Friday, 29 January 2010

Boudoir of Books

I have quite a lot of books. I'm sure most of you do. I don't have as many as I'd like. I often have to purge my horde due to lack of space. I have an increasing number of books on writing and publishing. And an increasing collection of lit mags and small press anthologies and the like. I started wondering about how those books would look, grouped together instead of scattered round my room. So I took some photos. Then I thought I might as well take some photos of all the nooks and crannies my books live in.

Here are all my books on writing. There are a few I'm currently reading ('First Draft in 30 Days' - Wisener, 'Make a Scene' - Rosenfeld) and some I haven't finished reading but started years ago ('The Ode Less Travelled' - Fry), and some I haven't even looked at yet. Mostly I've read them.

(That little guy in the corner is Rufus.)

And these are all my writing magazines and small press digests and the like. As you may notice, my copy of 'First Edition' isn't here. That's because I threw it away. I have also bought copies of 'Writer's Forum' and the other writing magazines that usually appear on the shelves of WHSmith. I buy them every so often, but they don't hugely appeal to me so I don't often keep them.

(As you can see, I'm a fan of 'Mslexia'.)

As for the rest of my books. I have two shelves over my desk. Highlights in this picture include my 9 inch vinyl of Nine Inch Nail's 'March of the Pigs' single, which my neighbour gave me for my 18th birthday, the Meowth pokemon sitting in front of my Narnia collection, and you can see my degree in the corner there too.

And the full shot of my shelves, where you can see my not-so-secret love of Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles'. I also love my dragon book ends, which I got on The Isle of Wight, and you can see one of the masks I have from Venice.

My weird bookcase. My guitar shrunk in the wash. Okay, it's a ukulele.

This next one is my mini bookcase. From Argos. I put it together. It's not very sturdy. And I have so little room for all my stuff that I've had to stick my CD rack in front of it :( And yes, that book does say 'SEX' - it's a book of erotic art through the ages. And that middle shelf is mostly DVDs. And that's the 'Alien' quadrilogy on there too. Oh yeah.

This last one is the pile on top of my CD player. Mostly 'am vaguely reading' pile. And a couple of CDs, including Sue Foley and Rage Against the Machine, just to mix it up a bit.

There. I hope you've enjoyed looking round my room. Now get out before I call the police.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

I Have 'The Fear'

I think I am experiencing the writer's worst enemy: The Fear.

We're nearly a month into 2010, and I've failed my simple New Year's Resolution miserably. I've hardly written anything. I've not even started on the novel in my head.

There's a silent voice that's constantly telling me not to write, because it will be terrible and a waste of time. Without even realising it, I'm listening to this voice. I'm giving into The Fear of being a crap writer.

The logical part of my brain is being over-powered. I know that in order to write well, you must write a lot. Writing is like anything else: the more you practice, the better you'll be.

I know that there is this wonderful thing called 'editing' which means that a first draft doesn't have to be perfect.

I know these things, and yet I'm finding it increasingly difficult to write anything.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Mixed Feelings About Self-Publishing

I'm starting to feel like a teenager again, who has been feuding with a boy for a long time. So long that I want to end the twenty-seventh rage-fuelled argument by shoving them up against the wall and kissing them violently.

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.

My position on self-publishing has always been that it's a bad thing. It was my gut-reaction, and my logical reaction, too. But increasingly my thoughts have been slipping to the dark side... Maybe this annoying rebel isn't so bad... In the right light, it might even be pretty sexy...

Let's start at the beginning of this thought process.

Why Self-Publishing a Novel is a Bad Idea

I always thought that one of the main reason's someone would self-publish is because their manuscript simply isn't good enough for a publisher to want to invest in. Publishers know the business. If they think it ain't good, and that it won't sell, they're probably right.

There's no editor, there's no standard that has to be met, there's no proofreader...

Most people have no idea how to put an attractive cover together. Self-published books look bad aesthetically.

Without the 'brand' of a publisher, potential readers have no reason to assume that the book is worth reading. If a publisher has had enough faith in the manuscript to take it under their wing, then it means it isn't a pile of utter wank.

As fellow blogger Aaron Polson mentioned, if you're a famous writer and you decide to self-publish, you're probably going to still sell a shit-load of books. This, again, is an issue of branding. One step above having a publisher's brand on your book, is having your name as the brand instead. Do you know what publishing house Irvine Welsh is with? No, nor do I. But I know his name, and I know he's a good writer. That's enough for me. Would I buy a complete novel from Billy No-Name? No - I have no idea who this guy is, or if he's capable of writing a decent novel.

Even as I write this, I am beginning to see more and more holes in my previous way of thinking.

There are things that you need to ask yourself about the goals of your own writing, your writing career.

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

Do you want to be published with a big name publisher? Why? To make money? To get the thrill of seeing your book on the shelves of Waterstones? It sounds nice. Essentially, that's fame and a bit of an ego-stroke. Maybe a bit of cash. Though unless you're an uber-best-seller like Stephen King, J. K. Rowling or Dan Brown, you'd probably not be able to give up your day job.

Do you want to create? Do you want control over the publication process of your work? Do you want to reach readers, but without quantity as the ultimate goal? Make a bit of cash? Be a bit rogue? Use modern technology to its full potential?

There are a few more issues to consider. These days, we're increasingly told that since social networking is so easily available to us all now, authors and potential authors should be building their own 'platforms'. Don't think that if you get a book deal with a big publisher, that you're not going to have to do any promotion yourself.

Also, there's the issue of royalties. At the publishing house I work at, author royalties are on average about 10%. I'm not saying that isn't fair (there are an awful lot of expenses that go into making a book at a publishing house), but getting more than that would be nice. Then again, you have to balance it out. You would most likely get fewer sales if you self-publish, so even if the pay is a higher percentage, it will probably be a lot less money overall.

Why Self-Publishing is a Good Idea

Publishers aren't there to publish the best writing. That may be one of their aims, sure, but essentially a publishing house is a business. They want to make money. If your book is awesome but the publishers don't think they will make enough money out of it, you're going to get rejected.

It's your work. You can make the decisions. Sure, publishers 'know what they're doing' in the traditional sense. But maybe YOU could do something different. Something creative. Something that breaks the mould. Isn't that exciting?

It can be done. Even if it's small scale. The Internet is a powerful tool. Social media is booming. Word of mouth is a far stronger sales tool than any advert can ever be. If you're savvy, you can do it.

How to Make the Most of Self-Publication

I'm no expert, but it doesn't take a genius to realise what mistakes are often made by self-publishing authors. Firstly, you need to PUT YOUR ALL INTO IT. Don't think that you can just do what you want because you're not going to get rejected by a publisher. If you product poor, you'll get rejected by readers. And you're back at square one - might as well have not wasted your energy trying to get published in the first place.

Don't just write any old crap and chuck it on and expect people to buy it. People like that are the ones who have been giving self-publishing a bad name.

Same point as above, really. Writing takes time. It needs time to ferment. Leave your writing to rest for a while, then go back to it with a fresh mind and edit it. Don't rush into publication, as tempting as it is. You'll only embarrass yourself with a typo-ridden, poorly-structured painfully obviously rushed piece of writing.

Get some opinions on your piece. As the writer, you'll never be able to read your own novel from a reader's point of view. And since you're so close to your work, you might miss some major problems with it. A few pairs of fresh eyes (or better still, professional eyes) are invaluable.

If you're crap at using Photoshop, ask a friend or hire someone to create an awesome cover for your book. Make the interior look professional. People do judge books by their covers. They really, really do.

No one is going to buy a book from a no-name author if you're selling it at £25 excluding postage and packaging. It's better to make a 50p profit per book and sell 100 books than make a £15 profit per book and sell 1 book (to your Mum, probably).

Not all press is good press. Don't spam. Don't demand that people read your book. Build a platform. There are plenty of articles out there on how to do this well. Social networking is not for advert spamming. It's about communication with people. SHOW people that you're a competent, intelligent, interesting writer, and maybe they'll trust your product. If you tell people you're awesome, with no evidence to back that up, I'm pretty sure they won't believe you.

Why Self-Publishing Has a Bad Name

Someone you know online self-publishes several books. They bash them out at a dizzying rate. You've seen their writing before. Perhaps they've posted a sample on Facebook or their blog. It's always riddled with typos, stereotypical characters, and the plot closely resembles the number 1 selling book at Tesco. Their book is over-priced, and the cover makes you want to put pins in your eyes. Every two weeks you get a request to 'Become a Fan of Mr No-Name'. Does this scenario sound familiar?

That's largely been my experience of self-published writers.

But I reckon the right writer, with the right idea and the right book could probably use this whole self-publishing malarkey for something good.

Would I self-publish? Until recently, my answer would have been a resounding 'No!', followed by a snort of offended disgust. But after reading articles like The Death of the Slush Pile in which we're told 'each unsolicited submission [has] a .008% chance of rising to the top of the [slush] pile', I'm starting to think that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to stick my nose in the air. Maybe I should open myself up to the changing publishing world, and keep a bit more of an open mind.

I'm not saying by any means that self-publishing is 'good' or that it is 'bad'. I'm saying that the publishing world is in flux. Writers have more tools available to them than ever before. If they use those tools well, maybe something brilliantly non-traditional can come of it.

I'm sure you all have opinions on this subject. I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Newbie No Longer?

One of the editorial assistants at Pearson, Jess, will be moving to Penguin in The Strand, London, as of Tuesday. Today was her last day at Pearson. Pearson own Penguin, so she's technically staying in the same company. It's very exciting as she's gone from being an editorial assistant for nearly two years, straight to editor.

At Pearson, Jess worked on the Humanities list. Today, while we toasted Jess with a glass of wine over at her desk, I saw a few of the books on that list. Books on Tarenito and Hitchcock, Shakespeare and Grammar... Those are my kind of books! A very small part of me wanted to request to be moved to that list... But I've just settled in the Business and Nursing lists, and feel like I'm getting to grips with it and getting to know the authors and the projects, so there's no way I'll request to move any time soon. Plus, the editors I work for, Matthew and David, are great guys and they have told me how much they appreciate my help! It would be a bit of a kick in the teeth.

So, there's an editorial assistant position open! I'll no longer be the newest one. I won't be at the bottom of the food chain any more! Nearly all the editorial assistants were promoted to assistant editors (yes, there's a difference!) at the beginning of this year. Obviously I wasn't as I've only been at Pearson three months.

I wonder where I'll be a year down the line. Assistant Editor? An Editor at Penguin? Or will I have ditched it all in for a Creative Writing MA? Who knows.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Notebook

Okay, so it seems the new year's resolution hasn't turned out so well so far. I have yet to write 500 words. But, I have revised a few poems, a story or two... And I've made a small start on something else.

For the first time ever... I'm going to attempt a novel.

I feel slightly reluctant to tell you this. With my attention span, it is highly likely to fall through. But perhaps it will motivate me, knowing that people know I'm trying. Perhaps I've been unable to write as much as I would like because I haven't had anything to keep my focus. I flit through ideas for short stories, and rarely type them up. So I'm going to try to sink my teeth into something bigger. Try to get my ideas rolling and sticking together, like a snowball.

My aunt bought me a notebook for Christmas. I have a lot of notebooks. I love notebooks. But I hate the idea of my scribbles ruining a beautiful one. This notebook is pretty, but not beautiful. It has a floral design on the front, which is totally incongruous to the subject of my novel.

I've started scribbling some character notes, and a spider-diagram of the main ideas of the story. And if you really want to know, I came up with the story while lying in the bath with my boyfriend. He's good to bounce ideas off. I'm sure he prefers that to hearing me moan about how I want to do a writing MA.

So there we go. I've started brewing a novel in a notebook.

Anyone got any tips?

Friday, 8 January 2010

3 Things That DIDN'T Help Me Get a Job in Publishing

If you're thinking about cracking the publishing industry, let me share with you a few of my own discoveries. I've been working for a large publishing house for nearly three months now. I recently had an appraisal with the two editors I work for - it went pretty darn well. We looked back at what I had achieved so far, and set some goals for this year. It made me think about how I landed my job in the first place and, on reflection, what I didn't need to get the job. This included:

1. An MA in Publishing
Fairly controversial for me to say this. Many of the other editorial assistants have an MA in Publishing. I have a BA in English Literature, and I'm sure that I wouldn't have got the job without my degree, but it seemed that there were more important things for my employers to consider than whether or not I had a Masters degree. I suspect it was the work experience that comes with some MAs that was considered most valuable.

2. A Copy-Editing Qualification from The Publishing Training Centre (Book House)
When I graduated, I thought it would be best if I had some kind of qualification to do with publishing in order to land a job in the industry. I couldn't afford an MA (which was my first thought) so I searched around for cheaper, long-distance learning courses. I enrolled on a copy-editing course for roughly half a grand. That was about seven months ago. I still haven't completed Unit 2. During my appraisal, my bosses had even forgotten that I was enrolled on this course! They said I probably didn't need it, unless I specifically wanted to become a copy-editor - and bore myself to death, they added! Oh well. I still find the ins and outs of language and layout interesting. I will keep going with the course. I've always liked the idea of being a freelancer, so it may be a good thing to have in the future.

3. The Bookseller Jobs Bulletin
Or any well-known jobs site. For this simple reason: they are TOO well-known. Only the biggest publishers can afford to advertise with places like this, and they get hundreds - if not thousands - of people applying to one job. I applied to several jobs from sites like this and didn't hear back from any of them, not even just to say they had received my CV. Much better to look on the websites of smaller publishing companies or, better yet, find out something through word of mouth/networking!

See my post '5 Things That Helped Me Get a Job in Publishing' for further information on the things that did help me.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Interview with Daniel I Russell (Associate Editor of Necrotic Tissue Magazine)

Daniel I. Russell was born near Wigan in 1980. He has been featured in various horror anthologies, magazines and ezines. His novel Samhane is due for release in paperback by Stygian Publications in 2010 as well as Come Into Darkness with Skullvines Press. He is a member of the Australian Horror Writers' Association and the associate editor of Necrotic Tissue magazine. Daniel lives in Western Australia with his horror-poet partner Sherie and three children Mason, Amity and Tobin. He had a budgie, but it died. (From Dan’s blog, which you can read here:

Hi Dan, welcome to the blog. Let’s start with the fun stuff. You’re a horror writer – what scares you the most? Have you ever had any terrifying experiences that have inspired your fiction? And have you ever scared yourself with your own writing?

Two scariest things for me: sharks (after a bad experience watching JAWS at 4) and injections (tried to punch out a dentist at 7), strangely two subjects I haven't approached in my writing! Maybe I could scare myself if I did. Who knows?

There was once a weird event in my early childhood involving a human-shaped silhouette and some weird, hunched thing that followed it around. I might have been dreaming, but the image stuck with me. Only after I wrote a novel called The Collector and looked at the characters a bit more critically, I did notice that the titular baddie and his pet might be offshoots from this strange visitation.

Do you think the modern experience of horror is more extreme than it has ever been? Do you believe that people can become desensitised to horror? How do you think this has an impact on horror fiction?

I think the consensus is that horror is getting more extreme, especially in the movies, with the likes of SAW and HOSTEL and Twilight. I disagree. I believe that extreme, gory horror (or 'gore-no' as some people call it) has emerged from the shadows in the last decade and has touched on being, dare I say it, fashionable! Looking back to stuff in the 70s that was banned, it's just as extreme. Nowadays, the effects are a bit more realistic and the movies are marketed, even pushed, on these gory scenes. In the SAW movies, I've been in many arguments with people about them. Other writers and myself enjoy the twists and intervening character story lines, yet other people can't see past the blood.

I get a lot of: "You like the SAW movies? They're so shallow and just gore. You must be fucked up." My response: "You haven't read any of my books, have you?"

Unfortunately, with the production companies pumping out movies like this on a bloody production line and trying to out-extreme each other, the viewing public are getting a little bored now. Even SAW has been pushing it the last few years. This does lead to desensitised audiences, which is a shame. Still, I'd rather a long run of uninspired extreme horror flicks over a chain of remakes (go to hell, Michael Bay!).

In horror fiction, things have been constant for the last thirty or so years on the extreme front. Those that write splatter still write splatter, and well too. Check out Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Ed Lee, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton and many more if you search the small presses. These guys have been writing stuff that would make Jigsaw cringe!

You have recently moved to Australia. Has this had much of an impact on your writing? What’s the horror scene like down under?

I've always agreed with the sayings 'write what you know' and 'travel broadens the mind'. So this has been a combination of the two.

I've written a few short stories based in Australia, mainly By the Banks of the Nabarra, a 14,000 story about a bunyip, which is due to appear in the Australian publication Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and The Taken, which is currently shortlisted for an Australian anthology. I also have a story short listed for the Tasmanian anthology Festive Fear 2, and after the success of the first volume, really have my fingers crossed for that one. I'm a member of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, which led to a story published in Midnight Echo #3 and even a private online chat between members and Clive Barker on Halloween! To chat with a lifelong idol was an amazing experience. The AHWA is a great organisation and has been one of the best things about moving to Australia...writing wise.

As for the general horror scene in Australia? It must be underground somewhere. ALL of the agents I queried over here all turned down anything horror/supernatural related. There's very few small press horror novels in the shops, and a minuscule number of markets to submit to (my partner talked to a writer who compiles information on Australian markets. When she told him where I'd been published with over here, he said that was pretty much all there is!).

There are some very talented and passionate horror writers over here...but I guess we just have to pitch our work to the States, like most people.

You have been published by Wild Child Publishing. Care to share your experience with them?

I entered into a relationship with WCP early in my career in the knowledge that the editing was top-notch. Writing is forever a learning process, and I craved technical experience (nothing more embarrassing then being caught with your modifier dangling for all to see, is there?). This done, I knew I would have a couple of ebooks out to whore to all and sundry and start building a fan base.

This, unfortunately, didn't occur.

The publisher did little to advertise the books, nor had any interest in getting the word of their authors out there. As some of the other writers have complained, what was I giving them 60% of the take for? My excerpt was wrong and formatted without paragraph breaks. My reviews weren't posted or sent out. I would have had more success financially self-publishing, but as I'm a firm disbeliever in this path, I persevered and hopefully, the future's looking brighter, particularly for Samhane, which is due for a paperback release next year with Stygian Publications.

Maybe some authors had a better time with WCP. I can only go from my own experience. But like I said just above, writing is always a learning process. That doesn't just cover the verbs and syntax, but also the industry.

Your novel, Samhane, is coming out in paperback with Stygian Publications and you’re also being published with Skullvines Press – congratulations! What has your experience been like with these publishers?

Amazing! I'd worked with R. Scott McCoy a few times in the past, being a featured writer in the debut Necrotic Tissue and Malpractice: Anthology of Bedside Terror. We grew to become good friends, which later led to more work with Necrotic Tissue. Stygian Publications, after the critical success of Malpractice and the stuff Shroud is releasing, decided to branch out. 2010 sees the release of their first graphic novel Bad Billy written by John P Wilson (quite a guy) and their first full novel, my very own Samhane. Those that read the ebook enjoyed it, so it will be nice to reach new readers. Scott has edited a novel for me before, so I trust his opinions. They simply make a book better.

I worked with SD Hintz and Jerrod Balzer over at Skullvines Press during a guest writing appearance in Tabloid Terrors #3, which is due out in January. We had such fun with that filthy little book! Come Into Darkness just felt right to be with them. It's a sexy, violent, disturbing book, and I know that the Skullvines boys will do it justice. They also work so damn hard to get books in readers hands. As a writer, you have to appreciate that and want to work with them.

How did you become Associate Editor for Necrotic Tissue? What’s it like being on the other side of the submissions process?

After appearing in the debut issue and Malpractice, Scott and myself became friends. Originally, Scott had someone else help him reading submissions, but that fell through and left him in the lurch, buried under a mountainous slush pile! He asked if I'd help him out by reading a few. I did, and it kind of became a long term thing. Now, as associate editor, I'm more an integral part of the magazine, especially now we're in print. It all feels a bit professional when I'm sat in the meetings, but when I hold the proof of the latest issue in my hands, it's all worth it. One of the best jobs I've ever had! (Do I get that raise now?)

Being on the other side doesn't change me as a writer really, but being a writer, I know how disappointing a form rejection can be after waiting six months for a response. We bust a gut to give writers a timely reply (usually within 1-2 weeks) with personal feedback if we aren't accepting the story. We get about 500 submission per monthly reading period, and it's a lot of work, but we owe that bit of respect to writers. They took the time to write the story and send it to us, so we have the time to give you feedback. (Holds up issue and grins)

What are the perks and challenges of your role with Necrotic Tissue?

It's always great when the issue arrives and you have your name in the staff page! I'm also being elevated (some may suggest foolishly) to the post of head editor for the October issue. The pressure will be on, but what a great way to learn more about the business and feel proud for putting a quality magazine out. I can't wait.

A challenge is the constant reading during the submission windows to keep on top of things. This obviously cuts into my own writing time, and when you have deadlines to meet, things can get hectic. I also have a newborn baby to add to the mix this time. Bring it on! (Holds up issue)

When reading submissions to the magazine, do you have any pet peeves, or anything that results in an instant rejection?

You can tell normally in the first few lines if a story is a contender or not. As a writer, I think you know when a story has been scrutinised and edited enough to be worthy of submitting to a magazine. We get some that look fresh off first draft, where the writer has sent it in because a) it's free and they have nothing to lose or b) they're impatient. It's a given that badly written stories will get rejected. Thankfully, most we receive are at a high standard, but that doesn't make life any easier. There are a lot of standard stories. We might get five or six stories that basically exactly the same, just with different characters or setting. This happens a lot with zombie stories or Lovecraftian pieces. We want fresh ideas please, or takes on these traditional subgenres to blow us away.

And jokes. We love horror-humour, but don't think you can get away with sticking in a joke from last night's Family Guy and we won't notice. I love Family Guy, but it's the bane of humour for me and NT submissions!

Certainly none of these things crops up in the current issue! (Holds it up)

What is your ultimate ambition as a writer?

I have varying ambitions as a writer, some realistic...some not. I'm happy to get my acceptances and have readers see my work, especially with the novels. I'd love to be published with Dorchester to rub shoulders with some of my idols and obviously make a little bit more money. It's not all about the money; I wouldn't sell out and write something more generally acceptable to generate more sales. To make a living doing what I love is the ultimate ambition. And a movie deal...just so I can visit the set of a horror film! lol

Thanks, Dan.

A pleasure, Sophie. Anyone fancy a pint?
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