The hows of indie publishing

What’s the best way to self-publish?

Since starting this project at the beginning of August, I’ve been concentrating entirely on writing: the process and structure around creating a book. I’d assumed that when I’m finished writing, I’ll simply log into Amazon, upload my text, choose a publishing option and release it to Kindle. Job done!

This is one way of releasing a book, but having read a bit on the subject, I’m not convinced it is the best, or certainly not the only publishing route an indie author should take. If that’s the case, what is the best way then?

This post is a call for information. If you have written any posts around publishing or have experience or knowledge on the subject then please write me a note or send me a link to your blog. I’ve created a page on this blog (see Indie Publishing link above) to collate any information, either leave me a comment there or below on this post.

Thanks for any help you can give with this – I’ll resume my regular updates on the lost dabs project over the weekend as usual.

How important is your voice?

What is the voice?

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into planning my book over the past few weeks, mainly around the plot, the setting, the characters and the structure of the finished article. I’ve been brainstorming, making notes, jotting down ideas and descriptions of places and people. I’ve even been doing some short sections of exploratory writing to see how the characters can interact in certain situations.

This has all been productive and incredibly useful, but there’s a bit of the puzzle missing. The voice. What is it? Is it worth considering before I start productive writing? Do I even have a choice what my voice is in my writing? Time for a bit of research.

I’ve been reading some posts about effectively using your voice in writing, in particular this one: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/writing-legend-les-edgerton-teaches-us-how-to-create-a-remarkable-writing-voice/

Les Edgerton discusses how to use your voice in order be a unique you, to speak to the reader and capture them with your words. I like the way he talks about using the editing process to make sure that the things you write sound like you – the words aren’t words you wouldn’t normally use; the sentences are constructed in the way you speak them yourself. It’s writing that is honest to yourself and who you are.

Interestingly, there is a section on getting feedback from your peers to make sure your writing sounds like you – no one knows your voice better than your close friends and family. This is exactly what I was discussing in my last post!

No, really, what is the voice?

Everything said by Edgerton was really useful and thought provoking, however, I have a nagging issue around this.

All that’s being described is writing in a voice that is you. If that’s the case, then I already have my voice – surely it’s how I write already. I just need to pick out any oddities in my writing in the edit. Easy! Or is it?

What about the writing style? Does this count as voice? Who is the narrator – is it written in the first, second, third person? Should regional accents be written out phonetically? Are the characters’ thoughts explained or left to be worked out by the reader piecing together bits of dialogue? Isn’t this all part of the voice?

My book is set on a island somewhere off the coast of Britain. The people there are isolated and will most likely think, speak and behave differently to me. They will have habits and styles that have developed over their years of isolation. Should I try to reflect this in the words I use in my writing?

Should I be developing my writing, purposely creating a new unique voice that may not fit my natural style? The risk is that my voice will wobble halfway through the book and revert to type, resulting in a horrendous offering, neither one thing or the other.

Is this the most important thing to consider when starting writing a book? Am I overanalysing, or has anyone else put time in developing their voice for a particular project, genre or setting? My immediate thought on this is that in order to keep the momentum in my writing, I need to promote my natural style as much as possible. But in a book with such a particular setting as mine, am I doing the reader a disservice?

Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear if you have any experience or opinion on any of this.

Is there any value in posting your work in progress?

The critics

Writing a blog is about drip-feeding your thoughts to anyone who’ll listen in the world and getting immediate feedback on it. Seems to work well. Writing a book is all about the big bang. Landing an entire magnum opus on the reader and expecting them to devour it in one sitting, hopefully emerging full of praise on the other side.

So is there any middle ground? Is it worth getting the opinion of the community on some half-written text before the big release? Does any interim feedback simply serve as self-gratifying validation for the author, rather than gently steering them in the right direction?

I recently wrote a screenplay for an amateur animator friend. It was pretty intense work and included eight songs, all of which I recorded and posted on youtube for her. I sent over the first act and she liked it. Buoyed by this response I carried on with the screenplay and eventually completed it. It had taken about three months but had been a labour of love and a great writing experience.

After sending it over, it took my friend a while to go through it. When we finally caught up, it was a very different conversation. She picked the smallest holes throughout the plot and put up barriers to show why she couldn’t start planning the filming. I guess she didn’t really want to make it in the first place.

So I don’t like a critic, is that the problem? I guess I don’t mind a few general pointers, hints, even criticisms, as long as it’s constructive and not just negative for the sake of it. In my case, I’d written a three act script and eight songs which I was pretty proud of, but I don’t think my friend even listened to them. She just read the words in the script and moved on to where she thought the problems were. I wouldn’t mind, but I’m sure anyone could find just one tiny piece of positive to reflect the obvious effort I’d put in.

Publish as you go

I’ve been thinking about publishing some of my writing for the book on this blog as I go along. Mainly so that I can show a bit of a flavour of where it’s heading, but also to get some feedback on what I’ve done. Following my recent experience, I’m not sure if this is the best idea.

When I wrote the screenplay, I was writing on my own. I showed it to one other person and got their take on it. The other person had some different views to me so we ended in a stalemate – how I wanted to write the story versus how she wanted to animate it. It was my word against hers.

Now I am pitching to a bigger audience, is it a good idea to encourage feedback on work in progress? Does anyone have experience, either positive or negative with this? I am completely open to comments on anything I write, as long as it’s constructive. In fact, I am always hoping to enter into a discussion around everything I do, as long as it helps the learning and improving process.

One issue around reviewing someone else’s work is personal opinion. When I am reading other people’s work I try to be objective about it. I may not like the genre, but if the writing’s good then that’s the feedback to give. If the writing’s bad then I try to say what’s wrong with it and not let the subject matter influence me. This can be tricky but it’s the most important thing about writing – different people like to read different things. There’s a market for everything, and that’s why we do it.

My view is that I want to share as much as I can and encourage all comments and opinion from anyone with an interest. It’s then up to me how much I take on board and adapt my writing accordingly. The only issue is that too much influence from outside could put a strain on the timing of the project, but at least I won’t end up in a one-on-one stalemate like I had with my now defunct screenplay.

As always, I’d really like to hear any comments or thoughts you have on this, and will be happy to discuss them below.

A minimalist approach to writing good characters

What’s in a character?

What makes a good character? It’s an age old question and I’m sure it gets asked all the time by writers in moments of idleness, block or fancy. I’ve spent the day thinking about this and have come up with my own answer, something I hope will simplify my future self’s writing no end.

So what is a character? When I’m writing, I tend to think of my protagonists and antagonists in eye colours, hair lengths, nose sizes, glasses wearers… I don’t necessarily think of them as people with emotions, political agendas or ponderous beings. I simply throw them into situations and observe how they react in my writing.

Readers, on the other hand have a completely different perspective than my writing self. They want to see under the skin of the character and feel what he feels. The reader reads the description about how tall and pimply the new restaurant critic is, but will instantly make up their own minds about what she looks like as she performs the Heimlich maneuver on a man in a dinner jacket who’s just been shouting at his wife. All this means is that readers care more about the person than what they look like. If only we could all be more like that in real life!

So where does this leave me in defining my characters for this project? Am I saying I shouldn’t work out up front all the different ear sizes of everyone on my island? Maybe I don’t need to go to that much detail, but I will need to describe roughly what people will look like, even if this is likely to be adapted or misread by the reader. Although I’ll do a bit of the descriptive and not care too much if it gets changed, there’s something much more important I need to do as well.

What drives a character?

I wanted to be able to describe everyone in a couple of sentences so that when I’m halfway through writing my book and I don’t know what a character will do next, I can reread their description and immediately know how they will react. In any situation.

I’ve done this by describing their motivations for the duration of the story. From the beginning to the end, everyone has a motivation – something that drives them. It might be money, or power, or not being shouted at by your husband in a busy restaurant. It could be having a tidy garden, or making sure you’re always one up on the neighbours. Whatever it is, these motivations will be able to fit into any situation and cause an identifiable reaction.

Does this make my characters one dimensional and predictable? Probably? What if they had more than one motivation, or they had a close friend whose motivation caused conflict with theirs? What if they had a particular motivation that is only realised when a triggering event occurs? Would that make them more interesting? I’m hoping so.

My motivation is to describe all the characters of my book briefly and precisely so I can aid my own writing whenever they are in the plot. If I can do that, I’m hoping I’ll create interesting, diverse characters whose behaviours will become so familiar to me I’ll be able to write them with my eyes shut.

How do you create your characters? Can you really define everyone in your book with just a couple of lines of description or does it take reams of notes and back stories to allow them to really leap from the page? Leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts on this.

Fixed deadline? Go flexible on the plot

Plot chunks

So my full plan for writing a book by Christmas is now in place. And guess what, it looks like a load of neatly arranged boxes!

I’ll try to explain how this will fit together, at the very least so I can refer to it at the end and reflect how the project went. If you can follow how it works from my description, brilliant, well played you! Leave me a comment to let me know what you think about it.

I explained in a previous post that I will write the book by linking a beginning and an end and then writing as much middle as I can in the time allows. The trick is to ensure that the story makes sense, regardless of the length of the book. The downside of this is working out how to plan the plot to cope with any amount of chapters in between a beginning and end.

A plan of the plan

So, here’s what’s going to happen. The bulk of the story will be split into five separate and specific time periods, called eras. These will operate independently of each other and I’ll be able to pick any number of these to finish the book. Ideally, a minimum of three eras would be enough to describe a good chain of events and deliver a book of a reasonable length.

The eras will be further split between three families of characters, although I could probably cut one of these if it looks like I will overrun. There will also be a main character whose story will intertwine with these families.

This format provides a 2-D grid of available stories – 3 families multiplied across five different eras. Each of these stories can be written independently of each other – there will be minimal interaction between them all. In fact, apart from at the beginning and the end, it is only really the main character that draws everyone together. If I run out of time halfway through a story, I can simply drop that section and finish the book without it.

I have a couple of other storylines which can be linked to the families in the same way as the main character. These are very much nice-to-haves and can also be cut if there’s a shortage of time.

So this leaves me with the following todo list:

  • Start section, kicking off all the main storylines.
  • Somewhere between 6 and 15 middle sections* which will incorporate the main character and other sub stories where possible.
  • An end section, wrapping up all the themes and completing the book.

Simple! This means I have defined an absolute minimum to achieve before publishing – with less than 6 middle sections, I haven’t got a book. How long these sections are still needs to be established, but the main worry now is how long it will take to write each of these to a high standard and whether the minimum can be completed before Christmas.

I drew up a picture to describe the above, but it ended up looking like the Dulux colour chart so I’ve decided not to share it now. I’ll put some work in and post the update hopefully early next week.

I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on my approach, especially if you’ve used something similar yourself.

* 6 middle sections is made up of 2 families x 3 eras; 15 middle sections is made up of 3 families x 5 eras.

Terraform writing – making the world for your characters

What in the world is going on?

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the biggest problem in the world. Namely, what IS the world? When writing a book from scratch, there are lots of questions that immediately spring to mind about its setting: What does the world look like? What is it like to live in the world? What happens when you walk down the street? Where can I buy some eggs? That sort of thing.

I decided early on (at least a week and a half ago!) that the whole story would be based on an island. I’m not thinking one man and his volleyball desert island story, more an island community living independently, away from the rest of the world. The idea behind this was to give the locals a hard boundary so that their history and development could be kept separate from our real history, while all the physical properties of the island would be familiar to other real places. Eg, the island will be based somewhere off the United Kingdom, so we can assume it’ll be formed in a similar manner to, say, the Isle of Man.

When I first started out on this project, I thought I should be drawing detailed maps of every inch of my new world, making comprehensive notes on every blade of grass, snail trail and pavement slab topped with canine excrement. It seemed to me as if there was no other alternative if I wanted a clear run of writing in my next phase of the project.

A minimalist world

But is this really the case? Does the whole world need to be described in such detail before we begin? I am now thinking differently – how important is this world to the plot? In my case, it’s still the Earth, it’s still set somewhere in the past 50 years, people will speak English. There’s really not a great deal to get wrong with it!

Ok, so there are some major things to think about around the locations where the action will take place. This is fine – I’ve already accounted for most of these in my notes (and a fair bit in my head!), but if the plot calls for a new location as I am writing, how much effort will it be to fit this new place in? In my world, not very much at all!

So the real question here is, what am I missing? Am I way off the mark with this? To me, the characters are the main entities in this story and they will fit into this world as I tell them to. The world will not adapt around them. I know there’s lots of writers creating wonderful worlds for their epic fantasies and I doff my hat to all of you – the work you put in to this is outstanding, I just think it’s outside the scope for the type of book I’m writing.

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.