Sunday, June 13, 2010

Success? Suck This.

It’s a fact of life that we all know someone who’s done better than we have. There’s no such thing as top or bottom in life, just endless rungs on the ever fraying rope ladder. Eventually that ladder will suffer a catastrophic failure and we’ll all tumble down to oblivion together. Does it really matter where we were before we fell? Are we so shallow that we care who falls first; who’s above or below us when the shit finally hits the razor tipped fan and we’re sliced into nothingness?
Fuck yes, it matters.
I played in a band at school with a guy who’s now the bass player for a very successful, internationally famous group regularly pulling in crowds in the tens of thousands throughout Europe. He owns a ranch in Texas. He has horses, for fuck sake! He grew up in Toryglen, he’s a ned! I obviously wish him all the very best in life. I also want to kick him in the face. Jealous? Yes, yes I am. Fair enough, I reckon. I’m sure his horses will protect him if I ever get close enough to threaten actual violence, he’ll be fine.
I had the agony of watching another guy I was at school with act in not one but two of the top rated shows on TV in the same weekend recently. One was a US show and the other was British. The thing they had in common was that they were both not only popular but also good (unusual these days). And he was brilliant in both. He’s a great actor, and I know for a fact he’s worked his arse off for years to get to where he is today - in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Prick.
What about writing, does the same nonsensical hatred of success apply? Of course it does.
Back on that withering ladder, I jumped a couple of rungs by winning a competition that got my first book published a few years ago. Those rungs quickly disintegrated, bringing me right back down to dirt before anyone made the mistake of envying me. Or did it?
Not too long ago a fellow struggling writer mentioned something about being chuffed that someone in my position liked his stuff. My position, I thought. What the hell does that mean? Then I realised he thought I was successful because I’d been published. For utterly altruistic reasons I chose not to disabuse him of this opinion - it wouldn’t be fair to shatter his illusions, I reasoned. Nothing to do with me liking the idea of someone thinking I was ahead of the game. Obviously I felt it would be rude to mention the mammoth sales my novel achieved - well into the tens of, oh, tens, by now.
The fledgling writers’ community is relatively small, and any perceived success is quickly shared and congratulated, at least publicly. Every time I see a new forum topic with a title like ‘Snagged an agent!’ or ‘Just got a short accepted!’ or even ‘Got a three book publishing deal with a proper publisher who pay advances and everything!’, I shake violently with delight.
Jealousy could be useful, though. I could write a new story about a really jealous writer or something - it’s all potential material.
The reality is that - and yes, I do think I speak for all of us here - there’s at least a wee bit of us that says How come they got it and I didn’t? How did they get so lucky, the bastards?
Because it has to be luck, doesn’t it? It can’t be because they happen to be a better writer than I am, that’s ridiculous. It can’t be because they’ve worked harder and longer, that’s nonsense. It has nothing to do with the fact they spend months tweaking and editing every word, every phrase, every sentence. Surely it couldn’t be the case that they’re simply more talented than I am? Nah, it’s just luck and they’re a bunch of bastards, that’s all.
Hopefully it’s only a little bit of my brain that thinks that way and I’m not overly bitter and mid-listed. I’d like to think I can learn from people who find their way round the maze and make it - yes, there may be practical things they’ve discovered that might make the path that bit smoother, but, in reality, I hope I can see where they went right with their work when I’ve gone wrong. I, at least when I’m sober, hope their example can help me become a better writer, not just a better salesman.
Because that’s the real truth, let’s not pretend. It’s easy to point out that Jordan or Dan Brown or whoever can’t write for tofu, but they’re not actually the competition. The competition is the many, many writers in the world who can write and write superbly. And the fact is, we know some of them. I know many writers way, way better than I am who haven’t made it yet (and I hate them all). Unless we actually want to write shite there’s no point getting upset when shite writers get ahead. And there’s no point in pretending it’s just down to luck, it isn’t. It’s down to talent and graft. And, sometimes, luck. Having talent and graft on our side doesn’t guarantee success, but if we don’t have both in our arsenal we have no right to complain. Luck is just, well, down to luck. No point worrying about that.
I think I’m a brilliant writer, but I like me. It’s not unlikely that my view of my own work is a wee bit on the biased side. It’s entirely possible that I’m just not good enough to get properly successful. Does that mean it’s time to give up? No, it means it’s time to get better at this thing I enjoy doing. Or stop doing it and do something useful instead.
But, if I want to get better, moaning about how jammy Russell Brand, or that guy/girl from school/online friend is isn’t going to help.
So, here’s a call out to all us wannabie writers - stop pretending celebrities have stolen our chances at getting published, or that the good writers just got luckier than we’ve been. Be better writers. If you’re the best writer you can be you’ve already won, anything else is gravy.
Dan Brown’s still a cunt, mind. And as for that T*%y C*^%£n …

* this will probably be an article in the next Words With JAM, so pretend you haven't seen it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's June, Time to Think About Xmas (yes this is an advert, but it's MY advert)

It’s (not) Christmas!
the ideal present for your friends and family this year...

What with it being the beginning of June, it’s high time we started thinking about Christmas here at WWJ Towers.
We have a proposition for you. How would you like to write something and NOT have it published? Would you be at all interested in submitting a short story, or maybe a poem, a recipe, some hints and tips, an essay even, to a Christmas anthology that will be guaranteed not to make you any money whatsoever; that won’t get you a publishing credit; won’t be available to buy online; will appear on the shelves of no shops anywhere? It won’t even have an ISBN number. Sounds good, eh?
Wait, come back. At least hear us out.

Here’s the plan – last year our editor put together a festive themed anthology for some of us to give our friends and family as Christmas presents, and the idea is to do the same this year. There will be two editions; one for the oldies and one for the kids. They will be fitted out with fancy bespoke covers and lovely fonts and things inside, just like real books. The difference is that they will be a one off. They will be professionally bound and printed on high quality paper, but only once. It won’t be print on demand, there will be no second editions, you’ll only have one chance to get your hands on copies. Orders will be taken in advance and that’s how many will be printed up.
This is very specifically NOT ‘publication’. We need to make that explicitly clear - it’s not going to make anyone famous or get them a publishing deal. It’s just a nice idea for a fairly unusual Xmas present for all those awkward buggers who are a nightmare to buy for.
Price per copy will be kept as close to cost as possible while making sure we don’t bankrupt ourselves.
So, what do you think? If you’re interested read on for the boring technical stuff. If you’re not interested go away so we can talk about you.

The boring technical stuff
Have they gone? Cool. Right, here’s the plan. Send us stuff, that’s the first thing. Around the 1000 word mark for stories or essays etc is the maximum. For poems we’re looking for no more than 30-35 lines. As ever with us these are guidelines only but please don’t go too far over them or we’ll have to hunt you down and kill you. Shorter pieces are welcome of course. Previously published material is fine.
You can submit up to one piece for each edition (Adult and Kids), but multiple entries are discouraged. Sending in more than one piece for each book won’t make us hate you or anything, but we might accidentally forget your birthday next year.
What sort of stuff do we want, I hear you ask. Well, anything really, as long as it’s vaguely winter holiday season related. We hold no truck with religious bias so feel free to go all atheist or pagan if you want. Fantasy, tragedy, comedy, drama, elves - it’s all good. All we’d ask is that you remember even the adult version is going to be given to various grannies and ageing aunties, so filling your submission with fuckity bollocky type language may not be the best idea (just this once). We therefore retain the right to edit all submissions accordingly.
Several of the regular WWJ contributors are likely to have bits and bobs included in the final package (hey, they have families they can’t be arsed buying presents for too). And yes, that includes Perry Iles and Derek Duggan. We haven’t yet decided whether this constitutes a selling point.
Last year there were so many submissions for inclusion that we went over the original estimated page count, which may mean we have to exert a bit of editorial judgement and therefore retain the right to refuse inclusion. Either way, contributing writers retain all rights to their works, including first publication rights. No ISBN, remember. However, some competitions and publications may be a little funny about you entering stories etc that have been printed up and bound in book format – just bear that in mind (though we won’t tell them if you don’t).

The final selection
Everyone who sends in a submission will be informed if they’re to be included by the beginning of September, and pre-orders will then be taken whilst we put the files together, make them look all fancy, and send you proofs to check over prior to print.
Another reminder is warranted at this stage - the whole point is for the people who have pieces in the books to give them to people they at least pretend to care about. There is no kudos to be gained from subbing stuff if you’re not interested in getting your hands on a couple of copies to show off with. Again - this will not make you famous, so don’t send anything in if that’s all you’re after. That would be daft.

We need your stuff sent in by August 14th, that’s non-negotiable (trying out the commanding voice, there).

All UK orders should arrive by December 1st. Non UK orders by December 8th. This depends on how crap the Royal Mail is being at the time.

Cost-wise, until we know the word count we can’t give a final figure, but currently we’re estimating roughly £5.90 per copy based on the maximum number of pages we feel is suitable for the adult edition, and slightly less for the kids’ version. This INCLUDES delivery within the UK. Non UK orders will be subject to an additional postage charge (sorry guys, but the exchange rate is good (for you) at the moment, so you’re probably laughing anyway at this point).
The final prices will of course be announced before any orders are taken.
Right, have I missed anything? Oh yeah, how to submit.

How to submit
Thanks to unavoidable pregnancy issues, one of our junior underlings will be taking initial charge of things. Don’t let that put you off, he’s well-trained. Do anything for a biscuit, that one.
So, send submissions as a Word Document (that’s .doc and NOT .docx) to, subject ‘Christmas Book Submission’. It would make the wee soul’s life a bit easier if you included your name, email address word length, and which version (adult or kids) of the book the submission is for at the top of the first page. You can also send any questions or queries you might have to the same place. He probably won’t be able to answer them, but it’s worth a try.
Is that all clear? What do you mean no?