Barely a month goes by when we don't see a celebrity A-to-Z-lister releasing a book via one of the top five publishers to great pomp and ceremony. And every time a photo of some smiley TV/film/music personality pops up on my Twitter timeline, proudly brandishing a copy of their latest offering as if they haven't spent best part of five years slaving over it (they probably haven't!), my stomach does a little backflip. Not for my own sake, I hasten to add; I'm just at the beginning of my novel-writing journey and, besides, I have the blood, sweat and tears of self-publishing firmly in my sights (If I'm gonna do it, I'll do it my way!).
But, no, what really niggles me as I gaze upon these celebrity-turned-writers are the thousands of (non-celebrity) writers who literally have spent years chewing their fingernails to the quick, disowning family and friends for months at a time, squeezing their brains dry of ideas until mental exhaustion sets in... AND, let's be in no doubt about this, probably producing some really excellent stuff that will never see the light of day because their slot keeps getting taken by someone almost certain to attract an exponentially larger audience.
And never mind the ones who haven't yet managed to get published, what about the ones who have? How do they feel knowing that the plaudits and income they'll receive for all their hard efforts in managing to finally 'hit the big time' are nothing compared to the attention Celebrity Z will earn for their heavily edited/ghostwritten/some-vague-notion-of-an-idea contribution?
But am I really being fair here?
Because what we have to bear in mind is that big publisher equals not only big income but also big overheads. Hence why you'll very rarely, if ever, see a big-name publisher taking a huge risk on an unknown, first-time author. So in that regard, why wouldn't they bet on a sure thing?
We have to remember, of course, that publishing is a business - making writers' dreams come true is merely a by-product. And doesn't it actually say more about 'us' than it does about them if sales figures for celebrity-titled books are so much higher than for lesser-known authors? In our shallow, superficial world, fame sells... and for the well-paid ghostwriter (for whom I have only admiration and respect), this isn't such a bad thing. As a disclaimer, perhaps some of these celebrity-written books are quite good... perhaps...
Thus, a name opens many doors closed to the rest of us, and all we can really do is grin and bear it. But should you happen to be sitting on a book you've written, fearing it will never get its chance, don't be disheartened. Look instead to the silver lining, glittering brightly in the large and threatening grey cloud, trying to catch your eye. I mean that smaller but no less hardworking institution much more willing to take a chance on you than those risk-averse big guns... indie publishers, of course!
Take 2 Too Much Of That Will Make You Cock-Eyed
Romantic fiction fan or not, you could hardly have missed the great scandal that shook the indie author romance community to its core this month, the one widely known as Cocky Gate. Though, due to the bombardment of puns, jokes and sniggering behind fingers, you may have assumed it to be one of those silly fads or even... I don't know... a publicity stunt perhaps, and maybe you moved quickly along.
But actually there's a serious side to this as well as the ridiculous one. Faleena Hopkins - whose name has just become a little more well known - decided to trademark the word 'cocky' so she could use it exclusively for her own series of romance books (whose titles I won't mention here, but I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding at the moment). Which meant any other author whose books contained the word 'cocky' in the title received a rather unexpected letter asking them to take down their books, change the title, or face legal action.
All of which has had authors - and of course romance indie authors in particular - up in arms. And who can blame them? With scarce funding and backing for a legal battle, most (if not all) of these authors have gone ahead and complied with Faleena's wishes. That is, for now... A petition has been raised to try and reverse the trademark, issued in April, with protestors citing the potential upheaval and disruption that outlawing a commonly used adjective could have on the genre, and even on publishing as a whole should Ms Hopkins' move set a precedent for others.
So here's hoping this issue resolves itself soon before someone else jumps on the idea and everything gets out of hand. Can you imagine the number of books readers would have missed out on last year if someone had trademarked the word 'Girl'? Hmm... what a legal nightmare!
Take 3 Proofreading History & Getting Back On The Wagon
Recently, in a change from the norm, I worked on a fair-sized, non-fiction history of ideas book for a new client. This threw up some new challenges, not least of which were the footnote references on almost every page - there's not much call for reference-checking in fiction (my usual arena). But thankfully not only did my proofreading training come in handy but I'm thrilled to say so did my English Literature degree.
There has been much toing and froing about the relevance of certain qualifications to some industries, and though my six years with the Open University eventually led me to choose what I really wanted to do post-study and post-parenting, it certainly wasn't a premeditated training programme for this particular career choice. But it was nice to finally be able to put all those hours of referencing academic essays to good use.
So the moral of this brief tale is: if anyone questions whether qualifications/training are really relevant, the answer is... learning is always relevant.
In writing news, I'm still awaiting a friend's feedback for Series 1 Book 1, so have this month cracked on with completing the outline of Book 2 and have also made a hesitant start on the first draft. While I work in Word after the first draft is down, I find that Scrivener - which played a large part in convincing me to give this novel-writing thing a go in the first place - is great fun for sketching out a plan and moving things around; literally a digital manifestation of scribbling ideas on index cards and splaying them all over the floor.
Some writers go into such depth with their outlines that in the end the book writes itself; this is no exaggeration: I've seen photographs of walls papered with scene breakdowns in such detail it's enough to make your eyes water. My own outline consists of just a couple of lines for each chapter - purely something to act as a starting point, and as a guide to stay mostly on the right track. Of course, everyone works differently, but I don't think I could bear to outline scene by scene - this I leave to chance, and on the first book this worked out pretty well. A good mix of planning and pantsing... Plantsing!
Suffice to say, the fear of starting a new project never goes away, and after having a pretty-much-complete first book in the bag as proof I am able to write something of this length, my fear now is that I may not be able to do it again, or not as well.
In other news:
the bonsai is thriving (it has flowers!);
I've bought a wall planner and whiteboard (for organising myself; absolutely NOT for outlining novels), both of which I've already decorated with multi-coloured highlighters (all very business-like, of course);
Take 4 Catch of the Month
My Catch of the Month on the blog/podcast circuit for May is Joanna Penn's discussion with Jeff Haden on the Creative Penn podcast, titled The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up To Win. Most indie authors by now have heard of - and are regular listeners of - Joanna's podcasts. She has a real knack for getting to the nitty gritty of running an indie author business. With the end prize firmly in mind - money, plaudits, the most enjoyable and rewarding career a person can have - Joanna talks through the actual, achievable, real steps it takes to get there.
What fascinated me about listening to Jeff, a non-fiction author and ghostwriter (previously a manager in a commercial printing plant), was how he aligned the process of writing and publishing a book with the methodology of the manufacturing process. In other words, to successfully produce a book (or series of books) requires the same attention to things such as efficiency, productivity, and time management, as the creation and development of any other product.
In order to create a successful career, indie authors need to be aware not only of what their goals are and how to go about reaching them, but also what working methods result in the best outcome and most efficient output, including making the best use of their time.
Some writers may still balk at the idea of such a seemingly 'cold' approach to producing their art (and writing certainly is still an art and a craft), but indie authors are increasingly more aware that the 'dream' of the writing life need not be ethereal, forever our of reach, forever tormenting them. A lucrative author business IS possible, when approached just as that - a business!
Take 5 Coming up in June
Just some of the bookish events on throughout the month of June. Don't forget to check out social media if you're not able to make the events in person (if, for example, they're on the other side of the world and you've already plundered your allowance on books (oh, just me then!)).