Tuesday, 29 June 2010

LUCK AND IDEAS

I've been thinking about luck a lot recently. Partly because my new novel, Wasted, is about huge and unpredictable effects of tiny “lucky” chances on our lives, and because, luckily, it's gaining wonderful reviews and feedback. And partly ...

Hang on a sec - did I say "luckily"? Why do we talk about luck so loosely? Doesn't a book get good reviews because people liked it? Unless I bribed the reviewers, which I didn't, or even asked my friends or relatives to write them, which I didn't. 

Our lives and successes are a tangled mixture of luck - from the moment of our conception, and before that from the moment when our parents met, and back to when their parents met, and ... - combined with effort and talent. And you could even say that having the personality to make the effort or the genes and environment to produce the luck are down to luck. You could take this argument to an absurd and dangerous conclusion. So, I won't.

When I was doing my blog tour for Wasted, one of the guest posts I did was for Kath Langrish, a fabulous and thoughtful writer. She asked me to write about the part that luck plays in how to be published. As I said there, "Everyone says you need luck to get published. If you’re struggling / failing, it’s tempting to blame bad luck: you’re talented, hard-working, and deserving, but the luck fairy hasn’t sprinkled stardust on you yet." I then go on to point out that,
"Actually you don’t NEED luck. Of the three elements of getting published – talent, perseverance and luck – you only need two, any two. If you have talent and you persevere for long enough, you won’t need luck. Think about throwing dice, trying to throw a double six. You could be lucky first time; but otherwise, if you throw the dice often enough, eventually you WILL throw a double six. That’s not luck: it’s perseverance."
Before you contradict that, do go and see how I argue it and what I say next.

But that's not what I want to say about luck today.

I'd like you to consider two important things you need in order to become published, and the part luck plays in them. And,more importantly, how you can and must control that luck.
  1. The initial talent - the existence of which you can't control, but you can certainly control how you develop that talent and what use you make of it: you do this through practice, through listening, through reading and through adapting it to the task in hand.
  2. The idea - the difference between a book that's easy to sell and one that isn't is mainly the idea, or concept. To some extent we don't control the ideas that come into our head. There's luck involved, but practice as well. There are two main controls we can have over the idea:
  • giving ourselves time and space to think. I mean that rather literally - in my experience the best way to come up with good ideas is to go for a walk in open spaces. I've blogged about this here, and there's science behind it.
  • knowledge as to whether this idea is one which will properly work as a story and one which a publisher will want. For this, you have to understand something of how publishers think and what they want.
You'd think that one way to discover this would be to ask them. Well, forget that. Why? Because they don't know. Publishers haven't a clue what they want - though they'll know what it is when they see it. So, let me tell you.

Publishers want something which is:
  • different but not too different
  • quirky but not too quirky, although wacky is fine as long as it's really wacky
  • about a hamster
  • sad but uplifting
  • topical but not topical today - topical tomorrow
  • following a trend - but not any trend that exists now, just whatever is going to be the next trend
  • a fresh voice
  • or a traditional one
  • something that's never been done before
  • as long as it's something which everyone agrees should have been done before
  • and not something which hasn't been done before because it's stupid
  • something that taps into the zeitgeist
  • and something that makes us think
  • but not too much
  • something that will sell in vast numbers
  • and which Tesco can sell along with cucumbers
  • or something which very few people will want to read but will Be Important and which might, if it's a full moon, win the Man Booker, but if it doesn't will die
  • the next big thing
  • a book from a ten-year-old
  • or an 82-year-old from Wales
  • or a leggy blonde
  • or a raspy-voiced unshaven young man with sexy eyes
  • or, preferably, a celebrity with many plastic bits, who will not interfere with the writing of the book
  • a trilogy but only if each is written as a stand-alone in case they have to drop Books 2 & 3
  • a book they can sell really, really, really easily
  • or something entirely different from any of the above but which ticks some boxes as yet unknowm to man.
And if you have the talent to guess what the answer might be, you are very lucky indeed.

By the way, I am quite sure that one of my favourite blog-readers, Dan Holloway, is now jumping up and down. He is going to make a comment to the effect that this is precisely why he chooses not to use traditional publishers. But the thing is, Dan, it's not just publishers who don't know what they want until they see it: it's readers.

Publishers, like readers, really want something quite simple: a rattling good book to get stuck into. And they don't know what it is until we write it.

So, off you go, everyone. Go for a long walk, come back with a fab idea, apply your talent, and then hope for luck.

(Apologies for any typos - I had to rush this post out because I'd accidentally hit publish instead of save before dashing off to do some school events - but several people on Twitter had already seen the title and were clamouring for the post, so I've rushed it out....And now I MUST GO).

Thursday, 24 June 2010

SUSPENDING DISBELIEF

Crikey - I can't believe I haven't spoken about this before...

The weird thing about fiction is that the reader knows perfectly well that you are making it up – you are a professional liar – and yet demands to believe utterly in the whole story. Novelists can have impossible things happen, which the reader knows are impossible, and yet you must simultaneously make him believe, in that part of his brain that engages fully with the characters. A novelist can make a reader believe that a character can fly, read minds, turn spinach into brandy, or live forever; but if you get it wrong ... even the most ordinary and highly possible act becomes unbelievable. And it matters, really matters.

This art of the suspension of disbelief is the mystery of the fiction writer. There are certain keys, but after that you have to sprinkle magic fairy dust. I think I have so far omitted to mention that you do need magic fairy dust if you are to be published.

The keys to suspension of disbelief
  • Consistency of character. Your characters must behave consistently, even if inconsistency is common in real life. (I, for example, am consistently inconsistent.) If your character does something that he or she would be unlikely to do, just so that you can drive your plot in the direction you want, your readers will see through this and they won’t like it. They will stop believing whatever happens next.
  • Consistency of magic. If you have anything supernatural / impossible-in-this-world going on in your book, the magic must be consistent and follow a pattern, even though magic is a damned stupid thing to believe in. You have to set the magic up, and give it rules. The more wacky the rules, the harder it will be to believe. For example, a magic power that only works on Tuesdays between lunch and tea, and not if it’s rained more than three times in the last nine and a half days, and only if the empowered person had half a boiled egg and mango chutney for breakfast and washed her face in the dew while wearing blue chiffon, is hard to believe. The reader will think you’re making it up. Which, of course, you are, but not in a good way.
  • Consistency of plot. Does this incident fit the storyline or does it feel out of place? If you have created your world well, and then you insert something that jars, we may not believe it. For example, since you believe that I wear fabulous shoes, if I told you that I'd borrowed Jane Smith's shoes, you would not believe me. And you would be right.
  • Reason. If you make it clear why something happens, then your readers are more likely to believe it than if you simply say it is so. For example, if Jeremy’s special ability to see the future comes because he is descended from a long line of wizardy people going back to the year dot, or because a special amulet was left in his cradle as a baby, or because … well, you get my drift: humans need to make sense of things, and when something has an explanation, we tend to believe it.
  • Your strong narrative voice. If you have drawn your readers in and lulled them into a true sense of security through the real strength and consistency of your writing, they will tend to believe more. If you are all over the place, revealing your weaknesses at every turn, they will roll their eyes and accuse you of making it up as you go along.
Important point: just because it has happened in real life does not make it believable in a story. If someone says she doesn’t believe such a thing would happen, it is no defence for you to say, “Oh, but that did happen! In 1982 I was walking along…” It pains me to say that I fell foul of this in Wasted. There’s a scene where a pigeon comes smashing through a window. One reader said she hadn’t believed that bit. It was no defence that I could truthfully say that this has happened to me twice, despite the fact that my pigeon incidents are well documented on this blog: the fact is that I’d failed to convince that reader that it would happen. Slapped wrist and abject apologies.

(Yes, I know - newbies amongst you really want to read the pigeon stories. Well, go here (my dormant silly blog) and here.)

The point is that it is not enough that a certain thing could happen and even has: the reader must believe that it would and did. There are many extraordinary things that happen in real life about which one says, “If you write that in a story, they’d never believe you.” So, don't write it...

This, to me, is the whole magic and beauty of fiction: the mysterious thing that our brains do to fiction when reading well-written made up stuff, where we will believe the impossible and yet disbelieve the perfectly ordinary. The skill is in getting that right.

Because fiction is stronger than truth.

Monday, 21 June 2010

NIK PERRING ON WRITING

Yesterday on the Wasted blog, the lovely Nik Perring announced the results of my Flash Fiction competition, which he had very kindly judged. Today, I have asked him to come back and talk about his own experience of publication, focusing on the things he's learnt along the way. Whenever I interview people on this blog, I do so in order for you to take useful messages for your own situations. This is no exception.

In case you don't know him (and I know many of you do), Nik is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west of England. His acclaimed short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3:AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.

Nik’s debut collection of short stories, Not So Perfect is published by Roast Books, is out now, and is just so perfect). He blogs here and his website is here.

This isn't a proper interview because if it were I'd be asking questions. This time I just gave Nik some topics and asked him to busk about them. I knew he'd come up with the goods.

So, once again, over to Nik.

For the Fabulous Nicola Morgan (obvs, I had to leave that bit in...NM)
Nik’s thoughts on...

Things that might surprise an aspiring writer about being published
I remember an author friend of mine saying, a few years ago now, something like ‘having a book published doesn’t make everything all right’ and it’s true. I think before we’re published we have this idea that once we’ve a book in print it’ll wash away all the worries and stresses we have in our lives. It doesn’t. Though it is cool to have a book out there.

It is really, really, really hard work. And exhausting. I mean, writing the thing’s difficult enough (and that’s after all that time spent learning how to write well, after all those stories we’ve given up on) and then the submitting, the editing. But once you’ve signed that contract it’s as though, to a point, you’re starting from the beginning again. You have to work hard to promote your book. Your publisher will do what they can but, really, the hard work’s down to you. And that’s as it should be because it’s YOUR book and you should want to get out there and show it off. Books don’t sell themselves, and that’s especially true if you’re an author that few people have heard of. Which is most of us!

Don’t expect any favours. From friends or from reviewers. Of course some are lovely and only too pleased to have a look at your book and tell their readers what they think of it – but when you consider just how many books there are out there and how much time a reviewer has to read (or can choose to read and then choose to review), you should be truly grateful for any publicity. (I should mention that I’ve been incredibly fortunate that Not So Perfect has been really well received and has had lots and lots of positive reviews – thanks so much to those who’ve taken the time to do them.)

Something I’ve only realised recently is how efficient a "friend-filter" having this book come out has been. I’ve heard from people I’d not heard from in years and years and, in contrast, some of the people I’d have thought would have been the most pleased for me have shown little or no interest at all. And, I suppose, why should they? Which brings me back to the previous point and leads efficiently on to the next... as a writer, published or none, you’re not owed anything. If you’re doing it for the money or for the recognition or for the fame (ha!) you’ll most likely be pretty disappointed. You should, I think, do it for the love of it and consider yourself privileged if you’re able to do it as a job. (I should also add that ‘doing it as a job’ means writing and being able to give talks, run workshops etc etc...!)

My Relationship With Writing
It’s generally a good one I think. Because I write short stories I’m not in the intense and close relationship or marriage a novelist has with their book. Mine’s something different. My stories could be lovers or affairs just as easily as they could be half-controllable pets or children.

A friend of mine, the brilliant novelist Caroline Smailes, calls me the Willy Wonka of short stories and that seems to be the most accurate – not everything I try comes out as I’d have hoped it would.

But I love it. It’s an honour and a privilege.

My Route To Publication
My route to publication was a surprisingly smooth one, on the surface: I wrote some stories, got in touch with a publisher, the publisher read them, asked for more, then offered me a contract.

But underneath all of that, it was rather different.

My point (and worry), and I make this every time I teach, is that an awful lot of good and serious aspiring writers are too concerned with Being Published. And my message to them is: DON’T BE! Don’t give it too much thought.

What you should be concentrating on is writing the best book you can. That’s essential. If you write a good book then there’s a very good chance it’ll be published.

Which leads me on to...

My Advice To Aspiring Writers
Believe it or not you CAN write the book you want to write. Here’s the secret: publishers like good books. In fact they don’t just like them, they WANT them. Because people buy good books and publishers, being a business, like that. That’s why they’re there.

So, yes, publishers like good books. So, in theory, all you have to do is write one – just don’t be surprised if that takes a few attempts.

Be hopeful but be self-critical. It’s a high standard you have to reach and make no mistake, you ARE competing with the best in the business. And what makes it harder is that they’re known – by readers who buy their books and by publishers who know they’ll sell the books. But they were unpublished writers too once, you know! And they got to be where they are now by working very hard and by not giving up. And probably, by trying and failing a few times too. Remember: nothing’s lost.

My last piece of advice though, is this: enjoy your writing. It won’t be fun all the time, but you should do it because you enjoy it. It should be, mostly (even if it’s well hidden) - fun.
***
Thanks so much, Nik! (I told you he was good and nice, didn't I?)

Now, any of you who love a beautifully crafted story, especially when wrapped between gorgeous covers, and / or who want to see how to write beautiful short stories, do buy Not So Perfect. I did and I'm tantalising myself by only allowing myself one story a night. I don't know why he called it Not So Perfect. It is perfect.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS?

Or, in the words of my favourite film, "Life's a piece of shit / When you look at it."

I don't really do depressed. I do a fabulous line in moaning, in an upbeat, ranting, WTF sort of a way, rather than anything more Eeyoreish. But right now I can't find any cause to be anything other than morose about the state of publishing. Everyone I know is having a bit of a crap time. Some are having a seriously crap time. I am hearing stories that would surprise you: award-winning authors being "let go" because they haven't sold enough books, contracts being cancelled, the third book of a trilogy being dropped, and already small income falling through the floor. Publishers and agents, of course, are suffering as well, though publishers have different responses and the balance of power is with them. Decisons are increasingly made by number-crunchers, not editors. Some editors now have no power to decide which books a publisher will push hardest, or which will be put forward for awards. The gap between mega-sellers and the rest is yawning, and the number of big sellers dwindling - though their sales figures are impressive. For most authors, what would have been regarded as derisory figures five years ago are seen as success now.

You may not be hearing the personal stories of difficulty. No one is talking about individual woes in public. No one is standing up and saying, "Yep, I got dropped by my publisher and I don't know what to do." Everyone is carrying on smiling, signing, promoting. Those who aren't yet directly affected know it could be them. Only the best-selling authors can feel relatively relaxed.

There are three main reasons why all this crapitude is happening to published authors right now:
  • The recession, innit. Or, as we are supposed to call it, the economic down-turn.
  • The obsession with cut-price books. I like a bargain as much as anyone but the problem now is that if customers see a book that's not discounted, they think they're being ripped off. They're not - but if the book is discounted, the author's the one who pays. So does the publisher, but the publisher made that choice.
  • The "information should be free" mantra which is spiralling through readers' psyches, fuelled by the rise of ebooks and the inability of publishers or authors to agree how best to thrive in the challenging digital world.
There are some other reasons, such as the recession hitting the US first, meaning that US publishers suddenly weren't taking books from UK publishers, so UK publishers did not recoup the advances they'd paid for books they expected to go to the US.

I don't care so much about the reasons. All I care about is that good authors are suffering. And you should care, too, because the good books that you might have read in the future (or that you might be writing) may not be published. Or written. We can't afford to write what won't be published or what won't sell enough copies.

To quote a publisher I spoke to at the launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week:
"I really worry for the state of literature two years from now."
When I do school events, pupils often ask, "How much does a writer earn?" And my simple answer is, "If you don't buy books, nothing."

What does this mean for you, if you are trying to become published for the first time?
  1. Publishers are taking fewer risks and taking longer to make decisions.
  2. It is ever more important that you are prepared to help promote a book by doing events and being creative with promotional opportunities.
  3. Your book and its hook have to be stronger than ever. The selling potential must shine.
  4. You need an even greater understanding of the market than would have been necessary five years ago.
  5. Your MS must be at a far greater state of readiness when you present it - publishers cannot afford to spend the editorial time coaching you.
  6. BUT, on the positive side, publishers want new authors. They are much less willing to keep an existing author on if he or she is not selling, whereas they might take a punt on a new, potentially successful author.
What does this mean for published authors?
  1. We need to be aware of what's going on and protect our careers and talents, while looking for opportunities to create new readers. Don't have your eggs in one basket.
  2. We may have to diversify. We may have to rethink what we write, just to survive, and have an eye more than ever to the market, rather than what we might believe is art. There is no reason why we can't carry on writing exactly what we feel should be written, but we may have to a) fight harder to get it published and b) write something else as well, to earn money.
  3. We have to remember that the world does not owe us a living and yet we must continue to believe that what we do is important, even essential.
  4. We need to support each other by buying books whenever we can. If we can't, we at least need to shout to support good writing.
  5. We need to recognise that performing and doing events is not only necessary to support our books, it is also a useful extra source of income. In many cases, it's the only way to survive - and it's a good way, if you can do it. We must be creative and imaginative about this.
What does this mean for me?
I have spent the last few weeks feeling depressed about this, listening to authors' stories of woe and feeling the pinch myself, but, as I said, I don't do depressed. I do getting off my backside - or possibly, in the circumstances, onto my backside - and writing for readers. Readers who will actually buy my books. Because without people buying them, I can't write them. Simples.

So, I have decided that the serious / literary teenage market has shrunk too far at the moment and I need to do something else for a while. I still love doing YA, and hope to return to it soon, but I have to earn something in the meantime. I can't survive financially selling a small number of books at high discount. (Please don't believe what you may hear from a few big-selling teenage authors - the difference between the commercial big sellers and the rest is enormous and increasing. The market for my sub-genre is very, very difficult.)

So, I'm very excited to be going younger! (If only this worked for my face and body...) I've done younger fiction before - Chicken Friend did really well and is still easily my biggest library earner, mainly because kids of that age still read and buy, or their parents do. So, I am working on a new book that I'm loving, really loving. It's (very) early days and it might not work out, but it's very refreshing to do, and to know that there could be a big readership out there. I'm also writing Write to be Published, as you know, and .... guess what? I'm well into an adult novel. That has to be a side-line just now, because the kids' stuff is what I do and therefore my best chance of success at the moment, but there's no reason why I can't do both, simultaneously.

Because, as I said, I have to get onto my backside to survive. We all do: we can't sit around moaning.

Except in an upbeat, ranting, WTF sort of a way...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

GIVE ME A BREAK

Please! Yes, I need to take a short break from blogging. I've just got too much going on. I've had a lot happening this year - some of it you all know about, such as the house moving shenanigans and the new book coming out. But there's been other stuff, too. It's been quite a year already, with lots of good stuff and lots of not so good. And I'm in danger of running out of energy and spreading myself too thin if I don't act sensibly.

That new book, Wasted, is one of my priorities at the moment. It's not a designated "highlight" title, despite the phenomenal response from readers, and therefore is low in the hierarchy when it comes to marketing. I'm not complaining about this - I know very well the commercial realities of publishing. I'm just saying that authors like me have to do a lot to help ourselves - a lot of events and a lot of grasping opportunities. I'm also saying it to make the point to all you aspiring writers that life as a published author is no breeze, even when you've had 90 titles published. We can never let up in the work to support our books and we simply can't expect anyone else to believe in them as we do ourselves. That's reality and it's a reality I've known for a long time.

Also, this is happening.


Which is the final straw. I have chaos around me and it's getting me down. I have to take control. I need to spend less time at my desk (supposing I can find it!) and more time thinking and being creative, which mostly doesn't happen at my desk. So, forgive me if I take a break from regular blogging. I don't know how long it will be - maybe only days, or maybe I'll just have to blog less often for a while. All I know is that the blog has been too high up my list of priorities and I just need to shift it down a little, temporarily. I also have the deadline for Write to be Published and am also trying to write something else (two things, actually) and, in short, my brain is approaching over-capacity.

Please don't desert me in my absence! And please do help me with Wasted. So many of you have been stupendously supportive and you've done the most touching and lovely things.


I will be back!

Monday, 7 June 2010

MEANINGS AND CONTROL

I am away this week so I am taking the easy option by drawing your attention to a relevant post on my Wasted blog here.

As well as the points I make there, about control, power and the themes of Wasted, I find it interesting and important how very often readers will take meanings that are different from those we intended.

We mustn't be upset by that. I'm certainly not.

Only a very shallow book would have only one meaning. Only a shallow writer would have such a simple theme that there was no room for the reader's mind to go down some different paths of thought, because if a book has rich characters those characters will have rich minds, and, when readers enter those minds properly, they will live those lives beyond the pages of the book.

The deeper the book, the more opportunities for readers to take different interpretations. On the other hand, if many readers took the completely opposite meaning from the writer's intended one, either the writer would have failed to express the meaning properly, or the wrong readers would have found the book.

Once the book is out there, however, it belongs to the readers as much as to the writer and we must give up control.

After all, without readers there would be no book, and therefore no meaning at all.

So, I worship at the feet of readers. Even when they get it wrong!

THIS WEEK, I'm in London, talking at Bishop Challoner's School about Wasted, and then speaking at a conference in Berkshire about young people and risk-taking. I should also be writing, and if I don't I will be behind on a certain deadline and Emma at Snowbooks would be cross with me. So, I probably won't be able to do much commenting, but I will be watching you. I am always watching you.

Friday, 4 June 2010

REALLY, ACTUALLY, ABSOLUTELY, ADVERBS ARE MUCH MALIGNED

Some people have so got the wrong end of the stick about adverbs. Adverbs are not bad - using them lazily is.

Did you spot the adverb in that sentence? Should I have expressed that better? Differently? Ooops - "better" and "differently" - there go two more!

I have blogged about the poor use of adverbs before. Once in a post about "over-writing", because adverbial diarrhoea is part of that. And once in a post about the importance of showing more than telling.

It would help if you were to skim those posts to see the contexts, but I will quote from the second post here:
1. Go easy on the adverbs. Adverbs, used lazily, are an immature writer's stock in trade. Yes, they roll off the tongue, but so does dribble.

Let me elaborate on why it is absurd to claim, as I have heard people do, that adverbs are bad. (And after that I will show you how bad they can be in the hands of certain writers.)

Take the second sentence of that extract: "Adverbs, used lazily, are an immature writer's stock in trade."

The adverb is, of course, "lazily". (By the way, "of course" works as an adverbial phrase, as you'll see if you replace it with a true adverb: "obviously". Are you going to tell me that using it was bad? It's not bad, because it says what I want to say accurately and succinctly. OMG - two more adverbs! Slapped wrist, naughty author!)

Anyway, back to lazily. "Adverbs, used lazily, are an immature writer's stock in trade." Would you suggest that I should have avoided this adverb?

If I'd left out the adverb, we'd have been left with. "Adverbs, used, are an immature writer's stock in trade", or, more normally, "Adverbs are an immature writer's stock in trade." But they are not. So it would be wrong. What I am trying to say is very simple:

Adverbs, used lazily, are an immature writer's stock in trade.
OK?
There is no better way to express that sentence and I wouldn't want to because there is nothing wrong with it.

So, what do we mean when we CORRECTLY find fault with adverbs? Because it is the case that lazy over-indulgence in adverbs is an example of weak or immature writing - though many authors, at least in highly commercial genres where style is less of an issue, do get away with it. (Because it is partly to do with style, meaning and prose skill, not anything at all to do with faulty grammar.)

Here's the rest of the extract from that original blog post, immediately following the extract above. It shows some extreme (imaginary, because I wrote them) examples of how badly adverbs can be used. (By the way, see how I would have altered the meaning of that sentence by omitting badly).
Compare:
"Listen," she whispered conspiratorially.

"What?" he interrupted eagerly.

"Nothing," she replied, hesitantly, deciding that she was not going to tell him after all.
with:
She leant towards him, her hair brushing his cheek. "Listen. I ..."

His pulse quickened. "What?"

Carmelle took a breath. She paused. What if her informant was wrong? She shook her head, looked down at the stem of the glass pressed between her fingers. "Nothing."
Well? 
The second is so much better, isn't it?
Now, that was an example of adverbs in dialogue tags, but you will see how over-use of adverbs spoils writing in normal narrative too. Try this - I've put the adverbs in italics:
She walked slowly through the woods, stopping occasionally to pick a flower, sadly thinking back to the time she'd walked here with her young daughters. Their cheeks had glowed rosily after a late summer picnic, and she could picture the hair sticking damply to their foreheads. The air had been heavy with birdsong then, but now the silence fell eerily around her and suddenly she felt a chill pass down her back. All things pass, she told herself.
It's a rubbish piece of writing in many ways and some of those adverbs are mere tautology, but the main thing is that they are lazy, for differing reasons.  
  • Slowly wouldn't be necessary if more care had been taken to choose a better verb than walked
  • Occasionally is fine and necessary, though it would be better if we actually saw her do it once and the rest of the thoughts happened during this one moment of flower-picking.  
  • Sadly shouldn't be necessary from the context of the para and if the rest of it were written better.
  • Rosily is tautologous after glowed and damply is pretty obvious or would be unnecessary if the foreheads were described as sweaty (or something).  
  • Eerily is not too bad but I'd rather be shown other aspects that made me know it was eery, without being told it so obviously. 
  • And suddenly is a word which should only be used when there is no alternative - here, it could be omitted without loss of meaning. And, therefore, should be.
So, adverbs are not bad but careless or lazy over-use certainly is. Certainly, really, actually, truthfully, adamantly, obviously, very much is. OK?
It's worth saying, too, that lazy use of anything is an immature or poor writer's stock in trade, too. Let's not blame it all on adverbs. I have seen other forms of crapness. Really.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

ARE YOU REALLY READY FOR THIS?

I bring you this video and challenge you not to laugh. Actually, I pretty much cried, and not with laughter. I have so been here - well, not in the Waldenbooks, but in other bookshops, one reasons why I don't do bookshop signings if I can possibly help it. I especially related to the bit where he's with Mary Higgins Clark.




Seriously, folks, I bring you this video to make a very important point. Well, two.
  1. Being a writer is a horribly competitive and often publicly humiliating occupation. No wonder we are flaky. Seriously, there are a hell of a lot of books published and most of them don't get noticed. Be prepared for this.
  2. If you ever see an author sitting at a table with a pathetic or non-existent queue, please, please, please increase the pathetic queue and go and talk to me her. I promise you that the author will love you for ever and a day.
If you're ever doing a signing, here's my advice:
  1. Get friends involved. Make them turn up as fake fans if necessary.
  2. Insist that your publisher and the shop do some promotion beforehand. 
  3. Be brave - smile, sing, hand out sweets, cry, tap-dance.
  4. Insist that your publisher sends a publicity person or, if that's not possible (as it usually isn't), get someone to act the part. You need support. 
  5. If you are ever in a dual signing with anyone else, I have one tip for you: have free postcards or bookmarks or something with you because as soon as readers see something free, they will queue at your table too.
  6. Realise that this situation happens to everyone at some point. And it's bloody horrible.
 Good luck!