So, here's the thing! I've been neglecting you, Toady my friend! The trouble is, once I get on that book-writing rollercoaster I'm like a man possessed! And the result of my demonic possession is on the left - The Gordian Knot (Stone & Randall 2). I know, you're saying about time. Well, say it no more - here it is!
I begin - by taking tentative steps, and with no idea where the hell I'm going - and gradually, the fog obscuring the road ahead lifts a little. I can see the undulating hills, the ponds and meadows, hear the birds singing, the pot-bellied pigs snuffling in the undergrowth, but that's not all . . . there are maggot-riddled corpses hiding in the weeds by the river, psychopaths lurking behind the gravestones in the abandoned churchyard and . . .
Anyway, let me update you on the wife's sterling efforts to chisel my handsomeness into a chunk of clay. Even as I write, it's sitting on top of a sideboard in a black plastic bag like a severed head waiting to be finished - it needs ears, it needs to look a bit more like Clint Eastwood and the bits of brain that are lying on the wooden base need to be put back!
As you can see from the photographs below - which she keeps sending my by email - she's made significant progress. It looks nothing like me, but hey - a man can't have everything in life!
So, here's the thing! Somebody asked me to mentor them! Yes, I know, how awesome is that? Well, mentoring and I are not complete strangers - Oh no! I used to do some mentoring on the MBA in Educational Management at Lincoln University - that's Lincoln, UK, not Lincoln, Nebraska! Whatever happened to Fergus O'Sullivan and Liz Wood? Anyway, I knew a bit about Educational Management back then - what do I know about writing? Yeah OK, Toady, some of my books are doing well in the charts, but I think that's purely by luck than design! I mean, people would expect me to advise them on plot, characters, the beginning, middle and end, the twists and turns, the mystery, suspense... I have a long list if you're interested? Please write a detailed request on a postcard to 'Dear Mentor' and send it to Santa's mentoring course, Lapland.
'You could do mentoring, boss.'
'Do you really think so, Toady?'
'Is that a word?'
'You could write an ebook.'
'You have a mind like a steel trap. I could call it something like, "Toady's little secrets revealed."
'Excuse me! Why my secrets?'
'Well, you thought of it. Have you got something to hide?'
'So, I won't find any skellingtons in your draws if I start rooting around?'
'Have you started the book yet?'
'Started the book! I'll have you know I've just published a novella.'
'I wish you wouldn't use jargon, you know I have a brain the size of a walnut.'
'That big, huh? A novella is between a third and half of a novel.'
'What's it about?'
'DI Quigg and Sergeant Lulu Begone are hunting a festive serial killer.'
'You can say that again, Toady.'
'Yuk! Are you going to rest on your laurels now?'
'You've heard somebody else say that, haven't you?'
'I have thoughts of my own, you know.'
'I find that unlikely, Toady. Anyway, I'm four chapters into Parish & Richards 5 (His Wrath is Come) and I still need to get to grips with Quigg 3 (The Skulls Beneath Eternity Wharf), and before all that, I want to write Chapter 1 of Stone & Randall 2 (The Gordian Knot)... Arrrghhh!'
'Are you having a psychotic break, boss?'
'There's simply not enough time to write everything I want to write.'
'So, what about this ebook on writing?'
'I have some notes, but I'd feel like a fraud.'
'You always say that, but I'm sure your fan would appreciate some gobbits from your table.'
'I don't know, Toady... Did you use the singular by mistake then?'
'Mmmm, must have?'
So, here's the thing! I've had my Hawaiin mug since 1982 when we went to Wakiki Beach from Hong Kong on a two-week holiday, and I've used it continuously to drink my coffee out of since! I know, how fantastic is that? I'm thinking of applying to the Guinness Book of Records - unless you know of a mug that's lasted longer, of course?
I mean, I'm sure there are mugs out there that are older, but I bet they've been kept in cupboards wrapped in tissue paper, cotton wool balls, and knitted socks! I don't know how many other mugs the wife has bought whilst I've been merrily drinking out of my Hawaiin mug - What a mug! Also, I wonder if its worth anything? Maybe its an antique! Maybe one day someone will find my mug in an antique shop and say, "This mug belonged to the famous writer Tim Ellis!"
In fact, I've been in continuous use since 1953. I know, how old am I? But... maybe I'm an antique! Maybe I'm worth something! Maybe one day someone will find my skeleton in an antique shop and say, "How much for this bag of bones, matey?"
Anyway, what's been happening? Well, I've been slacking again! I know, but I have a reasonably sound excuse - I was peddling my bicycle in the twitterverse, out there meeting people, providing samples of my works of art for people to... well, - sample, you know the thing - It's called 'slapping the flesh' - well I thought shaking hands was called that, but apparently not because a search reveals that it's something to do with preparing human flesh for eating - yum, yum! No, don't call the doctor yet, I've remembered now - it's called 'pressing the flesh'! Don't you just love those fantabulous idioms?
So, I did write something this morning, finally stumbled over the 45,000-word line like a clapped-out cross-country runner, and had great plans to reach for the 50,000-word milestone, but I petered out, got ambushed by life. Maybe tomorrow... but that's it, isn't it? We have all these plans, ambitions, goals, but life gets in the way. I suppose I'm lucky though, because there's not a lot of life left to get in the way anymore - son's got his own life (at last), no work to wear me out and suck the creativity out of me, the wife shops on ebay, QVC, and a million other Internet places whilst I'm writing (or procrastinating). She says, "How many books have you sold now?" I tell her, she gets the calculator out, and then buys another pair of shoes, dress, bottle of perfume, or a Toy Boy! Ha, ha - not really! If she read that I'd be dead meat. Then of course, there's our babies - the five Shitzhus (Chinese lion dogs) - I'm the pack leader! There's only four here - the mum (Mim) is missing. From left to right - Buddy, Coco, Daisy, and Frodo (the dad).
So, I remember reading somewhere that self-published authors could count themselves lucky if they sold 250 copies of their book! Don't ask me where it came from, I don't know. Why 250? Who knows, maybe there was anecdotal evidence, but the point I'm making is that maybe with the advent of the ebook and the eReader that's all changed - or has it? If a book is not up to the mark in any number of areas will people still buy it? Probably not. Is 250 a reasonable ceiling? Probably!
If that's the case, then we all need to make sure that what we produce is the very best it can be, and I'm not talking just about formatting, punctuation, spelling, grammar, although you gotta get these right. I'm harping on about writing style, your voice, crisp and realistic dialogue, description that readers can see, taste, smell, touch, hear and drips off the page like honey, three-dimensional characters that we love or hate, a logical twisty-turny plot that grips the reader and doesn't let go until the very last word, a story that touches the reader in some way, and conflict and resolution - nothing left hanging.
You've done all that! Well, you could have said, instead of letting me prattle on like a fishwife! In that case, I'm done! What more is there to say other than, "Goodbye-ee!"
So, here's the thing. I said I'd tell you about my writing day in this blog didn't I? I can't imagine why you would even want to know! Mind you, I have to admit, I do like to read about other people's trials and tribulations. Well, we do, don't we? I guess we're all just too damned nosy about each other for our own good. We like to open other people's cupboards and doors, rummage through their underwear drawer, prise open their boxes that display large clear signs saying: "Don't open the box, stupid!" Hey, isn't that what Pandora did? Human nature, that's what it boils down to. I'm a student of human nature, always have been. We're social animals see, not happy unless we're in groups, touching, feeling, loving, chattering and nattering, getting the scuttlebutt, and spreading the news (gossiping).
Did you know that in the dark and distant past before you were born, gossiping was a sin punishable by death (found that out as part of my research for The Wages of Sin)? Yeah, so just you think on before flapping those gums of yours, Baby Jane! Well, I get up at 5 a.m. (I know, a tad early, but it's the old Army discipline ingrained in me. And not only that - no distractions). I make a coffee, let the dogs out, switch the laptop on. Yeah, we (my wife and I) don't have a PC we have a Dell Inspiron laptop each (mine's black, the wife's is red) and a BT Broadband hub sitting snugly behind the television. Nope, never had any problems with the laptop or the hub, and we won't talk about the wife's foray into netbooks! So, the dogs curl up and go to sleep again, and I check my email - read and delete, or put them in folders, or if they're Twitter followers I'll log on to Twitter, see who it is and maybe follow them back. I hate having Twitter open as a tab because the Tweets start mounting up and stress me out. Within minutes they're 368, 399, 462 - then I click on them - and almost immediately - 9, 1078, 3,000,000 - Aagh! I have to close the tab down before I crack open a bottle of ginger beer!
So, after I've cleared my emails - oh, I forgot to tell you that I have folders for agents and publishers emails - they're both empty! Anyway, next I open and log onto KDP to check my overnight sales in America, UK, and Germany. Now, American sales are mostly non-existent - I don't know what that's about. You know what I think the lack of sales is down to? Well, I'll tell you - readers can't find my book among the million other books on there. A good analogy is an alien planet in the vastness of space - everyone wants to find this planet, but where to look? Now, I've put tags on my book, but so has everyone else, so what's a bod to do? We all know that Amazon have made it verboten to publicise your books anywhere in the known universe, so what's a bod to do to get noticed? And don't say social networking - done that, got the T-shirt, seen the DVD, listened to the MP3 - none of it or all of it works, but who the hell knows - not I Horatio!
UK sales are good, but not in the same league as Amanda Hocking, Saffina Desforges, or JA Konrath (plus many others who have sold more than 2 books!) It's stop and start! One minute there are three sales, I move up the 'Police Procedural' rankings to No. 17 and I think, "Hey, hey!" I here the rusty gears and cogs of the flood gates opening, but then nothing happens, and I slide back down the rankings again to #250,757.4 or something just as obscure (that's a lovely word, init!) So, sales in blighty are good, but could be better - a lot better. As an aside, I received a wonderful email from a fan (one of my two fans! Insane or what - me with fans - he he!) last night saying how much they loved the Quigg books (Body 13 and The Graves at Angel Brook) and where was the 3rd one (The Skulls Beneath Eternity Wharf). Well, if all you get are a couple of negative reviews it kinda puts you off continuing with the series, so my advice to you readers is - if you like a book write a review on Amazon, because it has a cuddly warming effect on the author, and makes them want to get up in the mornings to write some more. German sales - well, the less said about that 'beige bar of shame' (BBOS) the better - nul point! You know what I think...
If there are any sales, I record the numbers on my Excel spreadsheet where I keep a consolidated ongoing record of my month-by-month sales and royalties as notified by Amazon and Smashwords - how sad is that! Then, I go to my website and bounce onto Amazon.US and Amazon.UK to see if any kind person has written me a review - usually the answer is non (that's French for no apparently!) The last review I received was last week - a wonderful person left me a 5* review for Jacob's Ladder! Now, here's another thing! I sent Jacob's Ladder out to agents about 2/3 months ago, and this morning a rejection came through the letter box! I don't think I need faceless agents rejecting my books anymore - I'll let the ereaders decide whether they're any good or not!
So, I've been up half an hour and I haven't even started writing yet, but then I do. I leave all my tabs open (oh, I use Windows 7, IE (sometimes Chrome), and Office 97 (my wife's got Office 2007 if I need to save anything as a PDF). I open up Word and my latest magnus opus, which at the moment is The Flesh is Weak (the 3rd Parish & Richards novel) and get going. Now, you want the lowdown, the nitty gritty, the... Yeah well, I start at the previous scene break and read/edit as I go to get back into the book. I have a notebook by my chair that I record key details in i.e. future things people have to do, a clue, a red herring, etc. I also make notes like: Describe the characters, don't assume people have read the other books! and I describe key plot details, which eventually make their way into the book. I don't plan, or write an outline - that's for wimps. I just write and see where the characters take me. I have an idea in my head, and that's about it. Sometimes, I end up in a cul de sac and have to backtrack, but most of the time its full steam ahead mixing metaphors and battling cliches!
Well, that's it! I know, you're thinking, "He was going to tell us about his writing day, and all he's told us about is the first half hour!" You kept diverting me, making me talk about other things, the blog's too long now, people will get bored - I'm bored! Tell you what I'll do, I'll write a part two - how's that? There see, I can be reasonable if you're nice!
Here's the thing! Book titles are not copyrighted. So yes, I know Steve (King) wrote something along those lines - On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft - I've even got a copy somewhere under a load of boxes in the cellar (only kidding Steve - I ain't got a cellar). Anyway, I realised that I've been bleating on about marketing, promotion, sales, the few people who own a Kindle, etcetera., but... I've said nothing about writing. You'd expect an author to wax lyrical about his craft, wouldn't you? Well, here it is - my thoughts on writing. It's a general overview, because I'll write some more blogs on specific elements of the craft - don't want to put all my eggs in one basket - translation of the idiom here!
So, when I began to write, I read a few books and put mechanical pencil to paper (a bit like building a flatpack without reading the instructions). Well, I was still teaching then, so writing/reading time was limited (but I went on holiday to Turkey - phew it's hot out there! - where I started writing my first book and lay on a sunbed by the pool for two weeks writing - and, of course, drinking beer!) Needless to say, it wasn't the best book that had ever been written). Well, I thought it was (you do don't you?). Some agents didn't though (probably about a million!) Anyway, one day I was riffling (don't you just love that word?) through some magazines in a Charity book shop when I came across a bunch of old Writing Magazine and bought them for a song (I think it was My Way by Frank Sinatra!). I didn't even know that such magazines existed (I know, call me a bonehead - quietly!) So, I devoured all of them and sent off my subscription to get more. That was three years ago, and I still receive them every couple of months. Definitely worth a subscription because there are actually two magazines in one - Writing Magazine and Writers' News - and they're chock full of goodies such as special features on writing, words, grammar; interviews and profiles of real writers (yeah, that doesn't include you and me); how to's about fiction; poetry; freelance writing; novel and short story competitions; letters... I'm sure you get the idea, and no I'm not getting a cut of their revenue for saying how wonderful they are - I wish!
So, inside the pages of these magazines are a potpourrie (don'tcha just love that word?) of links to follow up, and one such link led me to YouWriteOn (YWO) an online peer review site. There are a few of them about, and I've tried a couple, but if I'm being honest - which I usually am - it's the best one of the lot. Not least because I'm a member, but also because it's run by an enterprising and very helpful young man called Edward (Ted) Smith. This is the way it works: You upload the start of your magnus opus (7,000 words I think it is now), or your short story; you review other people's work (for which you get one credit for one review) and someone then reviews your work (yes, there's a chart which caters for the competitive minded, but that's not the deal here). The people on this site will teach you how to write properly, how to develop an armoured skin and accept criticism, how to critique other people's work (and therefore your own); and... I'm sure you get the picture! There's also a message board comprising lots of interesting discussions, and where you can make a bucketful of friends. Also, I get my dead tree publishing done there - for price and quality they're the best - take a look at my dead tree books: Warrior: Scourge of the Steppe, A Life for a Life, and Untended Treasures. Don't just believe me though, here's a review of the site by Phoebe A Durand from Associated Content at Yahoo. If you do nothing else in your sad life join YWO today, and upload your magnus opus.
Now, you'd think that once I'd given and received a million reviews on YWO I would have been snapped up by the first agent/publisher that came along! Unfortunately, times are hard for agents and publishers (altogether now... arrrgh!), and they didn't feel confident enough that they could place my work (standard rejection letter), so I did more self-training and read some more books. I can heartily recommend these: Hooked by Les Edgerton - a book about beginnings; Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella; Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress; The Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld; Plot by Ansen Dibell; Description by Monica Wood; Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda N Edelstein, PhD; Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle; Make a Scene by Jordan E Rozenfeld; Conflict, Action & Suspense by William Noble; Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell; and Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress. This list is neither exclusive nor exhaustive, but I found (and still do find) these books useful in helping me to master the craft. If I had to choose one to recommend to you - I couldn't - it would be two: Hooked and Crafting Scenes.
So, there I was, a graduate of a whole series of books on creative writing - a well-read master of my craft! I put my first book aside (as you do) and set to writing another one, then another one, and... I've now written 11 in total with more on the way. I sent some of them to agents. Only one peaked their interest, but alas it was not to be. Another book was accepted for publication by a small press in America, but the lead in time was 18 months - too long. I published all 11 books myself as ebacks on Kindle six weeks ago (they're the ones on the right - I think it was the right decision, but only time will tell.
I write in a number of genres, and maybe I should have used a pseudonym for each genre! I don't know - a lot of authors do, but I wanted to use my own name (I wanted to become famous as me not as a pseudonym, but that's another blog). Are readers confused by an author writing in different genres? Personally, I prefer to know what else an author has written even if it is something totally different. Using a pseudonym feels as though the author is trying to fool the readers! Oh well, maybe another blog.
So, I keep writing, I keep reading, I keep learning. Always willing to listen to well-reasoned criticism, and hope readers who purchase my books are enjoying them. A couple more reviews wouldn't go amiss. I'd like to submit to review sites, but you have to wait about 3 years for your book to reach the top of the pile - sigh! It reminds of the slush pile.
Oh, I nearly forgot about all my other vices! Well, let's see, I can't smoke since my heart attack; I can't remember the last time I had a pint of Guinness; my wife says retired people don't have sex (I bow to her wisdom); I do eat the occasional truck-load of chocolate; I love serious murder mysteries and science fiction on television; I love the peace and quiet of no children; I open my laptop up at 5 in the morning and don't shut it down until about 9 at night; I love my five Shitzhu dogs (my babies); I love to... You can see that my other vices are fairly pedestrian, but what did you expect? Just because I write about serial killers it doesn't mean I am one... does it? Don't even answer that because I know where you live...
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.