Thursday, 22 October 2015

Week Twenty-Six: Art and the Novelist

Arts and crafts. Two different areas of expertise linked by some common threads. And the definition of both is reasonably simple. Art is about talent and inspiration and individual choice. Craft is about skill and knowledge and experience. You can't have art without talent, but you can have craft without art. Yet both can contain elements of the other.

Painting a picture comes down to art. Hand-knitting a Christmas jumper is certainly craft. Thus far we are agreed, I suspect. Yet to paint well you need to have learned some technique first, which indicates craft, and not all jumpers are equal: some are more beautifully knitted and shaped than others, which suggests that art and talent have played a part. Again, not a huge stretch.

But move into the field of literature, and the terrain becomes boggier.

Poetry is an art as much as a craft, most people would probably agree. Poetry is about delicate, minute choices, and rhythm that is akin to music, and a highly individual view of the world.

But is writing a novel an art or a craft? Can writing any novel - from Booker Prize winners down to the latest potboiler - ever be seen in the same light as poetry?

OMG, this paragraph is going on FOREVER.

Is there more artistry and reliance on inspiration when putting down words in prose, one after the other, in the manner of a conveyor belt, than there is a sense of craft involved in the process, of skilled knowledge built on experience and talent?

The long haul nature of writing a novel tends it towards craft. As a whole product, it's too unwieldy to be something built out of the artistic impulse alone. Specialised skill and knowledge, not to mention discipline, are required throughout. In the same way, making a bronze statue is a craft as well as an art. Yet at a molecular level, at the language and sentence level of writing a novel, it could be argued that art plays as large a part as craft.

What that comes down to is choice. The choice of the artist. Blue here, but what kind of blue, and how much? Applied in what manner? Repeated where? Highlighted or echoed how?

In the same way as a painter with a brush, we select words to a particular end. To shock, to inform, to depict, to illustrate, to confuse ... And once chosen, we arrange them in an order that seems to reflect the needs of the story at that point. We repeat them for effect. Or oppose them with different words.

But how does it all END? I was sure I knew when I started, 357 pages ago ...

We stop and consider our sentences. We alternative short with long, simple with multi-clause, semi-colons with commas. Then we arrange them in paragraphs. Blunt and pithy here, descriptive and relaxed there. We develop ideas along with the paragraphs, rising and falling, inevitably returning to the same themes again and again.

We shape our story into chapters, ending with high points, providing the reader with low points too, present them with the abyss to make the heights more dizzying. We develop arcs throughout, shifting our characters from one incarnation to another, giving them foils, tripping them up with plot obstacles. We think about our people, we make them the focus of our attention, we constantly bring them and their relationships to the fore. And we keep the thread of our theme running throughout the novel like a name stamped in a stick of rock, hopefully becoming clearer and sharper with every bite.

Overall, this feels more like craft than art. Perhaps because writers can only learn by writing. By serving a rather prosaic apprenticeship of writing and being rejected, and of rewriting, and sweating over our novels like steel workers. Yet we also use the language of art to describe ourselves and our processes. We say blithely that language and grammar, punctuation and syntax, the artistry part of writing, the small details, these constitute our toolkit. The story itself is our "canvas". Yet if we are artists, we are rough, uncouth types, in blue overalls rather than smocks, using a chisel rather than a fine, camel hair brush. We hew story over long months, and all our most important choices seem to be blunt-edged and large-scale.

But here's the thing. 

We cannot see the shape of the novel while we're writing it. 

Not until we finish and step back.

While we're at the wordface, the work has to be done on faith, by touch alone, step by careful step, like someone groping their way across an unfamiliar room in the dark. During the actual writing, the final shape can only be felt, sensed rather than seen, like a spider's web in the writer's head.

So the best novelists write with one finger touched lightly to the nearest thread, listening for the almost imperceptible tremors that tell them how far they are from the centre and how close to the prey, keeping them invisibly connected to the whole.

That sounds more like art to me. And so the argument continues ...

My latest arts and crafts offering, on sale now at Amazon only.

QUESTION: Are novelists artists or crafts people, or a bit of both? And if you are a writer, how do you see the process? As artistry or craftswork?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Week Twenty-Five: Promoting Books, or, We Interrupt this blog for a THUNDERCLAP

UPDATE: July 2016
The new revised edition of GIRL NUMBER ONE is out August 9th 2016 with Thomas & Mercer, and I'm running a NEW Thunderclap Campaign to help promote it. 

Do support me by clicking the link below!

Forgive the theatrics. But it's all in a good cause. Honest.

As a writer, you may have heard of 'Thunderclap'. It is rapidly becoming THE new method of promoting books on social media. But what on earth is it? And how does it work?

Let me explain ...

You may have 100 followers on Twitter or 5000. Fair enough. You may even have a few thousand friends on Facebook. Great stuff. But using Thunderclap, you basically harness the combined social reach of 100 or more friends and followers, giving you a MASSIVE group to which you can promote your book.

You join up at Thunderclap and decide on your goal - 100 people tweeting a link to your book on Amazon along with a short promotional message is the method I went for - then start asking other people in your social media reach, i.e. your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or LinkedIn, to "support" the campaign.

Supporting a campaign means visiting the Thunderclap site, agreeing to let them access your info on one or more social media accounts - just like when you access any app like Instagram that posts elsewhere for you - and clicking Support This Campaign.

You can choose which social media account you want to use for supporting it, then Thunderclap will post the other person's campaign tweet or post ONCE ONLY on a certain date at a certain pre-arranged time.

That's the THUNDERCLAP effect. One hundred people or more at once saying, 'Read this book!'across a range of widely differing social media accounts.

And for those who feel this will be an annoyance, I doubt it. Many of the people who are supporting my campaign do not particularly overlap in their friends with my own, so a hundred or so tweets or posts going out to several hundred thousand people is unlikely to cause much annoyance.

And it's FREE. No obligation to buy and no hidden cost to you. Just an agreement to let Thunderclap post my chosen tweet on your account come Monday October 19th.

But there's a catch ...

If you don't reach your chosen number of supporters - which is 100 for me - then it will not happen at all. The campaign will have failed, and no messages will go out anywhere.

To help boost my numbers, I joined the Thunderclap Campaigns Facebook group and agreed to reciprocate with other campaigns in return for votes. Without that help, I doubt I would have made my goal. Worth considering.

A large proportion of people who share your message asking for supporters WILL NOT support the Thunderclap campaign themselves, for whatever reason: some may dislike allowing access to their account even for a one-off tweet or share; some openly dislike book promotion in any form (a staggering number of these also believe it's possible for independent authors without publisher back-up to sell books without actually telling anyone about them, just by being nice and hoping people notice they are authors, LOL); others may not want the kind of book you've written to appear on their social media feed. I myself discreetly passed on reciprocating with some of the writers who backed my campaign, mainly because I did not want to seem to be supporting certain kinds of dodgy erotica. I felt bad about that, but staying 'on message' is important on social media.

After The Thunderclap

Following my Thunderclap on Monday at 5pm, when 117 people on social media reposted my message to a social reach of nearly 655K people, to check out GIRL NUMBER ONE on Amazon, at first nothing seemed to happen.

It was a little worrying.

Then slowly sales started rolling in late that evening, and the day finished at 100 copies sold at £1.99 during that 24-hour period. The borrowed pages read (via Kindle Unlimited) reached 14,000.

The ranking shot up 70 places to #150.

That was the Thunderclap effect and I was fairly pleased with it. It's now starting to subside a little, as one might expect. But you can help stop the slide by sharing this post, my book details, or buying the book itself in paperback or ebook.

Many thanks!

November 16th 2015

It is now almost ONE MONTH since the Thunderclap for Girl Number One.  

Today, the book is at #14 in the UK Kindle chart.

As far as I'm concerned, a well-organized Thunderclap campaign with strong follow-up promotional efforts on social media can reap huge rewards.

Overall, feedback and response have been very positive. One (male) writer on Twitter told me it was a mistake to do a Thunderclap as it would 'put people off the book' and was annoyed when I disagreed. I believe it's safe to say he was mistaken.

December 6th 2015

It is now a little short of two months since the Thunderclap.
 GIRL NUMBER ONE is #5 in the UK Kindle store
A few days ago it reached #3, my highest-ever ranking with any book.
Nuff said.



reached #1 in the UK Kindle chart

mid-December 2015

and stayed there nearly a full week.


GIRL NUMBER on Amazon UK and on Amazon US.  

UPDATE: July 2016
The new revised edition of GIRL NUMBER ONE is out August 9th 2016 with Thomas & Mercer, and I'm running a NEW Thunderclap Campaign to help promote it. 

Do support me by clicking the link below!

Girl Number One on THUNDERCLAP