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Monday, 12 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

Rules of the Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.



Fellow author J.G Berger tagged me for the online game ‘The Next Big Thing’: A blog circle where authors have a chance to discuss their current works in progress/ what they’re currently working on now.

Next Big Thing:
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
‘Aunt Tizzie’s Jubilee’

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The theme is something I often write about: women who suddenly discover that what they thought was true is not, and they have to do something about it, usually by changing their lives.
The idea came, as they so often do, slowly, over time. Several things drifted together in my mind: the old custom of St. Columba’s lambs; how families can pick on, cheat and deceive one member; the character of Tizzie who buzzed around in my head begging, in broad Yorkshire, for her story to be told after I’d been on a visit to old haunts in Yorkshire.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s set in 1887 so is historical. I didn’t think a contemporary Tizzie would gain reader sympathy, and I wanted readers to see how a woman can be trapped and rendered unable to act for herself by the way her family treat her. Readers know there were far more restrictions on a young woman in Victorian times and would be more tolerant of Tizzie’s struggles. Perhaps then they might take some of that understanding into modern day thinking.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Good heavens. I don’t know many film actors. I’d love the entire Royal Shakespeare Company to act a play version. I love the idea of Yorkshire dialogue enunciated by those well trained voices. I think Sean Bean, who is a Yorkshire man, would make a good villain.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young woman, cheated out of her marriage and life away from home, learns to fight back when she finally discovers just what her brother and his wife have done.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

If Writer’s Choice Co-operative accept it I will self publish it under their seal of approval. This means it will be edited, have a professional cover design, and be proof read to a high standard so that it can be called quality fiction.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Three years with much interruption.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There are not many writers who write straight historical novels without Royalty or Famous Persons having starring roles. Of those who do, I can’t think of a novel I’ve read that is similar enough to make a comparison.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I write because I have to, it’s like breathing. No real person or thing inspired me, but Tizzie’s voice in my head and her character popping in to my mind are what made me try to find her story.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Recipes, Tizzie’s daily life on a Yorkshire Dales’ farm, and details of traditional customs.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Launch.

Well, we've done it. We're off. The books are published - epublished - and available. We are Writer's Choice and now we need readers' words to sell our books.

The great experiment has provoked a great deal of comment in New Zealand since I've had PR articles in writers' magazines, online and in newspapers and on the radio.

Several people asked me I didn't wait for a 'real' publisher. Indeed there are people who said I should wait however long it takes. Having had cancer and coming very close to death I know how short life can be and how little time I have left. I know my work is publishable and marketable. My short stories have all been print published. My novel has been assessed and critiqued and agent/editor checked. It was short listed in three unpublished/first novel competitions. What more can I do?

Learn to write a selling query letter, someone else suggested. But why? Why do I have to beg an agent to take me on? Why do I have to wait on their whims and moods before I can reach a publisher?

Go with a Small Press, another person told me. But the marketing work is as much as if I had self published, and the ones I liked had long waiting lists.

Writer's Choice will support us in our ups and downs. We'll learn and perhaps, it seems to me, we'll do better financially. This, for one who is an overqualified, out of work, near starving and frustrated with the lack of employment person, is important. The government unemployment allowance is not even a bare minimum and any boost to near nothing will be gratefully welcomed.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

We're off!

We have a deadline for our book launch - October 17th. Thank goodness. Sometimes it seemed we'd never make it.

On that day I will be in the library giving a talk about the Writer's Choice publishing co-operative. In the week running up to Launch Day I will also be interviewed on the local radio and the local TV. I'm angling for the national radio book slots and have approached the national newspapers with articles on me and Writer's Choice.

It's exciting, exasperating and frustrating. My first two books are anthologies, collections of short stories which have already been published in magazines in the UK, Canada, America and Australia. George is our American member of the group and his book is a novel. His book will be launched at the same time. I will talk about his novel at my interviews. He will talk about my anthologies at his interviews. We are a group, more power to our elbows.

It seems to me that either we will surf this new wave of publishing or be swamped. But we'll never know if we don't try. I'd rather aim at the moon and land on a mountain top, than aim at the mountain and get stuck in the foothills!

Friday, 14 September 2012

I missed!

So much for weekly blogging. August blogging got lost. Well, I was blogging but on our Writer's Choice website. October 17th, our launch date draws near and we are all going flat tack trying to be ready and perfect. We can but try.

A long time online writing friend emailed this morning to let me know it was a month now since I was banned (tut!) from the AbsoluteWrite forums and I was missed. Kind soul. And another emailed to say he'd tried to get me reinstated to no avail. Bless him for trying but it was bound to be a waste of time. Two particularly intolerant moderators and the Big Boss have been trying to get rid of me for a while. No way would they have me back especially after the nasty trick they played to get rid of me.

It used to be that one could discuss and swop opinions at the AbsoluteWrite forums. Now you must brown nose or expect trouble. How dare anyone disagree with or have ideas which are different from the inner clique moderators. If you do then expect to be abused. Interesting isn't it that a member can be banned for being rude to a moderator but moderators can be extremely offensive and it's fine? A bit pointless to have a rule which says don't be rude and then allow the board officials to be highly offensive. Really silly.

It seems to me that if the AbsoluteWrite forums have degenerated to the extent that Moderators actually delete and alter one's words to deliberately get one banned then the place isn't worth visiting. I am just sorry that someone I thought of as a writing pal would allow herself to be used to get me banned permanently. PM'd apologies are hardly worth complaining about.




Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hurray for Writer's Choice!

Winter blahs, short dark days, so much to do, no money to do it with! Ah me, isn't life grand.

But with Writer's Choice getting closer to launch day things feel positive. My anthology is ready to go, George's novel is just about ready for formatting. Sharon is beavering away. Ann is still holidaying in the U.K. but promised to return with the novel perfected!

The website and blog are growing nicely. Friendly authors agree to be interviewed. The banner and logo are perfect. And I'm scared silly that all our work and effort will not be enough. Still, no use pothering about it, it's an experiment and I feel better knowing I have tried. It's no use sitting about moaning about bloody agents and traditional publishing, epublishing might just pay the bills!

I have been impressed by our covers though. We have a really good artist and she seems to know exactly what makes a good, eye catching ebook cover. I knew people bought by eye, but not how much it influences a book buyer.

I've been observing people and books in our library. This morning I spent time as I did my volunteer work shelving non-fiction and watched people picking up the new books and checking them out. Where the reader did not know the writer the cover played an important part in the choice. "It looks all right," they'd say if they decided to borrow the book. I am glad we have Dawn to create our covers.

Monday, 16 July 2012

What is it about emotions which make people so afraid?

I was treated to a trip to the cinema on Saturday. There was a Norwegian film I really wanted to see: 'Letters to Father Jacob'. People whose opinions I valued and a couple of intelligent, non-Hollywood watching critics had given the film excellent ratings.

I like to hope perhaps the audience was willing but not used to subtitles. They were older people I would have assumed had lived enough life to be able to listen and watch. The film was an exquisite production, the photography superb, the acting - mainly from just two characters - brilliant, the story a real onion of a plot with layer upon layer to plumb.

I don't usually weep over unreal situations, after all a film is a created artifice meant to work on the emotions. 'Letters to Father Jacob' made me weep. I noted the women next to me wiping away a tear, but as the lights came up a loud woman and her Aussie friend in the seats in front of me yawned.

"Just two people, a real budget film," she said to her OZ friend.
"Yeah and I can't believe people live in rotten old houses like that."

I nearly throttled them. For me the film had been a cathartic experience, rare and precious. They just chattered. I muttered rudely. The women next to me patted my arm. "They're just hiding their emotions," she said.

I hope that was it. Otherwise they were simply insensate louts!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Sometimes...

A magic wand! That's what I need. Or more properly a belief that the future will be less crazy than the last four years.

To be jobless is demeaning. Trying to create work by setting up and running a Language School and Writer's Retreat is dispiriting when the P.R. and adverts attract lots of queries but few bookings. (Four this year so far.) The idiot neighbour's daily harassment is wearing, especially as he's taken to creeping along the boundary hedge and suddenly leaping up with deafening hyena-like laughter or shouts every ten minutes.

And it is so depressing to note that I have not been able to afford to plant anything like the number of hazel, almond and fruit trees which would bring me in enough money to buy more trees and pay some bills.

Thank God for the Writers' Choice co-operative and my three colleagues egging me on. If we can get all our books launched in October, work hard at the PR, maybe there will be a small income, and I will be able to say that the chaos of the last four years is over and my fifth year home in N.Z. will finally be one where I can stop worrying about where the money will come from for this week's food and afford to buy some new underclothes. At last!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Why on earth...?

I've been shelving the newest purchases at the library. I found a new Shona MacLean, which was a nice surprise, but I did start to wonder what has happened to book covers and book blurbs.

They are all the same!

Historical novels have a photograph type cover, usually a female in fancy dress, or part dress, and nearly always made to look sexy despite the title of the book or its contents.If it's a male on the cover he has to be unshaven and brooding, leaning against something with a sexy scowl. Oh yes, the shirt's half open, of course. The title will be scrawled illegibly in imitation of a quill pen's writing or old style printing press printing.

If the genre is vaguely chick lit then the cover has what I call stick drawings of people, usually women. It's not quite a cartoon style cover but getting close. Murder Mysteries have brooding landscapes, Cozy detective stories have village scenes.

But no matter what the cover pictures the darned words are always the same. 'Best Seller', 'Must Read', 'Unforgettable', 'The Read of the Year' on every book.

Really?

Don't tell me what I must read. And if the book's a best seller how come all the others are too? What does a best seller really mean? Why can't we have more blurbs which tell the story without all the screaming puffery?

So many books don't even carry a blurb any more. I can't tell what they are about. If I have to delve into the book itself then it's bye bye book. It's obviously not my style with its half naked couple on the cover, and a MUST READ shouting on the back cover.

I reckon the publisher who goes back to plain coloured, gilded tooled leather (well, look alike tooled leather) covers with clear legible titles and actually has a plot description blurb which matches the contents of the book is on to a winner.

Friday, 15 June 2012

A name at last. Writers Choice is born. We are a multicultural, international group of writers - sounds serious doesn't it? - who think it's time to experiment with some of these non-traditional means of publishing. Does that sound convincing?

Our Logo is being discussed. We have a rather novel idea from an artist friend which I really like. Have to have a vote of course, but all is proceeding amiably.

Suddenly we have a September/October Deadline and it's all a bit panic inducing. I am having doubts about my work being good enough yet the anthologies of stories I will e-publish have already been published in journals and magazines in Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the USA.

What we writers do to ourselves in the way of put downs and self doubt is crazy. My novels are off to competitions and then to some Small Presses. Maybe I will be able to earn money and self respect again!



Wednesday, 6 June 2012

So how is the publishing cooperative going?
Slowly.

Step one, find a group name that will be our brand.
As yet we cannot find something with panache. We have several good names but nothing exceptional. Fortunately everyone is good humoured about it. No fussing. Rule number one is professional polite and civilised behaviour at all times and we abide by it. It's the only way to get a group working together without misunderstandings.

Email is a poor form of communication because voice and tone are lost. It's easy to misunderstand what is said. And those wretched smiley faces don't really help. They merely make an email look like a kindergarten effort! As we email short notes to each other we stick to Rule One! It has helped.

We started with six and are now four. I think we'll hold at that and see how we do. There is a so much to do but the bulk of the work requires that group name. I think it's time to chase everyone for suggestions, again!



Friday, 1 June 2012

I am learning at last. I can link my blog to another. I think! I wish my IT expert son-in-law lived nearby. Why all this bother about tech skills? Well I've done it. I've finally stopped dithering and blethering and have struck out as an independent novelist publisher.

Oh, not on my own. Nor did I succumb to the wiles of a scam publisher. No Publish America stuff for me. No, I've found a few writer colleagues who feel like I do about the whole Traditional Publishing scene and are prepared to work with me as a cooperative group who will publish together under our group name.

It's a hard way to go. Attitudes are set. The Historical Writers Association will not allow me to join if I go this way and don't wait the 19 years is it Ms Morgan keeps quoting. In New Zealand I will be called a vanity publisher and my credit as a tutor of writers will fall! Some of my trad published writer friends will sneer. Others will cheer as they struggle with editors who ask for radical cuts or additions to make their novels 'easier to understand' or 'more marketable,'

But I am convinced that the almighty power of Trad publishing, with its pernickety editors and despotic agents, is broken. Indeed unless they adapt and change a lot more swiftly than they are doing, then they will fade away, moving sideways into conglomerate units producing mass information and nothing else.

I don't know how our group will manage all the details yet but we advance one step at a time, cheering each other on and regarding this as an experiment. It's an adventure but one we control. It's rather nice to have some say in cover design and pricing. And good to know that our novels go out to be read as we intended them to be.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cooperation?

Steam has been pouring out of my ears all week. In one of those coincidences which seem to happen as a needed push or kick, tales from writer friends who have publishing contracts with the traditional big name publishers popped into my inbox or post box and all of them conspire to shove me towards self publishing.

I cannot believe what publishing companies can do. Apart from the one friend who been dumped because of lack of sales I have been steaming over the editing done to another writer pal's first novel.

This writer's editors chopped the really marvellous ending and insisted on a smaltzy, sloppy, not accurate historically ending be written instead. The novel is a great literary historical. The bloody fool editors keep trying to turn it into a Hollywood action adventure. Quite spoilt the story with their additions which are supposed to make the novel sell more! I seriously doubt they will help sales.

But from all this fury has come the determination to join with a couple of writer friends and make a self publishing cooperative. We aim to run an experiment and see if our novels, the ones agents and editors like but..., will sell as ebooks.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Why?

Why is it that publishers are really pushing marketing novels by slotting them in to boxes?
I am tired of finding a novel which looks right, the blurb reads enticingly well, but when I read it I find it's not at all what the marketing promises.

I've thrown several novels back at the librarian with a snarl recently, because they promised to be historical novels, but turned out to be Romances. No, I don't mean a novel with a romantic relationship as a subplot. I mean the darned thing was a full blown Romance with a pretty historical setting. Yet it was marketed as a serious historical novel.

There's a trend to market literary historical novels as if they were genre romps. I'd have missed several excellent novels if I had studied the blurb and not listened to my friends.

Why do publishers think we all want candy floss reading? Why do they market well written, challenging novels as if they were easy reads? It puts readers off.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

More Emperor's New Clothes

The more I think and discuss the state of publishing right now, the more I am growing to believe that writers have been brainwashed.

Right now traditional publishers require us to go through agents. Agents have read it all and seen it all. They are bored. Titillate them with something like Jane Austen and the Zombies and they jump. Give them a literary novel by an unknown and they might well yawn.

I didn't realise exactly how too much reading can spoil your appreciation of a story. I have suddenly found myself 'read out'. I have been reading a book a day for years and there really is very little new in the way of plots. What wakes me up is a well written 3D character, an unusual setting and the writer's unique voice. This means I judge writing more harshly than a reader who is not 'read out'.

If I do this how much more will an agent or publisher's editor do so?

Readers don't mind another thriller about a serial killer. I've had to review too many. Readers don't worry about head hopping POV changes. Writers and agents frown upon them. Readers don't mind all sorts of things which agents do care about and tell us about how dreadful they are on their websites, in their tweets and blogs.

Perhaps we writers should call the agents' bluff. Perhaps, if we are desperate to be published traditionally, we should produce pastiches of famous, out of copyright novels with something weird tacked on. 'Christmas Carol with Aliens' or 'David Copperfield, Robot'?

Or perhaps it makes sense to go the self publishing route? Readers are out there reading some appallingly written, self published novels with relish. They just like a good story.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Should writers or shouldn't writers?

If you can get writers to ignore the stigma attached to self publishing fiction and discuss it seriously it seems that the biggest stumbling block is knowing if the novel is actually good enough to publish.


There's the rub indeed. How do you know your novel is publishable? If you haven't got a support group of published writers who can help you decide, what can you do? Who will tell you? And where do you get the courage to do it?


There is so much badly written work being self published and any writer who has a C.V. of published works does not want to add to that pool.


So how can a writer find out if the novel is publishable? Sending it to an agent or publisher in the traditional way very rarely brings any helpful comments.


There are manuscript assessors. The U.K. assessors often are or were publishers, editors or even retired agents. My American friends think it is dreadful to spend money on a critique. "Do it yourself," they holler. But how many writers have the confidence to weigh up their own novel? We often think it's ready to publish but is it truly?


There are novel competitions, some are free, others cost a lot, but if the novel is short listed, or merits a critique then surely it has publishable value? Or does it?


There are now publishers' schemes like the Macmillan New Writers scheme or the Harper Collins authonomy: http://www.authonomy.com/faq.aspx website which depends on reader popularity. Problem there is that there is always someone somewhere who hates your novel and someone who loves it and it might be possible to rig support!


So where do writers go with their novels, the novels which agents say "it's good but I don't where to publish it."? Where do writers go with those novels which get good critiques but no agent or publisher takes on? Where do writers go with short listed or competition winning novels which still don't get a traditional publisher?


What do we do? I'm thinking we need a writers' publishing collective for self publishing, with editors to guard against the hopeful new writers who have a way to go yet before publishing standards are reached. Oh, and excellent PR people to blow away the 'vanity' or 'not good enough for real publishing' comments.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

A case of the Emperor's New Clothes?

Right now I'm mulling over a serious problem. What do I tell my two new online students, or any writing students, who work with me at perfecting their novels ready for a publisher? Do I stick with the traditional advice or do I give in to my now serious doubts and discuss them, giving the students that publishing information?

There is no doubt, I repeat this, no doubt, that the basic information handed out in books, on websites, and in writers' magazines or online writers' groups on how to get published with traditional publishers is correct. And this information is a must for new writers to follow. I have no problems with presenting it to my students at all. I know that often a first novel is not publishable even if many of the new writers don't yet accept that. All writers need to believe in themselves, to be arrogant enough to keep writing in the face of rejections. As they struggle with editing, query letters, synopsis and researching agents they are learning and you hope that one day, if they have sufficient of a writers' 3Ds or 3Ps, they will get there, write a publishable novel. Probably with their fourth or fifth attempt.

But what happens when you have more experienced writers, writers who have been publishing short stories, plays, articles, poems for a few years, and who have now written several novels? These writers really have the skills to follow the How to Get Published instructions. They have an original, well written, perfectly edited and presented manuscript. They have an attention grabbing but fully detailed synopsis, and their query letters are a work of art. They have researched their agents and publishers carefully. They have done everything necessary and yet cannot rouse the interest of an agent or publisher.

Current traditional thinking is that their novel simply isn't good enough or it would be published. All writers learn this very quickly and accept it as gospel. But is it?

To make way in traditional publishing a writer needs an agent. Agents are the guardians of the gateway to the traditional publishers. Some very helpful U.K. agents told me they take on one or two people a year and receive, according to the size of their agencies, 4,000 to 8,000 queries a year. Allowing for the slush pile rule that only 10% of the queries are worth reading that still means 400 to 800 query packages to be read. If each agent selects two that leaves anything from 398 to 798 manuscripts unpublished.

Are they unpublishable? How much does luck play a part in choices? How much does fashion play a part? How much does the agent's own preferences play a part? How much does 'we want more of the same', commercial candy floss play a part? How much do business considerations like the writer's age, where they live or how contract savvy they are play a part?

I'm beginning to think that this idea that these novels are not good enough is in fact a case of the Emperor's New Clothes and that giving the traditional advice to these more experienced writers, is keeping them locked into the traditional publishing world and its systems at a time when there are other opportunities. Of course the traditional publishing world is happy to keep these writers dangling, hoping that one day they too can have a Penguin or Oak tree, on their novel, because publishing is a business and the publishers want new writers. So if it's not this year, it might be next year or the year after that. Keep 'em hoping with the idea that their novel isn't publishable yet but the next one might be.

Cynical? Possibly, but I think I will be recommending that the experienced writers I know, with manuscripts which we have read, worked on and enjoyed, can try the traditional route of course, but that they will be better off with the Small Presses, those e-book and POD publishers who are open to submissions without an agent. And for those writers with energy and excellent PR ideas, who don't give a fig for the snooty put downs which self published fiction so often receives, I would even recommend that they can go that route and see how much they can earn!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Obsessions.

My neighbour from hell is obsessed. He, (and now his wife,) whose 12 acres border mine, is frantic that I should not plant trees. Their house is roughly 25 metres from our mutual boundary fence. They claim that my hazel, almond and fruit trees will damage their house. They claim that my windbreak of coppicing bushes and shrubs will damage their house, and prevent it being sold. Daily I endure abuse, am spied on, cannot walk down my drive without being stalked, yet when I complain they say they must protect their property and they are not doing anything wrong. Attempts to get a mediator in failed. They don't need one! A solicitor's letter warning them of the inevitable consequences of their actions is ignored and laughed at. They drag the local Council officials into their campaign of harassment and I have to waste more time reminding the Council that they have a large file about my neighbour and they should read it before threatening me. I am writing this with my neighbour's binoculars trained on me as I sit on my verandah about one kilometre away from his house and land. He is dangerously obsessed.

And as I wonder how high a fence I can build along that boundary to block out my neighbour I have to chuckle. One of the poets I studied for my O levels was Robert Frost. I can still quote 'Mending Wall' - 'Good fences make good neighbours' He will not go behind his father's saying and he likes to have thought of it so well.' Exactly!

Agents and Publishers' editors are obsessed too. With marketability and money. But I wonder if they really know what readers want. I have included a few mentions of book titles and quotes from poetry in my latest novel. There are school room scenes and the schoolmaster is an important character so I have not foisted these quotes and titles in isolation. However the expert advice I have received from agents and publishers' editors is to remove these as modern readers won't know what they are and don't like quotations. The readers and writers I work with, to test my writing by reading and critiquing, snort in indignation. They like quotes and titles. 'Tells me more about the character.' most of them have said. A quick check round the library, talking to the readers there, came up with the same answer. One person said they had found some interesting poems to read that way.

So who is right? Does an obsession with earning lots of money by getting a 'popular' marketable novel make these experts right? Or do the wide range of ebooks being downloaded by the new techy readers say something quite different. Something about reasonable prices allowing readers to try different types of books? Something about the fact that people cannot all be boxed into the same square?