Mid-year round-up, and the benefits of struggling with writing

It’s July. That means half of 2019 is gone, and I thought I’d take a look at how the year’s going for my writing.

My first thoughts on this aren’t good. I’ve found writing increasingly difficult, and don’t feel I’ve been very productive. But to be more objective about this, I’ll recap the 2019 goals I set back in January (for more details, that original post can be found here). These were:

  • To release a new edition of Dark Glass, the first book in my Dominions series
  • To release another two Dominions books
  • To take my Shadows series out of Kindle Unlimited and go wide
  • To release paperbacks of at least some of my books
  • To start a new project or series

So, how am I doing?

Dom1CoverSmallI published the rewritten version of Dark Glass in January, and followed it with a box-set of the first three novels. I’m far happier with this new version of the series starter, and a couple of recent (negative) reviews on the following books bring this back to me‌—‌Dark Glass is now a far stronger book, and so more likely to encourage readers to download other books in the series.

I’ll be getting new covers for the Shadows books from next month (the designers I’m using, Deranged Doctor Design, are usually booked up about six months in advance, which is why I didn’t use them for the original Shadows covers‌—‌a mistake on my part, I admit), so I’m waiting for these before re-releasing the series and putting it wide (Kobo, iBook and so on). I’m also getting paperback covers done, and I’ve already formatted the interiors, so this should be another goal ticked off by the end of the year.

So, one goal achieved, two on target. Now we come onto the ones that aren’t going so well.

I started Dominions V back in January, working from a rough outline I’ve been kicking around for some time (well over a year). But I wasn’t pleased with the first draft, and did some intensive planning before starting another draft. This one ended up far too long, and again I wasn’t happy with the story. There were moments I thought worked well, but overall it felt strained, and there were too many sections that plodded. The whole resolution felt forced, and it wasn’t a satisfying read.

It was now the middle of May, and I knew I needed a break. So I put this novel to one side and started something else.

Shadows was always intended as a trilogy, but I left some loops open (I’ve never been a fan of stories that close everything off too neatly). I’d been intrigued by a possible follow-on series, and so I planned and wrote a novel that could be start of this series, and managed to complete the first draft by the middle of June.

This was an improvement on the Dominions V drafts, in that the story worked. But it didn’t sit well with the rest of the Shadows books. The original trilogy was sci-fi infused with horror, whereas this new one was more action/adventure. It felt like a story being crammed into an already-existing universe.

So, six months and drafts of two novels that didn’t work. I started to wonder if I’d wasted half the year, as well as trying to figure out why writing had suddenly become so much harder. And as I thought on this, I realised two things:

Progress means aiming higher

In retrospect, writing isn’t getting any harder. What has got trickier is writing scenes and stories that satisfy my inner critic. As I’ve learnt more about the craft of writing and storytelling, I’m constantly resetting the bar for myself higher and higher.

If I wanted proof of this, I only had to look at Dark Glass. When I released the original version, I was really pleased with it. I believed the story worked, and that the writing was good‌—‌not exceptional, but better than I expected. But a few years later I was able to see so many issues with that book that I decided to re-write it.

No writing is ever wasted

There’s a famous quote from Thomas Edison, when he was asked about his failure to produce (I believe) a working lightbulb‌—‌‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ This can apply to anything, including writing.

To get better at something requires two things‌—‌knowing what to do, and practising. With writing, I can read books on craft, listen to podcasts, learn in so many different ways‌—‌but this will have no effect if I don’t put this learning into practice by actually writing.

So I can look back on these ‘failed’ drafts as practice. I can see passages that work, and I can also learn from what didn’t. Through writing, I’ve improved, and that means my next draft should be better, maybe even something I can use.

But there’s another way of using this writing. Stories are made of scenes, and each scene should work on its own. From these drafts, I’ve managed to extract scenes and mould them into short stories (you can read one of these, There’s Always A Choice, here). Additionally, the draft of the post-Shadows book might be usable. I could re-mould it into the start of a brand new series, unconnected to Shadows.


Where does this leave me for the remainder of 2019? I’ve started another draft of the next Dominions novel, after a more in-depth planning process, and I feel it works far better than the previous ones. I’m confident I’ll have this book out by the end of the year, but I doubt the one after will be ready‌—‌especially as I want to spend some time concentrating on the re-release of the Shadows series.

So I won’t achieve all of my goals for this year. But that doesn’t matter‌—‌I’ve kept on working towards them, and I’ve learnt along the way.

As long as I keep on writing, I’m doing well.

Dominions Box Set is now live!

2017-1326 TW Iain 3D Box Set on white on transparentThe first Dominions Box-Set is now available from all the usual e-stores. It contains the first three novels (Dark GlassDead Flesh and Deep Water) along with the prologue story Gatekeeper and a number of bonus short stories.

And I’m keeping it at the ridiculously low price of 99p/99c, but only for this weekend‌—‌at some time on Monday it will rise to a higher price, so why not grab a copy now?

Click here for a list of stores where the Dominions Box-Set can be found.

It’s finished! (Reworking a novel part 8)

Dom1CoverSmallLast time I posted about re-writing the first Dominions book was some time ago, when I was approaching the final edits. I’ve now done all this work‌—‌polishing the text, removing any typos I found, and so on. Then I sent it off for an edit/proofread, formatted it and uploaded the finished file. Book done.

It’s available now, for free, from all the usual stores.

Reading that back, it sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, nothing exciting. In some ways, this is true, for me at least. I prefer the creative parts of writing‌—‌figuring out the story, working on the characters, writing and moulding the first draft. That’s the stuff that gets me fired up. All the polishing and prettifying is a kind of relaxing come-down, a lull before I dive into the next story.

And that’s where I am now‌—‌struggling with a plot that doesn’t quite work and characters with dubious motivations, and I’m enjoying the challenge of writing Dominions V.

But I’m pleased with the rewrite of Dark Glass. The main problems with the original version were poor writing that slowed the overall story down and a protagonist who, for the most part, allowed himself to be carried by events. The new edition has tackled both of these. Even with scenes added and a more involved story, the new version clocks in at around 10,000 words less than the original. And Rodin, the protagonist, is far more active, working on killing his target from the moment he sets foot in the Dome. So this re-write has been a creative success.

The other reason for doing this re-write was to make the first book in the series stronger in order to encourage more readers to buy subsequent books. It’s too early to tell if this is coming to fruition, but I’m quietly optimistic.

Is this something I’d do again? I’m not ruling that out, but for the moment my energy and time are better served by working on new books. But I’m pleased I’ve done this re-write. The Dominions series now has the opening book it deserves, and I’m going to feel more comfortable marketing this book now.

And if you want to check it out, it’s free from all major e-book retailers (and quite a few smaller ones). For a complete list of stores, click here (or on the cover).

And if you read this new edition, I’d love to know what you think. You can do that personally (twiain@twiain.com, or add a comment to this post), or publicly, in the form of a review.


Previous ‘Reworking a novel’ posts:

Fresh eyes (part 7)

Forever improving (part 6)

A successful first draft (part 5)

Editing or rewriting? (part 4)

The first draft is always a mess (part 3)

Broken Promises (part 2)

Reworking a novel (part 1)

My writing goals for 2019

2019

After falling short of my goals for 2018 (see this post for details), I’m almost wary of setting any for this year. But without goals, it’s easy to let things slip, so here are the things I hope to achieve over 2019.

Release the new edition of Dark Glass and seriously market the Dominions series

I should have the new version of Dark Glass out by the end of February, and then I can start marketing the whole series. I intend to run Amazon Ads (to drive sales on Amazon, obviously), Bookbub (to target other retailers, like Kobo and iBooks) and Facebook (to encourage mailing list sign-ups). Obviously, with Dark Glass being a permafree title, I’ll have to monitor read-through closely to calculate how effective the ads are.

I also plan to release a box-set of the first three Dominions novels, and use ads for this too. If the writing of the next Dominions books goes to plan, the box-set will probably come out over the summer.

Release two more Dominions novels

I’ve always viewed Dominions as a series of trilogies. The first followed Rodin’s journey of self-discovery, but dropped hints about a larger story involving the Domes and Authority. The next trilogy (which started with Riled Dogs (Dominions IV)) is wider in scope, following more characters as plans slowly unfold.

I’m pulling ideas together at the moment (and re-reading all the Dominions books has helped here), and I aim to release Dominions V and Dominions VI, along with another short story, around summer/autumn time.

Go wide with Shadows

I’m getting new covers done over the summer, and I’ll pull these books from Kindle Unlimited before this so that I can do a re-release/re-brand while going wide (running ads, reducing the price of the first book for a limited period, and so on). Out of all my books released so far, I feel this series has the strongest writing and tightest storytelling, so I want to give Shadows a big push.

Release paperback books

When I first put out my ebooks, there was so much to learn, so much to take on board, that I pushed paperbacks to one side. But this year, I intend to put out physical copied of as many books as I can. I’ve been learning about paperback formatting‌—‌even if I eventually hire someone to do this, it’s still important to know the basics. I’m getting new Shadows covers (including for paperback). And for Dominions, I’ll investigate Draft-2-Digital’s paperback service, which apparently can extrapolate a paperback cover from the e-book version.

Dive into dictation

I’ve recently purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking, and I fully intend to be dictating most of my fiction by the end of the year. There are a few reasons for this.

  • It’s faster. At the moment, I can type around 1500 words in an hour when I’m ‘in the flow’, but statistics I’ve read suggest that dictation potentially speeds this up to 5000 words per hour‌—‌a couple of half-our sessions will give me more words than three hours of typing.
  • It frees me up to ‘write’ all over the place. Especially with transcription, I could be ‘writing’ while doing stuff around the house and garden, going for a walk (although I’m conscious of the strange looks I might get) or driving.
  • Moving about while working has got to be healthier than sitting down (or even using a standing desk).

This will only be for first drafting, though‌—‌I’ll still use the laptop for editing. But the decreased time for producing that draft will still make the whole process faster.

A new project

I’m constantly getting new ideas, and I have a couple that could be developed into a new series. If things go well over the first half of the year, I’d like to start serious work on this new series toward the end of 2019.


So, five goals for 2019. Of course, I intend to add content to this website every week (alternating posts and short stories), I still want to develop my writing, and there is always more to learn about marketing and the business side of independent publishing.

Things will surely happen to disrupt these plans, but I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening, and I’ll give you a summary in about twelve months.

How was 2018 for me?

 

Another year over, another opportunity to look back at what I’ve achieved (or otherwise). Like any year, things haven’t always gone to plan.

Shadows

My aim for 2018: to release the third book in the trilogy in the first quarter of the year.

Shadowstrike_smallShadows was originally supposed to be a short series of ‘easy’ books as a palate-cleanser between writing Dominions stories, but each book required far more work than I’d envisaged. The third book, Shadowstrike, was no exception, and the editing stages involved a great deal of cutting and rewriting to reduce the overblown 160,000 word first draft to something just under 100,000. This took a lot of time, especially as I then had to do another couple of editing passes to improve the language, and I only managed to release the finished book a few months ago.

But I don’t see this as a failure. The book is far stronger for all that work‌—‌in fact, I feel that the Shadows series contains some of my best writing to date. And readers seem to enjoy the books‌—‌I received a cery positive review for Shadowfall, and my Kindle Unlimited page reads suggest that readers who start Book One generally continue on to finish the whole trilogy.

I was going to leave this series as a trilogy, but I’m rethinking this now. I might have more to report on that at a later date.

Dominions

My aim for 2018: to release Dominions IV and V along with a couple of supporting stories, and to start work on Dominions VI.

Well, that never happened.

Riled Dogs (Dominions IV)I already had an almost-finished version of Riled Dogs (Dominions IV), although I wasn’t ready to complete it because I planed to release IV and V close together. But with Shadowstrike taking far longer than expected, I knew I wasn’t going to get round to Dominions V before the second half of the year. And Deep Water (Dominions III) came out at the end of 2016‌—‌could I really leave over 2 years between that and the rest of the series?

So between edits on Shadowstrike I worked on Riled Dogs. This didn’t require too much‌—‌a quick polish, an external edit, and then all the formatting and finalising stuff (I already had a cover, and I’d been throwing around ideas for the product description for some time). I published the finished version back in March.

I also had a short that I’d originally written when I started work on Riled Dogs. This took a few more edits to complete, but being a short story, this didn’t take as long, and I was able to release Animus (A Dominions Story) as another free gift to my mailing list (although this will probably go on general release fairly soon).

When I’d completed Shadowstrike, I set to work on Dominions V. But I’d been enveloped in the world of Shadows for too long, and I needed to reacquaint myself with Dominions. I decided to re-read all the older books, and started (where else?) with Dark Glass (Dominions I).

And I wasn’t impressed.

This book came out in the summer of 2016, but was finished back in 2015. Three years further on, any my writing’s improved‌—‌and the state of Dark Glass made this obvious. The main character was passively carried along by the plot for most of the time, the story moved slowly, and the writing was overblown. And this was the first book in what I intend to be a nine-book series. How did I expect readers to pick up the second book if the first wasn’t a good read?

I couldn’t let this stand. I needed to re-write Dark Glass.

This had been my project for the last few months of 2018, and I’m far happier with the new version. It’s almost finished, and should be out early next year.

Marketing

I’m constantly learning in this area, and had some success with KU free days and a Kobo promotion. But paid advertising is becoming more necessary, with Amazon especially leaning towards a ‘pay to play’ environment. Over early December I ran a few Amazon Ads for Shadowfall, but without success. I had quite a few impressions (meaning that the cover showed up when potential readers were searching for what I considered to be similar books), but hardly anyone clicked (under 1%). I believe this is down to the cover, and after a lot of consideration I’ve decided that all the Shadows covers need to change.

Other projects

PowerOfWordsCoverBack in 2017, MLS Weech sent out a call for stories inspired by the First Amendment, to be included in an anthology he was putting together. He accepted my story (Ghost Stream), and then started an intense editing process that stretched into 2018. It was a lot of work, but it’s definitely made the story stronger (and I learnt a great deal from the whole process).

The release of The Power Of Words was at the start of October, and we had a Facebook party‌—‌the first time I’ve been involved with one of them. We’ve garnered a few decent reviews, and I’m proud to be a part of this anthology. There’s also an audio version‌—‌and listening to someone else narrate my own story was an eye-opening (ear-opening?) experience. It was like discovering a new story, and it’s pushed me further down the road to getting audio versions of my other stuff.

It's Behind YouBack in March, I had a short story (The Reason We Run) included in Samie Sands’ horror collection It’s Behind You.

I’ve continued to post a new story under 1000 words on my website every couple of weeks. I did have a break in the summer (putting out posts connecting the stories by themes instead), but I finished the year with my 60th of these shorts, and have just compiled the last twenty into another collection (Millenary 3). I’ve also continued to post various thoughts/musings on reading and writing, keeping up my schedule of putting something new on the website every week.


So that’s been my year in writing/publishing. Two novels released, a couple of shorts (including a very long one) in anthologies, and more shorts and posts on the website. Not the year I’d envisaged, but I’ve learnt and I’ve developed. I’m a stronger writer now, and I’ve increased my understanding of marketing and the business side of independent publishing. Re-writing Dark Glass, while appearing to be a backward step, will put the series on firmer foundations. It’s also given me the courage to accept that the Shadows covers weren’t helping sales of those books.

And I have plans for 2019, some more formed than others (and some little more than sparks of ideas at the moment). But I’ll tell you about them next time.