Is crowdfunding just ebegging?

Surprise – I’ve found something new not to like! One of the ideas which seems to be taking greater hold among some authors at the moment is ‘Crowdfunding’

If you are not aware of this concept it’s like this: there are websites where you set up a page asking the public for money in order to achieve a certain goal. This could be to publish your next book, for example, or a print version of your e-book, or an audio version.

It’s an idea which already has a strong hold amongst musicians – an indie band, for example, with a small but devoted following might attempt to fund the release of their next album through donation in this way.
US_Dollar_banknotesTypically there’s a sliding scale of perks which come to you if you give a certain amount of money, for authors this might be a signed copy of their book, the more money you pony up, the more generous the perks you receive. Though obviously they never come anywhere close to the cash value of the donation as that would defeat the object of gain for the author.

So what’s the problem with this? you might ask. There is no pressure being put on people to donate, those that do so do it willingly, presumably because they like the author’s previous work or just want to help out an emerging artist.

I can see all that – but somehow it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However much you dress it up with websites and perks, isn’t it just a new form of begging? eBegging or, if you donate via mobile, iBegging. Ah go on, you’ll all be saying it tomorrow.

It didn’t concern me when it was musicians doing it – not my area. And one could argue it still shouldn’t concern me now it’s self-published authors. I had a small press publisher for Song of the Sea God and have one for the Pick Up Artist, due out in February, so I don’t have to pick up the tab for the publishing, editing, book cover and so on, the publisher handles that then gets paid when the book sells. It’s easy for me to take a stern view of crowdfunding, one might say, when I don’t have to do it.

But does anyone really have to do it?

The people who are asking members of the public to foot the bill for their new masterpiece could do what I did – tout it round endless publishers and agents, building up a big pile of rejection letters until eventually they find a buyer, or don’t find one, in which case they put their manuscript in the bottom drawer and start writing again. Alternatively they could foot the bill themselves and self-publish, safe in the knowledge their book is strong enough to make the outlay back and then some.

But some authors, it seems, want the money up front. They want an advance and they want it from the reader. The idea of an advance has disappeared from all but the top end of traditional publishing, small presses don’t give advances – they take a gamble on you by funding your book and either make money on you, or lose it, but they don’t hand you a wad of cash in advance.

Crowdfunding, like pretty much everything else, has its good and bad elements. But, at the more cheeky end of the spectrum, I have witnessed people who clearly have no real track record as authors expecting to see thousands of free dollars flooding into their accounts, and grumbling if it doesn‘t come in fast enough.

facebookI’ve even seen people who, though they identify themselves as writers, don’t even want the money to fund a book. In one such case the people involved wanted it to move house and take care of their living expenses. They would get round to writing a book when all that was sorted out, they said.

I have friends from all over the world of Facebook, readers and writers from across the globe. Funnily enough the people holding out the electronic begging bowl are all from rich, first world countries.

I suppose, at the heart of my distaste for crowdfunding, is the notion that you can get a ‘free ride’ as a writer – that you don’t have to put in any old-fashioned hard work while making very little reward as you develop your craft. That you don’t need to fund yourself with a day job, or go through the tough cycle of being rejected and improving. It will all just be handed to you on a plate.

What do you think about crowd funding for authors? Tell me in the comments below.

ImageIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

If it’s difficult to read, put it down – Nick Hornby says it’s ok

800px-Nick_Hornby_01

Nick Hornby. Pic: Joe Mabel

So Nick Hornby says if we find a highbrow book tough going and are not enjoying it then we should stop reading it – now, what do we make of that? It’s an interesting one isn’t it? And liable to divide opinion I’d have thought.

Reading shouldn’t be a chore he says, you shouldn’t do it out of a sense of duty. It should be like watching TV – something that you want to do.

You can read a piece which explains in more detail his point of view and puts it in context here.

My view is that it’s an easy, populist thing for him to say, and that it also fits nicely with the books he has for sale as they are fairly easy reading. Though in saying that I don’t intend to denigrate his work which I’ve always found very worthwhile and entertaining.

A cynic might hear the subtext of what he’s saying as: ‘Don’t bother with all this highbrow nonsense, read one of mine instead.’

And it’s a tempting offer isn’t it, not to have to read anything which challenges us? But when I think back over the books I’ve read I realise that sometimes, the ones I found most challenging gave me the most back in the end. They revealed more to me about what it is to be human and they stayed with me longer after I had put them back on the shelf. If I’d listened to Nick and his quick fix I’d never have finished reading them.

And what else in life should we stop doing because it’s too tough? Generally speaking it’s not fantastic life advice. It reminds me of Homer Simpson saying to Bart:

“Son, if something’s hard to do then it’s not worth doing.”

Great advice Homer and Nick!

Swerving fiction because it’s difficult to read also tends to stop us reading anything which is not contemporary. Because even popular commercial fiction written in another age sounds unusual to modern ears and it’s a struggle to adapt until you get used to it. Get in your literary time machine and travel back even one hundred years and you will find this to be true. But travel further back and you find, for example, Shakespeare’s popular crowd-pleasing comedies, which no doubt were crystal clear when he wrote them, but which now present the reader or listener with a challenge to give up on.

I think it was Philip Larkin who pointed out that people love contemporary poets much more than even far greater poets from a bygone age because they speak to them in the language they use in their daily lives.

So we’ve ruled out all of literary history – but even confining ourselves to present day fiction we might find some of it a bit of a chore. Unusual words to wrestle with, concepts we might find take us out of our comfort zone. Some of us might even find Nick Horby’s work too much to handle. So why bother with it? Let’s just watch TV instead, it’s a lot less challenging after all.

Nick Hornby says he wants everybody to be reading something that they love, it‘s an honourable ambition. But doesn’t that require some effort on the part of the reader? Some level of commitment? The fact is that reading challenging work can be an effort – but it has its rewards too and, in my view, it’s a bit of hard work which repays the reader many times over.

What do you think? Share your views in the comments below.

Song of the Sea GodIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Which is better – a Facebook page or a Facebook profile?

Writers these days need to care about more than just words on the page, they have to let the world know that their work exists if they don’t want it to disappear into the ether having been read only by their auntie Marge and their best mate Dave. And that means developing a presence on social media, which inevitably includes Facebook.

When my first book Song of the Sea God was published by Skylight Press I had the same level of presence on social media as a member of a remote, undiscovered tribe in the Amazon jungle – so at least I had he luxury of starting from scratch. I also had a reasonable knowledge of social media since part of my day job is creating and managing accounts for the organisation I work for.

facebookOne of the things I had to decide when I came to open my own accounts was whether my home on Facebook should be based on a profile, the standard Facebook presence everyone starts with, or whether I should set up a page – (what used to be called a ‘fan page.’)

Now, of course, you can have both – nothing stopping you, but I decided that posting to one or the other was the best use of my limited time and in the end I decided to stick with the profile which you can see if you click here and not bother at this stage with a Facebook page. It’s not a decision I’ve regretted in the couple of years since then.

Why did I choose this route? On the face of it, it seems a contrary decision, the pages after all are set up precisely so people can promote goods and services – big corporations have pages, major charities, brands, large and small. And I have a book – soon two books – to promote.

Well – here are seven reasons why I use my profile rather than set up a page:

1. Pages are Facebook’s way of trying to make you pay.

Facebook is a company and, in the end, it will have to make money in order to keep going. One of the main ways it is seeking to do this is through establishing business users, who have pages, and separating them from individual users with profiles. Once you have a page you are targeted for advertising – Facebook offers to ‘boost’ your posts and allow you to reach more people the more you pay. This is great if you are a big company with an advertising budget – I’m sure Facebook advertising can be very effective, I’ve used it in my day job in communications. But I don’t have a budget as an author – I make very little from writing literary fiction, certainly not enough to make it worth advertising.

2. You only ever reach a tiny proportion of your page ‘fans’ for free.

Surprise! Facebook limits the number of people who see each post on your Facebook page – it wants you to pay to reach the people who signed up to get your posts anyway. My experience is that the ‘edge ranking’ for a page post, the number at the bottom which shows how many people it has reached, can be as low as 10 per cent of your fans. So you make all that effort building your ‘fans’ but most don’t see your posts on their newsfeed – unless you pay of course.

3. Pages are a one way street – not mutual sharing.

If you have a profile you become friends with people and effectively share content – they see yours, you see theirs – it’s a mutual experience. With a page you are asking someone to take your content in a one-way stream – fine if you are a big brand and people are interested in you. But if you are just starting out and don’t really have genuine ‘fans’ then what is people’s motivation for liking your page?

twitter4. Set up a page and you will spend your time begging for fans on Twitter.

There’s sometimes a feeling of desperation over Facebook pages on Twitter. I have 20,000 followers on there @ChilledCH and so I get inundated with requests from people to follow their Facebook author pages. Every day there are new appeals in my Direct Message box “Like my page, please like my page – I will like yours if you like mine …”

5. A profile is more personal.

The reason I like the Facebook profile is that it feels more personal – less corporate. I want one presence on Facebook which covers all my needs and I don’t constantly bang on about my book – I ask questions, join in with jokes, communicate with people in a two-way conversation. That, for me, is what social media is all about. I’ve made some great friends on there, not to mention contacts who have been kind enough to help me in all sorts of ways. I’m not sure I could have achieved that through a page.

6. A profile allows up to 4000 friends.

Which is more than enough at my stage. I have less than 1,500 friends on Facebook. Why would I need an uncapped page when I am nowhere near having enough people to reach the limit on my profile? I’m not a famous author, I’m one with a single book out and another on the way (The Pick Up Artist, due out with Magic Oxygen Publishing on February 14!) My writing is important to me, but so is building up friendships and connections.

7. You can set your profile to accept followers as well as friends.

I have my profile set so that people who do not wish to ‘friend’ me, and so share their own posts, can simply ‘like’ my profile, in the same way they would like a page – so they see mine but I don’t see theirs. If they are interested in my writing but don’t want to do the full ‘friends’ thing then they have that option. It’s the best of both worlds surely?

Perhaps in the future – if my reputation as an author grows and I have people flocking to get to know me on Facebook I might start an author page. Until then, in all modesty, I believe the profile option suits where I am as an author.

What do you think? Page, profile or both?

Song of the Sea GodIf you get a moment to take a look at the (ahem) award-winning Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

The death of the novel is greatly exaggerated.

WillselfauthorI was reading an article recently by the  literary novelist Will Self in which he proclaimed, if not quite the death of the novel, then certainly the demise of literary fiction. You can read his full piece here.

His central argument is that the serious literary novel has been pushed from the mainstream and has become more like classical music, the preserve of an interested minority.

While I do believe the novel, and reading generally is being changed by the digital age, I’m not sure I buy his idea about this shift in the place of the serious novel. I mean, it was always a minority interest wasn’t it?

41P7822EM1L._Does anyone really think coal miners got round a table in the pub in 1913 to discuss how DH Lawrence had portrayed their lifestyle in Sons and Lovers? Then as now the serious novel was the preserve of the few who felt motivated to pick up the books.

And, in the days when literacy rates were a lot lower than they are now, it was also the preserve of an intellectual elite.

Probably still is come to think, that hasn’t changed. If you have never been exposed to the magic of great books then sadly, you might never discover it for yourself.

But what impact has digital technology made? The temptation is to say that it has stopped people reading books – we stare at tablet screens and mobile phones now, we are hooked up to laptops and video games, even television is feeling the pinch, never mind fusty old reading.

But, when you examine things closer, reading books as an activity seems to be in rude health. No writer, or reader, could immerse themselves in social media today without coming to the conclusion that there are an awful lot of other readers and writers out there.

Doubtless the business model for publishers and writers is changing significantly. Will Self alludes to this in his article when he’s talking about the difficultly of making a living out of literary fiction and the need to do something else, such as teach creative writing, to make ends meet. But again, wasn’t it always difficult to make a living as a writer? And the more serious your work, the more you cut down your potential pool of readers by aiming at a small proportion of them, then the fewer books you would sell.

Now at least there is a connected community of readers around the world – so, as a writer, it is easier to reach your readers than it ever has been before. And those readers can be truly international, even for first time authors like me.

Perhaps it is the case that, overall, fewer people are reading books, and perhaps it is also the case that the books they do read have taken a dive down in class on the scale from literary to pot-boiler. But it is also the case that those people who are interested in the literary novel, and in writing as an art form, can find new books and connect with their authors more easily than ever before.

Song of the Sea GodDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USAhere.

Elmore Leonard’s rules

682px-Elmore_LeonardThe late great crime writer Elmore Leonard had ten basic rules for writing fiction, which I think all writers should be aware of, whatever kind of fiction they write. Here are Leonard’s rules:

1. Never open a book with the weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

I think if writers at least bear these in mind as they are working they will usually be doing themselves and their readers a favour.

They are a curious mixture on the face of it aren’t they? Some are pretty much standard advice – how often do we hear the tip to avoid adverbs where possible? Others strike you as quirky on first reading them. ‘Never open a book with the weather’ being a good example.

I think with this weather one Leonard is offering us two things. Firstly he is helping us avoid cliché. The all-time worst opening line of a book is often held to be ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ the first line of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford. It is so often mocked that there is even a Bulwer-Lytton competition now for the worst opening line you can come up with.

So best avoided for that reason alone. But I think Leonard is also encouraging us to get to the point and, more importantly, to get to the people. Novels are so often more a success at describing emotions than they are at describing things. I’ve mentioned before how Yann Martel describes the shipwreck in Life of Pi in one line ‘The boat sank.’

I have a weather scene – a storm, near the start of Song of the Sea God. But it’s not right at the start. The opening belongs to the narrator Bes who is under the impression he is dead, but turns out to be mistaken. Somehow I thought it best to talk about people first and save the wind and rain for later.

The tip to avoid exclamation marks also seems a little quirky. But it’s advice I know well, because we were also given it as young newspaper reporters by wise old sub-editors. In newspapers, exclamation marks are often used in headlines (we had a rude name for them used in this way, referencing a dog’s anatomy, but I will not include that on this ‘safe for work’ blog). But they are much less often used in copy. Where, I remember an old hand on the subs’ desk telling me: “They simply serve to highlight the wide-eyed incredulity of the reporter.”

In fiction they simply serve to show the author thinks something is exciting or amusing, and that the reader ought to think so too. But the reader will make up her own mind – exclamation point or not!

Perhaps Leonard’s key rule is the last one – leave out the parts readers tend to skip. We would all like to do that wouldn’t we? Leonard’s feeling was they don’t tend to skip dialogue – and he was a genius at that. This point is advice about rewriting I suppose – cut out the bits which are not good, leave the bits which are.

So there they are, Elmore Leonard’s rules – food for thought for all of us I think.

ImageDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

 

What matters, the book or its contents?

800px-Harvard_college_-_annenberg_hallThe vast and labyrinthine libraries of Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, have within their collections at least three books which are bound with human skin.

These types of volumes – though understandably rare today, given that they give right-thinking people the heebie-jeebies, were not unknown up to the 16th century. The practice even had a name – Anthropodermic Bibliopegy. The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the executed convict for example.

It’s the most extreme example I could muster of a point where the physical book itself, rather than its contents, becomes an object of interest. A more savoury example of course would be the historic books held in the treasures of the British Library – the illuminated medieval gospels, the original Beowulf manuscript and the rest. With these items the book itself is as important as the words with in it.

Whether it’s wondering at the wonderful illustrations, marvelling at the historic value of the work or indulging in a ghoulish fascination that the binding was once someone’s skin, we would look on books like these primarily as objects in their own right rather than holders if information.

Personally I’ve always considered that the content of a book is all which really matters to me. I’ve always bought paperbacks rather than hardbacks for example, because I’ve never understood why one would want to pay more to read the same thing.

I would never be the sort of person who would collect first editions or historic books – I’d rather have a nice new one where the print was clear and the pages didn’t smell musty. And, though I keep the books I’ve read, I do so because of what’s in them rather than what they look like or feel like.

Given all this I should be a great lover of ebooks. After all, what greater statement could there be that the physical book isn’t important and its content is king than to dispense with the book altogether? And I do like ebooks. But part of me still yearns for physical books too, and I buy many more of these than I do downloads.

I don’t value the book as an object so much as I value ‘books’. I like the feel of them, I find them easier to read for long periods than a screen, I like the way they can be handed around – which you can’t really do with downloads.

I can see why a special, beautiful or ancient book deserves to be in a museum. I might even go and take a look at it (except for the skin ones) but for me the point of the book, its beauty, its truth and its value, will always be what it contains.

 

 

It’s never too late!

Halfdan_Egedius_-_The_Dreamer__Portrait_of_the_Painter_Torleiv_Stadskleiv__-_Google_Art_ProjectIt is never too late to follow your literary dream – and as dreams go, that’s one thing I have always loved about it.

If you have lived through your twenties then you can pretty much give up on your dreams of playing professional football or winning an Olympic Gold. You are also unlikely to set the pop charts alight or fill Shea Stadium with rock fans waving their mobile phones at you. If your heart fluttered at the thought of being a fashion model then you can wave that goodbye as the years pass too.

But if you dream of literary stardom then yours is a dream with some degree of longevity.

There was once a guy who held down a dull job as an oil company marketing executive – he stuck it out well into his forties though he can’t have found it much fun as eventually he got canned for persistent drunkenness.

9780140108927So he took to writing detective fiction and selling his stories to magazines. He found it suited him but he was fifty years old by the time he managed to get his first full length book published. It was called The Big Sleep and after that everyone had heard of Raymond Chandler.

Annie Proulx, there’s another one. The famed author of The Shipping News had a productive career as a journalist and had a track record as a short-story writer but she was 57 before her first novel was published. There are many more examples.

491px-John_Keats_by_William_HiltonNow, of course, there are always some precocious young tykes around the literary landscape. John Keats had scribbled his last stanza and kicked the Grecian Urn before he was 25. But, on the whole, a few extra miles on the clock can benefit a writer. More years can equal more material, they can also equal more life experience – not only more to write about but more ways to write about it.

It’s true that publishers and agents may not see you as having rock star appeal if your hair is turning grey – they would much rather have someone young and pretty, with more productive years left in them.

But, in the end, what matters is what is on the page rather than how many candles there are on your birthday cake. And, I don’t know about you, but I rather like that.

It gives those of us who are nearer in age to Chandler than Keats a chance to bloom late but gloriously like Pulitzer Prize winning Annie. And for younger writers, it simply means they have time on their side.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.