Why Books Have Become Devalued

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These are interesting yet precarious times for fiction writers. Although the digital revolution has given authors an unprecedented opportunity to share their work, it has come at a price.

The landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. It’s much easier to ‘be’ a writer now. Anyone and their uncle can churn out a book and have it published on Amazon Kindle that afternoon. In spite of this, it’s actually much harder to ‘make it’ as a writer, due to complete over-saturation of the market. Something in the range of 4,000 books are being published every single day. Competition can be a good thing, but it also has its downside. What happens when a market is oversaturated? The product in question inevitably becomes devalued, and so does the supplier of that product.

I believe the devaluing of fiction started off with supermarkets and online stores such as Amazon artificially slashing the prices of books. Publishers were in many cases willing to make only a marginal profit (if any) per unit in exchange for selling in greater quantity. I always suspected that mass market paperbacks had an adverse effect on other publishers and lesser known authors unable  to sell their product at such low prices.

In terms of Amazon Kindle, the leading ebook store by a wide margin, what I’ve seen happening is authors and publishers pitching their products at the lowest possible prices in order to stand above the competition. While this is good for the consumer in many respects–they can afford to buy more ebooks!– what it means is that artificially low prices have become the norm.

The reader clearly isn’t to blame. If there are so many books out there at 99 cents/pence or less, why should they be willing to pay more? The publisher of my first novel, Eladria, doesn’t seem to know how to deal with this, having charged everything from 99p to £6.49 for the ebook. I can’t see many willing to pay the latter price for a book by a first-time, sadly quite unknown author, even though the book in question took three years to write and garnered pretty impressive reviews. The only exceptions to the “pay cheap” rule are the big-name authors and they have the backing of big publishing houses behind them. And even a number of them are struggling in the new publishing landscape.

Again, this is good for the reader in the short term. It’s a buyer’s market without a doubt. But I fear that in the long term everyone may suffer. Writing is and always has been a very labour-intensive process. Some writers have the ability to churn out book after book in a conveyor belt-like process. If anything I’m a little envious of them. But I contend that the best books take time and care to write; not weeks, but months and possibly years. Unfortunately, authors who invest such time and care in their work are struggling to survive. The new model of cheap fiction is only viable if an author can release a LOT of work, very often.

I’m concerned that what the digital revolution has seen in terms of fiction is a shift to quantity over quality.

Unless they already have money in the bank, writers can no longer spend years on a single project. The focus is now on producing more, more often and selling it at knock-down prices. It’s inevitable that the quality of the output will suffer in some way. This looks set to continue and perhaps even get worse. Is the publishing industry on the verge of disintegration or can it, by picking itself up and adapting to changing times, create a radical new renaissance?

I’ve just published a brand new story (and it’s yours for free!)

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This week I released my first short story in over two years!

The provocatively-titled Kill The Past, Destroy The World is a prelude to my upcoming novel, The Key of Alanar. It tells the story of Mailyn, an embittered sorceress who returns to her homeland, determined to settle some old scores and seek revenge for the sins of the past. Guided by mysterious beings she believes to be ‘angels’, Mailyn is part of a dangerous plot that could spell the end for an entire world. Determined to set Alanar alight with the fire of the angels, only one man, the High Priest Ardonis, can stand against her and prevent her from unleashing a planetary apocalypse.

I found it a fascinating story to write, allowing me to explore the darker side of human nature, questioning what exactly makes a bad person ‘bad’. As a social science graduate, I learned years ago that human nature is largely shaped by environmental factors; there’s really no evidence that genes make people bad. It’s usually traceable to the formative years where something happens that shouldn’t happen, or something doesn’t happen that should. The story also paints the picture of a society in deep decline and teetering on the brink of its own demise; a society in which corruption and greed have caused an immense divide between the rich and poor, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. I found this a very timely theme!

While it might all sound a tad bleak, the ray of light in this story is the High Priest Ardonis, who is determined to stop Mailyn from unleashing a terrible horror upon the planet. And that’s where the shocking opening pages of The Key of Alanar will take off! This is the start of an incredibly epic tale that will span 10,000 years and multiple dimensions!

The short story is now available to preorder on Amazon, but because I’m a nice guy, I am offering it to you for FREE! All you have to do is click here to sign up for my newsletter (it takes all of 2 seconds) and you will be lead to a page where you can download the story immediately in Mobi, ePub and PDF format! It’s a pretty good deal if you ask me, and I’ll be able to share more exciting free content in the coming weeks and months.

So grab your copy now, and be sure to let me know what you think! I look forward to having you along for what I promise will be an extraordinary journey!

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Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing From the Start, Part 1: In Order to Write Well, You Have to Write a Lot

Hi everyone! This is the first in a series of short blogs in which I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a writer.

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My journey to being a published author wasn’t always an easy one. In retrospect a lot of that was down to the fact I wasn’t approaching things with the right mindset. I’m naturally quite an idealistic and romantic person and looking back I can see how this, coupled with an unrealistic perception of the writing industry, a streak of crippling perfectionism and self-doubt, sabotaged my writing career for at least a decade. If I knew then what I now know, it would all have been so much easier!

The first thing I wish I knew back then was simply this: no one is born a good writer. Sure, some people do exhibit greater natural skill at writing that others. In school I was always praised for my creative stories, essays and writing ability. But when it comes to the craft of writing, it’s highly unrealistic to assume that our earliest efforts are going to be publish-worthy. Writing is a skill like any other and it takes time, effort and practise to develop and refine it. 

One thing I did do right was to take time to study the craft. I realised it wasn’t enough to have a great idea for a book and then just dive headfirst into the writing of it. It’s first necessary to learn how novels are structured, how to tell a cohesive story and how to develop satisfying character arcs.

Yes, writing is an art, but there’s also a science to it as well. Stories are structured a certain way and although we may have an intuitive understanding of how that works from having read a great many books, it’s still essential to understand the dynamics of effective storytelling. Taking some time at the beginning to learn the craft will save an enormous amount of time and wasted effort down the line.

As writers, our first efforts probably won’t be that great. They might even stink to high heaven. This doesn’t mean that we’re hopeless as writers and should immediately give up. It simply means that we are human. Our skill in the craft is developed by spending many, many hours practising it. In order to become competent writers, we have to keep, keep writing.

Writing two novels, short stories and countless blogs, articles and essays has not only helped me develop my voice as a writer, it’s also helped me become a better writer to build confidence in my abilities. It’s clear to me that each book I write is better than the last because my skill as a writer continues to develop. And that, I believe, is really the only way to do it.

While I’m generally a proponent of quality over quantity, here’s the funny thing: as long as we take care of the quantity, the quality tends to develop by itself. In order to be good writers, we simply need to write–and write…and then write some more! The skill and confidence comes with time and practise. Happy writing!

The 3 Steps to Writing Anything

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Whether you’re writing an essay, an article, sales copy or the great American novel, there’s a basic three-step process that, if understood and applied, can make it a whole lot easier for you.

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get the words out, or unable to get beyond the first couple of sentences, it’s probably because you’re trying to do the wrong step in the wrong order. Once you’re clear on how to apply this universal three-step method, you’re certain to find the process of writing easier, more effortless and hopefully more enjoyable too.

The three steps of writing are:

1. Planning
2. Writing
3. Polishing

That may appear to be pretty much common sense! Yet you’d be surprised at how often we tend to get these steps muddled up, resulting in all kinds of problems. Each stage needs to be understood and done in sequence before moving onto the next.

Here’s a rundown of each step.

1. PLANNING

Sprouting-Seeds

Planting a seed

Any creative endeavour begins with the planting of a seed. You get, wait for or are given an initial idea about what to write. Perhaps you have an idea for a story, or have received a brief for an essay or article.

Allowing it to grow
Once you have a starting point, you need to give yourself time to brainstorm and play with ideas. If you started out with a fairly broad focus, then you have to gradually narrow and refine it. If you’re writing fiction, this is the time to explore your story, theme and characters, to run with your imagination and allow the story to unfold and take shape.

If you’re writing nonfiction, perhaps you need to do some research and gather information and then arrange and structure it. The initial seed you planted begins to germinate and grow. It’s best to keep this stage as organic as you can, allowing it to unfold naturally. Trying to force it can restrict your creativity and obscure insights, inspiration and fresh ways of looking at things.

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Creating a blueprint
Once you have a fairly clear idea what you want to write, it’s time to take things up a notch and create a blueprint. Whereas the first part of the planning stage should be quite free-flowing, it’s now time to arrange things into a cohesive structure. Some people skip the blueprint stage altogether, and that’s a matter of personal preference and also depends on what you’re writing and why. But I find rushing ahead to write before I have a clear idea what I’m writing about often leads to dead-ends and a lot of frustration and wasted time. I like to have a blueprint for what I’m writing — or at the very least a clear idea of the beginning, middle and end. Then I can simply relax into the next step and be confident that there’s an underlying structure in place to keep me right.

To create a blueprint, you simply arrange your ideas or information into the appropriate structure. If you’re writing a story or novel, try to put all the elements of your plot into place so you know roughly what happens when. What this does is enables you to get a sense for the structure, rhythm and balance of the story. It’s helpful to have this in place before you start writing, because it’s a whole lot easier to change elements at this stage than it is when you’ve written the whole thing and realised that the basic structure of the story doesn’t work (doh!).

This doesn’t mean the blueprint needs to be rigidly set in stone. It should be flexible enough to add, subtract or move around elements as you write. But it gives you a solid foundation and the confidence to start writing. If you’re writing an essay or article, your blueprint will set out your introduction, each key point in progression and end with clear summary or conclusion. Once you’re happy with your blueprint you can move onto the next step.

2. WRITING

Writing

The mistake a lot of people make when writing is to assume that writing consists solely of — well, writing! But jumping straight into the process of writing without having a clear idea what you’re actually writing about is generally a recipe for muddle and frustration. So I’d generally advise people not to bypass the first step.

Once you have your blueprint in place, it’s time to get into the flow of writing. Make sure your first draft is just that: a first draft. It might be helpful to even think of it as a zero draft. At this stage it’s not about making it perfect; it’s simply about getting words down on the page. Now’s the time to write for your life and not look back!

Forget about formatting and editing and try not to read back over what you’ve written if you can help it. You may have a tendency to edit as you go along, trying to ‘perfect’ each sentence before moving onto the next, but it’s best to avoid that temptation. The next step is the editing stage; this is simply the writing stage. So make it easier on yourself: don’t skip ahead. You can edit and refine it when it’s finished, and not before.

The key to good writing is to get into that state where the words just flow with ease and effortlessness. There are different ways to reach that creative flow, and you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. One of the keys to entering the state of flow is to simply focus on the step you’re on; in this case, the writing. You’ve already got your blueprint in place so you don’t need to worry about that, and you don’t need to worry about editing what you’re writing — that’s the next step. Try to bypass your inner critic. Don’t judge the work before you’re finished, or you may never finish: you’ll simply end up in the sticky web of perfectionist paralysis!

Just let go, relax and write. It can be helpful to do a writing warm-up exercise before you start. For example, you might take a random word and do some free-flow association. Just write whatever comes to mind; complete stream-of-consciousness writing. Try that for five minutes and see if it loosens you up and gets you into the creative flow.

3. POLISHING

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The final step is the editing and polishing stage. Once you’ve finished your first draft, take a break if you can and then go back read over it. It’s now time for the inner critic take the reins for a while — although do make sure that any criticism is constructive!

You’ll likely get a sense for the flow and structure of the text. How does it read? What areas need improving? What needs to be added and, more importantly, what bits can you take out? I naturally tend to overwrite, so my editing stage largely consists of pruning things back. Try to remove redundancies and be alert to repetition. A good mantra for the editing process (and perhaps life in general) is: “if in doubt, cut it out!”

Perhaps your piece only needs some minor modifications or it may need several successive drafts. Keep going until you’re happy with it. An excellent tip is to actually read the text aloud. This helps you get a feel for the rhythm of the words and sentence structure and is also helpful for spotting errors that may have otherwise slipped through the radar.

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And those are the three steps to writing pretty much anything! Even though it seems so simple and self-evident, it took me a number of years to figure out this three-step process and to apply it to my work. The difference it made was immeasurable.

The most important thing is to know which step you’re on and to stay on that step until you’re ready to move to the next. No premature skipping ahead! This is especially important when you’re in the writing stage. If you’re always slipping into editorial mode and trying to make each sentence ‘perfect’ before moving onto the next, you’re almost certainly going to struggle. Besides, the sobering (or perhaps liberating) truth is that there’s no such thing as a perfect sentence. So just let go, relax–and write!

This article was originally posted on my other blog, Beyond The Dream, a couple of years ago and ezineArticles.com

The Creative Life: How to Overcome Self-doubt

I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!

Illustration by Jack Spellman (jackspellmanart.com)

Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!

One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.

That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.

Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.

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“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”

Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!

The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.

First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.

Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.

I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.

I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.

The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:

Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.

Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).

Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.

Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.

This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.

My Tao Te Ching book is now available to buy!

Hi everyone! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version of my Tao Te Ching book is now available on Amazon and is currently on sale at cost price. The Tao Te Ching is a remarkable gift, and I wanted to be able to share it as such.

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Five years ago I set myself the challenge of creating my own version of this ancient text. I wanted to encapsulate the best of my favourite translations, retaining the text’s integrity and poetic flourish while making some of the more cryptic statements (of which there are a great many!) a little clearer and easier to understand.

I spent time reflecting on each verse and pondering the meaning of Lao Tzu’s words and then wrote a commentary on each one. I did this for myself more than anything, but decided to share it on this and my prior blogs. A lot of people have really enjoyed my take on the Tao, which has subtly evolved over the years as my own understanding has grown. Here is my introduction to the text.

I’ve been posting the content of this book in this blog for almost two years now, and will continue to do so until I have posted all 81 verses. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to have the complete work to hand, then this is for you! It’s been available to download on Kindle and Smashwords in ebook format for some time now, and the paperback edition looks beautiful I have to say. It’s a book that’s great for keeping at your bedside and dipping into for a little inspiration and insight.

Click here to view the book on Amazon US

Click here to view the book on Amazon UK

It should also be available in most other territories. The Smashwords ebook edition (which includes Kindle, ePub and many other formats) can be found here)

Hope you enjoy!

I’ve also just finished my second novel, which follows on from ELADRIA. It will be published in the Spring, along with a whole range of surprises. It’s a work I’m very proud of and a story that has been with me most my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hopefully now this major project is out the way, I will be able to get back into a more regular blogging routine!

Making words happen

 

My puppy has decided he's a better writer than me.
My puppy has decided he’s a better writer than me.

It’s been a while. I’m sorry for such heinous blog neglect. Here’s a little update.

I’ve been working hard on my next novel, which is an extensive rewrite of a book I first drafted some years ago, called The Key of Alanar. I’ve already shared a little bit about this particular journey here. It’s a story that’s been with me since I was only about sixteen, and one that’s very close to my heart. I consider the version I wrote before to be a kind of skeleton version. I’m a better a writer now so it’s been interesting going back to revisit and resurrect it. While it’s the still same story with the same characters, I’ve added bits, taken bits away and endeavoured to make the prose tidier and the characterisation punchier.

I’ve found that it’s actually harder to go back and rewrite something from the past than it is to write something new from scratch. In many ways I’m a different person now and if I was to create it from scratch it would probably reflect that. It’s nevertheless something I’m very pleased with. It’s a real journey, a journey of the human spirit — from loss and lack through darkness and despair, to eventual redemption and wholeness. Sadistic as it sounds, I take my central character and torture him relentlessly, stripping everything away from him and putting him at the mercy of all kinds of demons, both inner and outer. I feel the ending is going to need some substantial adjustment to reflect changes in my own understanding since I first wrote it. It’ll be interesting. I’m looking forward to being able to share the book with the world, hopefully by the end of the year. It’s pretty epic in every regard.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my head down, studying, living and practising the teaching of vedanta, which is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever found in my life. Neither philosophy nor religion but a pramana, systematic and very logical means of self knowledge, vedanta has been leading people for thousands of years from the suffering to wholeness, simply by reorienting one’s point of self-identification from body/mind/emotions/ego/intellect (which are all objects perceivable to us) to awareness (that which perceives; the eternal subject). The moment I stumbled across vedanta, I realised I’d found what I’d been looking for for the best part of a lifetime. I knew instinctively that if this didn’t work for me, nothing would. And, assuming certain psychological qualifications are in place and one is committed to putting in the time and energy to make it work, it does actually work! I’ve seen it work on myself and others. It is the closest I’ve ever found to a science of consciousness and self realisation — and I speak as someone who studied psychology at degree level. It’s the greatest of gifts and I’m going to share some of my journey and what I’ve learned on this blog as and when I get the chance.

Until then I have a guest post to share on the nature of karma, and I will follow it up with my own post to clarify certain points and demystify something that just about every has heard of but which few understand properly, even in the world of spirituality. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. It’s beautiful here. Every day is a gift.

 

Fantasy Author Rory B Mackay

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