Category Archives: reading

Is publishing short stories online a good idea?

Given the limited market today for short stories in print publications it would seem that online zines offer the short story writer a wealth of opportunities. E-zines pop up like mushrooms in all genres but think twice before posting your  precious work here there and everywhere.

It’s best to be picky about the sites you have your name associated with. There are sites where you can post your stuff without it being evaluated by an editor, or where other writers and/or readers vote for the best work each month  or so. I looked at a few of these but found a lot of my time was taken up reading work that wasn’t of interest to me or was not of publishable standard.

I recommend looking for zines that publish the kind of work you admire and check out the standard of presentation, the artwork and the public presence the site has on social media. Spend a couple of months  observing before attempting a submission.

Good zines will have an editorial process and won’t publish substandard work. A site that accepts anything and everything will hardly encourage good writing and always remember with each piece you publish you are building a public writing persona – a literary reputation that you need to safeguard if you are to be taken seriously.

Two online publishers I can recommend are Holdfast and Close2thebone. Holdfast publishes speculative fiction and accepted one of my stories but asked me to change the ending. I did this and had to agree it improved the story. The editing, presentation and artwork was very professional but I was quite surprised some months after publication to received a modest payment as a share of contributions to the issue. Now that’s the kind of site I like!

The other zine I like a lot, Close2thebone/Near to the Knuckle publishes fairly strong horror but it only posts clever, well-written stories, often with a psychological twist, not just grot and grue. I’ve had three stories published by them and while there is no payment, their presentation and artwork are great and it’s nice to feel that having been accepted more than once, your  style fits the zine and you are  likely to find a home there for other stories in the future.

So when you look for short story markets online, look for quality and excellence and a publisher that treats its contributors with respect. It’s better to hang on than to get published on any old site.

My latest story ‘Murder Me’ is published on Close2thebone. Feel free to check it out and have a look round the rest of the site while you are there.

 

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Who are you writing for?

It’s a question I don’t often consider, except when stressing over some deadline or trying to fit a story line into a specific genre. For the most part an idea fishhooks me and hides in my brain, gathering layers over time like a pearl in an oyster until some trigger catapults it out through my fingers and onto paper. It’s a passion for making, just like crafts – gardening, textile arts, baking bread, making jams, things some might think more useful than the scribbling of words on pages.

So, if I write for myself, it matters not if no one ever sees it or reads it. True or false?

I find a sense of history-making here – a writing of the world as one person sees it, a recording if you like and that accounts for the variety of fiction sprouting from a few basic plots.

And that idea of recording, of writing history posits the presence of a reader, either now or in the future. Is that just an altruistic justification of an endless compulsion to write?

In my own experience as a reader history becomes multi-dimensional and rich through the perspectives of contemporary and present day writers. And writers of today flay the issues of the times and present analyses of geographies unknown to me far more effectively than any overexposed news coverage.

So in some ways I am always writing in hope of a reader but is this desire to put my work before a public just an ego trip? Is my desire more for recognition, approval, or even just to feel that others know I exist? What makes me think I have something valuable to say or even the capacity to entertain and lighten the lives of readers?

All these ideas are probably mixed up in my writing motivation but the ratification of writing is increasingly being pushed by the writing media and writing course designers towards consideration of ‘the market’. Which shelf would your book sit on in a bookshop? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? How do you propose to assist in the marketing of your book? Do you tweet, blog, facebook? and so on and so on.

Now it seems, genre must dictate the shape of our storytelling. Fiction needs to have a predictable structure that can be neatly packaged and sold just like a bunch of bananas or any other commodity. By conforming to the book industry’s demands, the writer will acquire a loyal readership ready to buy the books the author is known for. That will jingle the pockets of all concerned in creating ‘the  product.’  So will everyone live happily ever after?

It’s perhaps less of a problem for writers than for readers who can become stuck in the groove of a particular genre and miss out on exciting stuff being written in other genres. Major competitions like the Booker may go some way to getting people to read differently. Writers, however, even those writing to formulaic genres, can’t avoid inserting themselves and  the issues that concern them unconsciously into their writing. Perhaps this underlying subtext within a given genre style is more effective than consciously riding a hobby horse about a specific issue which can take on a hectoring note if not carefully handled.

Even in these days of commodification a book remains a magical thing. In it the writer can say or discuss views rarely aired fully in conversation and can delve into issues in depth, hopefully to a wider audience than his/her immediate circle. Writers also unintentionally reveal themselves in a way they would never do in public or in face-to-face interaction. Readers gain vicarious knowledge of other lives, other experiences, both familiar and alien. They are able to learn of the dilemmas of lives quite unlike their own and also to examine their feelings about their own experiences in reading stories of similar lives to their own. Reading multiple works of the same writer can give an interesting oeuvre on that writer’s life, thoughts and motivation.

As writers we must expose ourselves to readers. We cannot know where our books will go, who will read them and what changes, personal and/or social may result from reading them. Storytelling, like other forms of art, seems to be  part of the human condition, a haven for reflection and consideration. As storytellers we write not just for ourselves but for the world, now and in the future.

 

 

 

 

Can You Write Too Much?

A lot is written and talked about writer’s block but what about the opposite? Can you write too much? I once read that Beryl Bainbridge would shut herself up in her home alone for as long as it took to write a novel, and would sometimes go months without contact with the outside world or even family. Not for me, that; a couple of hours’ concentration is enough and I make sure I factor in exercise, leisure time, household tasks, time with family and so on.

That’s not to say that if I am deeply involved with a piece of writing, I forget about it when not actually writing, obviously it is going on in the back of the mind all the time and as the text develops it can colour thought processes without the writer being even aware of it.

My problem, if it is a problem, is having so many writing projects going on at once. Like a butterfly I find it difficult to stick to one thing at a time until it is finished although I do finish everything I start. There are too many interesting subjects demanding attention. When I first started writing I would complete one piece before starting another. I found that fairly easy as I was then exploring the short story craft and poetry. Soon I branched out into writing non-fiction magazine articles but this didn’t seem quite like creative writing so I kept up with writing short fiction at the same time.

I got the novel bug after completing my MA thesis in Writing Studies for which I wrote a novella but naturally the course involved also writing theoretical papers and essays at the same time.

I love the novel form for the depth of development it permits but these long term projects can be obsessive and tedious at times. Writing something short occasionally can be liberating and refreshing. However, I’ve been writing for many years now and besides my published work I have a number of novels and short stories that still require some revision to bring them to publishable standard. I’m getting the feeling that I’m starting to clog up.

These poor works languishing on my computer waiting to see the light of day haunt me but I currently have a deadline for revisions to a novel accepted for publication next year. Revision hardly seems like creative work so I’ve a short story on the boil and also another novel which is half-written and progressing slowly through cups of  coffee in cafes to satisfy my need for some ‘real writing’.

For some years I’ve also been writing a history of my home town, part of it I have already published and now I am being asked where the rest of it is but it is a real long term labour of love. I’d like to spend more time on it but have resigned myself to allocating one day a week so that at least some progress is made, but oh dear, so much research before actually writing anything.

More of my writing time is taken up writing reviews, judging writing competitions and preparing work for writing seminars and courses I am asked to facilitate. On top of that there are now so many social media requirements, blogging, keeping my website updated, facebooking, tweeting etc. etc. and there is always the need to make time for actual networking, attending writing events and writing groups.

Is it all too much? Am I jack-of-all-trades, master of none? Maybe but I’ve grown expert at timetabling and writing to demand. Does my writing suffer – lack depth- because of my inability to concentrate on one thing? I hope not but my readers will be judges of that.

There are many different styles of writing and I guess we each have to write the person we are. Some writers are prolific and eclectic, others write slow masterpieces over long periods. I’m just one of those writers constantly distracted by a myriad ideas. Even as I’m absorbed in writing one story, I can sense something else calling, some little bit of grit in my brain, working itself into a pearl. It may be something I heard or saw years ago that has lain there gathering until at last it flaps into motion, demanding to be let out on paper.

Will all my creations see the light of day? Who knows, perhaps it doesn’t really matter.

http://www.carolfenlon.com

 

 

 

Time to write?

‘I’d love to write a book, if only I had the time,’ I wish I had a pound for every time  someone has said that to me. I think it’s one of the most insulting things you can say to a writer. it implies that writing is a time-wasting activity of little importance, indulged in by those who neglect the duties of life for their own self-indulgence.

The  opposite is usually true, most writers fill in writing around career or day job and family responsibilities. Even if writers make a living they work as hard if not harder than many people in traditional jobs. There is no switching off at five o’clock , weekends or on holidays and who else carries a notebook at all times, ears flapping and eyes on stalks for the next original idea?

Actual writing is only a small, if the best, part of the job. There are the endless revisions, the critique groups to attend, the process of self-publishing or working with agent and publisher and increasingly nowadays writers must constantly promote themselves by attending literary events and readings, preparing and running writing workshops and courses and maintaining a plethora of social media profiles.

Finding time to actually write can be so difficult. One writer told me she wrote for ten minutes in the toilet each morning as this was the only place she could find privacy from her large family.  I can’t help wondering how she managed to access creative thinking in such a short space of time. Even if you do have space and time to write, self-discipline can be a major problem, there are always a million things you suddenly need to do before you can actually get down to putting pen to paper. The time you spend prevaricating however is not wasted, it is usually the first step in getting your unconscious to work on the piece of writing ahead of you.

Dedicated writers often have a separate office or garden room to separate home and working life but only those making a good living can afford this. Timetabling set periods for writing can be very useful, hopefully more than ten minutes at once. I find I need thinking time to recap what went before and preview what is coming next. I work well first thing in the morning before getting up. An hour with a cup of tea to start never fails to produce results. During the day there are too many distractions so I confine myself to research or typing up and editing work already handwritten. I always take my writing with me when I go out and generally wangle a coffee in a cafe  somewhere along the line. 30-40 minutes with a large latte will usually produce upwards of 1000 words. Funnily ambient noise doesn’t bother me, yet the slightest sound at home will drive me insane.

I’m a fast writer once I get started but tend to spend quite a lot of time in reverie playing out scenes in my head and I do spend time planning out a scene or chapter loosely before getting down to it.

So this is how I find time to write. I do believe writing is a compulsion and those of us who must write will find the time to do so somehow. This is why we are writers while others just wish they had the time. But, I wonder can you write too much? That’s a subject for a whole new blogpost.

Running a giveaway competition

I just tried out another self-publishing experiment – the giveaway competition. This was organised through my publisher Feedaread. You post an extract which people are invited to read and then complete an entry form to win a free copy so it is very simple for people to do. You have to pay the cost of the prizes and postage and you choose how many copies you want to offer as prizes.I chose to run the competition for my new short story collection, Plotlands. I did quite a bit of social media advertising of the competition  over a few weeks as the entry period runs for a month. Problem is to reach people without boring them to death with constant bombardment so I tried to stagger posts/tweets etc between different media over time.I was interested to see that each time I posted something, entries resulted, though there wasn’t a huge number of entrants. I also got more views on the page I had created on Facebook specifically for the book and even a few purchases, though whether that was due to the competition or just due to word of mouth/responses to reviews buyers, I don’t know. I enjoyed monitoring the competition and finding out who had won, funnily enough it was won by someone I  know, so it was a good job I had nothing to do with the selection, which was done by Feedaread. So although I didn’t get a mega response it was a fun experience and made me feel more connected with potential readers. I’d definitely do it again and am planning to run a comp for my other short story collection in the near future.

Booktrailer fun

Well I’ve been silent on here for a bit but that’s due to lots of stuff going on with publishing and marketing my new book Plotlands,  plotlands-cover-2which is a collection of strange short stories set in Wales, and then of course everything stops for the build up to Christmas. I hope everyone had a great Christmas, mine was a good mix of meeting up with friends and family interspersed with days of quiet for rest and reflection (and tidying up of course). Even managed our usual trip out to Blackpool for fish and chips on Boxing Day.

Anyway on to the main business of the book trailer. This has been a new venture for me and has only been made possible by harnessing the techy skills of my brilliant son, Ted Fenlon and his modestly named Kraplaptop productions. He’s made other short music videos in the past and so I floated the idea of producing something promotional for Plotlands. It took quite a while for him to get the graphics right , using the book cover as the main image with accompanying rolling text and the music is his own composition and sounds suitably menacing and eerie.

I’m really pleased with the result and have been flashing it about on various social media sites – just a bit more fun than the usual book blurb. Unfortunately this page doesn’t support video files but if you’re interested you can find it on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoELiTy2qCA

Looking forward to a Happy New Year to writers and readers everywhere and much success in 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marketing, marketing

Well, it’s now several months since my first venture into self-publishing with  my short story collection Triple Death. Has it been worth it? Most of the copies sold so far have been print copies I have sold at writing venues and by word of mouth and to be honest, all the internet campaigns and online marketing I’ve done have not had much influence on online sales. I haven’t really gone down the path of paying for marketing agencies to promote my book. In comparison with my previous traditionally published book, I’ve actually made about the same amount of money because the royalty on the self-published book is much higher. And maybe because this book is a short story collection rather than a genre novel, it is less visible in the online marketplace.

I’ve also been told that it takes time to build up an online presence in the market and that when you have several books out, you are more likely to build up a following. I don’t know if this is true but time will tell. I have just published a second short story collection Plotlands which has sold out its first print order in two days. I plan to release a novel in the spring of 2017 but meanwhile Triple Death is available on kindle countdown for the next 24 hours at just 99p before reverting to its original price of £2.39.img336quarter