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.

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.

An award for Song of the Sea God

2014winner
I came back from my hols this weekend to the very welcome news that Song of the Sea God has won an award. It’s been named Best Literary Fiction novel in the eFestival of Words Book Awards. You can see the full list of winners and a natty little video if you click here.

I’m particularly pleased because, for these awards, the nominations are made by my fellow writers and by publishers, and the winners are chosen by the readers in a public vote. So, in the same way as the reviews Sea God has received on Amazon and Goodreads, this is an accolade from the only people whose opinions really count – those who have read the book.

A huge thanks to those who nominated my book for the awards and those whose votes helped it to win!

Having an award of this sort doesn’t change much for me of course – it’s not like winning the Man Booker prize where the winner gets their mouth stuffed with gold, but those sorts of award only ever seem to go to authors signed with the small cabal of giant publishing corporations anyway. I get a little badge to stick on my blog and the knowledge of a job well done.

I’m pleased for the book, if that doesn’t seem an odd way of putting it. Song of the Sea God is a decent effort I think – people get wrapped up in it, it stays with them after they have read it and they often have views to share on it which add to the book and nourish it. I’m pleased that its success has been acknowledged in this formal way. Before it was published it was short-listed for a couple of awards – the Daily Telegraph’s Novel in a Year award and the Yeovil Literature Prize for best novel, but this is the first time it has actually won anything. It’s done ok for a book published by a small press without the industry clout and marketing budget of the big boys.

It also feels like a fitting tribute for Sea God as I move on to final edits for my publishers on my new book, The Pick-Up Artist, which they plan to release in February next year. It’s a very different kind of book but, if it shares one thing with Sea God then I hope that will be the warm and generous reception it receives from readers.

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.

A dog’s life

10375114_10152195698608167_2854753701065428763_nI’ve got this dog, his name’s Murphy and he’s a Cockapoo which is half spaniel and half poodle.

He’s nearly five months old and fitting into the family fairly well, though he’s basically daft as a brush – the kids like him, he likes us, I think. He’s going to be bigger that we thought due to my wife, who made the purchasing decision, not realising there was a difference between toy poodles, which are tiny, and miniature poodles, like Murphy’s dad, which are bigger.

She said I didn’t have a clue either, but I pointed out that I hadn’t been doing the research.

I don’t know what they are getting up to at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern either but they would be hard pressed to blame me if it all goes pear-shaped given I had nothing to do with the planning stage.

1010860_463422437123233_4549282047718340273_nAnyhoo, you may be asking, what’s all this got to do with creative writing? Well – here’s the thing. Various writers down the years have claimed that looking after animals helps you as an author.

There was one, I forget most of the details now, including the name and the period, who claimed that the writing life should involve a good deal of animal husbandry, including looking after a cow, sheep and so on – plus tending crops in what amounted to a small-holding. He was basically suggesting a career as a farmer then, with a bit of fiction on the side.

I’m guessing he was one of the Romantics – it certainly smacks of them doesn’t it?

All of the cattle and sheep would be too much trouble in a suburb I’m sure you agree. But I do run to the dog and a veg plot full of spuds and beans. So – has nurturing Murphy improved my writing life?

On the whole I would say no.

For example, he chewed up my story about someone hunting for a lost tortoise and I had to write it again, also, while I was trying to edit on the computer in the spare bedroom he did a huge poo on the landing, which he seemed very proud of and which hung around in the atmosphere for some time after, even once lots of Fabreze had been sprayed and a vanilla scented candle was burning on the desk.

1897704_10152050442158167_2055527088_nHe does like going for walks of course, and walks are good for writers. They are useful thinking time and it’s always better to do some thinking before you do the writing I find. Walking around with a dog seems less weird to passers by than ambling about on your own.

Many writers seem to have cats – they put pictures on Facebook of them sitting on their desks, stretched out over the keyboard. Cats don’t bite your ankles, they don’t stick their big wet heads in your lap and whine, they don’t bark at the door until you get them a biscuit. Unfortunately my wife is allergic to cats. I assumed she was making this up because she didn’t want one, but then we went to see a friend who had one, it sat on her knee and she went red and blotchy almost straight away. It was all she could do to croak: ‘I told you so.’

Perhaps the best thing Murphy has done for me as a writer is make me think less about writing, which is a healthy distraction. I already have plenty of those what with the kids, and the proper job and so on, but still – it offers a fresh perspective, and I suppose he is quite cute.

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.

 

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.