Monday, May 30, 2011

Draft Dodging

I mentioned last week that I couldn't decide whether to continue with the second draft of my current work-in-progress. I need to make some major changes - the villains need to be badder, the main character needs to be more likeable (I always have this problem!) and a few secondary characters could be fleshed out more.

It's very tempting to scrap Draft Two and just start Draft Three (now with more evil and cuddliness than the next leading draft!).

Anyway, I've decided to finish Draft Two. Draft One had a rubbish ending. People talked. A lot. Remember the ending of Breaking Dawn? Like that, without the vampires. I've always been fascinated by the subtle art of diplomacy and negotiation but jeez, there is a limit.

Draft Two was largely to fix the ending, which involved making the MC more active and less inclined to sit back and be the 'new girl', 'audience stand-in.'

That has been addressed, but I'm still missing something. I'm about three-quarters of the way through, my complications have all happened and my MCs are in a great big mess. All that's left is to somehow resolve the great big mess and end the book.

It's so tempting to skip it and go back to perfecting my opening.

But I'm not. I'm going to stick with Draft Two, write my ending and then, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, at least I'll have something to change.

How do you guys handle multiple drafts?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Books About Writing

Talli had an interesting post the other day, entitled 'Why I Don't Write About Writing.' It's a great post, and worth a look. Not every writer wants to discuss their own writing techniques and Talli provides an interesting perspective on this.

I'm somewhere in the middle. I like posting about writing, but my own method (if you'll pardon the overstatement) is still very hit-and-miss. I'm currently on Draft Two of Becky and the need for Draft Three has just hit me in the face. I'm trying to decide whether to finish Draft Two (I'm weak at writing endings so could use the practice), or just start Draft Three (some of the changes I'm planning will make writing the ending far easier). I'll let you know what I decide, but I don't think I'll be able to argue conclusively that whatever draft I choose to work on is the 'best method', even for myself. I'm still learning what works for me, so I don't feel I can even speak with authority about my own methods. My methods are changing constantly as I learn more.

With all of this in mind, I was delighted to be sent a link to a list of 50 Books That Will Make You A Better Writer. I'm betting none of them directly handle my Draft Two problem, but I love reading books about writing. Some of them have advice I take on board, some don't. But the message I take away from them is almost exactly the one Talli discusses in her blog - everyone is different.

I'm halfway between a plotter and a pantser (I just would be, wouldn't I?). I tend to have a vague idea of an overarching plot, but as the characters reveal themselves, I deviate. Sometimes a lot. I'm a writer who needs to tell herself the story in order to get it moving and enjoy it. When I was writing my novel about Rosie, I had meticulously plotted it (I had to, I had two intersecting timelines and I was trying to span over 90 years). And once I knew exactly what was going to happen, it was tough to make myself sit at my desk. The fun and the discovery was gone.

And it's nice to know that some other writers feel the same, that no method dooms one to failure.

Do you like writing about writing, or reading about writing? Any favourite methods? What books on writing do you recommend?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blogfest: Letter To Future Me

Kristin has come up with a great blogfest idea - letters to our future selves :) Go here to sign up and read other entries.

Dear Future Me,

I hope this finds you well. I hope you're alive, healthy and happy. I hope you've been published and have almost everything you want - but not everything, because life is more fun when you want something. I hope life has been good.

That's what I'm about right now - hope.

I hope for so many things. I hope this little rainy country gets stronger and more honest. I hope to travel more. I hope to write. I hope for so much.

But most of all, I hope you don't forget me. Or any of the versions of me that came before either of us.

No matter what happens, remember how it felt to work for very little money, or to have no work at all. Remember feeling that the whole country was voting against your interests, and don't vote against the interests of the weak, even if you are no longer one of them.

When you can afford to hire someone who can help you evade tax - DON'T. I know you're tempted. I don't like propping up some aspects of this country either. But at 27, the idea of doing it would have disgusted you. Don't do it now.

Remember being unpublished - remember how hard writing seemed, how hopeless all your dreams sometimes looked. But remember how great it felt to try new genres for fun. Remember the freedom to drop everything for Nanowrimo every year, and how to felt to sit over tea with friends for hours talking about books and writing and everything in between. Remember how great it was to be unpublished too, the fun and the freedom of it as well as the uncertainty.

Remember, whether you're published or not, that writing is brilliant fun and that's why you do it.

Remember living in a cold, damp flat, listening to Amy Winehouse and wondering what else your generation might create.

Remember listening to President Obama's speech the day you saw your best friend for the last time before she emigrated. Remember sitting in her house for the last time, knowing she was embarking on a wonderful new chapter and wondering what new chapters were ahead for you. Remember President Obama saying '
Is féidir linn!' ('We can!') and remember how you believed him.

If you have more than I do, please be grateful for it. If you have less, be grateful for what you had.

I hope I remember. Good luck.

From Present Me

Monday, May 23, 2011

New York - Book recommendations wanted!

I'm going to New York in less than two weeks. Any sensible person would be looking up tourist attractions, changing her euros to dollars and turning down the corners of pages in her guidebook.

I'm not. I'm looking for books.

I have a seven-and-a-half hour flight over and I'm looking for books set in New York, about New York or otherwise involving New York to keep me amused for the flight.

My classic New York books are The Collected Dorothy Parker, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. But I can't find any of them on the Kindle and I'm loath to bring paperbacks that I've already read - nice to dip in and out of, yes, but probably not worth the extra luggage weight (the complete Dottie is fairly thick).

The blogosphere is very smart, can it help? :) Any genres accepted as I'll read anything once!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Is A Bookshop Worth? Fine Examples of their Genre

I visited a new bookshop last weekend.

It was lovely - well laid out, with some magazines and gifts but not too much. There was a coffee bar, a seating area and the obligatory minor celebrity chef in the corner doing things with some noodles (which sadly prevented me from checking out all of the books that were trapped behind his workstation thing).

Anyhoo, while I was there, something caught my eye. Instead of the usual massively discounted table covered with pink-tinged bestsellers and a couple of Orange Prize nominees, they had several small tables, each with a display of a single book - Book of the Month, Non-Fiction Book of the Month, etc.

But there was also a 'Minority Book Recommendation' table. This month's minority recommendation was a history of Paris.

The idea of the minority recommendation was simple - if you like this type of book, the selection is an especially good example of its genre. If you're not interested in this kind of thing, well, never mind. Better luck next month. They also offered a full refund on the minority recommendation if it wasn't to your taste.

(Effectively it was the Miss Jean Brodie table - 'for those who like this sort of thing, this will be the sort of thing they will like.')

I thought it was a fantastic idea. The subject area wasn't quite mainstream enough for a blanket 'this is fab!' recommendation, but the book was good enough to merit highlighting. I wish more bookshops would do this!

Many people claim that readers make perfectly good 'gatekeepers' for quality writing - that we don't necessarily need agents and publishers and bookshop buyers to make the decisions for us. A fair point. And yes, I can choose novels with reasonable confidence, because I read them a lot.

When it comes to a history of Paris, though, I might need a little help, and that is where a good bookshop comes into its own.

It was great to see a bookshop that was doing an excellent job with the resources it had, and that reminded me of all the best things about bookshops. When bookselling is done well, there is definitely a place for it that nothing else can fill.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Am I Screwing Over Writers? - What Is Writing Worth Week

Before I start this post, I want to say thanks to all my followers! I've just reached 151 and it's lovely to have all of you guys around! :)

This was supposed to be the final post in What is Writing Worth Week (otherwise known as W4), but Blogger decided to crash on Friday so I've delayed it until today. And I spotted something over the weekend that is slightly related but not quite, so I won't be leaving the subject of ebooks, print books and the relative cost of each behind just yet.

Anyway, in the meantime I have decided to return to my Irish Catholic roots and examine some guilt.

All over the internet, people are talking about the death of the traditional publishing industry, in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of books sold are still print books rather than ebooks. I think 'dying' is too strong a word to describe where publishing is. 'Worried sick' may be more apt.

I've talked before about how my book budget goes further on the Kindle. I feel this is good - more authors get to rack up a sale, and as I'm the kind of person who recommends, reviews and retweets obsessively, they also benefit from word of mouth. Low price points give me the chance to try new authors in genres I don't usually read. It seems win-win to me.


I love bookshops. I love that they exist, I love browsing in them, I love buying from them. And my buying habits are apparently driving them out of existence. Naturally, this feels quite crap, because ten years from now, I don't want to be visiting a London without Foyles, a New York without the Strand or even living in a Dublin without Hodges Figgis.

I still try to buy print books. But they no longer represent value for money.

However, there is another way to look at it. The difference in price between a print book and an ebook is either:

a) the premium you pay for a luxury item

b) a necessary cost because I want a book that isn't available on the Kindle, or is priced too high on the Kindle (this comes up a lot!), or

c) a charitable donation to sustain businesses that I like to support, similar to the extra money I pay in order to buy Irish, shop locally or shop ethically (I do all of the above when I can, which is not as often as I'd like)

I don't begrudge the extra cost, and I'm happy to continue spending the extra money on print books for a book I really want, a book I want to lend people or a book I can't get any other way. Sadly I'm not in an economic position to do it every day, for reasons of storage space as well as money. I consume lots of books. I have gone from depending on the library and the charity shop to supplement my habit to depending on the Kindle.

And there we've hit on the nice guilt-assuaging part. If we began with the Catholic guilt analogy, this is my confessional, right here.

A good chunk of the money I spent on books wasn't reaching the publishing industry anyway. I was paying library fines (seriously, do not ask what my current balance is with the local library, I may cry), or I was buying second-hand or borrowing from friends. If we assume I had a monthly book budget of, say, twenty euro, let's say ten of that was reaching the publishing industry and ten was going to Oxfam or Chapters or whoever I was relieving of tatty paperbacks.

Now it's going to Amazon (and Oxfam are getting some of my clothing budget - swings and roundabouts). It's going back into the publishing industry in most cases (I don't buy many self-pubbed Kindle books), and it's allowing debut authors to rack up sales. It's allowing me to spread the word about debut authors. It's nice.

It's important to try to support bookshops. But there is space for both, and in the world of low price points, it's important to remember to support bookshops. We are in danger of losing a lot.

But we're gaining a lot, too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What is a book worth?

Are books worth more than two pints of Guinness? I wouldn't usually recommend asking this question of anyone of Irish extraction, but Adrian White has written an interesting piece about why he values his latest book at $9.99.

I am, as most of you know, a total Kindle convert who still loves paper books. I embrace the ebook revolution, but I am still doing my bit to make sure print doesn't die (I picked up three paperbacks at the weekend, one gift, two for myself. Long live print and digital!). Part of the reason I love the Kindle is that I can now buy more books and support more authors, because the books are cheaper - my money goes farther.

Adrian White priced his first book at $4.99, because he was told the story was strong and unputdownable, and his second at $2.99 because it deals with self-harm and was likely to appeal to a narrower market. Now, I would have suggested pricing the unputdownable book at $2.99 (get them in the door) and the less widely-appealing book at $4.99 to maximise the revenue generated from people who bought it expecting more of the same. But evidently Mr. White is both nicer and smarter than me, and thus has some hope of retaining his readers for Book 3, which is priced at $9.99.

A few commenters on his original post have remarked that value is determined by the customer, and this is true. The Irish understand this better than most - a few years ago, our housing market was such that horrible little houses in poorly-serviced areas were worth hundreds of thousands of euro more than they were ten years earlier, because people were willing to pay that. They aren't any more, so prices have dropped.

I haven't decided that the value of an ebook for me is less than a chai latte (I don't drink Guinness so we'll just have to live with my cost of living indicators for a moment). I will happily pay over $9.99 for a book by an author I really like. But for me (and that is the key phrase), it's too much to spend on an ebook for an author that isn't one of my Top 20. I'd rather take my $9.99, add another few quid to it, and use it to support a bricks-and-mortar bookshop.

From his article, Adrian White's books sound as though they are each quite different from each other. I have some sympathy with this, as I genre-hop like a bunny on acid in a great big genre field. But it makes me even less likely to spend $9.99 on an ebook, no matter how good the author says it is, because if I have read and liked his previous two books, it doesn't follow that I'll like the third. This is true of every author, of course, but more so for an author whose books differ drastically from each other.

I admire Adrian White's decision. He knows it may cost him sales and yet he is refusing to undervalue his work, and I respect anyone who shows such courage in their convictions. But the market is currently geared towards the idea that ebooks are cheap and cheerful, and print books are endangered luxury items we must fight to retain. I don't know if there is space in such a market for an ebook at almost a print book price - right now, I think the market wants either value for money or a comfy bookshop with knowledgeable staff, a thriving arts-n-culture program and an in-store Starbucks (we're back to chai lattes again - lord, does every road in my life lead to chai lattes??).

We want the best of both worlds. At the moment, we can have it. This may not last, and if it doesn't. . . then maybe consumers will get a little more comfortable with paying $9.99 for an ebook.

What's the most you guys will pay for a book? Print, digital, paperback, hardback, audio (the forgotten stepchild of the publishing industry), debut author, favourite author, bestselling author, small press, indie, self-published. . . whatever! What's your magic price point?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What Is Writing Worth? Part One - Blogs

Irish writer Catherine Ryan Howard has made her blog available on the Kindle. Or rather, Amazon have done it some time after she asked them to :) Amazon have a service that allows readers to subscribe for a fixed amount per month, and have blog content delivered straight to their Kindle.

I am confused.

Before I even start this, I want to make it super-clear that I have no problem with people who choose to offer their blog on a platform that generates income. We're all trying to monetise our words here, and I'm not going to judge anyone who is trying to find legal and non-evil ways to pay the bills.

However, I am not mad about the idea myself.

I have no idea why anyone would pay to read content that I am making available free. You may think my posts are worth paying for (if so, thanks!) but they are free to read. I am willing to pay for chocolate - I'm willing to pay a lot for chocolate actually - but I don't volunteer money when I'm given free chocolate (my day job gives us all a free bar of chocolate every Thursday, so I have handled this conundrum in real life).

As a blog reader (I was a blog reader long before I was a blogger) I would be willing to pay to read most, possibly all, of the blogs I follow. But I follow tons of blogs, and I couldn't afford to pay for all of them, and since I can read them for free on my computer, I'm not likely to pay to read them on a different device. Why would I?

But as a blogger, I have even more concerns. We all coast a little on our blogs sometimes. I've made entries that were a bit rubbish, badly thought out, or poorly written. If someone has paid for content and I'm not delivering what they expect, they'll be annoyed at me in a very different way than if they have just spent two minutes of their time on me. I don't want to introduce that kind of dynamic into blogging - I feel that it's the spirit of sharing common knowledge that makes blogging so much fun. Introducing commerce to that relationship makes me uncomfortable.

Also, if you're going to spend money on stuff for the Kindle, I'd rather it was being spent on books.

How do you guys feel about paying for blogs? Would you ever? Would you ever make yours available at cost?

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Treatise on Compelling Characters, or 111 Bangable BritLit Boys

This list has been doing the rounds.

I am trying to be all coherent and highbrow and bookish about this but I'm not sure I can. I got as far as Number 3 before bursting into print (I burst into print a lot. It's most undignified).

First of all, well done to the compilers for not putting Mr. Darcy first. Mr. Darcy is wonderful and all, but jeez, he's everywhere. Real people and fictional characters (Bridget Jones, I'm looking at you. . .), they all love him and it gets dull.

However, he's been pipped to the post by Aragorn (OK, I get that) and Mr. Big-Liar-With-Mad-Chick-In-The-Attic (not so much).

And Jeeves appears above Wooster (seriously, is anyone surprised Jeeves is above Wooster. . .?). But Gussie Fink-Nottle creeps in at 106. Sorry, but Gussie Fink-Nottle is only even a tiny bit appealing if there are no other fictional characters left.

In spite of my earlier comments above, Darcy has many positive attributes - kindness to his younger sibling, ability to get Lizzie's younger sibling out of trouble, helpful tendancies, cool eyebrows. In my head, he wins the Best British Bloke award.

I still feel Yossarian just about edges him out in the overall stakes, though.

What fictional characters would you must like to. . . ahem. . . be stuck in a lift with?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Twitter - Is It The Best Word To Have In Your Post Title?

I've been reading The Onion too much, hence the subject :)

Recently I've started tweeting - I've even added a little Twitter thingy to my sidebar and the tiny blue bird aesthetic is looking ever more appealing.

I am looking for new and interesting people to follow, though, and since there's already tons of interesting people in blogland, I thought I'd ask if anyone here is on Twitter - if you are, I'd love to follow.

Do any of you guys tweet? How do you find Twitter compared to Facebook, blogs, etc.?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A-Z Blogging Challenge - Reflection Post

As I said yesterday, it's been an interesting month!

I absolutely loved the A-Z Challenge, and I'm sorry I didn't have more time to go through all the participants and visit them. I did discover some great new blogs though and look forward to finding more :)

Also, recently I've been having some doubts about blogging. There are lots of unpublished writers/book nuts out there, and I don't know what I have to bring to the table that isn't already being said, and said well, somewhere else.

Then April happened. This month I posted entries about
the sea, memories of my dad, Dorothy Parker (whose writing I have barely mentioned on my blog, which is weird because her work is one of my great passions), feminism (which I am sometimes afraid to mention in public because I belong to a generation who consider it 'unsexy'), and panic attacks.

I enjoy blogging about books and writing, but I also like the occasional deviations. This month has been a lot of fun, and I have loved the opportunity to step back from my usual subjects and blog about other things that are important to me.
I guess April taught me that everyone has something to bring to the table. I'll certainly be pulling up a chair and staying at the table for a while yet.

Happy May everyone!