Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Monthly Janus - February/March

To save trawling through every post (though trawling through every post is most definitely good) we thought it would be a nifty idea to dedicate the first of every month to the titular Roman deity who likes looking at what's just happened and what's about to come. A one stop diary padding shop.

Coming in March

Dan Holloway will be performing poetry from his forthcoming series of A-side/B-side poetry singles Spitting Blood. He will be at ARTournament in Gloucester on March 3rd. On March 7th he will be reading at Poetry in the Parlour at Blackwell's in Oxford, which is part of Oxford International Women's Festival, and from 27th-30th March he will be hosting Not the Oxford Literary Festival, now in its 3rd year (and will be joined on Friday 30th by fellow electric author Dennis Hamley)

Dennis and Dan will also be representing Authors Electric at a Scoiety of Young Publishers event on epublishing and its impact on libraries and independent bookstores in Oxford on March 20th.

LinkFebruary Round-up

Cally Phillips started the Indie E-book review – a site filled with informative reviews of the very best self-published books reviewers find, designed to be gingerbread crumbs leading readers through the self-published forest. Submissions are welcomed but please be aware by no means all books submitted can be reviewed.

Susan Price has seven independently published books available:
Her award winning fantasy trilogy: The Ghost Drum
Ghost Song
Ghost Dance
Three collections of ghost stories: Overheard In A Graveyard
And a collection of retold folktales: Head and Tales.

Linda Newbery has been completing work on an adult novel which will be published in October – title yet to be confirmed.

Roz Morris has 2 independently published books available: Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, and a (nailed) novel My Memories of a Future Life. She is currently finishing a round of edits on another, Life Form 3, for readers aged 9 to 9 squillion. After that she has a third novel agitating to be written - plus plenty of Nail Your Novel fans who have strongly hinted they would like another writing book.

Dennis Hamley has three Indie books now on Kindle: His first was Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick (four stories, two previously published by Scholastic, two new: murder, fantasy, horror and one fairly unclassifiable, though for one character think ‘Beelzibub’)
He is now publishing the novels in his sequence The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay, six medieval murder mysteries which were4 first published between 1998 and 2002. The first two are out already: Of Dooms and Death and A Pact With Death. The next two, Hell’s Kitchen and A Devil’s Judgement, will soon follow.
He is now pondering what to do next. Will it be a reissue of Spirit of the Place (first published by Scholastic in 1995) or the brand-new Bright Sea, Dark Graves? Wait and see. After all, I have to.

Debbie Bennett’s thriller Hamelin’s Child was long-listed for the CWA Debut Dagger and has been selling steadily as an independent ebook. She added a YA fantasy debut Edge Of Dreams towards the end of last year, which has had some favourable reviews from mid-teens (although she can’t quiet persuade them to post the reviews online yet…) There’s also a collection of fantasy and horror short stories Maniac, most of which have been previously-published in print.

What’s In A Name? by Hywela Lyn

When I first started writing (many hundreds of years ago), it never occurred to me that I would want to use a ‘pen name’ (nor indeed that I would ever see my stories in anything but a real, tangible, paper book – how times change!)  Having graduated from short stories published in magazines, to writing a draft novel or two, several years elapsed during which writing took a back seat to my other passion – horses and endurance riding in the beautiful Welsh mountains.

Not that I stopped making up stories. The back of a horse is a wonderful place for mulling over current plot lines and dreaming up new ones.  Eventually, after I married and moved away from my beloved Wales to England, I dug out my futuristic romance ‘Starquest’ from the drawer where it lay hidden, and after revising it to within an inch of its life, and suffering the usual rejections from agents and publishers in the UK, I decided to submit a query, on-line, to a small  press in the States, I was delighted and somewhat surprised to receive a request for the first three chapters, and then the complete MS, followed a few months later by an acceptance.  Wow!  I was going to be a published author!  That was actually my introduction to the 'e-book revolution.' Until then I have to admit I hadn't even read a full length e-book, and knew very little about them.  This was only a four years ago, but even then if you mentioned the word 'e-reader' to most people in the UK the response was a blank look!

The Wild Rose Press at that time, published all full length novels as e-books first, followed by a print version six months later. (They are now published simultaneously, so the reader immediately has a choice of print of e-book.)  I realised I really ought to have a name with a little more ‘punch’ than the name I’d been known by since my marriage.  ‘Lyn’ wasn’t particularly interesting (not to me, anyway) and my surname was Welsh and very short and ordinary

 My maiden name hadn’t been any more interesting, but I didn’t really want to hide behind a ‘pseudonym’ either. Then it struck me.  My ‘real’ first name is Hywela, which is Welsh, and ‘Lyn’ is my second name and the one which I’ve been known by since I was a baby. (Why my parents chose to give me two names and only use the second one, I have no idea.  Maybe it’s a ‘Welsh’ thing.)  It seemed a shame that I should go through life, never having used my first name at all, except on legal documents. Why not use both my Christian names and drop my surname, for authorly purposes, anyway?

So I became ‘Hywela Lyn’ – and I even have a star named for me.  Somewhere in the Orion constellation (my very favourite of all the constellations) is a star called ‘Hywela Lyn’, and I have a star map and certificate to prove it, courtesy of hubby, who gave it me as  a Christmas present.

I think I have the best of both worlds – a name that is different enough to catch people’s attention and show up on the search engines, but it’s still my own name. It’s certainly recognisable, and people do seem to remember it. It’s also a good topic of conversation as I am often asked about the ‘Hywela’ part of it and what it means.  I was actually named after my Uncle, Hywel Alun.  Hywel was a very famous Welsh King, Hywel Dda (Hywel The Good) born towards the end of the ninth century he ruled over most of the country and claimed the title "King of all Wales" Hywela, the feminine form of Hywel is a very ancient Welsh or Celtic name.

I suppose it’s a compromise in a way, but a good one, because it means I get to use my real first name which would never be used otherwise. In a way I suppose it would be a good idea if people could be persuaded to compromise in the old argument concerning ebooks and paper books. Each has their place and there are times when one will be more convenient, or easier to use than the other. That doesn’t mean that either one should be dispensed with. I for one love the feel of a ‘real’ book, but I also love the ease of carrying an e-reader around, and the amount of books that can be loaded onto a single device. When all is said and done, whether it's a Kindle or a Nook, a Sony or a Kobo, a paperback or hardcover, the main thing is that readers can keep on reading their favourite authors in whatever format they prefer.
Until next time
Lyn (Hywela Lyn)

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST
and is on TWITTER and FACEBOOK

STARQUEST on Kindle                      CHILDREN OF THE MIST on Kindle                   DANCING WITH FATE on Kindle

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Snow, World Book Day, and a give-away e-book. Enid Richemont

 I'm sitting at the computer looking out into my cold-shocked garden, and waiting, like a child, for the promised snowfall - even though, last winter, I got very tired of it. Like so many other people, we've stocked up  - such a shared and primitive instinct to do this before the weather really clamps down - even though the snow will probably only last a day or so. In these temperatures, my house feels like a cave.

Kindle-wise, I've recently signed up three of my ebooks to KDPSelect, and chosen JAMIE AND THE WHIPPERSNAPPER as a promotional week's give-away to celebrate World Book Day. The Whippersnapper's a sharp-tongued, magical creature that unexpectedly hatches out of one of the duck eggs Mum had just bought. It was greatly enjoyed by 6 - 9 year olds when Red Fox first published it, and now, for one week only, from March 3rd, it's free to download. It's a lot of fun to read aloud, too - I've always loved taking it into schools, doing the voices, and watching kids' reactions to the story.

As predicted, I've now become more relaxed with my own Kindle. After finishing GREAT EXPECTATIONS, I've downloaded some delightful (children's) short stories by Odette Elliott, Ann Pachett's THE GETAWAY CAR - a thought-provoking book about creative writing, and THE BORROWERS, a classic children's story which I'd never read. I've also, of course, downloaded some of my own ebooks in order to check them out (and it's so reassuring to begin to see the words: 'ebook edition' appearing more and more on the backs of so many recently published books).

So, no, ebooks do not pose a threat to our culture, and I know it's been been said already, but mainstream publishers marketing yet another celebrity endorsed (yawn!) book, especially in the children's market (certain undesirable role models comes to mind) can hardly be considered guardians of it. And think - how many times,  browsing in the book section of a charity shop, have you asked yourself: why the hell did anyone ever publish that? Also, e-book readers cope with lengthy novels and weighty non-fiction much better than physically heavy (and expensive) books. There's suddenly so much to read, and wow - I can have it without spending a fortune or moving house. Now that's really exciting.

At the same time, a physical book is a lovely thing, and, as you can see, we have a house full of them. Nothing will ever replace really good bookshops, and our libraries are treasurehouses and open to everyone - we ditch them at our peril. And I shall always be, and continue to be, hugely grateful to my mainstream publishers, who achieve small miracles, past and present, and without whom I wouldn't be blogging here today. When publishers are good, they are very, very good, but  alas! - when they are bad, they are horrid.

I started writing this blog in the expectation of snow, and I'm ending it looking out at the fence and bushes crusted with thick snow meringues, and there's a large snowman with a flowerpot hat in next door's garden. Do we ever outgrow the magic of the first snowfall of the year? I know I never have.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Tiring of an Old Love - Andrew Crofts

Last month in this space I bared my soul regarding difficulties in my relationship with my desktop. Altogether more traumatising has been the discovery that I might have fallen out of love with an even more long-standing soul-mate.

When I was first introduced to my pretty young iPad a year ago I imagined that it would merely widen my horizons, offer me more options and some lively entertainment. I stumbled into the relationship like some wide-eyed old fool who fails to realise he has been targeted as potential sugar-daddy material, never thinking it would make me question my relationship with the printed books who had been part of my life ever since I first met Paddington Bear. But suddenly I find myself irritated by features of my old love that I once found endearing or was totally blind to. I am impatient with physical shortcomings that I would once never even have noticed.

This realisation dawned when a book I needed for research purposes was not available as an e-book. So, the first annoyance came from having to wait a whole day for Amazon to get a physical copy to me. Imagine! A whole day! Most of that time, I tried to tell myself, was actually night, but already the seeds of discontent had been sown.

The book arrived and I carried it off to one of my favourite reading places, only to find that we now do not have bright enough lighting for anything which doesn’t have a back-lit screen, (a result of energy-friendly light bulbs and aging eyes). There was no facility for increasing the size of the print to compensate, which my obliging little iPad would have been happy to provide for me. When I did eventually find enough light I discovered that the print ran too close to the edge of the pages for me to be able to keep the book open without either contorting my fingers uncomfortably or cracking the spine back in a way that would once have seemed like sacrilege. With one spiteful jerk I snapped its fragile spine, immediately feeling like I’d kicked a kitten.

This book is perfectly well published by a highly respected house and in the past I would have accepted all these annoying little features without a second thought – just as I once accepted that a television needed to be “warmed up” and that Radio Luxembourg’s signal would fade whenever my favourite song came on. I have been seduced away from a long-standing and faithful love and I think I may just have to get over it and move on. When I was first permitted to use ink rather than pencil at school I had to dip the nib in an inkwell every few words, (an inkwell which was invariably clogged with old blotting paper which then stuck to the nib and …. I digress). I felt no guilt about the abandoned pencil, nor did I later feel guilt when I was allowed to move on to a fat, shiny, garishly coloured floozy of a fountain pen which held a decent supply of ink, (we were never allowed to use biros, that would have been taking technology too far), so I think I must now try to muster the same pragmatic approach to this latest betrayal of an old friend.

photo of author by Louis Leeson

Sunday, 26 February 2012

E-publishing Charity's Child - by Rosalie Warren


Charity's Child
was my first novel, published in 2008 by the small new independent publisher Circaidy Gregory Press (still going strong and branching out all over the place). Kay Green, who runs the press, gave me my first experience of working with a savvy and eagle-eyed editor, and without any doubt she helped me turn Charity into a better book.

It came out; we did some publicity - oh, the story may sound familiar. My family and friends were excited and supportive and we had a celebratory barbecue in our back garden (it poured with rain but my wonderful partner found us a last-minute canopy and carried on cooking - thank you, Paul). It was a memorable day. I had signings, too, including one in the much missed Borders, five minutes' walk from home. That one was great - I told tons of people and many of them turned up. One couple who are old friends bought six copies - thank you, Keith and Sue.

I had another signing, this time in Borders in Birmingham. It was August Bank Holiday and it was boiling hot. For some reason, I didn't tell many people (I suppose because they'd all come to the last one and I couldn't expect them to make a 20 mile trek to Birmingham to do the same again). And it was so hot...

I was on my own, anyway, in an enormous and almost empty store. One kind-looking woman approached me. Ah good, I thought. But it turned out she wanted to speak to me about the Lord (rather apt, given the subject matter of my book, but she didn't know that). I politely turned down her evangelistic overtures; she politely ignored my book.

Hours later (or so it seemed), another woman came up to me, all smiles. Turned out she wanted to tell me about her book. OK. I listened. Surely she'd buy mine, to return the favour? But no. She picked up six others from the shelves, paid for them and left the shop.

I sold a total of -1 books. Yes, that's right - minus one. I bought a copy myself just so I could tell the shop manager I'd sold one. Was still embarrassed, though. Went home, told people my sales were 'low'. Single figures, I admitted. Well, minus one is a single figure, isn't it?

Through contacts with relatives and friends (thank you, Chris and Judith), some book groups expressed interest. I was invited along to meetings where they discussed my book and asked me questions. It was a bit scary, but a great experience, and gave my morale a huge boost. Here were readers who were not (just) family and friends, who had engaged with my book and enjoyed it. I had an audience. Small, but an audience nonetheless. I had some good reviews from various places (this was the pre-blogging era, pretty much). We tried hard to publicise Charity more widely. I did a talk in my local library. Five lovely people came!

I knew so little about publicity, back then. I know a bit more now - though it's still tough, of course. I've worked with bigger publishers with my later books and it's still tough, though there are so many more channels open, four years on.

Anyway... along has come the era of Electric Books, and I'm doing more than dreaming about them. Encouraged by the many enthusiastic authors I've met on this blog, elsewhere online and in real life - I've decided to republish Charity in electronic form. I have the rights back and I'm free to do what I like with it. I've done a bit of re-editing and pruning - including the lopping off of Part III, which jumps forward twenty years. Part III is now going to be the beginning of the sequel...

I'm having a professional cover designed. It's looking good - wish I could show it to you now, but watch this space. I would employ a professional copy-editor and proofreader, except that I'm one myself. Having said that, no one should rely on proofreading their own work. I'm having someone else take a final look.

I'm excited by eCharity. I'm confident I can make a reasonable stab at producing an eBook and releasing it on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords and the other outlets. I have great people to advise me, who've done it before.

I'm under no illusions. I know I will have to work hard for my sales. I'm all blinged up with social media now... Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest jingle on me as I walk. I blog, I tweet, I follow, I comment (though I refuse to poke).

I'm aiming for a career that mixes trade publishing with indie publishing (as self-publishing is beginning to be called). I have an exciting new contract with Phoenix Yard Books, the publisher of Coping with Chloe, to publish a series for 7-9-year-olds. I have a YA novel that's being seriously considered by another publisher (fingers crossed!) and I'd like to find a publisher for my SF novel for adults, just completed. I have other books, too, that I'd like to publish myself. One is a novella; another is experimental in form.

Who knows what the future holds? But I'm excited about Charity, the girl who, back in 1984, discovers herself pregant while insisting she is a virgin. Charity claims that the father of her baby is God. Her friends and fellow believers don't believe her, unsurprisingly. Everyone has their own theories. The truth, when it emerges, is dark and shocking. It's aimed at 14+.

Please wish me luck. I'll let you know how I get on.

Best wishes

@Ros_Warren on Twitter
Author of Coping with Chloe (age 11+)
Blogging at Rosalie Reviews
Editing and Proofreading Services

Saturday, 25 February 2012


'HEAD AND TALES' by Susan Price: cover by Andrew Price

          The first story in my new e-book collection of folk-legends, HEAD AND TALES, is ‘The Boy and The Blacksmith’.
          In short, the story is of a blacksmith challenged to a trial of skill by the King’s goldsmith.  On his way to the trial, the blacksmith meets ‘a raggedy navvy-boy’, who tags along with him.
          Before the king and court, the blacksmith makes mundane horse-shoes, a scythe blade and a ploughshare – which will, he claims, ‘feed people’.  The navvy-boy visits the goldsmith’s shop and reports that the goldsmith is making wondrous things – a living apple-tree, a living fish, a corn-wreath, all of gold.
          With the boy’s help, the blacksmith creates an iron deer, which kills the gold tree; an iron otter, which eats the gold salmon; and an iron cockerel, which eats the gold wreath. ‘Iron is stronger than gold.’
          The blacksmith wins the contest, and becomes the King’s smith.  Later, the ‘navvy-boy’ returns and borrows the blacksmith’s forge to melt down three ‘sorry horses’ and re-forge them into one magnificent horse.  The blacksmith attempts the same with the king’s horses, fails, and is thrown into jail to await execution.
          He shares his cell with a sick man.  The navvy-boy, carrying a cauldron and firewood, walks in through the wall. He builds a fire, and boils a cauldron of water, before cutting off the sick man’s head, boiling it in the pot, and sticking it back on the man’s head.  The sick man is cured.  The navvy boy leaves, and the recovered prisoner is pardoned and released shortly after.
          The blacksmith, hearing the king is sick, offers to cure him, and tries the navvy boy’s ‘boil the head’ method.  And fails.  Luckily, the navvy boy turns up again, and cures the king – who grudgingly releases the blacksmith, providing he leaves the court immediately.
          The navvy-boy accompanies the blacksmith on the road, and, to repay him, the blacksmith buys him shoes and gloves.  While he’s putting the things on the boy, he notices that through each of the boy’s hands and feet are neat nail-holes.
          What a story! Rereading it as I produced the e-book, I was taken aback by its power.
           There is obvious religious imagery: the humble, ragged boy who is Christ, living on earth among the lowliest. The power of remaking, of resurrection, of giving life, lies only with Christ – or, you could say, with the Gods – and not with any man, however skilful.
          But why a blacksmith? Why not a woodworker, a potter, a stone-carver? Of course, in the past, blacksmiths could be significant in their communities – skilled, physically strong, often prosperous. And they worked in open-sided forges where travellers came for repairs, bringing news with them, and where locals gathered for gossip. This may sufficiently explain why the story is about a blacksmith but is it merely fanciful to wonder if the story holds echoes of a time when smiths were considered magical?
'Agamemnon's treasure'.
          Smiths took stone from the earth and, with fire, turned stone to a fiery liquid, which cooled into something new - metal.
           Magic – alchemy!  From those elemental things, earth and fire, they produced by secret ways – no doubt conducted with prayer and ritual – shining gold, silver, copper, tin, bronze and iron.
          Working again with that mysterious and dangerous thing, fire, they shaped those lumps of metal into ploughs to feed people, blades to defend them, bright jewellery to adorn them.
          It’s no coincidence that there are smiths among the gods: Hephaestus, Lugh, Weyland, Vulcan.
Leaf-shaped bronze sword
          The first metal swords, in the bronze age – beautiful leaf-shaped, gleaming, things – were not beaten on an anvil, but cast in stone moulds. Of dazzling rarity, power and status, they were possessions of kings. But whatever king wielded it, it was a smith who ‘drew the sword from the stone’.
          A blacksmith’s tongs are found among the symbols on the mysterious and beautiful Pictish stones. A friend once dismissed the idea that these might have a religious significance ‘because there’s nothing religious about a pair of tongs.’
          What’s religious about a mundane, despised method of execution in the Roman Empire? Yet, list what The Cross stands for today. Sacrifice – redemption – rebirth – everlasting life – hope – love – all meanings contained in two simple lines. Those with any education in Christianity understand this because they have the key to unlock the meaning.
Tongs on a Pictish stone
          We’ve lost beyond recovery the key to understanding the meaning of the Pictish stones. It may well be that, as my friend argued, the symbols are merely family badges, and the stones only territorial markers.
          But it’s also possible that the blacksmith’s tongs once triggered memories, images and meanings as complex and layered as does the Christian cross. One of the symbols representing the Greek smith god Hephaestus was - a pair of blacksmith’s tongs.
          The story of the Boy and the Blacksmith has, I think, yet another layer. The blacksmith stubbornly insists on making his iron tools, and yet, when prodded by the boy, he creates objects of delicacy and beauty. The blacksmith and the boy are artist and muse, consciousness and subconscious. Or, if you prefer, body and soul.

          You may also enjoy this connected post - SPEAKING OF SEVERED HEADS

            The book HEAD AND TALES is available for download.

          Susan Price can also be found blogging at the Nennius blog here

          And her website is here

Friday, 24 February 2012

Why I Love E - Publishing - Avril Joy

This post has been published in Sparks, A Year In E-Publishing - An Authors Electric Anthology 2011-2012. It has therefore been temporarily reverted to draft status to comply with amazon KDP Select's requirements.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Top 13 Things I Won't Miss About Publishing Companies - Simon Cheshire

This is that seven-year project.
The cover's done, but the
book isn't (a-hem)...
Here's a shot of me at Shakespeare's
Birthplace. For no reason whatsoever.
At the moment, I'm working on a couple of projects, one of which is something I've been trying to get right for about seven years now. Seven. Years.
It's getting there. Slowly. In ye olden days I would, by now - a few months off having the manuscript completed - be hopping about nervously trying to get a publisher interested, frantically bugging my poor agent to send the first chapters out to anyone who'll listen, and feeling crushed and heartbroken when phrases like 'not for us' or 'perhaps with some extensive editing' started turning up in emails.
But this is not ye olden days. Not only do I not really anticipate a mainstream publisher offering me a contract ever again, pace the current state of the industry, but I'm not sure I'll ever seriously think about touting for one and going through the whole hopping/ bugging/ crushing cycle again.
The new ecosystem of publishing means that it's far more sensible for me to assume it's self-publishing all the way. And now I've realised that, a strange sense of illicit freedom creeps over me. A bit like getting out of school for a dentist appointment and then your mum letting you have the rest of the afternoon off too.
It occurred to me that, despite many good experiences, there are a number of things about mainstream publishing I definitely won't be sad to leave behind...
  1. The editorial phrase "but some children might not understand that." (Don't get me started!)
  2. Having an editor say "this is brilliant", then having the manuscript turned down 'cos Ted in sales was slightly doubtful about three sentences on page six of chapter 4.
  3. Horrible jacket designs that "absolutely everyone in the office really loves."
  4. Children's publicity departments who have no contacts in schools whatsoever.
  5. Being asked by publicity departments what contacts I have in the media (NONE! For god's sake, that's YOUR job!).
  6. Being asked by publicity departments if I have any great ideas for promoting my book (THAT'S! YOUR! JOB!)
  7. Coming up with great ideas for promoting my book and then realising that what the publicity department actually meant was coming up with great ideas for promoting my book which require no time, effort, money or thought.
  8. The magical journey which starts with "the whole marketing team is really excited about this one" and ends in two lines of misinformed advertorial in the Burnley Express & Star.
  9. Having the same hair-uncombed, unshaved, quickly-snapped-at-home headshot that the sales guys HAD to have NOW, turn up on other people's websites for ten years.
  10. Never, ever, not once, ever being invited to a publisher's office party, funded out of petty cash that could have bought a quarter page advert in a national magazine.
  11. Emailing the only person at the publishing house who ever appears to get anything done, only to find she's left the industry and New Person is just delighted to be working with me.
  12. Being told that a title is going out of print "with great regret" and then being asked if I want to buy the remaining stock or have it pulped.
  13. Having a manuscript turned down multiple times because "it's a difficult sell" then having it become my most popular self-published book.
  14. Ooo, look, a re-done ebook cover
  15. Aaaand... insert assorted other whines and gripes here...!
Moan, moan moan! When will we authors ever shut up, huh? Probably quite soon now, because we're getting nearer and nearer to the point when all our editing, and our marketing, and our jacket designs, and our publicity, will be down to us entirely and we'll have nobody to moan about but ourselves.
I do want to stress that, to be fair, I've been very lucky with my publishers, especially Piccadilly Press who still publish my nine Saxby Smart detective titles and who are the very apex of brilliance - their help and support has been something I'm enormously grateful for. Those guys are worth their weight in gold.

And here's another
That said, I can't help feeling that publishers have only got themselves to blame for the mass exodus of writers to indie publishing (not to self: must stop calling it self-publishing. 'Indie' sounds far more hip). I've just redone the covers of some of my ebooks, to make them stand out better at thumbnail size and to conform to the slightly 'flatter' ereader screen proportions that leave a blank stripe either side of a regular jacket image. It took me a day to re-do the artwork, then half an hour to upload the new images to Amazon, then three hours to upload them to Lulu (grrr!!). Result: done, dusted, on sale. Can you imagine, just imagine, the time, money and hair-tearing it would take to have that same, reasonably simple process done in ye olden days?
Doesn't bear thinking about.

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at 
And his blog about literary history is at

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Why I don’t want to invent a publishing name by Diana Kimpton

As a traditionally published author moving into self publishing, I’m surprised at how much of the advice on offer suggests I should invent a publishing imprint for myself. Initially I accepted that advice at face value and started thinking of possible names.

But, as I struggled to decide whether Kubus Books sounded better than DK Press, I realised the whole process was making me uncomfortable. If I was self publishing from choice, why was I trying to hide that from my readers? The more I thought about it, the more sensible it seemed to publish under my own name.

But there was still all that advice. So I looked at it hard and discovered it was based on four assumptions.

You need a fancy name for your business
No I don’t. I’ve been registered with the Inland Revenue as a sole trader since I sold my first book in 1989 and my business name is the same as my real name – ‘Diana Kimpton’. Adding a second name for the publishing side of my business seems an unnecessary complication.

You need a publishing name to buy ISBNs
That’s true, but there’s no reason why that publishing name can’t be ‘Diana Kimpton’.

Readers will take your books more seriously if you invent a publishing name
No, they won’t. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asking friends to name the publisher of the book they’ve just said they enjoyed. Hardly any of them could do it. That’s because every reader’s main concern is whether the book is good or not. They may care about the cover. They may even care about the author, but they don’t care about the publisher. And even if they did, would they really be fooled by a made-up imprint that a quick, online check will reveal only publishes one person?

Reviewers will take your books more seriously if you invent a publishing name
No, they won’t! Believe me! I reviewed books regularly for ten years, and I could always spot a bad, self-published book. The poorly designed cover was usually the first giveaway, closely followed by the actual writing. The fact that the book was supposedly published by I-Invented-the-Name Press did nothing to overcome those two major handicaps. Conversely, if the cover and the layout were professional and the text was good, I didn’t mind at all if the author was named as the publisher. I might even mentally congratulate them on a job well done.

We live in interesting times, and the world of books is changing fast. Self publishing is rapidly losing its reputation for bad quality and reclaiming the respectable place it held in the early days of printing. So let’s be open about what we are doing and stop hiding behind invented imprints.

From now on, I’m going to name myself as the publisher on all my self published books. Unless one of you can persuade me differently.

Before I ventured into self-publishing, I had more than 40 books published the traditional way, including The Pony-Mad Princess series and Doctor Hoof. My first Kindle ebook for children is Perfectly Pony. You can find out about my other books on my website

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Pauline Fisk: EXTREME RESEARCH - An Author's Guide to finding the next book

'The gap year novel has arrived, hot from Belize and Pauline Fisk's capable pen.' The Irish Times

In 2008 I went on a research trip to Belize. I’d long been aware that there were no novels about gap year volunteering for young people who might one day want to do it. Yet it was an important rite of passage which I knew from experience was capable of changing lives.

When my son, Idris, returned from his gap year in Belize I didn't recognize him. Five months earlier I’d seen off a white-faced youth incapable of even locating his vaccinations certificate let alone surviving in the jungle. Now a great hulking man walked towards me, his whole way of inhabited his body totally changed. It was if he had arrived at last - and not only at Heathrow Airport.

I’m an author, so I know a story when I see one. Did gap year volunteering make as much difference to other young people as it had done to Idris? And, if so, how? And how important were the projects these volunteers worked on? According to the press, gap years were the province of privileged young people working on cosmetic projects sandwiched together by beach-partying.

But how true was that?

In the winter of 2008, protesting wildly that jungle research wasn't for me, I found myself on a plane to Belize City. Years had passed whilst waiting for someone else to write the great gap year novel. And now, courtesy of the Arts Council and the Author’s Foundation [ie. the Society of Authors], I was aiming to do it myself.

Belize City came as a shock. To understand its impact read Kid Cato’s first impressions in the finished book. From the heat to the hustlers on the pot-holed streets it was as far-removed from my nice, safe office as I'd ever been.

The good news, though, was that I wasn't alone. Idris had elected to come with me, putting his jungle training to the service of keeping his old Ma alive. It was his idea that we start on the chilled island of Caye Caulker where all the gap year volunteers ended up. I’d need to meet these people anyway, he reasoned. This would be a gentle way of easing me over my culture shock. And lying in a hammock under palm trees, listening to the distant roaring of the reef, I reckoned there might be something in what Idris said.

All well and good, but I’d come to Belize with a story to find, and the heart of that story lay ahead of us in the jungle. A gap year organization called Trekforce had agreed to trek us out to meet groups of their young volunteers working to protect the Belizean rainforest. This trek was central to my research. I’d been warned it would be gruelling, with lots of mud and a range of steep, jungle-clad hills to climb, but knew I’d have no book without it.

This is me at the outset of our trek having done that old cowboy-film thing of filling my hat with water and sticking it on my head. Ahead of us lay the largest rainforest outside of Amazon, and a region so remote and rough that it was much used by the British military for jungle training. This was the Chiquibul, home to jaguars, ocelots and scarlet macaws - not to say anything of gold miners, deadly gangs of poachers known as xateros and Trekforce volunteers.

That first night, I sat alone in our camp, Idris and Greg off bathing in the river. The bushes around me rustled and I expected a jaguar at the very least. I was wrong, however, because five Belizean soldiers loomed out of the undergrowth, clutching sub-machine guns.

‘Where yu from?’ they asked, as surprised to see me as I was to see them. ‘England,’ I replied. They looked worried. ‘Where yu goin?’ they asked. ‘To Rio Blanco,’ I said. They looked even more worried. ‘How old are yu?’ they said. I told them. ‘Sixty, actually,’ I said. Now they looked really worried. ‘Why de hell yu heah den?’ they said.

Good question. The simple answer, of course, was that I was here to write a book. But I returned home with so much more. Nothing had prepared me for the beauty of the rainforest. I'll never forget howler monkeys singing their terrible songs in the full moon at night, and lying in my hammock with diamond eyes in the trees all around me. And by day I'll never forget butterflies and birds in every colour except brown, and rivers as clear as crystal for the best swims of my life, and huge scented blossoms lightening the more grinding aspects of our trek.

The region we trekked across was called The Devil’s Backbone. It didn’t take long to find out why. It took days to reach the Trekforce volunteers but, when I did, we stood together on a hilltop and looked down at the forest. They were building a bunkhouse to put a ranger presence into the forest, and the reason why was plain to see.

It’s not everybody who gets to see the destruction of the rainforest with their own eyes - and with it comes the responsibility to share what you’ve witnessed. That day, as well as stately mahoganies, tall ceiba trees, palms and tumbling vines, I saw trees cut down and a forest floor stripped bare of plants. I saw bare earth left to bake, nothing left but a low green scrub. I was told of jaguars and monkeys being poached, of fabulous forest birds, like scarlet macaws, being trapped and carted off, along with Mayan artifacts from ruined temples. And all of that, I was told, was coming our way. At the rate the forest was being destroyed, the trees that shaded us now would be gone in a year.

It half killed me getting out to Rio Blanco. I was no adventurer, just an asthmatic sixty year old hauling herself over the jungle-clad foothills of the Maya Mountains. There were long hours during that trek when everything I’d ever valued, including health and even dignity, felt stripped away. But it was worth it to see with my own eyes the tragedy of destruction taking place in the Belizean rainforest, and the efforts of young people, mostly straight from school, to help stem that tide.

Later, staying with Belize’s indigenous people - the Kekchi-Mayans – I had that sense of worth again. Idris and I sat up late into the night listening to our hosts talking about land rights, jobs, the self-government of their villages, even poverty and what that word meant. One night the village’s founding father, Joseph, came to talk to us. This was like being visited by royalty. If you want to know more about him and what he said, it went into ‘In The Trees’ almost word for word.

For six week I walked and hitched and drove and even flew around Belize, meeting people from that country’s many different cultures and all walks of life. Any young person with a sense of adventure could have a great time there, especially if they’re willing to work hard, take a few risks and do their homework on finding the right project. The young people I met had done just that. It was thanks to them that I found my story. Its hero, Kid Cato, isn’t a posh kid - he’s a south London boy of mixed race, heading out to Belize to find his father. But he finds a group of young gap year volunteers instead, fresh from school, with everything to learn.

Throughout my time in Belize, the only writing I did was my TRAVEL JOURNAL. I was keeping an open mind about the eventual book - this I believe is the best way of handling research. At the end of my trip, however, I happened across Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’ and in the predicament of its hero, Davie Balfour, the plot for 'In The Trees' was born.

On my last night, I sat on a palapa waiting for the sun to rise out of the Caribbean sea, the paranda music of Belize’s greatest singer, PAUL NABOR, going through my head. I’d made that leap of imagination from research to story. I even had a title, ‘In The Trees’ being the phrase the gappers used for living out in the jungle, though it seemed to me to be a metaphor for the whole of Belize, and for a way of life.

Trekking in the Chiquibul was the most challenging thing I’d ever done. I was so proud of the young people I’d met out there, and so impressed with the Kekchi-Mayans of Toledo District. I came away longing to do justice to all I'd seen and I'm delighted that, following on from its paperback publication, ‘In The Trees’ is now an e-book, available both in kindle and the Apple Store.

Do get in touch if you’d like to book a visit. I'm always more than ready to share my experiences. If you want to read more about the book, go to And if you want to buy 'In The Trees', especially in its new e-book format, click HERE.

I want to finish with a few words from Rafael Manzanero, Chief Executive of the organization which looks after Chiquibul, whom I met at the end of my trek, when he shook my hand and thanked me for coming to see what was happening to the Belizean rainforest with my own eyes. This comes from the Commendation which he kindly wrote for ‘In The Trees’:

‘Here in Belize we are strong believers that everyone can make a difference to protect wilderness areas. It is not only moral to do so, but the survival of forests will make the planet a better place for human life. Perhaps recognizing that reality, and being a part of that change, is what makes a change in the lives of gap volunteers. ‘IN THE TREES’ brings out this spirit of change. I hope that as you read this book it motivates you to realize the changes that people like you can have on our Earth, even though it seems that we are worlds apart.’

Monday, 20 February 2012

The rescued desk - where do you write? Roz Morris

My desk is an old dining table. It has been with my husband longer than I have.

He didn’t acquire it by choice. Years before I met him his mother found it by a skip. She delivered it to Dave ‘in case he’d find it useful’. He didn’t, because he didn’t need two dining tables. So he put it in the box room. Then I moved in.

I was a private scribbler, a manic creative. The box room became my study and the table my playground, with a computer and a litter of notes. Short stories, a tinkered-with novel, naive submissions. Gradually commissions happened. My prose left the house as printouts and disks and returned as proofs and then real books.

The table and I had become serious.

It was not a lovely beast. Not just because of the haloes from hot mugs, the cigarette burns and the grooves from children’s scribbles. I’ve never seen wood that looked so like Formica. I sanded and painted the top, in a paler tone of the smoky lilac on the walls. The table’s legs were neither substantial nor retro spindly. But painted black they became svelte stilettos. Dave made me bookcases, also in black.

There isn’t much else in the room. In one corner is a Nepalese cushion, to be used for reading and for plotting out books on index cards. The cushion is a hypnotic-looking mandala with red tasselled corners. (Tasteful neutrals make me cross.)

Beside the monitor is a stack of CDs, chosen to witch up characters, places and scene moods for works in progress. Pens are crammed in a box that once held Laurent Perrier champagne. Leads and USB drives live in a distractingly hip Michael Kors sunglasses case (a charity shop treasure). Something, one day, will find a home in the tiny cylindrical box inscribed with the word Pride. Papers, cards and a quill from a pheasant’s tail sit in a wooden chest - a gift from a friend who died one Christmas in a car crash.

Between these fixtures are notes. Pictures, too, of random strangers I’d cast as my characters.

At the moment there are five or six books evolving on that desk. If you took a stop-motion film you would see them multiply, spread and vanish like the seasons.

Like the narrator of my novel I’m a martyr to RSI. If Dave has to sort out a problem with my computer he curses the kneeling chair, the joystick mouse and the gusseted ergonomic keyboard.

The computers have come and gone. Relics gather, CDs and notes arrive and leave. But the foundling desk has been under it all from the start, through much discovery and the paperdrift of many books. And here it still is. I think it might even be older than I am.

Where do you write?

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris.

As well as being the secret author of many titles, she has two books written as herself: Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, and a novel My Memories of a Future Life. You can listen to an audio of the first 4 chapters of the novel here.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Technophobia by Karen King

This post has been published in Sparks, A Year In E-Publishing - An Authors Electric Anthology 2011-2012. It has therefore been temporarily reverted to draft status to comply with amazon KDP Select's requirements.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Final Straw; How I Came to Indie Publishing: Catherine Czerkawska

Astonishing 100 year old colour picture of the Ukraine by Prokudin-Gorskii
It was May 2011.  I still have the email. My epic Polish historical novel, The Amber Heart, had finally been sent out by my agent, and he forwarded the first rejection. It went like this: 'With real reluctance, I am going to have to pass on this. I loved it, while thinking some editorial work needed to be done. But the one other person who did read it just didn't really love it - infuriating. I am sorry, but you can't fly solo in publishing.'
It was, as rejections go, quite heartening, although it was followed by a deafening silence on all fronts. But it was also - as it turned out - the straw that broke this particular camel's back.
The email came soon after a BIG birthday. One of those birthdays that make you sit up and take stock. I duly took stock.
Firstly, I was sitting on a huge inventory - lots of finished or almost finished but unpublished work, in the shape of novels and stories. Secondly, I couldn't afford to sit on it any longer. Thirdly, I didn't have to.

Over the years, I had worked diligently and had met with a certain amount of publishing success. I had - moreover - managed to juggle my fiction writing with a respectably large number of professionally produced plays for radio and the stage, some of which were also published and are still in print. But I still found myself in the frustrating position of having several completed pieces of fiction sitting in files on my PC and in my desk drawers. These were not the usual unsatisfactory bottom-drawer manuscripts. (I have quite a lot of those and they can stay where they are!) No. They were good, polished pieces of work. Plenty of people, professionals rather than friends and family, had told me so.

The story of the Amber Heart is a good illustration of what has happened to so many of us - or what used to happen, before the advent of eBook publishing. It may help to explain why so many of us disagree with Jonathan Franzen's recent diatribe against the digital world and why we have become so sceptical about the traditional gatekeepers.

Way back in the 1980s, I had forged a successful career as a radio dramatist. I had even done a little television. But I had hankerings to write fiction. I had written a novel based on my young adult television series, Shadow of the Stone. (You can still watch the original on YouTube, here!) and it had been nicely published by a small Scottish publisher.

Shadow of the Stone
A very young Shirley Henderson and Alan Cumming in Shadow of the Stone

Around that time, while accompanying my professional yacht skipper husband on a trip to the Canaries, I sat on deck in the sunshine (one of the best times of my life) and wrote a new novel called The Golden Apple, set largely on the Canarian Island of La Gomera. The agent who was representing me for drama passed it on to the late great Pat Kavanagh at the same agency and she sold the novel to The Bodley Head.

In all my innocence, I thought I was on my way. Fat chance.

Between acquisition and publication, The Bodley Head was sold to Century and The Golden Apple was  published and marketed as something it wasn't - a piece of genre fiction in a glossy but somewhat misleading cover. Not that it was heavily or experimentally literary either. It was, if you can remember that far back, a typical Bodley Head book. A mid-list book. Much later, my editor wrote to me to apologise. 'I now think we published the Golden Apple in quite the wrong way,' she told me. They had even persuaded me to change the spelling of my name to Cherkavska.

Meanwhile, I had been busy working on my next novel, a big, unashamedly romantic historical novel, set in mid nineteenth century Eastern Poland, a sort of Polish 'Gone With The Wind', loosely based on my own family history. I had been researching it on and off for years with my father's help. Even without the internet, we had managed to discover an astonishing amount of fascinating material. I had also become aware of just what a huge diaspora of Poles there was, and how interested they were in reading about this time and place. Many of them were taking the trouble to tell me so.  I worked diligently and finished Noon Ghosts, which Pat said that she loved. Since she didn't ever say this lightly, I was hopeful of a breakthrough, all over again.

Poles were always very fond of their horses!
She sent it out, through the early 1990s, and back it came. Again and again and again. I remember one of those rave rejection letters in particular. 'I stayed up all night reading this. I loved it. I wept buckets. I couldn't put it down. But historical fiction is out of fashion and nobody is interested in anything set in Poland.' Pat herself - a hard headed mega agent - confessed herself deeply frustrated.

Time passed, and because my plays were doing rather well, I filed Noon Ghosts away and - after much heart searching - changed agencies for one that specialised in theatre.

Early in the new millennium, and for reasons too complicated to go into here, I went back to fiction and eventually back to a younger agent at my old agency. While working on other novels, not least the Curiosity Cabinet, I rewrote Noon Ghosts pretty comprehensively in the light of experience and changed the title to The Amber Heart. Poland was more popular than it had once been, and historical fiction was definitely 'in' but my new agent wouldn't even read the rewritten version, let alone send it out again. 'Not the done thing,' she said. I sent sample chapters out myself, to languish on various slush piles. Nobody so much as replied.

Then, sadly, Pat died, my young agent inherited her starry clients and I fell off the end of her list. Did I fall or was I pushed? Let's be honest. I was pushed. More time passed, and I acquired a new agent. Eventually, I let him see The Amber Heart, in which I had now lost all confidence, but his response amazed me. 'This is wonderful!' he said. 'If I can't sell this, I'm in the wrong job.' I did wonder at the time if those words might come back to haunt him, and of course they did. Because the newly revised and edited book was sent out, only to meet with the same old 'I love this, but ...' response.

Which was, dear reader, the final straw.
But even more of a final straw was that 'some editorial work needs to be done' comment.
Hell, this novel had been edited to the point of emaciation. It had almost been edited to destruction. It had been edited so much and by so many different people, with different agendas, that I've had to take a long hard look at it and decide what I want to reinstate in my book. Nobody else but me is getting their hands on it again.

Painting by Juliusz Kossak, one of my forebears, inspiration for The Amber Heart

In the meantime, I had acquired a Kindle, and realised that indie publishing was perfectly do-able. I cut my teeth with a reissue of The Curiosity Cabinet, followed it up with a new novel called Bird of Passage, which is selling very well, and am now almost ready to publish The Amber Heart. Not everyone will like it. Why should they? Not everyone likes Marmite. (I do!) But at least it will be out there. At least anyone with or without Polish connections, who is interested in the history of Eastern Europe, or just interested in a big story of love and loss in an engaging setting, will be able to read it. And now I can move on to work on something new, without the frustration of hitting another landmark birthday, weighed down by work which people are telling me they would like to read, but which doesn't slot neatly into the increasingly narrow and celebrity obsessed constraints of the current publishing industry.

Catherine Czerkawska