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ANOTHER WRITER’S JOURNEY or The Writing Game, as far as I’ve got: Chris Shaw

The writing

I was working in the UK as a locum pharmacist (2001-2002) with Rebecca, my newish wife. The idea was to spend some quality time with aging parents (94 and 92), earn some good money and travel around.

It was a stressful time, primarily because of the weekly change of location, staff and corporate rules. However, it was because of this stress that I was stimulated to write newsletters to friends back in OZ. On my return, I combined them and came up with 40,000 words! To someone who writes addresses on postcards in very large print to avoid having to write much text, this came as a ‘Damascus’ moment for me.

Something funny happened in bed one night, involving our three cats and, with Rebecca’s encouragement, I wrote about it. The premise was that, ‘I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story’! Encouraged by the pleasure of the writing process, I wrote twenty- five stories over about four years, which doesn’t sound much, but it was an infinite increase from my one postcard per decade.

I sent these off to Danielle, who encouraged me to ditch seven and self-publish the remaining eighteen, which became, It’s All Relative: stories to shorten your travel time.

The learning curve took off at that point and continues its exponential growth to this day. I’m still learning a craft that will entertain me for the years I have left — who knows, maybe I can increase the smiles on our planet by one or two.

Agents and Publishers

I didn’t even look for an agent or a publisher, (why do those words bring Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons to mind?) The impression I get from all the talk around me is that agents and large publishers have enjoyed success in a long, easy market, to the point where they have become very selective and picky. It reminds me of the stockbroking market, where those in the know prosper, and there are very few surprises.

However, e-books may well be their Global Financial Crisis! This whole book market is in a state of revolution, and since my Rebecca has bought an iPad, I get a better picture of where the trend is taking authors. The jury remains out and vacillating, however.

I decided to self-publish.

Self-publishing

I had a series of three editors who gave the general impression they would have preferred cutting the complete works of Shakespeare into its component letters, rather than editing my little tome. However, I found an enthusiastic printer who produced 200 copies for me. I now have about 5 left.

The marketing was a challenge, although I thought I knew something about that through my work in small business. The money I threw at the project was what they call in the property business, ‘overcapitalising’!

The book cover was professionally designed, and I was very happy with it. The same logo was on 5,000 bookmarks, a big banner for signings, and on the back window of my 4WD. Then I got really creative and paid a professional actor to read the book to a professional sound engineer who put it on two CDs. He had a contact in Brisbane that ‘did’ me 500, in cases with a slick or printed insert in each, and had the CDs themselves printed. All very gung ho and swisho!

During the self-publishing process, understanding the language of the various agencies involved, with ISBNs, CIPs, galleys, colour bleeding and so on became an exciting learning curve too. You have to be tough and committed to search for, learn and incorporate all this stuff! (J. K. Rowling’s mega-success in the face of extraordinary odds may well be the ‘carrot’ for many of us!)

Marketing and Promotion

My book launch taught me a valuable lesson, namely: ‘Go and get some professional help at public speaking’. Fifty years of ducking and diving to avoid getting up on my hind legs in front of more than two people had given me a sense of false security. My launch in a hired hall had booze and nibbles, a PA system, and about 80 people — mostly friends who came for the free booze. I sold a handful of books but it was yet another financial failure.  Nice to catch up, though!

I’ve had some signings, put the book/CDs into a couple of bookstores and on my website, but haven’t worked very hard at it, to be honest. My deep-down feeling is that it was an apprenticeship exercise — but hey, I enjoyed it.

Finally, I retired from my profession, and sloughed off the odd fifty hours a week of slavery. So I’ve had some time to myself — what a dead-set luxury that is, after 56 years! I’ve learnt to operate the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and how to wash up; I now cook about 50% of the meals – duties I take seriously, since Rebecca is still running her library.

I took a 6-week course on Public Speaking and Communication Skills, run by a highly experienced lady with a critical eye, and survived that. I also joined Book Creators Circle, an organisation that caters for ‘a soft landing for anyone with a passion for books’. Their members include writers, editors, publishers, designers, printers and book binders, so there’s no lack of expertise when you need it. Through this medium, I played Master of Ceremonies at the last Book Expo and have led speakers at our monthly gatherings. So my course has paid off handsomely — yes, I know, but not financially!

From May to September 2010, I threw down 100,000 words of a novel that seemed to come from nowhere. I’ve had it looked at, and have been told that while there is romance and war, I would have to pick a genre and stick with it. It will be called My Chocolate Soldier, and I’m struggling with it still. There’s some lovely stuff in it (I hope you understand that), and I’m very pleased with it, but it needs better organisation for a flowing story. I’m attached to it in the same way a mother is attached to a less than pretty child. More learning!

Meanwhile, I carried out a promise to myself to write a book called Hey Guys! Here’s How You get More Nooki! It’s a serious attempt to teach men what women need and want from a relationship, not what men think women want — having been through divorce and depression and the Victoria Cross level of courage to marry again, I think I’m qualified. But wait, there’s more! Being a pharmacist working in community pharmacy for forty years in the exclusive company of women, also gave me an edge. Add to that our second marriage, ‘built’ by Rebecca and I, which has lasted for twenty years with no arguments, and no cross words. THAT is my qualification for this current book!

Conclusions

Looking back through the whole experience, I’d rate Writing 1 out of 10 for difficulty; Agents and Publishing are 4 and 3 respectively, and Marketing, the remaining 2 — and if that doesn’t make 10, I’ll stick to fiction. That’s my take, but every writer’s different.

Whatever else you do, keep writing. Keep entertaining, making laughter and tears, fear and joy, and giving and receiving insights.

And keep smiling!

                                                                                                            Chris Shaw

Chris Shaw

I'm the one in the middle - "See No Evil".

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Shaune Lafferty Webb. Image supplied by Leslie Downie Photography, Noosaville. http://www.downiephotography.com.au

Back again, although it isn’t Sunday. Thought it might be interesting for writers out there struggling with writing their novel, memoirs, whatever, to learn of the experiences of two very different authors after their books were written.

This week’s author is Shaune Lafferty Webb, author of the speculative fiction novel Bus Stop on a  Strange Loop, published by Winterbourne Press. Next week – or maybe fortnight, depending on when he can bring himself to the task – it will be Chris Shaw, author and publisher of It’s All Relative, a collection of humourous short stories.  Both authors are based in Queensland, Australia.

And now to Shaune’s journey.

ONE WRITER’S JOURNEY

Five years ago, a change in circumstances offered me a rare opportunity: the chance to pursue an old dream. I wanted to be a writer … a writer with a published novel. I knew it would be a long road fraught with obstacles and blind turns. But I was prepared for the hard work; I could tackle the criticisms; and I’m nothing if not persistent. Finally, the writing was ‘finished’; I’d come to my first cross-road. Should I look for …

… an agent or a publisher?

A study of agents’ websites quickly led me to conclude that an agent was equally as difficult (impossible?) to snare as a publisher. Few invited new clients, certainly none I found encouraged writers of speculative fiction. So my course was set. I was off in search of a publisher.

Well, my quest degenerated into a frustrating and demoralising two-year process of submitting to every publisher I could find in Australia – and overseas – who was willing to look at unsolicited material. Sometimes I received a response; many times I did not. While the responses I did receive were polite and sometimes expressed interest in my work or complimented me on my writing style, my story was inevitably not what they were ’currently looking for’.

I’d hit another cross-road: what to do? If I were ever going to see my work published, it seemed the only direction left was Partnership Publishing, a phenomenally expensive gamble, which I did take but, for a number of reasons, elected not to pursue to completion. Was it worth the money? Not really. Did I learn anything from another editing experience? Yes: all constructive input refines writing skills. Would I do it again? No. However, a positive result of my investment was that I now had in my hands a professionally printed galley that I could send out for review.

Now there was a new obstacle in my path: I’d listened to my reviewers and refined my work accordingly, but I had already tried every publisher I could find. However, by a stroke of good fortune, Winterbourne Publishing had just opened its doors and it was a small publishing house geared strictly toward speculative fiction. You don’t find one of those every day. I submitted my manuscript yet again.

Not so fast. You thought I was going to say they accepted it, didn’t you? Afraid not. What they did offer me was the chance to work with them to revise it — one more time. After a brief fit of hysteria at the prospect of even more editing, I gratefully accepted the offer. Four months down the track my novel is out there for readers to buy from any on-line bookstore — if they happen to stumble across it, that is. Which leads us to …

… the marketing phase.

What can I say about marketing and self-promotion? Beyond expressing my sincere appreciation to my publisher who’s definitely given it all she’s got, not a lot that’s printable really. I have the website, but I am not a born blogger or social networker. I’m registered on Amazon as an author, but I don’t have a following or a bevy of enthusiasts ready and willing to promote my book. I’ve knocked on the doors of bookshops and been knocked back in return. Goodreads has brought my book to the public eye to some extent through their ‘give away’ program. But, as far as exposure goes, I haven’t even managed to scratch the surface.

I wouldn’t say that the writing was the easy part, but there is an element of satisfaction in putting images into words and in tying those words into a tale, that serves to offset the difficulty. Some writers might enjoy the hunt for a publisher or revel in the marketing scene. I’m not one of them. For me, there simply isn’t the slightest element of satisfaction in being repeatedly rejected or failing to succeed with a promotion.

Even a writer friend, who has managed to get her self-published books on the shelves of one of the major bookstores, has become dejected with the promotional phase of this business. Her book-signings have proven to be an expensive and unsuccessful approach. There might be a clever trick to marketing, but to date it continues to elude us both. So …

… was it worth it?

What were my expectations when I began this journey? To become famous and make a fortune with my writing? No, I wasn’t that unrealistic. To reach enough readers to make a living? Well, perhaps not a good one, but maybe if I were exceptionally lucky, I might bring in a little money. To attain just enough success to justify the selfishness of spending so much time writing? I’ll admit to that. Will it ever happen? No, I really don’t think so. Along every step of my journey, I doubted I’d ever really reach my goal.

Then what of those fine notions about being prepared to work hard and take criticism? Ah, those aspects were under my control. As was persistence. But it seems even persistence only gets you so far. Maybe there are just too many writers out there — a lot of hopefuls in a time and place where there simply isn’t enough hope to go around. Some make it by luck. Most don’t.

I was lucky. Although I won’t make it big, I did reach a few people who seem to like my work. I guess you could say that I’m stuck in a ditch part way down the road. But by the look of things, the odds are against me ever finding a way to crawl out.

 Shaune Lafferty Webb

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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

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Hi, I’m not really a blogger, I’m an old manuscript assessor, assessing mostly fiction. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of the things people in the game take for granted writers starting out simply don’t know – how wide should your margins be? Should you use double spacing or single? Where’s the best place to put the page numbers? What spelling should I follow? Oh and lots more.

So I thought I might lay out a few tips for those writing their first long work (and those writing short stories, let’s not forget them), be it fiction, non fiction or memoir. Every Sunday, I’ll try to put something here that I think might be helpful.

You want more information? Okay. (Sorry about the change in POV.)

DANIELLE de Valera’s father swore she was related on her mother’s side to Eamon de Valera, the controversial Irish politician — but he told some tall tales in his time, and this could be one of them. What we do know is that she was born in Sydney, 1938, educated Brisbane and Townsville. In 1959, she obtained a B Agr Sc. from the University of Queensland, worked as a botanist for a couple of years and later, as a copy-editor for The Jacaranda Press. A freelance manuscript assessor and fiction editor since 1992, she runs the Patrick de Valera Manuscript Appraisal Agency, where she helps aspiring writers to hone their work and ultimately get published. As well as this blog, she has another, more airy-fairy one at http:www.ecademy.com/blog/danielledevalera

A published author in her own right, in August 2011 her 108,000 word fiction manuscript SOME KIND OF ROMANTIC was one of 4 shortlisted for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award. In 2012, it was short-listed in the UK for the Impress Prize. In 2001, with former client and cowriter Lucy Forster, whose rom-com novel FINDING ELIZABETH has just been released, she won the Australia & New Zealand-wide Emma Darcy Award for Romance Manuscript of the Year 2000 with FOUND: ONE LOVER. She has also won numerous awards for her short stories, which have been published in such diverse publications as PENTHOUSE, AUREALIS and the AUSTRALIAN WOMEN’S WEEKLY, and are currently in six Australian anthologies. She is now revising her 70,000 word novel set in Mullumbimby and surrounds in 1986 — Byron Shire became the epicentre of the Australian dropout movement of the late ’70s, early ’80s, following the Nimbin Festival of 1973.

Most recent job: editing Allan Staines’  TO VANISH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, soon to be released by Pinedale Press.

If you know someone who’s struggling with a long work, or even a short one, she can help them hone it to publication standards. If there’s no hope for it, she’ll tell them that, too, but in such a way that they won’t have to be scraped up off the floor and put together again by understanding friends and family. Her clients come from all over Australia, plus the UK and USA. You can email her at patrickdevalera@gmail.com, phone her at +61 0266803073, or text her at +61 466 013 199.

And remember: as the character Larry says in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN: ‘A writer writes, always.’

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