Balls in many courts

Snooker with Too Many Balls; Udehi Imienwanrin

Balls all over the place, that’s me. So much to do, so little time. I’m not the best at splitting my hours; the most urgent task is always the one I must be working on, no matter that I could space things out a little and multi- my tasks a little better. So it is that I’ve dropped everything to focus on copyediting with its concomitant deadline.

But that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of all the other things on my plate. Currently my attention is mostly on someone else’s world, but in the back of my mind there is an unattended first draft, a underdeveloped third (ish) draft and all sorts of other projects. If I was better at balancing I wouldn’t have left these things in abeyance, but they’re still lurking in the shadows, waiting just to steal a moment of my time.

So, the joy of things to come post-editation:

  • Self-publishing: Another thing with a hard (though self-determined) deadline. There are many things to do before the officially unofficial New Gods release of 26th October, not least of which is contacting my old publisher for some mutual publicity. I’m just awaiting the final final cover design before I move onwards and – well, onwards
  • Editing Our Kind of Bastard. This has somewhat stalled, partly for reasons of available hours in the day but also because I lost confidence in the manuscript. But there’s still a gosh-darn good story in there that needs telling so, once my mojo has returned a little, I’ll be back in the redraftorium giving it the old what-for
  • Writing the Top Secret New WIP. This has also stalled somewhat, mostly because I came to a really hard bit but also due to other priorities. But I’m still trying to chip away at it – another thing where I’m convinced there’s a good story to be told and that I’m determined to tell
  • Redoing this blog-cum-website. Let’s be honest here – it could all do with a bit of spit and polish, couldn’t it. I need a page with my own books put first and foremost. I need proper links to where people can buy my stuff. And it all needs a bit of love
  • Self-publishing. Don’t know if I mentioned this, but I’m self-publishing my book and there’s a lot to do. The terrifying bit is yet to come – the writing of emails and the begging of publicity-based favours

All of this has, of course, to accompany Real Life and The Paying of the Bills. And, doubtless, more deadlines will arise between here and there, and life will bring the unexpected, and all things are up for negotiation.

But I’m quite excited by things at the moment (with the possible exception of website reforms). I’m looking forwards to self-publishing. It is An Adventure. Not a straightforward task – though I know that to many it’s routine – but one that will take me into uncharted waters.

I just hope I can do my work justice. And I hope I can continue to walk forwards with all my other projects too.

Life is never easy. But sometimes the journey can be fun.

Editors of the subconscious

I am still working on my blurb. I am on draft 4 at the moment, and I am as uncertain as ever as to its efficacy. I am not going to talk about that today, however. It is time for me to move on and consider other matters.

Writing a story is all about making choices. Should a protagonist do this, or that, or should the narrative focus in this direction or on this rather attractive patch of wildflowers just sitting here in the dappled glade. As writers, we choose upon which to focus at every step. And it seems to me that the road not taken is sometimes as interesting as the path we do follow.

As I’ve been working on getting my metaphors in a row for self-publishing, I find that more than ever I’m aware of the options I’ve not selected. Partly it’s this ‘blurb’ thing: for perfectly good reasons, I’ve become aware that I’ve had to suggest a personal threat to the protagonist that is more of a background in the novel. And I’m wondering: was I wrong? Should I have made more of this in my story? It would have fitted but I chose – subconsciously, never consciously – to not make more of it. Was this a mistake? Could I have written a better novel?

Attempting to fit every single possibility into a story is a recipe for turgid chaos. We are editors of the subconscious and to try and cover the whole caboodle would not, I think, make for good fiction. Still, hindsight can be vicious. And often hindsight is the only clear lens we have.

Take, for example, the titling of my forthcoming book, New Gods. It’s been pointed out to me that I’ve missed a trick here. The first two books in the series – Night Shift and Human Resources – both have workplace connotations. Would it not have made more sense to have tied the third in with it and called it… oh, I dunno, The Temp or External Agency or somesuch?

Of course it would. But I am committed now. It’s been New Gods forever, and now the words are fixed upon the cover. And I am able only to lament a missed opportunity, and to explain a little. See, I never realized what I was doing. Human Resources was a late inspiration for a title: all though the original creation it had been called Australis – indeed, you’ll find it referred to as such in the earlier posts on this site. All through the drafting of New Gods I knew book two by its alternate title. So there never was an overarching titling ‘scheme’.

Hindsight again. More, it took an outsider to join the dots.

I maintain that New Gods is a good title. It came before the text was written, as with Night Shift. In my mind the title and the text are thoroughly entwined.

Still, I wish I’d been able to see a little clearer at an earlier stage. For the road not taken may have been the better option all along.

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.

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

The plan

So the votes have been tallied: aside from a few suggestions that I might crowdfund or Patreon – I think sadly my reach is a bit limited to raise any significant funds in this manner and I’m loathe to take money off my friends – everyone who responded thinks that I should self-publish. So I shall. Or, at least, I’m planning to at this moment in time.

Self-publishing is not quick, or easy. Nor is it necessarily cheap, not for a relative pauper like myself. I shall have to go for budget options pretty much across the board. I’ll also – and this is the big thing for a ditherer like me – have to trust myself; to back my belief that New Gods truly is the best thing I’ve written so far.

I also don’t have much of an idea of what I’m doing – not at the moment, at least. I know things like an ISBN and legal declarations are needed. I know the novel has to be typeset and formatted properly for Amazon/Kindle (I’m assuming I’ll go with Kindle Direct Publishing as it has the widest reach, but that is something else to look into). I know how to do none of these things at the moment.

So my next task is to research and examine and explore. I have the product, that’s one thing I’m happy(ish) about. The rest is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Thankfully I have plenty of friends who have self-published and, like most authors, they’re eager to help. I’ve already had offers of assistance and a quote for a cover. I can do this.

So that’s the plan. And, in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my other writings and I’ll try and get my next novel published traditionally, because why not have both? Hybrid authors: the coming generation goes both ways, don’t you know?

Thank you to all who commented/advised/reached out to me after last week’s post. You’re all wonderful people and I look forwards to buying you all drinks when we can travel/meet up/go to places where they sell drinks safely.

Next?

Now the dust has settled, it’s time for me to consider what to do next in my writing career. And, specifically, what to do with New Gods, the third in my Antarctic trilogy.

Having been dropped by my publisher after two books, it’s not an easy decision to make. No publisher is going to take on a single book in a trilogy – they wouldn’t have any share in the intellectual property (so no potential film/television rights, though that’s a very distant dream) and, with diminishing sales a massive probability, really what’s in it for them?

So my choices seem to be pretty much one of four. I can:

  1. Abandon the novel. This would be gutting, not only for me – I’ve put a lot of work into it and, as I’ve said before, I really regard it as the best in the series – but for the few fans who’ve persisted and really want to see the finale. But it’s perhaps the most realistic option
  2. Wait seven years. In seven years’ time I regain the rights to the first two novels. I could then try and find a publisher willing to take the series (though heaven alone knows how) as a whole and issue the whole lot as a reprint. Or I could self-publish the trilogy as a whole
  3. I could self-publish Book 3 now. There’s nothing to stop me doing this, as far as I’m aware – nothing except cold-hard economics. I’m under no illusions as to either my appeal or my abilities as an illustrator. I’d have commission someone – hell, I have to find someone – to do the cover art and that would cost money (all artists should be paid for their work. To hell with exposure). And even if I do all the typesetting and publishing and editing myself – a risky business, publishing without professional editorialness – there’d still doubtless be costs. I don’t believe that I’d ever cover these with sales as – at the end of the day – who am I? I’d sell maybe a dozen to family and friends, maybe a few more through this blog and via Twitter, and that’s all, folks
  4. I could release it free of charge, possibly serialised through this blog. I haven’t really thought this option through, yet. But I want to get this novel out there. It’s good. And, if I spend anything I’ll lose. So why not just save the costs and let you lot read it anyway? One potential downside is that my seven-year plan of reclaiming my rights and then seeking a fresh publisher might be harmed by this; I will have shot my bolt somewhat

So what would you do? All opinions gratefully received – and any options not yet considered would be appreciated also.

In the meantime, what do I do? Well, I’ve got Oneiromancer to flog. I’ve got Our Kind of Bastard to edit. I’ve got an as-yet un-thought-through new novel to start thinking through.

In other words, I need to get back into the word-mines. It’s what I do.

Sayonara, lovely folks.

Dropped

It’s finally happened. It’s over.

How to talk about this without overstating or making this into a bigger thing than it is? First of all, the bald facts: I have been dropped by my publisher. They have decided that sales of Night Shift and Human Resources aren’t good enough to justify picking up the third novel in my Antarctic trilogy and have decided to move on from me.

This is perfectly fair and, really, it’s hard to argue against. I too have been disappointed with sales (of NS; I’ve not seen any for HR yet) and I suppose the writing has been on the wall. I bear no ill-will to the publishers and wish them well. They gave me my chance and – hey – there’s nothing to say I’ll never work with them in the future. I still want people to rush out and buy my books from them!

My publisher’s decision has nothing to do with the quality of writing; they were keen to emphasise that. It’s purely a business decision, and I respect that.

But it is heartbreaking. I feel like my career is done. I don’t know what to do with myself.

Most immediately, I have the third book in a trilogy that I desperately want to get out there. I feel it’s the best in the series and provides a neat, satisfying climax to the story of Anders Nordvelt. Without it I’ll always feel like my work is incomplete – because it is. I want readers to know that there is an ending; there is happiness, of a sort, for my protagonist.

I have also lost my safety net. I have another complete, ready-to-go novel that I’ve been unsuccessfully hawking to agents. This now becomes my primary weapon. I now should be putting it out to publishers as well – but now I feel a much greater vulnerability. Without the option of Flame Tree Press, I feel rejection to a much greater degree, especially if my primary choice, the company for whom I do most editorial work, should take a look and turn me down.

I don’t dare send it out. I can’t bear the pain.

So it feels like my career is over. And I just don’t know what to do with myself.

Synopses 101

Just because I have a book out doesn’t mean I’m immune to rejection. I still regularly get turned down by agents – an agent is still what I desperately want – and now I’ve received an inkling as to why.

My most recent rejection came with actual feedback, which is very rare in the world of publishing and agency. It said that my writing is good, but they didn’t get a good enough idea of the story from my cover letter and synopsis. Too diffuse, were the words used: the story had too many competing elements and it was difficult to know where the story would sit.

I’m very grateful for this feedback, disappointing as it is. It’s clear I have more work to do in an area I felt I had down. What that work should be I’m not exactly sure at the moment. I have, after all, written an ensemble piece with a lot of voices; how do I simplify and still accurately communicate what the story’s about?

An agent’s opinion is subjective and what might turn one agent off might attract another. I know that. But being granted an insight into their thinking is a real plus. I’d be a fool to ignore it.

I’m also confident that I’ve written a quality novel. I just need someone to read the damn thing. So, after the high times of last week, it’s back to the grindstone: there’s work to be done and nobody’s going to do it for me.

Human Resources is out now!

It’s here! It’s now! It’s out! Hopefully, by the time you’ve read this, your copy will either have already reached you or be in some kind postie’s knapsack, rapidly approaching your doorstep.

If you’ve not got a copy on pre-order, let me assure you that Human Resources is very much available from all good booksellers – go indie if possible, but I’m not going to Amazon-shame anyone – and is not only an excellent read but also makes an excellent Christmas present for all.

Four days to go!

Four days to go! It’s still not too late to pre-order; get your shiny new book on release day by asking of any good bookseller or, failing that, Amazon.

Normally I’d be desperately promoting my new release through the odd bookshop signing, convention attendance and as many radio interviews as I can possibly con my way onto. This time around there is much less for me to do.

Which is not to say that my publishers have been sitting on their thumbs all this time. There are review copies out in the wild; there is a blog-tour in the planning; there are many other things behind the scenes that I am barely aware of. All to sell my book. Bless them.

But it feels a little odd to be sitting here doing virtually nothing. I should be out there! I should be helping! My face – or at least voice – should be ubiquitous throughout the etherwaves. It’s an odd feeling, becalmed, itching to crack on and yet unable to do anything.

We live in interesting times. There are bigger things going on in the world. Nothing to do but suck it up.

Still: only four days to go before the release of some excellent lockdown reading. Don’t miss out!