WRITING: “Writing Fiction Is Easy”

If you ever want to piss off an author, tell them:
If I had the time, I could write a book. Easily. Anybody can write. I used to write essays and stuff. I have tons of ideas. My life is very interesting, I could fill a book with just my experiences. 
Well, if these people ever found the time, they would realise that writing a book is not just about having the time to sit down and write.
If you can write a thousand words a day, and your book is a hundred thousand words (like my books typically are), then theoretically, you only need 100 days to write that book. So why does it take me 6-9 months to write a book? Considering that I know what I want to write and I’m working on my sixth novel?
Not to mention that, once you wrote the book, you still need readers to pay for reading it.
I’m not hugely popular, but after 3.5 years and 9 publications, I sell about 3-4 books a day to complete strangers, who are willing to pay for the privilege of reading my work.
When I started off in 2012 (with 2 publications), I sold about 1-2 books a week, which can be disheartening unless you factor in the competition – 350,000 books published each year, on top of the millions of books already available. And with hardly any marketing budget (I’m on disability*), I mostly sell through word-to-mouth: readers telling other readers to read my books.
So writing is only part of the equation. I could write more books if I didn’t have to worry about taking my books to market. And it’s pretty much the same for any published author – the publisher leaves a lot of the promotion to the author, who needs to build their own fan base and organise their own book tours and blog interviews. Only the big names get the assistance of a publicist and a marketing department to help them into talkshows and book fairs.
I love writing and editing, but I still have trouble with (self-)promotion. Just writing quality books is not enough. And I can count myself lucky writing a popular genre (suspense fiction) – a friend who writes literary fiction barely sells 2-3 books a year. And his books are great, but literary fiction is always a much harder sell. Which is why I’m still smiling.
So, piss off a writer today and tell them, ‘writing fiction is easy, I could do what you do, if only I had the time’. 

*My disability has been terminated, by the way, sending my marketing budget all the way down beyond zero. So now, I’m relying even more on you, my readers, to do what I cannot do – tell others that you liked my books and help spread the word that my books are worth reading.

I thank you for your support.

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FAQ: “How do you get reviews?”

There is a ratio going around that you’ll get on average one unsolicited review for every thousand books you sell. At this moment of writing, I have 115 reviews on GoodReads and 75+ reviews on Amazon. And I can assure you that I haven’t sold a 1000 books per review, more like 30-50 books. And none of these reviews is bought*.

I did a few giveaways on GoodReads that netted me some reviews, but most of my reviews are from two things:

  • I give away ARCs, which are Advance Review Copies. That means that I send reviewers my books before they are published, so they can post a review when the book is published.
  • I ‘request’ reviews from my readers by posting this message at the end of each book:

Thank you for reading the Amsterdam Assassin Series. 
For an independent author, gaining exposure relies on readers spreading the word, so if you have the time and inclination, please consider leaving a short review wherever you can.

Most readers won’t consider leaving a review, because they are not used to voicing their opinion, or because they don’t see the importance, or just because no one asks them for their opinion. That’s why the message at the end of the book is so powerful – I just remind them gently that I would appreciate if they’d tell others about this book they enjoyed, so others can enjoy the books too. And I’m serious about reminding them gently – don’t push readers into feeling obligated to review your books. And be grateful for every review, whether it’s 20 or 200 words long.


 

*Customer reviews now outnumber professional reviews, but that has also made for some underhanded practices – just as you can buy Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers, you can also buy reviews, especially through websites like Fiverr.com which trades in fake reviews that are posted through multiple accounts.

Other loathsome review practices are the ‘quid pro quo’ review circles, where authors buy each other’s books and give each other glowing reviews, and authors creating ‘sock puppet’ accounts to write their own reviews and upvote themselves (and/or downvote their competition. Most of these fake reviews are easy to spot, since they are as formulaic as the books they promote, but it’s still profitable since many readers equate having a lot of reviews with ‘a quality book’.


WRITING: “If Only I Could Find The Time…”

One of the most annoying statements people make when they hear I’m a writer, is that they’ll shake their heads and say, “I’d love to write a novel, if only I could find the time.”

To most writers, this is a seriously demeaning statement, because most of us have 24 hours in a day, juggling our work, private life, responsibilities and social activities, and yet we authors are able to find our time to write.

I’ve written several novels and short stories and I’ve had people asking me, where do you find the time to write? And I tell them, wherever I can:

  • I worked night shifts as a security officer, filling the bulk of my shifts with writing.
  • I rarely watch live television, but I pre-program my television to record what I want to see, so that I can fast-forward through commercial blocks (a two-hour movie on television contains some 30-40 minutes of commercials!).
  • I write on an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard that I take everywhere, so I can write in waiting rooms and playgrounds (where my children are running around).
  • I turn my manuscripts into e-books that I can edit on my e-reader while I’m waiting in queues at the supermarket or during rides in public transport.
  • I get up an hour before the rest of the family wakes up, so I can cram in some writing before breakfast.

And I don’t mess around when I’m writing:

  • I write in drafts so that I finish a draft before I start editing. Writing and editing require different mindsets – I used to edit while I wrote, but I don’t do that anymore, because my inner editor will stifle my creative mind. And if you spend time editing on a scene that you’ll cut anyone is wasted time.
  • I don’t worry about beginnings, endings, chapter length, opening sentences, character names, or if the right words don’t come to mind (I write the closest word and add a @, so I can find the word again when I’m editing). Most of that stuff will be decided on in the editing process. My first rough draft is not to be read by anyone but myself.
  • Formatting, like smart quotes, bold, italics, chapter names, et cetera, is decided in the late editing stage, when the story is shaping into a manuscript.

The most important thing is that rough draft. Get that story out of your mind and onto a paper or screen, so you can look at what was in your head. Two hours movies often have several hours of deleted scenes that never made the movie. A sixty minute album of music will require a week of studio time. A novel you can read in eight hours was created in twelve months from a manuscript that might take twenty-four hours to read.

When you get better at filming, you will become more efficient. You won’t need to shoot eight hours of film to produce a two-hour movie. You won’t need weeks to produce sixty minutes of music. And you won’t need to re-write your draft six times to produce a polished manuscript. With practice, you become more efficient.

Don’t fritter your time away – do something constructive and write that draft. You can thank me later.


WRITING: I Want To Write A Novel, But Where Do I Start?

Having a passion for something, but no skills yet and several hindrances to acquire those skills makes for quite a challenge.

The easiest answer would be ‘find something else’, and there would be truth in it. Writing a novel (or even a short story) is an appealing ambition – I read somewhere that eighty percent of all adult Americans seriously entertain the notion of writing a novel, which is also why there’s a whole industry that facilitates burgeoning writers with creative writing courses and workshops and seminars, and enough books on the art & craft to fill several bookcases.

The reason writing a novel is so popular is because it’s an attainable goal (most arts require more than a pen and a piece of paper) and it carries prestige as good writers are revered, their works read both during and after their lifetime.

So what you have to decide for yourself is – do you really want to write a novel, or do you want to show people a shiny cover with your name on it and bask in the adulation? Because the first is hard, and the second is a pipe dream.

I’ve written five novels (published four) and four novellas, just as frame of reference to my answer – if you don’t want to let go of your dream, this is my advice:

Lower the pressure of writing a novel by not writing a novel.

What you will be writing instead, will be a Draft. A Rough Draft. An unreadable shitload of words, not intended to be read by anyone but yourself. That last part is extremely important! Nobody must read that Draft, because it’s not intended for public consumption yet.

The Draft is the Baby, the Novel is the Adult.

People don’t make adults, they make babies that shit and cry and demand food and attention and will keep you up at night. Have you heard writers referring to their novel as a baby? Yes? They’re not actual writers yet, because the draft is the baby, the novel should be an adult, capable of standing on its own legs and fending for itself. If their novel is still their baby, then they haven’t finished yet and they have published prematurely.

The Horror, the Horror…

Before a novel can stand on its own legs, it needs to be born first, which is a messy process. Thus, the Draft is a baby – a stinking smelly mess that will hijack all your attention and cause you to lay awake at night, worrying if it will ever be able to be independent. This is not the kind of baby that you show your family and friends – starting the Draft is not an accomplishment. So shut up about ‘writing your first novel’ and never ever talk about the plot and the characters and the theme. Screw all that. Talking about your creative work kills the spark. Just write and write. Is it garbage? Don’t second-guess yourself, you won’t be able to judge it now, you’re much too close. Nobody throws out their baby, no matter how much it smells. Just keep on writing. Don’t edit. You can’t edit a baby, it has to become an adolescent first.

The Need.

Visit any writing forum and you’ll see the many many questions, that boil down to one single question ‘Is This Any Good?’. It’s the fear of failure, the angst of wasting time, and the need for validation. We have been programmed to desire approval – from parents, from teachers. You won’t get approval for the Draft. Don’t ask for it. Just write it all down.

The Rules.

How long is a chapter supposed to be?’, ‘How do I write a dynamite first chapter?’, ‘Should I use present tense or past tense?’, ‘Is writing in First Person easier than Third Person?’, ‘When do I Show, when do I Tell?’
If you visit writing forums, you’ll hear a lot of talk about rules, but those rules are not for drafts. Those rules are to clinically dissect a finished manuscript prior to publication. Do you have that? No, you haven’t. You have a smelly mess that isn’t nowhere near finished, so forget about all those rules. Because in the end there is only one rule – Engage The Reader. And your baby won’t need to engage the reader yet. It’s a draft, intended only for your eyes.

The Work

Anyone with a knife and a dead pig can butcher a pig, but that doesn’t make you a butcher. And it sure as hell doesn’t make you a veterinarian.
So you wrote an essay at school and the teacher gave you an A. Does that make a writer? No, but it’s a start. If you can read this, you can probably write. You can string words together, maybe in some pleasing way, but five hundred pages of words is not a book. A book is when the words disappear and your imagination shows you the film in your head. That’s the hardest part, and the most neglected part – writers want to write pretty words or show off their ostentatious vocabulary, but what you want to do is tell a story. Tell a story in such a way that the reader forgets about the book or the e-reader and is transported to another world – fictional, but just as ‘real’ as this one. And that requires not only a large vocabulary, but also a decisive mind to apply just the right word. And if you get that right, you won’t need the validation anymore, because there is no better feeling that getting a sentence just right, a paragraph that leaps off the page, and a chapter that you don’t want to end.

But before you get there, you have to put in the work. There’s a common ‘rule’ floating around that to become a professional at something requires putting in something like 10,000 hours. I never measured that, but I do know that I’d been writing for twenty years before Reprobate was published. And I’d been working on Reprobate and all its predecessors for most of that time. Learning the craft, honing my skills. Draft upon draft upon draft. For Reprobate, it was something like forty (!) drafts. Literally every paragraph was rewritten at least once. Edited and polished. That’s the education.

Don’t Do The Crime If You Can’t Do The Time.

My second novel, Peccadillo, was half finished when Reprobate came out. I finished Peccadillo in three months, spending a total of fifteen months on writing it. I wrote the novella Locked Room in three weeks. Microchip Murder took me less than two. And the novella that gets the highest praise, Fundamental Error, was written in eight days. Rogue, the third novel took less than 12 months. And Ghosting, the novel I’m working on now, clocks in at about eight months, despite my battles with kidney stones and glaucoma.

Every time you write, you will get better at telling the story. Writing this answer took me about an hour, with no rewrites or polishing necessary. And that’s because I’ve done the time.

So do the time. Stop fretting about whether you have something to say or who will read it. Write that draft first, the rest comes later. Let me know when you finished a draft, and then we’ll talk about how you can become a writer…


REVIEW: Famous Penultimate Words by Roberta Pearce

Famous Penultimate WordsFamous Penultimate Words by Roberta Pearce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Famous Penultimate Words, Roberta Pearce’s fourth romance novel, shows again how far this author has progressed from her earlier works. While they were highly enjoyable by themselves, Pearce shows that she’s perfectly able to mix romance with suspense and mystery.

The mystery starts when protagonist Adelyn ‘Adie’ Wilding gets shot in a London street. At first she thinks she has been shot by mistake, but when other acquaintances die, fake policemen show up at the hospital, and a handsome mysterious protector called Nathan shows up, Adie starts to realise that the situation is much more precarious than she initially figured to be.

With a cast of eclectic characters, a solid plot and relentless suspense building up, Famous Penultimate Words rises above mere romance into the realms of romantic suspense.

Pearce has the ability to breathe life in characters with just a few well-chosen descriptive sentences. Punchy dialogue is interspersed with effective descriptions that make the setting an integral part of a story that manages to give new surprises at every twist.

Highly recommended for both romance as romantic suspense lovers.

View all my reviews


REVIEW: How Do You Deal With Negative Reviews?

Can You ‘Deal’ With Negative Reviews?

I don’t ‘deal’ with negative reviews, since there’s nothing to deal with. A negative review is the opinion of a reader, intended to express their feelings about your work to other readers (not, I repeat, not to you, the author, because that is what ‘feedback’ is for). By the way, I make a distinction between a negative review (where the reviewer criticizes the book) and a bad review (where the reviewer criticizes the author).

I read all the reviews I can find. Not because I like to flagellate myself, but I’m interested in the opinions of my readers, even if they don’t contact me directly. Sometimes you can glean information that might help you avoid a scathing review in the future. File that nugget and go on your way.

The one thing you should never, ever do, is try to convince the reviewer that they are erroneous in their opinion. That has about 0.001% of actually succeeding.

You write a book, but you publish a product. If the product is good, then the ratio of negative to positive reviews will be low. If it sucks, the majority of your reviews will suck. You control the product, not the opinion. If you cannot live with the negative reviews, pull the product.

Personally, I don’t want to give a negative reviewer extra power by becoming upset. Reviews are like the weather, you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s more useful to carry an umbrella than to become angry at the sky for the rain.

There is no book that receives 100% positive reviews. And that is good. Because a book that pleases everyone is probably not worth reading.

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‘In Pocket’ won a new cover

While my stand-alone noir novel In Pocket went through the beta-testing, I submitted the cover I had to the 2015 E-Book Cover Makeover Contest, and I won a spanking new cover.

Before:

1400px-inpocket

New cover, courtesy of Farah Evers Design:

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers

You can find information on the contest here. The pitch for In Pocket:

Picking the wrong pocket might prove fatal…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful consequences…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel by Martyn V. Halm, the author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possibly fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

I hope to publish In Pocket before the end of this month.