NaNoWriMo Update 3 – And the winner is …?

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… me!

I have to admit, I was a little dubious about NaNoWriMo before starting. Yes, I saw the value of creating a community of like-minded individuals all focussing on one goal, but at the same time 1667 words a day, while not a huge amount on a single day, is a lot of writing day in, day out, for a month.

From a personal point of view, the month of November wasn’t exactly quiet. Along with work and being there for my family, I’d also recently taken on learning a set of songs for a duet, there was my oldest son’s tenth birthday split over two weekends (as the birthday fell on a Wednesday) and I had committed to starting a cricket coaching course at the end of the month, ruling out more weekend writing time.

Yet in the end, I did it and with more than a week to spare!

So what have I learned?

1 Having a deadline really spurs you on

I know I work well to deadlines with my job but this was the first self-imposed deadline I’ve had for my writing and it really drove me on. By committing publicly to delivering something I found I was planning my days better, snatching the odd 30 minutes writing time when I could instead of sitting in front of the box, and generally doing all I could – without upsetting my family – to hit my goal.

2 I can write faster than I thought

When writing my first three novels, on a good day i could hit between 2000 to 2500 words. My best was just over 3000 words, yet there were a number of times during the past month where I wrote well over 4000 words in a day. This may have had something to do with the story itself, having a clear target or just generally being more focussed, but when writing in the future my expectations of what’s achievable has changed.

3 Not stopping to edit works

I’ve always been a believer of not looking back when writing your first draft but this year I took it a step further than I’ve done in the past. Where I used to correct the odd sentence or paragraph I was which I was particularly unhappy, for NaNoWriMo I just left comments in red all over my MS on areas I felt needed work or where I had a change of plan, but then carried on going. While this was a great help to hit the word count, it will be interesting to see how the first rewrite goes!

4 The joy of overwriting

One of my favourite discoveries during NaNoWriMo was how much fun over-writing is. What do I mean by this? In my case it was allowing myself to describe settings or characters in more detail than was needed, or to write far too much exposition than would be in the final book. This is a big change for me. I usually write sparingly and go back to add further detail later, but this time around over-writing really helped me get under the skin of the world and the story I created. I know a lot of what I’ve written will be (rightly) cut during the edit but it has been fun letting myself go a allowing myself time to explore the people and settings I’ve created.

5 I’ve been introduced to even more lovely writers

I’ve always maintained that one of the best things about writing is the supportive community, and through NaNoWriMo I’ve got to meet a lot of new supportive and encouraging writers. Sadly I haven’t been able to go to any meet ups but the response on the NaNoWriMo regional message board has been really positive. Next year I’ll definitely attend.

Of course, my first draft isn’t finished. I’m not sure whether I’ll hit my extended goal of finishing it by the end of the month but it will be really close and I can’t wait to then get my teeth into it and start editing in the new year.

So what about you? If you’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo this year, what has been your experience? If you haven’t, have I persuaded you to do it next year? I look forward to hearing from you.

NaNoWriMo Update 2

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As you can probably tell with the lack of posts and minimal comments on other blogs or social media platforms, I am still thoroughly engrossed in NaNoWriMo 2016. The good news is that I’m still flying. I don’t know whether it is the book idea or whether it is the fixed goal of 50K words in a month, but on my full writing days I’m achieving between 3000 and 4000 words a day, even on days where I feel I’m trying to chisel each word out of rock one at a time. This compares to 2000 on a good day when writing my previous novels. If there’s only one thing I take away from this process, it’s that I can write a lot faster than I originally thought.

The story itself is progressing nicely. I’m still in love with my main characters, the world is filling out nicely and there haven’t been too many deviations from plan. I do know, however, that there will be a lot of work to do during the edit.

Also, the story went through a dark phase last week – a prime example of art reflecting life. I found myself rewriting sections because this is a book aimed at older children, and while there’s nothing wrong with scaring children a little bit – look at Roald Dahl’s stories for example – I don’t want to traumatise them. That said, I’ve now come out the other side – at least in my writing – and I’m still on course to beat the 50000 words by the end of November. In fact, as you can see there is a good chance I’ll pass that mark next week!

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This then leads me on to my next challenge. I’ve estimated that the whole of this draft will be around 65,000 words, so my new target is to try to finish the full draft by the end of the month. This is going to be tight as my weekends are fairly booked up between now and then, but it’s good to keep on pushing.

So how are the rest of you getting on? I’d love to hear from you.

NaNoWriMo – are you in?

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It’s that time of year when writers across the world get ready for the largest writing event of the year, NaNoWriMo, and this year I’ve decided to joe one of them.

For those of you who aren’t aware, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where from the 1st November participants begin writing the first draft of a new novel. The goal is to complete 50,000 words by midnight on the 30th November – an average of 1,666 words per day. The event started in 1999 with just twenty-one participants but has grown year-on-year to hit 431,626 participants in 2015.

I’ve always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo but so far the timing has never been right. This year, however, the timing couldn’t be better. I’ve been working on the idea for a children’s novel over the past couple of months as I’d love to have a book published that my two boys can read. As those who follow my blog regularly know, I’m half-plotter, half-pantser, so I’m as prepared as I like to be with a good idea of the who the main characters are and their motivations, a general idea of the world I’m creating, and an outline of what happens where – without being too prescriptive. I’ve also researched the relevant historical era I’m loosely basing the story around and I’ve already written a first chapter – which will need re-writing – so I have a good feel for the style I’m looking to achieve.

Still, one thousand, six hundred and sixty-six words per day is no small undertaking. The most I’ve written in one day is 4000 words but that was a one-off, took all day and my brain was mush by the end of it. Finding the time to write over one and a half thousand words each and every day will be tough, and if that wasn’t hard enough, I’m also starting my cricket coaching qualifications later the same month, so time will be even tighter – and that’s not even mentioning family, work, music and so on. But, it’s good to challenge yourself every now and then, right?

The most important thing to remember about NaNoWriMo is that it is a bit of a misnomer. By the end of the process you won’t have a finished novel. Unless you are writing children’s fiction (as I am) you may not even have a completed first draft, but you will have completed the bulk of the writing AND got yourself into the habit of writing regularly, one of the biggest obstacles to completing a novel.

So the big question is – who’s joining me?

If you are, I’d love to link up with you so we can share our journeys together. If you have been thinking about taking part but aren’t sure where to start, just click here to register. It’s very straight-forward and once registered you can link up with other authors. My author profile page is here. You don’t have to have anything prepared, many authors – including Stephen King – start off with an idea of a character and a situation and take it from there.

If you’ve already registered to take part, please feel free to let me know in the comments below or to hook up via my author page. And even if you don’t decide to take part, please feel free to check out my progress and cheer me along (or give me a verbal kick up the backside) whenever you can. I think I’m going to need all the support I can get!

 

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

The guaranteed way to gain reviews

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Reviews, reviews, reviews. They are something an author both craves and fears. We are desperate for reviews, both as confirmation that what we’ve produced is liked – though I’ll let you into a little secret here, no matter how many great reviews you receive, you’ll never get rid of the thought that people are just being kind and not really telling you what they think – but also as a means to attract new readers. At the same time we’re terrified of reviews, especially early in our careers, in case they confirm our darkest fears that what we’ve created is illegible rubbish.

In my case, about a week after I published my first novel I became afflicted by a kind of desperation as I waited for somebody, anybody, to review my book. I couldn’t understand why everyone was taking so long. What was the problem? Didn’t they know how important reviews were? I ended up doing something I really don’t recommend you do: I hassled my friends and family in the hope they would write a review. Most didn’t – thankfully – but I used up a lot of good will during those early days which in some cases I’ve still yet to regain.

So, in order to help those of you who have either just published or are about to publish, I’m going to give you tips on how to increase your chances of receiving honest reviews of your work, activities I would advise you avoid, and then finally the one guaranteed method of generating reviews, although I’m not sure you’ll like the answer.

Before I get there though, I need to mention one thing. Nobody owes you a review. If somebody has bought you book, or even if they got it for free, the only expectation you can have of them is that they received it. If they read it, that’s even better, and if they review it, that’s fantastic. But don’t get angry if the vast majority of people don’t review your book. They don’t have to and are under no obligation to do so.

Ways to increase the number of reviews

1. Contacting book reviewers

Book reviewers are the most wonderful people in the whole world, as I mentioned in a previous blog post here. They take the time to not only read your work but to then review and promote it afterwards, all out of the kindness of their hearts. Most, however, are inundated with requests so don’t be surprised if they don’t take you up on your review request. It’s not personal, it’s just that they only have a limited amount of time and with so many people approaching them, they can be choosy about what to read.

This approach isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work investigating each reviewer, making sure they like the type of book you’ve written and reading some of their reviews before getting in contact. However, what you do know is that if they agree to read your book, you are guaranteed a review.

2. Offering a free book in return for a review

You’ll see at the end of this post that if you sign up to my mailing list, you can get one of my books for free. All I ask is that I receive an honest review in return. Again, this isn’t a guarantee of a review  – but some of those who receive the free book will uphold their end of the bargain and write a review.

3. Leaving a message at the end of your book

At the end of each of my novels I’ve written a polite message thanking the reader for reading, explaining the importance of reviews, and asking if they would be so kind to leave an honest review. I’ve seen a small uptick in reviews since doing this, not huge, but it has made a difference.

4. Reviewing other books

I’m not talking here about review swaps – which I’ll come to in a bit – but one of the side results of me reading other self-published authors’ books, and recommending the books I’ve enjoyed, is that some of those authors, and even the readers of these recommendations, have read my books in return. And some of those who read my books enjoyed them enough to reviewed them, not because I’ve asked, implied or demanded them to do so, but because they understand the value of reviews and are happy to do so.

5. Running free book promotions

I know some authors hate the idea of giving your work away, but when you are starting out the biggest challenge is not writing or publishing your book but being heard. I run occasional free promotions on Amazon and every time, within a few weeks, I receive new reviews. There is a  down side to this approach. The best reviews come from people who have researched your book and like the genre or subject matter. Free promotions are picked up by all sorts of people, so your book could reach the wrong readers and receive low scores because the book wasn’t to their taste.

Ways I wouldn’t recommend to generate reviews

1. Pestering friends

I’m not talking here of politely asking a friend when told they’ve read your book if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review when they get a moment. I’m talking about asking them every time yo see them, boring them with how important it is to you, leaving whiny, passive-aggressive posts on social media, and generally being a pain in the arse. As I mentioned earlier, nobody owes you a review. You need your friends for many better reasons than as a personal review factory. Leave them be.

2. Paying for reviews

Really, don’t pay for reviews. I can see the attraction – trust me, I’ve been tempted, especially early on. A simple google search reveals a number of ways to gain reviews. Any service that offers X number of reviews for X dollars should be avoided like the plague. They are against Amazon’s T&Cs and could lead to your book getting banned. Some book reviewers offer reviews for money. I can understand it from their perspective – they’re spending time and effort reviewing the book, why shouldn’t they get rewarded? But as a writer what you want are honest reviews, and even though the final review could well be impartial, there will always be a suspicion that the rating was bought, which will tarnish the rest of your legitimate reviews.

I wouldn’t even recommend paying for your book to be reviewed via a well-known legitimate source like Kirkus, not because I believe the review would be dishonest, but because there are better ways to spend the $400 it costs to promote your book.

3. Review swaps

At some point you will be asked by an author to review their book and they will review yours in return. It’s very tempting, I mean, what could go wrong? The problem with review swaps is that no matter how honest either party is, there is a pressure on you to be more positive than usual because you know that they will be reviewing your book in return. Even if you both write honest reviews, there will always be the suspicion that you haven’t. This is why I never take on reviews and only recommend books I’ve paid for and enjoyed.

And the one guaranteed method of receiving reviews is …

Time. If your do some or all of the things I recommend above over a long enough period of time, you will get reviews. They may not come as quickly as you wish or be as many as you’d like. They may not be as nice, or as in-depth, as you were hoping for, but the longer your book has been published, the more reviews it will receive.

I long ago realised that while I could take action to encourage people to review my books, I had no control over whether they did or not, so I stopped worrying about it. And do you know what? I’m a much happier writer because of it.

So what about you? Do you agree with what I’ve written? Are there any other methods you’re aware of that help generate reviews, or are you not bothered in the slightest? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

10 Things I wish I’d known before writing a trilogy

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With the publication of Genesis Redux only a handful of days away, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the past four years of writing the Transcendence Trilogy. Here are my top ten:

1 It’s better if each book works as a stand alone story

There is nothing wrong in writing a trilogy which has to be read in order. Some of my favourite books were written that way. If you tried reading The Two Towers before The Fellowship of the Ring, you’d be totally lost. But as an indie author, you need to maximise the opportunity of each book launch.

The one thing I’d change if I started my trilogy over again is to make each book work as a stand alone novel. As the first book, Second Chance works on its own. I’ve been told Absent Souls works as a stand alone novel, although it wasn’t designed that way. However, you really need to have read the first two books in the series to make sense of Genesis Redux.

Why is this a problem? Because, while having this structure works for the story, it means I’ve restricted the audience for Genesis Redux significantly. Having three books that work as both stand alone and in a series allows readers the chance to join the story at any stage, rather than just at the beginning.

2 The longer the series, the harder it is to avoid back story dumping

Are you one of those people who hate the ‘previously’ montage at the beginning of a TV programme? Me too. I’m the same with books. There’s nothing worse than having to read a chapter-sized synopsis of earlier events before you start. Actually, there is. It’s multiple paragraphs of back story – often explained through ‘as you remember’ dialogue – slowing the whole book down.

Yet I can understand the temptation, because when completing a trilogy you often have to bring together elements that happened one or two books previously, which is fine if you’re binge reading the series but not if you read book the previous novels more than a year before.

For me, the best authors solve this problem by drip-feeding small memory joggers throughout the text, usually in earlier chapters, so the reader is informed without realising and but doesn’t have to wade through pages of exposition to get there.

3 Multiple storylines are and blessing and a curse

I love books that entwine multiple character journeys into one narrative whole. It’s why I wrote the Transcendence Trilogy as I have. It’s a great way of introducing different perspectives to a situation, moving the story forward in a non-linear way, and keeping the reader engaged. But the more storylines you add, the more difficult it is to retain focus on the overall story arc. At the same time, there is a danger that readers are more likely to become attached to one character more than others, especially if they aren’t your main protagonist.

The key here is always to look at what’s best for the story. I used to play in a band and our mantra was ‘it’s all about the song.’ It doesn’t matter if you are playing the most simple, repetitive baseline or beat, if it makes the song sound great, don’t over-complicate it. It’s the same with your novel, if a storyline or POV becomes a distraction from the main story, cut it out.

4 The cast list can become uncontrollable

Most trilogies start small and expand as the series goes on, both in location and cast size. Developing such a large cast is great fun to write as you get to play around with many different personalities and perspectives, but when it comes to the third book you need to bring everything back to a satisfactory closure. This isn’t easy when each character has their own ideas of what they should be doing. It’s easy to end up either trying to herd cats, or to end up with cast members being wheeled in for one chapter just to close their storyline, only to be wheeled off again.

While I have many supporting characters, I’ve always focussed on one main storyline shown through the lens of the core cast members. This has meant that I’ve been able to leave whole swathes of my extended cast list to carry on living their lives ‘off camera’ while focussing on the main storyline. Of course, on the odd occasion I’ve also gone all George R R Martin on them – warning, Game of Thrones spoilers.

5 Small points in earlier books can trip you up later

You’re at the climax of book three. Years of effort has got you to this point. You’re protagonist is tied up next to a bomb with the counter close to zero – because you have to have a countdown, right? If the bomb blows up, so does the boarding school, killing the President’s son and possibly starting world war three. But your hero has enough movement to get his teeth next to the handful of green and red wires controlling the device. He has to bite through each green wire with his steel teeth in the next ten seconds to save the day. If he bites through a red one, bye bye Pres junior.

It’s at this point you remember that way back at the beginning of book one you decided to make your character colour blind. It was a quirky choice, made to give this otherwise alpha male a weakness. You loved it at the time as it was far less clichéd than him being an orphan, but now this small detail has ruined months of work. If only you’d given him a club foot.

You’ll be amazed how many times a small, throwaway detail in an earlier book will cause you problems later on. Keeping track of these, especially three books down the line, is incredibly hard. Many authors keep detailed character profiles to help avoid these issues. However, there is another way to help solve these issues …

6 There are advantages to waiting until all books are written before publishing

By waiting until all three novels are written, you can go back and change or add detail in earlier books to help solve later plotting issues. You can also cut characters out or add prominence to others due to their importance – or lack of – in the final book. Then there is the fact that over the period of creating your three novels, your writing skills will have improved, allowing you the chance to go back an improve your earlier books. The other main advantage is that you will concentrate solely on your writing, rather than marketing and promotion.

There are also good commercial reasons for waiting. Many readers won’t buy a book series until all books are published, and launching each book rapidly, one after the other, gives you a great chance to make a noise and to continue to push your series without the message becoming tired.

7 There are advantages to publishing each once written

Despite everything I said above, there are also advantages to publishing each book as they are written. The longer your book is out there, the more chance you have of building an audience for your second and third books. And the shelf life of books is long. Even if you are only selling one or two books a month, the total numbers of readers you’ve built up by the time your third novel comes around will be significant.

The other advantage is that you can gain some great feedback on what works and what doesn’t from your audience, helping to shape and focus your writing. However, this isn’t always a good thing.

8 You can end up liking your characters too much

As a writer I want readers to relate to your characters but this only works if they do that despite a character’s flaws. I really loved the first couple of seasons of Dexter because I found myself rooting for Dexter only to be shocked each time he returned to his true character and murdered somebody. It was a great balancing act. However, as soon as he gained control of his impulses and he lost his edge, I lost interest.

When a writer falls too much in love with a character, especially an antagonist, and starts to change their personality to make them more likeable, they lose the essence of what made the character great in the first place. There is nothing wrong with flipping a story around to empathise with a character’s motivation, but avoid the temptation to smooth out your character’s rough edges, or even worse, change their personality completely to make them more likeable.

9 Tying everything up is incredibly hard

Writing endings can be incredibly difficult. One of my favourite writers, Stephen King, is notoriously bad at it. One of the reasons it has taken nearly 18 months to finish Genesis Redux is that I wanted to get the ending right, and with many characters and multiple threads, ensuring each storyline reached a satisfying conclusion was very difficult.

The key here, for me, is to know where you are heading. Before starting Absent Souls I had a very clear idea of where the main story was heading and why. What I didn’t know was the how, and that’s been the fund part over the past few years. I think this is the main reason I’ll always plot my books out, even if just in a rough outline form. By knowing where I was heading early enough, I was able to nudge things in the right direction without it looking as if the plot was driving the characters. At least, that’s what I hope!

10 In the end, it’s a relief to move on to something else

The great news about finishing the trilogy is that I can finally start work on the many other ideas I’ve had since I began writing the series back in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I love the characters and will miss them all, but it’s time to let them go and allow others a chance to shine. That said, I could always go back at a later date …

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Overcoming author envy

Envy

The solitary nature of writing is both a blessing and a curse. Time spent alone is an essential part of creating art. You need the space to dream-up new and exciting ideas, to get to know your characters and to fully explore the best ways to express your story. But as we all know, there are times when we fill that space with thoughts that aren’t creative. Sometimes our thoughts can be downright destructive.

I don’t know a single writer that hasn’t suffered from author envy at one time. For some it’s the envy of authors who have published their book while they’re struggling to finish their own. For others it comes after publishing a book and seeing another author’s book constantly sell better than yours. Then there is the time when you’ve read a successful book and wonder why the frankly average novel is so popular while you’re having to fight for every single sale.

Unless you are one of the lucky publishing lottery winners to have instant success, there will come a time when the little green monster knocks at your door. This is natural. This doesn’t make you a bad person. Some writers use this envious streak as a spur to success. For others, this envy has devastating consequences, knocking their confidence and motivation, becoming their all-consuming focus. It’s at this point the solitary nature of writing becomes a curse.

I can’t claim to have the answer to author envy, but there are a few things I’ve learnt to do whenever the little green monster comes calling.

Don’t look at the outliers, look at the majority

It’s easy to look at author X or author Y and think that should be me. Most authors have dreamt of being as successful as Stephen King, JK Rowling or even EL James. At the same time we know these are exceptional cases, and that the majority of authors have nothing like the success of these outliers. The problems come when we look at authors similar to us, either those that write similar books or authors you’ve got to know personally or through social media. When one of these authors find success it’s natural to think, why not me?

The thing is, when you do this you’re focussing on the outliers. Most authors don’t have that level of success. There are millions of books for sale on Amazon and only a few thousand make it into the Top 100 genre lists each year. The vast majority of authors are in the same situation as you, working hard in the hope of making a living from their writing. Many of those few thousand successful authors were at one time in exactly the same position as you. The only difference between them and you is that they followed my next point.

Focus only on what you can control

There are many factors that influence whether a book is a success or not but you only control a handful. The things you control are:

  • Writing the best, most compelling story you possibly can.
  • Publishing it in the most professional manner possible (whether self-publishing or via a publisher).
  • Raising awareness of the book (although this is only partly in your control).

Everything else is out of your hands. You can’t change how people receive your work. You can’t change the success of others. You can’t change which books go viral or which trends become popular. You can’t change which books are picked up by agents and publishers and which are rejected.

Getting angry about a book you see as poor being successful only hurts you. Getting frustrated that you aren’t receiving good reviews – or even any reviews – only hurts you. Looking at a similar book being promoted through BookBub or ENT when they’ve passed on yours, only hurts you.

Envy is a natural and understandable reaction in each and every one of these situations. Authors put their heart and soul into their books, and it’s hard to understand why your book isn’t as successful as you’d hoped. But being envious of others, or of particular situations, sucks energy away from the things you can influence: writing the best possible book, publishing it in the most professional manner and raising awareness it exists.

You have no divine right to success. Nor does any other author. But by focussing on the things in your control, you give yourself the best chance of being successful. For everything else, it’s best to let them go.

Learn to celebrate the success of others

This is the biggest lesson of all and one that turns what is a negative situation into a positive. Publishing is not a zero sum game. The success of other authors has absolutely no impact on your own success. There are millions, possibly billions of people out there buying books. Even Stephen King or JK Rowling touch just fraction of this global readership. There is room for us all.

Instead of feeling envious of another’s success, celebrate it. Don’t see it as a personal slight, take comfort from the fact that people do find success. Use that fact to motivate you to keep going, to try harder. If you see an author have success, contact them and celebrate their success with them. Let them know how pleased you are because like you, they may have spent years, even decades to get to that point. Then channel that good feeling into your own work. Who knows, it could be the start of great things.

So what about you? Do you, or have you ever suffered from author envy? How do you overcome it? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

My starter motor

 

Writers block copy

Those of you who are regular followers of my blog may have noticed a paucity of posts over recent weeks. I could say it’s because I’ve been focussing on my latest book, and while this is partly true, it’s not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I’m still awaiting feedback from one of my beta readers for the last instalment of the Transcendence Trilogy before I can crack on with the next round of edits. While it’s frustrating is some respects I also completely understand the amount of time and commitment it takes to give quality feedback. Also, a part of me is happy to put off finishing the Transcendence Trilogy. It’s been a part of my life for over three years and while I know how the story ends, I’m not yet ready to hand my characters over to the world. I’m like a parent adjusting a child’s hair and correcting imaginary issues with their collar before they go into class for their first-day at school. I don’t want to let go. In the meantime I’m in the process of getting the cover developed as well as writing the promotional blurb ready for launch, but this hasn’t taken up all my time. I’ve also developed the outline of the book I plan to write next, which I’m very excited about, but this too has been finished for a while.

Then there is the fact I’m currently living on a building site. As a typical optimist I thought having a major extension to my house built would have little impact on my writing.

I was wrong.

It’s fair to say I’ve been distracted. It’s hard to write when the drilling downstairs is so loud that vibrations send your keyboard skittering across your desk. Then there are the times when I’d prefer not to be at my desk at all. While I appreciate the reassurances from my builders, I’d rather not be sat above a wall that’s being removed until somebody else proves there are enough acrow props in the right place to support my weight. Then there are the bills to pay, the daily conversations around progress, the ongoing worry about whether when the unusually warm weather will change to winter’s bite. And let’s not forget the ever-present dust.

Yet even though I’ve been distracted, if I’m totally honest the real reason you haven’t heard anything for a while is because that monster procrastination has sunk its teeth into me. With all the disruption I’ve lost the writing habit and found other things to fill the gap. Most of what I’ve already mentioned are excuses on why I can’t write, and in the classic self-hating way I know they’re just that, excuses, but have carried on wasting my time regardless.

I was asked the other day how an aspiring writer can move on to become a writer. The person in question said they’d loads of ideas for stories that they’d developed for years and had always wanted to write. How had I turned that into actually writing a book. I talked a bit about how some writers were plotters and some pantsers, I talked about the three-act structure, about developing your characters and knowing the world they live in. I talked about motivations and overcoming challenges to meet goals. But at the end I gave the blunt truth. The difference between aspiring writers and writers is that writers put in the work and aspiring writers don’t. It’s all about bum on seat time.

Exactly what I’ve not been doing.

So this post is my starter motor, the push I need to get me back into the writing habit so I can finish my novel and start another. It is the first step on the next stage of my journey, the slight glance I need to fall back in love. Wish me luck!

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

5 Things you learn when writing your second book

There have been lots of articles written about writing your first novel, both on how to do it and the struggle and sense of achievement when finally completing it. This is understandable. You only write one first novel and you are one of a select few who having started, manage to get to the end. But what of your second novel? What should you expect when starting book number two and how is it different from the first time? Here are my top five things I learned writing my second novel.

1 It is just as hard as the first but in different ways

Writing your first novel is a struggle because it is the great unknown. It’s like having a child; you knew in theory what to expect but the reality was so much more. So writing your second book should be easy, right? Unfortunately the answer is both yes and no. Some things are easier. You know what to expect, how much commitment is required and what to do during each stage of the writing process. But at the same time, each book is different and how you get your story onto the page can vary wildly depending on the idea, the characters, your chosen POV and many other factors. Some writers say there is no such thing as a second book, just another first one, and I have a tendency to agree. Even though my second novel was a sequel to my first, it was just as hard to write. And then there is the pressure of expectation to add to all the other challenges you face.

2 You have improved as a writer

The good news is that you have improved as a writer. Yes, you have. It may not be noticeable as you oscillate between the wild creativity and frustrating inertia of your new first draft, but when it comes to editing you should see a difference in the amount of effort needed to pull your book into shape. This isn’t always the case, especially if your first book was an idea that had been germinating for years and your second came from an “oh, shit, what should I do now?” thought after your first novel was finished, but most of us find that there are things learnt when writing the first novel around pacing, phrasing and characterisation which naturally incorporate into our writing process, improving the standard of our first draft.

Then, when it comes to editing, most of us have a clearer idea of what we should be doing and to what extent. Like many people I over-edited my first novel

3 You still have a lot to learn

Writing a book doesn’t automatically qualify you as an experienced author. It makes you a journeyman at best, a novice in most cases. What you’ve learnt with your first novel is how to write that particular story. You’ve picked up many skills along the way – you can see this by how much better your later chapters were compared to your first – but you’ve still only flexed a few of the writing muscles available to a writer. The best writers are always learning, always looking to improve. And then there is the ever-present challenge of how to write without resorting to cliché or stock phrasing. The bad news is, you’ve not made it as a writer, you’ve just started. The good news is that’s a wonderful situation to be in.

4 There are certain typos you will always make

Muscle memory is a funny thing. Once an action is learnt it is very hard to un-learn. When editing your second book you’ll soon notice old friends making an appearance, those same typos that riddled your first book coming back to say hello. If you haven’t already made notes of which typos you regularly make, I suggest you do it now, because these gremlins are guaranteed (that’s one of mine) to visit every manuscript you ever write and a quick ‘find and replace’ (not replace all, always check placement and context) of your document can save hours of frustration further down the process.

5 Once published, you find out your true audience

On publishing your second book your assumption is that your second book will sell at least the same number as your first book, with a bigger launch, because you already have a group of dedicated readers who can’t wait to find out what you’ve come up with next. This may be true if you’ve a thriving mailing list and are releasing your book only a few months after the first. In fact this is the reason why many people suggest you don’t publish book 1 when it’s finished but wait until you have three ready to go and publish them either all at once, or quickly after each other.

The reality for most of us (especially those of us self-publishing) is that the initial sales of our debut novel – especially at launch – came from friends or family either keen to support us or morbidly interested in what could be a car crash of a novel. Another segment of people who bought your novel are those who bought it because of the great cover, blurb, personal recommendation or reviews but found it not good enough to race out and buy the next one. That doesn’t mean they thought it terrible (although they might have) but it just wasn’t compelling enough that your next novel automatically pushed in front of every other book being released. Then you have the people who would be interested but you’ve failed to engage with so they’ve moved on to other things.

As with all these points, this may not apply to you, but don’t be surprised if your second book doesn’t initially sell as well as your first. It can be a frustrating lesson but the good news is that those readers that buy your second book are your true audience. They aren’t there for moral support (well, maybe a few) but they’re there because they’re genuinely interested in what you come up with next. As long as you continue to produce quality work, this group should remain with you every step of the way (although a mailing list helps), becoming the foundation of your (hopefully) ever growing readership.

So what about you? What lessons have you learnt that I’ve missed? Or is there anything I’ve written you strongly disagree with? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Top 10 Books on Writing and Publishing

The best artist always looks to improve their craft, whether they are just starting out or have many years of experience. And for those of us who self-publish, we not only have to continually improve our craft, we also have to stay ahead of the game on how to publish and market our work. The good news is that there’s lots of advice out there. The bad news is that there’s lots of advice out there. Finding out what works for you can be difficult. I’ve read many books over the past few years, some were incredibly helpful, others less so.

The problem is that writing is a very individual task. Advice that works for one person will be useless for another. However, despite that I thought I’d share the books that have helped me the most, both with my writing and to help publish and market my books. I hope you find them as useful as I have.

 

Writing

You will notice I’ve not recommended On Writing by Stephen King. This isn’t because it isn’t useful (it is), but because everybody recommends it so if you haven’t read it by now, it’s unlikely you ever will!

Emotion ThesaurusEmotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman

This is an excellent book that helps a writer go from telling to showing. It lists a series of emotions and then lists examples of how it manifests physically, internally, the mental responses it provokes, cues to long-term exposure to the emotion and cues that somebody is suppression the emotion.

I found this incredibly useful when starting out and also after having written for a while and catching myself using the same phrasings on multiple occasions.

To buy The Emotion Thesaurus from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Emotion Thesaurus from Amazon.com click here

 

 

Self-editing for fiction writersSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

This is a great, how-to guide on the steps to go through to edit your own work, whether to get it into shape before passing it on to an editor, or to go on to publish. It helped provided much needed structure when editing my first book and I still follow its principles today.

To buy Self-Editing for Fiction Writers from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Self-Editing for Fiction Writers from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

2kto10k2,000 to 10,000 by Rachel Aaron

Want to speed up your productivity? This book gives no-nonsense, concise and practical advice on how to improve your daily word count, with the added bonus of also going through the whole writing process to boot. I read it in an afternoon and it was probably the best afternoon’s read I’ve ever had.

To buy 2,000 to 10,000 from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy 2,000 to 10,000 from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

How not to write a novelHow not to write a novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

This is a very funny guide to the many mistakes a writer can make when writing a novel. The book is split into sections on plot, character, style, perspective and voice, world building and selling your novel, with excellent made-up examples to demonstrate the points made. While reading this book can be occasionally painful (as in, “my God I do that”) it is always helpful and never patronising.

To buy How not to write a novel from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy How not to write a novel from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

bird by birdBird by Bird by Anne Lamott

While this book gives good advice, its real strength lies in the very successful Lamont’s openness about her insecurities and fears about her own writing (even now), and the struggles she underwent before becoming successful. By the end you’ll be reassured that the doubts you have about your writing abilities are completely natural.

To buy Bird by Bird from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Bird by Bird from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

Publishing

Digital2Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

In this newly revised book, Gaughran rakes you through 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 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. If you are serious about self-publishing, you should own this book.

To buy Let’s Get Digital from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Let’s Get Digital from Amazon.com click here

 

 

Lets get visibleLet’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

The follow up to Let’s Get Digital, in this book Gaughran provides clear, concise advice about how to give your book the best chance to be seen through knowledge of Amazon’s search and ranking systems. I used this book extensively when setting up my novels on Amazon and it helped me both understand how Amazon rankings worked as well as made sure I avoided any pitfalls that could have had my books disappear into the black hole of oblivion.

To buy Let’s Get Visible from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Let’s Get Visible from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

cover-write-publish-repeat-finalWrite, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant

This book was an eye-opener. The good news is that it provides a great guide on the best (but not guaranteed) way to build a self-publishing career. The bad news is that there are no short cuts and no magic beans. It’s all down to working hard, treating writing as a job and producing lots of high quality content.

To buy Write, Publish, Repeat from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Write, Publish, Repeat from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

10 step plan10 Step Plan to Promote Your Book: Online Book Marketing on Any Budget by Scott Hughes

This book is a quick and easy guide to book promotion. The steps are clearly described and achievable – although step 1 is by far the hardest one of all. The only step I would query is around guest blogs, only because from my experience and the feedback of many other authors, it doesn’t deliver the results that other activities do for the same amount of work. However, this is just one small gripe. There is a little bit of self- (or should I say website) promotion in the book but I have no problem with that considering it was free. Overall, a good simple guide, especially useful for those starting on the self-publishing path.

To buy 10 Step Plan to Promote Your Book from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy 10 Step Plan to Promote Your Book from Amazon.com click here

 

 

your first 1000 copiesYour first 1000 copies by Tim Grahl

This book is all about marketing your book and gives a step-by-step guide to establishing a connection system which will help you sell your first 1000 books. The steps are straightforward but as with many other books I’ve read, a lot of it is down to hard work. However, for the serious self-publisher, this book is a must.

To buy Your first 1000 copies from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Your first 1000 copies from Amazon.com click here

 

 

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

How we write – a discussion with Geoff Le Pard part 1

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July
A few weeks back, my good blogging friend Geoff Le Pard asked if anyone would be interested in hosting a blog tour to promote his new book, My Father and Other Liars. As Geoff is one of life’s good guys, I couldn’t really refuse.

One thing I’m always interested in is how other writers go about their craft, so I thought that rather than doing a standard interview with Geoff about the new book, we could have a discussion instead. Here’s part 1 of our discussion, where we talk about inspiration, characterisation, point of view and how much stories change in the edit. Enjoy!

 

DSH: To kick things off, your last novel was a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in the New Forest in the steamy summer of 1976. What made you want to write your next book about big business, politics and religion?

GLP: The answer is really in two parts.

First why did I want to do something totally different to the first book?

When I started creative writing my first attempt was a buddy story with a twist, the second a thriller, looking at people trafficking. Neither has (yet) seen the light of day beyond my saved documents and a few misguided friends. Those friends asked why I hadn’t done a follow up to the buddy story. For a while I pondered a sequel; I had a few neat ideas but I had others too. So I made a conscious decision not to follow like with like, not to do a sequel, nor even to write in the same genre.

It felt like I had laid out the course my writing would follow. I had no intention of publishing anything so I could be choosy – for which read self indulgent. That was 2006/7. Roll the clock onto 2010 and a lot of people were saying publish something. If you don’t want the hassle of trying the traditional route, go indie. I started my blog in April 2014 with that in mind, choosing my favourite book as my lead off. But again I knew I didn’t want to follow like with like. I looked at the books I’d written, chose the one the most different from my fort published one and worked on that. I guess I’m a stubborn contrarian. It is also true that, once Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, my first book, was out there it was no longer my favourite. I didn’t expect that. My Father and Other Liars took that mantle as soon as I started editing it again. I also started a sequel to Dead Flies and I didn’t expect that either. I can’t really explain in any logical way how these decisions occur. Mostly it feels like I come to them randomly and then reverse engineer my reasoning why I’ve chosen X over Y. I’m very good at finding a rational sounding ex post facto justification for what I do; part of my legal training I suppose.

Second, sometime back in 2009, my daughter decided she wanted to explore her spiritual side and attend a local church with a close friend. The church is a small branch of the Anglican version of Christianity and we began having what amounted to bible discussions over Sunday dinner. I asked her to find out how this church differentiated itself from say Baptists, or traditional Church of England but perhaps due to her years or their inability to articulate it I never really found out.

I find it intriguing how groups seek to make distinctions that to most of us looking in from the outside aren’t real. About the same time I read about a tele-evangelist, Oral Roberts, who was fabulously successful – so much so that his fund raising supported a university for his church. He too had his own version of how to celebrate the Christian faith. He was eventually done for siphoning off the cash for his own use. Could I, I wondered, create my own Sect? Could I include it in a story that was bubbling under about to people who meet accidentally never expecting to meet again but then do with thriller-esque consequences? Thus the Church of Science and Development was born, together with its university – the Christian University of Beaumont, based in the fictional Beaumont Oklahoma. Given the creed I fabricated interprets the Bible as supporting the natural selection of Darwin – it sees the Bible as a work in progress not the end game – I wanted to centre on the science, the genetics, and that brought in the use of human embryos which are highly controversial especially in the bible belt in the US.  The Federal investigation into its possible malpractices followed naturally.

You too have had to create a fictitious world, complex science, a new political order and security structure, changed technology. Mine started with a religious question and went from there, pulling in the other strands. What started you on your road to Second Chance?

DSH: Funnily enough, there were two drivers for me as well. The first was on reading a book by Peter F Hamilton (whose novels I love) and one of the main characters died, only to be resurrected through cloning and stored memories. While all the other characters accepted this as OK, I remember shouting out loud “but it’s not the same person!” This then got me thinking about how you could use cloning to extend life, which led to Re-Life being born.

The other point was around how politics globally (or at least in western democracies) are focusing ever more on short-term issues and putting off making difficult decisions to deal with long-term issues like climate change. The thing is, I’m a great believer in humanity’s ability to overcome these issues but I’m not sure our political systems are set up to find the solutions, so if they aren’t, what alternatives are there?

One of the things I tried not to do is turn my novels into a lecture on my political beliefs. I’m hoping readers won’t be able to tell my personal thoughts on the issues raised through my books. How do you feel about this? Do you think authors should promote their politics or religion through their stories and is this something you do yourself, consciously or otherwise?

GLP: To answer about Second Chance, one might surmise an antagonism to today’s relative indifference to the climate change issue simply from the conclusion from which the book starts – i.e. there will be a climate driven catastrophe which climate change denier would argue isn’t about to happen, but beyond that there is nothing to suggest a pro or a con to the political order that takes over. What is interesting in this connection is that, at the end of Second Chance there was a sense that what we had here was a corrupt system with the main players out to feather their own nests – classic little guy beaten down by system – whereas towards the end of Absent Souls the sense is the main players are convinced the system needs to be upheld and steps, while individually dreadful, are necessary to maintain that. Much mores subtle and worrying! That’s one reason why I want book three. LIKE NOW!

Should authors let their views come through? No. I don’t like the novel as polemic. In My Father I was anxious not to have the story come across as dissing those who have a faith. I wanted, I hope, to allow everyone their choice with any judgement; it just so happens the Church here is peopled with people who don’t necessarily uphold Christian principles. And even then I hope by the end that there’s sufficient ambiguity in the protagonists motivations to make it clear the main drivers of the actions are personal not faith based. So I’d say I consciously try to avoid my own theist/atheist views are hidden but maybe I’m being naive.

In Second Chance you have, if memory serves, four narrators, or POV. In My Father, Maurice is the main narrator and it is written in the first person. To keep the story moving at pace I include other POVs so the reader is privy to events about which Maurice has no idea. The main female protagonist has only one short chapter devoted to her POV.  I wondered if this would cause any concern or disconnect with the readership but I’ve received no adverse comment on it. Yet! How did you decide on your POVs and the structure you used? And which character came to you first?

DSH: The idea of having a number of different point of views came at the same time as the idea for the story. It just felt natural. While I tell the story through four main POV’s in both my books, there are only two storylines in each. I think if you try to include many more storylines it ends up causing unnecessary confusion for the reader (unlike the necessary confusion I like to use to keep the reader guessing).

I guess I was influenced by reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin. He’s an absolute master at weaving different storylines and POV’s into a narrative whole. One thing I learnt from his books was to keep the big characters, the real movers and shakers, out of the narrative. By all means show what they do but never reveal what they are thinking. It allows the author to maintain a level of mystery and uncertainty.

The first character that came into being was Randall, although that wasn’t his name at the time. I liked the idea of this average Joe being caught up in something beyond his control. Second Chance was originally planned as his story but as I came to the end of the first draft I realised it was really about Stephanie’s journey more than his, and changed the book’s emphasis in the second draft.

Has this ever happened to you? How much has the story of My Father changed since your early draft?

GLP: Interestingly the two changes that come back to me are the title which from writing the first chapter was God Bothering and then changed in the last three months or so and the female protagonist who was Marci-Ann for ages until someone pointed out that having my two main characters as Maurice and Mari-Ann was a bit confusing. So she became Lori Ann.
I didn’t change the story so much as add layers. In the first draft I wanted Maurice’s father to appear half way through; now he’s on page one. I tried to write it all from Maurice’s view point but it was too slow for the type of story. And the Federal Agency and its employees were a small bit part that has now grown to a substantial part of the story.

One thing I really learnt redrafting this was where you have multiple characters you need to keep bringing them back to the reader’s attention. Because I know the story I remember A or B but if you only read the book once then it is easy to forget who A or B are and it can seem like a cheap device to bring back someone mentioned on page ten in the last ten pages an reveal them the killer or whatever. That took a bit of doing without giving away the twists.

 

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed the two of us blathering on. If you did, part 2 of this interview will be available tomorrow.

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 JulyMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

dead flies kDP 20 10His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

Geoff and his number one fanGeoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.