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Thursday, 17 April 2014

I've got stuck - Elizabeth Kay

Oh, it happens, and it’s horrible. It’s like being in a maze when you can’t find the way out, and you keep passing the same point over and over again.
Nine times out of ten there will be something wrong with the last section you wrote. There could be any number of issues here, but usually it’s just one, especially if you have an idea of where the plot is going. You need to re-read what you’ve written, as objectively as possible. This means making a note of the timeline – can everyone get to where they’re meant to be in the time you’ve given them to do it? It may mean making a map of the terrain.
Are the characters in the right places? But the most likely glitch of all is that someone has behaved out of character. They simply would not have done or said something or other. Have a good hard look at each character, and the motivation for their behaviour. People (or animals, or mythical beasts!) don’t do things for no reason.
Some characters seem to come from nowhere. Others have a starting point with a real person, but very quickly become themselves. If a character stays too close to someone you know, you’re always thinking, so-and-so wouldn’t do/say/ think that. The character must always serve the story, rather than the other way round. But yes, a few of the more eccentric characters in the Divide
books were inspired by real people. The person you know better than anyone else is, of course, yourself – so you use aspects of yourself quite a lot as well. The adventurous bit of me went into the elf Betony, the indecisive bit into the sinistrom Grimspite, and the rebellious bit into the gryphon Fuzzy. I also think there’s a lot of acting in writing. I imagine myself as my characters, and try to see things from their point of view. It can be a bit embarrassing if I’m walking down the road being Ironclaw, and flapping my wings to a raptorial song…
Once you’ve isolated the problem, dealing with it can be agonising. There may be a piece of writing of which you are particularly proud, but if it doesn’t further the plot/develop the character/expand the theme, it has to go. Everything you write has to be there for a reason – better still, all three of the reasons I’ve mentioned above. You should be able to defend every single sentence if challenged. So – have another look at the last section you wrote, and be prepared to simply cut it out, go back, and re-write. The tenth reason is that you've over-planned it, and nothing comes as a surprise any more. Synopses are all very well, but they can kill something stone-dead. I need what I'm writing to be an adventure for me, too. If that's the case, change something. Raymond Chandler would have a man burst through the door with a gun in his hand… Another method is top open the dictionary at random, shut your eyes and stab, and then try to incorporate the word in the next sentence. If you do it three times you nearly always come up with a completely new slant.
Fictional ideas are re-combinations of experiences you have already had, so the more places you go and the more things you try, the more likely you are to come up with ideas. I usually start with a setting, and I’ll use the places I’ve visited to inspire me. Sometimes I actually go somewhere to find out more – I went to Iceland to research things for the third book, Jinx on the Divide. The setting came in very useful later on for Ice Feathers, even though I had to re-imagine it for prehistoric Antarctica. I try to build up a mental bank (as well as photos!) of places that I've been, and I sometimes return to them in the same way that I use random words to get me out of a plotting hole.
Although I know how a book is going to end when I start it, I don’t always know how I’m going to get there, or who I’ll meet along the way. It needs to be an exciting journey for me too. The people who tell you to summarise before you start may never have written a book themselves. Sometimes I write really quickly, but there’s no rule – the first draft of The Divide took three and a half weeks, as I became obsessed with it, but the third book took lot longer as I had to check everything against the things I’d said in the earlier two books.
There are several of my books that have been completely re-written when things got sticky. Fury
started life as a book called The Crack, long before crack cocaine became a household word. It ran to 72,000 words, and was for adults. The problem was that the main character was a teenager. When I finally realised this I re-wrote it as a teen book, at 40,000 words. It still did the sticky thing every so often. In the end it was published by Barrington Stoke for reluctant readers at 11,000 words, and was a much tighter job altogether! Beware of Men with Moustaches had over twenty thousand words cut to make it fit into a series of novellas by different people which, in the end, the publisher decided to cancel.
And sometimes there’s just too much going on in your life to devote the sheer energy required to do the necessary. Currently I have three books that need surgery. I know what has to be done to each of them, but getting round to it is another story… and it’s always much easier to start a new one than it is to go back and tackle creaky nuts and bolts.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Indies are Coming by Dan Holloway

This year's London Book Fair was made, as they always are, by the people. You will see several photos scattered through here that give an idea of what I mean.
Jane Davies, author of An Unchoreographed Life

But there was also a serious side to my going. I was there to launch Opening Up to Indie Authors, which I co-authored with the wonderful Debbie Young, published by the Alliance of Indie Authors thanks to the tireless efforts of Orna Ross. The book is more than just an essential campaign document and rallying cry. It's a guide to working with every sector in the global literary sphere, from bloggers through prizes and bookstores to festivals, making the case for the inclusion of indie authors, helping indie authors to understand the industry and helping the industry to see why it needs indie authors.Image
l-r Debbie Young, Jessica Bell, Hugh Howey, Orna Ross, Diego Marano, Me
  Here's the text of the speech 

Those of you who know me will know that, among other things, I am a fairly outspoken atheist. Nonetheless, by training I am a theologian, and I am going to start with a little sortie into that world.

fanboy selfie with the wonderful Mel Sherratt

Most people are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke’s Gospel. Not so many are familiar with the context in which the Gospel’s author places it. Jesus has just delivered his mission statement, for want of a better phrase – “love your neighbour as yourself.” The person he’s speaking to, being simultaneously a handy rhetorical device and someone who’s not going to fall for a politician’s generalities, pulls him up and asks him exactly what he means – “who is my neighbour?” a question Jesus answers, in a manner familiar from all the great orators, with a story, the story of the Good Samaritan. 

There is a simple point being made, and it’s one that the author of Luke’s Gospel makes repeatedly, from the Sermon on the Mount to Pentecost, the instant hook of his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. And the point is this. What matters in deciding “who is my neighbour?” is not the answer. What matters is how we ask the question. And we can ask it in two very different ways. We can ask, as Jesus’ interlocutor does, “Who are the ones I have to love?” Or we can ask, as Jesus reimagines the question, “Whom may I love?” It’s a dichotomy you will find as a pretty much constant feature in human problem solving. On the one hand, we can approach problems by asking, “How do I avoid all the things I need to avoid?” On the other hand, we can approach them by asking, “How do I encounter all the things that are worth encountering?”

Triskele's Gillian Hamer and Jane Dion-Smith, and Lorna Fergusson

You probably start to see where this is going. But let me digress. Self-publishing, like Lionel Shriver’s eponymous Kevin, has become one of those awkward problems in the literary world, one of those things that we need to talk about, that we need to do something about, but we can’t quite figure what. Self-publishers and traditional publishers, and hybrid authors and bricks and mortar stores and journalists and service providers eye each other like a GIF flickering between suspicion and desire.
Three of the very best self-publishers - Rachel Abbott, Orna Ross, and Polly Courtney

But the simple truth of it is this. Everyone in the business of books has just one duty. And it’s not to themselves. It’s not to bookstores. It’s not to progress and nor is it to the preservation of the physical book. It’s not to shareholders, and it’s not – though I wish it were – to writers. Every one of us has a duty to readers – to those who read avidly – that they keep coming back for more; to those who might one day read – that the experience brings something wonderful to their lives; to those who have never read before – that they discover worlds they could never have imagined; to those to whom books are the most precious thing in the world – that we never disappoint them; and to those who believe adamantly that books are not and could never be for them – that we provide them with the means to discover they were wrong.
 Orna Ross and Ben Galley

 And that brings us back to the question of what to do about self-publishing, and back to the Good Samaritan. Each of us in the business of books can ask the question, it turns out, in two ways. Just like we can ask “who is my neighbour” two ways. We can ask “How do we keep all the bad books out?” Or we can ask “How do we make sure to let all the good books in?” And the simple truth is you can’t do both. You can never do both. 

But the problem is when you put those questions on most people’s lips they sound just the same. And those simple syllogisms that won’t sit at ease together are the reason why we can never decide what to do about self-publishing, and why whenever we start to try we sound like we are tearing each other apart.

At the Kobo stand 

But the solution is straightforward. Which question serves readers? Now, of course, there’s a different combination of readers and industry cogs for every shade of grey. But if each sector of the industry keeps its eye first, last, and only on its readers and asks the self-publishing question in respect of them, we will very soon get on the right collective footing. 

I just want to speak very briefly about the part of the industry that matters to me most, the one that made me first want to get involved in the Open Up to Indies campaign, and the one that makes me more convinced than ever of the need for such a campaign. The literary media loves to be the second to discover the next new thing. Journalists love the thrill and the kudos of being the one to break the story about something or someone original and exciting. But they are driven by the fear of the finger-pointing of being the one who backed a dud. And so they persist in steering the middle ground, relentlessly ignoring the wild, the brilliant, the flamboyant and the flawed – in other words systematically averting their gaze from what self-publishing does best. In this world, readers will never be sold a pup. But they will never be exposed to something truly astounding and life-changing either. 

This is a world that asks the wrong question. This is a world that protects readers from the bad. This is a world that denies reader whole swathes of the outstanding. This is a world that has to change. And that is why Open Up To Indie Authors is essential.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

On the toot, with drum and floot! By Jan Needle

Only a few hours until my next blog is due to burst upon the unsuspecting public, and I ain't got a thought in my head.

Added to which, I'm using my new voice recognition software, so it could be a damn long time before I've actually finished it.

(Actually, that wasn't so bad. I had to correct damn, which Dragon presumably thought was something you hold water back with, and it wrote I for I've. Not bad  EH? And who cares if it put that all in caps.)

Where was I? Ah yes, a blog subject. Well on May 1, my ‘version’ of Wind in the Willows will be published as a paperback, and an e-book. Not just any old paperback either, it would bring tears to a rare book collector's eyes. Not to put too fine a point on it, it looks wonderful. And I says so as shouldn't!

It's called, for those of you who have been asleep at the back, Wild Wood, and it's Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece retold from the point of view of the Stoats, Ferrets and Weasels of that dark and mysterious deathtrap for the squirearchy.

Good old Toad is the chief villain, a capitalist fatcat who has as much idea about how the poor live as David Cameron, Mr Osborne, and all the rest of them.

(Oh dear, I'm in danger of sounding bitter. As the comedian with the twirly legs used to say, "it's all done in the best PAAAAASSIBLE taste." Some of my best friends are rich. Discuss.)

The trouble with writing through the mouth and not through the fingers I find, is that it's easy to lose one's thread. All I really need to say, is that the book is being published on May 1, with a launch party in a bookshop in London called Slightly Foxed, in Gloucester Road, on May 6. It's by invitation only, sadly, so I can't ask all of you to mob me with your £10 notes in your grubby little hands. But the Queen and the Dook have been asked, naturally, so who knows what might happen?

Dramatic B/W poster designed for us gritty
northerners, by Glossop artist Jean Hobson
So, more excitingly, has Toby Rushton – son of Willie, whose wonderful illustrations, IMHO, make the book. And Toby is coming! I last saw him dressed as a would-be tennis star, in the comfort of his own front room.

I'm also having a launch in the Conservative club in Uppermill the following Wednesday, which will be a “free and easy” in the grand Lancashire tradition. With buckshee beer brewed and donated by my local microbrewery, and called Daisy's Special. Daisy is Ma Ferret, who brews beer in the Wild Wood to keep the animals from revolting. So to speak.

Yes, I did say the Conservative club. Any port in a storm for us socialists these days, eh? Sorry Dad.

And on the Sunday in between those dates, there will be yet another launch party in the Albert sports and social club in West Didsbury, Manchester. Greenfield Brewery will be providing beer for that occasion too. Spreading the joy about.

To add to the fun, the delightful and talented Eliza P will be performing a song she wrote especially for me, to celebrate the book. She tried it out at the folk club on Sunday and it went down a storm. It's lovely, and we're hoping to put it on YouTube. Keep you posted. (She wrote the tune as well. Words and music in about two days. I bloody hate her.)

In all my years as an author, I think this (or these) will be my first ever proper launches.  And I'm terrified.

But the publisher is Golden Duck, whose guiding lights are no less a pair of superstars than Julia Jones and Francis Wheen, and the book has been designed and put together, also electronified, by my son Matti Gardner and his partner Kate Fox.

Far as I can see, I'm the only weak link. Please keep your fingers crossed.
Eliza P Songstress (Facebook)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Private joy and public misery - Dennis Hamley

First up, I'm asking for help. I blogged two months ago about my World War 1 novel Ellen's People and how I'm republishing it as my way of marking the 1914 centenary. I haven't put it on Kindle yet: I'm waiting to see if we get the Blank Page Press up and running so it can appear under the Blank Page imprint as  that putative organisation's first published book.

It's also the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2, which means that Ellen's sequel, Divided Loyalties, set between 1935 and 1946, can follow soon afterwards. Everything was going well with it until I hit a sudden big snag which I should have seen coming.

Here's the original Walker cover.

Product Details

I think it's great. It has the same house style as the cover of Ellen's People - the girl's face surveying the telling action photograph underneath.  I didn't want new covers: I wanted those. The half-completed third book in the trilogy - which will have to appear by December because it's the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this year as well - will have my own cover using the same arrangement because it's so exactly right. 

Walker happily gave me permission, which pleased me because I've usually had curt refusals when I've asked for original covers, though I had to pay a fee which I thought was fair. But they said, reasonably enough, that I'd have to get permission from the Imperial War Museum for the Ellen photograph and Bettman/Corbis for the second. The IWM let me have their photograph for a fairly nominal sum. I assumed for too long that my experience with Bettman/Corbis would be similar. I should have contacted them months ago.

On Friday the 11th I finally bit the bullet. They were certainly very efficient about replying to my first exploratory email.  I was given permission to use the image within half an hour. But they told me that Walker had paid £485 to use it and as a special concession they would let me have it for £365.  That's £850 they will earn from one photograph which has probably been a pretty fair earner already. Now, this was a blow. I don't think such a sum is reasonable for an indie author who might not even get half that when the book is published. But it is a brilliant photograph. It's real blitzkrieg stuff, dramatic, striking, even frightening. It's perfect. And see how well it fits on the page.

What do I do? Do I grit my teeth and pay them?  I could get two new covers for the money. I've already told Bettman rather indignantly that I won't so I've probably burnt my boats there. Do I look for another photograph which will fit and can be easily photoshopped? Not easy. I've spent hours since then going through sites with stock images and found nothing remotely suitable.  I could spend whole days, weeks even and still find nothing.

So what do I do? Do I grovellingly ask them to ignore my previous email and pay up? Do I give up a lot of valuable time looking for a substitute and probably not finding one?  Or is it just possible that someone reading this blog might say, 'Ah, I know just the thing he wants and where he'll find it.'? Because if that someone can let me know of a good substitute I'll be so grateful.

Now I'm going to change the subject rather abruptly. But it does all hang together. Ever since it appeared on April 7th I've been thinking about Julia's blog about books for prisoners and been much affected by the indignation she expresses at such a flagrantly self-defeating action. It's cause for much anger. I believe that we as Electric Authors have what amounts to a duty to do something about it.

But it's more than that. It's about how the such a regressive measure is so symptomatic about our society as it's developed over the last few years. It's not the Great Society any more, it's not even the Big Society, nor, despite political posturing, is it entirely the Broken Society. And it's definitely not the 'No such thing as' Society. 

None of these. It's the Vindictive Society.That is what we have become. Every walk of life, everything to do with reform of the Benefits system, every 'reform' of the NHS shrieks out that dreadful word - and please don't get me started on the Border Agency (as was).

I shouldn't have written that last bit because it has got me started. I think of the Mauritian girl deported just before her exams and the Russian wife not allowed to join her British husband and their daughter. We still have our own issues with the Border Force.  Worst of all is the McIsaacs case, where the American headteacher of a Scottish primary school for the last ten years didn't have his work permit renewed and was refused indefinite right to remain. His marriage was dismissed as 'sham' and his Scottish wife of four years who has cancer was told that she would have no trouble in settling in the USA because there would be no language problems for her. How dismally cynical. That crime against decency was, fortunately, aborted because of the public outcry.

And I'm not making a party political point here, though I know it's intensely political in the purest sense of the word. I have little interest in the miserable creatures who masquerade as our political leaders. I'm convinced that no change of government would, whatever the present lot's would-be successors may say, have the slightest effect in changing the way we have become.  I read yesterday, by the way, a review of a book which sounds like a good analysis of why we are where we are now. A Precariat Charter: from Denizens to Citizens by Guy Standing (Bloomsbury). I'm buying it. The concept of the Precariat looks spot-on.

I was thinking about this as I was finally checking the texts of Ellen and Loyalties. Both are about wars, grim and touching the very limits of vindictiveness. But both also depict a generosity of spirit in the face of adversity which is not subjective sentimental wish-fulfilment on my part but an actual quality, tangible, shared, which I remember because who would not? This optimism in the face of impoverished greyness survived, I think, for about fifteen years after the war. Then the slide began, slowly but unmistakeably.

Brendan Gisby, in his lovely review of Out of the Mouth of Babes, for which I was so grateful, said I was a 'caring' author. And I like to think that I am. But that doesn't mean I'm a soft touch. Of all the things I've written, my attitude to the world is summed up, though perhaps obliquely, in a passage in Divided Loyalties. I know I'm making this a very long blog, but I hope you'll bear with me as I quote it here.

It's in the voice of Anna, the youngest daughter of the family at the centre of the action. She has been an incidental voice so far but I give her centre stage at the end. She is a talented violinist and is in 1946 at the RCM.  Earlier, she has mused that while some people think in words, others in pictures, she thinks in music. For years she has felt that there's ideal music somewhere which expresses all she feels about the war, about fate, about grief and about hope, but it's unattainable, just beyond her powers of thought.

This quotation has deliberate echoes of the marvellous passage about Beethoven's 5th in EM Forster's Howards End. I loved that chapter so much. How I wanted to find a context in which to use music in the same way. The conclusion of Divided Loyalties gave it to me. I tried to transmit the regenerative power of creativity and great art as a sure defence against the foul powers of vindictiveness.

So here it is.

I finally went to the Royal College of Music that September. I’m not going to talk about it except to say that it was everything I expected. Christmas and two terms passed and in April 1946 I came home for Easter. When I got off the train I saw a poster on the station wall. A local amateur orchestra, the Northamptonshire Sinfonia, was giving a concert in the Town Hall next week. They’d got the great French cellist Paul Tortelier to come, to play Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
            I hadn’t played my cello for some time.   The violin was all I had time for at college.  But I knew about Tortelier and been told that the Elgar was a lovely work though I didn’t know it, so I bought a ticket.
            On the day of the concert I caught the bus to Northampton. It broke down three miles the other side of Wicester. As it was a fine evening we all sat on the grass verge while the conductor ran to the nearest village to phone the depot.
            Half an hour later another bus arrived.  But I didn’t get to the Town Hall until long after the concert started. The first thing I saw was a notice: WE REGRET TO SAY THAT M. TORTELIER IS INDISPOSED AND IS UNABLE TO PLAY TONIGHT.
            How annoying. He was the main reason I came. Did this mean they wouldn’t play the Elgar concerto? I wasn’t allowed in the hall until the overture  “The Corsair” by Berlioz had finished and the audience were applauding. As I struggled to my seat whispering apologies to people, I half-heard an announcement about Paul Tortelier’s absence and saying who would play instead. I didn’t catch the whole name: it was Joseph something, nobody I’d heard of. There was disappointed muttering and someone booed, which I thought was going a bit far.  
            I found my seat and looked at the orchestra, men in black suits and white bow ties, women in white blouses and black skirts. The conductor, whose name was Arthur Swavesey, had left the stage but soon returned with the soloist, a young man, slim with black hair.  He must be a fine musician to be playing such a work but he seemed shy and nervous.  He tuned his cello and waited, bow poised, for the conductor to bring him in.

The Cellist  by Kay Jamieson

            Usually a concerto starts with a long passage from the orchestra, but not this one.    The soloist almost plunged into the cello, his bow really hitting the strings with four chords, urgent, angry and sad at the same time. His nervousness disappeared: it was as if he was asking his cello questions and the cello answered him. The orchestra made a quiet comment as if telling them both to calm down, but the questioning went on until the orchestra came in again with a restless, melancholy melody. The cello took up the theme and in its insistent swaying was a strange nervous energy. I knew that Elgar wrote the concerto just after the first war to express his despair at the misery it plunged the world into. This theme was a lament: I had a vision of a dark, bowed figure looking down on scenes of destruction and weeping for the folly of it all.  
Suddenly I had one of those rare, strange moments when everything seems to come together.  The music which I’d tried so hard to hear and failed, the music which said everything I felt about the war - this was it.   Elgar was saying exactly what had eluded me, as if it had been just behind a curtain I could never twitch away until tonight.   
It brought back all that we had been through: Dad taken away, Mum comforting a dying man in the air raid, Paul walking among the ruins and meeting Helmut, the dreadful events Helmut must have been through and, more than that, the far worse trials of millions of others, some, which we were only now hearing of, unspeakable, beyond human imagining.  But most of all I remembered Walter dying separated, estranged from us, and cursed the way events had turned out.  I longed to see Julie and little Walter again: it wouldn’t make things all right but it would ease the pain of the rift. But already the cello was gently moving me away from such private thoughts.  The nameless soloist bent low across the instrument, seeming almost crucified over it. And then I understood that the shrouded, brooding figure looking down on the ruins was the cellist himself.
            The first movement was over: the second began. In the few seconds between, the audience breathed out a collective sigh of satisfaction. No booing now because the famous man had not arrived.  A light, nimble theme: did it mean that life would be good again, settled, calm, without fear, without hurt? Once again I watched this incredible soloist. He was caressing the cello almost lovingly, as if it was a frail thing which could shiver into nothing in his hands. He made it sing of a happy time now lost, gone for ever, yet somehow gave it a nuance which whispered that such unalloyed happiness was never there in the first place; it was what we wanted to remember and deceived ourselves into believing our remembrances were true.
            So the orchestra, like a quiet and tactful guide, led him almost shyly into a third movement of subtle, echoing, yearning phrases which ended in a whisper and then nothingness and made me want to cry.
For the first time since he started playing, he seemed to come out of a trance. He sat back and looked round as if surprised that we were still there and he hadn’t been talking to himself.  The orchestra abruptly started a strong, energetic theme which said “Come on, you can do better than that” and in answer he again plunged into the cello, almost sawing it in half with the bow, as if desperate to keep up, to share in such exuberance - but somehow failing. The orchestra tried again: shining brass, ranks of violins, cohorts of cellos, seductive woodwinds, all urging him to join with them. But it didn’t work: they gave up and he started another long conversation with his instrument, in which despair and a subdued anger unobtrusively combined.   The orchestra came back, half-heartedly, as if they knew their attempt to raise the cello’s spirits hadn’t worked. The soloist still mused: the concerto ended with a profound sigh despite the orchestra’s last attempt at cheerfulness. He lifted his bow gently from the strings: he had said what he and Elgar – and I - wanted to say. He sat expressionless, as if the music had haled the soul from his body.
            Again, a silence. Then everybody stood: applause, cries of “Encore!” and “Bravo!” and waves of appreciation swept down on him like breakers on the shore. He stood and bowed, very slightly from the waist. The orchestra joined in the applause: the conductor stepped down from his rostrum and shook him heartily by the hand.
            I must have been the only person in the hall who was not clapping. I couldn’t: I just watched him. I was too full inside for applause: suddenly I was afraid of crying alone in the crowd. I had heard something which said perfectly everything that these last years, my childhood, all my life so far, meant to me.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A visit to the London Book Fair by Ann Evans

Did anyone go to the London Book Fair this week? I'd never been before and was curious to know what it was like and whether it was mainly for agents and publishers or whether it was useful for authors too.

So, teaming up with author Karen King, we set off last Wednesday for a day out in London at the famous book fair. Like me, Karen hadn't been before either, so we'd made up our minds that even if we felt like outsiders, we'd enjoy our day out in London regardless.

It turned out however to be an excellent day, perfect for networking and seeing what opportunities there are for writers. Obviously a lot of authors aren't interested in working with publishers, but I'm always on the look out for writing opportunities and will gladly write what needs to be written if it will help pay my bills.

The first thing we noticed was that there was a real buzz as you walked up the steps to Earls Court, with everyone keen to get in and start exploring. At one point we bumped into a fellow member of the SWWJ (Society of Women Writers & Journalists) who was a seasoned attendee at the LBF. She commented that the atmosphere of the event was always a good indicator of the publishing world at the moment, and her opinion was that things were pretty optimistic.

What surprised me was the massive number of publishers and book packagers who I'd never heard of. And taking the bull by the horns, Karen and I got into conversations with many of these, who seemed very interested to hear what sort of things we wrote about, and didn't mind telling us what their requirements were.

Not once did anyone ask if we were agented, and very few said that their books were written in-house. Apart from one scheduled meeting that Karen had with a publisher, we hadn't set up any other meetings beforehand, yet got to chat to over a dozen different publishers, packagers and editors.

Had to laugh at one point – or rather everyone laughed at me. We were approached by a young man in chefs whites that were splattered in (fake) blood, offering bags of disgusting-looking horror sweets. He was enthusing about Haute Cuisine – a restaurant with a yeuky difference! (I won't go into details). Somehow, I slipped into food-writer mode and asked him where the restaurant was and when it was opening. In my head I was at the Good Food Show suddenly. After everyone had fallen about laughing, I was loudly reminded that he was promoting a new book – it wasn't real! Doohh!!

Hurrying on, we squeezed into one of the many seminars going on. This was a Kindle Direct Publishing talk on the theme of Success. Judging by the packed room, it was clear that self publishing was being taken very seriously. 

Packed room for the Kindle Direct Publishing talk
Two two top ranking kindle authors were talking, Rachel Abbott whose book Only the Innocent reached the #1 position in the UK Kindle Store (paid) in three months and stayed there for four weeks; and author Polly Courtney who has successfully published six books. They were talking about self promotion. Here's a few tips from them:
  • Make a marketing plan. While there is an element of luck to getting your book noticed to start with, a marketing plan which is put into operation can make a massive difference.
  • You need to raise awareness of your book. There's a belief that something needs to be seen seven times before people become aware of it. Raise the awareness through blogs, guest blogs, blog tours, social media etc. Always use a picture of your book whenever you're communicating. It's all about visibility and discoverability.
  • Think about people's interests and how what you've written can be linked into their interests. Try and create the desire for them to want to buy your book.
  • When you direct people to your website, consider what they will see there. Will there be blurbs about your books and reviews and extracts of reviews? Get as many reviews as you can from sources such as Goodreads, Amazon and anywhere else your book appears, also word of mouth reviews. Get real reviews from people who love your books. Remind people to write an honest review if you know they've read and enjoyed your book.
  • Think about what action they need to take to get hold of your book. Have you made easily accessible links to places like Amazon where they can buy your book.
  • Hold a book launch.
  • Make a book trailer.
  • Send out free ebooks to get reviews before your launch.
  • Look at how other people do their marketing and self promotion – for all kinds of products, not just books.
  • Keep in touch with readers, so they become supportive of your work.
  • Get people involved in a new book right from the start, eg when you're doing your research etc.
  • You need a good book cover and a professional edit.
We also stopped by the Indee Book Collector's stand who had a huge collection of indee books on offer – which they were giving away to those who asked. And surprise surprise, Karen and I asked. We came away with five or six books each, most gratefully received.

The team on the stand explained that the Indee Book Collector is a collective who take on authors who have self published at least ten books, the aim being to support and promote each other.

The Indee Book Collective
It had been a long day, and with aching feet but happy hearts, we headed off to O'Neills bar where we met up with some fellow authors from the SAS (Scattered Authors Society). Being the first to arrive, Karen and I looked around to see if there were any likely authors there, as we didn't personally know any of the Sassies who were meeting up. Karen went up to two women sitting quietly enjoying a drink and said, "Do you belong to the SAS?" With a look of horror they said they didn't. So without a word of explanation, Karen left them - looking like they wanted to dive under the table for cover!

So, did you go along to the London Book Fair this year, and what did you think of it? 

Please take a look at my website:
Out now: Become a Writer – A Step By Step Guide.ISBN 9781907670244
Available in paperback and ebook.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Slick Willy and Babe Schadenfreude

I'd been longing to write of Slick Willy: a patchwork quilt based on my rueful encounters with sharks in the last thirty years. I'd even planned two caveats: 1) I had no particular target in mind; 2) We all fall short on promises and drift from good intentions. A real Willy gives his word, though, solely in order to break it after he's gained what he wants. Willy needs you to fail if he is to succeed. So he and his moll, Babe Schadenfreude, are perfectly willing to make sure you do.

Still, even with my caveats some might have seen a portrait and not a patchwork quilt. All in all, it seemed to me, I'd better tank the post.

Luckily, a new fan introduced me to Cherokee Blacke. Miss Blacke has a tale and a half of her own about a self-titled Albanian count then living in L.A. The villain whom she labels X died of alcohol poisoning two years ago. I've condensed her emails down to four that tell all we need to know.

1) First email received from Count X:
April 1, 20__
Dear Cherokee,
Thanks for your glowing praise of The Gods Dig My DNA. My long apprenticeship of three years and then seven long months of rejection seem at last worthwhile. I'd love for you to write a review. And I'm sending an attachment containing some phrases I'd like you to use. These will get across to readers the uniqueness of my thought and style, the importance of my Albanian roots and my passion for Sartrean ping pong. In my next email I'll tell you where and when to post it. Enough about me, though. Let's talk about you: what do you think of my book's receiving 13,000 downloads and 46 reviews to date? Your photo is so lovely I almost fear to read your own first novel for fear that it may disappoint. But I will, and gladly.
    I'll read it within one month, you have my solemn word. Meantime, I count on you--lovely, little Cherokee--to read and review DNA in two weeks. I can only hope you'll care to interview me also. Now send me your masterpiece!

2) Second email received from Count X:
June 15, 20__
My dear Cherokee,
I'm heartbroken by your sad emails. I understand the stress you feel over my failure to finish your book after all you've done for me: the endless rewrites I requested of your DNA, well, insistence that you produce three different versions to be alternated on Amazon, Goodreads and Literary Lovers at least three times daily for no less than six weeks...You were a trouper, Cherokee. But you have only yourself to blame for my slow reading of your book. The seventeen chapters I've read are touched with genius on each page. I can't resist taking time to savor your exquisite prose. I keep your book under my pillow, my dear.
    Speaking of which--you've emboldened me, girl--could you wrap those luscious lips of yours around this tumescent new review of my manly DNA...then RT the link to your Twitter followers, asking them to do the same? Be sure to use TweetDeck so you can schedule repeat RTs all thru the day. Say every twenty minutes?
    Gotta go--and damn you for being so sexy and brilliant. I can hardly wait to start your sublime eighteenth chapter!

3) Third email received from Count X:
October 20, 20__
Dearest, sweetest Cherokee,
You're angry and I don't blame you a bit, though I'd had no idea you had quite so much spunk. I am demanding, I admit. In fact, I am high maintenance, as an authentic Albanian count. Since June, as you point out, all I've done is ask for more, then more still, and more again. It was wrong of me to ask you to write three different interviews using three different names. You'd have been perfectly right to insist the 'o' be taken out of 'Count'. But believe me when I tell you this: I do such things for us, not me! I'll take you with me to the top! On the strength of the seventeen pages that I've read so far of your book, I believe that you are Christina Rosetti and Lady Gaga combined. Your novel is a tour de force that humbles me over and over. Again and again I stop to savour the wordly wonders of your prose...fearful of continuing in case your powers should crush me.
    May I ask you one more favour, please, my co-ruler-to-be of the world: could you kindly re-tweak your reviews one more time, adding the following phrase where you please: "the most gifted literary stylist in the world today?" I hope you don't think that one's over the top.
    Gotta go, Queen Cherokee!

4) Fourth email received from Count X: 
December 10, 20__
Dear bitch from hell:
Let me try to get this straight, you New York Lower East Side skank: I've just spent the last eight months reading SEVENTEEN PARAGRAPHS of your unpublished first novel--and you complain about your hardships in promoting a masterpiece by the most gifted literary stylist in the world today? My book has 98 reviews and 80,000 downloads now. I've appeared on the front page of The Albanian Times. Not only that, The Albanian Gazette paid me the highest Albanian praise: I am a feisty fireplug. 
    For all that, I wish you well. And you can still make things at least half-right if you'll RT this link for my latest review to your Twitter followers...

Thank you all for dropping by and allowing me to perform this useful public service. By all means, RT my post link to your Twitter followers--shall we say, four times an hour for the next ten days?

Friday, 11 April 2014


Having made several thousand dollars profit last year from a series of Amazon Kindle Select free promotions, and three Bookbub promotions, I had been waiting for a chance this year to combine a 99 cent Bookbub promotion with a Kindle Countdown Deal for my novel, The Survival of Thomas Ford.

On 24th March, Bookbub sent The Survival of Thomas Ford out to their thriller subscription list.
I combined this with a Kindle Countdown Deal ad which ran on the Kindle Book Review site on 25 March; also, a Kindle Nation Daily Special Sponsored Post Triple Play ad which ran on 26, 27, and 28 March; and a Bargainbooksy ad and mail-out to their thriller subscription list which ran on 27 March.
This involved an outlay of $625 for advertising in total, which, although it was a relatively small percentage of the profit made from last year’s promotions, was still the most I had spent on advertising for one promo to date, so there was a degree of nail-biting involved.

Soon, though, the sales had passed the 1100 mark, and the book was steadily beginning to work itself into further profit, having paid for the ads in full, as the Kindle Countdown Deal was letting me keep 70 per cent of royalties, instead of the usual 30 per cent for a 99 cent book.

At the end of day one of the promo, The Survival of Thomas Ford had reached number 70 in the Top 100 bestselling paid Amazon USA Mysteries and Thrillers chart, with Stephen King just above at 67, and Lee Child just below at 73:


Simultaneously, The Survival of Thomas Ford was the Number 17 bestseller in paid US literary fiction, just below Isabel Allende at 14, and just above Khaled (The Kite Runner) Hosseini at 23:


The Survival of Thomas Ford’s peak position during the promo was at number 7 in paid US psychological literary fiction, while Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was at number 8, Yann Martel's Life of Pi was at 17, and Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending was at number 30:


New reviews came in too, until the 145th review had popped up on Amazon US:

“I truly enjoyed this book. It becomes almost mesmerizing to watch the ever widening ripples caused by a bad decision- and there are several bad decisions made in this story.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. There is violence and, in my opinion, true evil here. Some of the characters are both victims and aggressors. That is part of why I found the story so fascinating- the kindest person may still be guilty while the most evil person is dead set on protecting the people he "loves". If you're looking for something with little or no gray areas it won't be here."
5 out of 5 stars, BirdieTracy

 “Intriguing…This book was absolutely mesmerizing. I couldn't stop reading it. The characters were so well drawn and I have fantastic visual images of all of them that carried me thru the book. I felt as tho there were times that I was looking right into the face of evil in more than one of the characters. The book was fast paced, well thought out, and moved with a rapid pace right up thru the end. It was not tied up in a neat little bow and I was left to decide for myself what happened to some of the characters. Certainly not an uplifting book but some goodness did shine thru. I would definitely recommend the book.”
4 out of 5 stars, Omoni "koreamom"

“An engaging and well written book…I couldn't put this book down until I finished it. I really Loveliked the mystical touches, especially the white butterfly.”
4 out of 5 stars, Kindle Customer

“Very good, but very different…this was a well written story with interesting and well developed characters...the characters all were many dimensional, finding yourself with pity for the characters you hate, some dislike for the characters that you makes you feel, and it stays with you after you close the book, which in my opinion are all signs of a really good book.”
5 out of 5 stars, StaceyN

Thanks very much to everyone who downloaded and left reviews!