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Friday, 28 November 2014

PUBLISHERS, GOOD AND BAD TIMES by Enid Richemont

To  continue the theme of publishers who nurture, or don't, my experience with Walker Books, my first publisher was very positive - in fact, I thought of them as my second family. Newspaper articles were written, at the time, about the experience - always positive - of being a Walker author, about being called, often at weekends, with exciting sales news or small publicity titbits, of the creche, of the private taxi service if you were working late with an editor (one of my most treasured memories was of being driven in a black cab from Vauxhall to Muswell Hill on an icy clear night, with all the lights of London town around me, and me feeling like a queen).

Oh, and the parties - the unforgettable parties (do they still happen?) - the barn dance one where they brought in bales of straw, to celebrate their entry into the American market, the Halloween one where someone who shall be nameless turned up in a VERY explicit devil costume, and, of course, the Crystal Ball...

Times have changed. By the early Naughties, all the books I'd published with them were out of print (these now form the core of my Kindle ebook collection). I tried, like a rejected child, knocking at their door with new offerings, but they didn't want to know. They had newer, grittier, younger authors. I was doing moderately well with other people, but it wasn't the same, and I was beginning to get rejects along the lines of ( and do they pull these things out of a hat?) - 'not quite right for our list', 'published something similar', or the always mysterious put-down, 'It's too quiet, I'm afraid'. So, like a squawking little chick ousted from the nest, I've been flapping along in the last few years, but I have to confess, it's been interesting, but challenging, especially now, without my beloved one-man IT department, the modest but unforgettable David Richemont, who was formatting "THE MAGIC SKATEBOARD" for me on the day he died (our daughter, Jude, helped me complete it for him).

As a total non sequitur, if you're in London at present, and love the challenge of Fringe theatre, don't miss seeing "STREAMING", the Pipeline Theatre's gritty play at The Pleasance, Islington. It's already attracting great reviews, and it's on until November 30th, so you have just two days (and it might well be too late). I do have to declare a vested interest - one of the young actresses is our amazing grand-daughter, Anna Munden.







Thursday, 27 November 2014

Marketing Steam - Andrew Crofts

Self published authors know that they can’t do everything themselves. We may have decided that we do not need the “full raft” of services that the big publishing houses offer, but we do need the help of some of the clever people who slave within the bowels of those giants. Before anything else we need editors to keep our words under control, and we need designers if our covers are to look as good as, or better than, the ones churned out by the big guys.

Both editors and designers are fairly easy to find on the internet and don’t cost too much if the book has a budget and a chance of earning some money back. But then we come to the marketing side of the business, or creating “discoverability”, as it tends to be called these days. This is altogether a knottier problem.

Back in May I wrote in this slot about a “real life 50 Shades of Grey" which I had been hired to ghost for an anonymous European lady. The book worked out well and one of the biggest agents in London agreed to take it round the publishers for us. The reactions were dramatic. Some were shocked by the contents and thought it too strong for the general trade market, others were worried that readers wouldn’t like the fact that it was non-fiction rather than fiction. We received some offers but they didn’t seem to reflect the value which we believed the book could have. The advances weren’t dramatic enough to distract us from the paltry percentages we would be earning in royalties.

We decided we would take control of the project ourselves by working with a new and dynamic partnership publisher, RedDoor Publishing, which is the baby of Clare Christian, an editor whose previous venture was The Friday Project, (now part of HarperCollins), but we felt we needed to address the “discoverability” side of the challenge right from the beginning. To that end we hired Midas, probably the country’s best known publishing PR and marketing consultancy, and they worked with Clare on the design and packaging of the book before starting to plan the launch. We now have all the elements of a traditional publisher in place, but without the overheads of a huge Thames-side building and everything that is required to support such an edifice.

The book is due to be published in February and the marketing machine is grinding into action as I write.




Chances is the true story of the most erotic of love affairs, of the most intense and rewarding relationship possible between a man and woman – a relationship that blossomed out of heartbreak.

“What” the cover asks “if your first love was your soulmate and perfect sexual partner but you made the mistake of letting them go? What if you were reunited with that first love after fifteen years of unhappiness and you were then able to fulfil every romantic and erotic dream you had ever had?”    

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Is The Pen Mightier Than The Sword? by Ruby Barnes



My twitterprofile claims I am the oldest ninja in town. There’s an element of truth to this. I’m currently three years into my fourth attempt this half-century to master karate. I’m not getting any faster, I’m not getting any more flexible, but I am getting stronger and more determined. After a year of practise with the katana (a two-handed sword beastie of the samurai variety) I did a solo performance at the club’s recent fundraising show in front of an audience of 300+. A lot of attacking imaginary opponents with three feet of polished nastiness, all to the tune of Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets (go to 1:39 and it’s from there). It was a two hour programme and my mad frenzied attack was scheduled just before the interval.

So how did it go? Almost immediately I was inexplicably out of my expected timing sequence with the music and the ponderous thump of that Montagues and Capulets section required me to strike, thrust, push imaginary dead bodies off the blade in time to the beat. So I improvised. Added a few extra swishes, slices and twirls, a few additional victims. The second part of the piece was intended to be double-time and so I fairly went for it, hacking shadows from shoulder to hip, whirling like a Dervish (I know, I know) and knocking a few high kicks out above head level in between slashes. I finished with an overhead slash, dropped to one knee and finaled (?) with a reverse-thrusted blade into the abdomen of the invisible enemy behind me. The audience went wild(ly running to the rear of the auditorium for safety.) My teenage daughter told me after that, compared to the fleet-footed and lightning performances of the younger club members mine was “total death and destruction”. Club members who had watched on the monitor in the Green Room said it was a “very solid performance”. I breathed a sigh of relief, changed out of my sweaty weapons shirt and prepared to continue with the other three or four bit parts I had in the show. It all went swimmingly.

Then the professionally edited DVD of the show went on sale at the club. I bought a copy as my son also featured in it several times, took the DVD home, forgot about it for a week, and then sat through the whole thing on a Sunday afternoon. Verdict? Overall – excellent. But what about the sword-wielding ancient ninja? Well, in a sequence of about one hundred solo sword moves I lost my place on move number … three. That explained how things started to go wrong. The confusion and hesitation was evident as I plodded around like a slow-motion Jack Black in Nacho Libre (whilst twirling a sword that I was obviously frightened of). Until the second half. When things got much worse. Now I was an old man in a yard trying to kill a scampering rat with a shovel. End result: I was lucky not to impale myself, the audience was similarly fortunate and the rat got away.

So it was with sword trailing between my legs that I turned up at the dojo last night. I told Sensei Mags that I thought the DVD was excellent in all parts except one. And I knew which one. She smiled and made a few succinct points: the audience were mainly friends and family of the club members and most would have no idea if I had missed out moves, made mistakes or gotten out of timing; mine was the first sword piece in the show schedule so it didn’t suffer from comparison to the later sword pieces; was there rapturous applause? yes there was; club members thought it was a powerful performance and that the moves synced well to the beat of the chosen tune; I now had an excellent base to improve the things I needed to improve and knowing my own weaknesses is the first step. Maybe one day I would be able to join the medal-winning team we send to the World Grands in New York every second Christmas New Year.

I watched the DVD again. And again. And I’ll watch it a few more times. It struck me that this whole experience is very similar to the one I had when my pretentious, self-important and pedantic first novel chapters were read out and critiqued in the NUI Maynooth Creative Writing for Publication course in front of strangers. An emotional ride through the classic stages of change:
shock – is it really that bad? OMG it’s really bad;
denial – no it’s really not that bad – I look good in black (very slimming), the sword is shiny and I twirl it like a cheerleader;
anger – why didn’t anyone tell me it was so bad? I thought I had friends – it’s their fault, I’m only a beginner, I can’t be expected to become an expert overnight;
depression – I’m hanging up my pen / sword for good, I’m too clumsy for this game;
acceptance – okay, it is what it is, let’s take a closer look;
integration – I know what needs to be improved and I’ll practice those elements until the desired future state can be achieved.

Only through self-awareness can we strive for improvement.
(Practical tip for authors – dry your feet first.)

If you liked this post then take a look at The Baptist by R.A. Barnes. He doesn't need a sword to dispose of his victims. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Technological Scary Biscuits by Susan Price

Technology. How can you not love it? Space-craft on meteroids -
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Drum-Book-World-Sequence/dp/0992820421
The Ghost Drum in paperback
even if it did fall over. And - an even greater achievement as far as I'm concerned - my book, The Ghost Drum, available in paperback again, after years out of print.


I knew when I finished it that it was the best book I'd ever written - though now, having re-read them all as I turned them into e-books, I think that its successors, Ghost Song and Ghost Dance, are, in some ways, better. Ghost Song is, I think, more lyrical and poetic, while Ghost Dance is altogether darker, with a more complex story. They were originally published for children but none of the books are particuarly childish.

Although they're 'fairy-tales' of a kind, they're based on the often bitter and cynical older stories, which were told by adults to adults, and reflected a kind of magical-realism response to often hard lives.

All the books were published in America, as well as the UK. They've been translated into Danish and Japanese. They have, at various times, had film-options on them - Ghost Drum is under option at the moment. They were reviewed well, and have been called 'classics.' But they were allowed to go out of print. (I'm becoming quite used to people saying, and writing, to me: 'Why on earth did publishers allow a book like that, a Carnegie winner, a classic, to go out of print?' Well, I don't know any more than anybody else does.)

My agent clawed back the rights, and we offered them to publishers again. I wrote another book, as yet unpublished, called Ghost Spell, and we offered all four as a package. My agent was sure she could sell them - but there were no offers. Publishers said it would be too expensive 'to get the franchise up on its legs again.' I had no idea my books were a franchise. Or that franchises had legs.

So I turned the first three books into e-books. There's the first cheer for technology. And for Amazon which, for all its many faults, not only saw that this was possible, but went ahead and made it possible for anybody to sit on their sofa, upload a file and publish their book as an ebook - at no upfront cost. And for other people, anywhere in the world, to sit on their sofas - or lie in their beds - or sit in a hotel lounge or on a train - and download that same file into their e-readers.

Amazon, a predatory business shark - let's never forget that - nevertheless saw a sharkish advantage in throwing open their website, with all its advertising and distribution machinery, to anyone who wanted to use it, virtually for free. And we seldom stop to think just how amazeballs - how gobsmackingly amazeballs - indeed, how scary biscuits - this is. It's all down to the technology - technology changing the shape of business and the world as surely as the first stone tools, and then the first Bronze tools, did.

Some people believe that Amazon is making fools of us all - that we are all silly little minnows gambolling into the mouth of the shark, and we will be sorry, oh yes, very sorry, by and by, because
Vandals, loitering. Well, Huns actually.
our foolishness will result in the downfall of culture as we know it. The vandals, in fact, are at the gates - where they've been loitering about, smoking and up to no good, whenever any great change has occurred, for centuries.


These people may be right. I have no idea how the 'e-book revolution' will eventually pan out. Neither has anyone else. Maybe it will all end in disaster. But, in the meantime, I have to say: What Chutzpah! What audacity. To see that it could be done - and to go ahead and tear into all the vast organisation that must have been necessary to make it work, and just do it. To ignore all the doubters, all the nay-sayers, all the despairing and warning howls from the wilderness, and just do it.

Amazon went further. They set up the machinery to make it possible to turn the file sat on your computer - the same one you turned into an e-book - into a publish-on-demand paperback book. At no upfront cost to the author. And then made it possible to sell it, world-wide, through Amazon's warehouses and website. I was
The Wolf's Footprint, paperback cover
slow to take them up on this - but when lots of teachers started contacting me to ask where they could find copies of my OOP book, The Wolf's Footprint, I started thinking about it.


First, I made it an e-book. But then I tackled the mountain - well, it's at least a small, steep foothill - of learning how to turn my e-book into a paperback. As always, I hauled in my brother as cover artist and illustrator.

It was harder than doing an e-book - or is it just that I've forgotten how hard I found producing an ebook when I first tried? I think it may be. I remember texting my younger brother, after midnight, with exclamations of despair. He replied, 'You'll get there. Goodnight.'

Anyhow, The Wolf's Footprint has been on sale as an e-book since early this year, and it sells well. But once the paperback was on sale, I found that it sold as well, if not better, than the e-book. We Authors Electric are all so keen on ebooks, we sometimes forget - I certainly do - that there are still whole town's-worth of people who never use computers, don't have e-readers, and want to buy paper books. So it occurred to me that I also ought to publish the Ghost World books as paperbacks. And preferably before Christmas.

But I was busy with workshops and it slipped my mind - until I realised, with a shock, that it was already November. So I set about getting the job done, downloading templates and getting on the brother's case.

I sat with him the other day, witnessing another staggering piece of technology in action. He had his cover for Ghost Drum on his computer, divided into many layers. He slid layers aside, or laid them over one another. He changed fonts in an instant, changed colours, increased transparency or opacity. He took up a tablet and a stylus and used it to sketch in a new outline and to erase others. He added the book's Carnegie Medal as a 'button' on the back. And then we uploaded it to the CreateSpace site in less than a minute. We've come to take this for granted, but it's staggering. It is euphoric gravy.


And Ghost Drum is now on sale on the Amazon site, as a paperback, less than a month after I set out to turn it into one. It isn't a careless rush-job either, because I was using a file that had already been proofed and edited when it was made into an e-book.

With conventional publishing, you couldn't even get a publisher to tell you that they were turning the book down in less than four months.

So let's hear it for technology.


Find the Carnegie Medal winning 'The Ghost Drum', in paperback, here.              UK                    US

Monday, 24 November 2014

This is not a revolutionary post by Jo Carroll

I know I'm a pedant. So sometimes I need to creep into a corner and give myself a talking to. Language moves on. 'Gotten' will become an acceptable import from America whether I like it or not.

But there is one word that makes my hackles rise whenever it is used inappropriately (which is most of the time.)

Revolutionary.

A revolutionary (noun) is a man or woman whose actions or beliefs promote comprehensive change in systems or in thinking: Che Guevara was a revolutionary. So was Darwin.

Revolutionary (adjective) describes the beliefs, ideas, or theories that underpin that change. So Darwin's discovery of evolution upended all previous assumptions about creation and the impact of his thinking rumbles on today.

But the word has been adopted by the advertising industry and become meaningless. So here, for any ad-men or ad-women who might drop by this blog, is why I will never buy anything that you describe as 'revolutionary:'

Shoes cannot be revolutionary unless they allow the wearer to do something that has never been done before when wearing shoes, such as walking on the ceiling.

Washing machines can never be revolutionary unless they learn to do something other than wash clothes. In which case they are no longer washing machines.

A toothbrush can never be revolutionary. Even if it is dressed up to look like a rocket it is still a toothbrush.

Face cream cannot be revolutionary. You might claim that it hides all my wrinkles. But so what? Even if you gave me baby skin - it would still be skin.

Furniture cannot be revolutionary. A chair is a chair, even if - like Dali's - it is shaped like lips.

And writing? Can writing be 'revolutionary?' Ah, here I am on thinner ice. Darwin, you remind me. Karl Marx. Sigmund Freud. I am sure you can add more examples of great thinkers who have made unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable contributions to literature. But they are precious, and rare. It is a label that needs applying thoughtfully - an accolade for work that has made an irrevocable contribution in the world of ideas.

My travel writing is not revolutionary, though it might make you think. (You can find links on my website here.)

And this post is not revolutionary. But wouldn't it be wonderful if it were, and the word were reclaimed and returned to its rightful place in the dictionary.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lev Butts' Top Ten (Part III)

This month I continue to count down the ten most important books and/or series in my life. If you haven't seen the first four you can see numbers 10 & 9 here and numbers 8 & 7 here.


Last month I looked at two books that changed the way I look at life. This month I look at two books that changed the way I look at writing.

6. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman


This may well be the first book I ever bought
based solely on the cover and author. I didn't read
the summary until I was standing in line to pay.
As you may be able to tell from the previous two entries, I've always been a fan of fantasy. After discovering Tolkien (see last month's entry), I delved into other fantasy series: I read Terry Brooks' Shannara trilogy, Marvel comics' run of the Elfquest series, anything about King Arthur I could get my hands on (more on that later), and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (see September's entry).

However, in 1996, while wasting time at a local stripmall bookstore in Carrollton, GA,  I came across a book that was listed as fantasy but seemed like no fantasy novel I'd ever read as it was set in modern-day London's subway tunnels.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew, a young Scottish everyman who finds himself drawn into the dark and feudal world of London's homeless when he attempts to save a wounded ragamuffin girl bleeding on the sidewalk. In his attempts to get her back home and discover who murdered her family, he encounters magical bums who talk to rats, meets the actual earl of Earl's Court, and has tea with the angel who destroyed Atlantis.

All while avoiding two antagonists who 
appear to have sprung fully formed from the 
opium-addled nightmares of Charles Dickens
Neverwhere taught me two things about writing: One was that genres can be blended; they don't have to be separated like food on a school lunch tray. In all of Gaiman's fiction, but in Neverwhere, particularly, such blending of genres allows the author to make the mundane magical. In Neverwhere, Gaiman presents what initially seems like a light-hearted, realistic romantic comedy of a man trying to balance his dead-end job with his demanding fiancee, and while this storyline develops steadily throughout the novel, it develops alongside the fantastic tale of a vagabond princess trying to get home and the noir-esque mystery surrounding her father's death.

The second thing I learned from Neverwhere is more technical: one of the easiest ways to inject a sense of magic and wonder into the ordinary world is to ignore metaphors. In Gaiman's world, metaphors are literal: There are actual black-clad warrior monks guarding Blackfriars Bridge. The Angel, Islington, is an actual angel. And you don't even want to know about Knightsbridge.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving


Despite the cover, this is not the heartwarming
story of a stone-cutting armadillo.
I first read John Irving's The World According to Garp when I was a freshman in high school after having watched the film (As a kid, I'd wanted to see it when it was in the theaters because it had Mork in it, but my mother wisely said it was too "old" for me).

"But Moooooooom."
"No"
"Shazbot."
I fell in love with Irving's quirky blend of realism, absurdity, and Dickensian plotting and determined to read everything he had written. Everything I read just got better and better (because I had randomly read the novels in the order they were written). Cider House Rules blew me away, and I didn't think anything could ever be better.

Then, the spring of my junior year, I saw A Prayer for Owen Meany in the mall bookstore and bought it.

If I were doing this list in order of importance, this novel would be in the top three, quite possibly the top one. Irving's seventh novel has so many things going for it I can't even list them all. It has what, for my money, is the best first sentence in any novel I've ever read:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
It tells you everything you need to know about the novel without actually telling you a damn thing. Who couldn't keep reading after that doozy of a sentence? And thus begins the tale of Little Johnny Wheelwright, the fatherless son of the the best-breasted mother in town and his best friend Owen Meany, the dimunitive, gravel-voiced son of Meany Granite Quarry.

Part retelling of The Scarlet Letter, part idyllic memoir of a New England childhood, part scathing critique of the Vietnam War and the Reagan Era, A Prayer for Owen Meany is so much more. If Gaiman shows us how to make the mundane magical, Irving masterfully makes the magical mundane. Only John Irving can fill a book with prophetic dreams and visions, near-divine miracles, and at least one visit from beyond the grave and make them all feel perfectly normal, like they ain't no thang.

I warn you, though; this is one book you definitely want to read. Do yourself a favor and avoid the train-wreck of a film they made from it. Jim Carrey's ham-fisted framing story is only the least worst thing about it.

I am doomed to remember a film with a wrecked plot—
not because of its plot, or because it was the worst film I ever saw,
 or even because it was the instrument of my first public fanboy rage,
but because it is the reason I lost my faith in Hollywood;
I am a cynic because of Simon Birch.
In short, I owe much of my writing style, I think, to both these writers. I don't think my novella Emily's Stitches could exist without Irving's influence, and my short stories "Misdirection" and "Gods for Sale, Cheap" both owe much to Gaiman's style.

Next month, we go into the ancient past and back-and-forth through time and space.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why true life stories often don't make good fiction (aagh!) by Ali Bacon

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (with chapters by lots of well-known writers) has been on my shelf for a while. I’ve taken it down from time to time and consulted odd sections but never read it from cover to cover. Well you wouldn’t would you? But when I was looking for another topic, a chapter caught my eye that I hadn’t noticed before. ‘Why true-life stories often don’t make good fiction,’ by Alyce Miller

Aagh! If I had seen this before I might not have spent several years of my life attempting something that’s if not impossible certainly very difficult, viz. a fictional version of a life-story that for some reason reached out and spoke to me several years ago and is still (just) a work in progress

Alyce Miller suggests that the writer who 'finds' a powerful or moving real life story is often too close to it to do it justice. Because he/she already has emotional investment in it, she fails to create this for the reader.  Restricting the plot to ‘the way it happened’ (because it’s true!)) rather than exploring alternatives is another problem and the fact that writing becomes constrained if what’s going to happen is already mapped out. Fiction, she reminds us, should be an act of discovery for the writer as well as for the reader.

My experience of historical fiction is that the problems are similar and in some cases harder to overcome. Of course there are hundreds of great books that centre on real people and events (last year i loved Robert Harris' An Officer and a Spy and Naomi Woods' Mrs Hemingway ), but I have come across quite a few that really don’t work, not for me anyway. Tracy Chevalier for instance used to be one of my favourite historical novelists. I devoured Girl with a Pearl Earring, Falling Angels and The Lady and The Unicorn

But what happened in Burning Bright, her novel about William Blake? Most people, including me, came away disappointed.  Remarkable Creatures had a better reception but to me there was still something missing. I never felt I was as close to the characters as I should have been. I can't remember now what the problem seemed to be, but in my own work I've encountered a certain reluctance to delve into the imagined consciousness of someone who is a real life hero as well as the character in my book. Or maybe it’s just that thing about the author being too close to the characters to actually convey them in writing. The other problem I think, particularly if there are primary sources available, is that it can be hard for an author who has done mountains of research to write something that conflicts with the ‘known facts’.  I didn’t read much of David Lodge’s A Man of Parts about HG Wells (biography buffs loved it) but the level of detail stopped me from being in  the ‘dream of fiction.’

Going back to my own project,  I can see my first draft had all of the problems listed in the Handbook with a few more besides. Character development was definitely ‘restricted’ (non-existent?) and I recall some plot possibilities being rejected because they were at odds with ‘the facts’. So was it all a terrible mistake? Well, I haven’t given up – yet - but I know have to see my ‘found story’ as an inspiration rather than a constraint. The story I set out to tell does not need ‘re-engineering’ as I said on Jane Davis’ blog recently, so much as re-imagining. So far I haven’t ditched the characters, but their story is starting in a different place and I feel it may not end up where I expect. Not the same book written differently, but actually a different book, a new voyage of discovery. 

As for Alyce Miller, I suspect even if I had read her warnings I still would have had a bash at this story. Some things you have to learn for yourself!