Farewell to Musa

Tomorrow marks the end of Musa Publishing. Although I’d had some short fiction in anthologies and on websites, Musa was the first publisher to put my work out as books. Initially I was hesitant because ebooks were a new venture for me, but what won me over was their warmth,  organisation and openness. It wasn’t just a business it was a also a thriving community of authors, sharing tips, support and experience.

The Silent Hills is a 5000 word suspense story and I was surprised when they took it on as a standalone work. In hindsight it may have been due to their generosity of spirit and desire to build a list than for any commercial potential because, although well-received  and reviewed, The Silent Hills failed to really establish an audience.

However, what TSH did do was get me involved in the Musa community. I met authors of genres I’ve never been near – LGBT, Regency Romance and Erotica, to name but three – and found that our similarities as writers are much greater than our differences. Whatever the genre, the requirements of good writing are the same – always have been and always will.

TSH also gave me the confidence to try something different. Next time I wrote Superhero Club, a children’s book for a mid-grade audience. If anything this book was even more of a challenge because it dealt with bullying, food issues and the value of friendship. It was, once again, a story that wrote itself. An added complication for the book was that it was firmly set in the UK, but Musa’s house style was US English.

SC came out about a year after TSH and barely made sales into double figures. It could be that the subject matter was too close to home for the target readership. I did contact a variety of youth organisations, but either the timing was wrong or the staff had any pressures and priorities. I mention all this because I recognised (and still do!) that any publisher can only do so much. Every author must play their part in actively marketing their books and the more creative the approach the better.

I didn’t submit another book to Musa. I was thinking about a sequel to SC, but that would have been in the autumn. I didn’t part with any full-length novels because I thought the house style would make edits a nightmare. Editing was always a collaborative experience, so I had some idea of what I might be taking on!

All of which is a way of saying I had less to lose with Musa with my books, but I was fully committed to their cause. It was a virtual place of passion and enterprise with an online infrastructure that’s unmatched by anywhere else I’ve seen. Musa have been responsible for dozens of books and dozens of first-time authors. It’s to the credit of the team that they are ending Musa precisely because they have been unable to run it along commercial lines. In the meantime royalties have always been paid and everyone that I’ve spoken with in the Musa family has felt a genuine sense of loss and admiration for the dream that has now come to an end.

Time is running out if you want to grab yourself an ebook bargain. Naturally I’d be delighted if you picked Superhero Club, but I also encourage you to check out the wider Musa site to see if anything takes your fancy.

Thank you, Musa, for everything, and good luck to my fellow Musan authors out there.

“Nothing good is a miracle, nothing lovely is a dream.”
   Richard Bach,   Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

TIme and Tide and Recovery

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in Junior School, they would occasionally wheel out a large television and we’d watch part of a series that was considered both entertaining and educational. From what I recall, we never got to see a whole series – perhaps two or three episodes at most (out of six, I think). 

One series involved an alien child – you knew he was an alien because his face and clothes were silver – befriended by an Earthling child and trying to escape the clutches of someone in authority. Yes, it does sound a little like ET.

I have very little recollection of the other series, apart from the ending! A group of children have followed clues to a small box hidden in a garden, possibly in a rockery, and inside the box there’s a note that reads: Time does not stand still. As a child this was not the kind of treasure I wanted to find. 

However, as well as not remaining static time can bestow perspective. History, I once scribbled into a notebook, is just a series of stories we tell ourselves over and over again. Ask someone else and the history changes. Time changes history not only because there may be more facts and less propaganda as the years roll on, but also as a consequence of the context changing.

What’s this got to do with writing? Quite a lot and not much, depending upon your perspective.

I had a bout of flu recently, which is still taking its toll (rambling alert), but I can now see some improvement every day. I spent the first day of proper sickness in bed – I haven’t done that since I was a child. When it comes to flu, you know the drill – shivers, sweats, headaches, pains in the teeth, the jaw, behind the eyes (I also had them for a day or three before), sneezing, coughing, nausea, no sense of taste and a total loss of appetite. I also had tinnitus, which included repetitive noises – sometimes like music or machinery – and repetitive thoughts. 

Sleeping for maybe an hour at a time, sometimes far less, your perception of time itself changes. Even my dreams were on a loop. I approached the same wall at least half a dozen times and I can’t get past it. (Yes, I am a fan of John Wyndham’s novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, as well as the 1960 film, Village of the Damned – I like your thinking!)

Not really eating and not really sleeping, apart from feeling very debilitating, can act like a detox because your mind begins to empty. Precepts and concepts that seem inviolable peel back with ease like a banana. 

I’m not going to lie to you – as soon as I became cogent, or something very like it, I checked my emails. Much of it, while not exactly spam, was not really relevant. The bulk of that was elective, perhaps when I was interested in specific information about ebook marketing, business models, entrepreneurship, marketing, governmental policy, civil liberties, cyber-security and all the other good stuff I read about for business and pleasure.

But…when you only have five minutes of focused attention it tends to concentrate the mind wonderfully. What I did with my five minutes was this:
1.    I updated a freelance profile to show I was ill with flu and therefore all work was suspended.
2.    I changed my preferences and eradicated around 50% of all not really relevant emails. I’ll take a view on the other stuff when I want to take a closer look at it.

In my next five minutes of clear thinking, which doesn’t include the time slot where I just felt sorry for myself and was only slightly amused by Anne coughing like a distressed sea lion (of course, she had the flu first…), I did some actual thinking.

Writing requires introspection, and lots of it, not only so that you can trace the muse through the wondrous forest of your own imagination (where both fiction and non-fiction are born), but also so that you can get your head around the other stuff that fits around your writing and connects you to the world – preferably the parts that wants to buy your work.

Illness, however, doesn’t believe in media campaigns and schedules. It has ‘missing out syndrome’ pegged: you can’t miss out if you’re not really interested.

The world, of course, goes on without you and you might lose a little business. Then again, that can happen any day of the week. I think I might have lost a job not so long ago over less than a penny a word, although that might have been the flu addling my pitching technique.

Where was I? Yes, don’t wait until you’re unwell to stand back and take stock. Make time to regularly ask yourself the difficult questions:
1.    What sort of writer have I become?
2.    What sort of writer do I want to be?
3.    How am I measuring my success?

That last point is all-important. In business we’re told that the bottom line is profit and loss. Well, yes, as a business; but not as a human being. If you’re so focused on leverage and margins and all the other stuff that can make being in business so interesting that you don’t see the bigger picture, you’re really missing out on something vital.

Writing makes writers what they are, but it doesn’t make them who they are.

Put your pen down; turn off your tablet, desktop, laptop, or smart phone. Live. Before you do, here’s something to ponder:

There will never be another day exactly like today, so what will you do to distinguish it from all the others?

Look alive, people – spring is coming. It’s time for some changes, and some more vitamin C.

All For One - Anthologies

One of the more obvious challenges a writer faces is how to fill a book. Ask any novelist and they will likely tell you that the second half of a novel is easier to write because the characters and plot are already well established, and part two is often largely about resolving the consequences of part one.

For those who pen shorter material, although there are competitions and magazines out there eager for flash fiction or 2000 words on a theme, putting together a collection of stories for publication can seem onerous because short fiction can be a hard sell.

One solution is to create or contribute to an anthology, showcasing the work of several writers. Books can be themed or stand as a general celebration of the art of short fiction. (If you thought sculpture was difficult, try sculpting a 250-word piece.) Anthologies are also a blessing for those writers who are uncomfortable in the spotlight – there may be more of those than you think!

Other advantages of a multi-writer anthology

-       You have more chance of filling a book.
-       Individual writers can focus on a small number of contributions.
-       You automatically start off with a group of people keen to spread the word.
-       Those same people (unless they all live on the same street) are likely to have separate communities, increasing the potential for word-of-mouth recommendations.
-       Every author is likely to buy at least one copy* so that ought to get the ball rolling.

The challenges of a multi-writer anthology

-       There may be differences of opinion in the editing process, unless you have clear ground rules or an editor-in-chief.
-       Some contributors may not want or be able to get involved in the marketing of the book.
-       There has to be a running order, preferably one that’s carefully balanced.
-       Erm…the money.

Anthologies can be funded in several ways. Costs can be shared among the contributors (in which case it might be wise to agree a set word count for each story). Grants may be available, especially if it’s a thematic anthology or raises funds for a particular cause – the Arts Council is a good place to start in the UK. There’s still the faint possibility of anthologies being funded by publishers in what used to be called the traditional way with contributors receiving royalties from sales. There’s also the buy-out option where writers are paid a one-off fee to use their material in perpetuity.

If you’re funding the book yourself / yourselves, costs can be reduced by publishing as an ebook (if you have the time and the know-how, your only expense will be the cover design), or by producing a Print-on-Demand version.

I’ve been fortunate to contribute to four anthologies.

Beyond the Horizon is a general fiction anthology published by Bamboccioni Books. I contributed a sci-fi tale, in the spirit of Asimov, Rogue, about what it means to really live.

The Coffee Shop Chronicles Vol 1 (Oh the Places I Have Bean) is a themed anthology about coffee from A Word with You Press. It contains a mixture of anecdotes, poetry and fiction celebrating the much-loved** caffeine creation. I was one of four editors and my fiction contribution is Diner, a short tale about relationships, lies and self-deceit.

Kissing Frankenstein in a general fiction anthology published by Flash-Fiction South West. I contributed some really short pieces (some only six words long) and my main piece, Between the Lines, was a story about taking chances.

Miracles of Kindness is a themed anthology contains anecdotes about…well…kindness. My contribution, The Street Angel, is about the folly of first impressions when I found myself stranded in Chicago late one night.

My plan, later this year, is to put together an ebook anthology of my own work. Entitled Into the Void and sporting a stylish cover design supplied by www.goonwrite.com, it will feature a mixture of favourite pieces, new material and experimental work.

* Not always though. I know of an anthology where the contributors received a small buy-out fee and a significant proportion of writers never bought a copy.

** Although, ironically, not by me.