Sunday, September 30, 2012

Could you all take a look, please? No! Sod off!

You've guessed correctly. I have a full blown rant in me, and it demands its way out. So, fasten your seat belt and hold on to your wig, it'll get rough.
As a self-published author I'm frequenting fora on a regular basis. Often just to chat, more often though, to discuss. It can get heated, which is fine by me, as long as it stays factual. I will also hit people verbally over the head every now and again. Trust me, they deserve it. And it happened a lot more often lately as some people are seriously not one, but a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
I have lost count on how many new authors popped on one of my threads where we discuss self-published books, announcing they've just published their first book, and asking either me or all participants to take a look at it, then feed back to them. My favourite: Any constructive review would be great.
Excuse me? Are you telling me that you have not had anyone look at your book before publishing? Are you serious? I mean, really? Are you serious?
That explains a lot. Asking for feedback when the book is already published is so clever, even I'm impressed. Not! I wonder why people ask others to look at their offerings and tell them what they think. Is it really important to them? To be honest, I don't care at all. Go look at my book and tell me you think it's shite. Fine, if it makes you feel better. Of course a review is important, mainly for the potential buyer, but that's a different matter. Asking people for feedback after a glance at the 'look inside' feature is baffling to say the least. What do they need feedback for? Either the book is edited and polished or it's not. If it's not, then go and fix it. Before publishing! It worries me that amateurs, who can't even be bothered to use Google to find writers' sites and learn the craft before they even think of publishing, seem to take it as a given that readers are their guinea pigs. When have readers become beta readers by default?
I really don't need to take a look when it's a first time author, 99% of the cases are in dire need of an edit.
And it's a brave move to ask me, the one who initially started that thread stating that I'm not impressed with self-published books in general, what I think of their novel, because the answer will most possibly hurt. I don't have respect for people who don't work hard and gain skills before publishing. I'm very sorry if that sounds arrogant, but even the most talented person needs some practice. And after my deleting marathon, I'm not really keen on reading more dross. Thank you very much. Plus, I certainly don't have the time to read opening after opening, telling those hopeful souls the bad news. Most of them won't even go and hire an editor, so it's lost energy, or my sanity. Maybe even both in the worst case scenario.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When I pour myself a glass of red wine ...

... it means that summer's over.
I have to apologise for not updating the blog for a while, I'm surprised myself, but I was, and still am, really busy. And there wasn't much that pissed me off so much that I needed to rant. Well, maybe the subject of fake reviews, paid for or bribed in any other way, but that has been circulating for ages, no need for me to warm up the ever colder becoming topic. Don't get me wrong: I do lose all respect for anyone who cheats his or her way up with fake bought praise, and I certainly will never become one of them, but I'm a little tired of reading about it now. Besides, there are plenty of wonderful bloggers who dealt with the issue.
<------ a painting I fell in love with many years ago. It hangs on my wall.

Back to the changing seasons. It has been a summer spent in the garden or on the couch, writing, writing and writing. In between I did some gardening, then editing, writing and writing and editing and ... you get the picture. I was busy, hence the slight neglect of the blog. And it's not over yet. I'm starting a massive rewrite project; a novel I'm hopefully be able to publish in November/December. Again, a completely different genre. Probably a good thing it's not hot anymore; rewriting/editing is not so much fun on a reflective screen. It's okay to write new stuff, to just let your fingers run over the keyboard (I touch type), squinting at the screen through your tears, not so. However, I wrote a few more short stories to add to my collection, which I have just published on Amazon. The book is called 5-Minute Tea Break Stories and will be free from tomorrow to Saturday. Look out for it. The stories are all short and in various genres. If you are a long-term follower, you'll know most of them as they were posted for a long while. I did the cover image, by the way. How's that for a first attempt in photography, eh? And that with a mobile cam.

Okay, since that book is out of the way, I can now take a breather. A short one. Just this evening, after having scrumptious fish. I decided I deserve a glass of red tonight. That's right, I've bought a bottle of red as that's what I prefer when it's cold outside. I know, I know, it's not really cold yet, but you haven't been in my flat: it's a fucking fridge! But that's not your concern, I just wanted to tell you. It also means that autumn is waiting around the corner, and boy, do I love autumn. Not so much because it's colder, but for its colours. You often get clear blue sky and the trees will fight for your eyes' attention with their yellow, red, and brown leaves. It's simply beautiful to walk through the park, the low sun warming your face while it's crisp. I love it.

And then will be winter, which means lots of glasses (bottles) of red and plenty of writing to be done. I guess I didn't tell you yet that I've decided, against my former decision, to write a third book in the Branded series. Why? Because it keeps haunting me and I receive a lot of messages, asking if there will be a third one. So yes, it's official, there will be. But it maybe take me a while. Please bear with me. I don't want to rush, but want to write something that will be worth waiting for. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tip of the week: focus on the important things

Whenever I work with a client, I try to help them tightening their manuscript: erasing unnecessary paragraphs, scenes, yes, even characters. Why? Because the tighter the book, the better. I know from own experience how easy it is to fill a chapter with unnecessary fluff; when I wrote No Wings Attached, I worked towards a certain word count: 120. I managed, but it wasn't necessary. I was inexperienced and had no idea that what I was doing would only result in deleting 40k in the next two years.

Yesterday night, I stopped reading a book which, quite frankly, bored me stiff with the many viewpoints of several family members and friends when it was basically the story of one main character and how she dealt with her boyfriend hitting her and an abortion. Unfortunately, I had to read her parents' point of view, her boyfriend's, her friends', her boyfriend's mother and if the author could have crammed even more into the book, I'm sure I'd also know the dog's point of view. The result was that the main character's viewpoint came far too short and missed the depth and emotions I'd hoped for. I wouldn't have missed any of the 'development' if those viewpoints wouldn't have been there in the first place. That'd be a good half of the book, I'd say. And it was a short book already. I do like character driven books, but if you chose to write such a novel, you need to go deeper. The book just scratched the surface, and as a result I couldn't connect with the characters. At all. In my opinion, the story would work great from two point of views: hers and her boyfriend's with flash backs into the past, to make the reader understand why both acted the way they acted. There was a lot of potential in that premise, but it didn't deliver.

There was also something I see in many new writers' manuscripts: the over-explaining of even the tiniest dust particle. If a couple goes for dinner, I don't really care what the waitress serving them looks like or what her name is. Unless she plays a bigger part or causes a particular reacting to the main characters, it's just 'the waitress'. Such minor characters can easily be cardboard cut outs as they don't need to stick with the reader. Better to concentrate on what's important: what does the restaurant look like (scene setting)? How do the characters feel (emotional setting)? What do they talk about (action)? Show me how they interact, their smiles, what they see in each others' faces? These are the things a reader needs to connect with the scene and the characters.

If you write a thriller, make sure to keep the reader on his toes. Place hints and move the plot forward quickly. Strip it from all unnecessary ballast, unless it enhances the plot and gives depth to a character. For example: a man visits a close friend in Paris only to find out she's a secret agent. He recalls some odd behaviour of said friend in the past. Or a woman is packing up her and her husband's belongings after she found him dead in their house. She remembers the good times. There is so much potential in such scenes and room for plenty of in-depth character development. Having the viewpoint of her mother, remembering how the couple met would be unnecessary fluff.

The main thing to remember is that a novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything should run smoothly into each other, without long-winded passages of empty scenes. All scenes should move the plot forward, or, in case it's a character driven novel, take the relationship to another level, push the thoughts of the characters closer to a solution.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's not all bad in the virtual world

Seriously, it isn't. I know I've been ranting about social media for ages, and I certainly stick to my main opinion, but it has good sides, too. I've made friends I may not have made without the Internet.
I've recently said to my lovely friend Winn Smith, that I'm glad I've taken up writing, and that I am on Twitter. Why? Because I wouldn't have met her otherwise. It all started out with me posting a link to my short stories and she downloaded them and tweeted that she really enjoyed the bok. Of course I was flattered, I would be lying if I said I wasn't, but somehow it started a wonderful series (novel-sized by now) of e-mail exchanges about everything in life, and of course: writing. She's become a beta reader, a proofreader (very good one, I will add), a humorist and a friend. We're going to meet up shortly for the first time, because, although both living in London, we haven't managed to find a date in over a year. Sad, but true. I'm really looking forward to meeting her in person.
In fact, due to social media, I've become friends with quite a few people. Readers, who got in touch and befriended me on Facebook, now get a close update on what I'm up to. We chat, have exchanges about our everyday life, support each other when the going gets tough, etc. I've learned that many readers like to see a human being behind the author, and that they are also very interested in getting involved in the process of the writing. A few have offered to beta read my books, or I've asked them straight out. For an author there's almost nothing more important than beta readers in the early stages. Here is where a reader can have a say and be a big part of making a novel better. Although many authors say they write for themselves, as I do, I also want my readers to like what I'm writing. They need to connect to the book in order to feel something, so if they collectively don't like something in a book, I must go a back to square one and change it. Not that it ever happened, but my beta readers have their say and I take them seriously.
I've also seen enthusiastic tweets about my books or my writing, often from people I have never spoken to. They share their emotions through Twitter or Facebook with their friends, which, to me, is means the world. Nothing is better than word of mouth in the publishing business.
So, yes, it's not all bad in the virtual world. As long as the good outweighs the bad, I'm happy to be part of it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Diary of an ESL author

Not really a diary, but I'd like to share my views on how it really is to write in English if it's not your mother tongue. When I started out with writing three and a half years ago, I was advised to better write in German and have it translated to English. Something I didn't want to do as I saw it as being ridiculous. My English wasn't that bad back then, but I knew I needed some serious help and improvement. I'm by no means someone who's kidding herself.
Now, after lots of practice, my English is very good, but I still need help as you can see in the example below. It's one of the short stories I consider to put in the collection, and my lovely friend Tom was kind enough to go through it for me and correct my word choices. This is still a struggle. Even though English has become my first language, I'm no native and it shows.

Click on image to enlarge.

I keep being annoyed with myself as I often know how it's done correctly, but in the flow of writing, do it wrongly, and once it's there, I often don't see the error. Only when I get corrections back, I'll slap my forehead (very hard), because I can't believe I've done it. The story above is a 'light' example, you should see some of the other writing I've got back. That'll make you dizzy. The problem is that it's more work for me than it is for a native. I need someone to help me with the English (copy-editing), and then at least two proof-readers, as there are always errors sneaking in while correcting the copy.
Interestingly, I get very few comments on plot, always have, but the sheer amount of copy-editing that needs doing is really time consuming, and I can't help but think that it would all be a much quicker process if it weren't for that. One reason why I think native self-published authors should be able to produce much better books.
Apart from that I'm a major control freak, if I could I would do the whole thing myself, including the covers, but I can't. Yet. I've started (see last post). It's a major issue for me to give my work into the hands of someone else. I trust those I'm working with, even though I ask tons of questions as to why a sentence was corrected that way, or I see that the correction is not what I wanted to say. It's not simply a bit of grammar (tense or missing article), it's far more than that. A copy-editor working with a non-native has to be able to hear the author's voice, know about writing in general to avoid making suggestions that don't fit the style, and be more patient in general. Particularly if the editor doesn't know German. It's a relationship based 100% on trust; if the author's not as good in English as I am, a strong voice could be silenced.
Back to the people who advised me to write in German and have it translated: I've heard many people complain about the voice getting lost in translations, and that's exactly why I insisted on writing in English, and work on it until it's (almost) perfect. That and my wanting to improve my English. It certainly has done the job for me, but I'm not there yet. I will, however, translate my own books to German. Let's see how that goes.