An Interview with Author, Stephen Clarke

I am pleased to announce that today’s post will feature my interview with the witty and funny author, Stephen Clarke. If you’re not yet familiar with Stephen and his books, this is the time to get to know him. I promise you that by the end of this interview, you will probably find yourself reading his website and purchasing his books.

I met Stephen briefly at the Paris Writers Workshop I attended last month. He spoke during the lecture on Literary Trends: Self-publishing and E-books. The panel consisted of a few self-published authors who shared their stories of how they got published. Each story was unique and eye-opening. Stephen’s in particular, amused me, made me laugh, and of course—inspired me.

What’s so inspiring about Stephen’s story was how he used his determination, his creativity and his sense of humor to reach his goals. He went from being self-published to selling his books to a publisher. It goes to show that as long as you keep going, keep believing and keep writing—you too, can get there.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is my interview with author, Stephen Clarke.

During the Paris Writers Workshop, you mentioned how you initially self-published and sold your books in a trolley around town. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
SC: It was very liberating. I was told by several professionals in the book trade that my novel, A Year in the Merde wasn’t worth publishing. So I did it myself, the old way, that is, by finding a printer, a cover designer, and getting the software to lay out the pages. I was then free to do whatever I wanted, so I had fun with the blurbs, doing collages for the cover, adding fake endorsements, even the copyright disclaimer had jokes in it. I got 200 copies printed up, but I decided not to let anyone know I was self-publishing, so I invented a fake publisher called Red Garage Books and claimed that “we” (it was never clear who “we” were) had discovered this great unknown called Paul West, who’d written the all-true exposé of life in a big French company and couldn’t reveal his identity for fear of being fired or assaulted. I then started trying to sell the books door to door in English-language bookshops, and sold almost no copies at all until I got a mention in a freebie newspaper, after which suddenly I was getting 100 orders a day. I then sold the rights to a “real” publisher, who clearly thought the book was worth publishing after all. That’s a very brief resumé. What I remember most is six months or so of solid work (that’s after the novel was finished), a lot of panic, several troughs of despair, and a hell of a lot of fun.

With the recent success of e-books, should writers still consider traditional publishing first?
SC: It’s entirely up to the writer. Obviously e-books are a lot less difficult to publish and ship, but you miss out on being able to hawk them to bookshops, so I don’t know. If you want an instant world market and know how to use the social networks, I’d say go for e-books. In any case, Americans seem to have forgotten how to turn the pages of actual paper novels, and the rest of us won’t be far behind because we always end up following the American lead in technology. I’m sure my iphone will soon have a real-book detector fitted, and if it smells paper pages nearby it will refuse to turn itself on.

What advice can you give writers who have been rejected by Literary Agents?
SC: Either find another one, or don’t – it’s a very personal relationship, a bit like finding a sexual partner. Someone might think you’re cute but hate your smell. The same goes for agents, except your idea is the cuteness and your style the smell. Just because one or more says no, it doesn’t mean they all will. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to do without…

What advice can you give writers who have self-published but are struggling with book sales?
SC: Look for niche markets. If your book is about French blue cheese, make sure you’ve sent emails to every magazine, website, club and trade union dealing with France, cheese and blue things. You have to plug yourself non-stop. I still do this. Any time there is any friction at all between France and the Anglos, I will tweet about it, and any journalists interested in my opinion on the subject will get an interview. You have to be a blatant self-publicist, even if you’re doing OK.

What do you think makes a good story?
SC: Absolutely anything that grabs readers’ attention. The same story told by two different people will be as different as Shakespeare and Barbara Cartland. You have to make sure that your version is gripping.

What do you think makes a good writer?
SC: The ability to finish writing their book. And the voice. You have to find your own voice, your very own, personal way of narrating.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
SC: I am re-reading an excellent comedy novel called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, by David Nobbs, and have just finished Robert Harris’s latest, The Fear Index. Though I prefer his historical stuff.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
SC: Giving readings and seeing people laugh.

Thank you Stephen for letting me interview you. It was a lot of fun.

Stephen’s book, 1,000 Years of Annoying the French is #1 at the Amazon.co.uk’s French History chart.

To purchase Stephen’s books, please visit his website or go to Amazon.com.

Look for Stephen on Twitter: sclarkewriter

Guest Blog: Writers Workshops

Hi writers. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Guest Blogger, so I thought I’d ask a new friend and fellow-blogger who I met at the Paris Writers Workshop, to do me the favor of writing a guest post. I immediately thought of the wonderful, Kristen Coros.

Our topic for this guest post will be: Writers Workshops.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is, Kristen Coros…


Three Arguments for the Writers Workshop

by Kristen Coros (milchtoast.wordpress.com)

Intro: I am a Canadian blogger and aspiring fiction writer currently living in Zürich, Switzerland. I met Corey at the Paris Writers Workshop in June, and I’m honoured that she asked me to provide a guest post for her blog. Below, I’ll give my take on why writing workshops are worth attending.

Writing fiction is a funny thing. It requires you to sit alone in front of your computer for hours on end, inventing people, events, and conversations. There comes a time when you say to yourself, “Well, it all seems clear to me, but will a reader understand it the way I want them to? Do my characters behave/seem like real people? Will someone reading this find it plausible that they would say this or do that?”

This is when you need to get feedback on your writing. You might find, however, that if you offer your writing to your friends and relatives, you’ll receive comments that are either a) unfailingly supportive, along the lines of “I just think this is the best thing I’ve ever read, honey!” (note: spouses are especially prone to this type of feedback); or b) critical but not constructive (“I didn’t like this part, but I can’t really say why.”)

You need other writers to read your work, writers who have struggled with and thought about the same issues of narration, plot, dialogue, and characterization with which you are now grappling. And while you might be able to find fellow solitary key-peckers in your area who are willing to meet and swap work on a regular basis, I would argue that additional benefits are accrued from attending a writer’s workshop. As a three-time veteran of Zürich Writers Workshop weekend events and a recent attendee at the weeklong Paris Writers Workshop, I’ve observed the following three benefits of these organized events.

The presence of a leader. Critique groups can sometimes be overly informal, devolving into too much chatting, joking, or complaining, and not enough productive discussion. In a workshop setting, a leader – typically a writer who has been published to some acclaim – acts as a facilitator to keep things focused and to ensure that there is equal time for everyone’s work to be discussed. They can also help to interpret the feedback being given. While my piece was being discussed at the first workshop I attended, a fellow participant looked at me and said, “Your underwear is showing in this piece.” It was an essentially useless (and potentially hurtful) remark before our leader was able to draw out and rephrase its meaning.

Equal footing for the participants. In a workshop, it’s typically the case that every attendee must submit the same amount of writing beforehand (at events I’ve attended, the amount has ranged from two to twenty pages). The leader does not submit anything, but their work is available for scrutiny at your local bookstore. It helps to have everyone in the same boat, as opposed to informal groups where some people may be frequently submitting and others hardly ever. When everyone is equally invested and vulnerable, each member of the group will be more likely to deliver what they themselves are seeking – honest, helpful feedback delivered in as kind a manner as possible.

Chances to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. The workshops I’ve attended have introduced me to a wonderful and geographically diverse set of like-minded writerly people (such as the lovely Corey!), many of whom I’ve kept in touch with afterwards. As noted above, being a writer can feel very isolating, so workshops can offer a great sense of your community and networks growing.

After having sung these praises of the workshop, I will note, in closing, that there is a time to workshop, and a time to head back to your desk alone. To paraphrase Stephen King, whose memoir/instructional book On Writing I love abidingly, writing itself needs to be done in solitude, with the “door closed” and only your own voice in mind. So after our wonderful week in Paris, it’s time for me to cloister away again.

 

Thank you so much, Kristen. 🙂

To check out Kristen’s blog, please go to: milchtoast.wordpress.com

 

 

Getting Critiqued

One of the reasons why I wanted to attend the Paris Writers Workshop was because I wanted to see if my writing was up to par. I knew it wasn’t perfect and I needed to know exactly what I needed to work on. I am thankful I went. Each student in the Craft of Fiction class I attended, got a chance to get their story critiqued by the students and the teacher. It was worth it.

Getting critiqued is a gift.

I suggest getting your work read by a couple of people you know and trust and then let strangers read it. There is something amazing about having people you don’t know read and critique it. As much as mom and dad loved your story, chances are, a stranger will give you a more honest feedback. And that’s the point. You want and need honest feedback. A writer’s group or a writer’s workshop is a good place to meet people who will be willing to read and critique your work.

Here is why I think getting your writing critiqued is a gift:

  1. No matter how many times you think you’ve read and edited your work, you can still miss things.
  2. Different people spot different things. One person may notice a typo and another one won’t. Pay attention to each feedback.
  3. Different people can also spot the same things. This is really interesting. If you notice a few people commenting on the same thing, it probably means you need to do some rewriting. Again, pay attention to each feedback.
  4. Not all suggestions apply. If one person says to delete a specific line, but the rest of the group says it works, including you, then don’t delete it.
  5. Keep your target audience in mind when getting feedback. For instance: You’re writing women’s fiction and one person says, “he doesn’t get it” but the women of the group say “they get it”, then you can probably ignore the suggestion. Use your best judgment.
  6. There are things that are clear to you as the writer, but vague to the reader. Getting critiqued will help point these out.
  7. Ask questions. What is it about your story that you feel needs help? Is there a specific dialogue/character/chapter you’re not sure of? This is the time to get answers.
  8. Whatever you learn from each feedback is new knowledge you can apply to any of your stories.

Remember that the people critiquing your work are there to help you—not attack you. Listen to all suggestions and comments before responding. This was a great technique our teacher, Christopher Tilghman used that I think we benefitted from. If it was our story being discussed, we were not allowed to respond until after all suggestions/comments were said. Listening carefully first, instead of responding immediately gave us a better understanding of our work and how we could improve it.

I truly enjoyed our class and I appreciate every feedback I received. I was lucky to be part of such a diverse group of people. Each one had a story to tell. Each one was unique and memorable.

Getting critiqued is both terrifying and satisfying. By the end of it, you become a better writer.

Paris Writers Workshop

I had a wonderful time at the Paris Writers Workshop last week. The workshop offered writing classes that catered to all writers. I originally wanted the Novel class, but by the time I tried to sign up, it was sold out. Not wanting to give up, I searched for another class and found The Craft of Fiction had one opening. I signed up and snagged the last spot.

I think it was meant to be. 😉

Here are a few things I’ve learned from attending the PWW:
1. I learned to drink wine…the right away. (I’m not kidding. They taught us how during the opening ceremony. It’s all about using your senses, not just in drinking wine, but also in writing.)
2. I learned that getting your writing critiqued by other writers is a gift.
Remember: they’re not there to attack you. They’re there to help you.
3. Networking is fun. You’ll be surprised at who you’ll meet. I met a fellow-blogger who I have been following for months. Her blog is called: Becoming Madame.

4. Dialogue isn’t just about the quotes.
5. Traditional Publishing is hard, but it’s not impossible. Hang in there.
6. Self-Publishing is a lot of work, but it can be worth it.
7. Reading a chapter of your book to a group of strangers is exhilarating. If you get a chance to do it, do it. It’s good practice for when you go on book tours.

8. If you really want to be a writer—keep writing, and don’t give up.

The main reason why I wanted to attend the PWW was because I wanted to get my first novel critiqued by a group of writers. I’ve only shared my story with a few people, so I wanted to see what strangers thought of the way I wrote and what I wrote. Although we only covered part of the story, I can apply what I’ve learned throughout the novel.

You’re probably saying I could’ve simply joined a writers group or went to a local workshop, and that’s true. But I had other reasons why I also wanted to go to Paris. If you’ve read my other posts, then you know what they are. No need to bore you again with the details.

Now that I’ve been to a Writers Conference and recently to a Writers Workshop, I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot from both experiences. I recommend both for different reasons.

If you’re deciding between the two, here’s a tip for you:
If you have a polished manuscript and are ready to find an Agent, I suggest you attend a Writers Conference.
If you’ve got a story that is still a work in progress, I suggest you attend a Writers Workshop.

For those of you who are looking for a Writers Workshop, I recommend the Paris Writers Workshop. Writing and Paris go hand in hand. If you need inspiration, The City of Light is the place for you.

Cheers!