… 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…
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…
And anyone daft, or masochistic, enough to want to publish a novel will no doubt have spotted it. However, just in case any budding book-reviewers are busy sharpening their critical pencils, the one in the title of this post is deliberate…
Anyway, what’s prompted this blog is a fascinating email I received about Firebird from Amazon last week which advised me, most helpfully:
There are typos in your book. You can see this error at the following Kindle location(s): 6548 … “An unusual number compared to the surrounding arid countryside.”
i.e. the sentence in quotations contains a typo…
Well, I looked and I looked…
And I looked some more…
‘This must be a real cracker of a typo,’ I thought to myself. ‘Not like that blistering, bold typeface, spelling mistake I just saw in the middle of XYZ [yep: my self-preservation instincts force me to refrain from naming of oft-offending but otherwise entertaining novel, and its perhaps-responsible professional publishing house]…’
So I tried reading each word out loud. First forwards, then backwards…
Nope. Still nothing…
Then I noticed that Amazon had kindly offered their erudite wisdom to aid me: poor illiterate that I am.
Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what I’d apparently got wrong?
Well, according to Amazon, my sentence should read:
“An unusual number compared to the surrounding and countryside.”
You may need to look carefully… I had to; before I laughed out loud…
I have, of course, not inserted the above, grammatically-incorrect and ill-advised text into my book… The word arid is welcome in my vocabulary, and it can stay just exactly where I’d carefully placed it in Firebird.
So, has this experience diminished my paranoia of all things typographical? Not a chance. My passion to eradicate any real mistakes I might find lurking somewhere on my pages remains indefatigable… Or as an Amazon proofreader would perhaps have it: in the fat gable…?
Typos, eh? I think they’re just the fingers’ way of keeping authors’ minds humble…
I’m back from my trip to Canada. The long journey was recompensed by lots of nice powder-snow, some bright sunshine, and news that the UK was colder – at times – than British Columbia! Have to admit: it is blooming chilly here… Roll on Spring!
I’ve noticed that, whilst I was away, both Firebird and Thunder have picked up some nice reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m always very grateful for any words of support and encouragement, so thank-you to those who have taken time to write them! I really appreciate your support.
Am still storyboarding my next project which will be a return to a science-fantasy, action and adventure, theme. More news and updates shortly…
[Now then, where did I pack my woolly jumpers…???]
So you’ve toiled long and hard to pull together your first manuscript – or second – or whatever. You’ve fought the good fight and, by some miracle, formatted it so it looks at least half-decent on an eReader. You’ve swallowed back your fears, assembled your ego around you, grimaced, and pressed the publish button…
How do you judge success?
It seems to me that this is just as variable a concept as the diverse subject matter of stories themselves…
For me, my views have varied over the last couple of years and I guess I’m now coming to terms with the following phrase: whatever defines success for one of my stories, it will likely take a long time to reveal itself.
I suppose a lucky – very lucky – few will see success immediately. For some reason their books will spark a wildfire of enthusiasm amongst readers and their stories will fly off the shelves; personally I think this is an extremely remote possibility if you don’t have the weight and power of a publishing house’s promotional machinery behind you.
The rest of us will need to be much more patient.
I started writing with a simple ambition: to test myself at a personal level. Pretty much just to see if I could do it… It’s not an easy task, as I’m sure most of you will agree… In the end, I produced a book and faced a new question: what next? This was what led me to publish… no dreams of grandeur, or huge reward, or whatever… Basically, if I’d done nothing, Firebird would have sat rotting on a disk-drive somewhere. It would have had absolutely zero possibility of being enjoyed by anyone else.
Now Firebird has been out there for almost two years. It has been downloaded several thousand times but, generally, I feel pleased if it moves even a tiny handful of copies in a month. Is this the benchmark? Well – given the amount of books on offer, the amount of books I personally get through in an average year and the very limited exposure my books get – maybe the answer is yes? For sure, I feel very honoured and humbled that my story is still occasionally being picked up and read by people.
What publishing also did though, was give me new insights. The simple, brutal, reality of having your writing in general circulation, the often critical nature of feedback, and the occasional positive encouragement have enabled me to step forwards and hone my writing skills. I am, despite the occasional pains, eternally grateful for this.
It has also helped me to move on and produce a second book.
These things would have been denied me, if I’d not taken the plunge.
Like so much in life, the different facets of success are often hidden in the corners of the obvious, tucked away behind so-called measures of popularity, masked by charts, star-ratings, and sales figures… In my opinion, being successful is not, on its own, a viable motivation for writing. Better, surely, to write simply to find out if you can, to stretch your imagination, to see if you can find personal pleasure and enjoyment from the process and, in the end, to discover whether your tales can entertain others?
Perhaps the bottom line becomes: does it matter; tell your stories anyway?
Because an untold story has no chance at all.
That’s it then, done. It even seems that Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature has updated itself reasonably quickly this time.
Changes in the latest edition:
- Cover updated to reflect text style being used for Thunder.
- Improved dedication page
- Improved Map pages layout
- Consistent use of surnames throughout
- Almost 20,000 single quotes manually reset to double quotes and vice versa (and, no, as far as I can work out – and courtesy of apostrophes, thoughts and quotations – there is no automatic way to do this accurately…)
- Changed to International English spelling (where relevant)
- Re-edited to (hopefully) improve the ease-of-reading and flow – no changes to underlying storyline.
FYI: The first of the Alpha Readers are finished with Thunder, and the second round of Alpha readers have started… Here are a couple of very quick soundbites from Thunder’s first rounds of feedback:
- “A triple AAA read… move over Firebird.” […doh!]
- ” …it made me question some of my own approach to the world around me…”
So far, so good! At least a complete re-write doesn’t look like it’s going to be necessary!
I’ll be posting the draft blurb here in a few days time… [gulp] and I’ll be really interested to hear what you think of it…
This is possibly long overdue but I wanted to take a few minutes to say thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to write a review or post a star-rating for Firebird whether on Amazon, Goodreads or elsewhere.
My self-dictated policy for Amazon Reviews is not to comment on them. I feel that, if I did, it might be perceived as being intrusive, that it might accidentally undermine the credibility of what’s being posted and that it might also be misconstrued negatively by roaming internet trolls and other nay-sayers. That said, I do take notice of them. Some more carefully than others…
Obviously, I’m delighted when I see any sort of positive response and disappointed – but not surprised – that some people don’t get on with the book. Books can be like that. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another and the premise, by its nature, requires a small leap of faith. If a reader, for whatever reason, cannot make this leap then one of the central, if not the central character, will not work. This is why the book opens as it does and why the strap line on the cover is there… together I’ve always hoped they’d be a couple of pretty big clues.
Anyway, I’ve learned a huge amount from the whole Firebird process and I’m trying hard to put this new knowledge into practice as I press on with drafting Thunder.
To those readers who do post positive messages I’d like to say a special thanks. I have, over my many years, plumbed the art of self-critiscism to spectacular depths. Even my most virulent critic is unlikely to get close to my own scathing self-doubt and pessimism. Constructive feedback really does help and feels as good as a touch of warm sunshine, or a friendly pat on the back, or perhaps like the sudden and unexpected appearance of a helping hand being extended toward me when all seems unachievable or lost. Positive feedback genuinely drives me back to my laptop and inspires me to keep writing. Whatever things I might write in the future will therefore, in no small part, be thanks to your kind encouragement.
That’s where I’ve been for the last few days…
Well, by ‘breach’, I’m referring to the task of re-editing a one hundred and thirteen thousand word document. This was something I genuinely thought I wouldn’t need to do again but a selection of nagging thoughts finally accumulated into sufficiently weighty motivation to convince me otherwise:
- When I’m reading other books – and not just Indie ones – I regularly find myself muttering that they’re missing one final edit: i.e. time for a bit of ‘physician heal thyself’…
- I got mildly panicky when Firebird suddenly shifted a LOT of copies over Christmas: i.e. my self-critical side went into a complete meltdown…
- A couple of people that I really respect separately questioned identical things in the 3rd Edition: i.e. prodded the already open and gently bleeding confidence gash mentioned just a moment ago…
- Lastly, I remembered that there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, providing you do something to correct them for the future.
So, a bit like when you’ve just finished polishing the car and step back only to see you’ve left a sizeable smudge of still-matt beeswax on one of the doors, I rolled up my sleeves, dug deep and dived back in. It took several solid – and I mean solid – days of my very best obsessive compulsion to carefully take a scalpel to a few of the dialogues, a couple of the character introductions and one back story. Note: this was not a hatchet job. Far from it. Around two hundred words have been removed and, mysteriously, another fifteen hundred have appeared from somewhere. The main storyline is completely unchanged and there are no significant new revelations. I was – and remain – happy with the earlier versions but this new one removes a few slips of the pen, more subtly presents the romantic encounters and, fingers-crossed, hopefully means it’s ‘job done’ now, once and for all.
Oh, and I managed to fix at least part of the hyperlinked Table of Contents…!
Multitasking or what!
(p.s. To get an updated version of any Amazon Kindle book requires Amazon to ‘push’ the new version to your kindle library – yes, it seems strange to me too. If anyone visiting here already has a copy of Firebird and would prefer to read the new edition then you’ll need to log into your Amazon Account, look for the ‘Kindle Support’ section and use the ‘Contact Us’ button to send them an email along the lines of “Please can you push me the latest version of Firebird ASIN: B004ZUTNGI”)
(p.p.s. A special thank-you to Alec and Hugh for your invaluable commentaries)
Apologies that I haven’t blogged for a little while. Clocks seem to have a nasty habit of hurtling around when I’m not watching them – which, I suppose, is all the more reason to keep trying to wring the very best out of every second that flies by…
And yet, Your Honour, in my defence, I feel justified in laying before the court the following extenuating circumstances or, in other words, three feeble excuses:
1. I’ve had some real work to do. The kind that puts ‘bread on tables’ and ‘roofs over heads’; as opposed to writing, which just seems to be a masochistic mechanism for publicly lowering my self-esteem.
2. Completely ignoring the previously mentioned risk of self-injury, I’ve been channeling much of my spare time into drafting the next book. It’s coming along nicely with about 45,000 words sketched out. I suspect it’ll end up slightly longer than Firebird so I’m estimating that I’ve written about forty percent of the first draft.
3. I’ve been in hiding… It’s been a strange few weeks for reviews of Firebird. On Goodreads it got awarded an “okay” and a “really liked it” but it’s also had a couple of one star write ups on Amazon. I’m obviously disappointed, even though I’ve known all along that this was something I’d need to deal with. I don’t expect that everyone is going to like the story; books are a very personal thing and our perceptions of them vary wildly. Nonetheless, despite the fact that I know a lot of people are enjoying it, the negative comments did knock my confidence a bit.
4. Dragonage II (on the XBox).
Oops… that’s four excuses but games consoles are definitely time bending machines… And the skeletal archers on that last level were particularly tricky to annihilate…
I rest my case.
(p.s. special apologies to Albie: Sorry mate, I’ve not looked at the Shakespeare spoof yet…)
(p.p.s. does anyone know how to sharpen a quill…?)