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.

The Tao of the Author: The Magic Bean

Welcome to the first Tao of the Author column!

This will be a series of posts on the more philosophical side of being an author. We’ll cover organisation for the sake of your sanity, dealing with rejection, comparing yourself to others and a host of other subjects. This is the kind of advice I wish I’d had when I started out. I think it would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights.

So let’s get start by talking about The Magic Bean.

 

How do I become a successful author?

Every author, and possibly every creative, at some point in their careers has asked the same question whether aloud, internally, or of Google. How do I become successful? (We’ll talk about what “success” actually means in a future newsletter ). We’ve all wondered how we get from where we are to where we perceive others to already be. What magic formula, what golden ticket, will get us that status?

The fact is, unfortunately, these legendary secrets don’t exist. Despite how many “overnight success” or “they did it all themselves on the internet” stories you read, they’re not real. Because the people who are the subjects of these toxic media stories aren’t overnight successes. They didn’t rub the Lamp of Publishing and a genie appear to answer their wishes. Every creative person begins the same way, the same as me, the same as you. One day, the voices in their head got too much to ignore and they sat down to do the work. Then, they finished it. After that? They belly-crawled, persisted, tore their clothing on razorwire, persisted, got smacked down and infuriated by themselves and others before arriving at a finished project. Because that is the journey of the creative. Then, and only then, did they succeed.

What is an overnight success?

Yikes, that was a heavy start, wasn’t it? Let’s go with an analogy that doesn’t sound like a monochrome war movie tableau. Those creatives planted their magic bean and cared for it.

Ah, magic beans. That’s better.

You see, there’s no fast way to grow a beanstalk. You plant your magic bean; you water it and tend to it; when it begins to wilt you strap it to a bamboo cane; when it rains too much, you shelter it, and when the sun comes out, you rest in its shade. The magic beanstalk is the hardest plant to grow, which is why it grows the highest. You have to be prepared to tend your beanstalk (is that a euphemism? Possibly).

For us creatives, that can mean simply finishing your project. That book, painting, fan film or piece of music can’t go anywhere until you’ve finished it. Then it could be spreading the word about your work, getting friends and family involved, or sending manuscripts to publishers. All creatives, everywhere, go through this process. J.K. Rowling was dubbed an overnight success after years of struggling and an avalanche of rejections. It finally took a publisher’s 8-year-old daughter to see the potential of the Harry Potter series. J.K. tended her bean, and slaved over its growth for years to become an “overnight success”.

What do I need to be an author?

The beautiful thing? You already have your bean. All you have to do is place it in the earth.

That idea you have (you know, the one that keeps you up at night) is your bean. You hold it in the palm of your hand, the tip of your pen, the bristles of your brush. Just plant it.
Of course, there comes a warning. Not everyone’s beanstalk will reach the clouds (there be giants). Some people’s beanstalks stop growing around head height. Some people end up with a field of little shoots. But you should always be proud of what you have grown with the soil, the sunlight, and the rain that nature affords you. Looking at other people’s beanstalks just distracts you from your own; they had different soil, sunlight, and some have greenhouses. It’s pointless to compare. J.K. had hard work and luck on her side, if the tales are to be believed.

Being an author

Still, when growing a beanstalk, it doesn’t matter how high it goes, or how you got it there. None of it matters. It’s that you planted it in the first place. Everyone’s beanstalk makes the world a little greener.

I hope that all makes sense. Analogies can get strained sometimes, and generalisations can be the work of the devil. But I hope that you can see what I’m getting at. Your work is your work. Your journey is your journey. No one can tend to your garden for you, or tell you how. But you can be fulfilled, and have a great sense of pride and self-worth from the work that you do, no matter where it goes or how many people read it.

That kind of mentality is how an author survives, and that is what I’m hoping to promote with these Tao of the Author posts.

See you next time!

Thanks for reading.

 

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.

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.

I’m Not Here (Reputation)

Hi everyone,

As you read this, I’m not really here (spoooookyyyyyyy).

I’m in Lincoln, probably talking crap to a fellow author or artisty type in the Assembly Rooms as we wait for the hordes of people who will definitely buy our books and artwork…

…sure, sure they will 😀

Anyway, there isn’t much to tell you this week except where I’ll be and what I’ll be getting up to, just in case you feel like popping along to say hi and enjoy the event. At the end is a tip that has come to me out of this week. But first:

Steampunk Asylum is in it’s tenth year, this year. A full decade of taking over Lincoln’s historical quarter with Victorian Science Fiction splendour. I’ll be in the Assembly Rooms (timetable of events here)  with all the other authors and artists, trying to pretend I’m as smart as them (and failing :D).

And now the tip! It’s dead simple, but fundamentally important.

Be Nice

To every author who gripes, complains, or gets involved in things they shouldn’t, this does nothing for your professional reputation. I’m not perfect by a long shot, but I try to always be nice to the organisers of events, I’m flexible as to where they put me and infinitely grateful when they offer a free table or opportunity to do a reading or a talk (even though I still get nervous as hell, years into the job). I also don’t get involved in competitiveness and politics that can sometimes surround our work. There will always be a teeny group in your medium/fandom trying to be the Grand Overlord. No matter what your geeky sub-culture, there will be an elitist caste. These are not people to associate with. Be civil, and move away. It’s easy and good for you to just say, “I’d rather not get involved, thank you”. I’m here to enjoy my writing and have a chat with like-minded geeks and enthusiasts who come to say hello. That’s where the joy comes, and where my attention stays.

Your professional reputation is your entire existence. Be true to your principles, your ideals, but be the most civil and open-minded version that you can possibly be. People appreciate that. And, after you’ve been you for a while, the word spreads. I have had zero editing work from random people on the internet. I have had a lot from people I’ve met at conventions, had friendly chats with on Twitter, or from friends of those people. My requests tend to start with “Such-and-such who you met at time-and-place said you help people with their writing”. Word gets around, you see. And those little editing jobs are how I pay for travel costs, food, table fees and accommodation (I tend to sofa-surf where possible, mind you). Without the editing work, I wouldn’t be able to get to events. Without being friendly, non-competitive and avoiding the BS, I wouldn’t be able to follow my dream.

So, being nice is not only a way to live, but a huge boon to you being able to follow your dream, and possibly make a career out of it.

 

Thanks for reading!