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Monday, 19 March 2012

#UNHASHTAGGING.

What do I mean by that title? Perhaps it’s my way of simply cutting loose. Looking back at the first phase of my mad science experiment in self-publishing on Amazon Kindle, and pondering the distance I’ve covered. Did I achieve much? Pardon my bias. The answer is YES.
   I published three books, as planned. That’s 600,000 words of material, stacked on my electronic bookshelf. My approach was simple. Do it. I did. No great secret. I made formatting mistakes down in the lab, so that I wouldn’t make them in the marketplace.
   For the most part, my writing was of the written-and-rejected variety. I added a few thousand words here, and some publishing notes there. Pre-publication blogs were scribbled down, and boosted the word-count. I even made the time to write short stories – unfinished business – over the weekend leading to the launch of my short story collection.
   Yes, I embraced the immediacy of self-publishing on Amazon. Rejected Book One went on sale. I had six weeks to give my short story collection the fiction factory treatment. A second Deployment-Day came and went, and I had six more weeks to give a massive book the eyeball before pushing it out of the aeroplane. There it goes, floating on the breeze.
   I could have written books from scratch within that same timeframe, and published them. A brutal schedule, if I’d aimed for the same word-count at the end of the period. But possible, at the rate of a knee-weakening 15,000 words per day every single day. Rain or shine. Rabid activity.
   Wouldn’t give much for the quality of that material, without editing time thrown in. Or the state of my sanity, come to that – especially given the state of my sanity to start with. Stories must have time to breathe. Some distance is required, to deflect the contempt thrown up by familiarity and over-familiarity with the text.
   Not too much time to breathe. The artist lets the paint dry, and the painting is sold. Apply that rule of business to the publication of fiction. The cake was made, and had to be eaten before it went bad. A poor choice of image – digital stories on the electronic bookshelf have a long life. Still, you seem to be absorbing the general idea.
   So the first phase of the plan is done. Do I resort to burnout, and throw material up for grabs every six weeks from now until I keel over? No. To tackle slim*thriller, I must spend time training. Deciding how I want to handle the visual elements in that story, then learning how to prepare the piece for Kindle.
   Other considerations knock at my door, tug at my elbow, and seek my divided attention. In the closing phase of editing LYGHTNYNG STRYKES, I was plagued by industrial levels of static electricity. I’d have found this ironic, but for the inconvenience. My sense of humour clicked off.
   In my last blog entry, I spoke of traffic. The single greatest consideration in being published was not quantity of material written. Quality of material didn’t come into it either. Style. Editing. Pricing. Availability. No.
   My single greatest consideration, with roadworks all over the place, was traffic. Before publishing LYGHTNYNG STRYKES, I avoided a car that came out of nowhere. My avoidance was massive. After publishing LYGHTNYNG STRYKES, I made a critical error glancing back at an obstructive road sign.
   An optical delusion almost turned me into a pancake. Somehow I paid attention, and avoided being painlessly steamrollered by a van. I recall telling myself, caustically, that throwing my flimsy frame in front of a van just AFTER publication would be as bad a career-move as doing so just BEFORE. Everyone’s a critic.
   Battling streets, I was in a post-publishing daze. I struggled to reconcile my view of reality with actual reality. Through treacle, my brain operated. Pointing out the car. For weeks I’d worried that I’d be hit on my way to publish a book. Foolishly, on that third publication day, I gave less thought to returning from publishing. The van and the car missed me by miles. Well, shorter distances.
   This sort of nonsense is the stuff Twitter seems to have been invented for. The Twitter, the Facebook, the Google+. Not forgetting the E-post. The Blogger. I don’t quite sing about bodies, electric or otherwise. People who can’t sing shouldn’t.
   In thinking over social and anti-social networking, I catch sight of a long-lost pal. Paper. It’s strange that I recycle so much paper, at a time when my use of paper has declined. As an author, why don’t I care about seeing my books on my own shelves?
   I just don’t. E-publishing is the route to market. Not a paper deal. LYGHTNYNG STRYKES doesn’t contain any Nin quotes. The book does contain handy page-references for the quotes I wasn’t granted permission to use. How the hell could I get away with that, through a paper publisher? I’d be informed that this was a jolly bad show. Not par for the course. Underhand. Let me pause to take the matter up with my publisher.

DARTH SINISTER: What is it?

MOFF LARKIN: Lord Sinister, the Nin estate has refused permission to quote breathless prose.

DARTH SINISTER: Set the DEATH STAR on course for Louveciennes.

MOFF LARKIN: Is that…wise?

DARTH SINISTER: Perhaps I could blow something else up.

MOFF LARKIN: You propose another target? A literary target?

DARTH SINISTER: I was more concerned with parking, if I’m honest. Well, we can always skip the quotes and just list the page-numbers. Leave us.

MOFF LARKIN: As you wish, my Lord.

DARTH SINISTER: Moff Larkin…

MOFF LARKIN: Er…

DARTH SINISTER: Check the hull integrity.

MOFF LARKIN: There’s precious little integrity in Hull. And I should bloody know.

   The digital world surrounds us. Social networking is no use to me if it serves to note my collision with a van. Paper is something I scribble notes on. I become a publisher of my own fiction, and take out the rubbish as well. It’s just me, at the keyboard…
   As far as storytelling goes.
   Oh, there are ghosts at my elbow. Literary figures. Influences. Sources of, ahem, inspiration. But I am alone with my thoughts and the sound of my speech as I go into Silly Voice Mode. Writing is not a team-sport.
   Yet the digital world surrounds us. Self-publishing involves a crowd of writerly contacts spread across the globe. People ask for help, receive help, or just float through in a neutral way – observing. In some cases, old-fashioned paper letters are sent out. Then there’s the Twitter, and the Facebook, and the body electric. Walt Whitman was an internet fan. He just died before he could realise that.
   I see a great round wonder rolling through space,
   I see the shaded part on one side where the sleepers are sleeping,
   And the sunlit part on the other side,
   I see the cities of the earth and make myself at random a part of them…
   Hell, I’ve done that from a mobile phone. Cheers, Walt. I’d used belaboured comedy to note that this blog would have no set text. This week’s ramble feels disjointed, but I don’t care. If someone, somewhere, shaded or sunlit, gains the merest scrap from the blog...good.
   Writing is solitary. Self-publishing need not be. The writerly community is all over the text-based internet. It’s a story-thing. A business item. There’s no uphill or downhill online. You are free to learn anything from anyone.
   If you are far ahead, along the road, it’s still possible to look back and learn from those nowhere near as far-travelled, or bloody world-weary, as yourself. Give advice, gain advice in the giving. Ponder, then act. Don’t forget to act.
   The obvious upshot of that image is that there will be people ahead of you, toiling away in the distance. It can be a struggle to reach them, but you can help those writers too. These lonesome roads don’t all have fiends lurking way behind you. There’s no pride to swallow, if someone further back helps you with directions.
   I’m staring at books of poetry. You may want to check these people out. Simon Armitage. W.H. Auden. Ted Hughes. T.S. Eliot. Wendy Cope. Philip Larkin. Sylvia Plath. Seamus Heaney. Siegfried Sassoon. Let’s add Walt Whitman to that list.
   All plucked from bookshelves. Paper. The world that informed my writing, though my writing exists in cyberspace. Paperless. Unyellowing. Scent-free. Perpetually new and old. I type the body electric. Throw images down in a storm of ethereal impulses. I kidnap Philip Larkin and dress him as an Imperial Lackey. Well, if the digital shoe fits…
   I cast off fear – the fear of making obscure references. Google it all, to your heart’s content. Then you’ll know who Darth Bezos is. I’m Darth Sinister, of course. Scouring the universe in my DEATH STAR. With another DEATH STAR in reserve. Well, you never know.
   It seems, looking back over this blog post (itself looking back over my publishing plans), that I felt like waffling nonsense today. That’s how stories start. Everything is a potential plot, setting, character, or an excuse to throw down an unusual turn of phrase.
   Getting my money’s worth out of #unhashtagging may take some doing.

NEXT BLOG: BLEAK, MOODY, DOOM-LADEN THOUGHTS.

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