Monthly Archives: April 2013

But is he Lucky?

“Promise to love you forever more!”

Once, in the meagre shelter offered by a Russian hovel, with the snow howling at the door and the Cossacks closing in, Napoleon Bonaparte was presented with the name of one of his colonels. The man was being recommended for promotion. The French Emperor asked the colonel’s superior whether the recommendation was true – was this colonel really one of the best officers in the Grande Armee? The superior proceeded to wax verbose on the colonel’s many merits. Napoleon stopped him mid-sentence. 

“All this may be so,” said the diminutive titan of military might. “But is he lucky?”

Now, heaven forbid that I, as a dedicated history student, should ever spread a historical inaccuracy.* The veracity of this story – that Napoleon Bonaparte asked whether an officer was ‘lucky’ before promoting him – is difficult to either defend or deny. True, the idea seems to fit this his personality, but there don’t seem to be any firsthand accounts of him issuing that famed “but is he lucky” one-liner. And in terms of him doing it at the heart of the Russian campaign of 1812, well, I just made that bit up.

Historical fiction aside, I’ve always enjoyed the Emperor’s quasi-quote. I like to apply it to my life. A man makes his own luck, I tell myself. Yeah, good things happen, but they happen most frequently to the people who put themselves in the position to be recipient of ‘luck.’ This, I believe, holds for writing as much as it holds for everything else in life.

But just how lucky do you need to be?

It’s a truth, and probably a sad one, that writers need a healthy dose of luck if they’re to see their work hit the shelves of the local bookstore. Luck to pick the right topic in the right genre, and send it to the right agent at the right time of the right day/month/year/life. If you thought about all the luck you’d need you may never even get started, and sadly I know of a few people who do just that.

So the question is, are you feelin’ lucky? Or, more accurately, do you think you can make your own luck, enough to back up all that hard work and get your book to someone who’ll sell it big? Is it all out of our hands, should we just not consider it at all? Or can we tweak the vagaries of fate and get the wind to blow that golden ticket in through our door.

In truth I don’t even really know what that last sentence means, and it’s getting late. I actually make my own luck – give me your bank account details and I’ll send you a box of it right away, right after I accept my latest writing contract.

I should be so lucky.


*I should also point out that despite describing him as a midget in that little story, it seems the man who lost so badly that he inspired one of Abba’s greatest hits was in fact probably average-sized. 

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The Day the Numbers Got Their Revenge

This is the kind of guy I never wanted to be

Well, we did it. You did it. So thank you.

When it was accepted back in November 2012, Werekynd was my eighth published piece of writing. By that point I thought I knew a fair bit about the workings of small industry story telling. Oh how wrong I was.

Bar my first two short stories, the writing I did for Jukepop was the first time I had found myself handling the marketing aspect of the business myself. And boy have I learned a lot. If you’re writing for anything other than self-entertainment, you’re going to come up against marketing. It’s so crucial that it’s really the reason for the existence of publishing companies – what are the Big Six if not simply uber-marketers? This is the reason we place our stories in the hands of the publisher, to deal with its promotion and get it out there. When you have to do it yourself you realise it’s a lot of hard work, and a whole lot less fun than actually writing.

In brief, being with Jukepop for the past five months has taught me two things;

  • Social media is great.
  • Social media isn’t enough.

My first ever marketing push was when Werekynd first went live in November. At the time it seemed like a great success. I divided my target audience into three parts – family, friends, and social networking contacts. All were targeted individually, and all responded with moderate enthusiasm.

At the time, moderate was enough. By the time it got to March however it was clear that it most certainly wouldn’t be. In the three months between marketing drives Werekynd received paltry attention. At this point it all became a game of numbers.

No, I’m really no good at maths (can you guess why I took up writing?), but it was clear by March that numbers would be my biggest ally. More accurately, large numbers. I revamped by old November publicity scheme, except this time I contacted everyone. Uncles and aunts and cousins and grand nieces were all barraged with emails. I created a Facebook event for Werekynd and invited all 324 friends. My combined total of 600-ish followers on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Wordpress were all reached at some point or another, often repeatedly. Some unfollowed – I don’t blame them.

Having shoved Werekynd in the faces of a little shy of 1,000 potential readers towards the final week of March, I realised rule number 2 – social media isn’t enough. I just couldn’t guarantee people would sit down and read my story unless I was physically there… so I decided I had to, well, be physically there!

That’s when the untapped vastness of the real world came into play. I study at Edinburgh University, just one of thirty thousand students. The central campus library will always have a minimum of 3,000 people inside it 24/7. There are likewise hundreds of societies, a number of them dedicated to writing and publishing, willing to support their members.  

With a small campaign team consisting of my girlfriend and a few connected amigos, I hit the road late last month. At this point simple bribery came into play – don’t underestimate it! Every student I knew who had read a chapter, and proved it by answering a question got a chunky kitkat bar. We went through 40 of those, a pack of Oreos and two jars of nutella in five days. A stall set up outside the library advertised free muffins for everyone who signed up to Jukepop there and then. PublishED, Edinburgh’s student publishing body, was lobbied for support. Lobbied hard.

All of this culminated on the night of March 31st. Dead-on-our-feet, we all-but broke into the University’s microlab, much to the surprise of its 200 occupants, and went from screen to screen with a mixture of pleas, explanations and food (the student’s second greatest temptation, after a sleep in).

The final say in marketing seems to be that you have to assume that people just don’t much care. The space between those you interact with, and those who actually back you up and support/read/vote/buy your products is vast. The potential reach of my final marketing drive was estimated by a friend doing a computing and finance course to be around 1,300 over the month of March. Of that we think less than 200, perhaps as low as 150 people actually read and voted for Werekynd’s 30 chapters. If those figures don’t prove how tough selling your work can be, nothing will. Yet at the same time, it should be a source of hope – just get out there with your work and a big grin/fistful of chocolate bars, and you’ll get support. How strange, that writing should be reduced to numbers after all.


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Wordcounts and Workouts Part II

Last week I did a little piece on writing muscle. It’s the stuff that gives you the strength and stamina to churn out your work, whether it’s a 3,000 word short story or (heaven forbid) a 700,000 word trilogy. Setting yourself a daily, weekly or even monthly goal when it comes to wordcount is a policy adopted by almost every professional writer, and with good reason –  as with any form of exercise, discipline and commitment are two key tenants.

*insert artsy writery image here*

*insert artsy writery image here*

But it’s all very well talking about a commitment to writing. Things get much harder when you factor in the creativity element, for be under no illusions gentle reader, ours is a supremely creative business-art. And there are a myriad of things which can kill your creativity. Personal circumstance, tiredness, other workloads or just plain old sloth. How do we meet our writing goals and flex those wordcount muscles when we just can’t find our creativity?

There are a number of ways to beat this problem, and hopefully I’m going to be dealing with each it turn over the coming weeks. The first one I’m going to address is the principal which underpins them all – write something you enjoy.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course you enjoy that short story/ novel trilogy you’re writing. I think it’s pretty rare to find people freely writing about something they dislike. After all, one of the first litmus tests we set ourselves as writers is “would I enjoy reading this.” If you can’t even say that of your story then you really are dedicated to pursuing only the latest genre trends (good luck with that).

But there comes a point though when even the greatest story we’ve ever told begins to weigh on us. The thought of spending another minute writing (or rewriting, for the seventh time) that scene is enough to make us spew, or at least go one a procrastinatory cleaning spree. Things are more fun when they’re fresh and original, and after six solid months of working on the same plot and the same characters it can become hard to get excited all over again, day in day out.

Don’t despair though, because there are still things that can great the old creativity mill a’turnin’ again. The first exercise I’m going to look at is a simple one – the fanfic.

There’s only one thing on the internet more numerous than works of fan fiction, and that’s opinion pieces on fan fiction. This isn’t going to be one of those. I’m not going to go into the yays or nays of writing for-fun stories using other people’s characters and settings. I’m simply going to hold it up as a tool to break your creativity deadlock and get a bit of bon viveur back into your writing experience.

We’ve already talked about how a writer should read at least as much as they write. And because you’re a reader, chances are you’ve got plenty of stories you enjoyed and plenty of characters you hold dear to your heart. Yes, other people created those stories and characters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them to enhance your writing experience as well as your reading experience (note, do not try and sell work featuring other writer’s stuff, I DO NOT want to see this article being used in court cases ANYWHERE. Unless you intend to pay me).

So is your current writing project boring you? Are you sticking up posters around your neighborhood with images of your creativity, entitled “missing?” Remember when I said that in order to increase your writing capacity you need to hit your word count goals, whatever they may be? Well that’s a truth, but I never said those words had to be from your current number one writing project did I? If you feel down, mix it up. Write a little fanfic piece using your all time favorite character. Put them in a weird situation, write the story you wanted to read about involving them. Writers work best when they really enjoy what they’re writing, so if you do enjoy straying off now and again into fanfic fantasy land then really, don’t sweat it. Everyone* does it, and only the stuffy old dinos who think self-publishing is for failures or ebooks will never catch on rail against it. I’ve written plenty of stories set in the Games Workshop fantasy universes, or featuring Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe. And okay, whilst I haven’t been bigtime published, I’m fairly sure that isn’t due to taking a writing holiday by using other people’s stuff.

Writing can be a lot of pressure some times, but everyone needs a break. If you can take one whilst still writing, well, you’re going to an in-shape author athlete in no time. Write away.


*aka plenty of people on the internet.

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