Archive for category The writing business

Found in translation: three literary translators share tips and secrets

A few months ago I mentioned in one of my newsletters that I was submitting my novels to Amazon Crossing, and one of my Undercover Soundtrackers, Alison Layland, sent me a ‘good luck’ note. But I didn’t know that Alison is herself a literary translator – and that made me think it would be fun to run a post on this often unexplored corner of writing life. A call to my Twitter followers unearthed two more literary polyglots. So if you’ve ever wondered if translation would be a good career for you, or considered working with a translator, or are simply curious … read on.

Dramatis personae

Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward @fwdtranslations translates from French and German to English, particularly crime fiction, women’s fiction and children’s books. In non-fiction, she has translated recipe books and titles on history, art and politics.

Lisa Carter

Lisa Carter

Lisa Carter @Intralingo translates from Spanish into English. Her work includes literary fiction, historical fiction, a scientific thriller and clockpunk. She’s also done one work of non-fiction, by a Guatemalan Mayan shaman.

Alison Layland

Alison Layland

And Alison Layland @alisonlayland translates from German, French and Welsh into English. Her CV includes a range of nonfiction (travel guides, coffee-table photo books, a recipe book) and, in the last few years literary, crime and romance fiction, alongside her own novel writing. (Here’s her Undercover Soundtrack.) Her most recent translation, The Moonlit Garden by Corina Bomann, is published by AmazonCrossing on 1 February 2016.

To begin at the beguine

Rachel took a languages degree, then a literary translation MA. Alison also had a languages degree and became a freelance translator as a career change. Commissions came as she built up relationships with translation agencies and networked with other translators. Most of her fiction work has been for AmazonCrossing; they have an online portal where translators can register and apply for projects, and recommend books to be considered for translation.

Alison says that if your aim is purely literary translation, it’s often a matter of championing a work in your source language and submitting proposals to publishers – although it can be a frustrating and difficult path. Despite that, this is how Lisa Carter got her break. A collection of short stories by Edmundo Paz Soldán captivated her so deeply that she contacted the author. ‘We worked together and published a couple of his short stories, then I was hired to translate two of his novels for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.’

After that, commissions come from networking and contacts, and being in the right place at the right time. Alison says: ‘My non-fic books have come from translation agencies or direct enquiries via my profile or colleague referrals. My first literary translation, The Colour of Dawn by Haitian author Yanick Lahens, was commissioned by the publisher as a result of my winning a competition in which I translated one of the author’s short stories from French into English.’

Lisa says she’s seen a change in the way work comes to her. In the past, publishers would approach her to see if she was a good match for a particular book. But ‘in the last few years, more commissions are coming directly from authors.’

We’ll look at self-publishing in a minute. But first, let’s consider the literary translator’s most outstanding feature.

2637465223_ae2843bdd8_zThe chameleon factor

There’s more to literary translation than rendering the content accurately. Like ghostwriting, good translation is a work of interpretation. The final work must do justice to the writer’s style. I asked about the challenges.

Rachel: ‘Being able to adapt to a writer’s style is just as important as conveying the meaning. Some voices sit nicely alongside my own, while others take longer to settle into. I do a quick first draft and leave a lot of alternative wordings, and then go back over it again and again until I’m satisfied, or the deadline arrives. I get as many people as possible to read for me too, looking for anything that jars.

Alison: ‘I usually read the novel first, and possibly others by the author, to decide if there are any issues I need to think about. The voice develops as I translate (and often the early chapters need more revision). It can be quite different from your own voice, but again, your writer’s voice changes between different novels and stories.

Lisa: That’s exactly it: we are chameleons. We have to sublimate our own personal style to portray what we have been given, down to the very last detail. The challenge is how to reflect all of the nuances of an original, rather than keeping our own voice at bay. I spend a lot of time studying a text before I begin to translate it. I look for how an author created a certain tone or mood or effect – things like sentence and paragraph length, determining what literary devices are being used, finding all of the elements that are specific to an author and a particular book. Only after I have deconstructed the text do I allow intuition to take over and begin putting words on the page. I then compare my draft to the original, to make sure I’m being faithful. Whenever time allows—and I always try to build this into my contracts — I let the manuscript rest before another edit. Then, depending on the situation, I might send the manuscript to the author to read (if they are fluent enough in English) so we can discuss the work as a whole before submitting it to the editor.’

Lisa has a lovely post here on the daily grapple with nuance.

nameCredit where it’s due – how is a translator acknowledged?

Alison says translators are often overlooked in media reviews, radio broadcasts and festival programmes, but the recent #NameTheTranslator Twitter campaign aims to draw people’s attention to this. And to thank them when they do give credit.

Rachel says the translator’s name should come after the author – ‘eg Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang, tr. Rachel Ward, Andersen 2003. There is some dispute about whether the translator’s name should go on the front cover, but it should definitely be on the title page, and the translation copyright should belong to the translator, not the publisher.’

An occupational hazard

Alison points out an interesting hazard of the translator’s life: ‘On the few occasions when readers don’t like aspects of a novel – the characters or plot – they might attribute it to “something being lost in translation” – regardless of whether it is a translation issue.’

What about working with self-published authors?

Lisa has just begun a self-publishing venture with an author from Spain, Luis Sanz Irles. His novel was published traditionally in Spanish, and they will self-publish the translation into English. ‘I’ve been wanting to do this for years, and so am truly excited.’

Rachel says she has worked with self-published authors on a few occasions. She says there are artistic advantages – ‘you can go straight to the horse’s mouth with questions on meaning. I might suggest an explanatory aside or that it might be good to add something to help the reader with an unfamiliar idea.’ But this access has disadvantages: ‘Obviously we both want to get it right, but there has to be a cut-off point if it comes to haggling over words or beloved phrases.’ There are business angles to consider as well, and the translator has to take on the bulk of the marketing. Rachel has a lot more about this on her blog.

More advice, information and secret handshakes

Rachel and Alison recommend The Emerging Translators Network and the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors. And Lisa offers a ton of information and tuition on her website.

Thanks for the chameleon pic Swaminathan. Alison’s portrait is by Sandra Dalton.

Over to you! Have you worked with a translator or are you considering it? Have you worked on translations yourself? Is there anything you’d like to ask our intrepid trio? In the meantime, clavar tu novela.

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Three paradoxes of writing life

MC Escher Paradox of being a writerYesterday I spoke at the New Generation Publishing selfpub summit, and the discussions threw up some interesting paradoxes that writers encounter.

1 We must produce, but never rush.
Unless we’re writing only for the satisfaction of filling a document, we need an output mentality. We set schedules, aim to present work to critiquers, editors and readers, build a rack of titles for more market share and £££. But we must also learn our natural pace to give a book the proper time.

Last week Maya Goode took my post about the slow-burn writer and added some thoughts of her own, resolving to be swift with her blogging output, and leisurely about her fiction. (To an extent, this post will include a hopscotch through my archives. If you’ve recently arrived on this blog and these ideas strike a chord, these links are a junction box for further exploring.)

Certainly, some books take a lot of time – but equally, you can tinker far too long and make a mess.

So what do established authors do? What’s a reasonable daily wordcount? You might as well ask a bunch of cats to form an orderly queue at the fridge door. Every writer measures a good day’s work by different standards and methods (helpful, huh?) . And if slow sales are panicking you to hurry the next book, here’s what some authors did to fight back, without compromising their standards.

2 We learn from others, but teach ourselves.
No matter how many courses you attend or manuals you ingest, your most effective learning is your own explorations. None of my real-life author cronies ever took a writing course. They taught themselves.

How did they do that? By reading with awareness.

Here I’m going to advance a theory. If there’s such a thing as a natural writer, it’s a person who is unusually sensitive to prose. For such people, a book isn’t just a story told on pages, it’s a transformation they’re observing on their own heart and mind. With every phrase, a clutch of neurones parses this question – what did that do? (Honestly, it doesn’t spoil the fun. It’s part of the pleasure. Quick question – how many of us here are slow readers?)

Anyway, our individual style comes from noticing the tricks of others and knitting them into our DNA.

You might say I’m doing myself out of a job here. Indeed, how dare I offer writing books,  courses, seminars et al? Well, I can’t do the work for you, but I can help with insights from my own journey, feedback, awareness, methodology and (I hope) a friendly word of encouragement. To be honest, I’m first a writer, then a teacher.

BTW, there are ways to find writing help without paying a second mortgage.

sidebarcrop3 We make our own rules but recognise when we’re wrong.
Much of the time, the writing process is an experiment. If we’re novice authors, we’re searching for our style, our voice, our signature. Even when we’re experienced, we still grapple with uncertainty – a stubborn plot, obscure characters. Each book goes through a formative stage with shaky bits, and feedback to do things differently. Sometimes that feedback is dead right; sometimes it’s way off beam. We need to assert our own vision – but also know when to listen.

Sometimes we’re misled by critiquers who didn’t understand what we were doing. Sometimes we need to ignore an editor’s suggestions, but find out where the real problems lie.

But sometimes the only option is to unplug and listen to our instinct.

(Pic by MC Escher)

That’s me paradoxed out. What would you add? And tell me if you’re a slow reader – and if so, what slows you down!

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Print options and free books: two of my own rules I’m breaking this year…

2989166090_f5b8087687_zIn my last post I talked about publishing options in a changing world. Well, this year I’m reversing a couple of my own fervently held policies. So today I confess. (I’m an indie. I reserve the right to change my mind.)

Change #1 Putting print editions on IngramSpark

If you’re self-publishing, one of the main debates is which print on demand company to use. CreateSpace is free and has the most seamless interface with Amazon, which is where you’ll get the bulk of your sales because most of your marketing is online. But Ingram Spark has better distribution links with other outlets. And bookshops balk at ordering CreateSpace titles because the delivery time is slow and returns aren’t possible. So current wisdom is to buy ISBNs, print for Amazon only on CreateSpace, and print for other needs on Ingram Spark. (A lot more about this here. )

Why I didn’t put my books on IngramSpark

The Ingram Spark route isn’t free. You have to buy ISBNs (if you haven’t already). You also pay a fee for each book you set up. Revisions cost you more again. (However, if you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors you get a discount and the revisions fee is waived. ) You’ll also have to modify the book’s print files. (The paper is thinner than CS, so your cover’s spine will be narrower. You might also need to tweak the title page with a new ISBN. None of this is difficult, but you might need expert intervention.)

The cost in itself isn’t that offputting – and it’s certainly not much compared with the cost of the book’s production. But it’s dumb to spend any time or £££s unless you’ll see a return – and that’s what made me dubious.

Although my book would be more easily available, how would it get seen? Just putting it in a catalogue won’t get it noticed by bookshop buyers. That’s like a tree falling over in a wood with no one to hear it. Shops don’t know about a book unless reps visit or the press makes hoopla. The bookshops I’ve been successful in are the ones I visit personally. All the rest of my marketing is online, and the sales funnel to Amazon. So, while I acknowledge that Ingram Spark offers better infrastructure, it’s for a market where I’m invisible.

What changed my mind

At the end of last year, I read this piece in The Bookseller. Ingram have acquired a network called Aer.io, which allows users to build storefronts and add ‘buy’ buttons for books in the Ingram catalogue.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of online bookselling portals, but usually you have to upload your book details yourself (or a publisher does it). Then, within a year, the venture goes the way of most start-ups, and vanishes. But Aer.io has a catalogue already – all the books already on Ingram, including IngramSpark. So every time anyone builds a bookstore with Aer.io, a reader could amble in from the internet and they could order my books. (BTW, I was directed to the Aer.io piece by the Hot Sheet, a publishing industry newsletter for authors from Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson.) Holy distribution, Batman! I’m making my Ingram editions as we speak.

Change #2 – a free book!

freeAs you know, I have strong opinions about free books. Here they are.

Why I didn’t

See above. I didn’t think a free book would do much for me. My catalogue isn’t big enough to give a book away – although I have five titles, they’re for two distinct audiences. I can’t dash off a new one quickly – either the Nail Your Novels or a piece of fiction.

What changed my mind

It started with an email. Just before Christmas I was contacted by Goodriter, a daily deals site for everything authorly – books, courses, services for self-publishing, book marketing, copywriting, blogging, tutoring etc. It’s like Bookbub, but exclusively for writers (give or take a ‘w’). Goodriter invited me to contribute to a bundle of writer freebies.

I could see it was a great way to meet more readers, but did I want to give away a ‘proper’ book? Then I suddenly realised I could make an ebook shortie about characters as an introduction to my Nail Your Novels, which would be useful in its own right and an aide-memoir if you’ve read the big book. Anyway .. voila.

instant fix characters sml

Once I’d sent the freebie to the giveaway, I had coffee with another author friend, who pointed out something I’d never realised about free books. They’re now such an established part of reading life that they find their way into retailers’ recommendation algorithms all by themselves, and get you visibility on lists where you wouldn’t otherwise be seen. ‘Put that book on Amazon, Smashwords et al,’ she said. As I was already half-way there, I did.

I admit I still have misgivings. I deplore the trend that pressures authors to give away their work. But the acid test is whether it pays me back in sales. That won’t become apparent for many months and I shall report. Watch this space.

And grab that free book before I change my mind.

Thanks for the U-turn photo Martin Howard

Over to you. Are you breaking any of your own rules this year? We are among friends. Come and tell me.

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Real opportunity for indie authors who seek translators and foreign language editions

Place_des_ecritures_FigeacTranslated editions can be a great way to reach a wider audience. But they’re expensive and risky to fund yourself. A translator has to reinterpret and rewrite your book, and that level of expertise isn’t cheap.

Sharks and scammers abound, especially as it’s hard to evaluate the results. Then how do you get the translated edition proof read? How do you market in a language you don’t speak?

For years I’ve been exploring options to get my books translated but so far I’ve had false starts. I’ll share a few cautionary tales below. But the reason I’m writing this post is because Amazon Publishing has opened up an important new opportunity. Its imprint AmazonCrossing, which publishes works in translation, has announced it’s seeking submissions from rightsholders, including indie authors (apply here).

This would be a publishing deal, of course, so much depends on whether you’re a good fit for their market as they would be making a substantial investment. But I feel it’s a significant opportunity. Here’s why.

Indie translation options

Paying a translator

A quick question on Twitter produced the following figures. London literary agent Charlotte Seymour

Harvill Secker senior editor Alison Hennessey concurred

Those are hefty sums. There are no guarantees of sales afterwards. And how do you recognise whether the translation is worth the price? I googled ‘bad translations’ and found no shortage of horror stories and warnings, such as this site.

Author-translator partnerships

Several authors I know have formed partnerships to produce books. This requires trust and a long-term view, but can work if you know the right person. Joanna Penn is one pioneer here, with several experiences to share.

Agents

If you are signed with a literary agent, it’s worth having a conversation about your self-published titles to see if there are any markets worth approaching.

Here’s a beware, though. A few years ago, an author friend made a translation deal, through an agent who specialised in representing indie work to foreign markets. Hurrah, I thought, and contacted her. I received an offer – only it wasn’t. It was an invitation to pay for a spot in one of her ‘catalogues’ of indie books, which she would take around the trade fairs. There were several price tiers as well, with bronze, silver and gold service, according to how much effort she would put into sales. No thanks.

Babelcube

Babelcube is a community where authors can meet translators. You complete a profile describing your book, including a sample for translators to use as an audition, and wait to see who’s interested – like a dating site. What’s more, they provide the author-translator agreement and distribute to online retailers.

It seems like a smart answer to the problem, although you still have to find the foreign-language proofreading professionals. But some indie authors have been very happy with their Babelcube experience.

So I tried offering Nail Your Novel. Plenty of translators had a go at the sample, and I amassed a group of Facebook friends with good enough language skills to evaluate the results. Their responses were an eye opener.

Some of the applicants had made the kind of mistakes that commonly happened with Google Translate. Was that, indeed, what they were doing, running my book through an algorithm? Others had made accurate translations, but were too literal, or muddled up their tenses, or lacked the flair and positive spirit of the original book. Many of them had solid CVs, but were probably most competent in technical translation – not the kind of work where much of the message was in the writing voice. I withdrew Nail Your Novel from Babelcube.

And here I am

So you can probably see why I’m excited about AmazonCrossing (if you’re still unconvinced, here’s a post by Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed ). At the moment they’re seeking fiction, so I’ve sent my two novels . Here’s the submissions link again . I’m guessing they will have a hurricane of entries, and many of us won’t be a good fit. So I’m sending my novels – with everything crossed.

Meanwhile, have you had any adventures, good or bad, with translations? Any tips or advice? Share them here

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Equality in publishing: gender is not the only agenda

4041668533_2d4daee55d_zRecently there has been much ado about gender inequality in publishing. In The Bookseller, Cathy Rentzenbrink wrote about two literary prizes whose shortlists were dominated by male authors, and argued this as the tip of a deeper rooted problem, which then became the subject of Porter Anderson’s Futurechat on Twitter.

Ms Rentzenbrink particularly drew attention to the fact that the Goldsmith competition aimed to celebrate fiction that is, in the words of its press release, ‘audacious and original’. As she said:

‘So that’s 18 books singled out for praise in the space of a week only one of which was written by a woman. Why is this? Are women incapable of writing audacious and original fiction? Not much cop at sharing their experience of the world?’

But something seems to have been missed as everyone joined the uproar. There it was in the Goldsmith prize rules, bold as brass. Self-published novels are not eligible. Check it for yourself.

self-published books are not eligible

(I can’t find a list of rules for the Samuel Johnson prize, which Ms Rentzenbrink also cited and accounts for her total of 18. Update: an enterprising commenter found a cached version. The Johnsons do not exclude self-published books, so no argument there.)

Gender lottery

Now, we’d probably all argue that the gender line-up in the final shortlist is most likely a matter of chance, not conspiracy. Ms Rentzenbrink felt it was a symptom of a wider attitude problem.

And I contend that this exclusion of self-published books is another.

Especially from a prize whose goal was to find ‘audacious and original’ fiction. Because they are more likely to find it from indie authors than from the output of traditional publishing.

But the crap, Roz

Now yes, some indie fiction is unripened. Inept. Hobby work. Personal therapy. All possible literary sins can be seen in self-publishing – but self-publishing is also where you find original, finely honed work that should have been on a publisher’s list if market economics allowed. (NB: anyone quoting this line had better include its full context or I will smite them with my hairdresser’s zombie homage to Ulysses.)

Ms Rentzenbrink’s discussion of gender is a call for equality and fair chances, to judge a book and a writer on merit and nothing else. So while the industry beats its breast about the gender thingy, it should also address the exclusion of independently published fiction. Double standards are rather unattractive, aren’t they?

Indeed, like Ms Rentzenbrink, I can show that this prejudice against self-published authors goes further than just a few competitions. Some quarters of the publishing world still dismiss it as vanity press. I’ve written in a recent blogpost about how the Royal Literary Fund dismisses applications from authors who are not ‘commercially published’, as they put it. (You might wonder about their imprecise use of the word ‘commercial’ here. I certainly did.)

I thoroughly support the upholding of standards. Crikey, that’s how we pull ourselves up from our first amateur efforts. But we need to ask how quality should be judged.

A spectrum view

This question will become increasingly significant in coming years. There will be many more authors releasing their books in new ways. ‘Totally self-published’ and ‘totally published’ will simply be opposite ends of a long spectrum. Indeed they already are.

There follows a brief diversion into details that may be familiar if you’ve known me for a while. I shall render it in brackets so that you may skip if you wish.

(Some of us authors are publishing professionals as well as writers. In my case, I ran an editorial department for three years and trained other editorial staff. I teach writers how to bring their novels up to publishable standard, and I’m rigorous about it. Ask any of my editing clients. Ask The Guardian. I am every bit as qualified to make good publishing decisions as, well, a traditional publisher. I treat my own work just as ruthlessly, as a matter of pride in my art and respect to the reader. Rant ends.)

4611734514_acb26190ee_z

In which I invent two new buzzwords

In the coming years, increasing numbers of significant books will be produced with these new models. This is an age of options.

So far, most of the discussions about successful self-publishers have concentrated on business. But fiction is an art too. Just as film has writer-directors and auteurs, and music has singer-songwriter-producers, we will see the self-published author who is characterised by a strong creative vision and artistic proficiency. Just as we’ve seen the rise of the author-entrepreneur, we will also see the rise of the author-director, the author-auteur.

Phew, I didn’t know I was going to write that. I might have invented a new monster.

Back to the Goldsmiths competition exclusion. We should be as committed to seriously tackling this issue, this blindspot, as we are to scrutinising gender prejudice. It has just as much potential to unfairly disadvantage authors whose work deserves critical recognition.

So what are the objections to including indie authors ?

There seems to be only one, really.

But the crap, Roz

Yes, there are so very many books.

Clearly there has to be a sensible method of triage for competitions, professional bodies etc. But here’s a suggestion. Judges and gatekeepers, you don’t have to read all of every book. You do as any sensible reader would – read the opening. Do the page 99 test. If that’s not good enough, no reader would continue. Throw it out. Pick up the next book. Then read the real contenders properly.

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Thanks for the pics Dino Talic and Elliott Brown on Flickr

Or is there? What might I have missed? Let’s discuss.

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Writers, stay true to your standards. Long night of the literary soul

3564583787_d0faf36e54_b‘There’s never been a better time to be a writer.’ I’ve seen this mantra frequently over the past few years in blogposts, conference reports and news items. And I don’t disagree there’s been a lot to celebrate.

But from what I see right now, this time is also tougher for authors than ever.

Indie authors feel it in their book sales. Hands up who is in a forum where the chief discussion is ‘what can I do about my dwindling sales?’ ‘Anybody else had a dismal month?’ ‘Should I drop my book’s price, put it on Kindle Unlimited, write something more popular, send out more emails, spend $$$ on a marketing course?’

The traditionally published authors I know are faring little better, with shrinking advances, ill-supported launches – even the authors who have awards to prove their worth.

Last week I was having an email conversation with a wise author friend. As we confided our worries and frustrations, I felt we were describing the state of the author 2015, and were probably echoing many other conversations going on behind closed doors.

So I thought I would open those doors. Come in. Come and see how authors are thinking about their careers right now. And see why, in spite of the rotten state of the book market, we keep the faith and stay true to our standards.

I have permission to quote my friend’s words, but he wanted to remain anonymous. So we’ll call him Oscar, in honour of the internet tradition of attributing everything to Mr Wilde.

…………

Oscar: I’m looking forward to Ever Rest.

RM: It will be a while before Ever Rest is fit to show. When it is, I’m going to look for a new agent. It’s so desperately hard to get fiction noticed, especially if you write odd-lit like me. I have friends in mainstream publishing who give me furious pep-talks about how I’m on a hiding to nothing by publishing literary fiction as an indie. Even my own husband says it. And they’re right. I need a way to prove myself to the serious reviewers and opinion formers.

An example. I recently applied to the Royal Literary Fund for a grant. I’d been assured by another sponsored author that they would consider a writer who had published two literary novels, but when I checked their rules I found they excluded self-publishing. Nevertheless, I wrote explaining my background, teaching credentials, why I’m indie (more about that here ). Their reply was ‘you haven’t commercially published sufficient work’ and they refused any further discussions. This is the hole we find ourselves in, trying to get indie-published work recognised.

Oscar: You’re a smart lady to be looking for an agent. I’m beginning to think the biggest part of the indie movement is to smack the big machines into better behaviour. They have the money and power to do what we cannot do.

The tides will turn. I watched it happen in photography. Just please keep doing what you’re doing. It’s needed. Without people like you, we could lose literary writing in this mess. And it is a mess. I can’t believe some of the things I’m reading from authors who make big money.

RM: Speaking of which, you’ve no idea how many people who say to me ‘can’t you just toss off a series to get some bestsellers’?

Oscar: I tossed off a series – and then I pulled the books. I felt dirty.

I have an agent friend. In 2014 he was flying high, making sales, getting high-profile assignments, negotiating foreign rights. He said all of that is over now. It’s hard to sell *anything* to a trad house because we’ve lost our attention span for long form. Everybody is on Twitter. No one has the time to read. He has always been a force of nature, enormously talented, confident that he can take on the world. This throws me for a loop.

I check in on Kindleboards now and again. Yesterday I saw an author who started out making $13,000 a MONTH on four poorly written books say she’s now ghosting for other indies to make ends meet. Another author posted about the publication of his new ‘novel’, which is 117 pages long with lots of white space (probably 15K words) and selling for $2.99. Everyone was fawning over him and his swift production.

I saw Joanna Penn remark that we aren’t in competition with each other, but with so many other forms of entertainment. People do *not* sit still for long, unless they’re binging on Netflix for hours on end. How are we to compete with that?

Some authors are doing exceptionally well. They crank out a book a month and direct it at a very young audience that does not yet know the value of a dollar. I know scads of young adults, and they read copious amounts of books, but they’ve got to be free. I nearly blow an artery when I hear them say how poorly written the books are, how many grammar and style errors there are – but they don’t care.

As for craft and quality, in one forum I saw people asking others to stop putting out junk. The remarks degraded, as they always do, to people defending the ‘raw’ writing their fans demanded. Many admitted to using no editors at all, claiming it took the edge off.

RM: [Unprintable. Gentle reader, don’t ask.]

Oscar: My agent said there are precious few of us left with the attention span and appreciation of finely crafted work, and we need to hold on to each other dearly. That’s all fine and well, but how much longer can we continue buying each other’s books?

But it’s not all doom. My partner and I are deeply involved with theatre and have watched that die a slow death, and even Masterpiece Theater removed ‘Theater’ from its name so people won’t get turned off by it. We hang on because it is an eternal artform waiting to be re-born. I believe the same is true for longform, literary novels. It’s a cycle, and the cycles are moving faster.

RM: Right. Who would have thought, five years ago, that Hilary Mantel would be a household name? Listen, while publishing sorts itself out, we write. Have a look at this interview where the musician Sarah Kirkland Snider is talking to Porter Anderson about the sense of connection and completeness we have when we create good work. That’s what it’s about.

Oscar: There is a passage from Nevada to Utah called The Virgin River Gorge. It’s at least a thousand feet deep and so beautiful it makes one’s heart stop. It was carved by a small body of soft water that moved slowly and peacefully because it was the only thing it knew how to do, the only path it could take. With time, it created the impossible and a majestic beauty and monument to the power of unyielding persistence.

Be the water.

Thanks for the pic MCD22

Do you have days like this? How has this year been for you in your writing and publishing career? My door is open.

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How to keep writing when time is scarce – 6 tips and video chat at #IndieReCon15

clocksmWe all have periods when our creative time is nuked. Day jobs, family responsibilities or out-of the-blue crises can make our writing goals streak away into the impossible distance. Even if writing is our chief occupation, there are platforms to build, decisions to mull. And if we self-publish we can add more exacting tasks to the list.

This year I’ve become more aware than ever how scarce my writing time has become. As well as editing work, I’ve got invitations to speak and run courses. I’m thrilled, and happily surprised as I never expected it. I consider myself fantastically lucky to be able to build a career on this art I’ve practised quietly for decades. But if my own novels take a back seat, my soul will shrivel. So this is how I stay on track.

Micro-sessions

You don’t always need big chunks of writing time. Instead, schedule micro-sessions. Can you set the alarm 20 minutes earlier? Earmark that to spend time with your book’s textfile, planning the next scene, honing the one you’re currently writing, creating your beat sheet if you’re in the revision stage (more about that here). Begin your day with a short stretch of clear, quality book time – and it will travel with you all the rest of the day. I’ve written more about that here.

Triggers

Develop smart triggers for quick access to your book’s world. If you’ve hung around here for any period of time you’ll know how keen I am on music for this . At the moment, I’m gathering an Undercover Soundtrack for Ever Rest, and it keeps my enthusiasm stoked, reminds me of the book’s world, the characters and their mysteries.

Draw inspiration from everyday life

The more I am immersed in the book, the more I find useful material comes to me – the view out of a window will help me build a scene in a new location, the outfit of a guy on the Tube is how one of my characters will dress.

Baby steps keep your mission clear

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the little glitches that spring up as we write and edit. We can be just as disrupted by new ideas that suggest fresh possibilities. Suddenly our clarity has gone, the book’s getting out of control. The mistake is to try to muddle on with all those new ideas boiling around you. Instead, isolate a question you want to consider, brainstorm it, consider the consequences for one path or another – and when you’re ready, return to the main book. When I bump up against a problem with plot or characters, I scribble it on a scrap of paper and carry it with me so I can work it out without getting confused or derailing the rest of the book.

Remember editing is part of the writing

Some authors regard redrafting as a chore of corrections, a dispiriting process of confronting what we did wrong. And indeed, some authors still don’t realise they can self-edit at all. (I get emails from writers who worry their first draft is turning bad, and want to send it to me for a developmental report.) But revision is 1 – necessary and 2 – an intensively creative opportunity. Most novels get better from multiple visits. The more you edit, the more you understand what your book needs and how to streamline it. More here on this – revision is re-vision.

Find a buddy

I have a writer friend who’s also fiercely defending his writing time, while over-run by a busy career. For a few years now, we’ve been direct messaging on Twitter first thing each morning, a little nudge to say ‘I’m on my book – are you on yours?’ Find a buddy who’s also in danger of drowning, and keep each other accountable.

nyn soloThere’s a lot more on getting your novel finished in Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. 

Anyway, here’s the video from IndieReCon 15, which this year was organised by the Alliance of Independent Authors. The other faces are authors Christine Nolfi and David Penny .

And tell me – how do you stay in touch with your writing when time is scarce?

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Whistle-stop tour through a ghostwriting career and beyond – interview at Whitefox

whitefI’d completely forgotten I’d written this interview until it popped up on Twitter today. Whitefox publishing services wanted to quiz me about ghostwriting, my first writing gig and any tips I’d give to writers who were thinking of self-publishing. If you’ve known me for a while the answers will be old hat, but if you’re one of the recent subscribers (thank you!) and are still curious, here it is. If you’re wondering about your publishing options, you’ll find some useful tips here. And if you want advice on weighing up publishing services companies, these posts should help you make sensible decisions. And thank you, Whitefox, for inviting me to your blog.

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How do we label ourselves as writers? Guest spot at Dan Holloway – and the box set is available NOW!

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEGsmlForgive the capitals in the title. That’s the problem of being in a group of seven, rather excited writers who’ve been working towards this moment since November. Our ebook collection, Outside The Box: Women Writing Women, went live yesterday. If you pre-ordered it, it will have arrived on your ereader. If pre-orders aren’t your thing, you can grab it right now, because it vanishes on May 24. Oh, and it’s seven full-length novels, so clear a weekend or seven.

wwwtogethergraphicsml

authoright 1We’re getting coverage all over the place, including the UK national press. (This is why the release is such a moment of relief and excitement.) But today I want to highlight a particularly thoughtful, searching interview put together by Dan Holloway. He’s asked tricky questions:

Is this collection a marketing idea, a political statement or both? What are our common threads (aside from the possession of two X chromosomes)? danDo they help us come up with a ‘label’ for our diverse range of books? What should that label be? Do labels in fiction cause problems? What about the position of women writers in literary fiction? And, my own favourite: is it better for writers to be ambitious and fall short, or to succeed on more limited terms?

It’s a good discussion. Do come over.

And once again, this is our ensemble. And we are very excited.

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Publish traditionally, solo self-publish or something else? Advice for the 2015 writer

2015 writerLast year I wrote a post about whether I’d advise an author to publish or selfpublish. A year on, the landscape for authors is remarkably different – or perhaps not remarkable if you’ve been waiting for a bubble to burst.

Indie authors have seen sales plummet because of the sheer numbers of books available, and subscription schemes such as Kindle Unlimited have created a breed of readers who won’t shop outside a limited free list.

Might this mean it’s better to be traditionally published?

Not from what I’ve seen. My friends with trad deals aren’t having a good time either. Leaving aside royalties and advances (which seem to offer little financial reward for all the hard work writing), their books aren’t getting a decent chance for a long-term future.

A friend whose first novel won a major award in 2012 has just watched his fourth novel launch with no more fanfare than a tiny paragraph in a Sunday paper. His only other support was a training day on a social media course. And don’t even ask about rights grabs – where authors might wait years to reclaim a book to publish it themselves.

Tough times, my friends. So savvy writers will be looking for smarter ways to publish.

Since my last post about this we’ve seen a growing trend for indies to work in collaboration, teaming up with similar authors to release box-sets of ebooks, finding partners to exploit other rights such as translations or audio (either via ACX or other means – here are my posts on my own collaboration with my voice actor Sandy Spangler). Collaborators might be paid up front or in royalty splits. Further back, indies have collaborated by teaming up to create products (like my course with Joanna Penn, now unfortunately nuked by EU VAT rules) or forming long-term collectives (Triskele Books, itself a collective, has been running a series on various well-established collectives ). Joanna Penn has a mighty post about joint ventures with other creatives.

And that’s just the start. I think the authors of 2015 will be watching out for advantageous ways to partner up and we haven’t seen the half of them yet.

Better together
Indies who collaborate get
• shared marketing muscle, to connect with more readers
• shared expertise (editorial feedback, blurb and press release writing)
• shared contacts (editors, proof readers, designers)
• a shoulder to cry on, behind the scenes – and tough love when necessary too.

Does it sound familiar? Indie author collaborations are attempting to create the best of what a traditional publisher does. And this means we should…

View traditional publishing deals as collaborations
And so this means the smartest way to suss out deals from traditional publishers is to consider them as collaborations. What will they do for you that you could not do yourself? What are they asking from you in return? Is it reasonable?

No one I know writes a book to sacrifice it to a bad deal (see my remark about rights grabbing above). On the other hand, no one wants to turn down an opportunity that would be good, as far as can reasonably be forecast in a world of fickle readers and luck.

So this is what I’d say to the 2015 writer who’s asking my advice on whether to selfpublish or query traditional publishers.

1 Whether you intend to go indie or not, learn about selfpublishing

– then you’ll know how to weigh up the value of a publishing deal. As well as the advance (which usually won’t cover the time you spent writing), a publisher offers editorial guidance, copy editing and proof reading, cover design as appropriate for the audience, print book preparation, publicity using their contacts and reputation, print distribution.

Some (not all) are easy to source yourself or make good decisions about. Some can’t even be priced, like the publisher’s reputation – but see my remark above about the award-winning writer with his latest launch. Some of that value might be emotional – the confidence that everything has been done properly. This may not be as guaranteed as you think. There are traditionally published writers who sell enough to get meticulous attention from publishers, and others who get a tired, overworked editor who simply doesn’t have time to do the job as well as they’d like.

The more you know about selfpublishing, the more you can assess a publisher’s value as a partner. If you have tried to produce a quality book yourself, you’ll have a realistic idea of the value a publisher adds – or whether you can do well without them.

2 Be aware of the limits of traditional print and distribution

Distribution of print books is an area where traditional publishers have a clear advantage – (however, the Alliance of Independent Authors is working on a print sales project for indies ). Books in a publisher’s catalogue get promoted by a sales team. You get the heft of their mighty reputation! Result!

But let’s have a reality check. Go into Waterstones or another large book emporium. Look along the shelves where the books are spine-outwards. How many are there? Which ones catch your eye? Probably none of them. They’re the store’s wallpaper. You’re already cover-drunk by the time you’ve passed the books on the tables or in the window or in special display boxes.

Recording a radio show with independent bookseller Peter Snell, surrounded by lovely wallpaper

Recording a radio show, surrounded by lovely wallpaper

A book in a store needs more than a meek slot in the alphabetically-ordered shelves to be discovered by a casual browser, no matter how beautiful its title or cover. So even if your book is going into big stores, it’s unlikely to be found unless it gets special prominence – both in the store and in the wider world. For that, the publisher has to spend money. Independent bookstores are a different matter as the selection is smaller and more personalised, but you still have to hope your book gets emphasised by the sales reps or the store will never hear about it.

3 It isn’t either-or

Whether you start as indie or traditionally published, you won’t always stay that way. Traditionally published authors might leave their publishers (or be dropped) and go it alone. They might selfpublish their backlist. Indie authors might begin on their own, then strike a deal. Some do all of it concurrently (hybrid authors), choosing what’s best for each project.

Some publishers are experimenting with partnering deals, where an author who is experienced in production keeps control of some stages of the editorial process. I like this model very much – it seems a good way to use everyone’s strengths.

Publishing and selfpublishing is now a spectrum. Most writers will zip up and down it, according to where a project fits.

3 Selfpublishing your first book

Don’t be in a rush! Although modern selfpublishing tools let you revise and tweak a naive edition, you cannot edit your reputation. Take your time. Do it properly. You’ve got a lot to learn – about writing to a publishable standard and about publishing itself. The world will wait – but it won’t forget if you mess it up. See my post here about leaving enough time to use editorial feedback.

And finally…

The selfpublishing world is maturing. Suddenly I notice there are a lot of us who have been in this game a few years now, building solid reputations and devoted audiences. I think 2015 will be the year of the exciting collaboration – with other authors, with translators, with artistes from other media (such as voice actors). Perhaps with editors too.

We’ll choose what’s best for each book. We’ll also get more expert at putting a realistic value on contributions, including those of traditional players in publishing, both imprints and agents, and with luck this will lead to deals that are fair and fruitful.

Writing may be solitary. Publishing – and selfpublishing – doesn’t have to be.

Thanks for the dancer pic Lisa Campbell

plotglowThe ebook of Writing Plots With Drama, Depth and Heart: Nail Your Novel is now available on pre-order. It will go on live sale on Twelfth Night, 5th January, and if you order beforehand you can get a special pre-order price.

 

Have you collaborated on selfpublishing projects – or struck an unorthodox deal with a publisher? Are there any success stories or cautionary tales you’d like to share? How do you feel about the prospects of the solo selfpublisher for 2015? Optimistic? Pessimistic? How do you feel about traditional publishing? Let’s discuss!

AFTERWORD Since I first published this post, Peter Snell and I recorded an edition of the radio show in which we interviewed two founders of an authors’ collective, Triskele Books. They gave us the lowdown on how they formed, how the collective works and the pros and cons. Listen by clicking the clever thingy below.

So You Want To Be A Writer - Episode 28 by Surrey Hills Community Radio on Mixcloud

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