Saturday, 14 February 2015

Ten things you should never say to an author ...

We all know the feeling. You've given a fascinating, witty, entertaining talk about your writing, to a receptive audience who seemed suitably impressed, laughed in the right places, and mostly managed not to fall asleep. Basking in the glow of their smiles of appreciation, you close by saying you'd be happy to answer any questions ... and if you're lucky, a few hands are raised straight away. With even greater luck, there'll be some good questions about interesting aspects of your talk - why you do or don't use a pseudonym, whether you choose your own cover images, and so on. You respond, pleased again to note the hushed attention in the hall, the way your words are obviously enthralling your intelligent audience. And all the time, you're kind of holding your breath, waiting for it, because sooner or later it's going to come ....

'Where do you get your ideas from?'

Actually, I don't really mind that one, even though I've heard it compared to asking a carpenter where he gets his wood from. It's a fair enough question, and an easy one to answer (ideas come from everywhere - from being alive, from being observant, from talking to people, from reading, from watching the News ... I could go on, and frequently do.) Sometimes I've joked that my ideas come to me in dreams, simply because people seem to prefer that answer to the mundane 'Everywhere, life, (etc).'

But there are other, far worse things you can ask an author, or say to him/her. I've had most of them said to me, and have on occasions had to grit my teeth and force my face into a sweet smile in order to give a reply that isn't a snarl of irritation.

So if you want to avoid upsetting your favourite famous author when you're lucky enough to meet her at a festival, or even upsetting your friend, neighbour, brother or wife who happens to be a not-at-all-famous author and might be more likely than the other kind to bite your head off, here's a list of comments and questions to avoid:

1. (My most hated one):  'I'd write a book too, if only I had the time'.  I wrote six of mine while working full-time and looking after kids, home, etc, so Don't Talk To Me About Having Time! As if time is all you need, anyway, to be able to write a novel! Oh, I'd be a brain surgeon and play football for Man United if only I had the time. Grrrrr.....

2. (In a similar vein):  'I've got an idea for a book but I don't know how to start writing it/haven't got time to write it/don't want to write it. If you like, I'll tell you and you can use it. It's my life history ...'
And ... don't tell me, you're convinced it will make me rich.

3.  'Is it autobiographical?'  No. It's fiction. I made it up. That's what I do.

4.  'Am I in it?'  No. But if you were, I'd get you murdered off.

5.  'I haven't heard of you'   aka  'I haven't seen your books in Tesco.'  No, because I'm not in the best seller list, I'm not a celebrity, there are thousands of other authors competing with me and you've just rubbed my nose in it.

6.  'Why are you still working?'  This was a common one before I retired from the day job. People seemed to think that, because I'd had some books published, I'd be selling up, moving to Antigua or the Azores and living in the lap of luxury. Hello? If an author has a day job, it's because he needs it, because most authors don't earn their living from writing. Trust me, I didn't work for the NHS for the fun of it!

7.  'How much do you earn?'  I mean, honestly - would you ask a plumber, or a postman, or an accountant that question?

8.  'Why don't you write science fiction/erotica/a TV series/a serious literary novel?  Probably for the same kind of reasons YOU don't.

9. 'Would you like to see one of your books made into a film/ a TV mini series/ a best seller? Do I really even need to answer this one? Should I try a sarcastic 'No, I'd hate it', or is that too mean?!

And finally, of course, there's always:
10.  'I've written a book too. Can you tell me how to get it published?'  Certainly. It might take a while to tell you, though. About 40 years, in fact - that's how long it took me to learn how to do it myself.

I should finish by saying that this is all, of course, a bit tongue-in-cheek. I really love talking to people about writing, and I've never actually been known to get irritated enough by any question, or comment, to want to murder the person making it ... even as a character in my next book. So feel free ... ask away. Er ... but maybe just don't get me started on the thing about not having enough time ...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Traditional versus Independent - fors and againsts?

It struck me yesterday, as I emailed my completed and edited new novel to my agent, that I am, quite frankly, a Crazy Mixed Up Author. Why? Well, here I am, on the one hand hoping the new book will enchant and excite an editor in one of the big traditional publishing houses enough to earn me a new contract. On the other hand, I'm getting ready to self-publish it anyway, and I honestly don't think of this as the second-best option.

What's going on? Do I really want a new publisher or don't I? It's not as if I haven't been there, done that, already - it was my lifelong ambition to be published, and I did it, eight times over. Now, I'm loving the experience of self-publishing, and to be honest, I earn more from it than I ever did when I was with a publisher.

So what are the points in favour of being with a publisher - or without one? As someone who's sat in both camps for some time now, I have my own views - others may of course disagree.

1. One of the joys of self-publishing is the speed at which it happens. Obviously the writing and careful editing takes the same amount of time! - but from the time you have everything, including cover image and blurb, ready to upload, it's SO quick, your book can be published before you've even finished telling everyone about it if you're not careful!

2. Getting paid also happens a lot faster. However much, however little, you earn from Amazon, it comes to you every month, as opposed to six months with a trad publisher. And there's no waiting to 'earn out of the advance' (because there's no advance - just royalties, straight off - and to be fair, some traditional publishers have scrapped advance payments too now).

3. Communication! Questions, queries, problems ...  I've found Amazon great, and fast to respond. To be fair, my editors at the publishers were brilliant, very friendly and helpful - but some of the other departments take forever to respond to an email, and it's really hard to find out, in between six monthly statements, how your sales are doing.  With Kindle Direct Publishing, you can see literally every day how many copies of each book have been sold and how much you've earned. That's a real plus.

4. It's all about taking control of your own career - that's what a lot of Indie authors say, and yes, to a certain extent that's part of the pleasure. All decisions, for a self-publisher, are your own. Cover image, selling price, and especially publicity and promotion - all down to you. But it's hard work, and it takes time away from the actual writing. I enjoy it, but I also think it can be a mixed blessing.

5. Not having an editor ... that can be a real problem for self-publishers. You either pay for an editing service, or you're lucky enough to know someone suitably qualified and capable, or you do it yourself, which is risky. And an editor is someone on your side, someone who actively likes your work and wants you to succeed. It can be hard not having that relationship.

6. Physically publishing the book isn't always easy. It was a steep learning curve for me, although after the first couple of times with KDP I found it a lot easier. I've found CreateSpace (for print editions) more tricky. Some authors are completely put off by having to learn these processes, and they either pay someone to do it for them, or choose not to self-publish because it's too challenging. But I'm proud of the fact that I've mastered it (apart form occasional hiccups), considering the fact that I'm 'Not Young'!

7. Self-publishing is still looked down on by some people. Yes, it's become a lot more respectable these days, and yes, most of us 'in the business' know, and understand, that there are loads of good books being self-published, just as there are plenty of not-so-good books being brought out by publishers. (Think about all those celebrity authors ... !).  But while so many people 'wannabe an author' without actually being able to write, and while they're able to put books up on Amazon that aren't good, it's hard not to get tarred with the same brush.

8. In the same way, it's hard to stand out from the crowd - especially hard for those writers who haven't already acquired a fan base before self-publishing - because of the sheer numbers of books 'out there'. It's a gamble whether huge amounts of self promo on social media will help; some get lucky, others struggle away and only sell a handful of copies of what might be a very good book that just doesn't get noticed.

9. But traditional publishers expect us to do most of the PR ourselves these days, anyway!

10. Bottom line, for me, is that the offer of a contract from a big publisher is still the 'proof'' that your book is considered good enough. It's damned hard to be taken on by an editor these days, everyone knows it, and that email saying your book has 'passed muster' is the ultimate approbation. Likewise, seeing your book on the shelf in a bookshop - that's such a thrill. Seeing it on offer on Amazon because you put it there yourself is immensely satisfying - but having done both, I admit I wouldn't have missed the thrill of that first 'bookshop experience' for anything.

So which is best? Hmmm .... Well, a new contract would have to be a good one, to tempt me away from self-publishing now, although I'd be thrilled and excited to be offered one. The potential earnings would need to be better than I'm doing with self-publishing. But I'd probably be far more desperate for the mainstream experience if I hadn't been lucky enough to have experienced it already.