Tango-ed

This week’s inspiration came from a fellow Friday Flash Fictioner who wrote a story about getting inspiration for writing; an author who had found words suddenly leaping together on his page.

Two of the words were ‘holiday’ and ‘tangerine’; as a long-term resident of the west coast of Scotland, I could not resist.

tangerines

 

“Are you sure about this?” Teenage girl 1 asked teenage girl 2.

“Yes, you always need a lot to get a decent colour. The whole bottle will do the job. Keep rubbing it in.”

Teenage girl 2 eyed the product suspiciously. It didn’t half stink. Still, a holiday tan was a holiday tan. Guaranteed to knock a half-stone off one visually AND attract the attention of hot lads.

Half an hour later, teenage girls 1 and 2 regarded each other with horror. Bronzed beauties they were not. Tangerine, they most definitely were. Whose stupid idea was it to use Cuprinol?

 

Photo thanks to flickr.

 

 

How Much Money Can You Expect To Make On A Book?

 

Power of Words

When you stumble clumsily into the world of writing, you soon realise that out there are a lot of people who want to help you. Thank you one and all…

That said, I am guilty 90% of the time of a great deal of naivety. “Ooh yes,” thinks I to myself, “writing’s the career for me. I’ll write a book and we’ll see how that goes.” Common sense reasserts itself on many occasions – ‘better have a plan B Ms B, don’t unsubscribe to those email job alerts just yet and remember just how many people attempt to write a book every year…’

100 hundred million? More? 200 million Americans?

Just to clear up some areas of naivety, I’d like to borrow some wise words of wisdom about the costs of publishing. I’m borrowing them from the excellent resources section of Comely Bank Publishing and its founder/owner Gordon Lawrie: just how much money can you expect to make on a book? (Or rather, just how much money can you expect to lose.)

The Finances of Books

Many authors don’t realise that it’s extremely hard to make a profit from “conventional” books, especially in the modern economic climate. Until around 1996, books in the UK – nowhere else, though – were protected by the Net Book Agreement, stipulating that books had to be sold at their cover price and not discounted.

This protected many small book shops, but it also made it possible to make large profits on best-selling titles and use the proceeds to cross-subsidise newcomers. The Net Book Agreement collapsed in the mid 1990s, under pressure from supermarkets and Waterstones.

So, good for picking up three for two bargains and £3 books with your groceries, but what did it mean for publishers and writers?

Take a 350-page fiction paperback novel, for instance, which is priced at £7.99 (rounded up to £8 for ease)…

Large chains such as Waterstones insist on buying only through one of the big wholesalers/distributors (Gardners). Every book on their shelves has to go to Eastbourne first, then to Waterstones hub and then to the individual stores. Gardners ask for a 60% cut of the book’s total costs, 40% goes to the shop and they keep the other 20% which pays for their costs of storing, distributing and profit. The remaining 40% goes to the publisher, which in the case of an £8 book is £3.20.

The £3.20 pays for:

The cost of printing, which can be anything from £6 per copy for a small print run, to 20-50p for a mass market paperback. The publisher has to guess how many books they are going to sell.

Storing the books. If you want them looked after properly (and who wouldn’t?), then storage costs are not cheap. A local example in Scotland is Booksource in Cambuslang, which stores books for £49 per month, plus 16% per copy of the cover price.

Getting books to their destination. Hold a book in your hand – is it really light and slim? No? Unsurprisingly, if Gardners will take them, doing it in bulk is good, but more often than not they’ll only order books one at a time. The current postage by Royal Mail is £2.60.

Publicity. People don’t buy books that they haven’t heard of, so that means advertising, leaflets etc or sending authors to do events all over the country.

The costs of giving books away. As many as half of your first print run might go for free – review copies, complementary copies and proof copies to check for errors.

The publishing company and their staff.

Oops, we’ve missed out the author’s cut… Ah, no we haven’t. Honestly, for a first book you will be very, very lucky indeed to get £500 in advance. And advances are just that – you are entitled to a percentage of each sale, but if the book doesn’t sell enough copies then you do have to return the advance. (Although in practice that doesn’t happen often as it is easier for the publisher just to cut its losses and run miles from your book flop.) And of course, as the author has been obliged to go through an agent in the first place, his/her gross earnings have to go there too.

So the likelihood of making money as an author who writes one or two books? Slim indeed. The real money is made on the extras – the film and TV rights, toys of your book’s characters, perhaps additional work as a journalist/reviewer, or making author appearances for fees and selling signed copies.

Ian Rankin, Edinburgh’s second best-selling author (after JK Rowling) famously sold about 250 copies of his first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, and not many of the next one either. It was only once he’d written a few more that his popularity took off and people wanted to read the earlier books.

This means that commercial publishers need to be very, very convinced of a book’s selling potential. They want to be able to sell 30,000 copies at least. If the book gets poor reviews, they might pull it and decide not to sell (this happens far more often than people think). In such a situation, the author is allowed to keep the advance, but the book is gone for ever because the publisher has the rights.

Can you imagine how awful that situation must feel?

Even if they decide not to withdraw it, the publisher can opt not to spend money on promoting/advertising the book – which amounts to the same thing.

This is why anyone in the business will tell you that there are three stages to any book:

1. Writing the book

2. Getting it published

3. Getting the book properly promoted.

Take a guess what the hardest bit is? Yup, number three. No matter how good you think your book is (and your lovely family and friends are sure to back you up with this), there are millions and millions of other good books out there too. Your book doesn’t just need to be good – and you could argue that there are plenty of turkeys out there which have still managed amazing sales – it needs to persuade plenty of people to buy it.

Are you filled with despair? Do remember that modern technology has opened up new routes. The first is ebooks, which generates good profits if you get lucky. 50 Shades of Grey is one of the better-known versions, but Amanda Hocking was a multi-millionaire at the age of 22 publishing her horror books as ebooks only. And you shouldn’t sneer at self-publishing, which isn’t the same as vanity publishing – you are in control. You pay for the costs*, admittedly, but you keep all the profits.

The whole publishing business changes almost weekly. It’s 2014, but who knows what publishing will look like in 2018? Close your mind to nothing at all.

It is very unlikely that the first thing you write will make you a fortune. Making a living from writing requires hard work, a willingness to keep going back to try again after repeated rejections but if you are good enough, you try hard enough and you are lucky enough. Your time will come.
©Gordon Lawrie.

*Comely Bank Publishing helps people minimise the costs of doing this, but the work has to be up to its standards.

The original article was first published on Comely Bank Publishing. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

Expendable of Course

This one is a little bit naughty… I’ve got a publisher so b****ing about agents and their seemingly impenetrable world is a moot point. However, from time to time, I can’t resist the odd narky comment…

No? No, no no no no no no ad nauseum...

No? No, no no no no no no ad nauseum…

Dear Ms Birnie, thanks for submitting your manuscript to Expendable Agents Inc. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit our requirements and you are not a celebrity so we can’t take it any further…”

‘May we take this opportunity to wish you blah blah,’ thought Edie, deleting the message, not bothering with the ‘Many thanks for letting me know’ reply. Nowadays, she figured she didn’t need agents to know she was a nicely brought up gel.

Agent rejection number 25, however, hadn’t reckoned on one thing. Edie lifted the phone – “Ann-Louise, Jane and Rejoice – are you still in the hit woman business…?”

 

How to Self-Publish…

If it looks like a book...

If it looks like a book…

OK, OK – this one is a bit of a misnomer in a blatant attempt to try and get more search engine hits. I am, in reality, a brazen, attention-seeking hussy who will stop at nothing in my quest to make the world sit up and notice.

(I should have called this post how to self-publicise, rather than publish really.)

Anyway, I am jolly excited today because publication of my own book is indeed imminent. It would be foolish to name a date, but the moment of holding a hard copy of Katie and the Deelans in my hands creeps ever closer. Excitement reigns in the highheelsandpinkglitter household.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

There’s a saying about press & PR (it being dead an’ all) that companies or brands are no longer content trying to get published, they are publishers in themselves and the same can apply to writers. Why bother with the faff that is agent-hunting [cue: different submission versions required for each, plus the wait for replies, plus the generic rejection emails] when you can cut to the chase AND not have to hand over a fair whack of your sales?

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Really, the title of this post is – why self-publish? There’s an excellent guide here as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Naturally, as it suits my purposes (and my efforts with traditional publishing have so far yielded a big fat zilch) I’ve chosen to focus on the drawbacks of traditional publishing (and thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for this info):

Traditional Publishing Drawbacks

It’s slow: It takes somewhere between 9-18 months for a book to be released once it is submitted to a publisher, an infinity in the digital world.

It’s unfair: Publishers take the lion’s share of royalties, usually 85-92%. That means most authors earn about a buck per book, or less. Publishers hog roughly 70% of electronic royalties, for a product that has almost no production or distribution costs.

It’s outdated: They are not social-media savvy; they may have powerful inroads to traditional media, like TV and print magazines, but those things are increasingly irrelevant to book sales.

It’s ineffective: They do not give most authors a very big marketing push, or sometimes any marketing push at all.

It’s short-lived: Most authors’ books will be in bookstores for a few weeks and then get pulled from the shelves when they don’t sell very well, leaving it entirely up to Amazon sales. This begs the question: why not just use Amazon?

It’s not cost-effective: The vast majority of authors don’t make any real bankable money on their books.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for the above info.

My own route to self-publishing goes like this… Write a book. Phew – that’s the difficult bit over and done with, hmm? Ah no. Re-write book once. Re-write book twice (this time stripping out a lot of excess stuff, even though it made me want to cry).

Use social media. I found a publisher through LinkedIn, specifically the small and perfectly formed Comely Bank Publishing, a publishing firm aimed at creating opportunities for Scottish-based authors.

CBP’s modus operandi is:

Comely Bank Publishing aims to create opportunities for local Edinburgh-area authors to publish works of interest using twenty-first century publishing options, including ebooks and print on demand.

We genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published because publishers and publishing agents have become too cautious, grasping at poorer-quality work simply because it carries the name of an established author or a bankable name such as a sports star, and that the future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

[There are specific resources on this site designed to help new authors think about some of the issues surrounding publishing.]

Thirdly, find a professional proof-reader. I looked through elance. I work on elance so seeing it from the other side was interesting and enlightening (and I also picked up some tips for how to structure my proposals from now on).

And next? Well, next is apply the changes from the proof-reader, make a cover design decision and then… PUBLISH. And flippin’ self-promote like mad.

 

Additional image thanks to wikipedia. Mywritingblog.com available here.

 

 

Relative Surprises…

Another Friday, another Flash Fiction attempt…

lion

The trouble with family research, Chloe though, was that one was never sure what might turn up.

Her mother had always hinted at grandeur amidst the distant past and Chloe had put this down to wishful thinking. All of us would prefer to think of ourselves as the descendants of nobility, say, than the mere great-great grandchildren of peasants?

Well, grandeur was certainly there she thought as she read the microfiche record. Treason, lechery, theft, corruption and gambling addictions appeared to mark out a long line of her ancestors.

Being related to Royalty was no picnic, that’s for sure.

 

 

Picture courtesy of wikipedia.

 

 

How to Write Flash Fiction

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

I am a self-styled expert in many things… educating myself via the internet, for one thing and how to conduct endless research on different dieting and fitness methods without ever actually applying them consistently to self for another thing.

It seems that a lot of people type “how to” type queries into search engines (no kidding, Sherlock) and  therefore, from time to time, I decide to write a “how to” post in a bid for online popularity. How to make an art skill out of procrastination would be my real area of expertise, but seeing as you are currently (and very kindly)  reading my blog I’m going to label you an expert procrastinator without any need whatsoever of my help in that area so how to write flash fiction it is…

Flash fiction can be anything from 140 characters a la Twitter up to 1,000 words according to wikipedia, but there is no real prescribed limit. Aesop’s Fables can be thought of as flash fiction, according to the wonderful wiki, so very short stories are nothing new at all. If you want to write flash fiction (and there are many websites which welcome regular contributions, including this one and this one), here is how to start:

  1. A story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Very obvious yes, but the beginning should scene set (exposition), the middle describe a mini climax (rising action and falling action) and the end bring it all together.
  2. The end does not need to tie up all loose ends; it could leave the reader thinking – and wanting more.
  3. Sometimes, the first line is enough to think up in the first place without a clear idea of where the story is going. Take for example – ‘Molly’s latest boyfriend hadn’t specified at the beginning that he was a volunteer traffic warden and it was beginning to become a problem.‘ There are a lot of places you could go with this one line – the problems of being a volunteer traffic warden, or how to get rid of a dull boyfriend in murderous ways, for example.
  4. Excess words don’t have a place in flash fiction – you will need to ensure you have plenty of words to use so you can contrast descriptions, adjectives and adverbs, and then discard what you don’t need.
  5. It’s easier to write flash fiction if you write it all out, then check the word count and then start to pare back the words. Visualise the overall length at the beginning to help guide you – I’ve been writing 100-word flash fiction for seven months now and I know it is roughly three short paragraphs (six or seven sentences), whereas 500 words is about a page and half of A4.

As an added bonus, once you hone your skills on flash fiction they translate to other areas of your life. Writing a CV/resume? Think of the ‘why you want this job’ bit as the opportunity of flash fiction starring you*. Writing a synopsis of your fictional masterpiece? Flash fiction skills give you the discipline of condensing words into small amounts. Writing a presentation – flash fiction helps you sum up your story in a dynamic way etc etc.

 

*I take no responsibility if you carry out this bit of advice and your employers subsequently decide you have played fast and loose with ‘fiction’. 

 

 

Words, Words, Wonderful Words (and a commendation)

twitter image

Amidst the chaos that is my in-box a wee gem surfaced this week, telling me I’d been commended in a short story competition.

The Federation of Writers in Scotland ran a competition some months ago and I entered the flash fiction class. The competition was looking for a 500-word short story, which, as I’m used to 100-word stories through the weekly Friday Flash Fiction challenge I set myself, felt like a NOVEL.

Anyway, I hummed and hah-ed and then entered anyway. I’m sharing the results below and I hope you like it…

 

WORDS, WORDS, WONDERFUL WORDS

Nathan Crutchlow prided himself on his verbosity. Words were his stock in trade after all, so why shouldn’t there be so many of them? Those oh so plentiful words buzzed around in his head and they needed an outlet – they deserved to be written down, lovingly crafted into the sentences, paragraphs and pages he adored creating.

Nathan’s wordiness had stilted his initial progress. His first approaches to agents had met with flat refusals. After a while he had sought out further explanation for their reluctance to consider what he considered his works of art. What could possibly be wrong with his wonderful words?

One of London’s kinder and more patient agents explained eventually.

They’re just too long,” she said. “I read your covering letter where you referenced the length of your manuscript – 200,000 words, for heaven’s sake! The modern-day reader does not want to read a book that long.”

Nathan listened, and then discounted her advice. The modern-day readers of the time (1970s) he felt, should not be patronised by London agents determined to determine their word count for them. Surely, the modern reader was only awaiting words of which only Nathan could conjure up in his own inimitable way? They were eager to be intoxicated by the exuberance of his verbosity, he was sure…

He stuck to his wordy principles. His eventual signing by a more individualistic agent led to publication of a series of fantasy novels. The 900-page books gained a select following and Nathan achieved cult status.

From time to time, he muttered to himself – wondering afresh at his lack of ability to sell millions of novels. There had been talk in the mid-1990s of turning his first book into a film. Hollywood was mentioned and flights to Los Angeles were days away from being booked, but it all came to naught.

Nathan reverted to rejoicing in his small but select following. His fans were the type to seek him out at the smaller book festivals having travelled from Sweden, or the far flung corners of the US.

Once, he overheard one of them discussing his books with a friend. “It took me a year to read y’know, but it was worth it in the end. I feel like I’m an ultra-reader now. Everyone else does 5ks and half-marathons, but I’ve done the Marathon des Sables.”

He thought it was a compliment.

And then in the midst of online research (or procrastination, depending on your view point), he’d stumbled across the notion of flash fiction. He found websites where stories were limited to a mere 500 words. Another 30 minutes later and he had uncovered fiction which took place within 100 words.

What on earth..?

Nathan’s fingers twitched. The words rattling around in his brain slowed to a stop, as the inner editor finally made his appearance.

Nathan picked up the phone and called his agent.

Daryl,” he roared down the phone. “I’ve seen the light! Tell me, do I have a Twitter account?”

 

 

 

 

Keep Calm and Carry On…

Don't sweat the small stuff...

Don’t sweat the small stuff…

I publish Friday Flash fiction stories on a weekly basis – it’s great discipline and often a brain break from writing about bathrooms, display cabinets and more. Anyway, today’s effort is more of a bit of reflection. And 90% true. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of the two scenarios described actually happened…

 

Weesht! A good Scots word is weesht. It means – be quiet, stop whining, calm down or all three.

The things I have to weesht about today are: jumping three miles into the air with rage when I realised hubbie had left tissues in the pair of jeans I have just washed; and screaming like a banshee at the poor call centre employee who just had the misfortune to ring me.

First world problems don’t you reckon? Perspective is a wonderful thing and I prescribe a little perusal of world news as the antidote.

 

 

If you too would like to join the 100-word Friday Flash Fiction challenge, please feel free to visit Friday Flash Fiction set up by publisher Gordon Lawrie and the Friday Flash Fiction wordpress blog.

How to Write a Synopsis

Writing - pretty straightforward, hmm?

Writing – pretty straightforward, hmm?

Synopsis – now there is a word guaranteed to strike fear into any writer’s heart, but it’s a sadly necessary task if you want to sell your book to anyone.

I’m not just talking agents (and more on this tricky subject at a later date, once I’ve figured out the foolproof way to get yourself an agent*), but selling your book online, selling your story to potential readers and even summing it up in 140 characters a la Twitter needs the knowledge of what is important and what can be left out.

The synopsis is where you sell what you have written because presumably someone somewhere thinks – gosh, that sounds worth reading. Or filming, if a script is what you’ve lovingly crafted over the last few months in a daydream about Hollywood fame and fortune.

Of course, this being the online world I could hop around various amazing websites and online resources for writers and plagarise their wisdom on the words for synopsis (what is the plural of the wretched word, btw: synopsises? Synopsi?), but I decided to bravely WRITE THIS BY MYSELF.

So, if you too are struggling with synopsis angst and agonising about how on earth you cram your 80,000+ word novel into a mere 500 words, read on…

1. It is easier to start with a very short synopsis – say, 100 words. A very short synopsis forces you to write only the very, very bare bones of your story. Then you fill it up to make up the 400-word shortfall.

2. If a kind friend has already read your book for you, ask them to sum it up in a few sentences or bullet points. Because you know your characters and your plot inside out, it’s too easy for you to get side-tracked.

3. Start with an exciting sentence – This is the story of housewife Marcia Evans, for example, might sound better as – Marcia Evans’ life has gone tits up ever since her mad, marauding husband abandoned her on the moon**.

4. You can bring in all the main characters for a synopsis, but you don’t need to include everyone – nor every plot line.

5. You need to put in what happens at the end. It is tempting to write a synopsis as if it’s a book blurb – but a book blurb can’t give away the end of a book (or no-one would buy the book). A synopsis for an agent needs to show a well-thought out story with a credible ending.

6. Try not to ramble in a bid to cram too much info in – ‘Marcia, who is startlingly beautiful but has never thought of herself as so and sometimes struggles with eating disorders, married the marauding madman in a fit of spontaneity, for which she was renowned whilst living in a commune in the far north of Scotland…’ loses impact. ‘Marcia’s short-lived marriage to the madman took place during a period of regrettable spontaneity’ doesn’t.

7. Do proof read. If this is the first (and perhaps only) thing to be read, then proper spelling and grammar is a must for good first impressions.

8. And finally – an offer. If you are struggling with your synopsis and you want a second opinion from a complete stranger, then I am happy to offer my t’uppence worth. You can send your synopsis through to the contact details on this site up until 31 July. I can’t guarantee a fast turnaround, nor an expert opinion but sometimes the rank outsider view helps.

 

 

*It’s really, really easy. So long as you are famous and/or already a best-selling author. Bitter? Not much…

**I am always, always going to love alliteration and place it everywhere I can. And also, can you feel a plot coming on…?

 

Picture thanks to wikipedia.

Travel Broadens the Mind

Image

Time travelling was not all it was cracked up to be, Maureen mused to herself.

She hadn’t worked out precision in her century wanderings, so instead of landing up as the Roman emperor’s wife, say, she’d ended up as an early Christian awaiting feeding to the lions.

Still, practice makes perfect she thought to herself as the Regency rake made his way towards her. Modern day man hadn’t come up to her requirements so she thought she’d try her luck 200 years back or so.

“And you are…?” she asked. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know,” he winked.

Oops.

 

Another Friday Flash Fiction challenge… If anyone is interested, you can contribute your own flash fiction challenges to the fridayflashfiction website, and the fridayflashfiction blog. In addition, there is a competition for flash fiction at dragonplume, where you write either fantasy, romance or historical fiction. My attempt above was an effort to combine the three.

Picture thanks to wikipedia.