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Posts Tagged ‘independent author’

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Much noise is still made of the vexed “business” of online self publishing. The arguments go like this: if you’re traditionally published, with an agent and a publisher behind you, you’ll complain self publishing authors are ruining the “industry”, writing for peanuts, or worse, nothing, thus driving down the market, meaning publishers get away with paying proper authors less. And all this self published stuff is narcissistic rubbish anyway, isn’t it? I mean if anyone can publish anything, who is the guarantor of worthiness and good taste? Also, even a cursory inspection of self published works, tell us the authors cant spel and ave lickle nowlidge of grammer.

On the other side, the more high falutin’ self publishing authors blow raspberries at the paid ones, while claiming the moral high-ground. Unfettered by contracts and deals, they say, there is no onus upon them to toe the line on “acceptable” content. Thus they claim to have greater artistic freedom, that they are the saviours of creative writing as a viable art-form, indeed the only ones capable of taking writing into the future. We are unfettered, they say, unafraid, edgy, dangerous,… our stuff will blow your mind, unlike like the same old predictable poop we still get served up every Christmas in hardback form.

I mean, Hardback, for heaven’s sake – how quaint!

Both sides have a point, but it seems to me they’re also missing the bigger picture which offers a much simpler take. Things have moved on.

Yes, it’s hard getting published. Everyone knows that. If you can’t attract an agent, if no one will read your work, you’re going to self publish sooner or later. And why not? And if you’ve self published once, and had some feedback, you realise you’ve found a way to reach a readership directly. It’s stimulating, rewarding, inspirational in its own way, and your writing takes on a new impetus, so you’re going to self publish again. And again.

And I do not think about the publishing business when I write. I do not wonder if publishers read my blog, or my novels. I’m sure they don’t except perhaps by accident, and anyway I am not writing in expectation that one day I will be brought in from the cold by an attractive and unsolicited contract, for writing as I know it now is a very warm place indeed. I do not wonder about the share price of Random House, nor less care that I might be depressing the earnings of professional authors by writing for nothing online.

As for the arty stuff, perhaps it’s true – being independent one is indeed less inhibited about trying ideas the “industry” would consider too risky. But really, the ideas come just the same, and I write them down. They could be good ideas, or mad. I have never had anyone to tell me the difference, and that’s not going to change any time soon. It’s just the way it is, and it doesn’t matter. Nor does my lack of interest have anything to do with sour grapes or flicking Agincourt fingers at the enemy. (1415)

There is no enemy.

There is no war.

Writers write. We just do.

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Loving your villains

the sea view cafe - smallIn most matters Squinty Mulligan took the view it was the substance of one’s life that mattered, rather than appearances. The Mercedes on his tail that morning, he decided, was not paid for. It was a leased car, brand new. It was the epitome of ‘appearances’. Were the driver, a slickly coiffured and besuited gent, to lose his job, he would lose his car, his rented home, everything. The man was a slave to his debt, and could not see it. There was no substance to him at all. He was no more than a credit rating.

As for Squinty? He could buy a car like that outright, a fancy wrist-watch, a nice home, no problem. That he chose not to, that he chose instead to rumble about in his old Landrover, trailing a cloud of diesel fumes was a question of his personal credo, one of not showing off, or pretending to be something you were not. The old man had taught him that. But it went deeper. Squinty had the money, had the substance – all be it gained by questionable means – but was averse to showing it off. All right, the truth was people might ask questions about the source of his ‘substance’, but Squinty was happy to overlook this fact and wilfully mislabel it as humility. Whatever, Squinty was not boastful.

In love it was different though. Squinty was lonely, but it was pride that would not allow him to show it. He had splashed a bit of money out on nice clothes and a haircut and a hot shave, and for a moment that time in the supermarket, he was sure Hermione had warmed to him, or at least paused long enough to ask herself the question. But it had backfired on account of his impetuosity, and after much thought, he now blamed Maureen for that.

The traffic was thick and sluggish heading into Manchester and the Merc was hanging really close to his bumper, so close he couldn’t even make out its lights or its number plate. It was pushing him, even though there was nowhere to go, and he was getting annoyed with it.

Maureen you say?

Sure, it had been grand for a while, a bit of a laugh, and there was no doubt she was fun to be with when she’d had a few, and very obliging afterwards in bed, though often too drunk to remember any of it in the morning, so in a sense it was like the first time with her every time. They’d tried to do it sober, but it hadn’t felt the same, and Squinty was getting to be of an age when he could no longer do it drunk.

And Maureen’s story was one of depression, of a son dead in a foreign war, and a husband making money on a rig in the Irish Sea, a man who’d not been home in years and most likely would not be coming home again and all because his wife was impossible to live with.

It had begun because he’d felt sorry for her, felt it would perk her up a bit, a bit of casual loving, like – her husband away and all that. And it had, but Maureen was an addict: booze and,… well,… you know,… and none of it satisfying her for very long, and he wasn’t such a fool as to think he was the only one she was doing it with.

Her house was a tip of course, the bedsheets unchanged, bottles of cheap booze in the kitchen cupboards, the sink piled with mucky pots. Okay, his place wasn’t much to look at either, but even Squinty had his standards. Sure a man would be a fool to expect anything but ruin in the arms of Maureen.

Now Hermione, on the other hand,… it was the sheer cleanliness of the girl, and the kindness, and the warmth of her. That she disapproved of his banter he took for a feisty spirit, and it excited him, but she was soft enough too and he’d soon have her in her place if he could only find a way of connecting with her first. But he’d never been good with that sort of thing, I mean playing a woman for keeps.

But aren’t you forgetting the small matter of a broken window, Squinty – not to mention other transgressions?

Sure, but he’d apologise for that, offer to pay for the damage, and she’d be sweet about it.

You’ll see.

It was a twisty road, still busy in both directions. The Merc wanted to go faster or squeeze past but since the traffic and the twistiness was against overtaking, the only thing it could do was nudge ever closer to Squinty’s tail in the hope of getting a few more miles per hour out of him. Squinty grew tired of it and slammed on the brakes.

It had always been a good stopper, that old Landrover – not much to look at of course, but it was built like a tank.

The front of the Merc was crumpled, because that’s the way with cars these days. There was steam and the scent of oil and antifreeze. Nice smell, thought Squinty as he stepped down – for a mechanic you couldn’t beat it. As for the back end of the Landrover it was hard to tell. It might have been missing a bit of paint, but it could have been like that for a while – Squinty wasn’t sure.

The dog was barking with the shock of it, but Squinty cowed it with a simple: “QUIET”

The driver of the Merc stepped out, pale and shaken, mistook Squinty for a dishevelled old fart and became uppity.

“But didn’t you see the fox?”said Squinty, innocent as you like.

“Fox?”

“Fox ran in front of me. Had to brake hard. Pity you were so close.” He couldn’t resist the curl of a smile. F@$%ing city slicker – he didn’t look so corporate and cool now, did he?

Sqinty wrote down his details, handed them over, all legal, like. “Your fault, mate.” he said. He tapped the back window of the Landrover. Got you on my dashcam, right up my arse for the past half hour. Was just thinking to myself I hope I don’t have to pull up sharp.”

He was smiling as he drove away. It was going to be a good day.

***

Squinty is the “villain”, for want of another word, of my work in progress: The Sea View Cafe. He has many a trait that makes me wince, and he treats the heroine appallingly, but there are bits of him that have me cheering him on. When you can love your villains, I think you stand a chance of pulling it off.

I’ve begun serialising The Sea View on Wattpad, even though I’ve still no idea where it’s going, but I’m just loving getting to know these characters. I can’t wait to find out what they’re going to do next. They’re in charge – I just take notes.

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The Writing Master Small.jpgThoughts on writing for the internet age

I write a lot about writing here on the blog. My pieces appear sporadically, usually when my fiction falters and I lose confidence in myself. The purpose of these pieces is not entirely altruistic then. I write about writing – how to keep yourself writing, how to deal with rejection, how writing is changing, how the Internet is the future of writing – be it fiction or journalism – and how there was never any money in writing anyway, that the readership one reaches is more important, and that anyone can now gain a readership by self publishing online.

So, I do this primarily to lecture myself, to remind myself of my own lessons, my own experience. Writing is an exploration of the self, but in self exploration the by-product is an account of experience, and there’s something in human beings that wants to pass that experience on. It might be evolutionary, passing on the knowledge of the mantraps, or the lairs of the sabre toothed tigers to others of one’s clan. It ensures the survival of the clan – more so than if we learn the lessons as individuals, and keep them to ourselves. And my clan is the vast number of creative writers out there, working in isolation, who feel stymied by the opaque business of publishing and at the mercy of one existential crisis after another as the tides of our own soul ebb and flow with the moon.

Not everyone will agree with my approach to writing since it involves abandoning the idea of being paid for one’s work. It’s a myth that there’s a lot of money to be made from writing. Certainly a few high profile authors do make a fortune, but this is the exception to the rule and has distorted our expectations. In fact most can expect to make very little from writing, certainly not enough to be self sufficient, and especially from the more literary type of work I tend to favour. My advice then is to get a proper job to pay the bills and make your peace with it, because you’re going to need that job to support you while you write. This is simply the nature of it, and always has been.

Of course some of my clan are still chasing the dream of a book signing in Waterstones, believing this to be the only worthy goal in writing – that and a Booker Prize and anything else is just defeatist. It’s a worthy ambition of course, but it’s one fraught with danger for the self worth and the general well being of the tens of thousands of other writers, like me, whom no one has ever head of. It’s for us I argue there is another way of viewing ones art, that self publishing is self-enabling, that the miracle of the Internet gives us a voice and a readership when even so little as ten years ago we needed a publisher for that. Now we simply publish ourselves.

So, I’ve been rooting through the blog and gathering up all those “writing about writing” pieces and collecting them under the cover of a “book” called “The Sea of Words”, and I’ve self published it on Wattpad. I did this on the spare of the moment, while trapped during a rainstorm in my little Summer House, one evening – because you can do that with self publishing. It’ll be an ongoing series. I’ll post a few pieces every now and then, because that’s what you do on Wattpad. If the readership peaks at less than 100, I’ll delete it in order to spare myself further embarrassment, and the book will be as if it had never existed, because it works both ways and you can do that too on Wattpad.

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885So, you’ve written a story. It might be a short story or a long story, or even a very long novel length story, and you’re thinking it’s the best of you, that others have only to read it in order to see the world differently, to be transformed, dazzled, blown away by this original idea, by this new talent, the talent that you are. It will be the vindication of everything you’ve ever worked for, it will be a poke in the eye for those who told you you were wasting your time, that you would never be published. But you’re also thinking it’s unfortunate, that after sending it out to magazine editors , agents, and publishers for years and years and years, it looks like the naysayers were right: you can’t get your story published anywhere.

Still on the upside, no one’s actually said you can’t write, that you haven’t the talent, the originality, the sheer imagination or whatever to write a proper story – the type others want to read, the type supermarkets want to sell, the type people pick up at airports to take on their holidays, the type hundreds of years from now people will still want to read while hailing you as a literary genius. No. Nobody’s actually said you’re no good, though at times you’re tempted to infer it from the fact of your lack any of success whatsoever .

I offer no opinions on the trials of conventional publishing at all, other than the fact publishing is, and always has been, the writer’s bane, and is becoming no easier an ordeal either to endure or survive, let alone succeed with. What I try to do instead, is ask the writer in this position what it is they want.

Michael Graeme has never published anything. He’s an online creation, as much of a fiction as the books he writes. His alter ego however, was active as a writer throughout the 80’s and the ’90’s, and by fluke published some short fictions in an Irish Magazine, but he has this to say of them:

If through publication it’s a vindication of your own self worth as a writer you’re seeking, you can forget it. You won’t find it in the first story to be accepted, nor the second nor any after that. There’s a moment of euphoria of course, but after that you’re thinking of the next story, and the next, and the next and each one trying to prove you’ve not lost your edge since the last. And publishers, magazines, whatever, they have a very narrow view of what it is they want, and what they want from you is pretty much what they had last time, so under no circumstances should you offer them anything  different.

So you write to suit the guidelines until there’s nothing left you can say, and you feel like a dried out sponge unable to bear the thought of penning one more damned tale along those same old lines and within the crucifying limits of that same old word-count. But you’ll always have other types of stories you want to tell. You’re a human being, your psyche changes as you grow, you want to move on, but publication pins you down with a label through your heart that reads “successful formula, do not change”. This applies until the publisher’s criterion changes, and then you’re finished.

So you write other stuff, and send it off elsewhere, but this time you’re not so lucky, the market not so broad, it’s more competitive perhaps, and so your self worth is shot through once more and you’ve forgotten those earlier stories you’ve already had the stamp of approval on, because they do not vindicate the you that you are now. And the moral of all this is not to seek the vindication of self worth in publication at all. Publish yes, if you’re lucky, but do not pin your life’s worth upon it, because the odds are too long to be risking such a fortune as that.

Perhaps you already know this. Perhaps deep down you admit to yourself you just want to be read, because you believe in this story you’re writing and you want others to share in what you feel when you’re writing it. And actually, are you that bothered about the money? Apart from a few celebrity authors, the money in writing has never been worth counting on, so much so that non-celebrity authors have always had to get themselves proper jobs as well to pay the bills.

We’ve all forgotten that before the Internet, before Smashwords and Feedbooks and Wattpad, the writer had no choice but to deal with the world of conventional publishing, with the agents and the magazine editors, because they were the gatekeepers to the printing press and the distribution networks. But now you can be read in a heartbeat, provided you’re willing to give your work away. Interesting angle that: give your work away? Of course, you’ll be told it’s rubbish doing it that way, that your work is just as lost, tossed into a sea of semi-literate garbage, and that’s no place for a fine upstanding writer like yourself. But don’t listen. There are readers out there, looking for stuff like yours. They read it on their ‘phones during all those empty times we have to fill, like waiting in line for stuff, or sitting on a train, or surreptitiously at work when we should be shovelling data into spreadsheets.

Put a story on Feedbooks and you’ll have a hundred readers in the first week, maybe a thousand before the month is out. Things will tail off after that, and you may get a half dozen readers a week thereafter, but it’s more than you’d get by persevering with the printed press for years before giving up on it. And these are readers with an international distribution: America, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand to list but a few of the countries the stats indicate Michael Graeme has reached. Some will even get in touch and let you know what they thought; most won’t, but the muse does not expect them to, and neither should we.

The internet opens up a whole new landscape for the writer with the right attitude. And the attitude is this: If writing means that much to you, if it’s coded into your DNA and you’d feel worthless and lost without it, then you cannot afford to pin your self-worth on the whims of conventional publishing – and of ever seeing your book in glossy covers on the shelves at Waterstones. In fact, this is a bit childish. Ask yourself instead if you could bear to give your work away, to expect nothing for it in return except the occasional thank you from a stranger on the other side of the world. It’s not easy, I know, to break the expectation you should be paid for your work, but if you can bring yourself to look beyond it, the rewards are immense. If you believe in your work, the money is always secondary any way.

In writing for nothing online, we still complete the contract with our muse, our genius, our daemon – whatever you want to call it – that we cast the words it gives us on the wind. The rest is up to fate, and always has been. And then it’s from within we are granted our fortune, our rest, our energy and of course our inspiration for the next project.

That’s writing, and it’s rewarding.

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the sea view cafe - smallIn the morning the sun shone, but only in Finn’s head. It was actually just another grey Carrickbar morning, the sea flat and grey, slopping listlessly against the harbour wall as Finn looked out. Still, he saw the wonder in it, and the freshness, and in it also he imagined the sunshine. It felt like the morning the after the first time, with a girl whose name he could no longer remember, the first time, about a hundred years ago.

He’d forgotten the willing vulnerability of rendering oneself shyly naked to a woman. Hermione had undressed hastily last night, almost comically, tugging off her underwear and apologising for its lack of allure, an apology that was neither necessary, nor even registered by Finn, who was at once spellbound by her extraordinary beauty. Of course a man might find allure in any undressed woman, but Finn found it to a dry mouthed excess in Hermione.

He had forgotten too the stages of that first essential loving, and relived them now with a wide-eyed joy – the shock of that first feather touch embrace, warm flesh on flesh, and the impossible smoothness of a woman’s skin. Then it was his head dipped gently to her breast, and held there lightly with a nurturing hand upon his cheek, the same hand that then familiarised itself with his,….

Well okay,… so on and so on and then,..

it was him finally venturing a familiarity with her, and finding her like a hot quicksand – firm and unyielding, but only for a moment, then opening to a moistness that drew him so deep and so sudden, and her hand still upon him that he,…

Yes,… yes,… yes,… you get the idea. And then,…

…..shot it out like a hair triggered teenager and with a force unknown in years.

(blushing!!! Maybe not.)

“Oh, God Finn, I hope that’s not it.”

(Typical of Hermione)

He laughed, lay back against the bedpost, and her at the opposite corner, dressed only in darkness. A lone car passed by and painted her in a slow dynamic of light and shade.

“Give me a moment,” he said. But he didn’t want it. Not the moment anyway. What he wanted was the feel of her like a wave beneath him and around him, and him stretched out and surfing so deep it was a painful joy even to breathe. And with each breath each intentioned,…. well, you know,… he wanted to communicate the depth of his awe, his joy, his love,…. for this woman who was,… Hermione Watts.

But what he got when he came near was her manoeuvring herself atop, and coming slow to a serene revelation, eyes open, upturned and dreamy, lips parted, and a brief smile illuminating when he,…. thing-a-ma-bobbed,…. once more inside of her.

It was by now one a.m.

“Not bad, first time, Finn Finucane,” she said, and with that she passed out face down upon the pillow beside him, and began to snore,…

Okay , first draft, sex scene. Work in progress. The Sea View Cafe. Censored in places.

Apologies to anyone reading this before breakfast, but it was about time Finn and Hermione  got that out of the way.  Now things can get really interesting!

As with my previous novel, Sunita, I’m minded to begin posting this story in serialised form on Wattpad soon. Never heard of Wattpad? Want free fiction? Check it out.

 

 

 

 

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sunita coverIndependent, self publishing authors fall into two camps – those who are trying to make money and a name for themselves, and those who aren’t. I’m firmly in the latter camp these days, though I wasted a lot of time and youth trying to erect a tent in the former. Metaphor exhausted, we move on to consider the differences and similarities. Similarities first: both camps are trying to be taken seriously.

If you’re wanting to make money you need a piece of work that’s worthy of being read, but the same applies if you’re giving stuff away. A book is a piece of who you are, a snapshot of the inside of your head and we all like to present the best of ourselves, not because we’re fake and trying to pass off rubbish, but because we’re trying to be sincere, while at the same time fearing we might be coming across as gibbering idiots. So, the work needs to be well presented, because gibbering idiots do not present well. This equates to good grammar, spelling, and a complete absence of typos.

Grammar and spelling come down to education and experience. Typos,… well, there’s not a lot we can do about those by ourselves. In the self publishing world, typos are here to stay. Get used to it.

My own grammar follows the rules I learned for English O level circa 1975, which makes it perhaps a little staid, though tempered and influenced by the more daring examples set by my own reading experience, and what other authors seem to have got away with in the name of their art. The language I use comes from the voices in my head and I know when something really jangles there’s a problem with the grammar. Typos are a a different matter. Notice that? Notice what? Go back and read it again.

Typos are impossible to spot at spot at times, especially for the person committing the typo. The mind thinks it knows what should be there. It interprets, it simplifies information in order to give you the impression of what is there, rather than what is actually there.  This is interesting to anyone with a penchant for psychology and the nature of reality. Other than that it just makes us a target for pedants.

The best way of dealing with typos is to get someone else to read everything you’ve written before you post it. But I write about two hundred thousand words a year, and nobody loves me that much. You can pay for it, but if you’re not making money out of your writing why should you?

My last novel “The Price of Being With Sunita” picked up a generally complementary review recently, though this was attenuated somewhat by the comment that I’d managed to commit an even higher than average typo count for your average self published novel. This doesn’t surprise me as I’m still sweeping up typos from books I wrote a decade ago, and which I’ve already been through dozens of times. Fact: there’ll be fewer typos in Sunita ten years from now, but there’ll still be typos.

I know,… as writers we do the best we can, but as readers the experience of reading is best not jarred by typos. They cause a narrative pause, rather like a log-jam, or sometimes even a poke in the the eye. The reader thinks: what was that? Is that really what he meant? Have I missed something? Oh, it’s just a typo.

And of course none of the fatal errors thus far committed in this piece would be swept up by the red underlines of spelling checkers, so the writer is very much on his own. I don’t know what the solution to typos is, other than some form of cognitive re-wiring, but I do know what the solution isn’t:

The world of publishing has changed, with many self published books now becoming mainstream, thus teasing the rest of us with the possibilities of riches. And with these changes has grown up a new branch of the industry, one for want of a better phrase I shall call: “paid author services”. These services are offered by people who take money in exchange for work on presentation. They create nothing, but they’ll root out the typos in your manuscript, even offer you a marketing package, for a fee. But in all cases the money is flowing the wrong way, so far as the author is concerned, and my advice to my fellow independent authors is to be careful. The people offering paid author services now are the same people who worked in “vanity publishing” in last century, but whose aim is the same – to target the vulnerable and to part them from their money.

The author still trying to make money and a name might be tempted by those adverts for author services. They might think it a worthwhile investment in a brighter future and godlike recognition for their labours, when what in fact they are is a potential victim. The author in the other camp need not worry so much – we just do the best we can.

Remember, whatever kind of writing you do the three immutable laws of writing remain:

1) People pay you, the author, for your work.

2) If you can’t get people to pay for your work, it’s okay to give it away in exchange for a readership – no matter how small.

3) You, the author, never pay anyone anything. Ever. Period.

It’s particularly embarrassing to be picked up on my typos, having written in the past on how best to remove typos from your work. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. In a proper published book or even a newspaper article there’s this poor, underpaid minion called a sub-editor whose job it is to spear all those typos and make the author look good, look brilliant. But the self published independent doesn’t have that luxury. And if he’s giving his work away he’s not obliged to be able to afford that luxury either. All he has is his wits, and his sincerity. Self published works will contain typos. Guaranteed. It’s a pain in the arse, I know, but get over it.

In return what you get is a work straight from the author’s keyboard. You also get it cheap.

Sometimes you don’t pay for it at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BullSo, my son says. You’re still trying to be a writer? Offspring can be very cutting with their casual remarks. No, I tell him. I already am a writer. What you probably mean is am I still trying to be a famous writer? and the answer is no. Or maybe you mean, am I still trying to be a writer who makes a living from his work? and again the answer is no. Fame is a matter for fate, and about as likely for any of us as a lottery win. It is not to be sniffed at, but hardly a thing to be surrendered to either without being fully cognisant of the consequences. As for making a living, the statistics don’t make for encouraging reading. They tell us very few writers make a living by writing, that in order to live, most writers need proper jobs as well.

I have just begun a new story – well, I’m about half way through it now, the first draft word count nudging up to 40K. And as usual at this point in the writing process, I think to myself, why should I give this one away? Why not try to sell it on that Kindle Publishing thing? After all it might sell enough downloads to fund a few modest purchases on Ebay. So I loop through the usual arguments, for and against, and come to the same conclusions as before, that actually it’s not as straight forward as one might think, having a paying day-job, and writing for money – at least if you want to keep on the right side of the law.

The question, for UK based writers, is one of tax. In writing for money you are trading, and the taxman wants his cut. So, I say, okay Mr Taxman, how do I pay you what I owe? But here, for a long time, the answers have amounted to vague mutterings that make no sense. I even asked this question on a forum for tax professionals. They talked loud and long, and in worryingly vague terms. They didn’t know the answer, at least not with any precision. Indeed many had trouble even understanding my question.

But how difficult can it be? You have a dayjob. You work in a factory, or an office, or a shop, or whatever, and pay tax on your earnings through the pay as you earn (PAYE) scheme. This means your employer deducts your tax and national insurance at source, and gives you what’s left. So what if I then have a hobby, like writing, and I want to explore the idea of selling copies of my books? I don’t expect to earn much, if anything. Is the taxman interested in my small scale scribblings?

Well, the only concrete part of the answer thus far gleaned is, inthe strictest interpretation of the law: yes.

So, I’ve trawled the internet at some length today and finally pieced together the answer to the elusive “how” part of the puzzle. Here’s what you have to do to pay the taxman:

Even though you’re employed and pay tax through PAYE, you must also declare yourself as self employed. You do this by contacting the Inland Revenue, and they give you a code that enables you to access their online tax service. You then go through the process of filling in an online tax return, listing your earnings from all sources – from your employer, any interest on savings, investments,.. and then in the “other earnings” section of the online form, you tell them what you’ve made from your writing. You do this every year.

This applies whether you’ve made a £100,000, or £1000, or £100 or nothing.

Neat, eh? I’ve finally solved the mystery! So why am I not setting up a Kindle Desktop Publishing account right now, instead of writing this? Well?

Personally, I’m turned off and not a little intimidated by the thought of going through this process in order to professionalise and monetise my writing. It may be that I lack confidence in my potential earnings to make going through the process worthwhile. It could be that I am mistaken in my belief that potential earnings from my writing can ever amount to more than pin money when compared with the regular earnings from my dayjob. It could be that I am over complicating the process in my head, and that actually it’s quite simple and people do it every day.

It would be easier for me if Amazon could deduct tax from my earnings at source, like my dayjob employer does. This would let me test the water, selling my stories, seeing what the potential was, but it isn’t possible. It seems I’m stymied by tax legalities. Or to put it in more prosaic terms, I don’t want to screw up my tax for the sake of a story that might not make any more than a couple of hundred quid.

I’m sure in the once upon a time, in the days of kipper ties, before the internet came along and we still relied upon the postal service, many writers simply took the publisher’s cheque and didn’t bother informing the taxman. They took the view that the taxman would catch up with them when he was ready, and that would be the time to put their affairs in order, that the taxman wasn’t interested in chasing up the coppers to be gleaned from hobby scribblers scribblings, and would only come calling when they made the big time.  And they might have got away with it too, existing all their non-careers in this legal twilight, but in a networked world where computers read your car number plate, and send you parking tickets automatically, is it really worth the risk?

I wouldn’t advise it.

So, after much deliberation, I have reached the unsurprising conclusion that my new story will not be appearing on Amazon, unless pirated of course. It will be free, like all the others, after I’ve exhausted the pleasure of writing it.

You lucky people!

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jungI’ve had a few pieces lined up for the blog recently, all smoothed and polished and ready to go, but something held me back, a little voice asking if that’s who I really was, that person, saying those things. And the answer, on reflection, was no, so I deleted them.

As bloggers, online writers, independent authors, whatever we want to call ourselves, our voices are often vanishingly small but we still have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, to say what we think we mean and to avoid saying that which is only a reaction born of personal prejudice, which is itself a reaction to the prejudice of others.

Sniping and grumpy, I had fallen foul of what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body, the entity within that awakens when we are out of sorts, low on energy, or just lost in that nameless malaise that comes out of the shadier places of the collective unconscious. His name is Grouch.

I have a sketchbook in which I keep drawings of personal meaning – inspired by dreams, and journeys into guided imagination. They form threads of fertile thought, little half trails leading through the forest of the unknown. In the quest for wholeness, for the truth of us, the mythic trails lead first to a confrontation with our only real nemesis, the shadow, the grouch. Neutralising the grouch (if we are a guy grouch) releases us into the care of the unknown woman who, if we can avoid corrupting her into a sexual fantasy, or just as uselessly projecting her onto real women, will lead us to the wise old man, to the Senex. These are ancient trails concerned with the transformation of psychic energy. They are little understood, also quickly overgrown if we neglect them.

My drawings petered out some time ago, the trail lost, ending with a curious, unfinished portrait of Carl Jung, a man whose writings on depth psychology introduced me to these arcane concepts, and prevented me from becoming rigidified in an unexamined and entirely unconscious life. To what extent I’ve been successful in exposing my shadows, I don’t know except to say there are many fragments left and I suppose my challenge is always to recognise them for what they are before I do or say something stupid.

It’s a start at least.

i ching

I remember during one of our earliest encounters, Jung said: “Take three coins,…”

So I took the coins,…

There have been coincidences too – trivial things, but each of them pregnant with a personal meaning. Jung called them syncronicities, valuable for their ability to release trapped energy, to open up a path in the personal psyche, to open up the trails again, if we can only discern their traces after long neglect.

That which changes remains true, he said, and conversely that which does not change cannot be true – or something like that. And of course the pain body never changes, is always bitter, always sniping, always disapproving of some thing or another, or some one or another, always shouting warnings of the Apocalypse if we give but an inch to the shadow forces that have put our pipe out. You’ll see him in his various guises on the news tonight, or in the headlines of the tabloid press tomorrow – whatever article or snippet gets your blood up.

Do not blog when drunk. Do not blog within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident – two valuable maxims, to which I would add another: be careful of your shadow, and ask: for whom do I write? The shadow or the light? The grouch, or my self?

I finished that drawing off, added some depth to it, then deleted the stuff I’ve been writing, writing that poked a shallow kind of fun at things that ran up against my pain body, and which in turn I was looking to run up against someone else’s. Left to his own devices, the grouch resorts to a vitriolic rhetoric that only reinforces the negativity the grouch apparently derides. It adds to the black cloud, to the gathering zeitgeist of doom that would enfold us all in its shadowy wings. The grouch resists change, but that which cannot change is not true.

Speaking for myself I think I write best when it’s with a smile, or more often with the pursed lips of a sweet longing for something that perhaps never was, but one day might yet be.

Zeitgeist. Mood. These things are important, and as writers we must decide which side we’re on, because we are not only subject to the zeitgeist, we are also the shapers of it – not as individuals of course – we are, individually, too small for that – but collectively we each add a little power. Shadow or light – we take our choice.

So I began afresh. Began to write what I’m writing now. And I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I write, to Shadows and Light, an album I enjoy, but haven’t listened to for a long time. I’m waiting for one track in particular, in my opinion the best rendition of “Amelia” in all of Joni Mitchel’s recordings. And in it there’s this one line. She sings:

It was the Hexagram of the Heavens, the strings of this guitar,..

The Hexagram of the Heavens is a reference to the Yjing, the ancient Chinese oracle, popular in western counterculture around the time of this song’s writing, popular still among spiritual wanderers and psychological depth workers. That’s why Jung gave me the three coins, to get me going; it’s how you consult it, after first suspending disbelief and being at least willing to dissolve your own prejudice.

The Hexagram of Heavens is also translated as “the Creative”. It describes inspiration, the urge to write, to express oneself, to achieve something. It is positive, it is lightness, it is spring, and summer. It is life.

Nobody else I know likes Joni Mitchell, but I connected with her music as a boy, and she’s always been there; she touches chords, some of nostalgic longing, others of an eternal capacity for love and for life, singing always sweetly through the rain and the pain of her own life. And listening to her now I feel something stirring.

I did Tai Chi, today, after a long break, born of the grouch’s resistance. The knees were creaking for want of practice, but the heart eventually attained the soft current that subdues the pain body, and then one is left looking at the world afresh: ruby leaves of Japanese maple, freshly unfurled over green lawn, all washed to deeper shades by dusk and spring rains. It vibrates, it dissolves the vitriol, it lives and lets live the freed soul. I must do it again, soon.

Small indeed is the individual voice, typing things into the metaverse. We will not change the world on our own, but like all lone voices writing out into the inky dark of night, we need to know which side we’re on at least, and what kind of dawn we want to usher in. I prefer my skies red at night, that they will bear the promise of future delight, rather than the blood red warnings of the morning.

Come out of the shadows then, dear writer, and write for the light.

Goodnight all.

Sunset, Lancashire, England September, 24 2009

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mazzy interior

The weather turned cool and showery by week’s end, making for a wet and windy drive up Wharfedale. Mazzy did not enjoy it as much as her first trip here, back in July. That day the sun shone and the air shimmered with a high-summery heat, and the moors had about them a sluggish, humid quiet. With the top down one could smell the hedgerows and meet the gaze of passers by – share greetings with them as we motored leisurely on. Now though, great curtains of rain pressed in on either side of the valley, spilling over the fells. It had me fumbling for the wipers I’ve not used all year, and of course the top was up, so the world passed remote to all but my visual senses.

We were delayed near Kilnsey by a collision between a camper van and a road sweeper. The camper was a terrible mess, its side torn open and the remains of some poor souls’ holiday spilled all over the road. The queue inched by as best it could while policemen jabbed fingers in ad hoc traffic control. They must have to deal with many such incidents on this stretch, and I don’t envy them the task. The road along the valley of the Wharfe is as narrow and twisty as it’s always been, but the vehicles we’re driving are getting noticeably bigger. Mazzy’s a low slung, narrow slip of a thing, perfect for threading her way up and down country like this, but she and I are moving against the tide which insists what country like this needs is a pumped up four-by-four with the assertive beam of snowplough.

I stopped off for a brew at Buckden, then made pilgrimage to Hubberholme – pronounced “Ubberam”. Hubberholm is a tiny hamlet in upper Wharfedale, beloved of generations of walkers, also home to St Michaels and All Angels, one of the loveliest of our Norman churches. Though the increasing secularisation of society has led to the diminution of moderate religious congregations everywhere, England’s churches retain their potential as foci for binding communities, and in a more prosaic way provide a statutory and timeless continuity with their records of births, marriages and deaths. The church at Hubberhome dates to the 12th century, and has the look of a place that was not actually built at all but rather that it grew organically from the soft earth, here on the banks of the Wharfe. Its pews bear the distinctive adze marks and the unique rodent-motif of the celebrated Mouseman. It has about it the scent of old churches everywhere, and rests in the profound silence that pervades these remote valleys, a silence reinforced for me that morning, stepping out of an old roadster after seventy miles in the pouring rain.

hubberholme church

Saint Michaels and All Angels – Hubberholme

St Michaels and All Angels is the resting place of J.B.Priestly, native of Bradford, novelist and playwright, known to me through his work on the relationship of man with time. I think a lot about the nature of time, and more recently have tied myself in knots with it almost to the point of despair in wrestling with my current work in progress – a work that takes only halting steps forwards these days. For my trip I had packed my toothbrush, but left my laptop behind, thinking to let the story rest for a bit. In making pilgrimage to Hubberholme and JBP, I wasn’t expecting a synchronistic finger pointing to the way out of my literary cul-de-sac; it was more a case of stoking the boiler of imagination, and hoping something would emerge in the fullness of “time”. All the same, my pilgrimage bore fruit, I think, or at least I came away feeling more philosophical about the dilemma. I self-publish to a small audience, for nothing; I write novels like I used to do Origami, for the personal satisfaction of completing a puzzle, rather than labouring for coin. In my current game, as with Origami, there are no deadlines – only pleasure in the folding and unfolding of lines, hopefully winding up with something self-standing at the end of it, and all from a blank sheet of paper. I sometimes forget this, but the timeless peace at Hubberholme, proved a timely reminder that time has no existence other than in its relation to man, and that all deadlines are ultimately defeating of the self.

aysgarth upper falls

Aysgarth upper falls

I stayed the night in Wensleydale, in the pretty little market town of Leyburn, passed a pleasant evening in the Golden Lion and woke on Saturday to a brighter morning. Then I drove to Aysgarth, to the falls. At Aysgarth, the River Ure is rent by a series of dramatic steps over which the waters thunder, all peaty brown, like stewed tea. There is an upper, a middle and a lower falls, spread over a kilometre length of the river, and all accessible by well maintained walkways and viewing points. The National Trust have set up camp here, providing decent car-parking and a visitor centre. It costs £2.50 for a couple of hours, which I didn’t think was too bad, and the falls of course are worth it. Then it was on to Hawes, and from there the long, bleakly spectacular run of the B6255, to Ribblehead. We managed this bit of the run with the top down, Mazzy’s humour lifting enormously, making her roar with the pleasure of it, and lending to the sun-splashed, blue-skied scene, at last, a moving connection that brought a lump to my throat.

It was a weekend of thoughts then, about the nature of time, about writing, and even of Origami. It was also a weekend of waterfalls and old churches. And it was a weekend of roads, the best in England, roads that make driving still a pleasure, a pleasure I had largely forgotten on account of long decades spent behind the wheel of a car merely commuting. But as that accident near Kilnsey reminds us, these roads can also exact a terrible price for a moment’s distraction. They are beloved of many, but struggling now to accommodate the sheer variety of transport they nowadays carry. Along the way I encountered vast lumbering peletons of MAMILS; I came upon huge farm vehicles hauling skyscrapers of hay; then there were the wide-beamed Chelsea tractors, the caravans, the motorhomes; and there were entire squadrons of ton-up motorcycles, a half glimpsed minuscule dot in one’s rear view mirror, then roaring past your ear like a jet fighter barely a second later,…

Even in remoteness these roads can at times feel terribly crowded. Now and then though the way simply opens, and it’s just you, and the freedom of the Dales.

That’s the magic of it.

Footage: Mazzy’s  dashcam. (Mr Happy was along for the ride)

Drive carefully.

Graeme out.

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tennerIt’s no secret trying to become a professional author is one of the toughest trials of mental endurance ever invented. You need levels of self belief verging on megalomania, and a determination greater than Hercules in order to pass all the trials you’ll be set before a publisher will shake your hand. This has nothing to do with the actual gut-wrenching business of writing a publishable manuscript of course, which, since you call yourself a writer we must take as for granted. It’s what comes afterwards that will really test you. It’s no exaggeration to say an aspiring author will submit a manuscript ten or fifteen times and it will be returned, each time probably unread, and certainly with no helpful indication why it was rejected. We might persevere at this game for decades, but most will give up. The more dogged will die trying, while a few, just a few, of those left standing,… will make it through.

An aspiring author should be under no illusions how difficult it is to break into traditional print and I’ll advise anyone to get a proper job first because they also need to be under no illusions how much money they’re going to make if they defy the odds and succeed in eventually going pro. Headline celebrity authors have distorted our expectations. The Sunday Times Rich List estimates the Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is worth a phenomenal £570 million, but this is an exception. A study just published by the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society (ALCS) reveals your typical professional author earns more like £11,000 a year. It doesn’t sound a lot does it? That’s because it isn’t.

Let’s put this into perspective. If you worked in a shop, or a fast food emporium for a really stingy employer – which is about everyone these days – you’d get the legal minimum wage, and not a penny more, which amounts to £12,300 a year. That’s right, you’re likely to earn more flipping burgers than publishing novels. But it’s worse than that: there’s a big debate at the moment how much you actually need to live on to meet the basic minimum standards of life in western society. The absolute minimum you actually need, the so called a “living wage”, is currently about £14,700 a year, so you can forget luxury; your earnings as a professional author are going to be well below what’s even considered decent for any human being to live on. You’re probably in breach of your own human rights by persisting. It’s perhaps not surprising then the ALCS study also tells us the number of professional writers has fallen from 40% in 2005, to just 11.5% now. This isn’t saying writing is in decline, but that writing as a profession clearly is. There’s something weird going on. We’re all becoming hobby writers.

As a professional, the writer clearly isn’t valued much by society and if they want to earn the basic minimum standards for living a normal, happy life, they need another job, preferably one that still leaves them time to write. A doctor working in private practice can charge you £200 an hour. A garage mechanic will charge you about £40 an hour. With an hourly rate below minimum wage of £6.31, dear writer, financially, you are the lowest of the low, which makes it even weirder that so many of us are still drawn to writing, and persist in holding to this fantasy image of writing for a living. It flies in the face of reality, to say nothing of common sense.

When stymied by perpetual rejection, the great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens set up his own magazine, primarily as a vehicle for the serialised stories he couldn’t get published anywhere else. He was able to think outside of the box and to basically self publish, successfully, in a world where editors were telling him he’d not the talent to write at all. Yet the ALCS study tells us only a quarter of contemporary writers have even tried the online version of self publishing, though of those who have, the vast majority say they would do it again because the returns are now better than for many traditional paying markets like magazines, TV or Radio. Dickens would definitely have been in there. As for the three quarters of writers who won’t consider it, they must be getting far more from their writing than money can give them, and that’s fair enough – I know how they feel – but how they’re managing to keep body and soul together, I really don’t know.

Some might say this decline in professional authorship bodes ill for the creative arts, that the continual grooming of a top ten of glossy celebrity authors is a bit incestuous, that it suppresses the creative gene pool, stifling latent talent among the masses and preventing other great genre busting stories from reaching the audience they deserve. But the good stories will always find a way to their readers, regardless of how they’re published, or who by. There’s still plenty of paid talent out there, doing great things, though they might not be paid as much as we think they are. And then there’s always self publishing online for those who can no longer bear the grind, and are able to disabuse themselves of the supposed kudos of the “professional” author.

As for me, I’ll need to be safely retired before I consider going pro. In the mean time I’m happy to carry on giving my work away. £11,000 a year is better than a slap in the face, but that I could earn more flipping burgers is a real wake-up call. It’s not worth the hassle, or the postage, or the SAE envelopes, or the printer ink, or the double line spaced MS, or studying the market, or drafting the grovelling enquiry letter, or polishing the synopsis, time and time and time again.

There has to be another way; and there is: self publish. But most of all, if you want to write, stop talking about it and…

Just write.

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