Collaboration and Clarity: Asking the right questions of your writing

spi cover draft 10
(available for your Kindle in the UK here, the US here, and from all other Amazon regions)

In the short space of time since I launched Self-publish With Integrity, it has been my great pleasure to have been asked to contribute to some wonderful websites where I’ve been able to talk about the book, and most important where I’ve been able to build upon the advice given in the book. (It’s also been a source of incredible pride to have picked up some truly marvellous reviews, which I have found both humbling and a vindication of what I have been trying to do with this book). I thought that this would be a good time to collect all of those pieces together in one place both as a useful reference tool and in order to introduce people here to some fabulous blogs. In keeping with both these sentiments, I have pasted the first couple of paragraphs of each piece here to give you a taste, and then linked to the rest of the piece.

Learn to Be a Bad Listener – at Author CEO

(Advice on how to ask the right questions of your beta readers and others so as to ensure you get the most helpful answers)

I followed an interesting conversation on a private authors’ forum earlier this week. It’s the sort of conversation you’ll hear every day of the week in such groups, and it’s a large part of the reason I wrote Self-publish With Integrity. A writer was looking for thoughts on the cover of a book she will be bringing out this spring. What happened next was one of those oft-repeated scenarios that makes you want to tear your hair out. A long thread quickly built a head of steam as people each contributed well-meaning advice – “the figure suggests erotica” (really?), “the colour suggests something much darker” (really?), “the texture suggests imprisonment” (REALLY?), “the font doesn’t work” (fair point).

And so on. The thing is that each of these pieces of advice would be useful in helping the writer to achieve a target. But they’d be different targets. And most of them wouldn’t be the writer’s! The problem with advice is that 90% of those who give it do so from their own experience and perspective, which may be very different from yours, and by extension very different from your readers’. The further problem is that some of the advice you get is actually really good advice (the font really did need work in the case outlined above), so throwing everything out, or not bothering to ask, whilst it might not land you in as much trouble or confusion as going along with everything, is hardly the optimum strategy. (read the full piece here)

Create Something Together: Artistic Collaboration in Action – at The Creative Penn

(How working with people in other fields of the arts can benefit your writing as well as your grow your – and their – audience)

I guess I was naïve when I started self-publishing, not really knowing many others who were doing it at the time other than the close group of friends I had at the Year Zero collective, which 22 of us had started up in January 2009 in protest at the publishing world’s lack of opportunities for new literary fiction, and Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World, who when he wasn’t talking digital publishing was one of the US’ leading slam poets.

So I didn’t really know that writing was writing and other stuff was, well, other stuff. What I knew was that I loved indie rock music, the musicians I’d met at gigs shared pretty much exactly the same artistic ethos as I did, that one of the writers I respected, and still do respect, most in the world, Marc Nash, used to work at the iconic Rough Trade in Brick Lane, and that one of my good friends James Rhodes was currently taking pops at the Classical music scene by making his concerts more gig-like and doing rather well out of it thank you.

Which meant, when I came to organise the launch of my first book, which was to be my first ever reading, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get in touch with my favourite acoustic musician (I had at least figured out that fully-amped and bookshop wasn’t a match made in heaven, though that would change in time…), the wonderful Jessie Grace. I borrowed a trick from James and made a minimalist and beautifully laid out set of A5 programme notes, and Jessie and I split the night between us, each with two fifteen minute sets, alternating music and reading. I should add, for those of you who only know me as a performance poet, this was a long time before I discovered poetry. This was prose at its prosaic prosiest. (read the full piece here)

Only You – with Lisa Scullard

(Why, if you want to do right by your readers, you should only ever write for yourself)

Spend a little time looking through advice for self-published writers and you will soon find yourself inundated by advice on what can best, if loosely, be labelled branding. How do I make myself discoverable? How do I appeal to the right readers? How will people respond to my cover? Am I saying the right things on social media? Does my writing hit all the points on the genre’s expectation list?

With respect (and in some cases with absolutely no respect at all), unless you are writing purely and simply to try and earn some kind of a crust, because having one day job isn’t enough you’d like two thank you (and if you’re only in it for the money 1. why would you be reading something I’ve written? and 2. following advice of people who made money but probably didn’t set out only to do that isn’t going to help), all of this is, erm, misplaced.

Most people who write are passionate. If not about “writing” per se, then about something – exploring the lives and worlds of a set of characters who’ve wormed their way into your head, connecting with people who share a fascination with a particularly kooky slant you have on the world, just reaching out to someone to let them know they’re not alone. Whatever it is they’re passionate about, all the best writers I know have that one thing in common – passion. (read the full piece here)

What do You Want from your Writing – with Jane Friedman

(publishing guru Jane Friedman was kind enough to post the first chapter of my book on her fabulous website)

Do you know what you want from your writing?

Yes? Good. Now take a pause, and a pen, and a piece of paper, and write it down. It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds.

The interesting thing I’ve found is that whenever someone asks me that, I think “yes, of course I know.” And then I try to put it in a sentence. And I end up with a thousand-word article that throws up a hundred tangents. And the easiest thing to do is shrug, convince myself “I know really, deep down” and carry on.

Which is the opposite of what I should do. This isn’t like a toothcomb edit that’s best put aside till the first draft’s fully down. If you don’t know what you want from your writing, what on earth are you doing writing anything? How can you possibly tell whether your words do what you want them to?

It’s actually not that hard a question. It rests on a more fundamental one. Why do you write? Only we think it doesn’t, because in our head we think we can separate them out. “I write because I have to” is what most people will say, then continuing, “but I’d like to make a living.”

That won’t do. Why you write is always the key to what you want from your writing. (read the full piece here)

spi cover draft 10
(available for your Kindle in the UK here, the US here, and from all other Amazon regions)

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