Getting Over The Hump

And so we slide fully into Week 2 of NaNoWriMo, and perhaps your journey is going considerably better than mine (if you have written your daily words, or even if you just don’t regret picking the thing you chose for NaNo, then yes, your journey is vastly improved upon mine). But perhaps, even if this is the case, you’re still wondering how the hell you’re going to get another 30-odd k out of your tale, or you’re still not at all certain how you’re going to finish this, even if you’re full of ideas and everything. Or perhaps you’re not worried at all, and just joining in the blog-reading of NaNo and the procrastination and seeing the suffering of your fellow participants. Either way, all are welcome here 😉

I think Week 2 is the scariest part of NaNoWriMo, because it’s about Week 2 that it becomes clear that 50k is a LOT of words. Unless you’ve been hit by that wonderful literary lightning, or are really, really good at this, and have hit the word count already. It happens. Not for quite as high a percentage as following the NaNo hashtag on Twitter might have you believe, but it does happen.

The nice thing is that I still have no doubt that I can hit my 50k. I know I can abandon all pretension at writing quality and write quantity if I must. Last night, I was certain that I ought never to touch this book again, for fear of ruining it perpetually, but I made myself do another hundred words, and then that inevitably turned into 500, and even if my count is still now only just over 11k, I’m not worried, that’s fine.

What worries me more. curiously, is getting to 35k. 35k seems to be the number that plenty of people fail at, also, have you noticed? It’s so near, yet still quite far. For me, that’s the hump of NaNo. The halfway point is simply horrifying – you realise just exactly how bloody long 50k can be, and the idea of having as far to go again is brain-numbing, unless, of course, you really do have that surfeit of ideas. But at 35k, you are over the hump. You’ve the bulk of your book and you can quite easily finish it simply by extending every scene you’ve already written by a few words (this is quite a fun tactic which I do recommend if you get heartily stuck once you’re over the hump – it can make for some quite entertaining twists and revelations…).

At 35k, you can see what you’re doing, see your destination. That’s scary, sometimes it’s almost as horrifying as being ‘only’ halfway, but it is a reality, rather than a panic, and as with all horror, it’s easier to get through when you know what you’re dealing with, rather than dealing with the ghost that is fear itself.

And 35k doesn’t even come until Week 3. So, much as above, knowing it’s so much easier to get through a panic about something you can see, rather than something you can’t, I am steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any feelings or panics I have at all until I’m over the hump, and can really, truly see what it is that I’ve done. And then if, as last year, I still hate it, it doesn’t matter for it is only the work of a few more days to achieve the goal. The best part of NaNo is when you are on the downhill slope, flying towards your goal, knowing you’re going to meet it. At that point, you can disregard any emotions or fears altogether.

But that part doesn’t come until you get over the hump. And for me, as I say, that’s at 35k. So I’m aiming right squarely for 35k and I’m not going to be scared and I’m not going to stop doing the million other things that have suddenly started to seem so attractive during this November because that too is part of NaNo and its joy – you learn that it is possible to accomplish infinitely more than you thought you could. And, even if you knew you could do NaNo, sometimes you get to also be surprised at all the other things you can accomplish simply by spending time at the keyboard not only riffling through Tumblr, but also writing all the other things, or chatting with other writers, or making friends (or enemies) in communities you only just happened upon.

It’s a great month, is NaNoWriMo. Fear not. We’ll all be over the hump soon enough.

 

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What Would C.J. Cregg Do?

Get to work, really. That’s most likely the answer.

It’s been a difficult week, interspersed with a lot of feelings and panic and wondering how on earth to keep kicking myself onwards. It’s much easier to kick yourself onwards when you’re doing things for a loved one, or working for something you believe in, like, say, Martin Sheen as the President of the United States. I think that’s part of the trick, isn’t it? Having something, someone, for whom you do things that you believe aren’t just worth doing, but that you will do better than anyone else.

I find it difficult to do things for myself. I find it difficult, for example, to believe that there is sufficient universal value in my novel ( The Pulse Buy it here, buy it now! )to promote it in any way less than panicky, flippant and daft. I will, I will, I will try. I do have a plan. And I do think it’s a fine read, I genuinely do. Not for everyone, but for me, and that’s, with the first self-published thing I’ve done, more than enough for me.

But back to the post. I find it difficult to knuckle down and arrange things, fix things, make things that will benefit, in the first instance, only me. Even when I know that in the long run they’ll have an effect on me that will be more than desirable for those around me, I still can’t quite turn away from everything else sufficiently to get on with the Me Things. It took a lot to cut stuff off and write, and in the end I realised that the trick was to be able to write without cutting everything else off. That writing wasn’t one of those superselfish things I did that needed me to behave in a particular way. That writing can just happen, by the by, as and when, that yes, it’s better if I’ve a clear morning and no commitments, but that also that’s when I’m most likely to put the washing on, cook up some food for the rest of the week and do the hoovering.

I wonder what C.J.’s flat looked like? I wonder if she cooked for herself, or survived only on takeaway and whatever they actually have in the White House? I wonder if we just didn’t see the nights she actually got home before midnight and threw on a set of old pyjamas and sat in front of the telly covered in crisps…but I suspect there weren’t too many of those.

When you’re doing something that matters, you’re busy. Your brain’s going. You can learn a thing, do a thing, write a thing, because you have to. Objectively, the world is going to improve when you’ve finished it. Or at least started it.

It’s when you don’t have anything that matters that it’s tough. When you don’t know if something will matter. When you’ve got into the habit of convincing yourself that maybe it’s the next thing that matters, or the one after that, so you’d better give yourself the space to be ready for that thing, rather than knuckling down to this one, which might come to nothing after all.

That’s the trick of it, really. There’s no better way to make sure that you’ll never make anything, contribute to anything, or do anything important than to not do anything at all. I get stuck sometimes because I worry I need to be ready for the big thing, the important thing, the moment when Martin Sheen asks me to be White House press officer (let us count the ways in which this is madness, for they are many), and the truth of it is that you have to do things, make things, be things, in order for the worthwhile, objectively necessary, brilliant or wonderful things to come along.

If you’ve written five books for yourself, there’s a very real chance that the sixth book, whilst also for yourself, can change lives, by being brilliant in new ways. There’s a chance that you’ll have learnt something that’ll actually be worth passing on. That someone might ask you, for your demonstrated brilliance, or even just persistence, to be a part of something.

I have struggled to try, sometimes, because I’m scared, because I don’t think it’s worthwhile, because I can’t see the end of the project or because I’m worried to put down a first line that isn’t 100% perfect, even if the second and third lines might be, even if I can change it later. I’ve been scared to ask questions I don’t know the answer to, because I don’t, by virtue of the asking, know where that’ll take me. I like to know what’s next, not to ask, or to start out on the unknown road. And that’s another blog in itself.

What would C.J. do? She’d do something. I think that’s the thing. Just get started. I’ve done it before. It’s really time to do that again. Downtime is great, recharging is important, but if you don’t get back on the horse before the fear creeps in, you’ll miss a trick, and then Martin Sheen’s never going to call…

Watching Yourself Fail

It’s a horrible thing.

The thing you think about when you’re trying to calmly drink your coffee and watch The West Wing, and you realise you’ll never, ever, be as awesome as C.J. Cregg. You’ll be lucky to be 5% as awesome in your entire life as C.J. Cregg.

The thing you think about when you’re about to pay for something in a shop, and the assistant asks you “How are you today?” and you open your mouth to reply and say “Fine, good, yes, ” but your brain is capslocking I JUST SUCK I’M SO SORRY PLEASE HELP because it’s had a little flashback to that horrible thing.

Failing.

It’s such a strange word these days, is failing. It can be epic, comedic, brave, brilliant, and pitiful. But the real failure happens in the mind of the failee, the repeat-play, the billions of interconnected, miserable strands of story that weave and knot themselves into that one awful moment where you look around you and realise that you are, right here, right now, not just not doing what you’d hoped to be doing, not just not projecting who you wanted to be, but that you are actually, inside and out, not the person you thought you were.

At worst, you don’t think you’re going to fail. You don’t do anything you know, 100%, is going to fail. And if you do, it’s so something else will succeed. No, you do things – write a book, ask someone out, pitch your dreams, get dressed in the morning – either without hope or agenda because you must, because it’s Tuesday, because you can, or you do them to get somewhere. Learn something, Be something. Move forwards.

I’ve spent ten years of my life thinking I was moving forwards in a very specific sense. I did it because I could. I did it because I was learning. It was hard. I didn’t earn any money. I did have a lot of time. Time to read and write and learn, and to earn what little I could from strange, strange side projects that came and went like the tide, leaving me washed up and exhausted, but glad to have seen the sea (metaphors are weirder in the morning, huh?).

It didn’t work out. It hasn’t worked out for years. I should’ve seen it. Should’ve called it. You can start to see those strands here, in these words. Thoughts and regrets and misery and panic, if I’d done this back in 2007, if I knew what I know now, if I’d tried harder with this, taken that trip, gone for that job…it’s all in there.

It’s taken about nine months (as so many things do) to kick out of that amassed failure. To take steps to move, to try again, to go, as it happens, home, and as that happens, to my childhood home, which is not the cute east wing of our sprawling Surrey mansion, no, it’s my crammed, dusty, 5ft 8″ square old room, and I’m 5ft 8.5″ so, yeah, and yes, I’m an only child so I have ~issues and entitlement and massive, massive privilege in a certain sense, because hell, it’s just me, and my parents are amazing, wonderful people. But, a hideous situation because it just doesn’t work. My parents are old, they’re settled for the first time in their lives, they’re pretty happy, which they weren’t when I was growing up. I am actively spoiling everything they worked for, everything they’ve struggled for. I never wanted to be this…selfish. It’s why I left home at 18, it’s why I didn’t come back any of the times things were at their worst, it’s why I wake up every morning swimming in my own failure, and it’s why there’s a huge clock ticking in my brain every moment I’m here, get. out. get. on. keep. moving. it’s pretty tiring.

I was supposed to be great. Not objectively. Probably at something. I have attributes. I have odd attributes, sure, but there are things I am brilliant at. They’re strange things. Planning. Strategising. Criticising. Advising. I can be wicked enthusiastic, driven, dedicated. I can see things, fix things, think not just outside the box, but outside the whole sodding system. I can’t sell myself though, much as this paragraph might look like I’m trying to.

I had a job interview last week. I used to be so damn good at job interviews. I loved interviews. I got every job I applied for, for years, whether I wanted it or not, whether I should’ve got it or not. I was just so sure that I would be worthwhile. I could convince anyone to take a chance on me.

So last week I sat there and tried to answer standard questions and all I could see whilst I was doing it was a murky flood of misery and anger and missed years and missed opportunities and I was not prepared, not at all, for all those feelings. I watched myself fail to get a job I’m not, tbh, sure I ought to have had, because I couldn’t do what I used to be so good at doing, pulling myself together and being honest and explaining why I could do things and being right about that. I started out that interview thinking of myself as well-dressed and bright and full of possibility, like someone who was in control of themselves and was going somewhere, was taking the right steps…and I finished up with a bright smile and a handshake on the outside, as my insides dived into a bucket of woe.

I look at the last ten years and I can brightside it wonderfully, I can, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in so many ways and I am grateful, I am, but I don’t compare. It’s not that I envy my friends’ careers (although I do, from time to time, whilst acknowledging that I could never accomplish them myself), but that I have so much mess going on here, I don’t know how to explain it, I don’t know how to…get rid of it so that I can get on. I don’t know who or what I turned into, but it is not the girl I wanted to be. So I tried to take the leap. I jumped off a high thing, and I’m in mid-air, trying to straighten everything out at once, trying to find/make money so I can try to find/make space to find/make myself.

The failing keeps repeating around my brain, kicking my heart and pulling on my nerves, stamping on my chest and whispering in the middle of nothing, are you really this stupid? I am.

I did a lot of things for a long time for the right reasons, and I have come out of that time in one piece, yes, just about, but I left something behind and I need it back.

I am here, at home, trying again not because it is my only option, but because it is everything, everything I want. I am trying to make Plan A work, from nothing. I started with Plan C, went onto Plan B, and they were all pretty grim in the long run so here I am, going for Plan A, following my heart, doing all I can to bend this tiny corner of the universe into the shape I really, desperately want it to be. I have lived more of my life for other people than I can even convey or admit to almost anyone, and for the last month I have been working incredibly hard on the inside to live some of it back for myself.

This was supposed to be a vague blog, more non-disclosure, something that didn’t look so very, very typical and grim, and yes, I’m still vague on the important details, the things that make me into a whole story and not a miserable statistic because I have to be, because they’re not my details, but they are the explanation. I don’t look good from the outside.

The failure, though, the flashbacks and circularity of falling feelings, the web of missing parts and the way I never went for the things I needed, that doesn’t look good from the inside, either.

On the plus side, I can’t give up. It’s all too far in, now, and what I want, what I could have, with the confluence of just a couple of other things, with just a few more hours, days, weeks of trying, writing, working, being better, trying harder, digging up all the dirt inside myself and throwing it behind me, it’s too good. I know what my prize looks like. As much as the failure is pawing all around me, the carrot of dreams (yep, yep) is shiny and bright and just there, right there, so close.

So here’s hoping that in the next interview, the next transaction with another human, the next chance I get to move forwards, I am better prepared to be myself. It is much, much more pleasant to watch yourself succeed.

A Pocketful of String: 11 Short & Shorter Stories by Me

A Pocketful of String - cover

So, I’ve concocted a small book of short and shorter stories. You can buy it for the cost of a mildly overpriced coffee on Amazon, see links at the end of this self-promotion!

It contains:

– The spectre of Death
– What happens when the Luck Child returns
– Fond memories and grim futures
– How not to turn 25
– A terrible warning about rabbits
– What happens to your heart
– An overtly sentimental dining room table
– A failed love spell
– A haunted photobooth
– A very surprising breakfast
– The apocalypse, from above and within

Not quite in that order.

I’ve thought a lot about doing this, over the last six months. I was going to do it before The Pulse, and then I thought that that’d be some kind of weird cop-out (I can’t explain why, but it’s how it felt…like I *had* a novel and wasn’t paying attention to it, perhaps…that it would be somehow easier to shove eleven little things out into the world than one great big thing that hadn’t had any seal of approval…either way, I didn’t).

Most of these stories have been around and about before, some appeared on this journal recently, one was my first paid piece of fiction, and one I just got the rights back to. A couple, though, are completely new to this collection.

Part of doing this is to clean my writing slate, I think. I don’t have any other finished things I plan to publish, I don’t have anything out with agents or magazines, for the first time in ages. I have a heap of drafts, in varying stages. I’ve a side project I’m really, really heart-and-soul excited about, but that’ll be under a different name, and I probably won’t discuss it here. I’ve that novel that I hope has a chance of going to agent properly, if only because it’s a lot more commercial than The Pulse, and it has the kind of plot and characters that make the most of taglines and summaries. I still utterly stand by my first novel, but as I continue the uphill battle to take it to an audience that might enjoy it (and I don’t think I’m being extensively deluded in believing it has one), I continue to be astonished by how unsellable it is. If you’ve any thoughts, do let me know 😉

So yes, A Pocketful of String. That’s what I’m meant to be selling here! It’s quick and easy to read, it’s got a few self-indulgent comments about the writing of all the things, and it’s a memento, really, to myself of the last few years. Heavy on whimsy, magical realism, wordplay and weird stuff, but nothing too dark or unpleasant.

Should you so wish, you can buy it Amazon US & World or from Amazon UK. You can also buy it from any national Amazon by searching, unsurprisingly, Pocketful of String! It’s so exciting to find you’ve a reasonably unique book title XD As ever, feedback and connection is wholeheartedly welcome. These tales might be small, daft, and occasionally plain weird, but they’re dear to me, and I’m pleased to share.

Also, if you’d like to add me on GoodReads, even just as a fellow reader (I’m aiming for 200 books RaR-d this year – if you fancy sending me anything for review then do message me!) I’m here.

Getting Reviewed: Other People’s Feelings

The Pulse

Greetings from sunny, sunny Stockholm! Like a proper writer, I’m hiding from the great yellow beast in the kitchen, typing and drinking tea.

Well, I worked out how to get people to review my book. I went to a couple of GoodReads groups I’d been in and signed up for a couple of RaR programmes. I’ve sent out about fifteen copies, and had a good handful of reviews back so far.

This has been a solid learning experience. Here are some things I’ve learnt.

1. Somehow, despite the lack of anything that might be termed vague sci-fi for a good third of the book, and despite it being in the dystopian reading group, my novel is too sci-fi for many people. I can’t tell you how confused I am by those reviews, and however much I put them down to disinterest, disillusionment or other negative reaction to my book (all of which are fine and honest reactions to have, of course they are), I still want to go, BUT WHY SPECIFICALLY DID YOU SAY THAT. Which is stupid of me. But continuous. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have said anything at all if the RaR system didn’t force them into “reviewing” even if they don’t read a book, which would have been better, but it wasn’t something I’d imagined happening. Lesson: say your book is more genre than it is to warn off people who really want mainstream?

The remaining reviews I’m incredibly grateful for, and they’re wonderfully written and thought out, and nothing makes me happier than having written enough for people to express rounded thoughts about it. Whatever their thoughts. I’ve only had positive reactions from people I know who’ve read it, and one of the reasons I wanted to get people who don’t know me to write proper honest reviews for me is because I had no idea how my book would fly in an actual readership.

Not very high, turns out.

But the reasonings surprise me rather.

2. People like liking characters. I have never understood this. You see it in reviews of all kinds of books. “I just didn’t like the character. I couldn’t sympathise with the character. I thought the character was naive/stupid/annoying/wrong/etc.” Yes, yes, Aiden isn’t likeable in a generic sense. He’s not attractive in any conventional sense, nor is he heroic, nor does he follow a conventional path of transformation into Normal Human. That was kind of what I loved about him to write, and it’s what a lot of people I’ve talked to in person about my book claim to have loved about him. But…his unlikeability is apparently a significant flaw for all my unknown reviwers. So that’s either:

a) My fault – they’re open to unlikeable characters, but I didn’t write well enough/plot well enough to make Aiden worthwhile in their eyes. Things like the popularity of writers like Stephen King, the absolute master of whole, vast ensembles of horrific, brain-smushingly horrible characters flung into generally brilliant plots, might speak for this. Also, consider the sheer amount of hideous characters that populate virtually every TV show. Note to self: should’ve made Aiden more like Don Draper.*

b) No-one’s fault – a matter of taste and not the kind of thing the reader wanted to encounter at this time, if at all.

c) The fault of expectation – a YA book’s major protagonist should be someone likeable/with whom the reader can sympathise (I’d really like to argue that Aiden is a completely sympathetic character – given his circumstances and well-discussed lifestyle, what more could you ask for from him?!).

d) Coincidence, and the reviewers are a small, non-representative group. But I don’t think this, because I see these kind of comments all the time for books with more unusual characters – “I didn’t like/sympathise with x character so I didn’t like the book.” But it’s amazing how, once a book is popular, that kind of instinctive issue is sidelined – once people become aware that someone likes x character, they become instantly more interesting, regardless of how likeable they truly are. Sidenote: whilst I wouldn’t try and compare The Pulse with The Hunger Games, it’s one of the reasons I really, really don’t understand anyone who’s read the whole trilogy rooting for Gale AT ALL. And also, one of the reasons I like those books a lot is because both major male characters (who are always, let’s recall, presented through Katniss’ eyes) fall outside the YA norms.

So there’s that. Lesson: don’t be surprised if people don’t share your own tastes, not just in characters, but in the act of reading itself.

Which brings me to:

3. No-one likes present narrator.

I exaggerate. In fact, my favourite part of any review received so far was in the one where the reviewer sort of came to like the present narrator aspect of my book. And my favourite moment possibly of the whole thing was when an old school friend I haven’t spoken to in a decade sent me a message telling me how much he’d enjoyed that.

But still. I’ve had a few responses around and about where people seemed to think that present narrator was a mistake, something I’d not meant to do, or that suggest that the reader hasn’t previously encountered present narrator in anything at all and is completely and utterly thrown by it. Or, they just hate it.

This is one thing I’d sort of expected. When I was looking around agents, and even when I was writing the book I saw over and over in ‘how to novel’ sort of things block capital advice against using present narrator, or flat out hatred for the device. I just don’t understand it, and, because much of my process in self-publishing this novel at all has been “My book: my way”, I ignored it.

I LOVE well-used present narrator. Again, I’m not ruling out the idea that I didn’t use it well, or didn’t make the most of the device. It’s perfectly possible. I’m glad I’ve had enough feedback about it that’s positive enough that I’m not retreating into the background and pretending this all never happened, but I’m not obstinately proclaiming my own authorly brilliance to the exclusion of all criticism.

But again, I really do love it. And I find it all the time. I think that’s something I find particularly surprising – a lot of people just haven’t come across it. One review mentions how it’s done much better in Narnia, and that’s true, but it’s a different kind of present narrator, a lighter, less interfering one, for sure, with no intent to foreshadow or prescribe, more to handhold and keep pace. I love being hauled through a story by a strong authorial voice, and since I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed trying to use that – even my earliest stories have it knocking about. For goodness’ sake, even my fanfiction has it (I don’t remember anyone complaining about it there, actually).

I wonder if it’s more to do with one’s own reading experience – it probably is, because, obviously, every book you read is, I think, shaped by the ones that come before and after it, not to mention your day, your mood, your life and your self – but growing up amidst a library rammed with wordy, interfering Victorian and pre-1950s British authors, there was definitely a lot of present narrator about in virtually everything I read. I’m not sure if that’s the case in prevalent Stateside literature so much. It’s a thought, anyway.

And again – because I’d had this idea that it wasn’t a popular device when I was writing it – it was another thing I was glad to uncover more thoughts on in reviews by people I didn’t know. Lesson: if people tell you something isn’t welcome in literature, they’re probably right. Caveat: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

The best lesson of all, though, thus far, is this:

5. I can take it. Yes, I have strong feelings about other people’s feelings. Yes, I want to respond to everyone and have some epic dialogue about WHY WHY WHY WHAT and occasionally WTF, but I really do, it turns out, have a fervent enough belief in everyone’s right to think whatever they like about whatever it is that they read and just to be thrilled that people are actually reading (recall, I grew up in a time pre-Harry Potter, where reading seemed to be a very peculiar thing to do indeed, and everyone was terrified that no-one would bother with it In The Future), that I don’t burst into tears if someone doesn’t like my novel, and I am overjoyed if, even if they didn’t specifically like it, or think that it was any good, they gave those thoughts care and time.

I wasn’t sure about that. I’ve been terrified of a bad review. I’ve had a few now. And yes, obviously I’m sad that I’ve only had one or two people I don’t know feel overwhelmingly positive about the book, or that I’ve not had more enthusiastic reviews, or indeed any yet from the free day (that’s another blog…) but there it is, and also, I must remind myself on a continual basis that it is a sodding sizeable book, which people can’t just get through in an afternoon unless they have considerable interest, space in their life, and dedication to doing so.

But it’s okay. I genuinely, truly want to know what people think about The Pulse. What they like, what they don’t. How they found the experience of reading it.

If you’d like to let me know your thoughts on The Pulse, you’re always welcome to email as per the acknowledgements page in the back of the book, or, obviously to review on Amazon or . I’d love it if you would. Unless you stopped after two pages because you hated it. Whilst, once more, I utterly defend your right to post such a review, I’d be lying if I said it made me happy XD

And, if you’ve not bought The Pulse and somehow, despite the not-exactly-selling-it nature of this blog would like to, then it’s HERE on Amazon UK and HERE on Amazon US (and on all the regional Amazons, too, including the new Amazon India, yay! Search “the Pulse Shaw” and it’ll appear pronto).

Anyone else have review experiences/blogs they’d like to share on this? It’s definitely the kind of process that’s both precisely as I’d imagined, and quite a surprise!

*On reflection, I think Aiden might have rather more in common with Don Draper than I’d imagined. Iiiiiinteresting.

So I Wrote A Book…Now What?

Well, it turns out that there are only so many ways (see half a dozen of my previous posts) you can tell the people you already know that you wrote a book, and there’s only so long you can maintain an anxious level of hoping that they’ll have the time/inclination/finances to buy/read/tell you they’ve read it.

So what next?

I honestly thought that the moment I threw at Amazon, I’d be turning my back on the site with a wry first-timer smile of relief on my face, before immediately diving headlong into scrawling a slew of short stories, novellas and all sorts, riding high on the sense of accomplishment.

What’s actually happened is that, first of all, I’ve had several GAH THAT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THERE moments result in frenetic and continuous re-reading of my own book, which is the kind of crisis that I really thought my hefty editing process would have avoided, followed by a nagging sense that, after all this time, maybe it is an okay book and maybe it’d be nice if I could actually ‘get it out there’ a bit more. When you see actual famous people working their arses off to flog more books to people, speaking everywhere at everything and appearing at any bookshop a level above one at a school fete…suddenly you think, well, maybe I could do more.

I don’t seem to be able to do more. I keep going back and looking at NetGalley and thinking, well, for $399 maybe I could get my book into the hands of people who might really like it who might tell others about it…

…and then I think, NO STOP THAT IS CRAZY, YOU HAVE NOT SO MUCH AS £3.99 FOR SUCH NONSENSE AT THIS TIME. So there’s that.

It bothers me slightly that I haven’t leapt into what’s next, though. I’ve wanted to, but keep stopping myself. I’ve a lot to work with.

– a mystery/romance/magical realism novel that’s at the 80k-of-a-first-draft stage but has a beginning, middle and end. Two things are preventing progress with this, a) I can’t decide if I want to use actual history for it (which will involve research and possible difficulties accurately/vaguely enough portraying the situation to bother using it at all) and b) in its current state, there is a vast time travel tangent that I can’t decide whether or not to keep and run with, or remove and replace with something more ‘standard adventure-y’. Is it flippant? Is it annoying? Is it a waste of something that might actually be a perfectly good ‘straightforward fiction’ novel? When I went back to the first draft, I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked it, and if I’ve a chance of writing any kind of historical romance novel, this is it. I’m not sure I want to twist it into something that might not quite come off.

– A sequel to The Pulse, which I’ve a good chunk of and a lot to do with, but somehow it feels a bit ‘eggs in one basket’ to focus on that right now. In case my early love of the book is actually mistaken, perhaps. Or because I want to do all the different things at once.

– My NaNoWriMo from last year, which sits at a miserable 50k. I love the central character, and had an interesting premise for it, but, damnit, I never got any further than that premise, and I just couldn’t square it into any kind of fully-functioning story. I have a feeling that one needs a long time to grow in the back of my head before I can do anything useful with it.

– An outline for a kids-in-space novella that may or may not be worth it.

– A collection of short stories I’m working on with my partner.

It’s almost like I’ve so much choice, I can’t commit to any one thing. The mystery-romance thing is probably the strongest, and of most interest to me at this moment, but there’s that a) and b) getting in my way, and I can’t find myself arriving at a decision. So what do I do? I make tea and start browsing other blogs, and think about organising my T-shirts and how I really ought to listen to the excessively long Stephen King books I keep accidentally spending my Audible credits on.

Which reminds me of another thing: I’ve been thinking about making an audiobook. Thinking about it in the very loosest, earliest sense. I like reading out loud, I like the sound of my voice, I’d be happy to read out The Pulse…at the same time I’m aware of the excellent-sounding Audible scheme for self-published authors to work with voice actors and wonder if that wouldn’t be better…more because I have no idea how I’d go about ‘properly’ recording the sound of my own voice for a quality higher than ‘podcast’, and because, as you have to charge more for an audiobook, you want to give people a really decent experience. I’d rather not get in the way of my own stuff. Any thoughts are welcome, even more so if you’ve any experience with recording/having had your work recorded…

Five Things I Didn’t Expect Of Self-Publishing: 1 Month In

I approached self-publishing on Amazon with a great deal of naivety and a minimum amount of research. This is largely because I had hoped to score a ‘proper’ publishing deal in the first instance, convinced that my book was fantastic. Fantastic it may be, but tbh, I can’t tell you why, and if I, the person who not only knows every damn word of the book but the person who made up every word of that book, cannot explain to you why it’s great, I certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to do it. And that was the main reason I backed away from querying pretty quick – that and the double handful of form rejections from agents who sounded like they ought to adore my writing. There’s a whole other post about that time, but not now.

This is, and I’m telling myself as much as you, because damnit, I love a tangent, about the things that have surprised me most in the month since I’ve thrown my novel, The Pulse, at the world’s Kindles/iPads and hoped that they’ would notice.

1. It’s not easy to be reviewed.

Having internetted since before the Internet was even universally called that, I had assumed there’d be plenty of reviewers around who would, in exchange for a free copy, read my book and write a paragraph or two about what they thought of it. This, I’d hoped would help me get over that ‘I’ve no idea how to sell this book’ thing I’ve just described.

I was incredibly surprised, therefore, to find that, in at least rounds one and two of Google-fu, book reviewing bloggers appear to come in three types.

a) Paid.
b) Busy.
c) Demanding.

Now I am in no, no way whatsoever questioning their right to be any of those things, not at all, for the nice thing with the internet is that we can all do things however we like, and a fact about being good at something is that it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by requests to do it more, and, as in #3, reading doesn’t happen in an instant, so one must find ways to be selective in order to maintain a decent blog, I understand this.

However.

There is literally no way on this earth I’m going to write a formal query letter along with a short essay about myself and enclose a writing C.V. to anyone to get them to review my book. I’m also not even slightly at all whatsoever going to pay them to do it, or, worse, pay an agency to allow me to submit the opportunity to pitch at bloggers (I had never imagined these sites existed before, oh sweet stupid me).

I was really hoping to find enthusiastic, speedy readers with a reasonable circle of friends or followers or whatever, who were open to free stuff and had the time to have at it. I am so confused by the entire industry that seems to exist at the forefront of self-published novel reviewing. I’m also slightly gutted that I didn’t get in on it at the ground floor XD I have often reviewed things people have sent me through my but I’ve no idea how they found me, and, maybe I’m being too British here, feel a bit odd at the idea of simply randomly contacting people I don’t know.

Part of my research involved looking up a few self-published authors I don’t know personally, but whose books I have found and read one way or another, and seeing what they’d done. Seeing that most of them have used these, in cases, exceptionally high-cost services makes me think that they must work for the right book, but they seem, with a bit of further research, to be so high-risk that even if I had $200 to subscribe to this or sign up for that, I just wouldn’t.

I realise there are two different things here – companies offering mailshots and large scale contacts, and individuals who are established and high traffic, but in both cases I saw so very many examples of sites clogged with fellow self-published writers trying to get in the door, rather than enthusiastic readers engaging with what had been said or thanking said sites for the rec or just…any kind of interaction you might hope to see around a book.

The biggest surprise of all was, as I say, how difficult it seems to be to find a blogger who isn’t as difficult to get to (if not, in a few cases, much harder) than a professional agent. Have I missed something? Do, please, let me know. And if you’re the kind of review blogger I’ve missed, and you’d like a copy, hit me up with the contact form at the bottom of this post XD

This is all very much a work in progress, and, to be fair, I didn’t expect to find all the solutions to all these things immediately. Again, I could’ve made things a lot easier on myself by having that more commercial, describable novel, but hey. And in the meantime I do have a fine new site reviewing my book, for which I am stunningly grateful and excited, so there are, I’m sure, many things I’ve missed and overlooked and just plain failed at…I do hope so. I really do. It’s slightly scary out here.

2. There are new levels of awkward between you and your loved ones for ages.

Everything is scary and congratulations have never made me more stressed. An example: my mother kept telling people about it. Everyone, naturally, said they wanted to read it – even before they asked what it was about. And then they asked what it was about, and see my lead-in paragraph for the issues there.

YA novels, especially specific, non-romantic ones like mine are not for everyone. My 72-year-old godmother who adores romance novels featuring sickening ladies in heavily-curtained 1880s drawing rooms might, might suddenly find herself fascinated by my world and word-power…but I doubt it. And that’s okay. That’s fine. It’s incredibly nice that people that know me (or even just my mum) want to read my story, but when you know it’s ‘not their usual sort of thing’ there’s that heavy dread and fearful smile I apparently instinctively synchronise at such points, where I say, “Oh, you don’t have to…” and “That’s lovely, let me know what you think…” knowing full well that either they won’t get around to it but will keep telling you they’re going to for the foreseeable, meaning that we have to have this difficult conversation every time we meet for ages.

This brings me to: 3. There is no immediate gratification in a 105,000-word novel.

Not everyone reads books as quickly and fervently as I do. Not least because not everyone can decide to read all night, or all morning, or all anything unless they’re on a very specific kind of holiday. One of the things that validates my life choices even a bit is how much I love being able to read nearly whenever I want to, as long as, at some point in the week, I do all the things I must. But I digress – the point is, it takes a long, long time for people to get through the book. If they make it through. Which, if your book is as slow and peculiar as mine is at the beginning, they may just not. Which is fine too, except then there’s that whole time when all you can think of when interacting with someone is BUT WHAT DID YOU THINK OF MY BOOK and you cannot, cannot ever ask this because either a) there’s that conversation about how they haven’t got around to it/got that far with it yet because damnit they are a proper human with a life and things that mean they can’t just sit and read even if they really want to, or because b) they’re just not that into it and they’re going to persevere because they care and it’s alright, sure, but they have limited reading time and you can’t plough through a book when you’re not in the mood because that’s what we all had to do at school and perfectly decent and indeed important works of literature have suffered terribly for this.

So you wait. And hope. And wait some more.

Until…4. It still doesn’t feel any different at all from the way I imagined having a real print book deal would.

I wondered if I would get over that feeling early on, but I haven’t, not yet. Because when someone tweets you and says things like “I kinda want someone to put Aiden in his place” or “I just shouted ‘Nooo!’ so loud I startled my cat”, you don’t go, “Oh, thanks, but it’s only an ebook” or think about the format in which they’re ingesting your words at all, no, you just – or I just – wibble and think omg I did this all wrapped up in a peculiar amount of pride.

It’s true that, when coming across #1, I thought a fair few times about how nice it would be to have someone else financially invested sufficiently to go out there and sell my book to people for me, but then again, I still have a great sense of value in that thing – at least it’s exactly, completely, 100% all me. And it definitely wouldn’t have been if it had been ‘properly’ published. For better or worse, it’s all my own stuff.

5. Word-of-mouth is your best, best, best friend.

If one person who has actually read your book and liked it tells someone else to buy it, that is literally the best thing that has ever happened and you just want to go and buy them a pint (which, comically, costs at least twice as much as the book) and dance in the streets because there is no higher compliment, to my mind, than convincing someone else to get a book you’ve enjoyed. It’s the greatest display of confidence you can share in something, and it’s the finest ‘proof’, if proof can be had, that they’re not lying about having liked it. It’s lovely. And it makes me work much harder myself to share, review and lend things I’ve loved reading or listening to with anyone I think might share my feelings. Share, people. It’s wonderful.