Some writerly thoughts on writerly things…

A fellow fantasy writer, Phil Tucker of The Chronicles of the Black Gate series, has posted some thoughts for aspiring writers. They’re well worth a read, so I thought I’d link it here. If you’re thoughts ever turn to giving this writing lark a go, particularly the self publishing route, then this is a very good place to start:

https://www.authorphiltucker.com/blog-1/2018/3/23/some-advice

Nothing much to report at my end at the moment – working away on various projects, all of which are, of course, top secret! I hope everyone is well, and enjoying spring!

7 Thoughts on Writing and Publishing…

I’ve gotten a few mails asking me how I’ve approached publishing my work, so I thought I’d write up a post about it. I’ll preface by saying I’m certainly no expert, and anything that’s worked for me might not work for someone else, and vice versa. I’m not an outlier or one of the run away success stories, but I am now making my full-time living as a writer, so some of my experiences may be helpful. These are a few things that I do.

1. The Writers’ Cafe on the KBoards forum. Every day for me starts with a few minutes there. It has a vast amount of information relating to pretty much everything you could encounter as a writer. It’s up to date, with discussions on changes to the playing field usually starting up within minutes of the announcement being made. There’s also regularly updated information on what marketing methods are working, and those that aren’t.

2. Editing. It’s expensive, but in my opinion vital. Find a good editor and start building a relationship with them. It’s important to have an objective set of eyes look over your work. Find an editor who isn’t afraid to be mean to you. When you publish your work, readers will find any problems that exist. Better to know about them when you have the opportunity to fix them. For me, this point extends through the whole range: developmental edit, line edit, and proof reading. I also have some alpha and beta readers look over things before and after the developmental edit. I’ve told them to be as mean as possible too!

3. Covers. Probably best to outsource this one, unless you’ve artistic ability and training in the necessary software. With time and effort I could probably reach a point where I could put together reasonable covers—I love playing around with photoshop as my mapping efforts should show—but they’ll never be as good as those created by full time designers/artists. My time is better spent doing what I do, and leaving the artwork to experts.

4. Formatting. I’ve come to the opinion that ebook formatting (print is an entirely different matter) can be done by the writer. Learning the HTML coding and the process to format an ebook isn’t too difficult, and there is software now that will produce professional looking ebooks across the formats quite quickly. These make it far easier for me to react to any typos that have slipped through the net, and also update the front/back matter of the books when needed. I’ve learned how to manually code with HTML, and right now I’m experimenting with software called Vellum, which I’m hoping will speed and ease this process.

5. Distributing. Whether you choose to go exclusive with Amazon to take advantage of the benefits of Prime Borrowing (now also Kindle Unlimited, whatever it may mean for the future) and Countdown Deals, or make your book available everywhere you can is entirely up to you. I think there are good arguments on both sides, but I’ve chosen to make my books available in as many places as I can. The Writers’ Cafe is a good place to go to research people’s experiences of both options.

6. Advertising. As best I can tell, there’s no magic bullet on this one unfortunately. If you know of one, please tell me! I can keep a secret, honest! I’ve tried a few of the options here, and really can’t discount any even if I was disappointed with them at the time. They might not transfer into direct sales, but they may have a less visible effect on platform building and market exposure. It’s hard to say – a bit of a mystery to me really. Again, the Writers’ Cafe can educate on this, but trial and error will always be part of my approach, as what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. The genre you write in also comes into play heavily here.

7. Platform. I see my online presence as being a resource for people who read my books and want to know more, keep up to date, and get in touch. It’s a service for those who’ve already read them rather than a method of bringing more people in. Other people might approach this differently, which is perfectly valid, but this is the way I choose to position myself.

Finally, if you take your writing seriously, and want to make a career of it, the one piece of overarching advice I would give is professionalism. Create a professional product, and behave in a professional way. If you follow those two rules, I think you’re giving yourself the best possible start! (I hope!)

Addendum

On reflection, I really should have mentioned building a personal mailing list under point 7, or in a point all of its own (I was going for a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven kind of vibe though!). This is important, and, I think, increasingly so. There are a number of services out there that you can use, many of which are free up to a certain number of subscribers. Conventional wisdom (see Kboards for more on this) suggests to get started building a list as early as possible – even before your first book is out. I use mine purely to notify subscribers when a new book is released.

From personal experience – when sending out a mail, make sure to double check the subject line has the correct title for the relevant book!

On craft and learning…

I came across a series of Youtube videos a few days ago that I want to share here, as I think they are a pretty incredible resource for anyone interested in writing.

https://www.youtube.com/user/WriteAboutDragons

It’s a series of lectures given by Brandon Sanderson on creative writing and the publishing business in general. Brandon wrote the Mistborn series, among other things, and was also chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. He’s easily one of the biggest (if not the biggest) name in modern fantasy writing, so anything he says is going to be worth listening to.

It would be a pretty big treat to get to see a one hour workshop with someone as talented and high profile as him so for them to have put an entire academic year’s worth of lectures (I think there’s 2 years there now) online for anyone to watch is unbelievably generous.

If you write and want to improve, watch ’em!

What I’m working on…

The sequel to The Tattered Banner is back from the editor, so most of my effort is going into working through the changes on that. Still on track for my intended release window (it’s a large one!) and I’m starting to think about cover design. Usually I have a pretty clear idea of what direction I want to go in, but not the case this time around! Not yet anyway!

I’m also spending a bit of time each day working on the final part of the Society of the Sword trilogy, which is between drafts 1 and 2, as there’s a subplot that I want to develop before I go back through the entire manuscript. I’m keeping time free to do this every day, as I like the continuity that I get by working on Book 2 at the same time. It’s only tidying up and polishing for Book 2 at this point, but I find it helps with keeping the tone consistent, rather than working on them in isolation.

That’s all for today. I hope everyone’s enjoying their summer!

Why I love writing…

I sat down this morning to start work on a new project, (actually, I sat down to pack my bag for the gym, but that didn’t quite happen…) and as I come to the end of my first day of working on it, I’m reminded about what it is that I really love about writing.

When I started writing this morning, there was nothing more than an idea floating around in my head, and scribbled across a few pages. 5,000 words later, there are new people, new places and new events starting to take shape. Brave deeds, conflicted heroes and morally dubious villains; breathtaking vistas, rustic villages and sprawling cities, none of which existed this morning. That’s what I really love about writing.

Updates

The Tattered Banner has now been finalised and is off for ebook conversion, so is still on schedule for release by the end of the month!

IMG_0544

The view from 3200m

In other news, I’m just back from vacation and readjusting to the harsh reality of normal life!

The Mighty Scrivener

On an impulse I bought Scrivener a little while back, before I’d really read any reviews on it or knew anything about it. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a word processor and organiser aimed at writers. I took a quick look at it when I bought it and then forgot about it; I was quite busy at the time and really didn’t want to have to learn how to use something new, which at first glance I thought would take a while. This was an incorrect assumption, as I shall outline below.

Since then I’ve seen more and more talk online about how good a tool it is for writing novels. Long story short, I decided to give it another look. I started off with the included tutorial. It took me about 2 hours to go through, although I was dithering and distracted a couple of times, so this might not be a good guide as to how long it will take someone else.

As I worked through the tutorial, there were a lot of features that immediately jumped out as being very attractive to the way I work. With Word (I’m on a Mac by the way), I always write in focus view, which is great for eliminating distractions. Scrivener has this feature also (compose mode), so in making the switch I wasn’t losing it.

My current (now former) work practice is (was) to have my main manuscript in a word document, and all my notes, character details and what not in a separate notebook document. This meant quite a bit of jumping between my manuscript in focus view and my other documents which annoyed me a bit but I couldn’t work out a better way to deal with the situation (that’s certainly not to say there isn’t one!).

Scrivener allows all the information relating to my work to be contained within the one document, which I really like. It has a section for the manuscript, research, and templates, which can be modified to taste for describing and recording character information and locations, or anything else really. Very handy. What’s more, all this information can be accessed by a non-intrusive, disappearing menu bar while in Scrivener’s version of focus mode, compose, without having to exit it and go to another window, which I find  incredibly useful.

Manuscript handling is also very clever, with each scene, chapter and part being contained within individual files which can later be very easily compiled into a single document in a great many different formats. For me this isn’t such an earth shattering thing in the first draft writing process, but where it really comes into its own is when you are reviewing and editing. Having just come out of this process in the last couple of months with The Tattered Banner, there are a great many features here that I wish I had when doing that. The ability to move individual scenes about with minimum effort is great, as is the ability to append notes to each individual scene, outlining what happens, what is meant to happen etc and being able to display this information in an overview. All very useful stuff when working on an existing manuscript.

I’m not even gong to start on the ability to add keywords and tags for easy navigating, as I haven’t really gotten that far into this myself, but the usefulness of this is pretty obvious and I’m just starting to avail of it to make it easier to keep track of sub plots.

There’s plenty more that I could mention even after such a short time using it, but to sum up, after 2 hours going through the tutorial and about the same amount of time mucking about with a manuscript I imported into it, I’m completely sold. There are features in it that I can’t understand how I ever did without. Needless to say I’m going to be using it for the foreseeable future!

Gunpowder

This is blog number 2 in my ‘inspiring areas of history’ theme. The same disclaimer in the first one applies here!

I’m sure most of you have seen the diagrams from da Vinci’s notebooks of flying machines, tanks and other ahead of their time ideas. For me however, the factor that had the biggest impact on the development of technology during the Renaissance period was gunpowder.

It first appeared in Western Europe at some point in the latter half of the thirteenth century. By the battle of Crécy in 1346, canon were appearing on the battlefield. Gunpowder was yet to take centre stage; at Agincourt in 1415 it was the longbow that drew fame in contributing to the English defeat over the French, due to its success against the French cavalry.

The drawback with the longbow was that it required considerable training to use effectively, not to mention a huge amount of strength to draw. The firearm on the other hand required far less time to train someone in its use. In defining the move from the feudal age, perhaps the most significant aspect is the effect that canon had on siege warfare; they essentially rendered the medieval castle obsolete.

Similarly, by the latter half of the 16th century, with the development of the musket, it was virtually impossible to make a suit of armour that could withstand a bullet. Indeed, handguns were so effective that cavalry forces dropped the lance in their favour, which also aided in the decline of the use of armour, as mobility was favoured over heavy protection. Armour was gradually reduced, piece by piece until all that was left were the helmets and breastplates that were still in use at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

As with all great change, it is rarely possible to attribute it to any one single factor; most often there are many, but the introduction and ever greater use of gunpowder must be seen as significant among them.

In terms of inspiration for writing, I think the aspect of change discussed here is very fertile ground. This period marks a shift in military culture, from feudal knights in ever more elaborate armour and their levies, to standing forces that were taking on the first characteristics of modern armies. This means certain individuals would find themselves and their way of thinking obsolete, while for others, more receptive to change and perhaps less heavily invested in what had come before, there were great opportunities to be had. The dynamic of the clash between old and new ideas is always a very interesting concept to explore and this period, 1400-1600 or so, provides a great many examples.

Additionally, if you write fantasy, there is also the clash between technology and magic. Would the presence of magic stifle the need for technological development? Would proponents of the two different concepts come into conflict? Plenty of inspiration to work with here I think!

Coming up next…

I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts the influence that history has on my writing, and I think also the fact that I started off writing historical fiction but drifted toward fantasy for the greater imaginative freedom this genre offers. History as a subject represents something of a first love for me and I have a masters degree in the subject.

This leads me to the subject matter of this post. For my next few posts, kind of a Christmas special, I’m going to spend a bit of time talking about the historical periods that interest me and the aspects of them that have been particularly influential on my fantasy writing. In terms of discussion, it’s also something that I can talk about ’till the cows come home with a smile on my face, so feel free to pitch in if you’ve anything to add or would like to hear more about any topic I’ve touched on.

I expect I’ll start posting them either toward the end of this week or early next week, so do try to contain your excitement until then!

On maps…

This blog is a follow on from my previous one on realistic societies.

I spend a lot of time making maps, badly. I’m not particularly good at drawing and don’t have the first idea of how to use any of the cad or image manipulation software that some people use to great effect in mapping, but I’ve always been fascinated with maps and enjoy making them when I have time. I think that they’re also a pretty important step in fantasy world building for a number of reasons.

One of the things a fantasy writer has to give some thought to, something that is perhaps not so big an issue for a fiction/historical fiction writer, is distances and travel time, and they have to be consistent. For this, a map, drawn to scale, is utterly invaluable. Add in a little research that is appropriate to the technology level your world is based around on travel speeds and you’ve got something to work with. Sailing speeds, marching speeds, riding speeds, walking speed all gives you an idea of how far your characters can go in a day, and how long it will take them to get to wherever it is you need them to be.

The next thing that they are useful for is to work through what physical geographical features are going to impact on the characters over the course of their journey. It’s a reference point that allows you to make their behaviour a little bit more consistent across the board. If a city is on the coast but surrounded by mountains on its landward side, they’re far more likely to travel by sea than land without good reason.

It can also fuel creation; the physical features of the land might explain why a city is where it is, and what the events were that made it an attractive spot. Venice is a nice real world example of this.

As with all background work for a novel, just because you know it, doesn’t mean it needs to or should go into the story. Just because I know it takes my character three days to get from A to B, doesn’t mean I should devote any more than a sentence or two to the journey!