The Blog Strikes Back…

Writing a blog, it transpires, is a time-intensive effort. Between moving to Spain, starting a new job in a new profession and writing book number two, unfortunately my plan to pass on any worthwhile experiences I had as a new author went onto the backburner. I’m a bit more settled now and should be able to blog more regularly about all the errors I’ve made!

First things first. A big thank you again to everyone who bought Tricks of the Trade (my debut novel) and in particular, those who left a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It soared to grab an (Amazon) bestseller tag in Canada and Australia (more on bestseller tags in a future blog, as well as why Canada and Aus) as a direct result of the reviews it got on Amazon. So again, thanks a million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If anyone who has read it wants to leave a review, feel free! I would really appreciate it.

The plan is to write a few blogs over the next few weeks with the various things I’ve picked up about writing. I’m moving around a bit just now (although the job has finished, hence having more time) so you’ll also have to suffer some pictures up of where I’ve been. Like here! Ominous, I know. Makes me think of a good story…

But, I thought I would accompany my dive back into the world of blogging with a bit of a splash: book number two in the Dakar and Scott series has been accepted by my publishers, Endeavour Media!

Great news. It continues with the same two characters (as you would expect from the series title) faced once again with an impossible crime. Alongside this, Dakar also has to deal with an ominous man from his past, threatening to upset his new-found balance.

It won’t be published for a while (December 2018 is the current timing on the schedule – more on timelines later). In the meantime, the plan is to kick on and continue to educate myself about writing (also to be included in the lessons learned postings) and write book number three in the series. I’ve five ‘howdunits’ firmly in mind, with a further two ideas I need to test out. Enough to keep busy!

Thanks for reading and if anyone has any questions they’d like me to answer, don’t hesitate to either ask them in the comments or email me on euanbpollock@gmail.com. And again, any reviews for Tricks of the Trade are very welcome!

Back to the self-education…

E

What’s in a title?

So, as the book launch deadline nears (19 January, two weeks and counting – put it in your diaries), I thought I’d write quickly about choosing a book title. For absolute beginners, that is. Because that’s about the level I qualify to talk about. But hey, this is a blog for people just trying to get started. Like me.

Why is it important? Well, when people look at your book (electronically or physically), they first see the cover art and the book title. These two things are a large part of your selling ability. So both are powerful weapons to get people’s attention, to make them have a look, see the quality that is there and (hopefully) decide to make a purchase.

The book title I’ve chosen is called Tricks of the Trade. So why that? What does one look for in a book title?

Well, firstly, I would say it’s something that has to be memorable. I reckon Tricks of the Trade is memorable for various reasons. Alliteration, the words being stressed both having the same letters at the start of the word. The cadence of it is quite nice as well, it flows well. And finally, it’s a saying in English, denoting insider knowledge and, well, mystery. Something you’re not allowed to know.

Of course, I’m not the first to recognise this. There are many books with this title. But, crucially, none which are murder-mysteries. (Disclaimer: I searched various sites, in the category of murder-mystery, to see if there was one with that title. I didn’t find any. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there are some, I’d love to have a look at them. I was considering ‘Where there’s a will…’ because of the plot of the book, but there are many murder-mysteries with that exact title).

Secondly, I think it has to relate to the plot of the book itself. In this case, I’d say it does. As it’s a murder-mystery, I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that the suicide which is the focus of the investigation may not be exactly what it appears, and that tricks are involved with any murder-mystery. Hence the connection.

And lastly, it has to be tested. Well, I did my utmost to find a captive audience – my poor family members – and tried various titles on them. This one was actually the idea of one of the said family members, and passed the vigorous testing process (‘is this a terrible title? – no, it’s not bad at all – right, it’ll do’).

And so there we are, my idiot’s guide to picking a book title. Hope it helps, and regardless, keep on writing. Mine’s a cup of liquorice tea if you’re buying…

Cheers

E

P.S. Apparently the American spelling of liquorice is ‘licorice’. That just looks like a hilarious word to me

The mystery of giving books away for free

For a long time, I thought every book went out into the world with a big razzmatazz. This jambouree would include a launch party, big book signings and the book being placed on the shelves of bookshops with all kinds of special offers. This, as with many assumptions, was really quite erroneous.

It turns out the world has changed, in terms of selling books, because the way people buy and read books has changed.

One new discovery I’ve made is that many books are being given away for free (that is, a free download or on kindle unlimited). I was fairly shocked to see this at the start. Growing up, I was always used to seeing books selling for 7.99 or similar. Plus, as someone currently wading my way through a major redraft of my second novel, I am well aware of the amount of work that goes into writing a book.

How, then, how does it work with authors giving their books away for free?

The traditional launch party, for books with big name authors, still takes place. These books are pretty much guaranteed to recoup their costs for the publishing house, and make a profit into the bargain. But for the lesser-known authors among us, a new marketing model appears to have taken hold.

Here there is no launch party, or at least no physical one, and generally no book tours (again, at least no physical ones). Authors still try to create a buzz, to drum up interest when their book is launched, but the money is recouped not through one big splash at the start, but rather through a drip-drip process which accumulates over time.

And the secret to this marketing model? Sequels.

In traditional print, I have heard that sequels were generally discouraged. This is because as a story progresses, in general (not always) its readership will fall as fewer and fewer people see it through to the end. For an eBook, though, the sequel is the key to sales and the reason behind the mysterious free book.

Consider. You write your first book, as a debut author. You won’t make a lot of money, if any, from selling it. This is true even if you follow the marketing model, and sell it for 99 pence for long periods of time. However, let us consider that this is book four in a series. Your characters are fascinating, the plot is engaging. Now that people have bought into your story, now is the time for them to read books one, two and three. All reasonably priced at somewhere between 2 and 3 Euros/Pounds/Dollars.

This is the point where the eBook author begins making money. And it explains why we have these free giveaways, or books priced at 0.99. You don’t make the money from that book. You make the money from the other titles, slowly building up your series to a large number. Think, in Scotland at least, of some big name authors, like Brookmyre, Rankin, etc… They have a long-running series.

And I personally think that it improves the quality of a book. You won’t know which book is the first one the reader picks up, and so they all have to be good quality.

Anyway, just a quick note to explain the mystery of the 0.99 book. As anyone who will read my first book, Tricks of the Trade (out early next year), will know, I do enjoy a good mystery.

The horror of the Query Letter

So you finished the novel! Congratulations, no doubt you feel on cloud 9. I certainly did. And then I came down to the earth when I considered what was next. The ever-foreboding query letter. As someone with no previous publishing experience, my first encounter with this was particularly daunting. I felt like, well, yeah…

But I did the sensible thing, and looked for advice. I grew more concerned on reading things saying query letters are “the most important thing you’ll ever write”, more important than the novel itself. Being told to sell the book itself, as well as explaining why you’re choosing that particular agent and mentioning your platform. Plus of course explain how it will engage your target audience. All within one page.

So, no pressure then.

I struggled a lot with my query letter, following the advice as best I could, and very fortunately managed to get picked up by a publisher, Endeavour Press. Now, for my benefit next time and all of you, I asked them to share with us all the most important things they look for in a query letter.

First and foremost is the story: its uniqueness, its style, its characters, etc.” I was happy to read this. I find the emphasis on the story refreshing. At the end of the day, you can do as much marketing as you like to as many people as you have, but if the story is poor, it won’t sell that much. And your second story won’t sell at all.

But the author is never truly dead”. I think many would agree that one of the successes to writing a good novel is to put your own life experiences into your characters. Thus your own life experiences count greatly in establishing to a publisher that you can do that. Pointing out what you have done in the past, the different experiences you’ve had in life, can surely sway a publisher into believing that you can do more than just provide a catchy title and a few pages of drama.

Finally, one that seems obvious: accuracy. “A query letter should be immaculate in spelling and grammar.” Apparently many authors are rejected because they make careless mistakes in their query letter. To my mind, this is crucial and it’s an easy fix. When you send in your novel, you want it to be considered on its own merits, not rejected out of hand due to spelling errors in your query letter!

For those who have read a lot of advice, but still aren’t getting anywhere, firstly please keep trying. Sometimes we just need the rub of the green. Second, I have attached her my query letter to Endeavour Press (a debut novel from a person with no experience or connections in the writing world) that was accepted. I hope it helps.

Last word to Endeavour Press. “Put the story first, make it short and enticing. Then explain your background and how and why you wrote the book.”

Good luck

e

 

Dear [Endeavour Press]*,

My name is Euan B Pollock. I attach a copy of ‘The Importance of Suicide’, a full length murder-mystery. It currently weighs in at 71,333 words.

Stewart Scott, a legal trainee, accompanies Sebastian Dakar, a seemingly imperturbable mindfulness philosopher, to investigate a death in the Scottish countryside. An army Major is found dead in his bathtub, one wrist open, suicide note on the floor and key to the locked door next to the sink. The police believe it is an open-and-shut case of suicide, but the family demands a second opinion, not least to try and get their hands on his inheritance. When the daughter who stands to inherit is openly poisoned in front of them, they find that they need to catch a murderer.

Regarding myself, I have no experience writing fiction. However, I have a large amount of experience telling stories. I worked as a public prosecutor for 9 years, conducting hundreds of trials. Constructing and persuading judges and juries of a compelling series of events has been my day job throughout these years. While, therefore, I cannot point to anything in terms of experience in the world of publishing, I do believe I have substantial storytelling skills

I hope you enjoy the novel, regardless of the success or otherwise of the submission

Best

Euan B Pollock

* I’d suggest always putting in the name of the agent you are approaching. It shows you’ve done a bit of research. Removed here for privacy concerns

A publisher speaks… (Part 1)

All,

Excited to say that Endeavour Press, the company who will be publishing my first novel, a murder-mystery called the Importance of Suicide, have agreed to answer questions on the entire publishing process, from when they first receive a query letter right through to what constitutes a ‘success’ nowadays for a book. I find it fascinating, because it’s a world I know nothing about.

My first question to them concerned what a publisher might look for in a book submission. Their first point is that “[a] book that can grip a reader from the first page and hold them all the way through is always a good submission.” The idea of a ‘hook’ to catch and maintain the reader’s attention seems to be appreciated by publishers as well, as the sign of a good book submission.

However, this was only part of their answer. They also said they look for “something quite different from the general trends”, an answer that resonates with me. I believe we like familiarity embedded within difference. Take classical music, for example. Often throughout the piece you will hear the same motif repeating over and over, although in different musical contexts. That familiarity embedded within difference is something our minds seem to respond to. This can also be put to use with writing. Dealing with the eternal questions of life but within a new context is something I believe we all respond to.

Endeavour Press also said they looked for “something with a strong theme or focus that hasn’t been covered before”. That may seem a daunting challenge, but in reality, our rapidly changing society is throwing up many challenges for everyone, for example, issues over gender, masculine and feminine stereotypes or immigration. These emerging themes provide a lot of prime meat for aspiring writers to get their teeth into.

So there we have it – a publisher speaks, part 1. If you want a publisher to sit up and take note of your story, ensure that you adhere to the above advice and make it clear in your query letter!

If anyone has any questions they want me to ask Endeavour Press, let me know and I’ll be happy to oblige.

Happy writing and reading

E

Writing worthwhile books people want to read

What makes a book worthwhile? Probably that it deals with issues that transcend the immediate context, issues that recur for humanity throughout time. But what makes people want to read a book? For the majority, I think, it’s the entertainment value, how engaged they are in the book itself. How then, do you write a worthwhile book while at the same time producing something that people want to read?

I struggled greatly with this. The classics, like the Iliad, for example, deal with the male psyche, and it does it brilliantly. Or look at Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I couldn’t put that down, the brilliant interweaving of three different stories. There are many more examples that can be cited, like Catch-22, a really quite depressing story about war and human folly.

Slowly, however, a realisation came to me. Books, traditionally, are written to inform, persuade or entertain. A great book, though, straddles these categorical divides. Take the Iliad, for example. It is a classic, with its treatment of the male psyche and the disasters of pride and arrogance. But it is also, fundamentally, a page-turner. It takes a dramatic war between great powers, riven over infidelity, and then looks solely at the most dramatic events between its greatest heroes. Gods drop in here and there. It’s a thriller, really. But also a classic.

Or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s a mystery novel. Where are they going? Who is the mysterious character that haunts the main character’s dreams? What is this problem with his son, alluded to but never resolved until the end? And what happened to the main character? All urgent questions, made all the more so by the compelling nature of the characters.

Or finally, let’s look at Catch-22. It’s incredibly informative, in terms of highlighting absurd situations that take place in war. It’s terribly depressing, with pointless deaths and pointless fighting. But it’s also highly entertaining, the black humour throughout making it a book that makes you want to read to the end, and then re-read.

And Catch-22 highlights another point worth making. Great books are entertaining, but entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean nice. Horror films can be entertaining, but they’re not nice and cosy. A depressing war documentary, detailing the horrors of what happens to people in post-conflict societies, can be highly entertaining in that you want to keep on watching it.

Following these instructions, I’ve attempted to do the same. ‘The Importance of Suicide’, my debut novel, it is superficially a murder-mystery novel, a good old whodunit. But I also wanted to deal with the theme of the toxic nature of masculine culture within Scotland, the cardboard cut-out alpha male that men are meant to aspire to. My efforts won’t compare to classics, of course, as I’m a novice at this, but I have the undeniable feeling of being on the right track.

So, follow the great writers. Get the theme in, that’s the reason for writing the book. But make it entertaining, in whichever way you want, to have people read it.

The ‘inbetween’ scenes

I think one of the major things about people who are authors is that they are willing to do what I’m fast starting to call the daily grind. Writing stories can be really exciting. I’m at a point in the novel I’m writing now where a main character meets a shadowy figure from his past, and reacts pretty badly. It’s fun, writing the dialogue, short, sharp sentences that reveal more and more.

What’s less fun is writing the ‘inbetween’ parts, the getting from the flat to the train station to the other city (then have an exciting scene) then getting your characters all the way back. Seems fairly obvious. We all like drama.

But having re-read them, I think those ‘inbetween’ scenes are hard because that’s where your character development takes place, which is in turn where your story really develops. I’d say many of us can write explosions, or assassinations. We all like the ‘I am your father’ part of the story (Star Wars reference, for those who don’t know. Oh, and watch Star Wars). But it’s much tougher to develop characters.

But as with the ‘conflict v crisis’, the stories with good characters are (i) the ones that actually help people, I think, and (ii) the ones that become good literature. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good thriller as much (or more than) the next person, but I don’t really remember them after I’ve put them down. But the classics, like Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 – terrifying, powerful, exciting stories that told me a lot about the world. Graham Greene’s characters always fascinate me, even if they’re just having random banter down the pub.

So, while I’m happy to admit that my first drafts have a lot of fat that can be easily lopped off, I don’t think it’s the scenes that are ‘inbetween’ the action. In fact, it’s probably better to chop off as much from the action scenes as possible, and leave them taut and bare bone.

Anyway, such are my random thoughts for today

Cheers

E

The writing process

Recently, a mate of mine asked me about the writing process. Did I set aside a certain time of day to write, did I have a certain place to write, all this kind of stuff. I’ve seen a number of things written online about ‘the rules for writing’ – in fact, the writer’s digest website recently put up this article which deals with how different writers write best.

For me personally, it’s quite simple. I need a quiet spot, without distraction, and access to a kettle and some made-up tea (and by made-up tea, I mean herbal tea). I also need to not be hungry. Then I can sit and write without issue.

But the actual process itself is the easier part. Yes, there are times when I hit a scene and think ‘how am I going to get from this scene to the next one I have in my head?’ But to be honest, quite often those are the most rewarding questions because they give valuable answers. Certainly in the first book, a number of scenes I hadn’t thought about turned out to be the scenes I liked the best.

The hard part, I find, is the untangling of ideas. Ideas, I find, are a nightmare. People are born storytellers. We communicate through stories, our entire idea about how the world works and our own self-identities are all stories. You tell stories. All the time, to everyone, whenever you interact. Some stories may be true, don’t get me wrong. And that may be why people don’t think they’re stories at all. But I believe they all are, regardless of factual accuracy. So I think the real problem in writing is not getting ideas, but untangling them.

So then, the untangling of ideas. I find this is what needs the real concentration, (i) to figure out if the idea is any good as a story others will be interested in, and (ii) to see whether and how it will work. As to how to do that, thus far, with my huge wealth of experience (that’s sarcasm, just in case it didn’t come across in the written word), I’m taking a trial-and-error approach, and making a large number of ‘errors’ (although happily, an ‘error’ in one story can be the basis for a whole new one). Thus the idea of an assassin hidden inside a big birthday cake firing a shot at the victim at exactly the same time as someone breaking a window, to make it look like the shot came from outside, may be a bit convoluted for a murder-mystery story. Could be a nice thriller, though. Unfortunately I don’t really know of a way to decide if an idea is any good before putting a bit of effort into it. That’s where the trial-and-error comes in.

Finally, in terms of the process itself, I would absolutely recommend doing good characterisation before you begin, by which I mean do an in-depth sketch of all the major and minor characters in your book before you being writing. Further, I’d suggest a plot outline to see if an idea will work. Doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, but it does have to get you from situation A at the start of the book to situation B at the end, in a comprehensive, credible and engaging way. I do this for all stories, even short stories.

But once you have the characterisation down, and the plot outline complete, and it looks good? That’s the time, after you’ve had a good meal, to find your quiet spot, without distraction, and within reach of a good cup of made-up tea.

The social media presence

I am not an avid user of social media. I never really have been, to be honest. The issues concerning privacy and also the irritating fact that companies can and do use the personal information I give them to make money means I rarely put up much information about myself (and at least some of what I did put up was misinformation). Prior to hearing about the book being published, the extent of my social media was to be on Facebook for a few years, before I closed that account because of the reasons above (to the extent you can close a Facebook account). Twitter, Instagram, and anything else that I’ve forgotten all passed me by.

However, it was pointed out to me that having a social media presence as an aspiring author is no bad thing. Now that makes me slightly uneasy. Not for the reasons above, because I’m using a pseudonym and that makes me feel slightly better about them. Instead, I must admit, I found it strange to ‘connect’ to people that I do not know, and that I probably never will know. Take any famous author you care to think of. If I follow them on twitter, all they’ll see if one more follower (and if they are sufficiently famous, they probably have someone managing their twitter account, so they’ll never see me at all). So I didn’t really see the point of all of this. But I’ve slowly begun to realise that this is more about community, that is to say, if that famous author were coming to town and having a chat at the local bookshop, what community of people would turn up? Well, I’d imagine the community that follows them on twitter, or whichever other social media app. So really, I suppose, what’s actually happening is that you’re identifying yourself to others in that community as one of them. And therefore it’s not a question of hero(ine)-worship, or trying to get someone famous who you don’t know to notice you (although I’d love to share a pint with Christopher Brookmyre or Ian Rankin). Rather, it’s a community of shared interests, where other community members can ‘see’ you based upon the fact that you share an interest in a lot of people or topics that they do. And of course, the person you’re following stands for something, be it the ability to write a good novel, or to give out bits of wisdom that you might find enlightening, or good comedy, or whatever. Once they cease to stand for this, you can cease to follow them. Based on that philosophy, I’m much easier with ‘following’, ‘liking’ or whatever other verb we’re using to describe this practice of being notified when certain people or pages make a comment on the web.

So now that I have, to some extent, eased my own concerns, I decided to get a social media presence. In terms of the practice of actually building web presence, I’ve been told by various sources that the best idea is to get out and start connecting to others in the industry, through following authors and publishers on twitter and instagram, getting at least a Facebook author’s page as a focal point (unless you have another focal point, such as a website) and getting on to Goodreads as well, not least so that you can identify yourself as author of your book(s) when they arrive.

I thought I might as well go the whole hog and get all of these things. I am now a proud owner of not only a Facebook personal page and author page, but also a Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads account (the last being by far and away the most relevant). I decided, as you can see if you are here reading this blog, to build a website and have that as the focal point of all these social media accounts. It has been repeated to me that the less number of ‘clicks’ required, the more ‘traffic’ (also known, in the non-capitalist-dominated world, as ‘people’) will visit your site. However, rather than copy and paste these blog postings around various different web places, and bore real, bonafide friends with ramblings on trying to be an author which they may not want to hear, I’d rather just put them here. If people want to read, they can suffer one more link to get there, I feel.

So the advice is to follow other authors, publishers, and so on, and also to engage with any others as far as possible on social media as you would do as if you’d just bumped into a random stranger at a bus stop and found out that you share a love of 17th century French poetry. That in turn will build your media presence, and presumably make others want to connect with you and find out more about you. Well, I’ll away and try and do that, and I’ll let you know how  get on. Or even better, you can ‘follow’, ‘like’, ‘friend’ or in general just connect (I’m a pretty dab hand at the old email) and you can see for yourself.

Best

E

CPD – books read

In my old profession we had to do CPD (Continuing Professional Development) every year, for however many hours. I’m happily free of the obligation, but of course it’s not a bad idea to continue to try and develop your skills and knowledge. I think the best CPD if you’re trying to write is reading, and happily that’s something I really enjoy doing. So I’ll update this blog with books I’ve read and my thoughts on them.

The one I’ve just finished, given to me as a present by a very close friend, is ‘The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily’, by Dino Buzzati. In the same way as Le Petit Prince appears to be a children’s book, so too does this one. But as Le Petit Prince does, this book contains universal themes rendered down to exquisite simplicity. Fortunately, it also doesn’t try to ram the themes down your throat, as some other books have tried to do. To boot, it’s a fun book to read, all adding up to a nice way to spend a few hours. Five stars

Ok, and on to the next one. The reading list is definitely growing as people give suggestions. I’ve been trying to read a lot of authors’ first books, so I recently re-read Knot and Crosses by Ian Rankin, and I’m reading Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre just now as well. And I’m also trying to re-read The Art of Meditation. So lots to read, and all of it good quality!

Hope you’re enjoying your own reading, or however you engage with others

Cheers

E