Friday, 23 February 2018

One Is the Loneliest Number by Lev Butts

As any independently or mid-level traditionally published author will tell you, unless your first name is Neil or Stephen or J. K. and your last name is King or Rowling or Gaiman, you are going to spend a goodly portion of your time attending various conventions to promote your work. This is especially true if you are writing genre fiction.

If you are traditionally published and lucky, your publisher may foot the bill for your hotel, and the convention planners may buy a few copies of your books for you to sign and sell throughout the weekend. If you are and independently published author or a traditionally published author and unlucky, you are going to be footing the bills for these things and setting them up yourself.

Results may vary.
You will still do it, though, because it's part of getting your work out there and building your own name recognition.

However, regardless of how much you plan and prepare, every once in a while, things will turn out much differently than you pictured them.

Last weekend, I attended a local steampunk convention, Atlanta's own Anachrocon, to promote my Guns of the Waste Land series as well as my upcoming critical edition of H. P. Lovecraft's work (I finally found a publisher for it). Neither of these really qualify as steampunk, but there is enough of an overlap, that I have managed to get invited to the convention for last three years. My panels are generally fairly well attended, and I usually sell five to ten copies of each of my books when I go.

This year, however, one of my panels brought in a whopping zero attendees, unless you count my wife, and our two friends (one, a fellow writer we had been eating with just before the panel was supposed to start). Also, about fifteen minutes before the panel ended, the wife and husband team who made up the next panel showed up. However, no one who was actually not a personal acquaintance through blood or friendship or not directly involved with the convention showed up.

No one.

Artist's rendition. Note the yawning abyss through the windows.
So what do you do in this situation?

Yep, you give the damned thing anyway. Honestly, even if your family and friends aren't there, and it's just you and the big empty, you give the presentation to an empty room because there are more benefits than doing nothing at all. 

1. Gain Practice

This will not be the last time you ever have to speak on this topic barring some unforeseen circumstance. Take the opportunity to practice the performance under conditions closer than anything else you can find to giving it to a live audience at a convention. Say what you want about practicing alone in your room beforehand. Nothing beats practicing alone in the conference room for authenticity.

Except, maybe, speaking in front of a packed conference room full of folks who pre-ordered your book.

2. Build Confidence

It is certainly a blow to your confidence to walk into what you hope will be a packed room and expect to be a room of about five or ten folks, and find an empty room. No doubt about that.

The only way to build that confidence back is to show them jerkholes that stood you up that you don't need their pissant presence to give a kickass speech. You stand up there and give that presentation anyway.

Seriously, though, doing this really will build your confidence, especially if, like me, you find it even more awkward to speak to yourself than to complete strangers. If you can give the presentation with the same energy and motivation to an empty room that you would have to a full house, no other presentation will ever have the same level of anxiety associated with it. Ever.

I mean, unless these guys are the audience. If so, good luck, dude.
3. Lure Others

A lot of people sneak in and out of convention presentations, especially when the convention offers concurrent panels. There may be two equally interesting panels and a patron may want to see the first bit of one and the last bit of another. Others may leave a panel from boredom. Still others may just be wandering the halls until something catches their fancy.

These are your audience. 

If you sit alone and silently in a conference room, or worse yet, leave it when no one shows up, you have lost the opportunity to gain this new audience. However, if you give your presentation anyway, with enough energy that it grabs a passer-by's attention, you have created an audience, and hopefully a new fan. Once you have one person listening, it will be easier to continue and possibly get another.

Of course, your room may end as empty as it began, too, but you will have still gotten more out of the experience if you give the presentation anyway than if you simply leave and get a drink at the bar.

The bar will be there when your hour is over; the practice, confidence, and possible new audience will not be.

Also, when it's all said and done and you post the pictures on your social media,
no one has to know it was just you and a roomful of  empty chairs.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Choosing a genre: how Ali Bacon nearly wrote the wrong book

My hero D.O. Hill, by permission
Preus Museum, Norway
I may not have said much about my latest project here on Authors Electric, so in case you haven't heard, I have a novel coming out in April called In the Blink of an Eye.

I was inspired to write it by the real story of one man's journey through art and photography and the women who fell, in different ways, under his spell.  

The accepted term for a life-story written as a novel is 'fictional biography' , but trawling through some older posts across at, I remember that for quite some time I wasn't sure what kind of book In the Blink of an Eye was going to be.  
While I explored the shape of the story on the page, I was aware of keeping as closely as I could to ‘the facts’. And new facts were popping up all the time. If I included them all  surely it would be non-fiction, or perhaps more correctly 'narrative non-fiction'.  Had I really only plumped for the novel because it was the form I knew best? 

Next question – what is narrative non-fiction exactly? My one role model for this was Dava Sobel whose Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter I enjoyed years ago before I took up writing. But my own copies had disappeared and my memories were hazy – what was the balance of exposition, action, dialogue? How much drama is there in what I thought of as a drama-documentary? 

Another problem was that it was hard to find examples of fictional biography that really satisfied me as a reader of fiction and in those I unearthed it often felt like the writer was too respectful of the subject to craft a satisfying read, especially if the subject's life story was well-known or easy to verify.  I understood that respect for the person and for the history. Could I really overcome that barrier and write a compelling book?

I considered a documentary approach long and hard enough to imagine how such a book would look and where it might begin:- almost certainly, I decided, with the monumental painting which framed my artist's story, a painting that's still in existence (though rarely on public display) today. 

Then, as I panted my way to the end of my first (fiction) draft, a footnote in one of my sources brought up something I had previously missed, a book called Mr Hill’s Big Picture. Yes, the picture that was so often in the front of my mind.  I banged in an order and the book arrived a couple of days later. 

When it arrived I practically gobbled it up. Yes, it was highly readable (is this what they mean by ‘narrative'?) and covered a big proportion of the material I was using, albeit from a different perspective.  Here was the book I had almost begun to write. Just as well I didn't, as someone had got there before me. 

Not long after I did some clearing out and found Galileo’s Daughter in my bookcase. It had been there all along. Clearly fate had intervened – or did I just not want to find it?  And I did eventually get to some very good fictional biographies (Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood, The Jewel by former AE author Catherine Czerkawska) which encouraged me to think the impossible task of melding fact and fiction could be done. 

And now it is. Hurrah and also phew! I'm happy I picked the right genre. I just hope my readers agree!

Ali Bacon was born in Fife and lives in Bristol where she writes novels and short stories.  A Kettle of Fish, coming of age novel set in Scotland,  was published in 2012. 

In the Blink of an Eye will be published by Linen Press on April 11th 2018 in paperback and as an e-book.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Publishers playing the Game of Thrones - Katherine Roberts

Yes, I know I'm about five years behind everyone else, but I've finally discovered the most addictive fantasy series to hit our screens this century - namely Game of Thrones, based on George R R Martin's series of best-selling fantasy novels "A Song of Ice and Fire".

Briefly, for those of you who haven't come across this series yet, there is a scary looking THRONE made from the swords of enemies of the state, which powerful families known as HOUSES are fighting tooth and nail for the privilege of sitting on to become supreme ruler of a fantasy kingdom named WESTEROS. Needless to say, those who succeed don't tend to stay sitting there very long, which makes me wonder why they are all fighting so hard to sit there in the first place? Though I must admit the throne room with its stained glass windows is magnificent, and there must be a certain satisfaction in being able to order your fiercest rivals' heads sliced from their bodies so you can add their swords to the throne at your back and breathe a little easier for... oh, about an episode or two, before someone turns the beer-stained tables and does the same to you.

There are seven seasons out already, with a final eighth season on its way next year, so I've still got some catching up to do... and for those fantasy-allergic people who are about to leave before the wizards arrive, did I mention the SEX? The DVDs are certificate 18, so this is not your typical elf-and-amusing-dwarf fantasy for the kids with wizards and dragons. There is an elvish-style family, certainly (House Targaryen), a dwarf (the far from funny Tyrion Lannister), and even a dragon or two, but so far little magic of the wand-waving variety... who needs wizards when you can have sex any way you want it? This all helps to make the Kingdom of Westeros a frighteningly real place, and while several of the families have children with major parts, you can expect them to get hurt in the same way as the adult characters. So don't let your nine-year-old watch it before bed, okay?

The books - for those who prefer words.

Which brings me to the 'publishing' part. Not for nothing do we call the bigger publishers PUBLISHING HOUSES. With all the takeovers going on recently apparently there are now only five or six... seven if you count Amazon. These are usually referred to in the business as "the Big Six". There are also many smaller independents, like Templar Books (now swallowed up by Bonnier), who published my Game of Thrones for 9 year olds about King Arthur's daughter as The Pendragon Legacy quartet between 2012 and 2014, just before they stopped doing fiction. Another UK independent Greystones Press is publishing my novel about the young Genghis Khan Bone Music in April 2018. And, of course, many authors now have their own publishing arms, doing it for themselves.

As far as the exalted Throne of Publishos goes, however, these smaller guys (and gals) can pretty much forget it. If they're lucky, they will be able to publish whatever they want in its shadow, or out in the misty isles for a while, and nobody will see them as enough of a rival to think it worth slicing their heads from their bodies. But make no mistake, the Big Six are still at it tooth and nail, all seeking to seat one of their authors on that powerful throne at the expense of their rivals.

The Iron Throne of Westeros

And what does this fantastic Throne of Publishos look like? It's probably not made of swords, like the Iron Throne of Westeros, because not all best-selling books are fantasy or historical. Is it made from the pulped books of their enemies? Maybe so... if you see other people's books as competition, which publishers do, of course. The only exception being books on their own list, in which case other writers published by that House are expected to support their publisher's chosen candidate for the throne (probably the book/author they have paid the most for and need to sell in the biggest quantities). In return, the writer finds shelter at the House in the form of a publishing contract and is, in the best cases, made to feel part of the family, sharing in the success of the other books on their list - maybe in the form of an bigger advance for their next book, paid for by the profits made from their current reigning writer. I think the Throne of Publishos is more likely to be made of the skulls of dead authors, or perhaps their twisted literary souls, wrenched from the husks of their bodies, which continue in the real world as half-alive zombies with a job that pays the bills, no longer even dreaming about sitting on that Throne, and maybe even secretly relieved to stop playing the Game.

The truth is that publishing and writing are two very different games. Back in the good old days, authors used to concentrate on the writing and leave the Game up to their publishers, who were on the whole pretty good at it, producing a chain of bestselling authors to sit on the Throne attended by a whole string of fairly happy midlist authors who felt protected and supported by them. Now authors need to play the Game too if they want to survive in the cut-throat world of publishing, and mostly they just get hurt. Rather than an experienced writer keeping the Throne warm for the length of their career and kindly handing it over to a new young debut when the time is right, we have an author-boom generation of new (not necessarily young, though it clearly helps) debuts all desperate to sit there - if only for a book or two.

For, despite all the doom and gloom about the end of publishing as we know it, there is still very much a Throne of Publishos, and a lot of celebrities seem to sit on it these days - presumably in a kind of second-throne way, since they also have other thrones elsewhere to keep warm so they can return there when their stint ruling Publishos is over. Until JK Rowling, I am not sure many children's authors actually sat on this throne, but they are obviously expected to do so now, which has snatched the comfortable world of children's books off its misty isle and thrown some of us to the sharks on the way. In future, maybe publishers will find a way to produce best-selling books by committee, or the press of a key, and find a way to sit on the throne themselves, leaving authors well out of the game? Or maybe every author will become their own publisher and start playing the Game armed with their publishers' old weapons, seeing other authors as rivals and slicing heads from bodies, until they are exhausted and blood-spattered and the only author left in the world? That would be a very lonely King or Queen of Publishos.

I don't know how the Game of Thrones ends - I am currently working my way through the boxed sets, so no spoilers, please! But I have a feeling it won't end well, at least not for most of the major characters. In this kind of game, where competition kills off the strongest rivals like gladiators slaughtering each other in the arena of Ancient Rome, nobody is ever happy or fulfilled except maybe the spectators who bet on the winning authors, so perhaps it's time to change the rules?

New rules for the Game of Publishos:

* Think not of the latest celebrity title as competition, but a book that can help you see what is good and bad about your own work.
* Think not of big publishers as the enemy, but as Houses struggling to survive in a hostile world, where you might find shelter and sustenance if you are willing to offer them your loyalty for a while.
* Think not of the Throne of Publishos as a place you want to sit at any cost, but as an uncomfortable over-sized chair to avoid being anywhere near at all costs.
* Think not of Amazon as an evil dragon to be slain, but as a powerful creature that you can ride if you want to fly.
* Think not of your fellow author as a rival, but as a friend or mentor who can help you on your own publishing journey.

And never let those who play the Game by their own rules tell you otherwise.

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers.
Her Pendragon Legacy series about King Arthur's daughter is published by Templar Books in the UK and Hachette in France.

For more details and free ebooks visit

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Schmetterling by Sandra Horn

Dad always worked with his hands. He’d been trained as a carpenter and joiner, but after the war he joined Mum’s family building firm and learned to be a plasterer. I think these jobs must require total absorption – getting the consistency and thickness perfectly right, making changes in body movement to accommodate to distance-from-core,  constantly judging the state of the receiving wall...and all on what looks like automatic pilot; a deeply-embedded skill.

All the time he was working, he sang. He sang completely unselfconsciously, almost as if he didn’t know he was doing it. He’d had his voice trained as a child by a formidable aunt (she was an LRAM, spoken in a hushed whisper) until she threw him out for misbehaving. He had a fine tenor voice and had picked up snatches of Italian opera. They were my first foreign words, but not much use in general conversation: None shall sleep! Your tiny hand is frozen! On with the motley, the powder and the paint! Love me, Alfredo!

My big break came when I went to Italian lessons decades later and the teacher asked each of us what we did. ‘Scrivo!’ I warbled (Rodolfo, Act 1, La Bohรจme). My favourite Dad story is that he was once plastering a vast factory building and all the windows were open. He became aware of someone outside shouting ‘Excuse me, mister!’ and he went to a window and looked down. A small boy was standing there. ‘Yes, Sonny?’ asked Dad. ‘My mum says, please, do you know The Lost Chord?’
This long preamble is about bits of the brain doing their separate ‘things’ at the same time. It can be a blessing or a curse – happy synchronicity or destructive interference. When it’s happy it’s called multi-tasking and women are supposed to be particularly good at it. When it’s not, it’s like being inhabited by those butterflies, whatever they’re called, little browny jobs that flit about endlessly and very fast and never settle anywhere for more than a nanosecond. 

I’m not like Dad. If I’m singing, I’m singing. Introduce anything else into the job and I’m sunk. The other side of the coin is that when I’m not totally absorbed in something, I’m full of little brown butterflies. The other day, for example, I was thinking about Dad’s story and The Lost Chord was flitting around in my head, alternating with Pretty Flamingo, and images of Dad leaning out of the factory window and Paul Jones with a microphone. This sort of thing happens all the time and rarely makes sense. It’s very distracting. It can shut out everything else. I have to be very careful to make sure I’m not away with the butterflies when I’m walking downstairs, for example, or I’d miss a step and end up in a heap at the bottom. I drop and smash things if I’m in butterfly mode; I just don’t see the glass, the vase, the precious plate. They are sacrificed to a mental pot-pourri of, say, a snatch of Robert Frost: and miles to go before I sleep, Ravel’s Bolero, Klimt’s The Kiss and did I remember to hang the bathmat up? Then someone comes in, someone speaks to me, the phone rings, the butterflies crash-land and in that moment so does the plate/ vase/glass. 

What has all this to do with writing? Well, I’m not sure whether the act of writing banishes the butterflies or the butterflies have to go before I can even think of starting. They disappear when I’m in a state of quiet concentration, not always easy to attain when I’m tired, fretful, under the weather, etc. It’s an effortful calmness, if that makes any sense at all! Something like this:

*Cover your ears against music,
Chatter, noises of the town.
Search for an almost-silence,
A feathery soft swish.

Empty your mind of sunsets,
Scarlet poppies, apricots.
Contemplate goosedown, tundra,
Iced Sherbert, moon.

Sometimes I think it’s the need to write that becomes a butterfly-banishing force; sometimes I think that they flit off randomly and leave me with some head-space for a while so I can write. I prefer to believe that writing saves me from the flittering; that as soon as there’s a scintilla, a crumb of an idea I want to put on the page, something changes fundamentally and I can focus.
I’ve just stopped for a coffee and into my head popped this ‘joke’,  which relates to this post in a sideways sort of way: An Italian, a Frenchman and a German were arguing about which of their languages was the most beautiful. They took the words for butterfly as an example. ‘Farfalle’, sighed the Italian. ‘Papillon’ crooned the Frenchman. ‘Schmetterling’ said the German and the other two burst out laughing. It’s not funny at all. Schmetterling is perfect. It’s EXACTLY what the little brown jobs in my garden and in my head do! 

*extract from How to Paint a Snowscene, Artemis issue 16, May 2016.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Call of the Duvet by Jan Edwards

It is that time of year when some of us would much prefer to hibernate. Once new year celebrations are over (in the UK at least) there are two months of cold and damp to look forward to – and I am a summer girl.  
Events such as signings are invariably a lot more fun than my winter-brain tells me they will be, and something writers do, even in deepest, darkest winter. Especially when good friends are relying on you to be there.  This was the case for the recent signing that I attended to promote The Daemons of Devil’s End. It was the last event in the signing tour to promote both the The Daemons of Devil’s End DVD, starring Damaris Hayman, made by Reel Time Pictures, and the accompanying anthologies The Daemons of Devil’s End, and/or  Olive Hawthorne and the Daemons of Devil’s End, both from Telos Press. Yes, two editions of the same book (another story in its own right).
It was touch and go whether I would make it at all, having gone down with a bad cold that week, but I decided it would be too bad of me to cry off at that late stage. I hate letting people down. So, sniffing and shivering aside, I decided the game was still afoot. 

The event was in Derby,  just an hour’s drive from here , so my old friend Debbie Bennett, also an author on the same project,  was driving to Derby with us and then staying with us overnight.
We set off in good time and parked near to the Quad, because that was where we ‘knew’ the event was taking place there. We  had a leisurely Italian meal in the restaurant opposite the venue and at around 7pm we strolled over to the Quad in what we thought was good time.

So far so good.
In the Quad cafe we bumped into the Robert Dick and Steve Hatcher – and this is where things began to go distinctly kablooey. The lads expressed surprise to see us there. ‘We must be off,’ they said. ‘We have to pick up Sam and David. But we shall see you there at the gig venue in little while.’
See us there?’ says we. Isn’t this it here at the Quad?’
‘No,’ says they. ‘It is at the Voicebox!
To say that panic ensued would be mild. It had started out so well and suddenly it was the night out from hell. I don’t know how we had all had the very certain knowledge that the Quad was a venue, but  we all had it wrong as it turned out. Our own collective faults, and an object lesson in the first rules of being a writer:  always, but always, read those guidelines!
Whilst Debbie Googled the Voicebox and my other half, Peter, fetched a map book of Derby from the car and having consulted the various oracles we realised the venue was not that far off. So we started walking and arrived there at a little after 7.10, which, when the event began at 7.30, we thought was pretty damned good
Second shock wave of evening hit us. Having hoofed it across Derby town centre, we were nonplussed at finding the place deserted. Every door locked, not a light to be seen, not a soul in sight.  Had we got the wrong place yet again? After a few minutes waiting and wandering up and down a dark  and freezing side street, checking and rechecking that we did indeed have the right address this time, Debbie made a call.
Yes, we had arrived at the right place, and, we were assured, the caretaker would be along at 7.20 sharp to unlock.  So we waited, and we waited. Other people started to drift up, and we stood shivering together like a bunch of depressed penguins, getting colder by the minute. At least, I told myself, it wasn’t raining, or snowing.
The Keeper of the Keys did eventually arrive – at dead on 7.30; not a moment sooner nor later; as they do. By that time, however, I was chilled to the bone and feeling decidedly grotty. I had not anticipated hanging around on frosty street corner and my head-cold was rapidly descending over my senses like a pall, and with it all chance of retaining any capability to construct a coherent sentence.  
We’ve all been there. Catarrh-brain had struck!
Once inside we found our hosts to be were lovely people, and the signing went well. (A hot drink would have been nice, but apparently there were no facilities for tea or coffee – one of those things I guess.) We signed many books, which is always good, and I had at least begun to thaw out by the time we were up for the panel. 

The interviewer,  Robert Dick, was charming as he chatted to all of those on the make-shift podium;  Reel Times Films guru Keith Barnfather,  authors Debbie Bennett, Sam Stone, David Howe and myself , plus cover artist Andrew Thompson.  
I think I did okay – by which I mean to say that I didn’t say anything too stupid (so far as I remember). Now in the normal run of things I would have stayed for the second half  of the event, in which actor Steven Thorne was interviewed. But the only reason I was not actively 'death warmed over' was the fact that I was too darned cold; a classic contradiction. With an hour’s drive ahead of us?  I just wanted to go home, have a couple of glasses of wine, and finally be warm! 
At least it was a signing I shan’t forget in a hurry, and on the upside it was a chance to catch up with friends and even make a few ones. Books were sold and titles promoted. Huge thanks to all who got the event going.
Note to self: always check the venue and always pack an extra jumper!
And if you hear that call to hibernate under the duvet on a frosty winter night? Give it some serious thought!
Jan Edwards can be found on:
Facebook: jan.coleborn.edwards
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Winter Downs; Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties