Sharpening my axe

You’ve heard the story of ol’ Abe Lincoln who allegedly said that if you need to cut down a tree quickly, the first thing you should do is spend time sharpening your axe.

All being well, I’m planning to spend tomorrow (my first day of writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors) on the writers equivelant: plotting, gathering my notes, brainstorming, mindmapping and generally trying to set out a structure to guide me as I set out to write two novels in two months.

Maybe I’ll actually spend some time writing, but I’m sure that I’ll get more done over the next weeks if I’ve got a plan to follow than if I’m constantly struggling to work out how to connect everything together. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Better late than never…

Is it better to be late than never?

For your own funeral?

I guess you could argue that both ways…

For your wedding?

In all honesty, it depends…

Every time?

To those who depend on you, the lines may become blurred…

Every now and then?

Yes. Sometimes it might be better late than never. Other times, never may be preferrable.

Today I am late. I could have just left it, I’m taking a weekend away and didn’t manage to pre-schedule a post for today.

It wouldn’t have mattered to take a day off, right?

Except, in my heart I believe – it’s better late than not at all.

Proof Reading for Dummies

So here’s my dummies guide to proof reading…

Take a book, start at the beginning, read slowly until the end and make a note of every mistake you find.


Except… It’s really, really difficult when it’s a book you’ve written!

At some point I’m going to have to start paying a professional to proof read my novels. Until then there is no other option but to rely on the kindness of friends who have an eye for punctuation and grammar and spelling; and also to pick up my own book… Again and again and again until I’ve read it so many times that it’s almost stopped being my story and just become words on a page.

Tell you what though, the advice to start at the back of your book and read each page in reverse order does help.

Also, getting a physical proof copy printed up makes a big difference. I noticed a space where it had no right to be, fifty pages in. I must have read that passage a dozen times on screen, but seeing it there on a physical page, it stood out like a… Well, like a space invader… Please don’t shoot me 😉

I’ve heard that reading your book out loud is also a good technique. I’m not quite there yet with that one, but for some passages it has been useful.

How do you ensure your book is as free as possible from those irritating typos?

Friday Flash Fiction – A-llerrr-Gic!

Alan sneezed. An explosive sneeze that built up from nowhere far too quickly for him to do anything about. A tickling in his nose that became an irritation that became a tsunami of sensation that overwhelmed him until the sneeze blasted out.

“A-llerrr-Gic!” Came the cry from behind him. He didn’t turn, knew they were standing there at attention, saw a teacher shake his head and turn away.

Several times a day now, for weeks, they had mocked him every time he sneezed. Teachers had stopped them in some classes, but in others – as the Summer term grew to a close – had obviously stopped caring.

He moved closer to the starting line to get away from them.

“Going for gold, are you, Alan,” said Tony in a voice that only carried as far as his gang. Not that the teachers would have cared.

He hoped that High School would be diferent. It was terrifying to think that even though he might be the runt of Primary Seven, he’d no longer be one of the oldest in the school, but right back at square one. Though what difference would moving up make if he brought Tony and his gang up with him?

“Primary Seven boys, get ready!”

The teacher’s shout broke through his thoughts. Alan checked his pocket for his inhaler. Was reassured by the shape of the plastic.


Alan sprinted forwards, desperate to get away from Tony, ignoring his teacher’s earlier advice to pace themselves at the start of the 800 metres. He might as well run himself into the ground because Tony would make fun of him no matter what he did.

He rounded the first corner and was immediately passed by Gavin. He could feel himself struggling to breath and knew he’d only just started.

He kept going, trying to maintain his obviously slow pace even as James also passed him. Gavin was now a good three metres in front of him. Would the whole class end up passing him before he reached the finish line?

Should have started from the back, he thought. Then at least no-one would have passed me.

No, he told himself. Stop caring what they say. Just finish this race. I’m going to finish this race.

He focused on Gavin, now maybe five metres ahead. Tried to match his pace.

His lungs were bursting… He swallowed great gulps of air and felt his vision narrow down, but kept going. One foot in front of the other. Pushing himself forward.

He wondered if he should take out his inhaler as he didn’t seem to be taking anything in with each breath, but worried he would drop it unless he stopped and he was not going to stop!

Each corner rounded was a small victory. 100 metres round the top edges of the school football pitch and 200 metres to each side. 600 metres the full circumference and one extra length to give the full 800 metres. He couldn’t remember how many sides he’d run. Forced himself to keep going.

Then he heard someone say as he passed: “Is that Alan?”

Smallest and skinniest boy ever to reach Primary Seven, he thought. Who else could it be?

And then, there was the finish line! He stumbled over it, took a few more steps and collapsed to the ground.

At least he’d completed the race, he thought as he tried to get his breathing back under control.

“Alan, that was a good run.”

He looked up and saw his gym teacher.

“You came in third.”

He looked up uncomprehending, then looked over to the finish line and saw the rest of the boys in his class approaching. To his astonishment, the boys who had tormented him for so long were only now reaching the finish. He doubted any of them had been trying to run, but even so… James was even out of breath from his slow jog.

They also collapsed to the ground as they passed the line.

And that’s when it happened.

Out of breath from his run, kneeling on the grass, Tony sneezed.

Still struggling to control his own breathing, Alan pushed himself to his feet. Fixed his eyes on Tony and drew himself up straight.

He saw Tony give him a quick look before turning away.

Alan held himself at attention for a little longer and then relaxed. His breathing was still rapid and he felt a little light-headed, but for the first time ever, he’d ranked in a race!

Maybe High School would be different after all…

Copyright Mark Anderson Smith 2017 You may link to this post from or share on a non-commercial website so long as the full copyright notice and this statement is included.

Let me know what you think of the story below…

A regimented writing plan

How am I going to do this, write two first drafts in two months?

It’s going to be very practical…

I’ll get up, probably at 6am.

I’ll write for an hour and then have some breakfast – say 15mins.

Then write for another hour which will take me to 8:15.

I plan to then go out for a short run. Get the blood flowing again. Shower.

Back at my desk by 9am.

Write for an hour and half.

Short fifteen minute break.

Write for another hour and a half.

That will have been five hours writing with 1 hour and 15 min breaks, start at 6, finish at 12:15.


I’m not sure I’ve ever been that disciplined in my life!

Well, it’s a plan. They say no plan survives the start of the battle intact. That’s okay. The aim is to spend the rest of the day with my family. Unless they are away, in which case I will spend some time on admin stuff – marketing my existing books, blogging etc. Or maybe even tackle the household to do list…

I’m still planning to blog daily, though may modify exactly how I do that. If I’m writing 5,000 words a day towards my novel, I’m not going to feel the same commitment to writing a blog post daily. Instead, I may do what I’ve actually done for this week – write the week’s posts in advance and schedule them all at the same time. I’ll let you know.

If you’ve ever written a sequel (or a first novel) in a month, how did you go about it?

It’s all about the story

Fallen Warriors was a real learning experience for me. I intended the plot to go in one direction, but wasn’t totally sure how that would look. In the end, by allowing my characters to direct the story, I ended up pretty close to where I’d wanted to, but had followed them all through some unexpected journeys.

I now have a situation – as I set out to write the sequel – where none of my character journeys are complete, where each of them still has some internal demons to battle.

Unlike with Season One, I don’t yet have a definitive ending I’m heading for. Well, that might not be totally true…

I’ve been jotting down plot ideas for months and I need to revisit those. I think that at one point I did think I had an overall aim for both Season Two and Season Three, but it may have been quite vague.

I’m intending to start this writing journey by storyboarding the overall plot:

  • One main story arc to link all three books.
  • Two major story arcs for books two and three.
  • Minor story arcs for each character that may stretch over both books, or may end and then spark a new arc.

For this I’ll draw on resources like the Three Act Structure for Novelists (by Fiona Veitch Smith.)

I’m extremely nervous about tying it all together!

But, I know I can, because I’ve already done it once.

All of that sounds very analytical yet I believe people are enjoying Fallen Warriors because it is ultimately a story about real people, facing real struggles, and in the end, overcoming them… Or not!

I enjoy writing stories for much the same reasons people enjoy reading them. I get an emotional rush as I place my characters in situations that tear them apart, break them down and then give them hope. Over the summer it’s all going to be about the story!

How much can you write in a day?

How much can you write in a day? This is a question that I keep returning to as I plan to write the sequel to Fallen Warriors. I wrote the first draft of The Great Scottish Land Grab in a month, writing an average of 2,300 words a day for 22 days in November 2011. It took me two and a half hours each day to write that.

But, then I ended up ditching half of that novel – easily 25,000 words – as I rewrote and edited the final version.

In theory I know I can write 5,000 words a day, but what is the point if I then need to discard half of that?

Well, on the plus side, you never know exactly what will work until you try. It is sometimes only during the writing that the story becomes clear, that the characters start to live. We change as writers as we become more experienced. The fact is that both for Land Grab and Fallen Warriors, during the rewrite, I added new scenes and extended existing scenes, essentially writing a new first draft that was actually good enough to become the final draft.

The hope is that having set up the background in Fallen Warriors Season One, having a pre-existing backstory and characters, that writing the sequel will be less work.

I will have child care responsibilities during the summer so am planning to get up at Six each morning, write for five hours plus a one hour break, and then leave the writing for the rest of the day.

My plan is to write 1,000 words an hour.

I expect I will take a couple of weeks off during the nine weeks that make up July and August, so I will only have seven weeks available to write.

Five thousand times five days times seven weeks = 175000 words…

Okay, I’m actually planning to write first drafts of both novels, Season Two and Season Three this summer.

Is it achievable?

I won’t know until I try, but in theory it should be.

The real benefit though is that it allows me to ensure that both plots are consistent, that there is an overall story arc connecting the three seasons and gives me more flexibility to end Season Two at an appropriate stage that will hopefully satisfy readers and leave them hooked for Season Three.

Anyway, that’s my plan for writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors and an estimate of how many words I’m planning to write each day. How much can you write in a day?

How to plan your next novel

This is the first of a four part series I’m sharing this week, exploring how to plan a sequel.

I’m planning to take July and August out to write the sequel to Fallen Warriors. I’ve never written a sequel before and have to admit, I’m quite nervous. For Fallen Warriors I had a very clear idea of the ending I wanted. In theory, as I was writing the novel, all I had to do was direct the characters towards that ending.

Of course it wasn’t as easy as that, and with eight main characters and several more minor characters, I struggled to keep track of their stories. The complexity of the plots was one of the main reasons it took me almost ten years to write.

My writing style is probably closer to what they call “pantser” than “plotter”, though I did write out plots for all of my characters… However, I struggled to believe those individual plots would work until I finally took everything I’d written up to then, started at the beginning and wove them all together. It was only then that I started to see that it did all actually fit together.

I don’t want to leave readers waiting ten years for a sequel so am planning to kick start the process this summer, writing a first draft and also putting some work towards the third novel in what will eventually be a trilogy. I’m expecting that this will allow me to make the plot more consistent across the three books as when I’m editing book two, I’ll already have a good idea of what happens in book three.

But, because I’m trying to be more sensible about how much I write daily for this blog, and because I’m planning to spread this post out over several days, allow me to say…

To be continued!

God loves a good story

Take the book of Esther. You have a beautiful young woman, sent to work for a rich and powerful man who seduces her and… (Wait a minute, just where did the idea for Fifty Shades come from?)

Anyway, we have a classic villain, Haman, who wants to kill every single Jew everywhere. (Genocidal villian – Ian Fleming could have based a few characters on him…)

We have the wizened old man, Mordecai, acting as mentor and spiritual guide… (A source for George Lucas’ Obi Wan Kenobi?)

The heroine risks her life to save her people, tricking her enemy and eventually leading a revolt that sees the Jews rise up to overpower those who would have slaughtered them.

Without doing too much reading between the lines, you have an orphan story, romance, sex, political intrigue, thriller and violence.

Someone should really make a movie out of that book!

10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book

When you’ve never done something before there is a high chance you’ll try things that just don’t work. Then again, perhaps you’ll eventually look back and have mixed feelings about what you did. I’ve found that I’m not at all sure that every mistake I made while publishing The Great Scottish Land Grab was quite as bad as I saw it at the time.

For the last few days I’ve been carrying out an analysis of Sales of The Great Scottish Land Grab. You can find my first post here and Thursday’s here. (Friday is my flash fiction day…)

Here is a round up of some of my biggest (maybe) fails while publishing and marketing my first novel:

1. Paying for a libel read
In 2014, in the UK, if you wrote a book defaming a person or organisation you could find yourself being sued. The situation in the US is much safer for writers and it may have improved in England with recent law changes, but don’t quote me on that! Currently in Scotland an MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is being sued for defamation for something published on his blog.

Defamation of character is a problem I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand I don’t think we have an absolute right to say whatever we like about other people. On the other, I think that defamation law is abused in the UK to protect the rich and powerful. I think the law in the US is too lax while the law in the UK is too extreme. There has to be a better way.

Regardless, when I set out in early 2014 to rewrite Land Grab, I knew I needed to be careful. The first draft lampooned various well known political figures and while politicians are one group of people who can be legitimately targeted with humour, there was a real undercurrent of nastiness as the Scottish independence referendum grew closer. One of the main campaigning groups – Better Together – had set itself up as a limited company, potentially allowing it to sue anyone who attempted to defame them.

I run my own company and had no desire to lose that, or my house if someone took offence at what I was planning to publish.

I contacted several solicitors for quotes and ended up selecting one. They read each of the three books as I wrote them and offered their legal opinion on whether I was at risk of being sued. It cost me £2,580.

Just to put that into perspective, I receive £1.67 per ebook novel sold through Amazon. I will need to sell 1,545 full ebooks novels before I break even on that cost.

As I wrote here, I’m nowhere close to that.

I have regretted that decision. Yet, as I wrote above, I have mixed feelings about it.

I was extremely nervous about publishing my first novel. The process of discussing the situation with the solicitor and applying his advice gave me a confidence that helped me overcome a real hurdle. In my writing now, I’m conscious of the threat of defamation and do research my characters to ensure I’m not inadvertently libelling real people.

I believe that far too few indie-authors give proper thought to the risk of defamation. Certainly if you’re writing fantasy or off world science-fiction you are unlikely to be at risk, but even in these genres, if you lazily base a character on a real person and that person can identify themselves – and is offended by how you’ve portrayed them – and they can show it in court, you may find that that catch-all declaration “Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locations, is entirely coincidental.” doesn’t save you from legal costs…

And that is the real killer in the UK. You can win your case, but still lose everything when the bill comes in.

2. Paying for indemnity insurance
Being aware of traditionally published authors who had found themselves in court defending themselves against defamation, I decided to take out indemnity insurance, insurance that covers legal costs and gives some protection against damages awarded.

Six months on and £265 lighter I cancelled the insurance. The fact was that I’d already paid more in insurance premiums than I’d earned on book sales. I’d sold nowhere near enough copies to think that I’d managed to find someone who would consider themselves defamed and since I’d followed the solicitor’s advice, it was extremely unlikely anyone would have a case against me.

Again, the act of taking out the insurance policy gave me confidence to write what I felt needed to be written, while also reminding me to take care with how I did it.

Still, that’s another bill that it’s going to take some time to pay back…

If you are writing a contemporary novel and there is a risk that you could defame someone, even inadvertently, it may be worth you considering.

3. Rush into marketing decisions
In the summer of 2014 I was commuting to Edinburgh from Cumbernauld on the train and I had this brain wave that I could get a T shirt printed up with the book cover on it and could become a walking advertisement for the book.

It was a disaster.

I still was in love with my first cover design and was filled with a sense that if I didn’t get the word out there about the book, no-one else was going to.

I turned up at a printer with a USB drive and the notion that since everyone was obsessed with voting Yes or No in the referendum, I should add some text above the book cover image saying:

Vote Yes?
Vote No?
Vote For…

It didn’t take long for me to decide that wearing that T shirt may actually do more harm than good.

Fortunately that mistake only cost me £12.95

4. Don’t tell anyone how to buy your book
I think I’ve mentioned this already, but it is worth repeating. I had thousands of leaflets and business cards printed up, none of which told people how to buy my books on Amazon. I still mentally kick myself over that mistake.

It meant that every time I gave out a leaflet or card, I had to tell people where they could buy the book. Yes, some of those people did then log onto Amazon and did buy it, but I’m sure I could have given more leaflets out and had more sales with just a few extra words telling where the book was on sale.

5. Tell people your book will make them scream
Unless your genre is horror, that just doesn’t work, trust me…

I was desperate for someone to review the first book in my trilogy and allow me to include their quote on my marketing material. Unfortunately, one of my earlier reviewers was extremely taken aback by my reveal and cliff hanger ending at the end of book one and wrote the following:

“Interesting ideas as one man searches for answers to the direction his life has taken, to the backdrop of the referendum. Knowing the author I can see where the story could be going, but I’m sure he will surprise me. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in current events in Scotland, though I know a fair few who would be shouting at the screen. Look forward to the next instalment if only to find out what he has done to Eck”

For some reason I thought referring to this reaction would be a good idea. I think that deep down, I want to avoid people having a negative reaction to what I’ve written and so want to warn them that it might be somewhat controversial…

I foolishly included the following statement on business cards I had printed up:

“Described by some as an easy read, by others as making you want to shout at your screen
The Great Scottish Land Grab
Scotland’s future is in your hands”

It’s wrong on so many levels.

I’m advertising a book, why is it talking about a screen? I could see people reading it, confusion growing on their face as they asked me what I was selling them.

Then there was the statement about shouting (okay, not screaming.) How many readers actually want to sit down, relax and get comfortable with a book that might make them throw it across the room?

6. Don’t try and get reviews for your book
While there are clear benefits from splitting a book into a series and making the first part free, one downside is that you will draw reviews away from your main book.

With Land Grab I wasn’t very focused on reviews. I was delighted to get them as I published each book in the series, but was focusing far more on selling copies than trying to get reviews.

Then, when I published the full novel, I failed to ask people I’d known to go on to review the full novel. As a result, three years on, I still only have one review for The Great Scottish Land Grab – The Complete Trilogy. I need to rectify that!

For the last few months, almost a year now, I’ve been almost totally focussed on Fallen Warriors, but Land Grab is still a book of interest and at some point over the summer I need to get my begging cap on and start asking people for reviews because even just a few positive reviews make a huge difference to how people perceive your book.

7. Waste time by contacting people who are never going to review your book
I emailed every single MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) and offered them a free copy of Land Grab. All 129 of them.

It was such a waste of time. A couple did write back, but the vast majority either ignored the email or it went straight into spam. You would think a novel exploring issues around independence might appeal to a few politicians, but how many of them actually have time to read. Especially during the run up to a critical referendum.

I’ve started to discover this group of people called book-bloggers… They are the people I really need to get to know and spend time on…

8. Rush out and get thousands of leaflets and business cards printed
While getting thousands of leaflets printed is a cost effective way to go about it, the problem is with the rushing.

However much time you spend on your book cover, you probably should spend as much or more on your marketing material. You get it wrong and you’ve just invested in some very expensive fire lighting material…

I still have several thousand leaflets and cards that I really should just recycle. I confess that the whole situation is holding me back from getting better thought out material printed up. That’s something I need to overcome soon.

9. Expect bookshops to buy your Print On Demand books
Print On Demand is not the way to go if you intend to sell paper copies. The per unit cost is way too high and that’s before you factor in delivery costs and the discount the bookshop will need to make it worth their while stocking your book! Finally, you may have to accept returns to be stocked by many bookstores. Not all of them, but most.

Using CreateSpace is great for getting your book available online and ordering a few copies to sell yourself to friends and family, but it is a poor option for small print runs compared to contacting a book printer and ordering 50 or 100 copies.

I actually walked into bookstores asking them if they would like to stock my book when all I had was a couple of POD copies. Once I realised I would make no profit on the deal, I gave up. It seemed like too much effort for no reward.

I’m now working towards my first small print run for Fallen Warriors and will go back to organise one for Land Grab over the summer.

10. Give up.
At various times over the last few years I have given up. I stopped writing, I stopped trying to market my novel, I stopped trying to get it into bookstores.

Giving up is the easiest way to slide into oblivion. If you never write another book, people will forget about your first one. If you never try and sell your books, people won’t know to buy them.

Don’t give up!

If you have a good story, if you believe in your heart you are a writer, keep trying. Keep trying different methods until you find one that works. If you can learn from my mistakes above and avoid them, great! You probably will make your own mistakes and that’s okay. If we want to achieve anything great in life, we’re going to make mistakes.

To misquote Edison: “You might find 10,000 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book, but all you need to find is one right way…”

Are you willing to share some of your biggest mistakes below?