Is it bad to promote your own books?

Hi everyone,

RecommendA while ago I had an interesting e-mail exchange with someone who also writes books. This happens in writer circles, would you believe it? In one of the mails he wrote, “I’d like to recommend some of my books but since I’m the author…”

This raised the next  question with me:

Is it bad to recommend your own books?

Self-promotion and self-publishing.

I know, it’s bad to say self-publishing since it’s preferred to say Indie publishing. But that would make the first part “Indie-promotion” and that looks weird, doesn’t it?

So, back to self-promo for self/Indie publishers.

Promotion

After some thinking of the brainy kind I reached the conclusion that it’s not only a smart thing to do but even a necessary thing to do. It’s not done trying to flog your books to other writers, but there is a difference between “Hey, you, buy my book!” (which feels as if there is an “or else” coming up right after it) and talking about a specific, interesting kind of book and you’ve happened to have written some stuff in that realm.

And why is this a smart and necessary thing to do, you might ask.

Well… self and indie publishing kind of says it all, doesn’t it? You do it yourself. Independently. Which makes it easy in the following way:

If you don’t do it, who will?!

If you don’t open your trap about what you do, no one will do it, except your fans. Don’t just rely on your fans. Some are quiet so there’s not always much to hear from them. Self-promotion is part of marketing and marketing is something most writers aren’t good at. I mean, look at me: I don’t do nearly enough in that field so do as I say, not as I do, okay? (And let me know how you succeeded!)

Recommend. Really. Do it.

Tooting your own horn isn’t considered the nice thing to do but unless you have horn-tooting folk who can, want to and will handle that for you, it all comes down to you. Even if you have horn-tooters who stand up for you, it’s good to stand up and tell the world, “Hey, world. Listen up. Look at me and look at what I did.” It’s part of your branding. (Note to self: read this later. It looks damned helpful.) It’s not the book or books you are selling. You’re selling yourself.

So recommend your own work if and where you can. Do keep an eye on the circumstances. Don’t recommend your book on second degree algebra in a discussion about game consoles. This is highly recommended.

Recommend

 

Writing is time travelling.

Yes, dear reader, this is a truth. Writing is time travelling. I just got back from such a trip.

time tunnel logoWhat happened?

Why did you go? And why did you come back? Was it not fun in the future? Or in the past? Or in the wherever the hell you’ve been?

Let me start at the beginning.

In the beginning there was nothing.

Oh. Wait. That’s a bit far back. Sorry, sometimes even my memory slips a few billion years. Where were we…

I am writing one of my many stories – because that’s what I do when I write: I write many stories at the almost same time – when I decided I got stuck. A man comes into the kitchen, his wife gets a scare, relaxes when it’s ‘only’ him, and he asks what her problem is. (Do note that this is part of the story I was referring to, not some random bit of coconut that goes on a journey to Jamaica. That’s another story.)

Man and woman in kitchenOkay, so these two, like the ones on your right, are in the kitchen. She’s hiding something. How does she react to his question?

The answer: I had no idea at all.

But you are the writer! You have all the answers!

I do, of course, but only after a bit of time travelling. So I got into my time machine. It looks like a bicycle. Don’t let that fool you. It’s cunning. Clever. Well disguised. Dr Who phone boxAnd the phone box was already taken by Dr. Who, so that kind of limited my options. Anyway, onwards: I left man and woman in their kitchen and fast-forwarded to where the woman tells him what actually happened.

I’ve discovered that it’s nice to know that ahead of time so I can justify her odd, scared, shocked behaviour which rouses suspicion with the husband.

The bike ride time travelling proved to be a good idea. I was there, saw what happened while the husband wasn’t conscious (he was actually sleeping off his night shift, so he was there but didn’t know what happened).

And that is how and why I made my trip back to the future.

Hmm… Maybe a Delorean isn’t a bad idea. Looks spiffier than a bike, huh?

A musical question from a wordy person

Music? Yes. Music.

Dear reader, you may have noticed in several of my books that I’m hiding songs in the stories. For instance in the Story of the Mimosa there is a reference to “Paint it black” by the Rolling Stones.

After this interesting, musical interlude I am going to ask you a question.

Progress on witchly writing.

Hilda the wicked witchI am currently writing chapter 34 of the 22nd Hilda book. Yes, 34 chapters of crappedy crappy witchiness! And due to popular demand, the story is longer than the usual ones (apart from the monster that’s book 3, The Challenge). It’s not done yet. And because of that I invite you all to participate in a little manner. This is where the music comes in. And the question.

Name that tune.

Musical notesYes. Now it’s up to you. What I would like is the name of a song. A song you like. The more the better. One of those songs will end up in the book. Probably in chapter 35, but I can’t be sure yet as that chapter still has to happen.

So now the floor is yours. Talk to me, people. Name your tune. In a comment to this post, over here at Google+, on Facebook or on Twitter!

It looks like I’m doing nothing, doesn’t it?

Dear reader,

Time flies by like a clock on steroids.

Hilda 19 is out since a while and you hear little from me. Part of that has to do with things in life. Things involving jobs, new jobs, other workplaces and so on. Those take up time and energy. Still I hope that someday I’ll be as good a writer as for instance Stephen King or Ursula Le Guin. That’s something for later, when I grow up. As I try to write this, my cat Grimalkin is walking over the keyboard, attracting attention.

So what’s happening in the area of real interest: books.

I’m working on book 20 of Hilda which is always a pleasure. Carol and I are still working on getting the sequel to “Wanted: hero” out there. The next book to come out will the “The Magic of the Bull”, which might be closer than you think. 🙂

In between all that I have also updated the cover for “Charisma, the young witch.”

I think this looks a lot better than what was there before!

 

 

Why would someone limit science fiction?

Dear reader,

A while ago I received a mail from someone who had read one of my scifi stories and the sender of that mail told me the story wasn’t science fiction.

My first reaction was “what?”.

The sender claimed that there were too many aliens in the story, an impossible way of travelling between worlds and hardly any science – if any at all. According to this person the book was fantasy, not scifi.

The book in question, ‘Wanted: hero’, doesn’t deal with any science that we know, and yes, it involves aliens. Stating that this is not science fiction however is going too far for me. After all, in the book there is a scientific laboratory from where the tech is devised to make people move between planets. It’s not our science (yet!) but it’s science.

Aliens have been part of scifi stories for a long time. Don’t tell me that ‘Aliens’ isn’t a scifi film! Aliens is labeled ‘Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi’ on IMDB. Yes, it’s there. Scifi. The SF encyclopedia states “This is the term, in both sf and popular culture, used to indicate sentient extraterrestrial beings – creatures from other worlds endowed with reason, consciousness, thought, Intelligence (the terms for and conceptions of this vital but slippery quality vary). Aliens may have minds somewhat less capable than ours, of comparable capacity, of greater (even vastly greater) power, or minds so different that comparison becomes impossible.”

Quora, a site I respect for the knowledge that’s there, has a good article on aliens in science fiction as well. It discusses what are the most alien aliens in science fiction.

Interestingly the film “Avatar” by James Cameron is categorised as ‘Fantasy’ on IMDB. I guess that is because most of the film plays out on Pandora and depicts the life of the Na’vi who have no technology.

Back to the mail I received though. Contrary to the Na’vi of “Avatar”, the aliens in my story possess the science to create technology. They have automonous cars, communication systems, research centres and laboratories. They also have the intelligence to design a poison in one of their laboratories to take out their enemies. I would say that makes it science fiction. Writing about science. Our lab guys can do this too.

My scifi books aren’t ‘hard scifi’ with rockets, spaceships, space battles and things like that, but there is more to science fiction than that. A good thing was that the person who wrote to me also said he liked the book. And that’s what’s counts.

All the best!

Paul

The magic of doing nothing

Yes, dear reader.

Sometimes (apparently) doing nothing can do a lot of things. As usual I’m working on a lot of stories at once (which has the added disadvantage that some books take very long, I’m sorry). For a few stories I was trying to figure out how to make them proceed.

The privilege of a writer is that you can put your characters in peril. The disadvantage of that is that sometimes the characters aren’t up to the task of getting out so you have to help them. A few of my characters had dug themselves in so deep that it was hard even for me to come up with a solution. The answer to this had a strange shape:

Grimalkin, one of my two cats.

She enjoys sitting on top of my while I sit on the couch. As I wasn’t getting anywhere with the stories I sat on the couch and she lay in my lap, purring away as if it was crucial to survival.

As we sat there, my mind started drifting along with the stories in my mind. I saw the spot where the problem occurred, a few other points in time where the stories had to go and just kept looking at those things, those occasions.

Suddenly something became clear. There was water in the spot where my characters got stuck and there will be water in a place where other characters have to do something. Water was therefore the connecting element. I kept thinking, following the course of events as they might happen. And suddenly I saw it. I had the solution to at least one of the tight spots I had moved a few people in.

My advice for if you have a problem: get your cat and grab a good purr.

From all of us (Obsidian, Grimalkin and me) to all of you:

The weirdest Nanowrimo ever.

Dear reader,

I’ve been silent during this past month. I had aimed to write a new story, this time in Dutch. A story indeed happened but it was not what I had planned. Because, yes, I had planned this thing. In the first chapter the main character started doing everything wrong and in the second chapter he made a total mess of it. This was a sign things weren’t going according to my plan. I know, I should not plan stories because the characters know better.

zipStill I persevered and I wrote up to 60,000 words. Plenty to get me over the Nanowrimo finish line of 50,000. It left me with 60,000 words that are basically 3 parts. A story that doesn’t work, an addition that’s solely there to get to 50,000 and a last bit that was bolted on to keep going. At some point in the last week I thought: “Sod it.” The story wasn’t working, made no sense, fell apart by just looking at it. I made a ZIP archive of all the text and decided to bury it.

Stuff like that however refuses to be buried.

paulmolenThe alien race I created kept playing through my mind.

I knew I had to do something with them. Thought kept running around and suddenly I was thinking about wind mills. Here in the Netherlands we have lots of them so they might be a good topic to write about.

Aliens and wind mills? Why not?

Nanowrimo 2016

Yes, dear reader, I’m in the race of the mad folks again.

nanowrimo

This time is different. This time I write a story in Dutch. I’m Dutch so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Let me tell you… it’s difficult. And I don’t know why it is difficult. I prepared for this like for no other Nano effort before. I devised characters, places, made an outline, made a new one, created backgrounds, wrote a plot line, I did everything I usually don’t do. I should be prepared. And I’m not. Halfway chapter 2 I noticed things going wrong. Characters not doing what I had planned, locations not being where I intended them and worst of all: the entire story started shifting.

radar4Currently I’m working on chapter 4.

From the centre of chapter 3 I could still see a vague outline of where once the plot line had been. In chapter 4 that’s completely off the radar. From here to the end of the story I’m on my own. Characters are everywhere. Their numbers are wrong, their shapes are distorted and dry land is ‘somewhere’.

All my good intentions have been blown into the water where I am now adrift, holding on to my keyboard, the most trustworthy flotation device a writer can ask for. That and my razor sharp mind which has gotten me out of trouble before. (Stop laughing!)

Not all is lost however. Here and there I see crates with bits of back-story, names, places and intentions bob in the water along with me. With cunning agility of mind I’ll bring them in and slap them into this story. This exercise may have taught me one thing. Or two things. Plotting really isn’t for me. Getting the cornerstones in place however, coming up with stuff that can happen in the story, looking up the problems my victim characters will face (and possible solutions to get them out if they need a hand) is definitely something worth keeping up. I’m throwing the plot line out of the window. Listen how it whistles down all four floors and lands with a sickening thud. (‘Oops, sorry down there!’)

Maybe that will be my salvation for Nanowrimo this year around. In Dutch. It’s fascinating.

Onwards.

Plotting and planning and Hilda

Yes, dear reader,

I’m still here. And let me explain about the title of this post.

Plotting

plottingI’ve taken up this ‘plotting’ thing many writers are dedicated to. It means you sit down and first work out how a story will go before you get it going. I’ve found there are advantages to it. It takes the surprises and blind spots out of many parts of a story. That may sound brilliant but having the surprises taken out of a story isn’t so good. I like my surprises. They’re part of the fun, the shock and the journey I take together with the victims I write about. Of course I didn’t mean that; they’re my valued characters who unfortunately end up in places and situations of ‘interest’.

Planning

BoringNow this is something I might need to look into. I’m always working on a bunch of stories. At the moment I think it’s 5 or 6. Planning might actually help to get some insight on where I am and what I should do.

Planning however is boring and takes time. Time I can use better, like for writing. Or perhaps plotting, which also eats up quite some time. I have yet to find a convincing argument for planning, so let’s leave it at that and move on to the most interesting part of this post.

Hilda

Hilda The Wicked WitchThe Hilda stories are those that will never be planned or plotted.  N-E-V-E-R, do you hear me?

Hilda’s adventures are, in a way, my own adventures. The best kind, where magic, life and fairy tales come together. Is there a better combination?

I love this witch and her circle of family, friends, acquaintances and other people who hang around for some reason or other. I’m proud of her. I have a large canvas picture of her hanging from my wall.

There has to be a benefit to plotting and planning because so many people do it. Some stories however aren’t meant to be plotted. They are travels to uncharted lands, over trails so far undiscovered.

In a few days I’ll find out if the plotting business will work for me. Then Nanowrimo starts, and I’ve done a lot of figuring out for that. Plotting. And planning, if you will, although that’s just minimal.

We’ll see how it works. Or not.

 

A shift in the way I write

Yes, dear reader,

I am aware that this post might not be as intriguing as one about a new book but this is something so different and new I want to tell ‘the world’ about it. This is about writing. Yes, I needed to add that, didn’t I?

Writer’s Café

Writer’s Café used to be my ultimate writing tool. It runs on every PC platform, Mac also. I wrote a lot using that program and I’ll defend it until the very end. But at times something comes along that just stuns the words and paragraphs out of me. And one of those times happened last week. It’s called

pandoc markdown

Right, what is markdown? Markdown is a way to ‘format’ flat text. In formatted text one uses italics, bold text, and even underlined text. With a plain text file like you make in Notepad or vi that’s not possible. Unless you use markdown. Markdown comes in several flavours, LaTeX is a famous one. I use pandoc. It’s less versatile than LaTeX but that makes it much easier to learn and use. How does markdown stuff work?

Suppose you want to write something in italics in this text way. You simply put asterisks around the text. So *italics* becomes italics. This also works with bold, you just add 2 asterisks: **bold** becomes bold.

You can also add a code for e.g. a chapter header. Simply put # in front of it. E.g. #Chapter 1.

Advantages

The main reason for this is the ability to write anywhere, on anything. If I am on a PC I can use a plain text editor to write. When I have my Android tablet with me I can write the same stories without having to worry about converting it to some other system and lose something in formatting. Even if I copy a text file to my office iphone I can simply carry on with the story.

But what about creating real files for books?

That is where the real power is hidden. It requires a lack of fear from the dos prompt (or x-terminal in Linux) but making a Word .docx file from all the chapter text files is simple (note that I saved all the text files with an .md extension, for clarity):

pandoc *.md -o story.docx

That will collect all the *.md (md stands for MarkDown) files in alphabetical order and create a Word document called story.docx.

This is how that looks on my Linux machine:

Create it:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.docx
Show it’s there:
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.docx
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 50908 aug 4 16:55 story.docx

Even more magic is there: you can create an epub from those files the same way:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc *.md -o story.epub
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *.epub
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 55257 aug 4 16:58 story.epub

Do you need a webpage that shows the first 2 chapters? Just feed pandoc the names of the first 2 chapters and let it do the legwork:

paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ pandoc DeJongeHeks01.md DeJongeHeks02.md -o story.html
paul@Kelutral:~/BTSync/Schrijven$ ls -l *html
-rw-rw-r– 1 paul paul 22509 aug 4 16:59 story.html

There we are. No problem. Creating a PDF, a Kindle file, all that works with pandoc.

Maybe all this looks complicated and scary for those who are used to using nothing but Scrivener or Word, but I thought it worthwhile to show you there’s more out in the world than those programs. If you like to be versatile then this is worth looking into.