My New Year Writing Resolutions for 2015

Big Ben

“Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” – Neil Gaiman

Well that’s another Christmas wrapped up. Like many people I will now make the usual boring and/or over-ambitious New Year resolutions concerning fitness, flossing, family, finance, etc. And most of those will be broken by about 4th January. Some a bit sooner than that.

On the writing front, however, it’s a good time to focus on what I really want to achieve in the coming year. I have to be honest and say that this time last year I had little idea of what I was going to write in 2014. I had just finished BASIC Boy and published it on Amazon, but none of the various ideas I had for a follow-up ever really came to life. BASIC Boy has sold no better than its predecessor, Falling Girl, which made me question whether I should keep writing in the supernatural YA genre. It’s a very crowded market (mind you, aren’t they all?) and I haven’t been able make any kind of impact in it.

So the first half of 2014 witnessed a sorry litany of false starts and frustrated navel gazing. It wasn’t until the summer that I hit upon the idea of Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer and experienced the simultaneous joy and relief of seeing my writing spark into life again. At last I had a real project again, something I was truly enthusiastic about. I realised that writing for a younger age group was what I really wanted to do – for now at least.

Looking forward to 2015 … now of course what I want is for zillions of people to stumble upon Falling Girl and BASIC Boy, belatedly realising that they are in fact solid gold classics and proceeding to buy them by the truckload, thereby earning me enough money to give up the day job and pursue my writing passion full time.

However, back on Planet Earth, some more basic and achievable aims would be far more useful than daydreaming. So this is what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Complete Danny Chaucer’s Flying Saucer. I’ve recently finished the third draft, but I will do another spit-and-polish job on it. And then …
  2. Finally make a bloomin’ decision on whether to try to get a publisher or agent interested, or carry on along the self-publishing route. My instinct is the latter, but I really need to come up with some kind of coherent marketing plan, because as we all know it’s vanishingly rare for zillions of people to stumble upon your books on Amazon and buy them by the truckload just by chance. And so …
  3. Come up with a coherent marketing plan. I actually do have some ideas here, which might initially involve producing a pre-publication version of DCFS and giving it out free to lots of kids, possibly with the cooperation of my sons’ school. I hope thereby to gain some more useful feedback, and perhaps make further changes to the book as a result. (Note that my definition of ‘complete’ in #1 above is therefore somewhat elastic.)
  4. It also means sorting out the cover and blurb. I do already have a blurb, but not yet a cover.
  5. I also can’t quite get rid of the crazy notion of buying a load of cheap Frisbees and customising them with the DCFS logo (which doesn’t yet exist – there’s another objective) as a marketing giveaway. It’s probably just another of those bad marketing ideas I sometimes come up with, but I might just do it anyway.
  6. More sensibly … DCFS is not meant to be a standalone, so I need to produce a series plan. Initially this will comprise two further books, so three in total, but there could be more in the future.
  7. Outline the second and third books, and complete the first draft of book two by end February. Ideally I’d like the second book finished by the summer and the third book by the end of 2015; so that by this time next year I will have a short series.
  8. More generally, I want to do all I can to become a better writer. It’s an ongoing process. That means – among other things – reading widely and picking up tips and advice from a variety of sources, including some of the many excellent WordPress blogs on writing. And of course it means actually writing, as much and as regularly as I can. I should write some adult fiction as well as the DCFS series, maybe some short stories.
  9. Better networking and sharing with other writers, both online and off. I know a couple of other budding writers in my local area, and we’ve talked about setting up a writers’ group without ever quite getting around to it. Time is a scarce commodity, but maybe 2015 is the year to make it happen.
  10. Stop coming up with long lists of action points that I probably won’t achieve. Especially silly ones about Frisbees.

I hope you have a happy, peaceful, productive and fulfilling 2015.

 

Revealed! My Writing New Year’s Resolution for 2014: I’m going to, er … write …

Idea

OK I admit it’s a bit late, being nearly the end of January and all that, but believe me it took a full month of heavy-duty mental gymnastics to come up with that one.

And yet, all joking aside, it’s not quite as obvious as it sounds. During the past three months or so I’ve been wrestling with the reality that being a self-published author involves a lot more than writing. Or more precisely, a lot more than writing the ‘real stuff’, the stories and the books, those things I always wanted to write which is why I ended up doing all this in the first place.

Those of you who also self-publish will know what I’m talking about. It’s not just the editing, the cover design, the setting up and optimising your books’ online presence. It’s also the other bits and pieces – author platforms, review requests, blogging, the general trying to get your writing noticed.  Of course you can pay for someone else to do some or all of this stuff, and I’ve no doubt there are many skilled and enthusiastic people who will do a decent job of that. But I’ve also realised that there’s no sure-fire way of making people buy your books, at least not without spending more in the process than you’re likely to get back in sales.

I confess that while beavering away at my first two novels, I cheerfully ignored most of the above. I just concentrated on making my books the best I could make them, and that was time-consuming enough without worrying about anything else. But all that ‘else’ was always there – the elephant in the room, if you like.

And then, soon after completing and publishing BASIC Boy, that hulking great cliché tapped me on the shoulder with its trunk, said ‘Excuse me? Haven’t you forgotten something, old chap?’ (Yes, it was a talking elephant. Bear with me.) It then proceeded to scare the cat, ransack the refrigerator, and finally sit on my laptop and refuse to move until I’d promised to create an author profile on Goodreads.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve found I quite like having my own website, and I’ve very grateful to those who’ve liked my posts and followed my blog. But I’m under no illusions that I’m creating more than the tiniest ripple in the huge Pacific Ocean of the Internet, and – bottom line – it all takes time. And so I haven’t written very much – you know – real stuff recently.  A couple of short stories, yes, but that’s all.

I’ve begun to feel a bit like a car factory, the owner of which had the bright idea one day of taking almost its entire staff off the production line and sticking then in sales, marketing and publicity. Which quickly led to two big problems.  First, too many people tripping over each other, not really knowing what they’re doing because they’re skilled at welding or painting or electronics and don’t know a thing about selling stuff. Second, no-one’s making any cars any more. Which, ironically, really becomes a problem if and when, somewhat miraculously, the people who don’t know much about sales actually start getting quite good at it, at which point they’ll be taking orders they suddenly can’t fulfil. ‘Result? Bankruptcy all round!’ (That’s a quote from the superb 1951 Alistair Sim version of Scrooge, one of my favourite movies of all time. Yes, my brain really is that random.)

I have tried to write. I’ve had three or four new novel ideas bouncing around inside my head, but none has kept still long enough to do much with. For each one I’ve got as far as sketching out a rough outline, even writing the first few hundred words – and then it’s gone. My enthusiasm for the idea, that is. It’s ridiculous, because I know I can do it. I have written two novels already, after all. I know how many hundreds of hours of work it takes and I’m not afraid of that. I enjoy the process, however much of a slog it might be at times, and I get a real buzz from it.

So what’s the problem? I’ve concluded that I just need to give concentrated blast of good, solid time to at least one of these idea, to really get my teeth into it, to keep pummelling away until it starts to morph into something I can really work with. Last year, between the last two drafts of BASIC Boy, I did make a good start on a third YA novel. I churned out a fairly detailed outline and nearly 20,000 words of the first draft. That’s a pretty solid start. So why didn’t I stick with it?

Because I started obsessing about the fact that BASIC Boy, despite positive reviews and encouraging comments, wasn’t selling. Neither was its predecessor, Falling Girl. I’ve done much in the intervening couple of months that’s been of value. I’ve now got the website, the Goodreads presence. But so have zillions of other people, and I keep feeling that I’m running like hell and still falling behind. I really don’t have a clue how to sell more books. It’s not a nice feeling.

I could of course give up on selling books and write for the sheer joy of the art, which is basically what I’ve been doing anyway. But my dream is to write full time, which would mean giving up the day job, which means selling lots and lots of books, which isn’t happening.

So I’m going back to that third novel, at least unless and until I have a better idea. (It’s a dystopian virtual reality fantasy; provisionally title Upland, but I that doesn’t really grab me and I’m hoping I think of a better one.) And if I get any bright ideas about how to promote my writing in the meantime, I’ll follow them up. I know I can’t just ignore that side of things.

But in 2014 I’m going to write more and worry less. I just hope that elephant sits quietly in the corner and behaves itself.