Against the Wind

An author’s lament

I enjoy the promotional aspect of writing, mostly. Whether it’s scheduling newsletters for my Substack, updating my website and blog or making little videos for Tiktok, I experiment boldly and gladly. I accept defeat philosophically, dust myself off and try something else.

Sometimes, though, the sheer unrelenting effort of getting folk to clap eyes on my stories gets me down.

Today is one of those days.

Many people who read this will be in that same crowded little boat. In online writers’ groups, whether on Medium, in Twitter’s writing community, on Substack or on Booktok, we’re mostly promoting our writing to a supportive but time-poor crew of fellow writers. Each with a long To Be Read list already.

Out there, somewhere, amorphous and shifting like fog on the horizon, is the Greater Reading Public. It seems a wide gulf between us.

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It’s a Jungle Out There


Finding my way in the thicket of advice for new fiction authors

There’s no shortage of advice online for fiction writers. Indeed, rather the opposite.

I see novice writers on Twitter obsessing over whether they are telling when they should, in fact, be #showing? What about adverbs: are we allowed adverbs? How many per paragraph? Does my inciting incident have to come before page 10? Is my writing sufficiently inclusive — but not culturally appropriative? What’s my genre? How many comps do I need for a synopsis? Sex in YA fiction: yes or no? Is 250K words too many for a first novel? Can I write it in the second person, future perfect tense?

There’s nothing wrong with this seeking and proffering of advice. The problem lies in the corollary: sifting, evaluation, often rejection.

Any piece of advice offered to a writer needs to be viewed suspiciously from all angles like an apple in the supermarket. Unlike with the apple, the writer can — must — take a bite, give it a good chew before maybe spitting it out on the figurative floor of the metaphorical Fresh Produce Department. Without the cashier calling Security to deal with a disturbance in Aisle Two.

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Telling Tall Tales … and Tiny Ones

Launching a Substack storyletter — progress and plans

I decided towards the end of last year that I was going to launch a fiction newsletter on the Substack platform. Tall and Tiny Tales went live on 1 February.

Substack seems to be rather the flavour of the month, although evaluations differ, and some, if I may say so, miss the point entirely. Substack isn’t really a community like Medium. It’s primarily a publishing platform. Your potential readership isn’t other Substackers: it’s anyone who likes to read your genre online. (Truly: forget about other Substackers. Stats on them are irrelevant.) The snag is: you have to do all the publicity for your publication yourself. No friendly algorithms are going to carry your word to the masses.

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Learning by Doing

Baby steps in self-promotion

Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to me. I am, after all, British by birth, and my natural inclination is to mumble disparagingly about my accomplishments.

‘I … err … write the odd short story from time to time … Nothing much, and you probably wouldn’t be interested … but if one day you don’t have anything better to do, then maybe … ?’

This is a recipe for not getting read until I am dead. In my obituary I will be hailed as a literary genius and riches will be showered on my bemused heirs. Heirs, I might add, who never showed the faintest interest in a darned thing I wrote …

Meanwhile, in the real world: I’m not a literary genius, but I am a half-decent teller of short stories (laying British modesty aside), and it is something that I enjoy doing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I enjoy it more, though, if someone actually reads my stuff. If they’re not my wife or my mum and I haven’t had to employ emotional blackmail – bonus points!

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Getting the Word Out

If you’re an indie author like me, you’ll already have made the discovery that ‘Write it and they will come’ does not work. It will never work.

It doesn’t matter how good your writing is: how gripping your plots, relatable your characters, polished your prose. Your writing will languish unread, unless you find ways to get readers to clap eyes on it.

Fortunately I like a challenge, and I like learning new stuff, so this doesn’t bother me much. In the past year, I’ve had more than a few ‘Eureka!’ flashes of inspiration which quickly turned to ‘Meh …’ realisations. I pick myself up, dust myself off and try something else.

… but also I keep doing what I’m doing – constantly refining and trying to do it better. Building an audience requires dedication and commitment. It ain’t gonna happen over night.

Who needs video games to keep them entertained? This stuff is FUN!

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Getting Read

My output of stories has been prolific over the past months. Clearly, a world-record series of lockdowns here in Victoria has been good for something!

However, ‘Write it and they will come’ isn’t proving to be a sensible way of getting my writing to readers.

I ruefully recognise that I only started reading some of my favourite contemporary authors after an obituary in the media. That’s a little long-term for this writer. I’d rather be read alive than dead.

So, how to get eyes on pages?

Here are some thoughts:

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