Where one writer leaves all his thoughts on books, music, writing and his daily life
Friday, March 29, 2013
Designation: Lazy Day
For the past few weeks, I've been stuck in a cycle. Mondays, I had to read for two reading seminars on Tuesdays (which I could have done over the weekend every week if I was smart about it) while also attending the Feedback Forum. Now, I'm happy I actually attended (especially considering I chair it...) but it's not a good idea to leave lots of reading for the night, too, so I was getting to bed pretty late, with a 9am start on Tuesdays.
That 9am start was followed by lectures until 4.30pm, with a break at 10am and an hour and a half lunch. This lunch was used on a few occasions for missed classes, so my day was regularly worse than I'd have liked.
Wednesdays were generally quiet enough for me to get my comic books before college, but then I had to read for another seminar for Thursdays. Thursdays were okay, but I was usually too tired to do much, so that by the time I finished lectures on Fridays, I had to do as little as possible. Once I came out of work at the weekends, I couldn't be bothered to get much done, before the week started all over again.
Add to this a bake sale in college one week and English week the next (which required me to set up, control and take down the lights for Drama Soc, a task which would have been much more difficult if a couple of people hadn't helped with the actual lifting of the lights to make sure they didn't break), and I was pretty damn exhausted.
Hence: noon yesterday.
Such was my tiredness that I spent most of my day playing Bioshock Infinity. It's the latest game to join the ranks in this house, and the first game I've played on the PS3 all year, if I remember correctly. I blame TP for that.
To gauge how much I played, rather than thinking of it in terms of hours... let's just say my eyes were bloodshot come bed time.
However, shooting white supremacists wasn't the only thing I did with my day. Having begun planning a book the day before, I decided it would be worth completing. The end result: a massive project that I actually feel equipped to complete during the summer. I had planned on writing this book last year, and I'm glad now that I didn't. The notes I had for that book weren't nearly complete.
So, while I had a lazy day, I still managed to accomplish something. I don't believe a day should be wasted, even if I want to spend most of my time killing game characters with hand cannons and a murder of crows. (God I love Bioshock!) But it was a mostly lazy day, and one I think I really, really needed.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Guest Post: What Does It Take to Publish a Book? (James Calbraith)
I’ve done this publishing shtick a few times now, so I gather I have a good experience. The following are a few pointers to what it really takes to publish your own book.
A line-by-line edit is much too costly an affair for an indie author; in fact, it’s increasingly costly for big publishers as well. So don’t take that – instead, if your editor offers such service, get an advisory edit, with general notes. This is an equivalent of a very thorough review, often with emphasis on what makes a book commercially successful, so if you’re in this game for money, you will need that.
Read the notes and take them all to heart. If you’re smart, you may not need to do that for every book you write – as long as you remember what you’ve learned that first time.
The edit for my first two books cost about a $1000 altogether.
2. PROOF READING.
Don’t make a beginner’s mistake. The one thing you HAVE TO DO is hire a proof reader, with good academic credentials, somebody who checks people’s writing for a living. Even if you decide to skip everything else, not hiring a proof reader is a crime against the community of indie writers. Don’t give everyone else bad rap because you’re a scrooge. Remember, this is all an investment.
Good proof readers don’t have to be costly. After some shopping around I ended up with one who takes only about $300-$500 per book, which is fairly reasonable. I’d advise against paying more than $1000 unless your work is highly academic.
As much as I like my covers, and it gives me a fuzzy feeling whenever somebody mentions how great they are, I’m not sure if a cover is very important marketing tool these days anymore. I’ve seen some real howlers on the best-seller lists, and it seems readers in certain genres don’t really mind what’s on the cover.
That said, if you do want a professional cover and have no skills to make one yourself (and most of us don’t, trust me), prepare to pay from $300 to $1000 for a cover, depending on level of detail and popularity of the artist.
4. FORMAT THE BOOK OR HIRE SOMEBODY
Becoming a publisher is easier than most people think, and it gives you plenty of advantages with almost no downsides. The most obvious advantage is full control over everything that happens with your book; you can decide your own promotions, you know exactly how many copies are sold – in case of e-books, on an hourly basis, paperbacks can take a while to register – and how much you earn. You get all the royalties for yourself.
The downside – you have to do everything yourself. But that’s not as scary as it seems. After the initial setup, there’s not much to do on the publishing side, and everything to do on the marketing side – but you’d have to do all the marketing anyway, no matter how you’re published. That’s the curse of a modern writer.
The setup of a publisher’s account should be fairly straightforward – at least, it is on KDP and Kobo. It doesn’t really matter whether you use just your name or a “publishing house” name; I use Flying Squid press name for my books, but in reality it’s just me and my wife :-) It may look a tiny bit more professional, I can’t really tell.
Set up your payments – since this year, Amazon offers bank transfers to everyone instead of checks, which I find a lot more convenient – and your tax affairs, if necessary. If you’re outside US, you will need to go through the W8-BEN hoopla; that’s worth a separate post, so just check Google about it.
6. UPLOAD AND PUBLISH!
It really is that simple! After making sure your book reads properly on the devices of your choice (use Kindle Previewer for Amazon, and any good ePub reading app for everywhere else), upload the book, fill out the forms, set up categories and keywords where necessary, set the price, and publish the book!
It will take up to a few days for the book to appear on the store website. Amazon usually takes about 12 hours, Kobo is a bit longer. You’ll be notified – or check your dashboard once in a while.
Once you can see the book is available for purchase, it’s time to get on with marketing: and that is where the fun ends and the real hard work starts!
Series: The Year of the Dragon #1
Author: James Calbraith
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Alternate History,
Publisher: Flying Squid
Format: Ebook and Paperback
Length: 70000 words
Purchase: Amazon |
"Fast paced and full of energy"
--Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt
"This manuscript is full of highly crafted detail that will make readers shiver at times with fear and delight ... a familiar yet highly original fantasy that is a worthwhile read."
-- Publishers Weekly
"The real-world cultures are incredibly well-researched and truthful, and yet well-balanced with the fantasy elements. An intriguing and impressive series."
-- Ben Galley, author of the Emaneska Series
It is the Sixteenth Year of Queen Victoria. In the powerful empire of Dracaland, Bran, a young dragon rider, joins his father on a military expedition to the mysterious lands of the Orient. In the reclusive Yamato, Sato, a tomboy samurai girl, strives to prove her right to inherit her father's school of western magic. Nagomi, a timid shrine apprentice, is haunted by the visions of dark future she must keep secret even from her best friend.
They don't know it yet, but their paths will cross... And when they do, nothing will ever be the same again.
Welcome to The Shadow of Black Wings, a steam-powered romp across the land of dragons, wizards and samurai. It's big, it's fast, it's been compared to Tolkien in terms of world-building, it has strong female characters and lots of carefully researched detail. You will meet the Royal Marines sailing mighty ironclads and Chinese walking machines; mysterious warlords and crazy inventors; you will discover dark prophecies, family secrets and blood-thirsty demons. And all that in just the first volume!
James Calbraith is a 34 year old Poland-born writer, foodie and traveller, currently residing in South London.
Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction, he had his first story published at the ripe age of eight. After years of bouncing around university faculties, he moved to London in 2007, found a decent IT job and started writing in English. His debut historical fantasy novel, ""The Shadow of Black Wings"", has reached ABNA semi-finals. It was published in July 2012 and hit the Historical Fantasy and Alternate History bestseller lists on Amazon US & UK.
Master Tanaka looked up in surprise - an hour of the Hare already? He turned towards the window and the pink light of dawn illuminated his face. The temple bell only now started to ring out the time. He sighed then yawned, rubbing tired eyes. Another night had passed without him noticing.
The elementals inside the clock awoke with a soft purr and the automatic brush began to move swiftly inside the glass cloche. A slot opened in the mahogany pedestal and spat out a piece of paper upon which was written the day’s divination. Hisashige reached for it absentmindedly, his attention focused on the piece of complex clockwork on which he had been working. He glanced briefly at the calligraphy - Oku, ‘a gift’. He smiled to himself and nodded knowingly.
A higher-pitched chime rang eight times – counting out the hours of the Western reckoning. The door slid open and a small boy entered the workshop. With his long and angular face, puffed lips and wide straight nose, he bore no resemblance to Master Tanaka.
‘It came from Kiyō this morning, Father,’ the boy said, presenting Hisashige with a large, ornately packed wooden box.
‘Excellent!’ the old master exclaimed.
He put the box on the workbench beside the clockwork and began to unwrap it eagerly.
‘Shūhan-sama was supposed to send me some Walcheren glass.’
He stopped abruptly and his shoulders sank when he saw the crest on the box, in golden leaf – three lines in a circle. He lifted the lid without enthusiasm. Inside was what seemed like a small human head, completely bald.
‘Some gift.’ Hisashige looked at the clock with reproach. ‘It’s just another of Zōzan’s broken dolls.’
Monday, March 25, 2013
A Last Time For Everything
This week is the last before my Easter holidays from college. It marks the last time I'll be taking such a break from education as an Undergraduate. Drama has already put on its last play of the year, for which I set up lights, and we're due to sit our last exams in May.
We've had group photos taken, dressed up for Halloween and Christmas, and have our final ball in college to attend next month.
There is a last time for everything, and it comes across as being rather frightening. With each Last Time our college lives are coming to an end. After our last exams, we'll go our own ways. Some will travel, others will work, others still will do a Masters Degree, and it's impossible to tell when everyone is guaranteed to come together again if not at our graduation.
But I don't want to dwell on the finality of Last Times. With each one, we have an opportunity to reflect on t he positive aspects of our lives together. When we finish up at the end of May, a whole world of possibilities opens up. We have a choice about how we each spend our lives. Each Last Time is an example of what we can strive to do in th future.
Personally speaking, the final performance in college is a sign that I can join a Drama group outside of college. I can keep acting, make new friends, new memories, put on new shows and play new parts and, eventually, have new Last Times; the last rehearsal, the last opening night, the last line, the last show.
The Last Time I see my friends before the summer begins is a sign of the sort of things we can do, before life sweeps in. Small gatherings, drinks out, movie nights in, dinner, a trip to theatre, concerts, even holidays. I don't believe they are just friends for college, even if talking to them consistently will be much more difficult.
The point is that just because we're experiencing a lot of things for the first time as Undergratuates, there are still plenty of ways to see each other, to do the things we love, to live some semblance of the life we've come to know.
This may be the last week before Easter, and the last time this happens to us as students, but next year will be the First Time we're not students right before Easter. We can have our first Christmases outside of education. If we aren't teaching or working towards another degree, we can have our first January not going into a school the moment the holidays end.
There is a last time for everything in this world, a last time we experience things in particular ways in our lifetimes, but that doesn't mean we can't experience new things. With every Last Time, we have the possibility of having another First Time. Someday, we can figure that one out together.
Friday, March 22, 2013
The Answer is...
The biggest problem with that is that I do most of my writing on my laptop. While I can use my tablet and keyboard anywhere, and have written blog posts in bed using them, I find it much more annoying than if I'm sitting at my laptop. I also can't write flash fiction while using my tablet, because I can't accurately judge how many words the story has. I don't like writing fragments of pieces on my tablet, so I can't write a novel/novella, and I can't concentrate when I'm in bed on writing an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book.
So what do I write?
My Twitter followers and my Writers' Soc friends might already know that the answer is...poetry. Which really surprised me.
I have never really considered myself much of a natural poet. I once tried writing a poem every day, and the end results were too awful to share with the outside world. However, more recently I've found that I can more easily express myself in poetry, and I tend to enjoy it more than I used to. I've written, if I counted correctly, 21 poems this year.
Okay, it doesn't seem like a lot when you add it all up, but considering the fact that's probably more than I wrote all of last year I'm pretty proud of myself. It's become a more comfortable experience, even though I'm usually lying uncomfortably in bed while I write in an A4 pad. I've written poetry about friendship and alcohol and relationships and Dublin. I've explored the weirder side of my mind, the feelings I've been hiding from myself, and the notion of death as someone I might have known from school passed away.
Overall, it's been a weird but fulfilling experience, and it has led me to the conclusion that anyone can make an attempt at writing poetry, and if they're honest with themselves they might actually produce something worth reading or listening to. The feedback I've received on some of my poems has been positive (I can't say anything about the poems people haven't heard or read or given feedback on, so... yeah...), and I didn't really consider myself much of a poet to begin with. Occasional poetry was the most I ever had to my name.
Now I'm a bed-time poet. If I haven't written anything on a given day, I pick up the notepad and pen and just start writing, not trying to come up with something clever half the time, just letting the words come out as naturally as possible.
If you're in a situation like I am, where you want to write as much as possible but find yourself without the time to write anything, there's an answer available to you. The answer is poetry.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Stepping Forward into Hell
Aside from writing a ton from my topic cards, I put together a cover for a book and planned another, Stepping Forward and the sequel to Balor Reborn respectively.
You might have noticed that Stepping Forward stopped being available for free last year. This was in preparation for the more serious aspect of my writing career; I didn't want to just share my writing for fun, as I had done when I initially made Stepping Forward available. I'm making publishing my books a business, as it should be.
However, I loved Stepping Forward too much to just let it disappear forever. It will be coming back, edited and revised and with a new cover. I had plans for this cover late last year, but I didn't follow through with them until this weekend past. I'm not a graphic designer, but I enjoy putting together covers. Thankfully I receive some feedback from people, so I don't end up with the first thing that comes to mind. As a result, I've ended up with the cover below for Stepping Forward. I'll have to have a look at the manuscript again to determine how much I need to rewrite to improve the book. After that, I'll have a (re)release date for Stepping Forward.
As for the sequel to Balor Reborn, it's finally planned! Entitled The Hounds of Hell, it takes us out to the West of Ireland to the Murray household, where the neighbourhood dogs are running wild and a strange sickness has fallen over the locals. I'll be planning the sequel before I start writing it, but with my track record in mind it shouldn't take long to actually write the book.
That sounds like bragging. It's not. (Okay, it's not just bragging.)
But with that in mind, it should be made clear that once I'm free of college and seminars and exams, I'll be able to crank out the rest of this series within the space of a few months. If I plan the remaining books before the end of my exams, I'll probably be able to write the rest of them by September.
And by saying that, I've probably jinxed it.
I suppose I should make it clear that I am not just working on the Modern Irish Myth books. I've got a couple of big projects for the summer, which you'll hear more about soon. I can confirm that they are not novels, though that doesn't mean I don't have novels to work on (the sequels to my two favourite NaNoWriMo books - Meet Sam and Bliss, for a start!). Again, both of these need to be planned completely before I start writing them.
But yes... I'm planning my future writing in a major way, with publication in mind. This is a business, after all, and I'd be made to ignore that fact.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Now, I will add: this wasn't a case of Amazon sweeping in with a mighty iron fist and stamping out my rights to publish my own books. This was something much less interesting: an unexplained technical error that cleared my books from the search function of Amazon, and made them unavailable to purchase even through a direct link.
You can see my predicament.
Amazon is the site through which I sell most of my books. At the start of the month, I noticed that neither Balor Reborn nor Writing Gifts, on a Shoestring were visible. Both were still visible through Kindle Direct Publishing, and set to Live, but that meant nothing in the real world. I was down two books, one of which was fairly new, the other of which has sold more copies than any of my other books.
Not good. And worse still: I was due to publish Planning Before Writing at the end of the week.
I decided not to get disheartened or bloodthirsty. I contacted Amazon, explained the problem, and they got back to me fairly swiftly. I confirmed that though they had managed to turn the books up in searches of their own (as my friend Ian managed, too), they were not showing up for me, and when I went through KDP to access them, they weren't available.
Planning Before Writing was still published, as planned, last Sunday. It listed live and was available, though my two vanishing acts failed to showed up.
Today, things picked up. I checked KDP to see if there were any updates on sales figures. This is something I do regularly, sometimes to feel like I'm doing work, mostly out of curiosity. That was when I found out that Amazon had solved the technical error that they had gotten some people working on. I knew, because Balor Reborn had sold a copy. It's been a long time since I was so happy to sell a copy of that book!
Why am I telling you this story? To put it simply, I think Amazon did something right, and to point out that these things can happen easily. It wasn't a malicious assault by Amazon, though they sometimes pick up bad press with Indie authors, and they fixed it. It took a while, but I imagine their servers are fairly busy.
Plus, I mentioned this on a couple of social networking sites, and I think it's only fair to make it official: everything's sorted now. I'm back in action, and my author page on Amazon has never been more pleased. Four books with my name on them are now floating around the wonderful land of online publishing. Setbacks like this aside, I think things are going quite well.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Most Likely To...
In college, preparations are underway for a Yearbook and for the End of Year Ball. As this is my final year, both are entirely relevant to me, and have required me to fill in sheets of "Most likely to..."s for my classmates.
The overall effect of these sheets? Well, for a start I feel old. Final year in college... how did that happen? When I was a child I used to think that Primary School was pretty much as far as you got. When you finish in school, that's it: story over, nothing else happens. Kids didn't grow up, make friends outside of the activities that existed when I was eight, write books, get a job, go to college, make a whole bunch of other friends, or have to think about the future as they approached the end of their time in college.
It was a simpler time.
But here I am, at the end, feeling old, and, well, second effect: thinking about the future.
See, the thought of who is most likely to travel the world, or get married first, or have their own talk show, or anything that has made its way onto the various lists, that's weird. It's a weird and alien thought and it basically leaves us with no choice but to think about the future. In saying that, it's not all about careers and what we will do immediately after exams end, but it's still all about the things that might happen to us as we move on past the college years.
I've had to think about this for a while, now, actually. There were worries that, at the end of the financial year, my shop might close. This was based on rumour and my own remarkable ability to become increasingly anxious about something as the hours go by. We're still open, thankfully, but I did have a plan in place in case things went sour. I had to. After the last time, I didn't want to be stuck thinking "What now?"
So, I drew up a list of various considerations. What would I have to sacrifice to hang on to money when I would need it most? This ended up being things like comic books and cinema trips. I don't go out much, and when I do go out...it's usually to the cinema. Once a week, if I'm lucky. I can't afford an unhealthy drinking habit. Yay me. (I'm joking here... it's not obvious, because most of my comedic value lies in being "sassy", as a friend of mine says. I enjoy going to the cinema every week. My liver is all the better for it, given the alternative.)
As well as the sacrifices, I had to consider how else I might make an income. I didn't presuppose employment right away, or easy access to redundancy money (from the company or the State). That's just the way things are. So, I listed the books I had planned to write, took all those weekend hours and Friday nights into consideration, and gave myself deadlines.
Then, I planned ahead further. I bought Tim Ferriss's book, as mentioned in a recent post, and devised some plans based on that. I've got a couple of things in mind, now, and some rough plans to follow through on them. Though Ferriss advises against making plans for three months from now (because they won't get done, most of the time), I don't have a choice. Unlike a lot of his readers who work 9-5 jobs, I have lectures, assignments and exams to think about.
However, all of this - and some previous forward thinking - has me semi-prepared for the future that I have no choice but to think about, thanks to my very position in college and the impending future. I'm sticking to the deadlines for books as closely as I can, working off a checklist I drew up for myself. I'm not cutting back on what I do each week, though I'm being more careful with my spending; I'm not just buying things for the sake of it. And, I'm making plans, for immediate effect, for the summer. This involves a lot of writing and work, but with an end goal in mind: making life more enjoyable for myself while I attempt to save up to work on towards a Masters Degree.
Seriously, I have lots of books on various topics to help me on my way in this. Marketing, business, psychology, mental health, writing, religion, IT and self-motivation are the major ones. Yeah, I read around. (Side note, the non-college books I'm reading at the moment are: 'Successful Business Plans', 'Superheroes and Physics' and 'Flagging the Problem'.) Varied topics, various uses, and I enjoy all of it.
I think I read in so many different areas out of fear of losing choices. John Green once spoke about how every decision we make in life invariably leads towards having less choices. We go to college and specialise in an area, and suddenly we don't have the option of doing something else. In my case, I specialise in English and Religion; I cannot become a heart surgeon after this. (I don't want to become a heart surgeon, mind you, and I don't think I'd be very good at it.) But I figure there are plenty of things I can do that I don't need to have specialised for, and by generalising my reading topics, I not only expose myself to various types of langauge and thinking, I allow myself some more choices. I could set up a business, or write a comic book, or simply write about the different topics I'm reading in. I could create a module for the new Junior Cycle Programme, or simply baffle students with a knowledge of things outside of my particular subject area.
Because of all this, stemming from a fear of losing choices, losing possibilities, and facing the future unprepared, I'm not sure that a "Most Likely To..." can accurately describe what my life will be like. I think it says more about who I am now, and how I appear to other people. But just as importantly, it gives me an idea of what I have the option to do or become. I couldn't ask for anything more at the end of my course than a possibility.