Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writers in a Changing World

If I had a fiver for every time I had read a blog post about the changing landscape of the publishing industry, I'd be making more money than JA Konrath :p Everyone is saying something different - that print is becoming a subsidiary right, that signing a traditional publishing deal is a bad move financially, that no one beats traditional publishing for getting books out there. In short, to quote the wonderful William Goldman's maxim for working in Hollywood - Nobody knows anything.

Not right now. In time, I'm sure we will. But at the moment, as an unpublished writer trying to decide on the next step, there are so many conflicting points of view out there that it can feel a bit overwhelming.

But you know what else? It's exciting.

This is an exciting time to be a creative person. The way we appreciate art is changing. I'm a paper obsessive (hint: check out my blog header) and I'm doing most of my reading on a Kindle now. I'm complaining that most mp3 players don't meet my needs, which are suddenly far more complex than they were when I used to carry a Walkman AND a Discman everywhere because my music collection was in two formats.

More writers can get their books out there. In some cases, that's a bad thing - but I can choose not to read books I think are crap. In other cases, it's great. If you've written a niche book, or you can't find a traditional home for it, you can still get it out there.

Yes, it has been well documented that you have to work your arse off to make a success of that. But I'm not seeing how this is different to any other kind of art, which has never been a get-rich-quick scheme.

It's scary, it's changing all the time and it's hard to get enough of a handle on what's happening to make good decisions. But it is exciting to be working in a time of change rather than a time of stagnation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Something Or Other Monday

Since Susan at Stony River, the lovely lady who brings us Microfiction Monday, seems to be offline, I am looking for something to do on Mondays.

I reserve my Wednesday and Friday updates for - well, whatever, to be honest. But I like having one post a week with some structure.

I'm torn between Review Monday (short reviews of whatever I've been obsessing about for the previous week) and Character Monday (a paragraph about a character. Any character. This one needs some work!).

The A-Z blogging challenge starts on Friday. I was thinking about using my Character Monday idea for the whole month - pick a name beginning with that day's letter and write a short piece about a character with that name. I think that may get a bit tedious across a whole month though, and anyway, I am currently incensed about some instructions on a hot beverage and I have that earmarked for a rant around Day H.

I'll let you all know next Monday - in the meantime, hope you have a good start to the week!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Blogging A-Z Challenge


All the cool kids were doing it and it looked really fun - and it promises to be better for me than smoking or drinking cider in a field, which is another thing the cool kids do that looks fun :)

I've signed up for the Blogging A-Z challenge for April. The idea is to post every day (except Sundays) in April and to theme your posts around letters of the alphabet. Posts can be fiction, poetry, or anything else you feel like.

It looks like fun, and I'm already mulling over what I can do with it - I don't know whether to go with short pieces of fiction, travel features (that could be tough, but I've been vaguely intending to start a travel blog for about two years now), or just see where each day takes me.

Oh well, I have a week to figure it out!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

At the end of the day. . .

There is an entertaining post on Blood-Red Pencil at the moment about hated words and phrases.

I must admit that, when it comes to empty or redundant phrases, I am as guilty as anyone. I say 'PIN number' even though I used to work in a bank (I don't say ATM machine but I am forgiving of people who do). I have never said '9 a.m. in the morning' but it's definitely not impossible that some day I will.

But I have my own pet hates.

One of mine is the phrase 'It's the exception that proves the rule.'

I read once that this phrase originates from a time when to prove something meant to test it. I never liked the expression much anyway, because I often heard it used as a way to dismiss annoying counter-arguments without having to admit that they were valid.

But now - it's like nails on a blackboard. Which is very unfair, because there really are times when the exception does highlight the rule. Still drives me nuts though.

Are there any words or phrases you hate?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blogfest and Contest


There is a brilliant blogfest going on at Brenda Drake's blog - the idea is to post the first 250 words of your completed manuscript for feedback from the intelligent and literate blogosphere we all enjoy. Then, on March 22nd, you can submit it for a chance to win a critique from agent Natalie Fischer :)

And I can't enter because I don't have a completed manuscript right now :( Everything is still at the editing stage.

Pardon me while I sulk.

Anyway, even though I can't actually enter the contest, I have been thoroughly enjoying reading the excerpts that have been posted so far. And I have decided to post the first 250 words of my current WIP. If anyone would like to give me some feedback, it's very welcome! Otherwise, hope you enjoy the read.

***

Sammi was in the kitchen when Becky woke up.

Becky tried not to feel uneasy. Even though her flatmate was usually out the door by eight-thirty. It didn't necessarily mean anything.

She had always hated it when people said things like 'I knew it was going to be a bad day – first, the bus was crowded, then after lunch I got fired.' Crowded buses don't make people fire you – it was basic cause and effect. Becky liked logic, reason, order and patterns.

She also no longer believed in them.

'What are you still doing here? Is the deli on fire?' Becky asked. Sammi was a freelance journalist, perpetually skint and perpetually busy. She usually did her actual writing in the mornings in a local cafe, and spent the rest of her day interviewing and researching. Becky's hours varied wildly, and she was always glad that Sammi wasn't there on the mornings when she had to sleep in til eleven because she'd been out all night.

'If it was, I'd be down there chasing the ambulances,' Sammi said, slicing the crusts off her toast neatly.

Becky poured her tea and got her cereal in silence, conscious that Sammi still hadn't explained.

'Then what's keeping you at home? Is everything OK?' she asked.

'I just fancied a change,' Sammi said.

Now that is interesting, Becky thought. Sammi never fancied a change. Becky always had to be the one to try any new takeaway places that stuffed menus through their door, which was how she measured spontaneity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm allowed break with blog schedule for Patrick's Day, I have decided!

It's strange to think that the national day of my tiny little wet country will be celebrated in so many places today.

This is a public holiday in Ireland so I am off work! Children have the day off school, and traditionally Irish Catholics are allowed to break their Lenten vow.

Irish children tend to insist that they are 'giving up sweets' for Lent. Maybe today's kids are more disciplined but we certainly never stuck to it! For any kids - or grown-ups - who lasted this far, Patrick's Day was a nice time to indulge oneself. This year, St. Patrick's Day falls very close to the start of Lent (Easter is as late as it can be this year) so it's not as good, but I don't think anyone will be turning their nose up at a pint or a bar of chocolate today :)

Every year, most of our government ministers travel abroad to present shamrock to various important people, press the flesh, and raise awareness about Ireland. Irish people mostly dislike this, because our taxes pay for those trips and the country is almost bankrupt.

But we have something to be happy about this year. Last year, 22 members of government travelled abroad for St. Patrick's Day. This year, our new government have said this will be severely curtailed and only 8 ministers will travel abroad to key trade partners. Don't worry, the US is still one of them! A definite step in the right direction - or a nice gesture, depending on your perspective.

Happy St. Patrick's Day :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Surfeit of Reviews

Guys, you're in for a treat or an ordeal, depending on whether or not you like book reviews.

Since I got my Kindle, I am reading so much more. I didn't think that was possible, but it turns out that having a whole collection of books with me at all times cuts out on all that redundant time after you finish one book but don't have a new one to hand.

I'll try to intersperse my reviews with other posts, so I don't bore you all too much. Also, a few notes on how I review stuff - I try to be nice, but I will be honest. And I don't spoil, so if you haven't read the book, you can still read the review.

Observe the literary world tremble before my announcement.

Nope, not yet, anyway. . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Authors for Japan

As Microfiction Monday didn't happen yesterday, I completely forgot to post. . . sometimes I'm so clever I scare myself.

Anyway, to make up for the skipped post before normal service resumes tomorrow, I wanted to point everyone at the Authors for Japan auction, which makes me wish I was an author because I'd love to give away character names in future novels or query critiques or other kick-ass-y things.

There are some great items up for auction, including three signed books from Talli Roland, a character named after you in either Sarra Manning's upcoming YA novel or her upcoming adult novel, and an offering from everyone's favourite crabbit old bat (UK only).

Have fun bidding :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bucket List Blogfest!

There is a very cool blogfest going on at SwimWriteRun - the Bucket List Blogfest :) I love making Bucket lists, and make an average of one a week. For the sanity of my readers though, I'll limit myself to a manageable one here, with a mix of Big Stuff, Serious Stuff and Fun Stuff.

1. Get published. Another dispatch from the Department of the Bleedin' Obvious.

2. Travel. I'm not finished exploring Europe yet. I want to drive arcoss the States (major stops - Boston, New York, New Orleans, Taos, New Mexico, Houston, Arizona and California). I want to see the Far East (Vietnam is one of the only definites in my Top 5 Places to See). If I'm in the area anyway, I may as well do Australia and Canada, which are meant to be wonderful places.

3. Learn to sing. I am a famously bad singer. And I really am - I'm not one of those people who says 'Oh, no, I couldn't possibly!' at parties and then stuns the room into silence with my perfect soprano. I am closer to Bender in Futurama who is forbidden fron singing by court order.

But they say everyone has something they wish they could do, and singing is mine. I was told I couldn't sing when I was 11 and I often wonder if I'd be any better now if I'd been given the chance to get better.

I am also terrified to sing. I just mouth the words of Happy Birthday (this is really obvious in my tiny office but I do it anyway).

So I'd like to learn. Explore the unknown, conquer the fear.

4. Take a psychology degree. I like people, I like knowing how things work and I'm sure someone can help me with the statistics modules. Definitely on the list.

5. Learn to ice skate. With my actual feet this time. Do Not Ask.

6. See Pulp play at Electric Picnic. OK, this dream has only actually started today, since the line-up was announced. But it's PULP. I may have to throw my glasses and old-skiool knitted necktie at Jarvis.

Kindle 3 Review

I've had it for a couple of weeks now, so it seems like a good time to write a brief review of my new Kindle 3.

I haven't fully explored all of the features yet (I still haven't figured out how to make it read to me, for example, but I'm certain it's very straightforward and I'm just dumb). I've had a great experience with what I have used.

Pros:

The screen. It genuinely feels like reading a book and the screen is as easy on the eyes as paper. It isn't backlit, so you do need a separate light source to read it in dark places, but some of us have been known to keep pressing random buttons on our mobile phones to light up the screen to generate light to read by, so for some of us this is not a big problem. Ahem.

The size and weight. I forget that this is in my bag. It weighs less than a standard paperback, is comfortable to hold for long periods and fits everywhere.

The range of books available.

Cons:

The range of cases available. I could write books on this one. My options for cases are
- the Amazon leather one, which has metal hinges that can interfere with your Kindle's functionality. Good job, guys.
- a Belkin neoprene sleeve costing £26. It's worth about £5.
- a variety of unattractive plasticky-looking options, which seem to have the same texture as a cheap anorak.

- this item of sheer beauty, which I am unable to justify financially.

At the moment it lives in a small leather handbag I bought on a market stall, which fits neatly into my backpack. This is working for the moment.

Lack of page numbers. My new software should fix this, but it is a bit annoying.

No colour screen. I knew this before I bought it, of course, but it would be nice to view covers as their designers intended.

Overall I am extremely chuffed with my Kindle and will use it endlessly for the remainder of its natural life. I don't tend to name electronics (Writer Friend, who I've mentioned before, names everything and finds it slightly baffling that I don't) but I am on the point of naming my Kindle. I feel she might be a Miranda.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Unpublished writers and e-books

Before you even read this, it's worth checking out Nathan Bransford's post on the new species of writer that has sprung up since the start of the move to e-books - the Self-Published E-Book Millionaire.

Lots of people are making lots of money on the Kindle. Some are traditionally published and branching out. But increasingly, young authors (Amanda Hocking is my age - ahem - or at least she is what my age was until it treacherously altered itself last month) are choosing to skip the whole query-cold-sweat-panic-disappointment-repeat cycle altogether, and are going straight to the consumer with their stories.

I'm not even ready to query, so why am I thinking about this?

Because unpublished writers, especially since the world of publishing decided to start blogs and tell us everything, feel we have to think about these things. No one wants to stumble blindly on to the wrong publication path. Elle has a post about choosing to turn away from a publishing house to pursue a career agented by someone who shared her vision for her book as it is, and that post should be required reading for every unpublished writer. She has chosen to pursue what she calls 'the book my heart was really in.'

We have to strive for the career we really want, not settle for second best.

I want to be traditionally published. I grew up with paper books, I love them, I venerate them as cultural objects (I feel sure I stole that phrase from the Guardian. . .). I also want the endorsement that comes from an organisation saying 'Yes, we will invest money in this person.' Mostly, though, I want editorial input from someone experienced.

If I can't have those things, I'm happy to look into other options. There is nothing wrong with being successful through self-publishing. I'll be very happy if that is what happens for me. But I am going after my first choice first.

I can see why self-publishing would be someone's first choice. There is so much more control, creatively and financially, and it has proven very lucrative for lots of authors. It just isn't my first choice, but it's a close second these days.

How do you guys feel about self-publishing? Is it your first choice or your last resort?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Microfiction Monday 72

Every week, Susan posts a picture, and anyone who fancies playing can post a story of 140 characters or less.

Here's this week's picture and my entry:

It was hard when her husband was away at war, but at least she’d had a job. Now all the other men had come home, and she didn’t have either.



Friday, March 4, 2011

Extreme Edits, Day One

I wrote 57,000 words for Nanowrimo this year. Now I am faced with the task of whittling it down to the good ones while simultaneously bulking my word count up to publishable levels. Without padding.

It's going to be tough, but at least for the editing part, I've found a method that works pretty well for me. So far, at least!

I hate deleting words. However, my first chapter opened with my character indulging in a totally pointless ramble that took up half a page and existed only to set up two or three mildly funny throwaway lines of inner monologue. When I opened the file today, I saw a note I had made:

Opening needs to be totally reworked so it is not self-indulgent twaddle.

I should point out I never use the word twaddle in real life and have nasty things to say about people who do.

I had to cut the entire rambling opening, which involved me lampooning a particular type of opening line I've always hated (on which more another day), a cat eating a toaster and the death of a non-existent character. Look, I'm from the same country as Flann O'Brien. There's probably hallucinogenics in the water or something.

But the 'self-indulgent twaddle' came to a full page, all told, and shaped the entire first conversation between Becky, my MC, and her flatmate Sammi. I couldn't cut it all. There might be a few bits in there worth saving (if so, they have yet to reveal themselves).

So I opened up a second file, and started rewriting, while keeping the original, untouched file open beside it on my desktop.

It's not revolutionary, but for those of us who like to retain words rather than cut them, it makes a lovely change from the jazzed-up line edit that writers often do when they know the structure is sound.

It also meant that when I came across a phrase I really liked, or a detail that I knew would be important later, I could slip it in. It works for me because if I just rewrote the scenes, I would obsess that I was losing the voice. I probably am losing some of the voice even as it is, but at least I can keep the little details and do some work on voice later on.

It's a start, anyway. Now to barrel through it quickly so I can write fun things again!

EDITED TO ADD: Guys, Sally Quilford has declared March 25th Anti-Conning Writers Day. If you've ever been conned out of money through writing, dealt with someone dubious or suspect, or paid for vanity publishing, and you want yo share your story, please join in on - details are on Sally's blog. You can also email your story to her anonymously for inclusion if you would prefer. If you've ever been conned, this is a great chance to alert others and help them to avoid the same thing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Character Interviews - Giving it a Whirl

Janice Hardy had a post yesterday about interviewing your characters - she found an interesting list of questions on The Script Lab (of course, you all follow her wonderful blog and thus already knew this, right? :p).

I've never done this myself, but sometimes I find those questions can be a useful jumping-off point. I don't need to know what my MC's favourite colour is (I actually don't know my own, which makes conversations with five-year-olds incredibly difficult, as they can sense it when I lie). But I had never considered the relationship that one of my MCs (Rosie) had with her parents in much depth, and now that I've started to, it seems there may be some interesting stuff there.

My other current MC (concurrent edits are fun . . . ), Becky, is less of a mystery. She's contemporary, close to my own age, went to my university. It's simpler to imagine many of her opinions and experiences, because most people from my background have certain politics, certain ideas. Not all of them, and she is quite different to me on a number of points, but it's easier to piece her together. That said, there is a whole area of her life that I never touch on - although she has a love interest in the novel, there is no mention of her ever dating anyone before. She's almost 30, she probably did. And while it never needs to make it into the novel, I think it would add some depth if I knew whether she was terminally single, voluntarily single, not that bothered about being single, nursing a broken heart since she was 18, or just too lazy to bother. It may give the character an extra dimension - and even as I'm typing this, I can think of a trait she definitely has that her romantic history could highlight.

Character questionnaires are fun :)