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Monday, 22 September 2014

Does it pay to advertise? by Ali Bacon

A Kettle of Fish book cover
Ali Bacon's debut novel
Well does it? Until recently I hadn’t even considered it.  When A Kettle of Fish was published in late 2012, I already had a healthy online presence. Using my ‘platform’ to sell my wares, I could also call in online favours to shout about my new e-book without spending a penny. But two years on, while reluctant to conjure up images of deceased equines, that’s pretty much what I feel I’m dealing with. Surely my online audience and real-time contacts have by now either bought it or decided against?  Yes, I think it’s time to find a new audience by doing some advertising. Will it pay? Maybe I should have consulted my blogging associates first, but having woken up one day with a sudden desire to go for it, here’s what I’ve done so far.

The first thing I considered was a listing with one of the increasing number of e-book marketing services. With these your book is  emailed out to readers who have usually indicated a genre or set of genres that interest them. To test the waters, I signed up as a reader to three of these, Fussy Librarian (well I used to be one!) E-book Soda (nice name) and Bookbub (not a nice name but seems to be the biggest). Emails arrive daily with listings in my chosen genres with links to retailers and I have even bought one or two, so I can see that the system works. All of these services have or claim to have a basic quality control mechanism for submissions and some of them insist that the book is discounted from its normal price or have an upper price limit. The cost of these  services is usually linked to the circulation stats  for the chosen genre. These examples are all for a single day listing in the women’s fiction category.

Service
Circulation
Cost per listing

38,000

$14

800,000
Free book    $220
$1 book       $440
$1-$2           $660

$10


Bookbub is the only one to give estimates of sales.  They claim a paid-for book will sell an average of 2000 per listing but the spread is from 400 to 4000. Even if I make my book free (average downloads 19000) it’s a lot of money for a business with minimal profits. And no guarantees of the uptake. On the day I checked, the E-booksoda price was only $5 and I took the bait. It will be mailed in two days time on September 24th. If there’s limited impact, at least I won’t have broken the bank!

Ali Bacon writer
Author, salesperson, ex-fussy-librarian
Meanwhile my POD publisher Feedaread was offering an advertising deal via Writers Magazine and Writers Forum (combined subs 13000 plus retail distribution 33,000) in which readers will visit Feedaread website and choose to read an extract from any of a number of novels for the chance to win a substantial prize. I have some reservations about this and would not have taken part if I hadn’t negotiated that the e-book as well as the paperback will be mentioned in the promotion. (Yes, there’s hard woman in there somewhere!) Let’s say the cost is a lot more than $5 but still considerably less than the cheapest Bookbub deal.

I have to confess my approach in all of this has been far from systematic and you can probably see there are other factors I haven’t gone into here. I’m also hoping that by the time these promotions run, I’ll have access to my own detailed sales figures which are at present only seen by my (micro) e-publisher. 
I’d be fascinated to here how others have dealt with any of this and how they have fared. I do have other marketing plans including face-to-face events, but I’m also aware that the best plan of all might be to bring another product to the market. 

Yes, never mind the sales pitch, time to get writing!

Ali has her own website at http://alibacon.com or follow her on Twitter @AliBacon



Sunday, 21 September 2014

Of Birds and Butterflies, Books and Differences! - Pauline Chandler

Do you love birds? I wouldn't have one as a pet in a cage, but I love to see them in the garden, especially finches. They're like bright little jewels.


Recently, I was struck by how different birds pick out different foods. Usually we fill up the feeders with sunflower hearts, to the delight of the finches. Then, one morning, we put out a pile of stale bread, pulled into chunks. The finches weren’t the least bit interested, but a great flock of jackdaws came down and took the bread away, every last scrap, within a couple of minutes, like pro burglars on an easy-peasy heist, in and out, roundabout, thank you very much. They left a most confused squirrel, frozen, beneath the bird table, eyes lifted to the skies and a speech bubble issuing from its mouth: ‘Wha.at? Wha.at? Wha.at sort of a cheese sandwich was that?’ (Love that ad!)
Put that bread back or else!




                                                                            
There ain't room in this town for both of us..



Did you know that butterfly larva eat their own special plants? No, neither did I, until I read about it in the paper this week. 

For instance, 
the Grizzled Skipper lives on agrimony 

 the Brimstone on buckthorn 

and the Fritillaries on dog-violets


It’s all very specific, which makes it easy to see why some butterflies are at risk, when their food plants are decimated.

But to the point of this post: all my reading life I’ve had a worry at the back of my mind about reading the 'right' books. Maybe this was planted in my school days when we had lists of ‘suitable’ books to read, to prove that we were well-educated.

As a teacher, I’ve often been asked by anxious parents and students what books to read, in preparation for exams or university entrance, in other words, what to read to impress.

Look, I’d like to state publicly now, that, in spite of having spent my working life as an English teacher and writer, that I have not read War and Peace, Proust or Ulysses. Nor have I read the complete works of Dickens, Thomas Hardy or Shakespeare. I’ve read some of each, of course.  Yet, always at the back of my mind, was this prodding anxiety: ‘You should know it all…you should have read more…learned more’.


What codswallop! It’s only now in my sixth decade, that I'm able to take a step back from the rush of a working life and see things in a more balanced way.  

We are all different, with different appetites for different food plants and different books. 
I used to be disappointed when friends hated the books I loved and confused when I just couldn’t see what the critics were raving about in the bestsellers. Now, I know it doesn’t matter a jot. 

We’re all different. I have a catholic taste in books and read all sorts from murder mysteries to humour to biography, to historical fiction to ‘how to’ books. I like what I like. (Look, I just wouldn't admit that to everyone. (And, no, I haven't read '50 Shades of Grey'.) 

Currently reading:

Kate Atkinson : Life After Life, which is beautifully written, in an almost spoofy way, verging on caricature at times, considering the subject matter. (Is that the point? I still haven’t quite squashed that worm of doubt in my own judgement). The book’s incredibly dispiriting, though. Just when you’re in love with the characters, they pop their clogs! It’s upsetting me no end. Superb writing though, so I’ll persevere.

Just read:

Marc Levy: The Children of Freedom, a gut-wrenching account of resistance fighters during Hitler’s occupation of France. Absolutely rivetting.
  

Pauline Chandler
September 21st 2014
www.paulinechandler.com          
       






Saturday, 20 September 2014

Mostly about cheese by Sandra Horn



Chalk or cheese?
Sandra Horn
     Susan {Price} posed this question, so in the absence of any other inspiration I’m blogging about it. Well, cheese, obviously. Chalk isn’t good for much except making dust and shrieking against the blackboard fit to loosen all your fillings at once. Cheese, on the other hand…how can I extol thee?
     Here’s my favourite cheese joke, from Al Murray: ‘The French make 300 types of cheese. Keep going, chaps – one day you may get to cheddar.’ Except of course, he should have said Wensleydale. The crumbly sort, as was served on a slab of Yorkshire tea bread in the little café in the wall at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in the old days. Sigh.
     My one-time boss, a formidable woman of strong opinions her whole team were supposed to share, once remarked, ‘I think we all agree that the French make the best cheese.’
     ‘Not all the time they can't make Wensleydale, they don’t,’ I muttered, thus putting myself in her bad books for evermore.  An attempt at a light-hearted Wallace and Gromit reference didn’t help. I didn’t care. And while I'm at it, bad cess to anyone contaminating it (Wensleydale) with such ridiculous fol-de-rols as cranberries or apricots. What are you thinking of? There will be a special circle of hell waiting for you, mark my words.
     I wish I’d put cheese in more of my books. I can only think of one, and it isn’t finished yet and might never be.  Mice, now… but their association with cheese is dubious, as you will know if you’ve ever tried baiting a (humane, I hope) mousetrap with it. Mice are largely indifferent to cheese, being somewhat low down the evolutionary scale.  Bacon will do, or chocolate.
     Once caught, we take the mice for a walk onto Southampton Common and release them, with the trap flap pointing away from our house.  Sometimes it takes them several days to find their way back, during which time we’ve grovelled about covering airbricks and any other outlets we can find with fine mesh. It doesn’t work. I do have a soft spot for them, though – in Nobody, Him and Me, they outwit the dreadful cat, Biter the Fighter.
     It got me accused of being a cat-hater, which I’m not, as witnessed by my lovable old tabby cat Miss Minkin in The Hob and Miss Minkin stories. She is too busy looking after her beautiful fur and taking refreshing naps to do more than just think about chasing mice and birds.
     Not like our local mob, who stalk round the bird feeders and get yelled at on a regular basis. Sometimes I shy my garden clogs, which are always within reach, at them, being careful to miss, naturally.
     Speaking of birds, which I was a moment ago, I seem to have a lot of them in the books . There’s The Crows’ Nest, Goose-Anna, birds galore in The Tattybogle Tree, a slew of pengiuns in I Can't Hear You! I Can't See You!, a crucial jackdaw in The Stormteller, a yellow canary in Babushka, an important seabird in The Silkie, and a special crow song by Ruth Kenward in Tattybogle the Musical. 
     You may not know this, but birds like cheese. They get our chopped-up rinds every day and always come back for more.They are clearly further up the evolutionary scale than mice. Or people who put cranberries in Wensleydale. And don't even get me started on mustard with cheese. Blurghhh!!!!!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Gatekeepers – You Choose – Publishers or Readers? by Chris Longmuir


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gatekeepers, and who decides what readers should be allowed to read. I suppose this has been instigated by the Hachette/Amazon dispute, with Hachette wanting to maintain high prices for their e-books and Amazon stubbornly resisting this in favour of a discounting model. Now, I’m not going to get into an argument of who’s right and who’s wrong, let the big boys slug it out. However, the niggling thoughts about gatekeepers keep on invading my mind.

It has long been accepted that publishers are the gatekeepers, but is this a good thing? It is generally accepted that in order to be accepted by a publisher a book has to be well written and that the badly written books will be weeded out. Excuse me for a moment while I have a snort of derision as I think about Fifty Shades of Grey and all those celebrity memoirs. You see, it’s not really about quality. It’s about money, and whether the book will sell in sufficiently large amounts to earn the publishers shed loads of cash.


Thinking back to when my saga A Salt Splashed Cradle was rejected by one of the big publishers – a book which is now selling very well and is popular with readers, thank you very much – the rejection was on the basis that historical sagas had gone out of fashion. Now this book had survived the many layers of the RNA (Romantic Novelist Society) probation scheme for new writers which involved the thumbs up from three different professional readers and placement with the said publisher. So, to be rejected on the basis of changing fashion in the world of readers was, looking back on it, strange. Did all the saga readers suddenly stop reading this genre overnight? Or was the publisher acting as a dictator, deciding what readers could or could not read? I would lay bets it was nothing to do with what readers wanted and more to do with sagas not bringing in as much money as the other genres. Was any thought given to the devoted saga readers? No, they would just have to make do with whatever the publisher dictated was the new fashion in reading.

The same thing happens when a publisher decides a mid list author is no longer reaching the publisher’s ever increasing targets. They are dropped without any thought given to the readers who may be waiting anxiously for that author’s next book.

This poses the question – should publishers be the gatekeepers? Or should the industry allow their readers to be the gatekeepers? Somehow, I can’t see that happening because, as I said, it’s all about money and profit. So perhaps it’s just as well the gatekeepers are getting competition from the independent authors who are very aware of who are the most important people in the publishing equation. The readers.

Chris Longmuir





Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Message From Scotland by Catherine Czerkawska

Today is Referendum Day in Scotland and this country where I have lived and worked – on and off – for the past fifty years, is torn in two in a way that I would hardly have believed possible. Way back at the start of the year, my husband said, ‘It will get very much worse. It will be terribly, tragically divisive.’ I didn’t believe him. Well, I hoped he was wrong. But he was right. 

Every morning, for the past few weeks, as the debate - often between otherwise close friends - has become more bitter, more insulting, more angry, I have woken up at three or four in the morning with words practically bursting out of my head. I have, so far, resisted the urge to write them down. They are too angry, too insulting, too divisive in themselves to be committed to paper or screen. But I’m feeling sleep deprived and rather ill. Because here I am, living in a divided country. And make no mistake, it is divided. Horribly so. People speak about winning and losing, they speak about an inspiring and peaceful campaign and all pulling together whatever the outcome, but where more or less half the population are in absolute and occasionally violent disagreement with the other half about a country’s future, the only answer to that is the useful, cynical, Scottish double negative:

‘Aye right.’

I’m working on a new novel. Or trying to work on a new novel. It’s a fictionalised account of the life of Jean Armour, the bonnie Jean who became Robert Burns’s wife and who has been very largely sidelined by a string of mostly male academics, commentators who seem to think that she was somehow ‘unworthy’ of the poet’s towering intellect. I’ve never felt that way. I’ve always been on Jean’s side. In fact, I’ve written a couple of plays in the past, one for Radio 4, about the writing of Tam o’ Shanter and one for Glasgow’s Oran Mor venue, called Burns on the Solway, ostensibly about the last few weeks in the life of the poet, down on the Solway coast. Except that both plays turned out to be quite as much about Jean as about the poet. And the more I wrote about her, the more I heard her voice inside my head, the more I realised that I liked her enough to be able to live with her for the time it takes to complete a novel.

For those who don’t know, the couple had a difficult start. He promised marriage and they signed a document to that effect which in those days, in Scotland, meant that the marriage was legal. Her father fainted at the news and then ‘persuaded’ her to go back on her word. The names were cut out of the document. This didn’t invalidate it but perhaps he thought it did. Robert was outraged as only a handsome, self-regarding, self-dramatising poet could be. Jean was pregnant. She gave birth to twins. Robert took the boy to his family farm, Mossgiel outside Mauchline, and left the girl with Jean. The girl died. Robert took up with Highland Mary of unjustifiably saintly memory. Then Robert went off to Edinburgh to be lionised and Mary died as well. Jean’s parents tried to marry her off to a Paisley weaver but she wasn’t having it. Undoubtedly she loved Robert, truly, madly and deeply. On one of his return visits to Mauchline they met up but didn’t make up. They did something though, because Jean fell pregnant again and was turned out of her father’s house in disgrace. Robert relented enough to take a room (and a bed) for her. She gave birth to another set of twins but the babies didn’t survive for long.

And then, quite suddenly, the poet, who had been dallying in Edinburgh with ‘Clarinda’ aka pretty but prudish Nancy McLehose, came back to Ayrshire, married Jean without further ado and set off to Dumfriesshire to establish a hearth and home for his new wife at Ellisland.

It is an intriguing story with a certain amount of mystery about it. On the one hand, it reads like a conventional romance: nice girl goes through hell but tames bad boy who turns out to have a heart of gold. Except that she didn’t and he didn’t. Nor did it really end happily ever after. But it’s a complicated story and one that has huge potential as a novel. I could have written it as a piece of non-fiction but I want to be able to make up what I don’t know, and there is an awful lot we don’t know about Jean. All we have are hints, intriguing suggestions, possibilities. What ifs. 


So what does this, if anything, have to do with the dread R word. Well, the other day, I was chatting to a friend who said ‘how’s the work going?’ and I said ‘It isn’t, really. I’m working around the idea rather than through it.’ And she said she felt much the same. When, as I do, you write with a very strong sense of place, a strong sense of history, your own attitude to that place as a writer makes a difference to how and what you write. I have loved living here in Scotland. But I was born in England. My parentage is Polish, English, Irish. And now, increasingly I find myself putting a little mental distance between myself and the place where I currently live. I think I am doing it for the sake of my health, as a matter of self preservation. I had written ‘have loved’ there, well before I thought about it, about what that might mean for my future.

Meanwhile, I have to find a way for Jean and her story to take precedence over everything else that is going on, that will go on over the next year or so. It’s a very strange thing to say, but I may have to find a way of buying some time in isolation to write this novel. Some time elsewhere. Not here. Otherwise, I know that all my perspectives will be skewed by the nasty mixture of conflicting emotions that is Scotland today.

Pictures of Jean and Rab are by Leslie Black, from the Oran Mor's excellent production of my stage play Burns on the Solway with Clare Waugh and Donald Pirie. If you want to read the play, it's available in eBook form on Kindle - and it should be available pretty much everywhere else too in due course. 


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Pathetic Fallacy – or you, me and the weather – Elizabeth Kay

I always had trouble with the phrase pathetic fallacy. It seemed like an extremely harsh condemnation of the British obsession with The Weather, and a wagging finger at attributing any sort of malevolence to it. We Brits all know The Weather has a particular delight in ruining Wimbledon fortnight, bank holidays and test matches. So it was with some surprise that I discovered the words have changed their meaning, and when Ruskin first coined the phrase it didn’t mean stupid misconception but simply emotional falseness. What’s wrong with the occasional foray into personification, if it’s deliberate? When I’m writing a fantasy involving a desert it’s quite nice to have a callous sun with a definite mind of its own. Writing has fashions, and the fact that a Greek chorus is as yesterday as a codpiece shouldn’t stop you using one if you feel that’s exactly what your story needs.
            All that was just a way of getting me into writing about the weather, of course. I’m sitting here with the uncaring rain beating down outside, waiting for a friendly and benevolent sun to show its smiling face so that I can get out into the garden. But it’s The Weather that adds or subtracts colour from our writing. Of course, if you’ve set something in a mine or a spaceship it isn’t relevant, but even in a hospital a glimpse of a snowflake through a window can bring a tear to the eye.
            One of the things I’ve always admired about C.S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia was the way he used different locations, with their differing weathers, to bump up the atmosphere. The journey to Harfang in The Silver Chair makes me shiver just thinking about that driving snow, and crossing the desert in The Horse and His Boy usually has me heading to the fridge for a cold drink. The storm at sea on the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is terrific stuff, and I tried something similar in Ice Feathers:

…The following afternoon the sky darkened to the colour of a rotten tooth and the wind started to blow with serious intent one moment, only to die away altogether the next. It was odd. The sails would be pulling hard for a while; a moment later this furious activity would be followed by an eerie period of quiet, as though the vessel were holding its breath. Then the boat took to lurching to and fro in a very unpredictable way, and Kura had to fix her eyes on the horizon to stop herself feeling ill.
The storm overtook them with frightening speed this time round, and the waves just got bigger and bigger. The deck became awash with foam, stranded fish, and splintered wood from damaged crates. As if the deck weren’t wet enough already, the rain lashed at it with real violence, and one of the water barrels broke free and rolled into the mast with considerable force. The horizon vanished behind towering cliff-faces of water, and the ship shuddered as it hit a gigantic wave full-on.

Getting sufficient intensity into a piece of work isn’t easy, as the weather is such a common theme and finding new ways to describe it is tricky. Even in a rain forest rain is still rain. It’s the effect it has on the environment that’s the telling point – the effect the wind has on the waves, and the effect the waves have on the boat. I’ve encountered two lots of rain that I thought were particularly memorable. The first was in Costa Rica (and what an inspiration that place was – it gave me the opening of The Divide).
I was sitting in a bar, drinking a beer, and the glasses all came with little paper pads underneath them, as the condensation was so extreme. The glasses cried dribbles of water down the sides in a constant stream of misery, and the rain hammered on the corrugated iron roof like an entire troupe of tap-dancers. The second time was in Zambia, driving along in the back of an open-topped truck. The raindrops hurtled down like bullets; they were the biggest raindrops I’ve ever seen, and they actually hurt when they hit you. Really hurt – we were given a tarpaulin to pull over us, as protection. It’s extremes like this that you remember.
            Times change, too. How do you describe a sunset these days, when so many have done it before you and a photograph does it so well? Jane Austen’s use of the weather was more about the effect it had on her characters; no photographs to grace the covers of her novels in those days, and everyone was only too familiar with the weather as most people were out and about in it far more than we are with our climate-controlled cars and centrally-heated homes. In John Mullen’s excellent book What Matters in Jane Austen he says:

 Sense and Sensibility is kicked into life by a misjudgment about the weather: Marianne goes walking on the Devon hills with her younger sister Margaret, convincing herself that "the partial sunshine of a showery sky" bodes well. Marianne's "declaration that the day would be lastingly fair" is utter folly, revealed when "a driving rain set full in their face". Fleeing for home, Marianne trips and is rescued by the handsome Willoughby. It might seem a fortunate accident, the beginning of a romance, but Marianne's determination to delude herself about the weather bodes ill.

 
So what next for the weather? It’s more extreme than it used to be. Bad news for people living on a flood plain, or for those who rely on the rain for their crops. For the writer, though, it’s out and about in the thick of it. Hailstones, snowdrifts and mist are the clothes worn by our countryside; make sure you’re up to date with the latest fashions on the catwalk.



Monday, 15 September 2014

Land of the Free by Jan Needle

One of the beauties of the BBC is that if you pay your licence fee (or even if you don't, come to think of it) you can watch the most amazing things for free.

I received a heads up through my inbox this morning from a friend of mine called Kath Shackleton, who is the maker of an amazing new series of programmes for educational TV called Children of the Holocaust.

Martin Kapel. Male. Leipzig....
With the utmost clarity, and in language that anyone can understand, it recounts the personal stories of refugees from the Nazis, who found their way to England as children at the time of World War II.

Each narration, in the voice of the actual survivor, is illustrated by rather wonderful but extremely simple animations. I'm hardly a child myself, but I found them moving and enthralling.

And all you need to do, of course, is go onto the BBC website, press the right buttons, and you can watch them. You can also download them and keep them. At no extra charge.

Given the state of the world today, including the demonic complexities of Israel and the Gaza Strip, the timing is quite chilling, and it's compulsive viewing. Here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01zx5g7/the-children-of-the-holocaust

There's another BBC series on at the moment, I also learned through my inbox, which I wrote myself.
You can watch that for free as well, which is slightly less satisfactory (for me and the taxman!) than watching the  work of Kath's company, Fettle Animations.

It's my 1980's series about long-distance lorry drivers called Truckers, and some bright spark has put all eight episodes up on YouTube. I am still quite often asked, all these years later, when the Beeb is planning to repeat it, and I can only ever respond 'I wish.'

I am also frequently urged to shout from the rooftops that mine is nothing to do with the recent series which nicked the name, and which my lorry driving friends don't rate much at all for authenticity.

The BBC did actually pay me for a second series of the original, but cancelled it just before it went into production, on the grounds of cost. I'm not a believer in conspiracies, but I suspect that was not the full story. A couple of high-ups in the the BBC indicated later that it was felt to be 'too demotic.' Lorry drivers, they learned to their apparent distaste in the first series, were working class individuals, many of whom were not exactly conformists in normal societal terms.

They swore. They smoked. They drank. They did not respect the law. They were authentic!

Worst of all apparently, some of them were even sexist, and did not always treat their women right. A more sensible writer would probably have glossed over that. Friends, I ain't that writer.

Never mind, you can now watch it for nowt. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpP8fkRi7xQ#t=28 Quite lucky for me, really, because I never actually got to see one of the episodes. 

Slightly weirder though, is another thing that pops into my inbox every few days. Apparently anybody in the world can now download my novel My Mate Shofiq for free. Good in one way, because a few more people might get to read it. Like Kath's series, it just gets more topical.

It's also up for sale on Amazon at a ridiculous £2.90. So how come you can download it free? Search me, brother.

However, Shakespeare doesn't get paid any more either. So what the hell…

See - you CAN pay for it...
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0078W05XU