Category Archives: Publishers

Story: In The Beginning…

Where do you start your story? A key question and one of hundreds if not thousands to be answered when writing and publishing a book. Do you start when your character is born or before? When they are a child? A teenager? An adult? When they get married? When they are old? Do you start at the point of death or after and tell the story in flashback?

If you were telling the story of your life, where would you choose to start and why? Looking at your characters in the same way and treating their lives as real can be hugely beneficial. When you start treating them seriously, they become more realistic to you and hopefully your readers.

When a potential reader opens your book, how do you pique their interest? Your first sentence is crucial. The point you choose to start the story will determine that first sentence. The whole structure is like a line of dominoes (no, not the pizza place); set the first one right and the rest should stand. Get it wrong and they all could topple.

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It took me many years to publish my book The Vorbing and, during that time, I wrote many different versions of it. I went through a city map of blind alleys but it taught me what worked and didn’t work each time and sharpened the story. When the time came to pull all the strands together, I could use all the best bits from all the various drafts to come up with a kind of “greatest hits” version of the story. All those ideas gave the whole thing a fast pace and fresh perspective. I won’t have that luxury on book two, but such is the challenge of writing.

This is where a fresh pair of (preferably experienced) eyes on your work can pinpoint a loss of initial focus. Even if you need to lose earlier material, you can use it later in the story or in a sequel or even just as backstory to help you know your characters better. No piece of writing is ever really wasted. You can cannibalize it later or even combine bits to create a new story (Anne Rice was writing a book set in Atlantis and hit a dead end, so she put her vampire Lestat into the mix and, hey presto, got a new Vampire Chronicles book out of it – Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis.)

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That old cliche “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is doubly true for writers, especially in the internet age. If someone is viewing a preview of your book using the “Look Inside” option on Amazon, that mouse button is right at their fingertips and they are ready to click off if you fail to hook them. So think carefully about that first sentence. Be original. Be surprising, but be true to your characters, your story and yourself above all.

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

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In Pursuit of the Mighty Whoosh: The 21st Century Writer

Being a writer in the 21st century is like being the driver of a very jerkily-driven vehicle. You’ve dreamt up ideas, written them, shaped them, rewritten and edited them and published them. Then you have to switch hats and sell your work. Now you find yourself measuring your book’s merit and your own self-worth by reviews, ratings, rankings, likes, shares, follows, analytics and sales. If they rise, your confidence rockets with them. If they mysteriously drop, you become frozen with doubt. You can control your writing up to a point. After that, it’s up to readers, reviewers and bloggers to spread the word. You can’t make people buy something they don’t want no matter what social marketing gurus say (who are biased witnesses involved in the hard sell).

It is healthy to get away from that draining stuff for a while. Major writers have people to handle sales of their work. They have agents, managers and the might of publishing houses behind them with their huge advertising budgets and key media contacts. Self-published writers only have themselves and their savings to rely on. That only goes so far unless they have great connections or access to bigger sums of money. If not, they may have to accept defeat on their beloved project when the cash runs out.

Some people say make your own luck but if everyone could do that, we’d all be successful. Life is never that simple or easy. Luck is mostly being in the right place at the right time. The wind catches your sails and whoosh, you’re off. Nobody can plan for that. It just happens. Word of mouth is another way. A neglected work slowly begins to pick up. Sales rise, reviews become more plentiful and positive and you’ve caught the Mighty Whoosh again.

Being an author now is a marathon, not a sprint. The idea that you could hit the send button, publish your book and it would become an instant bestseller really is a fantasy. It will take many months, if not years, to build up a loyal readership and a solid body of work. There is even the possibility of posthumous recognition Van Gogh-style. To become rich and famous when you’re no longer around to enjoy it would be cruel but better late than never. At least your heirs may benefit from your delayed Mighty Whoosh.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

The Vorbing Cometh: October 29th, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, at long, long last (19 years), my book The Vorbing is finally available for pre-order on Amazon.

US: 

UK: 

Exciting times ahead in the near future. Join me.

Indie Piranhas & The Book Promotion of Doom

Indie authors, book marketers and promoters can be a bit like Piranhas sometimes. Once they lock onto you, they start ripping strips off you with their desperate over-enthusiasm, frothing the waters of the information superhighway with your virtual blood. Their bio on Twitter smothers you with grand statements about themselves (“I’m a writer/producer/actor/director/philanthropist/mountaineer/marketer on a personal journey of discovery.” Puh-leese!) and links to all their zillion websites and profiles. Then they send you a direct message bombarding you with more of the same. Their tweets tend to be frenzied, repetitive, spammy Amazon links that clog up your timeline with free giveaways of books you’d never read if you were paid to.

It gets worse because their legions of followers are just like them. Once they see you being bombarded, they join in. Soon you’re inundated and struggling to breathe. Indie Piranhas in action, ladies and gentlemen. Is it any wonder self-publishing has a bad name?

Trying to stand out from all of that is difficult. Nobody knows a first-time indie author yet and the writer themselves doesn’t know who to trust as they’re new to it all. Influencers are important but it could cheapen your brand and hobble you from the start to go with the wrong person or company spamming your book details out everywhere in a scattergun fashion. My old history teacher used to call it “blanket bombing”, i.e. pumping out everything you know on the subject instead of actually figuring out precisely what is needed.

Trial and error is the only real way to learn. You can take advice from people, but you really won’t know until you take the plunge and go for it and see for yourself. It’s the same with relationships, you will meet people that will lie to you, rip you off and break your heart but you have to keep going until you find the right one for you. When you do, everything that was awkward and stressful becomes natural and straightforward. The gears stop grinding and everything flows beautifully.

For all the empty promises on the internet, results will speak for themselves. You will see quickly if it is having any impact on your book sales. The reality is that I only read books that I want to read. I don’t read books that I feel are compulsory or because some stranger tries to pressure me into doing so. That has the opposite effect on me. (Reading is always a joy when I follow my tastes and interests.) It is counter-productive in the long run but they still keep pumping that white noise out to anyone that will listen. Think small, be small. Only the indie authors that can see the bigger picture will be able to haul themselves out of the primordial swamp of the cold-calling hard sell and become fully-fledged writers.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.