Resolve and resolutions

I have, it’s fair to say, put a lot of eggs in the basket marked ‘2015’. Next year could well be the most insanely busy of my life, but if I can keep all the relevant plates in the air  I should come out of it with a dramatically improved life. I’ll be married, I’ll be healthy, and I’ll be all set to launch a business that will bring not only added funds to our finances, but provide me with a sense of purpose and artistic expression that I’ve always aspired to have. So no pressure there.

In the interests of accountability, below is a rough guide to the goals I’ve set myself for the year ahead, so that I can look back this time next year and chastise myself accordingly for failing to hit them. And weep, and curse, and do it all over again.

First; the wedding. This is the one area where I know I’m not going to fail, because the event is booked in, and there’s money down on the table already. Once there’s money down, I’m committed. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do, far from it. There’s everything to do. So while I know there’s going to be a wedding next year, the question now is ‘will it be a good wedding?’ I’m hoping that it will be, and I’m fairly confident that despite our budget not rivalling the Beckhams or the Clooneys of this world, it’ll be a damn fine good time.

Second; the getting healthy. Long-time sufferers readers of this blog may well remember that a few years ago I attempted something I called the Year of Health. I even set up a website, that’s how seriously I took it. I was out of shape, unhealthy, and smoking like it was going out of fashion (which I suppose it was). For six months I actually did really well with it, and lost somewhere in the region of two and a half stone. But then a holiday happened, and the impetus left, and it fizzled away. Ever since I’ve tried the same things I did before, but without the motivation there to back it up it’s never come to anything. Now I’m even bigger than I was when I started the first time, a great big cuddly ball of potential health issues.

But next year I am getting married. Did I mention that? I have just shy of ten months in which to transform myself from the walking pudding I now so thoroughly resemble into a man who can stand proud and dashing in a well cut suit. So I’m going to be restarting the Year of Health. Note the capitalisation there. Serious.

Healthy eating, cutting out snacks and regular exercise should all do the trick, as should cutting out the wine on a school night and taking advantage of the beautiful area we live in on the weekends. It’s good for me, my partner, and our kids, and if I was found wanting on the motivation front before, I now have that big ringed day in the diary when I’m going to be photographed for the most important photograph of my life. I don’t much fancy looking like a tubby funster in it.

Lastly; there’s the writing. I’ve always dreamed of being an author. Of walking into a bookshop and seeing my books up there on the shelf, of having a trade paperback in my hands. Like 99% of people who ever have these dreams, however, they’re remained such a perpetually distant goal that I’ve never really in my heart of hearts dedicated myself to that dream. Sure, I’ve worked at it, three nights out of every fortnight while my partner is working. I’ve had the odd month off, here and there. Hell, I’ve had the odd half decade off from time to time.

It’s hard, working towards such an indefinite end goal. Life gets in the way, and the fact that you know, as a writer, that what comes at the end of all that hard work is rejection. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of rejections. You try and boost your profile by submitting short stories to magazines that get more submissions than they’ll get readers. In the end, if you get lucky, some agent will decide that you are just marketable enough for them to take a punt on, and if you’re even luckier than that, a publishing house will agree with them.

But, thanks to those evil tax dodgers over at Amazon, the landscape has shifted. Whilst they’ve been busy muscling out traditional booksellers and bending international tax law, they’ve also revolutionised the publishing industry. They introduced the Kindle and put so much money behind it that in the course of less than a decade have completely revolutionised the way that people consume their books.

They also decided to make this new digital world available to all. Anyone who wants to self-publish can, so long as they take about twenty minutes to learn how. The gatekeepers of the old print world are no longer the all-encompassing power that they once were. Of course the vast majority of authors (or wannabe authors) out there assumed that this would lead to a glut of badly written bilge being pumped into the marketplace, which might sucker in a few rubes here and there.

They were right, in part. Along with the bilge though a whole range of good writers looked at this new world and saw an opportunity. They reasoned that if they put the same effort into their books, hired professional editors and cover designers and made sure that nothing went up that that they couldn’t be proud of, they could rise above the morass of noise and make a decent fist of it.

They were right, and the publishing industry has turned on its head accordingly. Publishing companies are trying to sign up the big indie authors with an inbuilt audience and offering them print deals. Bookshops are starting to sell only big names who can guarantee sales, and new authors going the traditional route are finding their advances falling to as low as $1000 dollars, despite their months and months of submissions and hard work getting to that point.

Which was what I was readying myself to do as I worked on the second draft of my first novel, Blood on the Motorway. Having written bits and pieces and half novels and first drafts since I was a teenager, this was the first time I had something that I actually thought might have some work I can be proud enough of to consider sending it out to get rejected by every agent in the land.

Then an offhand mention in a blog of a podcast called the Self-Publishing Podcast completely upturned my thinking. I started devouring the back catalogue of these three guys who were actually making a living now by reaching the dizzy heights of the bestseller lists but by putting together solid, consistent sales. Reading books like Write, Publish, Repeat and Let’s Get Digital have only confirmed the spark that the podcast ignited.

This isn’t a gold rush, it isn’t a quick rich scheme; it’s a chance for those who want it enough, who are willing to work hard enough, and who most importantly who are good enough to get their work out there, promote it themselves and maybe, just maybe, manage to make a living at it. Gatekeepers be damned.

Once thing is for sure though, I was never going to get in that position at my current rate. While I’m hardly a lazy writer, if you’re going to treat this as a business you really need to be willing to put the hours in, and a total of six hours a fortnight is not quite going to cut it.

So as we move into the new year my approach, as with everything else above; is to put the hours in. I’ll be setting an hour a night every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Tuesdays and Thursdays are exercise nights) and two weeks a day over the weekend. I’ve planned out the tasks I’ll need to achieve on a monthly, weekly, and even daily task list, which covers everything from finishing each individual draft of the three books I plan to launch with, to setting budgets for each project, to learning how to format right through to marketing and the tax implications of setting up a company.

I’ll need to finish Blood on the Motorway, write the sequel and then create a third book based on the idiotic Rolling Stone challenge. I need to get them edited, get covers designed and work out a thousand other details. The aim is to have it all in place by the end of this year and roll the three books out in 2016, along with a fourth book that’ll be done that year.

There's other stuff too. I want to read more, perhaps hitting the 24 books in a year target that I've always strived for. I want to do more with my weekends that doesn't involve hangovers. We might even try and move house, although that looks a little foolish given everything above.

It’s a ridiculous amount of work, it has to be said, but that’s the goal. Healthy, married, writer, in twelve months. Let’s come back before Christmas next year and see how I did. In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday period, however that looks for you, and thanks for taking the time to read the stupid stuff I write.

Taking the easy way out

One reaction that I’ve had a couple of times to my decision to self-publish rather than go down the traditional publishing route is that I’m somehow ‘taking the easy way out’. I can kind of see the point in that I’m voluntarily removing myself from the submission hell that everyone is going through, but on the flip side, I don’t think those involved necessarily understand the work involved in going down this route. I’m sure there are authors out there who finish a first draft and chuck it up on Amazon and sit back and wait for themselves to become a millionaire, but if you genuinely think this is the way forward for yourself as an author there’s an awful lot of research to be done, decisions to be made and budgets to be set.

At the end of the day if I’m taking on all the responsibility I’ve got nobody else to blame if I ship an inferior product, or if the marketing doesn’t work. I’m not going to get some in-house copy editor to make sure the text is as good as it’s going to be. I’ve got to pay for that myself. I don’t get a sample of book covers to choose from, I’ve got to commission an artist myself. And pay them.

I’ve been researching and researching all the things I need to think about in launching a career as an indie author, and it occurred to me last night that I really should start collating a list of all the things I need to consider. So I sat down and brain dumped a load of questions that I need to address in the next year before I launch Blood on the Motorway (along with hopefully two more books.) If you are considering self-publishing you might want to look at these questions, and if you can think of anything I’ve missed then maybe leave it in the comments below.

So here it is, my list of randomly thought out questions I need to answer:

  • What is my aim as an author?
  • What is my pen name?
  • Am I using the same name for fiction and non-fiction?
  • Do I start my own company?
  • What do I call my company?
  • Do I buy a website?
  • Under my own name or company name?
  • What do I want the website to look like?
  • What service do I use to build the website?
  • What resources do I need to read/review?
  • Do I continue to blog as I am?
  • Is a website the best ‘platform’?
  • How do I create a mailing list?
  • What do I want to provide to my mailing list?
  • How do I grow my mailing list?
  • How do I grow my potential audience outside of my mailing list?
  • Do I move to blogging that targets potential readers rather than writers?
  • How much of this strategy needs to be in place before I launch?
  • Do I create other promotional tools?
  • What pricing strategy do I want to follow?
  • What is my marketing approach?
  • What is my budget per project?
  • What does my budget need to cover?
  • How many projects do I launch with?
  • What do I need to do about tax status?
  • Do I register self-employed?
  • What are the financial impacts of changing my tax status?
  • What will I make per product sold?
  • What do I need to sell on each project to break even?
  • How often do I aim to self-publish?
  • Do I send agent queries until I self-publish?
  • Do I go down KDP select style exclusivity route with Amazon for promotion?
  • Do I make my books more widely available?
  • Where do I make them available?
  • Do I create print versions?
  • How do I go about doing that?
  • Do I want to create Audiobooks?
  • How would I do that?
  • Will that require additional budget?
  • What are the pricing strategies around other formats?
  • Do I create promotional materials like trailers?
  • How do I format for Mobi and Epub in Scrivener?
  • Where do I get my editing done?
  • Where do I get my covers done?
  • Can I get more illustration than simply the cover?
  • How do I work out typesetting for print on demand?
  • How do I get my books ready for launch next year?
  • What constitutes ‘ready’?
  • What is my launch strategy? All three titles? Staggered releases?

So just a few things I need to think about there. But it doesn’t stop there. I need to have a project plan for each title I need to launch, and even though I’m now at the point where I’m feeling like Blood on the Motorway is finished, there’s still a huge amount of work I need to do before I can publish it. Bear in mind this is the to-do list for a nearly complete work, my strategy (mebulous as it might be) is to go live with three titles, the other two of which are not yet written.

Blood on the Motorway project plan

  • Need to finish 3rd draft
  • Send 3rd draft out for critique
  • Carry out 4th draft based on critiques
  • Determine budget plan
  • Select copy editor and cover designer
  • Do I need any additional resource? (Advertising, illustration, typesetting)
  • Send to copy editor
  • 5th draft based on feedback
  • Commission cover
  • Create final draft
  • Create e-books
  • Review e-books
  • Create Print version
  • Check print version
  • Determine publicity plan and budget
  • Determine publishing portfolio (kindle, other ebook, print, audio)
  • Launch
  • Follow up marketing

So yes, I’m really taking the easy way out here.


Breaking the back of it

Another fruitful day today in this week of writing, despite (or maybe because of) my little boy being a bit under the weather today. He had to miss nursery, but all he wants to do is sit on the sofa under a blanket watching Power Rangers, so I've been able to put in a fairly hefty shift so far, sat next to him on the sofa trying to block out the intolerable noise. I've been continuing to work on my third draft. More accurately I've been doing the neccesary leg work to start it. It's worth noting that I'm a 'pantser,' which is to say that when I sit down with my first blank page I have no idea where I'm going, who the characters are going to be, or even what kind of book I'm going to be writing. I fly by the seat of my pants. It's an incredibly freeing way to write. I freewheel my first draft, and then if it's any good I can use the second draft to completely rewrite it in a way which means I'm no longer embarrased to show people.

That's the theory, anyway. To be honest this is the furthest I've ever gotten in the process. My second draft reads pretty well, I think, but then I thought I would go through it with a fine toothcomb to see if there's things I'd like to change about it. I started a spreadsheet where I could take my three unique timelines and plot them out to see if they all match up. I created a chapter synopsis to see whether my different arcs all get enough focus, and last of all I started a full character log.

The reason for the character log is twofold. Firstly, I want to make sure that my characters are real people, developed in a way that makes my reader want to spend time with them (or run a mile in some cases) but also, I consciously want to make sure I'm addressing the gender balance as well as the ethnic and sexual balance. I'm a middle aged white guy, and while I may think my book has a pretty decent balance of women and POC, going through the book in this way points out just how wrong I am.

You know the old saying that men believe that women are dominating the argument when they contribute around 25%, well looks like my natural biases bear that out. And while I'm trying to write an apocalyptic tale set in modern Britain, I have precisely one black character, one Polish character and zero people of non-hetero sexual denomination. To put that in context, there are 50 white guys, ranging from two main characters to people barely mentioned. It's not at all reflective of the world I want to write about, so I'm going to try and fix it. I'm always amazed when people don't look at this; quite aside from the fact that it's good to give people representation in the media, why on earth would you limit the appeal of your story to only 35% of the population?

This tooth-combing has probably been the worst part of this whole process so far, but having finished trawling chapter 26 this afternoon I'm glad I've done it. If I hadn't I wouldn't have realised that two of the story arcs are a whole week longer than the third, and that in fact I have a fourth and fifth story arc of incidental characters that cross each of my three main arcs and who miraculously seem to be in two or even three places at once. To put it another way, I have a monster of a to-do list now.

Writing a novel for the first time is definitely a steep learning curve, and there's so many different lessons that you learn along the way. This has definitely been one of the most important for me so far; sure I want to fly by the seat of my pants, but that doesn't mean I can't keep a trace of my route as I go. Next time I sit down with a blank piece of paper, it'll be accompanied with a hefty spreadsheet.