Tuesday 23 August 2022

Writing on a Chromebook

I've been playing with a budget Chromebook for the past few months and have to say, a Chromebook is a pretty good choice for writing. I'm using an Acer CB314-1H which cost me a whopping £79 (thanks to a £100 cashback deal). It has a bright, crystal clear FHD screen, a fantastic keyboard (much better than my HP laptop) and it is super lightweight.


As far as the keyboard goes, on first impressions, it seems that the keyboard has no delete key or CAPS lock, but both are available with help from the ALT key. It also seems that there is no way to turn the Trackpad off. This takes about ten seconds on Google to enable debug shortcuts, but to be honest, even with the option available, I rarely use. I catch my laptop trackpad all of the time, but hardly ever on the Chromebook.

The next thing to consider is software. There's Google docs. You can waste time searching the internet for alternatives, but this means enabling Linux and playing about and it's really not worth it. I managed to get LibreOffice working but it was slow and couldn't access Drive, which is where all the files are. But Google Docs is seamless, and a lot more powerful than it looks, certainly good enough to create a manuscript for ebook or publication. It can get a bit slow with large documents, but I haven't encountered too many problems and I'm working at just over 60,000 words, but for ease of use, I chop the document into five chunks. I use headings for titles which gives me a Document Outline (same as a Navigation pane and similar to Scrivener's Binder). I also use the comment pane all of the time when editing (a recent update allows you hide comments). Getting the work out is a breeze compared to Scrivener - you just download it as the format you want.

The next advantage is the grammar checker. The grammar check in Google Docs is amazing and picks up things that other word processors miss. It is certainly infinitely better than Scrivener, so when I get to proofing, I'd have to export to Google Docs anyway. I do like Scrivener for drafting simply for the option of coloured labels, but I can live without it. The grammar checker trumps any bells and whistles every single time because I continually miss out words when writing. Even drafting, I tend to write cleaner, stronger copy in Google Docs than anything else. 

So there you go. Yes, you can definitely use a Chromebook for writing novels. It's not the best solution. Hey, given the choice, I'd love a Macbook Pro, but those are way out of my budget, and probably always will be. For now, I'm more than happy with my £79 Chrome-buddy.



Monday 22 August 2022

Veggie Challenge

 It all began with a duck.


Two ducks, actually. They appeared in the middle of a housing estate and were waddling about outside my front door. I went out to get a photo and they were really friendly. They were curious too. This messed with my mind a little. I mean, ducks with personalities. You can’t eat something that’s friendly. That's just not right.

But the ducks flew away and I got over them. Well, kind of. But then last week, we were on holiday in Scotland with a farm right next to us. Our back garden looked out on a field full of cows. The cows had calves. They were friendly too, and curious. They kept coming over to see how we were getting on then skipping about the place exactly like cows don’t. 

Suddenly, I felt a bit guilty about the huge block of minced beef I’d bought for bolognese. 

The thing is, I've never had much success when I've tried going veggie before. I usually fail when it comes to ordering take-away or going into a pub for something to eat. But this happened in the middle of a sober challenge that was going insanely well. I had the daft idea of doing  Dry January in the summer, simply because it's more of a challenge that way, but I was so bowled over by the changes during the first month that I kept going. I ended up doing 72 days and the benefits are amazing. I lost two stone in weight, sorted out a whole load of mental health issues, blood pressure is firmly within the healthy bracket, my productivity went through the roof and I was reading more. I only broke my sober streak to see if I missed it as much as I thought. That was another shock. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t bear the taste of lager or wine. I also hated the feeling of being drunk. Something I thought I loved. 

So I’m doing that challenge again. This time I want to let it roll and just see how long I can go. 90 days is the first marker. But, as it's Day 1, it seems a good idea to do a Veggie Challenge at the same time and with the same mindset - to see what the health benefits are. Why not? So I thought I'd kick off with breakfast.

Let's just say it's not a good start.

Yesterday, not realising I was about to do a Veggie Challenge, I bought a load of bacon to go with the black pudding and sausages that are already in the fridge. Unfortunately, those aren't ideal foods for a wannabe Veggie, but I was all fired up for a cooked breakfast. However, thanks to my morality wobble with the cows, I have some plant-based sausages in the freezer.

I got them out and stuck them in the oven. Twenty minutes later, they’re ready to go. Here they are, on brown bread with a squirt of tomato sauce and a side order of black coffee.

Mmmmm.... Tasty eh?

Not exactly. They tasted bloody awful. The pack says they're made from peas. The experience is like eating Weetabix-flavoured cardboard.

Besides, what is the point of veggie sausages? I get veggie fingers, because they're colourful and taste like they sound, but are veggie sausages meant to mimic pork? Does that mean there's some Quality Assurance guy eating both to make sure they do? So Porky Pig is being slaughtered regardless? There's something not quite right about that. I'm not sure that meat substitutes are the way to go. 

Time to go shopping.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Traditional vs Self Publishing: my personal experience so far

I first decided to make writing a career when I realised that my son’s disability meant he would always need someone at home. It didn’t seem fair that my wife would never be able to return to nursing, so in 2003 we swapped roles. I became Matthew’s full time carer, wrote when he was at school and began submitting book after book.

image c/o seatletimes.com

It took five years and six novels to get “The Call” and when it came, I was ecstatic. This was it, the beginning of a new chapter! We’d be able to make a better life, buy a decent car, maybe even move out of our council house.

A first look at our new council house. Image: Colin Mulhern

Things didn’t work out quite like that. The world of traditional publishing wasn’t quite what I expected.

Promotion

The publisher offered a promotional package that included a London book launch, a professionally produced YouTube trailer, press releases, newspaper reviews and an ebook version – this was the early days of Kindle, the ideal time to break into the ebook market.

The ebook never came out. I had to create the YouTube trailer, organise my own book launch, sort out school and library visits and contact local press.

Money

The money was dire, but I had a foot on the ladder. Book 2 did rather well. It sold international rights and made it to the final three for a major YA competition. Book 3 was due for release in 2015. My career was going great, right?

Wrong. There was no more money, the publisher cut all ties and my agent retired.
 

Image credit: Inc. Magazine

Moving on

I managed to get a second agent, who was happy to represent my next four books but none of them sold. This was getting frustrating, but in real terms, it was the least of my worries.

Hitting the floor

In 2015, when Matthew was sixteen, his disability got the better of him. Grief took over our lives and the world stopped.

Matthew with his mum. Image: Colin Mulhern

After a long break, I set out to write something completely new, something for the younger end of the children's market that Matthew would have liked. My agent wasn't confident about the book or that end of the market, so we split on good terms and I set about finding a publisher myself. I got an offer of a deal just three days after sending the manuscript out. 

The deal came with all kinds of promises: promotion, movie deal, discussions with Disney (yeah, really). What I actually got was a Twitter promotion, and when the first book bombed, the entire series was cancelled.

I was devastated. I had failed in making a better life for Matthew when he was alive, and now I’d failed in doing something in his memory. The traditional world of publishing had led to frustration, misery and depression.

But there was another option...

A brave new world

I decided to dip my toe into the world of Indie Publishing (a fancy name for Self Publishing). Despite the stigma, it's a whole lot of fun. I found the whole process to be quick, simple and very enjoyable. It also meant I could write whatever I liked. So I wrote another children's book, a gothic horror for adults and a rom-com. It was like I'd found a toy shop and was playing with everything I could get my hands on. I was having a blast, but I was also a bit blinded by the Indie success stories.

Indie Giants

L.J.Ross Image:BBC News
Just like mainstream best sellers, there are some incredible Indie success stories making enough money to make your eyes water. 

L.J. Ross was rejected by traditional publishers. She turned to self publishing and has sold over 7 million books. Other self published giants include Mark Dawson, Michael Anderle, Craig Martel, Chris Fox, Marie Force. Oh, and there's Stephanie Hudson – a seven-figure author who made $300,000 in a single month (check out this episode of the SELF PUBLISHING SHOW).

Is it really the promised land?

The short answer is no. Some of these authors spend tens of thousands each MONTH in advertising. Most are marketing strategists first, writers second. Some go as far as saying it's an 80/20 split. 

And where there are success stories, there are also failures. There are forums full of writers who have invested thousands on courses in marketing and advertising, then invested more into editing, cover design, Facebook and Amazon ads, only to get nowhere. The idea that if you spend enough on marketing, you'll make more in return is clearly not true. It's also worth noting that many of those success stories seem to be associated with authors who are keen to sell you courses on how you can be successful too. But why would a successful author want to run online courses if they are truly successful? Hmmmm. The cynical side of me is frowning at that one.

The bottom line is that even with a good product and a bit of marketing, in reality Indie Publishing is just as risky and unpredictable as Traditional Publishing. 

What kind of writer do you want to be?

I think it all comes down to this. To ask why you write and what you really want to achieve. Do you want to work full time from home, wrestling with the ever-changing marketing algorithms? Do you want to write on a morning before work or late at night to wind down? Do you want to be truly independent or part of a team? 

Final thoughts

While I do enjoy the control, simplicity and speed of self publishing, and despite the frustrations I encountered in the Trad world, there is nothing like the buzz of getting "The Call." That feeling that you have written something good enough for an agent to champion, and for a publisher to agree to and invest in. 

And there's walking into a shop, not a local shop, but one a few hundred miles from your hometown, a place you've never been before, and right there, on the bookshelf, is a copy of your book. 

There really is something special about that.


CLASH in my first in-store display.



A Facebook friend found Arabesque!

Thursday 3 March 2022

How to write like a pro: the secret formula your writing coach won't teach you.

Image c/o Dean Wesley Smith
In 1947, Fantasy Press released Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction. This was a short collection of essays by various Science Fiction authors. Robert Heinlein was one of those authors, and he concluded his guide with a list of business habits, explaining that they were: “a group of practical, tested rules, which, if followed meticulously, will prove rewarding to any writer.” and became known throughout the writing community as Heinlein’s Rules.

Heinlein’s Rules

  • You must write.
  • You must finish what you start.
  • You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
  • You must put it on the market.
  • You must keep it on the market until sold.
Many writers overlook their simplicity, but consider the fact that Robert Heinlein wrote 32 novels and over 50 short stories - perhaps there is something in his method.

Do the rules actually work?

In 1981, Dean Wesley Smith was on the cusp of giving up on his dream to be a writer when he chanced upon Heinlein’s Rules. Having nothing to lose, he decided to follow them to the letter. He went from being unable to sell anything to becoming a multiple-times New York Times bestseller. He currently has over 200 novels to his name and is in demand as a ghost writer because he writes fast and delivers on deadlines.
Treat your writing as a business.

Have you ever heard of a plumber with plumber’s block? Or a builder who can only lay bricks when the muse takes him? What about a car mechanic who has to find the right mental zone before attempting an oil change? This is essentially what Heinlein’s first rule is about. You have a job, so get to work. You must write.

Avoid distractions

For novelists, there is a point around the one-third mark when the honeymoon phase ends and the hard work begins. In his regular YouTube show, Author Level Up, Michael La Ronn gives advice about tackling the dreaded one-third mark and how he, after thirty-seven novels, still experiences that moment in every novel he writes. The only practical solution is to work through it: you must finish what you start.
Refrain from rewriting.

This does not mean do not edit or polish. It ties in more with the second rule where you keep questioning your own ability. Adding extra depth, emotion and details in later drafts is fine – you must do that – but what you should avoid doing is to going back and completely rewriting or deleting previous work. Edit, polish and move on. Stop worrying.

Put Your Work on the market.

Don’t worry that people won’t like it. Even the best of the best get one star reviews. It’s called taste. Besides, your book already has one fan... You!

Don’t treat publishing as a lottery. Be strategic. Don’t send a slasher horror to a children’s publisher, or a Minecraft strategy guide to a romance publisher. If you are targeting agents, the same applies – visit their website, find out who they represent and what they want.

Keep it on the market until sold.

So you sent it out and it got rejected. Welcome to the club. You’re in good company.
  • Carrie by Stephen King - 30 rejections.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert - 23 rejections.
  • Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - 22 rejections.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding - 21 Rejections.
Even JK Rowling’s original pitch for Harry Potter was rejected twelve times. These authors didn’t give up when editors turned them down. They just moved on, fuelled determination and self belief until they found the right editor.

What if there’s nowhere else to send it? 

There is still another option. Click here to read my blog post on the alternative (and potentially lucrative) route to publication.

For more details on Heinlein's rules, check out Dean Wesley Smith's guide. He goes into much more detail.

post updated: 18/04/22)

Thursday 24 February 2022

Bladdy Stoodents

I'm a student! Bloody hell!

The Young Ones. Image c/o BBC
I've been toying with the idea of doing a degree in Creative Writing for years, but it would have to be distance learning and the ones that were available didn't really grab my interest. The Open University, for example, is a mish mash of modules from their humanities box with only a couple of modules dedicated to Creative Writing. What I was after was something more like a Fine Art degree, but in writing, something focused on personal development rather than simply studying others.

In the summer, I found it.

The degree is with Falmouth University and fits my wish list like a glove. It's more like a Fine Art degree in it seems to be all about personal development and practical tasks to help you become a better writer, and not just for novel writing. It covers everything from identity and society to creative imagery, blog posting and SEO. I barely paused to take breath and applied the same day. 

It's week 5 and so far, it's really delivering. As online courses go, it's very demanding - minimum 27 hours study per week and a LOT of reading, but I've still got time to read for pleasure and write my own stuff, which is also part of the course. Win win!


Monday 3 May 2021

Pulp fiction

The the harsh reality of traditional publishing is this: if books don't sell, they get pulped. In the case of Buttercup, the publisher is moving distribution companies, which means the pulping decision is pushed on them a little earlier than they'd like. They sent me an email saying they were sorry that things hadn't gone better and that publishing is a bit of a gamble at the best of times, however, for the price of postage, I can have the remaining stock. Well, if nothing else, I'd have loved a full class set, or even just a group set for my low ability readers. Unfortunately, the publisher hadn't updated my email address, so the warning sat unnoticed in an old account. I only found it by chance the other day. By then, of course, it was too late.

It's not necessarily the end of the road though, as they have reverted the rights which means I could take the title somewhere else. I doubt that another publisher would consider it, but I could do it myself - I'd just need a new cover and internal layouts. That's easy enough as the artwork is based on my own illustrations. As for the series, I originally planned it as four books, three of which were written, the fourth was planned out in note form to bring the whole thing to a suitable end.

However, times move on, and right now, I'm writing a different kind of fiction. Buttercup helped to get me through a difficult time. It was fun to write and I really enjoyed the opportunity to illustrate it (which ended up more work that I realised!) but for now, the whole episode is being filed under the Downside of Traditional Publishing. 

Tuesday 27 October 2020

CAMP TOMBSTONE: Night of the Pickled Donut

This has been a fun little project. Back in the summer, I thought this story would sit in my hard drive and go no further. I wrote the original script when I had an agent. She loved it but couldn't sell it, so I thought that was the end of the road for this little story. But during the summer, listening to a podcast called the Self Publishing Show, I heard Karen Inglis talk about her own self published children's books. Until then, I never thought self publishing was an option for children's authors. The simple reason that kids don't buy ebooks and as that it the primary income for most self published authors, it wasn't a viable business.

But, there was something I didn't consider. The reason that self published authors make most of their money through ebooks is because the paperbacks are too expensive. The printing costs are high meaning the cover price has to be high in order to make any profit. Even just a 50p profit margin is enough to price yourself out of the market, so for many KDP authors, paperbacks are simply not worth the effort. However, children's books are shorter. Less pages = lower printing costs. This makes a huge difference.

Writing on a Chromebook

I've been playing with a budget Chromebook for the past few months and have to say, a Chromebook is a pretty good choice for writing. I&...