Wednesday, 23 April 2014

April Update Part 3: Well that was a nice three months…

For the last part of my update I wanted to share with you my feelings on how the beginning of my year away, or perhaps, the beginning of my new direction in life, went.
            As a very quick reminder, for a mixture of personal and professional reasons, I left my job last December after nine years at the place and am using my savings up to live in Spain this year both to think about where I want my life to go and most importantly, to write as much as I can. 

My thoughts on leaving:

I’m having trouble convincing myself that three months have gone, but there it is, undeniably true. I know everyone always says how fast time goes, but really, that was ridiculous. I travelled to the island of Mallorca at the beginning of January and am now back in London visiting friends and family, I will fly back out to Spain next week but this time to the mainland, staying in the region of Murcia until the end of the year. This isn’t a travel blog so I’m not going to go into detail about the trip itself but I will tell you about how it has affected me as a person and as a hopeful writer-to-be.
          The main thing to say here, and I hope I don’t come across all la-de-da-airy-fairy-wishy-washy motivational poster here, is that I do not regret leaving my job. In fact, I’ll go further and say it was the best thing I have done and I know that I made the right decision, as difficult and heartbreaking as it was, I am very happy with myself for doing it. No need to say anymore on this or give reasons. I’ve talked about it before and I know it is a much more complicated issue for many people when they have responsibilities that I don’t have such as children and a mortgage so this is not an exercise in gloating or sticking my tongue out at others. It is a serious business giving up a good salary and pension no matter what. I have removed myself from any chance of being able to buy a property or any of that stuff for a very long time, if ever, and the likelihood is that I will be in my local lingo, ‘skint’ for the rest of my 30s and my 40s and once again potentially, forever…I really don’t care. All that matters to me is completing the work I have set myself and that is as far as I am looking. Yes, it is easy for me to say that now, I still have this year to live through before having to worry about that but if you allow me a little piece of wishful thinking…

Some of the more picturesque scenes from my hometown that I missed while away. I took the photos while out for a stroll the other day.

What I learnt from being away?

It’s one thing making a change and moving on from a place or situation that you once knew or loved in an emotional sense, but it’s another to move on in the physical sense too. I chose Spain for very simple reasons, my limited finances (the South American trek and the first class Orient Express will have to wait for now), to learn the language, the climate and the isolation (I'm in a rural area not a city). I had a longing to be away from it all and test myself as to whether or not I have what it takes to push myself to write when alone, moving to the other side of London wouldn’t have been the challenge I needed.
            Again, at the risk of sounding like a smug bugger, I don’t regret it at all. I had a fantastic time and have an immense feeling of self satisfaction that the risk paid off, not in any other way than I now know I have the ability to motivate myself to write every day, whatever that means for the future I couldn’t care a jot, I just know that I can sit down and produce work and that’s all that matters to me…honestly, believe me! Even if I churn out absolute rubbish and no one ever reads a single sentence I write, I know that I am doing what I love doing and as silly and unpromising as that sounds, it is the answer to a question I have been asking myself for over twenty years, and as selfish and isolating as that sounds it is the answer I had hoped for.
Being away has allowed me to feel freer than I have ever felt. I have no fear of failure, I only fear not working hard and that worries me, not because I expect success from its result, it is solely from the disappointment of not producing the work I know I have inside me. I don’t care about anything other than being happy at finishing the large projects I have set myself. That sense of being isn’t easy to accept, and part of the desire to be on my own was not just for the space and time to write, but also for the space and time to think, to consider my life. Once you accept that life can be what you want it to be, and for me that meant having to accept that I would be without a lot of the things I thought I wanted, then things become calmer and clearer and I have gradually learnt to accept that those things I probably won’t get isn’t something to be upset about, if you want something else more then that is what you have to go for. Everybody is different of course so this is just my opinion.
Outside of writing I have always liked the idea of travelling and speaking another language but I have never felt that I would do it…the reality just seemed impossible, not because I ever felt it was out of my reach, just more that I never felt I would take the steps needed to make it happen. Now I am very clear. I will learn to speak Spanish no matter how many years it takes.

This was me around the first time I visited Spain, aged 15. It's not in Spain but it's the only photo of that period I could find that didn't include underage drinking or friend's that I couldn't be bothered to ask their permission to post, and I wasn't getting the scanner was on a school trip and by the looks of it I was in the grip of teenage moodiness…but anyway, any excuse to see my hair again. If I could have a word with myself though I would – why did I stop practicing Spanish once I left school? What a shame, this year would be very different if I had kept it up. We never know it as kids, but language skills are so vitally important and helpful, I would recommend anyone to start learning, never too late.

I also never thought I would live anywhere other than London, part of me still thinks that I may never live permanently away from London, but this experience has allowed me to feel that living for extended periods of time in other countries is something that isn’t just a possibility, but something I actually want to do! I have stopped blocking up these daydreams and no longer feel it is something stupid or naïve to say that perhaps I will live elsewhere. Who knows if I will ever do it, or where it may be, but instead of immediately throwing up defensive excuses such as, how will I earn money, how will I speak the language, how will I find a place to live and all of those essentially responsible and important questions…I just allow myself to say I will do it and when the time comes I will find a way. There we go, I knew I would…I verged on the motivational poster speak…sorry ;)

What does it feel like being back home?

There were several reasons why I had this short break back in London, the most important one being catching up with friends and family. I didn’t know how I would find things so I thought a three month trial period was a good idea.
            It has had two effects, the first one being the reinforcement of my feelings towards living in London both good and bad, and the second being the solidifying of my confidence and excitement of going back! I honestly can’t wait, I know how much work I need to do and the sheer volume of work the next few years holds is something I am itching to get on with. So, within a few days I knew that I had done the right thing and that I had changed for the better.
            That aside, I have had the luck of being back at the same time as a friend had a baby, another friend told us all they were having another baby, a friend opened a new pub, a friend’s birthday, a friend was in a play…that sort of sounds like all I wanted to do was drink myself blind but that’s sort of true…the weather in London has been fantastic so I have got to enjoy walking around in the sunshine, I have eaten every type of take away cuisine possible, seen a few films, caught the dramatic finale of the football season…and so on…it’s been great!
            Saying that, my discipline in terms of routine has gone out of the window, I haven’t practiced Spanish, I haven’t written as much as I should have, I have had several lazy days…and of course I have caught a cold. However, I have managed to complete all of the essential business stuff such as my company accounts and self assessment, I have updated all of my paperwork and business plan, I have a meeting next week with my web developer to make sure everything is set for the rest of the year (2014 is an on-hold year, the next steps in our development plan are for 2015 as you can appreciate), I have met with the writers I am working with, I have set everything up for the next apartment and generally got my affairs in order.

A few more snaps...

So what is my future going to be?

If I can be as simplistic as possible all I need to do is write and survive. There is nothing else going on, the absolute basic requirement of the rest of this year is to produce work and enjoy the experience. I am totally at ease with the challenges 2015 will bring me so I am not going to think about them any more, I am living for this year and I promise you I will be working my backside to the bone. It’s a contradiction to say that the more I dream the more realistic I am but that’s how I feel. I currently have thirty short stories in development and the idea for my first novel. I am going to maximize the time I have this year and although I would believe it if the betting shop put odds on me getting a tan before writing a novel (have you seen my skin tone? An entire summer in Spain is no guarantee I can assure you.) I am positive and excited. I’ve said it before but all I want to do is to return to the UK having worked as hard as I could have and being satisfied that I know I tried. I look forward to blogging more from Spain and letting you know how the writing is going and sharing my experience there (I know posting photos of sunny beaches annoys my friend's so I'll be doing plenty of that), talking about all the random topics I used to talk about, informing you of Rufus Garlic's and Alfred Duff's progress and generally wittering on...

Best wishes everyone.




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April Update Part 2: Nook, Apple and Self Publishing Platforms

Dear all, following on from my first update which didn’t end up being quite the quick note I thought it would be…but I have come to accept I jibber-jabber (there was a time when I was totally and absolutely convinced I wasn’t a talker, and to be fair to myself I don’t enjoy wasting my vowels on everybody, but once I get going I now finally have to admit, I have a rambling problem…) I wanted to tell you about another business related update I have worked on during my brief return home.

A quick background explanation first: When the idea of self publishing became more real in my head around three years ago or so it was entirely due to Amazon and their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. It was simply an opportunity to kick start my writing in a more dedicated and proper fashion than any conceived business plan or sense of wanting to call myself a writer. However that changed fairly quickly, the bit about a business plan not calling myself a writer, as I learnt about the self publishing sector in more detail and met more people involved. As someone who was self publishing outside of the US there were still a few obstacles at the time however, some companies requiring a US bank account or company address (I was one of those that chose to create a limited company rather then be a sole trader/self employed) but as I was still focussed on Amazon KDP it didn’t really matter. The reason being I was entirely realistic from the start, I knew I wouldn’t be making any money from this and so the fact that without a IRS tax withholding number such as a TIN or EIN they would retain something like 30% of all revenue but as to me it was 30% of nothing I wasn’t bothered. I could still self publish and operate from the UK without restriction and make use of Amazon’s promotional tools, the most important thing at the time was to just get going, just start and worry about that later I told myself.
            So fast forward a couple of years and many things have changed but the one I want to focus on here is the use of other self publishing platforms aside from Amazon KDP.
            The first thing to say is that the reason this is a topic I want to talk about is that after a long time of not bothering with the IRS thing I mentioned above (not bothering makes it sound like I was being lazy, I should really say that I purposely delayed doing it because other more pressing issues had to be looked at first, even though I knew the process was quick and easy, you have to prioritise!) I called up the IRS a couple of weeks back and went through the process of obtaining an EIN.
            An EIN is short for Employer Identification Number, which is what I need as a UK Limited Company operating in the US (although as a digital publisher I do not physically operate in the country, no offices or employees, etc. I do work with US companies) and for those who operate as individuals, they would require a TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) but please do not take this blog as any sort of official guidance on US tax law! I am just giving you an overview of what I needed to do, I’ll get to the point in a minute I promise…for detailed information you can Google this subject and there are many great bloggers out there who give up to date and specific advice on this topic and of course you should go directly to the IRS at :

Annnnnnnyway, the reason I had to say all that is because up to fairly recently some companies where quite strict about having your tax withholding identification arranged before joining their distribution programs, as opposed to Amazon for instance who would let you get going but just retain that 30% I mentioned until such as time as you did arrange it. So if you wanted to self publish across multiple platforms you had to get all that done.
            The issue you have to decide upon is exclusivity. Amazon allow you to use their promotional tools only if you sell your book exclusively through them, which is totally understandable I think, and because they are the market leaders and the Kindle is king it is the natural assumption to make that it is worth sticking with Amazon. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate here about whether that is still the case, the explosion of smartphones and apps and the advancement of other ereaders has been significant and the advancement of other distributors / self publishing platforms has been significant too, but again, being the wuss I am I don’t want to throw my two pennies worth into this discussion because I don’t know enough about it outside of my own business, and there are far more interesting blogs that cover this topic in more depth, I just want to explain where I am, it’s all about me me me you see.
            As you may know I now work with two other new writers and my vision of where I am going with the company has changed hugely for me, I am still not worried about making money from this (yet) and I just want to learn as much as I can so a long time ago I took the decision to stop using the promotional tools from Amazon and put my books on other distributors so I could learn more about their programs, more about ebook conversions, more about multiple marketing channels and all the stuff that goes into the business of working across different companies, again, not because I thought I would sell books through them or it would earn more money, but simply because I wanted to learn more and thought it would benefit me in the future. I am glad I did because I am still a firm believer in ereaders and it has been great to see the growth of other companies and the investment in their publishing programs. It feels like I have given myself a good grounding in the basics of this market and because I am convinced (deluded?) that I am in this for the long term, it is a responsibility for me to learn, not just an interest.
            As a result of sorting out the IRS business and learning about all the other main distributors out there (I should also say that I do not use third party companies to produce ebooks, Thinking Plainly as a team do it ourselves) I am now able to sell ebooks on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google, Scribd and so on. This doesn’t mean I think that we will now by default automatically sell books in all of their markets, of course not, they will probably remain blank for some time to come yet, but it is a great learning process and benefits me as a writer and as a business in many ways, I think I will have to blog in more detail another time about that as a subject in itself.
            The thing you have to consider is that even if the ereaders and self publishing platforms available are great, you don’t have the functionality of Amazon (again…yet) so there are no author profile pages and marketing tools that will take your profile to the next level, you have to do all of that yourself still, there is nothing to be gained in that sense, so it is a decision not to be taken lightly and entirely dependent of your situation and vision of your company/individual.

The main point of this blog is that there is one HUGE embarrassing factor in being on all of these platforms and I will use the recent experience of uploading my books to Barnes and Noble’s Nook. I have not finished a new ebook in two years now, yes that is right, two bloody years! If you have been keeping track of me on Facebook or reading my blog then you will know the reasons for this and where I am in my story development. To put it briefly here, I have nearly 30 short stories in varying stages of completion and am researching my first novel, so I hope to be putting out stories in a fairly regular fashion over the next two years…but for now…I had to upload stories that were two years old, and let’s be honest (I like to be too honest for my own good) not very good…I mean, I love them don’t get me wrong, but they are my first attempts and I know that they are not the work of a seasoned professional writer, I have never denied that and I know that my future works will be better (have I already mentioned the word deluded?) so for instance, as much as I am very proud of 'The Silent Spaces' as my first work, Collection One is very weak and as much as I like the concept of the stories they are not brilliantly written pieces at all. The reason why they are online is very simple, firstly, you cannot sell for free, if you put something on Amazon or wherever, they all have their minimum prices and even if there are free days you can make use of, if they are there for good then they have to be there at a price (this is for a small beginner company like mine, I realise there are negotiations to be had if you become larger) so the decision is all about whether you want it there, not if you want it there for free. The decision I took is that part of the reason I am who I am is that I am open and honest and I want to learn and develop and then share my education and development with others and so to hide things I have done seemed wrong to me, this is a personal decision based upon what I want my company to stand for and so I want my history to be there for all to see and as a result, my progression to be there for all to see. If 'Collection One' is worth less than toilet paper then I’m not going to hide away from that, if in ten years time someone decides to buy it because they have enjoyed my recent works then it won’t surprise me to see them put a review online saying how disappointed they were, how bad it was, etc. etc. but to me that is showing other people that everyone develops and it is natural that your early work will be substandard to what you later achieve (I always like to talk in generalisms, we all know that some people’s debut novels are breathtaking and are sometimes not bettered) especially if like me you enjoy being open and transparent, if I am on a journey then I want others to be on it with me and if a few people get angry with me for taking this route then I can live with that. I tell you what it does do make me really want to finish my next stories even more than I did already!!! I can’t tell you how desperately I want new content up there. However as a business I have worked very hard and developed every day and I have to think about the writers I am working with and not just myself so it’s not really a sacrifice, it all benefits me in the long run. So yes, it is embarrassing in one respect uploading old work, but it is still progress and it is still advancing the business and I have learnt a lot from it…and of course there is a small sense of satisfaction knowing I can distribute all over the world on all of the major platforms.

Okay, that’s part two of my update done with, that didn’t end up being very quick either did it? So, I’ve told you about the website and blog situation, the self publishing latest, next in part three I will let you know on a more personal level how the last three months away have gone and what I have learnt from it, as a writer and as a person, which it is obvious to say are inextricably linked now. This isn’t a hobby anymore, it’s not a sideline, it’s who I am and what I will be doing for a very long time to come.



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