Actors owe us everything but seldom acknowledge it

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As far as fame and notoriety go, actors are probably up there at the top of the list.  They are known the world over, loved by everyone, and hailed for their talent.  The ego of an A-list actor is just about the biggest thing on the face of this earth, closely followed by their bank balance, and their embarrassing emotional baggage.  Everyone loves the actors, everyone has their favourite (even me), and there are countless posts on social media discussing the good and bad of this or that actor’s repertoire.  I know, I’ve joined in some of them.

What no one seems to get, especially the actors themselves, is that if it weren’t for us writers, they’d be gas station attendants, shop assistants, bar staff and car valeters.

Every time I see a red carpet event on the television, I watch the actors sashaying up to the cameras. turning this way and that, and accepting praise for their latest movie with gracious smiles, and I quietly seethe.  I get really irritated by these events, because it’s the actors that get all the glory, when us writers have done all the work.  Without us, there would be no actors.

An actor is a liar, all actors are liars.  It’s the be-all and end-all of their existence.  They spend their working lives pretending to be someone else, pretending to have a different personality than the one they were born with, a different life story.  Never trust an actor, they lie for a living, and some of them are extremely skilled at it.  I digress however, the thing that annoys me is that they all owe every moment of their success, to us writers.  Do they ever acknowledge this fact though?  Do they hell.  You will seldom see any actor thanking the writers who have made them famous.  The nearest they get is to thank their director at the Oscar ceremony, and yet if it wasn’t for our talent and creativity, they would not be enjoying the privileged life they lead.

Writers have to make do with a mention in the credits of movies and tv shows, but how many people outside of the business, who aren’t into writing themselves, can name the writers of any movie or tv shows (Lord of the Rings is exempt from this question by the way)?  I doubt there are many.

This is a situation that will never change of course, so long as actors continue to be so highly paid and so long as they are given so much power.  That doesn’t stop it being morally wrong though.

Very unconstructive criticism

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I got a message in my facebook inbox today, saying “Willing to hear constructive criticism?”  I replied that of course, I’m always willing.  This is the reply.

“I started to read your story and was repelled by the way you write. I normally can and do push my self to read material that is new. I would not read more of yours than 2 pages and would not buy it. You have me at at loss since the actual suggestions I had for you are now in the cobweb recesses of my mind.”

Now, forgive me for being thick, but how is this constructive criticism?  This is a personal opinion, not helpful advice.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and even if said opinion offends my own, I absolutely stand by your right to your own, but don’t label it as constructive criticism just to give a valid reason to bash me for kicks. If you think you have advice that might help me evolve and develop as a writer, then I’m all ears baby, but if you just want to punch me in the face for shits and giggles, you can fuck off.

I started writing my first novel in June 2011, and this is the first time I’ve had a message like this, so if this happens once every three years during my career as a writer, I won’t be doing too badly.

Why I don’t beta read

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I don’t beta read for people, and I don’t review for them either, unless I’ve chosen to read the book and liked it. There are several reasons for this, and a recent experience reminded me why it was a good decision for me not to do it. The ease with which anyone can get their work into print, is both good and bad. Without publishing houses guiding authors, they are totally undisciplined, mainly because they simply do not know that there is a way of doing things that earns you respect, and many ways that won’t. Trying to educate them is a waste of time; you will either be ignored or lose your kneecaps.

Recently, I made the mistake of allowing myself to be persuaded into beta reading for someone. I said yes before he told me it was over 100k words, and I’m too nice to go back on my word. This guy has an internet presence which gives the impression (however right or wrong) that he enjoys a level of success. He lives in a country where the people have their own, very unique culture, although he is not of that culture himself.

The generally accepted rule of thumb, is that you don’t send your book to betas until you’ve edited it, proof read it, and made it as polished as you can. It is not the job of the beta to point out spelling errors or grammatical mistakes, or to have to traverse them while trying to get into your plot. The manuscript I received had obviously not even been given an initial proof read, let alone multiple edits. It was terrible, not to put too finer point on it. Do this too often and word will get around the greater writing community that you don’t know what the hell you are doing.

Another problem I found, was that it was too specific to the unique culture the author lives in, which I feel would alienate those not of that culture, (which makes up roughly 75% of the rest of the world). Fine if you only intend to publish in that one country, but if you want it to be available worldwide, it’s a mistake, in my opinion. When I say too specific, I mean he used words of that language without giving a translation or giving us any clue as to what it means.

The main problem for me, was that it was far too long and seemed as if he had filled it with tons of minute descriptive detail just to pad out the word count. There was simply far too much minute descriptive detail that did not help the story. I did give it a try though, and set my Word Talk up and sat back to listen. I felt that the first 5 or 6 chapters could easily be discarded without any harm to the main story, and by chapter 9 I had fallen asleep through sheer boredom. I realised that I had probably bitten off far more than I could chew, so I read three or four chapters, then skimmed through another dozen or so, then read three or four more, then skimmed a load more, wash, rinse, repeat until I got to the end. In my opinion, he should cut it down to between 70 and 80 thousand words, and he will have a story that gets into the action quickly and carries you through at an exciting pace.

When I wrote my thoughts to the author, he did not even bother to acknowledge that I had taken my time (free of charge) to give him the benefit of my experience and viewpoint as both an author and a reader. It doesn’t matter that he may not have liked my opinion, he asked for it, I gave it, and I deserved an acknowledgement at least. I couldn’t give a flying fuck what you think of my opinion, if you ask for it, you will it and I expect you to thank me for my time. This guy didn’t, and that shows not only his lack of experience as an author in the field, which will only serve to hinder him as word gets around of his lack of basic etiquette, but also shows that the spin he puts out about himself is just that – spin.

This has proved to me that my decision not to beta read for others is a valid one, and one that I shall stick to in future. It’s not that I’m unhelpful or want to keep other authors down, it’s because when I give hours of my time to someone without charge, and they can’t even acknowledge my contribution, I feel like a fool.

I will be nobody’s fool, so don’t ever ask me to beta read, or read for review.

Parting ways with Smashwords

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Today marks the ending of a relationship that has been good. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend you’ve become comfortable with, and although you feel sad, you suddenly realise that now you can take more notice of all those other fish that people say are in the sea. They are there too.

A few days ago, I published my ninth novel, A.W.O.L, a sci fi romance. All my previous eight novels have been published in both paperback and e-book formats, and this new one is no different. For the last eight books, I have used multiple publishing platforms, to increase my visibility around as many sites as possible, and this new books is no different. For the last eight books I have used Smashwords as one of e-book publishing platforms, but this new book is very different.

Smashwords have always been one of my favourite publishing sites, because of their distribution, which has always been pretty fantastic. The trouble with Amazon, is that although most people buy from there, Amazon only make ebooks for the Kindle. Not everyone uses a Kindle. Some folks use iPads, iPhones, Palm readers, Nooks and loads of other e-reader devices. For these other e-reader devices, you need sites that produce e-books in the appropriate formats for these e-reader devices to use. There are loads of sites that sell e-books for all these other e-reader devices. iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel and many others, and Smashwords distributes your book to many of these. Up until recently, they were the only one who had such a wide distribution.

Many authors hate Smashwords, and are quite happy to vocalise their hatred. The upload process, what Smashwords calls ‘the meatgrinder’ is unnecessarily difficult, and any deviation from an extremely strict formatting process, results in refusal of your file. They do produce a free book to guide you through their formatting process, and if followed very strictly, upload should go without a problem. There is zero margin for error or creative expression in your formatting though, which is another annoying thing.

Smashwords also insist you list them as your publisher on your copyright page, which is one of the main things everyone hates about them. Not content with taking a cut of your royalties, they also require to be your publisher.

Up until now, I have never had any problems uploading to Smashwords. It has always gone through first time and I’ve been perplexed as to why so many other authors all say they have so many problems. I now fully understand all those other authors, and join them in their hatred.

My Word subscription ran out, and I could not afford the £80 needed to renew it, so I used Kingsoft Writer to format A.W.O.L and uploaded to Lulu, Createspace and Amazon KDP without a problem. I always do two formats for ebook, one for KDP and one for Smashwords, as they require totally different formatting, and this time was the same. When I tried to upload the file to Smashwords however, it refused it, saying that the file was an application/KSWPS file with a .doc extension. Not only do I not have the first clue what a KSWPS file is, I’ve no idea how to change it. So I paid for renewal of Word, which meant I could not pay the rent that week, and opened the file in Word, and saved it again from there, renaming it completely. Smashwords still refused to accept it. I then copied the document into a fresh word document, and totally reformatted from scratch, entirely in Word, saved from Word and renamed again. Smashwords still refused to accept it.

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I got in touch with their support, and heard from a guy called Kevin, who asked me to send him my content and cover shot files, which I did. He then said they uploaded fine when he tried, but they won’t when I try. He finally admitted that he hasn’t a clue why this is happening.

Having ranted about this on my facebook page, someone gave me a link to a page called Draft2Digital, which is an ebook publishing platform who distribute to iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. With nothing to lose, I took a look and uploaded the book, which was accepted straight away and is now for sale at those three outlets. It seems that the only way Smashwords distribution is better, is because they also distribute to Sony ebooks and Diesel.  Pfffffft……….!

Draft2Digital will do your title page, copyright page, table of contents and end papers for you (about the author, other works by etc) if you haven’t done them yourself, and there is no style guide you have to follow, and no demands for them to be listed as your publisher. Just upload your formatted file and away you go. They are also trying to secure distribution with several other well known ebook sites, so they will soon have a distribution network to beat all others.

I have sold a few books at Smashwords, but not so many that I’m not prepared to leave when there’s a better service available. My book has been available through Draft2Digital for just a couple of days, and already there’s been a sale. I’m happy with them so far and have no intention of fighting with Smashwords anymore.

The eight books that are already up at Smashwords can stay there, but I will not be using them again in the future. This has put me off them for good. I will use Draft2Digital for my future books and will recommend them to everyone. If Smashwords wants to get back into favour with authors, they need to shake themselves up. Their meatgrinder is too hard to navigate, the demand for listing as publisher is just wrong, and the famous lack of support is just not acceptable. Sites like Draft2Digital show how easy it is to provide a service without making the process difficult, and more publishing sites like them will pop up as time goes on.

Bye bye Smashwords, you suck cock.  I won’t miss you, and I’m happy with all the other services that are available now.

UPDATE – April 3rd

Today I got another email from Kevin, saying that the only thing he can suggest is to try uploading via Firefox, even though I hate it.  If it still won’t work, then he said “it obviously wasn’t meant to be.” So I very reluctantly downloaded Firefox (I detest it with a passion) and tried the upload. The file uploaded without a problem, just to make me look like a twit. Apart from not liking my title being all capitals, and making me change it to Awol (with initial capital only), it uploaded smoothly and is now in the queue for pro catalogue review.

I will wait until it is safely accepted in the pro catalogue before deciding whether to delete it from Draft2Digital, as it might cause a problem with the distribution. D2D distributes to B&N, Kobo and iTunes, and so does Smashwords, so the fact that the book is already at those locations with D2D might cause a hiccup that Smashwords doesn’t like.

A.W.O.L – new scifi romance now available

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I am delighted to be able to announce that my new novel is now available in both paperback and kindle formats.

I wrote this novel during Camp Nanowrimo in June 2013, and am very proud of it.  It is a science fiction romance, and follows Sergeant Narek Jenn as he searches for his lost love, Risa Parks.

For full details, including current buy links, visit my A.W.O.L page on this link.

Good business practice for those connected with writers and writing

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The writing world does not consist solely of writers.  There are many peripheral trades connected with writing, such as editing, covert art, promotion, marketing etc, and this means that if you are either a writer, or someone in one of these peripheral trades, you will at some point be working with someone else in the business in some capacity.  If you’re a writer/author, you might want to hire an editor, a cover artist, a marketing consultant or some other expert to help you.  Similarly, if you’re in one of these peripheral trades, you will be trying to sell yourself to writers/authors in the hope that they will hire you.

Once you get to the point of working with another person, whether for money or some other form of remuneration (experience or portfolio etc), you really should be putting certain good business practices into effect.  Many don’t, and as far as I’m concerned, it is unacceptable and inexcusable.  There are so many people out there all trying to sell their service, it’s no hardship to turn you down and look elsewhere if you don’t come up to par with basic good business practices.

If you’re working for an author, even if it’s to increase your experience, expand your portfolio, for a review, rather than money, you owe them a certain standard of behaviour.  Here are two of the most often overlooked things.

Remember you’re working for them, not the other way around.

If you’re an editor, marketing consultant, cover artist, proof reader etc, the writer/author is your customer and you should be grateful they have decided to ask you for a service thousands of others also offer.  Never act as if you’re doing them a favour by agreeing to work for/with them, there are many others doing what you do.

Keep in touch with them often or lose their business.

This is a big bugbear of mine.  If you agree to work for an author, then you owe them regular updates.  It simply is not good enough to agree to the work, and then not get in touch for weeks on end.  They won’t know if you’re actively working on their project, whether you’ve forgotten, gone on holiday, decided you don’t want to do it after all, or what the hell is going on, so you should tell them.  Even if you have no update to give, keep in touch just to let them know you’re still working on their project at the very least, twice a week.

I’ve had people agree to work for me, then I heard nothing for weeks, and when I finally emailed to ask what was going on, I got “oh I’m sorry, I’m too busy to do it after all.”  ARGH..!  Remember, if you behave like this, we will be only too happy to let others know of our experience working with you.

I’ve been party to many conversations with authors where the subject has been the bad business practice of one or more of these peripheral tradespeople, and it angers me to have been a victim myself.  It simply is not good enough, and despite the ethos of anonymity the internet offers us, good manners go a long way.

The changing face of publishing – from a selfie’s point of view

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Unless you’ve spent your entire life on another planet, you can’t fail to be aware of the digital explosion that rocked the publishing world. Readers are now snowed under with choice, from free books to cheap books, and our ebooks have given readers the upper hand.

Everyone who wants to, can publish a book now, and with so many doing it, competition is fierce. In order to get sales, authors must think carefully when pricing their ebooks, and many resort to giving them away for free, or pricing them at 99 cents. If you price them too much higher, you won’t make sales unless you’re already very famous. There is much debate about pricing among authors, with some feeling that if you price them too low, readers will think your work is no good. The general consensus among authors is that the ‘magic price’ is between $1.99 and $3.00. This is of course, just the opinion of authors, based on sales.

I think that readers know full well that authors want to get noticed, and if they hold out long enough, you will eventually give your books away free, or set the price at the minimum 99 cents. They aren’t stupid, and they want things as cheap as possible (who doesn’t), so they just won’t buy if they’re higher than a dollar or so. I had one gal message me on facebook to tell me “let me know when you’re giving it away free and I’ll download it.”

This is soul destroying, for me anyway.  It seems that whichever way I go, I’m fucked.  If I give them away free, I make no money, but if I set them for actual money, I make no money either. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

This is one of the many downsides of the digital publishing revolution, and one that I can’t fathom how to change.  The only way out of this dark hole, is to have a lot of money to pay a PR company to market your work for you and get you quality visibility and make you into a celebrity.  I don’t have the money, hell I don’t have any money so that’s out of the question.

One of the other problems resulting from the digital publishing explosion, is the quality of work being put out. I personally choose to hope that within a few years, the bubble will burst and the majority of those self publishing what is quite frankly, crap, will decide to get a different hobby, allowing the rest of us to get some sunshine at last.  All we have to do is hold out until that happens, and then breathe a sigh of relief.

The traditional publishing houses are struggling. This has become clear by the number of big publishing houses making the jump into vanity publishing to try to attract more customers. The problem with traditional publishing houses, is that they haven’t changed the way they operate. They still make it almost impossible for authors to even get their manuscripts read, let alone accepted. Most are just thrown on the slush pile unread. They still refuse to accept sci fi/fantasy or horror, despite sci fi/fantasy being the most popular genre, and they’re still trying to maintain the charade that being traditionally published is the only way to be a ‘proper’ author.

I still see authors who openly believe this to be true, and those folks are the trad houses’ unpaid PR guys.  Readers don’t care who published the book they’re reading, and most probably don’t even know anyway.  All readers care about is getting the book preferably for free, or at the most, $1 or so.  The readers have the upper hand now, and they know it. They are  using their power to get what they want, for as little as possible, and killing us in the process.

I hope that they bring about the bubble burst that I still hope to see in a few year’s time.

The tides of change are flowing

Things are changing around the dusty corners of this creative mind.  I can feel this change beginning to happen and it’s exciting to be aware of it from such an early stage.  Normally, we don’t get to know about these changes until we’re (apparently all of a sudden) hit with the urge to create, and we tend to think that this urge has just hit us out of nowhere.  Now I know this isn’t so, that the conduit through which the creative urge flows, takes time to be built.  Not much time, but time nonetheless

In the past, I have ‘suddenly’ got an idea for a story.  I then write down this basic thought in a notebook and keep it for when the time is right to actually write it.  When that time arrives, I ‘just know’ that it’s now time to write this story, and I get on with it.  I  have had no awareness of anything going on during these intervals of time, or during the time leading up to the initial ‘idea hit’.

Now things are different, and I’m being made aware of the very first seeds of creation being sown, and I know that one day, the result will be a story, a book, and that book will be the culmination of the changes that are just now beginning.  I have yet to experience the ‘idea hit’, that is yet to come, but when it does, I will know and think, “ahh, this is because of…………………”

Maybe it’s the muse taking pity on me and deciding to let me in on the bit he normally does on his own, I don’t know but it’s exciting.

My mind is being ‘called’ to take notice of things I have never taken much interest in before.  I’m feeling compelled to watch certain movies, and I know it’s because they contain things that will help me develop a future story.  The first two of these are 2001 and 2010, both classic space operas.  I had some difficulty getting hold of 2001, but thanks to a great friend Paul (thanks buddy) I was able to watch it and I know why I had to watch it.  Today I watched 2010 and although I’m not totally sure what nugget of gold this one has for me, I do know it’s not the same one that 2001 has.  All will become clear in the fullness of time.  I also know I have to watch Doom, probably several times over, and again, I do know why and what I’m looking for.  I have this movie on DVD and luckily, it’s one of my favourites, so I won’t mind at all.

All I know at this moment, is that it will be a classic space opera and will take place entirely in a space ship.  The protagonists will be a unit of soldiers, and a highly sophisticated computer will star alongside them.  I even know the main protagonist’s name,  that was one that came to me ages ago, which is written in my ‘little purple book’ of ideas.  I’ve no idea whether this will be a stand alone or a series, although my educated guess is a stand alone.  I have no title as yet, but I do know that it will come while I’m writing it.

Writing has always been an intuitive process for me, but I’ve never before been party to the build up that lays the foundations for the story.  This is a first for me, and it’s wonderful to be a part of.  I’ve no idea why my muse is letting me in on this initial foundation laying process, but I’m very happy that he is.  Maybe it’s a new muse taking over, one who likes to do things differently.

There have been other changes here too lately.  I wrote some time ago that I decided to do another anthology of short stores, only this one would be paranormal rather than horror.  I have a couple of them done, and I started another, which I planned to be around 4k words.  Well that story is now at 12k and has no intention of finishing yet, so I’m now writing a paranormal novel that I never planned to write. Who’da thunk?

One week ago, on Ash Wednesday actually, I gave up smoking.  I’m getting pangs of course, but my new best friend is my nicorette inhalator and it’s helping me stay on the wagon so far.  Maybe without the poison of smoking, my creative mind can now see further, and maybe my muse can now reach me more easily, I don’t know.

Change is happening, and change is good.

The advertising cycle of doom

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Making a living is hard these days, no matter what business you’re in.  Books are a luxury item and as an author, making sales has become difficult, and many are resorting to all sorts of techniques in order to gain some visibility.  Those with money to splash around or working spouses to sting for money, can pay for online advertising.  The best known (which I won’t name as I don’t owe them any free advertising) is a site where you pay for them to add your name to their mailing list.  For those willing to spend a lot of money, this can create a spike in sales for a day or two.

This particular site charges a lot of money for the honour of being included in its list, and it requires that your book already has a lot of glowing reviews, or you get turned down flat.  Seems funny to demand that so many reviews be already in place, as I would think that if you had that many reviews already, you’d be less likely to need help getting visibility.  Ho hum, I guess I’m missing the point.

I can’t afford this site’s services, and don’t have the required truck-load of reviews anyway, so it’s off my radar.  I have to rely on ways to advertise for free, which tend not to have the same punch as paid for services.  It’s a vicious circle, if I could make more sales, I’d have more money to spend on better advertising, but in order to make more sales, I need better  advertising.

I’ve tried everything I can think of.  I’ve set my books as free at Smashwords, but as people never buy at Smashwords, no one downloaded them.  I can’t have them free at Amazon, because I’m in the UK, so they can’t be less than 99 cents there, where everyone buys their books.  American authors can list their books free there, and because so many are doing so, people get them and ignore mine.

People want everything given to them free these days.  Once, when I had advertised one of my books that I had just published, one gal posted “Let me know when you’re giving it away free, and I’ll download it.”  But when I did put them all as free, no fucker downloaded.  Make your damn minds up!

I find people are always encouraging, but won’t actually say they hate my books.  I’ve had people tell me they can’t afford to buy books, then they post in groups about how much they’re enjoying this or that book, and when I look for it on Amazon, it’s not free.  I’ve had people say “oh I don’t like sci fi,” then they post a status about some book or author they like, and it’s hard core sci fi.  Then there’s the “I have so many books to read, I can’t add any more yet,” and then their next post is about another book they’ve bought.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Well actually I know exactly what the answer is.  It’s money, and lots of it.  Get a truck load of money and pay a marketing firm a fortune to promote for you, then sit back with your coffee and wait for the tidal wave of adulation to hit.  Until I have the means to go down that route, I’m stuck with books I can’t even give away for free, to people who won’t admit they hate me/my work/everything I stand for/the colour of my hair/my choice in footwear/whatever else.

People don’t hate sci fi, people love sci fi.  All of the most successful movies are sci fi and many of the most successful books are sci fi/fantasy.  There are huge fandoms dedicated to Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter etc, all sci fi/fantasy.

No one likes to be told that their work is shit, it’s a blow to the ego.  In a way though, I’d prefer it if people were honest.  At least if I knew why they hate it, I’d have a chance of changing something.  I admit, I haven’t the first clue how to beat this or proceed.

Well done to those who have the money and friends to create a huge spike in sales for a day or a week.  Remember though, that this kind of quick sudden spike in sales isn’t the kind of presence or visibility that lasts for years.  Making 20k downloads in one day due to paying hundreds of dollars for a slot in an advertising site’s email list, will bring you a bonus that month, but five years later, no one will remember, or give a shit, who you are or what you did.  People might still know who I am in five years, even if it’s of the “oh she’s that woman who writes shit sci fi,” variety.

I’m glad I decided a little while ago, to slow down my attempts at marketing/promotion.  The constant work and ensuing disappointment creates emotions I don’t like feeling all the time.  Without the stress of wondering whether this book will be the one that becomes popular at last, I can just write what comes and be creative in the way that feels most natural, instead of changing things to try (and fail) to make them saleable. My local library lets me give them paperbacks, so I can continue to do that.  I also have the knowledge that well known and well respected places like The British Library, the Bodleian Library, Oxford University Library and Cambridge University Library, all have copies of my books.   Not because I asked them to take them, but because they asked me for them.  How many of the “look at me aren’t I successful” party on facebook can say that?