14 reasons why you shouldn’t dream of being a full-time author

The British government’s YouGov poll on which are the most desirable jobs,prompted several articles in the newspapers from authors.

Chas Newkey-Burdon discusses the reality of being a writer in this article from The Daily Telegraph : 


Chas Newkey-Burdon

In the last few months,since I’ve been chasing a traditional publishing deal,I’ve come across two rather startling,not to say depressing,statistics about the process of getting one’s work known.

It’s said that out of 1,000 submissions made to a literary agent or publisher,only one will be given any serious consideration.

Mirroring this figure,out of 1,000 downloads of an ebook on Amazon only one review will be made by a reader.

I keep saying it,but being a writer is tough !

You think writing’s a dream job ? It’s more like a horror film.

This article was in today’s Guardian. I recognize many of the thoughts of Tim Lott, who wrote it.


Tim  Lott

The comments at the bottom of the article are worth reading (expand them),particularly the one about the 60% of people who want to be writers,imagining that it’s all J K Rowling easy-peasy wealth and celebrity. It wasn’t for her,when she was trying to find a publisher for her first Harry Potter book,though fortunately that turned into a publishing juggernaut which will keep her for the rest of her days.

The John Dos Passos observation quoted made me snort in recognition at the truth of it : “Writers are like fleas, they get very little nourishment from one another”.

Cover Design Tricks

There was a story in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday,showing that it’s still possible to make great sales from ebooks. I’d love to know how the successful author Sheila Rodgers tackled the problem of getting her first novel known online. This is called ‘the process of discovery’,and basically means that if people don’t know about your book,they won’t be buying it.

Most people think that if you write a decent story it will sell,simply because it is good. But it’s not that easy,as I’ve been finding for the last 18 months. There’s 342,000 titles on Smashwords alone,and they distribute these to a dozen other vendors of ebooks,including Apple. Amazon stock millions of ebooks,including well-known classics. This article makes it sound like she wrote it for fun,couldn’t be bothered with approaching traditional agents,so stuck it on Amazon and she was instantly successful – just like that ! 

Hope and Cynicism walk hand in hand,when you’re a self-published writer.

One of the huge drawbacks with e-publishing is that because no physical object exists,be it a CD,film or book,buyers expect the digital version to be much cheaper. In other words,instant devaluation – and in more ways than just monetary. It leads to a certain stigma,with e-publishing seen as just playing at it,or vanity publishing – with paper books being the real thing.

I did a search for how bestselling author of ebooks Sheila Rodgers / Rachel Abbott marketed herself to success. In an interview she talks about coming up with a marketing strategy,without revealing what that was. She also signed to a literary agent,though quite how isn’t said as the agency is one of the snootiest around. David Higham Associates are one of those who are still stuck in the nineteenth century and don’t accept submissions by email,so I didn’t approach them. The thought occurred to me that it’s possible to buy an agent’s services,(of course it is),and that this writer bought herself some influence. I’m anticipating that she invested money in expensive advertising – there aren’t many paupers on Alderney,where she lives.

This isn’t sour grapes,as I know that speculating in promotional expenses can accumulate earnings. One thing that I took from the interview with her was the design of her book covers. It’s a necessary evil that the look of ebook covers is deliberately heavy-handed and obvious,as they’re shrunk down to tile size on Kindles etc. 

Cover of Only The Innocent by Rachel Abbott

Hers use CAPITAL LETTERS,as well as a teaser subtitle. I’ve been meaning to add such a phrase to my covers,so did so at the weekend and will upload the new versions soon – lord knows what difference it will make. See the current and updated covers of a novella called ‘Burpwallow Holler’. I think that the copied layout looks better.

The old version looks more artistic,and might work well on a book in a shop,but the new cover with upper case lettering grabs the eye more when shrunk down to the size that Kindles display.

I’m fortunate to be quite creative artistically,so have tackled all of the book cover design myself. I use the free IrfanView photo editing software. This does all that I need,and is quick and intuitive to use.

The Writer & Erotica

I was clearing my Hotmail Inbox this morning,and came across a bulletin from the site ‘The Art Of Manliness’.

I’ve subscribed to their postings for several years. The site tackles some interesting subjects,giving useful advice – though it’s unintentionally humorous at times. The old advertising photos that it uses to illustrate articles,have a certain whimsy. It’s free to sign-up to – see the subscription box at the side of their page.

The bulletin that caught my eye was by author Marcus Brotherton,and is titled The 5 Insanely Difficult Steps to Writing a Commercially-Published Novel’

After writing a novel in 2014,I particularly agreed with what he has to say about how hard it is to get your work known :

But I’d also say to be prepared for a heavy dose of reality. Commercial publishing is a mercenary business, and works of fiction are harder to get published than non-fiction books. Publishing fiction is a longshot at best, and there are no fail-safe solutions anyone can prescribe to guarantee you success.

So, I offer a paradoxical sort of encouragement. For anyone contemplating writing a novel, I’d give two messages: both “you can do it” and “beware,” at the same time. The caution means that almost anyone can write and publish a novel, true, but there’s a high price to pay to do it, for which you need to be prepared. I’d be doing you a disservice if I told you otherwise.

One of the main problems is that people tend to think that the actual writing of the book is the only battle they will face in the process. But the writing is only about a quarter of what’s needed. The second quarter is the fight to get your manuscript published. The next quarter is relentlessly marketing your book once it comes out, which publishers expect you to do these days.

Then the final quarter is going to primal scream therapy after your book sales fail miserably, because by then you’re depressed and broke and visionless, and insanely jealous of John Grisham, James Patterson, Ken Follett, and Lee Child—pretty much the only four male scribblers who actually make money at this game.

People who haven’t done it,think that the actual writing of a story is the difficult part,but it’s all of the business side of it that takes time,effort and patience.

I’ve been self-publishing online for about eighteen months,initially on Smashwords,then on Amazon. I write novels,short stories,novellas,poetry and song lyrics. Although I’m confident in the worth of my writing,the actual marketing of it has been both intriguing and frustrating.

Sales have been poor,so as a ploy to raise my profile I decided to give all of my books away for free two months ago. I hoped that this might help to launch my novel ‘The Perfect Murderer’,that I laboured so hard at in 2014. Downloads of my books picked up and were encouraging,for after all the price was right.


Help yourself,while they’re still free – you might need to turn off Smashword’s Adult Filter to see them all.

I decided to compile a couple more collections of my poetry,including some erotic verse. I published ‘What Do You Like ?’ on Smashwords ten days ago,and to my astonishment it’s been downloaded 361 times ! Had I been charging my usual $2.99 for poetry,and if they’d been prepared to pay,I’d have earned $1,079 or about £708.

I’m beginning to understand why there are so many stories about sex on Smashwords. I’ve been looking down my nose at them all a bit,thinking they were just jumping on the 50 Shades band-waggon. But if it’s sex that sells,then that’s what writers will write. I expect that many of them are like me,who were exasperated at their best literary efforts being ignored,so wrote something naughtier and were amazed at the results.

The next time that you see someone using a Kindle in public,to read a book,I bet that they’ll be secretly getting turned-on by something erotic ! The very anonymity of these e-reading devices has led to a boom in erotic writing.

I’m a long way from being a prude,but some of the titles that I see published appear to cross over the fine boundary between erotica and pornography. As the old adage goes – ‘ Being erotic is when you make love to someone using a feather. Pornographic is when you use the whole chicken !’

Writing fiction,one has to get into the mind-set of whoever you’re describing. This can have quite an effect,as I found when researching ‘The Perfect Murderer’ where I had violent nightmares about shady figures stalking me. I can’t say that writing erotica was particularly arousing though,but I’ve got enough happy memories to draw upon to make it sound realistic.

I’m really not sure what to tackle next,and whether I should ditch any literary aspirations at all,but write in a shallow,steamy and titillating way,promoting by book with sexual tags – erotic,sex scenes,kinky,insatiable etc,etc.

To add to my confusion,I put together a second collection of erotic verse,which I published at the weekend. I already had five poems about sex that were unpublished,so wrote four more. These were more overtly sexual than the others,to make the collection steamier. The irony is,that I felt about as erotic as a cold used tea-bag,as I sat here in 50 degrees wearing fifteen garments,including woolly gloves,and with my feet resting on a hot-water bottle.

I expected the new book ‘Chasing Big ‘O’ ‘ to be noticed and downloaded lots,for after all I’d used the alluring tags of ‘erotica’,’sex’ and ‘orgasm’ to describe it. To my surprise,only twenty people have downloaded it so far – I guessed that at least 100 would do so over the weekend. The reason that they haven’t may simply be down to the new book not having naked flesh on the cover. Instead it shows a fragmenting female statue. This means that readers aren’t even bothering to use the tags to search – simply looking for something that might be rude.

This amateur market research has only produced one firm conclusion – readers like erotic verse and stories.

I’m not the first writer to be confronted with this trap. One of my favourite crime authors is Lawrence Block,whose recovering alcoholic detective hero was partly instrumental in helping me to quit booze nineteen years ago. Like the famed writer Donald Westlake,Block started off his career writing porn paperbacks under a series of pen-names. Those were the days when such a trade was seen as shameful,rather than a reason for instant celebrity and admiration.

Onwards,and who knows where ? 


I made a surprising discovery about my eyes today. I recently acquired a bicycle,and I’ve been looking for a helmet – not so easy for me,as I have a huge skull,leaving my paltry brain to rattle around a bit. I thought that I’d increase my safety by attaching a mirror to the helmet,when I buy one. I already have one on the end of the handlebar,but another could be useful.

 As always,I research things and discovered that one is supposed to attach such mirrors to the side of the helmet for your dominant eye. This is because it will pick up on any movement in the mirror without effort. I’m right-handed and right-footed,though I try to be as ambidextrous as possible by using my left hand to do many things – the better to stimulate dormant parts of my brain.
I naturally assumed that I was right-eyed too,as I’ve favoured that for doing things such as aiming when playing pool,throwing darts or firing a catapult or gun. I did the test below,and was astonished to find that I’m left-eyed ! I wonder how many people know their dominant eye ? About a third of folk are left-eyed,but it would feel weird for me to have a mirror on the left hand side of a helmet – but the handlebar mirror is on the right,so perhaps it would make my view of what’s behind me more complete.
The only way this would affect me in a strange way is if I fire a rifle,which I’d have to hold in a left-handed stance to get the best aim. In any other aiming activity,I could just shift which eye I use.
  • Extend both hands forward of your body and place the hands together making a small triangle (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch per side) between your thumbs and the first knuckle like this :

  • With both eyes open, look through the triangle and center something such as a doorknob in the triangle.
  • Close your left eye. If the object remains in view, you are right eye dominant. If closing your right eye keeps the object in view, you are left eye dominant.
I worried about this anomaly and what it could mean. Other than one eye leading the other,in the same way that feet and hands do,it’s of no great significance.
The difference is,one isn’t so aware of how one eye dominates the other. It seems to be of particular interest to sports people and the military where aiming and control are of paramount importance. 
Those spooky night sights that soldiers wear would presumably be more effective if worn over the stronger eye. Or perhaps the weaker,as it would leave the dominant eye to pick up movement around the combatant.  

I think that combat pilots would need to know which their dominant eye was,as they have the distraction of a heads-up-display which shines information onto their helmet visor.
Integrated Helmet Display Sight System.jpg


I’m wondering what else I’m going to find out about my ageing body,before it conks out…

The Bad Sex In Fiction Award

Writing about any form of sexual activity in a story causes all sorts of problems. Not the least of these,is that the delight gained from sex is just about the most subjective thing one can do – what pleases one person might disgust another.

Just finding the words to describe any act of sex is awkward. Should one be earthy and use coarse expletives and four letter words,or be discreet with vague allusions and metaphors used to indicate the action and thoughts of the lovers ?

Even the finest authors stumble over this predicament. This led to the Literary Review founding an award in 1993 to acknowledge what they consider to be the worst description of a sex scene in a novel published in the preceding year. The given rationale is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

It’s aimed at literary authors,who are a bit up themselves,as an Australian might say. There’s reams of pornographic/erotic fiction in book form and online,of course – but this award appears to be trying to puncture pseuds who try to elevate their descriptions of copulation to an art form. Brits are prurient about sex anyway,so as soon as somebody starts to talk about it,let alone write about it,the sniggers begin. Some of the winners did produce some hilarious descriptions however.

Mind you,if you think about ways of describing any intense physical sensation,it’s tricky isn’t it ? Stuff like taking a motorcycle ride,eating a tasty meal,being moved by a favourite piece of music or having an orgasm are best experienced internally. Once you put them into words,it’s bound to detract from their power and pleasure.

This is partly why I wrote an unusual,out of left field,huh? sex scene in my new novel ‘The Perfect Murderer.’ I’m laughing up my sleeve a bit,imagining what readers will think about it. The activity involved is a paraphilia. I won’t say any more about it at the moment,as I’m still mulling over ways of publishing the book.

I haven’t tried writing anything erotic recently,though I feel that simple and concise would be more effective than anything too flowery. Years ago,I wrote erotic short stories to commission through an ad in the Erotic Folio Society ( long gone bust ),and the strangest one was for a woman who was drawn sexually to wardrobes – having sex inside them,on them and with them !

There’s nowt as strange as folk.

But you and I are completely normal,of course….

Here are two examples from the 2009 nominees,including the winning entry ( no pun intended ! ) by Jonathan Littell

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave (Canongate, £16.99)

Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Munro

“He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair.

“‘Oh, my dear Avril,’ he says.

“He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees and feels again a watery ardour in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.”


The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (Chatto & Windus, £20)

The Kindly Ones by Jon Littell

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.

If you’d like to read about the last round of the Bad Sex In Fiction Award for 2014,have a look at this link :