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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Parta-a-a-a-ay! - Authors Electric

Bring balloons, bring booze, bring the dogs,
bring whatever you like - but bring yourself!
It's time to partaaaay!

Well, perhaps not quite yet, but soon, so we're just getting ourselves in the mood.
Bercause this isn't any old party, this is the AE launch party for our forthcoming anthology. And because it is an e-book (although it will also be appearing as a physical version thanks to the heroic efforts and late night candle-burning of Susan Price) and we are Electric Authors, it will of course, be an online launch party. 

There's a lot to be said for the virtues of this - no need to find dog sitters (or for children either) while you are out. There is no driving there and back involved, so you can drink as much as you like - and no rushing to catch the last train either. No stress over what to wear (or wailing when you find your favourite outfit fits rather more snugly than the last time you donned it - or worse still, fails to fit at all). No one has to crawl out of bed at dawn the next day to tidy up the mess: in fact you can even attend the party from the comfort of your bed if that's what you fancy.
Of course there will be sparklers!
So do come and join the fun and mingle with us all - our Midsummer Day launch party starts at 11 am on June 21st - click HERE to receive your party invitation. (Or if you forget, just stumble on over to our FB page ...) Bring a friend, bring your dogs, wear what you like ... there will be virtual nibbles and drinks available, guaranteed not to produce hangovers or extra inches on the waistline. (Although we cannot be held responsible for the effects of anything real that you quaff or scoff as you recline amongst your goose down pillows)

Oh - and the reason for all the merriment? We did mention it didn't we? Our first anthology of short fiction stories, which will be appearing that day. It's called A Flash in the Pen and is available for pre-order on Amazon HERE in the UK and HERE in the US ... in fact it's available globally so check out your local Amazon ... and get ready to partaaaay!

Stuffed full of brilliant stuff.
And only 99p/99c so a bargain as well - but only for the first month
so rush out and buy a copy now!

Friday, 29 May 2015

The World Divides... N M Browne

Planning back when I could plan.
The world divides into people who divide the world into two divisions and those who don't. As I fall clumsily between two stools more often than not, I have rarely had time for such binary thinking. People seem to defy categorisation largely because we are so inconsistent, switching attributes according to circumstances, eluding definitions. On the other hand, I often say 'on the other hand' and regularly divide the future into two possible outcomes.  I have been know to mutter  ' It will either sell or it won't,' under my breath like a mantra, one which I find oddly reassuring. Similarly, ' the editor will either like it or she won't,' helps because it makes it sound as though both outcomes are equally likely at a time when I am full of the greatest doubts.
 I've always had the least patience with the idea that writers are either 'planners' or 'pantsters', which for those of you may not have heard it, divides the writing world into those who plan their novels in great detail and those who make it up as they go along and write by the seat of their pants.
When I first started writing fiction, I had recently completed an MBA and was on maternity leave from an oil company. I was always short of time and very interested in speed and efficiency. My first couple of novels were written speedily and efficiently through a combination of writing by the seat of my pants until I had a story idea and then by following a broad kind of plan which meant that I didn't have to reorder too many chapters or disappear up any blind alleys. I was rather smug about the success of my method, and felt that it provided strong evidence for my opinion that people's behaviours are rarely wholly one thing or the other. Well, I'm obliged to confess that it no longer works, at least not for me. Other more experienced writers have always told me that the process of writing is a slippery, capricious thing much, I suppose, like creativity itself. It appears to resist categorisation and methodologies and is often downright perverse. It appears that I  have strayed from my position somewhere near the planning fork of efficiency and speed and crossed to the other side, the darker side of chaos and confusion. I used to plough through a novel in a kind of headlong rush and now, unable to plan, I meander. I leave each day's work in a kind of limbo as if I am building a suspension bridge as I go, plank by plank with only the haziest notion of where the misty, other side lies. I have become, quite unambiguously, a pantster.
 I wish I could say it is invigorating, but I would be lying. If the world divides into those who 'tell it like it is' and those who don't, I fear I am on the least comfortable side. I suppose the good news is that I still stand on the glass-half-full side of the optimist/pessimist split: there is nothing to say that a book that is quickly and efficiently written is better than one dribbled out in fits and starts. After all this story will either work or it won't.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Tiny Books, Wonder Books, and Anthologies, by Enid Richemont

To my great shame, and my almost certain loss, I have never read Thomas Hardy, but yesterday, feeling low, I took myself off to see "FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD" at the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley. This proved to be one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen, its images of the English landscape like a Nineteenth Century Book of Hours. The actual plot is extraordinary, with its peak moment coming about three-quarters of the way through (well that's my analysis, but others may differ).

I have often meant to draw a plot graph of books that impress me, as I'm sure many of you have. The (sadly, late) Ruth Rendell orchestrated plot lines like a symphony. I often likened her novels to music, and even painting - Paul Klee 'taking a line for a walk' springs to mind. Very recently, I've taken on a brief for fifty word stories aimed at four/five year olds -  the length of a medium-sized email (or, in musical terms, a VERY short exercise piece for the recorder). These things are really challenging, in the way poetry is challenging. Enforced discipline in writing, or indeed, any of the arts, is, but as far as a plot graph for the fifty-worders - well, the plot line IS there, but you might need a microscope!

Delighted to discover my book: "THE BIG PURPLE WONDER BOOK" currently featuring in ReadZone's Reading Pathway after dropping out of sight for far too long. This is a story based on the sheer magic of learning to read, which, surprisingly, was the main reason for it, initially, to be turned down by publishers - their logic being, I think, that if you're reading this story, you don't need to be told. However, many kids are still lucky enough to be read to, either by their parents or their teachers, so this might grab them. And for the ones who've already got there,well - it's quite a scary story.

I was one of the lucky kids who got read to. My mum had a collection of those wonderful children's anthologies from the Thirties - thin pages, fantastic illustrations and an eclectic mixture of stuff - no dumbing down for kids then. It was there I encountered my first Dickens (extracts), legends and fairytales, bits from Lewis Carroll, and all the funny stuff from Edward Lear complete with silly pictures. In my Purple Wonder Book story, a small boy called Tom discovers one of these dumped in a box in a charity shop, but this one has seriously magical properties (well, they always did...)

Talking anthologies, don't miss out on "A FLASH IN THE PEN", our own Authors Electric anthology launching on Midsummer's Day (June 21st, but I'm sure you knew that already). Dipping into an anthology is like going to a fantastic party full of interesting people. Some you may like, even love, and some may just not do it for you, but it's still a great party, so please come. My own short story: "GEMINI" is a fantasy based on hunger and famine - twins which are always with us even in the rich West.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Beta-Testing Books - Andrew Crofts

One of the greatest by-products of the electronic publishing revolution is being able to keep developing and refining a book after its initial birth.

The traditional publishing business model loaded most of the pressure onto publication day, with a possible second chance of breathing marketing life into the project when the paperback came out a year later. If your book didn’t float on at least one of those launch days then it would almost certainly sink beneath the surface within a matter of weeks. Copies might possibly be washed up onto the shores of a few libraries and Oxfam shops over the coming years, and not much else unless it became caught up in a freak rights storm in Hollywood or as a foreign translation.

Now, however, we have more chances to get things right, more ways to keep a book alive while we try to work out the best way to alert potential readers to its existence and to tell them why they would enjoy it.

In other parts of the electronic jungle, such as on-line gaming, I believe they call this “beta-testing”, trying the product out on enthusiasts and specialists in order to check that it is good before launching it to the general market. I have found myself doing much the same thing with books, without fully realising that was what I was doing.

About 18 months ago I published my novella “Secrets of the Italian Gardener” via Amazon’s White Glove Service and United Agents. Sales were strong every time Amazon included it in a promotion and the book garnered around thirty good and thoughtful on-line reviews, (plus one troll, which seems a reasonable ratio). The signs appear to be good so I have now moved to the next stage, teaming up with the wonderful people at Red Door Publishing to create a beautiful hardback in the traditional manner, (although the POD paperback is also still available from Amazon, plus, of course, the e-book).

I commissioned a slightly refined cover from the same designer as before, Elliot Thomson of the Novak Collective, and Midas PR are working on the marketing. None of this would have been feasible five years ago and this is just one of the many reasons why I love what electronics have done for publishing.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

What You Really, Really Want by Ruby Barnes

So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want. As a reader of electric books and the like, what do you really, really want?

Why am I asking? Because me and my little publishing house, we give things away. Why would Marble City Publishing do that? To maximise readership for our authors and to reward readers for staying with us. This is nothing new, of course. Mail lists have been a mainstay of marketing ever since Baldrick started pushing Mrs Miggins' pies through letterboxes (ref. Blackadder for non-cognoscenti). Staying in touch with people is essential for a new book release.

The virtual caf├ęs of the writing world are abuzz with methods to successfully build a mail list. Independent authors with prodigious output are presenting subscribers with such offerings as starter libraries of free novels. Phrases such as Reader Magnets abound. Online courses are being sold for hundreds of bucks to share the secret sauce of building an author's list. In this modern digital free-for-all of e-book marketing, however, Marble City Publishing is faced with a quandary.

Authors who are in a financial position or state-of-mind to give away some of their writing babies are doing something specific - they are building a brand around their author name. Reader finishes book, enjoys book and wants more from same author. That's how it works. Reader doesn't finish book, enjoy book and then want more from same publisher. Reader doesn't care who published the book. The target audience for a publisher's brand is not readers. A publisher's brand audience is the book distribution chain and current or aspiring authors. But that's not the audience that a micro-publisher, such as Marble City, wants to address. We want to reach readers. We could build mail lists for our individual authors but, unless that author is blazing a trail of quarterly or biannual releases as per the new generation of energetic indie authors, they won't have frequent enough new releases to maintain reader / subscriber interest.
So what's the answer? We could give a free book but, unless it's by the reader's preferred author then meh, there are plenty of free books around these days. No, we give away other stuff. So far Marble City has run free draws for a Kindle Paperwhite, a Kindle Fire and (in progress) another Kindle Paperwhite. But is that what a reader wants, really really wants? How about a $100 (or local equivalent currency) Amazon gift card? Or something else altogether? A year's Amazon Prime Membership? A gadget that goes whizzbang? A crate of red wine? A deluxe beer belly pack? A hive of honeybees for an African village? A vacuum cleaner? The samurai sword with which Ruby disposed of his first zombie? Would the nature of the prize determine the type of person who would enter and hope to win? Decisions, decisions. Help, please! What would you, as a reader, like the chance of winning?

In the meantime, here are some zombies.

Zombies versus Ninjas by R.A. Barnes
Ruby's upcoming novel

Monday, 25 May 2015

A Viking Voyages From CreateSpace to Kindle by Susan Price

Artwork copyright Andrew Price
I've just published my book, The Saga of Aslak Slave-Born, simultaneously as an e-book with Kindle, and as a print-on-demand paperback with CreateSpace.
          The book's been published before. It was first commissioned by the British publisher A&C Black, as part of their Flashback series of historical novels for children. The brief was to write an entertaining, exciting story which would persuade young readers to turn the pages for its own sake - while, at the same time, giving as historically accurate a picture of life in the Viking Age as possible.
          I took this very seriously, and, despite carrying a load of stuff about the Viking Age around in my head - which is why I was commissioned - I dusted off my books, checked facts and did further research. I've added a historical note to this new, self-published edition, called 'How Much Is True?'
          I tried hard not to put anything in the book for which there wasn't evidence. So when Aslak buys his way into 'a ship fellowship' and is given a token which identifies him as a member of that crew, and makes it easier for him to find a place in another ship, there is evidence of that being done in the Viking Age. (A bit like a modern lorry-driver showing his tachie-card to get lifts from other drivers.)
         When a rich, elderly woman takes a shine to Aslak, and decides that he is the slave she would like to take into the next life with her - well, there are several Viking graves which suggest that this was something which could, and did, happen. These graves hold one person placed in a central position, with grave goods, and a second person who is often decapitated, and who seems to have had their hands tied together behind their back.
          'Aslak' is the eleventh book I have self-published, but with all the others, I made an e-book first and then, later, published a paperback.
          The first book I made into a paperback was 'The Wolf's
Artwork copyright Andrew Price
Footprint', and I did it because so many teachers asked me where they could get copies. It's selling rather well. I thought 'Aslak' might appeal to the same market, since the Vikings are taught on the National Curriculum. (And my young cousin, who was one of its first readers, at the age of about ten, declared it, 'The best book ever written.' Hey, I'll take praise and good reviews wherever I can get them.)

          For some time now, CreateSpace has been offering me the option to 'publish with Kindle' as I come to the end of the CreateSpace process, urging me to click the button and transfer my files to the Kindle site.
          Every other time, I was using CreateSpace to publish a paperback version of a book I'd already published as an ebook, so I always ignored the 'publish on Kindle' button. But, with Aslak, I thought I might as well send my Viking voyaging from the one site to the other.
          I'd started by scanning 'Aslak' into my computer, and creating a Word file, which is what I would usually upload to Kindle. To make the paperback, I downloaded a 6" by 9" blank template from the CS site, and pasted my book into it. I then went through checking that the paragraph indents and line-breaks were as I wanted them.
          Since a silver Thor's Hammer pendent figures in the story, I used a public domain image of a Thor's Hammer to decorate the book. I pasted it into the Word file, and shrank the size until it was as I wanted it. Once it was, I copied and pasted it at every chapter heading. (Amazon specifies that the image has to be at least 300 dpi - dots per inch. If it's less, it will flag up a warning that the printed image may be blurry.)

          You check the book's appearance with the online previewer (above.) This lets you see how the book will open. All the pages are down the right hand side of the screen, and you turn the pages by clicking on the arrows to the left and right of the large central book. When you've seen how your book looks in the previewer, you can go back to your master copy, alter it and upload again. Repeat as many times as necessary.
          I designed the cover using an image done for me by my brother Andrew, and Amazon's Cover Creator. When I thought it was all as good as I could make it, I clicked the button to send Aslak sailing over to Kindle. And I gave the go-ahead for the paperback.

          On going to Kindle, I found that all had arrived safely, without shipwreck. A new entry had been made on my booklist, and Aslak's cover was already there. I used the on-line reviewer to check how Aslak had held up in the passage.
          I wasn't happy. A paperback is not an e-book. Lines were broken in odd places - there were strange gaps. The silver hammer still looked rather good, though.
          So I had to go back to my original Word file, add the silver hammers to each chapter, and then upload it to Kindle - just as I would usually do to create a Kindle book, in fact.
          And, of course, the pricing and distribution are all different.

          Conclusions? It was useful to have the cover designed on the CreateSpace site beamed over to Kindle. Apart from that, it's nothing but a piece of advertising for Kindle publishing. I still had to upload the Kindle file, and I still had to go through all the usual form-filling.


The Saga of Aslak Slave-Born                         The Wolf's Footprint 


Sunday, 24 May 2015

On saying what we mean, even on Twitter. by Jo Carroll

I'm grumbling about sloppy language, again.

As writers we should be precise. We hone our sentences until each word says exactly what we need to to say, don't we? Or course we do.

But let's unpick this.

I'll play a game with you. Let's have a continuum, from a bit of a problem to disaster, looking something like this:

Bit of a problem<----------------------------------------------------->Disaster

Now, you've been out, having a lovely time, maybe a couple of glasses of wine, and you're looking forward to a cup of tea before crawling into bed - only to find that the washing machine has leaked, the kitchen is under water, and the cat has knocked one of your most precious books onto the floor and it is ruined. Where would you place this on the continuum, and what word might you use?

Again, you leave your bag on the bus. Not only does it contain your purse, house keys and phone, it also has your laptop containing the final draft of your manuscript. It is the best novel you have ever written and you are on your way to the editor where you expected champagne. Well, maybe not champagne, but some serious backslapping and general cheer. Where would that lie, on my continuum, and what word would you use?

Your son, aged six, is diagnosed with a serious and possibly terminal illness. You face months, and possibly years, ferrying him backwards and forwards to hospitals, and countless nights holding his hand while he pretends he's not in pain or frightened. Where does that sit?

The earthquake in Nepal ...

I accept that 'disaster' is an individual experience. But - if I were to believe Facebook and Twitter - lives are at stake if someone misses a morning coffee or burns the cakes.

I would argue that, as writers, we owe it to ourselves and to our readers to choose our words meticulously. Even on Twitter. Words are precious - if we devalue them we devalue the experiences that underpin them.

You can see if I practise what I preach on my website: