Friday, 28 August 2009

You are what you read

Today I am resisting the temptation to launch into either the third Euphemia Martins novel (intriguingly entitled A Death in the Asylum) or the redrafting of the synopsis of the YA novel before the final/penultimate redraft.* Today I am going to read.

Authors need to read. Not only to understand what is selling, but because what you like to read is often a strong indicator of what you would be good at writing. This should be a really obvious point, but an awful lots of authors miss this. An awful lot of seemingly intelligent authors - like me.

My writing group, which is also another topic in itself, had seen many many of my ideas walk in only to later fall upon their sword. Generally the reaction to my pieces went along one of these lines

  • Half the members liked it. Half hated it.
  • A few loved it. The rest were indifferent.
  • Many had used it to help them fall asleep, but one member was eager to deconstruct my story structure at wearisome length.
  • Everyone quite liked it, but agreed no one would ever publish it.
  • Nobody minded it much. One or two had used their copies to mop up cat sick.
  • Almost everyone was keen except one member who pointed out some terrible flaw(s) and then the rest turned against it as a mob and tore it to pieces
There were quite a few other permutations, but you get the general idea. Before I launch into the next paragraph you need to know that my group is essentially a Science Fiction and Fantasy writing group.

Which is why when I brought them a crime proposal I felt I was really chancing my arm. I remember coming in, sitting down and studying their little faces to gain some clue as to how terminal my critical evaluation would be. In their defense I have to say this is an absolutely excellent writing group and as such we pull no punches.

It was then history was made as one reader after another said (and I couldn't help feeling they said it with some surprise) that this was actually rather good. I waited for the voice of doom that would turn the tide once more away from me - and it didn't come.

I love reading crime novels, but it had never occurred to me to write one. Today I sit here with the third, already commissioned novel, of the Euphemia Martins mystery knocking at the back of my mind, but today I am going to read. Who knows what I will learn about myself today?

*There will be a later post explaining all the fascinating ins and out of dealing with WIP (Work(s) in progress.)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Audio Story

Pearls Before Swine is one of Sniplits featured audio stories this week. You can download it for a mere 98 cents. It's a lyrical science fiction piece - and you don't hear those too often. Find it here.

Writing is a terrible business

I've just finished my stint for this year at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I was speaking about creativity, rejection, writing groups, and blogging. As usual I met some wonderful people, both published, unpublished and those who have no desire to be published. And as usual it's left me thinking about how those of us in, and wanting to join, this absurd way of earning a living deal with the many facetted aspects of writing.

Yesterday I ran my workshop on Dealing with Rejection. This is the third time I've run it there. It always sells out and I'm taking it as a good sign that I don't see the same faces year in and year out.

I was fortunate to have a great mix of attendees, who had clearly been thinking about dealing with rejection. A couple had yet to send their completed manuscripts off, preferring to research rejection beforehand. This might strike some as being overly pessimistic, but in reality it is one of the steps in becoming a professional writer.

Rejection is information - if you know how to read it. It's certainly a side-effect of writing, but it's one we can all learn from. Targeting, presentation, timeliness and manners help limit it, but everyone will be rejected at some stage in their career. It's all about how you use that rejection. For example, do not as one editor told me happened to her, send your spouse down to the publisher's office to make them see sense!

Rejection has a huge emotional impact that authors must not under rate. It is not something to be skipped over. It has to be approached with a clear understanding of how to cope emotionally, interpret criticism and how to move forward - and even on occasion when to gracefully retire a project in favor of something new.

Everything stems from keeping the fires of our creativity alive. The other workshop I ran this year was on doing just this. Unlike Dealing with Rejection, this one was composed solely of women,which makes me wonder why. Do women feel a particular connection with creativity? Is it not a word or term or idea that men do not connect with so easily? Is it seen as feminine? I found it really interesting I had many men, who were prepared to face the issue of rejection, but seemingly not of inspiring creativity. But then it's dangerous to ascribe gender issues to what may be more to do with who got through on the phone to the box office first.

I found my creativity aspirants to be extremely interested, willing and active participants. We ran through a series of exercises from facing that blank page, to engaging all the senses, evoking emotion, how to use your life as fuel for your creativity to tapping into the unconscious mind.

What I love about workshops is not merely seeing happy faces at the end, but getting the energy going during the talk and seeing hope and encouragement blossom in attendees. Writing is a terrible business. It is so difficult to get published. (Don't let anyone tell you otherwise). You need a degree of talent (not as much as you might suppose!), luck, a willingness to jump at opportunity, the ability to listen and use criticism and above all persistency. Quite frankly, at the end of the day you need to be a little mad. Writing has to be a compulsion rather than a hobby - but it needs to be a compulsion you learn to control and direct.

Festivals, workshops, writing groups all are wonderful opportunities for us scribblers to mix with our own kind and whether we're leading or attending a workshop it's a guarantee that all of us with learn from each other.

Friday, 21 August 2009


And already, despite checking over my notes several times and asking someone else to do so too, I see errors in my last post.

See, that's the good thing about working for a newspaper or a publisher, you get an editor. When you're blogging it's only you - and the cat/toddler/dog/potplant. None of whom, in my experience, can spell for toffee and as for grammar, they think that's someone who comes round for tea.

Blogging Masterclass Notes

Notes from my section of The Master Class on Blogging at the Edinburgh International Book Festival August 2009

Caroline Dunford

1. Why I blog and my publishing experience

- I started blogging on LiveJournal when encouraged by a friend because I was working from home and somewhat isolated. I’ve been blogging for seven years.

- I then started using it as a warm up exercise for the day

- within a few months I had chosen to lock my journal so that only people I allowed could see it. These didn’t have to be people I knew in real life, but they were likely to be ones who knew people I knew or who were interested in similar things via a community –lj has community blogs where you can discuss common interests

-through LJ I found my local writers group, kept in touch with my friends and got involved in my first voice acting job.

- I also got a lot of feedback from my readers about how much they enjoyed my tales of my two year olds antics.

- because of this I took it to a publisher, who had previously published diaries (not blogs) and asked it they would be interested? Because the blog was locked and not public they were happy for me to include parts of my journal and even to use it as way of locating key readers, a form of viral marketing. However, they decided it had to be more than the blog, and so I incorporated a number of fact panels – about 40-60 split.

- it’s still selling. How to Survive the Terrible Twos: diary of a mother under Siege It has also been published in Italian and last week the Spanish rights were sold.

2. Blogs and their purpose

- is this a blog you hope will become a book? If so then it has to contain a journey, some kind of story arc. It has to be no less entertaining than an ordinary book. There needs to be a sense of progress – most blogs won’t make books. Everyone is writing a book – even their cats are writing and some of the cats are doing better than their owners.

- are you doing primarily for fun and you’d be happy if people read it?

- are you seeking writing validation?

- is it to publicise your work? (You lose first publishing rights if it is open on the net.) Blogging about your progress can help gather you an audience. There is a possibility of making a grass roots connection with your potential fanbase.

- Are you trying to raise your own profile (as a writer, politician, campaigner, etc)

- are you blogging for a cause?

- is it about social networking?

Whichever you choose it affects your writing style, but not the amount of time someone will read – generally you’re only getting their attention for a couple of minutes. This means you need to be more tabloid than academic journal!

- choice of platform, many options: Google’s own Blogger is very easy to start with, lots of handholding and it’s free. Wordpress can give you more options, but it can also be more complicated. LiveJournal and Dreamwidth lend themselves to closed rather than public journals. Facebook, MySpace and Bebo tend to have the blog as a tiny part of a very busy screen and are more social networking sites.

But with all of these be wary of following the shiny. Better to choose and stick with a platform.

3. Psychological aspects of blogging (exposure, over familiarity from strangers, keeping private life in its place) Most people are nice, but

- keep personal details, children’s names, physical location out of it.

- you will always offend someone – there are so many people out there. Don’t take it personally.

- it offers an illusion. People will think they really know you. On occasion even that you are friends.

- whatever you put out there stays – don’t write in anger or when you overemotional in any way. Even if you delete it, someone somewhere will have seen it and the more you regret what you wrote the more it will be noticed! Google are continually capturing content on the net and the chances are it will be in a cache that someone with a little know-how can access.

4. Becoming an unpaid journalist

- last updated 18th April until recently!

– although LJ is updated every week.

- blogging can be compulsive.

- do you find yourself constantly checking for comments – get them emailed to you!

- when you discover your journal is being read then it’s tempting to write more, and expand on whatever is proving popular. This is fine as long as you have time. Regular blogging that fits around your work schedule

- blogging is a very useful tool and other than advertising (which Helen will speak about) it doesn’t pay the bills. Has to be on top of work rather than instead of. Personally I dislike blogs with advertising on them and won’t read one that is plastered with adverts.

5. Twitter – also known as microblogging

- If you haven’t gone to then do so.

- It’s much quicker to write 140 characters and less of a drain on your time.

- You can feed it through your blog

- keeps things active

- also writing in 140 characters forces you to be concise and salient – no space for waffling or ranting.


- can be very compulsive

- can be easier to let personal details out in short thoughts without realizing.

- good idea to have more than one accounts ie one that is for genuine friends and one that is blog associated.

6. Google Analytics, keywords

- sign up on Google Analytics at All you need to do is paste a given segment of code into your blog page once and it does all the statistics for you.

- use Google Analytics to check your blog’s effectiveness, but don’t get too caught up in it. There is so much information there it probably includes the building blocks of the universe!

- Google also allows you to very easily set up an RSS feed (Really Simply Syndication, which means someone can register to have your blog feed through an aggregator (a tool for capturing chosen blogs) rather than having to hunt for your blog individually.

- pingoat – helps get your site noticed. Each time you blog you can go to and feed in your blog name, url, xml (rss feed) and select which services you want pingoat to target. (If you do this too frequently pingoat may suggest you try again later.)

Pingoat is a service that pings or notifies a number of services that keep track of weblogs and publishes them. Esssentially it lets a variety of services know you’ve updated and they automatically check on keywords, topics etc and feed this to various sites or particular interest services.

- be immediate if a current hot topic is relevant. Don’t do something like “I haven’t got Swine Flu but I do have chocolate” to get the swine flu hits. It will annoy people.

- you want to be found to be trustworthy and reliable. Regular communication in a clearly defined area, so people know what it’s worth their while to take time out of their day and read you. Loyalty and following.

Things I didn’t say due to time, but are important!

- when you’re writing a blog treat each entry like a newspaper article. This means write top- down. All the most important information (who, what, where, when and how) should be in your opening paragraph. By all means finish in a neat and clever way, but be aware that people will only scan the opening to see if they are interested. Anything really important or revelatory should be in the top section of your piece.

- be aware that posting in the public domain opens you up to the laws of defamation (Scotland) and libel/slander (rest of UK) and whatever other laws of insult there are worldwide. Don’t be rude or insulting unless you’re prepared to go to court. Personal opinion, personal worldview and verifiable facts to lesser and greater extents are legal defenses, but it’s complicated and unless you’re campaigning and have some kind of legal support think about the ramifications of what you’re writing. Remember even paper journalists must do this. We have freedom of speech, but also there are rights within law to protect reputations for good reason.

- Proof-read your work before posting!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Life after blogging

Today I'm at the Edinburgh International Book Festival talking about blogging. Although I regularly write on my live-journal account this account has been rather quiet of late.

How to Survive the Terrible Twos: Diary of a Mother under Siege came out of my live journal account and is still selling. In fact only this week I've heard that Spanish rights are in the pipeline.

But this journal has been somewhat neglected. I'll be talking about that and why that is. The short version is that I ended up spending so much time researching and writing about ebooks that I realized my own work was suffering.

Since the posts here have slowed I've been doing what I'm meant to be doing. By Feb 2010 I will have delivered four books and two plays since Jan 2009 as well as doing my best to actively support my publishers publicity campaigns, doing workshops and becoming Hon Sec for the Society of Authors in Scotland.

I am intending on coming back to this blog. It is, after all, my professional site. But it's only now that I'm learning how to balance blogging and real work. That's a lot of what I'm going to be talking about today.

As an experiment, if you come to my talk today, and then come here - please leave a comment.