What To Write

A lot of the get-rich-quick literature out there says that to get-rich-quick writers should write for the market. So if the flavour of the month is vampire erotica then I should be writing vampire erotica. As if…

A quick look on Amazon suggests that there’s a lot of erotica out there right now, and in an effort to find a market niche, people have written a lot of weird niche erotica. I’m not saying that erotica is the genre to be writing; it’s one of hundreds that are currently popular. And if you’re looking for the next big thing (not erotica, please) there’s plenty of dodgy software that is supposed to help writers find that thing. I wouldn’t use it myself and I subscribe to the opinion often voiced in forums that it’s a waste of money.

So, not really fired up by the thought of writing in a genre that’s completely saturated, or trying to figure out what’s going to be hot in 2016, I’m stuck writing my own thing. And you never know; short story collections may become insanely popular (I’m working on my second), or maybe speculative fiction set in Scotland in the 1920s might just pique the interest of the reading masses.

Filthy Lucre

Philip Pullman resigns in protest over lack of pay for authors. Journos respond with this and that while creatives like me know the real score. And while it’s acceptable to pay a plumber £90 for five minutes work (speaking from recent experience), it appears that paying a creative anything for their work is just not on. As a writer I’ve been paid for my work but this more than outweighed by the number of times I haven’t. So what do you do? Continue to work for free, or dig in and demand your fair share of the good old hard cash?

One of the things I decided for this year was to only work on projects where there was some sort of payment in return. Obviously such projects (as it seems right now) are going to be in short supply so I might have to redefine what ‘payment’ means.

One example is Blind Poetics. We applied for funding from those nice people at Creative Scotland so we could pay performers expenses and a fee, only to be told that ‘the money would be better spent elsewhere’. So we pay performers via donations from the audience. We state very clearly that we’re asking for donations and why we’re asking for donations. And it works rather well; we’ve collected anything from £30 to upwards of £90, but the main thing is that the performers get paid for their time and work.

Same sort of scenario for this. We couldn’t charge people so we asked for donations. And we got the opportunity to sell our merchandise (something I’ll be thinking and writing about later). 

What about being paid as a writer? I decided to go down the independent publisher route after a couple of meetings with a ‘proper publisher’ who promised to pay me, in return for what they termed ‘three projects consisting of two novels and a short story collection’, a grand total of £0. No advance, no royalties, nothing. The money, they said, would be ‘re-invested in me as a writer’. Whatever that means. So how does being independent (as far as online monsters like Amazon will let me) match up? I’ve only been selling my books for a few months, and I’m not a big hitter in the sell shitloads category. Plus I’ve realised that to make some sort of decent living out of independent publishing I’ve got to bide my time and accept that I’ll be eating scraps from the thin end of the Long Tail. What I can do, as I’ve previously written, is to try to raise my profile as a writer and earn some cash by entering competitions. And I’ll consider publications that offer something in return such as free subscriptions. At the very least I’ll think about what’s in it for me, and how I can profit from undertaking any amount of work.

There’s one scenario I won’t consider: organisers (whether it’s an event, gig, publication, etc) who are clearly in it to make money for themselves and refuse to pay performers, contributors, writers, etc. I know who you are…

And: I’m not a misanthropic hard arse. I’ll still do stuff for free, if the intentions are good.

Give A Little, Get A Little

My Twitter account has been busy lately. Not on my part; I only set up this account when the previous one was blocked by the BBC (true, long story…) Anyway, the amount of people/organisations/etc that have begun to follow me over the past few weeks took a bit of a jump. And then I noticed something interesting… For one, if I began to follow them in return they would message me directly offering their wares and/or services. If I didn’t follow them within a day or two of them following me, then they would unfollow me. Without the ‘follow’ they can’t message me. If you follow what I’m saying.

It turned out that these people/organisations/etc were all in the business of ‘helping’ independent publishers promote themselves and their ebooks. All good? No, of course not. They want paid. For example, they were offering (and there’s a lot of them out there), in return for cash – and the average quote was $10 – a promise to tweet details of my ebook to their 30k followers. Once. If I wanted a tweet per day for a week it was $50, and $250 for a month. That’s one tweet of 140 characters for $10. How can I possibly refuse? I did because it’s a shitty scam. Give a little, get a little…

But maybe not as bad as those offering reviews for sale (I’ll get to the whole reviews thing at some point). $200 gets five ‘bona fide’ Amazon reviews with at least an average three-and-a-half star rating. If I was stupid enough to pay $200 for five reviews I’d insist on five stars. And plenty of superlatives. Like the pay-per-tweet guys, sites offering pay-per-review appear to be thick on the ground too.

Maybe a move away from the ‘vanity publishing’ services that were plenty in number a few years ago before the rise of proper independent publishing? They promised to print thousands of copies of your book in return for thousands of your pounds (or dollars or whatever hard cash you had). But what they have in common with tweet/review sites is their smell: if it smells like a scam, it most likely is a scam. And like I’ve said before – there’s no quick way to independent publishing success. There are no true overnight rags-to-riches stories and anyone offering a quick fix is only in it for the money. For themselves, obviously.

Marketing: Hello, World

Part of the Great Marketing Strategy is getting my name out there: having other people/websites/blogs/social media mention me and my work, feature or interview me, and provide links to my website, Amazon Author page and the like. One method of achieving this is to explore how helpful submitting my work to other publications, call-outs and blogs can be, with this being a good example. However, for this post I’m going to concentrate on submitting work to competitions.

The appeal of competitions is obvious: booty. I’ve won some great things in my time: a cheque for £25 and a gift card for £30 being high on the list (the only things on the list, to be honest). Add that to the exposure that being a winner affords then it’s a winning strategy.

Unless you don’t win, of course. The vast majority of people who enter writing competitions win hee-haw. Factor in fees that a lot of competitions demand then it begins to look like a bit of a gamble. The Bridport Prize, for example, charges (for 2016) £10 per short story, gets tens of thousands of entries from all over the world, and hands out only few shiny trinkets (or 5 grand to the short story winner).

To make entering competitions less of a risk you could go for those that don’t charge writers to take part. There might be a lot more people entering and the prizes not quite so glamorous as a £30 gift card, but then you’re not having to cough up entry fees. Personally I’ll never pay to take part in a competition; pay-to-enter competitions exist to make the organisers money, which to me isn’t in the spirit of competition.

There are a lot of online resources where you can find competitions. ShortStops is one I’ve been looking at recently, the FWS has plenty of members who regularly post notices of competitions, and Almond Press have posted this handy list for 2016.

The booty is, of course, always secondary. I’m after the mugshot and the link that will drive people to my books. That – for the time being – is part of the marketing strategy.

The Pitch: Don’t Give Up Your Day Job

A few days ago I saw this and subsequently spend an hour or so working on a Twitter-based 135 character pitch for Rule The State (Rule The State, the second instalment of my September 1919 trilogy etc etc). I came up with:

“The State is all in 1920s soviet Scotland but when a coup leaves him exposed Reid must protect himself and conceal a precarious tryst”

It occurred to me to have a look at what other people were tweeting, just to gauge the competition (although I didn’t hold out much hope that all those agents out there were fighting for my signature), and that’s when I quickly realised that about 80% of the pitches tweeted would probably be disregarded. Not because they were shit or anything; it was simply because whoever had tweeted their pitch hadn’t read the brief. 

Here’s why:

  • Can’t stick to the word/character limit? Easy. Just write as much as you can in one tweet, then tweet the rest. If it takes four or five tweets that doesn’t matter; just as long as you get the pitch out there.
  • Worried that your pitch won’t be read? Easy. Just retweet it every three minutes for about four hours. Someone’s bound to read it then.
  • Want to give an agent a taste of your novel? Or maybe a glimpse of that enticing cover? Easy. Just add them as attachments. The bit about not attaching images or files in the brief is for losers.
  • You’re a writer, right? Don’t worry of your 135 character pitch has the odd spelling mistake or punctuation boner. Agents have editors and stuff to correct all that shit.
  • Want to get your pitch noticed? Write it in a big, colourful font. Or as an acrostic. Or a set of haikus. Add lots and lots of 😉 😉 ;).
  • Don’t know how to write a pitch? Don’t worry! Research and all that is for losers. Something enigmatic to the point of complete drivel will always win over something that actually looks and reads like a pitch.

And so on…Now, I’m not having a go or anything because my pitch wasn’t picked up. The point I’m trying to make here is this: read the brief. It doesn’t matter what the brief is for, as long as its guidelines are met. No point (and I speak from experience) in sending your 250k sci-fi epic to someone if their brief is for poems about kittens (max 40 lines)…