Monday, 21 June 2010

NIK PERRING ON WRITING

Yesterday on the Wasted blog, the lovely Nik Perring announced the results of my Flash Fiction competition, which he had very kindly judged. Today, I have asked him to come back and talk about his own experience of publication, focusing on the things he's learnt along the way. Whenever I interview people on this blog, I do so in order for you to take useful messages for your own situations. This is no exception.

In case you don't know him (and I know many of you do), Nik is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west of England. His acclaimed short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3:AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.

Nik’s debut collection of short stories, Not So Perfect is published by Roast Books, is out now, and is just so perfect). He blogs here and his website is here.

This isn't a proper interview because if it were I'd be asking questions. This time I just gave Nik some topics and asked him to busk about them. I knew he'd come up with the goods.

So, once again, over to Nik.

For the Fabulous Nicola Morgan (obvs, I had to leave that bit in...NM)
Nik’s thoughts on...

Things that might surprise an aspiring writer about being published
I remember an author friend of mine saying, a few years ago now, something like ‘having a book published doesn’t make everything all right’ and it’s true. I think before we’re published we have this idea that once we’ve a book in print it’ll wash away all the worries and stresses we have in our lives. It doesn’t. Though it is cool to have a book out there.

It is really, really, really hard work. And exhausting. I mean, writing the thing’s difficult enough (and that’s after all that time spent learning how to write well, after all those stories we’ve given up on) and then the submitting, the editing. But once you’ve signed that contract it’s as though, to a point, you’re starting from the beginning again. You have to work hard to promote your book. Your publisher will do what they can but, really, the hard work’s down to you. And that’s as it should be because it’s YOUR book and you should want to get out there and show it off. Books don’t sell themselves, and that’s especially true if you’re an author that few people have heard of. Which is most of us!

Don’t expect any favours. From friends or from reviewers. Of course some are lovely and only too pleased to have a look at your book and tell their readers what they think of it – but when you consider just how many books there are out there and how much time a reviewer has to read (or can choose to read and then choose to review), you should be truly grateful for any publicity. (I should mention that I’ve been incredibly fortunate that Not So Perfect has been really well received and has had lots and lots of positive reviews – thanks so much to those who’ve taken the time to do them.)

Something I’ve only realised recently is how efficient a "friend-filter" having this book come out has been. I’ve heard from people I’d not heard from in years and years and, in contrast, some of the people I’d have thought would have been the most pleased for me have shown little or no interest at all. And, I suppose, why should they? Which brings me back to the previous point and leads efficiently on to the next... as a writer, published or none, you’re not owed anything. If you’re doing it for the money or for the recognition or for the fame (ha!) you’ll most likely be pretty disappointed. You should, I think, do it for the love of it and consider yourself privileged if you’re able to do it as a job. (I should also add that ‘doing it as a job’ means writing and being able to give talks, run workshops etc etc...!)

My Relationship With Writing
It’s generally a good one I think. Because I write short stories I’m not in the intense and close relationship or marriage a novelist has with their book. Mine’s something different. My stories could be lovers or affairs just as easily as they could be half-controllable pets or children.

A friend of mine, the brilliant novelist Caroline Smailes, calls me the Willy Wonka of short stories and that seems to be the most accurate – not everything I try comes out as I’d have hoped it would.

But I love it. It’s an honour and a privilege.

My Route To Publication
My route to publication was a surprisingly smooth one, on the surface: I wrote some stories, got in touch with a publisher, the publisher read them, asked for more, then offered me a contract.

But underneath all of that, it was rather different.

My point (and worry), and I make this every time I teach, is that an awful lot of good and serious aspiring writers are too concerned with Being Published. And my message to them is: DON’T BE! Don’t give it too much thought.

What you should be concentrating on is writing the best book you can. That’s essential. If you write a good book then there’s a very good chance it’ll be published.

Which leads me on to...

My Advice To Aspiring Writers
Believe it or not you CAN write the book you want to write. Here’s the secret: publishers like good books. In fact they don’t just like them, they WANT them. Because people buy good books and publishers, being a business, like that. That’s why they’re there.

So, yes, publishers like good books. So, in theory, all you have to do is write one – just don’t be surprised if that takes a few attempts.

Be hopeful but be self-critical. It’s a high standard you have to reach and make no mistake, you ARE competing with the best in the business. And what makes it harder is that they’re known – by readers who buy their books and by publishers who know they’ll sell the books. But they were unpublished writers too once, you know! And they got to be where they are now by working very hard and by not giving up. And probably, by trying and failing a few times too. Remember: nothing’s lost.

My last piece of advice though, is this: enjoy your writing. It won’t be fun all the time, but you should do it because you enjoy it. It should be, mostly (even if it’s well hidden) - fun.
***
Thanks so much, Nik! (I told you he was good and nice, didn't I?)

Now, any of you who love a beautifully crafted story, especially when wrapped between gorgeous covers, and / or who want to see how to write beautiful short stories, do buy Not So Perfect. I did and I'm tantalising myself by only allowing myself one story a night. I don't know why he called it Not So Perfect. It is perfect.

19 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

What a marvellous piece, Nik. And 3A:M - super coolio!

Kelly said...

Very positive advice! Thanks Nik...

Marisa Birns said...

I was very greedy and read all the stories in NOT SO PERFECT in one sitting!

But, I have gone back to read them slowly. :)

Wonderful advice, Nik!

ohthatanya said...

Really, really useful advice, Nik. I'm coming to realise that Twitter is a wonderful resource, but I think it's too easy to get caught up in all the things that come with Being Published - editing, pitching, querying, etc. Yes, all of that advice is invaluable. But as an unpublished writer working on the first draft of her novel, right now I need to, as you say here, focus on writing the best book I can. Otherwise the other stuff will be for naught.

Thanks for reminding me of that.

Nicola Morgan said...

Tanya - please go straight to the top of the class and receive an apple from the teacher. You said:

"But as an unpublished writer working on the first draft of her novel, right now I need to, as you say here, focus on writing the best book I can. Otherwise the other stuff will be for naught."

Hooray! Will you come and do my Edinburgh Book festival talk for me??

I am in the middle fo writing Write to be Published just now and the longest section is about how to write your book well, while the one about how to present it will come last. Unfortunately, you have to wait till next June for that book, and it's entirely possible that you won't need it by then...

Dan, kelly and Marisa - you can have apples, too, but you already know that.

Dolly said...

Nik,

Absolutely loved your interview! Such wonderful advice. I know it's all true. Sometimes it's easy to forget that it's just not about getting published. Thankfully, after few weeks of downer time, I remember it again. :-)

Nik Perring said...

Nicola - thanks so much for having me over here and fro allowing me to burble and mumble so freely!

Thanks Dan! And yip, 3 :AM are cool.

Kelly - no probs!

Marisa - that's just delightful to hear. Thanks so much.

Tanya - thrilled that struck a chord. Have an apple from me too! Thing is - there's little point in worrying about things you don't need to worry about! The book's the priority.

Dolly, thank you and you're most welcome. Don't get me wrong - being published is the goal. Publishers tend to want good books they can sell and it's our job to (try to) given them them!

Thanks again!

Nik

Emily Gale said...

Hi Nik (and host-with-the-most, Nicola!),

Agree with a lot of your points here, particularly the one about the need to come back to the grass roots of why we write - the love of it. I found this especially true once the initial excitement of publication had died down - you have an amazing few weeks of basking and then someone else gets to be flavour of the month, and the temptation to start comparing yourself with other authors can be really damaging to your work, so to keep reminding yourself WHY you sat there for hours writing and rewriting in the first place - that story, those characters - is vital.

Congrats on the book, Nik!

Emily

DJ Kirkby said...

Hi Nik
My copy of 'Not so Perfect' is on my bedside table and I'm looking forward to indulging myself with it as I'm a big fan of short stories. First though I need to finish reading Nicola's latest - 'Wasted', and I'm not just saying that 'cos I'm leaving a comment on her blog :)

Nik Perring said...

Thanks Emily. All true. And comparing your work to what others have done must be really damaging (and tempting!) - but we didn't set out to that, did we? We set out to tell a particular story that we love.

Thanks DJ - hope you like it once you finish Nicola's (which is near the top of my TBR pile!).

Nik

Elizabeth West said...

Awesome. Thanks for sharing that with us, Nik and thanks Nicola also.

I'm going to keep trying!

Joanne Elliott said...

Nik, thanks for the advice and encouragement. I'm in the midst of last edits and writing a synopsis...I'll try not to get too caught up in getting published and focus on the writing.

Nicola, thanks for letting us hear from Nik.

Nik Perring said...

You're welcome, Elizabeth - and DO!

Joanne - thank you too! And best of luck with the edits and synopsis. I do not envy ANYONE writing synopses. Ick!

Nicola Kim said...

Great advice from Nik and as usual your blog is just fab, Nicola. This week I have read a few blogs encouraging writers to keep writing. For myself, having quite a hard time with my writing at the moment, I have decided to put publishing at the back of my mind and pleasure right in the front. For now I will write for pleasure first and hope that it will later lead me up the road to publishing.

Kate said...

Just bought my copy, Nik.

ohthatanya said...

I get two apples? *glee*

Thanks, Nicola and Nik. And I'm really trying not to be distracted by the wonder of Twitter. As I said in my original comment, some of the advice there is invaluable, but right now I need to focus on what I'm writing. It's so easy to be distracted! I read a piece about self-publishing this morning and then I realised that if I go on like this, I won't have anything TO publish! *g*

Nik Perring said...

Nicola, thank you. Glad I could help. Wishing you well with concentrating on the writing!

Kate - thanks SO much! (I've got it in my diary to email you this week, actually...).

Ha! Very true, Tanya. It's VERY easy to be distracted - I know I suffer from it terribly. But. As we've already said and agreed - it's the writing something wonderful that should be the priority. Twitter and blogs can be fab and fun and useful, but they can stop you from doing what you should be doing.

The Virtual Victorian said...

Great interview, Nik - coming a bit late to this, but very glad I found it. Loving your book!

Nik Perring said...

Thanks The Virtual Victorian! That makes me happy!