The ‘To and Fro’ of Writing

If the dream of being a published author includes the ‘hideaway’ at the bottom of the perfect garden in full bloom on a summer’s day with bees buzzing between the flowers, think again.

When the vision is of a long desk with a deep leather chair set in front of a panoramic window showing the view of the beach and a long stretch of sand leading to the palest blue water ever seen, my advice is to reconsider.

If the picture is of the writer tapping away at the keyboard, making notes on paper, taking the occasional call from his or her agent and smiling in ill-disguised pleasure over a glass of wine at the end of a writing day while reading the latest heartwarming review over the last release, alter those ideas.

Most published authors still need to work on a part-time if not full-time basis. Even if they can write full-time, life isn’t all roses and champagne.

I haven’t blogged about writing for a while so thought this was an apt post. My teenage dream was not as fanciful, and mostly composed of finishing a single work, sending it away, having it edited, published, and while…yes, maybe having to attend books signings, working on the next novel. I never envisioned the back and forth, to and fro, hop from one foot to the other, mental swings and roundabouts of working on several stories at once.

I’ve edits on one work and have to return the galley proof to a deadline, trying to write a full novel (to a personal deadline), trying to write/edit a short story that’s needed ASAP, and trying to draft a proposal for yet another idea for a potential novel. Oh…and I’d also like to be working on a few short stories I’m considering sending out and/or putting together in an anthology. There are many pitfalls linked to the dream of becoming a published author, many of which no one warns about, and working on more than one project simultaneously is one.

I’m not even going to pretend to enjoy it. On the rare and fortunate occasions when the work flows the last thing a writer wants is to have that stream interrupted, to throw a mental switch, and to perform a intellectual feat of dexterity. That’s what makes leaving a story at long last nagging to be written to rest, to work on something you’ve possibly read and edited thirty times, so torturous.

Sometimes I read something I wish I’d written myself. Often it’s a book. This time it’s a blog. No one can express what I’m trying to put across more than this post by author Kate Douglas. It’s an oldie but goodie so I’ll let her speak for writers everywhere:http://lisapietsch.com/2010/04/20/kate-douglas-delivers-the-essential-author-101/

Time for a Change

I made the difficult decision last week to remove some of my titles from circulation. Not an easy or overnight decision by any means—I spent many months reaching that conclusion. With the closure of one publisher now was as good a time as any to reconsider some of my older works. Those I’ve withdrawn no longer represent me. I’ve improved and my style has changed. I may re-release some after an edit but I’m happy to let others rest for now, if not indefinitely. I wrote a few books I never intended to write, owing to the muse and opportunity. I regret none of them—they were all a learning experience—but my interests have grown, as have the possibilities.

To some writers, particularly those still seeking publication, the decision to withdraw books from the market may sound surprising. No one warns you of the heartache when a good publisher closes, or having to make the sometimes heartrending choices, and this was definitely one of those. I was pleased and proud to hear their door remains open. This re-enforces the fact they were a wonderful group to work with and tells me they’ve appreciated the stories I produced for them. Didn’t make parting ways any easier.

The simple truth is some older works can do more harm than good, particularly when the writing has improved so much as to be almost unrecognisable. I don’t mean the older work is necessarily poor, but the difference can be so great it may influence someone’s decision to hire the writer, and there can be many factors too many to bother mentioning here. If a work weighs heavily on the writer, if there’s a smidgen of doubt, the best thing can be to put the work to bed. In the matter of love it’s sometimes said the heart wants what the heart wants. It’s a peculiar lesson for the writer to realise the same can be said of one’s writing.

Dark Poetry

Dark fiction doesn’t have to only mean stories. I’ve dabbled with poetry occasionally but not written much for several years. Still, whenever I’ve crossed my dark fiction with what poetry skills I have there’s no denying one improves the other.

Of course, this type of playing with words is nothing new. We can thank Poe for creating one of the most famous pieces of dark poetry.

Could there be a better voice to read this to you than Christopher Lee?

 

Though if you’d prefer some graphics:

Update June/July Part 2

Books read…

I discovered Adam Nevill this year, a horror writer not afraid of using more than a few words from the dictionary. I’ve read two of his books: The Ritual (back in March), and Banquet of the Damned (in June). The Ritual is a book of two halves. I so wanted to give it 5 stars, but I preferred the first half of the book to the second, and, although I’m unsure what might have been a better conclusion, the end felt a little abrupt. What I love about this book is the atmosphere the author creates capturing my interest in a way many books of this type have failed and making him an author I want to read regularly. I imagine some readers may like to know the characters a tad more—that occurred to me on some level—but in a horror story it’s not always necessary to know these men are little more than regular guys doing their best to get by in their average lives and who don’t deserve the situation thrust upon them. A wonderfully atmospheric lost in the woods horror story.

For Banquet of the Damned, I easily understand why this book receives mixed reviews, and it’s purely owing to stylistic preference. I sank into a rich vocabulary and longer sentences so often lacking in modern fiction. I don’t want to use the term literary as it carries an unfortunate modern-day connotation of dusty libraries and mildewed books written by notaries of a by-gone age (a sad view of the classics that were part of my childhood reading and nowadays occasionally termed ‘too difficult’). This definitely isn’t that, but one can say this book is a more stylish horror. Another way to describe it: I can imagine a few editors returning the manuscript circling the occasional sentence as purple prose. Thank goodness the publisher ignored them if they did. The carefully chosen style to weaves a delightfully successful spell on any reader able to appreciate the opulent seductive description spiced with the ‘creep’ factor; the sense that something is coming and might be present on the next turn of a page. This seems to be where Adam Nevill excels.

The Night Clock, Paul Meloy. First, I have to say I like this book. I need to say so because it may not be obvious. Paul Meloy’s imagination packs a punch. Unfortunately, the story is vastly superior to its execution. On a purely grammatical basis there are so many instances of ‘it, was, and were’ sentences to bog the story and make it drag. I took way too long to finish this. The book suffers too much tell instead of show (too many instances of the type such as ‘he was standing’ required the simple improvement of ‘stood’), and I’m unsure if the writer has any real understanding of tenses or tried to be artistic in the use. Again, I can see a few people complaining over the ‘purple prose’, though that doesn’t always bother me if used well. There’s a greater book here and fantastic ideas that sadly do not gel in this length of a novel. I wanted to know more of the characters and to care for them. The various threads read more as perplexing even unnecessary tangents though mostly draw together, but left me feeling the narrative strove to be clever instead of engaging. Instead, the promised level of threat never manifests and I didn’t much care whether anyone survived by the conclusion. Which is a pity, as this visionary setting promised much and had me enthralled. I love the overlapping story threads and blending of genres.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King, proves what I’ve always said, that King is labelled wrongly as a horror writer. He’s a storyteller. I can see where this collection may be labelled as self-indulgent but then, as a storyteller, he no doubt wants to share these tales and has earned some forbearance. Not that there’s no other reason to read this collection. I liked it. I didn’t adore it, but a number of stories I liked more than others, a few I loved, and there were none I hated so I’ve given the book 4 stars where I might prefer to give it 3.5. Short story collections are books I dip in and out of and often take me weeks, even months, to complete, while I soar through novels; but I found King’s writing so familiar and familiarly ‘comfortable’, I finished the book off without setting it aside. A portion of these stories are a tad silly, others fun, some questioning…I won’t say any are scary but then I’m seldom scared by King’s work, by anyone’s, so I’m not singling him out in that regard. As a ‘constant reader’ adding this to my bookshelves was a no-brainer and while it’s not the best of his work, I wasn’t disappointed.

Writing-wise…

I contracted the re-release of A Not So Hollow Heart with JMS Books, this version edited and lengthened. The only real complaint I had from critics was that they wished it were longer…so now it is where I felt it needed it, though I’m uncertain it’s a length to satisfy readers. Yes, there’s always more to fledge out, to explore characters deeper, but there’s a point where all the information needed to ‘tell the tale’ is on the page. I’ve tried to deepen characterisation.

I’ve also been contacted to work on another project…I can only say ‘sci-fi’ related, but there’s no way I can know if anything will come of that at this point. Had a bad feel moment when doing research for a disaster, natural or otherwise, where people died. Had a ‘not enough casualties for my purposes’ moment. I’m not a terrible person, just a writer, honest.

Speaking of writing…when a reviewer drops in words like ‘rips you up’ and ‘grab a box of tissues’ I know I’ve done something right. A jaw drop moment for Flowers for the Gardener. I put much thought into this book and the reviewer is spot on that I wanted to show life is short and what comes from poor communication and assumptions, which is what many arguments (particularly those between family and friends) are. The reader is crying and I’m left smiling. Such is the life of a writer.

Book Review: Flowers for the Gardener by Sharon Maria Bidwell

An Haiku for You

Remember a typical English summer? No, neither do I. These days we seem to follow the pattern of a few hot days followed by a storm, a few drab days, rain, sun, rain, drab, maybe some sun, and expect another storm. Nevertheless, people are taking breaks and flowers have struggled into bloom. I don’t write much poetry but while I step back for a few days and until I post again I thought I’d leave you with a Haiku.

Why order direct?

On a weekend when I’m removing my Loose Id books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.

Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There’s been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors’ annual income below minimum wage. For many it’s much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you’re mistaken.

What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I’ll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let’s say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that’s not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don’t forget possible taxes but that’s another subject I won’t throw into the equation for this post.)

As a rough example, let’s say we’re walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I’m setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book’s cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that’s £2.70 and 30p respectively.

To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we’re talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.

If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.

I’m not saying don’t buy from bookshops. I’m saying do. I’m one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can’t discount the same way as supermarket chains.

Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let’s set the author’s cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.

If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don’t forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don’t overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.

On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 – 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.

If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential ‘loss’ on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn’t mention those, and I won’t, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.

In that scenario, you’ve got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.

Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 – 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.

To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider ‘going it alone’ (not without its problems) there are reasons I’ll address another time.

Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.

And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual ‘file’ rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a ‘click’ because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why Loose Id and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.

Watch out, he’s behind you!

It’s just as well only my husband is present during our recent binge ‘catch-up’ watch of The Walking Dead. Like a participant in Gogglebox — a show that invites the audience to watch people watching television (though I’ve only seen adverts for it, some reactions can be to great comic effect) — I’m not a silent viewer.

This is a trait that once drove my relatives to gritting their teeth with irritation, much as I do when an inconsiderate cinema-goer persists on talking during a film, or won’t put their phone away. I appreciate the frustration; however, in the cinema I restrict myself to a few gasps or loud laughter when appropriate. It’s an entirely different experience with an unspoken rule of no talking. I’ve paid a ticket and want to be submersed. I have never, unlike when a grandmother of mine went to the cinema, made not only a public faux pas, but done so twice in the time it took to run through a single showing.

The film was The Time Machine, the classic version starring Rod Taylor made in 1960. She went with her husband and her adult children, and they arrived just as the film started. Although only the opening credits were rolling, my nan, intent on not missing a minute, gaze glued to the screen, fumbled her way along a line of people already seated. I heard the story of how she stopped one seat short of her own chair and plopped herself down on a bald man’s lap. I’m unsure as to the significance of his being bald other than that being the way she forever thereafter described him amidst general hilarity, but I am confident he was as surprised as she. My nan made everyone switch seats so she could sit as far away from him as possible and then sat hidden and, she hoped, forgotten in the darkness…

Until the moment when ‘George’ makes his way into the Morlock cave and we see their gleaming eyes. While the hero tries to creep around and the Morlocks brace to launch an attack, my grandmother gasped, put her hands to her face and shouted out, “Watch out, he’s behind you!” The cinema audience on this occasion met my nan’s outburst with a round of laughter adding to the collective enjoyment.

I once worked with a woman who never understood this. When I referred to laughing or crying over stories — viewed or read — she always shook her head. Strange from someone who read all the time and professed to be a bookworm.

“But…but…but…” I stuttered, “how can you not cry over a sad scene?”

“But it’s not real,” she said.

As one who understands that stories are our way of examining and learning how to deal with reality, I beg to differ. As someone who has had to put a book down in a crowded train carriage owing to the risk of a tear or two escaping among strangers with no easy-to-explain reason, I fail to understand this lack of emotional attachment. Thrill seekers get on roller coasters looking for that up and down ride of a lifetime; book lovers take more tight turns and steep slopes lasting far longer than your average amusement park ride. Our pulses speed up, our stomachs grow tight, our throats close, we cry, and scream, and shout…with anger, with pain, with frustration, and with joy. Even when it hurts, we consider ourselves lucky.

Watching a beloved character’s harrowing death the other night (even though through reading the graphic novel I had a sense of what was coming), make no mistake, I was vocal about it. Feel free to share whether you experience a story without emotion or find it next to impossible not to laugh when something is funny, cheer when the outcome is good, or scream when it’s the end you were dreading.