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

10. It’s all about the story

This is the biggest one of all. I’ve seen this piece of advice in so many forms, whether it is “don’t get in the way of the story” or “kill your darlings”. The main point is that whatever choice you make about your work, the question you should ask is: what’s best for the story? It’s not about what’s best for you – what shows off your writing skills or command of the english language the best – nor is it about what area of the backstory or world you have designed you are most interested in. As writers, we work best when we reign our egos in and realise it is all about the story.

 

So what is the best piece of advice you’ve received. Have I missed anything off the list? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Occasional Soulmates — hot off the presses!

Hot on the heels of my latest Recommended Reads post, Kevin Brennan has just published his latest novel, Occasional Soulmates. Go buy it!

WHAT THE HELL

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Occasional Soulmates is live, baby!

Get your ebook here ($3.99).

Get your paperback here (currently $8.99, regularly $9.99).

And don’t forget, for a little while longer, Yesterday Road is available for 99 cents. That means you can buy both Yesterday Road and Occasional Soulmates for under $5!

Here’s the UK listing, and here’s Amazon Canada. The rest of the world will have to do their own legwork.

Oh, and for you Nook and Kobo users, as I announced earlier, if you don’t want to buy the paperback, just purchase the ebook on Amazon and send your receipt to me at kevinbrennan520(at)gmail(dot)com. I will forward you a lovely EPUB edition you can read on your device.

Indie authors, as you well know, depend on the kindness of strangers (and even the not-so-strange) to help peddle their wares, so anything you can do to get some word-of-mouth going will…

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Recommended Reads: Yesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

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I’ve been enjoying Kevin Brennan’s blog, What the Hell, for a while now. It has a great mix of articles on writing, his favourite music, as well as his occasional exasperation at the publishing business. Yesterday Road had always been on my ‘to read’ list but it wasn’t until it was recommended by Susan Toy on her Island Editions blog that I finally took the plunge and bought it. I’m so glad I did (if that isn’t an example on the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, I don’t know what is).

Yesterday Road tells the tale of Jack, an old man looking for something but unsure exactly what that something is. Jack has trouble with his memory. He can’t remember what happened the day before, and those images he can remember have little meaning. He has also lost his wallet and his ID; all he has is a cutout picture of a handsome young man in his pocket. Yet with the help of others – some kind, some less so – Jack undertakes a journey that not only helps him find what he is looking for, but also find out who he really is.

This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy. There were a few moments where I had to put my inner-cynic to one side as Brennan clearly believes in the triumph of people’s better nature, but my experience was all the better for it, especially the latter part of the book which brought on tears of both sadness and joy. Highly Recommended.

While writing this post I’ve just seen Yesterday Road is currently on offer for 99c / 77p. This is an absolute steal. What are you waiting for? 

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here

 

 

Recommended Reads – Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

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One of my commitments when looking to Pay It Forward to authors was to select those that have either provided support to me directly or who have been supportive of others in the community as a whole, and there are very few authors who have had such an impact on those of us looking to self-publish as David Gaughran. His blog – also called Let’s Get Digital – is a treasure trove of news and information for the novice or experienced self-publisher alike. I thoroughly recommend you take a look.

If you are thinking about self-publishing, I recommend you buy Let’s Get Digital. If you have self-published your first book recently, I recommend you buy Let’s Get Digital. If you are an experienced self-publisher, I recommend you buy Let’s Get Digital.

In this newly revised book, Gaughran starts out with a description of the current publishing climate, giving strong reasons as to why writers should self-publish. It then moves on to the nuts and bolts of how to self-publish with clear instruction that anybody could follow. It then moves on to how to market your book and develop a “sticky readership” and ends with a series of stories from self-published authors who started with nothing and went on to become a success. Then, if that wasn’t enough, come a series of appendices including checklists leading up to and post-publishing, how to set up mailing lists, advice on how to create paperback books and specific support for authors of short stories.

This comprehensive book provides excellent advice in a no nonsense style without any gimmicks or magic beans. If you are serious about self-publishing, you should own this book. Highly recommended

To find out the many places where you can buy Let’s get digital, click here

Why did you self-publish?

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Why did you self-publish? This question comes up a lot, especially when people learn I chose to self-publish rather than do it as a last resort. The question is usually partnered with another, either direct or implied: why not try for a publishing deal?

Before I go any further, you need to know that I am not anti traditional publishing. This is not a rant about the ‘evils’ of the big 6 publishers or a diatribe against agents. I’ve read many blogs promoting self-publishing to the detriment of traditional publishing. Many are right to point out that the traditional publishing route is no panacea but as with anything in life what is right for one person is wrong for another. If your dream is to become a published author in the traditional sense then you should go for it. I wish you every success.

And to say that I didn’t try to gain representation would not be telling the whole truth. I did send out some queries – four in all – because it was what I was advised to do, but I soon realised this route wasn’t for me and here’s why:

Control

For me, maintaining control over the whole process was the biggest single factor in my decision to self-publish. This is because the act of sending out your query means you become reliant on others over the success or failure of your publishing future. It took me a week into waiting to hear back on my submissions before I realised this wasn’t for me. I’ve never enjoyed being reliant on others (this is not to be confused with working with others, which I’ve always enjoyed) and this was no different. I am much happier being the master of my own destiny. The moment I decided to self-publish it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders because I had taken back control over my writing future, and whatever happened next would be purely down to me.

Instant payback

I saw a conversation on twitter the other day where a person said they couldn’t understand why people chose self-publishing over traditional publishing because you have to invest your own money with no guarantee of a return. Let’s set aside for the moment that with the traditional route you can be writing and submitting books with no pay for years and have no guarantee of a return, and look at this further. To self-publish does cost money and the amount of return you get on that investment – at least initially – can be relatively small. However the costs of self-publishing are no way near as much as many people think. In order to publish my book I spent £30.43 ($45) for Scrivener – so I could write my manuscript and produce the .mobi file for my ebook and .pdf file for my paperback myself, £27 ($40) for an ebook cover and £47.62 ($70) for a createspace cover from goonwrite.com. Editing was free (from a friend who is a professional editor) in return for building him his website benjaminway.co.uk. While it is true that editing can be the largest single cost of the process, there are alternative options available.

With self-publishing you can generate an income almost instantly (thanks Mum and Dad), although you still have to wait 90 days to receive it as per Amazon’s standard terms. Don’t get me wrong, unless you are incredibly lucky this is no get-rich-quick scheme. Getting your book noticed from the millions already out there is difficult, and building a loyal readership takes time and a lot of effort. However for each book sold you receive some money. I managed to pay off the costs of creating Second Chance in e-book and paperback after the first month. After that, every copy sold delivered pure profit.

Lower threshold for success

To be seen as a success in traditional publishing you have to sell a lot of books. I understand this. Publishers invest a lot of money bringing a book to market and they expect a return. In the past, publishers would give authors two or three books to build an audience. However, as Hugh Howey points out in his post The New Top-Down Approach, publishers nowadays expect almost instant success. Of all the books released by new authors, only one or two become major hits. The rest either receive less marketing support (making it even harder to become a success) or are dropped.

With self-publishing you don’t need to sell huge volumes of books to make a living (or to supplement an existing income). There are tens of thousands of self-published authors who make a good income from self-publishing, many of whom you have never heard of. When I started writing my goal was never to become a famous author but to earn a living doing what I love (OK, this was a secondary goal. My first goal was to write something somebody , somewhere might like). I am a long way off that target as yet but I can see a path to get there. Keep writing, keep publishing book and gradually build an audience.

The low-risk career option

While this didn’t come into my thinking at the time, those of you who are still unsure about which route to take should know that deciding to self-publish does not automatically exclude you from the traditional publishing route. In reality, successfully building an audience through self-publishing makes you a more attractive option for traditional publishers because you have a ready-made readership. In the New Top Down approach, Hugh Howie takes it one step further by asking why anyone nowadays would want to try the traditional route as a first option? The chances of success are slim and if you try do eventually get published and for whatever reason your book isn’t a success, once dropped from one publisher it is very difficult to get a contract with another. He argues any savvy new writer would choose to self-publish and build an audience so that they could negotiate with a traditional publisher from a strong position.

 

While the answer for each writer will be different, the arguments to self-publish appear to be getting stronger by the day. So where do you stand? If you have self-published, what was behind your decision? If you are pursuing the traditional route, what are the attractions for you? Then there are those of you who are published by small, independent publishers. What has been your experience and would you recommend the route to others? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Second Chance: New edit, new description!

It has been eight months since Second Chance was published and I have been bowled over by the response. Like many first time authors I had no idea what to expect. I was – and sometimes still am – expecting to be called out as a fraud, yet to date Second Chance has received 32 reviews on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, the majority being four or five stars.

But despite all the work that went into getting Second Chance ready for publication, I knew there was room for improvement.

So Second Chance has undergone another round of  professional line-editing to further tighten the text, remove any errors and get it into the best shape possible. I even made a couple of very minor changes to help clarify a couple of areas ready for the launch of its sequel towards the end of this year. The new version of Second Chance is already available through Amazon and those who have already bought the book receive the new version free of charge in the next couple of weeks via the Kindle auto-update function.

At the same time I have created a new description – or blurb as they call it in the trade.

“Political intrigue, neuroscience, a missing-persons investigation – this well-written novel has it all.” Carrie Rubin, author of The Seneca Scourge

One crime, four people and a secret that could shake the world to its foundations.

Four lives become linked by a student’s disappearance: a politician looking to put integrity back into politics, an investigator hoping to atone for past mistakes, a data cleanser searching for a better life while haunted by his past and a re-life technician creating new lives for old souls.

But it soon becomes clear this is no ordinary case, and in the pursuit of the truth, long-held secrets are at risk of being revealed.

Set in the near future where everybody is connected and death isn’t final, this is the story of how far those in power will go to retain control, and the true price to pay for a Second Chance.

 

I believe the new description has more punch than the old one but what do you think? If you have read Second Chance, does the new description reflect the book? For those who haven’t read Second Chance, does the description make you want to find out more?

To buy Second Chance from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Second Chance from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended Reads – Dark as Night by Mark T. Conard

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If you like your crime fiction dark, brutal and gritty; then this is the book for you. Dark as Night follows the story of Morris, a young man dying to make his way as an up-market chef having escaped a troubled past. But when his brother, Vince, is released from prison, Morris finds himself dragged back into a world he’d thought he had left behind. And what a world it is. There is no glamour here, no elevation of criminals as heroes. Cornard ensures each and every page is tainted by the grim, seedy reality of what I imagine life in the criminal underworld of south Philly is really like. This is less like Goodfellas and more like The Wire.

This is not a book for the feint-hearted. Many of the characters are deeply unpleasant. This is a world where violence, greed and mysogyny are rife, and while very few characters come across sympathetically, it is clear that these people are a product of the world they inhabit and the choices they’ve made. But don’t think the book is all bleak. Despite his flaws, in Morris you have somebody trying to do the best in a bad situation, and you can’t help but be drawn into the his story to find out whether he succeeds, or not. Recommended.

To buy Dark as Night from Amazon.co.uk click here.

To buy Dark as Night from Amazon.com click here.

 

Recommended reads are independently published books that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Riding The Mainspring by Andrew Knighton

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I’ve been following Andrew Knighton’s blog, Andrew Knighton Writes, for a while now. He has been a very supportive blogger, always engaging and interested in what others think. He has particular interest in science fiction, fantasy and his beloved steampunk, but he is one of these people who appears to generally be interested in everything. I felt he was a great candidate for Recommended Reads and I’m very glad I decided to read his first published book.

Riding the Mainspring is an interesting collection of steampunk short stories. In each case, the author has taken a period of history or literary genre and re-imagined it infused with steam- or clockwork-based technologies instead of electricity. Each is a little intellectual exercise of “what if…?’. What if a the best gunslinger was a steam-driven robot? What if Industrial Revolution period Europe was destroyed by volcanoes?

There are 10 stories in all, a couple involving the same characters but most stand-alone, and all entertaining. My favourite two were Urban Drift, just for the setting of a city with ever-moving houses drifting along a network of streets; and Bullets, a tale of intrigue set in a world not dissimilar to that of the Inquisition – a struggle between religion, science and the ruling houses.

It’s clear that Knighton is a talented writer with a fertile imagination. Definitely one to watch. Recommended.

To buy Riding The Mainspring from Amazon.co.uk click here.

To buy Riding The Mainspring from Amazon.com click here.

 

Recommended reads are independently published books that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.