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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Oh, *there* you are…

Howdy, folks, it’s your least humble servant here again with an apology for not blogging sooner. In short, I went and repeated the same error as last year: that of letting December happen after a successful NaNoWriMo. In doing so I caught a bad dose of January too.

Writing has gone unwritten. Books read have gone unreviewed. Books unread continue to breed with gay abandon when I’m not looking. Then, of course, there’s The Day Job. (Wields crucifix-fingers.) Sadly my Christmas wish for 48-hour days (or a big lottery win) never came true.

Progress on The Forum of the Dead has stalled as a result, and will likely need a reboot, which is disappointing but, weirdly, kind of appealing at the same time. To console myself I’m writing a much more simple (and shorter) ghost story, which is keeping me amused on these wet, blustery nights.

For this post, however, I’ll wrap up a few remaining thoughts from when I published The Floors last year. I’ll keep them brief(ish), but these are the things I’ll keep in mind for future projects.

Promotion

In a previous post I outlined the costs incurred in advertising The Floors, which had come to a pretty penny. Indeed, once the editing costs were factored in I was looking at a break-even figure akin to those targeted by small presses. “Tall order” didn’t cover the half of it!

So, nearly five months later, have I made back the cost? Good lord, no, but then that was pretty much to be expected. I’m an unknown quantity in a crowded, noisy marketplace, after all. On top of that The Floors is self-published, which nowadays is enough to see a significant number of readers running for cover from the shit-volcano’s pyroclastic cloud.

Okay, so did I attract any readers? Indeed I did, and genuine “saw my ad and thought they’d give it a whirl” readers too. And do you know what? It felt great! Not only did I see sales of the eBook, but also the (nearly five times more expensive) paperback edition, which, given the work it had taken, was really satisfying. Me = 🙂 x 100.

So would I use print advertising again? Yes, I think I would, despite the cost. In part it helps support the magazines I love to read, it also helps reinforce my (assumed) name and, of course, there’s the large ego-massage of seeing my advert in print. Next time, however, I may hold fire on the teaser ads.

Print advertising wasn’t the only avenue explored. I achieved some unexpectedly strong signal boosts via a few Goodreads giveaways, for example, each garnering well over a thousand entrants. Yes, there are many on Goodreads who’ll chuck their hat into the ring for anything that’s free, but I was delighted to receive some really heartening feedback from those who were truly interested in reading The Floors, and the book now rests in over a thousand Goodreaders’ virtual bookshelves. It’s that kind of response and feedback that will most definitely see me use a few giveaways for future projects.

Then there was the super-ego-boost of seeing a couple of copies of The Floors sitting on the bookshelves of a local department store, squeezed alongside Tim Powers and Terry Pratchett. See?
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What did that cost? A polite enquiry at the till, a brief pitch to their book buyer, a professional-looking delivery note and 40% of the cover price. (Actually, those two copies have since been snapped up so I’d better see if they’d like any more.)

I’m much less inclined to use Twitter and Facebook to promote any future projects, however, partly due to the ill reputation inherent in that approach, and partly because of the fart it represents in the force 10 hurricane of self-promotion. Some Facebook groups have taken a stand against the self-promoting spammers, and I can only see the trend continuing. Not only that, but when Facebook and Twitter apps both contain the means to filter out the noise and focus only on those you want to truly follow, the incessant buy-me-buy-me-buy-me tactic seems all the more futile and desperate.

Moving on, we come to…

Print graphics

Here are a few important lessons for anyone tempted to do their own artwork. (Don’t worry, folks, it’s not the rather tiresome, smug and predictable “Don’t do your own artwork.” We’re better than that, here.)

There are some awesome programs out there to help create on-screen graphics, and, amazingly, they’re free! Seriously, Inkscape and GIMP are astonishingly good. The elevator panel and marble effect wallpaper currently used in this blog only took a few hours to create. That and a lot of processing power.

Sadly, those free programs don’t support print formats such as CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black), which is a format used to overlay colours on a white sheet of paper. Instead Inkscape and GIMP only seem to support RGB images (Red-Green-Blue), which is a graphics format designed to illuminate pixels on an otherwise black screen. If you want to produce CMYK images you’re probably looking at commercial software such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher.

Okay, all this may sound like a technicality. Image files is image files is eggs is eggs, right? Printers will readily accept RGB files, so what’s the big deal? This is true, but please, please, please take note of this one crucial fact: RGB is murkier in print than it looks on your screen!

The Floors - Cemetery Dance Advert v3 (Scaled down)Here’s an example.

On the right is an advert I created for The Floors. which was placed in the latest issue of the mighty fine Cemetery Dance magazine.

The image was put together using Inkscape and exported to a PNG file. GIMP was then used to convert the file into a PDF.

You can click on the thumbnail for a bigger image. (Even then I’ve scaled it down 75% – 300dpi makes for some big files!)

So let’s take a shufti at how the advert looked in the flesh…

As you can see, a certain degree of vibrancy has been lost between the on-screen image and the printed copy. When you take the magazine away from direct sunlight the advert becomes rather dark indeed!

This wasn’t an isolated incident. My teaser ad for Scream turned out rather murky too, as did the initial proof copy from CreateSpace. (Never underestimate the value of a proof copy!) While these findings were a little disappointing, I’m happy to chalk them up to experience. Needless to say, subsequent artwork has seen the brightness dialled up a little more!

Overall, the discrepancy between on-screen RGB artwork and the results on paper was a valuable lesson learned, particularly for when I reboot The Forum of the Dead, as this story will contain significant graphical content.

Okay, so much for being brief! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you found these wee insights of some use, and that I won’t leave it so long before blathering again!

Laters, taters.

NaNoWriMo 2013: Winner!

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It’s a short post this time around, folks, and one in which I shamelessly pat myself on the back for having gotten another NaNoWriMo under my belt.

I honestly thought I was going to fluff it this time. Last year I joked how Novembers tended to be dull affairs. This year it seems I’ve been made to eat those words! First there was the excellent World Fantasy Convention held in Brighton (my first con), then there was a cluster of birthdays (mine included), not to mention the day job rudely getting in the way, my shower blowing up, and, not insignificantly, the release of two major games consoles. Factor a lack of outline for the new novel into the mix and I was seriously considering easing up those NaNo reins this year.

But, thanks largely to the support from one’s long-suffering other half and the encouragement from my fellow local WriMos, I made it and ahead of schedule too. Even better, the story is taking shape rather well. I don’t tend to pants stories, but, so far, it’s working.

All this, of course, means there is another novel coming your way from yours pseudonymously. It’s early days yet – 50,000 words has seen me reach the end of part one, or around the 1/3 mark – but if you would like to read a little about “The Forum of the Dead” then please high yourself to my NaNoWriMo page, below.

NaNoWriMo page of The Forum of the Dead by Lucian Poll

To celebrate cracking another NaNo, I am holding another GoodReads giveaway of my recent novel The Floors. If you would like the chance to win one of three signed copies then follow the link below and sign up.

The Floors on GoodReads – win one of three signed copies

Alternatively you can purchase The Floors from assorted online bookstores for a couple of quid, or the paperback for a tenner. Click here for all the links you’ll need, plus a three chapter sampler of the paperback edition.

I’ll be back soonish with more thoughts on publishing The Floors, then who knows what blathering lies ahead? 🙂

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!

…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.

So long, second draft! (And let the ads begin!)

Howdy, campers, it’s your favourite Lucian-Poll-named alter-ego here with a final view of The Floors’ second draft. You know, The Floors? Tut, tut, tut. I know I’ve been away a little while but even my memory isn’t that bad. (Actually it is. It’s a wonder I can still walk out of the house fully-clothed these days.)

Anyway, allow me to give you a quick recap of my most recent obsession:

The Floors - Coming Soon

“The one about thirteenth floors.” Yes, that’s the one. 🙂

So in the last post I was having a fine old time ploughing through the middle third of the book and was looking forward to tackling the white-knuckle ride finale. Well, after a further 17 days I’m glad to say not only did I get the final third down but also a full read-through and a polish to boot, finishing two days ahead of schedule.

You know what that means? Yes! I’m free of The Floors for another six weeks! I can go to bed now and not have my mind whirring over plot complexities for three hours before sleep finally takes me! I can read other people’s stories again and forget about my own for a little while!

In short, my brain gets to recharge. I’ll have one final run-though of the manuscript starting 13th July 2013, but until then it’s time to rock n’ roll with the fun stuff again: artwork for this here blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc; supplementary materials for the printed copy, such as fake news stories; a much-delayed look at publishing through SmashWords; and also looking into the more admin-related stuff of being a self-publishing author. (ISBN numbers, anyone? Stay tuned, I may have something for you.)

In the meantime my story won’t be resting on its laurels. I am both thrilled and monumentally nervous to have quickly gathered a team of ardent horror fiction fans to put the story through its paces with a test read. I hope by the next post to have also secured super-agent John Jarrold’s services for a professional edit. Their combined findings will inform the work necessary come 13th July.

Regarding the edit, one of the aims was to get the word count under 100K. I failed, but only just, and that was mainly due to some cool new scenes that really had to go in. Another important aim was to trim away the fat of each sentence to make sure the reader doesn’t nod off before every full stop. If you’d like to know the rules I tried to follow here’s a brief rundown that may help your own projects:

  1. My first draft had umpteen sentences dragged out with things like “could see”, “could feel” and “could sense”, when, really, most of the time, “saw”, “felt” and “sensed” worked just as well, especially in fast-flowing action scenes.
  2. With perhaps one eye on NaNoWriMo word counts at the time, I found sentences in the first draft with entirely unnecessary lead-ins or lead-outs. Stuff such as “No sooner had XXX done YYY than…”. It takes a few reads of a sentence before you realise the thing works just as well when cut in half, but when you spot them it’s a good feeling.
  3. Descriptions of thoughts and feelings. Such things often constituted “telling” and not “showing”, which puts an unnecessary and unwelcome degree of separation between the reader and the character. Many such descriptions of thoughts and feelings were therefore replaced with either lines of dialogue or actual thoughts.
  4. That. There were way too many “thats” in the first draft. Same went for “had”. You’d be amazed how often you can get rid of these and not affect the meaning of a sentence. Most of them are therefore gone from the second draft.
  5. Commas. Now, the grammarians out there are going to hate me for this, but I had the temerity to remove a lot of commas that, technically, ought to be there, particularly when listing things. (As for the Oxford comma, that can just bugger off for a start.) I only did this to help maintain a quick read. If the test reads and professional edit come back with a C- for such gross misconduct then I’ll reinstate them in the final draft. Hey, it’s not like I’m Cormac McCarthy, or anything. (More’s the pity.)

Moving on, I’m delighted to report that my adverts are starting to appear. Here’s the first for you:

The first advert!

The first advert!

The “Exiiit” sign is a theme I’ve used in all the teaser ads to help convey the familiar yet otherworldly delights you’ll find in The Floors. (The lightning also plays a part.) You’ll see a larger version of this ad in Cemetery Dance issue 70, and a lightning-free (but cool full-colour) version in issue 19 of Scream Magazine. I’ll post piccies when I see them.

I must give a massive thank you to Andy Cox at TTA Press for placing the advert. Not only that but you can see quotes from my review of Spin by Nina Allan inside the current issues of both Black Static and Interzone, which is mondo cool, and really helps to establish Lucian Poll as a new name to perhaps look out for. It certainly made for a brilliant end to an otherwise typical Monday! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: if you like a particular genre then hunt out and subscribe to dedicated magazines like Black Static, Interzone, Cemetery Dance, Albedo One, etc. You will almost certainly be turned onto new and varied voices in the field as a result and that can only be A Good Thing.

So on that note I’ll hop down from my soap box and will take my leave of you until next time. Many thanks for stopping by. Your continued readership is always appreciated, and I hope to see you in my next wee missive.

Now then, I’ve got approximately 0.998 British Libraries making up my to-be-read pile. Which hefty tome will it be? Hmm…