The Artist’s Prayer

From my book About Writing:

The Artist’s Prayer

When in doubt, do the work.
When in obscurity,
When the rain falls and everything turns to ashes in your hands,
When you are in love,
And when you are alone,
When the world clamours for your attention,
And when all have turned their backs upon you,
Do the work.

When tired, do the work.
When gripped by infirmity
Or paralysed by fear,
In the company of friends,
In ecstasy or desolation,
During the dark times and the light,
In anger and with compassion,
Do the work.

Becoming a Full-time Writer

Lots of people want to quit their jobs to become full-time authors. It’s one of the subjects I get asked most about. So, I thought I’d write a quick post detailing my experiences.

Twelve years ago, I was a marketing manager for a large European business software company. I had a small team of direct marketing people under me and co-responsibility for a £ half-million marketing budget. When the company restructured and my role became impossible, I left because a) I was sick of the stress and b) I wanted to write.

(Annoyingly, if I’d have stuck it out for another eight months, I would have been made redundant and received quite a nice redundancy package, as I’d been at the company for ten year. As it was, I left with nothing.)

Since then, I’ve written and published 12 books, numerous short stories, and a fair few blog posts and articles. I’ve also been a stay-at-home dad for my kids, and over the last year become a full-time carer for my youngest.

However, it’s also been a financial rollercoaster. I’ve done freelance work as a copywriter and journalist and done some part-time work for local organisations in order to bring in some money, and there have been periods of barely scraping by, accompanied by many sleepless nights.

I don’t think I would have survived the past two or three years without the support of my awesome Patreon community, who have been extremely encouraging and loyal.

But since Embers of War was published in 2018, money has started to tricke in from foreign sales, royalties, audio rights, and TV/movie options. Not megabucks, and certainly not as much as I earned in my previous job, but enough to provide a little security.

So, if you’re thinking of giving up a reliable income in favour of an artistic life, think long and hard about what that means.

The average advance for a novel is somewhere around £4k-£5k, and that’s not usually paid all in one lump sum. You get half when you sign the contact and half when the book is published, which might not be for another year, depending on schedules. So, after spending a year writing your debut novel, you could be looking at an annual income of £2,500, which is certainly not enough to live on.

An agent can help. They might be able to negotiate a better deal, and they will let help you hang on to your foreign publication rights, which can then be sold to generate more income.

But you are still going to need to find a way to generate more income, especially if you have dependents and a mortgage. So, you may have to consider a part-time job, or spend part of your writing time hustling as a freelancer.

You can also look at diversifying your channels. If you’re primarily a novelist, you might also consider writing comic scripts or screenplays. If your novels re traditionally published, you might consider self-publishing some shorter fiction.

Once you start to get established, you may be offered a fee to attend a literary festival, or host a writing workshop. But you have to accept the first few months, and maybe years, are going to be an uncertain time – unless you have a patient spouse with a well-paying job.

It’s taken me twelve years to finally start earning decent money in this business, and I’d still be lost without Patreon. So, think carefully, make a plan, and diversify your income streams.

And the best of luck to you!

The Joy of Helping

Back in 2016, as UK politics started to become ever more divisive and Twitter seemed to have become a hate-filled void of people shouting extreme opinions at each other, I got fed up. Reading my feed became some masochistic game of seeing how much stress I could take before I logged-off again.

Why can’t people be nicer? I thought.

And then, I remembered that I am a person (I can prove it and everything). If I wanted people to be nicer online, I knew I had a responsibility to lead by example. I had to be the change I wanted to see in the world. So, I muted all they key words that were causing dissent in my feed, and simply typed: ‘Is there anything I can do to help anyone today?’

The response was heartening. I was asked questions about writing and publishing. One person wanted a virtual hug. Others wanted encouragement or a kick in the pants. In fact, it went so well, I kept doing it, and have been regularly posting offers of help for aspiring writers ever since. I stay away from the drama and concentrate instead on helping people where I can.

I answer questions about my writing process, daily word counts, approaching agents and publishers, using flashbacks, chapter length, and many other writing-related subjects. I have provided character names to people who needed them, cheered writers on s they made progress, and told others to sit their butts down and get to work.

I’m a big believer that you get back what you put out into the world, and these acts of kindness on my part have resulted in a lot of goodwill from the rest of the writing community. Whenever I attend conventions, I get people coming up to me and thanking me for some piece of advice or kindness, or just saying how much they enjoy the positivity.

Only this morning, someone called me “UK science fiction’s honorary, lovable Uncle.”

Helping people with their writing problems has also helped distract me from some of the stresses and strains in my personal life, meaning I’ve benefitted from these advice sessions at least as much as they have.

And although I didn’t set out to sell books this way, it seems to have had the added side effect that folks who appreciate the effort I put in for others check out my novels, and my writing guide.

So, if people tell you that Twitter isn’t a good place for selling books, they’re probably right. Hard sell tactics don’t really work. Nobody wants to follow a megaphone. But, Twitter is a great place for helping and encouraging people, and if that results in a few extra book sales, that’s fantastic–but you have to concentrate on the helping rather than the selling!

You can find me on Twitter here: @garethlpowell

Who Goes There?

My November column for The Engineer magazine is now available online too. It discusses some wild speculation about the future of face recognition technology.

What if neighbourhoods and shopping malls refuse entry to known or suspected offenders? What if airlines deny service to customers they consider ‘high risk’ based on their ethnicity? Journalists and stalkers could easily track the movements of celebrities using drones able to scan and recognise faces. On a more disturbing note, this technology could be used for assassinations, allowing a drone carrying a few grams of high explosive to select and pursue a target.

Read the whole thing here.

Awards Eligibility 2019

As the year draws towards its close, we’re entering awards nomination season again. The BSFA Award is already accepting nominations from members, and it will soon be time to put forward works for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. So, with that in mind, I’d like to remind you of the three works I had published this year.

  1. Novel: FLEET OF KNIVES (Titan Books, Feb 2019)
  2. Novella/Short Fiction: RAGGED ALICE (Tor.Com Publishing, April 2019)
  3. Nonfiction: ABOUT WRITING (Luna Press, June 2019)

In addition, I *think* the Embers of War trilogy is eligible to be nominated as Best Series. I might be wrong, though. You might have to check the rules.

Your support is VERY MUCH appreciated. Every award my books win attracts more readers, and the goal is to share my work with as many people as possible!

The Secret Formula for Pitching a Novel or Movie

One of the hardest things about writing a novel or screenplay is succinctly summing up the plot–but that’s exactly what you need to do if you’re going to pitch it to an agent, editor or studio.

To help you out, here’s the formula I use. I find it incredibly useful to fill it out at the start of the process, before I start writing, in order to make certain I’ve got all the essential ingredients of the story in place.

Here it is:

In order to [avoid problem] a [flawed character] must [try to achieve goal] but when [complication] they realise they must overcome [antagonist] and [personal flaw] by [action] before [deadline].

Wherever you see brackets, insert the relevant parts of your plot.

Want an example? See if you recognise this:

In order to ensure others haven’t fallen victim to the monster that killed her crew, a trauatised spacer must return to the planet where the killings started, but when she and her marine escorts are trapped on the surface, she realises she must defeat the aliens and her own feelings of loss for her daughter by facing the queen alien and escaping before the nuclear power plant explodes.

Yes, it’s ALIENS. How about this one:

In order to respond to a distress call from a princess, a naive farm boy must travel to the stars in order to return the plans she hid in his newly acquired R2 droid. But when his hired ship is captured by the Empire, he realises he must deliver those plans to the rebellion and exchange the cynicism of his uncle for a belief in the Force before the rebellion is forever destroyed.

Still not convinced? Here it is applied to my novel, EMBERS OF WAR:

In order to redeem herself a disgraced warship who accidentally developed a conscience must rescue the passengers of a crashed star liner. But when she comes into conflict with former comrades, she realises she must learn how to outhink rather than outfight her opponents, and solve the mystery of the alien objects in the star system known as the Gallery, before their skirmish sparks another devastating war.

Try it with your work-in-progress. It might point out gaps in your plot, and it will certainly make your pitching easier!

Any input? Comment below!

Moving The Moon

The first of my columns for The Engineer has appeared online. It’s about exploring different ways to use the Moon to help climate change on Earth. Some of these ways are more feasible than others…

However, if we could use giant motors or near misses by large asteroids to move the Moon closer to the Earth, we could maybe reset this process, using a faster-orbiting Moon to increase the Earth’s rotation and shorten our days. Why would we want to do that? Well, assuming we could withstand the resultant earthquakes and manage not to drop the entire Moon into the Pacific, the main effect of a shorter day would be that it would give the East and West hemispheres of the Earth less time to warm up in the glare of the Sun. The oceans would have less time to absorb heat, and winters would become colder. In addition, a faster-rotating Earth would give us faster-moving tides, which could have implications for tidal power generation – not to mention surfers.

Read the entire article here: Moving The Moon.

Twitter for Authors

Whatever other social media platforms you may be on, Twitter seems to be the main one where writers hang out. Maybe we like the fact it’s almost all text based. Maybe we like the brevity.

If you’re an author setting out on your Twitter journey, here are a few do’s and dont’s that really seem to help.

USE A HANDLE THAT WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME

Using a cute name may be an option if you want to stay anonymous online, but if you want to build an author platform, it’s probably best to use your own name (or pen-name) as your @ handle. You may also be tempted to use the title of your debut book, but I would advise against it. Hopefully, you’ll write many more books, and might regret being forever saddled with the title of your first, especially if those later books do much better.

CREATE A PROFESSIONAL BIO

People are going to need a reason to follow you, so give them one! Tell us who you are and why you’re here. If you’re an author, say so. And if you can tell us your genre, so much the better. There’s about a bazillion “bestselling writers” on Twitter, so you need to find some way to stand out. If you really are a NYT or Sunday Times Bestseller, then mention it. Also mention any awards or relevant experience. If you write sci-fi and once worked for NASA, mention that. If you don’t have anything like that, try telling us why you’re writing.

GET A DECENT PROFILE PICTURE

Your profile picture will be a huge part of your Twitter “brand”. People will recognise it as they scan down their feeds, and associate it with you. So, maybe ditch the picture of Garfield or Rick & Morty, and use something that epitomises who you are. I use a professional-looking headshot on my profile, because I am open and personable on Twitter. What you see is what you get. Others may choose to use book covers or caricatures of themselves, which is fine, but think long and hard about how you want to be perceived.

DITTO FOR THE HEADER IMAGE

A header image is another opportunity to give your tweets context and tell us something about who you are. It’s also a great chance to show off your book covers or post up an image that reflects the tone and subject of your work. So, if you write gritty murder mysteries, you could use a darkened city street. If you write international romances, maybe a yacht or a tropical beach.

PINNED TWEETS

Twitter allows you to ‘pin’ a tweet to the top of your feed, so it will be the first thing seen by visitors to your profile. This can be a handy way of posting links to your latest books, deals, or news. But agressive “buy my book” tweets can be off-putting, and the visitor may click away without reading the rest of your feed. So, try to be welcoming. Show off your wares, but don’t try to jam them down our throats. Also, it’s a good idea to change your pinned tweet every now and again. A pinned tweet dated six months ago gives the impression that nothing much of interest has happened since.

DON’T BE A JERK

There’s a line in Bugsy Malone that goes, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you / You’re gonna be remembered for the things you say and do.” And this applies double to social media. The way you appear online is the way people will think you really are. So, if you act like an agressive jerk, readers will assume you are one. And if those readers include prospective agents and publishers, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody wants to work with an asshole, far less read their book or be friends with them, so be careful how you behave.

I try to treat Twitter the same way I would treat a bar full of people I want to get to know. I’m polite, respectful and try to be helpful where I can. I don’t wander around starting fights, or jump on the table shouting “BUY MY BOOK!”

DON’T SPAM

People don’t react well to a hard sales pitch. If I follow someone and they immediately hit me with an automated “check out my book / facebook page / website message, I immediately unfollow them. At the very least, I will mute them.

The same goes for hijacking other people’s conversations. If two or more people are discussing something, don’t leap in with an advert for your book. And don’t use popular hashtags to try and get exposure for your work, either. Not unless it’s relevant. If people are using a hashtag to talk about a political issue and you jump in with an advert for your murder mystery, you’re going to look like an idiot (however, if you’re a political pundit whose book happens to be relvant to the discussion, feel free).

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY

When it comes to followers, you want people who are interested in what you have to say. Trying to get a million randos to follow you won’t be nearly as useful as having 1,000 engaged and interested friends. The former may buy a book from you, the latter almost certainly will. At the very least, they’ll retweet your tweets and help you spread your message.

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU FOLLOW

Follow people who are relevant to your interests. Use the list function to segment your timeline. Have one list for agents, another for editors. Create a list for your most engaged followers, and your favourite authors. Choose successful authors and watch how they use twitter. Learn from them. Listen to what they’re saying and how they say it. Maybe even reach out to them to ask them questions about their craft.

But don’t just follow other writers. Try to follow readers and reviewers, bloggers and publishers. Anyone with an interest in your particular genre. Because it never hurts to know what’s going on in your field.

And for the sake of your mental health, block anyone who trolls you. Don’t try to argue with them, just block and move on (and report if necessary). Mute topics that stress you out, and try to cut as much negativity from your feed as possible.

But most of all, have fun!

You can find me @garethlpowell where I regularly host question and answer sessions for aspiring authors, post writing tips and offer encouragement, and occasionally share pictures of my cats.

Entire Embers of War Trilogy Now Available!

I hear tell that there are some people out there who won’t buy the first book in a series until the final one is published.

Weird, right?

Well, if you’re one of these people and you’ve been holding back on buying Embers of War and its sequel Fleet of Knives, you need hold back no more!

The third and final instalment, Light of Impossible Stars, is now available to pre-order in paperback, which means there’s no reason for you to delay ordering the entire trilogy!*

Click below to find out more info and place your order:

Embers of War

Fleet of Knives

Light of Impossible Stars

*Unless you’re waiting for Kindle or audio formats, which will be along closer to the publication date

Fan art

I am absolutely smitten with these pieces of Embers of War fan art from Snowball Art.

Alva Clay
Sal Konstanz and the Trouble Dog (on screen)
Ona Sudak confronts the avatar of the Marble Armada