Positively Indie

Positively Indie

Alliance of Independent Authors /

My kids will tell you my opinion on self-belief. I admit I might have been a little too successful teaching them that lesson—but if you can do something, even better if you can do it well, why hide the fact?

So when I started writing again a couple of years ago, after a hiatus of 35 years, the world had changed from the one I used to know. Back in the hazy (and yes, as an ex-hippy they are a little hazy) days of the 1970’s there were two ways to get published. Fanzines—which didn’t pay—and books and magazines—which did.

I did both. Started with fanzines and worked myself up through the ranks, put in the hours even though Malcolm Gladwell was only 10 years old, until eventually things began to stick. I got an agent, then a publisher, had stories in Galaxy magazine and Vertex and four novels published over five years. And then I ran out of money. Or rather, I matured and decided I needed to eat at least once a day. I took a day job. Writing became a side project, and then faded… but it was never forgotten.

When I returned to it—and that first love is always something special, isn’t it—it was to a whole new world. Things had changed while I had been away.

There had been vanity presses back in the day, but now Amazon has cracked open the stone wall surrounding the magic kingdom and people can publish themselves. I had a decision to make. Start up in the same way I knew, find an agent, find a publisher, wait, or… something else?

The internet had appeared, too. In 1970, if you wanted an agent you bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book and trawled the pages, you wrote letters (in longhand), enclosed an SAE, and you waited. Now Google is your friend.

So… the old way, or the new way, that was the decision I had to make.

I have to tell you, I was torn.

I’m of the baby-boom generation who sees the validation of a publisher as almost essential to a writer, so it was tough to consider alternatives. But like I said, the world has changed. Oh, has it ever changed.

I looked into the alternatives and discovered that if I published myself I could earn 70% royalty from Amazon, the same from other outlets if I went through Smashwords or direct.

From experience I knew a traditional publisher wouldn’t give me anything like that. But hey, they have overheads too: editors, proofreaders, cover artists… large, prestigious office blocks in London and New York, high-paid executives, lunches…

I looked into what I needed to do to make my book as professional as I could. I already told you about self-belief, so of course I knew it was a great book. To make it greater still I needed an editor, a professional cover, a proofreader. So I went out and found them. And then there’s the marketing. It would be great to leave that up to the publisher, but talking with traditional authors it soon became clear that most of the marketing still needs to be done by yourself. Fine, I’ve run a software company for over 20 years, I can do that too.

Maybe there’s a pattern emerging. I’ve talked on the web with a lot of writers who don’t want all that extra work. They see themselves as writers, period. And it’s great if that is all you want to be. But I can do all this other stuff anyway. Formatting for Kindle doesn’t scare me. Creating a website is what I do in my day job.

But I still had the decision to make, because something continued to nag away at me… agent… publisher… acceptance.

Except—it’s the acceptance of readers I want, not of those other people.

And the deciding factor came down to… control and timing.

I’ve written my book. It’s been edited. A cover created. Proofed. It’s ready. Now.

Find an agent – several months.

Agent sends the manuscript around. Another 6 months.

Publisher accepts (you notice I’ve still got the self-confidence), another 18 months before it sees the bookstands.

That could be anything from two years to three years. And the book is finished. Now! In three years time I want to have written and published a stack of other books.

In the end, it came down to that simple fact. And control. I don’t want to wait. And by going Indie I can control everything. If a reader finds a typo on page 297 I can fix it and upload a new version within minutes.

Decision made.

I’m Indie. Positively Indie. And proud of the fact. Oh, and if you’re interested, you can find the book here and here.

A writer’s year (2013)

Earlier today I watched Joanna Penn on Sky News talking about making a change in your career, and she said something profound that really struck me.

What she said was: “Think back to what you wanted to be when you were 13 or 14. Are you doing that now?”

Well, at 13 all I ever wanted to be was a writer.

And, even worse, at 23 I was! A real writer, with an agent, a publisher, and a book in the library. Sure, the advance was laughable and I never earned it out, but I had reached my goal in life, and over the next few years I published three more books and a few short stories.

And then… well, I took my eye off the ball. I gave up.

But 2013 was the year I seriously decided to get back into my writing. I’ve been playing around for a while, but I admit now it was only playing. I started in on my first book in 30 years 5 years ago, a detective novel. Later I took down the copies of my old Science Fiction novels and thought, hey, I can scan these in and bring them out as eBooks. Except, when I started reading them through I thought, oh-oh, maybe not.

So I wrote for a while.

I even wrote under a pseudonym to see if I could still make it and sold a few copies of what I wrote, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to tell anyone else about.

Then around a year ago I thought “Well, if you’re really serious, spend a little money and learn what you need to do.”

So last year I did exactly that.

I read what felt like a thousand blogs, bought a score of books, attended a couple of writer’s and reader’s conferences, took several courses, and now I’ve finished the book I was working on. Next month it goes to an editor (yes, more money), and I’m having a cover created as well (you know what I’m going to say).

Over the last year I’ve undertaken the following experiences:

Book in a Month

I enrolled in a Book in a Month Workshop. It was a little like NaNoWriMo but with a tutor.

This kick started me to actually finish writing the book I started a year ago. I had been driving my wife mad because I talked about it all the time but I wasn’t getting it done.

This course certainly got it done.

Over a period of less than 30 days I wrote every chance I got and ended up with 100,000 words.

Was it worth the effort? Yes.

Will I do the same again with the next book? No.

I learned a few things about the process of creation over the month, and the biggest thing I learned is that yes, I need to write fast and write with my editing head turned off, but writing as fast as I did had a negative effect afterwards. I was so burned out by the process it took me a few months to get back into it.

But, if you need a kick up the backside to get you to finish a book, I’d recommend everyone try this once.

Crime Writing Festivals

Coming back to writing I decided I wanted to switch genre from what I used to do. Gone was the science-fiction (for now). I wanted to write Crime. So I attended the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and later the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

I enjoyed Chipping Norton, but Harrogate was an epiphany. Here were the people I wanted to hang around with. Everyone there loves books and writing. Everyone. It was like I’d been on a ten year trip and finally arrived home!

At Harrogate I attended a short workshop on plotting, a part of the process I knew needed attention, and this led me to the next phase.

Guardian Masterclass in Crime Writing

I’ve blogged about this elsewhere so I won’t repeat myself here, other than to say this taught me more than anything else I’ve done all year. If you can find the time, and money, these Masterclasses are recommended.

One thing I did take away from the class that I didn’t mention in my post was the lesson Matthew Hall taught me: Spend time on constructing your story. He says he spends 5 or 6 weeks on plotting before writing anything. And after going through the mill with my new book I intend to follow his advice from now on. Get the plot nailed down first, and then start writing.

And so, after what seems to have been a pretty busy year I’m now sitting here with a finished novel wondering what to do with it.

I thought long and hard about whether to go the traditional route with the book. You know: submit to an agent, hang around to see if anyone’s interested, maybe get a publisher to nibble, hang around another year or eighteen months while it goes through the mill, and I decided… ahh, no, maybe not.

I know how self-publishing works. I know my own weaknesses, hence the editor and cover designer. I also know most traditionally published writers don’t make enough to live off. I’ve reached the stage in my life where I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is time. Time to do what I really want to do. Time to market my own book, and to write another (already plotted) and another after than (also already plotted). After that… oh, I have so many ideas I need a forty year retirement to fit it all in.

See, I’ve still got ambitions.

Chipping Norton – who’d have thought it!

Chipping Norton – who’d have thought it!

I’m recently back from a fantastic weekend at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. I know, I know… so if you have no interest in writing you can zone out now, because this is all about writing and writers.

I started out booking a couple of workshops on Saturday, then found more I wanted to go to on Sunday so made a complete weekend of it. There was a great atmosphere, and what I loved was the way everyone, from well-known writers to mere mortals like me, simply rubbed shoulders, chatted and got on. Case in point…


Returning from a walk (I had three hours to kill between sessions) I sat and ate my sandwiches on a bench beneath a tree. Opposite was the Jaffe & Neal bookshop where a couple of my workshops were held, and on the right of the picture sipping tea and eating cake are Val McDermid, Stuart McBride and Mark Billingham – three of the UK’s leading crime writers. As I ate my chicken and salad on granary their conversation occasionally wafted over… “Yeah, I visited this coroner’s office, and you wouldn’t believe the things I saw there…”

So while enjoying a balmy afternoon tea in a pretty Cotswold town possibly the next gory thrillers were being discussed and planned.

And what did I learn, other than even people you consider famous are just people after all (although I think I already knew that)?

Well – I picked up some tips on how to improve my self-publishing, heard a talk by Peter James on his latest book, learned something about weaving historical research into a novel and finished off discovering how to create characters that jump off the page.

Now all I have to do is apply all this. My Spanish detective novel is now started. My vision is set. All I need now is time…