Sunday, 17 May 2015

Things I Never Expected About Becoming an Author

Just recently, my writing roller-coaster developed a few extra twists and turns. Standpoint, my debut thriller, launched in March. Line of Sight, the next book in the series, swiftly followed it in May. As a writer who writes in order to be read, I'm thrilled to see my work available to a wider audience. I'm also - like most writers - one of life's observers and it has been very interesting to observe myself at this exciting and bewildering time.

One of the main feelings, at the signing of a contract last October, was relief. Oh, there was joy too - don't let my saturnine delivery facade you - but the relief was palpable. The premise, which I envisaged running over five books, had legs. At least two, anyway, based on the initial contract. There was also a sense of validation, that all those hours spent locked inside my own head had amounted to something tangible - a fictional world someone else believed in too.

Editing with a publisher was an enlightening experience. One or two minor elements I'd taken for granted, after so long with the source material, didn't hold up to scrutiny and needed elaboration. 

After so many of my own edits I thought I'd considered most things, but the language itself had never popped up on my radar. As Joffe Books, my publisher, has an international audience, I had to consider the level of slang for the first time. Writing for me, I'd entertained myself with little in-jokes and cultural references. Writing for a range of readers, with different cultural touchstones, required a more inclusive approach. It wasn't so much a case of 'kill your darlings' as, "Who are you writing this for?" The publisher was bang on the money because some of the US reviews soon revealed that some US readers struggle with the slang. We've added a glossary, but the tone and syntax are distinctly British English.

"Never justify, never explain." is a wonderful mantra for authors. Arguably, everything you want to say should be in the text. Despite that, I found myself pre-warning friends and family that the first thriller contained sex and violence. It must have been a transitional phase because I don't bother now! The same is true with the language. If they can't get past the banter and 'bollocks' on page one then it probably isn't the series for them. (They're welcome to buy it anyway though, just in case.)

Once the first book was out there I was faced with the challenge of promotion. I've used that ambiguous word deliberately, by the way. 

From a sales / promo perspective I've spent more time on Facebook than I ever thought possible, and social media generally, to help spread the word about my books. Thanks to the generosity of some friends, that message reached far more people than I could have imagined - and not just on social media. Promotion of a different kind has also given me food for thought. One or two writers thought I had now acquired magical answers, to find a hidden path through the publication jungle. Others, disappointingly, have kept a distance. Maybe they think I'm busy or maybe they're busy, or maybe they're just waiting for the dust to settle.

Do I feel any differently towards my own writing? Not especially, although I can see that cutting corners at the beginning is a false economy. In the drive to get an agent or a publisher it can be oh so tempting to adopt a 'just good enough' approach. That's all fine and dandy until you get to the pre-launch proofread and start to question whether elements of the book are strong enough. Too late, my friend, the process has already gathered momentum. An editor and a publisher can only do so much, and they have to work with whatever you give them. Skimp now, pay later!

I'd be lying if I didn't say that getting a book deal hasn't made me more ambitious. For one thing, I originally pitched a series of four or five books, so I have a specific focus for my writing going forward. For another, now I have some evidence of what's possible - both in terms of publication and based upon positive reader feedback - I am more confident with my own writing style. I have my critics too, of course, which is as it should be. I'm also aware that while recent successes do not guarantee future progress, it does help to establish a track record for anything else I write.

I'm still learning, but here are five things I've picked up so far from the publication of Standpoint and Line of Sight:
- Write well and edit well because you can't make a silk purse out of a terrible manuscript.
- Listen to your editor and your publisher. They're investing time and money in your work, and they understand the commercial realities. Art for art's sake...
- Accept that some people will be thrilled for you and others not so thrilled. You're only responsible for what you do on your side of the fence.
- Stand by your words, as my friend Christine told me last time our writers' group met.
- Reviews are incredibly subjective. I've been complimented and criticised for the same thing in different reviews on the same day. But...even negative reviews, if they're constructive, can help you understand your 'brand' and to use that information in the way you communicate about your book. 

You're welcome to follow me on Twitter - @DerekWriteLines. You can also catch me blogging over at http://www.alongthewritelines.blogspot.co.uk 

Now, here's the skinny on my thrillers and the sales links.


Standpoint

Thomas Bladen has been living a double-life for two years. He's a government photographer, working in London, but the shadowy Surveillance Support Unit also assists other departments. The SSU is staffed by ex-forces personnel, careerists and Thomas. He has an eye for details that other people miss and a talent for finding trouble - a combination that was never going to bring him an easy life. When Thomas witnesses a shooting, and uncovers a web of deceit and treachery, can one good man hold the line without crossing it?

Amazon.co.uk link for Standpoint.

Amazon.com link for Standpoint.
Line of Sight

A young woman lies dead at an army base. Was it really an accident? 

Thomas Bladen works in surveillance for a shadowy unit of the British government. When Amy Johanson is killed during a weapons test, Thomas and his partner Karl are determined to get to the bottom of it. They must protect Amy's friend, Jess, the only witness they have, who plays a dangerous game of seduction and lies. Meanwhile, Thomas's girlfriend Miranda and her family are once again put in the firing line. 

Can Thomas get justice for Amy, solve the mystery of Karl's past, and decide who he can really trust?

Amazon.co.uk link for Line of Sight.

Amazon.com link for Line of Sight.