An Introduction to the World of Indie Publishing

A Project Update

I put a countdown on my blog to keep my ever impending deadline in mind. However, after a couple of days I had to move it down the page so now it doesn’t appear on my laptop screen when I go onto my blog. No one needs to see their deadlines all the time.

So far, the Lost Dabs project is a mere 13 days old. So much has happened in the last couple of weeks of Foundations: I’ve decided on how the book will be published, the timescales for writing and editing, some of the characters details and an outline of the plot. I’ve created a method for capturing all my data around each character and the background facts of the world and developed a method for incrementally writing about each.

However, I’ve also learnt about something that I knew nothing of when I started. All I wanted to do was to publish a book myself using an established outlet. In my mind this was the Kindle Store – it seemed like the obvious choice as it has a large market share, the Amazon Store is something I already know about and, possibly most importantly, I already own a Kindle, an iPad with the Kindle App, an iPhone with the Kindle App… it’s all pretty accessible.

Doing It Yourself

But them I started reading about a whole world of Indie Authors. People who make a living doing what I’m trying to do. I realised that I am in massive danger of making light something that other people have spent years of their lives working on. I realised that I can’t produce any old crap and call myself an Indie Author. I realised I have to be a signed up member of the Indie movement.

This is the best news I’ve had since starting this project – the number of people who are all writing and independently publishing are all part of a great community. There’s massive competition in this market but I don’t want to see it. I want to embrace what other people are doing. I want to eschew the books I’ve bought on my shelves and start reading Indie Authors. I want to see what other people in my position are doing. I want to explore different genres and engage with people who are writing.

It’s the only way the Indie community can function: if I want people to read my book, I need to read and engage with those writing their own books.

As an unpublished Indie Author I don’t feel I can call myself fully part of this wonderful community yet, but I feel strongly enough to make it only a matter of time. Watch out world, the Huscin is coming! The countdown is ticking… maybe I should move it back to the top of my blog?!

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How do you know when to stop?

The Definition of Done

Given a project with a limited timeframe, you can only do so much before you have to finish. That’s fine if you don’t care about the quality, but publishing a book to a world audience without careful vetting would be committing author suicide. So how do you get the most out of what you write without going over the deadline and without writing half a story?

I’ve discussed this at length in a previous post so I don’t want to talk about that again. Instead, I want to discuss the Definition of Done. When is something done? When it’s finished. Obvious. How about: when it’s finished to a predetermined level of quality? Better, perhaps.

I was cutting the grass today. It was only when I’d finished and put the lawnmower away I started noticing all the bits I’d missed – there were small patches of long grass everywhere. I was obviously too close to the grass when I was mowing to see where it was uneven. The grass is pretty much all one colour and it’s difficult to see the bits you’ve missed when you’re right on top of it. You only see the bigger picture when you step back and look at it with fresh eyes.

This got me thinking about writing and my dilemma over identifying something as done.

The finish

In order to get a quality product to a level of satisfaction, you need a cool down period, some time away from your immediate thoughts of it. In the case of the grass, this was going indoors and looking back at it from the window. In the case of writing it means forgetting everything you know about your text and reading it back through the eyes of a new reader. This is the most important step towards quality: disassociation. If you can forget why you wrote something, you can read it and make up your own mind about it. If you can forget all the meta writing and scaffolding you can look at it objectively.

I’ve decided to take steps towards this in my writing. I need to disconnect writing and editing as far as possible. Unfortunately, as this project is time constrained, this gap will not be as much as I’d like. I’m considering a two week closed book on everything written, continually revisiting the text written two weeks ago. This means that the first two weeks writing remains unedited until editing starts alongside with any new writing. The end effect is that I need to finish writing everything two weeks before I can expect it to be fully finished and edited.

It sounds like I just lost two weeks of writing at the end of the project, but if it means an improved product in the long run, I’m all up for it.

Do you have any experience or opinion on how to write a quality product given limited resource? Leave a comment below to discuss.

Momentum: Keeping the writing spirit alive

Motivation

I’ve been away with work all this week and haven’t had a chance to think about writing or my book. I’ve either been travelling (dull), in meetings (various levels of interest depending on who with), in the bar (unwinding, drinking beer and/or eating), or sleeping. It’s been a fairly exhausting week.

I’ve returned home and have tried to pick up where I left off, but with such a break, I’ve lost all the momentum I had last week. I took my notebooks with me but didn’t have a moment to do anything productive. You might think that the time spent drinking beer would have been perfect time to do some writing, develop a character or work on the plot lines, but it never happened. I was tired and just needed downtime.

This is life. We need a balance between the various different parts of our lives or nothing will function properly. So what is the best way to get the right balance?

At the moment, I have a lot of different thoughts going on with my book. I have a rough outline of the plot along with who will be involved in it. I dip in and out of ideas and write as my whim takes me. This is great when I have time to sit and think and write, but what about when I only have the occasional half hour here or there to attend to the book? I need more structure.

Everything I have done to date is at a top level, bird’s eye view of the project as a whole. If I want this to succeed then I need to become more granular about all the aspects of the story. I know that I have a world, but what fills it? There must be hundreds of houses, shops, roads, signposts in a town. The countryside needs fields and trees, hills and valleys, even cliffs and mountains where necessary. There needs to be weather. How do all these things interact with each other?

Going granular

The granular level says that one character must live in one house and go to a series of other locations. These other locations will be owned, run or visited by other people. So why not take the main character and describe where he fits in, concentrating on his detail and bringing in other people and other locations as I go. This means there will be a definite path to complete the structure behind all the different places in the story. In short, I am preparing the scaffolding for the story, but in an organised fashion.

So how does this help my motivation? It doesn’t, I still need to motivate myself to write, even when I’m tired or only have a small window of opportunity. The good news is that I won’t have to think about what I’m going to write about as it will follow on from the last thing that was written.

I read that a good way to bring back the thoughts of a previous writing session is to stop in mid dialog. A conversation is very emotive and it should be easy to pick up what the characters motivations were in the follow up writing session. I think my motivation will come through ending a writing session with the plan of what needs to be described next. That way I will be able to pick up from where I left off, perhaps by writing about a shop the protagonist is about to visit, or about the character that is going to give him his next bag of magic beans.

Leave me a comment below if you have other opinions around how to keep the momentum of writing alive whilst maintaining the balance with everything else going on in your world.

Keeping track of who’s who in your writing

Meta Writing

I read an interesting post by Steve Poling about ‘scaffolding’. Scaffolding is all the little details of your plot, your characters and locations that won’t necessarily make it to press but that you need to keep track of. It’s meta writing, or an aide memoire for all your little continuity errors that are waiting to leap into your writing only to be found by your most attentive and verbal readers.

The post goes into more detail around scaffolding, but I most like the idea that if you are writing, your text ultimately belongs in one of three places: the final product, the bin, or as scaffolding. Storing this information is simple for the first two, but what is the best method for holding on to this extra information?

Steve offers one solution of keeping a spreadsheet to track your characters detailing. This is a bit too computery for me – I can see all the benefits of saving, backing up and searching your data, but when it comes to typing it up its a bit, what’s the word… nerdy?!

I like paper; I like index cards; I like post it notes, marker pens and the cheapest of black biros. I like to scribble things down and sort them into piles. I like to spread my notes out across the table and go through them all at once, linking bits together and adding comments as I go. Most importantly, I’m a fan of the Hipster PDA *

Technology vs Luddism

This is all good scaffolding, but what about the sections of text I chop from the book that are too useful to go in the bin? I can’t hand write everything back out on an index card so I can look at it on my dining room table. I need a more joined up approach to this. It maybe time to actively create an online file for all this information, rather than to rely on index cards. If they got lost I’d be devastated, plus I haven’t got time for redoing any of my work in this project.

I used to use Evernote, so I’m going to try that again. It would be handy to be able to keep this data backed up and available across the devices, but will it satisfy my need for jotting down ideas on an index card, eyes closed, at three in the morning. Maybe there’s something better thats available, or a way of joining up these manual and electronic versions of scaffolding. I’m not sure, but it’s certainly triggered me to actively work out how I’m going to deal with it.

If you have any views on how you keep your information about a story that’ll never make it into your final product, leave me a comment below.

You can read Steve Poling’s original post here: http://diogenesclubarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/scaffolding.html

* The Hipster PDA has been around for a while, but if you don’t know about it, have a look here: http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/03/introducing-the-hipster-pda

How long is a piece of writing?

How long should a book be? 

As long as it takes to tell the story, probably.

If one person writes a book of, say, 100 000 words, the completion date of the book is determined by how fast they write. If you want to get it quicker, you either have to cut down the number of words, or reduce the quality, ie churn out a manuscript with very little copy editing. In practice, neither of these options are favourable as writers rarely want to lose any of their story and no one wants to ready sloppy writing.

The only other option available is to take as long as it takes to write a book, making sure that all parts of the plot are included and that every word has been scrutinised to ensure the story is told to the writer’s high standards.

How does this affect me? 

Enormously!

I don’t have the luxury of an ever extending arbitrary deadline. My deadline is fixed. Absolutely. It is the fundamental reason behind the whole project.

I also don’t have the luxury of a team of writers and editors to help craft this book. I’m on my own – all output will be created by me alone.

The quality of the book is also a pretty major consideration for me. I reckon I could bang out a feature length first draft of ill thought out characters and nonsensical plot-lines in a month or so. Maybe less if I’m allowed spelling mistakes. I don’t want to do this though – I want something I can be proud of at the end of the project.

So what is left then? If all else is firmly fixed, the only thing I can change is the length of the book. Does this mean it’ll be a very short book at the end? It all depends on my production rate. If I write 100 words of absolute top quality prose every week then the length of the book will be 100 words x the number of weeks work. Hopefully I can write a bit quicker than that.

The other consideration is that I don’t want to write a book that suddenly ends because I ran out of time. I need a proper beginning, middle and end. This is forming part of my planning right now – I’m considering how to end the book before I’ve started. I’ll then look at how the story starts and then what can go in the middle.

The tricky bit

If the start can join directly to the end, then I have a book, albeit rather a short one. If I can “plug in” a block of middle between the start and end, I have a slightly longer book with more story line. If I have more time, I’ll work on another middle block of writing to add in, ensuring the start and end both remain logical to the extended story. I guess the easiest way to think about this is in chapters – write the first and last chapter so the story makes sense. Then add as many chapters in the middle that the plot and the time limit allow.

This is my very early thought around managing the scope of the book. If this has made any sense and you think it’s a good idea or if I can improve upon it, leave me a comment and we can discuss.

The Lost Dabs Project is alive!

The Lost Dabs Project

This week, I’ve launched a new project – namely to write a book and publish it in time for Christmas. It’s a study of whether this is even possible, what are the steps needed to achieve the goal, and what can be learnt about the writing and publishing process in general. The project is running from conception to shelf in five months, I haven’t even come up with a premise around the plot yet.

The Project has already hit its first Gateway, the feasibility of the project is complete. The outcomes of the feasibility phase were to create an outline plan and set up the relevant blog and twitter accounts. To be honest, this was a pretty easy part of the project as it took very little work to complete. Importantly though, I hit the deadline – to create the first communication with the outside world by 1st August.

The phases of the project in the outline plan are:

  1. Feasibility
  2. Foundations
  3. Production
  4. Release

I’m sure I’ll be talking a lot more about this in the weeks to come. Right now, we’re in Foundations which will involve doing all the background work before beginning writing.

The Blog

I’ve set up this blog as a place for discussion around the different aspects of writing and publishing a book. I’m hoping to generate a lot of ideas from the community and to support other writers with my experience as I go along.

Feel free to comment on anything I’ve written about and I’ll happily add my thoughts. Hopefully we can develop a good insight into the best ways of creating inspiration, developing plots and characters and the technical side of publishing a book.

I just need to have a good idea for a story now.

Why Lost Dabs?

Your fingerprints are known as your dabs (mainly in the criminal world, I believe). Because the timescales for this project are so tight, it’s going to take a lot of typing to get it completed – I’m anticipating typing so fast that my fingerprints will get worn off, resulting in “lost dabs”!