I’m thinking about that philosophy of “work smarter, work less”. There are folks who reckon they only work a few hours a week. How tempting! However, when you examine this claim, it dissolves into discussions about how we define “work”. If you don’t enjoy it, but you have to do it, it’s “work”. Everything else isn’t.
I suppose, by that criterion, I work very little. Most of what I do is enjoyable. I enjoy cycling, and I enjoy writing, and when those two things coincide, I’m doubly lucky.
It also means that I sometimes feel as if I haven’t been working “hard” and that I have to “work harder” to somehow justify to people that I am, in fact, working at all. I have friends who loathe their jobs, or who don’t have a job at all, and I feel almost guilty for having got to a position that I’m happy with. I feel as if I ought to be doing something unpleasant to off-set my daily pleasure in working!
I’ve been very busy at weekends lately. I’ve been out on bike rides, which then have been written up as features and articles. Yes, it’s fun, but I’ve had to have my professional-head on.
So I am very much looking forward to this weekend. Today I’m off to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, to take part in the Sealed Knot’s civil war battle re-enactment. I’ll be camping in a wet and muddy field until Monday. I’ll be cold, tired, and hungover. But I certainly shan’t be working.
I’m also looking forward to taking my Kindle and having the chance to finally read a whole heap of books I’ve got on there. Lots of my friends and acquaintances write and self-publish, and I’m going to work my way through a list of them. I’ve been promising reviews to too many people for too long.
Enjoy the bank holiday whatever you do!
As part of the advance publicity for her comedy steampunk novel, Intelligent Designing For Amateurs, Nimue Brown has initiated a bizarre competition. If you reblog her post here, or the pre-order link to her book, then let her know and she will write you a limerick of your very own! You can love it and keep it and call it George. They are house-trained and will need minimal care, but I am told they can sometimes escape and cause havoc in your peonies.
I’m very excited to see what limericks and verses emerge from all this.
There once was a druid called Nimue
Who lived on a boat in a floaty way
She wrote a steampunk book
Which is worth a good look
It will make you laugh all day.
Nimue is on twitter as @brynneth_nimue so do link up there if you wish.
Elizabeth Hopkinson’s historical fantasy, Silver Hands, was released last week and there’s a little launch party tomorrow, Saturday 11 May 2013, at 2pm. Come along to the Emporium of Dreams, 7 Market Street, Bradford, BD1 1LN – there will be giveaways, a reading, and CAKE. I’m making the cakes.
You can read more on the Top Hat Books blog.
In other news… since The Duke’s Disguise was released last week, I’ve sold… wait for it… twenty copies. JK Rowling can continue to sleep easily in her bed at night!
Well, so this is scary. I’ve been writing a lot of erotica since August, and though it is going well, I’ve been itching to write something longer and meatier. (No pun intended! stop sniggering at the back there!)
And The Duke’s Disguise is the result. I had intended it to be an erotic romance – a romantic novel with sexy scenes that drive the plot. However, the characters had other ideas! I was certain that I wanted it to be historically accurate, and my heroine, Ruby, turned out to be the sort of Victorian girl who wouldn’t have sex before marriage. Plenty did, of course – but not Ruby. She was quite adamant about that.
I was a bit worried about this, as most romance novels these days have at least one sex scene in them. Once I’d finished the first draft, I wondered whether to add a final chapter with the wedding night but I decided against it. It would be too obviously artificial. I did some research and apparently there is a market for romances like this: and they tend to be called “sweet”. Hence the title of this blog post!
It’s not a world-changing novel of grand ideas, but there is a subtle theme around family duty and responsibility, and the importance of learning to communicate. My aim has been to create a small slice of entertainment where the reader can step outside this world for a little while, and into another place of passion, intrigue and emotion.
Top Hat Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing which specialises in Historical Fiction. I run it. Starting it up was a huge learning curve, and the opportunity to do so was completely out of the blue. I’ve had moments when I wanted to give up, and long weeks of frustration. Our first book, They Walked Into Darkness, was published a few weeks ago.
Today, Silver Hands is published. This is the first Top Hat release that I’d been involved in right from the start, and it’s hugely exciting to me. I always said I wanted to publish the historical fiction that breaks away from the norm, and Elizabeth Hopkinson has done it.
I met her at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School last year, in August. We chatted. She told me about her book. I was interested. I urged her to have a look at Top Hat Books.
She did, and she submitted her manuscript, and I was blown away by the mix of fantasy, classic literature, travel and pure history – all wrapped up in a jolly good story. This was her first book and the JHP way is to be quite risk-averse – well, like all publishers, really. If a first novelist, with no following, offers us a book, we often offer a contract which asks for a subsidy from the author. In this case, I felt strongly that the book was of such quality, and the author very clued in to publicity, that we could offer a good contract that involved no author subsidy. It was a risk. I’m still praying I was right and that the reading public – YOU! – will back me up and go and buy it.
There is a review and a giveaway happening here.
Find out more about Elizabeth on her website The Hidden Grove.
And please, if you buy it, do review it! Prove me right and save me from sinking into alcoholic despair…
This is a blog post which has been troubling me for a few months. In it, I’m going to talk about money, audience, and mass market entertainment. These are controversial topics and have led me into more than one debate.
There is a problem from the beginning: if I say “writers should know their market” then I get leapt upon by people who tell me that’s a sell-out position. Hold on one moment. I have not made myself clear – WHICH writers? My lack of clarity has caused fights.
If you write, you’re a writer. Okay. You can all write what the hell you please, and that’s fantastic. Go right ahead.
I forget sometimes that there are a lot of people who write for pleasure, for self-improvement, to share their experiences, for many reasons. All the reasons are good and valid. Keep writing.
But when I talk of writing, I am coming from a business perspective. I would like to pay the mortgage, and if I can pay the mortgage by doing something I love, then YES I will do that. This means I enter the marketplace, as a businessperson, selling something.
This is where a lot of writers get uncomfortable. There are myriad reasons why writers get itchy when someone speaks of selling their work: some are jealous, some are resentful, some are scared, some are bitter, some are unsure, some are confused. Writing is seen as an art, and arts are supposed to be above cashflow; we have this idea that they are spoiled by monetary considerations. Less pure. Sordid. Suddenly, I am painted into becoming a greedy fat cat who will steal all your cash, your soul and probably your kittens.
If I were to go on to explain to these writers – who are already frothing at the mouth – exactly what I do, and how, blood would be spilt. Why? Well, I write many things. I write for monthly magazines, both non-fiction and fiction. But I also self-publish erotica, and erotic romance, and this is where people get angry. Not necessarily for the content, but because of my approach. I research the top-selling genres and kinks; I study their style; I assess their covers and their blurbs. And then I write a similar, but different, story.
Oh. My. God. I am no better than a cheat and a thief, right? Are you sharpening your knives for me yet?
STOP. Am I doing this for the money? In part. But if I was only about the cash, I’d be writing short, terrible, auto-generated content with no quality control. I don’t. I study the market and the audience because… wait for it… I RESPECT THE READER.
There you go. That’s it. RESPECT. Not money-grabbing motives. If I am asking someone to part with their hard-earned cash, I feel a moral duty to ensure that I am giving them exactly what they want, what they expect, and what they are paying for.
I’m under no illusions about the short erotic romances. They are read once, twice if I’m lucky, and won’t change the world. But does that matter? I want to give the reader a short moment of peace in their life. A brief dream. A break from the norm. I want them to identify with the main character, find out that she has issues just like theirs – which she overcomes – and then she hopefully has some really good sex. It’s about pleasure and what is wrong with that?
Now, if you go into a fast food chain and pay for a burger, and you’re given a salad because that’s better for you, it isn’t fair. Likewise, people buy these romances because they know what they want. They might be reading Descartes on the train to work; who knows. Right now, they want a quick blast of passion. I ensure I know what they want, and strive to deliver that.
Writing these short books has improved my writing skills, too. I have learned so much about character, and plotting, and creating emotional tension. Again, it’s about respecting the reader and ensuring that I give them a quality experience. Some may sneer at my talk of “quality” but remember – this is business, too. And I have respect for myself, as a writer. I won’t churn out tosh, in whatever genre it is. I wouldn’t enjoy that.
Enjoy? Yes. This returns me to the main point: I do this because I love it. I love writing a variety of things. I love writing, full stop. I also love the business side of things – the analysis, the research, the exploration. Knowing my market means I respond to changes in the market, and that keeps my writing fresh. Even in the high-turnover arena of erotic romance, you cannot just write the same old thing. Society changes, people change, and you must change with it, constantly. I love that. You cannot get stale – you mustn’t.
Finally, I’ve been using everything I’ve learned to write a traditional historical romance, which will be finished very soon. It will be out under my own name, and I’m very excited. I have been loving every minute of writing this – who says you have to bleed your agony out onto the page?
If it’s half as much fun to read as it was to write, the reader will definitely be getting their money’s worth.
Over the past few months I have mentioned my self-publishing, and encouraged people to look beyond Amazon for distribution. In this post, I spoke about a new distributor which is especially useful for UK writers: Draft2Digital. This way, you can get your books into Barnes & Noble and Apple iTunes. When I wrote that post, it was very new and I didn’t transfer my entire back catalogue over in case they failed or problems emerged.
Well, I’ve had my first royalty payment into paypal for the month of January – so I can confirm that they do, indeed, distribute your books AND pay up, on time. They have an easy-to-use interface and good sales reporting. Highly recommended! They take more of a cut than Smashwords but they pay monthly. Smashwords pay quarterly and I had problems with some of my books being listed incorrectly when they distributed to Apple – the “sample” ended up showing the whole book. D2D’s customer service is excellent, too.
Amazon.com finally announced that UK users of KDP can opt to be paid directly into their bank accounts for the first time. I had no email notification of this change, but I heard it through another writer – I went to my account, changed the payment details, and I can confirm that last month’s royalties went straight into my account. They seem to have kept this change quiet – the onus is on you to go and change the payment settings in your account. But it does work! It saves the hassle of paying in foreign cheques.
Kobo finally paid out for me recently. They use Western Union to transfer funds, which is one to watch out for – because I tend to delete any email that says in the subject line “you have received a payment from Western Union” – their payment notification basically looks like spam. You have been warned!
My romantic novel is reaching a climax (oo-er) and will be published under my own name. I intend to make this available in paperback through CreateSpace as well as the ebook formats, so watch this space for progress! It will be written by the end of next week, and then the editing will take place. I will, of course, be paying for a professional edit and cover, so the book itself will be out sometime next month.
The trend in self-published erotica is towards the longer works now. People are demanding more for their $2.99 but anyone working in a particular kink or fetish will still see strong sales, even in the shorter (5,000 words or less) ebooks, if they are writing with understanding of the reader’s expectations. Still, I see my own books getting longer. This is more work to write but the upside is, they have longer selling power. Fast food is fast food though – I have really enjoyed writing something with more substance this month, and I’m already planning my next novel(s)!
For statistic junkies, here are March’s figures (to encourage you to look beyond Amazon!):
Draft2Digital (Apple/B&N): 30
Smashwords direct: 13
Smashwords other (Sony/Apple/B&N legacy): 156
Total: 380 sales. The “Smashwords other” figure also included sales that were made throughout January and February but there is a reporting lag from the distributors to Smashwords.
Also bear in mind there were five weekends in March – and weekends are most popular for buying erotica.
Ok. Back to the novel…
I’ve been getting some lovely feedback this past week. It can be hard to balance good reviews against negative ones. It is common to dwell more on the bad comments, but it’s not helpful. It’s also far too easy to read too much into throw-away remarks.
One of my first big features was about the Pendle Witches Vintage Velo, for Cycling Active, which I wrote last spring. I’d never covered an event before. Hell, I’d never taken part in a cycling event before either – so I was terrified. Luckily the photography responsibilities were turned over to Rick Robson of cyclesport.com, so “all” I had to do was ride the course and interview people.
I rode the shorter course, and spent a few hours in the pub afterwards, asking the same inane questions of all the cyclists: “why vintage”, “why this”, “did you like it?” and so on. I submitted the feature and the magazine continued to give me work. All good?
In the run up to this year’s event, I googled to find the website. I didn’t just find the website – I found a forum where some cyclists were discussing last year’s event. I was mentioned. Nothing negative, not at all – but there was a comment to the tune of “she didn’t mention Waddington Fell, as if the course was easy after Nick O’Pendle” and so on. I got annoyed and I wanted to log in and justify that. Thing is, I hadn’t done the long course, and I was hardly going to write about something I had not done. I stopped myself from logging in and entering a year-old debate. Who really cared? It was a fleeting moment in someone else’s conversation. It only lives on in my mind.
Luckily, I have had a lot of “woo-hoo!” moments lately. Perhaps we need three positive comments to outweigh a slightly negative one. I’ve done another big feature for CA, about Team Glow and their challenge to get women up Really Big Hills. Over the past week, at least four women have joined the Team Glow facebook page, mentioning that they say it in CA, and each time I read that, I grin like an idiot.
My erotica ebooks don’t attract reviews, either good or bad. That’s understandable; who wants everyone on Amazon seeing that you enjoy the kinkier side of things? Except on Barnes and Noble, where reviews can be left anonymously. The latest? “YOLO.” That’s it. I had to look it up – “You Only Live Once.” I think that’s a good review. Perhaps they were typing one-handed. I like to think so.
I’ve had a good week in terms of writing (though less successful regarding payment-chasing). Unfortunately my working patterns have shifted somewhat, and it’s had an impact on my productivity.
What’s to blame?
A friend mentioned this digital-treasure-hunting activity to me quite a while ago, and it was a chance post on a forum that reminded me of it. I checked out geocaching.com and saw, to my surprise, I lived in a cache-hot-spot. There were dozens of the things! I got a free app for my phone (c:geo) and set out to harvest my finds.
Nothing. Not a thing. It took me a few days of head scratching to even work out what I was looking for. Once I’d started to think like a cacher, it got easier. In fact, I bagged three this afternoon.
Here’s the problem. I’m a productive writer. (Total words to date this month? Nearly 50,000 but that’s a mix of fiction and journalism.) I can maintain this kind of output because I do all the plotting and planning in my head, while I’m engaged in other physical activities. Ironing is particularly good for unblocking stuck stories. I tend to work for a few hours, then go out on my bike for a few more hours, and when I get back, I can sit down and get back to work at a fast pace because I’ve been turning it all over in my head.
The bad weather has scuppered me. I am scared of ice. Since going sideways down Winter Hill (clue’s in the name, perhaps) I’ve just been terrified of hitting hidden patches on corners. Living on the moors, just ten miles from where that poor lad died recently in a snowdrift, I just haven’t been confident enough to get out there. Geocaching seemed a great solution – I would be out, walking, and finding things too!
The problem is that following the GPS, deciphering clues, and finding my way has taken all my brain space and I don’t get any story-thinking done.
I went out this afternoon and discovered a stone circle I didn’t know about. But I didn’t come home with any ideas – just the elation of finding three caches (and the frustration of missing one).
Roll on the warmer weather and I can get back to long, rambling bike rides.
There are hundreds of how-to books for writers, but one that really kick-started me is “How To Succeed As A Freelancer In Publishing” by Charlie Wilson and Emma Murray. I picked it up by chance in a library, and the no-nonsense advice fired me up. They recommended that you do not take the plunge and give up the day job until you have saved at least three months’ wages.
This week, I am finding out why.
In fact, it’s been a difficult month. Not through lack of work – I’ve been busier than ever. Extracting the fruits of that labour is a whole new world of pain, though.
In life, things happen. Payments pop up. Bills arrive. For example, I have always paid my self-employment tax through PAYE as I’ve been partly employed. In January, I gave that up – and suddenly my tax bill was due. My rather large tax bill. I took a deep breath and paid it, knowing that I had other payments coming in. I let a house out, and my tenant got her dream job in another town, and had to leave – suddenly I had a mortgage to pay with no rental income. Another blow.
And the payments that I was owed… stalled.
I’ve spent this week chasing them up. I’m owed money from about six different directions, from magazines to self-publishing distributors. I totted it all up, but it comes to more than £1200, which is terrifying. GIVE ME MY CASH!!! Ahh the cry of the freelancer.
Some things are worth more than gold. Which reminds me… there’s a book out today called, co-incidentally, More Than Gold. Check it out – it’s on Amazon here. Janis Pegrum Smith has crafted a rip-roaring tale set in the gold rush of 1890′s Klondike. Here’s the description (lifted straight off Amazon): How do you attempt to win back the heart of the girl you love in July 1897? You tell her you are going to the Klondike. Well, you do if you are young Lars Niklasson—even though you have no real intention of joining the thousands flocking northwards, in the greatest gold rush the world will ever see. Unfortunately for Lars, his little white lie snowballs out of control, ripping him from his cosy, indulged life in New York to plunge him into an alien world of mountains, snow and ice. Surrounded by lawless desperadoes and wild, immoral women, the race is on to reach the Yukon before freeze-up, when the entire region becomes sealed off from the world and nothing can get in or out for six months! Camera in hand, to record the spectacle for his father’s photographic studio, he gains the company of a Bostonian socialite and her maid; a law student; a dance hall queen and a nun. Together they face the perils of the four thousand mile journey, each hauling their required year’s worth of supplies across the glacier covered mountains. Life and death situations become a daily occurrence on the trail to Dawson, but for those who make it that far the adventure has only just begun. Trapped on the rim of the Arctic Circle, where the fading remnants of the Wild West reign supreme, men quickly discover that all the gold in the world is worthless when there is nothing to buy, nothing to eat! Klondike kings and queens, Vikings, adventure, love, enmity and murder transform the boy into a man in a world where no one and nothing is what it seems—and where Lars’ innocent white lie leads him to stand trial for his life.
Check it out!