The trials and tribulations of a self-published steampunk writer

Friday, 15 August 2014

Here we go again...


My new book, Titan's Fire, is available now on Amazon for Kindle. The print version should be up in a couple of days as well.

This one was hard work - maybe an author's third book is the equivalent of a band's "difficult second album"? I don't know. All I'm sure of is this took longer and was a bit more painful to pull together than either Red Mercury or Neptune Rising.

However, my lovely beta readers have all said the same - they think it's the best thing I've written yet, more complex and ambitious than the previous two, with a smoother and more flowing style. Who am I to argue with such lovely feedback - even if it was buried amid other criticism that meant three months of rewriting!

So, if you fancy a good old-fashioned adventure with a dash of steam-driven science-fiction, you should give Titan's Fire a go. It's in the same series as my previous books, but there's no real requirement to read them in any particular order. If you do try it out, I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, 7 March 2014

It starts with a pencil and some paper...

Since I published Red Mercury nearly two years ago, I've had a number of people ask me "Where do you find the time to write?" or "I wouldn't even know how to start..." My answer to this question is maybe a bit smart-arsed, but it's true.

Get a pencil and a notebook. Write stuff down.

The more I've kept at it, through the writing of Neptune Rising and the as-yet-unnamed "difficult third novel", it's become clear to me the single most important thing you can do is to decide you're really going to write and then just do it. Whenever you can.

Personally, I've stopped beating myself up if I don't write something every day. I try to, and I get grumpy if I'm falling behind in my self-set timeline for getting a book done, but I found forcing myself to do it when I was really not in the mood didn't work out well. I invariably had to rewrite most of the stuff I'd done when I wasn't up for it.

So how do I write?

I write long-hand in pencil in a hardback notebook. I only use the right-hand pages, scribbling little additions on the left-hand pages as the evolving story might require. I try not to worry too much about finding the perfect words at this stage - it's better just to get it out.

Writing long-hand in notebooks means you can do it anywhere. Even in a spare ten minutes when it wouldn't be practical to fire up the laptop.

Once I have about 5000 words or so written long-hand, I'll type it up. The great thing about doing it this way is you enter into a kind of semi-editing state, where you're tightening things up and giving it some polish as you type. You end up with a first draft that's really kind of a "Draft 1.5"

The important thing is not get sucked into proper editing at this stage. I did a load of this with Red Mercury and it really held me back - jumping back and forth between writing and editing. Not productive. Now, I've got much better at concentating on just getting the stuff out of my head and onto the page - I figure I can fix it later.

When the first draft is done, I'll leave it alone for as long as I can resist, usually three or four weeks. Then the real work starts. As somebody said - "there's no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting".

But rewriting and editing is a post for another time...

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Three. It's the magic number...

The first draft of my third book is almost finished. It's another book in the series started by Red Mercury, featuring the return of Jones and Kowalski in another steampunk adventure.

The book will be off to some beta readers for initial feedback shortly, and then it's into the hard graft of rewriting and editing.

I'm delighted with how this one has come together, although I found it tougher going than with the first two. I reckon my ambition to make the plot a little more complex this time round brought a price! I am hoping to have the book published around April / May. I think you'll like it.

Over the coming couple of months, I'll be posting here about the hints and tips on writing I've picked up from "How To..." blogs and books, and the little things I've learned myself the hard way.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

4 steps to punchier, better writing...

I recently ran into a writing exercise on a marketing training course at work: we had to write a story in as few words as possible. This was to help us develop the skills to craft pithy, punchy brand positioning statements. The writing muscles this exercise made me flex reminded me of when the editing and rewriting process goes well, and I thought it would be worth sharing here.

My partner in the exercise and I were given a setting, the jungle, and told to get going. We kicked around a few ideas and settled on this as our first effort...

The lion was really angry because nobody had told him that the party was supposed to be fancy dress.

OK, not exactly Kipling, but it made us smile. I think we liked it because it hinted at a bigger world beyond what the reader actually reads, one where lions go to parties for a start. At this point, the editing and rewriting kicked in and we started trying to make it better.

Step 1 - useless words and adverbs

Straight away, look for the -ly words, a sure signpost of a flabby sentence. Did 'really' add anything? Is 'really angry' more angry than 'angry'? Maybe, but not much.

And look hard at every instance of 'that'. You probably don't need them. We didn't here.

The lion was angry because nobody had told him the party was supposed to be fancy dress.

Already it's better.

Step 2 - challenge the flabby bits

'Nobody had told him'? Hmm. Do we need the 'had'?

And 'supposed to be'? Hmm once again. Did we need any of that?

The lion was angry because nobody told him the party was fancy dress.

Ooh, much nicer. Much tighter. But still not quite right.

Step 3 - emphasise the emotion

Yes, we know the lion was angry, but it doesn't exactly leap off the page. And we'd already killed the idea of 'really angry'. Could we make it feel stronger? How about 'The lion was raging'? Much nicer.

And if you're getting into the land of anger and rage, you want short, clipped sentences, making things feel harsher and sharper. So we split our sentence into two and got rid of another word into the bargain. 'Because' is regularly another of those filler words - it feels essential in your first draft, but can often disappear in the rewrites.

The lion was raging. Nobody told him the party was fancy dress.

Much, much better.

Step 4 - add real character

The one thing still lacking for me was any character. Our lion is 'the lion', which is the equivalent of saying 'a lion' - any old lion, one lion of many. Was there a way to give him a bit more spark and interest?

How about we drop the 'The'?

Lion was raging. Nobody told him the party was fancy dress.

Boom. There we have it. Not just 'the lion', no. Suddenly this is a story about 'Lion' - a figure immediately invested with character. No longer a description, Lion has become a name.

In twenty minutes we went from:
The lion was really angry because nobody had told him that the party was supposed to be fancy dress.
To:
Lion was raging. Nobody told him the party was fancy dress.

I know which version I prefer. The second one is 8 words shorter, but is invested with at least 8 times the character and intrigue. And I think it's much funnier too.


I'd recommend any budding writers to give this exercise a go. It's a good way of sharpening your skills and getting practice at honing your words into lethal weapons.

There is a famous story about Hemingway being challenged to write a story in only six words. He apparently thought for a moment and then scribbled the following on a back of a napkin: For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

He won the bet. Could you?

Friday, 19 July 2013

Can I call them "Bestsellers" now?


Holy crap.

Both books in the Top 10 Kindle Steampunk books in the UK. Genuinely delighted with that.

Red Mercury has been bouncing about the Top 10 for a few weeks now, but Neptune Rising has been bubbling under, never getting out of the teens until now.

I did a three day giveaway of Red Mercury using KDP Select about a month ago. Second one I've done, but this one really seemed to work - getting a whole heap of freebie distribution, but this time translating almost immediately into a paid-for sales bounce when the promotion finished. Really pleased.

Thanks to everyone who's given the books I go. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to give them a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

And the reviews are in!

So Neptune Rising has been out for about a month now and sales are going pretty well. It's definitely moving faster than Red Mercury did at the same stage of launch - which is good.

The thing I hadn't expected when I launched the new book was to see a spike in the first one's sales. With hindsight I suppose I should have anticipated something like this as publishing a second will prompt a bunch of people who had previously abstained to try the first (they probably figure if you've gone to the trouble of writing a second one then the first one might not be as terrible as they assumed).

My main route for publicising Neptune Rising was through Facebook, Twitter and this blog. Once again, my Facebook friends were incredibly generous in their support and sharing. Thanks to them, Neptune Rising broke into the Top 20 in Sci-Fi on Kindle in the UK for a few days, and peaked at 30-something in the US.

The first few reviews are slowly trickling in, and I'm delighted to say they've been very positive. Here are some excerpts...

"the perfect Steampunk boys own adventure - in fact it reminds me a lot of the old Ian Fleming "James Bond" books I've been rereading recently. Impossible missions supported by fabulous gadgets and contraptions, a little bit of love interest, and a LOT of style"

"a fast-paced war-pirate steampunk mash up. The cliché "couldn't put it down" is a perfect description of this book - the story is off like a whippett and doesn't slow down"

"all the action and high jinx needed to be a great read"

"Read this through in a single sitting as it was so easy to read, clipping along at a good pace. I would recommend it to anyone"

Overall, I'm delighted with the comments. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you thought.

If you haven't read it yet, then what are you waiting for? Get thee to Amazon...

Friday, 17 May 2013

Neptune Rising

My new book Neptune Rising is out - available now at Amazon in both ebook and paperback.




I'm genuinely delighted with how this has turned out - from an initial crackpot idea of "Steampunk Pirates" into a continuation of the world I put together for Red Mercury.

It's funny, whilst I'm very proud of Red Mercury, this new one is definitely better - a smoother read all round. Interesting how much better my writing has got as I've got more practice.

If you fancy a good old-fashioned adventure story with a dash of steam-driven science-fiction AND PIRATES, then maybe give it a go?

If you do, I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Steampunks Assemble!

How exciting, I'm off to attend my very first convention as an author.

In June, I'll be heading down to "the North" for Steampunk Doncaster, a polite gathering of clanky-minded folks featuring authors, traders, artists and the like. Really looking forward to it.

I'll be taking along some copies of Red Mercury to sell and sign, and if I can get it done in time, I'll also have some copies of the follow-up with me. I'm going to do a brief talk on the Saturday too - subject TBC.

I've also committed to taking along a LEGO Steampunk display. Working on it already and it's going to be BIG (and rather cool, even if I do say so myself). It's going to be a harbour / town for this little beauty...


So, if you're in the North of England, and fancy a bit of steampunk action - there's nowhere better to be in June than Doncaster. Hopefully see you there.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Here we go again!

I've just put the finishing touches to the first draft of a "follow-up" to Red Mercury. It's not a sequel, although it is set in the same alternate history and features some of the same characters.

I really enjoyed putting together my first book, and have been pleasantly surprised by its reception, so I figured another one was in order.

The first draft is now in the hands of some "beta readers".

The worth of getting your drafts read by a bunch of people cannot be overstated. With Red Mercury I got some excellent feedback and comments which helped me really tighten the story up and improve some of the characterisation.

I heard it said that if a reader suggests something is wrong in your writing, they are almost always right, but how they suggest to fix it is almost always wrong. I try to bear that in mind when I receive feedback - whilst the suggestion of exactly how to improve things might not fit with my idea of how the story should develop, the suggestion itself is often a hugely-useful signpost to a patch of writing or a plot element that isn't working.

Aside from all that, it's simply good practice to get a bunch of folks to run their eyes over your prose. Having done this once already, I'd say the hardest part of self-publishing is self-editing. Get as much feedback as you can - from general thoughts on plot and place, through to helping spot those typos.

Once I have gathered the feedback from my brave guinea pigs, I'll get cracking with revising the text. I'm hoping to have the new book available on Kindle and in print by the start of June. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Book Giveaway on Goodreads

I've recently become totally addicted to Goodreads, a book recommendation website that seems to be uncannily good at suggesting stuff I'd like. I'm very impressed with it.

Obviously I listed Red Mercury on there and was really pleased to pick up a few good ratings fairly quickly.

One of the services that Goodreads offers to authors is the facility to do a prize draw giveaway. Goodreads says it picks winners whose tastes match the type of book being given away. Winners are then encouraged, but not required, to write a review. I figured this seemed a simple way to generate a bit of publicity for Red Mercury, so I'm giving it a go.

If you fancy winning one of 10 signed copies of the book in paperback, click the box above, or enter here. I presume you have to sign up for Goodreads in order to enter, but I'd heartily recommend doing so. Good luck!

UPDATE: Over 1,000 people entered to win a copy! That's fantastic. Quite delighted with the exposure the giveaway has generated. Who knows if any of it will translate through to sales? We'll see over the next few weeks. I'm off to post the winners their copies.