There are times in the life of every author when they begin to feel they're going stir crazy.
It's usually at this time of year, and it's normally when the weather is looking unbearably good out, while the poor scribbler sits indoors and shivers in the cold. It's been rather like that this week: a week of fingerless gloves and thick pullovers.
But at least there have been diversions.
At last, with the launch of the books approaching at ridiculous speed, I have the joy of different jobs to get on with. For example, this week I've been called to discuss marketing issues.
There are the bookmarks: what to have on the front and back? I prefer Templar's Acre on one side with a short write up and some choice quotes from critics, while on the reverse, the covers to the first three books, since they'll be published on the same day.
What about some posters? I happen to live in a small village, and the pub here is keen to promote the local author, so he wants some posters for the place. And the shop wants to create a display about the books, too. So, posters - how many do I need? - and what to put on them, too?
Most of this kind of thing, from experience, never troubles the author. Not because the author doesn't care, but because all too few ever get a whiff of a marketing budget. Most are lucky to be posted a celebratory bottle of plonk when a new book comes out (if you're listening, Simon and Schuster, I would prefer a cheap whisky, if you'd be so kind!), but I'm lucky that my publishers want to involved me in the process. It makes a big difference.
Not only have I been choosing the layout for bookmarks and posters, I've also been dealing with the detail of the book launch on 6th May at Plymouth.
It'll be a day of running about, mainly.
First I have to go to Exeter and meet with my friends at the two Waterstones stores and sign their stock, before climbing into the car with the national sales manager and driving down to Newton Abbot to do the same. Finally we'll be ambling on south to Plymouth to sign and speak with people at the vast Drake's Circus Waterstones.
It's good to be able to say that the Waterstones staff are back on form again. For a number of years the lack of a salary increase and ever increasing workloads put them under a huge strain. Now, with more autonomy and responsibility in the shops (and a bit more money) they're much happier again. And that's good, because authors and readers like to go into a shop with happy staff. It makes the tatty old devils dressed in slightly soiled mackintoshes trying to look inconspicuous in the corner - you know, the authors - feel a bit more wanted.
The guys down here in the west country are certainly showing their enthusiasm. It's great to be involved with them over the launch of the new book.
But it isn't only the new book, of course. It's all the others too. The Last Templar, The Merchant's Partner, and A Moorland Hanging are all be relaunched on the same day, so it's not just a question of working for the one new book, it's a case of putting the effort it to make sure that the other, older books sell as well.
But there are other tasks to be done, too. And I've had the great pleasure of meeting some aspiring authors in the last week. One, an American lady with some fabulous ideas and clear focus, is a brilliant creative writer. The second is a sportsman with some fascinating insights - more tricky to sell, but possibly I can help him. I'll be thinking through what I can do over the next week or so.
Then there are two more jobs for me: completing my latest newsletter, sorting out a set of fresh ideas for stories, and then the happy event of going on a long Dartmoor walk with my brother. I'll need that break.
The problem with writing is, even with the best of ideas, the market is damn tough still. I'm always on the lookout for the next big idea, but even if I get one, persuading the editors to take it up is a problem. And looking at something like a new book based on a strange concept, it's difficult to sell that to a mainstream publisher. Still, there are ways of working.
The main thing, as I keep telling anyone who'll listen, is that editors seriously are not looking for the next Harry Potter. They have enough on their plates as it is. When they (or their readers) pick up a new manuscript, what they real want to find are lots of reasons to reject the work. Every day, I am told by my agent and my editor, each professional in the business will receive about ten unsolicited manuscripts. If there is any reason to reject, the editors will find it. So typos like one I had once, in which on page two there was a "body in the trunk of a black Sudan" would cause a guffaw of laughter - and then see the MS being dropped unceremoniously in the bin. Authors have to be more careful than ever with their work nowadays. The writing has to be really, really good. So does the grammar and punctuation.
After all, authors who can afford to live off their writing are about the top 2% or so of all writers in the country. So your writing must be better than 98% of all writers, if you want to earn money from your work. And since only about 10% of people write books, that means you are seeking to be one in a vanishingly small number of people, if you want to be a writer.
I have learned in recent years that many authors want to be writers without actually working at it. There is a touching faith that writing a string of stream-of-consciousness prose once will lead to worldwide acceptance and the gratitude of publishers who will throw money at the fortunate scribbler.
It really isn't like that at all.
Authors tend to write a sentence, and then rewrite it four or five times. I normally reckon I'll have written a book four times by the time it gets into print.
To tell a story well is not spontaneous. It requires work to hone it and make the story work well. We have all had the experience at one time or another of telling a joke that we heard a short while before, and which had everyone in stitches, but which, when we tell it again to a fresh crowd, falls flat.
All too often this is the difference between someone who has rehearsed his joke, and the fellows (you and I) who try to repeat the delight. Unless you practise, the joke will fail - as will any story.
You cannot start at the top of a blank document and start typing, hoping that the story will occur to you as you write. You need to have thought about it first, and then, when you have a basic outline, you can go in and adjust and add, finessing the story.
For me, the best way to work through the storylines is to use a pen and paper. I like to set down the characters, the main aspects of the story, the main themes, the motivations and the strengths and weaknesses.
And when you have written it, you must stop, read it, and rewrite it. Every time.
I confess that, for my plans and outlines, although I have always adored the variety of colours available for my pens, I am rapidly becoming besotted with Deep Dark Blue from Cult. It's not just because Cult Pens let me have a bottle to test, either (I'm not (quite) that shallow). However, a black ink is dull and appears sort of "flat" on the page, if you know what I mean. It's too stark.
On the other hand, while I love colours like China Blue, Teal, Sunshine Yellow and Emerald (all Diamine colours, and all highly recommended), when I'm plotting and figuring out how a story might develop, I really like something that is pretty bold on the page. For this, and for everyday use, I am going more and more towards Deep Dark Blue. It is very clear on the page, and yet it's not so harsh as a straight black.
I recommend it - especially for business use.
And now, finally, this is the last call for those who would like to win a copy of my latest book. I have two Templar's Acres ready to be posted to the winner of the competition. All you have to do is pick on a name or two for me to use in my next book. It's up to you entirely which name you pick.
For more information and to suggest a name, click here.
Happy name picking!
**This competition has now closed, you can see who won here.**
As well as collaborating with fellow members of The Medieval Murderers, Dartmoor-based Michael Jecks is the author of thirty three novels in his best-selling Templar series. His latest, Fields of Glory will be published in June 2014 in hardback and Kindle from Simon & Schuster. Expplore more of Michaels' work at: www.michaeljecks.co.uk
31 May 2013