… You can’t touch.
Over the last couple of years I think I’ve slowly started coming to terms with some of the unexpected side-effects which emerge when you put out a book. I’ll be honest, it’s taken me a while and, lowly part-known that I am, I can understand why those who are more famous often have a love:hate relationship with the internet and social networking sites.
This blog is probably the only part of my on-line portfolio that I have any real control over. By this I mean, in terms of content. Everywhere else is subject to random coincidence, semi-intelligent web-crawling programmes, industrial-scale marketing, the good side of humanity and sadly, on occasion, the worst side too.
This site is therefore the only place I feel confident enough to respond publicly to anything I see or read elsewhere. Yes: I’ll reply to Twitter direct messages, or to emails, but these are by nature quite private exchanges. Most importantly though: I have a policy of absolutely not responding to any book reviews I receive for Firebird or Thunder.
As far as I can tell – at least so far – this is turning into a good strategy…
Recently I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time talking with some communications professionals. The context of these conversations was business-oriented but also interesting from a writer’s perspective. You see, business – as much as anyone else on-line – suffers from Trolls and the professionals’ consensus for dealing with these sorry souls was simply: ignore them.
Of course, downright illegal, threatening or abusive messages can and should be acted on – usually by a request for deletion of the offensive matter to the relevant web-site service provider. As for the rest of the sad-garbage, it’s most often an attempt to stimulate a reaction and, hence, gain a platform – i.e. to be noticed – and the recommended means to deal with this is to do nothing. With no fuel, the experts advise that the fire-starter will head off and try to make misery elsewhere.
Of course, on the rare times when I need to do this, I come away with my sense of justice feeling bruised and I have to work hard not to react and try to fight my own corner. This is tough but one thing helps me to get through it and stops me from posting something I know I’ll regret. And it’s one thing not even the smartest troll can feed off, something no one single individual could ever trace backwards. It’s one thing that adds value to me and yet vilifys the worst of them.
My one thing? Simple: I take any form of inflammatory or abusive feedback as a free insight into areas of human-nature which would normally be alien to me. A free insight which I can adapt, amplify and feed into my next bad-guy.
And anyone who’s read any of my work will know that the bad guys in my novels rarely enjoy much in the way of a happily-ever-after…!
[p.s. I'm off travelling for a while during March, so I apologise in advance if I seem slow in responding to comments or questions...! Cheers, AB]
The truth is: I’ve not been writing much recently. The start of 2014 has been incredibly busy, in the main due to an intrusive level of work but also due to a series of enforced home maintenance tasks – brought gustily to various walls, roofs and fences by the UK’s unprecedented run of storms.
I’m not too stressed about the writing because the extra thinking time is always helpful. And besides, I’m not prepared to force myself to write against my will. It would steal the pleasure of the task, and it’s only for the fun of it that I write.
I have, however, been reading and this is what brings me to this post.
I’m not sure if other writers have the same problems that I have with reading nowadays. My problem is that since starting to write, reading has become more difficult. I notice more and more detail. Can almost feel the author’s writing process as much as see the story. Am fascinated by layout and punctuation. And the net result, is that a book for me now has to jump an even larger hurdle for me to become engaged with it.
To be honest, I sometimes wonder if this is robbing me of enjoyment I would otherwise have just settled back and taken in. But there’s not much I can do about it now…
Anyway, I’ve recently read the second Lee Child (Jack Reacher) novel, called Die Trying, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve only recently discovered Lee Child’s work and can see why he’s so popular. His main character is accessible to both sexes, strong yet vulnerable, mysterious, likeable. His writing style naturally lends itself to creating pace and excitement through the use of short, often staccato, sentences. In his first novel this technique was somewhat overdone, perhaps even clumsy. It was therefore a real pleasure to see how both story structure and layout had evolved into the second instalment and it is with genuine interest that I now look forward to seeing how his writing evolves into the rest of the series.
And here is my first observation: evolution. For me, writing isn’t just about a good or unique premise. It isn’t just about pounding out another few thousand words. It’s about learning a craft and producing something that’s fractionally more elegant than what was done before. I’m not sure that I find this very often when I’m reading.
After Lee Child’s book, and in my usual eclectic style, I decided to try out Wool, the ex-indie writer Hugh Howey’s now ultra-successful novella bundle. I picked it out and dived in and, to start with, I could see why.
The opening of the first part (Novella One) is packed with mystery. The main character is human, real, accessible and quite obviously in mortal jeopardy. The world he starts to paint is bleak and frightening: a compressed social-microcosm. I can sense that there is every chance that this character’s tale will carry a lengthy storyline and I, as a reader, wanted to know more.
Then it ended.
And Part Two started over.
And Part Two ended.
Just as abruptly.
And Part Three started over…
For the record, there is obviously nothing wrong with this soap-opera style of episode based drama that cycles endlessly around an ever expanding character base. It’s at the heart of a number of bestsellers. It’s just unfortunately not for me.
More specifically, my greatest disappointment was that the structure stamped out all hope. Yes, it’s a post-apocalyptic, doomsday tale. I was ready for that. Yes, it’s bleak. It has to be. But, nonetheless, amongst fear, hope burns brightest. Without hope, where would we venture, why would we even begin to strike out into the unknown, how could we reach forwards into the future?
Looking back into Lee Child’s book I can see this blend of hope and fear played out before me. Can see him directing his characters across the pages. See the clear beginning, middle, and end. With Wool, all I can see is a fractured series of character driven sound-bites, revolving around a single basic theme, with no clear direction, no prescribed intent, and no real hook to make me want to find out what happens next.
Don’t get me wrong: books are different for everyone, and I’m delighted Hugh Howey has found success. His story doesn’t grab me but it clearly grabs lots and lots of other readers.
I certainly don’t regret trying the book out. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on an unexpected insight into something valuable: a deeper appreciation of hope and fear. So, thanks Hugh, I genuinely hope your sales continue to soar. The challenge for me is to see if I can take this lesson and to see if I can develop my own skills a little bit more…
To be … whatever you want to be!
And on that basis, here’s a quick update on what’s been happening in my busy world over the last few weeks.
First off, I’ve managed to find a few fragments of time and done some more work on G’host. Admittedly, not as much as I’d have liked, but some all the same. I’m pleased about that, but also slightly disappointed that I’m not going to be able to post a scene from it, here, as a tribute for the holidays.
The scene I am working on suits the season very well and my idea to use it as a post is what inspired me to get back to the keyboard. Unfortunately, inspiration can only get you so far, and tiredness from several months of long work days doesn’t facilitate good prose. So the scene is coming along but is, sad to say, nowhere near ready enough for a public airing.
It is, however, nice to report that I’ve had some more, very nice, positive feedback from a number of readers over the last month. This is always a real joy. Thanks to anyone who’s ever offered encouragement to any writer: dark days haunt more than just winter months…
I could blather on about restarting my ski-fit regime in readiness for heading for the slopes next year, or about finally sorting my kitchen out after six years of putting up with randomly painted duck-egg blue walls but, as you can tell, it’s not exactly rock and roll news, and so I’m not going to waste any more of your precious seconds in the countdown to the big day…!
Rather, I’ll close by saying: to any stranger who happens past, and to all of my kind and wonderful friends, I wish you all a joyful Christmas and prosperous New Year.
See you in 2014…!
Summer holidays seem like a far distant memory already. My day-job has been mad-crazy busy since the moment I returned to work and seems hell-bent on consuming every fragment of brain space I have available. As a result, when I get home in the evenings, and even over the weekends, I’m exhausted.
Writing, for me at least, is not just about stringing together the first words that come into my head. Nor just pumping out scene after scene on the basis they’re what I thought of next. For me, writing is something more like an enormously complex collage or jigsaw puzzle. Sections of text can be written, then carefully positioned, augmented, trimmed and shaped so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Whether or not I’m any good at that is a matter of debate: most often between my various alter-egos and sometimes between my reviewers. But the bottom line is that: I’m not going to rush my writing.
Anyway, despite my tiredness, I am still chipping away in the background on G’host. I’ve added a few thousand words – mostly character and world introductions – and will keep at it through November whilst I try valiantly to ignore the annual roar of speed-written enthusiasm that NaNoWriMo will no doubt spawn across the on-line writing communities…
… in the land of the living.
Yes: I’m back from my holidays. For the record, I only had a couple of cheap weeks on the beach and returned a while ago to the usual chaotic crash-dive of return-to-work-related issues. To be honest, I feel like I need another break already!
But enough of that. My holiday did exactly what I needed it to. It cleared my head and, sitting on the beach, a little bit every day, I’ve somehow, amazingly, drafted over 25,000 words of my next story.
Being straight with you, I’m under no illusions that many of these draftings will end up in the recycle bin. Equally, many sections will require considerable, relatively easy, expansions when I start pulling it all together into a comprehensive whole.
When I get some time, I’ll pull together a graphic like I did for Thunder, to illustrate progress. I have no idea whether any of my visitors find this useful but, hey ho, it does serve as a bit of self-stimulus to make sure I keep putting in the writing hours!
Anyway, I suppose I ought to get back to the somewhat abstract title of this post: it’s a veiled reference to the subject matter of the new novel. I’m not going to reveal too much yet, but I can say that I’ve settled on the title…
The next book will be called G’host.
Time for me to vanish for a while.
For many months I’ve been wrestling with good and bad spirits, and now it’s time for me to put some dedicated effort into ensnaring them; in black and white.
I’m hopeful that a stretch of golden sand, some warm weather, blue skies and crashing surf will provide a suitably undisturbed backdrop for my notepads and meditations.
So wish me luck and see you soon… :) AB
I’m not sure why, but there’s a seemingly endless fascination with rankings and chart numbers. In certain circumstances, sports for instance, this all makes sense: it’s about competition and determining victory and there are a whole host of governing bodies to ensure fair play. Charts are also considered helpful to indicate relative popularity but this kind of benchmarking is much less reliable and is liable to manipulation or abuse. Of course, you might have guessed that the charts that I seem to be most fixated with are Amazon Sales Rankings. I confess: I try not to look at them but for some reason I can’t help it! Anyway, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve experienced about them over the last few years.
When I first published Firebird, back in 2011, the concept of ebooks was still very new. Back then, Firebird would oscillate between the top 10,000 and top 100,000 books in both the UK and US Amazon charts. At that time, the general author consensus was that if you were in the top 10,000 then that was a very good sign.
Nowadays, however, things have changed. All of the major publishing houses have, to some extent, conceded to the ebook format and published their back catalogues. Indie writers, good and bad, are pouring their wares into the e-marketplace and the trend of publishing shorter stories as “novellas” is not doing anything to reduce this literal tsunami.
So, two years on, Firebird is selling more strongly than ever – albeit that this means approximately two copies per week – but is now generally ranked as being between 100,000th and 200,000th. A good day might see it spring up to a circa 30,000th slot but, within a day, it’ll drift back into its more normal resting place.
Thunder, despite having a lower overall circulation, is not too dissimilar. It ranges between 200,000 and 500,000th.
Initially I was concerned about this. Now I’m not.
I celebrate days when either book breaks the top 100,000 as this tells me that someone new has been kind – or perhaps crazy – enough to try out my efforts and I have settled into being satisfied that if my books are anywhere in the top million then that’s still pretty impressive considering the wealth of global competition they’re up against.
And who knows? I may have to add even more zero’s to my benchmark in another couple of years!
Well my trip to Finland was, once again, extremely restful. Except for the journey home where, somehow, I managed to damage my lower back on the way to the airport. Eight hours of transit and tight connections later; I couldn’t even stand upright unassisted! Ouch …
My doctor says, “Things like this happen, as you get older…”
Thanks, Doc. That makes me feel much better…
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve made a start on the new novel and the opening pages – assuming I don’t shuffle things as I go – have been drafted. Openings are vital for any piece of writing, particularly novels. They need to drag readers in by the eyeballs and may, in the end, determine the entire success or otherwise of a story. As a result, I try not to be too precious about the opening pages. If I get a better idea later, I’ll swap stuff out. Looking back, Firebird hasn’t got a ‘bad’ start but I think Thunder’s is better. For me, I’m looking to stir up shock, confusion and to create intrigue from the get-go – although I don’t deliberately sit down and try to force this to happen – and recently I’ve been to paying more attention to missing things out, rather than putting them in… In other words, I’ve noticed that a little deft cutting sometimes adds more value than a hundred extra words…
On another subject entirely, I noticed yesterday that Amazon have adjusted their pricing regimes again. As a result, I’ve been able to reset Thunder’s pricing so that it’s a little bit lower than it’s been since publication. Other authors might also want to check out the pricing policies in detail. Certain country price points are lower than the US which, thanks to Amazon’s global price-matching rules, means that there’s a little bit of headroom to offer better deals for your readers (and for us to still get a few cents to contribute toward our next computer upgrades!).
Right, it’s time for me to go and enjoy the, highly unusual and probably short-lived, British sunshine…!