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.

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Top ten tips on writing your synopsis

2000px-Ryanssandbox.svgDoes anyone enjoy writing a synopsis for their book – I mean really? They are the devil’s underpants and ought to be consigned to the seventh ring of hell.

For those uninitiated, the synopsis is a short summary of your book – detailing the basic plot and attempting to give a flavour of the thing in just a few hundred words. They are what you send off to agents and publishers along with the first couple of chapters of your book in order to titillate them with your wares.

Why are they tough to write?
Well one reason I think is because they are so cold-blooded – you have written your book, pouring in the best of yourself and your art, honing and refining it until it is the least bad it can be. Now you are expected to capture it and explain it in a tiny space. It’s probably 80,000 words long your book, there’s a lot in there and you feel you can’t possibly do it justice.

Another reason they are a pain to do is because a lot seems to ride on getting them right. Whoever you are querying won’t have your full book to read, they’ll just have a short sample of it, and this synopsis – so you feel it has to work very hard. The more pressure there is to get something right the tougher it becomes, that’s why footballers sky penalties over the bar in the World Cup.

10563217_545777922221017_6114809158228153280_nTop ten tips
Here’s a few things I’ve kept in mind when writing a synopsis for each of the three novels I’ve completed to date. Two of them have found a publisher so far, so I suppose one could argue I must be getting something right. (Look, here’s me signing a contract, the only document in publishing guaranteed to be harder to wade through than the synopsis).

 

Don’t stress
You have to write something, so take the pressure off yourself and get some words on the page. It’s important to get the thing done, not let it become a big issue or an albatross for you. Get something down, you can always tweak it later on.

Start with a basic plot outline
See how many words that takes you, what’s left is the space you have to say something about your method or intentions or style or whatever else you feel you need to include.

Rewrite it shorter
Go back to it and trim out any unnecessary detail. You have probably included more about the plot than you need to for example. Top line stuff is what is required here, not every last twist and turn.

Be firm with your characters
You can’t fully draw your characters in your synopsis – there’s no room. They might be all kinds of complicated in your book but there’s no space to put that in here – you have to be disciplined and sum them up succinctly.

Don’t expect to say everything about your book
You can’t mirror your whole work in just a few words – you need to say clearly what it’s about and what happens in it, that’s probably the best you can do. Just try to focus on what’s most important about it in your view. It’s like the famous elevator pitch – the art of explaining your work to someone in the length of time it would take to share an elevator ride with them. (Though they’d probably rather you shut up and left them to stare at the numbers in silence because nobody likes talking in elevators.)

Do include the ending
No coy teasers needed here – don’t finish it with ‘and hilarious consequences ensue’ or similar. This is aimed at someone who will be representing or publishing the book, so they need to know clearly what’s in it and how it turns out.

Don’t put things in there which can go in your covering letter
The letter is your sales pitch – the synopsis is a summary of the book, not a review saying how wonderful it is.

Keep the style neutral
You are including your sample chapters to let the reader know what an amazing prose stylist you are. The synopsis is more of a functional document – it needs to be simple and clear I would say, rather than full of jokes for example.

Pretend you are summarising someone else’s book
This helps I think if you are too close to the text. How can you possibly reduce your masterpiece to just a handful of words? It’s sacrilege! Pretend your mate Dave has asked you to summarise his book for him – you will find it becomes a lot easier to do.

Avoid fancy fonts
Or other tomfoolery. One side of plain white paper, Arial 11 point (or 10 point if you are looking to cram in a few cheeky extra words.)

So there we have it – I still don’t like them though. But they are a necessary evil I’m sure if you are a publisher faced with a pile of manuscripts reaching up to the ceiling, so we had best just get on with it and stop grumbling!

What are your tips for writing a synopsis? Let me know in the comments!

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 gentle art of editing your book

2000px-Ryanssandbox.svgI’m currently working with my publisher on editing my next book, The Pick-Up Artist, ready for its publication in February 2015.

It’s part of the process I enjoy – but then I think I’ve been lucky both with this book and with my previous novel Song Of The Sea God to have editors whose work and opinions have brought out the best in what is there. It can be a curious feeling to have your work looked over and commented on by somebody who you don’t know – but, given that it’s going to be published and read (hopefully) by lots of people you don’t know it’s best to get used to it at this early stage!

I had a head start on this, even before Sea God found a publisher because for years I was a newspaper journalist so I was used to having my copy go through the hands of news editors, sub-editors, feature editors and of course editors all of whom, from time to time, would have an opinion on it and changes to make. You learn not to be too precious – to take criticism on the chin and you learn that good editing can improve your work. That said, bad editing can ruin your work – but that’s another story, and not one that I have had any experience of as a fiction author thankfully.

So you hand over your book, your baby, to a stranger and she or he hands it back at length with suggestions for changes. She doesn’t actually make the changes, that’s your job, but points out areas which might be improved, and sometimes gives suggestions how.

With the Pick Up Artist what I’ve found is that all the changes suggested by the editor at my publisher Magic Oxygen were things which I agreed with. I could see how they would improve the book over all and in some cases they were even things I’d half thought myself but not got round to tackling or had put to the back of my mind. Perhaps that’s a sign of good editing, that it feels organic – part of making the book what it should be.

With The Pick Up Artist I also had a couple of friends whose opinons I trust and value read a draft of the book at an earlier stage and provide their feedback, large parts of which I took on board in later drafts. I didn’t do this for Sea God and I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s quite a quirky book with a vision that is uniquely mine. With the Pick Up Artist I was aiming for something a little more commercial and I wanted to ensure I was on the right road before travelling further down it.

Once they have been handed over to the publisher both my books have undergone a thorough examination but it’s fair to say that neither has been very dramatically altered at this stage of the process. Perhaps that’s partly because they go through many rewrites before I let go of them.

How would I react if a publisher did want me to do a major overhaul on one of my books, or they were set on doing one themselves? I really don’t know. As I said above I am someone who is used to being edited and sees the value of it. However I do have a much stronger emotional attachment to my fiction than I do to copy I write for work – there’s more of me in it so of course it matters to me.

I think it would come down to how much sense I saw in the changes, which I would want to do rather than having them done for me. I don’t know whether I could go along with a root and branch overhaul of my work if it was taking the book in a direction I didn’t agree with. Thankfully that’s not been an issue so far and I have nothing but good things to say about the way both of my books have been handled!

Raymond_CarverI remember one author telling me about her play, which had a successful run in London‘s West End. It was a drama set in the trenches of the First World War and, as is the nature of these things, at the end, everybody died. At least they did in her version. In the version which was staged everybody lived – because that was a more cheerful and optimistic ending apparently! That’s the sort of thing I would struggle with I think.

What if changes are made by an editor which are significant but improving? The great story writer Raymond Carver had a tough editor behind him, Gordon Lish, who used to cut his stories very heavily, sometimes making them very different from Carver’s original version. Carver didn’t like this one bit, but he did accept the edited versions were often better, and added to his reputation as a writer. It was something he had to wrestle with – I know I would wrestle with it too.

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.

A new book on the way!

10563217_545777922221017_6114809158228153280_nSome good news for me this week, I’m delighted to be able to say that I signed the contract for my next book. To celebrate, here’s a slightly cheesy picture of me actually signing the actual contract (yes, yes, I know – it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

The book’s called The Pick-Up Artist and it will be published by Magic Oxygen publishing who have given it a tentative release date of February 14th, Valentine’s Day, 2015.

I’m thrilled to have a second novel coming out – it makes me feel like a proper author, I mean, getting one book published could have been a fluke couldn’t it? Having a second on the way feels like I did it on purpose.

magic oxygenMagic Oxygen is a small UK-based publisher. From my dealings with the team there so far it’s clear they are incredibly enthusiastic and committed to doing a great job for their authors, both in producing the book and in helping the author to promote and market it. I am very much looking forward to working with them. To find out more about them on their website click here.

I should say a little about the book. I’m conscious of the fact I’ll have plenty to say about it nearer the time when it comes out, so I‘ll just give you the headlines. As I said, it’s called The Pick-Up Artist and it’s a little lighter, perhaps more commercial, than my current book Song of the Sea God. It’s about a young man’s attempts to find love using the PUA method which claims to teach psychological seduction techniques.

I suppose the title is ironic as it’s about someone who would like to be a great seducer, but isn’t really.

I’m not a big worrier me, can’t be bothered to put in the effort required to really fret about something for longer than five minutes, but I suppose if I do have a little cloud on the horizon at the moment it’s the thought that the people who were most in love with my current novel Song of the Sea God, might not feel the same about this next one. It is a very different sort of a badger. But, in the end, it is still by me and I suppose that comes through. My hope, of course, is that I bring old friends along with me on this new journey and make lots of new ones on the way – but then, that’s what all authors hope. We shall see.

I had fun writing The Pick-Up Artist, people who have read it so far tell me it’s fun to read. But, of course, you, the reader, will be the judge of that when it comes out in a few months time.

Until then I have plenty to do – rewrites on the horizon once the editor at Magic Oxygen has finished with it. And myriad other pieces of work to get involved in from a website the publisher has planned for me through to thoughts about the book cover.

It’s an exciting time, a time of anticipation, like waiting for a new baby. And I am very glad to be involved in preparing for the birth of my second book!

Song of the Sea GodIn the meantime, why not take a look at a book which actually exists? If you get a moment, here’s 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.

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.

Literary criticism from The Simpsons

I was watching an old episode of The Simpsons the other day which had a scene set at a literary festival. As authors stood disregarded by their piles of books there was one long queue in the whole place.

John_Updike_with_Bushes_newAt the head of it was Krusty the Clown touting copies of his latest biography. He pulled back a curtain to reveal his ghost-writer – the late John Updike, esteemed literary novelist, a man acclaimed as one of the greatest writers in living memory. Krusty roundly abused Updike as a cheap hack and Updike humbly took it – happy to be earning a living churning out celebrity dross.

It was funny, perhaps a little cruel. Like all good satire it had a sliver of ice in its heart.

It made me think about the way that our culture actively discourages people from writing at all, and particularly from writing good quality books. If you want fame, success, significant financial rewards then, first of all, you are better off not writing books of any kind and, if you must write, then you are better to write what sells which is celeb biogs, mechanically written romance novels, self-help books, genre pot-boilers and the rest.

Heaven knows, there is a place for all of these, and if people want to read them then well, I’m just glad they are reading something in this age when not reading books at all seems to have become the default setting. And I also think that there are writers producing all of the above types of book who do so professionally and well and produce great reads.

But writing surely should also be an art form where the aim isn’t just to make money but to produce good work. Work which resonates and adds something to the cultural debate and has a chance of lasting. That’s the part I fear we are losing in the modern age.

I have said before that one of the big surprises for me since my book was published is how many writers there are out there. How the explosion in self-publishing has lead to a huge surge in the number of people producing books. The ought to be a good thing, and in many ways of course it is.

But I think we should be concerned about the quality of a lot of what is being created and, in some cases (not all) about the mind-set that has gone into creating it. So often I hear writers boasting about how many words they have been able to churn out that day on their ‘WIP’ (the jargon shorthand some have started using for work in progress). Or how many books they have managed to produce already in their series of genre novels. The assumption seems to be that more is better, that quicker is better. There is never once a mention of quality, never a word about the joy of writing well.

The whole thing has the feel of a mass production line – a literary McDonalds, a fast-food for the soul. Is this really what we want to be as authors?

What I believe is this – if our dream is to write then that’s fantastic but please, let’s do ourselves, the reader, the world, a favour and set our sights as high as they will possibly go. There are so many bad books around and more coming every day. Why add to that pile? Society makes it difficult enough for writers without us adding to the problem.

Be the best writer you can be – that’s all anyone can ask of you, all you can ask of yourself.

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.