I was innocently checking my emails last night: it was a Thursday, so there are always quite a few Friday Flash Fiction submissions to process. Once I’d dealt with those, I turned to the emails that are directed to my “writer” persona.
Right at the top was a blog notification from Caron Allen, a crime mystery writer I’ve only met once, but with whom I’ve shared a bit of correspondence. On this occasion, Caron’s blog – which comes highly recommended – reminisced over the (almost) ten years since the publication of her first novel, Criss Cross.
She’s actually slightly newer to the novel-writing process then I am – the “10th Anniversary Edition” of Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie came out at the start of 2022. Much of her article relates how she tried, and failed, to land a conventional publisher, and ended up turning to self-publishing. As I’ve touched in other places, it’s quite possible that might have been Caron’s lucky break. Very, very few writers make any money from their work; all most should aim for is: to keep expenses to a minimum and not lose money; gain a bit of satisfaction; and most of all, enjoy those special moments when a reader tells you that they “found your book wonderful”. It does happen.
By those measures, I suspect Caron’s done quite well. Her books are cleverly pitched at readers who looking for old-fashioned escapist crime mysteries; the messy, gritty detail of death don’t feature much. As such, they’re slightly out of fashion, but readers like them – if that makes the slightest sense.
So I turned to the next email, which was from a company that claims to assist authors self-publish. I won’t mention the firm’s name, although I’m not sure it really deserves anonymity. Coincidentally, this one was also about self-publishing, and advertising a 10-week online Zoom course. I’ll leave you to study it for yourself.
In case you hadn’t bothered to do the calculation, that’s also an EXTRA £440 they charge for splitting the payment across six months. And if you look at the application form itself, you have to tick a box agreeing that “you might need to spend extra money on outsourcing other assets like book covers, editorial work, website building.” It’s a blank cheque.
As the drug campaigns say, just say no.
PS – If you want to save £2499.01, why not try my own Self-Publishing: The Total Beginner’s Guide? Cheapest of all here at this link.
*Also an excellent opportunity for shameless self-promotion.
Back in 2020, I published my first non-fiction book, Self-Publishing, The Total Beginner’s Guide. It’s sold OK, as well it should since it costs just £0.99 as an ebook if you buy it from my own website, or £1.49 if you allow Amazon to sell it to you. (There is a print version, too, but who’s going to pay ten times that?)
The book tries to cover all the aspects of publishing that a self-publisher might need to be aware if, but there’s always something else that you might not be expecting. When it came to my first full-length crime novel, TheMidnightVisitor, published on 1st March 2022, I was hit by hay-maker of seismic proportions.
It’s a waste of time trying to launch a book in the week that Putin’s Russia is invading Europe. After all, who’s thinking about gentle crime fiction just now? Who really wants to do anything other than either watch the news anxiously or hide in a cupboard and just wait for it all to be over?
Don’t get me wrong. If I could give up everything from The Midnight Visitor and end the suffering in Ukraine instead, I’d do it in a flash. Somehow, though, I don’t think Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin would be much influenced by the offer.
So it looks as if the best I can do is to “launch” the book officially at some point in the future. In the meantime, though, it’s available to buy in bookshops, on Amazon, or – best of all, since I make the most money – from my own website. There’s lots of free stuff there, too. Ukrainians can have the ebook for free.
I suppose it’s good to be reminded of the two great truths of publishing. First, wars are more important than any individual book. And second, there’s always the next time.
Naming characters isn’t as easy as you’d imagine. I use the random Name Generator in Scrivener a lot, although I usually reject more than a dozen possibilities before I finally find one I’m happy with.
One note of caution for budding writers: be very wary of giving a character a name ending in ‘s’ or something that sounds like it. My detective protagonist* is John Knox (I’m stuck with that), but I wince a little every time I have to add an apostrophe.
I suppose I could always follow 21s’t century convention and stick them anywhere!
*The Midnight Visitor, the new Mary Maxwell-Hume/John Knox novel, is available from March 2022.
“That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”
William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare’s suggestion that names are not important is hopelessly wrong for writers. Who hasn’t sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper, agonising over what to call a character? And if it’s your protagonist, that only makes it harder. Without a character, you have no story.
Occasionally a name for a character just comes to me: Meredith Hardew from a book I plan to release next year, A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1, and Cressida Barker-Powell from Criss Cross: Friendship can be Murder: Book1 published 2013 (whose name was a deliberate mutation of Parker-Bowles). These are names that sprang fully-formed into my consciousness as I began to write the story. I couldn’t even think of calling any of those people anything else. In fact this whole opening…
This article is adapted from a version which first appeared on the Comely Bank Publishing website in 2017.
Two things are already possible: either you’ve clicked away in disgust, or you’re about to read avidly!
Sometimes it seems that a modern novel isn’t complete without a sex scene, sometimes quite a few. Writers seem to feel pressured into including some quite graphic details, often with disastrous consequences. The physiology and mechanics of the act itself are rarely critical to the plot; the key feature is the nature of the relationship between the characters. Is it tender? Is it mutually consensual? Is it part of a permanent coupling or merely a one-night stand?
Personally, I think a good sex scene should have two key components. First, the reader should be able to relate to the event – a seventeen-orgasm bonk is just a joke. I think the scenes are actually sexier where the individuals are themselves more ordinary – an extension of the Brief Encounter idea, where the very ordinariness of the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard characters is what makes it work. The reader wants to relate to every part of the book. Athletic male six-packs and female catwalk figures don’t quite do it.
The second aspect of a good sex scene is that less is more. Alfred Hitchcock always maintained that the human mind was more afraid of what it could imagine than what it actually saw; I think the same applies to sex. Let the reader fill in the blanks for themselves – in any case, who are you, the author, to presume that you’re the expert?
Finally, two related questions for you, the reader, to ponder.
I’ve met authors who’ve passionately argued that a woman can’t possibly write from a male point of view, and vice versa. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. What I am slightly aware of – and this just my sense – is that it feels more acceptable for a woman to write explicitly about sex, including all the nuts and bolts, than it is for men. If so, I wonder if that’s a statement of society’s implicit greater sexualisation of women? One thing’s for sure: The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award* is routinely won by male writers, sometimes even from an all-male short list.
Secondly, a woman I know has written a series of LGBT novels featuring the sexual awakening of a gay man and his relationships with others (as well as the non-physical relationships with women around him). The author is a happily married woman, and I have to assume that she has no personal experience herself.
I found my writing friend’s handling of the scenes to be both tender and appropriate – perhaps precisely because she had to leave so much to the reader’s imagination. Is it easier for straight writers to write LBGT fiction about the other gender?
*Don’t ignore this link – the writing is cringeworthy but the judges’ comments are hilarious.