On the brink

(Just to add today, 13th June, I wrote this on June 1st and it stayed gathering dust as a Draft until today).

I expect we all know the feeling of being on the brink of something new.  It may be only a minor change, or it may be something enormous like a life decision.  The feeling links up the mind and the body to disturbing effect.

I experience this often.  In the last few days I’ve been on the brink of making decisions about my work as a writer.  Last year I set up this WordPress site, knowing I should do something public as a writer, having – after a long silence – self-published three books with Createspace on Amazon.  I had decided to give up attempting to clamber back into the traditional publishing world.  I would fling myself into the ocean of self-publishers and take part in all the activities – blogging, engaging on social media, and so on – necessary to promote myself, my titles, and sell some copies.

For some reason, which I’m sure I thought logical at the time, I established the domain name aliveinww2.    This is the title of the non-fiction book, one of those three on Createspace, subtitled The Cousins’ Chronicle, commentary and memoir.  It’s based on family wartime newsletters and of course some present-day cousins – at various levels of kinship – were interested enough to buy copies.  Beyond them, did anyone fork out the eight necessary pounds or equivalent dollars to buy and read this book … very few, if any.  I probably thought that by using the title as domain name I might  help sales.

I set up this WordPress site with this URL and made myself explore the world of blogging.  I began to understand just how every second person in the world thinks they can write.   People sometimes tell Peter when admiring his work, that they’d dearly love to be able to draw and paint but they can’t.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t think they can write.  After all, they’ve done it ever since they learnt to hold a pencil.  Of course a lot of people do realise that it is an art like any other.  You need a certain amount of inborn talent to start with, then a lot of hard work, experiential learning and perseverance.

One of the things I’ve found hard is being part of this unregulated world.  There is no quality control at all.   When anyone of whatever merit,  lack of talent or basic literacy can publish their writing, how can readers find a decent read?   I learnt about book bloggers, and decided that this would be a way to reach the kind of readers who might like my kind of writing.  A trawl brought up the name of Teddy Rose who organises digital book tours http://virtualauthorsbooktours.com.  I signed on, full of hope.  (I’m a incurable optimist).   My ‘tour’ ended on May 31st after two months.  As yet it hasn’t resulted in a single sale of the novel I was promoting.

In fact, I enjoyed all aspects of the tour save this non-sale result.  It was fun to answer questions about the book ‘White Lies’.   It started with a wild interview with very jolly Michelle Jordan’s  ‘Indie Review Behind the Scenes Maverick Moment’ Youtube video.  Teddy was a good companion during the strange tour of book bloggers.  An early one objected to be use of the word ‘natural’ for the woman she’d prefer to be called the ‘birth’ mother, and removed herself from the tour.  Apart from this blogger, the reviews  were in favour of the book, eleven in all.  I was pleased because they came from people who – I gathered – usually review novels that are easier to read at speed.  They found White Lies needed greater attention but said that it rewarded their time.  One of the last reviewers (on Amazon.com) said the story “paints a fuller picture of the emotional intricacies of adoption.”  She has an adopted brother.  “This book makes me think outside of the obvious.”   She expresses the hope that, if ever they talk about his adoption, she will “navigate the interaction with compassion, empathy and a whole lot of sensitivity.”  This comment pleased me.  I always hope that my books will nudge people to think about and see their own lives and relationships in a new way, as well as entertain them with a good story.

But how much effect, if any at all, has this tour had on spreading the word about Susan Barrett and her work?  I spent money on it.   I would have liked sales to pay for it.    I don’t expect to make money out of writing – very few authors do.  But I would like to reach more readers.   I also want to give up this business of working at promotion, and get back to writing the novel I’d begun before the bloggers’ tour.  Its working title is Greek Gold.  Today I began the third chapter.  Alex, my main character, is on the brink of a parachute jump.  In fact, he’s been on the brink since January.  I kept him there, alive in my head in that quivering moment, for the intervening months.  This morning I began to put into words my vision of the poor chap  – and he’s still not jumped after one page of writing.  I’ve been waylaid by this post because I have the idea that I will give a page of the site to writing this novel.  That might be a good way of finding the path between promoting work and writing it.

I’m on the brink of a decision.

At Sea

Susie Barrett, cartoon greetings cards

At Sea is an appropriate title for today’s post.  Teddy Rose of virtualauthorsbooktours has told me that two of my social media buttons don’t work.  Hell.  My floundering  to stay afloat in the sea of social media and the self-publishing ocean continues.   I’m keen to fathom the Twitter and Google+ links out on my own, without recourse to paying someone to do it for me.  It’s a balancing act between working at promotion in order to make money from possible sales and spending money fruitlessly on that very promotion.  The amount I earn is so infinitesimal you have to screw up your eyes to make out the figure on the screen.  Paying for help to promote is against the grain, common sense and the current account balance.  But how else to gain sales and the readers I hope for?

I’ve just posted on Linkedin talking about the way pictures are more likely to attract attention than words.  I’m thinking of writing the story behind the greeting cards.   Click on the linkedin button in the sidebar to the right and please let me know what you think.

At Sea

Nesting

Phew!

How do other people manage to set up their personal websites? It is easy enough with WordPress to get a basic site up and running. But it has taken me days and days to work out how to get social media buttons onto the sidebar of this one. I fly about between screens, chasing URLs and passwords and old memos in the deep caverns of my computer and among the loose notes and notebooks on my desk. The worst of it is that I cannot reward myself with a glass of wine at six o’clock. I’m trying to lower blood pressure through diet rather than medication, so no alcohol for a while.
All these tussles and puzzles need to be gone through in order to regain my mojo for writing. I want to find new readers for the kind of fiction I like to write. In the past when I was lucky enough to be published by mainstream publishers, I received lots of good reviews. I can see no reason why there aren’t a number of readers out there who would enjoy my last three novels. But how can we find each other?
I’ve given up on getting any response from agents or publishers, and am now swimming in the crowded ocean of self-publishers, most of whom – or so it seems to me – write fantasy fiction of one sort or another, with an anything-goes kind of attitude to writing standards.
If anyone who happens to read this and is in the same situation as I am – a writer of literary fiction who has been published in the past by mainstream publishers – do please get in touch.

How did I do?

There may be people  who never feel the need for feedback.  Perhaps even Trappist monks occasionally feel let down when they spend the day in prayer and no-one says at the end “Well done.”  If you cook a meal, and I don’t mean just heat up a readymade, you’re encouraged to repeat the performance if it’s greeted with appreciation.  Even as the daily cook in our household of two, I know I like to hear some kind of response, even if it’s just the question, “Is there any more?”

Yesterday, 26th April, I received the consultant’s report after a CT colonoscopy on March 31st.    During the wait, I’d felt reasonably confident the result would be clear.  Yet it is all too easy to fill silences with imaginary bad news.  So I was relieved to learn that the scan showed up nothing untoward.  Better than this was the consultant’s style.  His letter read like a kindly schoolteacher’s summing up of the term’s work:  “the bowel was well prepared” … “this is a reassuring investigation”.  It made me feel like a praised pupil and led me to think about feedback, how useful it can be, not just for morale but for guidance.

This morning I played around with something that turned up in the (possibly) haphazard way that happens when we log onto our emails.  Google suggested I create a form.  So I’ve come up with a feedback form for “White Lies”.  Whether this will be useful or not remains to be seen.  I’ve had good reviews posted on the novel’s Amazon page but many readers don’t bother.  Others are given the book or borrow it, so they are not ‘verified purchasers’ and therefore not entitled to post a review.

The form may be a way of capturing the response of more readers.  Or I might ditch that form and compose another one for all my novels.  Here’s the link: https://goo.gl/forms/IJoDTVzRVZJdNKwm1.  If anyone has a view on the questions I’ve chosen to put on the form, I’d appreciated feedback.

At the same time I became involved in a LinkedIn book group discussion.  Someone asked how he could get reviews for the short story he’d just published on Amazon.  His request was not worded well.  He wrote, “We’re there any funny parts.”  I found myself eager to point out how the apostrophe altered his intended meaning.  Later, I worried that I’d been harsh on a newcomer.  I hope he can accept what I consider was constructive feedback.

 

Promotion

Nobody likes a braggart.  People of my generation in particular were brought up not to blow our own trumpets, as our parents’ disapproving voices phrased it.   So what does a writer producing a new book in one of the many independent ways that exist nowadays do about promotion?

When I was firmly bedded in the mainstream literary world, I never had to worry about PR.  The publisher and my agent would do what they could; it was in their interest, too.  The last novel that was published in the conventional way – Stephen and Violet, published by Collins – was launched with a small party at my agent’s office.  Two other writers kindly came: Jonathan Raban and Sebastian Faulks.  They were ‘names’ then but went on to become even better known.  Heady days, which I took for granted.

Today, without an agent, without a publisher, I must pick up, polish and blow my own trumpet.  Although it’s half a year since I brought out two novels and a non-fiction book with CreateSpace on Amazon, I’ve done nothing as yet.   But my reluctance to self-advertise has changed.  I’ve embarked on a publicity venture, thanks to Teddy Rose of Virtual Author Book Tours.  On Saturday I shall find myself in my study, facing my laptop’s screen, video-conferencing with someone called Michelle in the States on a Blog Talk Radio Show.   The book I will be pushing is “White Lies”.  I’d better leave this post and have a quick re-read to remind myself what on earth it’s about…

First past the post second time around

I wrote my first post on July 11th 2016.  Tomorrow that will be six months ago.   Now, at the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on my website history as well as look forward to the way the site is developing.

Re-reading my first post, I can remember my feelings of bewilderment and determination.  It was like diving into a lake shrouded in fog.  I knew I wanted to be in that lake – but was it safe?  Were there unseen obstacles?  Was it full of struggling swimmers who might pull me down?  Would I sink without trace?

Even though I’d set up websites in the past – one that I paid to have designed, another I’d created myself on a template – this WordPress one seemed almost too easy.  I hadn’t set out to make a blog appear on its home page, but hey presto!  a blog appeared: an easy forum for passing thoughts.   What was I going to call it?  The term used in the menu to describe this page was ‘Posts’.  In the whoosh of my first dive-in, the phrase “First past the post” came to me.  Well, it was the first post and I was past it.  Then I discovered how ripples appear some time after a post.  A few days after my first dive into the lake,  there were people – unknown people – reading what I was writing.  They were commenting on “First past the post.”   I began to wish I hadn’t chosen such a numerically definite title.  First is only first when it is first.  But never mind the wording, I told myself; I was getting responses from unknown people who seemed to appreciate what I was saying.

Then, among the genuine responses came the useless ones, intent on selling their own wares.  I haven’t yet learnt how to stop these coming in. Perhaps it’s inevitable that you’ll receive unwelcome visitors when you offer an open forum.  So far they are not harmful, just a nuisance.

The comments which I welcome are from people who want to learn something new.  However, I’m not sure exactly what the something new might be.  Perhaps they simply like to read of my experience as a long-term writer dealing with the opportunities and obstacles that exist in present day publishing.   It would be helpful if any readers of this post would present a specific question.  Even without such prompting, I find there is always a new thought that pops up and inspires a post.

Looking back at my first post, I’m reminded of my reason for setting up the site.  I thought I would – with a fair ration of good luck – reach new readers for my work, particularly for “Alive in World War Two, The Cousins’ Chronicle”.  There have been sales, but no more than there might have been without this website.  I know the thing to do is to stay put, keep with it, not give up.  So I’ll carry on.  I’ll continue with this First Past the Post as many times as it stays worth it for me and for – I hope – others.

 

Platform heels

Remember shoes with platform heels?  We had a friend who was unhappy about his lack of height.  He loved the excuse the fashion gave him (it wasn’t confined to female footwear) to become a couple of inches taller.

This memory has been brought on by my use of the word ‘platform’ in a comment I made in a discussion in a LinkedIn group, ‘Books and Writers’.  The discussion was started by the question ‘How can an author find readers?’  There’ve been many comments.  I added one which I will paste below with slight editing.

The comments so far are about the quality of a book’s contents and its packaging – the cover, title and the descriptive blurb which indicates its genre.  But we haven’t yet answered the question.  Think of finding buyers for, say, sausages.  First, the ingredients must be good.   Then package them in an appealing way.  Are they pork?  Beef? Vegetarian?  Make it clear what the package contains.  That’s the easy part.  Now you’ve got to find buyers.  You need a stall in the market.  Similarly,  a writer must create a platform on which to present the book that’s been produced with all necessary care.  This means creating a website, becoming active on social media, contacting local bookshops, courting publicity in regional magazines and so on.  I’m a beginner at marketing, although an old hand at writing.  Other ideas are welcomed.  Of the 102,259 members of this group, I bet the majority are writers looking for readers, rather than readers looking for writers.  But here’s a question for readers – where do you find the books you want to read?