Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Another year draws to a close (Happy Solstice)

Considering the fact that the Solstice is over, I'll consider the year over - as we enter into the Winter season and the days get longer, it's been a pretty introspective time for me. Mostly, I've been making plans for 2016 and said good-bye to 2015, which was part unholy mess and clearly part threshold year for me.

That said, I did achieve a lot of good things even in a year that wasn't very productive creatively.

- I signed with a Japanese and an Italian publisher for translations of some of my favourite stories.

- I got my "dream job" - where "dream job" can be defined as as job in an awesome team, for an ethically "good" company, doing something interesting and varied that I'm good at and for which I'm appreciated and paid very well.  I'm building towards my actual Dream, of course, which will involve coaching and training creatives, but for the moment and the next few years, I have it basically made. This was the kind of job I really really wanted and didn't think I could have. It was a massive improvement on my previously favourite job at a different bank, for less money. I wish I had the option to pull fewer hours, but the long days are a small price to pay.

- I knocked a significant amount off my mortgage. If things continue the way they've been going, I'm on track to own my house outright in 5-6 years. Though the actual goal is much shorter than that.

- I got to meet awesome people - fellow writers, but also new publishers, editors, translators, cover artists, audio narrators, and students. Few things are as energising for me as working with a fellow creative towards a common goal. I'm grateful for all of them and look forward to the projects that will come from this.

- I got qualified in NLP (Practitioner level) and did a lot of work on my negative emotions (fear, sadness, but mostly anger). That had interesting results and was tested seriously a few months later, but generally, I've become a better person. Also I know more about myself now, and some of that was completely eye-opening.

- I self-published Nightingale after five years. That was one of those "finally do it in 2015" goals. It's good to let a project go which has made me grow tremendously as a writer. The demons I've wrestled with that book are all sorted now, I think. Of course, there's a book after that that I'm even more scared of, but we'll get there in 2016. I hope to never again drag a book along with me for that long.

- I held my first writers' workshop and loved doing it. It's pointing to the future I want to create for myself - especially when combined with hypnosis and various alternative healing techniques.

- I had my first audiobooks produced (Incursion, Skybound, Deliverance, Gold Digger) and ended up loving audio as a format. Also I learned that my words translate really well into that medium.

- I had my first Italian translations made (Incursion, Deliverance) and apparently the Italian readers appreciate the kind of stories I have to tell, so I'm very excited about doing more of those.

- I had more German translations done - that's unfinished business I'm dragging into 2016, but I'm looking forward to getting several stories out tightly together.

- I terms of my "writing career", there's been a major re-alignment. After learning this the hard way, I much prefer running my own projects and my own career over handing this responsibility and power over to a publisher, so I expect to self-publish circa 90% of my future books.

It's not the money, it's the control. I'm no longer willing to work around a publisher's schedule or subject my books to an editor I haven't chosen and therefore don't trust. At this stage in my career, I actually need that power to be at peace with the whole thing. I'm not good at delegating (and have never been good at that), but mostly, I'm not okay with giving power over the stuff I was born to create to strangers. Not happening - unless somebody pays me a significant amount for a work-for-hire piece (significant amount = making a substantial contribution to paying off the mortgage).

Secondly, I've decided to not "write to market". The only reason I can see why anybody would write to market is the money. But money's taken care off. I make more editing for the bank than I need, so there's no need for maximising that income stream.

Obviously I want to get paid for my work, but there's a difference in writing a book well that "my readers" will appreciate and writing a book that ticks the boxes of current trends. With my writing time now so limited, I'm making a commitment only to write books that must be written - and those tend to be the weird ones, the historicals, fantasy, sci-fi novels. More books like Nightingale, or Dark Soul, and more Scorpion novels.

Overall, with these irritants taken care of, I'm looking forward to writing a lot more in 2016 than I have been in 2014-2015, and self-publishing the vast majority of it. (The main reason why I'm keeping a back door open for 10% of my work is that I might get inspired by a call put out by a publisher or contribute to a charity anthology).

So, for 2016: 

- I won't be taking on any more editing work (my brain is booked out with the day job, and I only have a few creative hours left in the day, so those will go towards writing my own stuff). I'm still around for coaching.

- This time next year, I'll be fully qualified as an NLP Master Practitioner. I've been a little nervous, but then various puzzle pieces fell together in the right way and I think it's time to tackle that. That should also make me a much better coach. I like to think of it as "levelling up". NLP Trainer and possibly Trainer's Trainer will follow in due course when I'm ready. I'll pick up some other therapies along the way - whatever could help a stuck writer.

- I'll get control back over several of my old books, so I'll be writing sequels that people are waiting for or that have been dinging around in my skull. Specifically, that should be the sequels to Incursion, Gold Digger, and Dark Soul. I'll also write some more Scorpion novels, but I don't foresee them coming out before late 2018.

- I've cancelled Suckerpunch - there are contractual reasons for that. Also, Counterpunch will eventually fall out of print and won't return. That said, I have an idea to use the characters for something else. It just won't be set in that alternative universe. But that's still a long way away.

- I'll keep paying off the mortgage and work towards a future where the financial stuff is taken care of and that means one step closer to the Big Dream.

- I'm also going to push a number of health goals - move more, eat better (though I'm doing pretty well on that second count).

- I want to travel more. Huge number of destinations and to-be-visited friends are on the list. I'll see how they all fit into my calendar.

- In terms of production, I'm planning for (English) audiobooks of Return on Investment and Nightingale; German translations for Skybound, Incursion, Gold Digger, Return on Investment, and Nightingale; Italian translations for Nightingale and Return on Investment.

In terms of writing, I'm planning to release in 2016:

- Risk Return (Return on Investment sequel)
- Unnamed Return on Investment prequel
- Broken Blades (with LA Witt)
- The "whale book" (historical novel)
- The first book in an urban fantasy mini-series (kind of a series - the format is a bit weirder)
- Exile (Incursion sequel)
- Pure Gold (Gold Digger sequel)
- Dark Heart (Dark Soul spin-off), Silvio & Battista (no real title yet), and the story of the third brother.

So that's 9 new projects and most of those are novels, with a few novellas thrown in - so I can't actually promise I'll deliver all of those. In an ideal world, they'll all happen, and a few projects I'm not even aware of yet (like co-writes).

I've chosen them because only two of them contain major (read: months of) research efforts, and all of them have at least a core already that I can build around. But of course, editing, proofreading, layout and checking translations and doing quality checks of audiobooks will also take time.

At the very least, I'm aiming for a new book release every quarter, so that's four. Generally, I feel much more positive about writing and publishing than I have felt in years, so 2016 should rock. I definitely look forward to getting all those ideas out on paper.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Nightingale releases

It's a testament to how far I'm behind with everything that I only manage to update the blog now. It meant overcoming the jetlag and finding a moment to organise my thoughts.

So, as subscribers to my newsletter already know, Nightingale is out now on Amazon.


If you don't want to buy it from Amazon, send me an email to vashtan at gmail dot com - I'm happy to send you the file for a small donation to a LGBTQ charity or a charity that helps the refugees. Both causes are close to my heart.

I'll be updating this blog post with links to interviews and blog posts about Nightingale. I'm not really doing a tour, but in case you're interested, the links are below:

Inglorious Bitches: And A Nightingale Sang 

(More to follow)  

Monday, 16 November 2015

Back from New Zealand

Last week's trip to New Zealand was really a family visit to Palmerston North, so we didn't "do" much there - it was very much about family bonds with Dude's family (he has a stepmother and two step siblings there). 

Still, we managed to go on a day trip to Wellington (completely booked out, so finding a place where to rest our weary heads was a mini adventure in itself). And here's an impression from the Wellingtom Tourist Information Centre: 

The hotel where we ended up staying (Room 101 - you can't make this up) was down just a few doors from a tattoo parlour, so Dude got his long-awaited "armband" tattoo. 

On top of that, we visited (again) Te Papa, and enjoyed it very much  - especially the Gallipoli exhibition  which was very well done. 

And since I love the local jade (pounamu), I got myself a koru (spiral) piece and two whalebone carvings - the whale stranded at Gisborne, just down the coast, and the Maori have the traditional right to stranded whales in New Zealand, so that's where my two pieces came in. I've never seen whalebone carvings before (outside Te Papa, that is), and considering I'm working on a book about whalers, that seems like a nice little "coincidence". I do like surrounding myself with physical reminders of the book I'm working on - it keeps me focused and on task.

The first is a fairly traditional "hook" (supposed to bring prosperity and protect during journeys over water). You can see the typical whalebone structure - unlike most bone carvings that are mostly cow bone, shiny, white and polished, whale book is greyer and porous. It's also oddly light, and the slight roughness is actually nice to touch. 

The second is more "modern" in design  and clearly an unfurling fern (koru - the spiral, which signifies growth, strength, beauty and new beginnings).

I'm currently mostly wearing the hook, but I predict I'll switch back and forth between these two. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Update (Nightingale, Riptide et al)

Thanks all for your support over the last week or so – I’m grateful to have such great friends and so many passionate supporters. I’m humbled by you all and your generosity.

I’m happy to report that I’m working constructively with Riptide and assorted lawyers on finalising my exit from the business. Lawyers are doing their thing, editing agreements and such, but as I’m watching, it’s taking a shape everybody can live with. I want to stress that my interpretation of that first agreement was faulty – what I saw as “lopsided and unfair” was merely a draft missing my input. I’m optimistic we’ll reach an equitable, fair agreement that takes into account all concerns of all parties. Once the agreement is signed, I’m assured that the rights for Nightingale will return to me, and I can’t wait to share that book with you.

My primary focus in all of this was my readers – and to explain why the long-anticipated book wasn’t coming out on the day as promised. Making the promise was the big mistake that started it all—and it was not fair of me to blame Riptide for getting out ahead of myself and our negotiations.

I want to make absolutely sure it is understood that a boycott is the last thing I could possibly want for Riptide. I didn’t endorse a boycott, either. For two years, I was very involved at Riptide (I wrote the original author contract, I funded the first months of the company, I named the venture, I acquired lots of authors personally, edited, proof-read and a hundred other small things) and have stepped back since 2014 as Riptide hired staff who are more specialised and obviously do a much better job than my “jack-of-all-trades” approach.

The house has launched/re-launched plenty of careers, which pleases me greatly, because every author who makes a living or grows their career is a little triumph. I know Riptide has changed lives.  I’ve met plenty of amazing people in that time. The last thing I’d want to do is damage their incomes, livelihoods or even their joy in writing and publishing. Many of them are my friends, both online and offline.

But regardless of all that, I understand I’ve caused a great deal of consternation, and for that, I take full responsibility. It’s pointless to retrace exactly where the misunderstandings or faults were – I’m taking full responsibility for the miscommunication and misunderstandings, and I understand that my “in the heat of the moment” statements have led to even more misunderstandings from that.

With this, I want to wholeheartedly and unreservedly offer my apologies to everybody who was negatively impacted by my actions – I hope to learn from it.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Why I cannot publish Nightingale

On Saturday morning,  received a notice that Riptide Publishing would file legal action against me if I do go ahead with the publication of Nightingale.

Legally, that's their right - they still hold the contract to the book. A contract that contains no clause that forces them to publish the book at all. (The rights don't reverse upon "failure to publish", in other words, if Riptide decides to not publish the book, there's basically nothing I can do.)

Now, the self-publishing of Nightingale wasn't a surprise to Riptide. I informed Riptide of my schedule, even who's doing the proofing, and that everything was above board can be seen in the fact that they gave me the un-watermarked cover image. (For which I was supposed to pay out of my royalties.)

The background to this is that I've wanted to leave the "partnership" for more than a year (for many, many reasons, but the most important is that I want to focus on coaching and I see a conflict of interest between the function of publishing and coaching/advising authors), and another is that I prefer to consider writing a hobby, a minor part of my life - it allows me to write whatever I want, publish it whenever I want, and only do as much "marketing" as I feel comfortable with. And, of course, hire editors I trust and know. Basically move away from wanting to earn money back to being an amateur who writes what he damn well pleases and published under those same terms.

Now, Riptide has sent me an agreement to leave the "partnership" that was so incredibly lopsided (all advantages go to Riptide, none to me that I'm not legally entitled to anyway) that I find it impossible to sign.

And to put on the thumbscrews - which is what it feels like - Riptide is holding my book "Nightingale" hostage - which it has no interest in publishing, didn't edit****, didn't line-edit, didn't proof, and even the cover is 90% based on a draft a friend made for me.

Riptide of course knows that this is my best novel ever, and what the book means to me. It's basically the perfect stick to beat me with.

So, with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I have to tell you that Nightingale will not be published. Legally, Riptide owns the book, and according to the contract, they don't even have to publish it. The contract I signed - thinking I was "among friends" - contains no "failure to publish" clause.

At this point, I don't know what will become of the novel.

The only thing I know is that I consider starting, funding, working for and supporting Riptide one of the three biggest mistakes of my life.

Riptide is no longer a work of mine - I distance myself from it as far as I possibly can, and by the grace of the gods I will be allowed eventually to leave the "partnership" without losing control of all my work.

I consider it ironic that a book that's all about freedom and artistic self-respect ends up the hostage of this ... "entity".

As far as I'm concerned, I'm too dazed and hurt and in pain to even think whether I want to write at all. After this blow, I'm half a step away from quitting entirely - I can't even think of writing at the moment, or the future. I'm heart-broken, humiliated and upset.

**** I paid the developmental editor (whom I hired personally because I always planned to self-publish the book) and Riptide so far has paid half of that fee. But Riptide was not involved in the edits or the final shape of it - it didn't change a comma. What Riptide did contribute is a damn fine blurb, and an editing letter upon acceptance that I ignored.

ADDENDUM: There's a new development. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Why Nightingale is not a romance

I'm not one for false advertising - so just a few words about Nightingale and where it fits on the bookshelf.

"M/M Romance" has come to mean a very specific thing; basically lots of sex, no cheating, kink very welcome (and encouraged), and historical m/m romance tends to be light on history (sometimes very light - up to the point where it's largely modern people fucking in costumes) - exceptions prove the rule. M/M Romance has by now spawned a million sub-sub-genres (m/m/m & menage, BDSM, slavefic, etc), and readers have certain expectations.

And that's fine, because I have written "M/M Romance" and will very likely write some more of that - in fact, there's a co-written book that's most definitely a historical m/m romance (though heavy on the history) in the wings.

However, Nightingale is not an M/M Romance. It's a gay historical. It's actually interested in the history of a gay person - one who's problematic and makes mistakes, and is conflicted and very much like a real person, not a "romance lead". I'm a lot more interested to explore the history than the romance. let alone "Romance" as defined by reader expectations. (Reader expectations are all well and good - I'm writing this whole entry to manage expectations - I WANT people to find the books they want to find and save their money for those.)

The difference is ... the focus is not on the romance. There's no evil ex. People have very different reasons to have sex, it's not all LURVE. In fact, the whole book (circa 85,000 words) contains two sex scenes, one of which is so very not erotic. There's no kink. The characters don't spend pages and pages exploring their emotions for each other. For much of the book, the lovers aren't in the same room.

And yet, of course, there's a love story, because my gay character falls in love with a guy and interacts in the very queer entertainment scene of Paris in the 1940s. On a certain level, it's enemies-to-lovers, but it's a "new" take on the theme - I'm a lot more interested in mutual perception and pre-conceptions and prejudice than people holding knives to each others' throats (though that can be fun).

Many people will find Nightingale romantic. That's awesome. I think it's one of the most romantic stories I've ever written. Apart from Return on Investment, it's most definitely the most personal, most "me" story. Somewhere in those pages, you'll find me - this is me unmasked. The book has terrified me for four years because it's just so damn personal, and THAT part has nothing to do with Nazis and Paris.

Mostly, along with Return on Investment, it's a sign post of where my writing is taking me, now that I've largely overcome the fear of following the crazy stuff. The next one along that path will be my book set in 1820 that I'm currently researching.

Nightingale is not a romance, but it's a love story. I'd call it a historical novel first that happens to have a gay protagonist. It's the best thing I've ever done. No competition.

By the grace of Apollo and the Muses, I hope to write several more of these, if I can find the courage.

Eventually, I will write classical "Romance" again, because those are fun. For the moment, my solo work is going down a very different path. But if you liked Return on Investment, Nightingale might be for you, too. For me, it's another very big step forward, and I'm excited about where it's taking me. 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Gold Digger release

Meanwhile, Gold Digger is in audio. :)

Even if you were only luke-warm about the e-book (and gods know it has a few issues), Alexander Masters has done a tremendous job with the characters and acting. I can honestly say I prefer the audio version to the text version by a solid mile.

It's available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Quickest of updates

I've taken a four-day weekend off work to accomplish a few things. Number one is my taxes (urgh), but number two is the copy-edits/proofing of Nightingale - so we're on track to release Nightingale on or before 28 October.

The biggest things that remain are: the cover, the print layout, and deciding on two sentences where I'm just not sure yet.

Considering how very little time I have for admin and book-keeping and all that, it looks like my next books will at first be Amazon exclusive ebooks, then, once I have a free moment, I'll create the print versions on CreateSpace (this means I need to learn how to do a proper book layout - all stuff that takes time and focus, which are two of my rarest resources right now).

One reason for all that is I'm just really freaking busy and what little time I have I want to focus on writing and creating new projects. The other reason is I'm curious about Amazon's various marketing tools and the ability to run promotions. And I like print. Print is awesome for conventions and giveaways.

I'm planning to get an audiobook, German and Italian translations done too, but the timing of those depend on the book's sales. Ideally, the English version pays for the other versions - which is a bit of stretch goal, I admit. It would mean I'd need to sell 2,250 copies, which is not impossible but is actually far more than my solo books have ever sold. And more than 2,500-2,600 if I was also planning to recover my expenses for editing etc. We'll see how that works out, in the end.

While I'm employed under the current conditions, the best I can do is to try and keep writing modest amounts and just put stuff on the market and let the books take care of themselves. If the hobby feeds itself, that's awesome. But to make this work at all, I really need to focus on the two basic things - writing, and publishing. Things will be different when I work fewer hours, but that won't happen for several years.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Skybound in audio (update on Nightingale and translations)

So, the audio version of Skybound is live (Amazon, Audible, iTunes) - and some of you have already found it and bought it (thank you!).

Skybound remains my favourite piece ever, so this is a bit of a special project. (Though, wait until Nightingale, which is also in top spot.) Matthew Lloyd Davies did a great job, and the cover is from a debut artist, Nova (who's done some beautiful Unhinge the Universe art). Jordan Taylor did the fonting (the design of the actual letters). As they say, it takes a village to write a book.

I still really like the old grey cover (Jordan Taylor), but I was intrigued by the possibility to put Felix on the cover, and the planes coming out of the sun is a small touch of genius. The rivets in the title harken back to the print/e-book cover. I really like it.

I'm enjoying doing e-books so much that I'll be aiming to get all of my catalogue into audio over the next few years. As I'm paying all narrators up front and Audible is taking a huge chunk of the money (and also does 40% off sales I cannot control and sets the price how it wants... I have literally zero power over the sales or price or even when the audiobook becomes available for sale), it's a bit of a financial consideration - we all know I went back to a day job not to finance audiobooks but to pay off the mortgage... :)

I do hope to make the money back eventually and so far what I'm seeing is encouraging on that front.

So, with Skybound wrapped, I'm waiting for Deliverance to go up (we submitted it last week) - also by Matthew Lloyd Davies, who's looking like he's becoming my "default British" voice. For American voices, obviously Gomez Pugh (Incursion) is great, and I'm really curious what you guys think of Alexander Master's version of Gold Digger (we're almost done, just cleaning up a few rough spots now). Alexander is brilliant for lots and lots of accent - hugely versatile on that front, so he's great for the Russian, Hungarian, Canadian cast of Gold Digger.

So, both Deliverance and Gold Digger should be ready very soon.

The next books I'll do in audio are Return on Investment and Nightingale. RoI should be Alexander Masters (I can practically hear him do those bankers), and I've offered Nightingale to Matthew Lloyd Davies - I'd expect he'll do a brilliant Yves. Hiring two (or three) narrators at the same time means things get completed faster, too.

And once the rights situation is clear, all the other books will follow, with the Memory of Scorpion series and Dark Soul leading the pack - but there's going to be good news about Dark Soul towards the end of 2016, so that's a good time to launch the audios. (Yes, I said that in plural :) ) I'm expecting Alexander to do the Scorpions.

And both in Munich and Bristol, some of you have been asking about Nightingale, which was originally promised for 5 October. I was doing my damned best to keep the date intact, but fate intervened - the proof-reader/copy-editor working on it has a very small baby (I didn't know this when I hired her), so the edit is taking a bit more time than I'd planned (three weeks instead one one). I should get it back on the 30th, but that's in the middle of a work week for me, and I'll be having a house guest for 10-12 days, so I was planning to not spend every second hunting down the very last typos when I'd rather look after my guest. Neither of those is a job you can easily outsource. :)

I'm still hoping to wrap everything in October, even though I also have to file my taxes in that month too (cue stress, digging up paperwork and spending lots of time with spreadsheets). So it's all a bit crazy, and that's just the stuff I can talk about.

In terms of translations, I have two rough German translations on my plate (Skybound and Deliverance) and have hired two Italian translators to do Deliverance, Incursion, Return on Investment and Nightingale - so all of those things should happen in 2016, too. 2016 will be a huge transition year for me, as I roll out my backlist into audio, German, and Italian and some books and series will see a relaunch, too. That's basically where all my royalties are going, while the day job finances paying off the mortgage and general life. It'll all be good. (Also, I'll need a French translator at some point.)

So, for the future, I'm fully expecting to continue on with some sequels and prequels of "old" stories (I have more to tell about the Scorpions, for example), while also putting out completely new, unrelated work. My horoscope says it's because of the solar/lunar eclipse (which happen at very interesting points in my horoscope - career and creativity), but I'm in a pretty good place now with my work and my overall energy levels. Saturn's going to stick around in my first house, so this is two years where I do a lot of "growing up" and "taking responsibility". It also means slow, steady growth through hard work and discipline and I'm good with that.

Not sure what's been holding things back - I'm getting regular acupuncture for stress and "yang imbalance" (you don't say), and I'm on a much better track now, mentally.

I don't think I enjoyed the break from writing, but the mind is clear, the purpose is out there and I'll take small steps along my path. I've spent the last six months just thinking and watching and re-evaluating (things, people, goals), and yeah, I've come to some conclusions and I've removed things that stressed me from my life, but mostly I got rid of them in my head (big victory). I'm not sure how much of that makes sense if you're not inside of it, but I've done a very good job at making things hard for myself.

I've decided that that's unnecessary. I am a great deal stronger and more resourceful than I've given myself credit for, and things will play out just fine for me, regardless of which path I'm taking. The most important thing is to keep walking, staying true to my inner self, and the stories that are given to me, and to overall be kinder to myself (and others). And the writing will follow. It always does. It's always been there and will always be.

Friday, 25 September 2015

We're all made from star stuff

Here's a random thought I shared on Twitter and Facebook, but I think it's worth to put it on the blog as well. So I've been thinking, and this is the best I have. Now, bear in mind I've now done years of personal development, "magick"/"healing"/therapy/energy work/NLP on my own issues, so this is my current state of development. 

No writer writes a book with their sexual organs. I don't. In any "test" on the internet I come out as 70% male and 30% female, and that's a ratio I'm comfortable with. I also confuse lots of people in real life. Many a waiter/server/barista/etc has called me "sir" and then got flustered when my voice didn't quite match up to expectations, let's put it this way. Mental note: need to learn to shift my voice deeper.

Now, I've "studied" both sides (dated both, observed both, I know trans* people and genderfluid people and even bi-gendered people, and call them my friends) and there's one thing I can say with absolute certainty - gender is very much overrated. I actually fully believe we're all human.

And as regards my personal faith, I believe very much in reincarnation (hard not to with all the past life memories), so yeah, we've done everything. We were spewed forth by as inanimate matter in the Big Bang, going from perfect unity and potential and energy to matter, formed molecules, then became cells, those cells formed bigger organisms, and then plants, and primitive animals, and all the way up to where we currently stand (and I firmly believe we're heading somewhere very different from this) - so, over those millions of years, we've done it all. All genders, all races, all cultures. 

I am human. So's everybody else. Namaste.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The two brains of the writer (or really any person/artist)

Here's a thought I woke up with today, and it relates to all the recent blog posts and comments and private conversations I've had with m/m writers (and other writers, too). From the looks of it, there's something of a burn-out epidemic in the writing space and among my writer friends.

In some ways, I think I was just one of the first ones to fold under that strain. Granted, other factors contributed heavily to my burn-out, and I'm fixing these one by one, so it's all good and I expect 2016 to kick serious ass. For the first time in many months, I get excited when I think about writing. It seems I had to put in the work, make some hard decisions, rid my life of things that were cluttering it up and detach myself from some ideas/concepts/inner contracts that are no longer good for me (or my writing, which is basically the same thing).

So, let's talk about that beautiful machine that evolution has gifted us with over millions of years and that has got us here, sitting in front of illuminated squares of LEDs, talking to ghosts on the other end of the world, and that enables us to make stories, tell them, and torture ourselves with it really much more than anybody deserves.

You all know the whole right brain/left brain thing, right?

This one:

(image stolen off Goggle)

(While I've read that the most recent brain science doesn't really divide the brain up like this - there's a part in the middle that makes sure those sides "talk", too, I think it's useful in the same way that the model of the atom is useful but not "how it truly is". Also, left-handers can be swapped around - except for me, my brain sides are like a right-hander's - although I'm a bit of a weak left-hander, I'm really leaning towards left-dominant ambidextrous - confused yet?).

Looking at the image myself, it's clear that creative writing is in the right brain - I don't verbalise my writing before I put it down. I "see" and "imagine" the whole scene and then just type, often surprised by what shows up on the screen.

I don't get the left side involved - it's all in the right. It's all feeling, "dreaming". It also explains why I can't listen to music with words (at least not words I don't know yet) - it puts the focus into the wrong side of the brain, while the music itself (and the rhythm) really gets the right side going.

Good writing - fun writing - easy writing happens when I let it flow - it comes from somewhere and goes through me - to go somewhere else. I have about as much say in it as a wire has about the kind or amount of electricity that flows through it. Yeah, it's hell on the ego.

It's an old writing truth that writing and editing are two different processes. For a damn good reason - the right brain writes, the left side edits. The right brain is shit at editing - and the left side couldn't write to save its life (well, it can write, but it's the tough kind of writing that means you work HARD all fucking day and have 200 words to show for it).

Many writers start entirely right-brained. We write because WE HEAR VOICES AND SEE COOL STUFF AND OMG ISN'T IT ALL FANTASTIC!

Then we grow up - as painfully as really growing up in real life. Suddenly, life isn't all play. We have to go to school, get a job, start worrying about bills and rent and employment rates. It's hard to play when you have to think that way. And we end up like James Joyce, who one day struggled and struggled and ended up having only 7 words to show for, but, when his friend said, "That's not too bad - for you," said: "Yes, but I don't know in which order they go!"

Wow, that's a very left-brain thing to say. Left-brain cares about order.

So how does this relate to the epidemic of writers blogging and writing and admitting in whispers in cafes and hotel bars, emails and Facebook how burned out and disenchanted and tired they are?

Basically, all this bullshit about "brand" and "marketing" and sales numbers - that's what did it. It's the left brain, and over the last two years or so, we have collectively fed the left brain steroids (does brain tissue do steroids?) - we've worried about strategies and pricing and yield per book, and blog tours, and whether people on Twitter think we are asshats.

We've done the numbers and realised (rightly) that we need to release 4 novels per year, every year, to make our dream true ("Quitting The Evil Day Job" - QTEDJ), and then we ended up nearly killing ourselves to try to make it happen.

(And then something happens that throws that whole concept under a burning, out-of-control train full of raving cannibal zombies - like Amazon changing its terms, or publishers blowing up, or yet another in-fight in the genre, or a plagiarism scandal or whatever.)

And all of this isn't even too bad - honestly, I have a good business head on my shoulder, I like finances and strategy and such things - but the problem happens when we listen to the left brain that's computing all these things for us while we should be running the right brain.

As an example, I was blocked to hell. Sitting down at the computer, all "yay, writing!" feelings went away when the thoughts crept in. When I wondered about word counts, about editing, about production schedules. When the right brain wants to write - and I'm ready to flow whatever the Gods are giving me - just worrying about cover art, blog tours or having to wait 8-10 months for a release slot - took the urgency right out.

In fact, I trained my brain to associate writing with pain and punishment.

Remember my quips that "editing is the punishment for writing"? - It was meant as a joke, but oh so true - it was what was going on inside of me.

The Muse doesn't like punishment - and if writing = punishment, then why do it? After all, I'm innocent, I don't deserve punishment. Punishment isn't fun. Why not do something that's fun instead?

In any case, once those two are linked, there's no wonder that the subconsciousness - that wants your best and is looking for pleasure, not pain - learns to shut this thing right down. You basically told it to, and all it did was oblige.

So, yeah, I brought that burn-out on myself by going about it all wrong. But I'm learning. I can be slow (Churchill's "The Americans can be trusted to do the right thing - after they've exhausted all other options" comes to mind), but I'm learning.

Fairly recently, I've made decisions that were mostly right brain; intuitive. I really wanted audiobooks, and while left brain freaked out over the costs and the number of copies I need to sell to not make those audios fairly expensive Xmas presents to myself - I hired the narrators anyway.

The audios give me joy.

Joy is fucking priceless.

I believe as artists, we need to learn to switch back to the right brain. We need to stop thinking with the left brain, at least while we create or deep in the thralls of a project. We're wires - vessels of something pretty fucking amazing - and our job is to get ourselves out of the way so it can run and flow and express itself.

We are dreamers who dream aloud, on the page, giving the gift of dreams to people who might be too exhausted or down to dream anything for themselves. Our job is to give them that, not think about sales numbers. We need to make our souls sing, because there's that urge, that gift, that electricity that needs to flow, and we have the capacity to do it. If we don't do it, who will tell that one story that keeps us up at night? That one novel/story/poem we were born to write?

The money may or may not come - or whatever we're in it for; praise, exorcising demons, escaping the office, it doesn't really matter. (Yeah, I do love money, but gods, I make so much more money at my day job than I make writing.) Let's step away from focusing on numbers and orders and strategies while we try to write.

We need to step away from all the left-brain stuff and go back to where we started - the right brain. The dreams, images, the feelings that sit in our gut and make us jump out of bed at 7 on a Sunday. The little voice in your head that advises you what your characters will do - that glorious, full-surround view of your characters doing whatever your characters do.

We need to play again, on the page, and give ourselves to our stories - it's a mutual thing. If we give ourselves to the Muse like that, like trusting children, with no numbers in our heads, without strategies or self-consciousness, if we just show up to play and trust our intuition, that feeling, that charge, the Muse will give, and give plenty.

(And when the work is done, let the left brain off the leash to take care of edits - but only then, and for a limited time only, and then lock that creativity-destroying monster back where it can't escape from until you need it again.)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Deliverance close to completed

This week was fully dedicated to audiobooks (well, and the day job, but we're not talking about this here - at least no more than necessary).

The two short stories Skybound and Deliverance have both been recorded. I'm just waiting for the Skybound cover to wrap up - I've listened to the final version and it's good, I'm really enjoying listening to what the narrator does to my words.

Then Audible will run its quality check on the files and Skybound should go up soon.

I'm currently listening to Deliverance (I forgot how much I tortured poor William there) and will do a second pass on the whole text, then submit edits. The cover gets tweaked a little bit but should soon be ready to (after the narrator has re-recorded whatever went wrong). Then get the narrator paid and submit this one to Audible to.

And lastly, Gold Digger is fully recorded and I need to listen to it all in this version (I've listened to the raw files already). That cover's ready, too. Again, I'll submit change requests to the narrator and once all that is fixed, the audio gets approved.

But I'm excited. I was really lucky to find three narrators whose voices I really like and the process itself has been a lot more intuitive and smoother than I thought.

I originally planned to do the two short stories as "feelers", but well, that's not how it worked out in the end, and by now I'm thoroughly addicted to audiobooks. I mean, it's like a fresh book release I don't have to work for or worry about. Bleeding awesome! Especially if you struggle to write or finish anything. And listening to them really does make the Muse flutter a bit.

So, yeah, I'll be adding audios to my work spreadsheet so I can keep track of them.

Largely, I feel that my "author voice" translates pretty well to audio. That sparseness/efficiency really works because audio is slowed down so much. So the idea is really to forge full speed ahead with the audios and hopefully, over time, get my whole backlist into audio (in English first).

Hopefully I'll be able to put the frontlist (the current release) out in audio roughly at the same time as the e-book or the print version, but that's a bit of juggling, so it might not be completely simultaneously. If things stay as they are (read, I keep working at the bank and have the money to do this), I'm pretty confident I can put 2-3 books into audio per year.

So the project list is:

Incursion (done)
Skybound (95% done)
Deliverance (90% done)
Gold Digger (60% done)

[all these should make it onto Audible in September]

Return on Investment (hiring narrator)

And yeah, I'm hoping to listen to the Memory of Scorpions series eventually, too. And Dark Soul.

I'm even playing with the idea to write a book specifically for audio - play around a bit, really crystallise the voice/tone.

It's a great experience so far. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Happy release day: Incursion (redux)

ACX emailed me this morning to let me know that the audio version of Incursion is live - I just bought a copy on Audible.co.uk, and yep, apparently it's live.

You can get it on Audible (definitely DE/UK/US) and Amazon (search for "audiobook + Incursion", since I don't think the versions will get linked up). Also apparently on iTunes, though I didn't check that (I don't do iTunes...). Also, I didn't set the price - apparently that's all automated.

What would be extremely helpful at this stage is (honest) ratings and reviews. After much agonising, I put Incursion in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy category over Romance. It's strictly speaking both, but I'm taking a chance with the queer sci-fi listeners... and don't want to anger the Romance-focused readers who could really do with fewer space ships/technology babble in their romance. I know the story is an odd duck. :)

Also, ACX will apparently send me a number of promo codes for Incursion, and I'll give some of those away to subscribers of my newsletter (subscribe here to enter the "draw") once I got them (they said "five business days").

I hope you enjoy the new take on an (old) book. :)

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Adventures in audiobooks: Incursion and Gold Digger (covers)

I have two new covers to show you - both by Jordan Taylor, who's responsible for the brilliant covers of the Dark Soul series (and especially Dark Soul 1, which has to rank among everybody's favourites). 

Most of you know that I've been dipping my toes into the audiobook pool. I'm really making lemonade in times of lemons. Basically, if I can't/don't write, at least I can go wide with the books I do have. 

Return on Investment is going to be the last of those though - because it's so long, doing it in audio is really expensive (same for translations), and will obviously take longer to produce. So I'm hoping to get all of those done in 2015, and then tackle Return on Investment. 

And people have been asking for audiobooks/translations for Dark Soul and Memory of Scorpions.

On the positive side, I've teamed up with an Italian publisher to do Skybound and Gold Digger with them, and from what I understand, they're also interested in Dark Soul. Dark Soul has also received some interest from Germany, apparently, so before I do anything as an "indie/self-publisher", we'll see how all of that pans out.

In any case, here are the covers. 

For Incursion, I hired Gomez Pugh (famous for his work for Jordan Castillo Price), and I'm happy to say that we've wrapped production (well, he did - all I did was listen to it and answer a few questions), and we're now waiting for Audible to approve the audiobook, which can take a few more days. This process will stick in my head because Gomez had some really cool/creepy ideas for the big scene where Kyle "meets" the morph and the the scene really pivots on that idea - it's so cool what you can do with voices that I'd never have considered doing on the page. Also, spoken like he does it, Incursion feels a lot more noire-ish than I remember, which is really cool. Listening to it made me want to write more about the characters and the world. It runs pretty much exactly 3 hrs and should come out before the month is over - Audible willing. 

For Gold Digger, I hired Alexander J Masters, who previously did work for Josh Lanyon and has a lot fewer fiction releases to his name than is fair. I was looking for somebody who can do accents, and Alexander has to run through several in that book - British, Canadian, Hungarian and Russian. He does an amazingly sexy Henri, so I'm quite excited about that. He's started and I think we agreed he'd finish up by the end of the month. I'd expect it to run for about 5 hrs when it's done. I'm shooting for a release in September.

After that, Skybound and Deliverance should follow - and once I have the pennies together that, I'm looking at Return on Investment. That's the nice thing about a day job - being able to make investments like that and experimenting with forms/mediums is cool.

And listening to your words is interesting - what stands out are repetitions and "empty" sentences, and I'm glad to say that Incursion stood up pretty well. There were a few sentences I'd write differently now, but overall the audiobook didn't make me cringe (other audiobooks have). What's pretty clear is that some stuff you do on the page just doesn't work in audio - and that's what fascinates me at the moment.

What would a book be like that specifically written for audio? You'd certainly run dialogue slightly differently - maybe write the narrator with more attitude. So I've been entertaining writing a book exclusively for audio - not sure if anything comes out of it, but it's an interesting idea.

In terms of writing, nothing much is happening, but I've been putting together a plot skeleton/super structure for a book set in 1820, apparently entirely written as letters/diary entries and from a female point of view. I know, right. I don't know if that will happen - though it's an idea that's been at the back of my skull for about 3 years now and it's still there, so that means it has a good chance to happen at some point.

I don't even know what to do with it - but I'll consider it an experiment. It's nothing I've ever done, so that definitely half the attraction.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The basis of the author/editor relationship

Because I see this kind of thing too often - an editor "improving" a text without any understanding of what the hell they're editing - maybe a few words on the editor/author relationship.

I feel I can say something about that because I've been editing for almost as long as I've been writing, and I work as a corporate editor who gets paid for making financial publications look less stupid. Just last week I edited an image brochure that had some serious howlers in there - so, yeah, I get paid a lot of money for making words pretty and improve sentences, and all of that at speed.

Your German analyst can only use one sentence structure and he does that 500 times until your eyes bleed? I fix that shit.

In the bank, it's understood that I write better English than the analyst I'm editing. It's also understood that senior analysts can get away with breaking house style and I tend to explain the rationale behind an edit if the analyst pushes back. But generally, analysts are grateful that I fix their text, since many know they make mistakes or write some awkward stuff as they are under pressure and sometimes work on planes or in hotels or in between a million meetings.

It's all good. It's a positive, constructive relationship, and I prefer editing analysts to editing average fiction writers - there's generally less ego and emotion involved. (I have yet to be called a "Fascist" or told "to die in a fire" by an analyst, whereas that kind of behaviour is pretty common from fiction authors.)

So, the basics of the author/editor relationship, as somebody who's been in both positions:

Author: Ideally, the author looks at edits with an open mind and learns from them. If the editor says a million times "show, don't tell", there might be something to that. Ideally, the author will buy a book on that aspect of the craft and LEARN it - so the author grows as a writer and the future editor won't have to work quite as hard.

This kind of professional development is how I've learned and grown as an author over the last 10+ years. I had great editors taking me in hand and teaching me what I needed to learn.

It's hard work, but by now I'm a strong enough writer than I could self-publish without an editor if I wanted and the end result is readable and may even have less typos than books published by so-called "publishers". (For the record, I still hire an editor or get beta readers involved.)

The author agrees to look at edits with an open mind and LEARN from them. It's better for everybody. Over time, you shape a raw talent into a good, possibly great writer. If that happens, praise be to their editors, because they steered that development and supported that growth (if it's a functioning relationship). I've helped authors improve massively and it's gratifying as hell to see all that hard work pay off.

Conversely, the editor:

The editor agrees to learn their craft as well and only edit inside genres that they understand. (Say, a genre editor without understanding/knowledge of the European literary tradition has literally no place editing that; as a financial editor, I need to understand what the hell the analyst is taking about - I can't edit out words like "human capital" because they offend my sensibilities - it's demeaning for staff/workforce, but that's the convention of the "genre").

An editor working in GLBTQ fiction needs to be aware of GLBTQ issues. An editor who even attempts to edit literary fiction (or work with an author who uses some literary techniques) needs to understand these. Being at least conversant with concepts and applications of rhetorical devices makes sense if the author uses them (and even if s/he doesn't because your next client might).

Also, being aware of and able to apply concepts like the Monomyth ("Hero's Journey"), three- and five-act structure and management of sub-plots are absolutely vital.

I've encountered editors at well-regarded houses who are unable to detect irony or subtext. (Considering how much irony/subtext I use, that's a deal-breaker for me.)

I've had editors who cannot cope with metaphor - metaphor is the lifeblood and colour and energy of my fiction. Scanning back over this blog entry alone, there's lots of metaphors and I wasn't even trying. I speak and think in metaphor.

Say, rhetorical devices - those things have been around for 2,500+ years. They were good enough for Julius Caesar, the Bible and Abraham Lincoln. I've encountered several editors who tried to exterminate them all from my texts - totally ignorant of what they were dealing with.

Subtext and inference - very often, I don't say what's going on outright. That's on purpose. I'm not a bad writer because I don't spell out everything like for a 5-year-old who's still thinking entirely literally.

And I have no business being subjected to edits from "editors" who know less about writing than I do - after 25+ years of getting paid for writing, I know what I do and how I do it, and at the very least I expect an editor to a) understand that and b) respect it.

It's the cherry on top if an editor is good enough that they spot and understand what I was trying to do and then show me a better way to get the same effect - that's where the "needs to know more about writing than I do" kicks in.

Basically, those are absolute basics - I only go to a dentist who's qualified or to a restaurant that can actually serve food that won't make me ill. Similarly, I only let my texts be touched by somebody who knows their shit - my name's on the cover. My reputation as an artist is about as important to me as my teeth. I don't let amateurs fuck with that.

I understand that makes me "snobbish" in some eyes and definitely a "demanding customer" in others, but let's be honest, if I give about 70-60% of my money to a publisher, the very least they can do is source an editor who can edit - because the people who edit for typos and wonky grammar are not called editors, but proofreaders.

And if you think all of this is an exaggeration - there are multiple publishers out there that employ editors who think that "His eyes followed her across the room" means they are *literally* leaving their sockets and rolling across the carpet. I won't  say that's a brilliant sentence (it's not), but it's permissible - it's a rhetorical device and has been used longer than any of those publishers have been in business.

So, the bottom line is this - you've never finished learning in publishing/writing. That's true for authors ("We've all devoted out lives to a craft where nobody ever becomes a master" - Hemingway), but doubly so for editors.

Editors' responsibility is huge - they have to train/teach writers, but they also have to educate themselves - and as authors increasingly take control of their book and its final shape, gods know there's thousands of editors out there and being a decent proofreader is simply not enough if you're working with an author who knows what the hell they're doing.

First rule of Editing Club: First, do no harm.

Second rule: If you can't, get out of my fucking way.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tinkering (and thoughts on not writing)

Both real life (TM) and a couple endless computer games are taking up my time - Dragon Age: Inquisition was eventually beaten senseless by The Witcher: Wild Hunt. While DA:I is kinda pretty and I've built a very gorgeous if somewhat clueless inquisitor, the Witcher is just so much prettier, and I love the Slavic slant to the whole thing. It's also much, much better written.

If anything, both would make me want to write fantasy or something with magic, except that my block's still here. I've done some writing exercises and enlisted a colleague at work (we'll be working our way through a book with writing exercises together), but the thought of sitting down to write gives me a feeling of vertigo. Like I'm supposed to fling myself off a cliff without wings. And I'm no good with heights. Never have been.

One of the writing exercises was to write 10 first sentences, for example, and I could only complete the exercise when I looked at my spreadsheet - all the unwritten novels that exist as pure ideas at the moment. There wasn't a new story among any of them. Though I did it, and of the 10, 7 are workable, and of those, 5 are pretty compelling. But still that sense of "what the fuck am I doing here", that I never used to have.

There's some new stuff - in 2013, Lori and I wrote most (70%) of a historical romance novel together, and we wrote the missing bits a couple months ago. Right now, I'm trying to beat the historical parts of it into shape - I've reached the point of exasperation where nothing seems to fit and I have to go back and hit the research books and find a way to make its internal timeline work. It's much more in the vein of Unhinge the Universe than Nightingale, and one of my favourite co-writes with Lori. I still try to wrap that process by 1 July.


It does feel like I need to reinvent myself in some way, do things differently, but I'm not getting any answers in what way, shape or form. Holding the course and waiting for things to change hasn't worked during the last two years. So the search continues.

I should probably make a list of everything that I feel is impeding my creativity, and then separate those into factors I can control (targets, goals) and the factors I can't control (low sales/expectations/the whole publishing process/rights/sub-rights). I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I don't get the same pleasure out of writing that I used to. The problem might be simply that everything that happens *after* the writing (the editing, the marketing, the publishing, the selling, the reviews, the "industry") has become entwined with the creative process. I used to enjoy all that - but now it all looks like endless drudgery. I still enjoy interacting with readers, but the whole rest of the process could go to hell as far I as care.

So it looks like I'm in danger of turning into the very thing I used to sneer at - the writer who's living in their garret and wants to "only write". (That same writer is usually in danger of selling everything to an agent or publisher when they promise him, "We'll deal with the business, don't worry your pretty little head, and go write" - which is usually a disastrous decision as they run away with rights, money and all control.) And how can I can be that writer if I have zero motivation/urge to write?

I've turned and twisted this around several times over. I could start a new pseudonym and write something else  - one way to escape the aspects of the "industry" that I find increasingly oppressive. It does mean to start over from zero, in a field where I'm a nobody, and I can't fall back on any of my old contacts. Say, if I were to self-publish with that new pseudonym, I'd need to really keep that a secret to avoid the whole thing catching up with me again - new editors, new cover artists, new formatters, etc. Not that I think people couldn't keep a secret, and more for a clean break away.

And how fair is that to the readers who tell me, "I'd read the phone book if you'd written it"? The people who are there for my voice and less for what I'm writing about? I'd leave those behind as well.

And there's no way I could support another "me" - website, blog, Twitter, social media presence. Not to sell, mind you, but to connect to those readers, too. I'm already doing a pretty lousy job just being two people.

I've been looking at a few mainstream ideas, and maybe they'll happen. Both of them are ideas that require months of research - possibly years, considering how little time I have these days.

And starting again anywhere new GLBTQ fiction - that's the problem. My voice is its own thing. I've spent 25 years cultivating my "voice". Readers tell me at conferences, "you sound exactly like in your book/blog/twitter". There's power in authentic, from-the-heart speech. By my voice people will recognize me, regardless of the name on the cover. All those years I've written about things that are close to me and therefore revealed a lot about myself. I can't write under a "mask", as it were. Suppressing "voice" once you got it is damn near impossible, at least for me.

There is, of course, the option to write but not publish and go back to "writing just for myself". But I've usually had at least a few people I shared my stuff with. People I really wanted to read my stuff. People who kept me on track, sometimes, or at least somewhat accountable. People who wanted to know "how the story ends". They certainly weren't the reason to write, but they were part of the reason to write harder - to produce somewhat consistently.

See, I can enjoy the company of my characters simply in my own head. I don't have to "do" anything with them. On any given day, I have Silvio up there and the eagle guy, and sometimes walk-ons, like Franco or recently Armin (the latter is better at snark than Franco). A couple days ago, Martin showed up, just dropped in and told me that he and Francis are doing really well - it was vivid enough that it almost felt like a scene I could write (though it had no plot). I don't need to turn any of that into stories - I'm Legion up in my head, and the guys are keeping me entertained.

So it comes down to - why publish? And, on a deeper level, why write?

I used to say or think, "because I can't not write", but clearly, I can. I have been very successful at not writing for a good 12-18 months now. Many people go through life and never write a word.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

I'm taking 2015 off

Looking back over the first quarter of 2015, the only writing-related thing I've achieved was to edit the Bird Book. I didn't find the heart or energy to write anything else. There's a few thousand words of Dark Heart, but it's been a hard, fruitless struggle after an initial burst of energy.

It's hard to ignore that little voice that tells me that I don't have to write. Nobody forces me to write. Certainly not for money. That battle's been waged and won.

For about ten years or so, writing's been almost the sole focus of my life. Arguably longer than that. I've always defined myself as a writer. I've since learned that nobody is ever just one thing. We're much bigger than that. It's pretty much a miracle that I've achieved anything besides writing. I'm almost curious what else I am outside of writing. All my friends are writers or reader or reviewers, too.

Writing was that thing that kept me enthralled so much I didn't find many other pursuits interesting enough to focus on them. But recently I've been wondering - about drawing, painting, or doing more (much more) sports, or possibly doing something semi-professionally in terms of academia/research. (I do love my research.) Volunteer in a museum. Learn how to be a tour guide. I have two thousand years of history right outside the door, and it's something I have a passion for that nobody could attempt to take away.

Above all, I don't feel the lightness, energy and passion anymore. I used to be obsessed with my current book. I wrote Return on Investment that way, in one glorious rush of energy. And these days, it's all bogged down, polished for the market, targeted at a certain readership; I spend more time editing, polishing, thinking of proper blurbs, keywords and millions of marketing blog posts than I've recently spent writing.

So, for about three months I've been beating myself up over not writing, but I'm pretty sure the Muse simply refuses to play because it's simply not fun anymore. Having to earn a living strangled the fun out of it, and the patient is now on life support. It's alive, but tremendously weakened. If you entered that emergency room, you wouldn't recognize it as what it was.

So I'm not sure whether I'm sending this as a letter from Burnout Country. Mentally and emotionally, I'm actually in a good space. I just feel a bit like I've just woken up and asking myself, "Wow, freaky dream. Why am I doing this to myself?"

And yeah, I did this to myself. I worked hard, crazy hard, in fact, chasing that "dream" that's "quitting the day job/living off writing", chasing other dreams, too, but over the last 12 months or so, I realised how quickly a dream can turn into a nightmare. How quickly a whole-hearted commitment can be used to beat and humiliate me, and how easily I can exploit myself with that carrot-and-stick combination of money and guilt, and how every failure to hit targets just ramps up the guilt.

I guess I have a fair amount of Boxer from Animal Farm in me.

I will work harder.

I will work harder.

I will work even harder.

I will work even harder than that.

So Boxer's out to pasture. Animal Rescue got to him in the nick of time. They'll feed him properly and won't let him get anywhere near work for a year.

I'm regrouping and changing things around. Focus on the "real world". Enjoy the sunshine. About all, I'm getting off the guilt train. I will honour what commitments I have left (I will run my workshop, attend the conferences I've booked, and I'll talk to my co-writers, who know the situation), and I will continue to do all kinds of coaching, as that is something I truly, passionately enjoy.

Writing - I'm not even going there. The Bird Book is on the way to market, and it should come out in October. I might oversee some translation and audio projects (which is where I'll invest the royalties I'm still earning), but in terms of new books, I'm off the hamster wheel.

I'm taking 2015 off to think things through, pursue other hobbies, look after myself, and towards the end of the year, I'll re-evaluate what I'll do and how I'll do it. Part of me will always be a writer, I guess. I also think it might just result in the passion coming back, but that's not the intention behind taking time off.

I'll greatly reduce my exposure to social media too, but you can still reach me through there, or at conferences/workshops or good old email.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Where to start?

If you guys are anything like me, I get confused when I'm interested in a new author and they've got more than, say, one book out. Where to start?

Well, I have nearly 30 current releases going, and I get some very confused readers who "have heard of me" or "are interested", but have no clue where to start. So I thought about that problem and while all the information is out there - blurbs and excerpts - it's never really in one place. And to access it, people have to be online to access publisher websites or Amazon/B&N or whatever place they go to for that information.

So I decided to make it easy and create the kind of little helper I wanted to see myself. And it was a few days' of work, so originally it was supposed to be a birthday present from me to you, but there's no way I'm waiting until 4th May to present this beauty.

Taster Volume I combines all my currently available releases with excerpts (always from the beginning, and usual several chapters) and blurbs. But what's even better, I've added some author commentary for each work to make it interesting even for people who've already read the books, and a chronological list of releases. This anthology is up to date - from Deliverance to No Place That Far, so roughly end-2009 to beginning of 2015.

You can get a PDF version, an epub and a mobi on my website here. I've done the conversions myself, so it won't be quite professional grade, but they seemed clean enough for me.

All in all, it's nearly 170,000 words or almost 500 pages. And needless to say, feel free to share the file with your friends, too. I hope you'll find it useful and entertaining.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The way forward

I've been extremely fortunate again - yesterday, I received an offer from the investment bank I was interviewing with and I've taken it quite happily and proudly. It took three rounds of interviews to get there - this was literally the most attractive job I've come across in four years (and four years ago, I landed my favourite job in my whole career), and I clicked with the culture and people working there.

I've recently done quite a bit of work around my "values" (the stuff that's driving us), and found a company that aligns with those. I like efficient, focused places - in fact, I need those to do my best. Very few companies are focused like investment banks. I'm also quite interested in the capital markets - business, the flow of money, company research, stocks, the big economic picture - and it'll be good to go back to all that.

And some of that research has made it into books - both Gold Digger and Return on Investment were cut from the real-life financial shenanigans going on.

I've already received some worried messages about what that'll mean for my writing. At the moment, it's hard to say. I was productive in that other investment bank (writing in the ebbs of the workflow), but it seems this place is too efficient for that - the workload seems to be significantly larger, and I'll have more responsibility actually managing projects.

The hours are VERY early (I'm a night owl, so I'll need to re-train my brain and try to get sleep when the opportunity arises), but they aren't outrageously long. So there will be time to write.

I had a fairly ambitious plan of writing five novels a year. That won't be happening now. I have some fragments I want to finish up this year (Suckerpunch, Dark Heart, and a couple co-writes), but I've been drifting away from gay romance and erotic romance. I don't write the books that sell huge numbers, don't write the kind of plot people are very interested in, and all that means that I don't make enough money to live off writing.

So, for the moment at least, I'll consider writing strictly a hobby. No deadlines, no "I should do this", no expected minimum income, no production plan. I've considered taking a year out and focus entirely on other stuff (like a martial art, or switching to a different medium like sculpting or painting) to refresh the Muse. I might still do that.

I want to finish Suckerpunch and Dark Heart because I promised those and people are waiting. Mostly, though, I want to finish my WWII cycle - essentially more books in the vein of the Bird Book. The nice thing is that the bank job means I can afford to write books like that. It'll be a huge relief to not have to plan my release schedule or genres according to what sells and might allow me to pay the mortgage. It also means if a book needs a year or two, I have that time while I'm employed.

Basically, I can now afford to not care if anything sells. I'll just put them out there and write the next one. If they make money, great, if not, at least I wrote them and hopefully evolved as a writer.

Those books will still likely have a love element, but I don't feel I'm a writer who delivers the typical (lucrative) romance plot very well, so I'll stop trying. If it happens, great, but I won't focus on Romance by any means. I'll focus instead on stuff I'm good at and to create more balance in my life, which has been out of whack - working too hard and too much and being totally focussed on just one thing will do that.

I want to learn new things, maybe write some non-fiction, write the books that keep me up at night and not the books I *should* be writing or the books that "sell". More historicals, fantasy, sci-fi, maybe horror. I might even write "straight" books under a different name, just to see if my skills are still sharp and because I have a Templar bunny that wants out.

I'll be attending the European conferences in Bristol and Munich, but I don't foresee travelling much beyond that for writing-related things - I have limited holidays and it would be nice to spend some of that time with my very patient partner.

So, it's a major shift, really. It's not a retirement - obviously not - but while I can afford to do so, I'll write the weird and wonderful books I've pushed aside for too long, at a speed that suits them and me. I've had a good run so far, but it's time to switch direction and focus on other things. I want to grow as a writer and person - and leaving the little comfortable corner I've made for myself will achieve that.

For me, that's the way forward and I've shied away from that for too long - I like my comfort zones, too. But I'm sure I can trust the Muse and there will be wonderful books in the future - whatever their genre.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

March check-in

As of yesterday, I'm a certified NLP Coach/NLP Practitioner - about the result of three hard weeks of preparation and a very hands-on in-person course and test that completed yesterday. Met amazing, inspiring, wonderful people on the course, did a lot of work on myself and others. It was quite the experience.

At present, I'm still working out where I'm going to taking all those therapy skills I've been acquiring over the last few years, but it's calling to me and I'm starting to see glimpses of what I'm starting to call "my system". In the end, I'll be making my own, all based on NLP and various meridian techniques as well as hypnosis. Mostly, I think all the questions I still have will resolve themselves as I get to the NLP Master Practitioner/NLP Master Coach level. I'm also looking at going for the Trainer/Master Trainer levels afterwards, but one step at a time.

Today I slept in late and then started sorting out some admin stuff that I didn't have capacity to deal with last week. Also for the first time in three weeks, I can focus on my books, so I'm currently going through the new set of developmental edits for my historical novel. After that, I'm hoping to look at some projects that were/are translated into German, and then back to Dark Heart.

Also, on Tuesday I'm going to a second interview at a large bank. I did enjoy editing for banks, so I'm hoping to land the job; the pay is very very good, and cons such as GRL wouldn't be a financial problem (I can't make this year's GRL, but the next one won't be a problem). Also, it should help me pay off my house very quickly, as well as pay for the qualifications I want to achieve. So it'll be a dramatic change, but I'm walking into that with very open eyes. It will likely have an impact on my writing and the time I can spend doing all my other stuff, but at the moment that's very all right with me. It'll take the pressure off, and I'm all for that.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Quiet time

I'm currently fairly quiet - mostly I've been busy with some projects. For example, I've done some work for CritShop, which I've been planning together with Anyta Sunday. I've worked with groups before, but I'm much better now, so that should be a really cool experience. We do have a couple places left, so if you feel so inclined, check it out!

Then I've been working on edits for the Bird Book, which are coming along. I should get it ready for copy-edits by the end of the month. We're currently doing developmental edits, which is when the structure and all the "big picture" elements are checked.

Then I've been readying Deliverance for publication. Cover by the very talented Garrett Leigh.

This short story has a long history--first published with Noble Romance in 2009, I reclaimed my rights a couple years ago (read: bought them back), re-edited and expanded it and then donated rights to Another Place In Time, a charity anthology of historical short fiction that has raised several thousand dollars for AllOut.org, so a very worthy cause indeed. That said, the exclusivity clause ends on 1 April 2015, and I've decided to put the short story out there for everybody who wants it by itself or as an exercise in completion.

It's a short story (not a novel) and my first commercial solo m/m effort. I'd write it a bit differently these days, but I also wanted to keep it as-is. I can't run around and keep rewriting "old" stories. So here it is. If you've read it it in Noble's anthology, this one is improved an expanded. If you've read the version in Another Place In Time, this is the same version. It can now be pre-ordered. And after the feedback I got about Return on Investment, Deliverance is up on Amazon AND B&N and iTunes and several others. (Also, I've expanded distribution of Return on Investment, so you can buy it at the major retailers now too - that's my strategy now going forward anyway.)

The  blurb is:

Once a renowned tournament fighter known as the "Lion of Kent," William Raven joined the Templars in the Holy Land to escape his past and the political machinations of his enemies. Called to protect travelling pilgrims bound for Jerusalem, William comes face to face with Guy de Metz, his lover from the past. But Guy is no longer the foppish young noble William knew.

Guy de Metz once tamed the famous Lion, but failed to hold onto the man. Rumours and intrigue tore them apart, and William left seemingly without a thought. Now as they meet again, William claims he has sworn himself to God and God alone, but Guy believes that somewhere inside William’s chest, the proud, fierce man he used to love is still alive, and he will prove it.

Then I've been studying hard towards an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) qualification. It feels like about 50% hypnosis, and you guys know how much I love trance, so it's been fun and mind-bending so far, and that's just the at-home pre-studies. The idea was originally to be a better coach (people ask me for advice all the time, so I wanted to be better at giving it), but my fascination is running deeper now--I just really enjoy the whole model and the possibilities are stunning. There's three things I could do all day without ever getting tired of it: writing, trancework and talking about writing, so I'm playing with ways to combine those.

With studying hard and thinking in those models, I struggle a bit to focus on creative writing per se--I'm more in an editing mindset at the moment--but the idea is still to wrap Dark Heart by end-March. Suckerpunch hopefully by end-April.

Lastly, I bought a webcam yesterday and will sort out insurance so I can start practicing as a therapist/hypnotist. Currently I'm mostly gathering experience, but generally, I'll be available for face-to-face coaching/therapy from today. (I have a few clients lined up, so that's brilliant. I know my stuff, and nothing beats practice.)

Right, I better get back to my studies. The actual course starts on Saturday and is from 10am to 8pm until 6 March. Considering I have to commute there, I don't expect to do more than fall into bed afterwards. It'll be great.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Why my books don't cost 99 cents

I was recently asked why my books are so expensive. Surely, the reasoning goes, if my books would cost 99 cents, I'd have more sales and make more money, and besides, it would curb piracy.

No. At 99 cents, I couldn't live off writing, simple as that. I most definitely wouldn't even have attempted becoming a full-time writer. In fact, I wouldn't have walked out of my day job, and would very likely now be doing some (read: any) job out there, leading to less time to write and possibly giving up.

Let's walk through the facts and numbers:

Amazon sets the price bracket

The common price points for books are heavily engineered by Amazon based on the payout. Amazon pays out 70% on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and only 30% on books priced below $2.99 or over $9.99.

In other words, a self-published writer makes about $0.30 for a 99-cents book, but about $2 for a $2.99 book.

And why is Amazon important? Because Amazon is 80-90% of everybody's ebook sales.

Cost of producing a book

Producing a novel-length book properly (edits, edits again, decent cover, formatting, conversion, etc) easily costs between $1,500 (that's low-balling, because I've cut deals with some people) and $2,000 - all of this is money you have to invest before the money is starting to roll in. There are people who don't invest in an editor, because an editor is by far the most expensive part of production, but a good editor makes all the difference. There are people who cut corners on editing and claim nobody notices. Well, I notice, and I want to publish books that are worthwhile, which means investing enough money to make sure I'm proud of what I'm putting out.

Now, if you self-publish, you need to sell nearly 6,700 copies to make your money back at $.30 royalties per copy. And this is where the kicker is - speaking from my own personal experience, I haven't written even one book that has sold that many copies. Even if I do manage by some miracle to sell 6,700 copies - at that point, I haven't even been paid for my work.

Conversely, let's assume you have a really, really good contract and a publisher would pay you 50% of earnings per copy (publishers pay closer to 25-40%), a publisher would have to sell twice those 6,700 (= 13,400) copies for the author to make $2,000 for a novel. The publisher has to pay for its own expenses, aka marketing, staff, possibly offices, conferences, IT support, corporation tax (that's after footing the bill for production costs of the actual book).

Investment in training/man-hours

I haven't crunched the actual numbers, but let's assume a novel is about 100-300 hours of work (I'm pretty sure that a historical novel, with all the research and fact-checking is a lot more than that) and you do manage to sell those 6,700 copies and do make $2,000 for a book. If you average the production time (200 hours), that would be a theoretical $10/hour (before tax, before cost like internet connection, heating, research books). That's about £6/hour. Minimum wage in the UK is £6.50/hr, while London "living wage" (how much you need to cover living costs in London) is £7.85/hr.

Now, I've made more making sandwiches at gas stations (EUR 9/hr), which required about a 30-minute training. Yes, everybody can write, but to write something other people want to read takes tens of thousands of hours of practice, which isn't paid and incurs quite a bit of cost as well. I'd estimate if you're working very hard and have access to mentoring and how-to books, it will still take 3-7 years to train yourself to become a writer who can write a decent story. I've been writing and learning for 20+ years.

And we often forget all the other hours an author spends on supporting their books and being available to readers: answering reader emails, blogging, paying out of pocket for print books for giveaways, swag, attending conferences, postage and admin for sending signed print books around the world, responding and being present on social media, responding to thousands of messages and questions overall. All those are hours not spent writing or doing a day job. I believe they have value.

Depth of market

I don't have access to actual hard sales data apart from my own and some data from friends and colleagues, but I do have a decent idea about the size of the m/m market specifically. In m/m, I'm considered a "mid-lister", which is a polite way of placing my sales somewhere in between "doesn't sell enough to make money" and "bestseller". I'm in that nebulous area where I'm making some money but still can't afford to travel to GRL on my writing income alone and where a month of bad sales means I'm fretting about whether this whole thing was a crap idea and whether I shouldn't just go back to a day job because every year out of the day job means I'm getting less employable.

I have steady sales on some books (thank you, Dark Soul and Market Garden), but even so, only very few of my books have sold more than 3,000 copies - and those that did were co-written (in other words, I only make half the money on those). I don't think any of them have sold more than 6,700 copies.

Now, obviously there are best-sellers in m/m who sell 20,000 and 30,000 copies of a book, so there's some depth in the market, and you could argue that the high prices keep people from buying the other books. Let's test that theory: I've experimented with freebies (Bookbub/giveaways), and the best performance of those was another 2,000 copies given away for free for a book that had sold 2,000 copies thereabouts.

If that number had been 20,000 copies, that would have meant there's 20,000 people I'm not reaching because of the high prices. But there aren't. Even assuming the "freebie downloaders" would be willing to pay 99 cents for a book, I'd only reach 4,000 people with my average book if I priced it at 99 cents. Still way short of the 6,700 I need to earn the initial $2,000 investment let alone make even a dollar of profit.


Short of becoming a bestseller, who reliably sells 20,000 copies of everything (which isn't really in my control), there are obviously ways to make the numbers work. Considering that 70-80% of those $2,000 production costs are editing costs, there are authors out there who simply don't pay a professional editor. I've tried that: I've had Return on Investment checked by a lot of friends and I gutted it myself, and I'm a decent self-editor, but I know Return on Investment would have been a better book if I'd paid a professional editor. At that point in time, I just couldn't afford it and so I did the best I could. I don't regret it, but I wish I'd had had the money. But then, I expected it to sell maybe 100-200 copies in total.

Thankfully, there's so many free books out there that people who don't want to pay for their reading don't have to. There's tons of fanfiction and free fiction on the internet, and a lot of it is very good. The Kindle Free list is huge and gets more books added every day. Of my own works, there's Special Forces, which is 1,000,000 words (roughly equivalent to 10-15 novels, which would cost people normally $75-100 to buy if we assume an e-book price of $6.99 per novel).

Other authors are doing it

Some authors are making the 99-cent model work for them. Mostly, these books are very short (flash fiction, short stories) or aren't edited (the "throw unedited crap onto the market" model), and then readers complain about how the book was too short or the novel was so bad it wasn't even worth those 99 cents. However, this is not what I want to be known for - I like to take pride in my work and do the best I can, which does mean some investment in a good team. (And yes, I charge more than 99 cents even for short stories, because they still cost money to produce properly.)

But there are some authors that do edit their stuff and still put it out for 99 cents. These are usually first books in a series, or cheap tasters, and the bet is that the reader will enjoy the book so much they'll pay more for the next installments in the series, at which point, everybody wins and the author earns money from the other books (another version of this is the "permafree" series starter, where the first book is free). A 99-cent book is like getting offered a piece of cheese at the cheese counter - it's always to entice the customer to then buy more of the cheese they liked.

There are also bundle deals - I recently bought two 99-cents bundles. One was a bundle of ten epic fantasy novels, the other a bundle of ten hetero historical romances. These bundles are usually an attempt to break a bestseller list (like the New York Times Bestseller List), so the participants can adorn their names with the very coveted "New York Times Bestseller" bit. I bought those because I was quite ready to discover new-to-me authors in a genre I love (epic fantasy) or do market research in a genre related to my own (hetero historical romance). If I find an author I like, I'll buy their full-priced backlist.

And I think in some genres, the 99-cent model can work. But these tend to be BIG genres, like hetero romance or thriller/mystery. M/M in my view is too small to support the same kind of numbers. I'm hopeful this might change over time, but we're not there yet.

What if writing doesn't pay

If writers can't earn a living from writing, the obvious solution is that somebody else has to pay for them to live. I have writer friends who're on social security (nothing shameful about it - it's never really a choice), or have wealthy spouses (personally, I prefer the power balance in a relationship to be more equal). Others have several day jobs and run the risk of burning themselves out. I can't count the writers who have severe mental and physical health issues because of stress or massive self-exploitation to somehow make this thing work.

Obviously, nobody owes a writer a living. I'm not entitled to sales, but I am entitled to profit off my copyright (I wrote it, I get to sell it by law, so yes, I object to piracy). At the moment, my writing is my only source of income, and it's not enough to make pension contributions or rack up savings (and I'm 39 years old, so I need to plan for retirement, as I won't inherit any money).

At the moment I get by on less than UK minimum wage. I still need to make a profit, because my only alternative is to return to full-time work and that means more stress, less writing, fewer releases. I would even have returned to a day job, if I could have found a job in my field. EVEN so I'm acquiring qualifications to earn money from a career unrelated to writing - I like a Plan A, B and C.

But in the meantime, I need to charge more than 99 cents for my work.