From the tool store

The 'tool store'

The ‘tool store’

This is a photo of where I write from – a ‘tool store’ attached to a farmhouse in Umbria, Italy. The shadow is of a big oak tree. Through the big window you can just see a white dog.

I can’t say it’s necessarily my first choice of a place to provide inspiration.  A tiny tower reached by a spiral stone staircase and with a 360 degree view of the sea would do nicely. I once had a College room whose window gave right onto a river and that wasn’t bad…

I have this idea that total peace and quiet is most conducive to writing but it’s not always the case, not even for me. Silence can be intimidating, sterile even. On the other hand a hubbub of traffic or children or uncongenial music can stop you hearing yourself think.

It’s really a matter of each writer finding ‘their own bag’.

Is it, for example, helpful to have bare walls and a clear desk, or a clutter of nick-nacks and photos? Do you work best in bed? Does solitude foster your productivity or do you get more done surrounded by the life and movement of strangers in a café?

It’s quite brilliant that modern technology allows such choices, so where circumstances allow, we should throw away preconceived ideas and create, to the best of our ability, the ideal environment.

What’s your favourite space to write? Please tell us on Twitter (@anysubjectbooks) or Like us on Facebook and leave us a comment!

What to say in an author’s interview

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You need confidence, not these!

Many people find it hard to know what to say when they’re put on the spot – and an author’s interview is certainly one of those situations. If you have never done one before, here are some simple tips to help you through this sometimes daunting process.

Do:

  • Believe in yourself. If you appear as self-deprecating or under-confident, people will not take you seriously.
  • Be polite and pleasant.
  • Talk about yourself – but keep it relevant. Don’t go off on tangents.
  • Be slightly mysterious. Don’t give your whole life story away up front; a bit enigmatic makes you more intriguing.

Don’t:

  • Be pretentious or say something about your writing process that isn’t entirely true because it sounds good. You will come across as insincere.
  • Be self-conscious. You’ll look more silly if you’re constantly watching and judging yourself for fear of saying something stupid.
  • Talk badly about other writers, even if they are rivals of yours. Be honest, but do it tactfully. Being critical or spiteful about other people does not look good in an interview, especially if you’re just starting out.
  • Be arrogant. Be confident, sure – but don’t big yourself up too much or come across as your own biggest fan.
  • Tell people useless information about yourself. No one cares what colour your lounge is painted.

The most important thing is to try and enjoy the moment.

The importance of proper editing

Finishing the first draft of a piece of writing is a great feeling. Although you should be very proud at this stage, you are far from finished yet.

As a writer, editing your work is imperative. It is not enough just to read back over it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Proper editing requires you to look at your writing with a critical eye; you need to be completely honest with yourself about how successful your piece is in its current state. In fact, you need to be utterly brutal.

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Good editing is the key

The following are some tips for editing your work as thoroughly as it needs.

    1. Let go of any romantic notion about ‘capturing the moment.’ You look at a particular scene in your story and see flaws and imperfections, but you don’t want to change anything because you feel as though you perfectly captured the mood at the time of writing. You may well have done, but if you want a story that is polished, professional and stands out, you will need to iron out those flaws. Nobody’s writing is perfect and that’s not what you should be aiming for – you’ll drive yourself crazy. But if you see something that strikes you as needing improvement, then it probably really does need it.
    2. Don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings.’ You have a sentence, a paragraph, or a minor character that you really like; but do you need them? Really? What are they adding to the story? Do they really fit, or are they actually spoiling the quality? If you can’t answer positively to any of these questions, then that part of your story is going to have to go. If you take out that sentence or scene, don’t throw it away completely; you might find you can use it again in another piece of work in the future.
    3. Get a proof-reader. It is virtually impossible to edit your work without feedback from an objective party. Ask a writer friend, or even find a ‘writing buddy’ to swap work with. Writers are almost always willing to help each other out, and as long as your proof-reader is not afraid to be honest and has a good critical eye then you will find the editing process much easier. You don’t have to follow every suggestion; if you’ve been advised to change something, but strongly feel this is a bad idea, then don’t do it! Different people will notice and like or dislike different things. Do listen to and think about all the feedback you receive, but sometimes you will need to trust your own opinion too.
    4. Don’t be precious about your work. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble not taking constructive criticism personally, this is something you need to work on if you really want to be a writer. If you ask somebody to be brutally honest about your work, they will be. You don’t only need to be prepared for this; you need to welcome it. Certain things can be disheartening to hear at times, but good or bad, everything will help you along the way.
    5. Don’t be afraid to be drastic. If you think an entire chapter needs to be reworked or a fairly important character is serving no purpose and needs to be cut, then do it. Don’t be wary of your own work. Experiment and make those changes. You might find your entire piece is twenty times better for it.
    6. There is a possibility you will never be happy with your work. Creativity and perfectionism often go hand in hand. It can be difficult to manage, but rather than achieving your notion of perfection, it is sometimes best just to step back and accept that your work is the absolute best it can be. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; we are our own worst critics.
    7. You will know when you are done editing. Once you’re debating whether or not that comma really belongs in the middle of that sentence in line 9 of page 34 you’ll realise that there’s probably little else you can do. You created this piece of work and you know it inside out. You will instinctively know when it is there.

The importance of editing is never to be underestimated. It might not be an easy process, but it’s a very satisfying one; you’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of thorough and honest polishing can make.

Times are changing

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Anyone can write a book (coughs)

When I started writing this feature, I thought long and hard about making a pun on the word ‘times’ using both its temporal and typographic meanings.

When Kindles first began appearing, there were relatively few e-books about. As always, there were plenty of people who cried “It’ll never catch on!” and “Readers want real books!” but, bar a few die-hards, they’ve largely disappeared: e-books are the ‘now’ and the ‘immediate future’ – like it or not. In those early days, just about any book stood a chance of being bought. For example, in terms of the book’s cover, you could probably have got away with a black background with blocky white text saying “My Book” or even Amazon’s stunningly awful ‘holding’ cover (which is what you get if you don’t upload a jpg of your cover).

Not now.

The marketplace has since been swamped by every man and his dog who decided that they were capable of stringing a few sentences together. “Hey! (they no doubt thought) Here’s a chance to get rich. Let’s use the spellcheck, the free conversion software and have a go.”

The trouble is that a spellchecker can’t discriminate between ‘where’, ‘wear’ and ‘ware’, everyone knows that ‘alot’ is correct (groans loudly at this point) and that the words ‘could’, ‘should’ and ‘would’ are all followed by the word ‘of’ (as opposed to ‘have’ which is completely wrong). Additionally, the free conversion programs are notorious for not removing the extraneous code that a certain popular word processing program insists on inserting (why?) – something which can cause e-reader devices to freak out when they encounter it.

Finally, many new authors decided they could stand out by using the fancy typeface (the typographical reference) which looked so blindingly good on their word-processed version. Unfortunately such a font would probably not be mobi-friendly and this, combined with the aforementioned strange control codes, resulted in a poor quality product which only served to deter would-be readers from buying the work of unknown authors.

Times have changed – times are hard. If you want your book to get sold, you need to get wise to the standard it has to be produced to. There’s nothing essentially wrong with ‘home-made’ as long as it’s been produced by professionals.

Is an Ivory Tower a des res?

Ivory Tower - 1It’s an evocative image, a tower made out of milky white ivory, too high and too slippery to assail and with a distant and distorted view of the world below it. A great many writers have inhabited one or perhaps, more to the point, been accused of inhabiting one. But what effect does residence in an ivory tower have on a writer’s output?

It would be tempting just to look at the negative. A writer in an ivory tower is out of touch with the real world; he or she doesn’t walk the streets and talk the talk; they’re devoid of passion; their work is out of date and ultimately irrelevant.

So what do they actually write about? The answer is: all kinds of things. The human imagination is immensely fertile and some of the best works of literature have very little to do with mundane reality. No writer, not even one whose writing desk is behind ivory crenellations, is devoid of experience, feelings and opinions. If he or she writes about lofty matters it may not be that they’re incapable of understanding the current concerns of fellow humanity.

Writing isn’t necessarily a newspaper. Very often inspiration springs from cold, pure sources and is subsequently crafted to aesthetic perfection. This is particularly true of poetry, one of whose functions is to be uplifting.

It’s probably true to say that the smaller, sharper and least wide-reaching of works are the easiest to produce from an ivory tower. A great sprawling novel, depicting the best and worst of humanity and the setting within which they interact, is of its very essence an excrescence from the world’s surface.

But what about fantasy novels? Inventing a whole world in all its details is a cerebral activity, well suited to a state of isolation. But as soon as it has red-blooded, human characters, the walls of the tower begin to crumble.

Labelling someone as living in an ivory tower is usually an insult. But there is certainly a place, and a hallowed place, for works written in such circumstances. Sometimes writing ought not to reflect reality but instead should imitate the ideals for which we strive with our most exalted faculties.

Major recruitment campaign for writers

Get the champers ready!

Monday, 28th May, 2012 sees Any Subject Books launch a major press campaign to recruit new writers. Putting together how many people there are out of work and how many natural-born storytellers there must be, it’s a no-brainer for us to say we’d love to hear from them.

We’re also looking to recruit students as writers. Don’t worry about it interefering with your studies as we’ll even accept short stories (5,000 words plus) to put together into a compilation which we can market.

If that describes you (or you have some time on your hands), don’t let the fact that you’re not a published author put you off. As you’ll see from our other pages, we’ve had our fill of rude literary agencies who can’t even be bothered to acknowledge your existence or, if they do, merely glance at your name, decide you’re no-one famous and send out a dismissive rejection letter.

Well, that’s not us.

Just think of how the cash could help. Not only that, get a book up and selling and you’ve got an income for life. You’ve seen those dubious ads that promise such things? Well, this is the real deal.

And you don’t need to be someone famous, either. We’re not chasing after the autobiography of some politician’s secretary who says they had an affair (well, there’s a shock-and-a-half) nor do you have to have climbed Everest backwards. No, you just need a cracking yarn and the ability to tell it.

So, you might ask, why bother with you and your agency’s deductions when I can publish it direct myself? Well, the answer to that is that most authors who upload a single book never make a sale. All that work for nothing or the best part, thereof. We optimize your title, your description, sample text, and, using campaigns like we’ve got running for writer recruitment and for our high-selling female-erotic author, Melissa Harding. You’ve also got the cross-promotion of all of our other books pushing yours forwards.

Could you follow in Melissa Harding’s stiletto-shaped footsteps?

One catch – you must meet our high standards for spelling and grammar.

Everyone has a story to tell. Tell us yours.