About robjtriggs

Currently based in Cambridgeshire but with links to Belfast, Bradford and Norwich, I'm a writer of speculative fiction and a dreamer of dreams. Including that one which starts out nice and then turns on you like a twisty-turny thing

On blurbs

So. Blurbs. In another week of not getting anything very productive done (sick child and imminent deadline) I turn my mind to blurbing – writing the copy that traditionally goes on the back cover of one’s book. If you’re successful your blurb may consist only of a list of other notables saying great things about you and your work. For the rest of us it’s possibly the hardest thing you’ll have to write. Harder, even, then the accursed synopsis.

A good blurb introduces the scene, the major characters and, perhaps most importantly, it sets the tone. It should tell people this is the sort of thing they’re looking for, whether they knew it or not. In these days of thumbnail covers and mobile-phone screens, a good blurb is a key weapon in the armoury of marketing.

All at 150 words max.

As a baby writer, I was somewhat surprised to realise that I was expected to write this myself. I assumed the editor or some underpaid underling would take on the task. Then I was even more surprised when my putative copy made it onto the back on my novel without e’en a comma, a character, changed.

Of course, your experience may vary. But I did it all myself, and have no-one else to blame for their shortcomings.

So Night Shift can still be found with the following:

Antarctica. A mining base at the edge of the world.

Anders Nordvelt, last-minute replacement as head of security, has no time to integrate himself into the crew before an act of sabotage threatens the project. He must untangle a complex web of relationships from his position as prime suspect.

Then a body is found in the ice. Systems fail as the long night falls. Now Anders must do more than find a murderer: he must find a way to survive.

Will anyone endure the night shift, or will ice and frozen corpses be all that remains?

96 words. Human Resources’ blurb was a whole 4 words longer, coming in at exactly 100:

Antarctica. A city on the edge of nowhere.

Anders Nordvelt is chief of security in this frozen land, so, when a prominent member of a dissident group is murdered, it is his job to find the killer. Unsatisfied with the obvious explanation, Anders keeps pushing until the body of a colleague turns up in his apartment.

Could Anders really be the killer? Why does he half-remember wielding the knife? And why are the whispers of a fabled Human Resources black-ops team getting ever louder?

As for Anders, he’s about to enter a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a ruthless killer.

I’m not ready to unleash New Gods’ blurb upon you yet. It’s still a work in progress. I can’t get it right, though I’m getting close, I think.

On paper, writing a blurb is a tiny job, almost an afterthought. After slogging away for 75-80k words, what’s another 150 on top of that? But those final words, they have a weight, a difficulty, far beyond their characters. There’s so much to say and such little space in which to say it; so much to convey and such little time to create a voice.

Still, it must be done. And there ain’t no-one gonna do it for me.

The next steps

I was going to write today about the bliss of having finished all one’s paying work (not that the money isn’t appreciated but I’ve the luxury of editing cash being an add-on to other family incomings) and having a bit of free waters upon which to do my own work. I have started (ish) writing original material again, see. But then a new job has hoven into sight and my free time is gone once again. Ah well, pays the bills, is not actively unpleasant, ho hum. Back to the ‘putting off my own work’ we go.

At the moment my free energy, when some of which I get, is mostly being spent on readying New Gods for the big wide world. Having just finished my final read-through, my current missions are to write a blurb and type-set the manuscript, all so I can liaise with the cover designer and get the jacket all properly laid out and beautiful. Which it will be, because the designer’s great and knows what she’s doing. I, for one, don’t.

So: typesetting. I have been wholly ignorant of how to go about laying out a book for publication. It all seems to involve setting up a manuscript with different styles and potentially using software more complicated than Word (I tried using Scrivener for a while – in fact, I reorganized New Gods at an earlier draft-stage – and didn’t really get on with it). This is a strain and was causing considerable stress.

Fortunately, in my peregrinations across the internet, I came across this excellent template which essentially does all the hard work for you. If you’re, like me, looking to self-publish and don’t really know what you’re doing, I heartily recommend at least having a look, if not copying it wholesale.

As for blurbing, again, I am a boy of little brain. I have had goes aplenty – hell, I’ve done it before, for Night Shift and Human Resources. But I’ve never felt like I’ve nailed the brief. How do you make a novel sound gripping and moody and intense and all those good adjectives in only 150 words? It makes writing a synopsis look like a piece of cake.

I shall mull and draft and redraft. And of course you, lovely reader, will be the first to see the results.

The final draft

The final manuscript is turned in. I have completed my last pass of New Gods. The work is done.

Not all the work, obviously. But I have the text that I’m going to take to typesetting and, reserving the right for a spot of last minute panic, the text that will be published when I finally go to press.

I can’t even remember how long I’ve been working on this novel. At least five years, I think; probably more like eight. I am not the quickest of copy-producers, it must be said; though this time includes many interwoven hours working on other projects. It’s hardly been a solid chunk of time.

Still, it’s been a while, and now it’s at an end. Unless there’s some last-minute meteorite-like strike, such as an emergency mind-change from the publishers of the first two novels, this is the text that’s going to make it out to the big wide world.

And now I move on to the next stage of the self-publishing process: typesetting. This is perhaps the stage that I’m most anxious about as I am a total ignoramus when it comes to such things. I don’t understand Styles and I don’t know fonts. I don’t know how to do chapter headings or to make things pretty. I also need to work out what vital info I’m forgetting to put on the inside cover, and then there’s the blurb…

Putting a book together is not an easy or straightforward thing. If it were we’d all be at it.

The other big thing I need to think about is whether or not I can find any decent text I can use in publicity. I’ve already posted a chapter of the text here on this blog. I’d love to post more, but I’m not great at choosing selections – I worry too much about context and whether, in fact, I’m any good at this writing business. Also I don’t want to give too much of the game away; really extracts have to be from the first third of the novel – possibly, maybe?

Ideally I’d have easter eggs to post – deleted scenes, character sketches (written or drawn) or similar exclusives. But I can’t think of anything that’s not terrible and never to see the light of day.

So I’ll mull on that. In the meantime, here’s a kitty with a strong political statement for your delectation.

Oh yeah, we got a kitten. That’s news, I spose.

No promotion

Reasons for not promoting New Gods when I self-publish in October/November:

  • I don’t know how. This is a rubbish reason: I can learn, after all, but right now it feels like I don’t have the mental energy to deal with the development of a new skill, especially one that might need chutzpah, front and brass neck. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my moments, but they’re few and far between and are almost always accompanied by ‘Oh god, what have I done?’ cringe-fests afterwards
  • I don’t like spending money. I mean, I’ll happily invest when I know precisely what I’m doing, but I don’t trust that buying Twitter or Facebook advertising will do anything but pour my funds into a big sinkhole of doom
  • The well-intentioned and thoughtful Tweeting of people who have gradually soaked into my consciousness is much more my preferred method for getting my work across. Not that it’s worked for me so far, but people like Aliette de Bodard, Rod Duncan and John Scalzi came to my consciousness via the medium of Being Decent People first and foremost, and that’s the model I wish to emulate. And yes, I admit that might be a stretch for me, but I’m trying. Very trying.
  • I’m self-publishing the third novel in a trilogy. It seems disingenuous to try and promote this to people who are unaware of the first two books. I mean, I’m perfectly happy to try and promote the first two, but just to do the third? It just seems slightly out-of-whack to me and my weird sense of fair play. It shouldn’t matter – all three novels stand alone and are complete unto themselves. But to me it does
  • I’m no digital mastermind. I can’t Photoshop stuff or create great images
  • It’ll take time that I could better use to create new writing
  • That mental energy thing again. I think that’s probably central here

Reasons I should be doing promotion for New Gods when I self-publish in October/November

  • It’s a good book. It’s the best (I think) of the trilogy and deserves attention. It gives a sense of completion to the series
  • It’s not that hard. A few tweets and Facebook posts go a long way. I can send off a few emails to local (in scale if not geography) press/radio and cross my fingers that someone desperately needs to fill a column/some dead air
  • I’m not that bad at it. I can ramble with the best of them. I have an interesting angle to come from (I’m happy to talk about getting dropped, for example). I am (hopefully obviously) literate and can send decent begging emails
  • I’m going to have amazing artwork, about which I will talk more in the future
  • I suppose it might just help me sell a few more copies – if not of New Gods then of Night Shift, the first in the trilogy. And that’s not to be sniffed at
  • I don’t need much to make me happy. I’m already resolved to poor sales. Why not expend a little effort to make what I can out of it? At least to try and cover my costs

What will I likely do in response to the October/November release of New Gods?

  • Tweet a little
  • Write a blog-post or two
  • Worry about getting the technical details of the release right
  • Wonder why the world isn’t beating a path to my door
  • Lament poor sales
  • Worry I’m not doing enough, that I’m missing great opportunities
  • Tweet a little more
  • Move on to the next thing

In case you’re wondering…

In case anyone’s wondering, writing for the moment is going slowly and painfully, vanquished as it has been by the demands of work and of editing and It Being Bloody Hard.

My creative muscles seem to have atrophied. After a good, fast start to my new novel, I’ve run into the first real speed-mountain on my way to Completionsville. Creative decisions have stymied me and I’ve found it hard to focus, to put in the real brain-work needed to get over the hump.

This obstruction came just at a time when I found lots of other stuff on my plate; a return to frontline employment, a bevy of editing jobs and suchlike. Thus I allowed momentum to slip away and – though long-term an enforced break may prove beneficial – I have been unable to really get going again.

This is entirely my fault. Or the fault of my stupid brain.

Recently, external pressures have relented a little – or I’ve managed to find a little more balance in all my doings – and I’ve found myself with the odd hour or so here and there. I’ve allowed myself a final check-through of New Gods prior to typesetting as my Adventures in Self-Publishing continue. But I’ve been cutting that with a return to original writing. Or at least I’ve been trying to.

It’s really not going well. Typically I’ll manage to scrape only 100 words or so in a session, which is absolute peanuts. And I’m entirely unconvinced that they’re a good 100 words either.

That’s the negative way of looking at things. The positive is that I’m working through a really difficult section at the moment, and any progress at all is good. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, to train myself back into the habit of writing and I have plenty of distractions, of other things to do, along the way.

There is no pressure on me to complete other than that I put upon myself. There’s no deadline, no quality control I have to meet. I’m doing this because I want to bring this idea (or set of ideas) to completion. And to prove that I still have what it takes to be a writer.

That pressure I put myself under is real, though. I still doubt, no matter what positive words I can wheel out; I still doubt I have what it takes to make a long-term career as a creative mind. That’s one reason this is so important to me.

In the meantime, I have paying jobs to work through and self-editing to achieve. So my creative time is limited (not that my other tasks don’t involve creativity) and I want to make the most of it. That’s why it hurts to be scratching around the floor for inspiration and motivation. I feel like I need a reboot, a hard reset, to get myself back in the groove.

Or maybe I just need more of a holiday. I’m actually going away – today, in fact – for a week’s ill-deserved vacation in the south-west. Maybe that’s what I need to reignite the touchpaper of writing rehabilitation. Or maybe just dealing with the little one intensively will make me more in need than ever.

We shall see.

It also means there may not be a blog next week, unless something especially grabs me – and I grab time – whilst I’m away. Consider yourselves forewarned.

Happy writing, y’all!

Feeling better

In between times, when I need a break from proofreading and can’t face getting any new words down on paper, I’m giving New Gods one last checkover before I format it for self-publishing. And you know what? It’s not bad.

I’ve been on a bit of a downer about my writing recently. I’ve started to worry whether or not I ‘have it’; am capable of writing to the level I want to present to the wider world. It says nothing that I’m published: a book’s publication is a commercial decision, not one based on quality. I’ve been doubting myself.

But now I find myself somewhat reassured. Not that I’m claiming genius, or great profundity, but I’ve been reading my own work and kind of not hating it. And I’ve been remembering how it felt when I was in the midst of writing the piece, remembering that at the time I felt like it was the best thing I’d ever written. And then I felt, yeah, New Gods and Oneiromancer represented a sort of high-water mark for my writing; when it all clicked and I was churning out decent work with ease. And then I thought Well, Our Kind of Bastard is fun too; maybe that sits up there. And then I thought my new thing might not be bad either.

Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of a trough, it’s a good idea to look at what you’ve achieved. Negativity comes easily – to me, at least. But I am a capable writer, and also the least accurate judge of my own prose. I am as good as many published writers. And you know what? You are too.

Because, as I said, a book is published to make money, not to win awards with its prose (as I understand, publishers enter books in awards-competitions to sell more copies, not to simply celebrate books they think wonderful – though of course they can’t do both).

So, after a rough few months – 2021 has not treated me kindly so far – I now feel a little more stable, a little more confident in my new abilities. I’ve had to take some time off from actual creative writing because I’ve had so many other things on my plate, and maybe this will prove to be long-term beneficial. I still gaze in awe at my contemporaries, still feel too old and a little burnt-out, but now I believe: there is a good writer in me.

I’m not anticipating many sales for New Gods. I’m not interested in doing great amounts of promotion. As I’ve said before, I’m putting it out to complete the Antarctic trilogy for both my few fans and for myself. There is too much competition in the world of indie authors for me to hold great dreams of runaway success.

But I am going to put out a work I believe in. And that means more to me than any number of sales.

No reason I can’t hope for both, I suppose.

Reflections on a Twitter anniversary

On Wednesday I received my eight-year anniversary notification on Twitter. Ah, what wild-eyed youth first took his tremulous steps onto the world stage… Which is not to say I was a total social media virgin, but certainly I was unprepared for the Bird-Site.

I signed on to the big T because I was advised to at Winchester Writers’ Conference, still the only conference of its type I’ve attended. There I was told that a decent social media presence was expected of an author, and so I went with a definite aim. That aim I’ve almost certainly missed – I have no great following, nor has any agent snapped me up on the back of it. I have garnered almost zero attention for my principled stance on avoiding principles.

So it’s all been a massive failure. And yet still I tweet – 18.6k of them at time of writing. That’s 18 tweets per follower I’ve garnered; over 2,300 per year. Why?

Because I enjoy it. Because it’s a way of expressing myself, my persona allowed to emerge. And because of the friends I’ve made along the way.

Yes, friends, because of you.

I love tweeting because it allows me to connect directly with the human race, and – guess what? – you’re all really nice. I’ve made real, enduring friendships through Twitter, and that’s the best recommendation I can give to the site. So this blog-post is for you, all you who have kept me company through good times and bad. You’re all great.

It’s also nice that I can connect directly to readers. Sadly I’ve not got so many of those – I really remember the one truly complimentary tweet received – but I’m always here if anyone wants to talk.

I’m too shy to start conversations; no good at the networking thing. But I’ve also discovered great authors and found wonderful recommendations for new lines of reading.

So thank you, all you who have kept me company on the Odyssey. Like the hero of Greek legend, I float rudderless from one disaster to the next, but I’m still more or less standing, still with the dream of one day being blown back to safe harbour.

Unlike Odysseus I find my crew growing instead of decreasing.

Of course, if it’s my eight-year Twitter anniversary, it’s also my eight-year blogaversary; I started both enterprises around the same time.

But that, dear friends, is another story.

Accidental holiday

I have become becalmed, lost in the doldrums, unable to advance or to reverse course; awaiting only a fair wind to ease me back into port.

Life has delivered unto me a change in routine, and now I can no longer get behind my keyboard, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for 08:30: instead I have to wait until the afternoon to return to my computer and I am not, as yet, psychically ready to create at that ungodly hour. I just want to fire up Civilization and listen to audiobooks; I don’t want to tangle with the world-weaving or the word-wrangling. I’m struggling even to go and talk to my friends on Twitter. Apologies to all of you, my friends, for being quiet of late.

I need to adapt. I need to embrace change and find a new way of going forwards. Which I will, I’m sure. But recently – this week at least – feels a little like I’ve been taking an accidental holiday.

There are things happening, however. I’m continuing busy with commercial editing (which makes creative writing-time even harder to find, but no matter). I am returning to self-publishing plans; I have begun the final proofread/last tinker/anxiety run of New Gods in preparation for formatting into an actual book-shaped thing. I have been in touch with the cover-artist, trying to work out exactly how a great piece of art is produced – which is to say that the roughs look wonderful, I’m just not sure what to do next.

And amidst all this I have a new novel some 18k words in existence. I have not forgotten you, dear yarn. I’m just leaving you aside for the moment whilst I work on other things. And I have Our Kind of Bastard to rewrite; that too is on one side whilst I try and recover some sense of writing identity. And anyway, I’m stuck with that. My beta-readers identified weaknesses that I don’t know how to solve.

Anyone knows what kind of oil is used on central heating, and whether that could become flammable if spilled on a troll? Cause a reader said that ‘heating oil’ wouldn’t work that way. I am stuck on that, and on the big McGuffin, that feedback has does not excite the reader.

I am letting it simmer as my brain does not seem up to do the heavy lifting at the moment. Partly, I feel, I need to retrain the muscles. Partly I need a break. Either way, this certainly feels like one of the busiest holidays I’ve ever been on.

Being good

“So what do you want to do in life?”

“Well, writing or music.”

“I don’t know anything about your music, but you write well. You should consider that.”

And that, dear friends, is how I became a writer: a moderately chance conversation with my MA Landscape History supervisor was enough to set me to writing seriously. A long, long time before I became published, of course; well over a decade of practice before I got a sniff of a deal, but it was enough to set me going. As I remember it, I pretty much went home and started writing what would become The Ballad of Lady Grace, my never-to-be-published, unlamented (save by me, a little) first serious completed work.

These things don’t come out of a vacuum, of course. I had writing on my mind before that discussion; I was playing with ideas and rolling them around in search of connection. But that one conversation was the spark, the touchpaper, that was lit to dominate what might be the rest of my life.

No wonder I remember it.

It also says a lot about me. My weakness in life – one of my many weaknesses – is my need to be good at things. It’s very hard for me to do something and be bad – or even average – at it. This goes for things like chess, which I played at a club level at university, and cricket, which I’ve never been very good at, and has ultimately led me to more or less give up on both. It’s hard for me to play for simple enjoyment. It’s not that I’m a bad loser, more that I find personal failure extraordinarily painful.

I took up writing seriously because I was told I could string together the odd sentence in a not-displeasing manner. And that conversation, and my own emotions at the time, have driven me onwards through the years, through peaks and troughs of feedback and criticism, to now. Now, with my greater critical awareness both of other people’s writing and my own, I find myself doubting. I am in awe of my contemporaries’ power of prose; in awe of their abilities to shape a plot.

I’m not sure if I can compete. I’m not sure if I should be trying to compete. (And this competition is very much with myself; I don’t resent other authors for being great. More power, more publishing deals, to them. The struggle is entirely internal.) I wonder if I’m good enough to play anymore. And whilst I truly admire the people who can shrug at their own infelicities and move on ‘because they enjoy it’, I’m not that well-balanced a person.

I need to be good at things. And I sit here doubting whether I can truly call myself good at anything. Competent, yes, but I’m never going to be an award-winner. There’s simply too many wonderful ideas, perfect prose, out there in this golden age of SFF writing.

I can’t quit. I can’t quit now, because I have no alternative, nothing I have a better chance at making my name at. My best chance for happiness is to change myself, to get over this hopeless yearning to be something I’m not and can never be.

So I keep writing, keep striving, keep hoping I’m wrong and that I’m better than I think I am. What else can I do?

Holding pattern

I am in a holding pattern, just waiting until I find the courage to return to my literary endeavours.

Life is often like this, for me. The pressure has built up, the self-imposed pressure that keeps us focussed and driven and on alert – it takes its toll, and so you enter a sort of levelled-off state that isn’t quite rest but just acts as a necessary break. Stopping things escalating as much as alleviating the situation. Like a kettle permanently just below the boil.

I am not writing right now. I wasn’t quite as ready as I thought I was – which is not to say that starting a new novel, or getting my beta-feedback, was a mistake – sometimes you have to try to find out just where you are. But I am taking a break whilst editorial work fills my horizon. Yes, I’m keeping busy with the world of writing, it’s just not my own right now. I still have so much to do; I have a whole novel to rewrite, another to create from nothing, another to self-publish.

But right now I am just keeping things ticking over, not pushing myself too hard, not blaming myself (too much) when I slack.

Writing is an activity where sometimes doing nothing is the most sensible option. To merely keep things turning over in the mind is progress; this business of word-counts doesn’t measure the intangible acts of creation that can occur anyplace, at any time.

And, also, it’s sometimes important to pause and work on things totally disconnected with the world of writing. Life is demanding, life can be hard; blaming yourself for just getting through is a road destined for burnout.

There’s also a lot of waiting and lean times ahead. I have a manuscript out with the Publisher of my Dreams and I don’t dare prod them as proddage may lead to a negative outcome. So I wait. And, if they do come back with a ‘no’, I’m not sure what then to do. I feel like I’ve exhausted all my options.

So I am in a holding pattern, circling the landing, afraid to commit and unable to move away.