Another view from the second draft (and, finally, the big reveal!)

What-ho, my good people, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again with a wee update on The Floors.

In my last Floors-related missive I spent a tortuous couple hundred words essentially berating Previous Me, and the shortcuts the lazy sod had taken in getting sufficient words down for NaNoWriMo.

Having now fully repaired all 50-odd thousand words accrued during that time my dim view of Previous Me has not changed. When they start selling Tardises on QVC then Previous Me had better start looking over his shoulder. (Paradoxes be damned!)

Aaaaaaanyway, you find me this post in a much more cheery frame of mind, chiefly because the edit is going a lot smoother now. Those oases of good writing that were once so rare in the first draft are getting bigger and closer together. It’s a sign I was getting nearer to the kind of book I originally wanted to write, but only once the pressure was off.

The starkest illustration of this is in the time taken to get to the 2/3 completed stage. 32 days were spent largely rewriting and repairing the first 1/3 of The Floors, while it has only taken 10 days to sail through the second 1/3. (Indeed, this weekend saw my word count jump by 14,000 thanks in part to a couple of very satisfying chapters.)

That’s not to say NaNoWriMo was a mistake. Far from it. I loved the challenge, the adversity, the community spirit and the immense satisfaction of reaching the 50K mark. Most of all I loved the positive noises I heard as I (invariably badly) explained my story to fellow WriMos. Will I do it again? Almost certainly, but for 2013 I’ll have to invest some extra time fleshing out a more thorough outline before the event. Future Previous Me will have to pull his socks up.

(I think that sentence just about works.)

Before all that, of course, I still have the final 1/3 of The Floors to edit. I’m quite literally saving the best for last! (I say that with fingers crossed, of course.)

In other news:

On the promotional front, all of the adverts mentioned in a previous post have been created, approved and paid for. You’ll see a teaser advert for The Floors in issue 70 of Cemetery Dance and another in issue 19 of Scream, both out in the summer. (Full ads will then appear in the following issue of each.) Andy Cox at TTA Press may also slot a few ads in future issues of their mighty fine magazines Black Static and Interzone, which is jaw-droppingly kind of him and makes for a happy Mr Poll.

See?

I’ll pop the ads on here shortly for your edification – seems daft not to! They each feature a hashtag, #fearthefloors, in case anyone has a compulsion to get in touch over Twitter regarding the story, good or bad, when it’s released in September. How effective the hashtag will be only time will tell.

Going back to the guys at TTA Press, they have most generously offered space on their stand at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention 2013 to fellow attending small presses and self-publishers, which is mucho coolio. Oh, did I say they’re offering to do this without taking a cut? See, I’m telling you, these are the good guys you need to support. Needless to say I held up both hands straight away, saying “yespleasememememememe!!!” So, if you are attending WFC 2013, then not only do you get the chance to laugh at my silly facial hair but you can also buy a real tangible discounted print copy of The Floors and watch as I accidentally sign my real name on the title page. You lucky, lucky people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the coming weeks I hope to have the second draft licked, and then out for a professional edit and some test reads. While that’s all going on I’ll work on getting some decals prepared for this here blog and getting the cover right for the print copy. (Thanks to CreateSpace for providing NaNoWriMo 2012 winners with up to 5 free copies of their book – this is an excellent way of creating proofs.)

Cover… cover… cover. Hmm. Why does that ring a bell? Oh, that’s right. I promised you a spot of cover art, didn’t I? Well, never let it be said I’m not a pseudonym of my word. Given that today marks the “4 months to go, holy shit!” mark, here, for your viewing pleasure, is my near-as-dammit final cover for The Floors. (Drum roll.)

The Floors - available Friday, 13th September 2013

The Floors – available Friday, 13th September 2013

You can click on the cover for a humungous blow-up of the image, otherwise here is the blurb.

HOW 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 particular 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…

Well, I hope that’s suitably grabbed your interest. Stay tuned, folks, as these coming months are going to be quite a ride! Until then, it’s back to the final 1/3 for me and I’ll see you in the next post!

A View From The Second Draft

PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING
Those with strong to severe analogy allergies are advised to seek medical advice before attempting to read the following blog posting. Those suffering alliteration ailments should perhaps have avoided that first sentence just then. Sorry about that.

– Ministry of Weak Writing, April 2013.

On the outskirts of Norwich there is a pleasant unbroken stretch of road that curves gently downhill in a series of S-bends. It is a tree-lined gem of satisfying inward cambers, so short as to barely last half a minute, and yet it is a stretch of road that can still make one’s long-suffering better half say “wheeeeee!” as she drives down it. (I can’t drive. This, World, is A Good Thing, trust me.)

This unassuming stretch of road is a little oasis of driving pleasure in an otherwise shitty farrago of one-way systems, potholes, traffic lights and altogether terrible drivers that blight the majority of Norwich’s roads.

Why am I telling you this, particularly if I can’t even bloody drive? All in good time, or 400 words, whichever comes first.

Any road, welcome to my view from the second draft of The Floors. Frankly it’s all a bit bleak! I knew I needed to do some repair work following the bugger’s rush that was NaNoWriMo, but sheesh! I never expected to need rewrite virtually every one of the first 20,000 words! If Present Me ever catches up with Previous Me there’ll be hell to pay. Throw a “Beef this bit up in the 2nd draft” into a couple of chapters, would you, Previous Me? Why I oughta…

So, yeah, this second draft has been a tough cookie so far. The readthrough of the first draft was perhaps two-thirds a horror show of writing and one-third horror story, but overall it was an incredibly useful exercise. For example, while I want The Floors to be a quick, white-knuckle read, I found the first half of the book, believe it or not, to be too quick. The action came thick and fast but at the cost of leaving the reader behind.

A lot of the time these last three or so weeks has therefore been spent squeezing more from my characters and getting their essence onto the page. My bad guy has a more believable trigger-point for his actions, for example, making for a much more satisfying opening to the book. My protagonists now have an extra dimension to them after fleshing out their backgrounds, their hopes and their fears. (Thank you Previous Me.) The dialogue has also been improved to reveal more about each character – the infamous “show, don’t tell” maxim in action.

Other weaknesses have also been identified and fixed along the way. For example, I’ve turned a fairly large and annoying plot hole into a new scene that not only fits the story like a glove but also leaves a pretty cool image in the mind. (Two words: Droste effect.) Things that I threw into the mix around 1/3 into the story have been threaded back through the narrative to help it flow better.

In short, it’s been a hell of a lot of work, the beefing-up, the repairs, the rejigging of scenes. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d recommend after long, highly-strung days of non-stop Saving The Company’s Arse. Shit like that takes it out of a guy. As a result I’m way behind schedule so I’ll have to cut this post short soon and crack on.

But what of my tiresome analogy? Well, these last three weeks have not all been me screaming “Oh, my God, what fresh hell is this?!” In my editing travels I have come across the odd page in the first draft where I’ve thought “Yeah, you know what, this is really good!” It’s these little oases of writing that help drive me towards a better draft. I can accept a hefty rewrite of a chapter in exchange for a mighty fine page every now and then. Such things only compel me to make every other damn sentence in the story grab readers by the eyes and refuse them permission to blink. They make doing this whole shebang worthwhile.

Or, in other words, “wheeeeeeee”!

So back I go, my writing toolbox in hand, to make more repairs. I’ll post another review next week while I do further battle, and then I’ll come back with an update and, if you’re good, a spot of cover artwork.

TTFN!

The second draft beckons…

The second draft beckons

A short post, this one. You know what they say about pictures and a thousand words and all that.

It all kicks off Good Friday, folks: The Floors, second draft. As intimated in my previous posts, there’s a lot riding on this so I’d better make it ROCK! I’ll keep you posted on how I get on in my own wrong-headed little way, so do drop by every now and then. (Triskaidekaphobes, however, need not apply.)

A big thank you to my longer-suffering better half for the red pens and the awesome pencil case too. I’ve a feeling they’ll all come in handy.

In the meantime it’s back to some serious reading. Heck, you might even get the occasional review out of me. 🙂

Until next time, laters!

Mr Poll plays the numbers game – Part Two: Pricing

The names Bonio… James Bonio.

In the previous post I discussed promotion in its various forms, before plumping for the time-honoured method of print advertising.

I fear I may also have traumatised a good many of you with the sight of Bond in a pair of red braces and little else. Sorry about that. By way of apology, how about this picture of Bond crossed with an Afghan hound?

Yes, that’s much better.

So, as promised, in this post I’ll give you a rundown of the outlay I have made, or plan to make, in getting Title Withheld out there in the big bad world. I’ll also discuss the thoughts behind pricing for both the eBook and the print editions.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter straight away, shall we? Here is a list of the costs I’m looking at:

– a 1/4 page teaser advert in Scream magazine #19 = £100
– a full page advert in Scream magazine #20 = £300
– a 1/2 page teaser advert in Cemetery Dance magazine #71 = £90 approx
– a full page advert in Cemetery Dance magazine #72 = £125 approx
– a 1/2 page advert in WFC 2013’s Souvenir Book = £85
– a full line-edit of 100,000 words = £500

That’s £1,200 in total, which, I have to admit, is a lot of money however you cut it. That said, you don’t have to go as mad as I have in order to get your book on the radar. A single, well-placed and eye-catching ad for your killer novel could be just as effective. You may find the sales you achieve from that one advert could fund another, and another, and so on.

And while £500 for a full line-edit may seem steep, remember that wielding the red pen will be none other than UK genre fiction super-agent John Jarrold. Having a well-respected professional help improve something I have written will be, for me, an invaluable experience. If my second draft survives the process with no fatal wounds then I’ll be so happy you’d struggle getting me down from the ceiling.

Okay, so there’s an honest appraisal of the direct costs for Title Withheld. Now for the really grisly bit: asking for someone’s hard-earned cash to read the book.

Again, let’s cut to the chase. For the eBook edition I’m hoping to stick on a price tag of $2.99 (£1.99), and for the print edition I’ll ask for $13.99 (£9.50).

$2.99 is the minimum price I can charge on Amazon and still qualify for a 70% royalty rate. Taking a historical average exchange rate of £1 = $1.60, along with my current circumstances, a $2.99 price tag would earn me around 78.5p per copy.

I will make the book available via CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service. The print copy of the book will span approximately 320 pages of a standard US paperback (5.5″ x 8.5″). In order to earn royalties across all of CreateSpace’s distribution channels I would need to charge around $13.99 per copy. This would earn me around £1.35 for each copy purchased through Amazon.com, and around 33p per copy through CreateSpace’s expanded distribution channels.

(To play with CreateSpace’s royalty calculator click here and then the Royalties tab.)

It’s a shame I can’t bring the print copy price down much lower because, while $13.99 pitches the book fairly compared to the average US paperback, here in the UK £9.50 is somewhat above the average RRP of a similarly sized novel (£7.99), and no doubt there will be postage to pay on top of that.

So why am I going to the trouble of providing a print copy of Title Withheld? Well, it mostly comes down to the first post in this short series: promotion. You see, in order to have a book considered for review in assorted print magazines it is not uncommon for them to require a bound copy. I’ll also need promotional copies for giveaways on Goodreads and for the freebie tables at conventions. If I’m going to the trouble of creating a proper print version then I may as well make it available for purchase.

(There may also be a spot of Narcissism involved too.) 😉

Given the above outlay and projected royalties (jabs calculator) I would need to attract 1,529 individual purchases of the eBook to break even.

Okay, I’ll say this now: 1,529 purchases is a lot! Do I feel it is possible? Yes, but then breaking even isn’t the reason why I’m doing this. Seriously, if a single stranger buys my book and really digs the story then I’ll be chuffed to bits because, in keeping with the spirit of my very first blog posting, that one purchase becomes the start of something.

But while I’m getting my excuses in early, let’s not write off my chances. After all, I’ll be advertising the book to 35,000+ horror fans here in the UK and in the US. My previous posts on removing US Withholding Tax from royalties continue to attract hits from all around the world, all of whom get to see my teaser banner above.

I also have a small but growing number of blog and Twitter followers. Let me say a huge thank you to you all. It’s the likes and kind comments I receive that keep me believing. Your readership is truly a pleasant surprise because I haven’t said much about the book at all.

Not yet anyway.

That all changes from the next post, where I’ll at least tell you what the thing is called. You didn’t think I’d really call my book Title Withheld did you?

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you again in my next post.

Mr Poll plays the numbers game – Part One: Promotion

Not Bobby Ball, yesterday

It’s time for me to slick back the hair, pop on a pair of red braces, ease into a pinstripe suit and start talking some numbers at you, Rookie.

Yup, Lucian Gecko is here to examine two of the saltier aspects of self-publishing: getting your work known and earning royalties. If I can get through the remainder of this without thumbing my braces, Bobby Ball style, then I’ll be doing well.

In this post I’ll briefly discuss promotion. The numbers discussed here will then inform the next post on the gory topic of pricing up the book.

The methods authors use to get their work noticed are expanding at roughly the same rate as the internet itself. That’s pretty quick, then. I mean, for example, you could hit a number of forums and mention your work in passing; you could set up a Twitter account and dive headlong into Follow Friday; you could hit Facebook and like, comment and friend virtually everything in existence; you could plant some writing on Wattpad or a few freebies on Smashwords and build a following that way. Aaaaand so on.

This may have worked a year or two ago but try those methods now and you will likely find yourself accruing an alarming number of negative reviews from people pissed off at the number of would-be authors spamming countless forums with their armies of sock puppets. Indulge in Follow Friday and you will probably gather lots of Twitter followers who are just as keen to promote their books as you are yours. Put something on Smashwords and it will quickly disappear from the homepage, often swept away in a sweaty river of erotica before it has a chance to appear on most users’ radars.

While self-publishing and the internet have undoubtedly widened the road to readers, it is clear that we have reached saturation point. Look at the popular book reviewing blogs, especially those espousing indie books, and you will regularly see they are closed to submissions. As a result it is increasingly difficult to make your voice heard above the noise.

So I’m going to try something you don’t see many indies doing, or at least not yet anyway. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and advertise. Yeah, I know, crazy, right?

This is an approach that requires a number of things: a book with a killer hook; a series of eye-catching adverts; confidence in one’s work; a massive pair of nuts… oh, and an advertising budget.

Luckily I have most of these, and I’ll be delighted to demonstrate such over the coming posts. Ahem.

In a previous post I mentioned that it costs over £20,000 to put a full-page advert in The Sunday Times book supplement, which has a circulation of around 895,000 readers. Obviously I won’t be doing that – I mean a self-published horror novel occupying a full page of The Sunday Times, can you imagine it? – but it does introduce an important measure I’ve been using to judge the value of advertising.

Let’s say I earn £1 for each copy of Title Withheld purchased. In order to make back the money spent on advertising in The Sunday Times I would need to achieve one sale for every 44 readers. (Let’s skirt the fact that selling 20,000 copies would put me in the bestseller chart most weeks!)

This would be tricky in a national newspaper because, if we’re brutally honest, horror fiction has been somewhat out of favour since the early 1990’s. Sure you still have big hitters in the horror field but it’s like Bill Hicks’ Iraqi Army joke – once you get past King and Koontz there’s a biiiiiig drop-off. No, rather than hitting a national newspaper we need to focus on publications more sympathetic to our cause.

To this end I began to compose a list of potential magazines that would be a good host for a horror novel advert. I chose a handful of publications both here in the UK and in the US, then tried to gather some information on circulation figures and advertising rates. If you want to try something similar search for the name of your favourite magazine and the term “rate card”.

So here was how my list shaped up at the beginning. For the sake of consistency I have assumed a full-page advert in each publication. Grandiose, I know, but I refer you to the size of my nuts. At the end of each I’ve given a sale ratio to break even, assuming a royalty of £1 per copy.

Fortean Times (UK) – Jan 2011 circulation 17,024 – £1,900 – 1:8 (1 sale in 8)
Bizarre (UK) – Oct 2012 circulation approx 48,000 – £2,650 – 1:18
Viz (UK) – Feb 2011 circulation 64,233 – £3,685 – 1:17
Rue Morgue (CA) – circulation approx 60,000 – CA$2800 + 13% tax (£2025) – 1:29
Asimov’s (US) – Jan 2012 circulation 22,593 – $1,000 (£625) – 1:36
Analog (US) – Jan 2011 circulation 26,493 – $1,000 (£625) – 1:42

Even with this little list you can see how the cost of advertising jumps considerably from publication to publication. (I should point out all the UK titles are from the same publisher.)

I thought I’d dig a little deeper and sent off a few queries to both Cemetery Dance, the measure by which all horror fiction magazines are judged, and a relatively new magazine on the UK newsstands called Scream. Both responded in double-quick time and were more than happy for me to divulge numbers. Wanna see?

Cemetery Dance (US) – circulation 10,000+ – $400 (£250) – 1:40+
Scream (UK) – circulation approx 23,000 – £300 – 1:76

Pretty impressive, huh? And it gets better. Cemetery Dance offers 50% discounts for small presses and individual authors (making that 1 sale in 40+ become 1 sale in 80+), and Scream offers discounts if you book far enough in advance. As you can see it needn’t cost the earth to advertise your stories to a sympathetic audience.

On top of these I have also reserved a 1/2 page slot in the World Fantasy Convention 2013 Souvenir Book. Not only will my book be on the radar of all the attendees (readers, authors, publishers and agents alike) but it will be part of a collectors item for years to come. The cost of this slot? £85. Deal, I say.

So there’s a little eye-opener for you. I hope it’s been of interest. In the next post I’ll tot up the outlay and discuss the tricky subject of pricing. Do join me.

Laters, ‘taters.

Pros and cons

What’s that? The banner up there? Oh yeah, I see it too now you mention it. There’s a good reason for that little clicky graphic, however, because it neatly (ahem) brings me to a little bit of news. Your least humble servant, Mr Poll, will be attending the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton later this year. Hallowe’en weekend, to be precise.

Obviously I’m not going for the weather.

This will be my first convention so there’s nothing quite like jumping in at the deep end. Four (count ’em) days of author Q&As, book signings, readings, panel discussions, book launches, schmoozing and, most importantly, drinking. These are the good bits.

The bad? Well, my credit card will require mouth-to-mouth once the hotel and bar bills have been settled, and there is the somewhat terrifying fact that I’ve never done anything like this before. On top of that there is a significant risk that I’ll be suitably starstruck to need rushing from the venue on a hospital trolley.

Basically pick any favourite sci-fi / fantasy / horror author of yours and he or she is likely to be there. Okay, smartarse, pick one that’s alive. Except for him. Yeah, she’s not going to be there either. Keep going. Ah, he is, though! No really. Go to the member’s list and see for yourself: http://www.wfc2013.org/membership01.html

In fact, if you navigate to the P’s you’ll see a famous name I’m sure you’ll recognise. About two-thirds down the page. That’s right, Sarah Pinborough will be there too.

(And, just this second, Joe Hill as well. Crikey!)

I must admit, up until around a month ago the thought of attending a conference never occurred to me. I saw the adverts here and there, but nothing sparked in my noggin. I thought that, come Hallowe’en, I’d be too busy trying to get Title Withheld under people’s noses.

Then it hit me. Not only would there be a significant number of top-drawer genre authors in attendance, but also a sprinkling of publishers and agents. You never know, some of them may be receptive to a quick pitch after a dozen gins.

After that little lightning bolt I couldn’t hit PayPal quick enough.

The giddy high must have continued for a day or two because I then applied for a reading slot and to moderate a panel discussion on self-publishing. This, you must understand, would be at a conference that strongly favours the bound word, and with me as unaccustomed to public speaking as I am. Wish me luck on that one!

It’s a pity that it overlaps the start of NaNoWriMo 2013. Would anyone grass me up if I did three or four days’ writing in advance? I won’t tell if you won’t. 😉

So what else is new? Well, with the first draft complete and boxed up in a time capsule until Good Friday, I’ve spent a little time working on the next steps, chiefly in the areas of quality control and promotion.

Following a quick exchange of emails with John Jarrold, fellow WFC attendee and agent to such horror heavyweights as Ramsey Campbell and Adam Nevill, he seems happy to run my manuscript through a line edit, which, given his huge expertise, is excellent news. I’ll have a second draft to do battle with his red pen at the end of May. I also got a really good response from the regulars of Cemetery Dance’s forum when I broached the subject of test readings, which was very heartening.

I’ve also been getting busy with my GIMP and Inkscape, chiefly to create a book cover for CreateSpace, and advertisements for assorted publications. I’ll expand on these in separate posts as Mr Poll plays the numbers game. If you have a budding horror author in your circle of friends you may want to point them to my next post.

In short, it’s all coming together swimmingly, and I haven’t even gotten to the bit I’m dying to reach – the big reveal!

Stay tuned, folks. And if you’re also attending WFC 2013 leave a message, or find me on the SFF Chronicles / Cemetery Dance forums.

Laters, ‘taters.

First draft: so long, and thanks for The End!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?

It has taken, by my reckoning, 11 weeks of fairly intensive writing, but after stringing together 102,750 words I have finally completed the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. I make that around 360-370 pages of a regular paperback in old money.

Lucian Poll's First Draft Feeling
That completed first draft feeling!

And, boy, do I feel all the better for it. You don’t believe me? Well, take a look for yourself…

It’s like I’ve undergone an exorcism, albeit one where the priest hands me the demon in a lovely bottle as a keepsake.

The overriding sensation is one of relief that I have finally gotten this story out of my head and onto paper, but, of course, the job is only really half done.

Few writers, if any, get things right first time. Those that do are liars. Hemingway, ever the writer’s go-to guy for memorable quotes, once declared that “The first draft of anything is shit.” There is, if you will forgive the pun, a ring of truth to that.

If, as it happens, you are a literary wunderkind that can get everything right first time, like some Anthony Trollope incarnate, then bully for you. For the rest of us mere mortals the first draft of a novel is going to be prone to all sorts of stuff guaranteed to make the writer’s skin crawl.

Such embarrassment doesn’t necessarily stop at typos, stilted dialogue and clunky prose, however. In a first draft you may find that you’ve dragged out an action sequence for too long, or you have scenes that seemed like a good idea at the time but no longer fit into the overall story, or you might find certain characters acting out of… erm… character. You may find that your authorial voice changes between the start and the end, or that your writing style relies too much on a phrase or sentence structure that jars the more it is noticed.

These latter problems can only really be hit upon by following a simple, albeit counterintuitive rule.

When it comes to redrafting a work it is often said that you should first put it away for a month or two and do something else in the meantime. (Stephen King is a great proponent of this approach in his book, ‘On Writing’.) That way your brain can recharge and give you the necessary distance to revisit the work with a more critical eye. You can then pick up the piece and read it in one go, making it easier to detect its weaknesses.

So that’s the plan. Doing nothing is going to be hard, though, as I’m itching to improve the story now, dammit, and I have a list of things that need beefing up or tightening. On the other hand, being a lazy bastard of some standing (but mainly sitting), doing nothing does have its charms.

Arm = twisted.

As there has been some slippage I have had to rejig my schedule of Things To Do. Easter weekend now marks the start of the second draft, which I hope to complete by the end of May. That then gives me 3 1/2 months to get a professional opinion on the manuscript, as well as placing it under the noses of a few test readers. Save for any massive failures in the story, I should then be able to knock out a final draft ready for Friday 13th September 2013.

In the meantime I’ll get busy with Inkscape and GIMP. There’s the new banner up top, for example, to tease you with. Next up is the rear cover (for the print-on-demand version I’ll put through CreateSpace) and adverts for possible placement in magazines or on flyers.

Oh, and there’s always another story to write!

Onwards!

NaNoWriMo: The best laid plans…

Pinky and The Brain issue 1 cover.
Come on! With a post headed ‘The best laid plans…’ what did you expect?

Previously on the NaNoWriMo theme I gave myself a hearty slap on the back for hitting the 50K mark a couple of days ahead of schedule. Up went the hurrahs, and far-flung were strewn the smileys.

What do they say about pride?

Yes, well. Ahem. Perhaps I should have kept quiet because the supposed easy bit – the final act – hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as the first 50,000 words.

So what went wrong? Basically December happened. I forgot that December is that most wonderful time of the year where time itself disappears into a black hole. (The kind of black hole where the event horizon is helpfully decked in lovely, red-shifting tinsel.) Another major real-life factor that slipped my mind was W-O-R-K, but then most everyone would like to forget about that.

Nil desperandum, though. While there has been a lot of jingle belling and real life-living and other such distractions, December has still seen a fair amount achieved in the world of Lucian Poll, just not a vast amount on the novel.

For example, a fair chunk of time was spent crafting and honing a 5000-word short story called “Flood Warning” to submit to Cemetery Dance magazine. As I type this here post the submissions window is still open, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve got 20 story slots open for 2013 and they’ve already received hundreds of stories for consideration. Here’s a link:

Cemetery Dance magazine open for short story submissions

(For those of you with longer ones, they are also accepting submissions for their eBook line.)

As you may have seen from earlier posts December has seen me continue my quest to become one of those self-publishing author things. As far as blogging goes I admit it does make for a dry read, but I hope my experience helps others, and that it will be a worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Either way, my W-8BEN forms have since been accepted by Amazon, so there’s a nice uplift in royalties of nearly 43%.

(As an aside, I was delighted to find a spike in my blog hits in December. It turns out my guide recently ranked all top three spots in Google searches for “removing US withholding tax”. I’m not sure how long that will last, or how localised the results may be, but I don’t care. Hello, world!)

But now December is out of the way, and with it all recent distractions. The admin stuff is done – I’m now on Uncle Sam’s books. The story for Cemetery Dance is done – whether they like it or not! Christmas is done – and with it most of the skin around my nose thanks to a rotten cold.

What remains is the unfinished novel. It continues to scratch and scald the back of my mind and I need to get it out of there sharpish. Why? Well, the observant among you will have noticed that we’ve hit 2013. (All contrarians flapping their Julian calendars at me can piss off for the moment, thank you.) You may have also sensed that the number 13 features rather prominently in the novel: warnings issued to triskaidekaphobes, for example, or little updates saying how my story is jinxed. Even this blog was started on the 13th of the month. The release date for the novel is therefore very deliberate, and so I must work hard to meet it. To go and release the thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of 2014 would be a bit silly.

So Friday 13th September 2013 it is.

That gives me just over 8 months. The only way I’m going to do this is to keep to a schedule. Having a schedule worked so well during November, even those days when I was at work, and so I must try to repeat that. Therefore here is my challenge:

January: finish first draft, minimum 1500 words per day.
February:put the novel to bed for a month; scope out advertising rates in assorted horror and sci-fi fiction magazines; create artwork for rear cover and promotional material; query respected manuscript editors for lead times on their services.
March:begin second draft
April:complete second draft; final readthrough and edits
May:submit manuscript for professional review and pace the house; start promoting the novel where I can; submit adverts where lead times are long
June – August:more promotion; tighten up novel in line with professional opinion; umpteen readthroughs until I’m sick of the sight of the novel
Friday 13th September 2013: time to release the beast! And then pace the house again.

How close I keep to the schedule remains to be seen, though at least it gives me something to work towards. Do drop by every now and again to see how I’m getting on.

In the meantime I should be writing.

P.S. Comic nerd moment: I’ve actually got that issue (#1) of Pinky & The Brain up there. Terrifyingly I think it is almost old enough to legally drink. Tempus fugit.

P.P.S. Okay, now I should be writing. Laters!

NaNo: Winner! Only another 30K to go! Wait, what?

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner's Badge
Lucian wins the battle, but will he win the war?

So here we are at long last: 50,000 words have been recorded and I am delighted to report that your ever humble servant, Mr Poll, is now officially a NaNoWriMo 2012 winner.

Yeah!!!! How about that, huh?!?!? You want to fire another 50,000 at me? Bring it on!!!! Woo-hoo!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Okay, so much for the humble part. In truth if I attempted to rattle out another 50,000 words (in what turned out to be 27 days) I think my brain would push on the ejector seat button and blow me a kiss as it arcs into next door’s garden.

But look, there it is. The winner’s logo in all of its Venn diagrammy glory. If I’ve gotten the widget right on the main page of this here blog then you should also see something in the sidebar to prove it.

Not wishing to sound too arrogant, pride always coming before a fall and all that, but I had a good feeling I’d hit the 50K mark. I’d fleshed out a story with enough plot to keep the word count ticking over and, crucially, I stockpiled a lengthy spell of holiday at work, giving me a stretch of 19 days’ continuous story-writing at my disposal. Sadly only one day of this holiday remains and then real life swarms in from all sides to stem my horror writerly flow. 😦 So what am I going to do with my spare day?

Yes, that’s right. I’m going to keep on trucking with (Title Withheld), because while I’ve hit the 50,000 word mark I still have plenty of story left to write. By my reckoning I am two-thirds into the novel, so there’s around another 30,000 words to come, and I really don’t want to be typing up the grand finale over Christmas. I’d risk missing the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and clearly that’s poor form.

So it’s looking like I won’t be typing “The End” for a couple of weeks yet, but I don’t mind as I’m gearing up for the big white-knuckle ride finish. I can’t wait!

In the meantime here are some other things that NaNoWriMo 2012 has taught me, continuing from my previous post:

6) All of a sudden I can’t write when there’s music playing
This, to quote the inestimable Eric Cartman, sucks donkey balls! When I wrote my drawer-bound novel years ago I had all sorts of music playing to get me in the mood: Louis Prima, Henry Mancini, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and so on. (It was set a while ago.) Now I find I sing along to whatever song is playing when I ought to be typing (and Dog forbid I subliminally inject lyrics into my prose). It gets even worse when there are no lyrics as my typing fingers magically float up from the keyboard, as if magnetically opposed to the keys, and, somebody help me, they start conducting. I type that with utter, utter shame.
It’s a pity as I had a cool playlist of great angsty, creepy or dark tunes. I’ll keep it handy for when I’m doing the cover art.

7) Aiming to publish this story on Friday 13th September 2013 was simply asking for trouble
Not only did Microsoft Updates snip the neocortex of my laptop, neatly and immediately guaranteeing my no-show from every NaNo write-in since, but then my gas boiler got itself shut down following its annual service. Some such excuse about it “not being safe”, which might explain my blackouts.
I can clear something up for you now: any visions you had of a writer holed up in a cold house tapping words into a lunking great tower PC whilst almost sitting on top of a fan-heater are infinitely more romantic than the real thing. In short: not fun.
You will also see why I’ve been #askingforit when I do the big reveal on the novel next year.

8) I really, really, really like making things up
Going back to work after all this is going to be a massive ball-ache. I think you might have gathered this by now.

9) I can’t wait to get started on NaNo novel #2
One of the replies I made to Eric’s kind comments suggested that I have a novella in mind once (Title Withheld) is done and out the door. After mulling over the story idea some more, however, I strongly suspect this will be my next NaNo novel.

10) Having a very patient Better Half is key
In my situation I have a long-suffering and very understanding Better Half who has given me the encouragement I need whenever I needed it, has re-tweeted my witterings to her followers whenever they have slipped out of me, and hasn’t yet dumped my sorry arse regardless of the enormous timesink writing has become.
Of course, if she ever reads some of the stuff in my first 50,000 words I could be on my Jack Jones in record time, perhaps with a restraining order for good measure.

So with three days of NaNoWriMo left I hope my fellow WriMos have enjoyed it as much as I have and are either well on the way towards their target or basking in the warm, radiant glow of 50K.

Here’s to the next 30,000 words!

NaNo, NaNo, only 30K to go…

An awesome Numskulls figurine from the ComicVine website

Lucian’s head, yesterday. Except with less hair.

…with a laptop and a pint and a story outline, NaNo, NaNo-NaNo-NaNooooo. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “Oscar-winning song-writing there, Lucian. Top hole!”

Yes, yes, yes. First of all I’d like to thank the Academy…

Anyway, hello you! As the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is in full swing I’ve spent rather a lot of time recently hammering the first 20,000 words of my novel into this here laptop and thus keeping abreast of the dreaded daily word count. (Just.) Some of these 20,000 words, I’m happy to report, even form sentences.

My teenage horror fan self seems satisfied with the yucky bits and my (rather pronounced) puerile self has rubberstamped his seal of approval on the industrial-strength language thrown around liberally by my bad guy. Please be warned, however, that my smartarse self, the one that came up with the tagline to this blog, not to mention the lion’s share of the story, is also fairly pleased with himself. You can give him a slap if he gets too annoying. (All this talk of assorted selves reminds me of The Numskulls cartoon that appeared in The Beezer and, later, The Beano. Ah, memories…)

Anyway, so far, so spiffing, and there are only another 30,000 words to get down before I “win”. Or collapse. One or the other.

In my previous post I mentioned how the launch meeting for NaNoWriMo was something of an eye-opener, and the revelations continue now I’m 40% into the word count. For example:

1) A 10,000 word plot outline doesn’t necessarily make NaNoWriMo any easier
I’ve lost count of the times my characters have deviated from the plot outline I feverishly hammered out over the summer. Either way I’m taking this as a positive: either the characters have developed minds of their own, which will hopefully then resonate with the reader, or my characters’ original actions weren’t so well-realised, so the story benefits from a little tightening up as a result. Luckily the structure of my plot is fairly modular, so my characters’ actions should not affect the overall story arc, but I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky when I come to write NaNo novel #2 next year.
What a detailed outline has allowed, however, is for me to plant a smattering of in-jokes and other stuff into the narrative for those having a second read-through of the novel. See, you already want to slap that smartarse self of mine, don’t you?

2) Aiming to writing a chapter a day was naïve
It sounded good at the time but my chapters are turning out to be longer than 1667 words, often double that. As a result I’m unlikely to complete a first draft of Title Withheld by the end of the month, but should be most of the way there, and definitely more than 50,000 words through. I could be looking at 300+ pages, though I hope not many more. That said I’m now off work until the 29th (happy, happy, joy, joy!) so let’s see if I can’t eat up some of these stray chapters.

3) Missing two days’ writing is terrifying
I woke up yesterday with 13,250 words and had to somehow finish today on 20,000. Yikes! I guess I’ll have to move my birthday for next year’s NaNo.
I feel I ought to put this into context, however: 3,375 words per day for two days doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the regime professional novelists place upon themselves. US horror legend Stephen King claims in his book “On Writing” (very much recommended) that he gets down around 2,000 words a day, every day, without fail, however many hours it takes (usually a morning). UK horror legend Shaun Hutson goes nuts if he can’t get down his ten pages each day – by UK book standards that’s around 2,500 words. So for me to bemoan 3,375 is perhaps a little precious.

4) My main character kicks arse!
Now that my main character is walking and talking and getting stuck in I’m growing to like her a lot more than I thought I would. Looking at my plot outline it’s such a shame that she… well, you’ll have to read the story, won’t you?

5) It costs just over £20,000 to buy a full-page advert in The Sunday Times’ Books section.
Ah. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself here…

The important thing is that NaNoWriMo continues to surprise and delight (even if it does sap precious moisture from my eyeballs), because for me that means it also continues to be interesting and worthwhile. If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo then I hope the ideas are flowing from your fingertips, or you are at least engaging with fellow NaNo-ers through the write-ins, forums and Facebook groups.

Finally, if you would like a sneaky preview of Title Withheld I have pasted a short excerpt here:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/lucian-poll/novels/title-withheld-184410

(10 Lucian Poll points to anyone that spots the goof. Don’t worry, it’ll come out in the second draft.)

Laters ‘taters.