The business of writing

Writing is, in many ways, not merely an extension of what I do as a businessman, but a reflection of many things I do on a day-to-day basis. But first, some background. I began writing with every intention of self-publishing. After looking at the existing environment of agents and publishers and seeing a rather unpleasant landscape populated mainly by gatekeepers, striking out on my own became a very natural decision for me to make.

Octane, the business through which I publish my works, is the same business I’ve been at the helm of since its inception in June 1999. I’m a designer, programmer, an occasional writer for a variety of business publications, a marketeer of sorts (a duty thrust upon many a reluctant entrepreneur) and now — finally, after many years of formulating ideas — a self-published author.

So where are these parallels of which I speak of?

Trust, and the management of expectations

Clients, much like the reader, have expectations, which I, as a businessman and a writer, must meet with. A brief may — and often does — contain promises, which are either implicitly understood, or laid out as a series of actionable tasks. By comparison, as a writer, a synopsis may merely hint at or explicitly detail what lies within a novel.

Be they a reader or a client, the synopsis or brief must not contain falsehoods, or anything else you might fail to deliver, or deliver incorrectly. Managing expectations is paramount, because if you do not, you don’t just damage trust, you risk loosing it entirely.

Always be realistic about your goal, but then strive to over deliver. I cannot express how important it is, and hugely rewarding, to exceed the expectations of a client, delivering to them not just what they were seeking, but then exceeding with things that might otherwise have been unachievable.

As a writer, the over delivery is something that you, the author, must build towards in some way that rewards the senses of the reader, to manipulate their emotions such that they feel the triumph and the tragedy as if it were real.

Accuracy, as always

As a task, reading requires concentration, and the capacity to retain certain pertinent facts, like the names of characters, events, places and such. Whereas using a website or a web application (subject to user training) has a certain mindlessness to it, whereby the visitor must not find anything too challenging such that it interrupts that passage from point of entry to achieving their expected goal.

However, in either instance, if something isn’t correct, or where the reader or the visitor expected it to be, their motion is broken and they then have to stop to think. Stop and think? Making someone think isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when they’re thinking about why something they’re doing isn’t the way it should be, or where they expected it to be, then yes, thinking becomes a bad thing.

In many ways, accuracy is an extension of trust and expectation, but it is wholly large enough to separate out and discuss in isolation. As a writer, your accuracy manifests itself in a bewildering variety. Spelling, yes. Grammar, too. Continuity — now there’s a beast with potential to make anyone look like an idiot. Readers expect these things. Visitors, too.

Accuracy, therefore, must be habitual and not some likeable, aspirational goal that we choose to explore later, when we have the time.

Being unbelievably believable

You may, on occasion, hear me say or write certain things, such as that people must first buy into people before they buy from people. Of course, you may substitute people for businesses, but in essence, the thrust of the statement remains intact.

“My name’s Wayne Smallman and I sell ideas that change the way companies do business, usually in the form of novel web applications.”

An extract from the Octane website. The key statement here is that I sell ideas. Be that while I wear the hat of a businessman, or that of an author, I’m selling ideas that, to many people, are just unbelievable. Often, a client might lack the abstract eye to see what it is that I see so clearly, which limits the extent to which I’m able to communicate any given idea, so I must employ other techniques to win their trust, which typically involves providing demonstrable evidence that I’m able to produce those unbelievable things I speak of.

Again, we’re in the realms of trust — as always. But here we veer deeply into the actual minutia of writing itself, or at least the intricacies of story telling. Think of those notable characters of cinema and book, those that you really, truly believe in. Think of the journey you either enjoyed or endured, as the protagonist fought their way from one crisis to another.

Often, the believability of the situation arises entirely as a result of your belief in that character. Because of this belief, you are then only too prepared to then suspend in situ your sense of disbelief if the situation, where you then accept the implausibility of their plight.

Of course, in writing, the genre plays a very important part. Should you shove scavenging aliens or a zombie horde into the sumptuously decadent Palai de Versailles, during the romantic times of the great kings of France, your reader might not be entirely receptive to your ideas, or appreciative.

A fundamental aspect of success — and one that is particularly difficult to control — is word-of-mouth marketing. Once people have been enriched by your works, they often strive to convince others just how unbelievable you really are. However, for me personally, this journey is one I must start afresh, as an author, since the trust I’ve amassed as a businessman is neither readily nor readily transferrable.

Final thoughts…

So, you thought being a writer was a purely creative endeavour? Yes, but only so far. But because writing is a formulaic (if you pardon the pun) process, as an activity, there are several predictable and well-defined components that you can manage either in isolation, or as a whole.

Ultimately, the end product is one borne of almost indefinable creativity. But the process by which you manage that product, once an habitual process, it is transformed into something you can, over time, come to rely on.

The perils of a would-be author (Act I, the beginning)

After several years of thinking, I finally decided to act (or more precisely, leap) back into writing novels. But in the time between my last foray and now, the publishing game had changed, and self publishing is no longer the realm of the rich and resourceful. Now, self publishing is feasible, practical and accessible.

Why write?

Good question! I am a creative by nature, and I am continually imagining people doing extraordinary things in the most mundane of environments and places, or extraordinary people living out their lives amongst the more common place and restrained, like perhaps you and I are.

I am also a story teller, with a sense of theatre and the dramatic, which goes a long way towards conjuring up the fanciful, the fictitious and the futuristic.

And then there’s the fact that writing isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do (physically), I am removed from the discomfort of dealing with the whims and fancy of clients, and finally, there is money to be made.

In the beginning

Way back when I was .. ahem, younger than I am now, just after starting college, I had this idea for a novel, the principle theme of which was time travel, a subject that I find endlessly fascinating. And, having starting writing the novel Perditions End during the middle of the nineteen nineties, by the turn of the millennia, I had a first draft. While this draft is most likely to be scrapped and re-written, a crucial seed of inspiration had been sewn in my mind, one of a trilogy (or what now looks more like a tetralogy) about a lineage of unique people with singular abilities.

On the in between

Of course, I have been over-run by circumstance, which arrived in the form of several huge movie franchises, such as The Matrix, X-Men and Inception to name but a few, all of which touched upon many of the themes and ideas I would be exploring. That said, the ideas I have in mind are still very much original and worth exploring further.

I am an unabashed science fiction fanatic, but I am also a pragmatist and a practical thinker. I’ve been writing about science and technology for years now, over on Blah, Blah! Technology, which allows me to take the “What if?” and ground those ideas in the cement of reality. And so, here I am, writing about science fiction that will, to the best of my knowledge and abilities, be as grounded in scientific and technological fact as is practicably possible.

In the here and now

More recently, I’ve written Ascending Angels, which is the sequel to Perditions End. But this this is all part of a much bigger longer term project. I need to first write something I can sacrifice to the monkey gods of self publishing, and this is where Earth Day comes in. Earth Day is an eighty page short story that follows a woman living in rural Cumbria, in the north of England, in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

Unlike movies such as Independence Day, the fact is, we simply wouldn’t stand a chance against any alien species, should they wish to invade Earth. Instead, I deal with the aforementioned practicalities of what such an invasion might entail and what purpose it would serve, with shades of The Day The Earth Stood Still, in so far as the way the alien emissary Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, articulates the concerns of those he represents.

Anyway, that’s the book I’ve chosen to go with first, so all that remains is publishing, right? Wrong. And that’s where I’ll be picking up next time, offering a glimpse into the various processes and stages I went through, to actually write a novel and then to prepare for publishing.