Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Matador Self Publishing Conference 2013

So on Sunday I attended the Matador/Troubador Self Publishing Conference in Leicester. Yes I battled through the Spring Snow and arrived at 9:30 just in time for the first talk.

It was a great experience and well done to Matador for not making it too like they were trying to sell their self publishing stuff. I have to admit the day itself was a bit daunting if I hadn't already self published I would have been scared. They made it sound like it was a mammoth task - which in a way is good I suppose because it is and they didn't sugar coat anything. I suppose I should have done something like that before I decided. The workshops and lectures were also very good. In particular I was impressed with two companies and I would consider using their services.

1) BookedPR - Helen Mccusker spoke to us on how to write the perfect press release. A couple of the tips were to include a photo of yourself (and I thought I knew everything) - Put it all in the body of the email, and write a feature about something that is not your book- your book can be a mention at the end. She said -Your book is not news- people publish books all the time! This is true.
See http://www.bookedpr.com/

2) Cornerstones Literary Consultancy  (they give editorial advice etc) were also great and they did a talk on working with your editor- which was more about self editing. It was brilliant and they provided a 60 page download with all the ins and outs of novel writing as well as a graph showing you how plots should work and how to make your book a page turner. Its all about plunging your character into action by using active not passive writing, getting inside their heads and cutting out the adverbs!  It is a brilliant guide and I wish I could share.
See: http://www.cornerstones.co.uk/

What I did realise that there is a lot of money to be made from authors. The venue was packed and so you can see why so many self publishers are springing up everywhere. Especially for e-books. If you just want to publish on Amazon- then fine - but you have to have an epub doc correctly formatted for other platforms, an ISBN and dont even get me strated on using suppliers such as Bertrams and Gerdeners and linking this to Nielson Data. I havent got my head around this yet because I used Authorhouse and they have great distribution outlets- it's all very complex but essential. So whilst you may want to do all the hard work yourself (at it is hard work) you may be better off using a self publishing company and concentrating on the marketing etc.

I dissagreed with one independent book seller who said dont cut yourself short by discounting your book- in my eyes price matters. They also indicated that a paper book will help sell your ebook ( you are unlikely to get any reviews without it)- I agree it provides more credability - however they were frank enough to point out that newspapers were unlikely to give self published books reviews. They also said - and this is important - that no retailer will take on Print on Demand books! Well I wish someone had told me this beforehand !!! This is because all retailers work on sale or return and they can't return books which are print on demand! I would have still used print-on-demand ( I would never want to stockpile or sell myself to Amazon- there wouldnt be enough time in the day for writing- now if I didnt have a job as well...) but at least I would have known about this!   However, there seems to be some respect out there for self publishing and after this conference as well as hearing that Alexander McCall Smith once self published has made me realise that sometimes its us ourselves that down play self publishing. There is nothing wrong with it. I suppose its just the confidence thing or lack of confidence - we have.

It will be interesting to see how traditional publishing works!

Until next time ...

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Creating Characters

Creating Characters - In a Nutshell!

So today I am not going to rant about my writing I am going to share what I have learned about creating characters through my extensive reading about characters. How to make them three dimensional, fully rounded, loveable and hated. I think I am going to make this a new feature of this blog. Occasionally compressing all what I have learnt in the last five years into one blog post on different topics. I am going to label these blogs ‘In a Nutshell’ – which is basically the main points I have picked out on a particular writing technique over the last few years. the following is not designed to be comprehensive. It's just the main bits that I remember now when writing about Characters:

So imagine a world where you controlled everything - Mwah ha ha ha (evil laugh). Well that would never happen unless you are running for president or friends with The Pinky and The Brain. Well actually wait a minute – you are in control of an entire universe and it is your novel. This is where you can give birth to characters without going through a painful labour – well sometimes creating a character can be painful to begin with but…anyway you get what I am talking about.

So characters – the first thing you think about with a character is their name – In GT I picked random names and I thought they would work because I was under the impression that a name is a name.  In real life people meet and they have the name that was given to them. But really this is not the case. Readers want quirky, pronounceable names. The characters in Goa Traffic worked – their names were simple and there were only a few characters. If I re-wrote any part of that book I wouldn’t change the characters names because they kind of grew into their names. It would be like calling a dog fluffy its whole life and suddenly changing it half way through his life - it just wouldn’t work. 

I roughly did the same thing with Bittersweet. Picked random names but I made some tweaks during and even after I finished the first draft. The names had to be right. Names have to fit their characters. They have to work with each other. You can’t have all the characters in your book with names beginning with L for example any particular letter for that matter. Remember the reader does not know your characters as well as you do. The same first letter may be confusing. This is not to say presume your reader ignorant. No. It is to say have a think about a name. Also we all know a soft sounding name like Hannah to a hard sounding name like Victor – you can use this to your advantage by creating the goodies and the baddies and giving them appropriate names. Someone in my writing group does this exceptionally well. I recently read a novel where the name matched their physical detail, their occupation and ultimately their motives and it made for a thrilling read! Try noting the names of people you know with their personalities and occupations. It makes for an interesting read once you have compiled this and I believe will get you further in tune with the chracaters you create.

And remember pick names that are relevant to an era- I know this is obvious but sometimes we forget when writing modern fiction! Google is your friend – if you are writing a book set in the 80’s just Google popular baby names in the 80’s names or 70's names- you get the picture!

The second thing you think of is adding a bit of colour and history to the characters via a smidge of physical detail. Previously I have made a mistake from describing every possible characteristic of a character – Whilst this may work in some novels characters remain more memorable if they are created in the heads of the reader themselves. If you describe every detail they might find this confusing. Remember the reader knows best. Give them one to three details about a character. A hooked nose, grey hair, a mole on their neck. Let the reader fill in the gaps and they will much prefer their own version of their character than yours and they will remember the character better! Just give them some guidance 

Of course, unless your character is jobless (and even then they should have some kind of interesting hobby) give them an interesting job! See I failed here in Goa Traffic and in Bittersweet. I gave them run of the mill jobs. Lisa is an English Teacher and Maria is a Travel Agent. Although there was reason for their jobs in both cases I think a quirky job works better.  I recently read Hurting Distance by Sophie Hannah – the protagonist was a sun dial maker! Excellent – us readers (because remember writer, you too are a reader) we like to learn – yes on some subconscious level we are all geeks! So tell us a bit – in a showy not telling way (of course)- about the profession- something quirky that the general lay person does not know about. Not only can we repeat this interesting nugget to work colleagues or friends - we can say- yes I read it in so and so’s book. And remember here real detail adds authenticity! So although it’s fiction- don’t make up everything! Put some real fact in there!  That is another topic entirely. 

You know this as well but - Don't give too much back story of the character at the beginning of the book - we need to know the characters motivation and what their personality is like but don’t say this in one paragraph (remember show their personality traits – don’t tell).

Back story , I feel, should be drip fed, after all, it creates the characters motivation for why they are like they are … and characters motivation is everything – but that’s another topic. And remember your characters need to interact with others.. Think about their current interaactions and relationships. Remember they have had past relationships- things have happened to them which will never be mentioned in your book but makes them what they are.

You may think that doing a character profile for each character is a waste of time, but it's not. At first it will be laborious but it will really save you time in the long run and will show you which characters are lacking in depth- it will eventually make you automatically write them as more three dimensional characters. Try the following to profile your characters:

Interview them with random questions like dream job? Favourite food, colour, music? Keep a little journal with each character profile which you can refer to. Google image the celebrity which you would most like to play that character in the film version of your book. Cut the image out and stick that next to their profile.

Go for a walk and pretend to be one of your characters- what would they do in the real world? Would they sit by a river? Would they go to a record store? Perhaps pretend to be them for the day.

Write short stories with each character from your novel as the protagonist of the piece – perhaps an incident that happened to them when they were younger. Perhaps a bit of back story- use their voice when writing these stories.

Make a note of the props they need- a walking stick – always chewing gum, glasses that they don’t actually need- all these things show something about your character without telling the reader this.

Make a list of tags that a character has – or a certain speaking style – jot it down next to their profile!

Remember characterize the villains and the most likeable characters carefully in your novels too. People like goodies who are modest, good at their jobs, a bit of an underdog maybe. Remember people like good triumphing over evil and we are shallow too- believe it or not we like heros to be good looking!

Baddies- give them a scar- horrible I know – after all most of us have some physical scars- it doesn’t make us baddies but remember cartoons – scars work!  But give them good qualities as well- remember the character has to be human and of this world. Think of someone you know but dislike they all have redeeming qualities. A balance is good. Remember as well a reader will like your book/character even more if the character starts of as good- the reader thinks he is okay and then he turns or better still if we think a character is evil and at the end we see the reasons why they did what they did and they are not evil anymore. If a writer can get a reader to change their mind about a character mid way through a novel then their work is done (well kinda done) 

Well thats it for now. I hope this has been helpful. If so tell me what you think or follow me on Twitter @marissadeluna

Monday, 18 March 2013

If you know exactly what you are going to do, what is...

If you know exactly what you are going to do, what is the point of doing it? - Picasso (I am quoting this froma what I heard in the movie Midnight in Paris- so could be slightly wrong- FYI - I loved that movie)

As you may well know we are currently in the middle of the Oxford Literary Festival. On saturday, in the rain, I traipsed over to the Sheldonian Theatre ( A beautiful building both inside and out) to hear a talk by Alexander McCall Smith. This author has been a great inspiration to me whilst conceiving the idea of The Chupplejeep Mysteries.

I have always been in awe of AMS but after hearing him speak I am even more so now. He seems like the nicest person ever, with time for everyone (which was perhaps the reason why the book signing queue at the end of his talk went on forever). He just comes across so social, friendly and funny (very approachable indeed). I should have expected him to be like this given how funny I find his detective series. The nice thing was that when he was talking about his characters and what they were going to get up to in novels he was laughing about it. If the author finds his characters funny then of course readers will.  And he is prolific! he said that writes 1000 words per hour and wait for it- he writes the finished product with very few revisions. If only I could write like that! Yes Marissa - keep dreaming!  He says that he taps into his subconscious. I need to learn about doing this- I assume the free writing exercise would help you with this (you know when you write what ever comes in to your mind even if it is gobbledygook for no less than five minutes)  And did you know AMS has sold over 20 million copies of The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency- the series has been translated into over 46 languages or something like that! Amazing.

Anyway I thought I would share AMS's fantasticness with you. I also had a quiet weekend to myself at home which was great I finished the skeleton copy of Under the Coconut Tree and I have started the first read through (because unlike AMS I have to revise at least 5 times until I get a decent draft and then I have to start the process again!). On the first read through I usually find huge glaring errors and pin point where the book is lacking- or if other characters are needed, some characters need more of a story etc. Normally its a quick once over and I make some hand written notes. This time I am going slower. I have found with book three that my writing is not as dreadful on the first draft than it normally is. perhaps I am improving or tapping further into my subconscious.

This is always an annoying yet satisfying section of editing. As it's the first read through - inspiration for the characters and what they do in the book is still coming to me. I am not yet bored to tears with the plot and I am confident that it will all work out in the end (that is the book being a finished product). Its' annoying because I want to be holding the finished manuscript and it's a pain when I have to weave new bits of the plot through the text!

Under The Coconut Tree is a slice of life book with a plot- a crime has been committed - but its more about the characters and location than the plot itself. On knowing this I need to ensure that the characters develop over books. They themselves have to make discoveries about themselves- they too have to go on a journey. It is also difficult because the last two books (especially The Bittersweet Vine have been plot driven)

I have given myself a deadline of the 30th April by which I should have a first draft readable copy that will go to Urmi and my mum for their initial comments (does the plot work? is it interesting... ? No point in editing it any further if the plot is no good and vast chunks of the plot need changing). After that its time to work on Living the Dream.

Every now and again with this book (as with the other two that I have written) I do get scared - what if my theme and plot for the book doesn't work. What if the characters are dull? I hate this feeling and sometimes it really does make me want to delete the document. Although now that I am on book three I have much more understanding of literary techniques. Will this cut down the amount of re-drafting that I have to do? I hope so. But the drafting and re-drafting, I think, is a process that you have to complete so that by the end of it you know the characters like your own family. Chupplejeep and Pankaj certainly are already like family for me and I have  only written the first sketchy draft! I wonder if it is because I have such a strong understanding of their personalities in my head - perhaps because I am Indian and I just know that type of characters they are. It's odd I am learning more about India and Goa through writing this series than I ever knew. Well I suppose I did know all this stuff it was just buried under all the other useless knowledge held in my mind. 

 I think this year is going to be pretty good in terms of writing. With The Bittersweet being taken on by a publisher I can sit on that for a while and just do what I am told in regards to actually getting it published and I think it will give me the time to complete (to second draft stage) the three manuscripts I want to complete by the end of year.

Oh and just a quick note about the quote. I always know what I am going to do - book wise - but there is a point in planning to a certain extent, but as in life you cannot plan everything and sometimes you need to go where your characters take you. Mid way through a book one of your charcaters will do something that you dont really want them to do. But run with it and I believe the story will flow better - much better - go on... give it a go.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
—Philip Roth

My blog posts are few and far between these days. I have been writing though. I finished the first draft of Indian Diaries- Speedy, I know but its only approx 10,000 words and really it is a skeleton draft- just the bare bones– now they are with Urmi for her comments. I think its gonna be a great little kindle book – we might even get our heads around the epub format and put it on Good Reads and other sites to download.

I have started writing a little marketing plan so we will be a bit more organised before it is even released.

The good news on GT is that someone I know who was going to Goa on Holiday borrowed a copy. I was expecting a bad review- I dont know why I guess because he too is a writer (and we are always critical- aren't we?) but actually the review was pretty good- giving me way more confidence in the book. The friend in question is coming around next week for a chat and as I read his book as well we are going to exchange notes.

The one interesting comment was the front cover (the old wooden door)- he did not like it! I loved my front cover and this was the first negative comment I received about it. It will be interesting to hear his thoughts . Lets see what they come up with for The Bittersweet.

I have not heard back from the publisher yet (last month I signed the publishing contract offer and returned it) but my agent warned me to expect a delay. I think that’s the norm with publishers. I am being patient- although I cant help but think- what if they retract it!!! But I am pushing those thoughts aside. Instead, I am on a mission to finish the first draft of Under the Coconut Tree. Just the skeleton one. It will need a lot of work after this but at least if I have the bare bones I will feel like I have accomplished it. I am about 10,000 words away and my target is the 24th March! It’s the denouement time or unravelly end bit – as I prefer to call it, which I find is always a bit of a mission!

I keep telling myself that I am going to achieve this deadline. With a further deadline of the end April to get a first readable draft together.

I then might do something radical (well for me) and start writing The Body in the Bath (Chupplejeep novel two) so that I perfect characters and can go back to one and make amends to character details. These characters have to be uber three dimensional to really draw the reader in – as I have said before these books will be more about the characters and local life than plot- but don’t worry there will be a good plot as well!!! It just wont be the main focus- if you know what I mean- the Chupplejeep Mysteries are going to be a feast for readers – the books are going to explode with tiny details that  will completely transport you to another world! This other world being rural Goa. 

Also after April I plan to finish writing ‘Living the Dream’ – I have constructed a good and complex plot as a follow up for Bittersweet. I think my impatient side is calming down. With what’s in my writing plan I wont be able to show my agent Living The Dream until November this year! – I would like to say summer but I doubt that will happen. Anyway I also have to see how The  Bittersweet Vine is going to go, when it will be published and I am sure  re-writes and publicity and marketing will take up quite a bit of my time.

What I have learnt thought is to always have something on the go – have writing mini breaks – but always be working on something – in this industry (unless you are just self publishing) there will always be gaps of tortuous waiting periods. Knowing that you can work on something else that you can self publish if needs be is a great feeling.

Ohhh which reminds me – not that I am getting ahead of myself or anything, but I have been looking at Blurb to self publish Indian Diaries – if, and only if, it does well on Kindle.

And on another note I also downloaded some guided meditation aps to chill out- I believe that I am suffering product fatigue! Yes this exists I read it somewhere although I read it in a different context – it was about being fed up for putting chemical products on our skin(yes the biggest organ in our bodies- our skin and we continually put chemicals on it) but this is another matter- quite frankly I cant afford organic – so I am going to let this one go. But I mean product fatigue as in there are so many products around us. So much we want, so much we aspire to be- it all gets on top of us. I decided that meditation now and again would help me. H overhead my app and accused me of being middle aged!!!! Ahhh well- I think its helping we achieve calm (one of my new years resolutions). Funny how we should be able to sit in silence and let go of everything but we don’t until someone (on an app) tells us to!  

- and yes I am signing up to the on line grammar course next month!

Friday, 1 March 2013

The harder I work, the luckier I get

The harder I work, the luckier I get - Samuel Goldwyn

Sorry, I have been oh so lame at blogging at the moment. Why? Well work has started on the short story kindle book currently called Indian Diaries. It will feature 25 (or thereabouts) short stories ( more like flash fiction but the idea is that the stories are short, concise, focus on the picture and are thought provoking) to accompany beautiful photographs (all black and white) set in India.
I also signed my publishing deal (whoo hooo) although I will celebrate only when the book is actually on bookshelves in shops- I know its going to be a long journey from here on in. I am super excited. I have never had an agent, editor or a publisher or publicist for that matter who I have worked with. What’s different to this experience from self publishing is that you know at the point of being offered the contract (even if they withdraw it after- which I am hoping they dont do!) that someone out there wants to invest their money in to your talent. Instantaneously you feel like a credible author. You are perceived as a credible author. That’s not to say the same thing cant happen if you are self published but you have to have a lot of confidence for that (no matter how well your book is selling and most of us don’t have that).
It also feels good to know that someone will go through it all with a fine tooth-comb. I was anticipating doing all this myself for self publication in July and now I am a little experienced after GT,  but at least all this has been taken out of my hands. And it takes time and energy so at least I will save myself all that bother - although I know I have to get the marketing right!
I am a bit worried about the re-writes as well. Like- how many are there going to be? That was one question I failed to ask my agent! But I guess when you sign your first book deal and you are relatively unknown then you have to take what you are given. If they want 100 re-writes then that’s what I will have to do. Everything cant be rosy!
Anyway book deal aside (I’ll update you as I get further correspondence from them- as well as the signed contract). I have nearly written the first draft of all the stories for Indian Diaries (see I have been busy). I have decide to wake up half an hour early every day to get more done in my day. So far its working well. I don’t feel like my life is sleep, work, sleep, work – with cleaning, cooking and writing thrown in for good measure. No its odd but I feel like I have more time for myself- even if I am depriving myself of sleep.
H is not happy about the name Indian Diaries but I think it will work, not only that now I am thinking of doing a marketing plan before we actually release the book. It all has to be good to go. I have my first meeting with the photographer(Urmi Kenia) next week. I am also coercing her into starting her own blog or and website.
I also had a bit of a boost this week- I took my first chapter of Under The Coconut Tree to writing group. Although for the first time in ages I was half confident that this was an okay piece of writing I was still nervous. But it was humorous and had a couple of hooks- it worked. People liked it and it got several laughs. It's odd moving from writing a psychological thriller to a comedy detective even if it does involve dead bodies!
I am planning to complete the draft of Chupplejeep by the end of March. I have brought the deadline forwards because its dragging now and it needs to get done. So this may mean allotting a week in March to Chupplejeep - I am talking skeleton draft here with a quick read through to check it all makes sense.
I am thinking that unlike with Bittersweet and GT, I may hold on to Under The Coconut Tree until I complete a second book in the series - which I have already written the plot line for (Its called The Body in the Bath). This way the characters can fully develop and I can go back to the first and make amends. I would like to say that by the end of 2014 I will have two complete and polished manuscripts for Chupplejeep- that's the true start to a series, isn't it? Oh and I am going to sign up for that grammar course!
In the interim as I have to have something going at the same time I need to complete - Living the Dream (WIP)  I have discussed this before- I am about 10,000 words in, with a plot line drafted but it is a similar genre to The Bittersweet and I think I should provide it as a follow up, especially if Bittersweet is popular.
I have checked my sales today and GT is not doing as well as the last couple of months. I suppose all books have their peaks and troughs but it is making me think whether I need to give it a bit of a marketing push - before I put the price up at the end of March. Mmmm Perhaps I will give it a bit of a Facebook and twitter Offensive. I have not been mentioning it in fear of harassing people.