Neil Gaiman demystifies writer’s block

Who hasn’t been there? The blank page. The blinking cursor. The author’s horrifically empty torture chamber: writer’s block.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman  in a snuggly sweater

Well, according to Neil Gaiman, best-selling author of the Sandman comic book series, Coraline and many more super-imaginative works of fiction, writer’s block is just as much a fiction as anything else that pours out of an author’s mind. In this fascinating interview on the Goodreads website, he talks about how his ambition as a writer has evolved over the years and offers these pearls of wisdom about the dreaded you-know-what (shhhh… don’t say it out loud or it might come true!):

Writer’s block is this thing that is sent from the gods—you’ve offended them. You’ve trod on a crack on the pavement, and you’re through. The gods have decided. It’s not true. What is really true is you can have a bad day. You can have a bad week. You can get stuck. But what I learned when I was under deadline is that if you write on the bad days, even if you’re sure everything you’ve written is terrible, when you come to it tomorrow and you reread it, most of it’s fixable. It may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but you fix it, and actually it’s a lot better than you remember it being. And the weird thing is a year later when you’re copyediting and reading the galleys through for the first time in months, you can remember that some of it was written on bad days. And you can remember that some of it was written on terrific days. But it all reads like you. Fantastic stuff doesn’t necessarily read better than the stuff written on the bad days. Writers have to be like sharks. We keep moving forward, or we die.

So on that note, here’s a toast to all the other authors out there: have lots of fun over the holiday season and then sit at your desk and work. Cheers!

Photo credit: Lvovsky via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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Fantastically adventurous new book by Zachary Thomas Dodson

Goodreads interviewed author/designer Zachary Thomas Dodson about his debut book, Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel. It looks and sounds like a stunningly crafted multi-layered adventure set in the past and the future.

As the Goodreads article says,

With hand-drawn illustrations, meticulously detailed maps, a novel-within-a-novel, and even a sealed envelope the reader must not open until the final moment, Zachary Thomas Dodson’s debut novel is a feast for the imagination.

Read the article for some fascinating insight into Dodson’s process.

Starley’s Rust signed paperback giveaway!

That headline is well worth an exclamation point. Goodreads is giving away ten signed copies of my new urban fantasy novel Starley’s Rust (book 2 of the Embodied trilogy) and to enter all you have to do is click on the image below then follow the instructions. The contest is open until April 8th and it’s a random draw, so good luck!

Starley's Rust Goodreads giveaway

 

The Rime of the Ancient Marketer

Websites, websites every where, Nor any way to link…

The ancient mariner in Coleridge’s wonderful poem that I’ve so horribly pastiched here was undone by an albatross he killed. For indie authors, that albatross is the multitude of social media options and reading-oriented websites that your books can appear on. Half of the latter variety apparently consist of writers promoting their books to other writers, which hardly seems very efficient (unless your book is actually about the writing process).

The statue of the Ancient Mariner, in Watchet, Somerset, about 10 miles from where Coleridge lived and the same county I grew up in.

The statue of the Ancient Mariner, in Watchet, Somerset, about 10 miles from where Coleridge lived and the same county I grew up in. Oddly, he appears to be holding a skateboard. Maybe he got into that after quitting the sea life.

The reality is that there are so many online outlets to publicize and market books for both indie and traditional authors alike that it’s impossible to cover them all. Beyond the obvious ones like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, there are secondary-but-still-significant ones like Instagram, Wattpad, Bloglovin, and StumbledUpon. In fact, there are so many that it’s not even realistic to list them all on your own blog. I use the right-hand side of this page to lead readers directly to the Amazon pages of my books because that’s the best way to serve someone who might be interested in buying them, but my media kits include well over a dozen other links to different online stores like Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

There are other incredibly important links that I’ve not even mentioned above that can fall by the wayside in the tsunami of marketing activities (hmmm… I smell an ocean theme today!) My YouTube channel, for example. And the ones I’m now going to plug right here: my author pages on Goodreads and Amazon. So to rectify the situation, here are the links to both pages:

My Amazon author page

My Goodreads author page

There. Done. It’s always a bit weird to write about yourself in the third person, but readers visit these pages because they are genuinely interested in the living, breathing writer behind the books. And besides, I don’t have time to invite them all over for tea. Maybe one day I’ll rent a boat and we’ll all sail off from the north Somerset coast for a bit of fishing…

 

Readers are strange

I mean that in a good way. Although some of them may be strange in the sense that they dip fish fingers in custard or like to wear a fez and a bow tie, the vast majority of readers live relatively normal lives. What makes them strange to an author like me is how they behave when it comes to reading.

A recent study quoted here in The Telegraph shows that even the most downloaded ebooks of last year were not necessarily ever finished by readers:

The Goldfinch, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt, was completed by just 44 per cent of readers who downloaded it, according to bookseller Kobo.

While Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup, became the ninth most downloaded book of the year thanks to the film of the same name, it was finished by 28 per cent of those who started it. Indeed, the top ten bestsellers of 2014, according to Kobo, did not overlap with the top ten most-completed books.

It's a great book, but will she get to the end?

A great book being read.

What’s an author supposed to do? Readers are everything and yet it’s so hard to, a) reach them, and b) know what they’re likely to think about your book.

Goodreads is a great site for finding readers, but it can be a very tough crowd. Someone in India who just indicated that they’re reading Silent Symmetry, the first novel in my Embodied trilogy, has given Orwell’s 1984 only a 3-star rating! There’s always going to be a range of responses from literally the 1-star “I didn’t get this book at all” to the 5-star “This is the best book I’ve read all year” and yet when you go on Goodreads and see what people are saying about the books they’ve read, it becomes clear that – you guessed it – readers are strange.

For example, a reader can clearly like a book yet only give it 3 out of 5 stars. Others can write a critical review yet still give it 4 stars. And even more bizarrely, some will write a review saying they didn’t really enjoy a whole bunch of things in the book, then round it off by saying that they can’t wait for the sequel!

The only possible explanation I can come up with for this phenomenon is that momentum is key. Once a reader has started a series of books, they’re likely to plow on until the end, even if they’re dissatisfied with what they’re reading. On the other hand, this explanation is belied by the study quoted above!

Interestingly, for a writer of sci-fi fantasy like me, the article notes:

…little-known romances, crime novels and fantasy proved to be the page-turners, with more than six in every ten being finished. Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer of Kobo, said: “A book’s position on the bestseller list may indicate it’s bought, but that isn’t the same as it being read or finished. People may wait days, months, or even until the following year to finish certain titles. And many exercise that inalienable reader’s right to set down a book if it doesn’t hold their interest.”

So readers remain a mystery. And yet they are the reason I do what I do. There’s probably a book in there somewhere…

Photo credit: BrittneyBush / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND