Monthly Archives:: July 2014

Writing progress report: third book finished

July 27, 2014 Current writings, The Fire Mages, The Mages of Bennamore, The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 4

So another one bites the dust. Today I typed ‘The End’ on ‘The Mages of Bennamore’, the third epic fantasy set in the Brightmoon world. Because I like statistics, here are some numbers for the three books for comparison:

Book 1: ‘The Plains of Kallanash’

Elapsed writing time: 1 year

Total days of writing: 190

Total words: 220,000

Average words per writing day: 1,100

Chapters: 58

Book 2: ‘The Fire Mages’

Elapsed writing time: 5 months

Total days of writing: 90

Total words: 151,000

Average words per writing day: 1,700

Chapters: 44

Book 3: ‘The Mages of Bennamore’

Elapsed writing time: 7 months

Total days of writing: 119

Total words: 157,000

Average words per writing day: 1,300

Chapters: 44

This third book is much the same size as the second, but it took 7 months overall instead of 5 months, largely because I was also working on revising ‘The Plains of Kallanash’. There’s no doubt that it’s easier and more productive (for me, anyway) to work exclusively on one book at a time, especially for first draft work. For the last two or three weeks, since Kallanash went off to the proofreader, I’ve been working flat out on finishing this one off, with the result that I’ve had a much higher daily word count, and it’s been easier to keep track of the various strands of the plot in my head. I love getting immersed in a story like that, although I’m not sure it’s good for me: I go to bed only when I’m cross-eyed with tiredness, lie awake anyway, thinking about plot options, wake up early and start again. This writing lark would be much easier if I didn’t have so many other things to do during the day, like boring real world stuff. Who needs meals anyway? Or clean clothes? Dust, what dust?

This one will be left to brew for a while – several months at least. So what’s next? Well, a rest from writing first of all (and try to reduce the size of the ironing pile). Then ‘The Fire Mages’ is going off to Scribophile to be torn to shreds by my eagle-eyed crit-buddies. Its cover art is already scheduled. And Kallanash will be back from the proofreader soon for final tidy-up editing and formatting ready for ARCs in August and publication (eek!) in September.

For the next new work, I’m thinking of resuscitating something that predates all the three completed works, but was abandoned when I started Kallanash. I already have 120,000 words (over 30 chapters) of it, but (huge but) it needs a lot of work to bring it into line with the others in the Brightmoon world. Firstly, there are world-building aspects that are no longer canonical, so many details of the background have to be changed. All the names have to be revised (I used modern names, which just doesn’t work). Plus my writing style has changed considerably. Or, to put it another way, I was a terrible writer back then. So a lot of work. But I love the story, the premise and the characters, so I want to do it eventually.

But for today, I’m just going to relax and enjoy getting to the end of another book. A very satisfying moment.


First books and second books

July 25, 2014 The Fire Mages, The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 4

Writing a book is no different from any other craft: it takes practice. Nobody is able to paint or to make model aeroplanes or to write phone apps or drive a car straight out of the box. Well, growing potatoes, maybe; stick them in the ground, then dig them up three months later and enjoy delicious new potatoes with butter and a sprig of mint. Yummy. But I digress. Everyone needs to learn and hone their skills, and (except for potatoes) that takes practice. A lot of practice. For driving a car, they say it takes one lesson for every year of your life. For writing, the received wisdom is that it takes a million words.

So the first effort is always a bit wonky. It’s like those clay models kids bring home from school – they’re always a bit lop-sided. ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is my first, wonky effort. I’m aware of some of the problems: a long, long opening phase revolving round the marriage with an abrupt switch to an adventure phase; and a heroine that everyone (including me) wants to slap at some point.

My biggest mistake was in choosing to tell the story through the views of two main characters with alternating chapters. This was incredibly restrictive. I couldn’t simply yank a dull Mia chapter because it would leave me with two consecutive Hurst chapters. Some chapters got stupidly long because I couldn’t switch point of view (the other character wasn’t there), but I couldn’t start a new chapter either. Sometimes it meant that chapter breaks came in odd places because I was jumping to the other character. And sometimes when the characters were pursuing separate story threads, the two plotlines got out of sync. So I wouldn’t do that again.

As these issues began to dawn on me, I realised I had two choices: either rewrite the whole thing from scratch or… No, forget it. It took me a year to write the first time, there was no way I was going to start again. So it was going to have to do. I’ve had the first third of it critiqued on Scribophile, which was unbelievably helpful, I’ve had some terrific beta readers and I’ve done quite a bit of editing. In particular, I’ve made some deep cuts to the final third or so, to tighten things up, and some of my writing issues (like over-long sentences and forgetting to show what the characters are feeling and – sometimes – too much info-dumping, all the usual beginner problems) I’ve been able to improve (I hope).

But eventually there comes a point where you have to let it go, send it on its way into the world, wonky or not, and move on.

But the second book – that should be better, shouldn’t it? I should have learned from the mistakes of the first book and produced something much more polished and professional right from the start. I started my second book, ‘The Fire Mages’, as soon as I’d finished Kallanash, and it took me only seven months to finish it (although it’s quite a bit shorter, too). I left it alone while I edited Kallanash, but I recently dug it out and reread it from start to finish. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it and it seemed to work very well, even in first draft form. There were a few logic errors, but I was able to fix those quite easily.

A couple of weeks ago I gave it to my First Reader (my daughter) to read, and she enjoyed it too. ‘Not that I didn’t enjoy Kallanash,’ she said, ‘but I was really into this one.’ It helps, I think, that ‘The Fire Mages’ is a much more conventional fantasy – a teenage girl discovering her powers, with magic and adventure right from the start and (thank goodness!) a heroine with a bit of backbone, if a little self-centred. OK, very self-centred. But she’s a teenager, that’s normal.

I think there are two reasons why this one works better. Firstly, the experience of writing Kallanash has taught me something about the craft of writing. The very act of writing helps to improve the output; practice makes – well, not perfect, but certainly better at a technical level (sentence structure and so on). And secondly, writing – and completing – a large-scale effort like a novel has made me far more aware of story techniques and structure, not just while I write, but also while reading. I’m constantly on the lookout for tricks and clever stratagems in books, and that helps me structure my own work. I’m still a pantser, root and branch, but I’m gradually becoming more aware of the way different elements of the story work, like the need for tension, and seeding hooks here and there to keep the pot boiling. My stories aren’t planned, but they’re not just great amorphous clouds of stuff, either.

So I think the second book is better than the first – as it should be. But the proof of the pudding and all that… I’ll shortly be starting to post chapters on Scribophile for critique, and it will be interesting to see what my crit-buddies over there make of it.

Now the third book – that’s another matter. I’ve been writing that while also revising and polishing Kallanash, and it’s been hard to hop from one to the other, and very disruptive. I suspect this one is going to be much more uneven than the others and need more revision. And a 40-year-old heroine? How’s that going to work? Sometimes I wish I could stick to a formula and produce those nice long series, all with the same characters, that so many authors have. But these characters pop up in my head and they sit there knocking on the inside of my skull until I get them out of there and tell their story.

And truly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


On Wattpad and KDP Select

July 19, 2014 Publishing/marketing 7

Now that I’m getting closer to publishing ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ in September, I’ve been starting to think about marketing (for want of a better term). Which online retailers to sell through, pricing and all that jazz. And how to build up some awareness of the book beyond the three regular readers of this blog (hi folks! {waves}).

I had already devised a plan to post ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, chapter by chapter, on Wattpad, a process that would take many months. I’ve now uploaded more than half the book, and somewhere around the two-thirds point would fall the actual date of publication to Amazon. The idea was to make Wattpad readers aware of the book itself while uploading the final chapters, and even if that didn’t translate into sales, it might generate a review or two.

But then I started looking into Amazon’s programs in more detail, in particular, the KDP Select program, which offers an author certain benefits in exchange for exclusivity. I’m not too bothered about making the book available on iTunes or Kobo, at least, not at the moment – I’m all for keeping it simple, while I’m learning how this self-publishing lark works. So KDP Select is a no-brainer, surely?

Well, no. Read more »


A year on Amazon: how many reviews?

July 9, 2014 Publishing/marketing 2

A year ago, for reasons not relevant here, I decided to record every Kindle ebook uploaded to Amazon for a full month. For the sake of my sanity, I restricted it to epic fantasy. I recorded 390 ebooks uploaded over the month of April 2013, excluding foreign language ones.

A year on, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to see what had happened to those 390 books. So during April 2014, I looked each one up on Amazon, and noted the number of reviews. These are total numbers; I didn’t attempt to track numbers of 5*, 4* and so on. I noted rankings, too, but these are just a snapshot in time, whereas reviews are cumulative. Read more »


Kallanash update: final edits done

July 6, 2014 The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 12

I’ve spent the last few weeks feverishly revising ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ in light of the comments received from my beta readers. And when I say ‘feverishly’, sometimes it almost felt as if I were literally feverish – I’d go to bed thinking about edits, I’d wake up thinking about them, and sometimes I even dreamt about them. It was hard work, and a great deal of it was spent, not pecking away at the keyboard, but just mulling over ideas. Not much else got done, although I’ve found that mindless occupations like ironing or gardening are excellent pondering opportunities.

After the pondering and the final rewriting, I read through the whole book one final time to tighten up excessive wordiness, and looking out for last minute gotchas resulting from the revisions. No use removing that unwanted chunk of text if a different part of the book refers to the missing event. And I found one place where a character had changed gender in the revisions, yet I still had a scene referring to ‘her’ as ‘him’. Oops. Read more »