Guest Post: Whoopee! Reflections Of A Rookie Writer | Douglas Burcham


TIPM gets a great deal of guest post submissions. Most of them never make it past the first look in our inbox, primarily because they are unsuited to the content of the magazine, and often because they are nothing more than promotions for books, services or some kind of marketing nonsense. The core of a good guest post for TIPM is that it should inform, inspire and educate our readers in the field of writing and independent/author-publishing. Douglas Burcham’s piece below fits all those criteria and more because it is written with a passionate voice that best reflects the real self-publishing community. It doesn’t tar and feather itself with technicalities, statistics, nor illusions of stardom and bestseller lists we so often hear from accounts of self-publishing. What it does do is capture the spirit and passion of thousands of self-published authors the world over. It’s just one personal reflection of self-publishing from an author representing a group of writers. Forget your Howeys and Konraths – THIS is what self-publishing is actually about for most authors.

 
It is a lengthy piece, but worth the time to enjoy … so go grab a tea or coffee first …

Over to Douglas Burcham of Allrighters …

   
Introduction
 
I lay in bed in France at around 3.00 am on 1 June 2010 damp with nervous sweat shivering in fear from memories of a disturbed night, of a nightmare, a threat, coming to kill me from my parents’ past. As I did so another thought of writing down what I could remember of the fast dissipating dream came into my mind. At dawn I started to write and have not stopped since then averaging over 750 words per day.
 
As I sit in September 2013 some 1200 days later drinking a glass of chilled Clairette de Die in celebration, I look at the small pile of teal coloured covers of my own first printed hard copy short story-book ‘Ywnwab!’ by my side. A book of my own and others short stories selected from a stock of over 900,000 draft story words I have written since June 2010.
 
Yes, I have reached the top of my own first small summit in writing. It is high enough for me to see in my mind potential readers in front of me down in the mist covered valleys and plains. They might wish to read my first small book and others to come. I look across to other higher peaks made up of longer books of fantasy fiction and shorter books of factual stories, yet to be walked and climbed.
 
I chuckle now as I recall the simple caustic challenge set by my old friend Isobel in July 2010. 
 
‘You will never write a book!’ – Ywnwab!
 
She may have realised this would be the greatest spur to me to do so. This article is of reflections of my walk and scrambling up to this first small summit.
 
 
Vanity, Traditional or Self-Publishing
 
‘From what you have told me your first book is wonderful and will sell very well. We can help you realise your dreams.’ The first siren on the writing path said, and … ‘All you need to do is hand over so many Pounds, Dollars or Euros, the choice of currency is yours and we will do the rest.’
Fortunately, I had found Mick Rooney’s internet site warnings about vanity publishers at about the same time as I made these unwise internet contacts. The lady with the lovely voice called me regularly from America for a couple of years. So a big thank you Mick, one deep crevasse avoided.
 
In July 2010 my daughter, ever supportive, gave me a copy of Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner’sbook about writing a blockbuster. I decided I would write at least 50,000 words first in my own way learning by doing — my own normal way of tackling things in life. My wife said to our friends at the time. ‘Like Frank, he will do it in his way!’ I did read Helen’s chapters on finding an agent and rejection and decided I had, while at work, enough of people I did not respect telling what to do. Thanks, Helen, your chapter about traditional publishing had a good unintended helpful effect on my journey as I heeded your warnings about how difficult the path to traditional publishing might be and did not even start to walk this path. In 2011, and since, I have regularly dipped into their small book and struggled with their concepts of ‘proper writing’ whatever this may be.
 
Most writers I have met during the last three years seem to have read Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ and praise its content and advice, and I can only agree. I found his most useful piece of advice to be … ‘read, read, read others work, not to plagiarise but to see and absorb the scope and variations of the writer’s craft. I also found John Braine’s blunt advice in Writing a Novel and reading his Room at the Top of similar benefit. His introduction to writing in the first person, as Joe Lampton in the latter, has proved a delight.
 
In summer 2010 I also started meeting writers with worried faces and shaking hands suffering from what appeared to me to be ‘publishing paranoia’. I listened to stories of rejection, editors rewriting their draft books in the image of themselves and decided I would steer another course.  I am a figures man by training and the uncertain prospect of handling many words eventually crystallised into a personal challenge of writing a million words in three years, a Dragoness. I did not realise it at the time, but later I knew this for me has been immunisation against personal ‘publishing paranoia’. Looking back I could have written a million draft words in three years if I had done nothing else and ignored all the other essential and interesting activities involved in being a writer.
 
My Plan A — to write a million words to the best standard I could and put them in a series of books on a shelf with the satisfaction of a job done well or not. Plan B — the constant worry bead of others is to test what I have written in the sea of readers beyond the mountains.
 
As I am now too old for the serious challenges of high peaks looked over by traditional publishers and the huge crevasses of rejection by fierce mountain agents and publishers I chose the self publishing path early on. I also wanted to be in control of my life and writing and make my own decisions based on my own analysis and consideration after listening to other’s advice and experiences. 
 
I purchased and read Mick Rooney’s book on self publishing and found his web league table and contacted several self publishers at the end of 2010. A useful service so another big thank you to Mick. From these meetings and reading many books per Stephen King’s advice I started to form views on quality of printing, presentation, cover design and the practical aspects of self publishing. Duncan Beal of York Publishing Services kept in touch offering good advice and support while we put the world to right and exchanged memories of our lives. After a meeting with another self publisher I sold him one of my old Volvos!
 
Despite my self publisher saying it is a ‘naff’ title the challenge of 2010 is the title of my first story-book. Ywnwab! ‘You will never write a book.’
 
What and how to write
 
What to write? Before 2010 I had written business reports, now considered by me to be great works of fiction and also biographical notes. A lovely lady called Lu says know who you are writing for and give them what they want. However, Howard Jacobson’s author character in Zoo Timetakes a different view, ‘Books no one ‘wants’to read ‘are’ running at plague proportions. If there ‘is’ a book to be made you ‘wrote’ it – and ‘then wonder’ who the hell would read it later.’
 
Having started to write in my own way, then taking guidance from How to write a Blockbuster and On Writing and other books, I decided to write fiction with a touch or more of fantasy with my characters in time travel of a kind in parallel time frames with different economic, social, energy and travel living conditions.
 
How to write? If someone else who has attended a writing course, but written little, tells me to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ I will blow yet another fuse! At least I now know the difference between active and passive many years after criticism by a civil servant sitting like Queen Victoriain judgement over one of my business funding submissions.
 
In summer 2011, having written well over 150,000 words, learning by doing, since the previous June I decided I should obtain a professional editor’s view to see if I had a sufficiently strong foundation to carry on. Gary Smailes of ‘Bubblecow’ and Catherina Dunphy of ‘Words Worth Reading’ offered sound and valuable editorial comments on my writing — Kathryn Price of Cornerstones from How to Write a Blockbuster also provided support and encouragement on some shorter pieces. They all said they found my writing enjoyable and unusual but expressed concerns about genre pigeon holes. Based on this advice I decided in 2011 to carry on writing up my own path to summits of a million words and self publishing at some time. In writing this sentence I have just past 900,000 draft words since 1 June 2010.
 
A major problem had been shown up in editing. My weakness in writing in my mother tongue to the rules of the game. I knew there would be a problem and I had decided early on to write to a good standard of grammar, punctuation and spelling. I accepted Stephen Heffer’s advice about aiming high. Perhaps it might be too late to change habits of a lifetime in style and the way I write, but I decided to try.
 
I found delight in creative writing and ease at writing beginnings and endings of tens of new books. On reflection, my writing takes the form of many short and not so short stories which I then try and stitch together as if a patchwork quilt. Before June 2010 I also tried to write down biographical memories and other family history, but I felt dissatisfied as reality appeared flat and dull and the juicy bits about what my parents and relations may have done in their lives were not available to me unless I could learn to time travel. A fantasy? … but hey this is how the juicy bits can be brought to life, how I can relive the things I would perhaps like to do but I am too shy to or unskilled to actually do … play cricket for England — impossible! — but not in my writing.
 
 
Themes and genre
 
Main writing themes are:-
 
Dreams – We have tried to capture them before they dissolve away. Florenceand Henry kept dream diaries.
 
Births, Deaths and Family history – The ‘Cross Family Tree’ is not all right. There are omissions, mysteries, intrigue and great stories about those on and around and under the ‘Tree’.  

 
The Threat – Fear of the chase – something from Henry’s many parents’ life and history is coming to destroy him and his family and friends soon – as shown from the first page to the last page of the several volumes of Gemini.
 
Travel and Food – Come with us on ocean yachts and intercontinental railways and eat well.
 
Political, social and economic backgrounds – Are different and not so all right, or easy, or enjoyable, as those we complain about.
 
Kaolin – Is a far off planet located in the constellation of Gemini where most of the problems in our books began. 
 
Mystery, intrigue and secrets – With thrills and spills.
 
Ignoring the wisdom of the established literary world our Dragoness has not been targeted at a specific genre but has, in the main, just happened in a similar manner to dreams: unpredictable and often mysterious and frightening around the themes above.
 
Perhaps it is easier to say what genres she is not! Not a western, horror … only maybe a trace, young adult, romance … maybe a little more than planned.
 
 
Progress 
 
As I wrote on and on the word count of draft stories rose and rose to over 900,000 by the end of August 2013. The end is in sight, a million draft words but like the false summits on hills and mountains all the hard work of self editing and restructuring and then third party checking and editing are like a mountain range still higher well ahead of me.
 
Early advice said, find a writing buddy. As difficult as finding a wife or partner, I think. But since early 2013 I have several writing buddies to keep me company on my walk to the summits of book completion and publishing. They have published or are at a similar stage to me, but all in different genres. We give mutual support and provide ideas and technical support.
 
Size of books. Some drafts of long books have gone up to 150,000 words but I found this unmanageable and now I have ended up with 60,000 word chunks. Personally I find e books over this size tedious to read.
 
In May 2013 I saw a small peak in front of me which might be climbed as a start as by now I felt the writing journey needed some sign of completion. A writing festival in Wales could be attended if I had a book to sign and sell. I had already started to put together a book of short stories of some 40,000 to 50,000 words in A to Z order. I had another 20 or so books with structures, beginnings, endings and in seven substantial but not over weight middles as well! My first idea formed up into a short wire bound book of about 15,000 words of short stories and another relating my experiences to date.  I asked my writing buddies for some contributions saying how they came to writing and providing a short story or other writing. They came with enthusiastic support and contributions and gradually during May and June a small book of some 20,000 words came into life.
 
Since 2010 I had wondered about who the named author of my writing should be. Should it be me in reality or me in fantasy, and if the latter, should I be male or female? At secondary school my Welsh teacher of English seared across my forehead ‘All right is two words!’ Being touched with the enthusiasm of my writing friends, I thought about us ‘all being writers’ and as I walked our dog I dosed and I mused the allbeingrighters metamorphosed into the Allrighters as the umbrella for publishing books.
 
Who are the Allrighters? you ask. I had mused about my characters being much larger than me as their creator, so I invented my fantasy twin brother Alexander Kreatorto lead and for my main characters Henry Ernest Cross, his cousin Henrietta Emily Jones and his dead aunt Florence Charlotte Cross to be the main fantasy writers as the Allrighters. In Tenby in May 2013, during a huge thunder storm, my characters led by Alexander stole my fiction stories, and if they were going to sell my books, then why should I get all the credit! So I told them to get on with it and they would experience all the rejection from the literary world and readers. I would go away and write short factual books on my sailing, walking and other interests. 
 
The penny then dropped with them, all being fantasy characters without a presence in this Trimefrayme. Therefore, I am now engaged to represent them here on Earth. The significance of the K is to do with the planet Kaolinfar, far away near the Orion constellation where The Threat I imagine in my original 1st June 2010 dream came from.
 
 
Ywnwab! takes shape
 
I had the 20,000 words I wrote and the writing submitted by my friends checked for grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction by one of my writing buddies who has lost his sight, but somehow he can write and edit almost on a level playing field. I feel quite humbled. Fortunately my Allrighter guests escaped 320 plus suggestions, misdemeanours and non compliance with the OED.
  
In early July, while seeing the six surviving Sir Nigel Gresley designed A4 pacific locomotives in the National Railway Museum, I make a visit to York Publishing Services, my selected self-publishing service, to test the course for book production. I had read about the reasonable and sensible rules of conversion of one’s writing into a publishable form. My mantra of learning by doing tested both me and those at YPS charged with converting my text into a book. If you think your book is ready for publishing I can say from experience it definitely isn’t. YOU need to go back and get it copy checked again, look one more time at everything YOU want is in the book and that it all makes sense and the layout and fonts YOU require are clearly laid out. 
 
At the end of August, I signed off the cover design and final proofs still with far too many small changes by me to fonts, font size, layout and yes, I am so sorry with a red face – a few after thoughts. I resolve to get all this done before my next book draft reaches a printer next year as I feel guilty about how much I have tested their patience and great support. Now I have been through the learning process I hope I will be better, honest.
 
Cover design is interesting. Never judge a book by its cover. Then look at the Casual Vacancy hardback, seemingly against all advice – then a neat and tidy paperback design. Confused what to do about cover design? I could be, but had spent three years looking at covers and had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do. My title is vertical on the spine to save me and others getting stiff necks.
 
YPS did the business in terms of a well-printed and laid out book, and despite me worrying, they supplied it on deadline. All is now up on Amazon as well. The process is not the most transparent, but to them the process is routine, while I am ploughing the first furrow.
 
 
Conclusions to writing stage
 
In the 1199 days to publishing date I enjoyed myself no end meeting many new people and making new friends. Reading lots of books (at least ten times as many words as I write) and having a new web site www.allrighters.co.uk. since July 2013. The three stages of writing have been:
 
1.            Writing stories.
2.            Presenting the stories.
3.            Printing.
 
So my top ten points to new writers for these stages:-
 
1.            Make a start. Take and keep control of your life as a creative writer. Learn the ropes by doing. Going on a course to learn how to write may be just another excuse to put off making a start.
 
2.            Back up everything you write in hard and electronic form. You cannot ask people to read what you have lost.
 
3.            Read Stephen King’s and John Braine’s books about writing.
 
4.            Set a target and keep to it. A daily average is like a dripping tap 340 words a day on average is a 100,000 word book in a year with wastage and tightening up. I have managed over 750 words a day and at times I average over 1000 a day once in full flow. In January 2013 I wrote over 50,000 words to make up for a bad December.
 
5.            To avoid writer’s block, write more than one book at a time. On each story a cycle – start, gather pace, fly along, slow down, get fed up – so then move onto the next and restart the process. Six months to a year later pick up previous books and wonder how on Earth you wrote such good or awful story lines.
 
6.            Find and pay for a professional editor or two to examine your work. On reflection, get the hardest task master you can. Awful at the time, but good medicine. It may be better than a writing course, but remember it is still YOUR book and not the editor’s book, however hard some editors will try to make it a book in their image.
 
7.            Find a writing buddy and a writers’ group doing what you want to do. Not easy.
 
8.            Enter short story competitions – at least one a month to get used to writing to a word target and getting structures. Competition is intense, so do not have high expectations.
 
9.            Have a holiday from time to time from writing by getting in advance of your word target.
 
10.         As Stephen King says read, read, read. Read the opening sections ‘for free’ of books on Amazon and remember this means your opening chapters have to be good to sell as you will not be alone in reading these beginnings.  I found everything I read now is different … ideas are generated even reading the bad news every day … I am not sure about taking cuttings as my pile is over eight foot tall!
 
 
 
Marketing and selling
 
The most difficult stage remains in the words of YPS:-
 
Selling your dreams.

 
You have published your book and no doubt it has received much interest and enthusiasm among family and friends – the next step is to sell it to the rest of the world. ( I found family and friends became bored. So keep a low profile while writing.)
 
Promoting your book will require hard work, determination and inspiration, which will hopefully result in orders.
 
At YPS we have four rules of promoting and marketing your book.
 
1 Nobody buys your book if they don’t not know it exists!

2 The job of promotion is to make people aware of your book. You cannot make them buy it, but they will not buy it if they are not aware of it!
 

3 Promotion and marketing does not guarantee sales success!
 

4 Doing nothing guarantees failure!

 

Marketing, promotion and publicity is the hardest part of successfully self-publishing a book, requiring creative thinking and sheer hard work. With so many new books on the market each month, even established publishers with large budgets and teams of publicists, face the same difficulties getting their authors noticed by both the book trade and the public. They often spend more on marketing than they do on production.

 

I have chosen to look at selling and marketing the Allrighters books not as a peak, but as a saunter through the sunny lowlands beyond, eating and drinking as I go. From the look of the large table of new books with their neat and tidy covers at my local Waterstones and the non availability of my favourite authors and their old books on their shelves, I know competition to sell books to readers is extremely fierce.
 

 
My general marketing approach – ten points
 
1.            Selling books is all down to me – writing well enough – and finding readers.
 
2.            I repeat – selling books is all down to me – writing well enough – and finding readers.
 
3.            Producing product – Writing a million words with interlinked stories (I know I have given myself difficulties with complexity here.)
 
4.            Unusual writing – everyday fantasy and general genre ( may all fall flat.) What may be everyday in one Trimefrayme may be impossible in another and the reverse
 
5.            Characters taking over ( Well they have … damn them!)
 
6.            The Allrighters approach (involving others)
 
7.            Leading with short stories ( Readers can pick and choose what they like) but this genre is not fashionable.
 
8.            Building up a following on Allrighters web site – www.allrighters.co.uk many say this takes years. I may not have time left before the grim reaper arrives … successful authors have mostly been around for some time before their first big seller.
 
9.            Write a Blockbuster … well pigs might fly …. then I am writing fantasy!
 
10.         Write another Blockbuster … well more pigs might fly!
 
 
Conclusions
 
I am resigned to the likely outcome of not making money from selling my books unless readers catch on and convert the Allrighters into one of the few best selling authors. So I am hoping not to get paranoid about selling books and take comfort from Duncan Beal again. ‘The cost of self publishing is only the cost of a big holiday or a regular few drinks, meals out or cigarettes – if you smoke – and you will have really enjoyed yourself!’ … maybe – but it is, at times, very hard work getting your writing and book production right.
 
My thanks in particular to Duncan Beal of YPS and his wise words, to Mick Rooney for avoiding a ‘vanity publishing’ experience and pointing me to Duncan. Also to Gary, Catherina, Helen, Kathryn, Calvin, Richard and Isobel and all the Allrighters guest writers for their encouragement and support. Emotional involvement with my characters and their lives is also a subject of highs and lows, but thanks to them as well and I wish my fantasy characters – Henry, Henrietta with Florence’s words as well as her own and Alexander the best of luck with their books. Also Jeccica and Kathrynne who have caused me so much distress.
 
See also services and book details mentioned above on www.allrighters.co.uk
 
Since drafting this note I have had another 30 days of pain trying to sell a few books at book fairs, by direct order from my web site and through distributors. Plus waiting for my hard copy book to be registered by Nielsens so it can go on Amazon. Allow a month at busy times I am advised now. Learning by doing I know and yes the hardest part of this writing process is finding readers, then getting them to buy and read your book. During this time I have also had the e – book versions prepared and again this has been an interesting experience getting the tricky layout problems sorted and asking for a back cover … ‘No one does that.’ … I have. You would not buy a hard copy book without a back cover would you!
 
I ramble on too much. Still the most rewarding part is handling a pile of your first hard copy books. Well worth it as the ‘end of the beginning’ of your own creative writing experience.
 
A last few thoughts – after 1232 days to 15 October when my e book became available – am I a better writer? Maybe … am I better at expressing my stories and passion for creative writing? Yes … but I am still pleased with the basic story content of much of the writing I did in 2010 and 2011 and some days think – I really do like the writing and pinch myself … did I write this and is it really my writing?
 
 
 
Resources
 
a)            Ywnwab! Available in hard copy from York Publishing Services Bookshop online – as preferred supplier http://www.ypdbooks.com/short-stories/933-ywnwab-autumn-story-book-YPD00864.html and also Amazon in hard copy and as an e book in Kindle and e pub formats – enter Ywnwab!or Allrighters in their Book or Kindle Stores.
b)            Read more and subscribe for e mail updates on the Allrighters web site www.allrighters.co.uk
c)            Books about writing
i)     Stephen King’s Book – On writing.
ii)    John Braine’s Book – Writing a Novel – almost better than King’s book.
iii)   Lee Weatherley and Helen Corner How to Write a Blockbuster. www.cornerstones.co.uk/#/home.
d)            Editing Services
i)     Gary Smailes at Bubblecow http://bubblecow.net
ii)    Catherina Dunphy at Words Worth Reading www.wordsworthreading.co.uk.
e)            Web sites a few of many I have signed up to and look forward to reading.
 
i)     This one Mick Rooney
ii)    Daily writing tips – http://www.dailywritingtips.com.
iii)   Write to Done – http://writetodone.com/about.
iv)   Tony Riches – http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk.
 
f)             Self Publishing:-
i)     YPS www.yps-publishing.co.ukSee review p240 in Mick Rooney’s book on self publishing.
ii)    Authors Online www.authorsonline.co.uk See review p75 in Mick Rooney’s book on self publishing.
 
g)            Ten books worth reading to learn by reading how to write good modern fiction– Room at the Top, The Reader, Hill of the Red Fox, Killing Floor, The Sett, Fear is the Key, The Piano Tuner, Never Forget, Half a Forgotten Song and Arthur and George.
 
 
Douglas Burcham is an author and founder of the Allrighters group and website.
In September 2013, the group published their first collection – YWNWAB!
Some 45% of the content of Ywnwab is factually based on memories and daily experiences, while on visits and travel, and is enlarged by a further 40% of fiction topped off by 15% pure fantasy. The book has been written by:-
  • The Allrighters — the fantasy characters in the whole million word Cross Family Saga yet to come — Henry Cross, Henrietta Jones, Florence Cross and the real Douglas Burcham and his fantasy twin brother Alexander Kreator;  also
  • The Allrighters’ real guest writers — Angela Petch, Calvin Hedley, Katharine Trelawney, Monica Evans and Nick Roteman. The real down to earth Duncan Beal has provided ideas for a story “Warehouse of Dreams” to support a contribution in the book about how YPS helps authors realise their dreams of publishing. 
Douglas also represents the Allrighters as at present they all live in other Trimefraymes and Florence Cross is dead. Her diaries and draft books provide much interesting reading for the future as put together for publication by the Allrighters’ Ghostrighter called Freddie and Henrietta Jones.
Further details may be viewed on the Allrighters’ web site at www.allrighters.co.uk.
YWNWAB! Autumn Story Book is available for purchase from Amazon UK (print copy), Amazon UK (Kindle copy) and YPS.

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