Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Guest: C. N. James


My Guest this week is writer C. N. James. When C.N. isn't to be found crouching behind oversized coffee mugs, teaching Writing at College or plucking guitar strings, he can be found producing sterling Sci-Fi. Today he brings us a fresh look at the current state of the publishing world:


C.N. James

Are Independent Authors the New Publishing Paradigm?

In music and movies, it’s always hipper to be indie. It means you have met success without a corporate blessing. It’s the spirit of individualism made manifest. Being indie allows us the freedom to explore, to push boundaries, to not have to worry about whether or not we are addressing a wide enough, all-encompassing audience.  Being indie means that in order to succeed you have to be original, innovative, cutting edge, and at times, controversial.

And finally, that same reputation is moving into the world of publishing. Sadly, this new reputation is still too new to cause massive sales, but indie books are finally gaining respect. With people like Amanda Hocking, Amy Joy, Blake Northcott, and E. L. James seeing respectable sales figures, the old-school publishing industry is taking notice. The independent and self-publishing worlds are now seen as a proving ground, not competition.  We are the minor leagues of publishing; some of us will be called up to majors, but not all. But the question is: do we want to?

The publishing companies do next to nothing to market your book; it’s still up to you. The books stores only have so much shelf space, so if you aren’t an immediate success, it doesn’t matter how awesome your book is, its shelf-life is about as long as fresh fruit. And let’s not forget how long it takes for them to release your work. You may be waiting years to see your book finally hit the shelves and an even longer time before you see any money from it.

Despite this, do we still need that validation, that corporate blessing? I think that it really depends on your goals. Everyone wants validation or appreciation for what they do. No one wants to be seen as unimportant.  Because of this, I’d imagine most indie authors would jump at the chance to sign a contract with a major publishing company. And yet, you really have to ask yourself: is it really in your best interest? If you are already a best-seller, how much more validation do you need?

What if indie became the new publishing paradigm? After all, it allows us to find our audience, publish when the book is ready, and make it available to anyone with internet access. Along with that, the indie reputation is going to continue to improve. Unfortunately, there will always be, as one author put it: “karaoke of literature,” but time will help filter out those who don’t live up to the indie label. Those that get frustrated will give up, leaving the most dedicated, the most creative, the most passionate left to push the publishing industry into a new golden age.





Bio:

CN James is the co-founder of The Indie Writer’s Network and author of the thriller 'Bone Machine', a second round finalist for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and several short stories including The Dark Room, which won honorable mention in the 78th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition for genre short story. 

He holds a Master’s Degree in English Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Jazz Guitar) and is currently at work on his second novel, The Armageddon Factor and a guitar method book, both of which will be available in early 2013.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The story behind 'the CULL' book trailer


Finally it's here!

Although the novel has been out in the wild for a couple of weeks now, as every writer knows, there's a huge list of ‘other stuff’ that suddenly acquires PRIORITY status as soon as the last words of the tale are written.

One of these is the promotional video book trailer.

I had decided to go about this in a far more professional manner this time. I searched high and low looking for someone who would generate a great, no, outstanding trailer for this novel. Surprisingly, despite visiting hundreds of trailer-producer webs, I wasn’t getting anywhere. When you come away from viewing trailers with the feeling you could have done better yourself, that’s not a good sign. Then there were to Over-The-Top efforts that looked more like Hollywood s/fx extravaganzas than promo trailers.

I knew what I wanted…

The professional feel of the Hollywood Blockbuster without the message being lost in the special effects. Remember, the objective of a good trailer is to help sell books, not drive you to the movies.

I don’t believe in coincidences!

Never have.

What unseen power may be at work behind the scenes, helping us resolve our problems at critical moments, I honestly do not know.

What I do know is that if we spent more time being aware of our surroundings, then answers abound. They are there – if you just take the time to listen and observe.

The production of the trailer was no exception.

I received an unexpected phone call from a friend I’d not seen in a few years. He used to be in upper management at a Casino and we became friends when he asked me to provide some personal defence training for himself and a select group of his colleagues as a contingency measure. He knew I take a very pragmatic approach to what I teach and was so astounded at the results, he asked me to train him in more advanced stuff (such as the use of everyday objects – ice cube, newspaper, car seatbelts and a long etc, you know, the usual stuff – as defensive weapons when shove came to push!). His job then took him away from the area and our contact was limited to occasional phone calls and even more sporadic meetings for coffee.

The call was for one of the latter – yes, girls, you aren’t the only ones who meet to catch up with your friends – SPOILER AHEAD  - we Rambo types do it as well; except, if we tell you about about it, we have to kill you!

We chatted for a while: him about his projects using Intelligence analysis techniques applied to tourism; me about the latest novel (these things are all consuming, as any writer will tell you). I helped him with a few pointers from bygone days, and he in turn put me in touch with doopfilms.

My first encounter was charged with enthusiasm. Although the people at doopfilms.com are only just starting with Book Trailers, they have a twenty-year plus backstory with professional video and film productions. Their determination to set a standard in book trailer production was evidenced, first, by the fact they had created a separate company dedicated to this (doopfilms.com) and then by the boundless passion I heard from the CEO about their future plans and interest in producing a trailer for ‘the CULL’. As an example of their ‘can-do’ attitude, they asked me for a couple of copies of the paperback to use in the video, but Amazon hadn’t come through yet; they’re still in the (Christmas) post somewhere. No problem, they said, we’ll make one!

Please don't laugh - I'm a writer not a graphic designer!
They will handle requests in all sorts of formats. In my case, as I am a non-starter as a graphic designer, I told them, during a long phone call, what I was thinking regarding the concept of the trailer for this novel. That weekend I dug out, and dusted off, my state-of-the-art graphic design program (Photodraw 2000) and whipped up a (sort of) storyboard. I sent this to them and heard by return mail that they had already been filming stuff to try out the ideas I had told them earlier – what sounds good verbally, may not be as visual as you need. They emailed me some scenes and I was hooked!

A couple of days later, a text message – we have finished the filming! Next day, I receive a link and a password to check out the ‘draft’ trailer on Vimeo. I thought it was perfect – they still wanted to do more work.

They had my book even before I did!
Next morning, a new version – their attention to detail is amazing – they had modified, retouched, re-synced a load of things I hadn’t even spotted in the ‘draft’. The resultant file was large – over 60 Mb – but thanks to the Cloud, I soon had it sitting on my computer. From there it went to YouTube and my blog, as well as a few other select destinations.

They tell me they had so much fun doing this (must have been all that fake blood – at least I hope it was fake – they didn’t emulate one of my vampires from ‘the CULL’, did they?) they are in the process of producing a ‘Making of’ video to place on their web when it goes public in a few days.

Incidentally, now everyone can SEE why I insist in writing 'the CULL' as I do... it's a primitive syringe!

My conclusion and a recommendation: if you are a writer who only wants the best for your promo materials, send them an e-mail (hello@doopfilms.com) and tell them what you are thinking.

Coordinating the soundtrack with the blood drops
I will be using them again, in fact, we have already spoken about my next project, ‘Leaving Shadows’, to give them time to figure out how to recreate lightning visually in the studio.

The photos in this post are screenshots from their ‘Making of’ which they have kindly supplied. Looking forward to seeing the whole video shortly.

I'm really please with having added doopfilms to my support professionals. With others, such as SiteGround.com whose superb service has given me 100% uptime for my web this year, they take away a major portion of the ancilliary worries, leaving me to get on with what I like to do best: write thriller novels.

Season's Greetings to you all.

May the New Year bring you all you wish for!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The NEW book trailer video for 'the CULL'

video

This is the awesome book trailer that www.doopfilms.com have produced for my latest novel.

Check it out!

In my next post, I'll tell you how this video came to be and the fantastic experience I had working with these professionals of the digital arts.

Season's Greetings to all,

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Guest: Amy Joy


During the last year I have been collaborating with several fellow authors on distinct projects unrelated to my own novels. One of these collaborations, which has been fun from the first day, is with Amy Joy and the Indie Writer's Network. 

Amy is a very talented writer whose debut novel, 'The Academie', was a Quarterfinalist for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  I have been chasing her for a while to contribute a guest post (she's a very busy lady) and it's with great pleasure I present to you my guest blogger this month: 

Amy Joy


The Rise of Digital Books

With the rise of e-readers and tablets, countless articles have been written speculating on future of our beloved books. A lover of technology, when I entered the world of indie publishing a year and a half ago, I had already embraced the e-reader even though I had yet to own one. The idea of being able carry my entire library around with me simply appealed to my nerdy self in a way print couldn’t. Usually I’m a sentimentalist, but not this time. (The smell and feel of books? Have you checked out a library book lately?) I was ready to empty my many bookcases and many more boxes of books that never found a home on a shelf, replace them with ebook versions, and take them with me everywhere. 

But while I was on board, it seemed the cyber-commentators (often sentimentalists and others with a stake in the traditional publishing industry) were in denial. The refrain at the time was that most e-reader owners were in fact hybrid readers. This, they believed, was due to the fact that ebook readers still loved both mediums—print and digital, and they weren’t ready to give up one at the expense of the other. However, what they didn’t take into account was the fact that a great many books simply weren’t available as ebooks yet, forcing those who might have bought all their books digitally to continue to buy many in print or go without. Half a year later, I found this out for myself when I bought my first Kindle and tried to load it with all my favorite titles—most of which have still not been released digitally, even a year later.

But some things have changed in that year. Ebooks have now outsold hardcover, and people are talking less about whether ebooks will overtake print, and more about the grim outlook for big box bookstores. While the sentimentalist in me will miss browsing the titles, grabbing a stack to peruse in a cafĂ© while enjoying a cup of coffee, and trying to justify why I simply can’t live without buying them all, another part of me enjoys just as much staying up late using the internet connection on my e-reader to explore new titles and discover old favorites that just went digital. 

Eight bags of books now sit in my basement, ready to be donated to my local book re-seller. For me, you just can’t beat the library that travels with you and requires no shelf space. And my digital library books never smell funky or stick to my fingers.

*




Amy Joy teaches college composition,
 is the co-founder of The Indie Writer’s Network (http://indiewritenet.com ), 



and bestselling author of the young adult sci fi thriller,

The Academie
 (http://theacademieseries.com). 



< [ click on the book for the Amazon link ]





When she's not teaching, managing a bunch of unruly writers on the Network, or writing great novels, you can find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/theacademieseries or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/amyjoywriter.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thinking of ending it all...


I bet that title got your attention!

If you are here looking for some ghoulish thrills, or to be saddened by the last rant of someone about to leave this world, then…

I’ve led you on!

This post is about novel endings.

I mean… the way we writers conclude our tales.

Sorry, better luck next time.

WARNING!!
This post will be inconclusive!

Okay, now I’ve got that out of the way…

Why am I writing this article? Well, in part, it’s a result of certain dialogues I have maintained, via e-mail and through reader reviews, about the ending of my novel ‘2012’, that prompted me to write a specific response on my web (in case you want to read it, the following link will get you directly to the response, but it’s much easier to understand if you’ve read the book first… What? Not read it yet? What are you waiting for? The response is here: http://www.ericjgates.com/2012Winks9.html - enjoy).

When I wrote this response, I started thinking not just about ‘2012’, but about the endings in ‘Full Disclosure’ and ‘the CULL’ as well. Then I had an attack of generic analysis (painful at this time of the year) and started to look at the endings for books I had read in the past twenty years or so (regular readers will know I have a quirky memory, so don’t be surprised).

I notice something interesting and decided to throw it out there for your comments.

First though, a little analytical background.

Novel endings seem to fall into one of three major categories: I call these
1)      Tie up in a neat bow
2)      Leave things hanging
3)      Hybrids

The first group is traditional. I noticed that almost all the books I’ve read, from way back when I first started reading novels up to about ten years ago, fall into this category. They cater to an innate human desire to have answers for everything and our fear of the unknown (Cheap psychology class adjourned). At least that’s my opinion. In these, we are presented with a fictional world where stuff happens to the people who live there. We (usually) empathise with the Protagonists, who go through all kinds of trials and tribulations, before riding off into the sunset, having won the day. At the end of the novel, our emotions are driven by the good things that happen to the Protagonists, and the bad things that befall the Antagonists. All is well! Rarely will the bad guys escape, unless it’s to bring them back in another novel where they do receive their just desserts (a classic example of this Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and the fate of Moriarty). These are the tales that leave us with the trace of a smile on our lips, and no unanswered questions. Hermetic, self-contained. Just like Life, right?

Then there’s group two.

Here I have to differentiate even further, because there are two sub-groups: I call these Addressed and, you’ve guessed it, Unaddressed.

Addressed/Hanging-Theres present a nice, last-page challenge to the reader. They are puzzles the reader can chose to work out by themselves, or in the context of a Social gathering (real or virtual as the whim, and technology, takes you). However, you as a writer, cannot just stop your novel at a seemingly random point to, as one of my critics put it, “go to dinner and forget to come back and finish the last scene.” No. Here you have to seed the book with sufficient information so that your readers can work out the unwritten conclusion, should they choose to do so. These novels usually carry a message of some kind; some moralistic titbit to amaze your readers; something that is also reflected in the body of the tale, if you specifically go looking for it.

Unaddressed/Hanging-Theres are usually preparations for a sequel, and dangle some morsel of intrigue before the reader’s eyes that can only be resolved by buying the next book. (Quick aside: I define series as novels about the same issues/places/storylines which may or may not feature the same characters, and sequels as novels which follow-on after the events previously related and feature the same characters). So why only sequels? Because for the morsel of intrigue to work, the reader needs to be invested in the characters, which means you will write about another episode in their fictional lives. I’m sure you can think of examples of both.

What’s even more interesting to note is the preponderance of Sequels on the best-seller lists. Readers seem to enjoy following characters over extended periods through multiple novels, and any reasonably good author, after sweating blood to generate reader empathy with their protagonist, loves to exploit that in future tales.
(Another aside [Oh how I love brackets!]: My own writing style has frequently been likened, in reader reviews, to that of Lee Child (British author Jim Grant). I confess I had not read any of his books until a couple of months ago, when I purchased “Killing Floor”. {And, yes, I can see what they mean – we both have a similar short, punchy sentence style used to quicken the pace of the action – so why isn’t Tom Cruise acting in a film of one of my novels?} Child has created a superb character in this novel, a man born of a dark past, heading for an uncertain future; the very mainstay of a great sequel(s) and that allows him to continue to write about Jack Reacher’s adventures for many years).

However, the Unaddressed/Hanging-There sub-group presents a danger: You could easily make your readers feel cheated or, worse, manipulated.

I positioned ‘2012’ clearly in the Addressed/Hanging-There category.

Hybrids – no, this isn’t a catch-all for the stuff that doesn’t fit easily into the above, rather it has its own rules. Basically these are composed of novels with an Epilogue of some sort where the main body is a hermetic story, and the epilogue is a lead-in/set-up for a series or sequel.

At the end of the day, and the novel, it’s all about READER ENGAGEMENT. We try to create empathy for our Protagonists, loathing for our Antagonists and intrigue for our tales and, with a dash of Pacing and a Good Story, hope to entertain our readers for a while. The more we can have them rooting for our characters, the better. In the traditional hermetic novels, this is of course true, yet the Addressed/Hanging-There sub-group goes one-step further. Here the aim is to having your readers close the completed novel, sit back and muse for a minute, then become infused with an insatiable desire to discuss the ending with their peers (or instantly write a crappy review because they just didn’t get it – depending on their attention span, I suppose). The novels in this sub-group try to take reading from being a Passive, Isolated activity to an Active Social Experience, and I think that’s a good thing. And therein there be dragons: as readers we have become too accustomed to novels that tie everything up in a nice neat bow and we are, to an extent, programmed into expecting this from our entertainment (books, movies etc). It would be another world if we were not sure if Pooh Bear got the Honey or not, right?

Einstein is supposed to have said that we only use about 10% of our brains. Wrongly-attributed Urban Myth aside, maybe it is time to provide literary circles/discussion groups with more fodder from the popular fiction stable and write more Addressed/Hanging-There fiction. What do you think?

Finally, and this must really be over thinking on someone’s part, we have to accept if we choose the Addressed/Hanging-There route, some people just won’t get it. And, in the true tradition of modern man, will question the writer before they question themselves. Worse, we can get too clever! The last chapter of my novel ‘Full Disclosure’ was presented as an ‘Author’s note to the 25th Edition’ written by myself and one of the novel’s fictional characters – this was another twist at the end of the tale, as well as an opportunity to tie-up a couple of deliberately hanging threads. Then I receive a poor review from someone, who I will not embarrass by naming, who obviously thought the novel had finished as soon as they saw the Author’s Note heading and chose not to read anymore!

Opinions? Comments? Let’s get polemic, people…

Apology:
Sorry about the profusion of brackets. Please choose one of the following excuses:   
  1.   I used to write Operating Systems for Super-Computers and the technique stuck.  
  2.  It’s a new keyboard and it’s not house-trained yet.
  3.   I think like this. I also hear voices telling me to… (fill in as desired).



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Guest: Seumas Gallacher

Today I kick off an occasional series of posts written by fellow writers.

Who better to launch this new venture than friend

Seumas Gallacher

Seumas and I share three things in common: We are both long-term Ex-Pats, we both write thrillers, and we both wear skirts! But enough said about that! Without further ado, I leave you in the capable hands of Seumas:



…throwing a spammer in the works…(or, letting it all hang out there…) 

My pal and fellow scribbler, Eric Gates, him what’s let me loose on his virtual space without so much as an Interpol disclaimer or an Alsatian dog-handler present, has asked me to give some insight into life as an author in the Middle East, given that many of *us/we/us (*delete whichever you can’t grammatically handle) professional expatriate souls ply our trade in similar far-flung foreign fiefdoms (try saying that six times swiftly with a dram or three aboard.) Specifically what, if any, restrictive impact there may be creating a marketing presence for our books.

Let’s bear in mind the motto ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’. This applies to every part of our lives when we choose to live in someone else’s country (we are still guests, after all), so it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand that any material which would prove offensive in local terms should be avoided. Here in Abu Dhabi I presented each of my two crime thrillers to the National Media Council for pre-approval prior to publication. I found the process simple enough, and was pleasantly surprised by the courtesy and professionalism I met. Suffice to say that one small bedroom scene (three tiny paragraphs) had to be removed, altering my story line not one iota.

Then I was set to go.

What next then for the swashbuckling author-y pioneer?

I decided to invest a modest financial outlay as part of my business campaign of creating reader interest, in pretty much the same way that any of us might do in Weymouth, Peebles, or Swansea. I hired a hotel banquet area to formally launch my masterpieces (both at once---get me, Mama!) and invited anybody daft enough to accept my free wine, beer and finger foods. (Amazing how that little word ‘free’ does help). Having local magazine columnists at the ‘freebie’ was a given, and Hey Presto! print inches appear, bedecked with pictures of my kilted frame (Braveheart, eat your heart out!)

Next on the agenda was bugging the ears off the local large book distributors to carry the tomes (which I’ve had printed myself), letting them know that these two have attracted an aggregate of 40,000+ downloads on Kindle in the last year. Clincher! They smell money. They’re now smelling my books on their shelves. The first lot was delivered to them yesterday, courtesy of Master Gallacher’s Delivery Haulage Service. So, fingers and all other digits and pieces crossed, they’ll haunt the local best-seller charts in sharp course.

Short summary of all of the above is quite simple for me…if you wanna see your books out there, get yourself out there, do talks, guest speaking engagements, signings, push, push, push. It’s no longer appropriate for authors merely to write, If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Seumas' crime thriller novels:



















UPDATE: Seumas has been named 'BLOGGER OF THE YEAR' - this is his first step to World Domination, of that I'm sure. Soon we will all have to wear skirts; not sure if I've got the legs for it! He's also published a collection of his fantastic blog posts, humourous and entertaining even if you are not a Blogger:



When Seumas isn't writing great thrillers, he can also be found here:



See you next time.  Click for Interpol Disclaimer






Wednesday, October 10, 2012

“I think I want to write fiction. What should I do now?”


This morning I woke with the idea this was going to be a normal, productive, writing day. I knew I wanted to add a couple of things to my website, and I had some non-writing stuff to get out of the way first, but my main idea was to sit down in front of my computer and write for ten or twelve hours. 

Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.

I did my non-scribbling things hastily, driven by the need to take up the current novel where I’d left it last night. Then I spent an hour on my web update. Then the day-changer happened.

I e-mail with fellow fiction writers and my own readers fairly frequently. I spend quite a bit of time responding to the latter group. Hell, if they have taken the time and made the effort to write to me, I should do the same. So I innocently opened my e-mail accounts and worked my way through. Halfway through the last account (my web’s Contact Eric feed) I came across this…

[WHOA! Don’t worry, YOU! I’m not going to reproduce the whole mail, only the subject line]

“I think I want to write fiction. What should I do now?” !!!!

(the exclamation marks are mine…here’s a few more !!!!....!!...!)

What the ….???!?

Suddenly, all dreams of writing my novel until my fingers bled were swept from my mind.

Hell’s Teeth!!! What an opportunity!!!!!

The poor misguided soul who had posed the question was playing with fire here!!!!!

(Sorry, the exclamation mark key now has a mind of its own!!!!!!!!!!!)

Here’s my answer, YOU. (This is going to be a loonnngggg post, but please bear with me – I hope it will be worth your persistence).

If you’re thinking about writing fiction, DON’T (write, I mean, not think.)

If you find yourself unable to sleep at night because you are mentally writing huge chunks of exciting prose; miss your stop because you’ve concentrated on solving a plot point; tuned-out in a meeting because you’ve just had a breakthrough about how to put an incredible twist into your narrative… if you are irritable with your loved ones; don’t return phone calls; have withdrawal symptoms when you’ve not written something that day… THEN, you’re ready! Not before.

Novels feed off passion – your passion. Your emotions pass through the words in a sort of literary osmosis straight into the readers mind, stimulating images and excitement therein – or at least that’s how it should be. If you don’t experience the passion, stick to writing shopping lists... Please.

So what’s next?

There’s a humongous amount of books, blogs, courses, etc. out there telling you ‘all’ you want to know about writing. Some of it is glib and useless, usually written by ‘established’ authors who have forgotten the pain and sacrifice of their humble origins (How to win friends and influence people – chapter 47). Then there’s advice, often well thought-out and presented, from experienced writers with true altruistic motivation who want to help other aspiring writers. But, quite a bit of this is centred on the ‘old paradigm’ of ‘traditional’ publishing. While that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant, it can be unintentionally misleading, and is often deliberately biased. Then there’s people who are passionate about this whole business, and sufficiently down-to-earth to take an objective approach. These are the most useful, in my opinion. I hope, when you reach the end of this massive missive, you’ll class me as one of the latter.

What would I suggest? I’ll try to make it as simple as I can. 

  1. Write your novel! Just get it down on paper! Don’t bother about spelling, grammar and the rest of that stuff; concentrate on telling your tale. How? We’ll this in of itself is another mind-blowing question. My simple answer? Read at least 2 of James N. Frey’s books: Read the generic “How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (Amazon link: http://amzn.to/QdiDeF) and the nearest genre-specific one to what you want to write (‘How to write a Damn Good Thriller’ was and is one of the best investments I have ever made.) James has a no-nonsense style of explanation; his books are chock full of superb pragmatic advice. You can do no wrong here, bro.
  2. Write until your fingers bleed. No, I don’t mean that literally, but writing isn’t something you do for ten minutes every other day, when it’s raining, and the dog isn’t clamouring for a walk.
  3. Make constant (every ten minutes) saves of everything. When you get to the end of a chapter (or end of a day’s writing) make at least one copy on a thumb drive and keep it on your person – that way if your PC overheats (through writing so much) and sets your house on fire, you won’t lose months of work. That has happened to me, minus the resultant house fire, though.
  4. Don’t discuss your story with anyone at this stage. That includes the wife/husband/lover/co-worker. The only exceptions? The dog (or cat). If you find yourself listening to their advice – for God’s sake, take a break!
  5. Once you’ve written your tale, run it through your word processor’s spell-checker, with all the options turned on. Take your time over this; don’t blindly except the suggested corrections – think about them and learn.
  6. Then run it through some self-editing software, such as Stylewriter (well worth the investment – link: www.stylewriter-usa.com). Again, make sure all the options are switched on; especially check that it is set on Fiction (you’re not writing term papers now!) and that the correct English set is selected (US, UK etc.) This will also take some time – probably days. It’s well worth it – again think before making ANY changes.
  7. You should now have a decent First Draft. Good, but this is the start… Print it out, double spaced, single-sided (yes, on paper. Seriously) and switch off your computer. I said unplug it!
  8. Go do something non-writing related for a couple of weeks. Snail-wrangling in the Peruvian mountains is a personal favourite.
  9. Then, find a quiet room, away from your PC. Lock yourself in; no interruptions. Read your First Draft aloud – interpret the dialogue, live the words. Make changes, add stuff, cross out whole paragraphs/pages (painful, isn’t it?)… EVOLVE your work! You’ll pick up things that don’t work; dialogue that sounds stilted; tangent storylines that go nowhere; pacing that doesn’t do what you want (if you’re yawning, imagine the hell you’re putting your readers through) and a long etcetera. This is one of the best and most productive steps in writing a novel; believe me – do it once and you’ll convince yourself.
  10. When you have finished reading the whole manuscript, not before, go back to your PC (it will have cooled down by then) and apply the changes. Don’t worry if you find yourself changing even more stuff as well – that’s just creative juices flowing.
  11. Repeat steps 5) and 6). Now you’ll have a Second Draft.
  12. Find some people and coerce, threaten, blackmail them into reading copies of your tale and providing you with DETAILED comments and suggestions. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, you will never speak to them again, babysit, walk their dog or whatever unless they give you a no-holds-barred critique. If what you’ve written is crap, they should say so – AND tell you why! Real friends will reveal themselves at this juncture in your life.
  13.  Read through all their suggestions – apply those you think will improve your work. Don’t discuss what you are doing, even with the dog! (at this stage it's got its own agenda!)
  14. Repeat steps 5) and 6) again. You’ll be seeing the text in your worst nightmares by now with stuff highlighted as infinite corrections dance before your eyes. Good. That’s progress.
  15. Find a professional, experienced Editor, ideally with several books under their belts in the same genre as your own– this will give them a better feel for the market segment and how to tweak the text to home in on your potential readers. This is expensive; the good ones aren’t cheap. They usually charge by the word for a full line edit, so if you’ve written a 150,000-word epic or a five-volume fantasy you want to publish all at once, prepare yourself.
  16. Apply the changes you feel warranted. Remember, editors will help you polish your prose, make it more efficient and acceptable to Joe Public, but they won’t have your passion for the tale.
  17.  Repeat steps 5) and 6). Yeah, I know: by now you hate the book. Good. We are almost there.
  18. Repeat steps 7), 8), 9), 10) and 11) – now you’ll have a Final Draft.
  19. Now it’s decision time. How do you want to publish it? Basically if you want to get your work out to a paying public, you have three options:   a)   Self-publishing, or the Indie route, b) Traditional publishing, or the patience route or c ) which is a while waiting for b. If a) is your choice, then find a reputable, experienced platform (many of the good ones are free) that have tools to help you get covers designed, text formatted, etc. If it’s b) then Patience. Start sending out Query letters to Literary Agents. Patience. Send out more query letters. Patience. Try to find an agent that works in your genre. Patience. While waiting, do step 22). If it’s c, read on.
  20. Decide how you want to market your book. You’ll need to do this irrespective of which route you took in the previous step. Check out the options. Note: it’s never too soon to market. I’m already writing about ‘the CULL’ and it’s not out for 2 months yet and ‘Leaving Shadows’ and that’s not out until May of next year! Generate some undercurrent today! “But hey, I chose route 2 – don’t the big publishing firms do your marketing?” you say. Simple answer; NO! Complex answer: NO, not with the passion you’ll put into it!
  21. Take a blank sheet of paper. Write out your expectations for your novel (copies sold, royalties, anything else you want). When finished, burn that page! Take another sheet of paper, halve the previous figures, then halve them again. Lastly, halve them! That’s reality, babe! Any improvement on what you have now, is GOOD NEWS!
  22. Write another book!!!!!!!!!!!! (damn, it’s happening again!!!!!) Here’s a super, secret, highly confidential marketing tip: Books sell books! (Don’t tell anyone!) Yeah, you’ve got it. You find a writer on Amazon; never heard of them (that’s you, now). One book to their name. Okay, you’ll give them a shot. Great read, want more, but… Take a look at the bestseller lists – most have multiple titles to their name. Plus, to become a better writer you need to write often. What’s your objective here? Simple: you want your readers to love you, not just [insert the title of your only novel]. Remember, people talk about Lee Child’s latest novel, not about another book by that guy who wrote whatsitsname. They call this Branding – personally I hate the phrase, but the idea is sound.
  23.  One magic day the postman will deliver a parcel, or maybe you’ll log on to Amazon and download it to your e-reader. It will be YOUR NOVEL. There’s nothing like that feeling! You’ll only get it once, so savour it. Even when it’s book two, or three, it won’t be quite the same.
  24. Another magic day will come. Again the postman with a letter this time, or maybe, if you’re lucky (yes, this is a friendly dig at my chums at Amazon KDP) it will be an EFT transfer. It is your first royalty payment! It won’t be much, but it’ll have an emotional value greater than Pure Gold!
  25. Grab your loved ones (remember them,? You’ve been ignoring them for months now; they may not even be on speaking terms anymore; they may have even moved house.) Take them out for a celebration – blow the royalties cash that day –all of it! They deserve it – hey, and don’t forget your writing partner – the dog!
  26.   Repeat 1-25. Welcome to the Writing Life!
More tips on my website!

      Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What the **** is a Thriller, anyway?

SPOILER ALERT – In the following I do reveal a few secrets about my novels. Just a few. Not enough to spoil them for the reader. But if you want to be totally surprised by my tales, then please don’t read any more! STOP, NOW!

One of the most frustrating questions I am asked from time to time is ‘what kind of novels do you write?’
I normally stick to a nebulous ‘thrillers’ and hope the interrogator will settle for that. Alas often ‘what kind of thrillers?’ is the next thing I hear.

You would think it was an easy question to answer. I am, after all, the bloke who has spent months and months writing the beasts; surely I must know where they slot in in the general gamut of the thriller genre? Yet I do find that a complex issue to resolve.

Thrillers, as a genre, is really a collective description for a style of novel rather than a specific type. I like James N. Frey’s description, in his excellent book ‘How to write a Damn Good Thriller’. There he states that “writing a thriller is like riding a bobsled down Mount Everest. You can let your imagination run. You can make up wild and crazy characters and stuff them into woodchoppers. You can blow up cities. Lop heads off. Sink ships. Go to Mars. In the world of thriller writing, anything goes—as long as you thrill your audience.”

That description says it all. There are references to sci-fi, horror, dystopian, disaster and terrorist themes in that description. So why bother about sub-divisions. Isn’t it just about thrilling your audience as he states?

He goes on to quote the “American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language” which defines a thriller as fiction "that thrills, especially a sensational or suspenseful book, story, play, or movie." He makes references to pacing, to emotional rushes, to suspenseful sensations and to exhilaration-driven narrative. What he doesn’t say is that they are sci-fi, romance, horror, chick-lit, psychological, paranormal, YA, or any of the other popular categories.

Why’s that?

That’s an easy one to answer: because a thriller can be ANY of those. Thrillers are more about the way you write your tales than the kind of tales themselves. So we could have a Horror thriller and a Technological thriller side by side and although their story lines would be radically distinct, their essence, thrilling their audience, is the same. Yes, I have just compared Robert Bloch’s ‘Psycho’ with Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’. Why not? They are both outstanding thrillers.

So back to the question ‘what kind of thrillers do I write?’

If pushed I will say something like ‘contemporary thrillers with a paranormal twist’. Sounds good, doesn’t it. 

Contemporary (present-day, dealing with 21st Century issues) and paranormal (weird things that happen in our world). For me, that just about covers it. After all ‘2012’ deals with the End of the World brought on by a fanatical Spanish businessman with an imminent war between China and the United States over oil resources as a backdrop; ‘Full Disclosure’ is a covert Special Operations caper with drug trafficking overtones, set at a moment when the US President announces contact with extraterrestrials; ‘the CULL’ is about the tracking down of a serial killer, set in a world where real vampires exist, products of genetic mutations; and ‘Leaving Shadows’ involves the kidnapping of a high-level spy and weather warfare. 

So yes, contemporary and paranormal.

Although I usually end up giving that answer, I’m not happy about it. Why? Simple really. As we all know, the whole writing business is going through a complete shake-up and reorientation at the moment. E-books don’t just mean a new support for the reader but greater opportunities for the writer. My argument is that now is the time to break moulds, to try out stuff, to do something new. In short, to push the limits of preestablished labels.

So, you out there! Yes you! The writer! The one cowering behind the manuscript! Don’t follow the herd. Find your own path. Do something different. Werewolves and space monsters? Why not? Romantic spies? Go for it! Be original.

"Stick labels in your pipe, and smoke 'em!"
When I power up my PC, for a brief instant a few words flash onto the screen before Win-doze chimes in. These words are my favourite Einstein quotation: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” He also said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

So to all of the aspiring thriller writers out there: ignore labels, go embrace the entire world! Let your readers put labels on what you write if they want to. If you’re lucky, they’ll call your novels “the books I love to read” rather than…


Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to avoid the 50-page Burn-out.


I’ve spoken to hundreds of people over the course of the years, all of whom had one thing in common. OK, two – they were all frustrated and they all classed themselves as ‘aspiring’ writer. Why aspiring? I would ask. Those of you who read my occasional blogs know that my position on this is either you write or you don’t. I think it was the Bengali philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore who said “You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

Palmeira, Galicia, Spain - a first step

Their confusion with my posture is that they confuse ‘aspiring writer’ with ‘published writer’ or ‘famous author’. Hey, wake up! While they’ve be lamenting their lack of writing success, the World has moved on. This is a different paradigm. Many of the ‘traditional’ obstacles in ‘Traditional Publishing’ have ‘traditioned’ themselves out of the game.

But wait; this is not yet another rant against the Old Way of publishing. No, today I want to provide you with a tip. Before I expound on this, remember my often-quoted martial art Master’s words: “use what is useful, throw away the rest.” So if what I’m going to tell you helps, then go for it; if not, then you’ve lost nothing by reading this blog other than a few minutes.

The above mentioned ‘aspirers’ usually have great ideas for a novel, sit down at their keyboards and peck away furiously as they race to force their creativity onto the page before the well runs dry. But then, about the 50-page mark usually, the tale they are writing just fizzles out.

Writers’ Block, they say! It happens to all of us, they say. But this isn’t writers’ block, my friends. It’s something far more insidious. I call it the 50-page Burn-out.

Hello, my name is Eric and I have always had the 50-page Burn-out.

What! you say. You write 90,000 word thrillers. That’s one hell of a lot more than 50 pages!

Yes, I respond, but I found the answer.

Over my strange and rather unconventional life I’ve done quite a lot of training in survival techniques and put much of it into practice. One basic technique for survival in any environment is that you need to have your priorities clear at all times. Is it shelter, fire, water, food etc.? But from a psychological standpoint you always need to have an objective! Always! And just getting through the day isn’t it. That gets you ‘aspiring’.

The objective is a medium to long-term goal that you need to make steps toward every single day, whilst you are ‘surviving’ (or writing). The survival tricks then have a context and a purpose.

Back to my ‘aspiring’ friends. How do I usually respond when they manifest their 50-day fizzle? I usually ask them one simple question: how does your tale end? I’m not looking for a generic answer either. I want to know if they could write the final chapter NOW. Okay, it will be a draft, and will almost certainly evolve, change, mutate as the preceding pages are produced. But that’s not the point. Are they just going to make a primitive home in the jungle, somewhere to stay until the water runs out and they die? Or… is the plan to find a way out of the dense vegetation, venomous snakes, crocodiles, wild pigs and whatever and back to ‘civilization’?

This is how I write my 90,000 word thrillers: I start at the end!

The King of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is often referred to, by me, as the World’s first computer programmer. Why? Do you remember his advice to Alice when she was asked to testify in the trial scene? “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” While this may be great advice for a witness, and a computer programmer, it is useless for most writers: it will lead to the 50-page Burn-out as sure as Hatters are mad! (Note: the mad hatters are an historical fact – they used lead-based glue in the manufacture of their headwear and this resulted in poisoning which produced their occupational hazard – so if you’ve stuck with this blog up to here, you’ve learnt two new things! Don’t say I don’t give value for money!)

Alright, so you now have an ending. Should you now do a Cheshire Cat and start disappearing at the tail to end with just an incorporeal smile? My answer is yes and no.

Once I can write the ending, I figure out the beginning (forget the feline form in between for the moment). I write thrillers and I firmly believe these should start more with a bang than a whimper. They need to grab the attention of a potential reader whilst raising questions, creating intrigue and laying hooks so they will keep reading. That gives me the broad parameters for the start. The content must always have something to do with the main storyline; otherwise you are cheating your readers. Okay, it may not be evident initially – for the novel I’m working on now, ‘the CULL’, many who have read its opening chapters have commented that the first chapter is written using a style and tone that contrasts sharply with the following chapters, which are more fast-paced; it’s almost as if the first chapter came from a different book. Why did I do this? The opening chapter is about the main story line – exclusively. In the following chapters there are no other references to that story line because we shift to follow what happens to one of the protagonists, but not the one featured, albeit very briefly, at the start, and her first bloody encounter with the novel’s prime antagonist. (I should have yelled SPOILER WARNING – I’ve just given away one of the novel’s early secrets). I wanted to make the first chapter the ‘Intrigue’ chapter – Who the hell is this? What’s going on here? Who’s that under the bed and why? Plus, I couldn’t resist including a ‘Wink’ (my name for the hidden secrets in my novels) right on the first page this time. [What’s the Wink about? Sorry, you’ll have to wait to read the explanation on my web when the novel’s published. (More intrigue!).] To highlight this brief opening, it’s a little more than half a page on my word processor screen, I used a marked style/tone change so the reader won’t forget it. But if all you are reading is an extract, it does look strange, that I will admit. So, put yourself out of your misery and buy the novel when it’s published in December.

But the important issue is that I had the opening clear, shortly after having the way it’s all going to end equally defined.

Now you have a start and a finish. Filling in the middle depends on your genre, your story arcs, your tale structure, the message you want to convey. But the good news is, as though by magical artifice, the 50-page Burn-out problem has disappeared. You are no longer surviving from day to day but now you have a clear objective: write that last scene or a version of it, at least.

It’s a simple trick, as most good tips are. It works for me and has done so for many years. I’ve applied this trick not just to my fictional output, but to the innumerable presentations, seminars, articles etc. that I’ve written in the last thirty-five years.

So as Tagore says, don’t aspire to cross the sea, imagine what you’ll do on the other side and stick your foot firmly in the water!

More tips on my website.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hell, I'm a Writer! ...for all aspiring writers out there.



I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember. I actually started over forty years ago with a novel (thankfully buried) and a couple of hundred short stories. Then life intervened and I found my writing oriented more towards technical papers and magazine/newspaper articles. No, my fictional aspirations were not completely abandoned – I started (note the word) well over a dozen novels, whose premature deaths after a hundred pages or so only served to make me even more frustrated. What was I doing wrong?

It took me a while to figure it out.

I certainly had the time.

My job kept me continually travelling, seemingly between international airports and sterile hotel rooms around the world, and this provided me with huge doses of ‘dead time’ that I could devote to writing. Yet it didn’t happen because usually I’d use the airport/flight time to prepare for meetings and the hotel time to crash and recharge batteries after 16 hour plus days and time-zone differences. What about the weekends, you may ask. Well, often I was returning from ‘somewhere on a different time-zone’ on Saturdays, and Sundays I was teaching free martial arts classes to a bunch of kids in the morning, leaving me only with the afternoon for family – with inevitable consequences.

I had the ideas.

Not only do I have an extremely fertile mind for generating storylines, I have also been formally trained in an inordinate number of sophisticated problem-solving techniques by some of the best – and still use many of these tricks to plot my novels today.

I had the motivation.

It’s in my blood; I can’t really describe it any other way. When I completed my new novel in 2006, it was like having discovered the Holy Grail – I felt liberated, soaring at dizzying heights only meant for eagles.

Yet, before then, I wasn’t writing.   

Why?

I realised much of the cause was subtle, insidious procrastination, also known as FEAR. I have always excelled at my job, being able to consistently come up with out-of-the-box solutions for my clients’ problems usually under considerable pressure, and at my martial arts, achieving fourteen high-grade black belts in different disciplines. Yet writing eluded me. Was it because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the grade?

Never one to back down before a challenge (and, boy, has this got me into trouble over the years!) I turned the problem on its head. Not, ‘why can’t I write?’, but ‘what’s stopping me from writing?’ 

At first glance, the same question, yet there’s a fine difference in the wording which programs the mind to answer differently.

I quickly realised that, really, the answer was… NOTHING!

Next step? Address my fears.

Not good enough? Then become better! How does a writer do this? There are only two ways: learn technique from others, and WRITE!

I live in a country where it seems you can only be considered an author if you write essays or dense, introspective ‘literary’ fiction (preferably about the Spanish Civil War). Screw ‘em! Ignore the critics – as I remarked to a friend recently, envy isn’t always green; it’s often black and white! I don’t care what they think, and labels have only ever served to slow down progress. I wanted to write to entertain! Nothing more. I wanted my novels to be chosen by people looking for a dose of evasion in airports and hotels while away on business, or lying on a beach somewhere when vacation time comes around. At a pinch, even for a long train journey! A simple-enough objective, but one I wanted to do well.

I have a life philosophy based upon three simple premises: one which I developed and use as a basis for my martial art lessons (learn the mechanics – internalise them [i.e. adapt them to yourself] – and forget them [they become you]); one which a martial arts GrandMaster told me: ‘use what is useful, and throw the rest away’; and finally: never go to bed without having learnt something new. These in turn are all tempered by ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously!’

So I applied this in earnest to my writing.

I didn’t try to write. No, that’s a BIG MISTAKE. Trying implies you are allowing for failure. 

Don’t try, just Write. Write for yourself not an imaginary following of millions of fans. I’ve had a very complex life, full of strange, even dangerous, always ‘interesting’, events which now fuel my tales. Writing about that stuff, even though it’s hidden behind a cloak of deliberate obfuscation, is FUN! Not only is it cheaper than a Psychiatrist, it makes me feel good every time I finish a writing session. I decided to get ‘hooked’ on that feeling -  a mixture of satisfaction and pride; of accomplishment and triumph over whatever obstacles the day presented.

My biggest discovery was that there is no such thing as an Aspiring Writer.

Either you are or you’re not a writer. It’s all in the (your) mind.

So, to those ‘aspiring’ writers out there, and anyone else who might be thinking about taking the plunge, I say the following:

Do it!

Do it TODAY!       

‘Aspiring’ ain’t going to get it done, bro!

                                                Have FUN, above all else!


The Chinese have a saying, half curse, half blessing: 'May you live in interesting times!'

These are 'Interesting Times!