Self-publishing has been garnering lots of press. From the hushed reverential mentions of the self-published now taking the 'traditional' publishing world by storm, to the established authors now producing their own ebooks, self-publishing has finally cemented its place as a valid presence in the book world. It's no longer the revoluntionary challenger to the old regime. It's more like the not-quite-trusted chancellor kept close by the still-suspicious president to ensure he doesn't engineer a bloodless coup.
There have been screeds written about how self-publishers should edit, write and design their books. There have been complaints about the selfishness of inflicting tomes on the word that might include typos or poor research.
Yet, what I find most interesting is the quiet explosion of companies serving the needs of writers. Writers' forums are crammed with companies offering critiques, edits and lots more. In fact their services are so extensive that I half expect to see them offering to come round and make you a cup of tea when you finish every chapter . . .
Freelance websites are also fulfilling these demands but in a less showy way. www.elance.com * has regular jobs posted from would-be self-publishers, although since they include paying writers to write the book; editors to edit; designers to design it; and the tech-savvy to turn it into an ebook, the notion of 'self' has been stretched to the utmost. Unlike the often nameless staff of writing critique companies, you can pay to have your book edited by a published author with a name, publishing history and writing awards to boot.
This communal approach to writing balances any claims of selfishness. More and more I see the writing process crossing continents, merging disciplines and smudging the lines between self and other. For writers, these are definitely exciting times.
 
Oops! So much for my 'commitment' commitment in December. It's the second month of the year and I haven't written a word of fiction. All of my words have been focused on paying clients so far and whilst I'm not complaining - I live to eat, to be able to buy 'stuff' and to actually have some figures to show my accountant at the end of the financial year in April - I am a bit disappointed that my characters have been left in limbo. I imagine some of them are kicking their heels, talking about me behind my back and others (the bolshier ones!) have just left on their own adventures. After all I can't expect them to hang about until I manage to get a schedule together.
They have left gentle reminders for me to get back to them: a set of handwritten notebooks from the end of my first novel which I misplaced 3 years ago. A loss which meant my electronic copy was never finished because I knew there was an ending somewhere - I just had no idea where. Lo! They turned up just before Christmas. I could finally finish 'Fading Away' and send it away into the world . . .
Then, there was the wonderful 'Help I Need A Publisher' blog from Nicola Morgan which asked for readers to send in their synopsis for critique. It made me knuckle down and finish the synopsis for my YA novel. It wasn't picked for critique but I have a clear blueprint on how to reach the end. All I have to do is write it . . .
But instead I've been seduced by press releases and marketing plans, by making headway with all of my other aims for the year whilst my fiction writing ambitions loiter at the back of the room, occasionally raising their hands or their voices but ultimately being drowned out by other demands.
So, here and now, I'm going to make a promise . . .and that promise is that I will write at least once a week, or type at least once a week so eventually there will be a finished novel or two and novel writing will be one of my completed aims for this year.
 
 
I've finally joined the millions of people who have an e-reader. My lovely husband bought me a Kobo for Christmas. Thanks to a sneaky sales assistant and a rushed shopping spree, he thought he had bought me a Kindle. It may not be as popular as its cousin but I'm enjoying getting to know my padded, more discreet e-reader.
As someone who has always liked to be a bit quirky, it makes me smile that even my e-reader is the 'outsider'. My husband just worries we've opted for the Betamax rather than the VHS.
Meanwhile, swapping paper for screen has been much less traumatic than I expected. There are charts to show which books you've read! There are little notes showing the percentage left to read. For a gal who loves spreadsheets, figures and graphs as much as I do, these nifty tracking devices are a joy.
I'm not turning my back on print but the Kobo is like a cheeky sibling. It's brasher, quirkier, flashier but it still depends on the wit and warmth of words for its impact, and who could fail to love any medium that brings you more words?
 
I've been thinking about commitment.

Firstly my oldest friend has just got married. She's made the ultimate commitment you can make to another human being: to love, honour and cherish as long as they both shall live. Of course, it was a wonderful wedding with amazing food, great music, friendly guests and lots of dancing. A few weeks later, I was at a party and a guest was complaining that all her relatives expect her to get married soon as both her sisters are married already. But she was perturbed, 'all my sisters do is complain about how their husbands don't help them or are being grumpy. They used to save up for posh handbags and shoes. Now they're saving for chairs. Chairs?!' She shook her head in disgust.

It's funny that no matter how many books are written about marriage, there still remains a gap between our expectations and the reality. It started me wondering about how many novels accurately descibe that phase where reality sets in, when aspirational shoe-buying is replaced by a longing for chairs and, for most women, a longing for twenty minutes to sit undisturbed on said chair eating chocolate and watching trashy TV. . . or maybe that's just me!

My life hasn't just been about parties. I've also been working on some freelance contracts over the last few weeks from writing proposals to compiling press releases. It's great fun writing in different genres. I've always loved researching articles, and pulling information together into the correct format whether it be for a newspaper, website or book.

Journalism and public relations both involve researching, writing and deadlines. Skills needed for novel writing too. Yet, I must admit I'm much more likely to complete for a client than for myself. I'm trying to get better at this by making a daily commitment to myself and trying to keep it.So far, it's been a bit hit and miss but I'm hoping that one day . . . maybe I'll be able to honour commitments to myself as much as the ones I make to other people.
 
It's a running joke in our family that my husband always works out plots before I do, whether it be film, tv or a book. I've just finished reading One Day. For some reason I'd confused David Nicholls with David Mitchell. Once I realised which David had written One Day, I gave in to the hype and bought a copy.
I should point out I don't have anything against David Mitchell but I haven't finished Cloud Atlas yet so can't buy another of his titles until I do so.
I love David Nicholls. Admittedly I think he has some strange ideas about what makes men attractive to women (read The Understudy if you don't believe me!) but Starter for Ten was so sweet and funny that I'm now committed to reading his books as soon as they're published . . .well, apart from the One Day fiasco which meant I eventually read it much, much later than everyone else.
Of course, I loved it too and cried. I started to explain the structure to my husband, building up to explaining the high concept but before I could finish explaining the structure, he interrupted me to guess about the overarching concept. He was right. He always is.
Now if we're watching a film, I can understand that I might miss some of the clues to the forthcoming revelations but I was explaining the structure. I hadn't given any clues because, to be honest, I didn't see any as I was reading. Yet, he still got it right. I'm thinking he should start writing books, or plotting films, or just putting on bets on the outcome of events. There must be some way we can use his skill, other than to impress me with his perceptiveness!
 
I've finished reading 'Room'. It's a beautiful book balancing the almost macabre with the mundane. It follows the story of a boy brought up in a cellar with his mother who has been kidnapped. From the cellar to suncream, every detail is described with a delicate touch. The setting of a contained room allows a fascinating exploration of reality and language that runs parallel to the emotional intensity of the main storyline.

'Room' also faces a popular dilemma for writers. How do you write as a child? Literature is littered with highly critical reviews of children as first person narrators. It's difficult to remember how limited a child's vocabulary is at different life stages and also to consider how that would impact on their reasoning. Invariably the author will slip, either in word choice or self-awareness. 'The End of Everything' has a teenager as the central character then adds in the complication of making her an unreliable narrator, and using memory to smudge the timeline. Again, the use of a younger character means part of the reader will always be thinking 'is this accurate?' 'would someone of that age really say/think/do that?'

Knowing that the use of a younger narrator will mean your work is subjected to a different type of scrutiny is not a reason to avoid it. However, it's probably best to be aware that someone somewhere will criticise your narrator's word choice, points of reference or self-awareness. Unless, of course, you are Catherine o'Flynn. 'What was Lost' begins with a child's story and tells it with clarity and sincerity. It's a gorgeous opening as is the novel that follows. Accomplished, heartbreaking and haunting: it proves that writing as a child can be simple, succinct and extremely succesful.
 
I've been reading a friend's first draft over the last few weeks. It's his first novel and it's very good. I've been putting my thoughts and comments in the review bar for him to implement or ignore depending on what he thinks. Reading someone else's work with a critical eye is so much easier than reading your own work with a red pen. Those slips of points-of-view become blatantly obvious and it's easier to spot those beautiful, lyrical paragraphs that do nothing to advance the plot.

However when you know the person it does become more difficult. Initially he asked if I would act as editor but I had to say no. You see I recognise the places he is describing.I've ate the soup his characters make. This makes for a very emotionally charged reading which definitely adds to the novel's impact. On the other hand, it also means I might be filling in gaps in the text. I'm too close to the content to be completely objective. I'm slipping into memories as well as imaginings.

Years ago, I edited a first draft for someone else and that was a different experience. It was a professional contract. I had little personal contact with the author. I could edit openly and dispassionately . . .or as dispassionate as you can be when dealing with a misery memoir!

Letting other people read your work is an important step in the process of writing and editing. It helps to hone your book before it reaches its finished state. My friend, obviously, decided to share his work with friends who were keen readers. I've opted for using a writers' website. You see, I know my friends can't be unbiased. However, I'm pretty hopeful that a writer who could be anywhere else in the world and has no knowledge of my life or experiences, can only be unbiased!

Sometimes I rail against the comments I recieve from the writers' website but more often than not, I'm extremely grateful. They point out ommissions. They ask pertinent questions. Also, for some reason, seeing my work on a website gives me a bit of emotional distance from it that helps me to wield my red pen.

I also signed up for a writing workshop with Nicola Morgan and received a critique on the first 20 pages of one of my novels. Nicola is a published author who runs a consultancy service. She is probably the most qualified person who has ever read anything I've written, and that includes the tutors of the creative writing courses I've attended. Her comments were insightful and constructive. They also helped me to see just how much work I still have to do.
 
Who do you trust to critique your work? And are you enjoying the re-writing process?
 
Last night I attended Marie Claire magazine's Inspire and Mentor event on how to be published. I knew it had an amazing panel: Lindsey Kelk; Sarah Ritherdon; Rowan Lawton and Kasey Davis. I knew it was in a nice hotel in Edinburgh, and I knew I wanted to take along copies of my pitches and opening three chapters.

What I didn't know was what to wear  . . .especially since we were in the middle of a heat wave. I decided to go shopping with my toddler son before I dropped him off at his aunty's house. Two hours later, we'd both had lunch; I had a new Damsel in a Dress dress and my little boy had a toy toolbox - result!

But once I reached home I decided my dress wasn't really right for the event. It was too dressy . . . and it had long sleeves. So instead I opted for a cap sleeve blue dress and my highest heels. Totally impractical for cobbles but they made me happy :)

Dropping into our office, to collect my pitches and pages, disaster struck! The documents wouldn't open. I had to set off empty-handed.

Perhaps it was just as well they didn'tprint as Rowan Lawton, the agent, proceeded to tell us about her most memorable submissions and they involved nice paper and specially shoe-shaped cakes, not a sunburnt Scottish women clutching a bundle of A4 sheets. . . I can just tell I'm going to be searching the internet for suitable agent-seducing gifts!

There were lots of great tips from the panel including (but definitely not limited to!):
* use your contacts. All of them. Not just your current contacts. Trawl your address book and your memory for anyone with any connection to publishers and/or agents. This came from Lindsey Kelk, author of the I heart series. (I heart her amazing red hair and her insightful but entertaining novels.)
* make your submission stand out from the other 79 that will arrive that week. (That's where the cake and nice paper came in.)
* Practise (your writing) Platform (try to get an audience or reputation for writing) Pray (ok I made that one up but there is a lot of competition so it might help!) Party (or as they more professionally called it - network). So there we go: Practise; Platform; Pray; Party
And one final tip - just from me - and just for me: stop the OCD editing. Nicola Morgan's 'How to be Published' book mentions this approach to editing and I'm definitely guilty. Enough of the red pen already. It's time for the cake eating and sending.
 
Now, where was I? Yes, Tess Gerritsen has published her back catalogue which are cross-genre romantic thrillers. They're entertaining but quite different from her current titles where romance is firmly consigned to sub-plots. You can see her developing her craft as her books have progressed. Now there are lots of red herrings and impossible to predict endings. Then, the thriller and romance elements jogged alongside each other and you could guess how both would end. The fun was in the travelling not the arriving. Tess Gerritsen is an amazing writer and it's great to see how she found her voice and her genre.

Karin Slaughter meanwhile has established two effectives series: the Grant County novels and the Will Trent titles. What's interesting is that Karin published the first Will Trent novel as a stand-alone. There was no clue to the reader that this book had any connection to her Grant County series (except having the same author!). Then, with the second book featuring Will Trent, Karin re-introduced Sara Linton, one of the main characters from the Grant County series. It was a brilliant technique. Readers invested emotionally (and financially) in Will's character and then re-discovered Sara Linton too.It's obvious that Karin plans not only each novel but also the series. Her commitment and dedication really pays off for the reader. And it means, SPOILER ALERT!!!! her series can survive the death of a main character.

Karin and Tess should be inspirations for us all and their novels have lessons even for those of us who don't write thrillers. How emotionally satisfying are our conclusions? What's our balance between build-up and pay-off? If we plan a bit more closely will it reap rewards for our readers?