Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Scott Bury - The smartest thing I’ve done, the biggest mistake I’ve made—as a writer

The best thing I have ever done as a writer is actually finishing the project, followed closely by getting involved with other writers through social media.

Over the years, I have had many great ideas—at least, I think they’re great—for novels. The list, when I write it down, spans several genres, and the stack of paper I’ve wasted on—I mean, devoted to them is high. But until I finished The Bones of the Earth nearly two years ago, I had never even gotten close to completing a novel-length story.

That’s why I was so pleased to complete it, and I did not shy away from revising, re-writing, submitting it to beta-readers, an editor and to reviewers. I wanted feedback. I went back and changed it several times, and while revising, revised some passages over and over again.

But while refining and polishing your work is certainly essential, it’s useless until you actually complete something. It’s not a story until you bring the reader to some kind of satisfying conclusion, tie up your loose ends and resolve the conflicts.

Unlike those writers who say “I don’t like writing; I like having written,” I actually like the process of putting words on the screen or page. Selling my words, however, is not something that I enjoy. But I recognize that without marketing and distribution, writing a complete book is not very useful. What’s the point of writing without readers?

That’s why, after actually writing a novel, the next best thing I did was to engage with other writers. Sympathetic fellow writers are legion, and easy to find through media like Twitter and online forums. They’ve provided great advice, but most important, encouragement simply by reading the words I write. And kind words left as comments on my blog have made a huge difference.

Other authors and readers have also provided invaluable advice and information on that long road that’s called publishing, the process of getting your book, however well polished and thoroughly reviewed, edited and tweaked it may be, in front of readers’ eyeballs.

It amazes me that such talented and knowledgeable people provide this information for free. Want to know the essential steps you should take to promote your book? There’s no end to the strategies, advice and tips available at no cost from some very smart and experienced writers on the Internet. For free!

Biggest mistake

The biggest mistake I have made, my greatest regret, is taking too long to complete this work. I took more than five years to write The Bones of the Earth.

I also regret not finishing another work that I began even before that book: a novelized memoir of my father-in-law, focusing on his time in the Soviet Red Army and his escape from a German POW camp in 1942. I did many interviews with him and a lot of other research, but did not complete it before he passed away. His story is my current work in progress.

On the other hand, I am a better writer at this stage of my life than I ever have been before. Sometimes I will look at stories I wrote in my 20s and shudder.

My life experiences, particularly as a father, informed my writing of my first-finished novel. Certainly, the book would have been different if I had written it 10 years ago. So maybe, the long time was a necessary part of my maturing as a writer (if not as a man).

I have gotten over the performance anxiety that I think a lot of potential writers feel—the fear of rejection that keeps so many from even trying. Partly, that’s because I have been a professional writer of business articles for 20 years. I know that readers find my writing acceptable, at least—that I can measure up to the professional standards of writing. And partly, it’s because of that encouragement of the writing community. So, thank you, gentle readers.

If I have any advice for writers, it’s this: first, write the book. Figure out what the story is and write it down. Re-read it, revise it, make sure there are no loose ends or plot holes or incredible moments. Make it as good as you can.

Then, turn to the greater writing community. You may want to join groups in your own home town, or forums on the Internet. I advise doing both. Take advantage of the knowledge that others have made available. Ask others to read and review your work, and take their advice to heart.

And don’t forget to offer what you have, too.

Please visit Scott's blog

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Black Beast by R. S. Guthrie

Black Beast (A Clan of MacAulay Novel)Black Beast by R.S. Guthrie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Black Beast grabbed me from the very first chapter. I don't get a lot of time to read, usually twenty minutes in bed, but this was a story I couldn't put down and I found myself having early nights just to get my next fix.

The characters are beautifully drawn without slowing down the pace of the book and every time I picked up my kindle it was just a few sentences before I was drawn into Bobby Mac's world. I saw the characters so vividly it was as if I was watching the film version (and surely there will be one with such a great plot).

Guthrie has created a protagonist in Bobby Mac that will push Alex Cross all the way, and I can see this turning into an epic series of novels.

I have no hesitation in giving Black Beast five stars and will be first in line to buy the next of Guthrie's works.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The next book you buy could make all the difference...

In difficult times like these it is often hard to think of others when you have barely enough for yourself, but people still find time to do their bit for charity. Whether it is a sponsored run or volunteering at a local hospice, they give their time so that others might benefit.

Unfortunately we aren't all fit enough to jog for ten miles, and we might not have the time to do a shift in the canteen, but there are other ways we can make a difference to the lives of others.

My good friend Rob S. Guthrie came up with what I see as the perfect idea in the form of RABMAD. Millions of books are purchased every day and the profits go to the publishers, editors and authors (or in the case of indie authors, just to the author themselves). However, there are over a dozen authors on RABMAD who are pledging a percentage of their royalties to good causes, such as Benefit4Ben.

For my part, fifty percent of the royalties I receive from Gray Justice will be shared between the British Heart Foundation and Barnardos. This means that every time someone purchases a copy for 99 cents, they are not only getting a fantastic read, but are also supporting these great charities.

And that's how simple it is: you READ A BOOK (something you would have done anyway) and at the same time MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If you're a reader, get over to RABMAD and check out the great authors. If you're an author, why not join us?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

So what do I get for my 99 cents?

Well, for one thing you’ll be helping towards the discovery of the next Tom Clancy, Stephen King or Jackie Collins, depending on your genre. You see, all of the above, at one point in time, were first time authors no-one had ever heard of, yet now they are household names. They made the transition from unknown to unforgettable because they had big publishing houses behind them, companies willing to take their product to the public.

That in itself wasn’t enough to generate sales, though. What they needed was the public to believe the hype and actually read their work. Once they had, word began to spread. Not at its current rate (the internet wasn’t around in those days) but through traditional advertising methods such as magazine articles and also word of mouth.

But flourish they did, and now they have built up such a following that their next release is guaranteed sales with the minimum of promotion.

It’s not quite the same for the indie author, though, and the main reason we initially struggle is that many people associate the word ‘indie’ with ‘unpublishable’. If our books are so great, why haven’t we been snapped up by one of the big publishing houses?

The answer is simple: we no longer need them. Self-publishing has become so easy that anyone with a little knowledge of Microsoft Word can format a manuscript and upload it to Amazon or Smashwords and make it available to the world. By going it alone the author can realise much better royalties than they would get with a publishing house and have complete control over their work.

This does bring about the main problem, though: anyone can self-publish a book regardless of their ability to tell a story. The only way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to look at reviews.

I have been lucky that Gray Justice has been well received on Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords, with over 20 reviews, the vast majority 5 star and the rest 4 stars. This was only possible because a few people were willing to risk 99 cents and were rewarded with what they considered a great read.

So the next time you see a book that catches your eye but you feel reluctant to take a chance on a new author, take a look at the reviews. They will go a long way to telling you what a literary ride you’re in for.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The road to writer stardom...

...looks like a beautiful tree-lined avenue when viewed on Google Maps, and like many others I was tempted to take a stroll.  Like a rainbow, you can’t quite see where it starts or where it ends, but there are tags near the far end showing the location of buildings such as Fame Villas and Money Mansion. 

It only looked to be about two hundred yards long, so I set off at a jog and soon realised that I hadn’t been looking at the scale properly.  I also hadn’t noticed the side roads branching off every few yards, or that the road had a huge camber which would propel you into an off-ramp before you knew it.

The first side road I came across was Lethargic Lane.  Who knew that writing could take up so much of your time?  I leave the house to go to work just before seven in the morning and I get home just before four in the afternoon.  Fine, plenty of time to do some writing.  But then  as soon as you walk through the door there are your daughters and they both want a piece of Daddy.  Once they’ve had their fill it’s Mummy’s turn to catch up on the day’s events, followed by dinner and a spot of reading with the girls.  After they’ve had their bath and are finally settled down for the evening it’s time to turn on the laptop and see what’s been happening on Twitter.  New friends to greet, people to thank for the shoutouts, mentions and retweets, then a scroll through the lists to see what my friends have been up to.  With Twitter and the rest of my emails dealt with it’s time to open the book and add to that word count.  Trouble is, by this time the Sandman has been round and he’s been extra generous with me, so after a couple of paragraphs my eyes are screaming for sleep.  Off I go to bed, and wake at five the next morning to do it all again. 

Every time I glance down Lethargic lane, with its comfy sofas and widescreen TV, I get the occasional pang of jealousy, but that isn’t the road I want to take.

To the right we have Disillusionment Drive, and I must admit I have taken a few steps down there.  The trouble is, it looks a pleasant enough road, sloping down to a beautiful lake with a quaint old pub on the shore.  Unfortunately you never realise how slippery that slope is until you’re on it.  One of my daily rituals is a quick surf to see if anyone hated the first book, Gray Justice, and a visit to the Amazon reports page to see how many sales I had that day.  While the reviews have been four stars and above, the sales figures haven’t moved in weeks.  How can that be?  Were the reviewers just being kind?  Is there a blog somewhere that slates Gray Justice and tells everyone to avoid it like the plague?  Maybe if I just go a for a couple of pints in that pub I can forget about writing and everything will be okay…

Thankfully I have friends who pull me back before the momentum builds.  “Snap out of it and get back on the right road, Alan!”

So I trudge along Stardom Lane, the wind in my face and the rain lashing me from every angle.  I see others all around me, all making the same journey.  I watch the occasional fellow traveller take a side road while others cruise past me in their reader-powered limousines, tearing off into the distance to claim their reward, whatever it may be.  I often yearn for a lift from one of them, but I know that if I did that I would never reach the end of the road. 

It is a journey I have to make by myself (with my friends to guide me).

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The new look Jambalian blog

You might not know this, but people who work in the software business often have a lot in common with those who fix cars for a living.  By this I mean some people are great at tuning engines, while others are a dab hand at prettyfying the bodywork.  In my case I can build you a great interactive website that does wonderful things behind the scenes, but when it comes to the look of the page I often let myself down.

That is why I have decided to let Blogger do the hard work and style it for me.  As of now I am replacing my own jambalian website with this one in the hope that I don't fall foul of the aesthetics police.

Hopefully this new blog will give me the encouragement to share my thoughts more often, so watch this space.
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