Don’t @ Me

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Reading reviews can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The warm and fuzzy feeling when someone has connected with your characters; understood what you were trying to do and are happy they bought a ticket to your show. The shock and anger when someone dismisses your work, casually labels it ‘boring’ or the real killer, ‘light reading’. Some authors choose not to read their reviews, which is completely understandable. But for a lot of us, this is the only kind of feedback we get and so we cross our fingers, keep one eye closed and dive in, hoping for the best.

Over time, you come to realise that your book is no longer your private property. It belongs to anyone who hands over their hard-earned cash to buy it and their experience of reading it is unique to them and something you have no control over. This knowledge has given me a certain amount of detachment from reviews. As someone once said, reviews are for the readers and that is as it should be. But does that mean that authors don’t read their reviews?

I remember when I published my first book, The Heirloom. I hoped that people would buy it, read it and with any luck, enjoy it. It took roughly two years to research, write and rewrite. As a newly, self-published author, it took a very long time to get off the ground. If someone had told me back then that people would not only read it, but contact me to say how much they enjoyed it, well, I would have felt like my dreams were coming true.

That’s why I think the recent discussion on Twitter, sparked by an author who said it was ‘rude’ to tag them, is confusing a lot of people. On a basic level, writers write because they want to share a story with the world. Now, they might not care what the world thinks about their story (I’m thinking of Sally Rooney who said in an interview that she doesn’t read reviews or let them hold any sway for her) and that is their right. Writing a book does not automatically lock you into a contract where you have to be open to everyone’s’ opinion on it.

However, this is social media. It’s where you come to interact with people and if you’re an author (especially a well-known author), people are going to @ you. I see that Sally Rooney no longer has a Twitter account, which is really the only way to go if you don’t want to be involved in the conversation. I also noticed that Gail Honeyman, author of one of my favourite books, has also been inactive on her account since 2017. Now, I don’t know the reason for this (she’s probably writing another amazing book!) but prior to that, she responded to everyone who tagged her.

Which makes me wonder about the other part of the tweet – how we are limited ‘professionally’. Does this mean that publishers preclude authors from engaging with reviewers? Perhaps that’s a valid point – but I’ve never heard of this being the case and it certainly isn’t for me. In fact, the more interaction the merrier. But I think saying ‘thank you’ or liking a tweet is hardly going to create any conflict of interest. Or is the author referring to negative reviews and the unwritten rule that authors should not engage in online spats about their books (are you listening John Boyne?!) Maybe that is what she meant – it is so difficult to have a nuanced conversation on Twitter.

But speaking of negative reviews – I think it’s safe to assume that most authors do not want to be tagged on those! I saw Erin Morgenstern had to ask people to refrain from tagging her in conversations about how they didn’t really enjoy her new book. That’s just …. shit, really. I don’t know why anyone would want to call an author’s attention to their negative opinion of their book. Where is that conversation going to go? Is the author supposed to apologise? Give up writing?? Of course not. I like to use Goodreads to write my reviews, but I’m always cringing that an author might see the negative ones. Yes, it’s my honest opinion, but I’m not going to draw their attention to it by tagging them.

The fact is, everyone is entitled to make their own boundaries and I respect that. Judging from the comments, most people don’t expect a response from the author anyhow, but it’s nice when it happens. I tag other authors when I’m in love with their book – you can bet your butt I tagged Gail Honeyman with a link to a gushing review on my blog and she said something along the lines of Yay! thanks and we all went home happy. But I have tagged one or two authors who haven’t responded, for whatever reason, and that’s cool too. Maybe we should just agree that it’s not rude to tag and it’s not rude to not reply. Simples.

However, I don’t like the idea of self-appointed spokespeople making sweeping generalisations on behalf of all authors everywhere. We have all taken different paths to this place and some of us see it as a validation of sorts when someone has taken the time to say, hey, nice work.

Neil Gaiman added his tuppence worth, giving credence to the belief that authors do not want to read their reviews. Again, it came off a little patronising and, as happens on Twitter, we all have knee-jerk reactions. Later, he qualified his comment with the following:

This just goes to show what I believe to be the crux of the issue. Most of us would struggle to get reviewed in the mainstream media. Our aim is to be read by regular readers, not critics. So yeah, of course we want to hear from those people! The day I have a bad review in the Times and someone tags me in it, maybe then I’ll understand the annoyance these writers feel. But you know what? Maybe I won’t, because I’ve had to grow a very thick skin over the years – something all those articles written by publishers and agents tell us we need to do if we want to be authors!

It sometimes feels like all of this advice for writers is being sent in the wrong direction. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman, but he does not speak for all of us. Just like he didn’t speak for me when he said eBook piracy was ‘an incredibly good thing’. Illegal downloads are having a seriously adverse affect on authors trying to establish a career in the digital age, affecting sales and creating an environment where readers no longer see the value in paying for books. You cannot assume that everyone in this industry is on a level playing field. We are a diverse ecosystem and one of the most integral parts of it are book reviewers/book bloggers. Elizabeth Bear’s tweet was especially dismissive of bloggers who read/review/promote book reviews and naturally tag the author as an FYI.

Whatever the intention was (and I’m learning that your intention can be very much misconstrued on Twitter) it has again highlighted the amount of unpaid work bloggers do with little or no credit. Another tweet (oh my God, I’m spending so much time on Twitter!! Help!) from a book blogger laid out how much time it takes and commitment to keep a blog going and how a simple high five from an author can make it feel worthwhile. It strikes me that in a multi-million euro industry, the people who do all the work get the least reward. Authors receive tiny royalties, have to do their own marketing and bloggers work for the price of a free book.

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a bum note. No-one is forcing us to be here, we do it because we love it, but as in life, it only takes some small courtesies to make it better for everyone. Try to not to illegally download books – I know we’re all on tight budgets, but please borrow from a library instead and if you can, leave a review. Show book bloggers some appreciation by liking their reviews – yes they love books anyway but I can’t imagine having to read loads of books I didn’t choose and then promoting them and promoting other bloggers, all for free! And do tag authors – most of us are not guaranteed newspaper reviews or even book deals. So it’s a lovely boost when someone takes the time to review your book (just don’t share the negative ones with us – no good can come from it!)

As Rebecca Solnit said, a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. We need each other.

Why Do Authors Diss Other Authors?

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Credit: Gerd Altman

You know what’s hot right now, other than global warming? Tearing down your peers in order to promote your new book! And it’s not new authors, desperate for any kind of media coverage they can get – these are well-established authors who all seem to be hopping on the latest controversy bandwagon. But why are they doing it? Does it result in more sales or is a just a ploy to get your name ‘out there’?

For a while there, it seemed like a queue of predominantly white male authors were awaiting their turn to declare that the novel (as they knew it) was dead. Will Self being the most vocal (who even is he??!). It was all a bit pathetic really – writers bemoaning the fact that their work was no longer relevant and choosing to denounce the younger generation for their lack of taste rather than accept that their books mightn’t be as good as they thought they were. Or that, like the rest of us mere mortals, their books have no  guarantee of a warm reception.

Irish author Colm Tóibín recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I can’t do thrillers and I can’t do spy novels.”  

Asked which books he felt were most overrated, he said: “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing; it’s like watching TV.”

So clearly, Colm has read ALL THE BOOKS and they’re all boring. Thanks for that Colm, inspirational.

Poor old John Banville can only write ‘genre’ under a pseudonym, lest his good name and reputation be besmirched by popular fiction. It’s a form of snobbery, looking down one’s nose at other writers, and readers for that matter. Like the ‘real book’ brigade who scoff at eBooks and their readers. Like, get over yourself and the delusion that you are the sole arbiter of good taste. By dismissing things that people enjoy, you are dismissing them and what matters to them. And to me, this seems a very foolish thing to do.

The most recent author to diss an entire genre is Louise Doughty, when she told The Guardian (why is it always The Guardian?) “I can’t bear anything chicklitty or girly.”

Wow. Can’t bear it, eh? Any book in particular, or just every book written by a woman who has been classified under the broadest commercial fiction genre EVER? Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such an established writer must be aware of how dismissive this sounds to her peers? How many years have female authors been fighting this exact kind of stigma associated with chick lit? It’s a marketing tag, that has unfortunately sidelined contemporary romcoms  written by women as vacuous, vapid and unimportant. The definition of chick lit is ‘a heroine-centred narrative‘, so far so brilliant, and luckily for us fans, promotes a whole plethora of styles, voices and subject matter. In fact, categorising novels by a single criterion is such a reductive exercise anyway, the dismissive tone used by this authors is at best, unhelpful.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for here. If an author is asked their opinion, they have every right to give it. It was the editor’s choice to pick that one quote from the interview and run it as click-bait on all social media platforms. And this seems to be the way of it now – the newspaper takes the most inflammatory line from an article, tweets it and watches the book world have a meltdown. And that my friends, is marketing.

But in case you were thinking literary authors were safe from all this criticism, think again. Sally Rooney has committed a cardinal sin – the worst thing you can do in literary fiction – she has sold a lot of books. It’s one thing garnering critical acclaim, but to be successful in the monetary sense can risk the loss of your member’s card to the ‘serious’ literary writers club. Will Self (him again!) ‘bravely’ took it upon himself to put her back in her place by labelling her writing as ‘lacking ambition’, lest she go getting any ideas that she might have earned her place among the literati. Fortunately we have men like him to save us from our own bad taste.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard has her finger on the pulse and her tongue firmly in her cheek with this latest tweet:

 

So is this the future for authors? A newspaper article in which they upset not only their fellow authors, but the millions of readers who enjoy their books?  And while everyone has the right to speak their mind, it is the contrivance to cause controversy that seems to be the PR drug of choice these days. To me, it just makes people look arrogant and insecure. I’ve always been taught that people who try to make you feel small are only doing it so they can feel big. Authors dismissing other genres must have some dire need to feel important, or to be seen as superior, i.e. someone whose work matters. But newsflash, we all matter and a bit of diplomacy goes a long way.

We are all creatures of habit and of course we tend to gravitate to certain styles of writing and subject matter. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with not liking a book. Art is subjective. But when does it stop being an opinion and start being derisory? Good critique is backed up by fact and reason (like books where the characters are under-developped, for example) but generalisations that have no real basis tell us nothing constructive. The truth is, there are crap writers and crap books everywhere. There are crap literary books, crap self-published books, crap traditionally published books, crap YA books, crap detective novels, crap books by men, crap books by women … but to give one broad sweep of criticism to any of these categories is just ignorant and lazy.

I have always found the writing community to be supportive and always remember the first time I read another saying that there is room enough for all of us. We don’t have to compete by putting one another down. Most readers, like myself, read across genres, so in the long run, it’s probably wiser to big up your fellow authors rather than risk alienating your audience. Your readership could well overlap. But just on a human level, as Michelle Obama once said, when they go low, we go high!

White Lies

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I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between €500 and €5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.  There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

How Long Does It Take To Write A Bestseller?

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Some of us have dreamed about writing a bestseller for a long time. A part of me was terrified when I published my first book. Would I be able to handle the fame that came with it? I mean, of course, I anticipated the critical acclaim and the validation it would bring, but the success might prove to be overwhelming. Hah! How innocent I was. How naive. But then again, they were the stories I saw on my TV, in the magazines. That was how it was supposed to happen. Authors, who were shot to stratospheric success with their first novel. Bidding wars. Movie deals. Reese Witherspoon gushing over the originality of the storyline.

But are these writers really representative of the majority of authors who make a living out of writing? Or are they just the one percent we hear about because it’s more exciting than reading a headline ’52 year old woman hits the NYT Bestseller List on her 6th novel’. Yeah, it doesn’t really have the same ring to it. We don’t hear about the writers who spend the best part of a decade slogging away before finally hitting the sweet-spot with their third or fourth or fifth novel.

That’s why I was so pleased to read the following on Twitter last week, the real life stories of successful writers who found longevity in their careers, rather than overnight success.

Traction is a very important concept here. As well as luck, timing and perseverance. I’m always talking about the changing landscape of publishing and how digital downloads have altered the way in which we find new authors. While books and their authors might not reach the masses right away (for whatever reason) if they keep producing good work that people are responding to, a momentum can build. Take Kristin Hannah for example, and her novel The Nightingale (which is, of course, being made into a movie!). I was astonished to find out that she has written over 20 novels! I had never heard of her and assumed that book was her debut, but no; she has been honing her craft for decades and is now reaping the critical and one assumes, financial rewards. Which is why publishers really need to support their writers and stand by them, while they build their readership.

UK author Joanne Harris often speaks about her first two novels, before Chocolat, and how they didn’t sell particularly well. I see other writers like Rowan Coleman, with a slew of books under her belt, who has found great traction with her recent bestseller, The Summer Of Impossible Things. It’s impossible to predict what will make a bestseller. If there was a foolproof recipe, we’d all be downloading it. But one thing is clear – if you give up, you’ll never know.

Then there’s age. We can sometimes see age as a barrier, but it can also be liberating. If the following tweet is anything to go by, age can give you the freedom to be yourself – to follow your heart and write what you want to write.

 

It is so encouraging to receive this message – there is no time limit on art, on creative passion, on reaching your full potential. I’m thinking of Richard E. Grant and the unbridled joy he exudes at finally receiving all of the accolades the acting world can shower upon him, at the age of 61. It doesn’t mean he’s any better now than he was ten or twenty years ago, but the right role came at the right time and he is now getting the recognition he always deserved.

If you don’t make the New York Times Bestseller List with your first book (or your second or third!) it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means that the stars haven’t aligned. Yet. There are so many variables that are outside of our control and all we can do is keep writing, keep believing in the power of telling stories.

***Evie Gaughan is an Irish novelist of historical and contemporary fiction with a touch of magic. Click on the links below for a preview ⬇️

#WriterProblems ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.

Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.

There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say after the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard? Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.

So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.

Problem Number One:

How to stay in the chair –

This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype for a writer’s chair™ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.

Problem Number Two:

Nobody takes your job seriously

If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.

Problem Number Three:

Other writers –

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Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their  daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!

Problem Number Four:

Quality Control

This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)

Problem Number Five:

Having/Not having a contract.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.

Problem Number Six:

Refusing to give up

Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?

Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!

So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….

A Writer Unwritten

There’s a great line from one of my favourite songs (Pink Rabbits by The National) which goes:

‘I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’ 

 The one time I should have felt most like a ‘proper writer’, during my book launch, I felt like a television version of an author. Or what I thought an author should be. In reality, I felt adrift; like a boat that had slipped its moorings. Writing was the one thing that had kept me tethered and yet, while my book was published, I wasn’t being a writer (or at least, not in the sense that I’m familiar with); I was being a spokesperson for my writing, which is a completely different skill set. I never thought I would say this, but it’s official folks – not writing is worse than writing!

Being a published author, promoting a book you have written (past tense) is weird for all sorts of reasons. It’s a time of contradictions, where you feel like the centre of attention one minute, but oddly alone the next. Not many people are fortunate enough to have this experience, so not many people get how strange it can feel. Yet it’s only in the last few weeks, since I’ve returned to my WIP that I’ve figured why. Writing is a verb – if you’re not doing it, then it starts to feel like a distant thing. I felt like I was masquerading as a writer, because I wasn’t actually writing and hadn’t written for months. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not one of those ‘write everyday’ evangelicals (although I probably am still writing in my head, if not on screen or paper). But I feel more like a writer when I’m frowning at my laptop, still wearing my pyjamas at lunchtime and eating cheerios out of a box (although that’s not the author photo I went for in the end).

Maybe, at the back of my mind, it was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. Yeah, sure, I wrote this one, but what if there’s nothing left? I know other authors feel this way from time to time – regardless of how many books they’ve written.  Because writing a book is never a sure thing.  We all have those hopeful starts; manuscripts that crash and burn before hitting the 20k words mark.  Potentialities simply abandoned.  There is no real formula – either you’re feeling it or you’re not and that’s not exactly the most reliable career path.  Because once you’re published, you begin to see writing as a viable career, but only if you can keep writing. Eek!

It’s the same with art.  I haven’t painted anything in ages and it’s almost as if that channel gets blocked through lack of use. So if I don’t have dried paint under my fingernails, it feels very far away from me.  And I’m not making a judgement or a generalisation here – this is a very personal realisation came as a surprise to me too. But I feel like book promotion is so divorced from story creation, that I almost became a different person.  And in a way, I think that’s essential.  You have to be a bit harder, a bit more calculating and a lot less sensitive. You need to be cool with seeing your face shared across the internet and nurture the ability to find eleventy-thousand different ways to say the same thing (i.e. please buy my book because it’s actually quite good – for realsies).

To craft a story, you need to be a dreamer.  To sell one, you need to be a realist. And I’m not sure either personality trait sits comfortably with the other.  I assume other authors feel some or all of these things. I know there are many on tight deadlines who don’t have the luxury of not writing while promoting and I take my hat off to those authors. Promoting and writing at the same time is the ultimate Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde act, which I have yet to master!

For now, I’m back in my happy place… mumbling ideas to myself in the shower, researching, scribbling notes, getting to know new characters and wrangling my plot into some kind of coherent structure.  This is where the magic happens and I’m lucky I’ve got time and space to figure it all out and most importantly, enjoy it.  It’s the best part – the part you won’t be able to explain fully in words when people ask, ‘What inspired you to write this book?,’ or ‘Where did the idea come from?’ You’ll just remember that year (or two, or three) in your life when you immersed yourself in a world of your own making and you’ll find it hard to believe that other people are now exploring it – as if it always existed, as if it wasn’t a bloody miracle that it ever got written!

So, to all the new writers or unpublished writers out there, wondering if they should even call themselves ‘real writers’ before they’ve got a publishing deal, hear this:

If you’re writing, you’re a writer!

The rest is icing, fur coat, what have you. It is the action of writing that makes you a writer. But crucially, it is the act of publishing that makes you read 😉

 

*** THE STORY COLLECTOR ***

Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

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When Someone Has Already Written Your Book

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‘There is no such thing as a new idea’, Mark Twain once wrote. Which is bad news for anyone trying to be original! But as he goes on to say, we can create new and endless numbers of new combinations. Still, what if you find that you keep coming up with ideas that have already been done? I’m reading a charming little book at the moment, ‘How To Fall In Love With A Man Who Lives In A Bush’, (quite easily, it seems, apparently Austrian men aren’t up to much) where the protagonist dreams of becoming an author. The only problem is that every story she comes up with has already been written …. by Charlotte Bronte or Stephen King!

It’s something of an occupational hazard for storytellers – even when it comes to choosing a title for your book. A quick search on Google will reveal that your unique, edgy and entirely original title has already been used by a handful of other authors, in some shape or fashion.  It’s happened to most of us, at some point or other in our writing lives, but thankfully it doesn’t always sound the death knell for your book.

On reading Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu.  Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building.  It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination.  Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that while both stories had their similarities, they each had their own authentic voice. Imagine if either of them decided to give up on their project, because the story had already been done?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored.  Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.  Original thought might be as rare as hen’s teeth, but it is the writer’s perspective which makes a story ‘new’, recycling old ideas and creating something different. I  found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward.  She states that “Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.”  The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

So it’s not unusual for people to independently come up with the same ideas in the creative sphere, or any sphere for that matter.  We all share the same collective unconscious.  Plagiarism, however, is another issue entirely. Plagiarism is the intentional copying or lifting of another person’s work and passing it off as your own. When I hear stories like this, it makes my blood run cold. I was in a chat group recently where a writer lamented the fact that a novel she had written a few years previous was now a major hit for someone else. Obviously, I have no proof as to whether or not this was true, but I could feel their helplessness.  What can you do if you see a book that shares more than a passing resemblance to your own (even the twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’?)

The most recent high profile copyright lawsuit involved the 2012 novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman (author Margot Louise Watts) which screenplay writer Joseph Nobile alleged was based on his 2004 screenplay, A Tale of Two Humans. The case, which was taken after Dreamworks adapted the novel for screen, was eventually dismissed, despite the plaintiff arguing that there were striking similarities between the work of the two authors, (the story’s setting on a remote storm-swept island, the central couple and specific scenes in chronology and specific passages of dialogue).

Equally being accused of plagiarism, based on mere coincidence, must be an unsettling experience. Unless you’re Daphne du Maurier, whose much beloved ‘Rebecca’ bore many similarities to A Sucessora (The Successor), a 1934 book by writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco and her editor alleged du Maurier had stolen the plot and much of the dialogue, but Du Maurier scoffed at the claims, arguing that the plot itself was too common to have been plagiarized. Although sued for plagiarism in 1947, du Maurier won the lawsuit.

As Oscar Wilde once said, as only he could, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Although I wouldn’t say that to anyone’s face!

While the majority of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.  Having said that, publishers and readers alike don’t want the same old tropes churned out year after year. The trick is to tell a tale as old as time, but in a new way. Mix up genres and avoid the predictable cliches. The real challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it.  That is what will make your work original.

What To Do Before Your Book Launch

Sound the 30 days to launch klaxon!!  It’s just T minus 720 hours until my new book, The Story Collector, hits bookshelves and I’ve decided to draw up a helpful list of all the things I should be doing during this final phase of publishery and book launcherism.

  1. Panic.  I’m particularly good at this and have devoted many years of worship at the altar of worry.  Some people say that stress is a negative use of energy… I say they’re not doing it right!

 

2. Have my immune system turn against me.  

Immune system:  Hey, remember that time of the big freeze when you’re pipes burst and the house flooded and you got a chest infection and just for fun, I thought I’d spice things up with some weird eczema rash on your legs??  Let’s do that again!

Me: Um…

Immune system:  You know, it’s been ages since we’ve been to the dentist for a filling…. it’d be a shame if you had to get a really deep filling and upset all your nerve endings right before your launch…

Me: HELP!

3. Start comparing myself (unfavourably) to other authors

It doesn’t even need to be launch time to do this – authors can do this any old time they fancy but it’s particularly effective when you’re looking for proof that everyone else on the planet is doing a better job at this than you.

 Me watching someone have a better launch than me.

 

4.  Plan my spontaneous wardrobe

Why do we spend two months planning an ‘I just threw this on’ look?  Why is it so damn hard to look natural?  And why oh why is it that when authors buy an outfit for their author photo, they look like someone trying to look like an author??  What do authors even wear? If I’m being authentic, I should just wear pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt. READY!

5. See how many times you can remind people of your launch date before they take out a barring order.

Work in progress.

6. Cry.

Did I say cry?  I meant smile, dementedly.

I’m really happy and not nervous at all!

7. Reality check

Remember that anyone without a book deal would bite your arm off right now – in fact, you yourself would have gnawed off an appendage less than two years ago to be where you are now.  So try to be mindful, greatful and remember that it’s a book, not a rocket launch.  You don’t need to be a scientist or anything other than yourself.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

But seriously folks, it’s not all fun and games, I have actually done something productive!  I am planning a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH and you’re all invited 🙂  Love book launches but hate having to leave the house?  Want to chat with booky people AND stay in your pyjamas?  I’ve got you covered!

Book launch

All you need to come to my party is a Twitter account!  Just follow the hashtag #TheStoryCollector or my handle @evgaughan and rock up at about 8pm on the 14th June for an hour of book chat and you might even win something for your trouble.  As the book is all about folklore and superstition, I’m actively encouraging everyone to share their stories – perhaps an old family story that has been handed down or a superstition unique to your area.  I’m really looking forward to it and hope you can join me!

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy here.

eBooks – The Illegal Download

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Fame costs, as the 80’s TV show Fame once claimed, in all its leg-warmer glory.  You know what else costs?  Illegal downloading of books.  They might not cost the person downloading them, or the scumbags who stole the content in the first place, but it costs the one person who should really be rewarded for their work, the author.

Rowan Coleman is the most recent author to raise the issue, with this tweet:

 

There can hardly be a more disheartening moment for an author, than seeing years of hard work made available for free on the Internet.  But what, if anything, can be done about it?

I was scrolling through Rick O’Shea’s Bookclub on Facebook when I came across a post where someone had just bought their first Kindle and was asking how it all worked.  People were responding with useful information like how much eBooks cost on average, where to get good deals, bundles and even how to borrow from the library.  However, to my absolute horror, someone recommend an illegal downloading site where they get all their books for free.  How could anyone who values books, reading and consequently the people who write them, support a system that steals their work?

This followed on from another Facebook post, where the author Louise Jensen revealed how she came across her book on an illegal website (you can read her post on eBook piracy here).  I felt her pain.  I’ve also discovered my books available via torrent sites and let me tell you, the feeling is absolutely gutting.  My overriding sense was one of powerlessness – what could I do to stop this piracy on my own?  I shut down the page and just tried to pretend I hadn’t seen it.

In this digital age, there is no escaping the reality that file sharing has become a part of the landscape.  But does that mean we shouldn’t try to change the culture and prevent it becoming even more mainstream?

It’s not just about the potential loss of earnings (which is bad enough in itself) but what people don’t realise is that years of work have gone into making that book.  The chances of getting published are similar to those of winning the lottery, so most authors spend years writing, submitting, editing, honing, resubmitting, receiving rejection letters, giving up, starting again, writing, writing, writing.  If you are lucky enough to get published, or choose the independent route and publish the book yourself, there is still more work (and expense) involved in promoting and getting the finished product to the reader, but all of those long hours are worth it to see your book on the shelf.  Even a digital one.  So to see someone take all of that hard work, without your permission and make it freely available online… it’s indescribable.  It’s theft.  Yet, people don’t seem to care, as long as they’re getting a free book.

But there’s always a cost.  Most writers are already struggling to make a living out of writing and many have full time jobs outside of writing.  We don’t earn a wage; we work for free and hope that someone (many someones!) will buy our book once its published.

If people aren’t prepared to pay for books anymore, what will that mean for the future of writing?

An author’s career depends on sales and if the figures don’t add up, they get dropped.  Becoming an author will be relegated to the hobbies and other interests section of your CV.  And without fresh new writing voices coming through, our shelves will be dominated by celebrity autobiographies and cookbooks!  Of course some people assume that writers are making lots of money already and a couple of free downloads won’t hurt, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The average income for authors in Ireland is about €1,000 per year.  I can see the logic in thinking that big name authors won’t be affected by a few lost sales.  I can see the logic, but I don’t agree with it, because it’s still theft.

Digital publishing has democratised the industry in such a way that the majority of authors now are lower to middle class, ordinary people who one day hope to making a living from selling their books.  It can take years to start seeing any kind of income from writing, so to see someone swoop in and profit from your hard earned success, is infuriating.  I know money is tight, but as a society, I think we really need to consider the long-term implications of expecting something for nothing.  To add insult to injury, eBooks are often priced cheaper than a cup of coffee and yet they still wind up on these sites.

I understand that new releases can be expensive, but there are so many other ways to read cheaply.  Join NetGalley.  Get free books and in return, leave a review (another way of paying an author for their work).  Borrow from the library.  Use a subscription service like Amazon Prime.  Pick up some second-hand books in a charity shop.  Use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon to get a free preview of the book, if you don’t want to waste your money on a book you won’t like.  Just please don’t support these pirate sites and their illegal content.

Don’t make free books the norm.

I have read articles where some authors say they don’t get upset about illegal downloads anymore, because it means people are reading their books.  They also argue that it’s not a lost sale because these people would never have paid for their book anyway.  Neil Gaiman sees it as the modern equivalent of people lending books and that it’s a good way for readers to discover authors; a kind of reverse marketing strategy.  Perhaps they have achieved some kind of quasi-religious detachment that I’ve yet to master, but I can’t see how anyone can be okay with having their work pirated.  Maybe it’s more to do with the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done to stop it and so they’ve just resigned themselves to the inevitability of it all.  I have even see people argue that, if you’re being pirated, you must be doing well.  So an author should be flattered at having their work stolen?

So what can be done about it?  There are websites and apps out there, similar to Google Alerts, that will let you know if your book has been pirated.  But, as an author, do you really want to spend a big chunk of your time and energy chasing down these sites, trying to get your book removed, only to have it reappear a few hours later?  Should publishers be doing more or the industry as a whole?  Could the removal of DRM (digital rights management) have an impact, freeing up readers from being locked into one format?  Or is education the key to preventing readers from downloading books illegally?    Whatever your position, it is copyright infringement; it is illegal and it is a crime.

 

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To Share Or Not To Share?

16152378754_27fa36cfc4_mIn a recent article for Women Writers, Women’s Books, I wrote about the ubiquitous ‘author profile’ and whether or not this has any bearing on your readership.  I follow lots of authors on Twitter and while a lot of successful authors have a devil-may-care attitude to what they share, others are quite guarded and even take a hiatus from all social media when writing.  (Imagine!).  So which side of the fence are you on?  Are you a J K Rowling type with lots to say and no hesitation about saying it?  Or are you a Joanna Trollope, keeping yourself to  yourself and looking down your nose at all those attention-grabbing selfies?!  Or do you just see it all as one great big distraction?

Social Media: To Share Or Not To Share?

July 4, 2017 | By | 6 Replies

evie-goodreadsIn this golden age of social media, I still find it a bit of a novelty that I can tweet my favourite author.  Even more so on the occasions when they tweet me back!

Having this kind of direct access to an author would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago.  Back in the old days, you didn’t get to know anything about the author, save for whatever the publisher deemed necessary on the back page.  Their allure was their anonymity, save for the words they put on the page. But times have changed and it is now something of an anomaly if an author doesn’t have a Twitter account.  Publishers encourage authors to ‘get out there’ and the constant advice to new authors is to build an author platform (i.e. make yourself widely available across all social media apps.)  The lines between being an author and being your own PR machine have become increasingly blurred, which can be both liberating and problematic.

Read the full article here