Saturday, 30 June 2012

Guest Post: Dougie Brimson - Why reviews are so important for the eBook author

Over the last couple of years, as you might well have noticed, the world of publishing has changed dramatically. Not least for mid-list authors such as myself.

No longer under the total control of editors or publishers we are now free to go it alone to write what we like and publish it when we like. Trust me, for all kinds of reasons that freedom is liberating!

For the reader, this evolution has been equally revolutionary. Who would have thought five years ago that not only would there be a genuine alternative to good old paper, but that there would be books available to download for free at the touch of a button!

However, the rise of the ebook has added a new and very important element to the reading process and it is one which not everyone seems to have grasped. It is the power to review. Be it on Amazon, iTunes, Goodreads or any of the numerous reader websites, if you enjoy or even dislike a book you are now able to tell the world.

That my friends, is power, real power. And I will tell you why.

As a professional writer of ebooks, whenever I release something new onto the market the promotion of that book falls not to the publisher as it used to, but to me as the author. As a consequence the normal routine is to bombard media outlets, social media, related websites and blogs in the hope that someone will help by providing some publicity.

This, as you can imagine, is an extremely important part of the self-publishing process because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good a book might be, if no one knows about it no one will buy it! But this work can consume an extraordinary amount of time and whilst it can be fabulous fun, it can also prove to be both frustrating and soul destroying.

However, after a certain amount of time you have to get back to the actual process of writing which means that you have to let your latest stand on its merits and fend for itself. It’s at this point that all authors hope that their readers will kick in and take up the task of spreading the word on their behalf. Fundamental to that is the review.

From the readers perspective, a review can have many functions but for the majority of authors each and every review is a promotional tool and in that sense they are almost unrivalled, which is why we all ask, plead and even beg readers to post them. It isn’t that we want you to boost our self-esteem (nice though that is!) it’s because the simple truth of the matter is that nothing sells books like word of mouth and these days, that primarily means what readers have to say on the online outlets.

Of course there are people who would never review a book for all kinds of reasons. The usual three being ‘I wouldn’t know what to write’,’ I’d be embarrassed’ or ‘I can’t be bothered.’ But by thinking in this way they are actually missing out on what to me is one of the most exciting elements of the ebook revolution and that’s the potential for the reader to become directly involved in the publishing process.

Because when you download a book be it free or paid, you earn the right to have an opinion. And since your opinion is as good as anyone else’s, rather than keep it to yourself or simply share it with your immediate family why not share it with the global community? You don’t have to say much, just a sentence or two, but anything is better than nothing. Believe me, it can be a great deal of fun!

Equally and just as importantly, by posting a review on one of the online stores such as Amazon and iTunes –and this is the crux of the matter- you instantly become a part of the promotion for that book.

I won’t try and explain the mysteries of the various ranking systems and why every single review counts but think about it in its most basic sense; your glowing review could be the one which introduces someone to the delights of a new writer, a new genre or even a new interest. Surely that has to be worth a few minutes of your time!

And speaking as an author, reviews have other benefits. One of which is that they help me to decide what to write next. For example, I had no idea that there was so much interest in sequels to my novels Top Dog and Billy’s Log but now, thanks to both the sales figures and the fabulous reviews posted by readers, I do. Which is why you will hopefully soon see both, possibly within the next 12 months. For me that last sentence encapsulates why I place so much importance on my readers opinions. Because by posting a review and helping to keep a title or titles selling, the allow me to concentrate on the actual process of writing and turning out fresh material.

At the end of the day, as a writer I would hope that’s what my readers would actually prefer me to be doing as opposed to trying to catch the attention of some bored journalist in the hope that they might say something nice about my latest. It’s certainly what I’d much rather be doing.

So please, if you have ever read a book and like it, take the time to leave a review somewhere or even mention it on Facebook or Twitter. As I have said a million times each and every one of them genuinely helps and as someone pointed out to me today, a review is a fabulous way of thanking the author for his or her efforts.

Dougie Brimson is a professional author and screenwriter. He has published 14 books including both fiction and non-fiction and is currently enjoying an 8 month unbroken run at the top of the Amazon & iTunes soccer charts with his free thriller, The Crew.

He also penned the multi-award winning feature, Green Streetstarring Elijah Wood.

His next book, a sports based comedy entitled Wings of a Sparrow, is due for release in eBook format in August.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Animals As Minor (or Major) Characters - by Hywela Lyn

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love animals, in particular, horses.

Flikka at 30 in her stable
I'm not sure from where I inherited my love of horses, any more than I know where I got my love of writing. We weren't a horsey family, and didn't have any land to keep a horse or pony. However, my  father loved all animals, and passed down this love to my sister and me. I can't remember a time when we didn't have a dog when I was growing up in a small seaside town in Wales, and I spent my school holidays helping out at the local riding school. As soon as I left school I saved up every spare penny for five years, to buy my first horse, a bay Thoroughbred cross, Flikka, who stayed with me until she died at the ripe old age of 35 years.

Sal and me after a long distance event
I suppose it was my love of horses that gave me my fascination with the Old West, so much so, that I bought a Western saddle, learnt to ride in the Western style and retrained my horses in this gentle, relaxed way of riding.

I'd been writing since my early teens and spent many happy hours 'plotting' in my head whilst riding Flikka in the beautiful Welsh countryside. I wrote several western romances and a couple of horse stories,  and had some short stories published. But then, working full time, helping a friend run a riding school, and later becoming involved in long distance riding, left little time for writing.  

When I took it up again, and submitted my first novel, 'Starquest', it, and the  sequel 'Children Of the Mist, were actually futuristic - but to me, the Science Fiction or 'Space Operas' I write are 'Westerns in space', they convey a spirit of adventure, with brave men and women facing unknown dangers in an alien environment, which reflects the situation facing the pioneers of the Old West.

Despite being set in the distant future, with starships and sentient computers, I still managed to include several horses in both stories, by setting much of the action on a snowy, sparsely inhabited planet, where the settlers used genetically enhanced horses developed from the Norweigian Fjord ponies.

Soon after  'Starquest' was accepted for publication, I was invited to join eight other writers to produce a series of novellas based on the nine Greek Muses.  I chose Terpsichore, muse of dance, although I knew nothing about dancing and very little about Greek mythology.  The research was deeply interesting  and I became fascinated both by the Greek legends and the sensual oriental style of dancing, or 'belly dancing' as it is commonly known. I felt sure Terpsichore would have danced like this.  I sent her to 5th century Wales where she met another legendary character, Myrddyn ab Morfryn and had a brush with the Fates. 

Last year I regained my rights to the story, 'Dancing With Fate' and took my first steps into the world of self publishing. 
The story is now available on Smashwords and Amazon and is also available in print, with a stunning new cover, designed for me by an American author friend.

Even a Greek muse needs a means a mode of transport on her journey.  I gave Terpsichore a golden horse called Sal, based on my little endurance mare, Sally, who sadly passed on to the Rainbow Bridge a few years ago, and Myrddyn rode 'Harri' a black Welsh Cob, who is one of the two  horses I currently own.

Of course it's easier to use horses in fantasy than it is generally in Science Fiction, but I'm now working on a futuristic story set in the not too distant future, where a man made catastrophy wipes out a large proportion of Earth's population and technology grinds to a halt - so the survivors have to turn to our old friend the horse.  I'm giving my 'mare with attitude' T'pau, a starring role in this one!

I love dogs as well, and have a rescued Jack Russell called Bouncer. He's had a hard time in the past and is nearly blind, but despite that, he is a very loving, happy little chap, and a real character.  He'll end up in the Western I have on 'the back burner'.

Do you have animals - if so do you find them demanding a place in your stories too?

(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

Thursday, 28 June 2012


So, the guardians of our culture are now about to offer us an eroticised version of Jane Austen, having first taken note of the success of Fifty Shades of Grey - are these people publishers or bankers? The threat of ebooks does seem to worry them (what, authors taking complete control over their own work and making money? And sometimes quite a lot of money...)

I've had a browse through the Fifty Shades, and like everyone else (don't tell me you don't do it) sought out the juicy bits, but since I like my sex embedded, like a jewel, inside a really good story, it didn't really grab me. At present, I'm re-reading (after decades) Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, so my personal pov might well have been slanted. Has anyone been to the eight hour-long reading of this book? Apparently it's been a huge success, and I was tempted, but didn't think I could sit still for that long.

From eroticism to passion, and passion in the act of writing. I have written two adult novels, neither of which has been published, although the first nearly made it with two publishers - Honno, the Welsh women's publisher who failed to raise a Welsh Arts Council grant to publish, and a London-based women's publisher who demanded so many (to me) irrational changes that I finally withdrew the book (I may, one day, publish one or both as ebooks). The first novel - Counterpoint - was my first novel, and I lived with it day and night. I would write wherever I happened to be. I remember, en route to a class, getting out of the tube at Kentish Town on automatic, riding up the escalator still writing, and blundering out on to the High Street not really knowing quite where I was. The erotic episodes in the second novel - The Recurrence of Red - made me want to live them out in reality, but that's another story.

So back to mainstream publishing and where I'm at now. I've been a children's author for over twenty years, and at present I've become fascinated by the art form that constitutes picture books. I have two coming out next year, both, coincidentally, with a mouse as the lead character, and Princess Frog, my latest book with Franklin Watts, comes out next month. I'm also flirting with a flying pig.

I do write lengthy and serious Young Adult books too, and recently received one of those flattering rejections you want to treasure and maybe pin up on your wall - well we've all 'been there, done that'. So will this book continue to go out to conventional publishers? Or will I take a deep breath and self-publish? Watch this space.

Some of my out of print children's and Young Adult books have already gone this way, and sales are interesting, if not enormous. At present, I'm tweeting about a book I set in Muswell Hill, my bit of London, and hoping it will do something to increase interest. It's called, To Summon a Spirit, and I meant it to relate to the suburbs of any big city, so my London village is never actually named. First published by Walker Books,  it was shortlisted for a major prize (I forget which one), but shortly after that, it was out of print. I love its cover image with my mixed race heroine, Jess. It's a complicated time slip story - 19th/20th and 21st centuries - and it's now available as a Kindle book. Do take a look.

And re- the Kindle - there's a witty and perceptive article by Jad Adams (Tony Benn's biographer) in this month's copy of The Author.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Possible New Business Model for Publishing - Andrew Crofts

          It’s boom time in the world of self-publishing but in the vast majority of cases the creation of any book is a team effort, not a solitary one, however much some of us might wish to the contrary.
          Traditionally writers have recruited valuable team members by persuading an established publishing house to join in the creative endeavour, providing financial backing, editorial, design and marketing assistance all in one package.
          If self publishing writers want to gain the support of a similarly experienced team they either have to call in a lot of favours, or they have to hire the necessary editors, designers and publicists themselves. The flaw in the argument there, of course, is that without the “financial” contribution of a publisher, not many writers can afford to do that. The result can then be the badly edited texts and badly designed covers which the enemies of self-publishing continually draw attention to, and the low levels of “discoverability” that beset us all.
          Everyone is searching for alternative ways forward such as “crowd- sourcing” or “co-operatives”. So, here’s another imaginative business model that has been thrown into the mix of possible ways forward: What if everyone on the team was taking the same speculative risk – like asking actors to work for nothing on the promise that they will own a slice of the box office if the play/film they are being recruited for turns out to be a hit?
          The website,, is the brainchild of Tim Sanders, a charismatic and persuasive business guru and former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. The site is a network of authors, editors, designers and publicists. When an author has an e-book they would like to publish they circulate details around the network, announcing what sort of help they are looking for. If you need a cover designed, for instance, you ask any designers who might be interested to pitch for a place on the team. If you find someone you would like to work with, you then agree a percentage with them. Once the manuscript is ready to publish Netminds takes the project forward, (for their own pre-agreed percentage), and if the book starts to earn money the financial splits are worked out and distributed amongst the various parties by an independent contractor.
          It seems to me that once Netminds has a decent sized pool of talent to choose from, the chances of these self-selecting teams scoring a success with a book are much the same as with a book produced through a traditional publishing deal. It is, after all, the same mix of people who will be working on the project, just freelancers rather than salaried employees. The disadvantage is that no one gets paid up-front. The advantage, however, is that the writer remains the prime mover in the game, retains the copyright and should earn more from a hit than would be the case with the traditional publishing model.
          It seems like a model well worth thinking about.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

An Ebook Blog Begins – Katherine Roberts

A word from our founder today. Our usual blogger, Rosalie Warren, has suffered a family bereavement, and can't post today.  So, instead, here's Authors Electric's onlie begetter, Katherine Roberts...

Those of you who have been with this blog from its early days might remember me… later comers to the party won’t, because I’ve relinquished the reins since then and others have very ably taken them up to ride the electric horse onwards across pastures new. But I thought this might be a good time to explain why I am still with you in e-spirit, if not in e-body.

Originally, Susan Price and I set this place up as a joint blog to promote our backlists, which we were both in the process of converting to Kindle to rescue our out-of-print work from oblivion. A few others in our Scattered Authors group for children’s books were doing the same, but there weren’t very many of us. So we made an important early decision to open the blog up to adult authors with Kindle projects – or, rather, authors of books read by adults since (contrary to what it might seem at times) most children’s authors are adults, too. So “Kindle Authors UK” was born… and if you’re scratching your heads at this point, thinking “uh-huh?” then that’s because our choice of name, which seemed the most obvious one at the time for what we were doing, resulted in an early phone call from Amazon gently pointing out that “Kindle” was their brand name and we shouldn’t be using it.

Lesson One: Names are important, and you can’t go around stealing other people’s.

We were still quite small, so in a moment of blind panic I considered dropping the whole thing. But Susan Price – who as you probably realise from her posts here and on her own blog is far more determined (and less panicky) than me – said no, we’re carrying on, all we need is a new name and a new domain. So we brainstormed and agonised (at least I did) and put it to several votes, and came up with the Authors Electric name you see today and the quirky blog title inspired by Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Straight after dropping the "Kindle” from our domain name and title, of course, our hits plummeted, so the ten people I'd roped into the blog by then had an uphill struggle to get us noticed again... sorry, guys! Yet we’d obviously been noticed, even when we were just taking our first baby steps, so we thought we might have a chance.

Lesson Two: Even if you think nobody is taking any notice of you online, someone out there is watching, and you never know who you are reaching with your words (results can be good or bad… so this is double-edged sword!).

Shortly after changing our name, we decided to get rid of the flame design that had been suggested by the Kindle, and have a fresh look for our blog. Going with an exciting lightning theme chosen by Susan Price, we redesigned our banner and – with a Twitter account set up for us by Tweet Queen herself Nicola Morgan, who was at that time blogging with us, made an Authors Electric Twitter button:

At this stage, word of mouth was spreading as more adult authors joined us, bringing their own expertise of the Kindle and ebook market and social networking on the Kindle forums, which as a children’s author had rather passed me by. The blog became more popular and changed from a place to promote our backlist children’s/YA titles into something promoting indie adult/YA frontlist titles, with some authors not having a traditional publishing background at all. At this stage, I felt the blog had moved away from what I originally intended, and yet this shift was obviously working for people and fulfilling a need I hadn’t anticipated so I let the electric horse run. Yet, having just signed a four-book contract with a children’s publisher for middle-grade fiction, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with my readers stumbling across the more adult posts, so knew I was (selfishly) holding things back.

Lesson Three: Know when to let go.

Letting go wasn’t as easy as I imagined, because in the beginning I had tried to do almost everything, being a bit of a control freak (who? me?). But with Susan Price handling the group admin, and Debbie Bennett kindly taking over the guest posts, all I had left by then was the technical side and the book pages, which people were mumbling about moving to a proper website. So I stepped aside and waited to see what would happen. What did happen was a pretty much immediate move from the increasingly unwieldy book pages I’d set up on Blogger to the jimdo website you see today with all the ebooks and authors listed in a much more logical fashion - confirming my suspicions.

There followed another change of design, which was nothing to do with me (I notice the lightning banner and tweet button now look a little out of place… but I have let go! I shall not interfere!) And at about the same time Authors Electric found its way into Facebook, which is still unknown territory for me, despite the fact several other people called Katherine Roberts appear to be on there (they are not me, people, OK?), which in turn brought more followers to the blog. And I know bloggers who have joined since I left are, even as I write, taking Authors Electric onwards into new territories. So, while I sometimes mourn my sweet blog baby, I know every mother must let their child grow up, become a stroppy teenager and find their own way in the world... and Authors Electric is certainly doing that.

Lesson Four: Know who you are.

I am an author of children’s fiction, so for me ebooks represent an excellent way of keeping my backlist titles in print, when it would not be cost-effective for my publishers keep them going in paperback. I don’t see me publishing a new children’s book for the Kindle anytime soon, since I believe the Kindle market is mainly adult (you only have to watch amazon’s TV adverts… see any children lying on the beach reading Kindles?). There seems no easy way for children – at least not for my middle grade readers – to buy their own ebooks, and as yet there is no “gift” button on amazon’s UK site for parents and teachers to buy children’s ebooks for them. Until that day arrives, I will need to concentrate on the traditional paper publishing side of my career, which is why I am not blogging regularly here at present.

Lesson Five: Keep an eye on the future.

However, that day might come sooner than we think. With the surge in ebook sales over the past year, surely it won’t be very long before amazon (or someone else) opens a children’s ebook store, and sets up a way for parents to buy credits that children can spend unsupervised in a safe online environment with vetted titles and download ebooks to their own “kiddiereaders”, which might well be a more child-friendly, cheaper version of the Kindle. When that day arrives, my dream would be for Authors Electric to sprout two branches from its central website… one for adult books/readers (as now) and one for children’s books/younger readers, which is where I – and our original bloggers – began.

So what do you think? Is there a Kindle market for younger readers? Have you ever bought an ebook for a child? And would you let your children read this blog?

Katherine Roberts is a children's fantasy author.

Her Seven Fabulous Wonders series is now reavailable for Kindle
£1-99 each from amazon uk
$3-99 each from amazon us

Monday, 25 June 2012

Getting Medieval On Your Text - Susan Price

           I think it must have been something like that.  People don't change much.
        Writing was a gob-smacking break-through.  Think of it - instead of memorising all the harvest records, you could write them down on clay-tablets and refer back to them to work out, say, which fields were the most productive.  (Writing seems to have been used for record-keeping before any artistic use.)
         And then - another break-through! - instead of struggling to hear the story-teller above the rowdy singing, you had the story pressed into clay, and read it while sitting quietly by yourself.  Bliss!  It was worth selling those slaves to afford it.
A clay tablet with cuniform writing
         Heavy clay tablets must have been a nuisance, though - difficult to hold and bulky to store - but there was no other method of writing, so you put up with it.  After all, if you could read and write with those complicated wedge-shaped symbols, you were at the forefront of technology.  I suppose you rather boasted about how awkward the tablets were.
          “Oh, yes, I know they've revolutionised accounting, but it’s such a bore finding storage for them.  Honestly, I wish they’d never been invented!”  Making sure, y'know, that everyone knew that you were technically so far ahead of them that it was all very old writing stylus to you.
          So it must have been a blow when papyrus came along.  "What?  You mean I've got to have all those clay-tablets transcribed onto papyrus?"  Suddenly, instead of being cool and ahead of technology, you were at the back and out of date.  You would have thought up all sorts of reasons why clay tablets were better than papyrus.
          But papyrus scrolls must have been all the rage.  People would have gone on and on about how easy and light they were to carry and hold - how little space they took up compared to those so-over clay tablets.  You would have walked down the street holding a scroll, casually, so everyone could see you were at the paper-cutting edge.
          And the accessories!  Beautiful metal, wood or ivory caps made for the ends of the scrolls, to protect them.  Hand-woven  ribbons or cords, to tie them closed.  Lovely cedar-wood boxes made to store all the scrolls that made up one book. 
          And a scroll could be beautifully illustrated, of course.  I don't think clay tablets were illustrated, so that must have been, er, something to write home about. A scroll really was a thing of art and beauty - hand-made paper, hand-copied text, hand-painted illustrations, each scroll unique.  Even with skilled slaves to do the work, these were expensive things, something only the rich could afford.
Replica Vindolanda tablet - for sale
          There were little notebooks, too, about the size of a postcard, made of thin sheets of wood hinged with leather.  People kept them in their pockets and wrote notes on them, or wrote letters to others.  Hundreds of these tablets have been found at the Roman fort of Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall.  I suppose they were the equivalent of our electronic tablet - light, fitted in a pocket, really useful to have handy to jot down the legionnaires on punishment duty this week, or the menu for next week's dinner party.
          Imagine when books started coming in.  Why replace your light, beautiful scrolls with an even more expensive, great thumping heavy boulder of a thing, made from a couple of cows?  “I don’t see the point of them,” people would have said.  “I shall stick with scrolls.”
The Book of Kells
And if you've been used to unrolling a scroll, and rolling it up as you read down its length, the problem of how to use a book might well seem a bit daunting.  How do you find the bit you want in that great block of a thing? Your lovely old scrolls used to have labels to tell you which chapter they were...
          But after a generation or two, everybody got with the programme, and scrolls were out.  Aristocrats commissioned Books of Hours and incredibly beautiful gospels, the cost of which would have kept families of peasants for years, decorated as they were with gold and lapis-lazuli.
Hastings Book of the Hours

  Books were a status symbol: you owned them to show that you could, and that you were a cut above.  Reading and literature was emphatically not for the masses.  They had to make do with story-telling.  (Poor things!)
          So when the printing-press was invented the screams of outrage were deafening.  Bibles could now be mass-produced in many languages.  A well-to-do tradesman could buy one, and read it!  He would learn who, when Adam delved and Eve span, was the gentleman.  Scandal!
Gutenberg Bible
          People bemoaned the loss of beautiful, hand lettered pages of vellum, bound in bejewelled leather and locked with great clasps.  How could these smudgy, inky books of coarse paper replace them?  How could you ever love a book that didn't smell of leather, whose pages didn't glitter with gold-leaf?  The experience of opening such a wonderful art object, on the lectern needed to support it, could never be duplicated by one of these cheap, tawdry, machine-produced objects.  (But was it the books they mourned, or the exclusivity of hand-made books?)
          But time passes, and the upstart printers turn themselves into publishers, and those publishers become, in their turn the new book establishment.  They impose the design of books, they decide what is published and what is not...
          And now it's their turn to outgrabe because now almost anyone can make an ebook.  Writers decide what’s published, and readers decide what’s read.
An iPad loaded with all of the above
          The end of civilisation as we know it!  Oh woe, electronic books are so ugly! They don’t smell like books, they don’t feel like books, they are all illiterate, unedited rubbish…
          The more things change, the more they stay the same.
          I love the fact that, in seconds, The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story known to exist, and The Bhagavad Gita, arguably the oldest religious text in the world, can come invisibly, magically flying through the ether, and land in my  e-reader.  Alongside Harry Potter and my own ‘mix-book’ of poetry and recipes, that I've emailed direct to my kindle.
          A whole history of humanity and literature, in my pocket, carried with me wherever I go.
          E-readers are only beginning.  They offer the possibility of adding the spoken word, music, beautiful coloured images, even moving images, to texts.
       Story-telling is as old as the human race.  It's moved from the spoken word, to the written, and now it's about to become something new.
        It won’t be the same beauty as a Book of Hours, or a first edition of Rackham or Dulac illustrated book, but it will be a new and different beauty.  Welcome to it!

          The illustration above is by Edmund Dulac - and could be loaded on an iPad!
With apologies and due credit to Knut Nærum, who wrote the 'Desperate Monk' sketch, Rune Gokstad (desperate monk), and Øystein Backe (book technologist.)
Original taken from the show "Øystein og jeg" (Øystein and I) on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)in 2001.

          Susan Price is the award winning author of The Ghost Drum, and The Sterkarm Handshake.
          She blogs at Nennius
          Her website is here.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Editing Ebooks - So Who Does The Editing? - Stephanie Zia

If you're thinking of going to the London Book Fair next year I'd give the pokey little Author's Lounge stand a wide berth (Lounge... LOUNGE?!! with those toadstool benches and hard-sell salesmen?). Instead pause for rest, refreshment and author interviews at the splendid English PEN Literary Cafe and plan your day around the numerous seminars that take place in the conference rooms scattered throughout the building. It was good to see more author-centric seminars this year, like this one, "Has Anyone Spoken To The Author?" chaired by Unbound's John Mitchinson. All sorts of interesting new possibilities in this "era of broken models" were discussed.  Bundling - get an ebook free when you buy a hardback. Building on the all-important "word of mouth" phenomenon by having credit buttons in ebooks so that readers can send recommended titles to friends. Readers, basically, becoming part of the sales force. The amount of control that self-published authors have over the traditionally published was also discussed. I was shocked to hear that the supermarket deals that they rely on so much can, in some cases, reduce the author royalty right down to as little as less than 1p per book. No names as I cannot check up on this information - the secrecy of sales figures and working out what on earth royalty statements mean etc were also mentioned! 

This is a shot from The Literary Consultancy/The Arvon Foundation seminar "Is New Technology  Threatening Editorial Values, and Failing to Provide Writers, Readers and Our Culture With What They Really Want?"  Blake Morrison speaking.  Who does the editing is the topic that seems to be concerning the guardians of the mainstream most of all. Do editors still edit anyway? As ever, some do some don't. Some agents edit, some don't. But long-term editor/author relationships do seem to be an increasingly rare luxury for those who luck out on both sides. Editor turned literary agent panellist Rebecca Carter said that in her last position as an editor, she was told editing = time = money, therefore don't buy the book that needs editing. 

The panel speculated on what will happen in the future. Would the art of editing survive, how will editors make a living? Rebecca's career-swap offers a clue perhaps. For me it was the agents anyway who did the bulk of the shaping and editing of my novels. My first agent took me on with just 3 chapters and a synopsis and worked with me closely on structure from the beginning. After advising me to swap from 4 POVs to 1 POV, and keep everything in the voice of the central character, her first 'notes' on Draft 1 ran to 8 pages of closely-typed critique. Much of it hugely insulting ("this bit's like Janet & John!"). It was thrilling to receive. 

How will novels get this kind of attention in the future? I imagine we will see more editors setting up as freelancers and agencies like The Literary Consultancy (organisers, incidentally, of the recent Writing In A Digital Age conference) will find themselves more in demand. More literary agents will, perhaps, publish their authors themselves. Ed Victor, with his Bedford Square Books, is leading the way here. At Blackbird Digital I have worked with with my ex-Hamlyn editor Sarah Tomley who is still a mainstream editor but is also available for hire at EditorsOnline. And now I, too, have been working as an editor. But am I qualified, you ask? 3 O levels no degree me? As a writer? As a member of a serious critique group for over 10 years? As an ex-documentary maker? As an occasional Creative Writing tutor? As an avid reader all my life? I'm in the final stages of completing a paid commission, editing an 80,000 word memoir. An extraordinary piece it's been a complete pleasure to work on.  I've also enjoyed editing the books I commission at Blackbird Digital. Not least because I like the authors so much. We work together not only on the editing but on choosing the covers, the presentation, sales tactics, the lot. As editor, I get paid a percentage of the royalty. Teamwork. All in it together. Maybe that's how it'll work?  

The Beginning of Dying, available as ebook and paperback at Blackbird Digital Books.  “A wonderful look at finding yourself again after the death of a loved one. Insightful and delightful, full of thoughtful dialogue and exceptional clarity.” Leslie Wright, Tic Toc/HUFFINGTON POST BOOKS,  Stephanie blogs about digital publishing, writing and Hidden London at Confessions Of An Author.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

We're all punks now - Simon Cheshire

Some punks, deriding mainstream publishing
          There's been a lot on TV and radio recently about punk rock. Not sure why, probably some anniversary - the media do love their anniversaries, bless 'em. I was never a punk myself, I was far too weedy and straight-laced, but I can't help feeling a certain nostalgia for an era when anyone could simply shout at a microphone, stick two fingers up at the establishment and call themselves a musician...
Hang on...
          Does that ring a bell with anyone? Might there be parallels between the punk movement of the 1970s and the self-publishing movement of the, err, what would we be, the '10s? Both were kicked off from an unexpected direction. Both caught on in a way which makes wildfire look like a 20W lightbulb. Both initially had their svengalis and their fringe pundits. Both were looked down upon by the press and the critics, apart from one or two far-sighted individuals. Both put the proverbial fear of God up their respective mainstream industries.
          Both created a bandwagon. In punk's case, every kid who'd ever fancied being famous suddenly painted their hair green and started frightening their granny. In the case of self-publishing, everyone and his dog suddenly started uploading their collected shopping lists to Amazon and Smashwords.
          Of course, bandwagons tend to overturn. Punk's certainly did. Now, figures are starting to show that slapping any old thing online for 79p isn't the money-making bonanza certain people predicted, and with a bit of luck our own bandwagon is toppling and the initial gold rush may soon be over.
          Just as punk morphed into various new musical forms, so the free-for-all chaos of the self-publishing boom is gradually morphing, before our very eyes, into a proper, long-term Independent Publishing market sector. The workers are, to coin a phrase, taking control of the means of publication. Reasons to stay with the ancien regime are getting fewer all the time. Enough time has passed for many of the technical wrinkles of 'new publishing' to be ironed out, and a consensus on most aspects of going it alone is starting to emerge (via blogs like this, for a start!)
          In the wake of the revolution, citizens, comes a brave new world, in which the writer forges a career based on their own efforts rather than on the dictats of Old Publishing's book-ista revisionist counter-revolutionary running-dog paper hyenas. What really confuses me is the way Old Publishing is still carrying on as before: diminishing advances, leave-it-to-the-author PR campaigns, microscopic royalty percentages etc. It's all a bit "Let them eat cake", isn't it? Can't they see that the attitude of most professional writers is changing? Or don't they care?
          Oh well. They can keep their Twilight and their Fifty Shades Of Euurgh! We're all sticking two fingers up at the establishment now. We've all gone punk.
          My new book, The Frankenstein Inheritance, is due out in a matter of weeks, if I can knuckle down and get the bloomin' thing finished! I'm pretty sure it's at least got a darn good story. I'm proud of it, and it's marketable, quite 'high-concept' as they say. And yet, for the first time ever, I've written a piece of unsolicited fiction which it hasn't even occurred to me to offer up to Old Publishing.
This is my baby. I'm a Publisher now. Vive la revolucion!
          I was going to end my post for this month right there, but a couple of things have happened in the last few days which have confirmed my feeling that Old Publishing really is reading at the Last Chance Saloon, and that attitudes to writers can still, even now, stink like a week-old herring.
          I was recently asked if I'd take part in a large-scale book festival for schools, in a certain distant city. Would I go there, twice, and talk to groups of kids? Sure, I said, raising an eyebrow at the fee they were offering (not so much 'modest' as 'insulting'), but keen as always to do my bit to foster literacy. I assume there'll be books to buy at each event? No, but the kids have been read one of your books in class. So there'll be press or other publicity? Not for individual authors, no, but definitely huge coverage for the festival, absolutely. Travel expenses? No, sorry. So, the cost of train tickets leaves me ahead by exactly £4.80 per event. Events which take up two days of my timetable. Hmm.
          Why didn't I just say no? Because the kids had already been given my book to read, and I'm not in the business of letting my readers down. My participation was simply assumed.
          The half-dozen publishers involved (not my main one, I hasten to add!) gushed about how wonderful, brilliant and inspiring the whole project is. Which it is, for them. It keeps them in employment, looks good on their CVs and puts their companies' names in front of influential people. The writers? They're grateful for any crumb that's thrown their way, aren't they?
          Not any more, matey.
          (To cap it all, they've just emailed me with a request to tweet, blog and mention the festival just as much as ever I possibly can. Quote "it would be fantastic if you could help us promote this unique event"... Unbe-bloomin'-lievable...)

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

Friday, 22 June 2012

Plotting After Powder Burn

One of the things I've learned so far about this writer gig is that you have to keep the books flowing... I published The Fulcrum Files back in the winter (the writing of it was the subject of an earlier blog). But I wouldn’t be a real writer if I didn’t already have the next one on the go. I’ve already added a page to my website for Powder Burn, which I’m hoping to finish for January next year - or, maybe February...

And so it’s time to start thinking about ideas for novel number five. I’ve decided to go for a series, kicking off with a sequel to Powder Burn. The main reason for this is that I just love the main character in this book, an American girl called Sam Blackett; here’s a little bit of Powder Burn that will give you a feel for her character:

She looked back down to the screen and the single email in her inbox. She’d sent out twenty-five more query letters to different newspaper and magazine editors just after she’d arrived in the city. All with ideas for travel stories. Score to date: zip for fourteen - all rejections. And the single email that glared back at her this morning? From her mother. Two months in India, nearly a month now in the Himalayas and only one story sold: to the Vermont Gazette, where her mother job-shared as office manager with Penelope-from-across-the-road. And she’d told this guy and his two mates that if they let her come with them, she would write up their expedition for Adventure magazine. She hadn’t thought they were serious. She had about as much chance of placing a story with Adventure as she did of winning a Pulitzer. Still, he wasn’t to know that. She glanced up, and caught Pete’s gaze for a moment...

In Powder Burn, Sam starts out as a spectacularly unsuccessful freelance journalist, gets herself into a whole world of trouble, somehow gets out of it intact - and with a helluva story to tell. It’s the break she needs for her writing career, and the idea of the series is that we follow her through various adventures and scrapes in pursuit of the next story.

The $64 million dollar question is... what story is next?

Like many writers I keep an ideas folder on my computer, and unlike most writers mine’s stuffed full of badly written paragraphs about a news item, or the thesis of a book, or just a couple of lines from a non-fiction account of something that interested me. This is where stories come from, or at least, it’s where my stories come from.

So, my plan is to work through some of those ideas on my own blog, testing them out as stories and seeing where they might go. And I thought I might give idea number one a run-around-the-block right here - and hopefully, get a little feedback.

The plot would find Sam in Fiji, trying to warm up after the Himalayan Powder Burn adventure. She’s been cruising around the islands for a few months after the success of her story and her career is starting to roll.

Then she bumps into an old friend from the States, he’s skippering a boat on a search for the perfect wave. A rich investor has hired him to do up the boat, and skipper it on a voyage through the Pacific Islands. They are looking for a place to build a hotel, a hotel with five star service and access to a completely empty, and perfectly ride-able wave for well-heeled amateur surfers. Scenting a story, Sam agrees to join him as a deck-hand and off they go...

What she doesn’t know is that the boat was bought very cheaply from the Singapore authorities, after they had confiscated it from a local criminal. He was using it to run drugs and girls out to the frustrated crewmen stuck on merchant ships, and awaiting their turn in Singapore’s massive container terminal. And what no one knows is that there’s still a huge stash of drugs hidden aboard the boat. Inevitably (this is a thriller), the drugs come to light at the worst possible moment...

And that’s the set-up – originally I thought the drugs would be found after they were wrecked on an island. The story would then go the way of a descent into madness and survival, a la Lord of the Flies, or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But now I’m thinking there’s also potential for a more conventional suspense thriller – a chase story, as the drug dealer comes after his boat and his stash.

The only problem is that this is territory I’ve mined before. The Defector is all about a boat chase and a struggle for survival. So maybe I’d be better off looking for a more conventional plot idea, something urban, something different from adventure in exotic places.... back to the drawing board, then... or not, what do you think?

Any feedback is much appreciated, and you can find me online at:





Thursday, 21 June 2012

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A BOOK CAN MAKE: Pauline Fisk on the Olympic Dream [and the value of occasionally tearing oneself away from the computer]

I’ve told part of this story before, but bear with me because I’ve something new to add, and it’s quite a story anyway. In 2008, the British Arts Council funded me to go out to Belize.  I was interested in the concept of gap year volunteering and the difference – if any - it made to young people’s lives. In particular, I wanted to explore it as a modern rite of passage, comparing it to the rites of passage that young Belizeans - say Kekchi-Mayans from the poorer end of Belizean life - might go through in order to achieve adulthood. The result of my research was a novel for young adults, ‘In The Trees’.

I learnt a lot in Belize. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say the six week visit changed me. For twenty years I’d been a desk-bound author, living a largely desk-bound life. Sure enough, for ‘Flying for Frankie’ I’d taken to hot air balloon, and for my Children of Plynlimon novels, I’d explored the three great rivers - Severn, Wye and Rheidol - which flow out of Plynlimon Mountain in that region of Wales once called the Wilderness of Elenedd. And I did make some wonderful discoveries on foot, but many more hours were spent in libraries or at my screen. Finally I came to a point where ‘smelling the roses’ wasn’t something I was ever likely to do. I was more likely to Google search it, or look it up in a book.

Well, the tiny Caribbean nation of Belize put paid to that. My first thought upon arriving in Belize City was that I’d entered that literary country known as Greeneland.  But Belize put paid to Graham Greene as well, and Joseph Conrad and any other author through whose books I’d ever explored tropical countries and tropical life. The dusty Hummingbird Highway along which I traveled on local buses and hitched rides, the jaguar heartland of the Cockscombe Basin through which I trekked, the Kekchi-Mayan villages I visited in Toledo District, with their backdrop of the Maya Mountains, weren’t even Fiskland.  This was its own land, and all I could do was discover, respect and – like a teenager on a first date – fall in love with it.

It’s a love affair that’s lasted to this day.  I only have to see pictures of Belize, or meet Belizean people in the UK, or hear the music of Paul Nabor, or Andy Palacio [click this link for a fabulous short film of Belize] and I’m transported straight back. Here it all is again. The heat, the dust, the lush greenness of a country that - from the moment you get off the plane – smells predominantly of trees. The whoops and whistles of the jungle as darkness falls. The open smiles on people’s faces, and their open hearts. The taxi driver who’ll break your journey to raid an orange grove because you’ve never tasted Belizean oranges straight from the tree. The young Kekchi-Mayan girl who gives you a letter when you leave, saying, ‘I will be your friend for life.’ The old woman living in the mangrove swamp, who tells you the names of all the birds. The hustler who tries to sell you a poem.

How can you forget these people? Once met, they’re with you for life.  And so is the Caribbean shoreline and the country’s fabulous interior with its unforgettable jungle, pristine Mayan ruins and tiny towns and villages.  

I came home from Belize with an obligation laid upon my heart.  Firstly I wanted to write about the Belizean rainforest and what I’d seen with my own eyes, both of its fabulous beauty and the awfulness of its despoilation.  Secondly, I wanted to write about the efforts of young people - many straight from school - to help stem that destructive and entirely man-made tide.  I was astonished by the young gap year volunteers whom I trekked out into the jungle to meet.  In remote and hostile environments, working on projects to save jaguars, scarlet macaws, monkeys, trees, even Mayan artifacts, they gave their all to the cause they were fighting for, and I wanted to write a book that not only honoured the country but their achievements too. 

Well, ‘In The Trees’ is written now, and published, so you can read it if you want and measure my success.  I’ve been all over the UK with it, talking and showing photographs from my trip. At the end of my session at the Edinburgh Book Festival, a theatre full of children [and teachers] all put up their hands and said they wanted to go gap year volunteering in Belize.  At the Starlit Festival in Hoxton, London, I was commended for my command of Jamaican [though what I wrote wasn’t Jamaican, it was Bileez Kriol] and asked if I could speak it too [no].  In Westminster Abbey – even there, astonishingly - the book received a commendation from the Belizean High Commissioner who shook my hand and said,  ‘Oh, you’re the writer of that wonderful book.’  And recently, Olympic hopeful, and indefatigable organizer for Team Belize, Andy Wigmore, told my daughter that when he read my book he could even smell Belize  

And it’s that little word ‘Olympic’ that I’m coming to. Slowly, but I’m nearly there.

What we writers can achieve at our computers is astonishing.  But what we can achieve by getting up from them and going out into the world, can be astonishing too.  I was mindful of this recently when I read Julia Jones’s piece here on Authors Electric about sailing on her [and Arthur Randsome’s] boat, Peter Duck, with John McCarthy.  But it’s not just authors who can achieve great things.  By going out into the world, our books can too.     

My daughter Grace has a nasty habit, by which I mean she smokes.  It’s strange how one thing can lead to another.  Fag-breaking on a pavement outside the fashion house she worked for, Grace forged a friendship with Team Belize's Andy Wigmore, who worked in the same building. His surprise at her knowledge of his country was compounded by her mother having been there, and written a book. One thing followed another, by which I mean that fashion followed literature, followed by Team Belize, who were coming to the Olympics for their fiftieth year [an amazing achievement for such a tiny nation] and at that point without a specifically designed kit. Did Grace, working in fashion, and quite plainly a friend of Belize, know anyone who might help?

Grace’s partner, Luis Lopez Smith, is the highly talented Chief Designer for the sportswear brand, Head. You can put the rest together for yourselves.  Working independently, Luis has designed a kit which is quite definitely going to make waves.  Last week saw the four of us - Grace, Luis, and me, along with Andy - guests of the  Belizean High Commission in London, being thanked by their Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Wilfred Elrington, for services to Belize. How amazing is that?  And, in my case, for a book.  I couldn’t be prouder if I tried. 

What a strange chain of events.  The night before I flew out to Belize, I lay awake in a state of mortal terror, wondering what lay ahead. It took real courage to go - and I wasn’t the courageous type. But every author knows that it’s from the books themselves that courage comes. Ideas get hold of us, and we have to run with them.  They won’t let go.  And so it was with me about Belize.  For years I waited for someone else to write that gap year novel for young teenagers, but no one did. And now I’m so glad that it fell to me.

The writer’s life is an extraordinary one.  You truly never know what will happen next, nor what will come of the things you write. Since ‘In The Trees’, my writer’s life has brought me here to Authors Electric, trekking through the internet with e-books in hand rather than my machete.  And where to next?  Another novel?  For adults, or for children?  A foray into flash fiction?  A ghost writing opportunity that’s looming on the horizon, too fascinating to miss?  Maybe all of them - but one thing's for sure. 

When the Olympics opens, I'll be rooting for Team Belize. 

- To follow Team Belize on Facebook
- For extracts from my Belize journal [click on 'Belize Journal entries' in right hand column]
- To buy ‘In the Trees’ in Paperback, Amazon Kindle or in the Apple Store
- Contact details for author visits: