Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Bureau: It's Alive!

H. P. Lovecraft creator of the Cthulhu Mythos.

If you have scrolled down the page lately, you will have seen my new progress statement about my first novel, The Bureau.  It had been relegated to my metaphorical bottom draw.  Reviewing my files and blog entries, I see that the last time I did any significant amount of work on it was back in January 2015.  The project has, up to now, been well and truly stuck.

My excuse is that the story was in the grip of Eldritch forces, but now the stars have moved it has escaped.

The truth is a little bit more complicated than that.  I first started writing The Bureau back circa 1986 and it was my attempt to write a six issue comic that would be turned into a graphic novel.  My inspiration came from watching a highly acclaimed series on the BBC called the Edge of Darkness.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was playing a lot of Call of Cthulhu games at the time.  They were a lot of fun, and I have many fond memories of my friend Kevin running campaigns, where invariably we all went mad.

Anyway, inspired by these two things, I had an idea to write a Lovecraftian comic book story that rifted on Edge of Darkness.  I managed to complete three episodes of my story.  My friend Alex Stewart read the first them and commented that The Bureau felt like Lovecraft meets The Professionals, which is a great pitchline.  Unfortunately, the artist, who I was thinking of working with, told me he couldn't draw what I was writing.

That as they say put a damper on things.

A little later my life became very difficult, and everything got put aside, because I had to go off and work to make money to have somewhere to live.  This meant I dropped out of writing thirteen years, and it wasn't until 2004 that I found my hand written first draft, and I decided to copy type my manuscript onto the computer, with the intent to turn it into a novel.

And again, life got in the way, in the shape of going off to train to become a cognitive behavioral therapist.

So another eight years passed until I dug The Bureau out to start working on it again.  But then I got side-tracked by Bad Dog, and being so inspired by the setting that I had to write two sequels to it.  Since then I've tried restarting The Bureau on two occasions, and managed to add scenes to the story, but basically I was stuck.

The reasons for this weren't immediately obvious, but with hindsight they clearly are.

This insight came from following various blogs around the web that talk about publishing.  Dean Wesley Smith and Kristin Rusch have both talked about writing and publishing.  What they write may upset you, but it's better to be upset and knowledgeable than ignorant, and end up being disappointed.

Anyway, they made me rethink my assumptions about what I was doing.

I realized that The Bureau was my first novel.  It had become my preciousness, and I was trapped by expectations I could never realistically meet.  Those were rooted in beliefs from the past about writing the best first novel that one could.  But the harsh truth is that failing to finish writing a novel is more of a problem than failing to write the breakout novel that in one's imagination will sweep the world off its feet, and show people how brilliant your are.

For one very simple reason, no one can judge my writing if I haven't written anything.  Besides, if my first novel is so wonderful, how on Earth would I ever be able to write something that was better?

And that was the trap I was caught in.

Realizing that, all my assumptions fell away, and I was able to sit down and revise the structure of the story and just like that everything fell into place.  All my clever tricks I had wheeled out when writing The Bureau I could now see were getting in the way of finishing the story.

To finish my piece today, I had one other insight, courtesy of Kristin Rusch, from her post here:
The book is giving me fits, because I can’t seem to nail down the structure.  I write books out of order, as those of you who followed me through The Freelancer’s Survival Guide know.  I wish I could change this process, but my mind sees books as a mosaic instead of as something linear.  When I finish, I have to construct the book, rather like a quilter with scraps of fabric.  If I put the scraps together one way, I have one kind of book.  If I put them together in another, I have a completely different book.
Until I read this, I though I was the only person doing this.  I made an assumption that other writers either outlined or wrote a story instinctively discovering the story as they wrote it.  I thought I was the only person who shuffled scenes around to fit the story.

Again, as they say, live and learn.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Economics of Self-Publishing

As readers know I went on a Self-Publishing Masterclass.  It was interesting, which is a politic way of saying I learnt a lot, but disagreed with parts of the day.  In fact I would go so far as to say with a major part of the theme.

The theme was that if you want to be taken professionally then you will need to hire professionals to make sure your work looks professional.  When written like that it seems so obvious and even self-evidently true.

And at one level it is.

But, here's my problem with it.  The cost.  The cost to have a developmental editor to make sure your story is all it can be.  The cost of a copy editor, which is essential for consistency.  And the cost of a proof reader, because it's a mystical art to be able to be a proof reader.  Add to the cost a book cover designer, and if like me you're working in a genre where the readers expects a type of cover, then you need an artist too.

A quick back of the envelope calculation produces a figure of about £4000 pounds or $5,500 dollars.

And that's before any sales.

Over on Kristine Kathryn Rusch's site she breaks down the publishing industry, and I was staggered to read that in traditional publishing the cost to bring a book to market is around $200,000 dollars.  From this one can see how traditional publishers don't make any money on the books they sell, and how this leaves the authors where they are.

So while Print On Demand, POD, does away with the inventory costs, the hidden production cost remain, and are something that needs managing so that they don't grow out of control.

Monday, 9 October 2017

On Self Publishing

Awesome sketch by Elartwyne Estole.
Looking at the traditional publishing market what I see an industry that won't provide me with what I want in the time that I want it.  In the five years since I started writing fiction the changes have been enormous, and I'm old enough to realize that I've made a load of mistakes and can't waste any more time.

But now I want to use that learning and turn things around.

My first novel Bad Dog is a fully edited, and my plan now is to self-publish, because what do I have to lose?  By self-publishing my novel I hope I will learn more by its reception than waiting for a traditional publisher to buy my novel and the waiting for them to publish it.  Small and agile seems to me to be the way to go.

As you can see I've commissioned an artist, Elartwyne Estole, to do a cover for me, and the picture above is his concept sketch.  Isn't it awesome.  Wow, so excited.

Target date for being published January 2018.

My second novel, Strike Dog, is full of typos, homonyms, poor punctuation etc, etc, but I need to find out if the story is understandable.  So a friend, who is a journalist, is reading it now to check it out.  Afterwards I will send it for copy-editing so I can publish it.

Planned publishing date April 2018.

My third novel, Ghost Dog, having been through a round with Beta readers has been revised.  But, I'm having to reappraise how I work because using Beta readers takes time. Time I can't afford if I want to kick-start my writing career, and get out of the rut I've found myself in over the last few years.

Planned publishing date July 2018. 

So, I'm living through an interesting time of my life.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, 5 October 2017


A dead old white man badly explaining economics to the world.

The other night, as in some time ago before I started writing this piece, I woke after a having a very vivid dream.

Dreams are not something I focus on because dreams are just what happens during sleep.  The function of sleep is the bodies way of recuperating from the day, which given all animals sleep, must be essential.  Studies suggest that dream allow us to process of memories and emotions, and that sleep is instrumental in maintaining the plasticity of the brain.  Which in this case means one's ability to process experiential learning, rather than say, for example, the more common sense view that learning is being able to recite a poem.

Anyway, my dream involved a confrontation with a publisher, not the one I submitted my novel to, but another one who I know the editors of, telling me that my story was rubbish.

In my dream I raged against them, and did everything one is told not to do when a publisher rejects your work, namely arguing with them.  I remember telling them that they were wrong, and that they would regret their decision.  I told them I would self-publish my work and they would regret their decision, as I was sure my novel would take off and sell thousands of copies.

Then I woke up.

And it that moment between being fully awake and the dreaming I had an off the wall insight.  I realized that self-publishing was the author taking the means of production into their own hands.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Childhood's End

I've also been reading Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure book, the person who Deborah Chester was taught by, and there's definitely a fashion to provide a structure for the reader to understand the story.

Having recently watched the mini-series of Childhood's End I went back and re-read the story.  It's one of my favourite SF novels, as in when I had to downsize my collection it was one that I kept because I felt I would want to re-read it.

Clearly the reader demographic has changed over the last 60 plus years since Childhood's End was written, which is a thing, because to maximize sales (readers) one has to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and classic SF really doesn't do this. This may be a factor in why written SF is a small market.

For example, Childhood's End.  

Who is the protagonist?  

Who is the antagonist?  

Where is the character development?  

It's arguably one of the classic novels, yet today it would be a hard sell.

NB: Just to be clear, love Childhood's End, and Arthur C. Clarke remains one of my all time favourite writers.


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