Saturday, September 14, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 37

Scott D. Parker

And now, a word from our sponsor.

No, not really, but after you read today's post, you might wonder.

A Two-fer from Draft2Digital

Tuesday was a fun for me. First there was a new blog post from Draft2Digital. It was nothing new to me, but it was about the definition of the word 'prolific.' The post was penned by Kevin Tumlinson, arguably the face of Draft2Digital. The piece is a nice reminder that being prolific doesn't always mean churning out a book a month or publishing sixteen books a year. It can mean whatever you can sustain.

And that's the key: sustainability. You have to be able to sustain whatever schedule you develop. Here's how Kevin ended his piece:

"If your goal is to be a prolific writer, the secret isn't a secret by any stretch. It simply comes down to "write a lot."

Spend your time and energy now on developing a daily writing habit. Treat every bit of writing you do (emails, blog posts, social media posts, even text messages) as practice. Engage your writer brain early and often and always. Put it to work daily, and it will build up some callouses so it can keep working when it really counts.

Commit to a daily target and start meeting it, then push yourself to exceed it. You'll thank me when you have a shelf full of books to point to."

Meeting with Kevin Tumlinson

The other cool thing on Tuesday was that I got to meet Kevin live (and not in person). I attended one of Draft2Digital's "Ask Me Anything" Facebook live event a couple of weeks ago. That session itself was good enough, but as a treat/thank-you gift for attending, we had the opportunity to meet with Kevin and discuss the author business.

Kevin and I linked up on laptops and we had a great 30-minute conversation. One of the biggest things was clearing up a misconception re: Draft2Digital's printing service. Not sure how this idea got ingrained in my head, but there you go.

When you upload your files to Draft2Digital for their print-on-demand service, you do not incur any fees. In addition, if you have to make any changes, you still do not incur any fees. Do you know what that means? It means the POD service via Draft2Digital is free at the outset. They'll get their cut on the backend, but too often, we authors tinker or find things only after we upload the files. It is reassuring to realize you can make mistakes and you don't face any charges.

Plus, Draft2Digital can be the middle man for getting ISBNs. That's a big help.

So I'll be moving all my POD books to Draft2Digital. Because why not?

If you want to join the next Ask Us Anything Facebook live event, head on over to Draft2Digital's Facebook page and sign up.

One Last KISS

This week, I went to my last KISS concert in Houston. As a fan of the band for 41 years, it was fantastic and bittersweet. I never, ever tire of watching the opening of a KISS show, but to know this was the last time to hear "Rock and Roll All Nite" live was bittersweet. Here's my full review.

TV Shows With Unanswered Cliffhangers

My wife and I watched two unique BBC shows in recent weeks: The Ketering Incident and The Living and the Dead. Each are unique in their own ways. Each end with a cliffhanger that doesn't diminish the series you just watched, but leaves unanswered other questions.

Both were not renewed for a second season, so those unanswered questions are not answered. Irritating, I know.

It makes you wonder why the creators and writers didn't make an official "This is what Season 2 would have done" post or ebook or novel. Is it the idea that they might make the second season one day, or might the TV studio own the rights and they just don't care?

Are there shows you enjoyed with unanswered questions?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Writing Again

It’s been a strange few weeks round here.
I think last time I wrote here I was procrastinating and feeling blue and generally faffing about with a few different ideas.
Well, I made a decision to work on a new standalone that – once I’d done some cursory research to confirm the basic premise was physically possible in the real world - made me exited.
My friend Neil Broadfoot is a genuine Pantser. You know: one of those people who has an idea and just runs with it. I’m awestruck how he manages to not only come up with such Byzantine plots and twists but manages, always, to tie everything up neatly. His latest “No place to die” is a masterpiece of plotting, with not a single loose (or even slightly threadbare) end unresolved, and yet he’s open about having Pantsed the whole thing.
I’ve always been a plotter, someone who – before writing a word of the book proper – usually has about ten to fifteen thousand words of notes sketched and arranged in chronological order so that some chapters are basically cut n paste the notes then expand on what you’d already decided.
So I started working on thestandalone, and realised very quickly that because so much of the story relies on the repercussions of things that happened two (or more) decades ago I’d have to sketch the back story first and make sure I had that locked down.
So I did.
Then I went to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I can not recommend this highly enough: If you’re a lover of theatre, of comedy, of music, of people and random strangers chatting to you at the bar, of a quick Scotch turning into a taxi ride across town to see a show that you ‘Just have to see,’ then this is the festival for you and the fact that this was the first time I had ever gone is to my deepest shame.
Then I came back to London and got sucked into various dayjob shenanigans.
Last Tuesday I was sitting at my desk paying as little attention to a phone meeting when I suddenly realised the back of my head felt wrong.
It hurt.
And as I moved my hand to it and tilted my head a millimeter backwards the hurt exploded into agony and spread like wildfire up the back of my head and across the top, seeming to bloom inside my head at the same time.
I grunted in pain and closed my eyes, opening them as I continued to tilt my head backwards in agony. Panic set in when I realised that my vision wasn’t moving in the same direction as my eyes, which is to say it clearly was but something in my brain was telling me that I was tilting my head forward even though I knew it was going backwards.
The fireworks lasted a few seconds and then something not-quite-agony settled in.
Frightened, and assuming it was a migraine (I had to assume as I’ve never had one before but it scared the living shit out of me and hurt like nothing I’d experienced before) I scuttled home, alternately sweating profusely and shivering wildly, crawled into bed and passed out.
When I awoke a few hours later the pain was almost completely gone, though an occasional twinge has served, since, to remind me of what was a truly disturbing event.
I’m seeing the doc on Friday and getting various tests to check that it wasn’t anything more serious.
Last Friday would have been my mother’s 76th Birthday, if she hadn’t died four years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her, and the grief which almost consumed me before and after her death is less likely to drag me under these days, though the waves are capable of moving from millpond flickers to Tsunami at little to no notice and for really odd reasons.
I thought I was fine at the prospect of her birthday approaching, but maybe I wasn’t.
Maybe the migraine was my body’s way of reminding me how much pain I was really in.
Maybe it was reminding me that the anniversary of 9/11 – a date that changed my life so much I still think of things pre- and post- that date – was looming.
Either way, I spent the weekend chatting to family and hanging with family friends and loved ones. I went to a local music festival and did what my mother often did when she felt discombobulated: I cleaned house.
Months of ‘Mail I’ll get to next weekend,’ receipts I was going to file and check off, flyers for sales that have been and gone, statements I need to review and file were scattered all around my writing space.
I knew I needed to get on with writing that new book.
I hadn’t, remember, written a word of the actual book, only a bunch of scene-setting.
But my brain was in a place where what I needed to do was tidy. It felt like making the place where I work ‘new’ again would be totemic, and clearing all the physical clutter might help clear some of the mental clutter too.
Plus, as I suspect I may have said before: I am the Emperor of the small island of Procrastinatia.
So I tidied, and I did my accounting and I got the shit together to do my Tax return; and I decided that I’d do that next weekend (See: Procrastinatia rules!).
And finally, last night, I sat down and opened the word document and realised two things:
I hadn’t written a word of it since 17th August (which has to be the longestI have gone without writing fiction in years), and I hadn’t quite finished the back story.
So I brought the backstory right up to the moment where the book starts, and I added down the few scenes I had already envisioned in the book proper.
And by then it was bed time. But guess what? I went to bed HAPPY. I got through the past week. I can get through this week.
And the book is not going to be as tightly plotted as my others because I don’t want it to be. I know where it needs to go so I’m going to take a leaf from my friend Neil and start writing it.
And that’s what I did today, and it flowed.
Oh I’m not kidding myself that I’m not going to reach a point where I go “How the fuck do I get out of this?” But it doesn’t matter. 
I’m writing again.
I may be winging it (and who doesn’t from time to time), but I’m writing.
So I’m calling that a victory!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Fiction and Non-Fiction: An Enjoyable Balance

When 2019 started, I had as my primary writing goal to finish the novel I've been working on for a while.  It's been going well but with my usual slowness, and I promised myself, in January, that as soon as I finished the extended piece I was writing on the Russian science fiction writers the Strugatsky Brothers - a piece for a collection of essays on science fiction writers that will come out in the next year or two - I would resume work on the novel.  I also promised myself that in 2019, unlike in 2017 and 2018, I would not keep pausing in my writing of the novel to write non-fiction pieces and reviews.  In early February, when the Strugatsky Brothers piece was finished and I'd sent it off to the editors of the sci-fi piece collection, I took up work again on the book.  It takes a couple days to get your head back into a fiction story and build up a little momentum.  But I got back on track, as I always seem to do despite my worries that I won't, and I did stick with the novel for a few months to the exclusion of everything else except the blog piece I write here each week.

Intentions, intentions.  If only one could stick to them!  By spring, I found that I'd volunteered to write or accepted offers to write a number of pieces on crime books, or authors, past and present.  And I found myself, as I'd vowed I wouldn't, repeatedly putting the book aside to write these pieces.  

Momentum broken, momentum restarted, momentum broken, momentum restarted...

It would be easy to balance fiction and non-fiction if I could write full time. I could write fiction in the morning, eat lunch, and write non-fiction in the afternoon.  But since I can't do that, I have to swing back and forth between the two - it's one or the other at any given time - though I can write non-fiction a bit faster than I can turn out fiction. As I write this, I haven't touched the novel in about 5 weeks and I don't expect to be getting back to it till at least December, perhaps not even till 2020. Maybe I should admit to myself that what is really going on is that I'm writing the novel in between stretches writing non-fiction.  That's what 2019 has turned into.  And yet, to be honest, I can't say I'm upset.  I do wish the novel was further along and I was closer to finishing it than I am, but as I've come to realize I really enjoy writing these non-fiction pieces. It's as if the book reports I once loathed doing in school I now can't keep myself from doing.  I love doing the research you need to do.  I like the challenge of organizing a piece to try to create maximum interest and of using the analytical part of the brain more perhaps than you do when writing fiction.   And the fact is you get paid something, guaranteed, and probably get as many if not more readers from certain pieces than you do from a novel.  At least, I do.  So that's the situation.  Writing is writing, and I've always admired writers who are versatile and can do both fiction and non-fiction well, people like Joan Didion or V.S. Naipaul, Jamacia Kincaid or Ishmael Reed.  The list of writers who do a good deal of both, in truth, is long. 

And the book I'm about halfway through?  It's there in a folder on my dresser, printed out to where I am at this moment, and I look at it periodically to help keep my mind on it while I do the pieces I need to do.  When I return to it, it'll take me a few days to rebuild momentum, and I'll be worried that I won't get back on track but then I will get back on track, and...

In 2020, I will have this book done! 


Monday, September 9, 2019

Congrats on Writing Your First Book! Don't Publish It.

The Thrill of the First Novel

I wrote my first book during NaNoWriMo 2007. I still have the T-shirt. For those not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a personal challenge event where people all over the world attempt to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

The feeling of exhilaration when I hit that goal, and again when I finished that rough draft, was powerful. Writing a novel is no easy task. Right away, I wanted to share my amazing creation with the world. I still feel this way when I finish a rough draft.

I see a lot of posts on social media from newbie authors, awash in the euphoric throes of accomplishment, saying, "I just wrote my first book. How do I publish it?" It is often followed by a rambling, convoluted, sometimes incoherent, explanation of the plot.

But despite the urgent desire to want to show a rough draft to the world, especially the rough draft of a first novel, my most fervent advice to anyone having completed such a momentous task is "Don't!" More specifically, "Don't publish it!"

By all means, bask in the glow of your accomplishment. Writing a book is not easy. But you are just getting started. Writing is a craft with many skills to master (story structure, scene structure, dialogue, character development, etc.) and many pitfalls to learn how to avoid (info dumps, "as you know's", clichés, etc.) It will take you time to learn them. And to do that, you will need to study your craft. You will need to get honest feedback from fellow writers and editors. You will have to write a lot.

Study Your Craft

I have read dozens of books on the craft of writing. Some of my favorites are Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, Jordan Rosenfeld's Make A Scene, and Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. Other good books for the budding writer are Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Finding a good book on grammar is also invaluable. Each one of these books offers a different perspective. Some focus on a specific skill, while others are more general.

At the same time, I read heavily in my genre, which happens to be crime fiction. This includes the classics like Sherlock Holmes and the works of Agatha Christie; the works of seasoned veterans like Lawrence Block, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton; and books by newer authors including Kellye Garrett, Vivien Chien, and Thomas Pluck (just to name a few). I also read books outside my genre, including romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and literary.

Reading the books on craft gives you the theory, while reading in your genre (whatever genre it may be) shows you these skills in action. You begin to recognize the patterns, the tropes, and what writing looks like when it is done well and even not so well. 

A writer who doesn't read is like a boat with no rudder. Lost, directionless, and ultimately doomed.

Get Feedback

When we are riding that rush of excitement having finished a draft, the last thing we want is to be told everything that is wrong with it. Talk about harshing your mellow. But it is very much needed. Better to be told what's wrong by a fellow author or editor before publication than in a review on Amazon.

Don't look to get feedback from your family or friends. Unless they are writers themselves, they will just blow sunshine up your ass because they don't want to hurt your feelings. Believe me!

For newbie writers, I suggest joining a local critique group, where each member lets the others read a short story or a chapter (not the whole bloody manuscript) and tells you what works and what doesn't. can be a great way to find such a group.

Each critique group is its own animal with its own rules and experience. Some require members to read their work aloud, while others swap work and read silently. Most I've found offer good insights. Sometimes you can get conflicting advice. But it's a starting point.

Don't take critiques personally. No one is judging you. The goal is to help each other improve their work.

Once your story has been critiqued by the group, you might want to look at beta readers. Beta readers may or may not be writers. Ideally, they should be well-read in your genre and be willing to read the whole book and give you honest feedback. Again, the goal is to make you aware of problem areas in your story. Beta readers may or may not know how to fix them. They may just tell you they don't like a particular character or how a certain scene plays out.

At some point, you may want to hire a freelance editor, even if you intend to go the traditional publishing route. Hiring an editor isn't cheap. For a 100,000-word novel, it could cost you a $1,000. Maybe less, maybe more, depending on what level of editing you are looking for.

I would suggest starting out with just a developmental edit. It's a bird's-eye view that will give you insights into the major areas where your story is lacking. The focus isn't on typos or punctuation.

Later on, if you decide to go the self-publishing (or indie) route, you may want to hire an editor to do a line edit (also called a copy edit) that focuses less on story structure and more on sentence structure and word usage. From there you would hire a proofreader to fix typos and punctuation.

Write a Lot

There is a saying that a new writer should write a million words before they are ready to write anything worth publishing. The point is that your first novel probably isn't worth publishing. Even if you hired the finest of editors to help you polish it. But do work with critique groups, beta readers, and maybe editors to get it as polished as you can. Learning the various stages of writing and editing is as important as learning a three-act structure or when to use a semicolon.

Before I wrote Iron Goddess, my first published novel, I had written multiple drafts of two complete novels and several short stories. Was writing them a waste of time? No! It was practice. Skills require practice to learn. Each story was a way to learn how not to write a story so I could do it differently the next time.

I realize setting aside a first book or a second book, stashing them forever in a drawer (or folder on your computer), can feel like you are abandoning your work. But this is a vital part of the process. Learning when to move on to the next story.

Taking the Leap Into Publishing

I spent eight years honing my skills before I was ready to get series and writing something worth publishing. That's a long time. Maybe it won't take you as long. Or maybe it will take you longer. Each writer's journey is unique. But it will take time.

Eventually, you may decide it really is time to publish. Now you are faced with a decision. Do you go the traditional route and try to get published by one of the Big Five or perhaps a small press? Or do you brave the ever-change waters of indie publishing? Well, that is a discussion for next time.

Until then, focus on your writing. Ass in chair, hands on keyboard.

Dharma Kelleher writes gritty crime fiction with a feminist kick series and is one of the only openly transgender voices in the genre. 

She is the author of the Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series and the Shea Stevens outlaw biker series. You can learn more about Dharma and her work at