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Twenty Years!?

I saw a Facebook post recently which reminded me of something. Well, not so much ‘reminded me’ of something, more like hit me over the head with something. It’s been twenty years since I had my first story published. Twenty fucking years. I was going to say it’s been twenty years since I started writing, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. My first published story was called Monkey Man, and it came out in a Welsh literature magazine called Cambrensis some time in 1997. It was a different landscape back then. In the late-nineties there was a thriving small press consisting of various genre mags as opposed to a glut of websites. I also had some early success in Raw Nerve, the Asphalt Jungle, Roadworks, Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque and several others. The thing was, even back then I was very conscious of getting paid for my efforts, and the vast majority of these titles didn’t offer anything except ‘exposure.’ In fact, when you consider materials, printing and postage expenses, in the pre-digital age it actually cost money to submit to publications. It was a two-way street. Being physical entities, it meant these magazines cost money to put together and distribute.

Having flunked all my exams (even English) I was working in a factory at the time for minimum wage. Mostly, I put things in boxes. Soap, shampoo, pills. You name it, I’d put it in a box. I wanted to find some way of generating extra income, so I started submitting feature ideas to newsstand magazines. This was when shows like the X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were at their peak, and this was manifested in the popularity of paranormal-themed publications like Fortean Times, Enigma and Beyond. I soon found my little niche, and what was more, they paid! They paid pretty well, actually. Sometimes, I would get as much money for one 2000-word feature as I would for an entire week slaving in the factory. My magazine work and general fascination with the weird and fucked-up led to me researching and writing my first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales, which was eventually published by a mid-size Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch in 2003. Into the Dragon’s Lair set my life on a different path. It was targeted mainly at the tourist trade, and generated a lot of media interest. Several national newspapers did stories about it, and I was a guest on a live Radio Wales programme. It all resulted in a division of the Welsh government giving me a grant to go to university as a mature student.

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I had a choice of two; Carlisle and Southampton. I chose the latter because growing up I was a big Matt Le Tissier fan, who played for Southampton FC. It was that simple. Two weeks later, I was enrolled on a journalism degree and working part time as a barman at the football stadium. I’d hardly left Wales before. In my spare time, I decided to knuckle down and write ‘The Great Welsh Novel,’ a partly autobiographical tale called Rainbow’s End. It took a couple of years, but as soon as it was finished it was snapped up by a new start-up publisher called Flarefont, who promptly went bankrupt. During this time, I also started working on a book about Cardiff City FC, which eventually came out in 2014, again on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, after another publisher strung me along for about three years until eventually pulling the plug.

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During university, one of the most beneficial things I did, was go on work experience placements at every magazine that would take me (Front, Ice, Maxim, FHM). I learned more during those two-week placements than I did in three years of university, and I managed to form relationships that would serve me well later in my career. After I graduated from university, I freelanced for a year, writing features for Nuts, Record Collector, Rock Sounds, Urban Ink, Chat… It’s Fate, and anyone else who would pay me, before bunking off to China to teach English. I mainly worked at universities, which meant I had a lot of free time during which I continued to freelance, adding China to my list of specialist topics. One freezing Spring Festival in Tianjin, through sheer boredom, I started writing fiction again, a full nine years after my last published effort. Perhaps this explains why some people assume I am relatively ‘new’ to the scene. Nah, mate. Been here a while. Just had a rest. Over the next couple of years I wrote Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story and Dead of Night (both published by Damnation Books), and Devil’s Island (Rainstorm Press), as well as a clutch of short stories, which would appear in Screams of Terror, Gore, Siren’s Call, the Literary Hatchet, Trigger Warning, Deadman’s Tome, and a few anthologies.

Then, in 2012, I had another huge stroke of luck. A Staff Writer job came up at Nuts magazine and I was given a shot at it mainly because the deputy editor had somehow noticed some of my funny quips on social media. I flew back from China and was suddenly zipping around London fraternizing with models and film stars. But times were already hard in the ‘lad mag’ market, and getting progressively harder. I was soon got laid off as the sector went through its death throes. I reinvented myself as a sports journalist, and landed a job on the new-fangled Sports Direct magazine. That, too, went belly-up for entirely different reasons, and was re-launched as Forever Sports (later FS). After a couple of years as Senior Writer I was offered a promotion and a pay rise, and asked to move to another new launch at a different publishing company. It didn’t work out. I butted heads with my new editor for a while, then left to go back to freelance, and the new launch sank like the Titanic. By this time I was beginning to realize that the magazine industry was a ruthless arena with very little in the way of job security.

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Parallel to my magazine career, I took advantage of the rise in self-publishing and put out a steady stream of material. To help keep a degree of separation from my day job(s) I modified by name for fiction. There were some things I wrote while I was in China (including Sker House, and No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches) which just needed tweaking, and I also started gathering my previously-published short stories into a series of collections. I’ve lost a lot of faith in publishing companies, so I much prefer to put these things out myself. That way I can maintain complete control over every aspect of the process from the cover art to the contents and pricing. These days, I make a living by maintaining several revenue streams, fiction and magazine work being just two components. It isn’t easy, but it’s the life I chose. The past two decades have been a hell of a ride. I’ve done things I never thought I would do, and seen things I never thought I would see. I’ve met some amazing people, more than a few cunts, and lived in 12 different places, in eight different towns and cities, in three different countries. I’ve come to realize that moving around is a big part of my identity. I get restless if I stay in one place for too long. I need the constant sense of ‘newness.’ It keeps me focused. All things considered, I’ve far exceeded my own expectations, and anything beats working in that factory.

I can’t wait to see what the next twenty brings.

 

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Jumping Through Hoops

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As a jobbing freelance writer, I’m a self-confessed media whore. I’ll write for whoever pays me. It’s what I have to do. I make a living through a number of channels, one of those channels being dark fiction. Dark fiction with a twist of sardonic humour, as reviewers often point out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t make a lot of money from it. I sell a few books a month, and place a couple of short stories a year in various magazines, ezines, literary journals and anthologies. It’s never going to make me rich. But I enjoy it, and I count myself lucky that I am in a position to make a little extra income to supplement my day job writing for sport and lifestyle magazines.

In order to have your work published in one of the many outlets there are, you have to submit your work according to the publication’s specific formatting guidelines. Some want a particular font, in a particular size, some want single-spaced copy, others double-spaced. Some request a cover page with your name and contact details, while others want ‘blind’ submissions with no identifying information. About the only thing all publications have in common, is that they all want something different. I don’t mind going through every individual story I have and changing the font or whatever if the potential pay-off makes it worth my while. The more a publication pays contributors, the more I am willing to do. Unfortunately, this is a practice that occurs right across the board, even down to ‘exposure markets’ that don’t pay any actual money. In fact, they are often the worst offenders. I once had an extremely bitchy email from the ‘editor’ of an ezine complaining that I hadn’t followed the guidelines not just in the manuscript I submitted, but also in my cover letter. He took particular offence at my use of the word ‘hi’ instead of the more formal ‘hello,’ and the smiley-face at the end of my email was a deal-breaker. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the friendly approach. When I checked their guidelines again, I saw how much they paid per word. Not a penny. Zero. Nothing. You would think a publication expecting established writers to work for free would be a bit more forgiving, but it served me right. If I’d read the guidelines properly I would have realised they didn’t pay and wouldn’t have submitted to them in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. On the face of it, it all seems like a massive ball ache for no good reason. I was always of the opinion that if a story is reasonably and legibly laid out, what difference does it make if its double-spaced in 12pt courier or not? But then I started thinking about it, and looking at the situation from the point of view of the publication. If a prospective contributor doesn’t pay any attention to the guidelines, why should the publication pay any attention to the prospective contributor?

The publication don’t put all these guidelines in place just for the sake of it (though some probably do take some perverse pleasure out of making you jump through hoops on their behalf). They are a test, designed to ascertain in an instant how closely you read those guidelines. Or if you read them at all. It reminds me of Van Halen and their infamous tour riders. In the decadent 1980’s, when they were among the biggest bands in the world, Dave Lee Roth and co insisted that all the brown M & M’s be removed from bowls backstage at their gigs. Years later, they confessed they weren’t just being pretentious dicks, but making sure the venue adhered to their requests. If they didn’t take care of the small things, they couldn’t be trusted to take care of the big things, either. In retrospect, it all adds up, and maybe these editors are thinking along the same lines.

Check out some of the times I jumped through enough hoops on my Amazon Author page:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Saunders/e/B0034QAX0E

 


Adventures in Independent Publishing – Part 2

Up to Scratch

Once your book is written, it’s up to you to make sure the finished product is up to a high standard. It has your name on it, after all. The average buyer probably won’t be expecting the next Pulitzer Prize winner, but they will be expecting a professional job, and rightly so. Especially if they paid good money for it. Wouldn’t you? So make sure there are no gaping plot holes, silly typos, spelling mistakes, or continuity errors in your manuscript. This is where a good editor comes in. The spelling and grammar check on your word processing software alone just won’t cut it, I’m afraid.

Believe it or not, it’s quite difficult to edit your own work. You are just too close to it. Professional editors are not cheap, but there are numerous copyediting and formatting companies out there who will do different aspects of the job to for a fraction of the cost. Alternatively, you could send the rough draft out to one or more beta readers who will be able to offer a different perspective on things, or at least a fresh pair of eyes.

Cover Story

While it’s probably true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the reality is that people do. By nature, humans are very visual creatures. We are attracted to things that we think look nice. Fact. Getting the cover right is probably the single most important aspect of the whole independent publishing process. If you have any existing knowledge of Photoshop, or the time to learn, try doing your own. Especially if you are on a limited budget. There are some good tutorials available online, and some decent websites dedicated to book design. Otherwise, KDP has a ‘Create a book cover’ function but be warned, this is very basic. If at all possible, pay a pro and get the job done properly.

Having very limited capabilities I enrolled the help of one of my friends, Greg Chapman, who designed one for me.

http://darkscrybe.com/

He did a pretty fucking awesome job, too.

Click for more info

Click for more info

Be warned, some designers, high on their sense of self-importance, price themselves out of the market. I was quoted $500 by one graphics artist for a job that would take anyone worth his or her salt no more than an hour. Probably a lot less. No thanks.

Priming the Market

So now your book is written, formatted, and proofread so it reads smoothly and is completely free of errors. You have a cover and a KDP account all set up, so you are ready to go! Or are you?

Well, not quite. There are a number of things you could and should do before you put out your book. Firstly, tell all your family and friends. They will be your biggest supporters, your inner circle. You don’t have to tell them all directly and individually, just post a Facebook status update or two. If you have a blog, write a post about the imminent release and upload your book cover to your social networking sites before it goes live. People are visual creatures, remember? Try to draw comments by captioning it with something like, “this is the cover of my book. What do you guys think?”

It’s becoming increasingly popular amongst writers to make video trailers advertising their book, which is then posted on their website and uploaded to video-sharing sites like YouTube. To me, this seems like a lot of trouble. I’ve never done it. Possibly because I wouldn’t know where to start. If you have a big enough budget, you could pay a production company to do one for you. From what I hear the costs aren’t too prohibitive. You could also use a bit of initiative. One of my writer friends has a brother who is a musician, so she uses his tunes as background music in her book trailers. That’s a good bit of promotion for them both.

Another way to help prime the market for your book is to send out a press release, which automatically goes out to various media outlets and industry-connected individuals. Most outlets charge for the privilege, but there are some free services around. I used this one:

http://www.free-press-release.com/

Party on, dude!

It’s also worth thinking about holding a launch party. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, you could just invite a few friends over to your house, get them drunk and persuade them to buy your book. This is a great way to start a bit of word-of-mouth, the best kind of marketing there is. If throwing parties isn’t your thing, an increasingly popular alternative is to get involved in online chats and hang-outs. The wonders of modern technology means you can hold a party on your computer and invite anyone with an internet connection.

My first indie offering, X: A Collection of Horror, is out now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/X-Collection-Horror-Christian-Saunders-ebook/dp/B00IGHTFC8

Part 1 of Adventures in Indie Publishing, featuring an overview of the industry and an introduction to Kindle Direct Publishing can be found here:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/adventures-in-independent-publishing-part-1/


Adventures in Independent Publishing: Part 1

The New Punk Rock

Last month, I finally joined the swelling ranks of the independently published. I’d thought about it long and hard, but in the end it was a pretty easy decision to make. I was tired of greedy, clueless, often unethical publishers telling me what to do and how I should do it. Even calling them publishers is being kind in some cases. Too many are just wannabe entrepreneurs with no background or experience in the publishing industry, who simply want to jump on the bandwagon and make a few bucks. What they don’t realize is the bandwagon left years ago. In the modern world, publishers, like record companies, are becoming increasingly redundant. Both were only ever middlemen, reaping dividends from both sides hand over fist. As soon as musician and fan, or writer and reader, found ways to connect directly, their days were numbered.

I always found it difficult dealing with publishers. Most of them seem more intent on exploiting current trends rather than starting new ones, and were far too keen to jump in and tell me to make massive changes to my books seemingly on a whim. I often got the impression they were requesting changes just for the sake of it. Just because they could. I wanted complete control over the work I put out, from the editorial content, to the cover art and pricing. Under the traditional publishing model this would have been an impossible dream, unless you are a very rich writer who can afford to buy his own publishing company outright. But the power of the internet changed all that. Now writers can bypass publishers completely and make their work available directly to consumers. In 2012, a quarter of Amazon’s top 100 best-selling books were independently-published. At its core, this DIY attitude is the ethos of punk, when many bands spurned the advances of the major labels and chose to go it alone, sacrificing fame and riches in order to preserve creative control and perceived integrity.

Much Too Much

I decided the pricing issue was the main reason why most of the books I had with publishers weren’t exactly threatening the New York Times bestseller lists. At £6 or £7 each for 50-60 page novellas, they were woefully overpriced. I’m realistic enough to admit that my name isn’t that well known. As a reader, I wouldn’t part with that much money on a book by someone I’d never heard of. I raised concerns more than once with the publishers, but my protestations were quickly snuffed out. They said something about having to cover costs. Evidently, the notion that if the books were cheaper they would sell more copies, and therefore increase their profits, was completely lost on them.

The thing that held me back from ‘going indie’ for so long wasn’t a lack of self- confidence, as is no often the case. I’ve always thought that if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to believe in you? It was more a lack of technical know-how. I knew millions of writers all over the world were forsaking the traditional publishing model and going independent. But how the fuck do you do it? I’m not particularly tech-savvy, and didn’t have much of an existing platform to work from. But other people were getting sales. A LOT of sales. So one day, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. I would learn through trial and error. This series of blogs will document the experience. The good, the bad, the ugly, the stuff you probably know already, and the stuff you never wanted to know. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Nothing to Fear

As it happens, publishing an ebook turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. I just joined Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), filled out a few online forms, uploaded the content in a word document, added the cover and description, and hours later my first solo offering was online worldwide. I can set my own price, and get to keep 70% of the royalties on sales, much higher than any actual publisher has ever offered me. Most digital publishers offer 35-50%, while due to the increased costs, print publishers routinely pay as little as 10-15%. Amazon deduct their cut, then deposit the final sum, minus tax, directly into my bank account. Easy peasy. If you have a problem with Amazon, there are other options out there. Smashwords springs to mind. You don’t need one of those crowd-funding sites to help you. I always thought that route was a bit presumptuous, anyway.

Hey, I wanna be a writer, like, soooo bad. I have an idea for a book and everything. If you pledge $6000 I’ll write the book and it’ll be, like, totally AWESOME!

Nope. Don’t need it. If you are one of the people who dream about being a writer, then stop thinking about it, get off your ass, show some dedication to the craft, and write that fucking book. The art of creation should be all the incentive you need. Writers write, whether they get paid a load of money for it or not. If you are in it just for the pay day, you are probably in the wrong game, anyway.

Part 2 of Adventures in Independent Publishing looks at the importance of cover art, and priming a market.

My first indie offering, X: A Collection of Horror, is out now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/X-Collection-Horror-Christian-Saunders-ebook/dp/B00IGHTFC8


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