Writing

Story ahoy!

Blogging, eh? How old-school is that? Look at me, being all last-decade.

But I had to make this rare blog re-surfacing to announce the publication of my very first paid piece of fiction. It’s a very short piece in Analog and it’s out this month.

Let me repeat that. Analog! After shopping this story around to lots of outlets, some of them tiny, some of them even NON-PAYING, I finally got picked up by one of the giants in the field of science fiction. They even paid me actual money (well, okay, a check I’ll never cash) to purchase and print my story. Like I’m a proper writer or something.

analogThe story is entitled “Lonely Hearts of the Spinward Ring” and it’s quite unique. You want to know more, go buy Analog and read it. Seriously, the number of people who asked to see it for free … support the damn writer, people! (But beware: the electronic version, according to reports I’ve had, may not, for reasons obscure, have my story. So paper is best.)

I gave the story an interesting name as I have a theory that stories with cool names get published more easily than stories with boring names. Also, it makes it that much easier to google it and see what the public are saying about it. Not that I’ve done that. Ahem.

So yeah. I’m sort of a published writer now. Twenty plus years of sending stories out, collecting paper rejections, then email rejections, and one day it just happens. Well, one day and then waiting a whole year for the thing to finally come out. So one day-ish.

My tips to budding writers? Be stubborn, get better, and don’t die too fast.

/ paddy

Removing My Pants

Writers like to class themselves as either pantsers or plotters. If you don’t know what these mean, I’ll let you fantasize in your filthy little minds for a bit until I explain further in the second paragraph. Ready? Then here it is.

Plotters are the ones who, as you might guess, plot out a book before they write it, in lesser or greater detail. Maybe scene by scene, maybe chapter by chapter. But when they start to write, the structure is in place.

pantsPantsers, on the other hand, like to fly by the seat of their pants, meaning they’ll dive into a book with a few ideas, a fuzzy picture of the end, a general feel of where they want to go, and then just write their way into the unknown.

I always thought I was a pantser. The five books I’ve written up to now were all done that way.

The five books I’ve written up to now also did not find an agent or publisher. Hmm.

I started on my current book two years ago. I got halfway, realised a few things were wrong, went back and rewrote quite a bit, they ploughed on until I reached the end in February. 140k. A long draft.

I started draft two in April, and worked my way through it with a growing sense of unease. Something was wrong. But hey, I’d correct that in future drafts, I thought. Closer to the end, I had to backtrack a few chapters to re-do some parts, and I kept on going, as the bad feeling grew, until last week when the whole damn thing came crashing down around me.

I couldn’t deny it any longer — the book had deep problems. The plot was patched together, new ideas welded on as and when I thought of them. There were too many characters and their motivations were weak. The protagonist wasn’t being active and was often just floating along with the plot. There were too many clever ideas drifting around, many with vague and forced connections to the plot. I wasn’t sure what my protagonist wanted. I’d placed many interesting scenes into flashbacks instead of into the current timeline of the story. In short, I’d basically lost sight of how I wanted my book to be.

It was a really tough few days, and I was quite depressed for a few of them. But in the end I picked myself up and sat myself down and put on my firm voice. “Right,” I said. “Listen. The book is fucked. That is clear. So let’s rebuild it.”

plottingI rebuilt it in the following way. I cut a few sheets of A4 paper into playing-card sized pieces. On them I wrote bad things with the story, good things with the story, and any and all fun ideas and scenes I had in my head. I arranged the papers around me on the floor and proceeded to stare at their blank faces while I tapped a pen against my forehead.

I started with the main character’s motivation. What did he want? What would he be burning for throughout the story, the thing I’d keep on dangling before him, letting him get close to it, before I pulled it away again?

The thing was obvious. So obvious I’d missed it before. I wrote it down, and it got me filling in the rest of those papers. And by damn it worked. In a few hours work I’d eliminated several characters and plot points, streamlined the story, heightened the tension, brought back a fun character I’d for some reason thrown out in the first draft, arranged the world of the story to be less complex and allow for more drama, and returned the spirit of the book to how I’d envisioned it at the start.

Once all those paper bits were ready, I shuffled and arranged them into chapters, noting briefly what needed to happen in each one. I’m almost done with that now, and wow, what a difference. It’s a damn sight easier to correct a plot problem when it’s a few sentences on a page them when it’s two chapters in a completed draft.

I expect to be done with the outlining in a day or two and then — deep breath — I’ll start back into the new draft. A draft that will be fun to write as I know more or less where I’m going in every scene and why. A draft that will unavoidably add six months to the production time of this novel, but which will also result in a way better book.

In my experience, this is how revelations occur in writing. You hit a massive problem, you get depressed, you feel useless and terrible, and then you try something crazy and suddenly it’s fun again. Reaching that point is a great and terrifying thing. Because it shows you know your own writing, and it shows you can feel when things are wrong and need major surgery. You’ve learned, basically, how not to lie to yourself. That feeling is gold. When you get it, cherish it. And then go and smash something to pieces.

I’m now sure it works best for me to write a sprawling and creative first draft, full of ideas and mad shit, then deconstruct it into a proper outlined plot for the second draft. And in the future, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

With pants or, hopefully, without.

/ paddy

The Twittered Writer

I’ve been on twitter for quite a while, making my hopefully amusing comments, getting to know people, growing my network, hoping for a nod from a celebrity, all while massaging my massive ego. You know the way it goes.

So here’s two annoying things I’ve noticed that writers often do on twitter.

First thing. Many writers seem to believe than their main purpose on twitter is to mercilessly plug their books. They’ll post several times a day, often the very same post over and over, expecting these blatant ads to increase their sale. And I know this because of several conversations I’ve had with writers of this kind. They honestly believed they’d shift more copies of their book the more often they posted about it, often expecting sales to be directly proportional to the number of posts.

WaitsIt doesn’t take much of a genius to realise this isn’t how it works. People go on twitter primarily to interact with interesting people, or with people who share their views. If I have a person in my feed who’s constantly plugging their own book, I’ll unfollow them fast as fuck, as will many others. Endless spamming means fewer people who listen. The way to sell books is to carefully build up a big network, like the excellent Jen Foehner Wells has done. People who follow you because they find you interesting. And then, very occasionally, inform them of a new book or special price deal.

That works. Battering people over the heads with constant ads doesn’t.

The second thing is kind of related. Often, when I follow a writer, they’ll send me a direct message (a private email, basically) with an ad for their ebook. “Thanks for following! Please buy my book here: amazon.com/shittyBook.”

Again, this isn’t how it works. You do stuff like that, people will see it as spam, and unfollow you in a big hurry. It seems painfully obvious that nobody wants this, and yet people still do it to me every week. One guy, when I pointed it out that it was rude and unwelcome, lost his mind, started flamethrowing me with swears, and blocked me.

So, writers — quit the auto-ads. If I find you interesting, I’ll click on the link to your book whenever it pops up, and, if it seems good, I’ll buy it. Otherwise just make with the funny links and cat videos and amuse me. Yeah?

/ paddy

The He and the She of it

I’m currently working on Rare Beasts, a contemporary fantasy described by many as being Leprechaun Noir, which is a phrase I quite like and a genre I will, of course, have claim to have invented when the time comes.

Anyway, the main character in the book is a female-to-male transsexual. This was suggested originally by my fiancee back when I was deciding whether to make the MC male or female. I dismissed the transsexual idea at first but then realised … yeah, why not? And thus Bren McCullough, mythical animal poacher, was born.

The book is nearing the end of its third draft, and will soon be ready for beta readers. However, I decided to present the first three chapters to my writing group to see what they thought of it. And one thing that came across was that they wanted the character’s transsexual nature to have a point in the story, to “mean” something. But I disagree, and severely.

You see, the point of having a transgender character is precisely that it doesn’t mean anything. Some people are transgender, but that isn’t the most interesting thing about them. It’s just a part of who they are. You never have to justify the gender of a character normally in fiction. Nobody asks: “but WHY is he male?” Bren is a expert in his area, a guy out having an adventure. Being transgender colours his experiences, sure, but no more than being bald or overweight would. I don’t see why it needs to be defended as a story point. It just is, and I think it makes the story stronger through the very fact of not being important.

There is also the point that many literary agents are clamouring for books featuring characters of atypical gender. The world has enough moody young men-men or victimised women in its stories. I decided to go a different route and see where it got me. And to be honest, I’m very glad I did. Bren is awesome and I’m glad to have made his acquaintance.

Note: the book will be ready for beta readers in three weeks or so. If you want to get in on the action, feel free to follow me on twitter and I’ll let you know when the time comes for tossing it out to the wolves.

/ paddy

Give Us This Day Our Daily Book

In my ongoing attempts to get people to buy my damn novella, I did a dirty and terrible thing. No, I didn’t touch someone’s foul regions. I found a website that promised to make people find my book and I paid them fifty dollars to do so.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, when the fuck is Chase Gioberti going to return from the dead and put everything right in Falcon Crest? And the answer to that is – soon, my sweet and cuddly ones. Very soon.

writerSo, the website. It’s called Book Daily, and what you do is you make an account and a profile page for your book. Then you pay them fifty dollars and sit back and fretfully wait. The site has an impressive mailing list and sends out a newsletter every day highlighting a few chosen books. And very, very occasionally, one of those books is yours. The idea is that those occasional mails, and your book being always visible on their site, will give your sales that knee in the groin that they need.

Now. Here’s the first problem. The vast majority of people using the service and getting the daily email newsletter are writers themselves, with books on the site. In other words, slightly crazy people who don’t buy other people’s book and just spend their time and money convincing people to buy theirs. Not the best audience ever.

The other problem: the books these people write are shit. They are excrement. I dutifully checked each and every book I was mailed and not once did I see one that wasn’t an appalling literary abortion. They were all terrible. TERR-I-BLE. If you don’t believe me, go on, have a look. Lots of bizarre Christian novels, for some reason. Lots of heart-stoppingly awful detective books. And some books so incomprehensible I’ve actually come to view them as poetry. Like this masterpiece.

Here, to back me up, are some numbers. The image below shows my exposure on the Book Daily site:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 20.08.04Those are large and impressive numbers, I think you will agree. 6124, for example, is a VERY large number. Are there any numbers larger than that one? Very few. Twenty or so, I’m guessing. If that.

However. Over the course of my campaign on the Book Daily site, I had ten sales of my novella. Not ten per day, or ten per orgasm. Just ten. And two of those I bought myself. Sorry, but I did. And, of the other eight, I can’t even be sure they all came from Book Daily.

For fifty dollars, I could have bought forty copies of my book and “sent it to friends”. Or I could have got a nice massage. Or bought a kilo of mouldy cheese. Spending it on Book Daily was not worth the money.

In summary, take your fifty dollars and shove it anywhere you like – into a donkey, over a rainbow, up your own arse. Just don’t give it to Book Daily.

/ paddy

One Soul, Cheap, Barely Used

With Deep Shell now on amazon and not exactly selling in droves, I decided to pull my sleeves up and throw some money at the problem.

Wait, you may ask, is there a problem? Well, yeah. People aren’t buying my excellent novella in the numbers I desire. And how many do I desire, you might wonder? Seven billion copies. After that I’m happy.

Ebook advertising is hard. You can only bug your friends and online acquaintances so much and after a while the only avenue left open is filthy, dirty advertising. So I bit the nipple and went with a couple of options.

The first was Amazon. They work hard to inform authors of Amazon Marketing Services, which places a tiny banner for your book in front of prospective buyers. And it does. The problem being the next step.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 18.49.40Here’s the latest data for my amazon campaign. As you can see, of the 1671 people who saw the ad, 1670 of them didn’t click on it. Which isn’t great, as stats go. I don’t think I’ll get very far with that one.

Another option is Book Daily, suggested to me by the nice people at Space Opera: Writers group on Facebook. Here you pay the site fifty dollars a month and they send your book out in their newsletter to all the people who signed up, plus promote it on their site. The problem being the people who signed up are probably also self-published authors who want people to buy their books but aren’t necessarily ready to shell out for someone else’s.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.01.04So what’s left? No idea. Short of shoving leaflets through my neighbours’ doors and accosting strangers on the street while holding a sweaty clipboard, I can’t think of another good way to market a rather good kindle short. You got ideas, you let me hear them. And the cheaper the better.

/ paddy

Free Space Bacon

DeepShellAttention people of Earth. My novelette Deep Shell, 55 pages and 16,000 words of gore and space intrigue, is now available for FREE as an ebook on the amazon store of your choice.

Go on, download the bugger. You don’t have to read it, if you’re pressed for time and don’t like awesome stories. Just download it and help me climb the charts and get some traction so I can bask in fame and bathe in Donkey milk

Every single download really is a big help. Every review is a bigger help. And telling your friends and loved ones, well, I wouldn’t say no to that either. And hey, anybody want an interview…? I can be truly adorable.

By the way, you don’t need an actual kindle. Just get the free kindle app on your smartphone or pad and read away to your little heart’s content. Go!

/ paddy

Sale Number One

Monday March 23rd was pretty ordinary. I went to work and programmed some animated ducks and frogs for a new mobile game. Had sushi for lunch. Marvelled at the women in the sushi place who has fake nails two centimetres long, and wondered how she works the cash register with them. Went home. Said hello to the boy, who was in his room, playing a game while laughing and chatting with friends on Skype. Wrote a bit. Stared out the window. Scratched my head. Got started on dinner.

Then came an email with the name of one of my stories in the subject line. Hey-ho, I thought. A rejection mail. Oh well. I popped it up, expecting to read it quickly and get on with making dinner. But as I read it I stopped moving.

space-happy“I’m just dropping you a quick line to say that I like XXX and I’m going to take it for YYY. At this point, it doesn’t look like we’ll need any significant edits. You’ll have the contract via email in just a couple of weeks.”

My breath stopped. They wanted my story. I read it again. They still wanted my story. I jumped up and down a little. I wiped away a few tears. YYY, a major science fiction magazine, wanted to buy my story. With actual money.

This is huge. I’ve been writing fiction since the age of ten or eleven. Starting with terrible Star Wars fan fiction, I moved through Fighting Fantasy style gamebooks to short stories and finally novels. Over thirty years and a hundred rejections, first paper and then electronic, piling up with no sale to show for them. Several times I stopped sending stories out entirely, sure I’d never sell anything. But I always started again.

And now I have a sale. Magazine YYY (which I’ll name when the time comes) is one of the biggest print magazines for science fiction in the world. I am, it must be said, incredibly happy. I finally feel, a bit, like a real writer.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is to keep trying. I’ve heard it a million times. But maybe it’s true.

/ paddy

The Vagina in the Room

This Saturday finds me in a bit of a pickle. A slight pickle. A slippery micro-pickle.

As posted last time, I received the amazing final cover for my novelette Deep Shell. But just hours after posting it online for comment, the whispers began. “A fine cover,” they said. “A great cover entirely. But … isn’t it a bit … well … vagina-like?”

Now I won’t name and shame the filthy people who thought that, but the artist who made it decided to tweak it a little to see if the vaginal taste could be removed, as it were. He sent me this new one today.

And, as I like them both, I can’t decide. Is the new one better? Is the old too much like a gee? Or are we all just dirty-minded losers with too much time on our sorry fingers … sorry, our hands? Comments please.

/ paddy

DEEPSHELL-old

The old cover

DEEPSHELL-new

The new cover

Deep Shell

So I decided to blow a wad of money in a proper writerly manner. I’m having a novelette of mine professionally edited, getting a cover made, and putting the whole thing out on the kindle store. Putting my money, basically, where my mouth is.

The story in question, clocking in at 15000 words, is called Deep Shell. And it’s kind of a weird one.

The idea sprang from a fascination I have with holes in the street. You know, when they dig up the road to get at the pipes and shafts and all those lovely deep-buried bits. Those pipes and cables always struck me as vaguely organic. Kind of like a wound in the flesh of the city. And I started thinking — if it were a wound, then somebody would need to come fix it, before it all went yicky and bad. So what would that person’s job and life be like?

hole2I set about making up a world where it might happen. Science fiction was the obvious arena, and as I already had a science fiction universe, from an old put-in-the-drawer novel, I decided to set it in that — the universe of the Conflux, a short time after the galaxy-spanning waytubes collapsed for murky and unknown reasons, shattering that civilisation into scattered bunches of survivors, all trying to rebuild their lives.

The story would take place on the back of an enormous, floating turtle-like beast known as the behemoth, the only solid surface on the entire world-wide ocean. I put humans there, living in the ruins of the ancient ships that crash-landed after the collapse decades before. And I set the story clock ticking in the form of worsening fleshquakes, fading power cells, and people gone missing deep inside the shell.

Street Surgeon was for a long time the title, although I finally went with Deep Shell. I wrote it over a couple of months, edited it, polished it, work-shopped it with the excellent people at the Stockholm Writer’s Group, submitted it to a few places, got refused, and put it aside.

But then, six months later, something kicked it back into my life. After a tip from the excellent Jennifer Foehner Wells, I was enticed into sending it to a real, proper editor. Her editor, in fact. The cost of this person’s services put me off at first, but after I got a sample of his work, the corrected first two pages of the story, I was gobsmacked. It was so much better. Worlds better. I knew I had to take the plunge.

The editing took a couple of passes, which I buggered up just a little by fiddling with the story in between the passes, making more work that necessary for the editor. Warning: don’t do that, dear writers. But as that process neared completion, I needed a cover. So off I went into the jungle, searching around for a good cover designer.

I was finally pointed to this guy by a Facebook acquaintance. He had only done a few covers, and it was a risk, but we decided to give it a shot. And as a first draft, he delivered to me this:

DEEPSHELL-PaddyKelly-DRAFT1 2I must say I really like it. I have a few comments and we’re doing a new version. But this is definitely a large step in the right direction, and hopefully it’ll be done in a few weeks and ready for the kindle store sometime in April.

Will Deep Shell languish at the bottom of the bog hole or rise and bob proudly on the top-selling list, like a bloated and gilded turd? Only time will tell. Time, and lots of people buying it.

Like the cover? Hate the cover? Have ideas? Want to give me a book deal? Let me know below.

/ paddy