Thursday, 31 January 2013

Les Miserables - How ideas are formed

I had a very strange conversation the other night.
An ad came on the TV for the new "Les Mis" movie and my teenage son looked up from his phone (a rare thing in my house!) and said "What's that about?"

This is how my mind and sense of humour works - I said: "It's about a bunch of anti-heroes who go round to the bad guy's house and then stand around and winge so much that they make him totally miserable and then there's no need for anyone to physically harm him in any way."

My son's mouth dropped open and he looked long and hard at me. I stared back and then smiled, but for a moment or two I had him going.

Anti-heroes are an idea that my son and I discuss often.
Don't get me wrong, I love Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of the crew although when we watched their movie, my son said: "How come a billionnaire in a suit, a man who did some serious drugs to get the way he is, a man in a skirt and a man with anger issues get to be heroes?"
Out of the mouths of babes....

Anyway, I have thought of my own bunch of anti-heroes and borrowed my son's art pad and pencils so that I could get them out of my head and onto paper. When I have the cartoon copyright, I'll post them on my blog.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who are you writing for?

There is one subject that places a new writer onto the middle of the publishing world's see-saw: self-publishing. "Everyone has one book inside them" - if you are a new writer, then does this apply to you?

After attending writer workshops, it became apparent to me that there are various categories of writer. Some, aim to write "that one book" and itch to get it out there, whereas others seek a new career or want to use their book as a stepping stone to something else.

Publishers know what they like and what will sell so it can be very frustrating for a writer to receive rejection after rejection and then feel like they are on a conveyor belt to nowhere. At that point the writer may be tempted to self-publish, which personally, was never an option for me as I knew I would always have one nagging thought at the back of my mind: "Well, anyone could do that so how would I know what I'd written was worthy of publication?" Plus, I was lucky and a publisher liked "Temptation" enough to back me.

If the subject of your book would only appeal to a small group, eg: tales of local events, then you may want to self-publish because you know who in your town would want to buy it.

If however, you are frustrated because you haven't received an offer yet and the future for your book looks grim, then put your business head on and really think about:
a) the money to do it
b) the time it is going to take you to promote and market it (because nobody else is going to do it for you and the publishing company will only do so much)
c) researching the people who cater for self-publishing because there are a lot of sharks out there and the returns may leave you out of pocket.

So - its a messy business and very, very frustrating, IF you allow it to be.
This is a decision only YOU can make, despite words of advice from well-meaning friends and colleagues or family. But, before you do, make sure you have all the facts and are realistic about it.

At one workshop, I met a woman who had self-published a novel and then said to me: "I've sold 500 copies but its taken me over a year and when will I ever get time to write?" She had only just covered the cost of publication.

If you are simply just frustrated, then give yourself a kick up the behind and go back to your manuscript. Be brave enough to let someone else read it and ask for a realistic assessment and not just lip service because of friendship. If, at that point you are convinced your book is being overlooked because you are an unknown quantity - then, do the math and ask yourself if you want a new career as both a writer and publicist.

The worst case scenario is that you devote another 3 months to changing your characters and story line (because let's face it, during that time you may just tread water and still get nowhere). Sometimes, just changing a character's age and perspective can triggar new story lines.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

eBooks versus paperbacks

When receiving a publisher offer, you have to consider what path you want to take. I speak purely from the perspective of an English author.

Traditional publishers will print books on demand for new authors, so the offer will be for just a small quantity to be issued to mainstream bookstores who have to then sell them before any more are printed. Lots of bookstores welcome new debut authors to sit at a desk and sign their books as it draws people to their stores but usually this is arranged locally, at one store. The offer may include eBooks but a lot of traditional publishers focus on what they know best and the push will be for their more established authors.
It may sound glamorous but the reality is that if the book does not sell then only the initial quantity will be printed and it will not go abroad. Some authors may be happy with this because they have produced the one book and fulfilled a dream.

An eBook publisher will focus on all new technology available to readers and it is not a simple job of just converting your manuscript, as numerous software versions have to cater for each eBookstore's requirements and anti-piracy stipulations. Also, your publisher has connections and knows who and when to target.

So - as a potential author, is your ego telling you that only printed books will be acceptable and you look forward to sitting at a table and signing books, or are you looking to the future?

My decision to go down the eBook path was purely a personal one, after also considering offers from 2 traditional publishers. People will continue to buy printed books and eBooks, as do some people who still like to buy CDs or vinyl. The times, they are a-changing and as people change how they live, they also change how they read.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

My Worst Ever Christmas Present


I posted the following short story in The Guardian blog on 21st December 2012:
One Christmas, a relative once gave me an exquisitely wrapped present. It was a box and when I opened it and pulled out the delicate tissue paper I discovered that I was holding in my hand an eagle's foot. The foot, for it was the lower part of a leg with talons on the end, was mounted on a small mahogany plinth and the talons held a round crystal ball. All I could say was "Oh!" and it was probably one of the only times in my life that I have been totally lost for words.
My next reaction was to put the thing down on the coffee table as soon as I could and the ensuing silence probably said more than any words. I shuddered with the sensation of still feeling it within my hand but I couldn't take my eyes from it.
Pretty soon, an attempt at an explanation followed: "Well I know you like unusual things and when I saw it at an antique fair, I thought immediately of you!"
Needless to say, the present was disposed of by the end of Boxing Day, having a suitably tactful display on the coffee table before being moved to a far shelf and left there until it met its fate.
For my birthday in March, I then received a set of finely crafted matador knives complete with red tassels and I was totally dumbfounded. They soon met a similar fate to the eagles foot but the limits to my polite acquiescence had been sorely tested. The same relative now gives me a box of smellies or gloves.