Sunday 22 July 2012

52 Short Stories in a Year - 1 month update

After deciding to take up the challenge of writing 52 short stories in a year, here is my update after finishing the first month on 21st July.

Name Type Word Count Status
The Ship Short Story 3793 Finished - to edit
Take me Back with You Short Story 2528 WIP
Take me Back with You Novelisation 9373 WIP
The Lost Train Short Story 3362 WIP
The Other Set of Feet Short Story 3749 Finished - to edit
The Hunter Novella 5543 WIP
Once We Were Children Short Story 2513 Finished - to edit
The Assignment Short Story 2737 WIP

I'm actually one story behind on getting one per week, but I've averaging out at a little over 1000 words a day, and considering I'm also fitting editing a novel into the tiny window of free time I have each day I'm pretty happy with my progress.

The Ship is a short story about a boy obsessed with supertankers who falls foul of a school bully.  I did a ton of research on supertankers and stuff and then ended up cutting most of it out as my attempt at writing literary fiction ended up more action-based.

Take me Back with You is a kind of romance, which is a little strange because I've never written anything like that before.  The short story is pretty much a summary of the story which I decided to make into a novel of perhaps 60k or so, and now the main plot line is mapped out in my head I probably won't bother finishing it as a short story.

The Lost Train is about a pair of kids who find a train sticking out of the ground and discover it is one that went missing thirty years before.  I wanted to write a story about the now closed North Cornwall Railway, and this is it.  I'm a little stalled on the plot at the moment but I'll get to it eventually.

The Other set of Feet is a weird little story about a man trapped in his bedroom by a supposed murderer hiding under his bedsheets.  It's kind of comical, kind of just plain weird.

The Hunter (provisional title) is a novella set in the world of my novel, The Tube Riders, and introduces a few characters who may or may not make it into the second part of the story.  Still thinking about it.

Once we were Children is an attempt at writing a nostalgic story about an old man thinking back on good family times as he faces his death.  I tried to write in the style of a movie me and the wife watched recently about a man who went off on a last journey with his dog after his family fell apart and they ended up dying together.  My story is nowhere near as good, though.

The Assignment is what I think is the ace in the pack, a short story about a young man working for a travel guidebook who is sent to an island never before visited by people in order to write a tourist guide.  There he will discover all sorts of strange things.  I got the initial idea from a dream I had of a giant aquamarine blue factory sitting on a an island beside a massive towering cliff.  It's going to have strange beings, action and crazy discoveries about the human race before its done, and the only one of the lot so far that I'll probably bother subbing to pro magazines.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my progress.  It might not be the 10k a day that some stay-at-home-type writers churn out, but its actually more by word count than I've written in the last 18 months combined, and I feel connected with my words in a way I haven't in a long time.  The old turns of phrase are starting to come back and the plots are getting more and more intricate with each new idea.  To say I had been stagnating is an understatement, but in the wake of failing to get an agent for Tube Riders back in 2010 my writing basically fell of a cliff.

I'm still struggling to find more than an hour a day to write which is a worry, but that's life.  I'm not in a financial position to quit any of the work I do and I'm not about to give up my other hobbies.  Variety is the spice of life and all that, I just wish it was easier to stay awake from 10pm to midnight after working a fourteen hour day.

Still, progress is progress.  If only a few more people would buy my book then things would be great.


Friday 13 July 2012

Castles Made of Sand & The Tree

I wanted to write a little bit about the two most recent stories I'm publishing on Amazon, Castles Made of Sand, and The Tree.  Both contain a moral message of sorts.

The first of these, Castles Made of Sand, is a space exploration story set on an alien world.  Two explorers, Randall and Boyd, come across a number of giant sandcastles on a beach and set about trying to find out who made them and why.  The message in this story is very much about the care humans must take when they interact with other living beings, be them animals or perhaps one day creatures from another world.

This story is especially important to me because it kick started my writing career back in 2006, and was the first significant story I had written in four years.  2002/3 was a golden period for me, and some of my best stories, including Joyriders, The Ageless, Benny’s Harem and the original short story from which my novel Tube Riders came, were written around that time.  However, I failed to sell anything, got disillusioned and gave up for a while.  Then, in 2006, I wrote Castles Made of Sand, discovered the ease of submitting via the internet, and it quickly became my first paid sale, after a couple of earlier ones had fallen through in the way that they so often do in the small press.  It has since been sold as a reprint to the magazine Aoife’s Kiss, and was published in 2009.  Now the rights are mine again, it’s taking its turn on Amazon.

The Tree is a dystopian story set in the future.  It was a bit of an experiment, written as it is in the form of a diary by a girl called Cybil, whose father works somewhere off-world, and one day returns home bringing with him a gift that Cybil and her brothers and sisters have never seen before – a little oak tree in a pot.  The story focuses on the reaction of the children and the fate of the little tree.

In school I remember reading what I thought was a short story but on investigating (thanks, Google) it seems to have been a poem, called We are Going to See the Rabbit, by an English poet called Alan Brownjohn.  The Tree is heavily influenced by this poem.  I found the poem on the net here, but have pasted it below for your interest (no copyright infringement intended).

we are going to see the rabbit

We are going to see the rabbit,
We are going to see the rabbit,
Which rabbit, people say?
Which rabbit, ask the children?
Which rabbit?
The only rabbit,
The only rabbit in England,
Sitting behind a barbed wire fence
Under the floodlights, neon lights,
Sodium lights,
Nibbling grass
On the only patch of grass
In England, in England
(Except the grass by the hoardings
Which doesn’t count.)
We are going to see the rabbit,
And we must be there on time.
First we shall go by escalator,
Then we shall go by underground,
And then we shall go by motorway
And then by helicopterway,
And the last ten yards we shall have to go
On foot.
And now we are going
All the way to see the rabbit.
We are nearly there,
We are longing to see it,
And so is the crowd
Which is here in thousands
With mounted policemen
And big loudspeakers
And bands and banners,
And everyone has come a long way.
But soon we shall see it
Sitting and nibbling
The blades of grass
On the only patch of grass
In- but something has gone wrong!
Why is everyone so angry,
Why is everyone jostling
and slanging and complaining?
The rabbit has gone,
Yes, the rabbit has gone.
He has actually burrowed down into the earth
And made himself a warren, under the earth.
Despite all these people,
And what shall we do?
What can we do?
It is all a pity, you must be disappointed.
Go home and do something else for today,
Go home again, go home for today.
For you cannot hear the rabbit, under the earth,
Remarking rather sadly to himself, by himself,
As he rests in his warren, under the earth:
“It won’t be long, they are bound to come,
They are bound to come and find me, even here.”
It's a pretty interesting thought to have no grass, rabbits or trees left, and while we might look around us now and think that such a situation might never happen, it's important for all of us to make an effort to look after the world we live in just to ensure that a world like that in the poem above or in The Tree never happens.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

How Much is a Short Story Worth?

How much is a short story worth?

I recently ran a free promotion for my short story, The Cold Pools, giving away 2041 copies in three days after it was picked up by the popular free ebook website Ereader News Today.

A couple of days later I received this comment as part of a generally positive 4-star review:

This little story is very good and certainly worth borrowing, but not I think given its brevity, paying 99 cents for...”

Don't get me wrong, I was happy to receive the review and pleased that the reader took the time to write it, but it got me thinking.  So, this reviewer doesn’t think my story is worth 99 cents.  In that case, what is it worth? And what is 99 cents worth?

There seems to be a growing attitude that just because something is digital and can't be held in your hand then it has no value.  Hence the proliferation of music/movie/ebook piracy, which is effectively theft from the comfort of one's own home.  I have no problem at all with listening or watching something on Youtube, which I consider to be a form of borrowing, but downloading pirated music or movies is stealing, so I don't do it.  I don't care what other people do, but I know I'd be mighty pissed off if there were 30,000 copies of my writing being passed around without my authorization.

Anyway, back to the main thread, the value of a short story.

At the time of writing, The Cold Pools has sold 8 copies, for each of which I made 35 cents. In addition to this it was originally published in 2009 in an online magazine which paid me $15. I paid $3 for the cover image for the ebook, so currently it breaks down like this –

Paid sales + $15
Amazon sales 8 at 35c = + $2.80
Cover art - $3

Equals $14.80 total profit.

So, not counting the ezine sale, I’m currently making a loss on Cold Pools.


The reviewer’s concern was that the story wasn’t worth paying 99 cents for. Cold Pools is 3500 words long, which is admittedly short for an ebook, although it was packaged with the first chapter of a novel as a bonus (and not a shameless form of self-promotion, honest ... ;-) ). I write at roughly 1000 words an hour, plus these things always take a couple of hours to edit and format. Even saying it took me six total hours to write Cold Pools (which is probably pretty conservative, it’s likely double that at least) it still works out at a pretty measly hourly wage.

Currently, assuming it took just six hours, I’ve made $2.46 per hour from Cold Pools. I’ve sold 8 copies in three months. Let’s say I sell 1000, which at this stage looks pretty unlikely to happen within twenty years. That would be $350, or $58/hour. Much better, although considering I can easily earn $50/hour teaching English it really isn’t that much.

Moving on, I’d like to consider just what 99 cents is worth. I live in Japan, so I’ve done a conversion in order to investigate. 99 cents is 78 yen, which, frankly, is hardly anything.  We have 100 yen shops for a reason, and that is because very little is valued at less.  With this knowledge in hand, I decided to visit my local 7Eleven to see just what was worth less than my story, and what was worth more.

Here it is, the winner.  My story is worth exactly the same amount as this boiled egg, which comes in a kind of soy sauce and is designed to be put into a bowl of ramen noodles.  Now, I know you get a physical product, whereas my story is just a bunch of words on a screen, but its not like the egg and the packaging it comes in is designed fresh each time - it is just replicated on the production line, just like my story.  You see what I'm getting at?  78 yen is probably worth it for the hours it took someone to design that product, even if the number of potential sales is as many as there are chickens.

This packet of sliced, processed ham is worth slightly less, at 75yen.  It was one of only perhaps four items that actually cost less than my story.  Among the others were a cheap single meal tub of catfood and a single disposable razor.  There wasn't a single chocolate bar that was cheaper than my story.  Believe me, 99 cents is not a lot.

And this bottle of Pom orange juice, at 157yen, is worth almost exactly twice as much as my short story.


I guess it all comes down to how you perceive value.  I welcome all reviews on my work and if people think my writing sucks, then so be it.  It's all up to you.  What does concern me is that a lot of readers don't consider our work to have any value at all.  Do plumbers put in pipes for free?  Do bank managers hand out free mortgages?  Do teachers give free lessons?  Only if they're idiots.

Of course services are products aren't free.  Generally, when something is free it falls into two categories - charity or promotional.  It is the second that directly effects me so I'll focus on that.  Incidentally, on my visit to the 7Eleven I was given this bottle for Lemon Volvic as a service, because I'm pretty much in there every day spending money.

It was a nice gesture, and it was appreciated.  But does it mean that I now expect to get all my bottles of water free every time I go into 7Eleven?  Of course not.  The only point of giving me a free bottle of water was to encourage me to go back and shop there again.  Which of course I will, not just because it is the closest shop to my house but because the staff are nice to me and they stock stuff that I want.  It's no different to when I give my short stories away on Amazon, it's not out of the kindness of my heart, it is with the hope that readers will enjoy them and want to visit my "shop" again.

There are many, many writers out there who are nowhere near as good as me who are making far more money, and there are many far better making even less.  A lot of it comes down to marketing and how good you are at it.  I suck at marketing.  I'm not good at networking.  I'm not particularly prolific at making friends, let alone charismatic enough to make people I meet buy stuff I have written.  I have one novel out at the moment, The Tube Riders.  Everyone who has read it and reviewed it has said it's exciting, original, a great read.  These are not people I have paid or people I know, these are complete strangers.  It's got to the semi-final shortlist of a minor award, and I'm pretty confident it'll make the final five.  It took me three months just to write the first draft, and its currently priced at $2.99, which is less than a 500ml can of beer in my local 7Eleven (beer is pricey in Japan...!).  It's the cost of three boiled eggs, and about half the price of a Starbucks Coffee.  I've sold about 20 copies.  Is it worth this price?  Personally I think it's worth a lot more, but potential customers don't seem to agree.

It is a dangerous world we live in where creative media is considered of less and less value.  Art enriches life, especially good art, and while Amazon in particular is clogged with junk passing itself off as literature, there is still a lot of great writing to be found.  The famous indie writer Joe Konrath talks about a future where the only revenue from ebooks comes from internal advertising, but this is something that fills me with dread.  How far will we go to devalue something that so many people consider an enriching experience?  Something that entertains you or makes you think should have a value, be it music, art, film, literature.  People should be happy to pay for an experience that makes them happy, the same way that they'd pay to go on a rollercoaster or take a parachute jump.

So criticise all you like, but never say my work or the work of all the thousands of other writers, artists, film-makers, musicians and other creative types has no value, because you're wrong, it does.