I’d like to wish all my friends and family a Happy New Year. As we approach the dawn of 2014 and wave goodbye to 2013, I find myself reflecting on many things. 2013 was an interesting year. There were ups and downs, great achievements, and major disappointments. It also held some of the bravest choices I’ve made in my life.
As I head into my 40th year, I look back to when I was hitting 20 and think on what I hoped I would achieve by the time I was 40. I had desires, aspirations, and goals. I’ve always had grand ideas – big designs – but somehow never managed to get there. Why was that, I wonder? Well, the truth is, 20 years ago I lacked focus. I was that way as a child. Start a thing, get bored, move onto another thing. It really has been only the last few years that I can say with any certainty that I stuck with something. I choose to write.
I want to say something about social media. I love it. But I see it as a tool. I know people who live inside it, hardly ever come out, and when they do – they aren’t away for long. It’s addictive, because people can be who they want to be on-line, and sometimes the people who visit us are negative, trolling preachers of hate who delight in starting arguments and revel in the responses. I can usually tell, within a very short space of time, if I’m going to like this new “on-line-friend” – and yes I do make a distinction between “friends” and “on-line-friends” they aren’t the same to me. You can meet people on-line and socially interact with them, you can form a friendship in the same way you do with the people you physically socialise with, in every respect, building relationships is the same – with one exception. You never really know if the person on the other end of the internet, is the person they claim to be. But how is that any different to someone you bump into and become friends with in the street? It’s true you can have a friendship with people who pretend to be something they aren’t. But the Internet gives you so much more freedom to be a different person – to be a character you create. And that’s not a bad thing. You’re hiding behind a picture, and it may not even be yours. A real person would need the best acting skills in the world to be able to maintain that level of deception. If you met a person like that in real life, would you consider them a real friend? In retrospect, at least on Facebook, we are in daily contact with people who do just that – and we don’t bat an eyelid.
Some people have difficulty building relationships at home, at work, or find it hard to maintain the ones they do make – but on social media, we are empowered by the anonymity it presents us. And because of it, people can re-invent themselves over and over, that’s its power.
I use it as a tool. It gives me an outlet to be my quirky, extroverted self. It gives me a platform to reach out to interact with people from all walks of life, all cultures, and expand my knowledge. It allows me to show-off, and to not feel guilty about doing it either. I value my “on-line-friends”, but I don’t put the same expectations on them, in the way I do my “friends”. I’ve often wondered why I do this.
Sir Laurence Dies
In January 2013 I self-published Sir Laurence Dies, my first book. It had been on the Harper Collins site Authonomy, for a while, and during that time I picked up advice from people far more talented than I. I learnt valuable lessons. The one thing I learnt above all others was this – people liked my story. That was a turning point in the road for me. I am not published by traditional means. I am self-published. People ask me frequently: Why haven’t you been picked up by a traditional publisher? I honestly find it difficult to answer the question. I sent my book to a few publishers, and those that did reply, told me it wasn’t what they were looking for. I had been in contact with a small mystery press in the UK, who took the time to properly read through my work. The response was crushing, but helpful. I went backwards and forwards with a few presses. It’s funny now, when I look back, but I had such conflicting responses.
The ones who took the time to review my work and send me pages of details as to why it wasn’t suitable, or didn’t meet their expectations, gave me very solid reasons why. I had feedback on plot, on anachronistic faults in dialogue and in patterns of speech, on smothering dialogue with too many tag lines, or on the danger of making my characters too shallow or stereotypical – a tendency toward parody, which wasn’t the desired result. One very helpful reviewer actually commented, “It comes across as sub-Le Carré spy games” on a scene I had written but never made it into this particular book. And this level of time taken by an editor is exactly what you hope for, to improve, even if you are crushed by it. I valued the comments I got back.
And yet, the flip side, there were a few who wanted the book. They told me my work was amazing, the best thing they’ve ever read, full, rich, and exemplary. Not one mention of any of the problems highlighted to me by others, and I knew a lot of these errors were still there.
This confused the hell out of me.
It did a lot for my ego, but I don’t know if it did anything for professional writing, or was I simply reading for too much into the criticism? Perhaps this is the problem with a small Press, it’s a lottery. Interestingly, the small Press’ who publish “eBook” medium only gave me the thumbs up, conversely, the Press that has its own “Paperback Publishing House”, gave me the thumbs down. I think I know why that is. If you only publish eBooks, you really don’t have to be that concerned about the quality, because you’re not investing any actual money, an account on Amazon, for example, is free. Whereas, to produce a book, design and print it in house, requires money to be spent. I can understand why, in that example, a Publishing House would be a lot more selective. It suggest to me that these editors and publishers are, perhaps, a little more qualified to make that determination, than a Press who has no overhead costs at all, although I don’t know if you can put a figure on professional reputation.
J Ellington Ashton Press
Some of you might remember that I announced my book was being picked-up by J Ellington Ashton Press. They were complimentary, helpful, and wowed me with their enthusiasm. I learnt a lot from my time with them. The book, however, had been doing well prior to this. My expectation was that being “published” instead of “self-published” would garner better results – why wouldn’t it? A press would have better contacts than me, routes to sell the book that I had no access too, a strategy and marketing plan – after all, they need to make money as well – a press is a business. But I got cold feet, I can’t put my finger on why, but it wasn’t because I didn’t feel the Press weren’t doing everything they could to sell my book, the exact opposite was true, they worked extremely hard to market my book. What a lot of people forget is, an author has a responsibility to market themselves and their work too. What I found was, they were using the same methods and outlets I was using. And I was but 1 book in a number they had – despite their efforts and my own, my sales remained same. Eventually they approached me and offered the book back. They knew that I would financially loose from an agreement with them, if the book sales didn’t improve. I worried about how I was going to make back the % I would loose, but it never came to that. They kindly released me from the contract I signed – and I will always respect them for their integrity in this regard.
The end result
The proof, as they say, would be in the pudding. Would it sell? Would people like it? Will people see it amongst all the other books? The answers were favourable, it did – and continues to sell. I have had excellent reviews. And people did see it. To date, Sir Laurence Dies has sold a total of 3,400 copies (eBook and Paperback).
Publishing a book was such a rewarding experience for me, even if it was self-published. My health throughout 2013 has been up and down – in fact, I’ve probably had the worst year, health wise, but it hasn’t destroyed my spirit. Dealing with a long-term medical problem – which I should qualify by saying isn’t life threatening in any way – means managing my life better. There are things I need to do differently and that will happen in time.
The Empty House and Revolting Tales
I published a short story called, The Empty House, with J Ellington Ashton Press in a collection they titled – All That Remains – in July/August. And this was my first attempt at writing a horror story. The anthology was designed to promote the authors, to give people a taste of what they could expect. I haven’t seen any real positive results from it, but I have since been educated that this is the problem with anthologies and collections. It did, however, inspire me to think about writing my own collection of short stories.
I published my second book in November, titled: Revolting Tales, with Todd A Curry. This collaboration came about through discussions on horror stories with Todd, my then brother-in-law, and now one of my closest friends. He’d read my short story and liked it. We were working on writing the story of his life, when we put that on hold. He had a desire to write some horror stories himself. We then worked over the summer to develop the book and the result was far better than I had imagined. This collection of short stories took me out of my comfort zone and fully into the horror genre.
I’m currently writing the 2nd book in the “Dies” trilogy. The story of Doctor Straay and Chief Inspector Drake is developing at break-neck pace – and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
I’ve met a lot of interesting and dynamic people over this last year. Authors, editors, fans of my work – I never thought I would have fans! And people I consider family. I’ve been blessed by the support and encouragement of those closest to me. I went through a life changing event last August, it wasn’t messy, but it was extremely hard. It empowered me to make decisions about my future, which in turn gave me the focus I so desperately lacked in all my previous endeavours. I’m a writer. I’m an author. It is part of my persona. I will always be this way, even if I choose to do other things in my life. Despite all my previous mistakes, and all the failed opportunities in my life, for the first time, as I head into my 40s, I know exactly where I want to go.
I cannot explain why I feel this way, and I’m sure there are people out there that could give me an analysis, but I know that 2014 is going to be an amazing year for me. Something big is going to happen. It’s more than just a feeling. I am excited and energised by the prospects to come. I wish all of you the very best for 2014. I hope you achieve everything you set out to do and thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your support and friendship.
Best wishes, and a happy new year!