Can anyone be an indie author?

Technically, the answer to that question is yes. Not everyone, however, is cut out to do it and fewer still can do it and enjoy it.

As with so much, it comes down to how much you want something and how much time and effort you are willing to put in to achieve it. Too many people say they want something but baulk at the work it takes to accomplish it.

From affirmation to reality by Joanna Penn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Being an indie author is not easy. Whilst you can build up a support network, you need to have a strong sense of who you are as an author and where your books sit in the market place. You need to be able to trust your own judgement. You are the only one who has your back.

As an indie author, even if you hire others to do some of the work for you, the ultimate responsibility for what they produce lies with you. You have to check and recheck and check again to ensure a quality of output is achieved that you are happy with. You are the Managing Director, the CEO, the buck stops with you.

The boss
The Boss by GDS Productions courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

The glory, however, needs to be shared. Remember to thank people for the work they have done. It costs nothing to be nice. If people pay you a compliment on your cover, don’t forget to mention your cover designer. If people praise the professional look of your book, namecheck your editor and others who have contributed their time and talent to making your dream happen. Always, always acknowledge and thank and pay it forward.

And Don’t rush things. Your goals should be to produce the best books you can and build a sustainable career for yourself. That won’t happen overnight. Have patience and plan out a schedule that is achievable. Remember there are only 24 hours in every day and you should be sleeping for eight of them! You might want to do it all, you may even succeed for a while but eventually you will crash and burn. Remember that story about the tortoise and the hare from when you were a child? A slow and steady approach is better both for achieving longevity and for your health.





The Director’s Cut

During my rewrites of the work in progress I came across a section which has given me trouble from the word go. Rewrites have improved it but I was still struggling to make it sing. Nothing seemed to work. All the usual tools in my writer’s toolkit weren’t able to get to the heart of the problem. Dispirited after another fruitless attempt to bring it up to the level of the rest of the book, I abandoned my study and stomped off.

Needing a boost I decided to watch The Devil Wears Prada on DVD. I’ve seen the movie several times. I can quote my favourite lines as they are being said but it always makes me laugh and I was in need of comfort. When the movie finished I decided to watch the outtakes and then look at the deleted scenes whilst listening to the director’s commentary.

What became apparent with a lot of the scenes that had been cut was that there was actually very little wrong with them. In most instances the point of the scene had been made better in a different scene making the cut scene superfluous or the movie was simply running too long and a scene had to be trimmed with the vital parts of that scene being retained and anything else being cut. Most of the scenes that were cut were beautifully shot and yet had no place in the movie because they didn’t carry their weight.

Lightbulb moment.

Lightbulb by Richard Rutter courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I knew I could use the logic of this process on the section I was having difficulty with.

The next day I returned to the study, buoyed up and ready to attack the troublesome section with a pair of metaphorical scissors. For the next couple of hours I transformed the section from flabby to tight. With my Director’s Cut take on things I was able to zero in on the pieces of the work that were crucial and the parts that could be done away with – however nicely written.

Scissors by Dean Hochman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

By the end of the day, the section worked. Up until that point I had been working too closely with it. What I needed to do was take a director’s bird’s eye overview of the piece and then it became apparent where the problems were.

So the next time you are having difficulties become the director and get your metaphorical scissors ready for action.

Directing your Life by Carol VanHook courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0




Out of Character?

Before Christmas I blogged about wrestling with the rewrites of my current work in progress. At the time I was using the term “work in progress” in its loosest sense you will understand.

Work in progress by Kevan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I had been worrying away at trying to make a section work and failing spectacularly to understand why the piece wasn’t coming together.

My time away made me realise what was wrong. I was trying to make the characters act out of character to suit the plot.

It was so obvious when I went back it. Suddenly I could see that shoe horning the characters into the boxes that the plot dictated took away what made their characters work in the first place.

It was a salutary lesson. As soon as I stopped trying to make my characters act against their will, the scenes began to come together and the writing started to flow.

No plot is written in stone. It can always be improved upon. As soon as I made the necessary changes and allowed my characters to act in a way that suited the personalities I had built for them I stopped trying to push a boulder up a hill.

Pushing a boulder by ((Brian)) courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just because you came up with a plot it must always remain as originally thought up. Adapt it, play with it, experiment.

In an upside down world by Craig Sunter courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

And the next time you are struggling to make a scene sing, ask yourself if you are making your characters act out of character just so that you can preserve the plot and if the answer is yes don’t sacrifice your characters, change the plot.



You’ve got to have heart

I’m watching a thriller on TV at the moment. I won’t name the show because I’m not here to trash other people’s efforts but it has been such a disappointment. The set up to the story was intriguing. The cast is outstanding and the backdrop to the story is atmospheric and adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue with a hint of danger. It has even had a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming and yet even those were not enough to ignite a spark of excitement in me about the show.

Bored by Whateverjames courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Why am I still watching it? Good question. I held on for a few weeks thinking it needed time to grow and it would get better. When it didn’t achieve that, it got relegated to what I call my ironing/cooking programmes i.e. it gets watched with less attention than a show I am really into because I’ll clear the ironing pile or batch cook whilst it’s on. Shows that get relegated to ironing/cooking programmes rarely make it back to the must be watched with full concentration list.

When I realised it wasn’t going to get any better I continued to watch it because one of the leads is hot and everyone loves a little eye candy and I was at episode 5 by then and figured it would put us all out of our misery with the final instalment at episode 6. Imagine my distaste when I realised they had dragged this poor show out for 8 episodes in all.

Anyway, you may be wondering why this treatise on my viewing habits is part of a Flower Seller Thursday writing blog. The answer is I wanted to be able to put my finger on why this particular show isn’t working and it was an interesting exercise. As I said at the start so many of the classic elements of a good story were there. When you add into the mix that the characters themselves are, for the most part, believable you should have TV gold and a happy viewing public. If this programme had been a book I would have wall-banged it and given up long ago.

So what went wrong?

In a word – heart. In another word – soul. In yet another word – likeability.

Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

The characters might be believable but they are also flat. None of the emotional set ups, and there are plenty, worked for me because I wasn’t moved by the characters’ plights. You have to be able to engage with a character to be able to invest in them and what happens to them and that is true whether we are talking about books or film or TV. If there’s no heart and soul, there’s no story, however good the rest of the set up is, however competent the twists and turns of a thriller. If you aren’t investing emotionally, it will leave you cold.

Frosty by Costel Slincu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I mentioned likeability. You don’t have to like every character but there needs to be something there that sparks your interest in all the main characters even if it’s a character you love to hate. For the heroes and heroines of a piece, however, likeability is essential. You have to care about them. If we present a character that the readers like they will follow that character across hundreds of pages of heartache, turmoil and trouble, just to see how the story ends and writers forget that simple rule at their peril.

Heart by Seyed Mostafa Zamani courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0


Writing a Series

Writing a series of books is incredibly popular right now. But it’s a whole different mindset to writing one, standalone novel and isn’t as easy as you might think.

Books by Christopher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

The characters and the setting are important in any book but in a series they take on added significance. Is the setting stand out enough to make readers want to come back for more? Are the characters interesting enough that you will want to spend a lot of time with them and so will the readers? Do they have enough depth to sustain a number of stories instead of just the usual one?

Can you come up with interesting ideas across a number of books because a pale carbon copy of what you did in book one won’t cut it?

If you are an indie author, have you thought about how you will brand the series so that each book looks as though it belongs to a group and yet is eye catching enough on its own?

Collaborative Brand Mechanics by Michael Cote courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Are you going to have an overarching theme or thread that will link each book in turn? Do you know how the series will end?

These are all the questions I should have asked myself. Of course, I didn’t. Instead I plunged in and let the words flow, eager to see where they took me. It was only as the story started to develop that I could see the potential and that’s when I asked all the questions and was able, thankfully, to answer them positively.

You see, The Tregelian Hoard was not meant to be book one in a series. It was an idea I had had kicking about in my head for some time. I had always intended it to be a standalone novella but then Jonquil Jones started to work her magic on me and I wanted to know more about her world and her battles with Sebastian Ableyard – Sable. Suddenly, The Tregelian Hoard became book one in the Jonquil Jones Mystery Series and I was on to book two.


Will my foray into writing a series be a success? Who knows? I have never done anything like this before. All I can say is that I am enjoying the challenge and entertaining myself and sometimes, as writers, that is all we can ask for.



The Return of the Novella

The ebook has given rise to the return of the novella and these have proved very popular with indie authors who often produce a series of books featuring the same characters.   I have done just that with the release of The Tregelian Hoard. The first in a series of three books.

The novella came to prominence in the Renaissance and one of the earliest novellas was by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Called The Decameron it featured 100 tales told by ten people all fleeing the Black Death.

Some notable novellas which have made the bestseller lists include Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote and The Invisible Man by H G Wells.

The length of a novella varies. The only real criteria is that it should be longer than a short story but not as long as a novel. As a result the stories featured are usually not as complicated as those in novel.

In modern times the novella fell out of favour. Publishers weren’t keen. The novella was neither fish nor fowl i.e. not a short story and not a novel. While magazines thrived selling short stories, it became harder to find a market for novellas.

That all changed with the advent of the ereader. A game changer in so many ways, the ereader coupled with indie publishing allowed writers to experiment with other forms, those writers found readers and novellas enjoyed a resurgence.

Evolution of Readers by John Blyberg courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In these days of fast paced life committing hours and hours to a long novel can be tricky. Consuming a novella across a few days is more manageable, particularly if you do most of your reading on the commute into work. It is on trains and planes where the novella coupled with the ereader has really come into its own.

Three Ages of Reading on the Tube by Annie Mole courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I am pleased this little gem has made a comeback. I am used to working to 100,000 words but I find writing novellas less stressful and more enjoyable.

If you are a reader, why not give a novella a try? And if you are a writer, why not try your hand at one? Either way a whole new world of opportunity will open up for you.




Setting a Schedule

When you take the plunge and become an indie author there are lots of things to plan for but having a publishing schedule can sometimes slip down the list.

Schedule by Tzuhsun Hsu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

If you were with an agent or a traditional publisher one of the first questions they will ask you once they have expressed an interest in your work is what you are currently working on and what other manuscripts you have. Some careers are built on one book alone but most are not. The professionals want to be assured that there is plenty more coming down the track from you which will make you a viable entity from their point of view.

Bibliography by Alexandre Duret-Lutz courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

For indies, there is no one to ask that question but us and so it can slip off the radar but it shouldn’t and here’s why. Caught up in the excitement and terror of indie publishing your first novel it can be difficult to look up from the myriad elements you are juggling to take a moment to look ahead but one of the most popular questions I was asked when I did my blog tour for The Flower Seller was ‘When is your next book coming out and what is it about?’. Trust me when I say you want to have the answers to those questions and the only way to do that is to plan ahead.

What’s Next? By Crystal courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In an ideal world we would have all the time we needed to write, the stories would fly from our minds to our fingertips and out to the big wide world. We would be multi published authors in next to no time. Back in the real world not many of us have that luxury. Writing is something that has to be fitted around family and friends, hobbies and often a day job that pays the bills.

It’s good to have high standards and expect a lot from yourself but you also need a reality check. Consider how many books you can write, edit, polish, publish and market in a year. Don’t skimp on the estimates. In fact over estimate to allow yourself time for the emergencies that crop up in all our lives.

Hopefully before you indie publish your first novel you will have a pretty good idea of the genre you want to write in and that will also help determine the probable length of your books. This will also help you decide on a realistic writing schedule to produce new material and a realistic publishing schedule to turn the raw manuscripts into a lovely, shiny new books. I would recommend you set a publishing schedule across a period of two years at a time – any longer and it starts to lose its relevancy.

Paperwork by Chris Belcher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Conscious that the more books you have in the market place, the higher your visibility should become, I set a year one target of one full length novel (100,000 words) and a novella (50,000) which is the first in a three book set. I felt that was a doable target for year one. For year two I have my sights set on one full length novel and, if I can manage it, books two and three in the novella series. Thus reaching my two-year target of two full length novels and one set of novellas. Will I achieve it? I’m going to give it my best shot so watch this space!