The Tao of the Author: The Recurring Question

I’d like to talk about a question that I get asked a lot:

How do I get published?

My reply to this is another question which, in the moment and out of context, might sound harsh but I promise that I deliver it kindly: “Have you finished your book, yet?”
The amount of people who reply “no” is overwhelming. This might seem like an odd place to talk about this subject. It’s only the second post, after all. But this is suuuuper important.

You see, lots of creative folks like us are freaking themselves out, heading themselves off at the pass, getting bogged down when they should be flying. Everyone has a different opinion of where the fun comes for creatives. Is it in the creation itself? Sharing what you’ve made? Meeting new people? Getting reviews? No two people feel the
same way, I’m sure. But one thing we can be certain about is that we love what we do. We also get a bit ahead of ourselves, sometimes. All that imagination power has to go somewhere, right?

Imagination

I had this exact same problem. Hell, I still have it! I get carried away. As soon as I have an idea, I start thinking about where it’ll end up. Let’s use Aethertide as an example. I always wanted to write a comic. Eventually, I finished the script but, from the first moment of having the idea, I was thinking about what artist I’d love to draw it, which comic publisher I’d love to print it. I had to slap myself on the wrist and mutter: “Cool your jets, hotshot. You haven’t written the damned thing yet!”

I get carried away. I get ahead of myself. With that comes fear of the unknown and undue pressure. I’ve led myself to think “I can’t do this” before I’ve even grabbed a notepad. I’m bonkers, is what I’m getting at.

Becoming the full package

When I first started out, I wish someone had told me to think about “first things first”. Maintain the dream of becoming published/exhibited/having a ton of followers but don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of it. You aren’t ready if your product isn’t ready. Your author self and your book come as a package, you see?

Approaching a publisher with a head full of dreams and a handful of scribbled-on napkins won’t get you very far. If it did, I’d have a hundred books out by now. However, if you’ve made your work the best that you can with the resources available to you, if it’s sat in front of you and you think “I can’t do anything more with this on my own”, then you’re ready to start thinking about getting published.

Research for authors

There is no single path after this. You have to find your own way. What’s essential, is research. If you come to my signing table with manuscript in hand and ask “how do I get this published?”, I can’t tell you. I wish I could. I don’t know you, your work, your vision. Only you can know that. Even if I did, I don’t know every publisher in the world. I only know a handful of the ones that are kind of around my area, and rarely on a first name basis. All I can tell you is how I did it. And we’ve already established that was bonkers.

You have to do your own research, folks. It sucks and it’s mind-numbing. It can feel like a huge comedown after the high of creating something, but it’s essential. Stalk people in a similar line of work on social media, read articles. Look up publishers and agents who specialise in what you’ve written. There’s no quick way, really. I’m sorry, but there isn’t. I wish there was.

Querying publishers

I still go through this process all the time. What it all boils down to is that you have to find your own path. Published authors aren’t gatekeepers to the world you want to live in. We’re just like you. We are still very much at the whims of agents and publishers. We still have to send out queries for our next book and hope the pubs like it, we still have to worry that no one will read it. You see us as ahead, but we’re right by your side, looking at the same view.

I know, I know, there wasn’t much solid advice for you there other than “finish the book” and “do your research”. I know that’s frustrating but, as we talked about last time, there is no Magic Bean. But focus, finishing the job and putting in the leg work really are three of the very most important things an author can have. With those three things under your feet, you’ve set yourself on the path to really getting published, your way.

Thanks for reading!ask-blackboard-chalk-board-chalkboard-356079

 

Tao of the Author posts are shared with my patrons a whole year before reaching the blog. To get the latest posts as they come without delay, head over and check out my Patreon page.

Patreon is the only way that I can get to book signings and meet new readers. It also helps me to release new books and collections so please do check it out.

Patreon: My Experience

Hi everyone,

I’ve officially been on Patreon for two weeks now! How’s it going? Is it worth it? Is it complicated to use?

In short…brill, yes, no.

But what’s it all about? For those of you who are Patreon-curious, the idea is very simple. In days of yore artistic types such as authors, poets, painters and musicians would have patrons who would help them to afford to live while they created their works of art. Patreon does the same thing, allowing people who want to support the arts or creation of something new to choose a person or project that they like and help to fund it.

starvingwriter
“Starving Author” a self portrait by Craig Hallam

How is that different from Kickstarter, I hear you cry? Well, on Patreon you’re choosing a person that you believe in. You’re not taking one project, making it happen, then getting something at the end of it, you’re helping a person to reach their ongoing goals and receiving ongoing rewards as a thank you. An artists can have a monthly amount that they need to reach in order to be able to create full-time, or perhaps like myself they need help with the travel costs to attend events and book signings across the country. To me, that travel is absolutely essential to expanding and maintaining my readership. Also, instead of a one-off payoff like Kickstarter, patrons receive brand-new work from their favourite creators every month, often well before anyone else.

So, how hard is it to set up? Ridiculously easy. Within an hour or so I had my page ready to go. The system that they have in place is so easy to navigate through and the Patreon team have taken great pains to make sure that easy-to-read information is available on everything that you might be trying to do. The whole site is written with a chilled vibe and friendly atmosphere.

Two things to be aware of! You will need to submit your page for approval (to make sure that you’re not being sketchy) before it goes live. However, it took mine about two hours to come back so hardly a long wait. Secondly, you’ll need to fill out some kind of tax form. However, before you start to panic as I did, the forms are right there on the site, all clickable boxes, and Patreon has added super easy guidance so that you know what to put in each box. They then sort your tax FOR YOU. So anything that ends up in your bank account at the end of the month is yours and yours alone. No messing. How awesome is that?

Basically, I’m very happy with it so far. I think that this is exactly what struggling artistic types like me really need to be able to make beautiful things to share with you. I only have six patrons at the minute but I’m already half way to being able to afford the costs for one event table a month. That’s amazing! I really can’t express how lucky I feel to have such lovely people supporting me. And the real beauty of being a patron are the tiers. You can decide to be a patron for as much or as little a month as you like, and not only do you get the warm and fuzzy feeling of helping out your favourite artist (because every penny counts and is much appreciated) but you get to see some great new work, too.

My patrons are getting some really fun new material. Patreon is giving me an opportunity to share poetry, short stories and experiences that are just a bit different, a bit more vital or expressive or avant-garde that might struggle to get published elsewhere but I get to share it with you all, anyway. So far, patrons are getting access to:

  • Brand new spooky poetry for a collection called “Rhyme beyond Reason”
  • Also new poetry based on the Down Days novella about my experiences of living with anxiety and depression. This will be collected and printed, too.
  • A serialised novella, Oshibana Complex, which is a hopeful, philosophical, dystopian cyberpunk story featuring non-binary characters, all about the final evolution of humanity (whatever that may be…)
  • New and exclusive Alan Shaw stories just for patrons!

I’m also looking forward to meeting goals which will allow me to print the collections mentioned above and pay an artist as they should be to draw my Steampunk comic book, Aethertide. I’m eager for you to all meet Olivia and Raisa as they leap between dimensions.

All of these things are possible with Patreon and it’s a very exciting time. Because these are things that, once in print, I can not only take to the book signings, but also send to patrons before anyone else gets to see them.

What Patreon builds is a loving, interactive and supportive relationship between creator and patron. It really does give me the warm and fuzzy feelings.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on with me for the last two weeks. If Patreon sounds like something that you might be interested in either starting or joining, here’s the link:

http://www.patreon.com/craighallam

If you would consider sharing the link around, I would really appreciate it. You’ll be helping me to build my career, creating wild new pieces of writing and maybe even eat at the same time 😀

 

As always, thanks for reading, folks.

Guest Post: Alexandrina Brant

Hello everyone!

I have another treat for you today, a guest post from the excellent Alexandrina Brant, a writer with bundles of literary pots on the stove of life.

Alexandrina Brant grew up in Oxford and is still fascinated by those intimate spires. After her BA in Psychology and Philosophy at Reading and MA Linguistic at UCL, she’s now a part of the NHS while she works on editing her Steampunk novel and planning a multi-POV woman’s fiction novel (which involves a baby-stealing scene!) for NaNoWriMo this year. She currently lives just outside York with her husband and their fur-daughter, Salieri, who is so full of sass that she might as well be a tiny tiger.

Alex’s post is talking about a subject close to my heart, the balance of life, mental health, and literary aspirations. I hope you enjoy it!

Writing, Depression, and the Wandering Mind with Alexandrina Brant

I was eager to write a guest post for Craig, but when it came to a topic to write on alex(given that Craig is letting me write whatever I like, hehe), I have been stumped. I used to write a lot; however, I have been struggling more with my depression for the last couple of years, coupled with finishing my Masters (in Linguistics from University College, London) and applying for jobs as one does when one is thrown into adulthood, and it’s come to be that I’ve struggled to find the joy and motivation I had in writing and editing in the past.

As adults, we’re scrounging for whatever time we have to do those things that don’t involve the day-to-day slog of the office and the many tasks of the household, too. And I happen to need downtime after work and with dinner the tv is on thanks to my husband and we get lost in easy fiction and relaxation. Not to mention that I’m an early bird and better work in daylight – when it’s dark outside and electric lights go on, my energy is sapped along with any creativity and inspiration. Which bodes well for the upcoming winter months if I plan to attempt NaNoWriMo in November (not).

The problem is—currently I’m a writer with no focus. I think that’s why blog posts have been coming to my fingers and the screen more than editing and new writing has. They’re short, succinct, they have a point. Writing fiction for me has always been…open-ended, even when I’ve known the direction in which a novel should travel. Which means my mind is constantly rambling along, not quite fitting pieces of the puzzle together.

I suppose I should be thankful. At the moment, I don’t have enough oomph to get going on a new project, which means I should be easily working on something older. But…it doesn’t happen. Instead, my mind dreams about other stories I could be writing; to me, stories have always come the wrong way: hook and cover pitch first, often jointly or closely followed by the title, then some of the simple plot and 2-d characters.

And it’s frustrating, as you can imagine.

Not just the trying to write through the veil of depression but that’s a big part of it. What is the veil, you say (perhaps)? Well…I’ve always empathised with Ralph towards the end of William Golding’s iconic – and much oh-kill-me-it’s-the-class-set-text-said – novel Lord of the Flies where he tries to make leadership decisions and think clearly but narrates that a ‘veil’ has come down over his thoughts. I can relate to that. I know the veil, where ideas should be easy to come because I’ve put myself in the same situations where I used to write so freely, but nowadays they’re absent.

What is to be done? What can we do to move forward through these blacker episodes?

Part of it is to take a step back from the production of work, of the self-imposed pressure of goals. I know that I sometimes go into writing – anything, even emails or letters at work – with the awareness that I have to produce a quality product once I’m done. With fiction writing, this must be restricting. I think sometimes writers have to take a step back and away from all this pressure that comes from the desire to be published…

So, how? Sometimes it’s handy to write a scene that you as writer know will never end up in the novel. Why? Because it can build up the characters, their motivations, and how they interact with each other. Sometimes it’s good just to write. Be it to create something new or to edit or reread a paragraph of something you once wrote. Write a rambling poem of half-rhymes to store in the back of your computer or an emotional letter full of half-truths just because it feels good to put something on paper for once instead of keeping it cramped in the attic of the mind.

My writing style definitely came with a different feel for years before I started editing with an aim to query agents and publishers, quite likely influenced by all the Latin poetry and run-on prose, a la Ovid and Cicero, I was reading at the time for my academic studies. When I started researching and reading and writing in a more accessible style so that my fiction could appeal to a wider audience, I halted a bit of the writing process that is the throwing up of words onto paper with reckless abandon, which a readership might think of as Latinate run on sentences. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I specifically lost a bit of myself, and it was certainly preferable to those moments such as when a critic asked me if English was my second language! (One set of grandparents may be Polish but my mother was born in England and speaks perfect English, so I’m not even bilingual, sadly.) But I did change the way I went about writing.

But then Latin has a particular preposition –que that likes to stick itself on the ends of words and do more for two clauses than ‘and’ can in English.

However, as a linguist, that’s an argument for another day.

About a month back now, I attended numerous talks at the Steampunk Asylum and it got me thinking about the approach I used for my blog at the time when I was applying for my psychology and philosophy undergraduate degrees – it was with a view to delving more into the inspiration and philosophy behind my magnum opus, my first novel baby now only known as WTCB, but I found that this did not appeal to a wider audience as much as my travel stories and real life tales. Yet, there are so many topics and themes about which the writer can espouse. I know there’s potential for more in my novels. I want to explore the imagery and metaphors as battles between the characters rather than just writing a plot with characters in a blog of text that’s straightforward. I like twists and turns that are fictionally ironic and when a reader looks back to each chapter, they see how the threads will have come together. That’s the kind of fiction I want to read and write and that’s what keeps me going by creating scenes that could add to the mystery and background lore. The only problem is that we’re then surrounded by facts that we have the urge to share with our readers! Hence, WTCB will always have the moniker of my magnum opus, as it’s the world I’m most involved with out of all my fiction. Temporal physics, Victoriana classes, genetics and family histories…

To conclude, I think that’s why writing around the piece of fiction works for me. If character Joe Bloggs wants to show Miss Sally the spyglass and ponder about how the sun rises at different times across the city instead of debating whether they should go on the risky hunt for his missing comrade, and that scene kickstarts my knowledge of his motivations to be a coward who observes the world instead of wanting to change it, then I fully support the creation of extra-novel fiction.

I could go into a whole talk about my works and the levels of metaphor and images that I endeavour or perhaps have endeavoured in the past to put into my fiction, but alas the depression has struck me dumb, in a way that inspiration is fragmented across my mind. “Catching butterflies” to use Craig’s own words.

Still, I get along. In what spare time I have away from working on patient record data in the NHS, I am currently editing the second full Steampunk novel I have written – this one set between alternate-history New York and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, featuring ghost-like spirits, automata, and an illegal skyship crew. I’m still looking for a way to write whilst during office jobs, without the stacks of paper printouts that I used to cover with red-pen and then leave for months on end. It’s a case of time again. And coordination.

As a final aside, my latest piece of fiction is being published in the anthology DARK AND LIGHT by the UCL Publishing team, coming shortly. Check out the Twitter and website for details. I’m particularly pleased with my piece, as it is a study of psychology and mental illness in the form of my protagonist, the unnamed woman, as she heads towards fulfilling her plans of murdering her ex.

In conclusion, thanks, Craig, for having me. Maybe next time I’ll have a more coherent topic to discuss.

Thanks for that, Alex! If you want to take a look at what mischief Alex is getting up to, check out her social medias here:

Twitter: @caelestia_flora
Instagram: lingua_fabularum
Website: http://www.alexandrinabrant.wordpress.com
UCL Publishers Prize website: https://www.uclpublishersprize.com

 

Thanks for reading!

To the future!

Hi everyone!

It’s been a little quiet for a few weeks hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’m afraid the constant juggle between life and work has had me clinging to the underbelly of a runaway ostrich and blogging has been left behind in the dust cloud.

I have a few updates, however. I’ll be updating the Tour Dates page shortly with events that I’m booking for next year as they’re coming in thick and fast. The likes of Scarborough Sci-Fi Con and Worldcon in Dublin are a dead-cert with UK Indie Lit Fest and Steampunk Asylum in the works, too.

I can now confirm that Oshibana Complex, my non-gender specific cyberpunk novella, will be worked on by Inspired Quill around November next year. That means we’ll all have to wait a while for another book from me, but I promise it’ll be worth it.

In other news, I’m thinking about starting a Patreon. My main objective will be to help pay for table, travel and accommodation costs for future book signings as this year has been a tough one and I’ve had to say no more times than yes to event invites. That’s obviously not good for an author trying to get more readers and spread their work around. In terms of rewards, I’m thinking of offering monthly author tips, poetry and chapters of novellas that no one has ever seen, maybe even mixing in new Alan Shaw adventures that never made the books. What do you guys think? Do you have any other suggestions of things you’d like to see there? What would entice you? I’d appreciate any feedback and ideas that you all have to offer.

What else?

Ah, for those of you who are followers of Alan Shaw’s adventures, there is some good news. Firstly, the third and final book of the trilogy is going well. I’ve not had a lot of time lately but I keep picking at it and hopefully it’ll be ready for you sometime soon.

Secondly, a new Alan Shaw short story is being published in a sci-fi anthology (name to be confirmed) that will fill the gap between Alan Shaw and the Lovelace Code and Alan Shaw and the Wretched Revenge from Old Haunts (Alan Shaw book 2). For those of you who have been asking about how Alan got to Chicago in Wretched Revenge, this story will answer your questions.

I’ve been asked many times about what happens between the stories in the Alan Shaw books. Some people see the little leaps in time as tantalising questions to be answered. As I always tell people, there aren’t any gaps, only other adventures that didn’t make it into the books. Lots of them. In the coming months/years, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to share more of Alan’s stories with you.

Anyway, with that revelation hanging in the aether, I bid you all farewell. Until next time, my friends.

Embrace the Weird!

 

Thanks for reading.

Guest Post: Austin Chambers

Hi everyone,

Marketing is not only expensive but eldritch in nature and beyond mortal comprehension. In an effort to spread the word about talented people without them needing to remortgage or decipher R’lyehian texts, I’m sharing writery and artisty types with you all so you don’t miss out.

Today’s guest is Austin Chambers, a gentleman (he made me say that) who has been my convention neighbour many-a-time and is always interesting and intriguing to be around. He also has an excellent beard and looks good in a hat, of which I’m insanely jealous. Without any further ado, I give you Austin Chambers…

Perhaps it’s all in my head.

A.S.Chambers.

Hello. Is this thing on? (Hits router).Austin

Yes, I think that should do it. It’s always strange writing on other people’s blogs. It’s something akin to sneaking into their house in the middle of the night and wandering around in their well-worn slippers. (Yes Craig, that’s why they’re never where you leave them when you go to bed…) [I knew it! – Craig]

So, anyway, my name is A.S. Chambers, and young Mister Hallam has kindly invited me to take the reins for 600 words or so. Some might say that this is a sign of friendliness from one author of the fantastical to another. Personally, I think he’s buttering me up because he knows that I’m going to kill him in a rather gory manner in my next Sam Spallucci novel. [You’re delivering villainous monologues again, Austin ;D – Craig]

Which rather neatly brings me onto my beleaguered, down-at-heel investigator of the paranormal.

So far, Sam has survived four major outings under my cruel penmanship. The first, Casebook of Sam Spallucci, was released back in 2012 and the most recent, Sam Spallucci: Dark Justice, saw the light of day (ironic that, considering that it’s about vampires) just a couple of months ago. They are a blend of urban fantasy, film noir and quirky humour. I normally tell people that if Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett had teamed up and rewritten the works of Stephen King, then you’d be about half way there.

Sam’s world is set in my beloved Lancaster; albeit a Lancaster where things go bump in the night and lurk in the shadows. There are satanic sit-com actors, vampires dressed as Vulcans, bondage-loving banshees and all-manner of weird and wonderful characters that my hero has to encounter or endure.

When I venture out into the land of the living to try and sell my wares at comic cons and book signings, one of the most common questions that I get asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I normally answer with the rather flippant reply, “You’ve obviously never been to Skerton on a Saturday night.” (For those of you not accustomed to Lancastrian geography, just imagine Ankh Morpork’s Shades but without the loveable dwarves or goblins.) However, I suppose it is a very valid question. I mean, just where do these curious creatures come from and how do they find their way into the heads of writers of fantasy and horror?

In my case, I have this issue of overthinking absolutely everything. As I type this, I’m waiting for an engineer to come and fit one of these new-fangled smart meters. This means that I currently have going through my head, in no particular order:

  1. They’re already late. How much more of my day will be spent finding tasks to do around the living room where I can hear the front door?
  2. Did I adequately tidy the stairs down to the cellar or will they slip and break their neck?
  3. What if I desperately need a cup of tea when they’re here? I mean, the fate of the world might depend on it. The phone might ring and Donald Trump could be on the other end demanding, “Mr Chambers, if you do not make a strong Earl Grey in the next ten minutes, then I will press this shiny red button.”
  4. Someone told me last night that these meters give off radiation. What if I acquire a really stupid super power? I would much rather be a master of time and space than have the ability to kill baddies with hyper-flatulence.

So, yes, if these are the things that go through my head with the perfectly mundane, then I suppose that having vampires owning local comic book shops, restaurateurs dressed as mummies nicking the Eric Morecambe statue, and a werewolf running the local park’s petting zoo are not that great a leap of the imagination.

Perhaps you’d like to try a taste of the weird and wonderful that lurks in the Lancaster of my mind?

 

Somewhat useful links (ideal for stalking…)

Website: www.aschambers.co.uk

Facebook Group:The World of A.S.Chambers

Facebook Page: @A.S.Chambers

Twitter: @ASChambersUK

Instagram: @aschambersuk

Amazon.co.uk: A.S.Chambers

Amazon.com: A.S.Chambers

There you have it, Gentlefolk! Hop over and take a look at Austin’s work if it tickles your  urban fantasy fancy.

 

Thanks for reading!