Warning: may increase your heart-rate by 5 bpm

Month: November, 2014

Faster, Writer! Kill, Kill!


So I’m a bit late off the blocks on this one, but someone linked me to Hugh Howey’s blog where he discusses the ‘Liliana Nirvana Technique.’ I won’t reblog the whole thing, but the gist of it is that it’s far better to wait and release several books at once than one by one. The advice makes sense, after all, it’s long been accepted wisdom that your average self-publisher doesn’t start to see much, if any, return until the release of their third or fourth book. If you have several released at once then Amazon will link them together, suggest your other titles to the reader, and the reader has somewhere to go once they’ve finished the first book. For me, though, it demands the kind of productivity that would kill quality. I can only imagine the unique facial-tics I’d develop having spent five years sitting on a growing number of works, like a giant roosting hen, and hoping they won’t crack under my weight.

Some writers are fast, they thrive on it. Howey has a series of progress bars for different work on his site, exactly how many words he’s written, how many are left – the kind of gleeful accountability that brings me out in hives. Moreover, it makes me wonder if I’m suited to this arena. Is it rare that a writer has to coax and tease ideas out, rather than barricade the windows to stop them flooding in? Is there so much competition on the likes of Kindle, and no longer an ever-increasing number of readers, that when you do find a readership you can no longer afford to catch your breath? All the heavy hitters would have you believe so. Traditionally published authors find easy targets in the sloppily edited first drafts of new authors, it’s an image that still tarnishes self-publishing to this day, but is that any worse than a caffeine fuelled monkey on a typewriter? The Liliana Nirvana Technique demands absolute faith in your product, particularly in the case of a series. If your beta-readers/editor didn’t catch that a certain character is too meek in book one, then they’re likely to remain that way. By the time readers at large are able to complain about it, you’re already in too deep. Speaking of editors, even if you go for ultimate thrift and forgo that expense, do you have the cash to spend on five book covers in one go? Me neither.

I can’t stay submerged for long enough to pull off the Liliana Nirvana. It goes against one of the greatest attractions of self-publishing for me: on the spot feedback, course correction. I don’t want to assume what readers are after and wait until I have a massive, potentially useless, portion of it to dump in their laps. Writing is lonely enough as it is, and if you spend that long in the dark then it can be difficult to remember what your audience look like, let alone what satisfies them. I admire those who can follow the Liliana Nirvana, really I do. They’re the kind of writers who just go out and start working the water-pump, filling bucket after bucket and never fearing there might be an end to it. A brave, robust approach to writing which puts the muse in dungarees, gives them a sink plunger, and says ‘Get to work.’ Then there’s me, casting my runes and watching for those unnatural portents that Shakespeare loved so much: a bale of hay bleeding or a rat killing an owl. Both of us thinking we’ve got the inside track on what writing really is.


Did You Know…?


As a writer, I’m concerned that people take me seriously. That’s why, for years, I butted my head against chin-stroking efforts filled (I hoped) with drama and pathos. When I resurrected Norton Pumblesmythe, a character I made up as a joke, it felt like admitting defeat. Then I wondered what I was pining for. Did I really want my work to be analysed by bored students in years to come? Dissected like a butterfly stuck to a board? Never! If I was to return to Pumblesmythe’s world, though, I knew I had to do it properly; and that meant research. I didn’t study history at school so my knowledge of the Victorian era was limited to ‘something something Isambard Kingdom Brunel something something top hats’ Fortunately, I loved it, the Victorian era was madder than I could’ve hoped; yet it did raise questions.

Pumblesmythe’s adventures had become a blend of fact and fantasy, one liable to give way to the other at any moment. Would people believe I had researched or that I was making everything up? That worry tormented me when I spent two hours finding out whether a specific bridge was open in 1845, all for a couple of paragraphs in the story. You see, I didn’t just want people to laugh anymore; I wanted to reach those who dreaded dry historical tomes as much as I did. I had begun to feel oddly patriotic, reading of Britain’s great achievements. I even wished I had an excuse to use a cane (a few months before I had to with fibromyalgia. I got zinged pretty good there).

We all know not to use too much research, it drowns the reader, but too little is just as damaging. Where is the balance and how do you find it? It knocked me sideways when a reader for “Terror Beyond Measure” thought that I’d made up the legend of fifty Berkeley Square. I didn’t blame him, the story had an intentionally fantastic and comical tone, but he smashed the joyful little image I had of people reading the glossary and going ‘Oh, so that was real!’ Of course, one reader is not every reader, and I still have faith in the formula. I just hope that faith is enough to sustain me the next time I have to read up on the distribution of street gas lighting in 1850’s London.

One Year Later


This is the bit where the protagonist returns with an intriguing info-dump and/or new perspectives on his life, isn’t it? Sadly, all I have to offer is fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. That tag-team has kept me largely out of action for the past year. When I returned to my writing it felt a bit like stamping on eggshells; besides issues of concentration, the pain brought unwelcome bluntness and impatience. If a character’s goal was to travel from point A to point B then I had little time for intrigue, the instant they stopped to ponder I would jab my finger in their spine and cry ‘hurry up, man! My back hurts!’

Thankfully, the writing has provided an anchor. Focussing on editing what I already had, and pecking away at doing some more, has kept me (largely) sane amidst changing life circumstances. I set my sights on releasing a single short story on Kindle and achieved that just last week. If you’re at all familiar with the process then you know what comes next: fretting over formatting, pricing, trying to tease reviews out of the punters and poring over sales figures like a submarine captain charting his way through hostile waters. The self-publishing experience, in a nutshell.

It’s up there, though. I keep loading the webpage and staring at it in a deeply suspicious manner. This isn’t so much the “first day of school” analogy I used before, but more of a ‘don’t you dare embarrass me!’ as though I’ve attended a high society dinner with my pet chimp. I think everyone is politely ignoring him for now, but wait until the dessert course.