Dissecting the Write Agenda

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, some bloke once said. Doesn’t mean the reaction is right.

Writer Beware is a fine, upstanding watchdog of the writing community. Hosted and helped, in part at least, by the SFWA, it looks to shut down the con-schemes prevalent in the vanity presses, or at least educate novice writers to avoid the predatory clutches of such shysters. You know the sort of thing – “pay us £2000 and we’ll publish your book!” (which normally translates as “pay us £2000, we’ll press up 50 badly-set copies designed by a blind chimpanzee high on Sunny D, we’ll make absolutely no effort to market your book, and you’ll feel cheated instantly and have no recourse to the law!”). Real fly-by-night companies.

Victoria Strauss, Anne Crispin, and their colleagues are thorough and tireless in their efforts, and I’ll take this opportunity to thank them publicly. (You can also do this by buying their books – after all, they don’t get paid for doing the WB! work). But obviously every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

In this case the reaction is an anonymous hate-site called the Write Agenda. I won’t link to it, as they seem inordinately proud of the hits they receive, but I will quite happily spend some time – my own time, I should note, not paid by anybody or any organisation for this purpose – deconstructing The Write Agenda’s miserable excuse of a website.

And, who knows, I might just make it onto their celebrated blacklist!

The first thing you see on any page of this site is a bold title. In fact, that’s almost all you cansee.

How not to design a webpage
How not to design a web page. Idiots.

There are sub-headings below this space-eating monstrosity (which is too large for the space it is given – the first sign that these people have no idea how to design, typeset or present themselves), but they don’t mean anything to the casual visitor. Propaganda Alerts? Propaganda Watch List? The Write Agenda Ninja Group? Nope, me neither. You have to dig a little deeper – just as you have to with the con-artists WB! warns against – to find out what these chaps are trying to warn you against. If you can be bothered, that is.

Deconstruction Number One: Who are you people?

I already said it was anonymous. These are people who are so angered by the threat posed by WB! to their ill-gotten gains that they have forgotten their own names. “We are a group of individuals, writers, want-to-be authors and inquisitive wordsmiths that have become “literally” numb (1) from reading the numerous author help related blog posts,” says a piece of puffery a third of the way down the first page. “Many of  these postings are subjective and do not offer any substantial documentation regarding purported claims regarding publishers and other industry professionals. In addition, many of these sites have become nothing more than complaint boards that disseminate speculative claims without any substantiation.”

So far, so woolly. Nowhere does it give you any indication of who they actually are or what they represent. And from that pointless paragraph they could just be complaining about the direction of the wind. “We do not discount the validity of some claims made. However, we want to question both sides of an issue and to assist other authors in making informed decisions,” they continue in bold type. What claims? Which ones are valid? I’d like to see both sides of the story, please!

You have to scroll even further down – if you can still be bothered by now – to start seeing the links to the site’s actual articles. These are, almost without exception, attempts to smear the names and reputations of anyone who has had anything to do with Writer Beware! Hmmm. So much for informed decisions and utilising both sides of an argument. Clearly, they have something of a grudge against WB! Let’s see… who would have a grudge against WB?

…we are not affiliated with the individual that “had his defamation lawsuit against Writer Beware dismissed a couple years ago.”

Really? Proof, please. Who are you people?

Deconstruction Number Two: Inappropriate behaviour for booklovers

Next we move along – swiftly, and covering our noses against the stench of sockpuppetry – to a page called “Book Donations Needed: The Write Agenda’s 1st Annual Book Burning”.

Wait. What? Did I just imagine this? Did a group of authors, wannabe writers and inquisitive wordsmiths just call for a book-burning? Really? Yes, they did. You’d expect this sort of behaviour from holocaust-deniers, KKK and nutjob creationists, as well as bonkers fundamentalists of all creeds, but not from people who allegedly love books. Unless, of course, they don’t love books. Maybe they just love taking money from people who love books. There are some authors I would happily never read again, but I will never wish books burned. Not a one. Not even the Bible, though it has done more harm than good in the last couple of millennia. Ever read Fahrenheit 451, Wrong Agenda peeps?

 The page link has been taken down from the front of their site, but the page itself still exists(2). Here’s a screen print.

The Write Agenda goes book-burning
Write agenda? Wrong agenda. Idiots.

Hey you guys, whoever you are – fancy explaining your ideas to us at any point? Dig yourselves out of a hole? Or are you too literally numb to do so?

Deconstruction Number Three: Author Watch.

TWA (I’m really tempted to add another T, but that would be childish, so I shan’t. You, on the other hand, gentle reader, can molest their acronym as you wish) helpfully provide a weekly bestseller list of books that are “non-traditionally published”. I guess that means, as no other definition is provided, that these authors have been taken for a ride by one or other of the charlatans that WB! warns writers against. Even better, beneath this chart there is a “Watch list”. All seven books on this list are from the same company – TurnAround Media. Go to TurnAround’s site if you want, and tell me what you reckon: old amateur bait site for desperately naive writers? I personally love the way they’re so dedicated to their authors that their monthly newsletter went out the window after only three editions. That’s not even making the effort – just like the lack of thought that went into the TWA site to begin with.

OK, I’m done for now. I could go on for hours, rubbishing every page, but I have writing of my own to do and I shouldn’t be letting these tossers rile me up in this manner. They sound like they’re sore losers, which means that Writer Beware is very much doing its intended job. And that is something good indeed in this world of crap.

Edit: here’s a nice recent summation by WB! of their thoughts on TWA, which I didn’t actually read before posting the above. Nice to know that my initial thoughts on Turnaround Media were probably correct.

(1) “Literally” numb? Poor chaps. Rub it and hope it doesn’t fall off.
(2) Or at least, it does at the time of writing. Here y’go.

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Themes

The reason I split Empire Dance down into more manageable 50000 word chunks is that I couldn’t work out how to write it. The loose story arc I had in mind was far too sprawling and complicated to be written in one go, especially by someone who had absolutely no full-length writing experience at all. I can see that I’d have got about 30k in, and then given it up as a bad job. The fact that the pieces that have survived over the years (small parts of ED1 and ED2, and most of the Battle of Kantara in ED3) didn’t really fit together bears that out, I think. You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Creating the characters for ED1 helped to flesh out some of the story’s themes, and that really came together with ED2 – the degradation of Adrian XII’s linear iterations, Anstiss’s get-out clause, Pompey-LI’s schizophrenic traits manifesting themselves as multiple personalities. Plus there’s Ibsen’s arc, which hasn’t even come into play yet. Whatever the plot is about (Irians on a Holy Crusade to reclaim their promised worlds, as it happens, as well as the inscrutability of the Kiiren and the titanic bitch-fight for the Imperial Throne), most of the character arcs actually revolve around themes of identity.

Having that laid out has helped me to get back into the Dance – ED3 is almost 80% done now, and the storyline is shifting itself around ahead of me to accommodate new twists on that main theme. It’s becoming a slightly different story – albeit a stronger one, I hope – and suddenly it’s fun to write again.

A Monthly Update (Of Months)

Is it really a month since I last posted here? Crumbs – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun. While we’re on the subject of anniversaries (or monthiversaries in this instance – is there a real word for this?) it’s now two months since I began work on MC2 and the word count is up to 36000 words. That’s 18k per month. Not quite the 1000/day that most writers seem to agree is the decent professional minimum, but damned good nonetheless, especially when you consider that it took me 40 months in total to hit 150k with MC1 (3750 words per month average). Of course, those 40 months did include two completed instalments of the Empire Dance as well as several short stories – so, adding in another 120k to the figures, and leaving out the third, uncompleted ED volume just to make life simpler, that’s…. erm, 6750 words per month over three and a half years.

Sample page from the next Magnum Opus....

Hmm. Put like that, it doesn’t really seem so much. And it helps give me a better idea about how focused a writer needs to be just to get that first draft down on paper/zipdrive/whatever. Which, in turn, is probably why I’m not posting much here. (At least Twitter only needs pithy witticisms of 140 characters or less; no wonder writers like it!)

Right, then. Time to put the geek calculator away and get back to the coalface. These epic fantasies don’t write themselves, you know.

 

Kill Your Darlings

It’s a writers’ maxim, of course: don’t be precious about your work. But it’s also the title of Kid Acne’s current exhibition at the Millennium Gallery here in Sheffield.

here today...

Mrs Egg and I went to have a look-see. I have to admit a fair bit of cynicism on my part: Mr Acne is a darling of the brown-nose glitterati, and the street art of his I have seen has never really impressed me all that much. Of course, that’s all without some degree of context. Having said that, this piece made me laugh. Anyhoo, onto the show. Kid’s style hasn’t changed over time, though the subject matter and themes have. The contrast between the earlier, lighter cartoons and the later “stabby women” murals and sets is pretty clear. The parallels with the semi-pornographic fantasy art of the 70s and 80s is quite obvious too, though the “stabby women” are in no way erotic figures and actually seem to have a more developed world to play in.

"F**kin' sha-la-la" etc ad nauseam

One of the points that interested us both was the idea of impermenance in art. “Kill your darlings”, remember? Things like the Park Hill work above won’t be here forever. You can’t be precious about it. (Although you can recreate it in a bid to be nostagic and keep the past alive – cf that bloody ridiculous neon effort on the other side of Park Hill…)

The other thing was that, as my partner pointed out, Kid Acne has a great technical ability. He really can draw. You only have to look at his sketch books to understand that. The reinventions of old Beastie Boys LP covers are technically outstanding, but its the quick, unpublished sketches that really are worth looking at. Perspective, placement, figure drawing – all there. This is one of my partner’s big bugbears with modern artists – very few of them have any actual technical ability, and their art is based almost completely on shock tactics and self-promotion.

Right. Now to crack on with MC2 again.

Geeks, freaks and wordcounts

If you’ve been following the Twitter feed over on the right at all, you might have seen an occasional wordcount update. HKV (MC2) is born, and even now has risen to the heady length of 18000 words. Given that my first draft target this time around is 120k, that’s an amazing 15% covered already. Whether this 15% is any good or not, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the first pass through the finished first draft MSS of MC1 has turned up a few provisional problems – not least of which is the pace of the thing. In some respects the end of the book is blink-and-you-miss-it. A bit like going along Gleadless Road and realising at the last moment that you’ve just hit the 1-in-6 downhill without brakes. Not good. Add this to the tweaks and name changes I’ve already identified, and there’s a fair amount of work to do.

And, back in the allegedly real world, we gear up for the release of This Year’s Biggest Blu-Ray (TM). By not having an official plot. That’s right, while we can create graphics and scale-outs at the drop of a hat for any number of dead singers, the actual planned release of something that creates footfall instore gets turned into a Blue Peter exercise. I wonder if that’s anything to do with it having the whiff of genre and thus being uncool – for some reason it appears to be cooler to go through Bob Dylan’s bins than it is to admit to liking Star Wars and SFF.

The conversation went something like this:
Management: “The RM wants us to attract all the freaks and weirdos into the store. People in costumes. Make it an event. You know where these people are.”
“Thanks. I’m a writer, not a freak. Weirdos are people who still think the Beatles are relevant.”

So, instead of a company-wide, top-down driven official effort in bring customers into store, we have to rely on Star Wars fans. In some respects that isn’t a bad thing – people like Matt Ferguson, who has created these prints as competition prizes for the HMV store in Sheffield City Centre, are extremely talented artists and designers. Hell, Mark Ruffalo loves his work so much he asked for a print of the Hulk. And the SFF fans actually outnumber the trend-of-the-week dilettantes in our shop. It’s disappointing, however, that the company can’t – or maybe won’t – get on board.

I won’t rant on too much more, but when was the last time you saw such dedication and skill deployed for Oasis? Or the Libertines? Or any number of identikit Talking Heads rip-off merchants masquerading as the Next Big Thing in ridiculous carrot trews and loafers with no socks? The “freaks and weirdos” are the ones with the talent, see. The ones doing something different.

Looking for the next big thing
Looking for the next big thing

Timely reminders

Angry Robot author Anne Lyle makes many good points in this post – here – about the business of writing. Some of these points got mentioned in passing at one of the AltFiction panels, and it’s a bit unnerving to think of the author as a one-(wo)man production line, always looking forwards, not just to the next book, but the book after that and far beyond, negotiating contracts mid-term like footballers (yeah, I know, that one doesn’t quite fit…sue me).

The other year, Brent Weeks saw his first three books published, in successive months. Now that’s planning ahead. Also, a good indication of how a writer needs to make themselves visible in the market. Not saturate the market, but keep a consistent presence there. In that way, a book a year isn’t such a big ask. The writing business is a business, after all, and it doesn’t matter how well you can write – it’s all about writing to order.

Discipline.

Something I’m getting better at, slowly. I bought Nettie – an Acer Aspire One, my writing machine – because it was built on Linux. I know nothing about Linux. The chances of me getting anything except the pre-installed OpenOffice to run are naff-all. So, no football management games. Not much internet access (Vodafone’s dongle-thing ran out and the unhelpful staff couldn’t tell me how to re-credit it; now it’s blocked and useless, and I refuse to shell out for another one – it took me 12 months to go through 1GB! – so I just hook in through available public access…and the Apple shop upstairs). No whizzy distractions. Perfect.

But it has still taken me three and a half years to get HTTN to full first draft status. Time to speed up, I think.

 

(Quietly uninstalls Championship Manager from Bloody Stupid Thing.)

Crossing the line

Good goddamn! It’s done! The first draft MSS of HTTN (MC1) is finally complete, clocking in just shy of 151000 words. That’s a heck of a lot of words – more than I’d thought. The last chapter got trimmed and revised slightly before it was welded together with the first part of Baum’s epic confrontation with the titular warlock, and I was able to tease out a few more implications for Cassia to realise further on down the line.

So this holiday has been a good one so far – I didn’t expect to get this far in a week. The next step, of course, is editing. And that will be a bitch. Hopefully I’ll be able to trim a little more fat from this brick during the process and make it a little more palatable for submissions.

And, if this writing streak stays good, I might have some news on the Empire Dance before Halloween. (Well, I can hope…)