Really, Really Short Stories – An update

September 28, 2013

When I discovered the Flash Lit Fiction Hashtag #FLF13 on Twitter, it was the 14th of September and I knew I would only have eleven days to throw in a few Tweets into the mix.

Well, in the end, I managed, in between, writing lectures and general family stuff, to write sixteen of these little 140 character stories. I didn’t plan on writing so many, but there were so many other inspirational tweeted stories that I just kept writing them.

2nd Place entry to #FLF13

2nd Place entry to #FLF13

To my surprise, on the night of the 26th, one of my Tweeted stories was short-listed and in a short two-hour window of frenetic voting, I managed to rally enough support to garner 25% of the votes and finished 2nd. So thank-you to everybody who rallied to my cause and thank-you to everybody who said so many nice things about my Tweeted stories in the run up to the short-listing and after the results were announced.

Special mention to Tom Briars who actually won the competition with a fantastic entry, which can be found here (along with the other short-listed Tweets/stories).

[Ignore the fact that the Poll might say I’ve won, it was still taking votes after the competition actually closed.]

**

I would also like to add that the feedback to my most recent appearance on Paragraph Planet has provoked the most positive response I’ve ever had. It’s an interesting little story, not just in content, but in its history. It started life, about twenty years ago, as a short story that got a bit out of hand. Over the years as I revisited it, it grew in size and complexity until I realised I’d painted myself into a corner with the plot (the danger of rewriting over a long time, even for a short-story/novella) and I didn’t have the skill, imagination or will to fix it. So, like many of my projects in my 20s it got quietly pushed into the electronic graveyard of the archive on my hard drive.

The Blurb?

The Blurb?

The 75-worder that appeared on Paragraph Planet is therefore the blurb on the back of a book which doesn’t actually exist. Yet. And I say yet because I think, when I’ve cleared the decks of my other projects, I may take the essence of this story and start it again. I think I’m a skilled enough writer now to keep the plot tight and in check, it may not even reach novella size, but I would like to see what I can turn it into now, after it and I have matured over the last 15 years or so since I pretended I’d never started it…

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

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Really, really short fiction

September 23, 2013

Anybody who has read even one of my blogs, read my Tweetfeed or is familiar with WordWatchers output on Facebook (where I am responsible for most of our output) will be aware of my love of short fiction, specifically, the golden nuggets found on Paragraph Planet.

Well, I promised myself I would submit one story to Paragraph Planet everyday and, apart from a few days when I was completely out of Internet connectivity when on holiday, I have managed this feat, each day, as promised, since July 4th. However, it’s been a tough month, four very gruelling weeks of teaching at work (Cranfield University) and there has been ill health in the family too. So, I haven’t actually managed to write a 75-word everyday for about two weeks (most days, but not every day). Fortunately, I have a buffer, a surplus of stories (now somewhat reduced), that I have managed to draw upon, to keep up my output to Paragraph Planet up.

To that end, it’s been a while since I had a story up on the site, but I’ve got another, going up on Wednesday 25th, so I’m just about managing one a month. Each notification is still immensely pleasing to receive. (it’s also one of my favourite 75-worders, it’s based on a short story that I never finished, so it’s nice to extract something from a stalled piece of work, that would otherwise never see the light of day)

Although I’ve not managed to write even 75-words every day, I have managed to contribute to Flash Lit Fiction ’13, part of the annual Brighton Digital Festival, via Twitter. It’s been great fun. By the time you have put #FLF13 in the Tweet, you’re left with a measly 133 characters to create a story with the theme of “Soul”. If I thought editing a 75-word story was hard work, editing a story in a Tweet can leave you gnashing your teeth over a comma you really think should be there.

I’ve written horrible stories, humorous tales, melancholy anecdotes and (hopefully) thought-provoking twisters. There’s only a few days left (Midnight of the 25th), but I recommend you give it a go.

Catch up soon.

Rocket Scientist

John Hoggard ex-Rocket Scientist

 

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I had a dream. When I woke up the world had changed.

September 6, 2013

I questioned one of my dreams, just over a year ago.

I’d already spent many years being published by newspapers and magazines and being read by newspaper and website subscribers but that didn’t quite fill the hole. I wanted to write a book.

So I wrote a children’s picture book. The hole remained. Writing without readers is like chips without ketchup. I needed to get the words turned into a book. Books were the secret sauce.

But then the questions started. Was my ambition to be read or to be ‘published’? – where ‘published’ meant validated by someone in the book industry. Should I wait in the hope of getting picked by an ever shrinking and increasingly busy publishing industry? Or do I back myself, ship something and try to find readers myself? Should I be trying to get a book made or an eBook?

Despite the loaded questions, the choice wasn’t that easy. I realised that the core reason I wrote was not for the validation of an experienced industry veteran (which would be sweet, it’s true) but for readers (their validation is even sweeter). Then I thought I could publish something and get feedback from readers more quickly than I could get feedback from a publisher or agent, and that was it – my path was set.

I set up my own mini publishing company, Batmack Books, and started learning the ropes with my own book PONG! as the guinea pig.

Taking this route was also due to my impatience. I’m not the sort of person who could spend a year sending out letters to agents and publishers. I tried a few but lost all drive to continue within a few months. It seemed such a lottery.

The second reason for going down this route was my job, and the philosophy I bring to it and learnings I take from it. My job is all about digital opportunities and digital strategy. I deal with digital innovation and digital disruption. I like it. I believe it’s important to ship your work, learn, adapt, iterate and ship some more. Learn by doing. I take this approach at work, so why not with my writing. Ship something, learn, adapt and ship something better next time.

I still equate traditional publishers with print books, and believe many publishers still focus on print. I’ve been part of the media industry and newspaper journalists have been through this already. When I started in the industry, being part of a big media organisation meant kudos, and being a print journalist meant respect. Bloggers and digital journalists were largely dismissed – they were outside the club. That was until they were recruited to turn things around as the industry played catch up with quicker moving digital operations like the Huffington Post. A ‘digital native’ now runs Johnston Press the largest regional newspaper group in the country.

Newspapers know that print is just one of the mediums – neither the least important nor the most important.

And as for the kudos of print book publishing? I see authors clinging to paperbacks, as newspaper journalists clung to print and I worry that we are investing too much in a format. Is a kindle bestseller any less important than a hardback or paperback bestseller?

What is a paperback but an information delivery system that has been usurped? Yes, it has cultural significance, it has nostalgia on its side, and there’s a tactile quality that hits certain buttons – but, as a delivery system for ideas, nine times out of ten, digital is better.

Don’t get me wrong, I love print and publish my own stuff in print, as well as digital. I even sell some copies but it’s not my primary focus.

I do well on iBooks and I’ve been lucky enough to be promoted by Apple several times, and on Kindle Fire I’m ticking over. For the cut they take, I’m not sure a publisher could do a significantly better job on digital sales than I can do myself – unless they were prepared to shell out some proper marketing money.

And besides, I enjoy too much of the digital publishing process and digital business to give it up. Cover design, font choice, layout tools, sales reports, pricing strategies, what works and what doesn’t in the fast evolving landscape of digital publishing. This knowledge is too important to my next steps, and too much fun, to hand over to someone else. The knowledge I gain crosses over to my day job and vice versa.

I can be flexible with my books and promotions. I can experiment and react, and I can publish other people’s books if I believe they’ll work well in digital formats. I can test Facebook promotions versus Google ads and monitor the impact of PR.

But my print books sell slowly – I don’t know how to get into bookshops. I probably sell 50 iBooks for every print book. And for children’s picture books, bookshops are still important. This is the part of traditional publishing I can’t reproduce – the distribution to bricks and mortar stores.

Which got me thinking – if a traditional publisher knocked on my door would I jump at the chance of being signed and being ‘accepted into the club’?

The truth is it would be flattering and lovely but now I’d be asking what exactly they’d bring to the party. Marketing? Distribution?
I’d probably give up the print rights but they’d have to be offering something pretty special for me to part with the digital rights.

But how important are print rights?

Paperbacks are part of a declining ecosystem. Stories are more widespread than ever, but paper and bookshops are in retreat, replaced by movies, eBooks and online shopping.

Bookshops open coffee areas, or branch into stationery as they try to shore up revenues but the tide is against them. They can’t compete with eBooks and the wide choice offered by online shopping.

I love libraries but again it’s no accident that they now run so many events, stock DVDs and music CDs, and have banks of computers. Diversification beyond paper books is necessary to survive.

Since I started questioning, my dream has evolved. I want to be read by more people (lots more!) but I no longer care so much about the format or what companies or tools help me succeed. I also now know that I quite like producing books (or eBooks) not just writing them. End to end, for better or worse.

I’ve shipped PONG! in print on Amazon, on Kindle, Google’s Play Store and Apple’s iBooks, and helped WordWatchers produce an anthology. In doing both I learned stuff and my next picture book, due out in October, has benefited.

There are pros and cons in DIY, of course, but checking in on your dreams every once in a while and seeing if they’ve changed or if the world has changed around them – well that’s something I’d definitely recommend.

Me courting print media, despite everything I've just said!

Me courting print media. Old habits die hard.

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