Saturday, 23 June 2018

Lev Butts Lists the Best of Self-Publishing I

Last month, I went on one of my rants about the bias against self-published books and challenged some common stereotypes many people have about self-published writers. The most common stereotype, however, needs more than a couple of paragraphs in a single blog post to disprove.

Most people assume that if a book is self-published, it is because the work was not good enough to be picked up by a traditional or indie publisher. There are a few reasons, however, that a perfectly good book doesn't find a publisher:
  • Most publishers require agents, but today, many agents won't take you on unless you can show proof of your own marketability.
  • The work, while well-written and entertaining, may be too experimental for a publisher or agent to risk investing in.
  • The market you are shooting for (especially sci-fi or fantasy) may be near glutted already, so publishers may be unwilling to throw money into such a large pool.
  • Conversely, the audience may be so small that the publisher has fears of investing in such a sparse market (For example, Westerns, once the cornerstone of American popular entertainment, have experienced a sharp decline in recent years, often not even having a dedicated shelf in major bookstores).
  • Some writers may not want the hassle of finding an agent, shopping their work, selling the publishing rights, and waiting sometimes years to see the book in print, and still making about as much in sales as they would self-publishing (Let's face it, unless you're Neil Gaiman, John Irving, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling or the like, you are not going to make much, if any of a living on your writing alone.)
None of these reasons necessarily imply a lack of quality in the writing. In fact, I have found while researching this series of posts, roughly the same amount or more of good self-published writing as traditionally published, and I literally went in expecting to find a fair number of good books in a sea of bad.

The biggest problem good self-publishing has is one of promotion: Most self-published authors don't have the budget for ads nor the clout to get professional reviews. In other words, most of us don't know about the good stuff, so it shrivels on the vine.

Well, I'm here to do my part in helping good self-published work find an audience. This won't be a countdown in the traditional sense because that implies an increasing or decreasing quality, and I am uncomfortable doing that to a field that already has so many strikes against it. I'm simply providing a list in no particular order of self-published books I've run across that are genuinely good.

You may notice an overabundance of fantasy in my list, but that is due more to my methods of finding books, which I will discuss next month.

In the meanwhile, lets look at a good book, shall we?

1. Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose by Jim Stephens

I'm a sucker for coming of age stories and good World War II dramas (one of my favorite WWII stories is Herman Wouks' duology The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Jim Stephens' Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose is both, and it is really well done.

The novel tells the story of Matt Weldon, a spoiled and arrogant young American who finds himself in London on the eve of war. He very soon falls for a mysterious woman he meets at a party. Shortly after this, he must decide between her and the girl from his past as the forces of history sweep them in its wake. This dilemma, played against the backdrop of the world at war, forces Matt to mature in ways he never expected, to learn the value of hard decisions, and to appreciate the effects such decisions have not only on himself, but others.

Is the story perfect? Of course not; few books are. There are places that might use a bit more editing: words that need consistent spelling, sections that tend to retell the same stories, and incidents that may seem unnecessarily gratuitous. But this, for the most part, is a matter of opinion. I found most of the scenes other reviewers deemed gratuitous to be effective attempts to establish historical touchstones, thematic parallels, or effective ambiance. Most of the retold stories are slightly different versions from other points of view, so that we generally get a new interpretation of the events on subsequent retellings.

For me, the novel has two major aspects for recommending it: Stephens is adept in his historical research, and it shows in his ability to weave a fictional story around the historical details of the 1930's and 40's. Secondly, he experiments with his points of view: some sections are told in third person, others in first, and others through letters exchanged between the main characters. (Anyone who has read my work knows I am particularly interested in how a story is told as much if not more than what the story actually is, so I appreciate a good point of view shift).

Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose is available in paperback and eBook here.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Fact, fiction and ditching the sister: Ali Bacon ponders being classified as non-fiction

Not long ago I wrote here about opting for fiction rather than non-fiction in my latest book, but recent events have made me wonder if I achieved what I set out to do, since I’m delighted that In the Blink of an Eye is listed for the People’s Book Prize but a bit disconcerted to find it in the non-fiction category!

I daresay the competition may have its own reasons or its own criteria and I guess it’s too late to ask for a ‘reassignment’. Nor is the book so far from the facts for the classification to worry me unduly, although it does feel odd to be alongside (and up against?) books like Understanding BRCA or Rock and Pop on British TV which I am sure are entirely laudable in their respective ways. A trip to an indie bookshop on Saturday which had lots of genre fiction also made me wonder again about where my book lies in the scheme of things. I couldn’t help feeling it looked more at home in the biography section than next to Robert Harris, Karen Maitland and Simon Scarrow. And these days there are so many gradations between fact and fiction. Remember how His Bloody Project gave itself a (spurious?) authenticity in purporting to be a recorded report?

Even Sugar Money by Jane Harris, recently shortlisted for the Sir Walter Scott Prize does something similar at the end, explaining how the hero’s journey came to be written down and I see one reviewer says it is based on a true story. I’ll have to reread the author’s notes! But this strikes me as a Victorian preoccupation, needing to feel things are real, or give an account of how the story as passed down which I actually feel is unnecessary – it’s just a story after all!

Going back to Blink, although the form and structure are different, I think it’s closest in intention to fictional biographies like Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan and my most recent read, Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, about Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's second wife.  When successfully done (and not all of the ones I've read actually work) these books fashion the story of a well-known figure into the novel form. I read these books and accept them for what they are, a filling out of the facts as they are known, and especially the attempt to get inside the thoughts and motivations of those concerned. They answer the question not so much of what happened, but how did it happen and what did it feel like to be there?  With Hemingway, with Frank Lloyd Wright, with my heroes Hill and Adamson?

If you’re wondering about the sister, by the way, when I began to write Blink in its final form I stepped away from the research and wrote from my memory of it, my own ideas of how it had been. As a result I left out a few people who weren’t required by the story and didn’t ever add them back in. So Jessie Mann  is know to have had two sisters, not one, and the May Mann of my story is a total fabrication. Similarly Amelia Paton had a younger brother Hugh Waller Paton, a respected artist though less celebrated than Joseph Noel Paton who appears in my version as Noel. I’m afraid Hugh Waller simply doesn’t figure, though who knows his influence on his sister?

So there we have it, some of our facts are fiction, others are just plain missing. I don’t imagine the organisers of the People’s Prize are too concerned. And at this stage, you can vote for there books in each category – so Rock & Pop on TV, BRCA and me!

Vote, vote, vote! (and only 0.99 to buy this month)
The e-book of In the Blink of an Eye is on offer at 0.99 until the end of June from Linen Press or you can read an extract here
I would of course love you to vote for it in the People's Book Prize along with any others you fancy.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Paperback cover design for a fantasy trilogy - Katherine Roberts

This summer, I've been preparing my Echorium trilogy for the print on demand editions, following the reversion (for the third time) of print rights for the award-winning first title in the series SONG QUEST, which has been pretty much in print since its first publication in 1999.

Here are the previous three editions:
Element Books 1999

Chicken House 2001

Catnip 2012
Note the recurring ship-and-mermaid theme? Well, both the ship and mermaids are definitely part of the story - although I also have male 'merlee' in my books (I've always struggled with the idea of mermaids perpetuating the species without any males around... how does that work?) Three different publishers can't be wrong, so my covers would obviously need:

Sea... and why not go underwater for a change?

I also wanted my covers to suggest the series' epic fantasy element, and apparently that comes down to having one of three things:
- sword
- shield
- dragon.

Dragons were not appropriate, since I have various half creatures - half human, half animal - in my books instead. I tried a shield as the background to my mermaid silhouette but it looked too fussy, so I decided on the shield-like shape of the full moon instead. I added two crossed swords for the fantasy element and a sprinkling of stars (to tie in with the other two books, which both feature half-creatures that would drown underwater), and came up with this:

Song Quest - print on demand edition

Obviously, the other two covers needed to look vaguely like the same series, so I kept the basic design and swapped the silhouettes. Book 2 CRYSTAL MASK features centaurs (half horse, half human):

Crystal Mask - print on demand edition

Whereas Book 3 DARK QUETZAL features quetzals (half bird, half human):

Dark Quetzal - attempt 1

Hmm... wait a moment. Quetzal, tick. Swords, tick. I love orange books, and the text is easy to read. But why is the moon rising in front of the mountains? And where is the forest where the quetzals live? And does this cover really suggest 'dark' to you? I wasn't so sure about this one when I saw it alongside the other two. So I tried again:

Dark Quetzal - attempt 2

I'm still not quite sure how this one will print. The stars are rather fizzy but appropriate, and the darker colour seems to go better with the other two covers. If it looks rubbish when the proof arrives, I can always go back to the yellow one, perhaps tweaked a bit so the moon is actually in the sky... that's the beauty of print on demand.

To create these paperback covers, I used my favourite design software Canva, which provided the backgrounds and the moon picture free of charge. The half creatures are my own artwork - I turned my originals into transparencies using The crossed swords cost me a total of $4 (should have been $3 for three uses, but I redesigned the Dark Quetzal cover after my 24 hour one-time use licence period had passed, in preference to staying up all night to work on it.)

If you need more detail, see my previous cover design tutorial for Createspace:

I'm still proofing the new editions of the Echorium books, so it will be a few weeks yet before you can order these print on demand paperbacks. In the meantime, all three titles are available as ebooks for Kindle:
Song Quest
Crystal Mask
Dark Quetzal
and also for epub from Apple/Kobo/Nook - see my website for all the links.


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers. Her debut Song Quest won the 2000 Branford Boase Award in the UK, and was published by Scholastic in the US. Her latest title is Bone Music, published by Greystones Press.

Explore Katherine's books at

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Handing over by Sandra Horn

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pleasures and pains of handing one’s work over to someone else. I’ve enjoyed writing for performance ever since I was a child. We lived in a cul-de-sac  then, and the blind end had a street lamp over it which made the perfect evening performance space.  I can’t remember much about the scripts, although one play involved costumes made of raffia knotted round string to make ‘hula hula skirts.’ I wrote and directed them and carried on doing that through school, devising my own versions of My Fair Lady, Snow White, and a something Shakespearean with someone playing a recorder, for which I wrote the music. I can’t write music. When the hapless player asked me what key it was in, I said, ‘C’ because it didn’t have sharps or flats (what?) She gave me a funny look. Maybe I had/have a control-freak streak, but I knew how I wanted the parts to be played, my words to be spoken. I've gone on doing it intermittently ever since.

Writing for small children has been great fun. The first ‘go’ at Babushka was a play for children, performed twice at consecutive Christmases, once with puppets.  I also wrote a creation myth play for them, based very loosely on the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories. Fired up by these little successes, I wrote a script and lyrics for The Silkie and even cheekily got Sally Beamish interested in writing the music  (she’s lovely! and incredibly famous!) but we couldn’t get a commission for it, so it is languishing.

More lately, I’ve carried on writing for the stage but other people have directed. It’s been mixed. One student performance was something of a disaster when it became clear – on the night – that the Director hadn’t understood what it was meant to be about. He hadn’t asked me to sit in on rehearsals. I sat cringing in the audience and would like to have committed ABH on him. Then there was a piece of performance poetry – oh, cringe again! It’s called Echo and Narcissus. This is part of the third verse:
 “Don‘t touch me, I am newly bathed
and perfumed,” my love said.                                                    perfumed
“Oh, but I saw my face with wrinkles,
stealing my beauty and my youth.”                                         youth
I smiled at him. He said, “Who are you?”                              you
Then, “Well? Tell me who you are!”                                        are
“Are? What do you mean?” he said.                                        mean

With my eyes, I tried to tell him of my love,
He said, “Nymph, you plead in vain.                                      vain
It is impossible!                                                                      impossible
I could not love one far less beautiful than I.”                      I
In that same moment, I began to die.                                    die

Echo, echoing the last word he said, which also makes a commentary. Clever stuff, I thought. The actress missed out all the echoes...Cringe again! 

I’ve been much luckier with other things; Little Red Ella and the FGM was done brilliantly by Siberian Nights, and both my monologues for the Salisbury Fringe were performed extremely well. I’ve even sold one performance copy of ‘Encountering the Gods’ via Lazybee Scripts! 

When it comes to handing over my stories for someone else to adapt for the stage, it’s been hard to know what to think.  Tattybogle, Babushka and The Moon Thieves have all been made into musicals, as I’ve no doubt said before, by a very skilled and experienced writer.  I did make some suggestions about the scripts, but they were not taken up, and there were additions I never would have made and don’t much care for. 

 On the other hand, the songs and music are terrific and the shows have been pretty successful, especially Tattybogle, which has enabled us to keep the books going and, most astonishingly, got us that wonderful trip to South Korea, so what do I know? I know I want to try to do it myself, that’s what! So, I have. With songwriter Martin Neill, we’ve created a musical based on my picture book Nobody, Him and Me. 

It’s been trialled in a school and the feedback was very enthusiastic  but lacked any details about problems, possible improvements, etc. We haven’t been able to get it published, which is either because it doesn’t work or because publishers of schools musicals prefer to use in-house writers so they don’t have to pay royalties. I’m still not sure which it is and was about to give up on it, but hope springs eternal, etc. So instead, we have had a couple of bound sample copies printed, together with leaflets, and we will be taking them to Hursley Park Book Fair this coming weekend to see if we get any takers. Am I being pig-headed? Do I not know when to admit defeat? Possibly. Probably. We’ll see.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Shocked and Awed! by Jan Edwards

Just back from Cyprus so a very short blog from me this month, but returned to  the fabulous news that Winter Downs has won the Arnold Bennett Book prize!
Shocked and awed!  I suspect there is no easy way to graciously accept any award because if other people are anything like me they don’t dare think about the possibility that they might actually be in the running. 
I was not able to accept the award in person as Peter and I were on holiday in Cyprus – but I was asked if somebody could be there on my behalf ‘just in  case’ and the wonderful Misha Herwin stepped up for me.
Setting Winter Downs in the year 1940 has meant a huge amount of research but also a huge amount of fun, and I hope people gain as much enjoyment in reading this book it as I did in writing.
Winning this prize has set something of a precedent for my sleuth Bunch Courtney and Inspector Wilbur Wright! It will make the writing of the second, In her Defence, that much harder, but I am sure they are both up to the task. I shall do my very best to live up to those standards on their behalf.

Full details HERE

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Legacy

by J.D. Peterson

Our stories and ideas motivate us to write and publish our books and e-books. Fueled by the excitement of our project we persevere through a myriad of procedures and often times obstacles, to finally celebrate the moment our book cover first appears on the Amazon website and other outlets.

Would we find such excitement or perseverance if the work was not our own?           

This past week a friend of mine published ‘her’ first e-book. Originally published in hardback, it is a Thai cookbook written by her now-deceased, ex-mother-in-law. Simply titled; “The Original Thai Cookbook” the Amazon description says it is The first complete, authentic Thai cookbook published in America, with more than 140 traditional, kitchen-tested recipes. 
The author, Jennifer Brennan, was born into a family of British Colonials, sailing the seas on clipper ships for the British East India Company, and was very familiar with the spices and cooking techniques delivered within the pages of this book. Both Jennifers mother and grandmother were born in Calcutta, part of the British Raj in India. Jennifer mixes her personal travel narratives, photos and artwork with delicious recipes. The recipes are packed full of exotic ingredients, herbs and spices used to flavor authentic Thai cooking.

The current e-book project began when the publisher holding the rights to the book contacted the family, alerting them to the fact that the publisher was no longer printing the cookbook. My friend, Kristine, wanted to preserve the authentic recipes, photos and stories into the digital age. Having done e-publishing in the past, and currently a website designer, she took on the project without the aid of e-pub software, aligning the recipes and chapters through direct coding. My head hurts just thinking about that one. It took a long time, and a lot of work, but she did it.

Kristine Bonner
Aside from the obvious work of setting up the recipes by digitizing the text and photos, there was also a daunting legal side to this project. Written permission needed to be acquired from any living heirs of Jennifer Brennans work before the e-book could become a reality. Names and addresses of family members were collected and letters were sent out. One by one, responses and signatures were obtained, some after many months. Finally, permission was acquired from all relevant persons and the actual work could begin. For many people, this legal aspect would have been enough to put a project on the proverbial back burner never to travel the road to completion.                              

Kudos to Kristine for pushing through all the obstacles! The e-book is a posthumous tribute to Jennifer Brennans life and travels. The Thai cookbook, a gift for future generations to enjoy recipes of authentic cuisine.    

                                                                                                                                                    On that note...

This past week I lost a dear friend to a stroke. He was an amazing musician who helped me bring another of my creative aspects to life; music. Bob Freed was a talented engineer and producer in the studio. He also played drums, bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitar on my tracks, then mixed and
mastered my final recordings, breathing life into the songs through his skill and talent.

Bob is one of many unsung heros that nurture the creative muse living inside the artists of the world. Where would we be without those that share our process behind the scenes? Those that aid us and facilitate in bringing our 'intellectual property' out of the 'intellect' and into the 'property'. Where would we be without those who diligently preserve the work of an author, now gone from the world?
Bob Freed & J.D.

Our books, our music, our artwork and everything else we create is the legacy of our lives. Even if the work we leave behind does not always reach the mainstream audience it deserves, we know that we followed through on our ideas and created the stories, art, and music, bringing them into real existence as a testament to human vision. Somehow we overcame many obstacles and moved ideas out of the realm of imagination and into the land of books, CD’s and other tangible examples of the muse that drives us on to dream and create.

It takes courage to put our work out into the world. Our novels are a labor of love. But it is worth noting that our personal motivations become part of a bigger creative expression. A tribute to the artist within, still alive and kicking in spite of the challenges of our modern world.

Our words. 
Our work. 
Our legacy.
May it endure the passage of time.