rip-railroadedOne of the first comments I got back from my editor on her critique of ‘Railroaded’ was; the title needs changing.

She put it better than that. For a near-future sci-fi novel with no trains, railways, railroad companies or the like, it sounds a bit antiquated…and confusing.

I chose ‘Railroaded’ because it’s about how everyone is getting led by companies into doing things that aren’t in their best interest. She stated the problem wasn’t the reasoning behind the title, it was that the title could be misleading on it’s own.

It all made terribly sound, good sense, so I was compelled to think of a new title.

Do you know how hard that is? It’s been known as ‘Railroaded’ since 2007, when the first draft was getting started, and now I had to change it! How?

In my notes I already had a few pages of potential new titles I brainstormed a few years ago when I made a half-hearted effort to come up with a new title. I looked through the thesaurus and kept my ears open for words I liked. I had the title, ‘The Acquiesced’, for a few weeks but wasn’t 100% confident about it. I’m not sure how I actually came up with ‘In A Right State’, it’s not on that list of brainstormed titles, I think it just came to me one day so I let it sit, mulling it over until it started to sit comfortably.

I double checked it with Sophie, my editor, and she said yes. So it’s a goer!

I like that it works on two levels. Firstly, in a literal sense of the story being about a country under a right leaning, very small government, controlled by capitalism. Secondly, the playful, humorous slang meaning of the country being in a mess.

Also, the title makes absolutely no reference to trains, railways or railroad companies…just like the novel itself.

Now I’m here with a new title, the bulk of the editing done, starting the cover design process and feeling a whole lot happier with the book than before. I also changed one of the main character’s names too, because, what the hell, when you’re editing, everything’s up for negotiating, right?

stuck-inI’m in the middle of editing my first novel after getting feedback from my hired editor, and in a quest for some major procrastination, I’ve decided to take a pit-stop and write this post.

The project is to self-publish my first novel.

The goal is to self-publish it with some degree of professionalism, not just slam the 4th draft up on Amazon with a cover made in Paint.

To do this I’ve hired an editor to give me feedback and then complete a copy-edit. I’ve also got a professional designer to do me a cover (once I finalise the title). I’m going to put the ebook together myself as I used to be a web developer plus I’m interested in the process. I’ll also do the marketing myself as I used to work in internet marketing and I’m looking forward to this part almost as much as the actual writing of the thing. Ironically, my favourite ideas are all offline.

I’ve given myself a budget of £1000. I can’t really imagine doing this for much less unless you have friends who owe you big favours…see next… £600 for editing, cover for free because I have a wicked designer mate who I also did a website for, and then £400 for marketing and other sundries.

What defines success?

I have different levels of success in my mind;

Moderate Success – Releasing a professional ebook on Amazon is my No.1 goal and the whole point of this exercise. Even if I don’t sell one copy (well, two, my Mum will buy one…I hope) then I’ll be gutted but this whole process has already proven a worthwhile exercise in my writing development and gaining knowledge. Having an ebook to promote on my own website will look better than having none, plus being able to tell people to search my name on Amazon and for them to find something professional at the end of it is a noble cause (even if there is more than one ‘Ben Ellis’ on there).

Success – Selling 50+ ebooks and getting 5 or more 4/5 star reviews on Amazon would be great.

Blinding Success – Selling 250+ ebooks, getting 20+ good reviews on Amazon, getting some reviews and recommendations on other sites, some positive tweets and general good feedback.

Mega Massive Unbelievable Success – Breaking even.

I’m not even going to think about levels of success exceeding this. I did that when I first sent this novel out to agents back in 2009 and was half-heartedly acknowledged with muted indifference by only a handful.

I’m now a shell of hardened rejection encapsulating a colourless, humourless void.

I think I’m ready.


editorThe first step in getting my first novel self-published was to find an editor to knock it into shape and make it half-readable and, hopefully, sellable.

But how? I’ve never done this sort of thing.

I searched the internet and got a kinda confused mess of all sorts, eventually narrowing it down to 3 really good starting points;

  1. Mediabistro – GalleyCat’s Freelance Editor Directory
  2. CreativePenn – list of editors
  3. SfEP – Society of Editors and Proofreaders

From this list I set myself a few criteria of ‘must haves’;

  1. Sci-fi – my first novel is a near-future dystopian story (or so I thought, more on that in another post) so obviously I didn’t want a children’s editor, but I also wanted one who had actively listed sci-fi as an interest.
  2. British – my book is set in England, has British humour, British references, etc. I didn’t want to complicate the whole process by having a foreign editor come back with ‘I don’t understand bollocks’. Neither do I mate.
  3. Reasonably priced – not cheap, but I have a budget.
  4. A Developmental/Big Picture/Critique edit – there’s different types of editing. I wanted a critique of the whole novel and copy-editing, not necessarily by the same person though.
  5. SfEP Qualified – after some searching and learning more, I thought an editor with this qualification would guarantee some level of professionalism. It wasn’t essential but as a total stranger in this world, it did give me a little more confidence.

…read more »

January 12, 2014

I thought I’d whip up a quick post with links to a couple of playlists I created in iTunes as a follow up to this previous post back in December 2010, ‘Some of my writing playlists‘, but iTunes appear to have totally destroyed that facility.

So, instead, you’ll just have to do with a screenshot of iTunes and then go hunt the tunes yourself, if you feel so inclined. Not sure where the progress is in all this but who am I to criticise Apple?

The following 3 playlists are mainly deep house as I seem to require a groove to keep the words flowing and the procrastinating stunted.


This is the forth writing playlist I created, so I called it ‘Foursight’. As you’ll see, I’ve stuck with this quirky/unoriginal numbering/naming convention. I created this one in-between novels I think.


Essential download: Lamur (Henry Saiz Remix) – Guy J

A Bunch of Fives

This one fuelled the first half of Blindsided.


Essential download: Simulation – Roisin Murphy

Six of the Best

This one kept the fires burning for the second half of Blindsided.


Essential download: Heartbreaker – Crazy P

I’m already in the middle of compiling ‘Lucky No.7’ for the second draft of Blindsided.

Let me know what tunes you listen to, especially if they’re house/ambient related and have a groove that would make the jackboot stamping down on Winston Smith’s face, at least do it rhythmically.

pandaI’m not a full-blown grammar Nazi so I’m going to refer to myself as a grammar panda since recently reading ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves‘ by Lynne Truss, mainly  in preparation for redrafting one novel and self-publishing another, thinking I need a refresher in all this boring, technical stuff.

I have a basic knowledge of punctuation and a personal style sheet but I’m in no way an advanced student of grammar or language. I don’t know anything about past participles, future perfect, my limit is that verbs are ‘doing words’. If that’s not right, then I’m fucked.

It’s like learning scales in music or the offside rule in football; it’s boring but it has to be done if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

You see what I just did there? I used a semi-colon. Not a colon or a comma, or a dash or ellipses. Why? I’m not sure. A comma isn’t enough because it’s not a flowing sentence that requires a ‘breather’, the words following the semi-colon are a ‘reflective thought’ on the words proceeding the semi-colon. I never use a dash. I only seem to use ellipses in speech to indicate a longer pause than a comma can achieve. So a semi-colon it was and so it shall remain.

But that’s the thing that came out of reading ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves‘, there are some hard and fast rules (capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, full-stop at the end, apostrophes) but surprisingly a lot of it is down to personal preference…within reason.

This is only in regards to grammar though. Not spelling. Apart from the odd spelling differences between countries, there’s no personal preference on how to spell miscellaneous or definitely.

Reassuringly, in that book Lynne Truss does state that British education didn’t bother with all this grammar stuff much so we usually have a poor grasp of it. This confirms why when speaking to some foreigners about English they might enquire, “How do you modify the adjective when it’s in the past?”

“You what mate?”

If you asked me to dissect these sentences highlighting the verbs, adjectives, nouns, conjunctives, etc, I’d have to simply run away, screaming.

Agents and publishers don’t read this, right?

So, anyway, here’s my personal style sheet and interpretation of the rules:

  • Strict on speech marks indicating speech and quote marks used for quoting. The clue’s in the name.
  • I never start a sentence with and or but. In the panda book it stated that this is a bit of an old rule but I’m sticking with it. I only stopped using double-spacing after a full-stop a couple of years ago (still think it looks better but apparently it’s a massive faux-pas).
  • Not a fan of the Oxford comma but since seeing images like this, I’m wavering. It just looks so ugly though!
  • I’m determined not to have any hyphenated words in my self-published ebook because of spacing/justifying issues. I’d rather use a different word than have that.
  • Never use dashes. I think it’s more of an American thing but I’ve never felt the need for one where I could use a comma, brackets or ellipses instead. I suppose I might in a blog post if I was posting an editorial response to something – Oooo! Look at Mr. Big Nuts!
  • Double dashes? Holy shit, no.
  • Don’t use more than one exclamation mark but will pair an exclamation mark with a question mark. Really?!  Yes!!!!!! (Blog posts excepted).
  • Never use a colon in a sentence, only to indicate a forth-coming list.
  • Only use a semi-colon in a sentence when the last part being semi-colonised is some kind of reflection, or a step outside, the proceeding part of the sentence.
  • Use italics to emphasise that this word may look like an error or totally screw up a concept but, in fact, it doesn’t on a second reading. eg. used on misspellings or made-up words such as ‘semi-colonised’ or when referring to a word with two meanings or which may cause confusion.
  • Only use an apostrophe when pluralising a word that ends with S, eg. ‘Jesus’ codpiece fell to the floor’. I wouldn’t add a second S, just looks weird.

That’s 11 rules there. I should have called this blog post, ’11 grammar rules for writers’ but since I don’t want agents and publishers to see this the last thing I want are loads of visitors.

What are your own interpretations of these grammar rules and others? Am I doing anything blatantly wrong? What rules have I not addressed which requires the opinion of someone who refers to himself as a’ grammar panda’?

Here’s the first thing I wrote in my notebook for ‘Blindsided‘. The initial idea I had swilling around in my brain parts for a few months as I was finishing off my previous novel, ‘Broken Branches‘.

I’ve only just finished the first draft of Blindsided so there’s a couple of drafts to go before any beta readers are going to see it, but I’m not afraid of revealing my initial concept this early. It’s just to show that from a fairly simple idea a whole novel can sprout forth; give someone a problem and then find out how they deal with it, how it affects them, affects others, drives them, limits them, etc.

It’s funny because this blog post from December 2011, ‘Novel 3: Before the absolute beginning‘, containing a few thoughts I was having for the 3rd novel, bares absolutely no resemblance to the completed first draft. I think that’s because those thoughts are based around events which of themselves don’t tell an interesting fictional story; that first paragraph introduces a character you can build a story around.

That paragraph from my notebook is dated May 2012 so after 6 months of thinking and finishing the 2nd novel, I’d come up with a completely different concept for the 3rd. I then finished writing (procrastinating) in my notebook and started the actual first draft in September 2012, ‘Novel 3 is Go, Go Go!‘.

If you use this as the starting point for your novel, it would probably end up in a whole different place. So go for it if you want…you can’t copyright ideas. Writers are much more guarded than this but I’m no-one at the bottom with nothing to lose and thought it might be interesting to release a brief glimpse into the wild.

If you’re interesting in illegible, gobbledegook notes then check out this post featuring notes from my previous 2 novels, ‘Illegible Chapter by Chapter Planning Notes‘.

That’s it really.

No, I have absolutely no idea what my 4th novel might be about. I’m not panicking…yet.

to-do-listThe 1st draft of Blindsided is now finished and I need a break from it before going back in and tackling the 2nd draft, but I’m not going to sit around and download mountains of specialist porn, I’m going to enter the big bad world of self-publishing.

My first novel, ‘Railroaded‘, has been submitted to 44 agents and publishers without much success. I still like Railroaded and recently read a similar traditionally published novel which I didn’t think was as good, so that’s all the motivation I need to release it into the wild and back up my wildly biased opinion.

I’ve started researching into what I need to do to get a respectable, semi-professional ebook online. In my mind I’m budgeting £1,000 but I’d like to get it done for less although I’m not sure it’s going to be possible with editing and copy editing.

My first ports of call have been two free PDF downloads and a paid for app;

  1. Joanna Penn’s – Author 2.0 Blueprint
  2. The Book Designer – 10 things you need to know about self-publishing
  3. Writing Magazine – How to Publish Your Ebook – £5
  4. (Added 29th Jan 2014) – ‘Let’s Get Digital‘ by David Gaughan – £2 on Amazon or a free PDF

All 3 offer comprehensive information for absolute beginners in all aspects of ebook creation and marketing. I’m not a beginner but the book publishing specifics such as formatting, ISBN’s, pricing, etc is all new to me.

…read more »

thought-bubbleThe last thing you want when you finish a race is someone coming up to you describing how they ran a crap race, got a cold only a few days ago, got tripped up, had to stop for a dump, lost a shoe and then tell you how disappointed they are with their time…which is waaay better than yours.

The first draft of Blindsided is finished and before I can pat myself on the back for finishing a manuscript, no matter how shite it maybe, two doubts hit me; am I good enough and am I prolific enough?

The first one hit me reading a book review supplement from a Sunday paper, specifically a review of a novel featuring the break down of a family set against the backdrop of the Russian revolution.

Yeah, pretty heavy shit.

My novel is nowhere near that heavy. It’s not set against the backdrop of anything. When you read it you’re not going to learn any history or much at all, and you’re probably not going to be stroking your chin either.

…read more »

bwainOMG! I finally finished the first draft of Blindsided!

This is my third novel and seems to have been the hardest one to finish. The other two had their moments but this one was like giving birth to a rhino with 9 legs.

I started on 14th September 2012, had my usual late winter freeze with two months of plotting and no writing, I then hit another wall and also had the nightmare of losing 5,000 words. I finished the first half of the first draft at the end of August but then rushed on with a mountain of momentum and finished the second half only 3 months later.

Here might be the answer to this conundrum.

With my first two novels I did quite a bit of research, substantially more plotting and they were more dystopic/speculative novels. Literary sounds too heavy but Blindsided is definitely not sci-fi, I guess you could classify it as ‘Contemporary fiction’.  I did zero research and very minimal plotting, I just dived head first into it. It felt good at first but I soon became lost in the lack of plotting, and without a big dystopic idea to hold on to, I found it harder to make so-called ordinary, everyday lives readable and interesting.

My big fear in going back in for the second draft is; I haven’t.

Finishing this novel’s first draft was also a bit of an anti-climax for some reason. I think it’s because I’ve got a few nagging doubts but the more time goes by, the happier I am with it. I arrived at the finish in a slightly different route to the previous two novels, so maybe I’m having to adjust to that.

Maybe I’ve become more of a gristled, cynical, disillusioned writer and that brief sweet taste of victory at the end is now meaningless. I hope not!

I’m looking forward to the second draft. It’s probably my favourite draft. The first draft is a daily battle against blank pages, the third draft and onwards are basically touching up. The second draft is serious editing, rewriting, fixing, assessing, understanding and the first reading where you know how it all ends.

It’s currently 57,000 words long which isn’t long enough to be traditionally published but I always skimp on description and musing in the first draft, so I’ll be looking to finish the second draft at around 65,000 words.

I’m going to have a break between now and the second draft though. A break from Blindsided but not from writing, I plan on self-publishing my first novel Railroaded. A whole new sphere of headaches, no doubt!

make-up I’m on the home straight of my novel, ‘Blindsided‘, just 4 chapters to go and I’ve now gone and got Manflu which usually renders men useless and depressive oafs.

Now I’m thinking this novel is probably crap; the story is boring, characters are one dimensional, there’s no flare or finesse, along with the fact my first two novels are going nowhere fast.

So why bother?

I read a traditionally published novel this year similar to one of mine and I thought it was pretty poor. Others on Goodreads thought it was pretty poor too. Mine is of a similar genre , and I think better, yet I get rejections coming out my ears and this other one gets the full professional treatment.

Maybe I’m biased and bitter.

So the following tweet I saw struck a chord…

If I allow the paracetamol hit to wear off and finish my hot lemon drink, I might be able to grab some positives.

Finishing the first draft of a novel is something to be proud of. No-one’s going to see it. The subsequent drafts is where I can add finesse and depth.

In the break between first and second drafts, I’m planning on self-publishing my first novel which is something I’m very much looking forward to. If I could get 2,000 people to actually buy it, that would be amazing.

Writing is a waste of time if you look at it financially or logically. It’s a crazy waste of time but, to paraphrase Churchill, ‘What are we fighting for‘ if we don’t indulge our creative sides.

I could better spend my time painting fences, learning to cook, learning Spanish, working more overtime, etc but I wouldn’t be as happy. I should remember that sometimes; the act of writing and making shit up does make me happy even if it doesn’t always make itself immediately apparent.