Shovels for Sale

21 Dec

snow-woveI’m busy learning how to market e-books, having done very little research into the subject prior to publishing my first novel. I have a very curious nature, so reading and learning new things is not something I run away from – rather I run towards the opportunity. Having spent around ten days investigating how the e-book / online publishing business works, I’m reminded of something that Mark Twain once said:

During the gold rush it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.

Although the odd person struck it rich during the California gold rush of the 1840s & 50s, those who made a ton of money were the people selling the tools with which to locate, extract and refine gold. I’m guessing approx 1:10,000 struck it rich, whereas all 10,000 required a shovel.

The prospecting business model can be applied to many areas of life. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was a rush for dot.com domain names. Everyone was busy registering everything in sight, in the hope of striking it lucky and selling their domain name on to a big company that was slow off the mark, thus pocketing $million$. There were one or two notable sales made before the rules were changed to make domain squatting an offense, but when the dust cleared the folks that made a mint out of the domain name gold rush were the registrars not the squatters.

What I’ve discovered in my foray into online publishing is that there are a heck of a lot of peeps out there in internet land flogging shovels of every shape and size. Naturally, they’re not called shovels, but that’s definitely what they are. For instance:

  • A WordPress blog is free. However, if I want a snazzy domain name rather than domain.wordpress, that’s $20 a year please.
  • If I want to make any mods to the standard WordPress code, I have to move to a dedicated server (for security reasons). That’s about $5 a month. I’m thinking of doing this anyway, as WordPress won’t allow me to host a shop.
  • The mods in question are PHP code extensions such as email address sign-up. WordPress does the sign-up basics for free, but it’s not possible to push the option at the casual reader. Whilst I can get a basic slab of pop-up code for free, I can’t install it. If I move the website, then the pop-up will contain ads from the creator. In order to get rid of these and have full control over page placement that’s more $$$ please. The full service from a reputable email list provider BTW is $10+ a month, depending on numbers, so the free option is attractive cost wise, it just looks a bit cheap.
  • salesfunnelWhy do I want to create an email list? Well… according to research, most people visit a website once and don’t go back. Getting their email address is a means to continually poke them remotely with super offers until they cave in. Get my other novel for free. Get the first book in the trilogy for free. Blah, blah. An email list is your list of valued customers, and as an author it’s your most valuable asset next to your published works(s). I’ve visited the blogs of other authors to see what they’re doing, and indeed the successful ones are prompting visitors to sign-on to the mailing list. In sales terms, this is known as the ‘Sales Funnel’ and it’s the modern equivalent of making sure you get a prospective customer’s phone number before they leave the shop. After that, it’s simply a case of hassling them in the nicest possible way until they eventually surrender to your charms.
  • Next we get onto likes and reviews.  Just like with Twitter followers, I can go to a dodgy site and buy tranches of likes for a Facebook page. Personally, I think that’s cheating. The Ferret Files Facebook page has quite a few likes, which were accrued via Facebook paid advertising. It’s working out at $15 per 1,000 likes, but the likes are real not made up. Reviews are more tricky. I can buy 100+ 5***** reviews on Amazon fairly cheaply. Or, I can go for free reviews which take an age to get back and in truth could be only ** or ***. Again, I think that buying reviews is cheating, although it’s very tempting. Certainly better than no reviews. As you probably realise by now, it’s impossible to trust Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Amazon reviews, but customers do (including me).
  • There are a multitude of self-help books that detail what I’ve described above and how to do it. Everything I’ve written about can be discovered for free, but that takes time and time is $$$. Buying someone else’s experiences is yet more $$$ please.

nice-shovelI haven’t even covered  the shovels that are for sale prior to writing a novel. You can buy advice on: better writing, better structure, how to develop characters, killer beginnings, killer endings, pace, etc. In fact, it looks to me like there are vastly more people out there selling shovels for writing and publishing than there are authors successfully selling golden novels. Perhaps that what I should do next: create another shovel.  It’ll have to be a very pretty shovel that no one else has yet made, full of fantastic new ideas on how to do all of the above at very little expense.

What do you think? Does the world of online publishing need more shovels, or is there not enough gold out there to warrant it?

 

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A strange few weeks

16 Dec

davinci_ferretIt’s been a strange few weeks.  Due to a series of cock-ups, The Ferret Files was launched on Amazon and then on Apple way before the press campaign was ready. In fact, the people who are organising the release still haven’t got their act together after five weeks worth of messing about. Given it’s Christmas, this is kind of understandable but at the same time unacceptable. Hence I had to just get on with it.

I’ve discovered that this requires two different hats: the writer’s cap and the author’s fedora. I wore the writer’s cap for months on end, staring out the window when plotting story lines, and using it to scoop cold water onto my keyboard when the keys were sizzling from an obsessive dump of ideas. I’m done with the cap for now. It’s onto the fedora, which means I get to talking about the novel and the characters in it, rather than the process of writing.

What I’ve found is that I have the weirdest feelings when it comes to Ferret and friends. Now they’re in the public domain, they’re no longer exclusively my characters: suddenly, they belong to the readers as well. Everyone who meets Ferret will have a slightly different take on who he is. The same applies to Cyrano, Marcus and Tristan, Damien and Eric, Flamen and Sir Edward, and Marianne and Juliet. In a way it’s liberating to set the cast free, but it also places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Their stories are not yet finished: we’ve still got a way to go to find out what happens to them all. I’ve plotted a trilogy of books with the same core cast. I know roughly where we’re headed, but not the fine detail. There are also three short stories which take place between books two and three. Bob will play a greater part in these tales. The characters whose arcs I’m really looking forwardxmas-ferret to developing are the hard-done-to juniors: Eric, Rajesh and Xara. And of course the centurion. Boy, are we all in for a surprise with him.

It took me a long time to get Ferret to a degree of polished that I can live with. I’ve downloaded quite a few cheap e-books and the level of finish is not something I’d be happy with.  But then I have a history of producing quality output. If I lend my name to something, it will be good. Anyone who buys into The Ferret Files is buying into a world full of crazy people and cracked ideas. Once you read it, you’ll get that. For a long time I wondered about writing under a pseudonym. Outside of my life as a writer and author, I have an IT consultancy to run. In the end I felt that writing under a different name was the wrong thing to do. I wrote Ferret. I’m proud of my achievement. And it’s too late to back out now. It’s a done deal.

If there’s anything you’d like to know about Ferret and friends, drop me an email at: Phillip@detectingconsultant.com. I’ll answer the best questions in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have a great Christmas y’all…

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Off to the Races

30 Nov

ferret-files-cover-smlWith the final set of tweeks out of the way we’re off to the races. The Ferret Files will be available to purchase from your usual friendly ebook retailers by the end of this week.

A quick check of Amazon and its already there.

Now, how do I sign the first edition of an ebook? All suggestions gratefully received…

 

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Those Final Tweeks

23 Nov

epub-logoI recently received The Ferret Files back from my lovely packaging pals in XML format, so we’re nearly there now. The only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the rendering of the artwork. When it comes to physical print, which I fully intend to follow through on, the 8 x vignettes will be in with the text. For e-book, this isn’t possible if I want reflowing text enabled (the text has to sit top/bottom of the illustrations). I don’t really see this as an issue. Or didn’t…

The pics as submitted were trimmed to size, for wraparound text. As soon as they’re used in the e-book at this size, various readers try to adjust the pics for best fit. The result is best described as ‘a hall of mirrors’, with an end result that being a stickler for detail, I can’t live with. We’re currently working through getting this right. In the process of checking that the e-book is typeset correctly, I discovered a handful of errors with the text.

*Shock*

*Horror!*

superhero-dry-cleanersNot that I’m obsessive, but I’m going to have to read the damn thing again now, from cover to cover, to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve missed.  Unless I trust in my one proven superpower.  When it comes to testing IT, I have this ability to zero in on any problem straightaway. I discovered it one lunchtime back in the day, when a pal of mine, who’d just been intensively testing an identikit program for the previous few weeks gave it to me to play with.  Within 10 seconds I’d broken it. If I recall, there were 8 x face shapes, 8 x noses, 8 x ears, 8 x eyes, 8 x mouths and 8 x hairstyles to choose from. That’s 262,000 combinations. Only one combination didn’t work and I found it with 6 button presses.

Here’s the question: do I trust in my superpower to have found the only 3 errors in the manuscript, or do I read Ferret again? What would you do?

(Seriously, who’d be an indie author…)

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Get Back in the Box

15 Nov

cat1Creating characters is not something I’ve ever had a problem with. If anything, it’s the opposite – I’ve got far too many good characters screaming to be let loose who simply don’t fit in with the story I’m writing. If you try and cram them all in, then proceedings becomes overloaded. The only logical thing to do is park them in the box marked ‘spare characters’ and slam the lid tight to muffle their screams.  I’ll give you an example relating to The Ferret Files. Bob Bobson has been with me for a very long time. In a way, he’s Ferret’s surrogate dad, or at least his older brother. Either way, he was always there for Ferret when the boy was growing up. I’ve written pages of their adventures together. Bob is a good, solid character who I know like the back of my hand. As The Ferret Files progressed and I came to know the rest of the cast, they jostled for position, demanding more screen time and poor old Bob, who’s hard done to and takes things in his stride was steadily pushed out to the periphery. I’d intended to write four chapters from Bob’s POV, but once the pace of the story picked up, whenever Bob made an appearance, it slowed things back down again. One of the other characters would whisper in my ear that they belonged in such-and-such a scene, not Bob. I’d listen, give it try, and lo and behold, the pacing was back on the mark. Bob ended up as a minor character who we meet at the beginning of the book and is mentioned in passing a couple of times. His best scenes are all on the cutting room floor. He will make an appearance in book three, as he has an input into the plot. At the moment I’ve told him he’ll have his own Ferret short story (Curses) and being Bob, he’s happy with that.

My writing style is best described as ‘organic’, in that I framework the entire story before I begin, but once the gloves are off, I’m open to cosmetic changes. The major scenes remain the same but how the characters arrive at their destinations can alter. Really, it’s the difference between arriving at a posh club by cab, wearing a suit or arriving dressed as a clown, riding a unicycle. Cyrano, the elegant Frenchman would never arrive in anything but a cab, whereas Ferret might start out in a cab and end up arriving late on a unicycle…

clownTo begin with, I couldn’t tell the difference between a character leading me off down a rabbit hole for their own gratification, and a change of direction by a character that made the story better. In the unicycle example, Ferret might meet a really interesting street entertainer called Prince Regent. Now I’ve done it. The street entertainer, who was an extra with no lines now has a name. You don’t get called Prince Regent unless you have an engaging back story. So now Prince Regent has a speaking part. Before long he’ll be demanding I promote him to minor character, then if I don’t watch it he’ll want a show of his own. This is a distraction. Prince Regent – it’s off to the box with you, to keep Bob company.

After all the jostling and maneuvering, we end up with a big scene where all the main characters arrive on time, exactly as they should. It’s then that I realise that someone is missing. Bob was supposed to be there as Ferret’s foil and there’s now a gap. Bob pokes his head out of the box and shuffles along, ready to play his part. Except I’d need to bring him back in earlier scenes, otherwise the continuity is shot. And there’s no room for him in the other scenes, because the characters with the massive egos have stolen the show. Prince Regent says he’ll do it. On his unicycle, eating french fries. No, no, no! Both of you, get back in the box! Ferret will have to use a random, incidental character as his foil. It won’t be as funny as Bob being there, but it requires less of a rewrite. One of the waiters steps up. He has a name, you know. Alberto. Except he’s not Italian, he’s from Romania. He speaks English like an Italian because an Italian taught him English. And there you go. Suddenly, Alberto has a speaking part and an interesting back story. It won’t be long before he too wants to be a minor character, and after that he’ll want his own restaurant and TV show. Sorry Alberto, it’s off to the box for you too…

Interestingly, the major villain of Ferret book two is a character who’s been in the box for twenty years. I wrote a couple of unpublished short stories featuring him that long ago. He always wanted more. And now he’s getting it. His gang has changed, as in one of them didn’t make the cut. So it’s back in the box for him. The box has an infinite capacity and a life as long as yours. It doesn’t have to be emptied immediately or topped up forever. It’s your box, to do with as you please.

cartoon-waiter-009NOTE: If you’re stuck for characters and you have a story that requires a unicycle riding clown called Prince Regent who juggles French fries, or a Romanian waiter called Alberto who speaks English with an Italian accent, feel free to give them a good home. Prince Regent may well turn out to be a killer on the run. Alberto is more likely to be threatened by the mob for refusing to pay protection $$$. Bob stays in the box. He’s not for sale or rent. Unless he gets written out of book three, in which case he’s up for grabs. IN the meantime, if the Irish band he sings in makes it big, he’s off on tour to have a few adventures of his own…

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Pre-publishing Purgatory

7 Nov

PurgatorySometime back in April I thought I was ready to publish The Ferret Files. That is, until I submitted the manuscript for a copy edit. This was supposed to be the final step in the rewrite/edit/rewrite wash cycle, but what came back had very little red ink on the page. Most people would think “Hey, great – I’ve done a fantastic job.” But not me. Having run a documentation team, I know what a thorough copy edit looks like, and when there’s not enough red ink it makes me think that the editor has performed a half-a$$ed job. So I took the liberty of seeking a second opinion. As it turns out, I was right to do so. The first editor had done a half-a$$ed job. There was so much he missed, I could easily write a novel on how not to perform a copy edit. Rather than dig up the drains, I chose to move on and finish what I started.

In a previous article, I reckoned I’d be finished by v13. I was wrong by 2 versions. There were some minor changes needed before I sent the finished manuscript off for proof reading, and a whole bunch more once it came back.

off-to-the-racesI’m now out of Edit Hell and in Pre-publishing Purgatory. This is when the novel plus artwork is turned into an e-book or hard copy. After that, it comes back for sign-off and then we’re off to the races. Being of sound mind but somewhat compulsive when it comes to formatting, it’ll take me a couple of days to check everything off. Once that’s done, Ferret will be out there and I can go lie down in a darkened room with a vodka drip feed and say ‘wibble’ a lot.

Who’d be an author, eh? There must be more efficient ways of torturing oneself (he says, whilst plotting the 2nd and 3rd novels in the Ferret trilogy).

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Use your Common Sense

18 Oct

break-the-rulesI’ve always believed that rules are there to be pushed and bent rather than followed to the letter. The responsibility for this lies with my father. When I was growing up, if someone told him he couldn’t do something I guarantee he’d be straight on it. For instance, he once bought a piece of land that adjoined his rear garden and in the process of deciding what to do with it, a hostile neighbor told him there was no way he’d let my dad fence it off. Well, that one rather rash statement set in motion a series of events not unlike the recent Russian escapade with Crimea. My dad, my brother & I started digging holes at 5am one Saturday morning and inserting fabricated concrete posts. Over the course of the morning we were joined by a series of mates and friends on what we jokingly termed ‘Operation Stalag Luft Drei‘ (a reference to the film The Great Escape).

By the Saturday afternoon, the posts were fully in place and were shortly joined by fence panels. As we had a gang, the irate neighbor didn’t dare issue a direct challenge, but we did spot him later on with a tape measure, making sure that the fence in question was within planning regustalag-luft-iiilations. My dad was a loose cannon, but he wasn’t stoopid. Or more to the point, despite his healthy disrespect for the law, the one thing he didn’t want was PC Plod knocking at the door and asking to see the fence. Our neighbor cut off diplomatic relations with our family after that and issued sanctions, such as refusing to take parcels while we were out and telling my dad he wasn’t to park in front of his house. In the UK, the road kerb in front of a house is a public highway, so the neighbor had no right to issue such an ultimatum. Parking hostilities weren’t on my dad’s radar until the neighbor told him he not to do it. Red rag to a bull. After that, every once in a while my dad would park outside the neighbor’s house overnight as a wind up. Unlike me, he used to enjoy a fight before breakfast.

Growing up as a teenager it all seemed like harmless fun. My dad must have been a nightmare neighbor for that one poor guy. However, he was as nice as pie to all the other neighbors, fetching shopping for the elderly, etc, which obviously infuriated the man next door, as he was unable to get anyone else on his side. What I took from this debacle and many others is the following: every street has an a-hole. Now I’m an adult, I’d like to add that if you can’t spot them, it might just be you…

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Based on my experiences of growing up in a world with rules that were there to be bent, I’ve gone on to develop a healthy disregard for the Nanny State. They say you can’t legislate for idiots, but this doesn’t stop the powers that be from trying. When someone figures out how to bypass a rule, more rules spring up to try and plug the hole. It’s like Hercules fighting the hydra!  One of my colleagues once told me that at his school they had only one rule: use your common sense. Apparently, the governors figured that if they had a set of formal rules, a smarty pants would soon come along and exploit a loophole. The end result would be a weighty tome of donts instead of a page of guidelines.  So they distilled every rule they had down to a single statement which covered all eventualities and also taught the kids to use their brains instead of referring to a rule book.  This I applaud and my father agrees. If only common sense wasn’t so uncommon these days…

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War Drugs

25 Sep

This is an article about the use of drugs in war, not the war on drugs. For the latter, please refer to the US State Dept.

panzer-ivA few years ago I watched a documentary about the use of drugs in war. The premise of the show was that Hitler hadn’t actually intended to invade the Low Countries & France the way he did. First a bit of history: the German offensive against the Allies began on the 9th May 1940 with the invasion of Luxembourg and within a couple of days both Luxembourg and Belgium had fallen. Unlike most sensible tourists, the Panzer divisions didn’t bother to stop in Brussels for beer, they just kept on rolling. By the 19th May, the Germans had reached the English Channel. After a short delay, which allowed for the evacuation at Dunkirk on the 26th May, the advance resumed and shortly thereafter France fell.  Allegedly, the lightning advance to the Channel took place because the Wehrmacht were ramped up on amphetamines (pervitine, which is actually crystal meth) and couldn’t be reasoned with. After ten days, all the meth they’d imbibed took its toll and the army collapsed into a deep slumber, thus giving the Brits a narrow window in which to organise their escape.

pervitinI found this to be a fascinating explanation as to why the Germans just stopped when they had the Allies on the ropes. Had they continued their advance the Second World War would have played out very differently to the way it did. It’s a good story, but is it true? It’s certainly true that the Germans had a secret drug programme (Projekt D- run out of Kiel) and it’s certainly true that they built up a massive reserve of pervitine prior to invading Europe. It’s also true that pervitine addiction and withdrawal was a real problem in the ranks. German officers knew from their experiences in France that prolonged use of pervitine caused sleep disorders and irrational behaviour. It was still used though, for the duration of the war. In order to negate the German advantage post-D-day, the American army issued speed capsules to their men. To counter this, the Nazis issued massive quantities of drugs to their Fuhrer, in the belief that it would turn him into a superhuman.  As with nearly all people who take large amounts of experimental drugs, this did not end well.

German scientists were aware of the shortcomings of pervitine and continued to experiment in secret. Eventually, in 1944 they produced drug D-IX, which was a combination of cocaine and crystal meth for alertness, with added heroin to counteract the meth downer that troops complained about.  It was too little, too late. At the end of the war, while the Americans were busy collecting the rocket scientists (later called NASA) and the construction moles (75% of all German construction after 1941 was underground), the Brits sent the SAS to Kiel, to collect the Nazi drug programme. Without giving any more away, this forms the basis of the plot for The Ferret Files.

fly-agaricA bit more research into the history of drug use in warfare, and you’ll find that every army has been up to it since records began. The Incas – off their heads on cocaine. The Zulus fought on a mixture of tobacco, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms; they believed that the fungus made them bulletproof. Again, this did not end well.

Research into war drugs has never stopped – it still persists to the present day. Those in charge will do anything they can to give their men the edge over the enemy.  I’m no expert on modern war drugs and we’re verging into hearsay here, but I’ve read that some of the pills and potions the US Army trialed in Iraq made their soldiers paranoid and trigger happy. Those drugs, along with the weapons surplus from that war were then sold to various US Police forces. As I said, it’s hearsay, although it does resonate given the escalating situation that’s currently playing out across America.

My drug of choice is alcohol. I have a fairly large cache of the stuff. Should WWIII break out, that’s the drug that I’m going to take. It might not turn me into a psychotic killing machine capable of staying awake for weeks at a time, but it will ensure I have a damn good time and no horrible withdrawal symptoms… at least until I run out!

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It’s Just a Bean

23 Sep

coffee-beansI have a pretty strict morning ritual that I like to follow, which starts with fruit tea, then breakfast and finally a shot of espresso. If I’m on the road for any reason, then between hotel breakfast and my place of work I’ll drop into a coffee shop. Nowadays, I stop at one espresso. Previously, I used to drink three or four, until I had an unpleasant episode and my doctor got involved.  I gave up coffee for nine months after that, until temptation finally got the better of me. We were in Italy – the home of espresso – when after a particularly enjoyable meal the waiter asked if we wanted coffee. I’d been there three days and said ‘no’ to espresso every time, but this time I cracked. It was seven o’clock in the evening when I drank that little cup of joy. Seven o’clock the next morning, I finally got to sleep.

The first time I had the coffee ‘swirl’ was back in my coding days. I’d been drinking coffee black without sugar for a number of years, primarily because one customer I used to visit always had a mug of coffee ready before I’d even taken my coat off. It came white, with a ton of creamer that tasted like stale plastic. So I switched to black. As I later discovered, the coffee machines of the 1980s dispersed a truly disgusting brew. Black no sugar came with a suspicious froth on top and tasted like the River Humber. After much persistence, my pals and I got permission to install a filter coffee machine underneath a desk and started brewing our own. Pretty soon, we had a lot of friends. There was a particular deadline for a drop of code and the only way to hit it was to keep on working through the night. I did a forty hour shift, kept awake by coffee. By four in the morning I was seeing colours and nothing around me would stay still. To this day, that experience remains my yardstick of too much caffeine.

An Espresso Shot YesterdayCoffee is one of those things that I’m passionate about to point of excess, along with real ale (aka microbrewery beer) and chillies. While I don’t have an espresso machine, I do have a ‘Presso’, which delivers hand-pulled shots. On the bean side of things, I grind my own using a burr grinder. I started out working my way through the widely available over-the-counter beans but no matter what I did, with the Presso machine it’s impossible to get a crema on top of an espresso shot. Hence I was forced to switch to an internet-based supplier of artisan beans. The coffee that comes out now looks like a miniature Guinness, which is precisely how a great shot should look. And it tastes divine. Heaven in a cup!

In the name of science, I did once try to recreate the original coca cola recipe using bags of mate de coca that a friend had brought back from Peru, along witcocaine2h ground up kola nuts obtained from a herbalist (a source of very strong caffeine). The result was lift-off, followed by a mid-air explosion. FYI: mate de coca or coca tea, which is made from coca leaves – the source of cocaine – isn’t available outside of South America. If you insist on typing ‘mate de coca buy’ into Google and following your nose, that’s entirely your business.

We now have a coffee shop on every corner in London, which is a massive step forward from the 1980s. The missus can’t understand what all the fuss is about. She’s happy with instant coffee from a tin and avoids Americano or Latte like the plague. Meanwhile, I’m busy browsing beans on my phones, winding myself up.

“It’s just a bean,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t understand what you’re getting so excited about…”

 

 

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Version 1.0

14 Sep

Here’s a question for yoversion-1u: how many versions of a document / manuscript does it take to create a Version 1.0?

To clarify, V1.0 is something that you the author are happy to publish and distribute to the world. On the cover, after the title, in large, friendly letters, it says:

 

Document Name

Author: YOU

You will be judged on the content, the grammar, the spelling and the layout. If it’s a work of fiction, add the plot and characters too.

halberdPart of my day job is authoring design documents, which are subject to internal review prior to being published. Hence I’m used to criticism. The most complex design doc is the High Level Design, or HLD. I reckon on 4-5 iterations by the time v0.1 goes out for comment. I then expect to go through another 2-3 versions before final publication. I’m really happy if v0.3 is the final version before v1.0, which gives 8 versions in total. If a document reaches v0.5, I start minor increments (v0.51). Once we get to 15 versions (v0.56) , I’m chomping at the bit to get the damn thing out the door. At this point, between me and success there’s always a pedant who won’t be moved because he/she doesn’t like a particular paragraph or requirement definition. All the time I’m boiling away inside, feeling personally slighted and wishing for a medieval weapon.

For The Ferret Files, I tried to follow my tried and tested methodology. It took six revisions to create v0.1. I figured v0.3 should be it. I was wrong. We’re finishing up on v0.53. Where I went astray was my estimation for how long it would take. I thought perhaps weeks. Try two people full time for four months. The final version of Ferret is revision 13. I was not happy with this figure to begin with. Recently, I saw Jeffrey Archer being interviewed on TV. He said that on average it takes him 17 revisions to get a manuscript right, all hand written then typed up. He neglected to mention that he has a secretary to do the dirty work. So by his estimation it takes two people full time for nearly a year to produce a best seller.  Suddenly, I’m feeling much happier.

My copy editor asked me why I was on v0.53 and not v0.8. Well, it all harks back to my first serious job, working for Commodore computers, who made the C64 and Amiga. One day, I met Frankie, a big shot engineer over from California, who was auditing the UK’s manufacturing processes. We got on rather well – he was a solid, no crap kinda guy at work, a hoot down the pub., which is where he told me about a recent chip manufacturing saga.

chip-03“Have you ever looked at what’s stamped on the top of a chip?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s the chip catalogue number.”

“And after the serial number?”

I’d never paid much attention to the last set of figures, which on most chips was ‘-01’ or ‘-02’. Occasionally, there was a ‘-03’. Frankie explained that in order to blow a chip, the engineer must first create a mask. The final set of figures was the mask number. Given that each mask cost $100,000 (in 1982), the engineering department obviously preferred a ‘-01’. Frankie then pointed me to a chip that had ‘-05’ on it, which, I remarked, had  presumably cost a cool half a million dollars to get right. Frankie laughed. The engineer who been tasked with making the mask didn’t know his ass from his elbow. By the time he’d reached ‘-07’, this was obvious to all and sundry. Except nobody stopped him, so on he went creating new masks and muffing it up. Each time, his boss figured he’ll get it right soon… if I just give him one more chance… And so on. Eventually a working chip appeared with the suffix ‘-33’.  It had cost months of messing about and $3.3m to make.  To avoid public humiliation, the suffix was immediately changed to ‘-05’. This was followed by an enquiry, during which the engineer responsible was reassigned and told never to work on chip masks again, and his boss was fired. Presumably into orbit.

The moral of the story for me is quite simple: keep your version numbers low, preferably below 0.5. If you get to 0.5, panic and start the cover up. Management can’t tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.54. They can. however, tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.9. If you’re covering up, don’t leave it until 0.7, as this grabs too much attention. Finally, if it takes 33 revisions to get something out the door, perhaps you’re in the wrong job…

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