Chinese Whispers off for copy-editing

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Chinese Whispers_book‘Chinese Whispers’ has moved a step closer to publication.

I have now finished my rewrites and polishing of ‘Chinese Whispers’ taking into account the invaluable advice offered by my editor, Lorena Goldsmith, of Daniel Goldsmith Associates, Literary Consultants

Lorena has an unerring eye for weaknesses in the story and areas where the manuscript could be improved, and her critique of the first draft of my manuscript provided me with all the guidance I needed to craft the final version of the book.

I have now submitted the final draft of the manuscript for copy-editing. This is the process of scouring the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb checking for any errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, as well as pointing out any clunky or confusing syntax. Whilst I am fairly confident in my own grasp of these areas, I never cease to be amazed at how many unintentional errors I still make, and even more amazed that, when I reread my work – no matter how many times – I still don’t seem to spot them all. My favourite ( no – I mean most common) error is accidentally failing to close speech marks in dialogue passages. There must be some sort of punctuation blindness that sets in when you reread your own work!

Funny isn’t it, that when I read somebody else’s book I immediately spot any of these little devils that wriggled through the editing process?

Anyway, I am hoping to get the results of copy-editing back in a week or so, and hopefully I will then only need a few days to correct everything that needs correcting. I will then need to submit the manuscript for typesetting, proof-reading, and e-book conversion before the book will be finally ready for release in both paperback and Kindle versions.

I’m still saying April for release of the book, but I’ll do my level best to improve on this if I possibly can.

If you have read ‘Buyout’ and ‘Payback’, I hope you will find ‘Chinese Whispers’ to be a satisfying conclusion to the Roy Groves trilogy. You might be surprised though, that it moves on some way beyond the corporate/financial world explored in those two books, and far more into mainstream action thriller territory. I hope you will find that it has been worth the wait!

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CHINDI Library talk

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As you will be aware from a previous post, I have recently joined a group of independent authors – Chichester Independent Authors (CHINDI). We just held an event in Chichester Library where we shared our experiences with an audience of other potential or budding independent authors in order to advise and encourage them in their efforts to get that first book published. It was a great evening and I hope we helped some of those present avoid some of the pitfalls that we in CHINDI have stumbled over.

It was also interesting and instructive for me, personally, to learn more about the different approaches to independent publishing which each of us in CHINDI have taken – there is definitely more than one way to skin the proverbial mammal!

Visit the CHINDI website for some details and photos of the event http://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/chichester-library-talk/

Our next public event is ‘Woodies Wine and Words’ on 20th November – also to be held in Chichester at Woodies restaurant. Here we will be combining food sampling and wine tasting while some of the CHINDI authors read excerpts from their books.

If you live within travelling distance of Chichester, why not come along? It’s only £10 including the food and wine. Call 01243 770895 to reserve a place.

CHINDI – Chichester and West Sussex Network of Independent Authors

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I have recently joined a group of independent authors based in West Sussex. They call themselves ‘CHINDI’ (explanation in the title above). It’s not easy, as an indie author, to market and promote one’s books, so joining forces with others who are facing the same challenges, in order to share ideas and share costs certainly makes sense.

What a nice bunch of people! These authors present an incredibly diverse range of genres in their books – everything from thrillers, to biographies, to children’s books – but they are united by one common theme: a love of writing. I am honoured to have been accepted into their ranks and I aim to read every one of their books over the coming months. I am already well into my first – a biography – ‘Aitch’ by Jill King, and loving it!

Check out the CHINDI website http://www.chindi-authors.co.uk/ to find out more about these authors and their books.

I’ll say a bit more about CHINDI in future posts.

‘Chinese Whispers’ – First draft complete!

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Chinese Whispers_bookI have finally completed the first draft of my latest book ‘Chinese Whispers’. This is the third book in the ‘Roy Groves Thrillers’ series. For those who have not read my previous books here’s the potted summary of the trilogy.

In my first book, ‘Buyout’, Roy Groves and a group of his fellow directors are running a successful electronics company. They are, however, constantly ground down by the oppressive demands of the huge American corporation which owns the company. They decide to take a gamble and attempt to buy the company and run it themselves. They are convinced that, as an independent operation, they will be able take the company to new heights of performance and at the same time escape the stifling interference of their corporate owners. However, it soon emerges that there are powerful opponents to their plan who will resort to deception, betrayal, and blackmail in order to torpedo the management buyout bid. What seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity soon turns into a nightmare, as the lives, careers, and marriages of the buyout team look to be heading for disaster. For obvious reasons I won’t disclose the outcomes here.

Whilst ‘Buyout’ is a work of fiction, it was inspired by my own real-life experience of participating in a particularly fraught management buyout, and I can say in all honesty, that the kinds of skulduggery described in my book really do happen in real life!

My second book, ‘Payback’ charts the fortunes of Roy and the rest of the team over the next few years as they run into even stormier waters with old scores waiting to be settled and an old enemy resorting to ever more devious tactics – including murder – to achieve his ends.

‘Payback’ also draws heavily on my own business experience, but in this book, some of the plot moves beyond the limits of what I have experienced in my business career. For example, I must admit that I have never actually encountered anyone prepared to commit murder in pursuit of their business objectives!

So now the third book in the series ‘Chinese Whispers’ is almost complete. Once again, some of the plot draws on my business experience, but this time we move much more into mainstream thriller territory as Roy finds himself battling organised crime – in the shape of the notorious Triads – in an effort to protect his company and his family.

Having completed my first draft, it is with some trepidation that I have offered up my work for independent assessment by literary consultants, Daniel Goldsmith Associates http://www.danielgoldsmith.co.uk/ . I have also given a copy of the manuscript to my wife, Rhonda, for her assessment!

I now wait with bated breath for feedback on my manuscript. It’s inevitable that after spending months or years writing a book, one becomes somewhat protective of one’s work, and it’s never easy to accept criticism. I have to admit, though, that I found that both of my previous books benefitted greatly from such independent assessment, followed by a certain amount of rewriting and refinement of the manuscript.

So ‘Chinese Whispers’ moves a step closer to publication. In my next post, I’ll explain a bit more about what sort of things are included in the assessment carried out by Daniel Goldsmith Associates, and how I will tackle any rewriting necessary.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, why not read ‘Buyout’ and ‘Payback’ so that you will know the backstory when ‘Chinese Whispers’ is published?

Amazon – Hero or villain?

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There’s a debate raging right now about Amazon and its impact on the book market. There are some who paint Amazon as an evil force intent on the destruction of bookshops and the traditional publishing industry. Another school of thought is that Amazon is improving consumer choice and giving opportunities to new authors. As is the case with many such debates, your view tends to depend on where you are coming from and what vested interests you have.

The traditional book publishing industry has already seen a huge slice of its market lost to e-books – especially Amazon’s Kindle. Now they see Amazon aggressively discounting printed books forcing competitors to reduce prices and squeezing margins right through the distribution chain. As a result, many independent booksellers have been forced out of business. So it’s hardly surprising that many agents, publishers, distributors, and booksellers see Amazon as a villain in the book industry.

Others take a very different view though. If you are a new writer, struggling to get your name known and your books in the hands of readers, it’s incredibly difficult to do so using the traditional route. First you have to find an agent who’s prepared to take you on, and they will only do so if they are very sure that your books will sell in large numbers, and who can be sure of that when the author is an unknown name? Consequently most agents tend to stick with well-known names, taking on very few new authors. Rejection letters landing on the doormat are a very familiar experience for the budding new author. Next you have to find a publisher, though if you have secured the support of a good agent, this becomes somewhat easier.

Many – if not most – new authors eventually give up on this soul-destroying process and either give up writing altogether or decide to self-publish. This is where Amazon has provided a lifeline. Amazon makes it possible for almost anyone to self-publish and get their work out there in front of a wide consumer audience. There is no guarantee, of course, that any book offered through Amazon will sell well; that will only happen if the quality of the book is good enough to win an audience. In fact, arguably, self-published books have to be better than those published by a traditional publisher in order to succeed, because most independent authors don’t have the resources to market and advertise their books; they rely much more on word-of-mouth recommendation. I have read many self-published books written by relatively unknown authors and have found some of them to be outstanding pieces of work – in many cases far better than best sellers from well-known names.

As a consequence of the picture I describe above, there is a large and growing voice from independent authors supporting Amazon’s drive to shake up the traditional book industry. As I mentioned in my first paragraph, your view tends to be very much influenced by your own vested interests.

Where do I stand? Well, as an indie author you perhaps won’t be surprised that I am an Amazon supporter, but there is a caveat, and it’s a question of quality control. Although many self-published books are – as mentioned earlier – outstanding, there are also many which are marred by poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Books which pass through the traditional agent/publisher route are rigorously edited and copy edited to weed out these problems and the end product is generally largely free of such errors. Of course there is nothing to stop indie authors from having their work edited in this way, but it is very expensive, and for many independent authors, not viable. Personally I do always invest in manuscript assessment and copy editing before I publish. I may never sell enough books to recoup that investment but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that my books are of a certain standard. Not all indie authors can afford to take this approach.

So what’s the answer? Well, I believe that, on balance, Amazon has been a force for good in the book industry, lowering prices and increasing consumer choice, while providing a route for new authors to get their books in front of readers. I don’t have an answer for the quality control issue – perhaps it will sort itself out by natural selection, the cream rising to the top and selling well, while the poorer quality material withers and dies. Time will tell.

How to organise your writing time – marathon sessions or little and often?

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The more I learn about how other authors work, the more I am struck by how widely their methods vary. In my last post I wrote about the aspect of advance planning for a novel: how some authors can just sit and let the words flow, with little or no forward planning, while others prefer to have an outline plan for their whole book mapped out before actually starting to write the first chapter. There is another aspect of writing which different authors approach in widely different ways, and that is the question of how to allocate time for writing. It is generally acknowledged that some people are ‘morning people’ who do their best work early in the day whilst others are ‘evening people’ or ‘night owls’. It is not surprising, therefore, that given the choice, most authors prefer to write when they at their best. For me, that is very definitely in the morning, but I am in the fortunate position of having retired from my former career in business, so, in theory (it doesn’t always work out like this, though!), I can write when I like. For many authors they simply have to write when their ‘day jobs’ allow. Then there is the question of how long a writing session should last. I know of some authors who will sit and write for twelve hours at a stretch, with only short breaks to eat, drink, and answer the call of nature. These people tend to say that this allows them to really settle into and engage with the story and that once ‘on a roll’ they just have to press on until either a natural break in the narrative, or exhaustion sets in. This just doesn’t work for me. About two, or at most three hours is as much as I can manage at a single stretch before the concentration gives me a headache and I need to stop – otherwise I just start writing rubbish which needs correcting later. The next question is how much self discipline to apply. Some authors say they will allocate a definite objective each and every day of say three hours or maybe three thousand words. For me, that is far too constraining. For one thing, I have many other things in my life apart from writing, and if I force myself to sit down and write, when there are other things on my mind, then I don’t enjoy my writing (very important to me) and the quality of what I write definitely suffers. So I write when I feel that I want to – not according to a work schedule. If writing were ever to become a chore rather than a joy I would give it up there and then. So, to sum up, the ideal writing schedule for me would be to spend perhaps a couple of hours each (or at least most) mornings, stopping when I feel tired or get a headache, or pressing on a little longer if I feel inspired to do so. When I am able to work like this I remain engaged with the story and motivated to pick it up again each new day. Sometimes. however, other things intrude. I am currently in the middle of writing my third novel, ‘Chinese Whispers’. I have recently spent a three week holiday in the USA (yes, I know – this is unlikely to evoke a sympathy vote) during which time I didn’t manage to write a single word. Shortly afterwards, my wife and I were in charge of looking after our two grandsons – aged two and four – while our daughter took a well-deserved break in Spain with her best friend (they are lovely kids, but very demanding, so this really should deserve the sympathy vote!) . Once again ‘Chinese Whispers’ had to take a back seat. I am now just about to plunge back into my writing, but I must admit that after some four or five weeks of no writing, it won’t be easy to remember just where I was with the story and immerse myself once more. This is where, for me at least, it is vital to have an outline plan which will allow me to reorient myself and pick up the threads. If you look back at my last post ‘How do you craft a novel from a blank page’ you will see more about this approach. Thank God we authors are all different. If we all had similar mind-sets and organised our work in similar ways, perhaps that would be reflected in a sameness in the finished products, rather than the incredibly rich variety of fiction writing which is out there to be enjoyed. Now I need to go and get back into ‘Chinese Whispers’. I’ll post again soon. Ray

How do you craft a novel from a blank page?

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I am now well into the writing of my 3rd novel, ‘Chinese Whispers’. It got me thinking about the question of how different authors tackle the process of turning the germ of an idea into a full length novel.

I once saw an interview with E.L.James, author of the phenomenally successful ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. In the interview, she says that the way she writes is to just sit down and let the words flow, without any real idea of where the story is going. Now I don’t doubt that after the first draft was completed she will have done a lot of refining and rewriting – every author ends up having to do this – but I find it fascinating that she was able to just sit down and write, apparently without any sort of plan or outline to work to.

By way of contrast, I also remember seeing an interview with John Grisham, author of numerous best-selling corporate and legal thrillers. I recall him saying that he won’t start to write the first page of a new book until he knows what the last page will be.

For me, the process goes something like this:

First comes the idea: the rough concept on which the book will be based. Next I write down an outline framework: a bullet point list of the main plot elements which I can arrange into the chronological order which will work well and make sense. Then I turn this into a more specific plan: a list of all the chapters which will appear in the book, each with a brief summary – perhaps one or two sentences – of what will appear in that chapter. Only when I have done all this do I sit down to write Chapter One. So I guess I’m much closer to the John Grisham approach than the E.L. James approach.

Interestingly, I don’t feel the need to do so much up-front preparation on the characters. I’ll have a mental image of each character but I’m happy to let them develop and change as the book progresses. In fact I find that they sort of take on a life of their own, informing me of how to portray them.

Now if much of the above sounds like a very rigid, structured approach, I have to say that in practice I tend not to stick rigidly to the pre-prepared plan once I really get into the book. I often find that the book flows better if I change the order of the chapters of make the chapter and scene breaks in different places, or add/remove/modify certain plot elements. However, I couldn’t contemplate actually starting to write the book without that plan to hang on to.

When the first draft of the book is complete, I will go back over it from the beginning, refining the language and adding more descriptive content to certain scenes. During my initial writing of the first draft, I have a tendency to gallop through and get the main plot elements down, often omitting some of the descriptive content which helps to set up the scene for the reader. I may end up going through many iterations of this refining process. The problem is knowing when to stop!

Finally, when the book is ‘finished’, I always seek an independent assessment of it before actually releasing it for publication. I find it invaluable to have a fresh set of experienced eyes look over the manuscript. I use literary consultants, Daniel Goldsmith Associates. It can be quite painful to have someone point out all the areas requiring improvement, but I have to admit that both of my previous books, ‘Buyout’ and ‘Payback’, were much improved after I took on board inputs from Lorena Goldsmith and Katie Green and reworked the manuscripts accordingly.

Everything I have described above is concerned with the development of the actual story. I haven’t even touched on the work required to make sure the language is grammatically correct and that all the little punctuation errors have been weeded out (I wrote about some of these things in a previous post). There is a lot to do before one can be satisfied that the book is ready for typesetting and publication.

I am currently about one third of the way through the first draft of my third book, ‘Chinese Whispers’, and already I have deviated significantly from my writing plan, but I still need that plan to hang on to as the book progresses! I’ll post again at various points though the development of the manuscript and let you know if and how the process has differed from that involved in my previous books.

Are there any other authors out there who care to share their own experiences of this mysterious process of crafting a novel?