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Posts Tagged ‘self publishing’

the sea southportI began my last piece with the intention of waxing lyrical on the notion of loneliness, of isolation, and the apparent meaninglessness of life. But I ended up putting the world to rights on several tangential fronts sparked by the current political situation, and the picture of a gold plated motor car that somehow tipped me over the edge, puncturing what was left of my magnanimity. This is still relevant, but what I’d hoped to touch upon also was a way of seeing the world in which our current preoccupations with the state of it become in fact unimportant.

What I wanted to talk about was Between the Tides.

This was a book I wrote some years ago now, a novel, a story about two strangers, stranded on an imaginary island off the coast of Lancashire. Both protagonists have been damaged by life, both feel isolated, lost and alone. Phil likes to draw, likes to put his pictures up on Flikr. Adrienne writes poetry, keeps a literary blog but both have come to understand how futile such things are at least in so far as they reflect the Facebook generation’s fallacy, that the undocumented life is a life not worth living, that we are only as successful a human being as the number of followers we can boast.

between the tidesWe pass a stranger in the street. They are of infinite worth to themselves, occupy the central role in the drama of their own life, a life that is in each case a miracle of creation. Yet when we pass them by, only rarely do we remember them for long afterwards. As an individual then we are worth little to others, our lives irrelevant them. So what’s the point of being alive if no one really knows we’re there? This is the nihilistic end-game of the material world view. And we know it’s not true. Phil’s drawings and Adrienne’s poetry are important, but not in the way they originally believed.

What makes each of us important, and how can we return to that realisation, and rest easy in it, even if no one else knows we’re alive?

Both Phil and Adrienne are visionaries in that their lives are haunted, literally, by visions. Phil sees things out of the corner of his eye, overlays imaginary entities on reality like Pokemon Go, and receives intimations from them, suggestive of another, hidden dimension to the world. Adrienne has suffered a life changing accident, one that triggered a near death experience so profound she is confident of the reality of the continuation of her life after death, though what that means is no less confusing. She is also developing as a neopagan witch.

Both, in their separate ways are colouring the world through the lens of their imaginations. They see patterns where others see nothing. They can view a landscape, both seeing it, visually, and feeling it, emotionally. In the brief time they are stranded together, each learns not to fear their visionary experience, more to trust in it, and to take it forward. Phil and Adrienne are extreem examples, but we can each follow their lead, since we all possess the faculty of imagination.

In the material world we try to describe the meaning of the universe, but in a language that is entirely inadequate, a language lacking the vital dimension of insight. Contrary to belief, however, through the visionary experience, the world makes even less sense, descends into a kind of incoherent anarchy. But we lose also the childish need to make sense of it. Instead, embracing the ambiguity, we realise at once each our own meaning and our importance. This is our true and real celebrity.

So forget Facebook. It’s doing your head in and those mysteriously apposite little adverts will one day have you dropping your trousers in public. Instead, like Phil and Adrienne, try seeing the world through the lens of your imagination a little more, and don’t be afraid of where it takes you.

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the sea view cafe - smallSo,… what do we have so far?

Man leaves wife, flees his life and his dope-smoking offspring, wife has affair with her boss. Man meets woman, the woman meets a woman, the man discovers feelings for a woman-friend from way back. He loves all these women, even the woman who loves his woman, but he can only actually be with one woman because,.. well, he’s an old fashioned kind of guy. So who, among all these women will he choose? Or, more to the point, who will have him? Or,… actually,… does a man need a woman at all? Is he not better living on his own, sorting himself out instead of running round changing light-bulbs for women, arguing over the washing machine, and who makes lunch?

Given all the upheavals in the world and the stuff I could be writing about, this seems a bit trite, a bit “domestic”, and I don’t know what these characters are trying to tell me, if they’re trying to be funny, profound, or if they’re trying to tell me anything at all and I’m not just making stuff up as I go along, heading nowhere that means anything. It’s the usual creative impasse. To be original you have to write what you’re given by the voices in your head, not simply copy something else you’ve read. But to be original, doesn’t automatically mean you’re creating something worthwhile. I mean, after all, anyone can make stuff up.

But let’s think about it. No, I’m sure my characters are talking to me in the context of more weighty world affairs, and what they’re saying is this: our love triangles and love squares and love scares might seem trivial on the surface, but at least we’re seeking love in both its broad and narrow senses, rather than power. We’re also seeking a modest means of surviving these coming decades, rather than scoring grand fortunes at the expense of others less fortunate. And you know, it doesn’t matter to us, they tell me, what race or gender our friends and lovers are, or even if they’re like they say in the popular media: damned foreigners comin’ over ere and takin’ our jobs, because really that kind of language belongs to the stone age, and we’ve moved on, even if you haven’t.

My characters see through the machinations and the manipulations now; they laugh at the purveyors of “fake news” and “alternative facts” as at the antics of a newly discovered species which, although now the dominant predator on the planet, is actually of only passing interest because they (my characters) accept they cannot alter the way things are, that in order to survive they must make alternative arrangements than the ones apparently on offer which would otherwise do them harm. They are all refugees, economic migrants, waifs and strays, some native, some not, all washed up just the same on the shores of economic ruin, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations gone. They are all stateless, in that the state on which they formerly stood is disappearing so rapidly beneath their feet it might as well not exist at all, and in any case will not be there for their children.

Yet, they do not turn to drugs, or violence – I mean not like they would in the movies. Nor do they tumble into a twisted aspiration of an Endtimes, where we shall all be saved by “The Rapture”, nor a post apocalyptic future where we shall be saved by nothing. They reject the language of hate and despair, they do not conform to the media stereotypes of the ruined middle class, nor the workless working man, nor any of the million vain conspiracy theories. Nor are they racist, bigoted misogynists, so whatever the world throws at them (and it’s thrown a lot) the Sea View Cafe dares to tell a positive tale of plucky survival against the odds, of cleanliness and dignity maintained against an oppressively murky background.

They take stock, they brush themselves down, they bind their wounds, paint on a smile. Lacking kin they gather into improvised families, seek survival for themselves and the ones they choose to love. They remain steadfastly human in a dehumanising world, a world that sees people not as people, but as economic units of varying viability, to be switched on and off as the market demands, even if half of them starve to death in the process. They are Romantic figures, also pragmatic, but most of all they are Romantic. And I’m talking Samuel Taylor Coleridge here, not Mills and Boon.

Put it like that, the Sea View might sound like one of those worthy but laboured literary texts that’s trying to change the world, but it’s not. It accepts the world as its stage, even if it might not be the world you recognise, and it says: okay, so how do we work with this? And the characters do what they must in all stories, they start out in one place and end up in another, and in the process they either grow or they die, and the only weapons I’ve given them are compassion and a stubbornly infinite capacity for love. I know, I know, Helena Aynslea has just kneed Squinty Mulligan in the balls for being a lecherous misogynist, but no one’s perfect. And I’m sorry but he deserved it. And I rather like Helena’s fiery spirit.

We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, and there are doubts about direction as there always are at this point with so many threads running this way and that and all wanting their resolution before the novel can be steered safe into harbour and a new story begun. So I talk to myself, and I talk to my characters, like I’m doing here, and the way becomes a little clearer.

Hermione looks up from the counter as I walk in: “So, what can I get you darlin’?”

“Um,… Americano, please.”

She turns to the coffee machine, bangs the scoop works the levers, makes steam.

Whoosh!

Did she just call me darlin’?

Thanks for listening.

*The Sea View Cafe,… a work in progress. To be completed,… well,… sometime,… possibly.

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durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually too busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential of that. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be “considered”, but a quick scan of what’s already on offer reveals there’s a lot of crap on there so I wouldn’t worry too much about being rejected. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

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bookshopcoverAs a self publishing writer willing to give his work away in exchange for establishing a readership, Feedbooks is where it all began, back in 2007. You loaded your story up to the Feedbooks site, and it became available at once to a worldwide audience, downloadable directly to smartphones, tablet computers and kindles. If free fiction was your bag, reading it or writing it, Feedbooks is where you went.

In those early days, when the web was a little more anarchic with its dreams, Feedbooks was hot stuff, and I moved a lot of stories through them. But no longer. My Aldiko and Moonreader apps now link only to Feedbook’s paid content,  or legacy works that have entered the public domain due to copyright expiry. Contemporary, free, original titles are no longer accessible from the platforms they were aimed at.

You can still get at them from the non-mobile webpage version of the site, but the graphics are winking out one by one, and there’s a sense of something falling down, falling over and being left to rot.

There has been no announcement by Feedbooks, but this is not unexpected. Their support, indeed their interest in the free stuff we’ve given them over the years has been generally poor. In the early days independent authors provided a wealth of free content that got Feedbooks on the map, got their business model off the ground, and we’ve been ignored ever since the paid stuff came online. That they’ve finally ditched us comes as no surprise – my only real surprise being it’s taken so long.

I do feel a keen disappointment in this because their penetration of the market has always been really good. If you wanted readers Feedbooks found them for you. Smashwords couldn’t match it, and Wattpad was even worse. It’ll be a chillier place I fear in the search for readers from now on. But as authors we should not despair. Readers like free stuff, and they’ll get it wherever they can. Smashwords here they come?

I hope so.

Is Feedbooks dead?

For authors of free original content, sadly, yes it is.

 

 

 

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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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350178bced2740617291e725a0b2159fresNet9_n7So,..

He led me into the wood, along the tunnelled path through which we could see the garden gate. Beyond it was the blue grey slate of the house itself, and the green front door – images first seen one clear spring morning a decade ago. It was coming back now, memories I thought I’d laid to rest, but I felt a terrible pressure in my chest, something trying to burst free, and I hung back, afraid I could not bring myself to cross the threshold into that strange world again.

Lamarr prattled pompously, not yet aware I was shrinking ever further behind. “It needs an awful lot of work to bring it up to standard of course,” he was saying. “It must be freezing here in Winter. And of course the road, such as it is, gets blocked at the first hint of bad weather.”

Incongruous in his suit, he produced an impressive bunch of keys and proceeded to try the lock, but to his surprise found the door already open. He walked in, and I followed, half closing my eyes as the breath of the place took me. Then I nearly ran into the back of him when he pulled up sharp. I was confused at first and thoroughly self absorbed, so I did not immediately register what he was staring at. Slowly, I followed his gaze and it was then I saw her: a woman, standing at the foot of the stairs, one hand on the banister rail.

She was in her early thirties perhaps, dressed in the long tweed skirt and the blouse I remembered Beatrice wearing that first night long ago. She even wore the little silver clasp at her throat, a string of pearls hanging over the jut of an ample bosom. Her hair was long and dark, and tied up in the Edwardian fashion, exactly as Beatrice’s had been. The look of her, the feel, the mood of the woman in this house,… it was startling and for an instant my heart leaped to an inevitable conclusion. It had all been a mistake! Beatrice was alive! She was there, waiting to welcome me back, about to smile in greeting,… except Beatrice would have been much older now,… like me.

The colour had completely drained from Lamarr’s face and I guessed he was thinking the same. The woman, for a moment, seemed similarly transfixed by us, but then she let out a startling growl, cat like, primitive, and she sprang at us, bowling us aside like skittles before making her escape through the open door. As she passed, I felt a tremendous strength and a heat, and I caught the scent of soap, of lavender. My God – the scent of Beatrice! But above all, even in the violence of the moment, I had felt the cool, starchy smoothness of her blouse upon my skin and then my heart had folded upon itself, leaving me numb with a shock that ran far deeper than Lamarr could ever have guessed.

I was too shaken by it to even think of chasing her, always supposing I could have run more than a hundred yards in the first place. Instead I gazed out as she tore down the path, the heavy skirt held high, her legs bare and efficiently muscular, like a hill runner’s, like a wild animal’s. She looked back once, as her hair fell, and a single beam of sunlight cut clean through the dross of decades to illuminate her face, to still my heart.

I wanted to say that I knew this woman, that I had known her all my life, known her for many lives, but clearly I did not know her at all.

***

More old ground this week, dipping in and out of this story. First published in 2007, I still worry about it. I worry about my future possible grandchildren and great grandchildren reading it and saying: “What? Grandad Graeme wrote that.” And then they’ll look at this dribbly old guy in his worn out Harris Tweeds, smelling of mint imperials and wee and they’ll go “EWWW!”

But then every generation has the problem of thinking it invented sex. As for the rest of it,  all two hundred thousand words of it, it’s far from perfect, but at least when I read it I still know where I’m coming from, and where in the long run I’m probably heading.

The picture is adapted from a photograph of the great American Silent Acress Lillian Gish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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