I seem to have been handing out quite a lot of advice recently about self-publishing and how to write, and when to write, and how to do this and that etc etc. Not that I’m the world’s greatest expert. Far from it. I’m just getting by and looking to share a few thoughts about how it is from my side of the road, and has been for over sixteen years, with anyone who needs a hand.
And all this self-publishing advice…is it worth it? I’d like to think most of it is.
So, is there a certain way we should all be doing things? A way to guarantee success with your writing and self-publishing?
Obviously, in general, it does pay to work to a set of ‘rules‘ or ‘guidelines‘ about writing and self publishing, particularly if you don’t know where to start. I have to be honest and say that’s more or less why I moved into the self publishing ‘thing‘ all those years back.
All the advice is meant to help those who might be struggling. It’s meant to save them all the hassle I had when I started, and I’m sure there are many first time writers out there who appreciate any help they can get, from whatever source.
Self publishing is extremely rewarding, there’s no doubt about that, but it does have its downside.
In the short term there’s ‘instant success’. You have your book out. In print or online. Great. Excellent. Life is fine!
Then you hit the wall – sales dry up. Selling even the odd book now and then won’t satisfy you. You’ll feel as though the whole thing has been a monumental waste of time. It’s natural. But don’t give up.
In the end I believe the real winners in this crazy writing/self publishing game will be the ones who somewhere along the line ‘dare to be different‘. I believe these guys (gals) are the ones who will stand out from the crowd. The ones who will write something so sensationally original that everyone will sit up and take notice. At some point you have to try to be one of those people.
I suppose in a nutshell what I’m saying is…..yes, follow the guidelines, follow the rules, take all the advice you can get, read as much as you can about self publishing, even those ‘interesting‘ articles ‘How I made a Million Bucks in a Weekend by Self Publishing’. There will be some advice in there that will be useful.
But in the end if you want to hit the big time I believe you must Be Original.
Dare to break the rules. Think the unthinkable. Try the impossible. Write the way you want to write. Walk on your own side of the road.
It will be a difficult journey. Of that there is no doubt. But if you have the courage and the self-belief to keep going and create something that is truly original, then you will make it. I’m sure of it.
I woke up this morning with a headache. Not just a headache but, you know, a HEADACHE.
Self-inflicted? Well, yes and no, but not the way you think.
Okay I had a drink. One. Vodka with a lot of tonic and ice, no lime. But I doubt that was the culprit. It was writing.
Now if you’re of a certain age, let’s say 30 or below, you will have stopped reading by now because quite rightly you will have cottoned on to the fact that I’m about to bang on about that seven letter word ‘posture‘. Yep. I never thought I would do this but I have to say something before it’s too late.
Amazingly, I too was once 30 or below and posture meant nothing. Who cared. I was young and what was a headache? Big deal. Well, I can tell you right now, a headache is something I don’t need. It will lose me at least two if not three hours today. Time I would have liked to have spent tapping away at the keyboard.
So the problem was this….I was on a roll yesterday. All the books I’ve produced and published for authors recently are at the print stage and so yesterday was a ‘free’ day to write for myself…and I did. Ten hours, split into two five hour blasts.
Okay, I did have the odd break for liquid refreshment, teas and coffee, and the vodka, but even they were taken ‘at the desk’. Not a good idea. Particularly the way I slump over the keys and peer at the screen. To make matters worse I ended up typing in the dark with a dim spotlight over my shoulder, hunched up. It helped with the writing. It concentrated the mind. But in the end did damage to the body. Bad posture and too long at the keyboard = a bad headache this morning.
So, to sum up – even if you are ‘in the groove’ with your writing do try and take time to refocus your eyes. Go outside, take some air into your lungs, move around (whatever that means) and give your body a break. It will help. If I had taken an hour out yesterday it would have added two hours to today, so it does make sense.
And finally, as boring as this may sound try and find a good chair, one that will support your back properly. And don’t slouch. I do all the time and it is not what you want to be doing even if you are 30 or below….it’s just a thought.
Word Count. Is it important? Sort of.
Is that the answer you were hoping for? I’d be surprised if you said ‘Yes’.
So, the question is, should we all be writing our next novel with word count in mind? No. But it does help to know how many words your book is rattling up as you go along, just for the heck of it. Then when you’ve completed your great masterpiece you can check the Word Count using Microsoft Word (obviously) and you’ll be left with a figure of, let’s say 64,000 words. So what does that really mean? Is it enough? Too few? Too many? Does it really matter? Are publishers concerned about word count? Sort of.
It seems there are lots of people wanting to know the word count of popular books, and if you Google the question you’ll find one or two answers that appear to offer the magic answer, but to be honest they don’t work, well they do, but not enough times for my liking. Sort of.
Going back a year or so there was a feature on Amazon (USA only) that showed you the actual word count of some books, but as far as I can see that has been discontinued. Apologies if you know something I don’t (it’s likely) but it’s not something I want to have to rely on.
There is also a website called Renaissance that can give you the word count of popular classics etc etc, but it’s not what I’m after either.
Okay, so two things now spring to mind….what is the best word count for a modern book, be it adult fiction or children’s book, and how can we all find out the actual word count of books we like?
Answers: there is no ‘perfect’ book length but I can give you some ideas. According to some pundits the ‘average’ length of a novel is around 64,000 words. But average, as we all know, is meaningless. However it does give us a starting point. Lord Of The Flies was 62,000 (give or take) Brave New World was 64,000. Yet there are examples like War And Peace at 544,000 and Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy at 46,000.
So word count in itself is meaningless in some respects. Sort of. If the book is good it will sell and be popular. I remember someone once saying to me “Children’s books should be short, there’s no point writing War and Peace!” Oh yeah? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,000…
But, here comes Answer 2, which I think is where it does get interesting. Sort of.
I find word count works with books I really enjoy. I’m intrigued by word count. I often try and guess the word count just by the feel of the book and a quick glance through it. Yes, that does sound rather sad doesn’t it? Slightly more difficult is to try and estimate word count by just reading and enjoying (or not). But it’s not accurate. The only accurate (ish) (sort of) way to find the word count is to count them yourself. ‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘You cannot be serious?‘. Yep. Sort of.
It’s easy enough to do. This is my way. You may have a better one, but this works for me. I look for a page with a full dense page of text and I count the number of words accurately…lets say 260 words.
I then count a slightly less dense page…they are there……it comes out at 240 words. I now have my ‘dense page’ average of 250.
I casually flip through the book and look for half pages or short pages and count them (roughly)…these will average out at half pages. I make a note of the half pages.
And finally I check the number of pages in the book. With a calculator I multiply page number by average page count less the half pages…..it sound ridiculously difficult and time consuming but in reality it isn’t and it’s surprisingly accurate. And that’s what I do. I like to know what’s what.
Sorry to have taken so long to explain all this word count business, and I forgive you for thinking “Steve, why bother? Life is too short (484 billion words)” to which I can only reply, “It’s just something else I can use in my checklist to try to get the best possible book” plus, on one last serious point….. in my role as self publisher, word count let’s me tell my potential clients how large their book will be and the cost of printing that number of pages. It’s what I do. That’s why I do it I suppose. Sort of.
This is not really a writing tip as such, nor is it original. I hold my hands up there. Guilty as charged.
But, if you’re serious about your writing you need to do a little experimentation, change things around every now and then, just to see what happens. You never know, like life itself, you may be pleasantly surprised.
So here’s the idea…if your comfort zone is ‘third person’ why not write something short along the lines of a really bad spoof pulp fiction paragraph or two? Don’t put any effort into writing it, anything will do as long as it’s ‘hammy’. The idea in this exercise is not to take yourself too seriously, just write something that’s so completely ‘bad’ you won’t feel….er….bad…about it. For example, here’s my woeful attempt…..
“It had been a bad day for Frankie. Work had sucked big time. He knew the only way out was to stop by at Alice’s burger bar on Tweedledum street for a slice of her mighty hot apple pie and a side order of ice cold Buds. Alice had a way of making him feel whole again.….” That will do for starters. Third person.
So, let’s switch it round to first person….
“It had been a bad day. Work had sucked big time. I knew the only way out was to stop by at Alice’s burger bar on Tweedledum street for a slice of her mighty hot apple pie and a side order of ice cold Buds. Alice had a way of making me feel whole again…” Something like that. I know it’s rubbish but you get the drift.
Or how about making it first person present tense?
“It’s a bad day. Work sucks big time. I know the only way out is to stop by right now at Alice’s burger bar on Tweedledum street for a slice of her mighty hot apple pie and a side order of ice cold buds. Alice has a way of making me feel whole again….” A small change but a significant one. A tricky thing to write too…and one that would take a lot of effort to get right. This in itself might be an exercise to really stretch your writing muscles.
So, why not have a go at writing something quite short? Nothing special. Nothing that you have to care about. It can be as bad as the above example if you like, and that’s pretty bad by any standards. It’s just a writing exercise.
By switching from your comfort zone of always thinking in third person, try considering setting your story in first person. It can make a massive difference to your writing, and as I say, even if you don’t want to use first person in your stories at least it’s allowed you to write and relax at the same time, and that’s a bonus.
Here’s something you might like to try…I call it ‘Powerwriting‘.
It’s not exactly a cure for the dreaded writer’s block but it would certainly help. I gave it a blast the other day and it seemed to work, so I would be interested to find out if it is useful for you.
Okay, here’s the format. You set aside ONE HOUR of your time…I stress this has to be YOUR time. No distractions, no phone, no kids, no partner, no tea, no coffee, no sex, particularly not that, and no mobile phone. This is your one hour, no one else’s. Yours. Got that?
Right. Set the time. Perhaps 8.31pm. Be ready to write in your favourite spot by 8.29pm. Have all your writing implements handy…laptop, pen, paper, notebook…anything you will need to write, but no other distractions….not even that musical plastic dragon that dances and sings Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes every time you bang on the table….(I know you’ll miss it) but nope…not even that.
Okay, you are allowed one clock, either on the wall or near at hand. At exactly 8.31pm begin writing, and I mean straight away. I don’t care if you have nothing to say or nothing on the go or nothing in your head….WRITE…..if you can’t think of anything to write then begin writing “I have absolutely nothing to say…..” and continue FOR ONE HOUR SOLID. Yes, I realise it’s a long time, and you may want to wander outside for five minutes to get a breath of air but I forbid you to do it….otherwise it’s not Powerwriting it’s just Normal Writing. I don’t even care if you think “This sucks. And the guy who told me to do this sucks too.”
You must not stop to consider anything…once you get on a roll, continue rolling.
One hour. Non stop. Power your way through that writing, really hammer the keys, push that pen, make the paper burn….. and at exactly 9.31pm stop. Do not continue. Even if you are on the verge of a major masterpiece I forbid you to continue. There is a reason but I’m not going to tell you what it is right now.
Now go make yourself a mug of coffee or lie horizontal for ten minutes. Forget everything. Do not even look at what you have written. You might even go and indulge yourself in whatever it was you didn’t do in the last hour that you would have preferred to do, with whoever.
Feel like giving Powerwriting a try? Go on, I dare you. See what happens.
I’ve just had an interesting half hour checking out some of the blogs by writers, self publishers and would be published authors who I regularly check out, and a handful of them mentioned the word ‘fear’ in their posts. But fear of what exactly? I’ll elaborate.
As writers I think we all feel confident when beginning a project, be it a novel, autobiography or whatever. It’s why we love being writers I suppose, the thrill of creating something new, fresh, exciting, original, stimulating. Not to mention the ‘fun’ of actually ‘writing’.
Then the novel is completed. It’s as good as it will ever get. It’s time to do something with it. And this is where fear strikes.
Will anyone else love it as much as me? Will it flop? Will I look a fool? Will I have wasted time and money for nothing? Will I end up bewildered? What was the point of it all? Any of these sound familiar?
But then, after a while, you pull yourself together, you get a grip, and tell yourself it was all worth it. The novel is good. People will like it. Will love it. Great. Move on.
Of course, eventually you realise, after selling 100 books, that nothing much has changed. Yes, you reached 100 souls and perhaps if you’re lucky changed their lives for the better or, if nothing else, put some fun into their lives. So what now?
And the answer you get from people like me is…. “Sell your book, promote it, publicise it and promote it until it cannot be promoted any more….oh, and by the way, if you really want to hit it big……PROMOTE AND SELL YOURSELF“.
Oh My God! Yep, at some point, if you really want to make the breakthrough you need to sell yourself. Big time. It’s not the only way to be a success, but it will certainly help. Anyone reading your book and loving it will want to know about YOU, what kind of person you are, what makes you tick, what kind of a person could write such a great piece of literature? And I would be in that category too. I would want to know about you.
But if there’s nothing there other than a blurred photo on a blog that hasn’t been updated for three months I might be a tad disappointed. I would search around for you, Google, and would find obscure references to you on sites that might do nothing for your image…..so how much better then to have pre-planned a selling strategy for yourself.
Get a photo of yourself that works…..it might only be a snap, but make it fabulous, take it from a weird angle, look cool….it WILL help. Don’t be frightened of taking positive action. Fear is the enemy. Banish it. I know it’s difficult, but you need to get rid of it.
Your blog should be up to date too….you don’t have to write monster posts….just a snippet…but regularly. A website would definitely help with a ‘call to action’ link to buy your book or get in touch with you.
To be honest I could list 100 ways to promote yourself that would work and not be spammy or hammy or bad taste. It would be easy. However, my guess is you’ve got the picture by now so I will shut up. But, believe me, promoting just the book might work, but promoting the book AND yourself WILL work. It will.
Don’t let fear win. Don’t be frightened of selling yourself. Be positive. Small steps at a time. But get there.