My imaginary boss will be happy

I don’t have a boss. Apart from my 6-year-old daughter, of course. And although that might sound like a wonderful situation to be in, a boss is by definition someone who tells you to get things done. So when it comes to writing a novel, which is a notoriously procrastinationary (if that was a word) process, having a boss would be great because he or she would counter your inbuilt procrastinationism (if that was a word) by telling you that you have a deadline to meet, and that deadline is August 8th, you lazy procrastinator (hey – that actually is a word!).

Fortunately, the source of my novel writing is my imagination, so it’s pretty easy for me to cook up an imaginary boss. He/she is a cross between Spider-man’s J. Jonah Jameson and my 6-year-old daughter; a terrifying combination of shouty and pouty. Due to his/her haranguing and guilt-tripping, I have actually managed to meet the deadline my imaginary boss set for me back in April, and have completed a first draft of Starley’s Rust, the sequel to my Young Adult novel Silent Symmetry, and therefore the second book in the Embodied trilogy.

Here’s a photo of the draft. The two smudges at the bottom of the screen are the words The End.



Of  course my imaginary boss will soon be watching over me with an iron fist and cute ponytail as I try to meet my next deadline: publishing by the end of the year, maybe even in time for Spendmas. Which is definitely a word where my 6-year-old daughter is concerned.

Vacation over, work begun…

Things have been quiet on this blog recently. A little too quiet.

That’s because I was away on vacation in a land where the internet is almost non-existent. And while I was there I made a ton of notes for the second and third books that follow Silent Symmetry in the Embodied trilogy. “What kind of notes?” I hear you ask. (Yes, I sometimes listen to the voices in my head!) Well, a lot of backstory. Character progressions. Some plot. And a new race of beings that I hadn’t anticipated creating but who may turn out to be more fascinating than the Embodied themselves.

I already outlined my new writing strategy in a recent post. Now that I’m back at my desk, I’m undertaking the planning process for Book 2, Starley’s Rust and Book 3 (whose name won’t be revealed until after the publication of Book 2). That means that I’ll be spending a bit less time writing this blog. Fun though it is to connect with friends and readers, I need to get the work done. It’s going to be a long process and it may be another year before Starley’s Rust sees the digital light of day. There may be some teases and excerpts along the way. That’s the advantage of having the skeleton of both books mapped out ahead of the actual writing – I can rely on the fact that the parts I’ve already written are 99.9% sure to end up in the final version.

In the meantime, here’s a photo as a clue to where I went on vacation. Is it symmetrical? Good question…

Jasmine flower

Can a flower with five petals be symmetrical?

Photo credit: John B. Dutton

A Symmetrical Strategy

Writing is a novel is super-duper easy. Oh wait, I got my words wrong. Writing a blog post is a breeze. No, that’s not even true. Okay, forget writing for a moment. The other night I was reading a bedtime story to my 5-year-old daughter when I was suddenly struck by the amount of cross-hatching in the illustrations. At first glance, the drawings of a little boy and his bear were fairly simple. I’d read the book several times to her and never paid much attention to the artwork, but for some reason that night I focused in on the cross-hatching, which is the technique for creating shaded areas in a drawing through the use of repeating lines. The length and spacing of the lines determine the amount of shade perceived by the eye at a distance. This drawing of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a straightforward example.

Shakespeare probably just winged it: no planning, no plotting, and no rewrites. Riiiight…

The little bear in the story got lost one night when he was picked up in a swooping owl’s claws. The drawings of the moon, the owl and the bear in the nighttime sky were filled with cross-hatching far finer and subtler than in the Globe illustration here. I stopped reading for a few seconds and marvelled at the amount of time it must have taken the artist to produce such an effect. I thought to myself, I could never, ever have the patience to sit there and draw line after line with no margin for error. Then my daughter elbowed me with an impatient “Daddy!” and I boomeranged back from my reverie, acutely aware that parents aren’t supposed to space out in the middle of a bedtime story.

What does all this have to do with writing a novel? It’s all about the work involved. I sometimes forget that stringing together a bunch of words, then painstakingly going back over them and replacing some of them or changing their order is just as daunting for non-writers as creating a complex illustration would be for me. It’s hard. It’s often kind of annoying. And sometimes you get stuck. (Quick joke: part of my next novel is set in Paris and I’m worried that I might suffer from writer’s bloc.)

What does all this have to do with me writing a novel? Well, I promised I would publish the sequel to Silent Symmetry in “late 2013”. Now I realize that my writing strategy was wrong and I’m going to have to break that promise. Fortunately for my reputation, authors are notorious for breaking promises; we literally make things up that aren’t true for a living.

I don’t mind allowing readers a peak behind the creative curtain, so here’s my new writing and publication strategy for books two and three of the Embodied trilogy. Instead of planning, writing and rewriting book two, Starley’s Rust, then spending the time and effort it takes to publish and market it properly before embarking on the creation of book three, I’m going to plan and write books two and three back-to-back, then rewrite, publish and market book two. Once that is on the Kindles and iPads of a bunch of readers, I’ll rewrite, publish and market book three. This will allow me to more effectively control both the overall flow of the story and each book’s release date. This doesn’t just help me, it will also, crucially, give my readers a more fulfilling experience because, a) the books should be better; and b) readers of book two won’t have to wait nearly as long to read the conclusion of the trilogy.

So what we’re really dealing with here is some delayed gratification. Fortunately, I’m not illustrating my books too, or the delay would be far, far longer than the gratification!

Photo credit: Futurilla / Foter / CC BY-NC

Goodreads, USA.

In this post last month I commented on the fact that my Silent Symmetry free Kindle ebook promotion was far more successful in the US than in Canada and the UK:

On another note, if any self-published authors out there have the slightest idea why the Silent Symmetry ebook was downloaded over 2,500 times last week in the US but only 9 times in Canada and 58 in the UK, I’d love to hear their theories! Since Facebook,  Twitter and blogs are essentially international, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these figures are so disproportionately skewed in favour of the US. More copies were downloaded in India than in Canada where I live and wrote the book! As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “What’s up with that?”

Well, Jerry, I think I’ve found the answer. I had never tried out website ranking site before, but yesterday I used it to check on the readership stats of a couple of indie publishing blogs (basically to figure out the potential reach of writing a guest post for them). Then, for the heck of it, I entered the Goodreads URL. Within seconds I had the answer to my conundrum. And I might have found an extra answer too! Scrolling down the Alexa page for Goodreads, I saw this graph and accompanying information:

Goodreads Alexa stats

I don’t know why this appears so small. Just click on it to enlarge. Sorry!

There you have it! 42% of Goodreads visitors come from the US, while only 3% are from England and 2% from Canada. Tellingly, giving my original observation, 16% come from India. All this leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Goodreads ad campaign that I ran during the promotion attracted far more readers who then downloaded a free copy than all of the tweeting and coverage on blogs combined.

Hold on a second, I hear you say – if that’s the case, and there are about 10 times as many Goodreads visitors from the US than the UK, how come the book was downloaded 50 times more often by Americans?

Good question! And the answer is also the extra bonus answer to my original question: First off, a chunk of those 2,500 Americans might well have heard about the freebie through sources other than Goodreads. Fair enough. And maybe Silent Symmetry also appeals more to Americans than to Brits. Also fair enough. The crucial thing is that Amazon’s free ebook charts create a chain reaction that tips the balance further and further in favour of a popular book (or at least their charts did until they were nerfed earlier this month; a topic I’ll be blogging about soon) because once a book appears in the top 10 of one of their charts, its visibility increases exponentially, which leads to more downloads until a critical mass is reached and there’s a nucl-ebook explosion. Groan.

Since Amazon’s charts are separate for each territory, the exponential impact of Silent Symmetry’s top-10 appearance in the US due to the higher Goodreads ad visibility wasn’t mirrored in the UK, where the Goodreads ads didn’t reach nearly as many people in the first place and the book only hovered in the top 100 freebies on, thus creating no critical mass.

As for Canada, it just shows how Facebook isn’t really all that powerful for a free ebook promotion.

If anyone’s still reading at this point… well done! You deserve a free ebook. Sign up for my mailing list using the link at the top-right of the page and I’ll send you one.

A scene makeover

This week I rewrote a scene from my YA novel Silent Symmetry, the goal being to make it a bit more suspenseful. I’m sharing my rewriting method in case it’s useful for other writers, either aspiring or already published.

When I need to give a fiction or screenplay scene a makeover I find it unproductive to work on the existing scene. Why? Because I’m too precious about what I’ve already written. Oh, those wonderful turns of phrase and deliciously appropriate vocabulary choices! Right. It wouldn’t need a makeover if it was so amazing…

Blank pages

The dreaded blank pages can be your friend!

So I find it best to set aside my original scene, start a new Word or Final Draft document and rewrite it from scratch. That way, the best bits from the first version of the scene should automatically pop into my head when needed, while the chaff will be forgotten. Even though most writers hate the blank page, it’s actually the most effective tool if you want to truly revamp your scene rather than simply tinker with it.

Then, when you have your brand new version, you can see whether it’s an improvement on the original and incorporate whatever elements you’d overlooked but were actually good (since the human mind, and hence this method, isn’t infallible).

Oh yeah – here’s some news – the Silent Symmetry rewrite is done. I started proofreading yesterday. Out loud (as I discussed in a previous post). It’s kind of fun and really is the only way to make sure the sentences flow and that you haven’t made any mistakes.

And now it’s time to get back to it!

[“Image courtesy of adamr/”]

Going with the flow

I am not a spontaneous person. There, I’ve said it. But before I said it, I thought about saying it for a while, which only proves my point. I like to plan things, to know what’s going to happen, and while I wouldn’t label myself a control freak, I do like to be in charge of my own fate.

This isn’t a bad character trait for a professional writer. Ordering your thoughts, knowing who your audience is and delivering a message that they will understand demands a methodical mindset. I like to plan my stories or screenplays in advance. Maybe not the entire thing, but I’m never faced with blank-page syndrome because at the very minimum there’s always at least one new scene that I have mapped out prior to sitting down at my desk.

There are always exceptions though. Like the dream I mentioned in a previous post that inspired me to create an entire new character for my YA trilogy and centre a novel around him. Or like researching a location on Google Earth, then finding a bunch of interesting features in the vicinity that I hadn’t intended to incorporate in that section of my book.

But no matter how creative I am, I know very well that in real life I like it when things run smoothly. So when I found out last week that my epublisher was closing its doors, only a month before publication of my novel The New Sense, I was suddenly outside my comfort zone. This was enforced spontaneity. And you know what? I think it might be doing me some good! I’ve already run a few tests using Google’s epub coding tool Sigil and am now far more confident about being able to achieve the relatively complex formatting that The New Sense requires (although clearly defining fonts for an ebook is as pie-in-the-sky as page numbering).

Sigil is Google’s free epub coding tool

Now that it looks like I’ll be able to code The New Sense myself, the other big decision I have to make is whether to distribute via Smashwords or through each ebook store separately. And that will probably be the subject of another post.

Crisitunity knocks…

I’m back from vacation and reality has hit with a nasty thump. Because what you don’t want to hear when your novel is a month away from being published is that your publisher has decided to close his company. But that’s what happened to me yesterday.

My immediate reaction was one of shot. No, that’s not a typo for “shock”. I literally felt like having a shot of tequila. My second reaction was to look on the bright side. What positives can I take from this? Well, The New Sense has improved since my publisher, Chris, became involved. I now have an edited manuscript, a cover, a video interview and a half-completed promo video. What I don’t have is an epub version of my book.

Tequila shot

Solution #1

Any fellow self-epublished authors reading my tale of woe might at this point be thinking, “Well, that’s no big deal – just use Smashwords!” After all, I created and distributed my short story collection Life is Good through Smashwords and it worked like a charm. The trouble is, The New Sense has some complex formatting and several visual elements that have always put me off trying to go the Smashwords route with it.

The novel is based on the main character Sara’s daily journal that she eventually converts into a blog. But a large portion of the book is also a series of email exchanges between Sara and the other main character: the mysterious father of her unborn child who she calls B—. It’s important for me that these emails look like emails, with the From, To, Subject and Time/Date fields, not just from a realism perspective but because sometimes these details are significant for the mystery. In my MS Word manuscript these emails are even in a different font, which is something that is almost impossible to reproduce across a range of eReader devices.

Now, however, I have no choice but to do it myself. And to quote Homer Simpson when informed by Lisa that the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity”, this is a “crisitunity”.

The downside of this situation is that I have to do a lot more work myself; time that I could be spending on writing and epublishing my YA novel Silent Symmetry. The upside has several angles: I can control the publication date of The New Sense so it doesn’t compete with Silent Symmetry, I’ll learn a lot more about epub formatting, and of course I’ll earn a higher royalty on sales.

Chris advised me to try using Google’s free epub online coding tool Sigil. Since Smashwords will be accepting epub uploads before the end of this year, this might be an option. I’ll run some tests of the more complex sections of the book to see if I’m happy with the epub results. If it works and I have an epub version of The New Sense in hand, it will be up to me to decide whether to distribute through Smashwords or through each separate channel myself. Either way, it seems pretty clear to me that The New Sense will have to wait until after Silent Symmetry is epublished to see the digital light of day.

I didn’t end up doing the tequila shot yesterday. And today with a clear head I can see a brighter new horizon ahead for The New Sense.

Photo credit: mrmatt / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA