Monday, June 24, 2013

Spinning Plates

by James Batchelor

In an ideal world, we’d knock out novel after novel, short story after short story, poem after poem, all in a nice, neat, orderly fashion. Our ideas would queue up politely just short of the forefront of our mind, waiting their turn with calm and patience.

Sadly, this is the real world. Ideas fight for prominence in our minds like New Year’s Day Sales fanatics with sharpened umbrellas and a mean right hook. It gets real nasty. And as a result, we can be writing one thing but thinking about several others.

At the risk of being momentarily narcissistic, let’s take a quick look at my own writing To Do list.

A fantasy trilogy: I’m quarter of the way through the first edit of Book One, halfway through writing Book Two, and I’ve outlined Book Three. My Nanowrimo novel from last year: 25,000 words along and in dire need of an outline. That urban fantasy novel I started as a writing challenge at this month’s Writebulb meeting, not to mention the other potential stories I can continue from past challenges and flash fictions. Not to mention a pile of previous story ideas, unfinished Nano projects and even some fan fiction.

The point is, many writers have so many projects to write, so many plates to spin, you can never tell which one you should be focusing on.

Do you concentrate on whichever story excites you the most, inspires the most passion in you? Certainly, your writing is likely to be more enthusiastic and potentially better. But there’s the constant danger that your sadly-fickle human mind will get distracted by another idea and your current project will get discarded, who knows for how long.

Do you write them in some sort of order? Perhaps in the order that you first think of them, or whichever one you think is most publishable, or in the order of whatever could be finished quicker? This would seem the most logical for those of us who think so practically, and nothing helps keep you on track like a schedule. But what if that new idea pops up and triggers that spark for Project B that Project A is so sorely lacking. The flickering ember may be extinguished by the time you finish A. Is that something you want to risk?

Do you write them simultaneously? A few (thousand) words towards something different each day? It’ll keep you fresh, and truly challenges you as a writer. Of course, your consistency might suffer and leaping from world to world, character to character might send you a little loopy (we’re writers, though, we’re all a little loopy).

Which of these is the right path? As with so many things about writing, it’s up to you. Whichever works best for you. Try each method and see which makes you most productive. Or come up with your own. There is no right answer.

There is, of course, a wrong answer.

Don’t spend too much time worrying about what to write first. Don’t spend hours, weeks, days second guessing yourself, dabbling in projects but not putting words down. Write. Always write. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, providing you are writing. Otherwise, you end up with a massive To Do list and an unshakeable apprehension about not one, but all of your projects.

In fact, go write something now. Just a few words (it’s never just a few words, is it?) on whatever you’re working on. Or something you haven’t worked on for ages? Or start something completely new?

Seriously, go write. Keep your plates spinning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When They Leave Home

by Hellen Riebold

This week I have been asking myself one big question, ‘Why do I write?’

I thought I knew the answer, ‘to be published’, but this week I found out that may not be the case.

You see this week, as you may have heard, I published my first solo novel, New Earth: Beginnings, through KDP. This is the book that consumed my waking hours to such an extent that I eventually left work to give it the attention it demanded. At the time I left work I was sure this book was the be all and end all of everything. I wrote furiously for days on end, desperate to get the story out of my head and onto the paper. The closer to the end of the book I got the further engrossed in the world I was writing I became until, in the final days, I felt like I was looking back at real life through an open window. In a way completing that first draft, back in September 2012, felt a little like being set free. Oh I know I have still been heavily involved in the editing so I have read and re-read the manuscript any number of times but it never held that same power over me.

I’m not sure how I thought publishing the book would feel, and don’t get me wrong, I am delighted it is out there, prouder than anything that it is selling in modest numbers and looking forward, eagerly, to receiving my first review, but somehow it just doesn’t feel so important as I thought it would. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling watching a child leave home. The achievement I feel is in completing the work, by publishing it I feel I have set it free to go to make its own way in the world. I, in the meantime, am far too busy with the kids left at home to watch its every mood.

Now my head is full of my current work in progress, whose first draft is close to completion, and plans for the next story in line. I am brim full of ideas for short stories and long stories, novels, series and even, thanks to Writebulb, poems. I know I will never have time to write them all down but I am really enjoying trying.

So, after a little soul-searching this week I can now say, with complete conviction, the answer to the question, ‘why do I write?’ is ‘because I can’t not.’, if you see what I mean. Now if one of my children could just make a million and come back to take care of their momma I wouldn’t turn it away but I honestly love them all just the same for the joy they give me in their growing.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Sales and Advertising

by Anna Buttimore

I just had another royalties statement for my fourth book, Honeymoon Heist, and to say that the sales figures are not good is stretching understatement to the limit. Not that I'm not grateful to both the people who bought it, but after all the effort and time I put into that book - and especially the work I did in promoting it - it's easy to feel disappointed and discouraged.

My first book sold 2,000 copies which made it a bestseller for its market, but that was ten years ago. What has changed? Is my writing getting worse? Should I hang up my keyboard and take up gardening instead?

The internet was still relatively new in 2001, so Haven was widely promoted the old-fashioned way, with posters for bookstore windows, adverts in book catalogues, a radio advert and bookmarks. When my third novel (Easterfield) was published in 2008 my publishers told me to set up a website, blog and Facebook page, to contact other authors for reciprocal reviews. In a nutshell, to do all my own publicity. I was a little taken aback at first. I wasn’t self-publishing, so surely publicity and marketing was their job?

Promoting a book is often prohibitively expensive for the publishers. Those end-of-shelf displays which showcase a particular new release are paid-for placements, and it's the publishers who pay for them. Likewise it costs money to have a book featured in a catalogue, and publishers work on narrow margins. So my latest books aren’t in catalogues and have never been advertised. Sales of these books rely on shoppers picking them up and being intrigued by the back cover blurb, or perhaps reading a review or hearing a recommendation from a friend. Buyers are no longer "primed" by having my books placed before them in a catalogue, on a poster or on a bookstore display.

But there are other reasons why sales may be dropping not just for me, but for my fellow authors. The global recession has meant that people have less money to spend on books, and since a book is one product you can't take back to the shop if you don't like it (believe me, I’ve tried) it's something of a risky investment when money is tight and TV entertainment is free.

The market is also growing. With the huge growth of “indie” publishing anyone can publish almost anything, and the market is flooded with cheap and appealing fiction by new authors. With a larger number of books available the finite number of readers are spread thinly.

What all this means is that if I want sales of Honeymoon Heist and No Escape to rival those of my first two books, I have to put in more work, write better books that people will talk about, and do my own publicity as much as I possibly can.