Abracadabra!

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The magic trick of self-marketing for writers.

There is one magic trick for marketing your books (or blog or brand or self)…

What’s that you protest? Everyone else tells you “there’s no magic trick to successful marketing?” Yep, I’ve heard that too. Don’t believe them, they’re wrong.

There is one magic trick to marketing and it is this…

Don’t spread yourself too thinly.

Right, off you trot and get on with it.

Actually, woah, hang on… before you go, allow me to elaborate…

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Developing Your Characters: What Has It Got In Its Pocketses?

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Developing characters in your writingA writing teacher (and multi-published novelist) once told me that to really understand a character you’re writing, you should make a list of the items they carry in their pockets.

While I hate to disagree with such an august mentor, I’m afraid that I simply have to.

You see, if you take a peek in my pockets at this very moment – an undertaking from which I heartily dissuade you – you will find a handkerchief, some small change and a couple of buttons which popped off my coat. A character who uses money, occasionally blows his nose and shivers a lot does not a compelling story make.

This may be different for the fairer sex. I have never plucked up the courage to venture into the deepest recesses of a lady’s handbag, so am not intimately acquainted with the traditional contents of such. However, I suspect them to be of an equally utilitarian nature; I would hazard a guess at purse, travelcard, keys, phone and a little spare make-up.

Show me the woman who carries a blunderbuss, a taxidermied stoat and an assortment of kazoos in her bag and I’ll show you a story!

A Room With Views
In short, the whole pocket exercise doesn’t really work for me. No. Far more telling and illustrative are the items which characters have dotted around their living room. In a supposedly private space, we reveal far more of our true natures and past lives than we could ever fit in a pocket.

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Do I Really Need A Blog?

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The best way to market your books? Yes. You do. That was very nearly the most concise blog post in the history of blog posts. Until I decided it might be more helpful to elucidate a little… If you aim to self-publish then absolutely yes, you should maintain a blog or a website. To be frank, even if you’re heading down the traditional publishing route, you’d be well-advised to set one up. Major publishers no longer spend the time and money promoting poor starving authors like they used to and you’ll find yourself doing much of your own audience-building. Or else standing on street corners with a sandwich board. Now, I know many of you reading this have already carpe’d the diem and set up highly successful blogs, so please bear with me (or toddle off and entertain yourselves for a bit). If you’re amongst those, however, who are still pondering “but why do I need a blog?” I shall endeavour to explain. Continue reading

Testing, testing…

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Been busy writing

Hello? Is this thing on…?

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Quite a long while in fact. I have been hiding away and have neglected you all, for which I offer my most sincere apologies.

I’ve been busy. Yes, OK, I know how often I use that phrase and I know you’re all frantically busy too and still find time to blog. I really have no excuse. Oh hang on… yes I do…

I have been beavering away at the novel, cracking on with the final (I do so hope) round of edits and using the gruelling opportunity of Camp NaNo to really push toward the finish line. So there, that’s kind of a good excuse no? I dropped the blog about the writing to focus on the writing. Am I forgiven?

Anyway… thought I’d just pop by to assure you all that I haven’t succumbed to a surfeit of lampreys and I’m still extraordinarily fond of each and every one of you. I shall endeavour, in my best boy scout manner, to become a better blogger again.

And – big fanfare please (ta-da-da-da-da-da-DAAAAAAA!!) – in response to some absolutely delightful comments on my previous post (a snippet of the infamous first novel, Dark Energies) I might even pop up a few more excerpts to whet your collective whistles!

Now there’s a promise for a sunny Friday morning eh?

Must dash, the peacocks are nibbling at the peonies again, but watch this space my friends…

A Place To Belong

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Google Plus for writers

It is time for me to confess. I can hide my guilty secret behind a curtain of self-denial no longer.

I am enamoured with Google Plus. In fact, I may go out and get drunk and have “I heart Google+” tattooed on my bicep.

Now settle down, calm yourselves, please don’t carry on so! Allow me to explain before judging me, if you would.

Don’t Believe The Rumours
For a long time I, like many others, avoided Google+, believing the rumours that its user base consisted entirely of Google employees, a handful of early adopters and several sociopathically vain bon-vivants who could no more let a new social media vehicle pass untested than permit a bandwagon to roll by un-jumped-upon.

Then I saw the light…

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Mind The Gap!

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Writing tips - avoiding plot holes

Plot holes, those devious little blighters, have a knack of popping into existence just where you least expect them.

I am not the kind of chap who outlines a novel before jumping in to the fun of writing it. Broad brush strokes, a skeleton framework of ideas and then it’s chocks away! My transatlantic friends call this being a ‘Pantser’ – flying by the seat of one’s pants as the story takes one from point to point in a free-wheeling, fast-flowing fashion. Being from the side of the pond where the cucumber sandwich still reigns supreme, the term ‘pants’ has less savoury connotations for me. No, Pantser will not do at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Trouserist.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that I don’t have the luxury of writing every day. Much as I would love to, the demands of daily life and a mortgage mean that I often struggle to find the time to write. Progress on the novel is sporadic, at best.

I am a self-confessed Sporadic Trouserist.

And that is where the plot holes worm their insidious way in… (you don’t want holes in your sporadic trousers, I assure you).

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Fools, Horses and Writers

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Self-marketing for writersOK, so here’s the thing about marketing yourself as a writer on the interwebz.

It’s bloody hard work.

Hemingway famously said:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And he never had to use Twitter.

So Who Made You The Expert Then?
“Ah yes,” you may be thinking sagely, “but just who are you, young whippersnapper, to deign to tell me how to promote myself or my novel online? What makes you such a guru eh?”

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What Writers Can Learn From Facebook’s Birthday

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What Writers Can Learn From Facebook's Birthday

Anyone with eyes or friends can hardly have failed to notice that this week marks Facebook’s 10th birthday.

If you’re anything like me (and I do hope you are, you lucky people you) then your timelines will have been inundated with My Facebook films. If, at this point, you’re asking “what’s Facebook and what’s a timeline?” then your Author Marketing Plan is #failing #abysmally. Much like hashtags on Facebook really.

One ring to bind them
Yes, this week we’re all awash in personal lookbacks over the past however many years we’ve been sharing our lives online. Top-rated photos, most-liked posts and sundry other reminiscences all rolled up into a one-minute-five-second film encapsulating what FB regards as our most notable assets.

So, I hear you wondering aloud, what has any of this got to do with writing?

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When Words Take A Holiday

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Rules of writing you can break

“Write,” they all say, “just write.”

To be a writer, one has to write. And one is expected to be able to pull the very act of writing out of a hat at the drop of… erm… another… hat…

Anyway.

“Just write,” they all say. “Plough on through. Whether you feel like writing or not. In the face of writer’s block. When you have so many ideas you can’t choose the next one. In good times, bad times, sunshine and showers, just write!”

That’s another rule of writing I’m breaking, OK?

Sometimes all you can do is not write. Some days you even sit down with the best will in the world and all good intentions of cranking out a couple of thousand words at the very least. You have the time and the ideas.

Then the words don’t come.

Sometimes the words go on a little mini-break to the coast, dragging a suitcase full of fish-paste sandwiches and Cornettos behind them. Then you’re left sitting in front of the keyboard wordless and it’s not very long before motivation, desire and The Muse all sidle away to catch up with the words and get some ozone in their lungs. And, if I know my Muse, a couple of sneaky G&Ts.

You find yourself scraping together clunky phrases, ambiguous sentences, painfully poor prose, excessive alliteration and generally forced writing which is no fun to write or read.

So I think that sometimes it’s OK not to write. You’re still a writer.

Am I right?

Killing Your Darlings

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The Rules of Writing

It seems there’s barely a day goes past without someone somewhere posting about the “rules” of writing. Now, I’m not entirely sure that I agree with this; I feel there are far too many so-called rules imposed upon one of the most creative pursuits imaginable.

Creativity doesn’t follow rules – creativity bends, warps and downright breaks rules. Look at James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Dalí, Picasso, Man Ray, John Lydon… you can add plenty of your own favourites to that list.

Or, as Thomas Edison so beautifully put it:

There are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something

Of course, some rules should be followed, but only because they work. I prefer to consider these principles, not rules. A couple of examples which will be familiar to all writers:

  • Active voice is more dynamic than passive and drives a more immersive story;
  • Showing will deliver a more lasting impression than telling every time;
  • Adverbs will slow down your plot and bog down your readers;

However, there are others which simply beg to be broken in the name of trying something new. One of these, for me, is the advice to “kill your darlings” – that is, no matter how much you love a particular phrase, situation or scene, if it doesn’t fit the story, you have to get rid of it.

Really? Says who?

Unless it’s a major glaring departure from the rest of the book, I reckon you can work it in. OK, so I have a hard time imagining blue-skinned beings from the planet Morgos landing on the deck of the Pequod with laser harpoons – although it would, admittedly improve the tale no end (you can read my thoughts on Moby Dick elsewhere in this blog.)

Otherwise, if you create something of which you are justifiably proud, should you really allow perceived wisdom to stifle that creative impulse and shut it away in a box labelled Conformity?

One of the key purposes of any art form is to bring innovation to light. By adhering too strictly to what should actually be flexible guidelines, writers – particularly new writers – run the risk of inhibiting themselves and diminishing their work. When we start out on the writing journey, we find ourselves suddenly (Elmore Leonard says never to use “suddenly”, but sorry Elmore, been and gone and done it) in the midst of a wilderness with no signposts. So we turn to age-old wisdom and advice. This has to be framed somehow, so is given the label “Rules of Writing.” Before you know it, off we go down the path previously trodden by everyone else and end up creating something which… well… has been done before.

I have one particular phrase in my novel which I love. I’m very proud of it and I believe it encapsulates a feeling we’ve all had at one time or another in our lives. I have never seen it expressed in the way I’ve put it (apologies if that sounds arrogant by the way.)

But…

It didn’t fit within any of the versions of the scene I had written. I knew it was the right place, the right time and the right phrase. But it stuck out like a sore thumb nonetheless. “Kill your darlings,” my inner editor yelled over and over again, “get rid of it!”

So I did. And I missed it. And the scene missed it, And the book missed it.

That’s the point at which I tore up the rule book and decided that rules are indeed there to be broken. It would have been far easier just to lose the phrase and move on. Instead, I stuck to my guns, re-worked a whole chunk of the scene and lowered the prominence of that phrase, so it blended seamlessly.

And do you know what? It works. The scene is stronger, more natural and imbued with greater significance.

So before you succumb to the safer option of following the rules regardless, I say try throwing them out of the window, but make sure they land within easy reach just in case you need them again in future.

Am I wrong? Have you fallen foul of rule-breaking in your own work? Or do you find a little occasional bending a liberating experience?