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.
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, which 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
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.
I’ve been reading Carys Bray’s book The Museum of You and it made me think about the relevance of possessions in our lives today.
Before industrialisation, possessions were few and most people had no need of keys and locks but now, because our economies are driven by production and consumption we amass hundreds? thousands? of objects in our lifetimes. Do they actually mean that much to us?
I occasionally sell off a prized doll from my collection but the loss of the loved object is soon forgotten in the desire to acquire something else. At the end of the day, how many of my possessions, things I think express who I am, will be valued and kept by my family?
Every weekend at the house clearance stalls at Prestatyn car boot sale I see the concrete evidence of people’s lives chucked on the ground for bargain hunters to scavenge. It’s not just the everyday objects like furniture and cooking utensils but their hobbies and interests are laid bare (books, garden tools, photography equipment, knitting wools and embroidery items etc. etc. etc) and quite often treasured birthday and Christmas cards, family photographs, even letters and bank statements. I’ve even seen photo albums containing locks of baby hair, all carefully saved by someone who never dreamed where they would end up.
And the sight of these pathetic heaps brings home the realisation of the sheer mass of stuff with which we are cluttering our planet. While half the people in the world starve, the rest of us waste resources on stuff that mostly has no functional value whatsoever.
The other thing Bray’s book made me think about is the way artefacts are treasured as records of history. In The Museum of You Clover mistakenly catalogues items in her museum collection as belonging to her mother or having been bought for her by her mother because that is what she wants them to be. It’s a jog to the mind that our knowledge of the past is only an interpretation of relics, not a statement of facts.
History is perhaps, like our passion for possessions, a way of making ourselves feel important, when it is arguable that our only significance is the danger we bring to the rest of the ecosystem in which we live.
It’s about six weeks now since I parted company with my agent. My original agent left for another agency and didn’t take me with her as she hadn’t managed to sell my work. Despite several near misses, I got the impression that my books didn’t quite fit the mass market appeal that agents and publishers are looking for.
Obviously agents are only going to deal with fairly large scale publishing houses and because I was under contract to the agency, I couldn’t submit to anyone else. All that’s changed now as once set free, I plunged into a frenzy of submissions which has already resulted in two short story acceptances and a shortlisted entry for a competition http://www.ouenpress.com/9.html. The novels have gone out to a variety of smaller publishers so I’ve got my fingers crossed there.
However, I do miss my agent, mainly for her unwavering support in the face of rejections. Her constant encouragement and belief in my writing kept me going when I felt like throwing in the towel. She also put in a good deal of unpaid work reading and suggesting edits to my manuscripts and I learned a good deal about tailoring my work during the time I was with her.
So, even though I’m enjoying the freedom at the moment, especially being able to write whatever I like in whatever genre and offer it to a variety of publishers without being typecast, I think I may eventually look for another agent. I’m hoping to find joint representation for an autobiography I’m currently ghostwriting and once that’s finished I’ll be taking stock and deciding which road to take next – maybe even dipping a toe into self-publishing waters though that’s something I’ve been afraid to tackle so far.
When is a group of short stories a collection? I have the honour of being on the shortlisting panel for the Edge Hill University Short Story Collection Prize which is given annually for a published single author short story collection. After several years I still haven’t come to terms with the question of whether a book of short stories should be bound together by something more than the cover: should there be some kind of joining thread or theme, other than the fact that they have all been written by the same person?
Collections by established writers often consist of a gathering up of various stories which have been published in magazines and anthologies, or which have won prizes. In some cases this leads to stories, which work perfectly well as stand alone pieces, becoming tediously repetitive when put together in a collection due to the author’s conscious or unconscious frequent use of similar settings or motifs.
I’m not talking here about the recurrent themes that run through every writer’s work. Such themes and devices are expected and pleasurable factors which enable the reader to identify the writer’s voice but what pokes you in the eye with some collections is the overuse of settings and situations. For example, in one collection I read, 7 out of 10 stories were about lesbian couples with a dog, living in virtually identical domestic settings. Published singly, this would not be noticed, perhaps even by the author him/herself but put them all together and by the time you get halfway through the book, you are becoming bored with the lack of freshness, no matter how good the individual stories.
On the other hand, maybe themed collections too can be repetitive. It’s difficult to find fresh angles on a specific theme to give surprise and delight to the reader. Having to write a dozen stories on a single theme such as the sea, can also constrain the writer, with the result that such ‘commissioned’ stories may not be as good as their best work which comes from their own creative direction.
Sometimes short story collections are so tightly themed and interlinked that they might be read as novels so that further questions arise as to whether they should be considered collections at all.
Personally I used to feel that lumping together a lot of discrete stories doesn’t constitute a collection but I’m beginning to change my mind. It’s a different matter when the works of a dead author are collected together and I can see that it is helpful to the reader who admires a specific writer (dead or alive) to be able to access their work in one or two volumes rather than having to do extensive research to track single texts down. But I still have a love affair with theme; still feel that handled well, a themed collection makes so much more of a satisfying whole.
Got stuck into that story I was writing last week, stuck being the operative word. Finished the first section and then completely blanked it, just didn’t know where it was going. Any kind of plan I made just seemed really wooden and cliched, so I left it alone for a bit and got on with the urgent business of pickling and jamming all the fruit and veg we have piling up from our allotment. And of course, while I was doing all this, the back brain was ticking away. When I did sit down to it, a new character came out to play and a lot of shadowy ideas came together. All the excitement came back and although I still haven’t clearly got the end, I know where I’m going. I want to get this story finished this week, because I hope to enter it for the Sunday Times Bank competition and I think the deadline’s before the end of the month. Shan’t have much time later on as I’ll be in the Isle of Man and want to concentrate on the novel then, which is still on hold while I’m tied up with this story. I’ve also had a session on the Skem history, the chapter’s coming on well so hope I can keep up the momentum even though all that fruit and veg is still piling up in the kitchen, I envy people who can just devote all their time to writing their current project. I have course plans to make for my creative writing sessions, although I don’t work full time any more, I never seem to have enough time and I read in writing magazines about authors who stay in the house for six months and do nothing else but write their latest book, and other authors (usually male) whose partners take the kids away for a few weeks,or provide them with endless peace and quiet and regular meals while they complete their novel. Maybe my family would do this for me if I started earning megabucks.
In the odd spare moment I have (and they are very odd) I am reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I’m finding it a bit hard to get into but everyone keeps telling me how good it is, so I will persevere. I do like the writing but finding it difficult to get a grasp of the characters, but I’m only at the beginning. I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett, something I would probably never have read if someone in our writer’s group hadn’t recommended it. I enjoyed this very much, loved the humour in it, the sense of time and place. Okay so it’s a white woman writing black women’s stories but it was clearly and consistently written and cast light on a period that’s not so often written about, reminding us how recent these attitudes were, even how diluted forms of them linger today.
Going to be teaching a new creative writing course at Chapel Gallery Ormskirk, starting in October, if you’re interested have a look at the details at http//:www.chapelgallery.org or on my website http//:www.carolfenlon.com