Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ups and downs of an indie writer

On Kindleboards I came across this post by V.J. Chambers which struck an instant chord with me. I'm sure most self-published authors will agree it's spot on about the ups and downs of an indie writer. 

The good news is, that most traditionally published authors experience similar ups and downs, but the whole process is much slower, you have less control, less direct information to obsess over, and it's possible to be dumped by your publisher.

My emotional writing journey by V.J. Chambers

  1. I loooove writing. I'm going to get published and make millions of dollars!
  2. (100 no-responses from agents later and two manuscripts later) This is really hard and demoralizing. Why do I freaking bother?
  3. Discover self-publishing is not as bad as eating babies.
  4. I loooove self-publishing. I'm going to market my butt off and play with my price and make millions of dollars!
  5. So, um, I'm not actually making any money. This is really hard and demoralizing. Why do I freaking bother?
  6. OMG! I'm selling more!
  7. OMG! I'm still selling more. If this keeps up, I could quit my day job!
  8. Oh. So, I'm, um, not really selling that many books any more. This is really hard and demoralizing. But I bother because I know that it's possible to be successful.
  9. Huh. My sales are picking up again.
  10. Huh. My sales are plummeting.
  11. So, um, apparently this writing thing is going to be emotionally draining. 
You can sample V.J.'s first novel in her Toil and Trouble trilogy on Amazon in the UK and US.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Penguin and publishing options today

I haven't blogged about Penguin's move into vanity publishing as it's been covered elsewhere - if you've somehow missed reading about it, I'd recommend David Gaughran's post. It's really annoying to see yet another attempt to make money out of naive wannabe writers.

Writers, without whom there would be no books, bookshops or publishing industry (and no films for that matter) are generally treated surprisingly badly. The Big Six offer ever smaller advances and more comprehensive contracts; writers are the only people involved in publishing who mostly don't make a living wage. Anyone submitting work to agents is resigned to slow responses, form rejections or being ignored. We keep quiet about the worst horror stories (though they'd make riveting blog posts) because we want to be seen as professional.

And everyone, it seems, sees opportunities for making money out of writers thwarted by the near-impossibility of getting a legacy contract. I believe there are three sensible ways of reaching your readers today:

  • A traditional publishing deal. Though this is probably still most writers' dream, it's less advantageous than it was even ten years ago. Increasingly, publishing is more about marketing than the product and new or mid-list authors can feel neglected.
  • Small press publishing deal. There are some small presses, such as Ridan, that do very well for their authors. Others, such as Night Publishing, are more like co-operatives. You need to look carefully at each one to see exactly what they offer and what their terms are, but if you are not happy going it alone this might suit you.
  • Self-publishing. You control everything, but will need to learn how to do or commission covers, formatting, editing, proofreading and uploading to Amazon's KDP.
    I can see the temptation of Penguin's offer for newbie writers. After all, Penguin is one of the most famous names in the business - and for a fee they will take some of the jobs you have no idea how to do off your hands. But then they will take 30% of every sale you make. Honestly, you can do better on your own. Trust me on this.

    Saturday, 12 November 2011

    My interview on BBC's You and Yours

    Last Friday You and Yours broadcast an item about Amazon and publishing, including a brief interview with a self-published author - me.

    A month ago, the Daily Mail Online had an article about Hive, a website set up by Gardners to 'try and stop even more independent bookshops from having to close by allowing people to buy books, e-books and DVDs online put money towards a local bookshop at the same time.' Amazon is depicted as the baddie, responsible for closing bookshops; famously nice Michael Palin supports Hive. (Not a good name, Hive - try looking it up on Google.)

    I commented on the article: Like every reader, I want bookshops to flourish. But I'm also a writer, and when I looked up my novels on Hive, they are there but 'not available'. Why? Because I'm a self-published author. My books are available on Amazon. Amazon has enabled me to sell 45,000 books, mostly ebooks, over the past year. But it's virtually impossible to persuade bookshops to stock indie books, even with the full trade discount. So my loyalty remains with Amazon, and that's where I'll continue to buy books.

    I was somewhat staggered to see my comment voted the least popular. But then I got a phone call from a You and Yours researcher; they were going to do a piece on Amazon, had seen my comment and wanted me to record an interview.

    The BBC is only a thirty minute bike ride from Hoxton. I was taken up in a lift to the fifth floor and a small, sound-proof studio with a window into the room next door where two women controlled the sound. They asked me to keep my hands off the table so the microphone didn't pick up stray noise. Peter White came in. It's strange meeting someone you've often heard on the radio - you feel you know him, but he doesn't know you. His pleasant, relaxed demeanour made me less nervous. He asked me questions, and I remembered to keep my hands in my lap while answering. Then I biked back, thinking of all the things I might have said and didn't.
    I missed the programme, as my sister was in London that Friday and I met her for lunch, so I didn't hear it until it was available on BBC iPlayer. I got several emails from friends who'd heard it by chance, and a couple from writers asking my advice. I also sold half a dozen paperbacks of Remix and Replica on Amazon.

    It was an interesting experience, and I now feel more confident about doing something similar another time.

    Friday, 4 November 2011

    Are your villains too sympathetic?

    I find unremittingly evil villains boring. Take Voldemort, for instance - what does he get out of life, what motivates him? What does he do in the long winter evenings? He must, surely, get fed up with thinking up ways of being nasty to people and gaining world domination 24/7. Doesn't he ever fancy going out for a pizza and a film?

    I tend to err on the other side. In my first novel, Torbrek...and the Dragon Variation,  the baddie Skardroft became so sympathetic I had to introduce a further baddie, Corfe, who as a torturer was hard to like. But I have to say, in the sequel, I feel sorry for Corfe as he attempts to continue his evil ways after suffering well-deserved head injuries...

    There is an interesting discussion on this topic on Kindleboards. The suggestions of how to make your baddie sympathetic, but still evil, are so insightful I'm going to quote them here:
    • My current WIP is a fantasy, and my villain became so cool, charismatic, and *sympathetic* that he was dominating the whole story! The problem was - I think - that we had too much of his POV.  We saw too much of his thoughts and related to him too strongly.  I went back and either cut his POV scenes, or rewrote them from another POV. And suddenly - voilĂ  - he became scary again.  He's still a very charismatic villain, but he's clearly a villain. Sandra Miller
    • I always get into the heads of my villains and yes, their self-justification can be surprisingly effective. I wouldn't consider this a drawback, however. A richly drawn, slightly sympathetic villain is a wonderful detail to include in your novel. Michael Wallace
    • Sympathetic is fine; what is important is fear. The reader might understand and even sympathize with a villain but when that villain is in the same room as the protagonist there needs to be fear, uncertainty about what that villain might do. It's that fear and uncertainty in the heart of the reader that makes a villain effective and if the villain is also sympathetic that's even better. KM Johnson-Weider
    • To create a good villain, you have to be willing to completely, utterly, irrevocably damage the lives of characters you love. Otherwise, you're just having guys wave around guns with blanks instead of bullets. David Dalglish
    • The uncertainty has to be there.  I think what I need to do now is make something happen to throw the readers the other way again.  So you thought you understand this person? Think again! Several people have commented that it's best to keep the villain off-stage as well, at least initially.   The monster in the shadows is scarier than the one you can see, as long as you also see the bodies strewn around. Masha DuToit
    I think I'm getting better at writing convincing but dislikeable villains. One reviewer commented about Sir Peter Ellis in Replica: ' the oily and cold-blooded boss is totally believable'. That'll do me.