Friday, 21 December 2012

The Unpocalypse (Or how I never learnt to love self-publishing, and how to avoid my pain...)

Many of us wondered if this end of a Mayan era would mean the end of the world. Some people even built bunkers and stored provisions to last them months and years. 

But, as of 00:00 on the 22nd December 2012, we’re still here.

This is good news for numerous reasons, not least being that my novella, Everything’s Cool is now available on Amazon –

It’s fitting that Everything’s Cool should be available now. After all, it’s about a man who believes he knows how the world is going to end, and his struggles to save it. It’s a dark, paranoid but occasionally funny story and, at only 99p/99c on Kindle, not an expensive way to spend a bit of time over the post-Unpocalypse holiday season, or ‘Happy Unpocalypse-mas!’

But, the journey to launching Everything’s Cool wasn’t exactly smooth. I’m not talking about writer’s block, broken computers, plot-thread-losing or anything like that. I’m talking about actual self-publishing.

Because there are a LOT of things I didn’t know about self-publishing that I know now.

1)   It takes a long time – not just faffing around with it all, but allowing time for covers to be designed and formatted correctly, time for the PoD company (createspace in my case) to review and approve (up to 48 hours), time for Amazon to review and approve the Kindle version (up to 24 hours) and, if you go that way, time to allow a company (Webulous in my case) to convert your book to kindle format… because…

2)   Formatting a book to meet the various requirements of PoD and Amazon is hard work. For a start, you really want to be writing your book in one of the accepted paper and kindle fonts (EG: Garamond). Check what is acceptable and use it. You also probably want to be writing the entire book on one of the pre-approved PoD company’s templates, because it’s not fun having to cut/paste it all in to a template and then fighting with formatting for days.

3)   Images have to be 200 DPI. Covers have to be a certain size and format. I had NO idea about this and my luddite brain got all confused.

4)   Turns out embedding is a thing when it comes to publishing – images need to be embedded, odd fonts need to be embedded etc. Yeah, news to me too. This one is particularly difficult if you use a mac, so…

5)   Don’t use a mac. The PoD companies (at present) don’t work well with macs and they don’t seem to handle the formatting well, nor do they ‘embed’ things – what they do do is PDF via Preview, but that seemed to mean I lost my footer/header and page numbers. And the first 3 letters of every line on every other page. True story. I moved to a PC and it was fine. I don’t often say that.

6)   It can actually be expensive – a book cover design can cost a lot of money.  Mine wasn’t cheap, but it is amazing (Thanks to the prodigiously talented Nathanel Rouillard - And, if you are defeated by kindle formatting (due to points 3, 4 and 5 in my case) that can cost as well – US companies were charging $250. Webulous substantially less.

7)   Royalties – WTF basically. Amazon offers you two options: 35% or 70%. It seems stupid to not go for 70% but, actually, that ties you in to things and means you can’t price how you want. Something to consider.

8)   And this is the big one – ROYALTIES PART II – If you use createspace, or any other US-based PoD company (I suspect you will) you will need a US TAX CODE, or ITIN. Otherwise, the US Government takes 30% of all your royalties. Getting an ITIN (Individual Taxation Identification Number) takes 2-4 months and requires you sending your passport to America, or going to the US Embassy in London. It’s a pain, so you want to get it done

9)   The US Embassy doesn’t let you take phones in, even if they’re turned off. Or kindles, or USB sticks, or computers, or iPods, or iPads or anything else. Their security was tight to say the least. I arrived, left my phone with my friend Helen (thank you Helen!) and blithely wandered in. Stopped by an x-ray machine, told I couldn’t bring in my Kindle, iPod or USB sticks. Went back outside, handed them to Helen (thank you Helen!), and back to security.

Then I went back inside. And was told to take off my coat.
And take off my suit jacket.
And take off my belt.
And take off my shoes.
And I honestly started to worry where this was going.

Then I had to empty all my pockets, take off my watch etc. And get patted down for weapons.

THEN they inspected my watch for about a minute to make sure it wasn’t a bomb. It wasn’t, it was a timepiece, so they let me in.

10)  It’s sort of AMAZING when you finally see your book on Amazon. And you know it was all you, and you got it done. You wrote it, you worked with people to make it as good as it can be, and you uploaded it on to Amazon.

It’s been one of the best things I’ve done this year.
Though I’m not sure I’d ever want to go through the hours and hours of holding my head in my hands as the formatting goes wrong again, or another font turn into freaking Times New Roman. But, I don’t regret doing it, and every time I see that really cool cover and I think “That’s my book, that,” I’m rather proud of myself.

So, I thought the world might end while I was going through the purgatorial experiences of self-publishing. And I’ve tried to remember all the pain points so that my Dante-like journey can be a lesson to others.

But, the world didn’t end and I came out of my self-publishing Inferno with a little book all of my own.

It’s not as easy as people say, but if you really want to get your book out there, and the agents aren’t biting (too long, too short, too dark, too much like a book, not enough like a lemon, needs more vampires) then you should definitely consider it.

In the meantime, celebrate the Unpocalypse with a mince pie, a glass of mulled wine and Stan’s dark, dangerous and paranoid mission to save the world he hates from the apocalypse he has always known would come...

Friday, 10 August 2012

Summer Days, Summer Daze

Ah, the British Summer. That unrealistically blue sky, those wispy clouds, the unattractive men wandering around topless because they think other people want to see their bellies and faded, poorly drawn tattoos.

After weeks of rain and misery, we're finally seeing summer. This makes it quite spectacularly difficult to focus on work of any kind, including writing. Most of the week I'm stuck in an office, able to see the sunshine, but not feel it or experience it first hand. I have to live vicariously through the tourists and those fortunate or unfortunate enough to not be working.

But, today, I'm at home. The sun is blazing down on the clothes on the line. I can hear the children playing and laughing in the warmth (Although I can hear one of them shrieking like a banshee right this moment). I can see it all. About ten feet away. But, i've chained myself to the computer today, promising myself that I'll write.

So far today, excluding this blog, I think I've managed 0 words of novel, 1 tweet and a load of washing. It's not the thousands of words I'd anticipated. How do you focus? How do you clear the mind of daydreams of sun-dappled walks and ice-cream, and instead fill your mind with plot and words and all that important stuff? There must be a way!

I tried sitting out in the sun, but the garden here isn't particularly gardeny, and it's pretty loud and dirty. And i don't have a notepad to write on. I know if I went to the park, I'd fall asleep in the sun.

So, it's in-the-flat action for me. I have to shut out the outside world and all its glory, and live in my head for a little longer. Concentrate on what I have to do, not what I want to do. Set myself a goal, hit it and reward myself with a sojourn into the sun.

So, set the goal, hit the goal, enjoy the sun. There's my mantra for as long as the sun lasts...

Set the goal, hit the goal, enjoy the sun.
Set the goal, hit the goal, enjoy the sun.
Enjoy the sun.

Enjoy the sun.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Everything's Cool?

So, it's been finished for a while. Everything's Cool - the story of Stan, who is convinced he knows how the world will end, and how to stop it. He's crazy, but is he wrong? It's finished and I've been submitting to agents.

Which leads me to ask - what's up with agents?

You send a submission to an agent - you basically put it out there, saying "Here's my art. I crafted this over a long period of time and I'm, unsurprisingly, very attached to it. I'm asking you to look at it and then either tell me you think it's good enough, or stomp on my dreams and reject it."

You'd think that the least the agent can do is reply, right?

Seems not. Agents seem to be increasingly of the opinion that struggling writers are so beneath their notice that they won't even bother with a form rejection. You even provide them with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. They just need to print off a form that says 'thanks, but not right for our lists' or whatever, stick it in the envelope and send it back. Hells, some just send a comp slip that says 'no'... I've had a few of those!

And yet, instead, the poor struggling writer (yes, me) receives only silence. For weeks. And months. Even to email submissions, where the rejection is all of 20 seconds to create and send - "Compose, cut/paste, send."

I sort of feel that if you are an agent, it's partly your job to be able to say 'no' to people. You don't get to ignore poor, struggling writers who have thrown themselves on your tender mercies. That's not cool. That's pretty damn harsh. Obviously, agents have heavy caseloads and are very busy people. But, an email to say no? I mean, really? Is that so hard?

So, I'm still sending it out. I'm not getting any replies at all, but I've decided to look at that positively - I mean, complete silence is not a rejection, right? Right?!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

BFS Awards, book awards, Neil Gaiman's advice

It was announced last week (I think, dates and I are not exactly close friends) that voting is now open for the British Fantasy Awards - I have, of course, voted and am hoping that I sneak a nomination in the Short Story category again this year, this time for 'Me and My Shadow' (published in Fangtales by Wyvern Publications). It was actually remarkably exciting last time, making it through to the shortlist, so hopefully that'll happen again this year.

Meanwhile, I've been wrestling with new book ideas. It's odd, there are some people who have one idea, they write a book about it and they're done. There are others who have several ideas and also follow them through to completion. Then there's me. I've got loads of ideas, I even write the beginnings of a lot of them. Then I... well, I sort of... stop.

Stopping is bad for the following reasons:

1) It makes you a quitter! (apparently)
2) You end up with lots of half-baked, half-written ideas lying around the place
3) Because Neil Gaiman says it's bad

Mr. Gaiman has only ever given me one piece of advice in person. It was in Norwich at a book signing some years ago. I was one of the last to meet him. I'd watched him saying hello, asking for a name, writing down a name, posing for a photograph, saying hello, asking for a name... for some hours. I'm not saying he looked bored, but he certainly did look like someone who had been doing something by rote for some time.

When it was my turn to step up and meet the author of some of the greatest comics and books I've ever read, the following thoughts went through my mind:

Firstly, I had to remember my name and to not do that thing I do when confronted by famous people of standing there, dribbling and making noises like Sloth from the Goonies. Secondly, I had to remember to hand him a copy of the book to be signed. Thirdly, I realised I didn't have a camera and so would never be able to record this moment for posterity. Fourthly, for god's sake, don't forget my name...

I stepped up to the table.
"Hullo," said Neil.
"Um, Hi," I replied. This was a remarkably good start for me.
"What's your name?" Mr. Gaiman asked.
"It's Justin," Brilliant, I remembered my name, no dribbling. This was going well. I even remembered to hand him the book to sign.
Neil signed the book 'to Justin' (underlined) and even drew a little moon in the corner of the page.
And that's when I said it.
"I, um, I just wanted to thank you for inspiring me to write again."
I am defiantly proud of this moment; it's absolutely true - without The Sandman and Neverwhere I wouldn't have started writing again. I'm also secretly chuffed because of the effect it had on Mr Gaiman, who I had considered to be completely imperturbable up until this point.
He leaned back in his chair and looked me in the eye. He was silent for a moment. Then he said,
"You're most welcome. Thank you. And... finish everything. Always finish what you start writing, that's my one piece of advice to you."
Then, I think I garbled something incoherent about a 'baby ruth' and 'loving you guys' before staggering away.

I've never forgotten that piece of advice. I am just totally unable to live up to it. I try, I really do... I mean if Neil Gaiman tells you to always finish what you start, then by the gods you finish what you start!

Only, I can't. At least not yet. I don't think I'm quite good enough to finish them, right now. So, it's not that these half-completed books are permanently unfinished, just their endings are on hiatus, waiting for a better version of me to finish what I started.

But, for the rest of you, always finish everything. If you start writing something, finish it. Even if it takes years. Finish it. Because, you know, Neil Gaiman says so, and he's fundamentally right.