Life and Death in Writing

I cried in my bed last night. I read the last few chapters of ‘The Time Travellers Wife,’ once again. It made me think of life, death and all the hues inbetween.

My review of ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ in another blog post was made prematurely. I believe I gave it a good review when I should have given it an excellent review. I was disheartened by a few things, but then again, just like life, books can have their rough and bitter edges, and will give us occasional words or sentences we might prefer to skip over inattentively. To be honest, I cried over the sad letter Henry wrote to his wife (such letters ought to come with a box of kleenex).

I was blown away. Niffenegger took an ordinary couple and made them extra-ordinary. Not just for their dedication in trying to live a normal life within Henry’s transcendental and universally mind-blowing illness, but as a reflection of humanity, their endurance teaches us that we can and do survive the many cruel blows along the way.

And all for what?

Well for love of course.

Time travelling became the norm for these characters, and the consequences of that were sadly accepted long before any bitter-endings arrived. This is the cream of characterisation. Whilst most authors settle on less impossible scientifically brain-puddling themes, the message is the same everywhere, we endure all, because we must.

When I created Maggie in ‘The Last Gift,’ I wanted her to overcome a life of slavery and upper class brutality, even though thousands didn’t survive it. But if she hadn’t my book would have closed its doors by Chapter Two. Maggie had nothing to live for, really. Possibly all she had was the (less than perfect) air which she breathed and the protective love of her kind parents, who too frequently had troubles of their own to contend with. The fact that my heroine smelt the scent of death every day only served to make her a stronger and more resilient human being.

In the story, Maggie lives on to witness and experience better things, whilst many of her loved ones perished. No matter what century we live in, we can relate to that. To love and death. Its equal intransigence and totality. It is the sum of all things of which we care and write about.

I relate to death in fiction because I feel I am always sitting within it’s ever present sneer of inevitability. I know it will grab me one day no matter how many crunches I do on a weekly basis. La vida es asi! Through books we should be able to visualise the brutality of life and its beauty; the same with death. As a writer I will always strive to comprehend the two, and then my aim is to be able to make my reader feel what it is that I have learned.

New Ideas and Words, This Autumn.

It’s been a long while since I caught up with you guys. But here I am, once again, full of inspiring new thoughts and ideas. After a lovely summer in Scotland I have finally sat down to work again so there is a new book in the making, one which I hope will please most of my faithful readers. A little bit of news about the book and what it is all about, will be forthcoming in another post.

But isn’t it exciting when the summer ends, and the leaves begin to turn yellow and scatter across the pavement? It reminds us that each year when some things in life die and fade away, memories, feelings, there is always the promise of a new day, a new season and a new journey.

Similarly, there is always the scope for new new stories and a brand new vision in our lives, no matter how good or disappointing our previous ones were. I hope everyone has an uplifting and positive view in the coming months.



Publishing Questions and Answers

Having worked in the writing/publishing world for more than ten years, I have noticed massive changes in the way publishing works for both independent and traditionally published authors. After a successful five year indie book campaign, I negotiated a deal with a UK publisher which gave me further insight into this elusive business.

But often for new writers, the area of publishing is daunting altogether, so in good faith I have answered a few questions. (Bear in mind that I am based in the United Kingdom and publishing methods can vary in other countries.)

Lastly, my thanks goes to @crites_es for posting the following questions for me to answer in Twitter, which we both agreed would be useful for others.

1. It’s my understanding that you have to market yourself regardless if you self or traditionally publish. What’s pros and cons for both?

I know that many independent publishers today require their authors to make some considerable effort towards marketing their books. If you don’t have something more to offer them other than a manuscript, i.e. time, personality, drive, confidence… it’s not the most attractive pitch.

Traditionally published authors are stepping up to doing a lot of the marketing themselves, by agreement even, and for many reasons. One is that many independent publishers don’t have the resources or time to do it for every single author they have. It can’t be a bad thing to do a few book signings yourself, talk to reader/library groups etc. So that is a pro. With a good pitch you can attend signings and festivals with a good publisher’s backing. Attending writing groups is also a good way to improve your social skills in this respect.

The con is that if you’re a particularly shy person who isn’t great at putting yourself forward it’s going to be doubly hard. This also applies if you live in a remote area and have little access to venues or locations where you could actively promote your work.

2. If you self publish can you still send the book off to publishers to see if they will accept it?

Some publishers are very strict on this. Others may be open to discussion. It really is a matter of asking.

My publisher offered me a hybrid deal. It suited me because I retain a lot of the control I already had, and get a ‘little extra.’ through true publishing channels. In effect I am both a self published and a published author. This is becoming more common today. My books were re-published with a new ISBN which is required by the publisher for his own trade catalogue. (This is how you come across books saying “First published by.. or Second Edition published by..”) Yes! Books can really do the rounds.

My books were also deposited to national libaries in Oxford/Cambridge in London and distributed in the paperback trade via companies that are ‘locked in’ to publishers only. Those aspects of marketing come under a publisher’s control. How that actually works down at admin quarters, I have little clue because I am not a true publisher, but it is their end of the deal and my book is a product. He sells a few and I get my royalty, so win/win.

At the end of the day, it all depends on what the publisher wants from you and what you are able to offer, and wish to accept. It can be a small bit of support or it can be large.

3. What are the best ways to advertise your work?

Each SP author needs to learn this and it takes a while. It took me over a year to gain traction. Some tips: Make sure you don’t spam. It never works. And it doesn’t really work selling to those who are also trying to sell to you. Seek writers for feedback, book swaps etc. If you’ve done your homework in knowing your target audience you should be looking in those places, for your customers: the readers.

Also beware of rogue marketing claims. How to write a bestseller and make $$ in 30 days. It’s rubbish. The thing with big publishers is that they spend thousands on advertising/marketing. They have experts running campaigns that they’ve been learning to do for years, throwing in vast amounts in advertising, but they also lose just as much. Most indie authors are winging it and then can have varying degrees of success.

In self-publishing standards, marketing your book yourself is a harder task because you may not have the leverage and/or funds to get your books into the mainstream, reviewed by media etc. As you can see SP books have saturated the market. Readers have abundant choice. The only way I have seen that is effective in marketing self-publishing books is by actively ‘even physically’, approaching third parties and networking with those who can extend or provide valuable author opportunities.

4. Is it best to self publish through Amazon or a private press?

I think the large quantity book production tank is a bit of a risk. I personally don’t think it’s worth it. I never did it. But as said, each SP author will have his/her own goal plan and directives.

Unless I had a significant number of buyers and/or pre-order customers it’s just not worth it. I’ve spoken to many excited authors who ordered large quantities of their book, only to still have the majority of them stacked away in a cupboard a year later and end up flogging them to family and friends. It’s deflating.

Print on Demand is a better option for unknown authors, in my opinion.

5. If you publish through Amazon, can someone search Amazon for you or can they only go through a link?

Every author on Amazon can be found on their search engine.  Today each author’s page includes a bibliography, can include a biography, author photo, plus much more. They do not allow outbound links, for obvious reasons. Amazon are getting more tuned in to providing a framework for authors that is not just a platform for book sales but also to showcase their writing careers.

6. How many books sold is considered good?

I suppose it depends on personal expectation. Initially I thought 50 sales of my first book in a year would be fantastic, but then I achieved a few thousand. I could say that was good, but not as good as those authors who sold 10, 20 or 100 times more.

What I do know is that as an independent author, at the end of the day if you base your happiness and fulfilment levels on sales figures and monetary rewards, disappointment is highly likely, and probably inevitable. To look at sales as something that is possible or achievable but not the be all and end all of your writing life, is a much healthier perspective to have. It is always best to focus on the quality of your work for the enjoyment and pleasure in creating it and sharing it with readers, building up a platform, getting noticed, then looking at any future sales as a bonus for the hard work you’ve put in.