Breaking the Spell

When I return to a first draft – after the obligatory month to 6 weeks – I expect to find an incoherent mess. First drafts feel like that in process, they’re all about getting to the finish line in a novel that seemed visionary to start but ended chaotically. So I’m often pleasantly surprised how not utterly terrible it is. Flawed, undoubtedly; messy structure and ridden with careless grammatical errors – naturally. It is those basic errors only that really stand out on second revision.

So what am I not seeing?

It is somehow being in thrall to an idea that, once faded, is then re-lit. From wading through a dark dense forest to re-entering a seemingly enchanted woods, forgetting just how treacherous it had been.

But there can come a point (there has now on my second revision) when you find yourself lost again, deep in it. At least it is realisation that there are problems, like a sudden reawakening from a dream-state, or the breaking of a spell. Only no longer able to see the forest for the trees. So somehow you need rise above it all, find a vantage point. Well, i’m struggling to find one just now. Usually for me the major oversights only become apparent on the third revision. Sometimes it is only on the fourth rewrite or later that it all becomes clear – the theme, the essence. It might even be that such a revelation is but a false one. They’ve happened before.

Well, neither do you need follow a religion to have faith. But I need to believe it will all work out in the end, regardless of the evidence.

Or maybe I’d better just call it hope.

My published books: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

My links site: adriankyte.com

Fix the Unfixable?

There is no achievement so imbued with pride than publishing your first novel. Invested with high hopes and what feels like your entire being into this monumental project. Even if it turns out to be a failure, rejected and unappreciated, it will always hold that special place in your heart. Yes, a lot of emotion tied up with that debut work. So it has not been easy to confront the admittedly very considerable failings of The Hidden Realm.

Twelve years from first published I finally removed it. Well, mostly; it ended up on numerous sites since I made it free. Possibly exceeded 10k downloads. Clearly some readers liked it, but unfortunately those who didn’t made it known. This was in the days when competition on virtual space was nowhere near as fierce, so getting attention was far easier. But that kind of attention carries risk. And my request to delete all reference to it on Goodreads was rejected.

Here’s the dilemma. Should I do an extensive re-edit/rewrite of THR? Or just carry on with my fifth novel (second, third draft etc)? It’s a question perhaps only I can answer. A cursory re-read of my debut I soon got a sense of its failings: too many character POVs with all their narratives; clunky dialogue – which has been my weakness for many years. In the end I did my best to tie everything up to what felt like a neat resolution. Written in the noughties, maybe it seems dated in more ways than just the science&tech.

The most common problem with that first novel is, bursting with ideas, you want to throw everything in, without the patience to think: I can leave that character’s story for the next volume. So the next (Time Over) was like a reset in the series.

Anyway, I hope not to simply disregard THR without some attempt to salvage it. Because, surely, you can never forget your first.

My published books: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Trouble With Reviews

I recently pulled (unpublished) one of my novels from Amazon due to some poor reviews. It had been there for over six years. In the first year it had garnered a couple of 5star reviews but then the negative ones poured in, the most recent in 2016. I’d actually forgotten about them and hadn’t read every one – until last night. Around five years ago I uploaded a revised version. But too late, for all the difference it might have made. What was worse, negative reviews get prominence, since potential readers tend to find those the most helpful – as a useful warning. That of course can kill the sales of a book from any author who isn’t famous, who doesn’t have an established reputation. How much sales of my subsequent books were affected I’m not sure, but I’m not prepared to take the risk.

I’ve never understood the motivation for writing a wholly negative review voluntarily. I guess it has a lot to do with expectation not being met. Maybe it’s an indication of annoyance, or nothing more than trolling. It often seems that these negative reviewers have an agenda; a grievance that goes deeper than from having read a bad book. Perhaps they are themselves failed authors who want to hit out. I’d be interested to discover.

Over the years I have adapted my writing style to accommodate a different or changing reading style. And admittedly I now struggle with any novel not simply plotted see A Novel Style of Writing?

So if you are curious about why my book provoked such strong reactions it can be downloaded here for free. I accept it is a challenging read, so be warned. And don’t feel compelled to finish it like some seem to have.

Otherwise my usual links: Worlds Beyond Time (UK) Worlds Beyond Time (US)

The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Reviews are still welcome. But no trolls please.

To a Literary Agent…

Dear (insert name),

Really you shouldn’t have bothered replying, certainly not after so long. I know you think you are doing the decent thing rather than keeping me hanging on. But I can assure you I have not exactly been waiting with bated breath all that time; I’d given up on any response months ago – ten weeks is about the limit. Life goes on, so many other things to get depressed or just irritated over. There is always the anxiety phase for about two months after a query submission, checking the inbox with squinted eyes, or only at a time when I can think I might handle it best (though there is never really a good time, but it should generally be on a week night). And then out of the blue in pops your email. Just as well I wasn’t having a good day anyway because that would have certainly spoiled it. Yes, your words were polite, measured, even well-wishing, and your reasons for not replying sooner perfectly understandable. But it comes across as sugaring a bitter pill. After such a long time it is doubly disappointing to get nothing better than what could be the same letter sent to the many others but with my name inserted.

I guess it feels better to get that query in-tray cleared.

So please, any other literary agents, don’t bother replying. Unless of course you are interested in my work.

You are welcome to comment here though.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

In hope of an epiphany

The greatest fear of most creative writers is not commercial failure, it is failure to find the next big idea. I mean, you can fail just as I have, and even accept a project will never be a success. What keeps me going (writing) is the belief some epiphany or revelation is just round the corner – that sudden insight. Yes, it’s gotta be about… It’s the breakthrough that will get my name in lights. What I’m talking about is faith in my own creative ability, however irrational that may be.

Right now I am working on a novel about a man who suspects the world will end very soon, and is given the chance to stop it. Well that may not be the most original of ideas, I’ll grant you, so I need some unique twist on it. After all, it’s said there are only seven truly original stories.

Some may well call such faith in my creativity deluded if not over-confident, but it’s not anything like certainty. It is hope. And how many times I have concluded there will never be another novel, I’d rather not recount. Even this current one I will not feel like it can ever be finished until I get past the milestone of 50,000 words (which I’m so tantalizingly close to passing).

How difficult it must be for those whose livelihood depends on the next big idea, those who set themselves targets – yearly, monthly, daily. The pressure I can hardly imagine, which must take a special kind of self-discipline!

I’ve never planned my novels in advance; never written an outline. To me that would take some special talent I can barely comprehend. There have been times when it seemed there was no way forward; classic writer’s bock. A bit like depression, when you struggle to envisage things ever resolving – life being okay.

But even in the darkest hour there is always the prospect of light.

 

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

Worlds Beyond Time (intro)

 

 

 

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

The Three Novel Problem

Four words writers fear most from a potential reader: So what’s it about?

If someone were to ask me to summarize a novel, one I have been spending the last 3+ years committed to, I’d like to think I wouldn’t disappoint them. Surely not if I had my synopsis written down, all agent-submission prepared. And yet, responding to a question about themes, or deeper meanings, well, I’d be struggling. The same would apply with my last two novels. But at least I would be in good company, for that is what acclaimed novelist Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) was tasked to do by a reporter; questions about his fiction sourced from a Chinese mid-grade school text book. He got them all wrong. In his defence he responded: “I don’t begin with some conceit in mind. I’m just trying to tell a good story.” As a multi-million selling author his work, of course, has been well analysed.

Since, it’s fair to say, my work hasn’t been I can produce most any answer and sound convincing. So my sympathy goes out to Cixin Liu. Much of creative writing operates on a subconscious level. For me, it’s about progressing the story, making it interesting and entertaining. And just good. Maybe some big issue of the day influences my protagonist’s actions and dialogue or even the story arc. But to suppose there is some profound plan behind the plot, or intentional allegory, is to ascribe a level of awareness beyond anything I’ve managed to attain.

My problem now has been unearthing the central themes and deeper meanings of my novel to pitch in a submission. I could say it’s about the nature of time, of memory; sentience; lost love; obsession; displacement; isolation; loneliness; the dangers of technology, of power; the need to find a greater purpose; sacrifice. I’d be tempted to say: it’s about all the things that matter in contemporary life transposed into a future universe. For all that would achieve.

Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Writer’s block – me?

Writer’s block is not something I used to believe in. If you were stuck, I thought, it was simply due to a lack of effort; a block can always be navigated around.

Now at the quarter way point into my latest novel I am struggling to write more than eight hundred words in a week. It seemed the best cure is to seek inspiration, find a book that resonates with what I am hoping to write. So I turned to a classic: Flowers for Algernon. It was not that I wanted to write a similar book (my protagonist is brain boosted from an early age to fulfill a top secret project). But in reading this SF masterwork I was in awe at some of the writing – the depiction of a man who goes from ‘retard’ (yes it’s an old book with outdated terms) to ubergenius, and the interweaving of a tragic love story.

So how can I even hope to compete with such a science fiction classic, I wondered to myself. Well, for a start there is no point in writing something comparable that can only end up as a pastiche. I have to find my own voice, the one that distinguishes my style of writing.

And yet. I see the standard. I see the level of the bar and feel my limbs go weak at the thought of trying to vault it. This is the problem of when – as a writer – you encounter another writer who you know has set an example, one you imagine could be used by the literary agent that rejects your latest.

So somehow I have to not fixate on writing a classic. There’s maybe some analogy in sport, or academia; observing the star talent and thinking: why should I even bother to compete? But no one can know the effort, or the time, the greatest put in to become just that.

Then, be positive? Of course, but it’s always a challenge!

Links to my published fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Success, Finally?

Imagine. You’ve been used to failing for such a long time. Then success, finally! That day when you can go out and celebrate, and all your friends and family (who, frankly, doubted you could achieve such greatness) will congratulate your marvellous achievement.

But what does it mean to have made it? Finding an agent? Getting that publishing contract? Those first four-figure sales? The good reviews?

Perhaps there is no point where you think I’ve made it! And in any case there is something in my British psyche that would tell me: now hang on just a minute. You’ve been making it clear, at least to anyone who cared to ask, that writing is what you do. But haven’t you implied to them: “I am special, I have talent, I was born to write novels, that is what sets me apart (from you no less); and now that declaration (however subtly I implied it) is going to be rubbed in your face – because you doubted me and I’ve proved you wrong.”

So there is something in my psyche that fears the downside of success. That the possible sacrifices I have made – the relationships never pursued, the work (employment) never sought – cannot be enough to make it worth while. After all, success means exposure, the spotlight of scrutiny with the inevitable criticism it brings. Sure, everyone, however acclaimed, has to be prepared for the dissenting voices; you are told as a writer how important it is to develop a thick skin. But many of us writers are naturally sensitive creatures.

I wonder if fear is holding me back somehow. Stuck in a certain belief because of bad experiences or just bad luck.

Failure is familiar, an old friend unafraid to dish out a harsh dose of reality – to keep you grounded. Success is the exciting stranger, promising to take you to incredible heights. But one day that stranger will tire of you, and leave you precariously on the mountain ledge.

Finally, I wanted to come up with some definitive advice – to others, and hopefully to myself. But all I could think of was the following. Don’t let that old friend failure drag you down; overcome the fear of success.

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

http://www.adriankyte.com/

 

 

 

Sales! Sales! Sales!

How far would you go to publicize your book?

I recently got a chance to promote a non-fiction book written under a pseudonym; an offer to do a radio interview, although the interview would have only covered one rather embarrassing theme of this memoir/travelogue. I told her my story might not be suitable for broadcast (on daytime national radio) but was happy for the book to be discussed. I even admitted not wanting to reveal my true identity. Besides, there seemed no clear opportunity to make a subtle (or not) plug. But there was just that chance – so i’d taken it initially by texting them. I still wonder: would it have been worth the risk for the sake of extra sales? Fortune favours the bold, I think someone once said.

There is the more conventional route I’ve tried for my novels. Once upon a time I believed the most difficult achievement of being an author is completing the book, until i tried to get it accepted by an agent. Never mind if the novel is any good; one mistake and you’ve blown it. At least that’s how it can feel. But only one thing matters ultimately: sales! If you’ve written a masterpiece no one reads – or pays to read – then that can be nothing other than a failure.

So is there any magic formula to ensure sales? There is, of course, the standard combination, as follows. Front cover; synopsis/blurb; timing; price; content. I used to believe those were the elements that mattered – in that order of importance.

But how about serendipity? Capturing the zeitgeist? The right person can make all the difference, be they avid reader with lots of friends, or a celebrity who happens to like what you’ve published and makes it known – chooses you amongst the millions of others who hardly get any recognition.

Sometimes it can feel like a lottery, the luck of being noticed. And with any lottery you only learn about the lucky ones. I am not one of the lucky ones, and certainly have not written this or any other blog from the standpoint of someone who has made it and wants to share his wisdom with the aspiring writer, but as someone still trying to succeed in a competitive market.

Well, for many, there comes the point when there is no choice but to put that finally re-drafted book out there in the hope that it will get noticed. The matter of timing might be important for maximum sales. For me, I’d rather not submit anything be it to an agent or a publisher, or for the sales market, at this time of year (May). Spring into early summer is probably the worst time to feel embittered. I’d rather just enjoy what pleasures nature brings. If I’m going to be facing disappointment then maybe early autumn (October is generally my least favourite month in UK south – so all the better to relax into the misery of it), or mid winter. But is there ever a good time to risk failure?

http://www.adriankyte.com/

Links to my fiction:  The Captured (US)  The Captured (UK)

Time Over (UK)     Time Over (US)

Reflections on Rejections

Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.

Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.

Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).

After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.

http://www.adriankyte.com/