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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lev Butts Beats Another Dead Horse by Lev Butts

Earlier this month, North Carolina made history when its governor, Pat McCrory, appointed the first self-published poet laureate, signifying what is certainly one of the first public and official acknowledgements of the value of independently published authors to the world of letters. Indeed, his remarks on her appointment seem to imply exactly this kind of acknowledgement. He claims his objective was to be more inclusive in his appointment, to look outside "the standard or even elite groups" that normally take these positions. "It's good," he continued,  "to welcome new voices and new ideas."

In short, July 11, 2014 is a date that every independently published author should memorize; it's the date when the game changed.

WAIT for it....


She resigned less than a week later.

If you've been reading the articles I've linked above, you may well be thinking "Well, that's awful nice of her. After all, she was appointed without the input of the Arts Council, which has traditionally (if seven previous poet laureate appointments can really be called a tradition) provided recommendations."

You could think that, but you'd be wrong.

Technically, the recommendation of the Council of Arts is a courtesy, not a requirement. Something the Council was made very aware of with this appointment. And something they've been stewing over ever since.

Ms. Macon resigned after the literati of North Carolina took issue primarily with her status as self-published. As soon as her appointment was announced, writers and English faculty all over the state howled as if their chai lattes, Smart cars, and Mumford and Sons LPs were being taken away. They have since behaved towards Ms. Macon with all the class and decorum of gun-nuts a Chipotle restaurant.

Who are you to deny me my right to deny others their right to a peaceful dinner? 
While many avoid using the phrase "self-published" directly, the subtext is clear:

Jaki Shelton Green, a former Piedmont Laureate and a member of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, claims that Macon's appointment makes her sad: because “It’s an affront to all the hard work so many of us have done,”

Apparently, Green, like another Green I have mentioned, seems to think that virtually no work goes into self-publishing. That Ms. Macon simply inhaled deeply and belched two books of poetry while working with the disabled at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (becasue we all know how lax and easy those jobs are) and helping to raise money for the homeless (the proceeds of her latest book are going to support a farm that raises food specifically for the homeless community).

Richard Krawiec, a poet and publisher from Durham, NC claims that the “Laureate is for people with national and statewide reputations." He further argues,  "If you don’t honor that basic criteria of literary excellence and laureates being poets at the top of their game, than [sic] what’s the purpose of the laureate position?”

If the assumption is that the laureate should only go to those with national and statewide reputations, it seems unlikely that indie writers could ever be poet laureates, regardless of how good their work is since it is virtually impossible for someone to promote their work statewide (much less nationally) without either being independently wealthy or having the backing of a publisher. Thus the laureate belongs, according to Krawiec's own argument, to the "elite" literary groups the governor mentioned earlier.

The irony is that raising a self-published writer to the position would have greatly improved other independent writers' chances for recognition. It would have said that literature is for everyone, that writing literature is for everyone as well. 

And therein lies the real problem:

The truth no one has the guts to voice is the tired old classism that rears its head throughout human history, sometimes as racism, sometimes as sexism, this time as literary snobbery. Independent authors should look up to the eliterati and strive to be like them though they can never actually join their ranks.

Self-publishers, know your place. Send us your membership dues for our writing societies and support whatever "real" author you enjoy, but until you get traditionally published, stay the hell out of our poet laureate seat.

Stop! Stop! Now that's just silly.
This started out as a nice little post about the disrespect of independent authors,
but now it's gotten silly.
You're making it sound like these liberal writers and faculty are just as bad as racists, and anti-marriage-equality bigots,
and that's just silly.
I'm sure they believe black and homosexual independent writers deserve just as much disrespect as WASP independent writers.
I've written about this before, and I expect I'll be writing about it many times again. The only way attitudes toward independent writers will ever change is if more of us write and speak out about it. 

Is Valerie Mason a good poet? I have no idea. And quite frankly I don't care since, apparently, few of her critics do. In the admittedly limited research I have been able to do on this post, I've only seen complaints about her status as a self-published writer. I've found very little that discusses her actual, you know, poetry.

Clearly, her detractors assume that since we are a country that absolutely adores poetry (as evidenced by our hugely popular reality shows American Poetry Idol and Rhyme Swap) if she were any good, she'd be traditionally published (as it is ever so easy for poets to be published in this country where poetry books sell so well).

Should the governor have appointed her without other input? Probably not the best idea he's had, but his stated goals, of allowing more diverse candidates to fill seats normally reserved for "elite groups," would have more than likely been thrown out had he done so. If you're going to protest this appointment, though, stay focused on that. Harping on the self-published angle is just petty and mean-spirited.

The point is moot, though, as Ms. Macon resigned her position last week, after serving a grand total of six days, to avoid having this flustercluck divert any further attention from the importance of the poet laureate position.

Yes, while the North Carolina eliterati were busy defending the honor of the poet laureate seat by debasing it with mud-slinging, name-calling, and all-around whining, Valerie Macon took the high road for sake of the very position she was accused of defiling.

In her response to this news, Kathryn Stripling Byer, herself a former the North Carolina poet laureate, after criticizing Macon for having the unmitigated gaul to allow herself to be named in the first place, urged her readers to make sure not be insensitive to the poor dear and to place the blame squarely where it belongs.

I intend to do just that. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the true instigators of this whole fiasco:

The North Carolina Eliterati:

Vivian Smith-Smythe Smith

Nigel Incubator-Jones

Gervais Brook-Hamster
Simon Zinc-Trumpet-Harris
Oliver St. John-Mollusc

Valerie Macon served less than a week as the North Carolina poet laureate, but she still served. She is still, to my knowledge (and if I am wrong, it's even better news), the first independently-published writer to hold a laureate position in any state. 

No one, not the governor of North Carolina, not the upperclass twits of the Council of Arts, not the other members of the North Carolina literati, can take that away from her.

She still wins, and that win is a win for all independent writers everywhere.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#How I Write (or not) and what about my more prolific and professional friends? by Julia Jones

Photographs of John AA Logan
don't exactly litter the internet
I'm surprised to find myself having a go at this 'blog hop' challenge – but I was even more surprised (and rather delighted) when John AA Logan invited me to try. John's a fellow Authors Electric member but I've never met him and I don't feel that I really 'know' him in the social media world. There are some AE members (and Facebook friends) who I forget that I haven't physically met. They're so much part of my on-line life that I assume that we would instantly get chatting about 1001 things if we should discover ourselves sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. But not John. 

That's merely a recording of my impression: it's not a criticism or a judgement. Agatha Christie once said about Margery Allingham "If I say I don't at all know what she was like that is the truth and that makes her interesting to me." My impression is that (in the hackneyed phrase) John is a 'private person'. From his general comments and his blog posts he seems to have a great depth of knowledge of films, philosophy and books that are not in my regular comfort zone. He also appears to be utterly single-minded in his determination to dedicate himself to his writing and make it the BEST that it can. Yes, and so do we all but, in my life, the writing appears to be fighting a battle for inclusion whereas John appears to have organised his days round 500 words "islands" of writing, thus allowing plenty of time for the subconscious to do its essential informing and structuring. I've read his varied and poetic collection of short stories, Storm Damage and his extraordinary crime novel The Survival of Thomas Ford. The quality of perception and the use of language in both books confirm, eloquently, that John's method works. 

I envied his answers to these #HowIWrite questions.

1) What am I writing? Another sailing adventure story in the Strong Winds series. It poses a different set of problems to its predecessors and is currently stuck, poised, quivering, before the last, crucial 4 – 5 chapters. I find I can't talk about my books until they're done – too fragile, poor little blossoms! – so that's that question struck off.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? With all due respect (actually I'm not sure much respect is due) this is a thoroughly uninspiring question. Margery Allingham, for instance, spent the most important parts of her working life enclosed in what she described as the mystery 'box', yet every book that she produced was different in some way from its predecessor and from the work of her contemporaries. If this were not so there would be no point at all in writing. 'Well, there's the little matter of earning a living,' I hear you object. Mmm, but to earn a living, even at the currently plummeting writers' rates, you need to attract readers and even the least adventurous reader wants something subtly different in a new book – otherwise why buy it? There's plenty of cost-free pleasure to be had in re-reading. Margery's father, Herbert Allingham who wrote 'formula fiction' at a set rate per 1000 words knew that he had to play with the formula if he was to please his audience. I hope that I am producing my own variations on the sailing adventure genre (if such a thing exists).

3) Why do I write what I do? When I go into schools and spend a day helping children to write stories I tell them sincerely that their only job is to write something to please themselves. Not me, not their teacher, not even their best friend. They are their own most important readers. And that's my answer to this question. The inside of my head is such a muddle with the daily mass of impressions, ideas, duties, joys and griefs that if I can succeed in writing something clearly and precisely to please myself, then I'm going to feel calmer and better. If it then manages to communicate to someone else as well, that is the most glorious unexpected gift I can be given. Thank you to those who have given it.

4) How does your writing process work? Currently mine isn't working but I hope that's only temporary. Sometimes the work/life balance topples the wrong way. I know that what I need to finish this current book is time on Peter Duck, time by a river and then much more time up in my attic with no phone, no internet and no one niggling around inside my head pleading that they need me more than I don't need them. Because we do, all of us, need one another and I hope that's one of the aspects that my books try to express. 

Now I'd like to introduce you to four writers whose books I admire and who take a truly professional approach to their work. If they choose to answer these #HowIWrite questions either on AE or on their blogs elsewhere I'm certain that their answers will be varied and interesting.
What lovely books he's holding

I'll begin with the person I've met most recently. Martin Edwards won the Margery Allingham short story competition and I met him in person at this year's Crimefest. We'd been in contact before as we share a taste for crime fiction of an old-fashioned variety and I enjoy his blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Martin says that he always knew he wanted to write but was persuaded by his parents that he needed a 'proper job' and so he became a lawyer. Not such a bad idea as it's given him thirty years of authentic experience of people in stressful situations. 

Martin began penning legal text books and his writerly longings soon led to his first series of detective novels featuring the Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin. These are currently being reissued on Kindle and I look forward to them. Meanwhile I have been following Martin's Lakeland series which begins with The Coffin Trail.  The Frozen Shroud (#6 in the series) is temptingly close to the top of my TBR pile and I'm tagging Martin in this post as I'd like to know how he's managed to combine his practice as a lawyer + plenty of non-fiction writing + short stories & anthologies + 16 novels of reliably consistent quality.

Martin's now a legal 'consultant'
- wise man
I also met Valerie Laws at Crimefest but she was one of the people that I had to remind myself that I didn't know already. As a fellow AE member she needs no introduction on this blog but I thought I would indulge myself with a little bit of formal bio as I'm so amazed by Valerie's versatility that I don't want to risk missing any of the achievements.

Valerie Laws ( is a crime novelist, poet, playwright and sci-art installation specialist. Of her thirteen published books, 4 are currently available as ebooks. A mathematics/physics graduate, she devises new poetic forms and science-themed poetry installations and commissions including the infamous Arts Council–funded Quantum Sheep, spray-painting haiku onto live sheep to celebrate quantum theory. Much of her recent work arises from funded residencies with pathologists, neuroscientists, human specimens and dissections. Another quantum haiku on inflated beachballs in Hackney Lido featured in BBC2’s Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones, and live at Royal Festival Hall, London, and her installations have toured all over Europe. She performs worldwide live and in the media.  Her many prizes and awards include a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and two Northern Writers’ Awards.  She is disabled and lives on the North East coast of England.
She 'saw the skull beneath the skin'
Valerie's first crime novel was The Rotting Spot
Valerie's second crime novel, The Operator, is currently grabb-able at W H Smith for your holiday reading but I'd also recommend the brilliantly funny and clever Lydia Bennett’s Blog (only on Kindle which is an opportunity missed by the paper publishing world). I admire her poetry collection All That Lives and when I asked Valerie which of all her books she'd take if she were banished to a desert island, she said that it would probably be poetry. I'm tagging Valerie as I'd like to hear how she decides which form of writing (or other creative activity) she will be focusing on at any one time. Valerie was left disabled after an accident and I wonder what impact this has had on her writing themes and choices.

Robertson & Palmer
Such a sweet young couple
My friend Imogen Robertson is also a poet and used to be a children's TV, film and radio director. Then she won the Daily Telegraph First Thousand Words competition for the beginning of Instruments of Darkness, her first Crowther & Westermann historical crime novel. Now she's on title #5 Theft of Life and has also written a wonderful stand-alone novel, The Paris Winter

Imogen, too, was at Crimefest so I trotted along to the relevant panel to hear her talking about the subtle skills of balancing high quality research – usually using primary sources – with the accessibility required to attract sufficient readers in the UK, US (and beyond) to eat, live and pay the mortgage. The session was okay – but insufficient. Imogen has always seemed to me to be particularly good at analysing her craft and I wanted to hear more. One of the technical aspects I especially admire in her Crowther& Westermann novels is the creation of a distinctive idiom which is neither late c18th or early c21st but which succesfully conveys a period flavour whilst also being readable, flexible and able to express the full range of emotion and character variation. I'd like to know how she does that. I suppose I could take the easy option and lure her and her husband Ned Palmer down to Peter Duck (owned by Ned's family for a significant period - which may possibly be why I had to kill off his namesake in the prologue of The Salt-Stained Book) but then there's always the danger that we might sit around the cockpit enjoying Ned's beer and cheese expertise and I might forget to record Imogen's writerly wisdom. 

The career journalist & writer
first story published at 16
first class degree from Manchester University
Now, whether I'll get Jan Needle to divulge the secrets of his art is another matter altogether. Jan, if I may say so without belittling my other guests, has almost certainly poured more words into the world that any of us yet he manages to present the persona of someone far more interested in listening to folk music and tinkering with complex marine engines. "Oh yes," he'll say a week or so after explaining that he's not been within reach of the internet as he's been shifting a canal boat, visiting his extensive family or camping out in the wild woods with a group of anti-frackers, "well the thing is I had to deliver the latest novel in my Young Nelson series so I did that, visited 3 or 4 of my children and then I wrote my monthly blog in the car on my way to a great aunt's funeral." (None of that is exactly true but let this photo give you the public image of the man then glance back to the profile I wrote quite recently for AE. Jan's achievement is impressive.) 

Meanwhile of course I recommend that you read Wild Wood (Jan's masterpiece?) but I must also say how much I enjoyed his Treasure Island re-make Silver and Blood. Occasionally Jan's adult novels are slightly too robust for my lily-livered tastes and I was intrigued by his decision to withdraw and tone down his prison novel Kicking Off  which I had read with only minimal blenching. It's a passionate book about an important and difficult subject. A long term favourite of mine is My Mate Shofiq, a classic children's novel which has now acquired an intriguing patina of social history. Albeson and the Germans, an early novel about a child vandal, is painful, touching and ultimately kind. Oddly enough I think I could apply those words also to Jan's more recent (and controversial) Killing Time at Catterick. How does he do it - and why? 

So here, gentle readers, are four more writers who may in the future be persuaded to tell us #HowIWrite. Meanwhile we have their generous assortments of books and the inspiring example of the dedicated John AA Logan. I'd better get back to my attic now -- or possibly down to the boat.

Monday, 21 July 2014

#Game of Sevens - A Fun Way of Promoting Your Work by Pauline Chandler

#Game of Sevens

Has anyone else been tagged recently to take part in this? 

#Game of Sevens is a fun promotional tool for writers and it works as follows. ’ Being tagged’ means being invited by a  writer colleague to take part.

You have to choose one of your current manuscripts, select either page seven or page seventy-seven, and count down seven lines.

Next, you post the next seven sentences (more or less) as an extract of your work-in-progress, online, in as many places as you can, for instance, on Facebook, or on your website or blog.
Then tag 2 more writers and request they do the same.

The idea is to stimulate interest in your work by giving a glimpse into what you’re working on at the moment.

So, Sue Price and Catherine Czerkawska, would you like to be tagged? I'd love to see what you’re both working on!

It was my friend, writer Theresa Tomlinson, who tagged me to do this. Here's a link to her website, for anyone interested in fab historical fiction for YAs and adults. 

And here's my #Game of Sevens extract. 

'The Angel of Clemencye', set in 1415, tells the story of Elinor's quest to find her sister, Alysaunde. Alys is kidnapped by an evil mystic, who wants to use her in arcane rituals to bring down the Lancastrian king, Henry V,  and establish herself as a power in the kingdom, in support of the Yorkists. Alys is an albino child, whom people treat with suspicion. The mystic convinces her followers that Alys is one of God's angels, sent to bless their cause. 

This extract is from the very beginning of the book, where the two girls have been sent away from home to live with their old nurse, in the country. At this point Alys is 7 and Elinor 14.
Alys is reluctant to use the p--s pot.

- Alys shrank further into her cloak, like a fledgling seeking the shelter of its nest.
   ‘Come, come child, needs must.’ Alys still did not move.       ‘Alysaunde?’ Gammer said, in a tone of voice that would not to be gainsaid.
   ‘Jesu’s pillicock and bollockers! Is it come to this?’ Alys muttered.
   Gammer froze and stared at her. ‘What? What did you say?’
   From under a loose lock of her white hair, Alys looked up at me with her pearly eyes, where tears glistened.
   'Gammer -' I said. She wouldn't listen.
   ‘Repeat what you just said, child! ‘ Gammer's voice was like thunder. ‘The exact words!’
   I placed my arm around Alys’s shoulders.
   Staring down at her feet, she spoke in a low whisper: ‘‘Jesu’s pillicock and bollockers.’ She sniffed hard and I passed her a handkerchief, as she mournfully uttered the rest of the words. ‘Is it come to this.’
   Gammer sucked in her breath and passed a shaking hand over her forehead. 'What did she say? Did I hear right?' Breathing deeply as if she had run a hard race, she lowered herself on to a stool, and placed her red rough hands, curled into fists, on her knees.
   'Jesu’s …oh…oh…by God's own good grace...Jesu’ Saints and angels...Where on God’s good earth did you ever hear such words, Alysaunde? Not from my lips! '
   ‘She does not know what she says,’ I said, as Gammer writhed on the stool as if in a fit of the gripes.
   ‘Lord help us’, she said, wiping her face again, ‘when even little children spout foulness. Who taught you to say such things? Who was it? Who taught you these words, Alysaunde?' 

Extract from ‘The Angel of Clemencye’ c. Pauline Chandler 

I remember getting into trouble at school for a similar offence.  One of my naughty cousins told me that ‘booze’ meant French chicken, so I duly used this very impressive word in my next composition. The teacher hauled me out to the front and told me off for using such language and I was so mortified that I took my composition book and scribbled over the word ‘booze’ in thick black ink, for which I got another telling-off! The traumas of childhood, eh?

Pauline Chandler July 21st 2014

Sunday, 20 July 2014

You never know by Sandra Horn

          Twenty years ago, I wrote my first picture book text, Tattybogle. It was published in 1995 and is still providing me with opportunities such as school visits, and a modest amount of income.
          When Andersen let it go out of print, I bought a print run from them because I needed to keep the supply of books going. It is basically a simple story of a happy scarecrow, but it has elements of the seasons and the cycle of birth, death and - rebirth? I've been challenged about this by a vicar and it is or was on the RI curriculum in some schools to form the basis of a discussion about the differences between reincarnation and resurrection.
          I've also been asked for a copy by a mother preparing her children for the death of a cousin, and it is used in hospices for children and adults.Who'd have thought? Well, I would, for one, although I didn't know other people would 'get it'. One of the reasons I needed to write it was that when my children were very small, the old timor mortis conturbat me suddenly knocked me for six. Not my mortality, but theirs.
          What had I done? Brought these precious beings into the world to die? I couldn't stop weeping... (OK, post-natal abdabs, I now know). I could find no comfort anywhere until I came across, I can't remember how, the Law of Conservation of Matter. No, seriously. That there are the same number of atoms in the world as there have always been since the beginning is a powerful thought. It means we've all always been here and always will be, just not in the same form. Somehow, it worked for me. I stopped howling into the washing up and went on writing bits of crack-brained philosophy into more picture books. 
          Ten years after Tattybogle was published, Starshine Music wanted to make it into a musical for primary school children to perform. Ruth Kenward made a lovely job of it. In 2008, I had an email: do you do school visits? It was from the British Foreign School in Seoul. Eh, what? They had performed the musical and wanted to follow it up with an author visit. 'Yes, but it's a long way to come for a day,' I said.  It turned out to be two weeks, between three schools, two in Seoul and one in Daejon, with a bookshop signing in between, and treated like royalty all the way.

          It's good being old in South Korea! The more grey hairs you have, the more wisdom you are credited with, and that earns you enormous respect and care. Niall went into the city on the metro while I was in the school. It was only a couple of stops, so he stood up - but not for long. Everybody in the carriage leapt up and offered him their seat! I kept being addressed as 'teacher', and, keen not to claim skills I don't possess, said I wasn't, until somebody nudged me and told me that 'teacher' is the most honourable form of address.
          So, teachers all, feel revered and cherished!
          Korea is full of contrasts. The young are tall and athletic and keen on all things western, modern and electronic. The older folk (the very much older, that is) are noticeably smaller and many still seem to be haunted by the past. Ginkgo trees line the streets and the nuts are foraged as soon as they fall, as are acorns, fungi, edible gourds, fruit all kinds from the hedgerows. The years of privation under Japanese rule have left an indelible fear of starvation in the survivors.
           In the modern city, full of traffic and skyscrapers, the Koreans are also rebuilding their past. The temples, ceremonial gates and royal palaces are being restored. Many are now complete. This is a picture of the changing of the imperial guard; colourful, noisy and above all, proud. 

          Where was I? I seem to have gone from a contemplation of death to a celebration of Korea. It may seem less than coherent, but I've just been to see an amazing, joyous performance of Tattybogle at an infant school, and there is another adaptation on the way, by community theatre group Fluid Mechanics, and it made me think back to the beginning of the story. You write a little scarecrow story, and the next thing....

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Kindle CountDown Outcome, by Chris Longmuir

I’ve been publishing ebooks for several years now, but I’ve never done anything specific to promote my books. I’ve always worked on the assumption that well written books with a good storyline will always find a reader.

Over the years, I’ve made it a point not to use gimmicks, or promotional tools to increase the selling power of my novels, and I haven’t knocked myself out trying to improve sales figures, and I’ve been quite happy that my books are finding appreciative readers.

However, after listening to a fellow author singing the praises of Kindle CountDown deals, and how it boosted sales, I was tempted to give it a try.

First I had to find out how it worked, and here is the Amazon link if you want to have a look. The first thing I found out was that your book has to be in KDP Select before you can use this promotional tool, and as I only have one book in KDP Select, and that is my Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution, it had to be that one. I prefer a wider distribution for my crime novels so that all ereaders can have access to them. I don’t particularly like restricting my crime novels to Kindle only.

The impression I got initially was that I couldn’t have my book on countdown in both the US and the UK at the same time. So, I chose the US. I suppose in a way my choice was a bit perverse, because I’m better known in the UK. But the deed was done, and the book went on Kindle Countdown in the US, with the price starting at $0.99, on Tuesday 8th July, with a staged increase in price until it returned to its normal price of $4.99 on Tuesday 15th July.

However, I soon found out I was wrong about not being able to use more than one Amazon platform, for a countdown deal, and that the book could be on countdown simultaneously in the US and the UK. Apparently all you have to do is set them up as separate deals at the same time, one after the other.

Hugely frustrated I reckoned I had missed the boat in respect of having Kindle Countdown working in tandem in the UK and the US. But, ever the optimist, I went back to the KDP page where countdown deals are set up and I was able to schedule a UK countdown, but it would start belatedly on Thursday the 10th July, 2 days after the commencement of the US countdown. Both countdowns would end on the 15th July when the price would go back to normal.

So, now that the Kindle Countdown has ended, has it been worth while?

Excuse me, while I give a snort of derision.

Despite developing massive calluses on my tweeting fingers, and posting on Facebook, Goodreads, Google Plus, and Pinterest, my sales never advanced beyond single figures. Yes, you heard that right. My sales on were exactly the same as the previous week, and despite a small increase of sales on, the book couldn’t quite struggle into double figures with the number of sales. Maybe it’s because it was a nonfiction book rather than fiction, I don’t know. Maybe the bargain hunters prefer fiction! I don’t know. What I do know is that being on KDP Select in order to take advantage of promotions like Kindle CountDown Deals is not worth the trouble. So, as soon as the time period for KDP Select is up, Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution will be uploaded to Smashwords for wider distribution. I get more Apple iBook sales for my books through Smashwords than the Kindle CountDown generated.

What I do know is that several of my author friends do consider KindleCountdown a good promotional tool, but it didn’t work for me. However, what it has done is to increase my belief that KDP Select is not for me.

Chris Longmuir

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Twist in the Tale by Catherine Czerkawska

Wordsworth's Couch - not very comfortable.
This month, I'm in vacant or in pensive mood, reflecting on reviews and reviewing. This is because I was mildly (but only mildly) irritated by a doozy of a review on Amazon for one of my books. Somebody or other really didn’t like it. And in a general sense that’s fine. As business guru Seth Godin says, sometimes you just have to shrug and say ‘in that case it’s not for you,’ and let it pass. Mostly, that’s what I do. And I’d never leave a comment on a bad review. It’s impossible to have an optimum number of sales and NOT get a few horribly negative reviews. There’s one somewhere on The Curiosity Cabinet by a woman who at least likes my book a bit better than her one star iron – but not a lot!

If you don’t believe me, just look up any massively successful and much loved author, and scroll down to the one star reviews. Sometimes they can be quite informative. Sometimes there’s a writer who comes very well reviewed, not to say hyped, a writer whose books I simply can’t get on with. Some of those one and two star reviewers on Amazon have actually bothered to do a real critical analysis of why they don’t like the book and occasionally I’ll find myself in agreement. I never add my two pennorth though, for the simple reason that if I don’t like a book after the first fifty pages, I simply stop reading, and there’s no way I’m going to review a book I haven’t read. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the inclination and I’m not in the business of slagging off my fellow authors for what is in all likelihood purely a matter of personal taste.

A colleague recently found a one star review on one of her novels because it was an eBook and the reader had taken a vow only to read paperbacks. So she gave it a single star because she couldn’t read it. That sort of behaviour is deeply unfair to the author but it makes the reviewer look so stupid that it’s hard to get really angry. What does irritate me though is what I have come to think of as the Roald Dahl effect. Don’t get me wrong. I love Roald Dahl. After all, my son fell asleep to a cassette tape of Danny Champion of the World every night for about a year. What’s not to like about that?

No, it’s his grown-up short stories that are the culprits. You know? Those volumes of excellent stories that all have a twist in the tale. They were televised. It caught on, big time. The leg of lamb murder weapon. The murderous landlady. The body in the lift. Women’s magazines started to demand short stories with a twist in the tale. Soon, every short story competition in every magazine, every writing group submission, every read-around, was flooded with short stories where the whole (and sometimes the only) point of the story seemed to be to deceive the reader into thinking it was about one thing, only to surprise them right at the end by another twist in the tale.

Now that’s all very well – essential even – for crime fiction. Perhaps even for horror and supernatural fiction too. Unless you’re writing the kind of crime fiction where we know the identity of the killer from the off, and the whole point of the story is for the detective/police person/ protagonist to problem-solve their way to a conclusion. Like Monk. I love Monk and his problem-solving. And I’ve no quarrel with any of that.

But there are some readers who have extrapolated from their perfectly legitimate taste for twist in the tale stories and now seem to think that every novel or story ever published has to have a plot in which you have no idea what’s going on until the last few pages when all is revealed in a blaze of astounding volte face revelation.

I don’t write that kind of book. Or that kind of story. I don’t think it’s mandatory to write that kind of book. Some of my all-time favourite novels are not that kind of book either.

I’ve no quarrel at all with people who don’t like the books I do write. What does bug me a bit is the kind of review that says ‘the plot was obvious’ when I’ve spent two years knocking my pan in writing a loving exploration of character, writing about somebody coming to terms with dreadful events, writing about how events in our lives colour and change us – but without ever really intending to deceive the reader into thinking this is one kind of story and then revealing right at the end that it is another. It isn’t. It was never intended to be. It isn’t what I do. And what’s more, sometimes the whole point is the terrible innocence of the narrator, when the readers can and should be able to see what is coming a mile off. But the narrator couldn’t.

Incidentally, Big Publishing used to have a term for this and probably still does. Agents too. They used to say a book was 'beautifully written but too quiet.' I spent a few years back in the nineteen nineties racking my brains, trying to figure out what the hell they meant, until a fellow writer who had been the recipient of the same kind of rave rejection pointed out that what they were really saying was that the book didn't have a stonking great plot with a completely unforeseen twist at the end.

Actually, I have done the plot twist thing once or twice. Much to my surprise, not everyone guesses the plot of The Curiosity Cabinet, the historical tale anyway. I was sure they would and I didn’t much mind about it, but some people have told me that they only understood it at the same time as poor wee Henrietta. That was a bonus but it wasn’t the raison d’être of the whole book.

And there is a very definite twist in the tale at the end of Bird of Passage. There’s a part of the story that pretty much everyone guesses, as they are intended to. But there’s another part of the story that I think hardly anyone does. I wasn’t striving officiously to write a twist though. I was focusing almost wholly on the character of Finn, and trying to find out why he was so troubled, and what his blurred memories of a terrible past might really mean. We don’t know the full extent of what he has forgotten and neither does he. The revelation came to me as it came to Finn and as it probably comes to the reader. But even then, the twist wasn’t the point. The troubling revelation was.

Anyway, I suppose what my little rant amounts to is this. As a reviewer – and I’ve reviewed professionally in the past and as a young writer given one or two unnecessarily scathing reviews of which I am now heartily ashamed – I think you really have to avoid reviewing the book you wish the writer had written. It’s a huge temptation but one best avoided. You have to stand back a little and review a book on its own terms and with a certain generosity of spirit. You don’t have to be fulsome in your praise. And if you think a book doesn’t quite succeed on its own terms then you’re perfectly within your rights to say so, explaining why. One or two past reviews of my plays that were by no means positive have given me pause for thought and definitely helped to make me a better playwright. Because I could see (once I simmered down a bit) that they were right. But if you don’t think you can achieve a modicum of impartiality or generosity, it’s perhaps better to pause for thought before you hit the submit button. So what do you think?

I think there's a good case to be made for reviewing your ironing board instead.

Catherine Czerkawska 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

22 things that really annoy authors - Elizabeth Kay BOOKS ARE THE GENUINE 


Pirated downloads of my entire trilogy -The Divide, Back to the Divide, and Jinx on the Divide. Get it free, complete with mistakes. Be put off the author for life.

Emails from people asking for free books, preferably signed, because you obviously don’t have to pay anything for them yourself.

People who come to a talk, and ask you to sign copies of books they’ve bought second-hand. They think you ought to be equally delighted that they managed to find a copy at a fraction of the list price.

People who come to a talk, and ask you to sign copies of someone else’s book.

Kids who only want to know how much you earn, and whether you’ve met anyone famous.

Teachers who think you have it so easy compared to them, and refuse to keep order when you’re doing a talk at their school – usually free of charge. Fortunately, many authors have been teachers in a previous incarnation. If you control the class better than the form tutor it will not go down well.

Kids who want to know why you obstinately refuse to make a film of your book, and have them in the starring role.

An entire class who write to you because they’re doing book reports, and want you to write back to them all individually by next week. Usually on another continent, in which case any stamped addressed envelopes will be useless. Usually there aren’t any, of course.

Kids who write to you about a book by someone else.

People who turn up to an event to buy a book, but don’t have the correct money and want you to accept half the price in very small change.

People who think they’ve found a spelling mistake on page 342. They haven’t. They’re American.

Someone who asks whether you’ll give them the rights free of charge so that they can translate your book into Mongolian/Mandinka/Quechua. Explaining that translation rights are held by your publisher only results in another email asking the same thing again, and whether you’ll pay for them to come over and discuss it.

Someone else writing a book with the same title. Titles aren’t copyright.

Someone else with the same name with a URL very like the one for your website. You’re a children’s writer and they’re a porn star.

A publisher who will neither produce a digital version of your book, nor revert the rights to do so to you. And you can’t claim it’s out of print because these days they publish on demand.

People you don’t know you from Adam who want you to read and critique an entire manuscript of 150,000 words.

An illustrator who hasn’t read your book, and gets everything wrong.

A reviewer who gives you one star on Amazon because they’ve muddled you up with someone else, and the plot they’re talking about bears no resemblance whatsoever to your book.

A reviewer who tells you you’re destined for hell because you mentioned evolution.

Someone who books you for a conference, and then tells you the night before that it’s been cancelled when they’ve known about this for ages.

A bookshop that asks you to do a reading, and then does no publicity and puts you in a corner next to the toilets.

Children who pick up books with chocolate-covered fingers, and then don’t buy them.

BUT all this is counteracted by the emails that tell you your book was the book that started them/their daughter/their grandson reading, and they've named their puppy after you.