Thursday, April 27, 2006

No more mister nice guy...

...for a while anyway.

After the euphoria of last week it's pretty clear that I have a lot of work to do re-writing my novel A Half Life of One.

I've also found myself swept up in some pretty momentous action in my business dealings. Suddenly I don't have a second to spare.

I'll get round to responding to all the recent comments I've received just as soon as I can. As soon as the dust settles - or if I get a spare moment - I'll get back to the blog.

Speak to you again soon.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Don't even go there

"The book is good. Very good."

With those words Lynne Scanlon, The Publishing Contrarian kind of made my day. Hell, my week, my month, my year, my life.

In an extraordinary act of generosity Lynne, a former publishing executive, has been reading A Half Life of One and analysing and commenting on the book in extraordinary detail. In recent weeks I've been bombarded with comments and e-mails from her.

Lynne is extremely perceptive. There are a lot of small factual mistakes in the book and I doubt if Lynne has missed any of them. One of the problems of writing and re-writing a book over an extended period (ten years or so) is that things change. When I wrote the first draft the price of oil was ten dollars a barrel and the experts were predicting it would fall to five. Now it's at seventy and those same experts say it'll go to a hundred. I took this into account in the last re-write and changed the opening scenario. Then the law of unintended consequences kicked in and I had to change lots of other things as a result. And that kicked off more consequences. So it goes. I'll fix the mistakes though, thanks to Lynne.

From a somewhat loftier perspective Lynne pointed out that there were some basic inconsistencies in the way the main character behaved, the way his personality developed. In her opinionion the book is fundamentally flawed. She's right. I hadn't realised this before, I needed another pair of eyes to point this out to me. Thankfully it's fixable. I'll fix it.

After every chapter Lynne has described her emotional reactions in vivid detail. That has given me an invaluable insight into what works in the book and what doesn't. It's also made me really think about what I'm trying to achieve in the book. Thanks to Lynne I've now got a clear idea of what the book is really about.

As you'll know if you visit her blog Lynne has extraordinary energy and vision. She ruffles feathers. She tells it like it is. Best of all she knows what she's talking about. She's not arrogant though, and she took the precaution of asking a writing friend of hers to read the book also, to give her a second opinion. When they'd finished reading they compared notes. The conclusions were pretty much the same. So thanks, Bridget. You're a star.

Where does that leave me? Another re-write is needed. Actually, I've already started. The other night I re-wrote that first chapter. I have to admit that when I finished I cried. It's beautiful. Thanks to all the help I've had it's the best prose I've ever written. I can't wait to finish the whole thing. It's going to be the best thing I've ever done in my life. I feel so happy it's unbelievable. This is why I do it. I'd forgotten. All those years of failure had clouded my inner vision.

I've had help from a lot of people with this book. Agents, readers, bloggers, strangers. Thank you all. You're amazing. Truly amazing.

Do me a favour though. Don't go read the book just yet. Give me a couple of weeks to finish the revisions. Then you can go there.

I'll be waiting for you with a big grin on my face.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Promotional budgets

Just over a year ago one of my partners and I set up a company to develop and sell a new product in the oil services industry. So far we've spent just under £400K without a penny in return. We expect to spend another £400K before the business moves into profit. Half of that investment is mine. Out of my pocket.

The total development and marketing budget for A Half Life of One so far has amounted to just under two hundred pounds. And yet success with my novel is infinitely more important to me than anything I am ever likely to achieve in business. So, something is seriously out of kilter here.

Let's assume I undertake all the corrective actions with A Half Life and set up a POD deal as I've outlined in some of my previous posts. What sort of promotional budget should I then allocate to the book and how should I spend it to ensure I get most bangs per buck?

I should say at this point that as my thinking on self-publishing evolves I realise that my primary objective is to get as many people as possible to read my book. By whatever means. Any financial sales I make (as distinct from free downloads) will therefore be ploughed back into promoting the product.

I haven't a clue what size of budget the average small independent publisher in the UK would allocate to a first novel. Let's take a stab. How about five thousand pounds? That's a lot less than the amount I've spent on that downhole tool I'm developing.

How to spend the budget? For a start I think I could run quite a few small adverts in literary magazines, newspapers etc for the money. I'm even more sure I could run a considerable number of online ads via Google, Amazon etc. In addition, lots of literary-type websites and blogs might take advertising for the book. Not just literary blogs either. Those with big readerships might be worth looking at too. For five thousand I should be able to transform the amount of attention the book is getting. Maybe I'll even be able to monetarise all that attention later if I wish, although at this stage I prefer to think about it as an investment in Bill Liversidge, the brand.

I think you can see how I'm becoming more and more comfortable with the viability of the business model I'm developing. Maybe, dare I say it, the book does have a future after all.

Still, it's early days yet and I haven't given the promotional side of the business too much thought at this stage so any ideas and all suggestions you may have will be more than welcome.

More thoughts on marketing my novel

Having had a nice break over Easter I've had plenty of time to think about how I can improve the marketing of my novel A Half Life of One.

Here's the conclusions I've come to:

1 Getting the product right- the primary imperative. I've decided to subject the book to one more re-write. I'm going to strip down the prose; flesh out a couple of characters; add some colour to the tone; and change the ending by adding three paragraphs. I'm actually quite excited about the new ending - it's the one I should have come up with in the first place. During the re-write I'll incorporate some of the helpful suggestions readers - my "focus group" - have made.

If I get a clean run at it the foregoing represents about two weeks solid work. Rather than make this a chore I think I'll take two weeks off and go somewhere alone and remote and just do it. I did an early draft of the book on Lesvos and it added a dimension to the writing that my little cell in the Pundy House doesn't allow.

2 I'll continue to promote my book online both as a Word and a PDF file. Currently most readers come to the book via Free Novels Online. As I've said in an earlier post this isn't entirely satisfactory and I'll continue to search around for other platforms that will also attract online readers.

However, it has finally dawned on me that many potential readers will only consider a proper printed book. Therefore I'll look seriously - and seek advice - about the best way of offering this option. Some variant on Print On Demand I imagine. I know Carla Nayland is looking at this option too, so I'll see how she gets on. I think this new framework is the most important way forward for me, especially since my book, however well it is written, may not ever be a commercial proposition. Readers will be able to sample the book online and then obtain it in whatever format they prefer. Sounds pretty obvious really, but it's taken me a long time to reach this conclusion.

3 Despite my reservations about the commercial nature of my book I'm going to have another crack at breaking into the world of traditional publishing. In other words, I'll start sending the revised book out to those agents who haven't already rejected it. Why am I doing this? Simply because traditional publishers and bookshops still represent the best way to get your product in front of as many readers as possible in a short period of time. The internet does not yet have a decent platform for attracting book readers in quantity. Someone will devise one someday soon but it isn't here yet.

So, that's it. The way forward with my book seems clear to me at long last. I'd like to thank everyone on this blog who has come up with the suggestions and encouragement that have helped me reach these conclusions. I couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on the Blookreader Awards

After I put my novel A Half Life of One up on my companion blog I realised I needed to develop a good promotional gimmick to attract readers to the book.

I came up with the idea of the Blookreader Awards. The twist here was that the award was aimed at readers not writers. Originally I was going to call the scheme The Blooker Prize but a quick search on Google showed that the publisher Lulu had already appropriated the title. It's a fairly obvious pun on the Booker Prize but at the time I thought I might have been able to squeeze some humourous mileage out of it.

I think, as it transpired, the title was my first big mistake.

I announced the launch of the award on this blog (which was barely read at the time) and sent out a number of e-mails about the award to A-listers in the literary firmament. I've mentioned before my absolute dread of being accused by these people of spamming and so I made it pretty clear in the e-mail that I had a vested interest in the prize inasmuch as I hoped to gain some publicity for my own book via the prize. As usual all the A-listers - with the honourable exception of the GOB who entered completely into the spirit of the thing - ignored my e-mails.

In the A-listers defence I think if I'd entitled the prize The Bookreader Awards, say, and sent out a straightforward promotional e-mail they might have taken the thing more seriously. Blooks is a term that simply hasn't caught on and somehow trivialises the idea. If the award is to run next year I would definitely re-brand it in this way to attract their interest. On the other hand, it may be that anything pertaining to e-books is beneath them.

A couple of people did pick up on the idea. First Carla Nayland told some of her friends about it. Then, amazingly, the writer Octavia Randolph also took it up and began to promote it first on her own website and then by vigorously urging others to promote it too. Hence, it's no coincidence that her book figures so prominently amongst the entries.

I have to say, though, that despite these efforts, the numbers of entries was disappointing. I accept entirely the blame for this. Once the A-listers ignored me I kind of lost heart. There were other avenues open which I could have used to promote the book but I just gave up. In particular, I should have contacted everyone who has a book published on the web and encouraged them to get their readers to submit a review. If nothing else they would have garnered some free publicity for themselves. Next time - if there is one - they will be the prime target market.

To be honest, I can't help but think that if someone with real promotional flair and enthusiasm - like the Publishing Contrarian for example - had come up with the idea they could have made it a resounding success. With that in mind, if anyone wants to take it on for the future, feel free to contact me. I'll consider continuing to sponsor the awards financially and in any other way I can to help.

The excercise hasn't been a complete waste of time however. In particular, I was really heartened to receive this e-mail from Cliffdweller, one of the winners:

My Dear Mr. Liversidge,

The motive for your e-book review contest was to cultivate interest in e-novels. I myself am an e-novelist. If you go to and tap on “Our Authors” and search under “P” for Panzer, you’ll find “Vampire Seductress,” an erotic love story of the Undead. Attached thereto you’ll find assorted reviews of my novel. I more than identify with your enthusiasm for the e-novel medium.

In keeping with the spirit of your contest, I intend to use my prize money to either buy some CD-Rom copies of my novel to distribute for promotional purposes, or to purchase an advertisement in the U.S. magazine

So, if nothing else, in a small way I'm helping at least one fellow writer to fulfil his dream. And that has to be worth doing, doesn't it? Can't wait to read his book either.

Through the bottom of a glass, darkly

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Minx, you're right. Okay, I've put on the dark glasses, taken the aspirin and I'm off down the field to have a good shout.

Still, it's a laugh though, isn't it?

More later, when the world stops spinning round me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The long, dark night of the arsehole

I'm a bit pissed. Forget everything I've said so far on this blog. It's rubbish.

A writer should abase himself. At the very bottom of society, trampled underfoot, looking up. Whispering. Not strut around full of his own self-importance.

Poetic interlude

To cheer me up I'd like to share a couple of poems with you that I like a lot.

The first one comes from a source that might surprise regular readers of this blog. You can guess why I was taking a look at this blog. The author is Gav and you can find Gav's blog here.
I might suggest Gav should post more poems on his blog but I won't in case I start an argument. I love the simplicity and purity of the thought behind the poem; the timeless quality of the setting that illuminates the transient nature of life.

wind remoulds sand;
we watch the sea.
waves crash in;
wash you away.
alone again;
wind, sand, me.

The second poem is from someone who's becoming one of my favourite poets, John Ahearn. It's here because it makes me feel pleasantly sad.


We were time’s own darlings once, Love,
or so we thought, if we thought at all
in that brief immortal idiot season.
The Sibyl hissed with our new wine,
sent up her knotted auguries
of omened smoke to make us mad
enough to quiz the very sphinx.

Now this shambles at the glass:
riddled lips, lidless gaze,
a patent frenzy of decay.
But tonight I saw the moon steal in
like a lover where you slept, to thumb
the veiled omens of your spine. Oh, love
your gray, ruined creature as I do mine.

Hm. Chicken soup for the soul, right enough

Some thoughts on marketing

I'd like to take a look at marketing from a writer's perspective in the next few posts. I don't have any special insights into this and nothing I say is particularly original. Certainly, there will be nothing prescriptive in any conclusions I may reach. Rather I'm going to try and apply what I've learned in business to what is essentially my hobby.

Marketing of course is about more than just selling. It really covers the whole of the business transaction from creation of product to selling it in the market place. In my own business I believe that this process starts with the product itself. If the product isn't world-class and absolutely fit for purpose you won't even get to first base.

Which immediately gives me a problem. I already know that my product - my novel A Half Life of One - isn't as good as it needs to be. Too many adverbs and adjectives, flabby sentence stucture, too dark a tone, lack of colour, underdevelopment of subsidiary characters, and a weak ending mean I've failed to develope a world-class product fit to compete in a crowded market place. I know about these shortcomings because of the feedback I've had from some of the people who have read the book. The rest I can see for myself because after an interval of six months I'm able to look at the book with fresh eyes.

The question is what to do next to rectify this fundamental flaw. I think I have four main options:

1 Abandon the book and start a new one applying the lessons I've learnt.
2 Hire a professional editor to revise the book for me.
3 Do yet another re-write (the twentieth maybe).
4 Accept that I'm never going to be a writer and be satisfied with making loads of money in business. (Gee, that's a tough one. I hadn't thought of that before).

Actually, about a month ago I decided to adopt option number 2. I approached a well-known editor whose work I admire and asked him to look at A Half Life on my blog and give me a price for a full edit. This is what he said:

Hi, Bill

Sorry I've taken so long to get back to you. I skimmed through much of your posted material, and definitely saw some nice writing there (also saw some "head-hopping"--shifts of point of view--that I have a bias against even though you see it all the time).

I suspect that my input could be useful--there were things such as that long, run-on first sentence and the huge paragraph that followed--where I could help tighten things or break them up for greater readability.

But I think I'll pass, mostly for a personal reason--not long back I went through 5 years of unemployment, and your character's story kept bringing up painful memories.That means, in a sense, that it's successful.

Sorry, but for that purely idiosyncratic, personal reason, I don't think I'm the person to edit your narrative.I wish you the best of luck with it, though.

Now, I'm not sure if the guy was being kind to me in a sort of backhanded way, or if he was just being diplomatic and really saying "You're book is so bad you'd just be wasting your money, pal."
Either way, it kind of scared me off trying to hire another editor. I mean, if you can't even pay someone to read your book isn't that God's way of telling you something about your writing abilities?

Whatever, if this was my own business I was operating (which I guess it is) I would absolutely insist that we got the product right before we attempted to launch it upon an unsuspecting world. So I'm going to choose option (2) and try again to find myself a good professional editor. If anybody out there has experience of one, please let me know.

Continuing with the marketing theme in my next post I'll look in detail at how I tried to promote A Half Life by dreaming up The International Blookreader Award. I'll also let you know how one of the winners of that award is going to use his prizemoney to promote his own book.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cutting off your fingers to spite your nose

Hi all, just back from the Big Smoke, the Great Wen or old London town as it's more generally known. I love London and its people but only in small doses. I'm glad to get back to my regular view.

I didn't get time to look at my blog while I was away but checking it over today I see that my post entitled "Breeding Talent" provoked a bit of a response after the GOB referred to it in his blog.

One post in particular, from fellow blogger Gav, of Gav's Studio, caught my eye. I've had a look at Gav's blog and he obviously knows his way around the world of writing and has given the subject lots of thought. I'd like therefore to accord his post the attention it deserves and examine his proposals in detail. My responses are in italics.

Gav wrote:

You're kidding surely? I find it hard enough to read a book and I can read one of those anywhere. Who is going to sit hour after hour reading a novel on a small tv screen? Not the millions of people that buy books. That's a good point Gav. I guess it's the thousands of people who already read books online I was referring to. They also have the option of downloading the books and reading them after they've printed them off, pretty much as you would an ordinary book. Or they could take the next step - if they liked the bit they had read online - and order them as a POD novel. I'm sorry to hear you find it hard to read a book, by the way. For me it's one of the great pleasures in life.

Writers should really try and see it from a readers point of view. I agree entirely, Gav. Of course, different readers have different points of view, don't you think? I suspect that most writers follow your advice then go on and write the book they always intended to write. Which I guess, from what you're saying, is wrong.

With the thousands of books that they have choose from in the average shop how are they to know what is good or not? Good question, Gav. I'm not sure of the answer. Maybe they read a few pages and apply their critical faculties, if they have any? The other point you make is pretty cogent too, and hinges on how you define "good" I imagine.

We should all be aiming to write something that people want to read. Look at The Time Travellers Wife, The Da Vinci Code, or Harry Potter. People want to read them and people want to buy them. Gav, I couldn't agree more although I would add Ulysses, The Leopard, some of Conrad's stuff, Kafka, Orwell, etc. etc. etc. Actually, I think there is a problem here, isn't there. It's those bloody readers again - they have such diverse tastes, it's hard to know what they want.

There are too many people who think that just because they can type a few words into a computer they think they are writers. It's bollocks. You've hit the nail on the head here, Gav. It's almost as bad with those guys who get published. Honestly, many of them are not much better either. The only problem I see here is how we sort the wheat from the chaff. How do we decide who can call themselves a writer and who can't? Let me know the answer to this one, Gav, when you get the chance.

They should have there fingers cut off. Er, Gav, I don't wish to be pedantic but I think you mean "their" don't you? Anyway, I imagine you're speaking ironically here although in the world I inhabit away from this blog when we say someone should have his balls cut off that's exactly what we do mean.

By all means write something but don't take it personally if no-one gives a shit after. Bang on, once again Gav. As far as what you've written goes, rest assured I really don't give a shit. But don't take that personally, okay?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Better Mousetrap

For a number of years I've worked as an advisor to people wishing to start their own business. The saddest scenario I'm regularly presented with is a variant on the "build a better mousetrap" delusion. You know the one - "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door".

Well, it won't. For two main reasons. First the basic idea is no good. Picture the scene.

Inventor/budding entrepreneur: "So I've invented this new moustrap."
Me: "Oh. Good. You're the third this week."
Inventor: "I want to know what you think about it."
Me: "What I think about it doesn't matter. It's what the market thinks."
Inventor: "The market is gagging for it."
Me: "Really? How do you know?"
Inventor: "I've paid for some really expensive market research and everyone says they love the idea."
Me (with sinking heart because I know that market research doesn't work): "Ohhhh-kaaay. Tell me how it works."
Inventor: (producing a shiny, semi-spherical globe about three feet in diameter from out of a brown paper carrier bag): "This is it. I designed at all myself. What happens is you place it in the kitchen where the mice are most likely to be."
Me: "Likely to be..." This is the three word trick to make it appear like I'm interested.
Inventor: "Yeah, the mice are likely to be in the kitchen. Because of the food, you see."
Me: "That's good thinking. What happens when the mouse arrives?"
Inventor: "The array of built-in CCTV cameras around its circumference are rigged up with 360 degree motion sensors. When the mouse hoves into view the front door rises and the "lounge" becomes visible to the mouse. In the "lounge" is a table with an array of ripe aromatic cheeses, meat, biscuits and selected high-fibre vegetables. Behind the table is a micro fan which wafts the aromas in the direction of the mouse."
Me (looking amazed, which in one way I really am): "You've obviously put a lot of thought into this. What happens next?"
Inventor (becoming agitated as his/her excitement builds): "Once the mouse is in the lounge another array of sensors build into the walls work out the exact co-ordinates of the mouse's locus and transmit them via the in-built computer to the high-powered laser."
Me: "The high-powered laser?" (Note the three word trick again).
Inventor: "You got it. The computer calculates the mass of the mouse and calibrates the charge of the laser. Then, at exactly the right moment, the laser terminates the mouse with the minimum of pain. It's an humane mouse-trap you see, that's its unique selling point."
Me: "Good. Good. I like it. It's got a unique selling point. That's very good."
Inventor: "Then the conveyor belt transfers the cadaver to the rear of the capsule where the microwave cooks the carcase for fifteen seconds on a high setting."
Me (frowning): "Is that long enough?"
Inventor: "Plenty. All the trials have shown that the average-sized mouse will be cooked medium-rare. Tender, succulent and still slightly pink in the middle to be precise. Remember, we already know the body mass of the mouse so we can adjust the cooking time to make sure it's perfect."
Me: "That's good. I think that might be important."
Inventor: "At this point the perfectly-cooked meal is transferred to a purpose-built serving dish accompanied by a side order of French fries. Then another hatch opens in the rear of the trap and the plate swings out where the owner's cat is waiting to eat the prepared meal."
Me: "How does the cat know when the meal is ready?"
Inventor (Looking puzzled for a moment): "Good point. We'll need to rig up an audio signal of some sort."
Me: "A bit like Pavlov's dog?"
Inventor: "Exactly. Except it's a cat of course. Anyway, the point is my invention is also environmentally-friendly, nothing is wasted, everything is re-cycled. And, the clincher is that you cut down on cat food bills. The device practically pays for itself in about six years."
Me: "Brilliant. Listen, your invention is so good I must take you along to meet my colleague Mr Prendergast. He'll love it. The thing is I'm an expert in business-to-business transactions. He's more into business-to-consumers which is where I think this application is most likely to find success."
Inventor (looking grateful): "I knew you'd love it. Everyone the market researchers showed it to said they would buy one. I'm going to be rich, aren't I?"
Me: "Erm, possibly. Look, that's his door just along the corridor there..."

In reality of course the device won't sell because:

1 All those people who told the market researchers they'd buy one already have an old spring-loaded moustrap their mother gave them years ago as a wedding present.

2 If you've got a cat you won't have mice

3 Most people with mice put down mice poison. Mouse traps are old technology - their time is long past.

But the main reason the mouse trap will fail is because the inventor has spent all his money developing the idea and has nothing left over for the marketing budget. And marketing is the key to success for any new product.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I've invented a new mouse trap of my own. It's a novel and it's called A Half Life of One. I've put all my energies into developing the thing and whether it's brilliant, indifferent or a potential blockbuster I'm still doing practically nothing about marketing it. The culmination of my life's work is languishing on my other blog, neglected and alone. I'm starting to feeling guilty about it. I need to do something or it's going to go the way of the mousetrap.

I'm going to be travelling for a couple of days but when I come back I'm going to have another look on this blog at the ways I can market my masterpiece to the waiting world.

International Blookreader Awards - the results

The International Blookreader Awards competition closed on the 31st March and I've spent the intervening period evaluating all the submissions which were of an unvaryingly high standard. So high in fact that it has proved impossible to choose an outright winner.

In the end I've decided to award a joint first prize to Carla Nayland and "Chateaulance" who both, oddly enough, chose to review Octavia Randolph's "Circle of Ceridwen". Both winners will receive book/gift tokens to the equivalent of £75.

Well done to both of you and thanks for making the effort.

I'll be taking an in-depth look at the Award and its role in the marketing of online blooks in a later post.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Breeding Talent

The main problem with the new model in online publishing I've described in several recent posts is marketing. As it is in traditional publishing. If you're are a new or middle-list author the amount of your publisher's marketing budget you are likely to corner will be miniscule. Either in relative or absolute terms. As a result, your chances of becoming a bestseller are much reduced.

A similar problem exists with new-style publishing. Take my own experience. By and large I'm reliant on the website Free Novels Online to market my book A Half Life of One. Now, all I know about this site is that it is owned and run by Jennifer L. Armstrong and that it started up in July 1999. I've no idea how Jennifer promotes the site, how many of a staff she has in the marketing department and what her marketing budget is. But here's my best guess. In her spare time. None. Zero. In other words she does it all herself out of the goodness of her heart. Okay, there is a bit of enlightened self-interest here because she also promotes three of her own books at the same time. All the same, she certainly gets my vote of thanks for a remarkable example of public spiritedness.

Notwithstanding Jennifer's valiant efforts I do think this part of the marketing function of the new publishing paradigm could be improved upon with a bit of investment in some professional marketing. The question is, where should the money come from? It strikes me that there are three possible sources:

1 The authors who will benefit from exposure on the site. The site could be owned and operated by the authors for example or they could pay some sort of royalty.

2 Agents.

3 Publishers.

Why would agents/publishers want to invest money in a site which is in some ways in competition with them. Well, because e-publishing and traditional publishing needn't be a zero-sum game. Think about it. Publishers are one of the few industries that develop new products and sell them without any real market research. In effect what they do is toss a handful of dust into the air and hope that some of it comes down as gold.

Try this scenario. A traditional publisher gets hold of - or develops - a site like Free Novels Online. The site is still free for anyone to post their novel to it in return for granting the publisher the first option on their book. The publisher then treats the site as a combination nursery/training ground and a test marketing arena. An online slush pile if you like with the public as readers. The publisher puts some decent money and marketing muscle into the site to make sure it gets plenty of visitors. The publisher then sits back and monitors "sales" of the free novels they are promoting. Those that sell well they convert into conventional books. Everybody wins.

I don't know if this model already exists. I'm sure it could be improved upon.

I'm equally sure that it is an opportunity waiting to happen.

Go visit

A couple of writerly sites that I've come across recently that are well worth a visit are The Inner Minx and Shameless Words. They're both writers who will go out of their way to encourage and help you, which is what it's all about really.

How to beat loneliness

People never visit? The phone never rings? No-one ever writes to you? Your in-box remains empty? You feel lonely and neglected.

The answer is simple. Start a novel. Within ten minutes of sitting down to write the first chapter I guarantee the phone will ring. It's amazing. It's almost as if they're out there watching you.

Patiently explain why you don't want to switch the balance of your lifetime debt onto your credit card to some guy in India. Hang up in exasperation, pulse racing. Calm down. Now, where was I?

Half way through that first chapter and trying to get it all down before you lose the thread? Don't worry, that's someone at the door. Jesus. No, thanks, I don't want to buy any more double glazing. No, honestly, thanks. Yes, it does sound amazingly cheap. It's just that my present windows, well, you know, I can see through them perfectly okay. Sorry. What? Please, don't cry. I know it's hard being a double-glazing salesman and you have my sympathy. But, hey, try being a novelist.

Get back to the screen, sit down, now where was I? The phone rings again! Jesus, what the fuck...? Oh sorry, what, next Friday? Well, I was planning to stay in and write my masterpiece but...okay... thanks. Right, it's been ages. See you then, then.

Fuck, better check my e-mail. Jesus, look at all these bloody questions. Why does everybody want everything right away? I suppose I'll have to answer them or I'll never be able to concentrate.

Back at the computer at last. The front door slams. "Honey, I'm home." Oh shit. Forgot about her. What time is it? Shit. Should have had the tea ready by now.

"What are you doing up there?"

"Nothing, dear." And that's the truth. Dammit.

More thoughts on becoming a publisher

I need to expand a little on my previous post.

The world of publishing has undoubtedly changed as the internet has evolved. For no-one more so than writers. The whole dynamic has shifted in our favour.

Think about it. Traditional publishing is a business with high overheads and big fixed costs. It is a small part of a marketing/supply chain with absolutely no leverage. The only way it can survive is by selling large numbers of books. Most authors are not going to sell in large quantities. Either because they are not very good, or their niche market is too small, because the market place is too crowded or because their publishers do not have the marketing muscle - for whatever reason - to make them a success.

By definition almost, traditional publishing is the wrong route to market for most writers. The internet, though, changes all that. So, based on my blogging experience, here's what I would advise if you want to start your own Publishing Company:

1 First write your book. This was, and still is, the hard part. Make sure you have a killer opening sentence because that's the only way you'll attract readers in the new world you're about to enter where attention span is short, not to say non-existent. In fact, keep everything short. Sentences, paragraphs, the whole damned book. Dickens or Walter Scott wouldn't cut it in the blogosphere. Readers, too, have changed.

2 Set up your own blog. One about yourself and your book. Promote this blog as hard as you feel inclined/have the time to spare. There's plenty of advice and help out there on how to do this. And it's not difficult. Nor does it cost anything. Use it as a promotional tool AND as a way of connecting with your fellow writers and, equally importantly, readers.

3 Now set up a second blog and put your book on it. Protect your masterpiece with a Creative Commons Licence in case it becomes a best seller/blockbusting film. Keep the layout clean and simple so that people can read it easily online. Turn your book into a PDF file and put that up as well. People can then download your book and read it at their leisure. Make sure you enable comments so that you get plenty of feedback. Your new readers are your new editors.

4 Link your book blog to those online book sites that suit your genre. They will channel a steady flow of vistors from around the world to your site.

5 If you get any favourable feedback on your book publish it in hardback/paperback via a print on demand company like Carla Nayland is following exactly this route. The Grumpy Old Bookman is doing something similar.

6 Pat yourself on the back because you are now a proper, bona fide author and publisher. And you've more or less done it all yourself.

Monday, April 03, 2006


I'm pretty nervous right now. Why? Because someone is reading my novel A Half Life Of One. It's not just any old reader either. Her name is Lynne W Scanlon, better known as The Publishing Contrarian. Or, if you prefer, The Wicked Witch Of Publishing.

How do I know? Well, yesterday alone she left six comments over on the Half Life blog. She's promised to finish the book (which is a little rash perhaps) and then let me have it with both barrels. If you've ever visited her blog you'll know that she doesn't hold back when it comes to criticism.

So I'm nervous. Very nervous in fact. The thing is, though, she's a publishing professional with a good track record. The kind of person it's usually impossible to reach via the conventional publishing route.

So, whatever she says, I'll take it like a man. In other words, I'll crawl off into a corner and break down in tears.


"Oh dear someone's got hiccups. Where are you Pundy, I'm missing my fix, have you got bird flu?" was the plaintive question posted by Minx at the weekend.

Yes, I think I have. Hiccups and bird flew both. Bloggers block I guess you could call it. It came on last week. Triggered I think by the realisation that in some ways the objective of this blog had become redundant.

As you know, I started the blog as a promotional platform for my novel A Half Life of One. But as I've said before, that has turned out to be a flawed business model. Flawed because its success depends upon me building up a large and regular readership to this blog. Something that's impossible. Even if I had something interesting or informative or amusing to say every day. Which I don't. Building up a widely-read blog is a full-time job for someone far cleverer than me.

And I want to be a novelist, not a blogger.

To make matters worse - or rather better - my new novel is coming along nicely. The time I previously devoted to my blog I now spend on my novel. Which partly explains the silence. I hope you can forgive me.

Not that I think blogging is a waste of time for a writer. Far from it. Since I started in October I've had a lot of fun, I've revitalised my flabby old writing muscles, I've made new friends, gained encouragement and, above all, learned a lot about writing.

I've also learned a lot about my book. A Half Life gets about 15-25 visitors a day. Most people look and go. A few download the PDF version. But every week two or three visitors hang around long enough to read the whole thing. I can tell all this from the stats and the feedback I get. Most of the visitors come from the website They come from all over the world too. Over the weekend I received an e-mail from a lady in India who thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is pretty amazing. What more could a writer want? Modest "sales", encouragement and really useful feedback. It's much more than I ever got in the world of traditional publishing.

There is one more step I think I may take. In a few weeks time I'll take a break from my new novel. I then intend to go back to A Half Life and subject it to one more revision, based on the feedback I've received. Then I'm going to make the book available via Print On Demand, as a proper hardback or maybe paperback. I'll do this because I know there's a few people who would like to own the novel as a proper book.

And the blog? Well, I still have some unfinished business here. There are the results for the International Blookreader Awards to announce for a start. And perhaps a little bit more on the lessons I've learned from this experiment. And I'm still trying to track down that Evelyn Waugh joke I wrote about earlier.

So, my dear Minx, you can look forward to a couple more fixes in the next few days. Indeed, I have to confess I've missed you too. And that goes for the rest of the regulars. I guess we're a great comfort to each other after all.