My Writing Year – 2020

Intended publications were two novels and an anthology of short stories which were all underway, plus another anthology which was either going to happen or not, depending on submissions from fellow authors.

How did the year work out with my target?

 

Light at The End written during 2019, kicked off my writing year and by the time I’d read a couple of reviews I was glad I’d made plenty of notes. My experimental post-apocalyptic tale spawned a sequel. I had other projects on the go so I continued, as usual, spending a couple of weeks on any one book. The first part of Light at The End was out in January, so it took a few months for the sequel to appear. I was so caught up in that particular ongoing story that I was compelled to make it a trilogy. My post-apocalyptic world deserved my writing time.

I wasn’t too concerned that I might leave other projects behind while I worked on novels. Due to the rest periods that I give my manuscripts between edits, it allows for time to be invested elsewhere.

Top of my pile, of course, was Czech Mate, a standalone espionage thriller which had already been through the wringer with beta readers over a year before. I got as far as ten chapters using first-person POV, but it wasn’t working for me, and neither were some of the scenes. I changed direction with it a few times and then one day it started to gel when I added two new characters. Okay, it still took several full drafts to get it where I wanted it to be, but that’s part of our job as authors.

Time after Time was another new venture, an ‘invitation’ anthology. I had six original stories lined up and I was hoping for at least six from other authors, all on the theme of ‘Time’. I was delighted to publish with submissions from nine other authors—one of which was the foreword. Nineteen stories all told … .

My other collection was my latest individual effort, Shadow: and other stories. Story titles changed, the book title changed and so too did the cover. Twelve original tales for those who like a coffee-time or bedtime read. (No erotica–it’s catered for elsewhere).

Surely I had time to produce more than those?

You’re quite right—I did, and on some of those days when I needed to escape from the intensity of a post-apocalyptic world, a thriller or short stories, I offered my services to Katya–the ‘character’ I created to continue writing erotica in the background. Katya’s latest venture is a two-part novel called Secrets.

You might wonder how the ‘Katya’ stories have been produced so regularly. Many have been in my files for years as failed short stories or as multiple passages which until recent years didn’t inspire me to continue. If truth be told, when I set out into the world of creative writing I never envisaged myself producing erotica.

As usual, I enjoyed plenty of reading. Mainly it was indie books, but I also read a few paperbacks and reviewed those books which warranted good feedback. By the same token, I started but didn’t finish something in the region of ten indie books. There were a variety of reasons but for the main part, it was poor writing, poor formatting and lack of time spent by the author producing the work. I don’t permit time to read shoddy workmanship when I personally put in so much effort to create worthwhile stories.

I performed beta reading for several authors and as always was gratified to be told that I’d helped. I know what it means to be offered ‘guidance’. Feedback is the lifeblood of the author. Negative feedback is as important as positive feedback which I believe all writers must appreciate. Any writer who doesn’t pay attention to negative comments in the process is blind to their own issues.

Apart from reading and writing did I do anything else to improve my catalogue?

Yes, I redesigned several of my covers. I went on to produce my personal design for those which had previously been created by a professional. Those were Ten Days in Panama, Amsterdam Calling, A Taste of Honey, and the BTL trilogy.

Apart from all of the above, in October I cast aside my professionally-designed author website which I’d kept going for about ten years. I built a new website myself from scratch. Ironically, the total cost of my new website equated to about the same as my first one. I kept my domain name www.tombensonauthor.com

My writing was my priority throughout the year, as it should be but I gained a sense of accomplishment having dealt with all my covers and creating a new website.

Next year’s targets will be in my next blog post … in January 2021.

 Thank you.

Tom 

Story Ideas with ‘Legs’

Preview/Buy

I finished writing Dark to Light: Light at The End – Book 3 recently. I reminded myself that it was the easiest phase. Having said that, I’ve now also completed the first full edit, which as any author will tell you can be a mind-boggling task.

You would think that having written a trilogy and two mini-series I would sail through completion of another trilogy–not so, and I don’t believe it should be easy.

Occasionally, when an author sets out to write a story, apart from the desire to create a new world where they have complete control, it’s sometimes not clear if the tale has ‘legs’. By this, I mean that in the early, exciting stages the idea might be to write a trilogy or a series. These multiple titles create an opportunity for an in-depth and ongoing tale with a cast of impressive and well-rounded characters. Authors must always remember that some story ideas don’t have the ‘legs’ for a trilogy.

What happens if the story doesn’t have ‘legs’?

The honest answer is, it becomes a book. Yes, it’s that simple. Any decent author will know as the plot unfolds whether that daydream of a saga with those interesting ideas was simply that–a daydream, and not a great prospect for a longer story.

What happens if the story does have ‘legs’?

Ah, now we’re getting back on track. In this case, the author will get underway with the tale and enjoy developing the plot, the scenario and, of course, the characters. This is what happened for me with Light at The End: Surviving the Apocalypse. My head buzzed with ideas and characters were falling over themselves to be involved. Some of the people I considered never made it beyond the first auditions. That’s showbusiness.

Preview/Buy

This particular story was intended to be a single book, an attempt at post-apocalyptic fiction.         I had three main things I was aiming to do with my glimpse of a world after Armageddon.

Firstly, I wanted to portray the effect of survival on a disparate bunch of people who were thrown together and would be trapped by circumstances. Secondly, I wanted to do it without the use of zombies or any other ‘undead’, which seems to be a pre-requisite for some authors of the genre. Thirdly, I wanted to involve and explore the use of the ‘Hollow Mountain‘ and the hydro-electric power station created and operating from within.

When did I know my idea had ‘legs’?

Surprisingly, this happened about halfway through the first book. I invented two people in personal situations which are poles apart. The interaction which evolved in both cases when these two individuals entered the story was the turning point. I expanded my brainstorming sheet, which is something I create for all of my stories. I knew that if treated properly, the concept had the capacity to be bigger than I’d first intended.

Did I know it would become a trilogy?

No, and again, the reason is simple. I had to wait for the response to my initial tale. For example, the cover didn’t have ‘Book 1’ added until recently. Most of the feedback was good but there’s always going to be a zombie fan. 🙂 At this point, things changed slightly. I felt that I’d accomplished something with the first book and I’d absorbed so much background information which blended with personal experience and this was indeed a story with ‘legs’–a trilogy.

Light to Dark: Light at The End – Book 2 was a tale specifically written to explore how far people might go when they’d come to terms with their ‘second chance’ and gained confidence. I believe it’s a plausible follow-up to the opening story and not a filler. There are extensions to the plot, further adventures, and character development, but for me, it had to feel that there were a natural progression, entertainment, and a satisfying ending.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey, and as I develop and polish the third part with many more drafts and in time send it out to beta readers, I’m feeling good about that initial daydream and my three aims for the story.

Dark to Light: Light at The End – Book 3 will be available in early November 2020.

Thank you for any comments and suggestions.

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Mid-year Magazine

This year I’ve enjoyed the solitude of my study, reading, writing and generally continuing as I have since retiring thirty months ago. Two holidays have been cancelled and a considerable number of one-day  ‘shopping’ trips to other towns. I cycle early in the morning and work at my chosen creative craft every day.

In January I published Light at The End: Surviving the Apocalypse. It may not have as many reviews as I’d like but those it has received have been good and gave me the confidence to write a sequel. Light to Dark went through several drafts prior to going out to beta readers. It has since been printed and attacked again with my red pen so the manuscript is now resting before a final read.

If the international crisis has affected me in any way it has increased my productivity. A lack of holidays and away-days has provided me with many extra hours of writing time. Shopping trips are done when a necessity only and are local. I sit in the car maintaining social distance, with my clipboard and pen so I can continue writing.

In March I created the eBook Bank International website with the objective of making eBooks more affordable during the Covid 19 crisis. I set a closing date of 1st July and with the support of 17 other authors, the site carried 135 titles at one time. It was a site to offer books at a lower price, but I’m happy to say it stimulated sales for more than one author.

I’ve continued to work on Time after Time: and other stories which is almost ready for publication. I have again invited guest authors to submit stories. This is not a money-making venture but will provide a platform for authors. There are 18 stories covering a variety of genre, but all on the theme of ‘Time’.  Good value at 99p/99c.

In the pipeline, I have Dark to Light (Book 3 of the Light at The End trilogy), Czech Mate, Codename Foxglove and my next mixed-genre anthology Around the Bend: and other stories.

In the background when stories are ‘resting’ between drafts, I’ve indulged my pseudonym by building on ideas which have been simmering in the background over a few years. Most of Katya Cumming’s stories originated as short stories or passages which didn’t work in other books.

This year so far, Katya has produced a two-part novel, an anthology of short stories and a novel. After three more novels she will stop. This will meet her target of a dirty dozen novels and an anthology. She has her own website at Katya Cumming – Erotica.

Apart from reading purely for pleasure, I’ve also been a beta reader for several authors so far this year. For me, beta reading is not a task, especially if I like the author’s work, it makes me feel that I’ve been instrumental in some small way helping to raise their game with a story. Isn’t that one of our responsibilities as indie authors?

Lest I forget, Light to Dark – Light at The End Book 2, will be available 10th July 2020.

Thank you for dropping by.

Beta or Worse?

Okay, so you’ve written a book and you’ve got a cover.

When you’re happy, do you go ahead and publish, or do you take it steady and make sure it’s readable?

Personally, I ask for beta readers and the more the merrier, whether it be a novel or a         collection of short stories. Yes, there might be a few issues in the final product but they also appear in books by acclaimed traditionally-published authors. Errors can be cut down dramatically with some effort and patience. It’s the responsibility of the author to produce the best book they can.

Before I send a manuscript to readers I’ll have gone at least as far as the third draft and on at least two occasions printed the story to perform a ‘red-pen’ edit. Even then, I tend to offer my beta readers a handful of things I’m    concerned about—a reader’s guide if you like:

Does the intro work? Is the dialogue realistic? Are the characters believable? Did you enjoy the story?

The list can be as long as the author feels necessary, but it’s hoped that the beta reader will highlight other issues too. If you create your characters and your imaginary world with care and attention to detail it will help to make the end product believable.

I’ve performed beta reading for many indie authors. Each book is different in length, style, author’s voice and topic. Not every book might be one I’d go looking for as reading material, but if it will help a fellow author I’m glad to do what I can if I can afford the time.

No, I’m not an editor but my expertise is that of the   reader who knows when something isn’t right in a variety of areas.

I know for example that firing an automatic pistol at a padlock or a door lock is about as much good as throwing your pen at it. Similarly, the only time firing a handgun at an escaping car will work is in movie-land. I know when to use farther instead of further, and inquiry rather than enquiry. No, a cowboy wasn’t thrown against the barn door by the ‘blast’ from a Colt 45, and I don’t care how close his adversary might have been. They’d need to be close just to hit one another. Cars don’t explode simply because they’ve overturned, and some blades don’t slide straight back out of the body after being thrust inward and upward.

Consistency and continuity are important to me and they are not the same thing.

Regarding consistency, I’m looking for a character’s name to always have one spelling, unless a nickname is used, and if a character has blue eyes, then they shouldn’t have brown eyes in the next chapter.

In continuity, I expect that when a character gets into a blue Jaguar and drives somewhere, they don’t get out of a red BMW at their destination.

To avoid rereading I prefer that no two characters use the same weapon, drive the same car or have similar names.

Two characters should not have their voices heard in the same paragraph but it seems to happen in a lot of eBooks. Sentences should also be manageable so that by the time you reach the end you remember the subject.

Dialogue tags don’t always have to be descriptive because the imagery and the dialogue ought to be creating the picture.

It’s fine, even preferable for a character to have a favourite word or phrase but not an author. Think about that one.

One of my greatest gripes is an author who doesn’t know their subject. Take for example the case of the famous   author who’s BDSM character introduces a young woman to mild punishment by giving her a traumatic thrashing with a leather belt, or … no, I’ll leave erotica out of this. Some misguided ideas would make your eyes water.

You get the idea … research, research, research, and don’t just use Google.

If you have space and are physically capable, get out of your chair and try the move you’ve just choreographed. How about:

Getting out of the car, she touched-up her lip gloss and lifted her purse.

No, she didn’t do it all while ‘getting out of the car’ she performed three separate actions.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time beta-reading for fellow indies and one of the things I feel that it does is help me in my writing. When I see an issue it tends to stand out and I learn from it, so it’s much less likely that I’ll do it in my work. Invariably, I gain confidence in my writing by seeing that in many cases I know when something is wrong or could be improved.

As an author, I’m aware of how important it is that I read regularly and widely. Thankfully because I’m a member of Kindle Unlimited I’ve been able to start and discard three books in the past couple of weeks. Unfortunate,   perhaps, but if those authors had taken the time to ask for a beta reader or two and I’d finished their books, I might have become a fan.

This article isn’t a rant, I’m highlighting an area of our craft that all indie authors should consider.

All comments are appreciated as always.

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P.S. Yes, I have changed my blog theme again. 🙂

My Writing Year – 2019

 

A successful writing year is measured using a variety of criteria by different authors. For me, I must feel that if not prolific, I’ve at least achieved a good standard with what I have published. I’m a firm believer that if as an author I expect a payment, I owe the customer my best efforts.

Rather than talk about ‘numbers’ as a guide, it would be better to look at the time taken for some of my most recent publications. Codename: Nightshade, for example, went through my process for two years before I was happy with the end result. One Man, Two Missions, was a bundle of files for a long time before I was satisfied with every story.

 

 

I created Tom Benson-Erotica to avoid, or at least reduce the mentions of the genre on here, but this post will be one of the exceptions and for good reason. I wrote a novel, a full-length prequel novel, and a book of fifty erotic poems.

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Although the erotica output in my own name may not sound impressive, one of my most ambitious projects to date was the creation of a new author.

During 2019, I published five full-size novels as Katya Cumming. I’ve kept the pseudonym and the stories (in progress), a secret for two years. When I came up with the idea I promised myself not to go public until I had completed several books and published them over a period of twelve months. This would allow me to assess unaided development. The experiment was also to see if ‘Katya’ would be prolific, and successful. She has been both when considering she’s had no support or advertising campaigns.

The theory of creating ‘box sets’ was beyond me for a while. I’d checked a fair number on Amazon and couldn’t see many reviews, so I figured that maybe they were popular as a purchase, but not easy to review. Whatever … I spent a couple of weeks selecting and producing four box sets. They haven’t been my most successful venture, but in each case, I’m giving something back in terms of pricing, so it’s the consumer’s loss; not mine.

Throughout the year I offered my services as a beta reader to several members of the Indie Author Support and Discussion group (IASD), the finest writing group of its type on Facebook. Oh, yes, and in between other things I produced two stories for the IASD horror anthology Depths of Darkness.

To return to my opening statement regarding success in the past year … yes, I believe that with the sales produced under my own name, and the regular sales by ‘Katya’, it has been a successful writing year.

I’ve produced this summary a month earlier than normal for two reasons. Firstly, I am deep into two WIP and will not be publishing anything new in December 2019. Secondly, this post will be appearing in the November issue of the superb Connections eMag produced by fellow author, Melanie P. Smith.

 

 

 

I have a smaller but no less important target for next year, but more of that in my New Writing Year – 2020 post in the near future. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and summary, and for any comments or suggestions, you may leave. Sincere thanks go out to all you lovely people who’ve sampled or continue to read my efforts.

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On Top of The Covers

 

No, it’s not a title for an erotic novel, although it could be.

As any author will tell you, apart from a good story there are a couple of other important aspects when creating a book.

Good formatting to make the book look professional and easy to read, and of course, a decent price to attract sales are two areas to think about. A catchy, accurate title is in the running of important things to consider.

My attempt

Where do you first find the title?

Oh yes, on the cover.

I’ve been writing since 2007 and self-publishing since 2013. Yes, I know to some people it seems longer, but there you go – those are the facts.

 

How have I dealt with covers so far?

I produced covers myself in the early days and though I thought they were okay at the time, I never considered them to be good. I had this misconception that as long as there was a cover to bear the title and the title did its job – that was enough.

Not so, and anybody with experience of buying books or trying to sell books will know.

Would I buy a book with an amateur cover?

Not usually, so I shouldn’t expect anybody to buy mine if they have an amateur cover. Yes, there are some people out there who are not professional cover designers and they’re doing a good job, but many of the indie eBook and paperback covers are badly finished.

I paid for a professional book cover designer to produce a cover for Beyond The Law (as it was prior to becoming first in a trilogy). I later had the cover updated at no cost. The point is, that I saw my book sell and inside three months the price of the designer was covered by those sales. My return was such that the sales paid for the same designer to deal with Ten Days in PanamaAmsterdam Calling, A Taste of Honey and the other two books in the Beyond The Law trilogy.

Do I make exceptions?

Yes, I continue to work hard at designing covers for my short story and poetry anthologies, because those types of books are recognised as being low in the sales market. For the past three months, my five-part series A Life of Choice has been selling well. To ensure the series was spotted by a target audience I created the covers with actual photographs from my military service mounted on a background of the regimental colours of the Royal Corps of Signals. I also design the covers for my erotica titles because although they sell, I consider them an extension of the joy of sex writing.

My efforts may not attain professional standards but I aim to maintain a brand feel by using continuity within any series. We all know that recognition plays a big part in marketing and it’s an area we should strive to understand.

 

What’s my next step?

Form the outset I’ve formatted my eBooks, although I have depended on beta readers to improve the end product. I recently bought a licence to use Vellum Press, which means I will now be able to format for a paperback.

 

As I write this, my cover designer is working on a paperback cover for Amsterdam Calling. I’m confident Aimee (the designer) will produce a good solution for me, and I’ve spent many hours working on a revamped version of the book’s formatting.

 

The results of our combined efforts will be here for all to see when I’ve got my first paperback in my hands. I’m nervous about taking such a step but I promised myself I would only go paperback if I saw sufficient sales of my eBooks. On top of the sales, I’ve had a lot of interest from people contacting me who for one reason or another cannot deal with eBooks.

 

I hope my words have sparked interest. Remember, if you do decide to pay somebody else to design your covers it will require effort from both parties, or as I suggest on another of my personal covers a little bit of Give & Take

 

Thank you for visiting my blog and as usual, any comments are welcome.

Reading, Writing, and Rhythm; Tick

BTL 3 Cast and Plans

I’m making headway with my ten writing aims for this year.

Reading

I’ve read and reviewed six titles from IASD authors since 1st January. On the flip side, I’ve read and not reviewed three titles, but I’d prefer not to get into my reasons right now. I’ve also started and not attempted to continue reading three other titles.Tom's Kindle

On Beta reading, I’ve performed the task for three authors, and was gratified to be told some of my comments were useful.IASD - globe (2)

Yes, my reading experience has been a mixed bag thus far.

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Writing

A couple of days ago I completed my most recent edit of Beyond The Law: Consequences, which as you all know is the final story in the trilogy. My target date for publication is next weekend, 11th / 12th February.

Novel - BTL 3 ConsequencesThe book will be a month later than I first intended, but I believe it has been much improved for the extra time spent reworking scenes and generally changing the sequence of events. At 60,000 words it is the shortest book in the trilogy.

I’ve had the advantage of one beta reader, and if I get any more volunteers I’ll need them to do a rapid turnaround if I’m to meet my publishing deadline.

When BTL: C hits the world I’ll get straight back to my series A Life of Choice, and get working with the next stage of Part 4.

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Rhythm

To maintain my working rhythm and achieve my ten aims for the year, I am intending to produce one blog post every month. If I happen to reach a publication date with one of my intended titles and it’s out of sync with my post, I’ll make an exception and write a brief ‘release’ post.

My fuel tank ... and a message.
My fuel tank … and a message.

What’s my issue with blog posts?

I don’t have an issue with the idea of the blog, but if I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, apart from letting off steam, or getting my voice heard by a handful of followers – blogging is a time-consuming activity.

Blogging is an interactive pastime, and for me, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t bring me an increased level of success with my priority activity – writing.

The Red Pen is mightier ...

My homepage for example boast of 937 followers – yeah, whatever. I’ve dug down into the bowels of my blog and found the true figure is 195, which I’d be happy to believe.

I don’t crave fame or celebrity, but I do have a deep-seated need for achievement. I’m confident I’ll feel fulfilled if I can maintain a steady course with my reading, writing, IASD admin duties and helping my fellow scribes whenever possible.

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Am I happy? Of course I am, however the tone may come across in parts of this post. I’m a writer and I have a list of ambitions to be fulfilled this year, and as I achieve each target, I’ll feel rewarded when I see a sale or a review.

As always, thank you for your time, and any comments.