Monthly Archives: October 2013

How to read a book like a writer

Reading like a writer

How to read a book? Well, it’s simple, dummy, you just open it up and start from the beginning and keep going till you get to the end of the damn thing.

I’ve read a whole library of books since I was a nipper. Most of us writer types have. It’s easy, you simply pick up a book, any book, and start reading.  Up until recently, I’ve never thought terribly hard about my reading habits. Of course I’ve thought about what I read over the years. But I’ve never really considered HOW I read.

I’m adept at reading. Therefore I read fast. That’s not a problem, is it? I rush through books. There are so many books to read, so little time. You’ve got to rush!

Then I picked up a book called Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose.

I recommend it if, like me, you’ve been reading books for a while and never wondered whether you were getting the best out of them.

Who’d have thought it, huh? All these years, I’ve been doing it wrong.

How to read a book?

You see, Francine Prose advocates slow reading. All too often we brush over sentences without thinking about their meaning too deeply, without wondering why the author uses that turn of phrase, why that word at that particular moment.

We fly over the pages, quickly discerning the plot but seldom digging down into the minutia of the book.

Those little details that make its content more meaningful and profound.

Those small brush strokes on the page that not only further enlighten us but can show us would-be authors the way to improve our own writing.

Since reading her book, I have slowed down my reading. It’s quite a painful process. You see, I’m trying to break a habit of a life time – a bit akin to quitting smoking if you like.

All too often I find myself dropping back into that old habit, racing over those pages as the text draws me in. I have to force myself to slow down again, open my eyes wide and take a deep breath and look at the words, the structure, more closely.

For a writer this is one of the most valuable skills you can develop but one that is often, sadly, ignored. You can read all the books on writing and technique out there, and the number is considerable, but the real value is in close reading (and re-reading) of those books that have had an impact over the years. I’m talking about the memorable ones. What makes them tick? Why were they written? What profound things do they have to say?

Those words weren’t just thrown on the page in a random way, they have been refined by the writer, polished. Blood and sweat have gone into those words and we, as readers, have a duty to regard them more closely.

The value, in the best stories, is in the words. You can learn far more from a close read of a great book than you can from any of the writing manuals out there.

Francine Prose takes examples from a range of literary heavyweights such as Rebecca West, Raymond Chandler, Isaac Babel, Earnest Hemmingway, Anton Chekhov and Flannery O’Connor. Within her book there is advice about words, sentences, and paragraphs, about narration and character, about dialogue, and a multitude of other things that encourage you to open your eyes.

The book makes you to take a more considered approach to reading, one that can prove difficult if you are just curling up by the fire place with a good book and a glass of wine but is infinitely more rewarding.

It seems like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? I mean, reading is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?

It takes constant monitoring, I can tell you. It is a “harder” way to read. But I’ve found it’s worth it.

At the moment, I’m going over Ray Bradbury again and I’ll have more to say about him in a later blog. It’s a joy to read him more closely – I suddenly get him more deeply than I did before and I’m learning a lot about the writing process.

I had the same experience recently with HP Lovecraft. I have to admit I used to struggle with him. But then I slowed down. I wasn’t panicked into reaching the end of the story (something I didn’t even realise was a problem until I started thinking about my reading habits).

I took my time and I began to enjoy.

I mean, really enjoy.

Since reading Francine’s book, I’ve also found myself taking a similar approach with films and TV. Instead of letting it wash over me, I’m starting to think on why a particular scene is there, what’s the purpose of that line the actor just spoke. A new habit is forming.

How to read a book? Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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Buying Followers is Stupid, Stupid

Well, yes, in a nutshell, you have to be stupid buying followers. Which is why, in the interests of science or something quite like science…I went ahead and bought some.

The ad says: I can add 10,000+ real Twitter followers to increase your social media presence for £10.

And it continues: THERE ARE NO BOTS, NO FAKE ACCOUNTS, JUST REAL PEOPLE.

In capitals no less. So I could be sure that buying followers here was kosher.

We’re all interested in getting our stuff out there, getting more coverage so we can sell our beloved works of art to the unsuspecting public. It’s great to have more Twitter followers to help you promote yourself. And aren’t we one big happy family, hanging out in the twitter-verse, only too happy to promote each other? Passing on the good news? We’re an altruistic bunch of  feckers, us writing types.

“Hey, @nitpicker has got a new book out, why don’t you buy it here: http://spuriouslinktoobscurebook.”

Follow. Follow back. It’s one big social media game.

And, as with any game, there are ways to cheat. It’s tempting to cheat isn’t it? Marketing has always been good at that sort of thing. Most of us like a good old-fashioned short cut. Don’t we? A few quid for buying followers…and so many…phew!

Those of you who have read the Feckless these last couple of weeks will know that I’ve been looking at a few things. Recently, I had a gander at increasing your followers by paid tweets. (By the way, I still haven’t had a response from the fraudsters at paidpertweet.com. Who’d have thought, huh?).

This week, I joined freelancing site paidperhour.com. I’m still working on my review of them as a company, but in the meantime I came across a couple of promotions claiming I can add thousands of followers I don’t even have to follow back. For ten quid.

Ten quid?

That’s got to be worth a punt. Hasn’t it?  I’ve got £10 to burn. After all, I would be getting thousands of REAL PEOPLE to follow me.

How could buying followers go wrong?

At the beginning of today I had just over 12,000 followers, mostly writers or people with an artistic bent. I’ve garnered them over the last four or five years I’ve been on Twitter. Working on the old  I-follow-and-you-follow-back way of doing things. You know, trying to engage, trying to reciprocate. Trying to be real.

But it’s time consuming. And I love a short cut to fame as much as the next guy. So I paid my tenner to a nice young man who says his name is Danny and he lives in Dagenham. Danny from Dagenham. Perfect. Money paid, time for a bacon sandwich and a wander while Mr D works his magic. Make me famous, Danny. Make me shine in the Twitterverse.

Fast forward a few hours…

Soon I have 30,200 followers. For ten quid! Whoot! Whoot! Jeeeze, Louise, ain’t that great? I’m suddenly popular and all it cost me was a tenner. I’m a made man. Yes I am. Aren’t I?

Well no.

My twitter followers have risen by about 20,000 eggs from all across the world. (You’ll note that Danny from Dagenham did me an extra special deal for my ten quid, bless him. Maybe he pressed the wrong button or something). Anyway, you know what the egg avatar means on the Twitterverse, don’t you people?

Buying followers means buying eggs

Most of these dubious accounts are following around 200 people and are only being followed by 0, 1, 2 people, give or take. Most of them have tweeted a few times but nothing that makes sense and often mentioning Viagra or advertising how to get 10,000 followers for next to nothing.

There’s 20,000 of the feckers for fecks sake!

Okay, okay, I knew it was a con when I did it but, hell in a handcart people, 20,000?

Take a deep breath Ziggy, have a think. Is there any benefit to them?

Will people say: Look at all those bods following old Ziggy. He must be interesting. He’s a serious player. I’ll follow him too. Is that the case? Does that work?

I only have to look at my own tweeting behaviour to find the answer. If I see someone with a lot more followers than they’re following I rarely press the follow button. The likelihood is that they are not going to follow me and therefore they’re not going to spread the word about me.

Sorry, they’re just not useful.

The only value they have is if they’re famous or informative. I’ll follow @stephenfry or @bbcnews because I’m interested in what they say but I won’t follow @geoffmugginslandscapingbusiness.

Anyway, I’m sure you sensible bods figured this out already. For those of you who are tempted, take my advice and don’t do it. Learn by my example. Buying followers is stupid. End of story.

Now I’m stuck with a load of eggs.

I wonder if there’s a way to make a record-breaking omelet.

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Selling Your Book Online

Online-Bookselling

Selling your book online can be a daunting proposition, so it pays to take some time to think about marketing.

If you’ve spent months or even years honing a novel to perfection, don’t fly off half-cocked when it comes to selling to the unsuspecting public. Take a gander at what everyone else is doing. Find what works for YOU and don’t be afraid to discard what doesn’t.

Experiment but be mindful of how you will appear to followers and fans if you get it wrong.

When describing the greatest book you’ve ever written to the online community, don’t succumb to the formula “it’s X meets Y”:

The film Enders Game was recently advertised as Harry Potter meets Star Wars. You could just as easily say it was The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets The Teletubbies.

It’s Harry Potter meets Star Wars if Harry Potter is in Star Wars and shoving his magic wand up Darth Vader’s chaff. Try to avoid this approach. It’s lame and has less impact than you think.

Equally, don’t say “it’s like X only…”:  It’s Tolkien but darker?  Darker than Tolkien? Really? Seriously, someone tweeted that once.

If you are selling a book online and promote yourself on Twitter and Facebook don’t be all me, me, me. Social media requires you to give more than you take. Okay, you want to get those sales moving but flooding Twitter or Facebook with the same incessant “buy me I’m brilliant” messages will give the average follower a headache.

Remember: If a follower has several thousand followers, they probably won’t notice your excessive, selfish tweeting. If your follower only has a few they almost certainly will and could quickly become exasperated enough to remove your timeline from their list.

Don’t DM followers with a request to tweet your book. It’s a Twitter faux pas and is another way to encourage people to get rid of you. It smacks of desperation. And it rarely works.

It’s a simple thing, but make sure your message is grammatically correct before you send it. How can you expect people to read your book if you can’t even spell?

Find a writing niche and blog it. If you are writing ghost stories perhaps confine your blog to ghosts. Make your blog the place to go for the latest in vampire news if you’re re-imagining Dracula.  If you write books helping people to write, keep to the process of writing, don’t throw in the occasional cake recipe, no matter how nice it is.

Form a collective. Take an interest in other people who are writing in the same genre. If you write zombie apocalypse tales, get to know other zombie freaks. Find the ones you feel comfortable with and form an unholy alliance – advertise each other’s books and blog posts, collaborate on a vlog or two, build your following together.

Opinions matter when selling your book online

Don’t be too opinionated if you’re trying to get people to buy your YA novel “Posy Goes to Washington” or the next great installment of Buffy Fan Fiction. If you want to fly off the handle about tea parties, Obama care, gas prices, thieving politicians, abortion, the futility of life, the universe and everything, do it in the pub not on social media.

But: Do be opinionated if your novel is a searing treatise on the underlying cruelty of humanity or you’re writing an expose of the failure of democracy in Western civilization. People will expect you to vent your spleen.

Above all, don’t be in a hurry when selling your book online. A million copies of your novel are not going to be downloaded this year. Take it slow and easy. Build your fan base, have a nice cool drink and start writing that next book.

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Paidpertweet.com aka a fool and his money are soon parted

Paidpertweet.com, God love ’em, didn’t disappointed when it came to not delivering what they promised. Let this be a warning to you all.

As I’ve been busy writing and will soon publish something (shock, horror, surprise), I thought I’d start looking at some of the methods offered out there which authors can use to promote themselves.

First up, I’m looking at paying for tweets. This is where you pay a twitter user with a large number of followers to tweet something for you. On the surface it sounds ideal for spreading the word about my much loved collection of stories – reaching a large number of people with a relatively small outlay.

That’s what we all want isn’t it?

Disclaimer: I don’t want you to think I’m a fool. I have a little time at the moment and some money to spare, so I thought I’d give it a go. I can afford to lose twenty odd quid; it might hurt but I can afford to lose it.

The first company I looked at was paidpertweet.com, found by doing a search on Google, nothing fancy. My McAfee anti-virus was happy with the site and I did a basic search to see if anyone had written about any problems with the company – maybe I should have searched harder but it was late at night and I’d had rather a lot of coffee.

On paidpertweet.com you can either be an advertiser or a publisher. Twitter users can offer their services for, say, $20 a tweet and you can view the number of users this person has and take a look at the sort of thing they’ve been tweeting; to see if it suits you and will profit your dodgy marketing campaign.

The first person I looked at was a lady who professed to have 150,000 followers and was charging $10 dollars for a single tweet of your choice. Sounded great.  However, when I checked, she had just 20,000 followers and hadn’t tweeted a damn thing in three weeks (that was how her chuff was a little itchy and needed a scratch from someone equally horny).

Not the best of starts. Anyway, I managed to find four tweeters who had the number of followers they professed to have and were tweeting quite regularly. Their combined twitter power was 500,000 twitter followers.

The total cost of this was $12 and worth, I thought, a punt.

I added these four to the basket and was then told that a) I needed to put some money in the pot first and b) there was a 30% surcharge plus $7 on top of the cost.

Okay, so alarm bells should have started ringing at this point, but, as I said, I’d had a lot of coffee and it was late…damn late in fact.

I loaded $35 dollars (you may note that maths on the hoof isn’t my strong point).

Keep in mind that $12 plus 30% plus $7 = $22.60.

And then I pressed ‘buy’.

The whole $35 dollars immediately disappeared. Puff! Much to my caffeine-laced chagrin.  I contacted paidpertweet.com’s help section and sent them a message asking WTF was happening.

By this time, I’m not feeling terribly hopeful, of seeing my money again or getting a semblance of an explanation from paidpertweet.com. I found the manage account facility and saw that all four of my choices were there and that the action taken box was empty. But it didn’t tell me much.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, I thought.

Maybe something will happen and I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As of yet, there have been no tweets of my paid for tweet. And I have had no explanation off paidpertweet.com.

I have to say, now I’ve had a good kip and the caffeine’s worn off, I won’t be surprised if I never do.

What do you think? Dumb, huh? So here’s the advice: Don’t even think about it.

Enter The Feckless Goblin Halloween Haiku Competition and Win £20

PLEASE NOTE: THE COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

And the winner is:

Slutty witches, ghosts
and bats fly high at night on
sugar overload

By @janetjosselyn1

A voucher will be wending its way to her very shortly.

You can read all the great entries in the comments section below.

___________________________________________

Halloween will soon be upon us so I think it’s high time for another competition.

Once again you need to utilise your rusty poetry skills because The Feckless Goblin wants you to produce a Halloween related haiku.

If you don’t know already, haiku is:

A Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.

Now, we don’t want it to be too restrictive for those of you who aren’t poetry orientated, so let’s say your haiku  should have no more than three lines and 13 words AT MOST and should instill a sense of Halloween.

An old, not necessarily Halloween haiku example is:

Endless corridor
Dark scream spears heart
Follow blood trail

Think you can manage that my little Gobliners?

Write your haiku and put it in the comments section below. If you have trouble adding it,  send it to me @ziggykinsella and I’ll add it manually with your ID. We’ll allow one entry per person and the closing date is 31st October 2013.

As a shameless bit of marketing, and because you love The Goblin, once you’ve posted your haiku, please copy the link below and tweet it to your followers so we can get plenty of entries:

I’ve just entered @ziggykinsella’s £20 Halloween Haiku Competition at http://fecklessgoblin.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/enter-feckless-goblin-halloween-haiku.html

The winner will be announced the day after Halloween and will receive a £20 or currency equivalent prize payable either as a voucher or via paypal.

Be a plotter not a pantser

pantser

A bit like the war between the vampires and werewolves in Underworld, the battle between plotters and pantsers has been going on since time immemorial…well at least since blogs and twitter and all this messy social media stuff was invented. And it’s not really a battle, more a divergence of views on the writing process.

For those of you who don’t know:

A plotter…plots. The book or story is mapped out. ‘A’ happens in chapter one, ‘Z’ in the final chapter and in between B happens, C happens, D happens and so on. The writer has considered all the pitfalls, knows where he or she is going, is confident the story works and is able to build suspense effectively.

The pantser…well the pantser flies by the seat of his or her pants. They get up one morning, sit down at their writing desk, have an idea, start at ‘A’ and dive headlong in. The creative juices flow, the coffee cups pile up as the flames of creativity ignite the keyboard.

A plotter can follow the plot

A plotter can take a break, get interrupted, without losing the thread. Plotters can afford to take their time because they have their map, they know where they are going.

A pantser must keep going at all costs

They can’t stop. If they stop, the muse will be gone.

Then what will happen?

The unfinished tome, the greatest novel in history, will languish there, somewhere on the hard drive. So they keep rushing on, panicked by the fall of night, alarmed that their fingers are beginning to ache. They must keep the muse there…must keep the magic flowing…

But they must stop…they must…and so they come back the next day, but the muse is not quite the same. It’s had a few different ideas and it’s got a blinding hangover…Now the pantser has to fight the muse, wrestle it back from semi-consciousness, regain the flow that kept them going all through the day before…the muse resists, it doesn’t want to play today…and before you know it you’ve killed off your main character by the end of page 40 and sit their weeping till your better half comes in, tuts and says:

Maybe you should plot it next time.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating. Having been a pantser at one time, I feel I’ve earned the right to go slightly over the top. There’s enough lonely manuscripts lying at the bottom of my closet courtesy of my ill-advised pantsing regime.

You see, I used to believe the myth which most pantsers roll out when you challenge them on the way they write.

Plotting destroys the creativity. It limits the writer. It’s not as much fun. Better to free the muse, let your characters roam like organic chickens in the fertile corridors of your keenly artistic mind. You see, what pantsers think is that there’s a whole story magically stored in their heads that, if given enough encouragement, will find its way onto the page. They have characters and a situation and they let them loose together without regard to the consequences. The story will decide itself.

It’s a beautiful, true creativity.

Alas, this is writer’s hokum. I’ve lost count of the number of failed novels where the muse has led the writer astray halfway through, the characters that just pop up out of nowhere for no other reason than the muse dictated it at the time, the dead ends crashed through with reckless abandon until the story, and often the main character, fall over the literary cliff face down into the dark, oily pit of plot despair.

Plotting keeps your novel on level ground. It isn’t some chore to be got through before you get down to the really enjoyable bit of writing.

It is part of the creative process.

And, it will save you time. If your plot is already sound then all you have to worry about when you come to editing and proofing your novel is the actual words and passages that make it up.

If you finish a pantsed novel then you have to leave it a considerable amount of time to come back to it as new. Then you have to twist and change the plot so that it makes sense, all without having a nervous breakdown. You have to rewrite huge tracts that don’t work, resisting the temptation to squeeze square pegs into round holes.

That’s if you actually get round to finishing it in the first place. I have no evidence for this, but I suspect that more plotted novels get completed that pantsed novels. The reason is that pantsed novels can so easily go off the rails. If you’re a pantsers whose novel has never, ever, cross your heart and hope to die, gone off the rails, I salute you.

With two fingers. I think you’re a big fat liar.

So from now on, I’m going to be a plotter. I’m gonna plot that damn thing till it’s nice and straight and perfect and…my hair falls out and my nails are all chewed because that damn plot…it’s a tricky old devil…

And one more thing, before I go: Pantsers, pantsed, pantsing…I guess word has underlined them in red because they don’t exist.

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Numbers matter if you sell art online

art online

If you want to sell your art online, the numbers you need to reach your product page can be mind-numbing.

Let me share something with you. I have a Flickr account to which I upload my pictures, flag said pictures to certain groups on the site, usually get around 50-200 hits with about 4 or 5 comments and likes.

Thus it has been for the last five or six years since I joined the site.

It’s the norm.

Yesterday, I woke to find a message from me old mucker @jrobinsondesign with the message: “Crikey, have you seen how many views and faves your sunset shot has got.”

Bemused by my over-excited colleague, I picked up my phone and checked my Flickr page. I’d like to say I jumped out of bed with a superhuman whoop of joy but to be honest I went and made a coffee and came back rubbing the top of my head like Stan Laurell in a Hitchcock movie.

At time of writing, 5,538  views have been logged against the “sunset” picture, 121 people have favourited it and 14 people have actually left comments.

Pretty fecking impressive huh?

It turns out that someone or somebot (see what I did there) selected me to go in Flickr’s “Explore” section. Very gratifying, not sure why it happened but there you go.

The result is that I’m momentarily famous (in Flickr terms). My euphoria lasted for a short while. Well I wouldn’t call it euphoria exactly, just a gentle hum at the back of my age tempered loins.

5,538 views, eh! 121 favourites, eh! 14 comments, eh!

Eh!

That lasted about 4 minutes while the coffee woke me up.

Then I got to thinking numbers. Yes, numbers people. It’s all in the numbers. Numbers are truth. Numbers are…truth, baby. Especially if you are selling your art online.

I worked in sales once and the mantra was “It’s a numbers game” and the same is true of selling on the internet. Get my meaning, Diego? NUM-FUCKING-BUUUUURS!!!!!!

So, deep breath my friends, this is how it goes.

It took 5,538 people to end up with the favourite tab being clicked/selected 121 times. It took the same number to leave a comment 14 times.

So, roughly speaking, which you shouldn’t do with numbers, 2.18% clicked favourite and a stunning 0.25% bothered to leave a comment.

Got that?

That’s not that bad a success rate compared to other selling on the web. Let’s say it’s average. We’ll pretend that it is. Though someone will tell me it isn’t.

Anyway, let’s play a game.

Let’s pretend those figures relate to you selling your book or your work of art online. Let’s pretend you’ve sent a tweet promoting your book to your less than loyal following. Let’s say you’re lucky and 5,538 actually see it. Of them, according to the above statistics 2.18% or 121 people will like it enough to leave a reply.

14 people actually go in and buy your book. Yee-hah! You made sales and you’re jumping around the room with a rose between your teeth, humming the theme from Dexter.

Okay, here’s the kick in the nuts, I mean if you truly want to make a living out of your lovely work. Stay with me my friends. Hold your breath, pull your gut in.

Now.

You’re selling your book on Amazon for £2.99.

14 people buy it.

That means you’ve made a stonking £41.86. That’s not bad, go get a bottle of wine and sit and drink it with artistic élan.

Not too bad. Phew! But wait…

Suppose you want to live off it.

Okay…okay, lay it on me monkey man…

Let’s say your bottom line is £20,000 a year. Can you live on that? Goooood.

To make that, you would have to sell 6,668 copies of your beautiful novel. Let’s say it’s a book at £2.99 each.  Easy peasy lemon squeazy.

According to the model above, the internet dictates that you will need about 396 people to see your tweet just to sell one book.

396 = £2.99

Therefore, if you want to sell all 6,668 copies how many people do you think you will statistically need to see your tweets?

Here it is:

2,640,528

That’s 7,234 people a day.

The population of the world is around 7 billion. That means you need to rope in 0.4% of the population of the planet to earn twenty grand a year.

Have I just made that up? Fuck, someone check my maths for god’s sake before I put a butter knife in my eye.

But you get my drift, right? The numbers don’t lie. They don’t lie baby…they don’t.

Now, I have to admit, I am slightly pissed at the moment and I will post this before I sober up so someone out there will have to check my maths but I don’t think I’m that far off the mark.

I got the 5,538 hits in one day, so according to my plan it would probably take a year and a half to earn that £20,000. But what if I was still only getting, let’s say 20 hits a day. (Normally if I log 100 hits on a picture it takes about 7 days. So let’s just say I get 20 hits every day.).

Here we go. Ready for this?

2,640,528 hits, divided by 20, that’s 132, 026 days which is, I think…yep…ummm…

362 years.

Okay…ooooh…yup….mmmmmm

And that, my friends, is why most of the people in the world are poor and work for “The Man” because, alas, the numbers are against us…selling your art online is just another example of that.
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