The publishing world is changing rapidly; and I'm not getting any younger. So, the first reason I chose to go down the "indie" path was time.
After your manuscript is as "finished" as it will ever be, it still takes months for, hopefully, an agent to accept you as a client; more months for him/her to place your book with a traditional publisher; and even more months before your book is released. "Indies" don't have to wait all that time to see the fruits of their labours available to readers.
The second reason I chose "indie" publishing was, by and large, mathematical. The odds against getting an agent to take you on and for a traditional publisher to accept your work are colossal. You might believe that "talent will out," but I'm not so sanguine. I'm sure there are hundreds of incredibly talented authors out there who simply haven't "had the breaks," or, more importantly, will never get the ones they deserve.
I was also put off the traditional publishing route by the seeming fact that agents and publishers only seem to be looking for authors and books which follow the latest trends, or genres. To be honest, I'm not really sure to which genre "The Janus Enigma" belongs. Is it a noir thriller, an action adventure, science-fiction, a mystery? To my mind, it's all of those things. It doesn't fit into a specific genre, but at least, or so I believe, that adds to its uniqueness and, hopefully, its appeal to readers.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Seeing what started as a few vague, but interesting ideas transform into an outline and then into a manuscript — having your situations, settings and characters come alive. I suppose the biggest buzz I get from writing is typing that final, definitive full-stop at the very end and allowing myself a few brief moments of triumph before I have to face the unmitigated slog of revising, rewriting, editing and proofing.
It's also extremely joyful, of course, when someone who's read your book says that they like it.
What do you consider to be the key to becoming a successful author?
It all depends on what you mean by successful - how you measure success. For some it boils down simply to book-sales. To others "success" is measured by excellent, positive reviews. For me, "success" is measured by believing I have created something which others will enjoy. Sales and reviews only serve to confirm that inner belief.
But to answer the question. To achieve success as a writer, first and foremost, you must have a thorough, even exhaustive, command of the the language you're writing in.
An author is like a painter. Painters create different images, work in varying styles and often have a way with composition, colour and brush strokes, which is unique to them. If you like, language is the author's palette, the blank page his, or her, canvas. Just as a painter cannot hope to create a masterpiece without a full command of composition, colour and technique, so a writer cannot hope to achieve success if they cannot use their language freely and fully.
Vocabulary is important. Very few painters can create a masterwork using only primary colours, or a hugely limited palette. It's just the same for writers who possess a narrow, or restricted vocabulary. It shackles them to the very basics. Having a wide vocabulary puts a great many "colours" on the author's palette, which, in turn, allows for the exploration and expression of different tones and shades of meaning.
Most painters have a recognisable style, unique to themselves and I believe that, in order to achieve success, writers should also develop a unique style, one that makes their work stand out.
The trend for "genre fiction" has given rise to a great many books which seek to emulate closely the works which set the trend in the first place. How many erotic novels are very similar to "Fifty Shades Of Grey"? How many epic fantasies tread in the literary footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis? To my mind, this kind of writing is almost like "painting by numbers". You'll end up with a picture, but it will always be something of an imitation.
The third pre-requisite for success as a writer of fiction, in addition to command of your language and a "different" style is, of course, imagination. Some would say it's the prime requirement and I wouldn't argue the point too much. A novel is created by your mind, so, simply, let loose your creativity and imagination.
What is your writing process?
First, I come up with an idea. It could be something as simple as a single setting or a character — "The Janus Enigma" began, well over a year ago now, with someone who became an important, but minor character in the completed novel — Mexican Charlie. At first, he didn't even have a name, just an intriguing occupation and the working title I carried around in my head for months was "The Man Who Sold The World".
After that first moment of "inspiration", I sit down and begin outlining the book, firstly as a series of key events. I gradually flesh out the outline as ideas develop. I'm not a slavish "outliner". I don't wait until the actual writing process is just a matter of following the plan and almost "joining the dots." In fact, I'm rather impatient to begin the actual writing. Things change and develop as I write and revise and as fresh ideas come into my head.
I write fairly quickly. The first draft of "The Janus Enigma" took about two months, but I worked at it practically every day — one of the benefits of being retired. I revise as I go, starting each writing session by revisiting the previous day's work. After I have that first draft complete, I begin the process of editing, revising and rewriting. That takes me longer than writing the actual first draft. I must have gone through the MS of "The Janus Enigma" well over twenty times. What began as 81,000 words eventually became 106,000. I know they say you should "cut to the bone" — and I did — but there was always something which needed a little expansion, a scene which didn't have the flow, or cadence I was looking for.
One of the hardest things I've had to do is stop — to leave the thing alone. You can always find a word, or phrase which you want to change, even in a final draft, but that way lies madness. You could spend the rest of your life going through your tens of thousands of words time and again, usually changing just one, or two of them. So I've had to school myself to put it to one side and turn my attention to something else.
What rules do you follow when you're writing?
I love the English language. It's a living, vibrant ever-changing entity. I don't believe it should be subject to "rules" per se. The rules of grammar are, simply, accepted conventions. I see nothing wrong in breaking a great many of them, provided you bear in mind that the sole aim of grammar, punctuation etc. is to enhance clarity — no more, no less.
I've seen loads of aspiring authors on writing community websites agonising over "the comma splice" and such minutiae. To my mind, such considerations are irrelevant. Provided what you write is clear in its intent and meaning and doesn't make the reader pause, trying to work out what a you mean, or what is going on, you're good to go. It doesn't matter whether you use an em-dash, an ellipsis, a colon, or whatever, provided you are relatively consistent and, above all, provided that what you use clearly shows what you intend the reader to understand.
Of course, I don't throw out the baby with the bath-water. I do adhere to the conventions of ending a sentence with a full-stop and separating things in a list with commas (or semi-colons if the list calls for it). But I'm not afraid of what the Word grammer-checker refers to as "Fragment, consider revising" or other such "breaches of the rules".
What do you think of writers paying for help?
Quite simply - not much.
The exceptions I would make are in the realms of proof-reading and cover-design. It's always good to have a fresh pair of eyes examine your work closely, word by word, sentence by sentence, looking for those inevitable slips in spelling and/or punctuation; and if you're not artistic, a professionally designed cover can add real value to your book.
As for the rest - No thanks.
Let's deal with editing first. We're told there are four kinds of editing:
Developmental or structural editing, which can change the entire structure of your book, moving, or even excising huge chunks of it.
Stylistic, or line editing involves an editor looking at the sentence structure of your work, reshaping them for better "clarity" and "flow". Its stated aim is to make the author's meaning clearer.
Next comes copyediting, which concerns itself with grammar, word-usage and consistency of both language and plot. (We all hate plot holes, or anachronisms).
Finally, there's proofreading, which looks to correct mistakes with spelling, punctuation, repeated words and all kind of typos.
With the exception of proofreading, I believe that an author should be able to handle all these things for him or herself. Writers should always be conscious of their work's structure and flow. They should have the skill with, and command of language to make their meaning abundantly clear. And they should be able to achieve consistency in their usage and plotting.
Besides - many of those elements are what go towards giving an author a unique style, or voice. Allowing another person to change your book puts your unique style at risk.
But let's go a step back, or even two, to the process of outlining, or planning your novel. I recently came across something called "beat-sheets", basically, templates for writing novels which reduce the process to a spreadsheet formula, tying writers in to a set structure. The designers of these things use terms like "good", "proper" and "correct". How do they know what is "good" or "proper" or "correct"? What they're really saying is "This is what happens and when in best-selling books. So, to succeed, simply follow the formula". To their credit, the creators of such "beat-sheets" do say that they are are guidelines and that good story flow and storytelling comes first.
But the end result is still formulaic and, the last time I looked, "formulaic" was a pejorative term. The same holds true for any prescribed method of plotting or planning or outlining. To my mind, this is the great weakness in the "genre fiction" way of thinking. It leads people down paths already well-trodden, rather than encouraging them to do something new and didfferent.
At the risk of repeating myself, I firmly believe that a novel's structure is as much in need of creativity as the actual words on the page. As Doris Lessing said: "There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.” W. Somerset Maugham voiced something similar: "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
The long and the short of it all is that a great many people who offer writers help and assistance, for a suitable fee, of course, are running a business and the object of any business is to make money. Altruism, if it exists at all, comes somewhere down the list.
Each writer is an individual, as are those who would edit, restructure, "improve" or otherwise change your work, which means that each of them will have his, or her view on what is "right" or "good"- but this is no more than a subjective point of view which may well not coincide with your own. To quote Polonius: "This above all, to thine own self be true."
And on a final, perhaps cynical, note, I would ask - if all those people who offer you literary success through their paid services have the secret, why don't we see their names at the top of the best-seller lists?
How important is dialogue?
Without speech, we'd each be locked into our own, isolated little worlds. People learn by communicating with each other, often through the spoken word. We express our thoughts and feelings through what we say to others. A person's choice of words when they say something can be incredibly revealing.
I use a great deal of dialogue in "The Janus Enigma", both to progress the action and to reveal character.
One thing I don't do is to use "dialoge tags" - "he said", "she answered", "he bellowed" etc. etc. I've always found they can so easily kill the flow of a scene, or passage. At first, I found it rather difficult to do without them - a bit of a challenge to indicate who was speaking, but I soon found some very simple ways around that, which didn't compromise anything else in the book.
"The road to hell is paved with adverbs..." - Discuss.
Anyone who reads Stephen King's full observation on adverbs in his book "On Writing", would quickly come to understand that he uses adverbs as an example to illustrate the dangers of overuse, or frequent repetition of any part of speech, or anything else, for that matter.
Adverbs do have their place. It's impossible to say how many words there are in the English language, but cleverer people than I believe that there are, at least, 100,000 adjectives and most adjectives have their corresponding adverb.
It's a foolish writer who turns his, or her, back on perhaps 20% of the words available to them.
The key, as with most things, is moderation and that was Mr King's point.
The same applies to "show don't tell" and the use of the passive voice. I've just started re-reading Frederick Forsyth's 1979 novel, "The Devil's Alternative". Forsyth writes fluently. Reading him is almost effortless and very pleasurable. I was surprised to realise that the vast majority of the first fifty pages comprise "telling" and exposition, often using the passive voice. And you know what? I didn't mind one little bit, chiefly because he's so good at it.
And that's the other secret. Use everything in moderation, but when you do use it, make it brilliant.
Are you happy to be an indie author, without an agent, or traditional publisher?
As I've indicated in an earlier answer, I relish the freedom being a self-publishing indie author gives me.
I suppose it all depends on why you write at all. Personally, I don't have any aspirations towards world fame, or fabulous wealth. I'm happy as I am. Besides, I've enjoyed two highly successful careers. I don't think I want to embark on a third. I just want to write books that other people might enjoy.
Of course, some writers see having an agent represent them and their work published by a "proper" publisher as the be all and end all. They long to join the self-perpetuating, but shrinking circle of author-agent-publisher. They even look down on indies and self-publishers as lesser beings. To be honest, I couldn't give a toss and I believe that the publishing landscape will change even more radically over the coming years than it has done over the past ten, with traditional publishers finding themselves increasingly "squeezed". Of course, they will survive. There will always be people who want a "proper", paper book from a known publisher, or an e-book from a similar source. That's fine by me - "chacun a son gout."
For me, I can honestly say that if "The Janus Enigma" were to prove a runaway success - and the chances of that happening are slim in the extreme - and I were to be approached by a literary agent offering to represent me, or by a "proper" publisher offering to deliver my next books to the world, I would say a polite, but firm "No, thank you." I don't want all the fuss and palaver and, to be frank, interference which accompanies the traditional publishing route.
As a self-publishing indie author, I'm subject to none of it. I can do as I please, write what I want to write, to my own deadlines, be as creative as I can be. I have a huge amount of freedom and, to paraphrase Mel Gibson: "They may reduce my chances of sales, but they'll never take my freedom".
What are you working on next?
At the end of "The Janus Enigma", I include the prologue of the second book in the series "The Janus Contract." That's still the subject of some detailed outlining. I'm also revisiting an old manuscript of mine, with a view to a total rewrite. It's very different from "The Janus Enigma" — I suppose it's best classed as YA urban fantasy. It's about angels.
Watch this space.
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