NaNoWriMo 2015: Winner (just)!

Crikey, didn’t November fly by? One minute it was Halloween and we were all sitting in the Forum exchanging plots and twists and character bios for NaNoWriMo, the next it’s the eleventh hour, St Andrew’s Day, and I’m adding the last however many words needed to get over the line. But get over the line I did – 50,164 words in 30 days. Presenting cheesy grin!

So that’s all very nice. Even nicer was witnessing a lot of happy WriMos throughout various newsfeeds and write-ins, and a buddy’s page that was liberally peppered with purple ‘Winner!’ bars.

Nicer still, now NaNoWriMo is done, I don’t feel like taking Year Zero and shoving it through a shredder, or at least not yet anyway. Instead, I’m rather keen to keep adding to it. I’ll aim for 1,000 words per day, similar to when I was finishing The Floors, although this time I won’t be working to a silly self-imposed deadline. Again, feel free to crack the whip if you see me slacking.

I’m still none the wiser how long Year Zero will be. Given what I’ve written so far, plus the scenes I still want to write, not to mention the plot, lest we forget, the story could hit 225,000 words if I’m not careful (that’s in the region of 750 paperback pages, folks). I fear it could put Year Zero at risk of being junked unseen by agents or publishers. (Mind you, given some of the rates I’ve seen offered of late, I don’t imagine I’d have any problem finding someone out there to edit the thing!)

Luckily I have a number of red pens left over from editing The Floors. I’ve a feeling I might need them. Let’s get a first draft done before all of that, eh?

TTFN.

LP

 

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25,000 words down. Time for a cover!

Year Zero cover 1What-ho, peeps, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again, this time with a short and sweet NaNoWriMo update.

This is one of those me-me-me posts (yes, another one!), so feel free to skip this if you aren’t, you know, me.

Anyway, with the halfway point of the month fast approaching I’ve just hit the 25,000 word mark, so things are trundling along nicely. It’ll be interesting to see where in the story I’ll be come 50,000 words, because at the moment there’s still a fair amount to get out of my head, and I still need to somehow knit large chunks of it together into a workable narrative. I’ve a feeling this could weigh in around twice as long as The Floors, though bear in mind I rather underestimated how long that would be. (“100,000 words too long,” you say? Tsk! Meanie.)

The biggest positive for me so far is that Year Zero is shaping up a lot better than The Forum of the Dead, my last NaNoWriMo attempt. There haven’t been too many bad days, touch keyboard, when I’ve felt like giving up and doing something less maddening instead, and even then I’ve at least managed to write something. Of course, whether said something survives a second draft, who knows, so long as I get to a second draft.

A sign that I’m feeling more positive about Year Zero is that I’ve knocked together a cover for it. Not bad for an hour’s messing about with Inkscape, and a fitting contrast to The Floors. The cover might change over the coming however-long – for example, I might yet put this out under (gasps) my proper actual real proper name – but for now it’s a useful placeholder.

Anyway, like I said, a short and sweet update. I’ll befoul the cyberwaves once more when I hit 50,000 words. I bet you can’t wait!

LP

Twitter followers as The Emperor’s New Clothes

Before I get into the meat of my post, here’s a full disclosure: I have considerably fewer followers on Twitter than the threshold quoted below, so read on with however big a pinch of salt you deem necessary!

Rob Hart recently wrote a great article over on LitReactor about the enormous tidal wave of spam generated by self-publishing authors desperate to shine a light on their books. (Link: http://litreactor.com/columns/this-is-the-single-biggest-mistake-indie-authors-make-while-promoting-their-work-and-it-ne-0 ) As someone who has largely resisted the tactic, and having witnessed a few interesting genre fiction related groups on Facebook sadly spammed into oblivion, Rob’s rant really struck a chord with me. There was one small part near the end I took issue with, however, which I’ve emboldened below:

And don’t take advice from anyone who has less than 1,500 followers on Twitter (or if the number of people they follow outnumbers the number of people who follow them back).”

It’s not necessarily the arbitrary number quoted above I have a problem with. It’s the idea that follower counts are deemed a reliable indicator of what is really going on in Twitter.

Twitter, yesterday

Twitter, yesterday

Now, unless I have missed a briefing or two (which is possible – I’ve dramatically dialled down my exposure to social media in light of the many, many, many, many, manymanymanymany screaming outrages that used to flare up every half an hour), I was under the impression that everyone on Twitter was fully aware of the following nugget of wisdom, and so it feels like I’m about to tell everybody that water is a bit soggy, but here goes.

Follower counts are unreliable. Simple. As. That.

No, really. You’ll find more truth in Zimbabwe’s election results. It therefore irks me when I see credence attached to that little number on the screen, and, stepping away from Rob’s post, it really grinds my gears when the maintenance of said high-score is posited as a crucial means of getting on in the publishing world. You see this bullshit confidently spun from a hundred and one self-proclaimed “experts” who profess telling the same to that creative writing class they all seem to teach. Questions asked of agents and publishers often concern the size and reach of a prospective author’s social media presence, as if its importance trumps the quality of the story they’re trying to sell. (The answer is always the same, by the way: “It’s only ever about the story, kiddo.”) Then, at the extreme end of the scale, there’s the idiotic “game-ification” of Twitter. For example, my latest follower’s bio brazenly offers me 5,000 Twitter followers for $29. Ooh, yes please. I can then strike “Tweeting to a shitload of bots” off my bucket list.

Even when you discount the bots, however, follower counts are about as reliable as a politician’s promise. How so? Well, before I get to that, let’s consider a famous example of Twitter in action, being Stephen Fry’s account. At the time of writing this, he is currently being followed by nearly 7,000,000 accounts, and is himself following a staggering 51,500 accounts.

Now, as any Twittererer will know, following a mere 100 accounts is enough to clog up anyone’s timeline. (Some people seem to have a twitchy trigger finger on that old “Retweet” button.) Therefore how on earth can anyone keep abreast of 51,500 accounts? The simple answer is, of course, that they don’t.

They use lists.

For the uninitiated, lists allow you to bunch Twitter accounts into categories for easy perusal. For example, I have separate lists for friends and family, authors and writers, professionals within the publishing industry, and so on. Lists can be visible to the public, or kept for private use. (All of mine are private.)

Now here’s an uncomfortable truth that might see me lose a couple of my scarce few followers. I only ever view Twitter through my lists. I never, ever look at my timeline, and I’d be utterly staggered if I’m in the minority in doing so. So, in short, having someone follow you, or counter-follow you, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll ever see anything you tweet, and thus the value of that follower count is weakened.

But there’s more. Amazingly, adding a Twitter account to a list does not make you a follower of that account. They do not show up in your “following” count, nor do you show up in their “followers” count. I recently made some off the cuff remark about One Direction which then saw me automatically added to some public “One Direction Fans” list. (I’m sorry, New Kids On The Block, they mean nothing to me, honest!) Needless to say my follower count didn’t tick higher and I cried on the toilet for days as a result.

So there you have it, folks. The next time you see anyone attach significance to the number of people following their every word, be sure to sound that bullshit buzzer long and hard at them. I’ll be sure to do the same.

Laters, ‘taters.

Things I’ve learned (#2)

With NaNoWriMo 2013 looming ever closer I’m taking the opportunity to jot down my thoughts on the year gone by, in which I wrote and published my novel The Floors. Self-indulgence aside I hope some of these discussions prove useful to anyone thinking of giving self-publishing a whirl, or, at the very least, raise a titter along the way.

In my last post I vowed not to hamstring my next book with a release date. In this post I’ll discuss:

Professional edits: why you’ll need one, and their pros and cons

One could argue the recent revolution in self-publishing has presented, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times.

The best of times: in short, the shackles are off.

Yes, writers rejoice! No longer do they need to endlessly court agents and publishers! No longer do they need to clumsily alter uncool characters, or shoehorn their story into a different, more popular genre! No longer do they need to strip every shred of personality from their prose to fit the house style. They can finally write their story their way, dammit! Et cetera, et cetera, yada-yada-yada.

Readers rejoice too! They can better explore fiction outside the homogenous pool of sure-things and bandwagon-jumping drek spoonfed them by lazy publishers! They want improbably-libidinous vampires bedding anything that moves during the inevitable zombie apocalypse? They got it! They want to read Cthulhu bedding everything that moves during… er… the inevitable zombie apocalypse? Well, whatever floats their boat. And, look, the prices are dirt cheap! Everyone wins, right? Right? Hmm.

The worst of times: in short, the shackles are off.

No matter what you think about those lofty guardians of letters and words, when quality assurance is transferred from publisher to writer there’s an increased risk of inferior work resulting from it. Yes, some writers can squat down and curl 2000 words of award-winning prose before breakfast. Bully for them. Most everyone else will need a second, third, fourth pair of eyes over their work – self-publishers doubly so.

Why? Well, for every wannabe writer you hear bemoaning how insanely difficult it is to break into the publishing world you can hear another reader bemoaning the shitty quality of a self-published book they’ve picked up. When that happens you know immediately that the writer has not treated the reader with the respect they deserve.

Few writers go out of their way to write a bad book, granted, but at the same time it is down to any author to make sure their work is clean of errors and a bloody good read to boot. It is not enough for the writer to shelter a poor grasp of English beneath their surefire bestselling idea – it simply undermines writing standards and literacy levels. Likewise it is not enough to eloquently describe in florid, painstaking detail the soul-crushingly boring lives of their flaccid characters – it serves only to shorten attention spans further.

When gauging quality, however, most writers will be a poor judge of their work. Commercial writers have their editors to keep their prose in check. If wannabes wish to be taken seriously, by agents and publishers or by the audience they hope to grow themselves, they’ll need a professional opinion too. They need someone to say where a story isn’t working. They need to know where sentences, paragraphs, or entire plots are flagging. They need to know when a typo, a homonym, or just a flat-out wrong word has slipped into the text. This is tough to do when emotionally invested in the work.

When writing The Floors I was determined to seek opinion from fellow horror fiction fans and a professional. I wanted to know how well the story fared in a cold read, and received valuable feedback from my test readers as a result. At the same time I wanted to know how well the story fared from someone who lives, works, eats, shits and breathes sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction, and so I hired the editing services of a well-respected agent.

Having come out the other end of a professional edit I feel a little more qualified to discuss the experience, warts and all, so here goes.

1) A professional edit is costly
I mentioned the cost of mine in an earlier post. If you are serious about your work then you will see this cost as an investment. You are, after all, writing something to sell, be it to an agent, a publisher or direct to the reader. It pays to be professional.
Before you reach for your chequebook, however, know that not every investment succeeds. Some fail, and spectacularly so. Therefore, like all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose. If you and your family are going to go hungry while you chase your writerly dream it’s time to reassess your priorities.

2) A friend or loved one won’t cut it as an editor
You may not want to shell out for a pro edit, particularly if you don’t fancy your odds of success. Fair enough. You may have in mind a friend or loved one who has a solid grasp of the English language. Don’t go there. Hell, you may even know someone who works in the publishing industry. Still don’t go there. Why? Because that person is less likely to give you both barrels when you need it most in case they hurt your feelings. If you must do it on the cheap seek out an independent critique from a local writer’s group or from somewhere like Absolute Write, but be aware that sometimes your peers will pick holes in something just for the sake of doing so.

3) Establish early on what you can expect from an edit
So you decide to invest in an edit. Good for you. Before stumping up any cash, however, establish exactly what it is you are paying for. A good, professional editor will detail what he or she will do for you. Some will simply go through your manuscript, line by line, editing anything iffy they come across and emailing back the edited manuscript. Others will also add notes and explanations of what they have done. Some may even give you an appraisal of your work. I was fortunate enough to see several helpful notes and criticisms made throughout the manuscript following a line-edit of The Floors. It was an added bonus that gave me a real sense of how the story was panning out, and something I really appreciated, even when some of those comments really stung, which leads me to…

4) Do not anticipate sugar-coated criticism…
Put simply, you want to know where your story stinks before your readers do. It is at this point you would see a little less honesty from that friend or loved one I mentioned earlier. You need an impartial eye, someone who isn’t there to spare your feelings.
My editor warned me in advance that some of the opinions he’d expressed were a bit on the strong side. He wasn’t joking, and yet, however much his comments stung, they were a useful barometer of how he was feeling at various points throughout the story. For example, when The Floors tap-danced a couple of miles over the line of decency I knew from his comments that I would need to rein in the story’s excesses – especially as my bad guy was becoming so vile that readers would want to skip ahead.
No matter how annoyed you may feel, you must take any criticism on the chin and use it to improve your work. Don’t moan about being misunderstood, blah, blah, blah. Your story didn’t connect as well as you’d hoped. Improve it, otherwise you may find far harsher criticism when your book attracts online reviews!

5) …but do expect new, precious insights into your work
My edit wasn’t all bad news. Far from it. There were chapters in The Floors where I felt the writing had really flowed, or where I had done my best to grip the reader and get those pages turning, and I was delighted to see only a handful of words edited during these parts. There were also notes highlighting when I was doing something well, but perhaps not doing it often or early enough.
As my manuscript had been edited with “Track Changes” switched on it was clear to see those words that had clogged up a sentence, or those unnecessary sentences that had slowed up the story. Despite my best efforts to keep the story zipping along it was interesting to see those writerly tics that had nevertheless remained: words like “however”, “had”, “that” and “nevertheless”, which can often be removed from a sentence with no harm done.
On top of these were some really helpful pointers on things I would never have picked up on. For example, The Floors is told in restricted third-person, or “over the shoulder” mode, if you will, and I was criticised for occasional lapses in POV (point of view). For example, in the prologue, I had originally carried on the narrative a little after Clive dies beneath the gun turrets – something the character couldn’t possibly experience given he’s suddenly been shot to bits and all that. (A quick section break inserted and – boom – it’s fixed.)

6) A professional edit is not “The End”
Don’t be tempted to think that an edited manuscript marks your finished copy. Far from it. If your editor has offered criticism of your work then you’d be a fool not to act upon it. You owe it to your readers, after all. And even if your manuscript is returned with nary a criticism in sight you need to take into account one crucial, indisputable fact, namely…

7) Your editor is a human being
As hard as that may seem, it’s true. You are dealing with someone who sometimes makes mistakes. We all make them. If we didn’t make mistakes then you wouldn’t need an editor in the first place and we’d all shit gold for kicks and piss the finest wines. Even if you’re facing the millionth readthrough of a manuscript you are thoroughly sick of reading, read it you must. You may find your editor has introduced errors of their own while attempting to iron out yours. You may also find an error of yours that slipped under the radar. (I found half a dozen when rereading The Floors.)
I would also stress the above point should you feel a need to express dissatisfaction at the edit, or if the thing is taking longer than expected to complete. Remember, your editor is probably a one-man/woman operation and shit happens. People get ill. Life gets in the way. Before you go off half-cocked, step back and see the bigger picture. And if that release date you put on your book a year in advance is getting too close for comfort then more fool you! 😉

8) You don’t have to agree with everything your editor says
I certainly didn’t, but, as I was always going to publish The Floors myself, I could wield more creative control and take more risks than a commercial author. If the book falls flat on its arse, then it’s on me. If you are gunning for a sweet publishing deal, however, then you’d probably be better advised digesting a lot more of what your editor says. You can still disagree – it’s still your book and one person’s opinion of it – but you might scupper your book’s chances of making the grade if you don’t heed the warning signs.

So there you have it. A monster post on pro edits. I hope some of that made sense! Having put The Floors through a professional edit I can honestly say the experience has been a positive one. The insights John Jarrold provided me will be valuable for my future projects.

Have my sales covered the cost? No, or at least not yet. 😉 But then I’m comfortable with Lucian’s folly. As long as I know my stories are the best I can make them, and, crucially, that they don’t take the piss out of the reader, then I’ll continue to be happy.

Right, that’s plenty ’nuff blathering for a while! I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention next weekend, so, with luck, I’ll have a whole bunch of holiday snaps with which to bore… er… delight you! (In the meantime you may see a small promotional post here for the shindig.)

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again!

Things I’ve learned (#1)

So, with NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, and the promise of an entirely new and exciting novel to work on, now is perhaps a good time to review the past twelve months and sum up what I have learned in getting The Floors out of my head and into your hands.

There may be a few of these posts over the next however-long, but I’ll keep the self-indulgence to a minimum if I can. Hell, you might even find some of these insights informative, or at least leavened with the occasional knob gag. Maybe.

Anyway, let’s kick things off with this little pearl of wisdom:

Don’t saddle yourself with a release date!

Release dates are funny old things. They’re applied to all sorts of products that seldom need them. Often it’s a bid to boost initial sales of a book, a video game, a DVD etc; a simple ploy to increase the cachet of a product by pushing it into a bestseller chart of some description. (We can argue the dubious value of the term “bestseller” another time.)

Then you have what I’ll call the vanity release date – chosen either because it has a tenuous link to the product in question, or because it simply looks cool on a poster. (Movies and TV shows have been flogging this dead horse for the last decade or so.)

With regard to The Floors, I couldn’t help it. Vanity got the better of me. A novel based around a maze of thirteenth floors demanded a 2013 release date. Sticking it out in the middle of 2014 would have just looked odd. Friday 13th seemed a natural date to use – the first in 2013 being September. For a story involving a ton of unlucky floors it made sense to choose one of the two unluckiest dates in the calendar. (We’ve another Friday 13th in December.) Bingo! I had my release date. My mistake was in announcing it a year in advance. I found adhering to it introduced a fair number of challenges.

The main challenge was in producing a book within a relatively short space of time. Not only are we talking about getting a 100,000 word story up to scratch, but all the ancillary bits too: producing a cover, creating the interior artwork, typesetting, proofing, designing adverts, creating artwork for the blog, Twitter and so on. You wanna know why books take so goddam long to come out? I believe I can field that question!

Another challenge was in managing the human element, and the slippage it sometimes introduced. I won’t cite specifics here as that would be mean of me. Besides, we got there in the end with no harm done. In some regards it worked out better than expected!

In short, a release date introduced unnecessary pressures into the project. That said there were positives to be had too, chief among them a real focus in getting the job done. A deadline gave me a good idea what it would be like to write professionally, or, given that writing pays dick these days, writing to a contract alongside my day job. It proved to me that I could do it, I’m just not entirely sure I would want to. (Wave a contract in my face, of course, and my heart may say otherwise! 😀 )

But there was another reason why I needed The Floors published sooner rather than later, and one that didn’t hang on any particular date: I simply needed to get the story out of my head. And, as wanky as it sounds, I would stress the word needed. I’ve mentioned a few times how this story was burning a hole through my mind. I wasn’t joking. It was getting to a point where I couldn’t sleep. If my mind strayed into anything to do with The Floors then that was it: I’d lie awake until 3 or 4 in the morning while my brain buzzed over plot details, scenes I had planned, cool new scenes to add in, and so on. Not good with a full working day lying only a couple of hours ahead!

If my next story possesses me to the same extent, so be it – I’ll take it as a good sign – but I won’t chew my fingernails to the bones with worry if it doesn’t.

So with my next project you won’t see me announcing its release anytime soon. I have a deadline in mind (Halloween 2014), but I won’t be putting myself under the same kind of pressure to meet it.

That’s enough blathering for now, folks. Next up, I’ll have some words to say about  professional edits. Are they worth it? What can you expect from one? That kind of thing.

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again, whydoncha?

Welcome to The Floors!

Hello, peeps! It’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here again, this time with a rather special blog posting. Well, it’s special from this side of the keyboard, anyway!

Just over a year ago, on July 19th 2012, I had this bizarre story idea about being trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors. As ideas went I knew it was a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Plot lines, scenes, locations, characters, possible finales – they all flooded out. I couldn’t sit down for pacing the house. My brain wouldn’t stop. Piece after piece of the story fell into place at such speed that I could barely keep up. I was awake ’til five in the morning scribbling notes. I knew I could never sleep properly again until the idea was fully out of my head and onto paper.

Fast forward 60 weeks and I am delighted to say I can finally go to bed! Yes, folks, The Floors has been unleashed upon the world, and all the gory details can be found below.

Cover Design 5HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

THE FLOORS is available for purchase via the following links. I’ll update this post as further links become available. (See also the dedicated page for The Floors, accessible via the menu bar, above.)

EBOOK versions – $2.99 (approx €2.60 / £1.95)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll The Floors” in your local Amazon store.)
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/354409
Apple iBookstore: US UK CA
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll” in your local Apple iBookstore.)
Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/fb/book–IAOUYcJeEyuiWcel_yflg/page1.html
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-floors-lucian-poll/1116875156?ean=2940045252447
Sony: (Link forthcoming.)

PRINT versions – $13.99 (€11.99 / £9.99)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4091315

Other links
You can also find The Floors on Goodreads via this link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18463346-the-floors
If you are a Goodreads member be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of three signed copies. The giveaway ends on Halloween and there are already rather a lot of entrants, so good luck!

If you want to get in touch via Twitter, or if you want to read my occasional witterings from time to time, you can find me via @LucianPoll. You can also use the #fearthefloors hashtag, which I check from time to time. Finally, you can give thumbs to the Facebook widget on the sidebar for news and updates on The Floors as I post them.

So there you have it – Mr Poll’s debut novel is finally out there in all of its gory glory. Do check it out. If you liked The Floors then please recommend it to those you think would also enjoy a read. If you bought the print copy then feel free to lend it on. Word-of-mouth recommendations are the lifeblood of fledgling writers, and every one of them is really appreciated!

I’ll leave this post up for a few weeks while my print adverts are doing the rounds, and then I’ll be back with a How-to guide on Smashwords publishing and a few other odds and sods you may find of interest.

Thanks for reading!

A sneaky preview of The Floors, you say? Oh, go on then!

Well, it’s taken a long, long time, four drafts, five test readers, a professional edit and around a bazillion read-throughs but it’s done! It’s finally done!

The Floors is ready to rock n’ roll.

It’s swallowed up a laptop, condemned my central heating, stolen my sanity, driven one’s better half to despair and has even made my editor ill. (The content of the story may have had a bearing on that.)

Frankly, after all that, I think it’s high time I unleashed it on you all, and on Friday 13th September 2013 that’s exactly what I plan to do. You’re welcome, world! Moo ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!!!!

The Floors - coverIn the meantime, if you’d like to know what you’re letting yourself in for, then you’re in luck! I just so happen to have a sneaky 3-chapter preview of The Floors and it’s all yours. Here you go:

PDF: The Floors – Final Draft (3 chapter sampler)

Note: As should be obvious from the cover, The Floors is a horror novel, so expect violence and big swears from the outset.

If you like the cut of this sampler’s gib then you can buy the whole darned thing a week on Friday in eBook format or as a rather swish paperback.

Give the blog a follow, or give the Facebook page some thumbage, and I’ll keep you abreast of all you’ll need.

In other blatherings, please accept my apologies for being MIA these last few weeks. The findings of the test reads and the professional edit necessitated a few repairs and improvements to the story. The next post will be for the big launch. After that I’ll be back with a few posts on my experiences in getting this far and no doubt a few other odds and sods in the run-up to the World Fantasy Convention and, of course, NaNoWriMo 2013.

Keep it scary, people!

…in which Mr Poll blathers about the importance of test readers

Scream - Teaser ad v1.1How do, horror fans, and welcome once more to my darkened corner of the internet. If you’ve arrived here on the back of my teaser advert in Scream magazine then come on in and make yourself at home. The teaser ad is for a novel of mine called The Floors, which will be released on Friday 13th September 2013. If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to be trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors then stay tuned! (You can also see my previous post for a gander.)

At the moment, however, you find me at a crucial stage of getting The Floors out there and into your hands – that of obtaining some feedback from test readers.

Skim through the acknowledgements section of a novel and you will often find the author thanking assorted friends, colleagues and peers for having read early drafts of their story. Now, unless you are a staggeringly gifted wordsmith and storyteller, with preternatural powers to shape the literary world with your expertly-crafted prose, then getting some early feedback is going to be a vital part of your writing process too, and doubly so when it comes to self-published work.

Why? Well, in the broadest terms, you wouldn’t want to sully your good name, assumed or otherwise, by peddling a shitty story riddled with errors. You aren’t going to get very far disrespecting readers like that. And if, like me, you are trying to make a name for yourself in the noisy world of self-publishing, then only your best work will do. Anything less and you are shooting all that writerly ambition of yours in the arse.

Hemingway, that hoary old source of a thousand and one tiresome Facebook quotes*, once said “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” This, of course, is true, but it isn’t a bad idea to also place your masterpiece under the noses of a couple of test readers.

(* For Neil Gaiman Facebook quotes, you can safely up that number to approximately 5.7 bazillion.)

Putting your work out for a test read can be a valuable experience, but you’ve got to go about it the right way. (Asking the opinion of a loved one, for example, really isn’t going to cut it. They will likely spare you the hurt of pointing out where your story stinks, but if they do rip into your story then the chances are they won’t be a loved one for much longer.)

So, some ground rules. First and foremost, take any pride you may have accumulated in creating your masterpiece and swallow it down hard. What you are looking for in a test read is an honest appraisal of your work. You’ll want to know where readers became frustrated with your story. You’ll want to know when a paragraph you rewrote fifty-odd times now reads with all the coherence of a Scrabble board. In short, you want to know where you can improve your story before you put it out there for real, be that for download, or in the hands of an agent/publisher. If you are simply seeking praise for your efforts then there are plenty of parasitic review sites that’ll gush as many superlatives your way as your credit card can handle.

Second, be sure to seek test readers that are sympathetic to the genre in which you are writing. You wouldn’t, for example, ask readers of The People’s Friend to test read American Psycho. (Actually, I probably would. Welcome to my sense of humour, world!) If at all possible seek critiques from fellow writers, the more published the better, and the opinions of those readers who devour novels like they’re going out of fashion. If you find a local writers group then bite your lip, develop a thick skin and jump on in. Otherwise there are plenty of reader’s groups on sites like Goodreads who you could tempt with a test read. Don’t spam forums, though. That only brings the banhammer down on your head, and rightly so. Respect the rules and ask for help politely.

Third, and this is crucial, remember at all times that your test readers are the ones helping you. They could just as easily be reading someone else’s story, but they have taken time out to read yours. Be heartened, because you know at least your story has a decent hook. Be thankful, and at least consider sending your readers a signed copy of the finished book. Give them a high-five in the acknowledgements. After all, it’s a pretty cool feeling to hold something in which you gave a helping hand.

The feedback you receive will vary. You just have to browse through the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to see how different people like different things. What I’ve looked for in the feedback I have received thus far are patterns. If I see someone praising a part of the story and another criticising it, then that’s largely fine – the tie goes to the writer, as Stephen King would have it. If, however, I see a majority negative opinion forming over part of the story then I know I’ve still got some work left to do. I would reiterate my first point at this juncture and remind you to not get pissy at the criticism. If someone doesn’t understand the story then don’t go tearing a strip from them – it’s a failure of your story to connect. It happens. Move on. Only worry if nobody gets it!

You may have guessed at this point that these words are as much for my own benefit as anyone’s. They’ve stood me well these last four or five weeks as I’ve paced a trench into my carpet and bitten pretty much all the skin from my fingers and thumbs. Whether my composure goes all to shit with the first bad review I receive is another matter! 😉

I hope this diverting little posting has entertained more than it has lectured. I’ll likely post a few more reviews while I slave over the final draft, but will then return with a few words on what a professional edit entails. I hope you can join me.

Laters ‘taters.

The Floors exists! I have proof!

What-ho, world, it’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here with another eEpistle for you all, you lucky, lucky people. (I’ll leave it up to you how to pronoune eEpistle.)

You find us all in a state of unburnished excitement here at Poll Towers for we have recently taken receipt of an initial proof of The Floors, and, whaddayaknow, it looks pretty damn fine! Mostly.

Here, take a goosey:

The Floors - Proof Copy - FrontIn my previous post, mention was made of using CreateSpace to produce the printed version of The Floors. If you are tempted to do the same with your pride and joy then this is the kind of result you can expect. Mighty fine, indeed, but then obviously I’d say that. 😀

There are, however, three things I would note:
1) CreateSpace books have glossy covers. If you want your finished book to have a smooth matt effect, like most UK trade paperbacks, then you may want to consider other print-on-demand services. (Same goes if you want to produce hardback versions.)
2) CreateSpace books offer a number of trim sizes, but nothing that seems to tally with UK trade paperbacks. For my 2p this isn’t a biggie, but may be something for you to bear in mind. (I believe CreateSpace have recently opened a UK print shop, however, so this might change in time.)
3) The glossy laminate seems to darken the cover image. Compare the snapshot above with the featured image of my previous post and you’ll see the printed copy loses most of the marble flash beneath the book’s title. It may be due to the large amount of black on my cover, but I suspect it may actually be the laminate. Either way, I’ll see if I can improve this before the release date.

Overall, though, I think you’d be chuffed with the results of print-on-demand. The quality impressed all who held the book in their hands. More than one person asked when they could see it on the shelves.

And there, I’m afraid, the bubble bursts.

If you dream only of seeing your book on the shelves of your local Waterstones, then CreateSpace is not the way to do it. Should Waterstones see CreateSpaces’s name on the ISBN record, they won’t touch the book. (I’ve asked.) The route to retail bookshelves is pretty much the same as it has been for centuries – find a publisher!

You may have better luck with a local independent bookseller, or one more sympathetic to genre fiction, such as Forbidden Planet. Expect your chances to remain slim, however. That said, I’ll fire off a few emails here and there, and will report back if I hear anything, positive or negative.

Anyway, moving on, and if you’ll forgive the insufferably-proud-parent vibe, here are a few more snaps of what you can expect in the printed copy. First, here’s how the book looks from behind:

The Floors - Proof Copy - BackAnd here are a few snaps of the interior, including a few loosely-connected newspaper clippings, like the big tease I am.

The Floors - Proof Copy - Title Page

The Floors - Proof Copy - Initial ClippingThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part OneThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part Two

Here are the newspaper clippings in question:

Crux Cannibal v1.0

Flies v1 (halftoned)Starphone Records v1 (halftoned)

(For those interested in how it was done, each clipping was constructed using Inkscape, then exported to a PNG file and a newsprint filter applied using GIMP. The results, I reckon, look pretty cool, and look good in the proof copy.)

So there you go. A relatively short posting this time, but one that I hope helps those of you who are tempted to try CreateSpace, or, even better, one I hope tempts you into dallying with The Floors! Thanks for tuning in. Do drop by again. I should have in the coming weeks something to report from the test reads. (Gulp!)

Laters, ‘taters.

To ISBN, or not to ISBN?

The Floors - coverHello there, internet! It’s your friendly neighbourhood horror writerly thing here with another wee posting for you.

It’s like the eye of the storm here at Poll Towers at the moment. As mentioned in the previous post, the second draft of The Floors has been completed and now rests in the hands of a small team of test readers. It is also about to undergo surgery beneath John Jarrold’s red pen, which should really help the final draft slide into your eyeballs without touching the sides. Or something.

In the meantime, however, I’m caught in Limbo. I can’t really tinker with the story for another three or four weeks. At the same time I feel I cannot fully immerse myself in the planning and plotting of the next book. Oh, what’s an alter-ego to do?

To pass the time I’ve been trying to make myself useful: prettifying this here blog with a rather swish wallpaper (sorry, mobile browsers); also prettifying my Twitter page with lots of Floors-related goodness (again sorry, mobile browsers); adding a dedicated blog page for The Floors, which you can find via the menu strip above; adding a dedicated page for the book on Facebook… oh, and looking into International Standard Book Numbers, better known as ISBNs.

Yes, it’s rock ‘n roll 24 hours a day at Poll Towers! Pass the Werthers Originals, sonny.

Anyway, why ISBNs? Well, if you are keen to sell paperbacks and hardbacks in major book-buying territories then you probably won’t get terribly far without one. That odd-looking number, when plugged into a central database, tells wholesalers and retailers important information about the book, such as title, author, publisher… even the physical dimensions. (This is commonly and collectively referred to as the book’s “metadata”.) It also gives the publisher all sorts of useful sales info as each ISBN passes through retailers’ tills. In short, ISBNs are the glue that holds together the often haphazard, flaky and wibbly-wobbly world of the printed book trade, and if you want to join the party then you’re going to need one.

As noted in previous posts, I will create both eBook and printed versions of The Floors. The printed copy will be produced through Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and for that I’d need an ISBN.

Now, when choosing your ISBN, CreateSpace do a bang-up job of confusing the hell out of people, at least if their forums are anything to go by. You can opt for a free ISBN that lists CreateSpace as the publisher. If, however, you have a block of your own unused ISBNs then you can use one of them instead. This lets you hide your self-published magnum opus behind a cool-sounding publisher’s name of your own making, such as Shit-yeah! Books or something. (CreateSpace also offers shades of ISBN that lists your own publisher’s name for plenty many dollars, but none of these services are available outside the US.)

So the question I faced was this: “Should I purchase my own block of ISBNs?”

It sounded like a pretty cool thing to do at the time. Having a title page that sported my own publisher’s logo would have given my book an air of respectability. Putting the logo on the spine would help make it look even more like a proper retail copy.

But then, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that that was pretty much the only positive to be had. In fact, putting my book out under Shit-yeah! Books could backfire if readers figure out it’s not actually a proper publishing house.

Then there was the cost of an ISBN. Nielsen will sell you a minimum block of 10 numbers for £126. Ouch! Then there was the information required as part of the ISBN application, namely my contact details. I certainly wasn’t keen on having my home address recorded in a widely-referenced database, so there was the additional expense of setting up a Royal Mail PO Box number – over £300 per year to have mail rerouted to my home address. Triple ouch!

Of course then it dawned on me what having an ISBN would actually entail. Yes, Shit-yeah! Books would be showing on the ISBN database alongside my sparkling new PO Box address, but then guess who would receive the orders? Yup. Me! I’d then have to get them printed through CreateSpace and shipped out to retailers, not to mention handling copes that don’t sell, or are misprinted.

All of a sudden I’d be three-quarters of the way towards becoming a proper publishing house! Now, yes, that sounds cool, but, truthfully, I only set out on this path to write stories, promote them here and there, and, hope upon hope, build a fan base.

So after taking into account all of that, the choice was easy. Going for an ISBN allocated by CreateSpace is by no means the end of the world. (It wouldn’t have taken long for readers to discover The Floors was self-published anyway, as I’ve been quite open about it here.)

Long post short, if you want to simply tell the damn story and hope it sells, I’d choose the free ISBN option from CreateSpace (or Smashwords, etc). If you are starting your own publishing empire and hope to use a service like CreateSpace to print your stock, then by all means apply for a block of your own ISBNs.

Well, that’s my take on the whole matter, anyway! I hope this has been of help, self-pubbers. If you do set up a publishing empire, remember little old Mr Poll, won’t you?

Right. Now to find something else to do! Laters, ‘taters.