Friday, October 27, 2006

The Long Tail (of book publishing)

The Long Tail is Chris Anderson's impression of 'the new economics of culture and commerce', or 'how endless choice is creating unlimited demand'.

It's a very interesting read, but the reason I'm writing about it here is Chris* talks about self-publishing in the book or Self Publishing Without Shame. He mentions, "a new breed of DIY publisher. For less than two hundred dollars, Lulu can not only turn your book into a paperback or hardcover and give it an ISBN number, but also ensure that it gets listed with online retailers. Once it's listed, the book will be available to an audience of millions and potentially side by side with Harry Potter, if the winds of the recommendation engine blow that way."

Heard it all before, you think.

Well consider that Chris states "In 2004, 950, 000 books out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen BookScan [(i.e. proper books)] sold fewer than ninety-nine copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies [and only] 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies." Then consider that the top five self-published books on Lulu have all sold between 5,000 and 50,000 copies. Then consider that authors earn eighty percent of profits, compared to 15 percent for "standard publishers".

Content creation is changing, and not just for writers. This affects film production, music production etc. It's all explained in The Long Tail.

So I highly recommend that all writers do the following:
  1. Read Chris Anderson's book, The Long Tail (do a search on Amazon)
  2. Learn more about
Personally, it staggers me that published authors use the internet so poorly as a marketing vehicle. They often don't have websites and if they do, they're not interested in collecting email addresses offering sample chapters etc. is a great example of how the long tail is being exploited by some writers.

(*) Chris actually wrote The Long Tail based on corrections made to his writing, his thoughts, that were made on his blog over the period of a few months.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Arvon Objectives

I don't yet have a passion for writing, or reading, but I do like to order my thoughts and ideas and I do like to try and help others understand (helping myself in the process).

I write everyday, but not necessarily fiction. So here's a poem for you to read! (Yes, it's one I made earlier!) :-)


With or without
Do or not do
When or when not
You or not you


I will still be.


I have no manuscript for the tutors to proof, and I don't think I am that interested in learning more about how to write. I can write, that's not what I need to know (I feel).

Instead, I guess I am:
  • seeking inspiration from fellow writers
  • seeking motivation to write
  • looking for a way to filter out the ideas; to decide which idea to go with now
Okay, maybe I am interested to learn a little bit more about writing dialogue. (Ironically, Kate Long gave a dialogue workshop on Friday afternoon but I couldn't attend it as I was busy panicking over my Friday night piece that I had to read out.)

Ultimately, writing is a great example of learning by doing.

Yes I want to learn more about how to write a novel but I think I am more interested in hearing about other writers' motivations, other writers' strengths and weaknesses.

My Arvon Diary

(Journal, if you must.)


"Welcome to Arvon". Agenda. "You will be nearer to your writing goals at the end of the week." First meal. Then introductions in the evening session, followed by beer and wine. Beer and wine important!


Enjoyed free-writing exercise (hello Gary Lineker), but didn't enjoy describing a character as I couldn't imagine one that wasn't real. My 'scene' was better. Went for run in afternoon, and listened to readings by Jeremy and Kate.


I still can't imagine characters. (Is there something wrong with me? Lol) Decide to brainstorm several sections of my Friday piece in 5 minute 11 second bursts. Listened to drum n bass CD in the process. Claire Sambrook's guest reading was inspiring more because of her journey as a writer than her writing (which was good). Very honest about her work.


All I wrote in today's entry is... "Early up - 7am - and the hack hack continues. The shape is improving. And now its POV-time - point of view. (I'd rather be writing.)


Early morning walk inspires the final ideas. Shame I wasn't writing about fog in the valley. Writing goes well until I get stuck with a few expressions that just aren't coming. At 6pm I still haven't written the full first draft. Panic. I'll be the only one not reading tonight. Work out a punch line, and print it off, double-spaced. Will just have to correct it in pen as I read it, beforehand.

Reading goes well (for everyone) and then it's time for more beer and wine. Sucked of energy, I crash at 1.30am and only properly wake up on the following Monday.

  1. I felt I failed with the characterisation exercise as I wasn't making it up. I quote. "I've failed in this writing exercise. I can only write about myself and the key characters in my life."

    Perhaps I should stop thinking that this isn't normal for a writer.
  2. I want to write about fantastical characters and fantastical stories, but only slightly fantastical.
  3. A fictional character I admire (that I forgot to mention at the time) is Eva Luna. I can't remember why, but it's a wonderful book and she's a wonderful character.
  4. An expression I heard that I have never heard of before...
    "commercial sex"
  5. It was a fantastic, transforming week. And I met an Everton fan.

Arvon Creative Writing Exercises

(Limbering up exercise)

Start with the words "I remember" and don't stop writing until the tutor says so.


I remember not liking a certain flavour of crisps. Banana flavour! Hah, just joking. No it was Smokey Bacon. But I really liked Seabrook Salt 'n' Vinegar crisps, but they don't seem to sell Seabrook anymore, so I guess it has to be Walkers, with good ol' big ears Gary Lineker. (70% less rubbish in them than before, apparently - which is nice to know.)

I think Gary should be on TV more, actually. Why can't he read the news in the morning, tell me what the weather's going to be like at lunchtime, introduce Blue Peter and finish off with Match of the Day. Yes, Match of the Day (MOTD as we like to call it) should be on every day. Sod the professional footballers' sensibilities, they get paid enough they can play every day.

They should even make a special character for him, with big ears or distinguished grey head or inane grin, in The Simpsons. He would have to have bad teeth, natch, so verifying the US stereotype of us brits, but at least that's better than being thought of as cheese-eating surrender monkey a la the French.



Describe the characters and events that come to mind when you see this picture. See if people can guess which photograph you're writing about.


It was a long, lazy-lounge kind of day. The mices would just have to wait to be ripped into pieces. It's my dreamtime. Plump the pillows and, slowly, tuck my head down, slowly, pull my tail in. Sleep.

I want to hide from the grey and predictable. I want to ride on the back of a beast. A beast that feasts on brilliant blues and shocking orange. Dog-devouring demons that I can control with my mind. Where dolphins do their dolphin thing. I'm on the back off their fins.

Now go away. I want to play some more, on my own. Don't worry,I'll let you know when you're required once more.



Write up 2 pages of fifteen nouns. Do it quickly. Then give your neighbour (to the left of you) one of the pages. Now try to makeup interesting similies and metaphors.


(my list)

glasses, paper, pen, map, car, lights, road, sign, shop, blanket,tie, top, tap, grass, zoo

(neighbour's list)

bucket, ring, flower, goat*, socks, broach, hunger(?), snake,book, nose, bed, photograph, pen, purse, lamp

And what I came up with (not easy exercise)

- glasses like lamps
- The snake mapped its way across the floor

Arvon Inspirations


In no particular order, these would (now) be:

Mill Millington

Someone writing about the stuff I want to write about, using this new thing they've invented called t'Internet. You never know, it might take off!

Martin Amis

This fellah can write, apparently, but I'm only interested in him (for now) because he wrote some (I keep on forgetting the expression, which is annoying) postmodernism fiction. You know the type of thing where the author is one of the characters in the novel, and he's writing about writing the novel (or something).

I need to see how he breaks the rules. (Funny. I've *never* thought of myself as a rule-breaker.)

Richard Ford

A man who likes writing monologues. Like me.

Stephen King

He is also called Stephen. Oh, and he wrote a book called On Writing. His writing philosophy: when he's not writing, he's reading (as much as he can, anyway!)

Listening to published writers talking about their craft

Being able to talk to Jeremy Sheldon, Kate Long and the guest author Claire Sambrook was also inspirational. Claire's struggle in particular - she also attended Arvon a few years ago - to revise and revise and revise her manuscript year after year was illuminating, as was her honesty and openness.

Arvon: What I Learnt

What I Learnt At Arvon

The most important thing I learnt was that writing is a craft and like any craft you get better at it by studying, by writing, by crafting.

There are no rules to writing is now my cliché about writing.This rule empowers me, though, as I now think of words simply as vehicles of expression to be shaped as I see fit.

In short: I believe I can write a novel, now, maybe even a damned good one.

Here are a few other things I learnt in particular (Should it be learnt or learned? I did not learn this!):

  • Notebooks encourage attention to detail. (Paying attention has benefits in many other aspects of life, too.)
  • It's useful for writers to answer such questions like: "what kind of a man would write about a writer writing about himself in his first novel, whilst trying to write his first novel?"
  • Plot or character - which comes first? Or are they two sides of the same coin? (What happens if the coin has three sides?)
  • A professional critique can save you a lot of time, so says Claire Sambrook
  • Outlines, timelines, family trees, character profiles (what's in the bag?) - all are structures used by writers. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez even included his family tree in his novel 100 Years of Solitude.)
  • Adjectives and adverbs. An adjective qualifies a noun and an adverb qualifies a verb. (I put this here, because I always forget.)
  • The understanding that writers (and other artistes for that matter) get consumed with their creation. I felt that consumption during the week, where I only wanted to write and sod the classes.
But, above all, I learnt that:

  • I can be a writer, a published author
So in conclusion dear reader, I didn't marry him (or her) but I haven't given up believing I can be a published writer of fiction. I've taken one step nearer...

Writing is a journey, not a destination. (A bit like life.)

Life is about doing, not reading about. (A bit like writing.)

Or, as Chris another student put it, "fiction is another way of discovering truth". However, I do feel there is a place for the odd meta character to contemplate his navel, as well as hers, along the way.

It's goodnight from me, and it's goodnight from him (Ronnie Corbett)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Arvon Creative Writing Course

I started (and finished) my first ever Arvon residential writing course last week. And it had quite a profound effect on me, as a writer. I shall be including the journal I kept for the week, as well as some of the pieces of writing I wrote. More importantly, I shall be explaining why I think such residential courses -- tutored by published authors, and attended by writers at various stages of development (some published) -- are invaluable.

Come back soon...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Writing Course Starts Today...

My writing course starts today.

More details will follow, but the main question I have right now is this: will attending this course take me nearer to or further away from reaching my goal of successfully writing a novel.