Writing Journeys – Benedict Patrick
Today we welcome Benedict Patrick to the blog – the man who is going to rewrite what we think about fairy tales. He’s also living in Scotland so he gets bonus point from me for that. Keeping this one short and sweet, so over to Ben!
Howdy, folks. My name is Benedict Patrick, author of the books They Mostly Come Out At Night and Where the Waters Turn Black, both of which were released last year. And this, I guess, is my journey so far.
I struggled with deciding how to start telling this story. I could do the whole ‘I’ve always liked to write’ thing, but even I’m groaning at the thought of having to read another one of those biographies.
Finally, I’ve been inspired to put digital pen to digital paper by this recent article, titled Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word, which has been making waves for the past few weeks. Now, there have been many reactions to this article already, a huge chunk of which have been quite aggressive towards the author and her ideas, but I’m not going to go down that road. Instead, my first read of the article made me re-examine my choice to self-publish, and I realised that if it wasn’t for self-publishing, I probably wouldn’t be writing at all at the moment.
Intrigued? Step this way, gentle reader, and all shall be explained.
It began almost a decade ago…
Cue dramatic theme music. The title crawl, scrolling up a starry background, reads thusly:
Young Benedict Patrick, a wistful bookseller, has been writing for most of his life (groan). Other than a single rejection from Marvel Comics (which he shall forever cherish), he has done nothing with his writing, choosing instead to keep it all to himself.
Wanting to find a secure way to support his family whilst pursuing his dream, our hero enrolls himself in a publishing course at the University of Stirling, hoping to find a way into the industry and restore freedom to the galaxy…
Yeah, I’ve never admitted this before, but I am… (glances around to make sure nobody is looking as I remove my glasses) A MASTER OF PUBLISHING! Well, actually, I’m a Master of Letters, thanks to my year spent studying for my publishing degree, which I’ve never mentioned before because I never actually used it (my fault, not the course’s fault).
However, this time spent with my toe dipped into the publishing industry certainly did affect my outlook regarding writing for a living. The business side of publishing became much clearer to me. When choosing which authors and novels to sign, it isn’t necessarily about how good the writing is, it can often be more about what is going to make the most money. And, tragically, those two qualities don’t always go hand in hand. For the guy who refused to do his driving test until the end of his twenties because he felt the possibility for failure was so high, this was a bit of a blow. I also learned how much a traditionally published author makes from individual book sales. It ain’t a lot, meaning that to make a living writing you would either have to sell a shed-load of books, or get a big fat advance (which you tend to only get if you sell a shed-load of books).
This one-two negative combo punch, coupled with the fact that at the end of my degree I had a desperate need to get some stable income for my family, pretty much killed my enthusiasm for writing, and storytelling went on the backburner for a very long time.
At this time, during my degree, there was a faint glimmer of hope. This was the first point in my life, ladies and gentlemen, that I came into contact with self-publishing. Unfortunately, it did not seem like a viable option to me at the time. We had just had a lecture on the woes of ‘vanity publishing’, and the main gateway into self-pubbed books in 2008 was Smashwords. Back then, in the wild west of indie publishing, the end product looked amateurish, nothing like the lovely traditionally published books that I so much wanted to emulate. I never took the chance to actually read any of those early indie titles, never spent enough time investigating what was going on in this new industry. I relegated self-publishing to the bin, and spend the next decade playing World of Warcraft instead of creating.
Thank the maker, the stories did not go away. The tales that would eventually develop into They Mostly Come Out At Night and Where the Waters Turn Black continued to percolate in the back of my mind. I even managed to take part in (and win) a very aimless Nanowrimo, for the first time creating a piece of writing of substantial size.
It was total bollocks, of course, but thankfully I was oblivious to that at the time.
In 2014, two things happened. First, something relatively small but personal (which I won’t go into further here, if that’s okay with you) made me realise that my happy little life that had been developing around me might not be as secure as I thought it was, and I started looking for something that would provide me with some potential long term prospects (any writers reading this right now are probably shaking their heads at my naiveite, but hey – it was my thought process at the time, I didn’t know any better). Also, indie publishing made its way onto my Twitter feed, in the form of this Guardian article about Amanda Hocking. I scoffed at the idea of self-publishing, remembering my early exploration of Smashwords, but decided to investigate further again.
By chance, one of the first indie books I came across was Thorn by Intisar Khanani. I was eventually blown away by the quality of the writing when I purchased the book, but the first impression on me was how awesome the cover was. Those of you who know my own books might recognise the cover artist. Thorn was exactly what I had been hoping for back in 2008 – an independently published book that could stand toe to toe with anything I could pick up in Waterstones.
And so the seed was planted. Indie was viable, I didn’t have to write and submit and then cross my fingers and hope. It took a few years more for me to finally publish a book, but after that revelation my time was focussed on researching the industry, writing, throwing all that writing out because it was terrible, and then finally producing some work I was proud of to show to the public (after a few bouts of heavy editorial input).
I’ve never submitted my writing to a traditional publishing house (Marvel comic script not withstanding). The idea of doing so put me off writing. Discovering the world of indie publishing directly inspired me to take up writing again. My books are out there in the world, now. So far, my career is in the very early stages – no bills are being paid by it, and (as most newly published indies will tell you) discovery is frustratingly slow.
But, dammit, I’ve written two books so far, and people are reading them. And, to my utter confusion and delight, many of those readers seem to be enjoying my stories, and that’s enough to keep the forge fires burning when the rest of the family has gone to bed…
benedict patrick, fantasy authors, writing journeys