There were six entries in the contest, so I asked my partner, Jayne, to pick a number between 1 and 6 (without telling her what it was for). She picked number 4, so I'm pleased to reveal that the winner of a signed copy is entrant number 4, Coffeewithkate. Congratulations, Kate!
I originally advertised that two runners-up would receive PDF versions of the novella. In a contest with only six entries, however, it seems a shame to have any losers, so I've decided to donate a copy of the PDF to everyone who entered. Please write to me with your email address using the Contact Me link on my blog, and I'll send you download instructions.
The competition asked people to name their favorite SF or fantasy books and state their reasons in 50 words or fewer. I've reproduced all the entries below, in case anyone else who enjoys SFF is looking for some more reading ideas...
Brittany Airman, by Eoin Colfer A picture-perfect life, dashed by lies. The 14-year-old in the center of this story flies--literally-- through a tumult of treachery, anger, abuse, and hatred on his way to justice and his dream--learning to fly.
Jesse West of Eden by Harry Harrison An alternate-history work built around a world in which dinosaurs and humans both evolved into intelligent species. Two extremely different civilizations are brought together in a story full of excitement, intrigue, and conflict.
igotrythmn The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson Oldie but a goodie, two worlds, alter ego, escaping reality, characters out of this world, stories build, crescend, time travel, ethereal existence, is it real or is it not kind of stuff. Three more books are being written before the end.
Coffeewithkate Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy- Douglas Adams An ordinary man thrown into a world of Paranoid Androids, Pangalactic Gargleblasters and deadly Vogon Poetry. Join Arthur Dent and his quest to discover the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in this classic sci-fi romp. Pyjamas optional.
Rosco Fraser Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers I have honestly never laughed so much from reading a book in my life. I loved the TV show but the book was so much better, my favourite bit is the hopper ride, comic genius and a definite must read.
Carrie Sheppard Dragon's Egg: Theodore Sturgeon This book was written decades ago and yet it is one of the most forward thinking books I have ever read. He challenges our very perceptions of physics and reality and offers a great story too. These old SF writers gave us 90% of our current technology lingo - if you've never read this book, or any work by TS, then remedy it!
Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I've read Hitch-Hiker's Guide (I'm tempted to add 'of course'!) but rather surprisingly none of the others. I have read some of Harry Harrison's other books, and especially recommend The Technicolor Time Machine if you can find a copy - it's Harrison at his hilarious best. The other books and authors listed above I will have to check out soon.
I've written about tagging on Amazon a few times on this blog. Here's a link to my original post which explains what it is and how authors with books for sale on Amazon can benefit from it.
To recap briefly, Amazon now allows anyone who has ever bought a product at the store in question to apply 'tags' to any book on sale there. Potential buyers can click on the tags associated with a book to see a list of other titles which have had the same tag applied (and which presumably they might therefore be interested in as well).
Tagging may also be used by Amazon to inform their 'You might also like...' recommendations, and so forth. All this makes it potentially a very powerful promotional tool.
In recent weeks I've been paying much more attention to tagging on Amazon - not only of my own books, but those of other writers as well. It strikes me that the system is poorly understood, and also sadly under-utilized by authors and publishers. It is also, unfortunately, open to abuse.
In my travels across the Amazon (LOL) I've seen plenty of examples of bad and even ugly use of tagging. Let's start with an example of the latter. Here are the tags for Dead and Alive, Book 3 in Dean Koontz's Modern Frankenstein series...
As you can see, these tags appear to have been applied by one disgruntled reader who has taken the opportunity to protest at what he considers an unreasonable delay in releasing the book. (In fact, if you read the reviews, you will see that Dean and his publishers had a very good reason for delaying this New Orleans-set title.)
I call this ugly tagging, because it is simply one person (ab)using the system to make derogatory comments. It's very easy to see how this sort of thing could get out of hand. Amazon might then have to introduce an approval system before any tags are applied (or, more likely, scrap the system altogether).
Fortunately 'ugly' tagging isn't too widespread, but there are lots of examples of 'bad' or pointless tagging. Here are the tags of a randomly chosen example from Amazon.co.uk, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger...
Among the tags applied to this best-selling novel, you will see book, books, drama, fiction and other terms which are so vague that they are unlikely to be any help at all in telling people whether they might like the book in question. Some of the other tags, such as overrated, probably fall into the 'ugly' category.
What seems clear is that many people are confused by tagging and its purpose. Only a relatively small number of people apply tags, and an even more minuscule number do it in a worthwhile, sensible way. Paradoxically, however, this makes it a particularly powerful tool for authors and publishers, due to the general lack of competition. (Personally I see no objection to authors and publishers tagging their books, as done properly it helps readers understand the content of the book and whether or not it would appeal to them.)
So what tags should you apply to your book to help boost its sales? First and foremost, they should be specifically relevant to the book. If your novel is set in the sixties, for example, '1960s' could be a good, specific tag to apply. Your book will then appear any time someone clicks on the '1960s' tag on the pages of any other books which also have this tag. If a reader is interested in another book set in the sixties, there must be a good chance that yours will appeal to them as well.
To create such a benefit, your tags should of course be shared by other, related titles. Producing unique tags will not generate any immediate benefits for you, although it might do if people apply the tag to other books subsequently.
Ideally, of course, what you want is for your book to be linked to other, top-selling titles whose Amazon pages attract a lot of visitors. Tagging gives you an effective (and legitimate) way to achieve this, albeit at one step removed. Give your book some of the same tags to a best-selling one, and as long as the tags are specific enough to sound interesting, you will get a proportion of readers clicking on them to see related titles. Hey presto! Your own book will then appear.
Suppose that none of the tags currently on the book page you want to attract potential buyers from is relevant to your book, though? No problem! Just apply an appropriate tag to both your book and the top-selling title. Because of the small number of tags which have been applied so far, this technique currently works well even with best-sellers.
Finally, if you want to get multiple tags for your books, you could do a lot worse than join the co-operative tagging service called Tag My Book on Amazon. Members of TMBOA tag one another's books to help boost their positions (the more times a particular tag is used on a book, the higher up the list it is displayed for that tag). The TMBOA website has separate pages for Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. See also my earlier blog post about this site.
To celebrate the launch, I'm giving away a signed copy of the printed version of The Festival on Lyris Five, along with two copies of the downloadable (PDF) version for the runners-up.
To win, all you have to do is post the title and author of your favorite science fiction or fantasy book as a comment below, along with no more than 50 words about why you like it so much. I'm really hoping for some good recommendations for books to read myself in the coming months!
The contest is open to anyone in the world. The closing date is midnight GMT on Sunday 16 August. I will pick the winners at random from all qualifying entries, and announce the results on this blog on Monday 17 August. So you have just over a fortnight to get your entry in!
Good luck, and please do mention this contest to anyone else you think might like to enter.
As regards the story, I can't really do better than quote my publisher's blurb:
Former Ten Stars combat pilot Rick Barrett is having a bad day. Not only is he jobless and broke, in a seedy spaceport bar he has just been forced into a winner-takes-all poker game with a homicidal cauliflower. Salvation is at hand in the shapely form of Irish redhead Julie Halloran, who has an unusual talent of her own. Julie has a proposition for Rick that could end his financial worries at a stroke, though it might also end up getting him killed. But is Julie keeping a few cards hidden herself?
The Festival on Lyris Five is a fast-moving, hilarious, science-fiction novella, where nothing is quite what it seems. The story by UK author Nick Daws is beautifully complemented by Louise Tolentino's wry illustrations.
If you'd like to know more, you can read an extract from the story by clicking on the BookBuzzr widget below...
If you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to view the widget.
I'd just add that I wrote this story a few years ago, when I had a bit more time for fiction writing. It's proved quite difficult to place, as it's too short for a conventional novel yet too long for most short-story markets. I'm delighted to see it in print at last, much enhanced by Louise's illustrations. I make no claims for The Festival on Lyris Five as a work of literature, but I had a lot of fun writing it, and hope readers will share some of that enjoyment now.
Lastly, I'm planning to launch a competition to win a signed copy of The Festival on Lyris Five soon, so keep watching this blog for details!
Well, I've just finished reading it and uploaded my review to Amazon.co.uk. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so I thought I'd share my impressions with you here as well. Here's a slightly adapted version of my Amazon review...
Box of Tricks is difficult to categorize. It's part comedy, part nostalgia, part coming-of-age novel. But it also explores some deeper themes of freedom and responsibility, especially towards one's family.
The setting of the book - a British seaside town in the early 1960s - reflects a time when society was changing rapidly. Two of the younger characters - teenage tearaway Ray and aspiring model Julia - are enthusiastically embracing the new freedoms. The narrator, the slightly younger Eddie, finds himself torn between the old and the new.
Box of Tricks is beautifully written, in fluid, evocative prose. Yet though it is undoubtedly a literary novel, the author also weaves a deftly constructed plot, with some surprising twists and turns. Many of these centre on the eponymous back-street joke shop, which plays a pivotal role in the story.
Box of Tricks starts off slowly, then picks up pace as the key characters find their lives changing forever. The novel moves towards a conclusion that is touching without being over-sentimental. It answers enough questions to leave readers satisfied, yet enough unsaid to resonate long after the book has been put down.
Overall, Box of Tricks gets my highest recommendation as an intelligent, thought-provoking, but above all hugely enjoyable read.
Obviously, I may be just a little biased as Jeff is an old friend of mine, but I do read a lot of fiction, and this is one of the books I have most enjoyed for a long time. I've always known that Jeff is a highly talented writer, and it's great to see his work at last achieving the recognition it deserves. If you'd like to know more about Box of Tricks, here is an image link to the book's page on Amazon.co.uk...
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Incidentally, Jeff was interviewed a while ago on WritersFM about his first novel, Painter Man. He is a thoughtful and engaging interviewee, and I recommend downloading the interview from the WritersFM podcasts page and giving it a listen. Jeff has a demanding full-time job as an architect, and it's particularly interesting to hear him discuss how he manages to find time for writing in his busy schedule.
Today I'm delighted to welcome to my blogJoanna Penn, from The Creative Penn, the hugely popular blog devoted to writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, Internet sales and promotion for authors.
Joanna is also the creator of Author 2.0, a free blueprint for authors hoping to use Web 2.0 methods for publicizing and promoting their books.
In this guest post, Joanna reveals seven ways you can use a single article to help promote your book.
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Web 2.0 technologies have empowered authors to write, publish, sell and promote their books online in many different ways. There are so many options now that utilise free software. They take some time and effort to achieve, but you can gain fantastic results.
One effective book promotion tactic is to use articles. These can be segments of your book, or an article written on the topic of your book. This works for both fiction and non-fiction. Repackage parts of your existing written work into articles of around 500-700 words each. You will also need a 'call to action' on the bottom of the article that contains your contact details and book buying information. I'd also recommend including an offer that gets people to click through, for example, 'Get Three Free Chapters Here'. Here is an example if you are unsure.
Here then are seven ways you can take one article and turn it into multiple channels for book promotion...
1. Turn it into a blog post with free services such as Wordpress or Blogger. Blog posts turn into individual web pages indexed by search engines, so each article of yours will represent a new web page.
2. Post it on Scribd.com, Docstoc.com and EzineArticles.com. These sites are specifically for article marketing and millions of people search them each day. People can download your work for free, but you get great exposure.
3. Post a link to it on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. This will bring people's attention to your article, and to your book if it is referenced. People can also forward your link on to others, generating a ripple effect for your promotion.
4. Add it to a collection of articles and release as a free (or paid) ebook through Smashwords.com or Scribd. You could offer a selection of 10 articles for free download. Once you have between 70-100 articles, you will even have enough for a regular book that you can sell separately.
5. Record yourself reading the article and release it as a mini-audio or part of a regular podcast. You can record yourself using a basic microphone and the free Audacity software [ND: This is explained in detail in The Ultimate Podcasting Kit from WCCL]. You can then release it on your blog or through a network like BlogTalkRadio.
6. Make a video of yourself talking about the article and post it on YouTube and TubeMogul. You can use a basic video camera, a webcam or Flipcam. At Viddler.com you can even record straight to the screen. Many people use YouTube for primary search, so you need a video presence.
7. Turn it into a press release. You can reshape your article into a press release by linking it to a newsworthy subject, adding quotes, and targeting it to a specific market. Send it to journalists you have targeted for your specific book niche.
These ideas will cost you nothing in money - just your time. Multiply these by as many articles as you can write in a specific period and you will see how this can generate an effective web presence in little time!
I must start by admitting that I know How to Live on Less very well, as a few months ago I was hired by the publishers to copy edit it.
As a freelance writer/editor, I get to work on all sorts of books, some more interesting than others, but this one definitely fell into the 'very interesting' category.
The full title of Gill's book is How to Live on Less - A Guide to Everyday Budgeting and Self-sufficiency. As she says in her introduction:
How to Live on Less is about taking a new and exciting look at financing our everyday life and the ways in which we can achieve the same, or similar, for less. Just because we want to economise doesn't mean resorting to penny-pinching or drastically reducing our quality of life in order to afford what we want. It's about understanding our spending patterns, learning new habits and taking advantage of a range of smarter, cheaper ways of sourcing, acquiring and using those products we want or desire.
How to Live on Less is definitely not just for the Tom and Barbara Goods of this world (characters in the classic BBC sitcom The Good Life). It's for anyone who wants to save money, become more self-sufficient, and reduce their environmental impact on the planet.
How to Live on Less is divided into five chapters. The Introduction is quite short and explains the philosophy behind the book and how it is structured. Chapter One - A Toolkit of Techniques for Living on Less - offers a wide range of tips and advice on budgeting and saving money, including smart use of credit cards, charity shops, the Internet, and so on.
Chaper Two looks at ways to save on Energy, Water and Fuel. This is where the book becomes impressively detailed. You will learn not only how to save money on these commodities, but how (if you wish) you can achieve self sufficiency, e.g. by generating your own electricity. Gill has included detailed calculations showing the likely cost of these strategies, and the time it will take to break even on them.
Chapter Three is titled Home and Leisure. This looks at ways of saving money on everything from travel and fitness to clothes, books and music. There is also a section on self sufficiency around the home, looking at how you can use natural products to replace shop-bought ones (natural cleaning products and cosmetics, for example).
Chapter Four - Food, Drink and a Few Bits More - is the longest in the book. It focuses on growing your own food, with lots of advice on stocking your garden, natural pest control, composting, and so forth. The chapter also covers keeping animals - bees, chickens, pigs, etc. - with examples drawn from Gill's own experiences and those of her livestock-keeping friends. There is also a selection of food and drink recipes for using produce from your garden. I particularly recommend the courgette (zucchini) pie!
How to Live on Less is written with a UK audience in mind, although much of the advice would be relevant world-wide. Obviously, though, specific information, e.g. about government grants available for installing solar panels, would not apply outside these shores.
Overall, however, if you want to beat the Credit Crunch and enjoy the many other benefits of a more self-sufficient lifestyle, I highly recommend this well-researched, informative and entertaining book.
For more information about How to Live on Less, click through any of the links in this review to visit the book's page on Amazon.co.uk.
Without further ado, then, let's get the interview rolling...
ND: Welcome to my blog, Casey. Can you start by revealing when you first became interested in poetry writing?
CQ: My interest in poetry definitely expanded as I got older. I have always read a great deal since I was very young but mainly fiction, mostly short stories but also a good share of novels. I always appreciated poetry and read the classics growing up, but never dove in head first to really understand the beauty of poetry or see the strength of it.
If I had to put my finger on when 'the awakening' took place, I would say somewhere maybe five years ago or so. I think it was related to the time where I decided to try and lose weight by only drinking wine and cutting out all of the beer. Well, the beer commitment never really stuck, but the poetry world was opened and kept pulling me in. The next thing I knew I had stopped buying fiction and my bookshelf was filled with poetry. It sort of just happened.
Since 'the awakening' I always jotted down notes of lines, moments or simple observations into random sheets of paper and stored them away in a little marble notebook. The more I read poetry the more I realized how many flavors of poetry really exist, and I started to pick up tastes for what I liked and didn't, sort of how I figured out I like cabernet sauvignon a great deal more than merlot. You just keep doing something long enough; you really refine your tastes. I think once you have your tastes and tone you can become serious about writing poetry. Once I found a few poets that I admired and really just loved the words they wrote, their message, their style, it motivated to take my years of random notes and ideas and try to do something with them. From there, I began writing poetry.
ND: How did 'Snapshots of Life' come to be published? Was it difficult deciding which of your poems to include?
CQ: It really took a while for me to get comfortable with my poetry before I sent anything out, but once I met a few poets whose own work I respected and started to receive great feedback I got more confident in my word choice, my form and style. In the first few years I received a great number of rejections, but a few poems here and there snuck in to fuel my motivation.
After I had about thirty or forty poems published in different print or online journals and had written another two hundred or so poems, I wanted to try and just pick the poems I felt best defined my style of poetry and would work together as a group, and see if I could get the collection published. Every day I see something and I feel propelled to write it down. Could be simple and/or comical, could have a bigger meaning. Whatever it is, I see something and I want to share it with people. Selecting the poems was not too hard, as I belong to three or four pretty active forums where I post a good deal of my work for critiques, and had most of the poems I was going to include accepted already somewhere for publication. I felt pretty confident with a subset of the poems based on all of the feedback I had gotten. I had a good idea about which poems were total bombs and which ones had value. From there it was trying to pick the ones with the most value.
Right about the time I had my collection about ready to go it was toward the end of fall, early winter of last year, and I read a post on the greatest forum in the entire internet, also known as MyWritersCircle.com, about one of the members starting a publishing company and looking for submissions. I sent in the only query letter I wrote and Guy Cousins, the founder of Salvatore Publishing, responded and asked to see the collection. About six months later the book was released.
ND: Are there any particular poets whose work has influenced you? Do you have a favorite poet?
CQ: As part of the process of defining taste you will come across poets whose work you admire, whose every line teaches you something about how to write good poetry. Poets whose poems inspire you to write a poem and read their book over and over again just in case you can find another meaning, or just to appreciate the meaning you already took away the first time.
For me, these poets include Raymond Carver, e e cummings, Walt Whitman, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and many others whom I started to read after trying out a sample here and there of so many different styles. These people spoke to me the most, both in their presentation of the words and the messages they spoke.
My favorite poet has to be, hands down, John Yamrus. John writes and people relate. He could kill a big bug and spin it into a poem that is humorous and interesting. He could sit in his backyard and listen to his neighbors argue and find something poetic in the moment and write it in such a way that, as a reader, you feel the poetic moment as well.
I wrote a poem and posted it for a review on a forum and the feedback I received was that the style and tone reminded the reader of a poem that Yamrus would write. I won't lie, I really felt honored. To write something and have someone compare it to someone whom you admire sort of made my day.
ND: Have you any tips for my readers who want to improve their poetry writing?
CQ: Really, the best way to improve your writing is reading. I think everyone has a unique voice, which is what makes poetry so interesting to read. Two people can see the same exact thing yet write it out completely differently. Even two people who write in the same form and style will say it differently and present the words on the page differently. Poetry is unique to the individual, and that has to be the strength of the poet. Learn what your voice is and write in it.
After reading everything you can, write every day. Write about something that happened to you, something you saw on the news, anything. Just write a poem every day and be very specific about the event. There are enough poems out there about death, life, happiness, suicide, teen angst, hate, and every other vague, cliche word I can throw at you. Be specific and write it so the reader can live it. Don't write from the 10,000 foot level, but as if the reader was watching it happen.
Show feelings. If someone broke your heart, don't tell me they broke your heart. Write that the picture of the two of you on the counter is shattered and in the trash, and that your box of tissues is empty. I will get the point that your heart is broken. Reading good poetry you will just naturally pick up why it is considered good poetry - because it deals with specific moments in time and a specific event.
Listen to people whose own writing you respect and love. Everyone has their own style, and groups of people can write in similar styles. I have found people tend to critique poems trying to convert the poem to their own style rather than accepting it in the style it was written. Many poets believe their style is good and other styles should learn to be more like their style. Listen and work on improving your poems, but maintain your own voice. Listen to people whose own work you respect. Do not get defensive about your poems. When people critique a poem of yours, they are only critiquing the poem. They are not picking on you as a person or your writing in general. If someone does pick on you as a person or your style of poetry in general, just write 'thanks for your review' and ignore them. Don't get upset over feedback.
ND: What do you think about poetry writing contests? Do you ever enter them yourself?
CQ: I think money should flow to writers, therefore I am usually against poetry contests that charge an entry fee. I think poets do not make any money as it is, and really have only a few venues to make a name for themselves and, for me, poetry contests are not one of them. There are too many scams out there looking to make their money by taking advantage of writers. All contests generally end in an anthology or collection being created. The sponsor of the contest should make money by selling the books, not by the entry fees.
I will enter a poetry contest if I know the person running it or if I belong to an organization sponsoring it. I only do this to help the organization; I see it more as a donation then really participating in a poetry contest.
ND: As well as writing poetry, you also run an online magazine called Short Story Library and a publishing house called ReadMe Publishing. Could you tell me a bit more about both these ventures?
CQ: Short Story Library is now officially a one year old! I love to read short fiction and poetry, and in addition I write a good deal of short fiction and poetry. As I looked for venues online to submit work to, I realized that many sites were done poorly and decided to try and create a nice looking, professional magazine for people to display their work in. To be honest I had no idea of the amount of work it really takes to properly run a magazine.
We get about 25 submissions a week and only publish 3 or 4 items each week. It took a while for me to get used to the process of rejecting others and editing the writing of the ones I did accept. The first few months were a little rocky, but after about four months I really felt comfortable with my editor hat on and publisher hat on. We started out with a small number of subscribers, but now one year later we have over 2,000 readers each month, or about 500 a week for each issue we publish. My goal was to help short story writers and poets find an audience and I am pretty happy with the growth of the magazine. I think each week we put out quality writing and it shows in the loyalty of the readership.
ReadMe Publishing is a newer venture started at the end of last year, early this year. The more I got interested in publishing online, the more I realized that the printed word is what will last. I had a thought about one day loading up Short Story Library and the site was down. I would call the host and they would say there was an error and the database crashed. All the data is lost. It hit me that online, nothing lasts. Websites and blogs come and go, and when they go, so does the record of the publication ever existing. Only the printed words will remain. ReadMe Publishing was created really just to help more writers see their work in print and know that long after they leave this earth, their name will be in a book somewhere, maybe being read by someone.
ND: Finally, a question I like to ask all my visiting writers: What are your three favorite websites and why?
This is a tough question, as really so many websites out there have helped me improve as a writer, editor, and publisher. I think for me the site that has helped me learn the most about the writing world is the AbsoluteWrite forum. This place is filled with professional writers from all genres and styles. It includes bestselling authors, well-known poets and publishers with many titles in bookstores all over the world.
Number two on my list will be, of course, the MyWritersCircle website. I tend to not stray too far from the poetry section of the forum, but the feedback from the poets that reside on the site has been priceless. They are tough, honest and constant.
The third on the list has to be my own writing forum at Short Story Library. While not as big as AW or MWC, the Short Story Library folks have been around really since the beginning of the site and pop on to say 'Hi' and talk about general things in addition to writing. Many of the folks on the site have encouraged me over my time there with my writing and let me know when I have just written a piece of junk or when maybe there was potential. There is also just a great general feel to being home and knowing the folks on the site.
ND: Many thanks for answering my questions today in such detail, Casey - and thanks also for your enthusiastic testimonial on behalf of my forum at Mywriterscircle.com! I wish you every success with Snapshots of Life. I really enjoyed reading it.
CQ: Thanks, Nick, for the interview. It has been great, and best of luck with your own upcoming release from Salvatore Publishing.
Finally, just my customary reminder that Casey's book Snapshots of Life is available via the website of Salvatore Publishing. It's an entertaining and accessible read, and I'm very happy to recommend it to anyone who enjoys good modern poetry.
Danielle is visiting as part of a Virtual Book Tour to celebrate the publication of her novel THE PRIVATEER.
Without further ado, then, let's get on with the interview...
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ND: Welcome to my blog, Danielle. Could you start by telling me how you first got into writing. What was your first published book or story?
DT: I was born with stories in my head. I won a national Honorable Mention for poetry with Scholastic in Junior High and went on to pursue poetry and then later freelancing. As a young mother I completed two manuscripts and almost had one published but it fell through. Sadly, it took a tragic car accident that almost took one of my parents to make me accept how unpredictable life is. Since then, I've researched and completed three novels of different genres in the last three years. Two are set to be released this year as an e-book and print; the third is under consideration with a New York publisher at this time.
ND: The Privateer is based in 18th Century England, but you actually live near Atlanta, Georgia. What made you choose to write about this period and setting, and how did you go about researching it?
DT: By the time I reached my thirties I didn't think there was anything left to capture my imagination! Then the film 'Master and Commander' debuted and I fell instantly in love with the Age of Sail. Patrick O'Brian is a master storyteller and I have read all of his series, and other seafaring authors, too.
Sea fiction teaches you that naval officers could be either good or bad; they didn't all fall into one category. Of course, this would apply to pirates, too. I love what Disney did with 'Pirates of the Caribbean'; they took a despicable lot of greedy, bloodthirsty criminals and made one very human. In essence, they made the act of piracy gray: Who were these men? Were they all bad guys? What were their back stories?
THE PRIVATEER is my take. It's about a man forced into piracy at a young age. He uses his intellect and ambition to escape the fate that awaited those pirates who were caught. With his pardon and years of swashbuckling experience, my character, Julius Bertrand, knows he can be of use to the British Navy and he determines to ascend society and become a success.
As we all know, nothing ever turns out as we plan it, so Bertrand has to deal with old enemies who put a bounty on his head to stop him from interfering in some nefarious plans involving diamonds.
The research was no chore. I've always loved history and dabble in UK genealogy. Besides buying books about the era and using the Internet, I spent long hours in the downtown Memphis Library reading reference books and documents from the West Indies. I probably have more pages of notes and copies filed then there are pages of THE PRIVATEER. My favorite part of research, though, was a three-day cruise through the Caribbean. To actually stand at the rail and look out over the ocean and taste the salt in the wind...that brought it all to life for me.
ND: The Privateer is being published as an e-book. Is there any special reason you chose this format rather than conventional print publication?
DT: I actually spent several months pursuing a contract in New York and met with some positive responses. It's such an oversaturated market - when you look at how many authors are trying to get their foot in the door, you appreciate the positive feedback and opportunities.
Finding a publisher that wasn't specialized in just one area was difficult. THE PRIVATEER has a broad appeal - it falls into several genres: historical, adventure, and romantic, so after some close calls I decided to test the waters with e-publishing, since I was more familiar with the process. I started at the top and quickly got a contract with Awe-Struck Publishing. They publish historicals and romances, and were very receptive to the premise of THE PRIVATEER. Looking back, it's the best thing that could have happened. These past three years I have seen e-books explode onto the scene and I am committed 100% to helping e-publishing become as accepted and understood as reading in hard copy.
ND: Could you tell me a bit about your typical working day? Do you have any special writing routines or habits?
DT: I am still raising a family so my writing has to be juggled to fit a busy schedule. I write during school hours and mess around a bit in the late evening if I have things to do. However, when I am engrossed in writing a manuscript, it becomes all encompassing. There are many weeks of fast food and dirty laundry. I've been known to go up to 72 hours without sleep. As my experience grows, I am learning how to balance and organize better, so I look forward to being more productive in the future.
As far as habits, I can't do without index cards. I use them to plan, plot, take notes, you name it. My office is littered with them when they're not laid out on the floor in scene sequences. Another habit I have, and not a good one, is snacking in front of the computer screen when I get stuck on a scene. Bad idea, but putting sugar into my mouth seems to make my brain work better. THE PRIVATEER probably equates to somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen pounds of chocolate. Me and the 3 Musketeers are very close.
ND: Are there any tips or advice you would like to pass on to other aspiring novelists?
DT: When you finish something, start something else. Every manuscript is a learning process and you do get better and better. Another tip is to be open-minded about negative feedback. Some, if not most of it, is well-meant and you need to learn the difference. When you start getting the same kind of comments about your story or style, it's time to be honest with yourself. You can't learn if you don't make mistakes.
ND: What other writing projects are you working on at the moment?
DT: Getting the word out on THE PRIVATEER takes up a lot of time but I enjoy getting to know readers and authors all over the world through blogs like this. On the creative horizon is a modern day sequel to THE PRIVATEER where one of Julius Bertrand's descendants discovers a missing diary and a shipwreck - keys to a hidden treasure. Think Goonies - but all grown up with a lot more romance and smarter adventure.
And then this coming August, my contemporary romance TURTLE SOUP will be released. TURTLE SOUP is a fun short-novel set between the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, the Georgia Aquarium, and a fictional bakery just down the street. I've posted an excerpt of TURTLE SOUP at my website: http://daniellethorne.jimdo.com/reviews/novel-excerpts/
ND: Finally, one question I always like to ask visitors to my blog: What are your three favorite websites, and why?
These folks give whole new meaning to the phrase getting in touch with your inner pirate. Every late summer, Mr. Swansbrough begins building his pirate ship as an ADDITION to his home in Central Georgia. The Black Pearl is completed by Halloween night and the whole family and community get involved incognito - swashbuckling around giving pirate tours as visitors come out of their Swansbrough Manor Cemetery...which is actually a private home and front yard. Last year they took donations and were able to buy a kiln for the art department of their elementary school. Everything went to charity, but these pirates put on a great cemetery and pirate show that is funded from out of their own pockets.
My second favorite website would have to be for research purposes. I found more information that I ever dreamed of about Regency England and Jane Austen at Jane Austen's World: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/
There are even articles on flora and fauna, not to mention the little quirky things no one ever thinks to write up essays on. They have a great search function and always provide up to date programming you can catch to enrich your research.
Last, for genealogical purposes: Ancestry.com is great and I made incredible progress with a membership from them, but I always keep FamilySearch.org on my favorites list because I spend a lot of time there. The best thing about Family Search is simply that it is free. It provides free, no-membership access to the IGI (International Genealogical Index) and has a lot more information on how to get started on genealogy and find other resources. I don't just love the history of Sail, I love my own, too!
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Thank you very much to Danielle for answering my questions in such fascinating detail - I now feel much more in touch with my own inner pirate!
By the way, while exploring Danielle's website, I noticed that she has created a nifty video trailer to help promote her book. I asked Danielle how she did this. She was kind enough to provide a detailed reply, but I'll save it for another time. Something else to look forward to!
I hope you've enjoyed hearing about Danielle and her book today, and that it may have inspired you to redouble your efforts to achieve your own writing goals.
I am pleased to reveal that not one but two writers are visiting my blog this month, as part of their respective Virtual Book Tours (VBTs) to launch their latest titles.
On Wednesday 6 May, I will be joined by Danielle Thorne, who will be talking about her new historical romance The Privateer (available in e-book form from Awe-Struck Publishing). The Privateer is based in 18th Century England, but Danielle actually lives near Atlanta, Georgia! I'll be asking what made her choose to write about this setting and period, and how she went about researching it. And, of course, I'll be getting her top tips and advice for other aspiring romantic/historical novelists.
On Tuesday 26 May, American poet Casey Quinn comes to my blog to discuss his first published volume of poetry, Snapshots of Life, from Salvatore Publishing (soon to publish a novella of my own, by the way).
Snapshots of Life is a collection of witty, humorous but above all accessible poems about everyday life, all presented with a wonderfully ironic slant. I'll also be publishing one of Casey's poems, My Niece, which as an uncle to two teenage nieces myself I could really identify with!
I'll be asking Casey how he got into poetry, and any tips he would like to pass on to other aspiring poets. I'm also planning to find out more about Short Story Library, his free weekly online magazine and writers' forum.
And, as usual, I'll be asking both my visitors to nominate their three favorite writing websites - though I'm pretty sure I already know one of the sites Casey is likely to include!
I'm really looking forward to hosting both these excellent writers on my blog, and hope you will enjoy learning more about them and their books too.
If you have a book (or books) for sale on Amazon, here's a quick and easy way to promote it.
It's also free of charge. And don't worry, it doesn't involve submitting a five-star review under a pseudonym (which I'm sure none of my readers would do, of course...).
The technique is based around tagging, which Amazon has recently introduced as one of several ways of making its site more interactive and 'Web 2.0'.
Registered users of Amazon can apply up to seven tags to any book. The tags are meant to provide useful information on the content of the book in question. So a book about writing might be given tags including 'writing', 'creative writing', 'article writing', 'writing for money', 'screenwriting', and so on. As a matter of interest, I have copied below the tags from the Amazon.co.uk listing for the popular On Writing by Stephen King.
Tags help people searching on Amazon. Someone wanting a book on writing stand-up comedy, for example, might search for all books with a tag of 'comedy writing'.
Tags improve the experience of Amazon users, so in my view it is quite legitimate for an author to apply tags to his or her own books (and I have done so). Not only will this mean that people interested in the topic of your book are more likely to find it, the tags may also help Amazon with its 'You might also enjoy...' recommendations which appear on the site and in emails it sends out. It's not clear at the moment how extensively Amazon uses data from tagging, but as the system becomes more widely known it's a good bet it will increase.
So if you have any books on sale on Amazon do take a moment to go along and tag them, and do it also on other countries' Amazon sites where they are sold (.com, .co.uk, .de, .fr, and so on). It could give your sales in the coming months a very handy boost!
* My sponsors, WCCL, produce a guide called The Best-Seller Secret, which reveals a raft of other techniques you can use to drive your book into the Amazon Top 100 List. Check it out!
The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?
In her post, Kristin will be talking about how she came to write her book, and passing on her tips for new novelists. She will also be revealing her three favorite websites (something I like to ask all my visiting authors!).
You can read more about Kristin and her novel on her website, and also discover where else she is visiting on her tour.
The anthology was to be organized and publicized via the micro-blogging service Twitter (hence the name, of course). It was to be self-published on Lulu.com, with all profits going to the British charity Comic Relief.
Well, I'm delighted to say that the project was a big success, with over 70 stories, poems, blog posts and more submitted for consideration. In an amazingly short time the entries were whittled down to the 13 chosen. The book was designed, edited and published, and beside me I have my very own copy, which I bought from the Lulu sales page just three days ago.
So what are my impressions? First off, I was a bit surprised by the size of the printed version (you can also order it as an e-book if you like). It's actually A4 size, so don't expect to carry it about easily in your pocket or handbag. The typeface is large and well spaced out. I quite like this, actually, as it means it's easy to read in dim light or when drunk ;-)
Of course, the main thing is the quality of the writing, and that's one thing that really has impressed me. I've not read all of TwitterTitters yet - I only got my copy yesterday - but I've very much enjoyed all the pieces I've read so far. There was an upper limit of 1400 words, which means that they can all be read in ten minutes or less - perfect for a short bus ride or whatever.
One contribution I particularly enjoyed from those I've read so far is The Creature Between Us by Cally Taylor. This story - about Gordon and Mary, and a frog who is actually Gordon's mid-life crisis - made me laugh out loud, and I loved the clever twist at the end.
Considering the breakneck speed with which TwitterTitters has been produced - to be ready for Red Nose Day on 13th March 2009 - the production quality is excellent, and the very occasional typo doesn't in the least detract from the pleasure of reading it.
How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is an attractively produced 235-page trade paperback. It takes you step-by-step through setting up a home business, beginning from assessing whether you are suited to this and choosing a business idea. Plenty of self-assessment exercises are provided to help with these matters.
The book goes on to cover the practicalities of setting up and running your business. It covers most of the areas any aspiring home-based entrepreneur will need to know about, including market research, planning permission, raising finance, marketing, book-keeping, Income Tax and VAT, insurance, and so on. There is even a chapter on deciding whether to expand and the pros and cons of employing others.
I also enjoyed the long chapter near the end, where Matthew sets out 50 home-based business profiles, giving brief details of what each entails and resources for further information and/or training. If you're not sure what business to start, this chapter could be a good source of inspiration.
The profiles include such occupations as freelance writing, proofreading and indexing, but also non-office-based jobs such as gardening, house-sitting and car valeting. Matthew explains that by the term 'home-based business' in the title, he includes jobs where you are based at home but do some or all of the work on your customers' premises.
How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is aimed primarily at people in the UK, so the resources and contacts given are nearly all British, and the information on tax, National Insurance and so on also refers to the UK system. I can't really recommend this book for non-UK residents, therefore; but if you are in Britain and thinking of going down this route, in my view it would be an ideal guide.
My bank balance is several hundred pounds better off today, thanks to my annual PLR payment.
For those who don't know, PLR stands for Public Lending Right. The UK PLR Office distributes money to UK authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from public libraries in Britain in the last year.
This year they are paying 5.98 pence per library loan. This money is paid to authors as 'compensation' for their presumed lost royalties on sales.
All UK authors are eligible for PLR (even if they don't currently live in Britain), but you do have to register with the PLR Office first. If you're a UK author with at least one published book to your name, therefore, you should sign up immediately to get what is due to you. The PLR website is at www.plr.uk.com.
Non-UK nationals cannot claim from the UK PLR Office, but many other countries (though not the USA as far as I know) have similar schemes in place to compensate writers for library lending. In many countries there are also reciprocal arrangements to compensate non-nationals for lending in the country concerned. In Britain this is co-ordinated by ALCS (the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society), and UK authors should also register separately with them.
Over the years I have made literally thousands of pounds from PLR payments; in the case of some books I have earned more from PLR than I have in publisher fees or royalties. So it is well worth taking a few minutes to register yourself and your book/s at the PLR Office website. Otherwise, you really are leaving money on the table!
I heard recently from my friends at WEbook.com, the collaborative writing website, that they are planning a new, printed book about Barack Obama's Inauguration as US President on January 20th (next Tuesday).
They are invitinImage by jmtimages via Flickrg anyone interested to contribute an article for possible inclusion in the book. All profits from sales will go to a nonprofit educational and publishing organisation, 826 National. I've reproduced below the information sheet they sent me, including where to submit your work.
Make History on Jan 20 2009: True Stories, Real People, One Day
On January 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama as its forty-fourth president. Millions will flock to Washington, and countless more will mark the event in their hometowns. WEbook.com, the home of community-sourced books, will publish a collection of inauguration stories, told by real people in their own words.
Jan 20 2009: True Stories, Real People, One Day represents a new approach to documenting history, made possible by WEbook.com's innovative online writing and social media platform. Never before has a publisher had access to so many voices so quickly around such a noteworthy event. This is Community-Sourced History: by the people, for the people.
Will this be a printed book?
Leveraging the speed and agility of the internet and digital printing by CreateSpace (an Amazon company), the printed book will be available within two weeks of the inauguration. Books will be sold on WEbook.com and Amazon.com for $9.99. WEbook will donate all profits from the project - and ask its authors to donate their royalties - to 826 National (www.826National.org), a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in seven cities across the country. Their goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing
You can add your voice to Jan 20 2009: True Stories, Real People, One Day by sharing your story of your anticipation of, participation in, and reflection on inauguration day. The deadline for short (500 word max) submissions is midnight EST, January 21. Submit online at www.webook.com/jan20.
If you know other writers who might be interested in being part of this community-sourced history, spread the word or email jan20-at-WEbook.com.
WEbook.com is an online community where writers, readers, and 'feedbackers' create great books and cast their votes to make their favorite undiscovered writers the next published authors. WEbook is an innovative avenue for new and established writers to find an audience, tapping the wisdom of the crowd to create a unique new form of creative work: community-sourced books.
In early February 2009, WEbook will release its first published community-sourced guide, 101 Things Every Man Should Know How to Do. This 'manthology' - comprising valuable lessons like 'How to Fight a Bear' and 'How to Sneak into Cuba' - was written by 28 authors working on WEbook.com, with help from hundreds of others who shared their insights along the way. What's next? Thrillers, fantasy novels, mysteries, children's books, and more - all written, refined, read, and rated by WEbook users.
You might also like to read this guest post on my blog last year by Melissa Jones, Content Manager of WEbook.com, which explains in more detail how this innovative site works. One of these days I shall definitely get around to joining myself!
January is traditionally the month for sales - and more so than ever in the current recession.
So I thought I'd do my bit and offer my best-selling course, Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, at a full $10 off the standard price for the rest of January.
The course normally sells for $49.95 - in fact, that's what it costs right now if you click through to the main sales site. If you follow the links at the end of this post, however, you can buy the CD for just $39.95 - a full 20% reduction!
In case you don't know, Write Any Book in Under 28 Days was my first course written for The WCCL Network. At its heart is my unique five-step outlining and blueprinting method, which thousands of buyers across the world have used to help create their first book (and in some cases many more...).
Quite apart from the five-step method, however, the course is also crammed with hints and tips on planning, researching, writing, editing and marketing your book, based on my own experience as the author of over 80 titles. Essentially, it's pretty much a 'brain dump' of everything I've ever learned about book writing...
The method set out in Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is suitable for writing both fiction and non-fiction books. Although the course as a whole has a slight bias towards non-fiction (which is what I mainly write), there is also a long section devoted specifically to fiction writing.
Speak it softly, but Christmas is just a month from today...
Assuming you celebrate the festival, or at any rate the gift-giving and receiving aspect, you may well have some writer friends or relatives you'll be buying for.
In this post, then, I thought I'd set out some suggested Christmas gifts for writers. These are all things I'd like myself, if I didn't in most cases have them already! Note that to save time, and avoid this post running on too long, where possible I've linked to earlier posts when I first mentioned the items in question.
Thinking of books first of all, one top recommendation for anyone who doesn't have it already is Stephen King's On Writing. It doesn't matter whether the potential recipient is or is not a horror fan. On Writing is an entertaining and informative read, written in King's usual highly accessible style (though without any corpses).
The book is a mixture of autobiographical material - some of it very amusing - and tips and advice for writers. The latter is useful if not earth-shattering. I would see this book as primarily an entertaining read rather than a writing manual, but none the worse for that. Image links to the book on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com can be found below. As usual, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see them.
A good introductory guide for new writers is The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World by my near-neighbour Linda Jones. It is primarily written for UK authors, though much of Linda's advice would apply equally across the world. Linda comes from a journalistic background, and her advice on 'pitching' to newspaper editors especially is well worth reading. At its modest asking price, this beautifully produced book is a steal.
For any aspiring TV scriptwriters, especially if they happen to be science fiction fans as well, the newly published Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook would be an ideal present. In this fascinating (and beautifully illustrated) book you get to see how the popular BBC TV series is written and edited. It's also well worth visiting the book's dedicated website, where you can read more reviews and background info, and download six free scripts from the show.
And speaking of scriptwriting, if your friend or relative is an aspiring movie writer, don't forget that my sponsors, WCCL, produce a popular guide on CD-ROM called Write a Movie in a Month. If you order now it should arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. And if you order via my blog review, you can get a $20 discount AND my two extra bonus reports!
Another gift any writer would be delighted to receive is one of the annual market directories. For US publications, you can't beat Writer's Market, published by the all-conquering Writer's Digest organization. For UK markets, there are now three annual market guides battling it out: The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, The Writer's Handbook, and the latest arrival, Writer's Market UK. When I reviewed all three earlier this year, Writer's Market UK came out slightly ahead of the other two. But read my blog review of UK market guides and see what you think.
Leaving books aside now, an idea suggested to me by my colleague Suzie Harris is a digital pen. These clever devices let you take notes anywhere - in a meeting, watching TV, on vacation, in bed, and so on. Then, when you get to your office or study, you can plug the pen into your PC, and everything you wrote will be transferred into it.
A popular digital pen (and the one Suzie wants) is the Dane-Elec Zpen. This pen also has OCR software that will read your handwriting (assuming it's legible) and save it as text. For writers, I could see this modestly priced tool having a whole host of uses.
I've put links to the Zpen at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk below. As mentioned earlier, if you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the image links.
A final possibility is an e-book reader. I believe that 2009 will be the year that e-books finally take off in the mass market, as the latest e-book readers really do make this a comfortable and enjoyable way of reading a book (the old argument about not being able to read them in bed definitely no longer applies).
In the US, Amazon's Kindle Reader has been sweeping all before it. For technical reasons the Kindle is not yet available in the UK and Europe, though it is expected to be launched in the new year. In the mean time, however, the Sony Reader has been getting good reviews.
Whichever reader you get, there are thousands of ebooks you can download free of charge, both classics and newly published books whose authors have chosen to distribute them in this way (see this one, for example). Other ebooks you will have to pay for, but they are cheaper than the equivalent printed volume and won't take up any space on your shelves after you have read them. Again, I've put links to both leading ebook readers below.
The Best-Seller Secret is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network, and successful author Mel McIntyre. It's provided as an instant download in the universal PDF format, and is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.
Rather, The Best-Seller Secret is for anyone who has written a book, or is on the way to doing so, and wants to know how they can get it into the Amazon online bookstore's Top 100 Books list, with all the benefits that can flow from this.
You might perhaps think that only a major publishing house would have the resources (and budget) needed to propel a book into best-sellerdom. But, as this guide reveals, the Internet has changed all that.
The main manual - I'll get to the bonuses later - sets out a ten-step strategy to make your book an Amazon best-seller. It would be unfair to the publishers to reveal too many of its secrets, but they include getting celebrity endorsements, building up a pre-launch network of people who will help to promote your book, and using free bonuses to encourage people to buy.
The Best-Seller Secret really does make this whole process seem realistic and achievable. Yes, it will involve you in doing some work, but the returns (both direct and indirect) from having an Amazon best-seller should justify this many times over. It definitely can be done, and the guide includes several case studies of successful campaigns.
One thing I particularly liked about The Best-Seller Secret was the 'Campaign Flow Chart', which shows visually over several pages how to organize your publicity campaign. It's good to see WCCL using a few more diagrams and illustrations in its products these days. I was also impressed by the way the authors weren't afraid to discuss potential pitfalls and what to do if a particular aspect of your publicity campaign goes wrong.
In addition to the main guide, you get three additional bonus items. These are as follows:
Guide to Promoting Yourself & Your Book - This is a list of twenty 'quick-and-dirty' techniques for getting news of your book out to the world.
What's It Worth?- This mini-guide looks at pricing your book and, more importantly, easy techniques you can use to justify giving it a higher price tag.
Sample Letters & E-mail Templates - This is a set of templates you can use for e-mail messages to help market your book. It includes sample messages for endorsement requests, joint venture proposals, sales letters, and so on.
Really, my only reservation about The Best-Seller Secret is that it won't be suitable for every writer. As mentioned above, it's only likely to be relevant to you if you've written a book, or are well on the way to doing so. And it's likely to work best with non-fiction books, although many of the strategies would be effective with novels too.
I also think that the methods set out in The Best-Seller Secret would work best - or at least be easiest to apply - if you are self-publishing. It could undoubtedly work with conventionally published books too, but you would need to liaise closely with your publisher. Of course, it's hard to imagine that your publisher would have any objections if your efforts result in your book becoming a best-seller!
In summary, if you're writing a book or have written one, this guide to turning it into an Amazon best-seller could be one of the best investments you'll ever make. If you haven't yet written a book, a guide such as my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days might be more useful to you now, and then buy The Best-Seller Secret once your book is well on the way to completion!
I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.
The book in question is The Painted Man, by Peter V. Brett. It's the first book in a planned trilogy of fantasy novels. With certain minor reservations I found it an enjoyable read. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.
The Painted Man is the first book of Peter V. Brett's Demon Trilogy.
It follows the lives of three young people growing up in a world where demons are very much real rather than fantasy figures. They rise from the world's core at nightfall to attack human beings, who can only protect themselves by hiding behind 'wards' - magical sigils the demons cannot (usually) pass.
The three main characters are Arlen, a talented warder (drawer of wards), Leesha, a healer, and Rojer, a jongleur (travelling minstrel). All three feel destiny pulling at them to finally rid their world of the demon plague.
Peter V. Brett has crafted a compelling fantasy novel with some original ideas, generally sympathetic characters, and an absorbing, fast-paced plot.
The Painted Man is decently written in a plain, unadorned style, though it is never going to win any literary awards. Brett's prose lacks the depth and lyrical qualities of, say, a Robin Hobb or a Robert Silverberg, two distinguished current fantasy world-weavers. There were also a few places where I felt the plotting creaked a bit, notably in the strand concerning Leesha.
Nonetheless, this is a promising debut by a new fantasy author. Anyone who enjoys reading an exciting adventure novel, without expecting it to be a literary masterpiece, is unlikely to be disappointed. I'll certainly be looking out for the second volume.
Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com at the foot of this post. Note that, while The Painted Man is available from Amazon.co.uk now, the US version won't be available till March 2009 (and for some reason it will be called The Warded Man in the US). Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.
I heard about this new book by Doctor Who writer/producer Russell T. Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook on the BBC Breakfast Show this morning. I've immediately added it to my list of 'must-read' books when it is published on 25 September.
I am just about old enough to have watched Doctor Who from the very beginning, and it's a show I will always have a great deal of affection for. It gave me a life-long interest in science fiction, and undoubtedly inspired some of my own writing.
Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale covers, I gather, a year in the life of the series, as told by the show's Head Writer and Executive Producer. Here's an extract from the description at Amazon.co.uk:
...the book explores in detail Russell's work on Series Four, revealing how he plans the series and works with the show's writers; where he gets his ideas for plot, character and scenes; how actors are cast and other creative decisions are made; and how he juggles the demands of Doctor Who with the increasingly successful Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures spin-offs.
Russell's scripts are discussed as they develop, and Russell and Benjamin's wide-ranging discussions bring in experiences from previous series of Doctor Who as well as other shows Russell has written and created, including Queer as Folk, Bob & Rose, and The Second Coming. The reader is given total access to the show as it's created, and the writing is everything you would expect from Russell T Davies: warm, witty, insightful, and honest.
Fully illustrated with never-before-seen photos and artwork including original drawings by Russell himself The Writer's Tale is a not only the ultimate Doctor Who book, but a celebration of great writing and great television.
Even allowing for the hype, this book sounds like essential reading for anyone interested in TV scriptwriting (and Doctor Who fans, of course!). Anyway, I've added image links below to the title on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com for those who would like to find out more.
As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the images.
The course is provided on CD-ROM in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.
Like all WCCL products,Novel in a Month is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonuses later) takes you step by step through everything you need to know to write a novel in the shortest possible time. Not surprisingly, I guess, the method set out in Novel in a Month bears a close resemblance to the one I set out in Write Any Book in Under 28 Days (though, of course, the latter is aimed primarily at people who want to write a non-fiction book).
I don't suppose I'm giving away too much if I reveal that the system described in Novel in a Month involves writing your first draft in three weeks, then editing it in the fourth. There is also a preliminary stage of planning and outlining, which takes up the first day or two.
Novel in a Month is packed with hints, tips and guidelines for novelists. Among the things I particularly liked were the 'population index' chart for developing characters, and Dan's P.L.O.T. plotting method, neither of which I had seen before.
Indeed, I thought Novel in a Month was particularly strong on plot and plotting methods. As well as the P.L.O.T. system, the course includes five top tips for plotting your novel, six universal plot archetypes, and so forth. My only slight reservation concerns the index card system that Dan advocates as an aid to plotting. Don't get me wrong, it's a great system, but personally I'd much prefer to work on my PC rather than start fiddling about with bits of cardboard. Still, it wouldn't be hard to adapt Dan's system to something a little more 21st century.
Other areas discussed in depth include dialogue, characterization, pacing, editing, viewpoint, writing in scenes ('show, don't tell'), and descriptive writing. Dan (correctly) emphasizes the importance of economy of style and resisting the temptation to overwrite. I can't help thinking, however, that he might have chosen a better example of this art than the late US science fiction author Isaac Asimov, entertaining though some of his short stories undoubtedly are (have you tried reading any of his 'Foundation' novels, though?). Perhaps I'm being a bit picky, however!
In addition to the main guide, you get five additional bonus items. These are as follows:
1. Getting Dialogue Down - a mini-guide to writing convincing (and correctly punctuated) dialogue.
2. How to Get Free Publicity for Your Novel - a 15-page guide showing how to get your book promoted on a shoe-string budget.
3. How to Get Celebrity Endorsements for Your Novel - if you've bought my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course you'll know this already - but if not, the advice in this report will tell you exactly how to put this powerful technique to good use.
4. The Hottest Agents in the US and UK - this bonus guide contains over 40 pages of agent contact details, e-mail addresses, websites, guidelines, requirements, and so on.
5. 33 Techniques for Fine-Tuning Your Fiction - personally I think this is the most important and valuable of the bonuses. It shows you how to fine-tune your novel so that it stands out from the competition. Applying these 'advanced' techniques could make all the difference between having your book rejected and getting it accepted for publication.
Overall, Novel in a Month gets my recommendation as the most comprehensive course I have seen on writing a novel in the shortest possible time. If you are thinking of joining in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, it could be the ideal guide to have at your side and on your PC. But even if you don't intend to try writing a complete novel in a month, it would still be a very useful guide to plotting and writing your first best-seller!
One of my regular clients, Lagoon Games, is looking for a writer with teaching experience for a new project. Here is the ad they asked me to publicize:
Publisher compiling funny translation book of rude words and phrases for kids. If there is anyone who has experience of teaching younger kids languages and what falls within the boundaries of acceptance for an age group under 13, please contact Nikole Bamford at nikole-at-lagoongames.com.
The languages will be French, Spanish, German and Chinese - you don't have to know all these but a knowledge of phonetics would also help. This is a paid project.
Good luck if you decide to apply for this. Lagoon are regular clients of mine, and nice people to work with. The company is UK-based but their biggest market is the US, so I would assume that as long as you have the skills they want for this job, you could be based anywhere in the world.
Update 28 August 2008: Nikole tells me this vacancy is still open. It's a good - and paying - opportunity for any writer with some language teaching experience. Even if you're not sure if you qualify, it's well worth emailing Nikole to enquire. I can confirm that she doesn't bite!
I've had a few queries recently from writers frustrated by their inability to get a publisher to look at their novel. The one below is typical:
You know, I think the one biggest need for the writing community is a primer on how to actually get printed. I have written four novels now. I have submitted one to several companies (with no answer), one to an agent (with no discernible activity), and have two waiting in the wings. It seems I can get no one to look at any of them.
How do you find a publisher that is willing to work with you? I've most often heard that "it's all in having the right contacts" but how do you establish those? I resist vanity press and don't know the first thing about web publishing. I just want someone to publish my books. I am very frustrated. Writing the book is by far the easiest part of the whole thing...
I do have a lot of sympathy with the frustration expressed here. For a new writer today (who isn't already a 'celebrity') even getting a publisher to look at your work is a challenge. For what it's worth, here are a few suggestions that may help overcome this problem. 1. Try a Range of Agents and Publishers
The old days when you were told to avoid multiple submissions are long gone - life is simply too short to wait for some lowest-of-the-low junior editor to pluck your manuscript out of his/her in-tray and condescend to read it.
For checking out publishers and their requirements, I particularly recommend the annual Writer's Market and Writer's Market UK. These are comprehensive guides to the US and UK markets respectively, and both list a range of publishers in other countries as well.
There are nowadays some great interactive websites where you can search for agents who handle the type of book you are writing, and read comments by other authors about their experiences with them. LitMatch and QueryTracker are two such sites I highly recommend.
And by the way - don't just limit yourself to the country you're in. Publishing is nowadays very much a multi-national industry. If you're a UK writer specialising in hard-boiled detective fiction, you may find you get a better reception from some US publishers. Or if you're an American author specialising in historical novels set in 19th century London, you could most certainly try some British agents and publishers as well.
2. Enter Writing Contests and Competitions
I can speak from personal experience here - winning a high-profile contest really can open doors for you. A few years ago I won a short story contest run by a top UK women's magazine. As part of my prize I was invited to an awards ceremony at London's Dorchester Hotel. I was seated with (among others) a BBC producer, a literary agent and a book publisher, all of whom were keen to find out what other literary gems I had in my locker. In many ways the contacts I made through winning that competition were more valuable to me than the prize itself.
3. Get Testimonials in Advance
Anything you can do to help your book stand out from the rest will help. And one way of doing this is to get 'testimonials' for your book from published authors and/or celebrities, which you can submit to an agent or publisher along with your manuscript. My course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days goes into some detail about this, incidentally.
4. Make Your Novel as Good as It Can Be
You really do need to ensure that your novel is as good as it can possibly be before you submit it.
If you know that grammar and spelling aren't your strong points, therefore, ask someone you trust to go through it for you, or pay a professional editor. In any event, there is a lot to be said for getting your work checked over by someone seeing it with fresh eyes.
Be sure, especially, that the opening pages of your novel grab the reader. The days of long, rambling introductions are long past. You need to capture readers' interest and attention in the first few pages, either with the quality of the writing or an exciting scenario (preferably both).
Don't assume that publishers will overlook a few little mistakes either - they won't. You are entering a highly competitive arena, and only your very best work will do if you hope to succeed.
5. Don't Expect It to Be Easy
Perhaps I'm stating the obvious here, but getting a novel published is not - and never has been - easy. Even J.K. Rowling had her first Harry Potter book rejected by twelve publishing houses before a then-small independent publisher called Bloomsbury decided to take a chance on it.
Neither does it necessarily get easier once you've been published. I was talking recently to my friend Jeff Phelps, the award-winning novelist and short story writer. He told me that he had just sent his latest novel to his publishers and received a reply showing polite interest but asking him to rewrite the entire book and then re-submit it (still with no guarantee it will be accepted). And Jeff is a meticulous writer, so I'm sure there was nothing wrong with the book stylistically.
Looking at it from a publisher's point of view, publishing a first novel from an 'unknown' writer is a huge gamble. Publishers know that most first novels lose money, though there is always the hope that, like J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel, one will succeed spectacularly. As an author, your task is to demonstrate to a potential publisher that your book has that added 'X factor' that will make it stand out. And publishers also want to see that you have the ability to write more books, preferably lots of them. Even if your first book fails to make money for them, then, hopefully your second or third may be the 'breakthrough' novel that catapults you into the big time.
6. Consider Self-Publishing
Self-publishing is not the same as vanity publishing. It just means you take the financial risk of publishing your book yourself.
Print-on-demand services such as Lulu.com allow you to publish your book yourself and only pay when an order is actually received, so the risk is far less than the traditional method of getting hundreds or even thousands of books printed in advance.
As a self-publisher, you will have to handle everything from design to publicity yourself (or pay someone to do it on your behalf). However, all the profits will go to you as well. And a growing number of books that were initially self published are subsequently picked up by mainstream publishers.
7. Use the Internet to Promote Yourself and Your Work
This is a huge topic, and I can't go into great detail about it here. But there are lots of ways you can use the net to raise your profile and generate interest in your book, both from readers and potential publishers.
Here's just one example: You could publish extracts from your novel on a blog or website. Indeed, some writers have put their entire books online. If publishers can see that your work is attracting interest from readers, it may provide the encouragement they need to offer you a contract. At the very least, it means your work is being read and enjoyed by others rather than gathering dust in your desk drawer.
Finally, though, I would say: persevere. If you believe in your work and are sure it is worth publishing, keep sending it out. Eventually there is a real chance that someone else, an agent or a publisher, will read it and agree with you.
Helpfully, Moira's article covers submitting to both US and UK publishers. I also like the way she takes a sensible, straightforward approach to some issues that cause writers to agonize unnecessarily. Here she is talking about fonts and formats:
Amazingly, people get into heated discussions over what types of fonts editors prefer. Some folks claim that all editors want manuscripts in Courier (the font that looks like your typewriter font). Lately, some editors and writers have come to prefer Arial. So what do editors really want?
The truth is, most editors really don't care, as long as the font is readable. (I can state this with confidence, having done a survey of about 500 editors; 90% expressed "no preference" with regard to font.) Very few editors will reject your manuscript because it happens to be in New Century Schoolbook, Palatino, or Times Roman. Generally, it's best to use a 12-point font size, and to choose a font that doesn't "squinch" letters together too closely.
If you're thinking of submitting a book to a publisher, I strongly recommend giving Moira's article a read. She even covers electronic submissions as well!
Just a quickie to recommend that, if you're after some free holiday reading, you point your browser at the newly launched website www.blogaholidayread.co.uk today.
The site is operated by Penguin Books (UK). They say:
Blog a Holiday Read, the perfect excuse to put your feet up, relax, and escape into one of Penguin's Top 500 bestselling fiction titles, guaranteed to get the nation talking, and you yearning for a break to soak up some top reads. Here's how it works:
Sign up and, if you're quick enough, you'll become one of the lucky people to receive a randomly chosen, FREE Penguin in the post. Plus you'll be the first to review it here, enabling the blog, and comments, to begin!
You can see the books being promoted on the website - there's a wide range, from Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Of course, you don't get to choose which book you receive, but I guess that's part of the fun ;-)
As you may gather from the quote above, if you want to participate in this promotion, you are meant to read the book and submit a review to the Holiday Read Blog within six weeks of receiving it.
As far as I can tell this promotion is open to anyone in the world. In any event, you are asked to enter the country you live in when registering. Don't hang about, though, as this promotion will close as soon as all the free books have been allocated.
Good luck, and I hope you get a book you like!
P.S. I've just heard that I've been allocated Your Blue-Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore - 'A compelling and passionate psychological thriller'. Sounds good to me!
P.P.S. If you apply and are successful, why not add a comment here letting me and other readers know which book you are getting?
P.P.S.S. Just heard they are fully subscribed already, within a few hours of my posting about it. Very sorry if you tried and missed out.
Linda Jones recently tagged me on a meme about what bloggers have and haven't read. You have to look at the list and:
1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicise those you intend to read.
3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog.
Incidentally, as I understand it the list in question comes from the American Big Read survey of the 100 most popular books there. The list differs somewhat from the UK Big Read list. As you might expect, a few more American titles are included!
Anyway, here's my version...
1 [Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen] 2 [The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien] 3 [Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte] 4 [Harry Potter series - JK Rowling] 5 [To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee] 6 The Bible 7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte 8 [Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell] 9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman 10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott 12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy 13 [Catch-22 - Joseph Heller] 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger 19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger 20 Middlemarch - George Eliot 21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald 23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy 25 [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams] 26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh 27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 29 [Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll] 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame 31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis 34 Emma - Jane Austen 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini 38[Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres] 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden 40Winnie-the-Pooh - AA Milne 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell 42The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 46Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery 47[Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy] 48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan 51 MISSING 52 Dune - Frank Herbert 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley 59 [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon] 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy 68 [Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding] 69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie 70 Moby-Dick - Herman Melville 71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens 72 Dracula - Bram Stoker 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson 75 Ulysses - James Joyce 76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome 78 Germinal - Emile Zola 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray 80 Possession - A. S. Byatt 81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker 84 [The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro] 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry 87 Charlotte's Web - EB White 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom 89 [Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle] 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
I make that 59, so I still have quite a few titles left to read! Although there may be one or two books in the list I read long ago and have now forgotten about - Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree Collection, for example.
Looking at my list also makes me realise that I seem to have steered away from reading most Russian authors. That's definitely something I shall have to remedy before too long...
I must admit also that there are one or two books in the list I know almost nothing about - in particular, the titles by Rohinton Mistry (86) and Mitch Albom (88). Perhaps these books are better known in the US than in the UK? Anyway, if you've read either of these titles, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on them.
I'm tagging Suzie, Carrie and June next, because they all volunteered when I posted a request on my forum (I didn't like to just nominate people). You can also see Linda's list here. Between us, it seems, we've actually read the great majority of the books in the top 100!
As you'll see, it's a tip that's relevant mainly to fiction writers, though there's no reason why non-fiction authors can't use it as well. Not long ago I ran a workshop on this topic for the Lichfield & District Writers, and their members were impressed by the improvement that applying this one piece of advice made to their work.
The article also gives me the opportunity to highlight WEbook again. WEbook is a collaborative writing project that gives authors the chance to work together in a wide range of writing projects centred around the WEbook website. You can read all about it in this article by Melissa Jones which I published a few weeks ago on my blog. And yes, they are still very much open to new members.
I'd also like to give a quick plug for the book I used as an example in my piece for the WEbook blog. Painter Man is the first novel by my old friend and sometime collaborator Jeff Phelps. You can hear Jeff being interviewed about his book on WritersFM, and read my blog post about it here.
Painter Man, like What Was Lost which I raved about recently in this post, is published by Tindal Street Press, a small, Birmingham-based publishing house which regularly punches above its weight in literary awards. Painter Man is quite different from What Was Lost, but both books are well observed and beautifully written, and I'm disappointed that Painter Man has not (yet) received the recognition it deserves.
Anyway, I've included links to Painter Man on Amazon (com/uk) below, in case you're interested in finding out more about this excellent novel. As ever, if you're receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.
UK readers of this blog in particular might be interested to know that my 'new' book Starting Your Own Home-Based Business comes out later this month.
I put the word 'new' in quotes because this is actually a totally revised edition of my popular book 'Start Your Own Home-Based Business'. And no, I don't know why they changed 'Start' to 'Starting' in the title. Publishers move in mysterious ways sometimes!
As the name indicates, the book is aimed at anyone who hopes to join the growing ranks of people running a business from home. It covers everything from deciding whether you are suited to doing this, through generating and evaluating business ideas, to marketing, invoicing, financial record-keeping, making the most of the Internet, and so on. It's written for UK readers, so it refers to British laws, taxes, etc. - but, of course, much of the content would be equally relevant to people in other countries as well.
Apart from the title, there are quite a few changes in the new, 2008 edition. For starters, it's being published in full-colour magazine format, and will be sold via newsagents, kiosks and convenience stores rather than (primarily) through bookshops. This is something of a trend in publishing right now, as traditional bookstores struggle to bring in paying customers. I understand that my publishers hope to attract people who might see my book - or perhaps I should say magazine - on the newsagents' racks and buy it on impulse, rather than the (endangered) bookshop browser.
To get the book down to magazine proportions, some content has had to go. And with the new edition, this is the old Part B of the book, which listed 50 different home-based businesses, giving details of how to get started, useful resources, and so on. I'm sorry to have lost this section, but if you particularly want it, you can still buy the original version of the book at Amazon.co.uk (see below).
The new edition is fully up to date, however, and more attractively presented. Look out for it in the magazine rack of your local W.H. Smith (the UK's leading book and magazine retailer) or other newsagent very soon!
* You should also be able to order the new edition of my book from bookstores or via your local public library. Once again, the title is Starting Your Own Home-Based Business and it is published by Zone Publishing Group. The ISBN is 9781848470002. It isn't yet available from Amazon, but I'll let you know via this blog if (or when) that changes.
Before it becomes too much of a distant memory, I wanted to mention a couple of books I read on my recent Greek holiday.
The first of these was What Was Lost, a novel by Catherine O'Flynn. This is actually quite a short novel, but I highly recommend it. So far as the content is concerned, I can't really do better than quote the review by Jenny Colgan on the back cover:
"It's quite extraordinary. There's an amazing insight into the mind of a young girl, a very funny account of working in a high street record store, an entirely sympathetic hero in the form of a security guard, a cracking mystery, a brilliant sense of place in the form of a modern shopping centre, and a ghost story to boot. I adored every page of it and recommend it to everyone."
I agree with every word of that. I suppose it helped for me that it's set in Birmingham (England), a city I lived in for 20 years and am still close to now in Staffordshire. Even so, I thought it was a brilliant book, both funny (don't miss the description of a butcher's shop window on page 10, which had me chuckling for days after) and also poignant. If you're looking for something to pack for reading on the beach or beside the pool, I reckon it would be an excellent choice.
Here are my usual links to the book's pages on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see these.
Unfortunately I didn't enjoy the other title I took with me as much. This was The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. I've put links to this below, although the book isn't officially published yet.
This was actually my first free book I got as an Amazon Vine reviewer, and I had high hopes for it. As it turned out, I admired the quality of much of the writing, but thought that as a novel it was fatally flawed. I've copied my Amazon.co.uk review below...
Well written, but lacks narrative drive
Good things first: The Gone-Away World is beautifully written. At times I was blown away by the almost musical quality of Nick Harkaway's writing. And the basic concept of the book - that most of the Earth has become uninhabitable after a nuclear disaster, save for a narrow band of land surrounding the mysterious Jorgmund Pipe - is unusual and intriguing.
On the minus side, though, I felt at times the author was so in love with his prose, the actual story almost became secondary. None of the characters really engaged me, although there are some nice cameos (notably the narrator's mentor, Master Wu). Neither do I share the author's fascination with martial arts and (believe it or not) Tupperware, though I can appreciate that others may find these aspects of the book quirky and amusing.
The Gone-Away World does include some quite funny (and caustic) observations about the nature of business, bureaucracy, international relations, and so on. They reminded me a little of the asides in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, although they lacked Pratchett's warmth and sly humour.
The most serious problem with this book, in my view, is the lack of narrative drive - a compelling storyline, in other words. This is partly down to its structure. The opening chapter sets up an intriguing scenario, and I wanted to know what happened next. But then the story goes back in time to the narrator's childhood and on through his adolescence and early adulthood; and this rambling narrative takes up most of the rest of the book. I didn't find the 'coming of age' stuff particularly interesting, and completing the book - to find out how the action in the opening chapter was resolved - ultimately became a bit of an endurance test for me.
There are things to enjoy in this novel, but overall I was rather disappointed by it. Nick Harkaway is clearly a talented writer, but in my view he needs to take a few lessons from his father (spy novelist John Le Carre) on how to create a compelling plot, and try to reign back his obsession for style over substance. I'll await his second novel with interest, but I doubt if I'll be reading this particular one again.
As you'll see if you check out the Amazon.co.uk link in particular, other Amazon Vine reviewers weren't exactly bowled over by this book either. At the time of writing it has an average rating of 3 stars out of 5, which I think is about right (it's what I gave it). I'm afraid that if the publishers had hoped to whip up anticipation by getting an avalanche of glowing reviews pre-publication, they'll be disappointed. Obviously, I can't recommend this book myself, though some reviewers have liked it.
Fingers crossed, I'll enjoy my next Amazon Vine selection a bit more!
Well, as promised, in this post I'm doing the same thing for the US market. But this will be a much shorter post, because there is actually only one major annual guide to the US marketplace for writers. That's the blockbusting Writer's Market, from Writer's Digest Books.
Like the UK guides I mentioned last week, Writer's Market is published annually. The 2008 edition - the most recent currently available - weighs in at a massive 1176 pages, and claims to include over 4000 listings for book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, literary agents, and so on.
The current (2008) edition was published on 1 July 2007, so I would expect the 2009 edition to come out very soon. Till then, here are links to the book's pages at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see these.
Although I am UK-based I do a lot of work for US publishers, and until recently I bought Writer's Market every year. This year, however, I decided to subscribe to their online version at http://www.writersmarket.com/ instead. This is reasonably priced at $29.99 a year (around 16 UKP), for which you get everything in the printed version and more, plus the market listings are continuously updated. I might still buy the printed book occasionally in the future, but actually I find the online version meets my day-to-day needs very well, and it takes up less space on my bookshelf ;-)
Finally, I should mention that although it is primarily a guide to the US marketplace, Writer's Market also lists publishers and magazines in other countries, notably Canada, Australia and the UK. It also has an excellent selection of articles about all aspects of freelance writing. If you write for the huge US market, or hope to, either the printed or online version of Writer's Market is probably going to be an essential for you.
We may not even be half-way through 2008, but already the 2009 market directories are coming out.
So I thought in this post I would take a look at the three main UK directories. I'll save the US market guides for another post.
As a UK-based freelance, I buy at least one of these guides every year. The content varies between them, but they all include comprehensive lists of UK publishers, agents, magazines, newspapers, and so on. Nowadays, as well, they include a growing range of articles and ancillary information. If you're serious about making a living from your writing, and UK-based or want to write for UK markets, having a current edition of one of these guides on your bookshelf is, in my view, essential.
The best known, and longest-established, guide to the UK market is The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, published by A&C Black. I've posted a link to the 2009 book's page at Amazon.co.uk below. As ever, if you're receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see this.
The 2009 WAYB is published on 15 June 2008, and has a foreword by Kate Mosse. It weighs in at 832 pages and is available for 9.89 UK pounds from Amazon.
The WAYB is still the favourite UK market guide of many writers. It has a good range of publishers and markets, and unlike the other guides includes information specifically aimed at freelance artists and photographers as well. It has a website at http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/, which includes a free search facility (although the only info given for a magazine or publisher is its website and email address). You won't go far wrong with the WAYB, but its two main competitors are ahead in some respects.
The WAYB's longest-standing rival is The Writer's Handbook, published by Macmillan. You'll have a little longer to wait for this one - the 2009 edition is due out on 25 July 2008. Here's a link to its Amazon page...
The 2009 Writer's Handbook also has 832 pages and costs 9.89 UKP on Amazon (what a coincidence!). It is edited, as usual, by Barry Turner. The Writer's Handbook has been my favourite market guide for a few years now. There's more information on writing for newspapers and magazines, and more on radio, TV, small presses and theatre companies. The new 2009 edition also apparently includes free online access to The Writer's Handbook website, offering a directory of markets and some additional resources and advice for writers. I don't have a URL for this, however, and assume the site is not operational yet (unless you know otherwise?). The obvious URL at http://www.writershandbook.co.uk/ seems to be owned by someone else and is currently up for offers. I assume some frantic behind-the-scenes negotiation is going on!
The last of the three UK directories is the 'new kid on the block'. Writer's Market UK comes from David & Charles and is edited by Caroline Taggart. The 2009 edition was published back in April this year at a slightly cheaper price of 8.99 UKP on Amazon.co.uk. It weighs in at an impressive 976 pages.
I bought Writer's Market UK for the first time this year, and was impressed by what I found. The presentation is more attractive than either of the two rival guides, who will have to start looking to their laurels. There are nearly 100 pages of articles on most aspects of writing, as well as a particularly wide range of publishing houses. There is a also a good selection of writing websites.
One thing I found a little bit confusing was that some magazines were listed under Publishers - so having looked for, and failed to find, the details for Readers Digest under Magazines, I fortuitously discovered them later under Readers Digest Association in the Publishers section. To be fair, I could have looked up Readers Digest in the index at the back of the book and found it there, but at the time I assumed it just wasn't listed.
Buyers of Writers Market UK also get a one-month free trial of their online service at http://www.writersmarket.co.uk/. After that, I assume you have to pay, but despite my best efforts I haven't been able to find out what they charge.
These are all excellent guides, but my overall recommendation goes to Writer's Market UK at the moment. When The Writer's Handbook 2009 comes out, with its promised free website, that may also be worth considering. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is slightly behind the other two in my view, but if your interests also extend to photography and art, it may nevertheless be your best choice.
As previewed in this post a few weeks ago, I'm delighted to welcome Irish author Paul Kilduff to my blog today. Paul is visiting as part of a Virtual Book Tour (VBT) to launch his new book, Ruinair, a tongue-in-cheek account of his experiences travelling round Europe with low-cost airlines. Without further ado, let's get down to the questions and answers...
1) Is this your first book, Paul?
No, I have written four financial thrillers previously for Hodder Headline in London. Ruinair is my first work of non fiction and is published in Ireland.
2) How long have you been writing and what started you off?
I began writing in 1998 - what started me was when I read a financial thriller where the author got a large advance and I knew I could write a book at least as good as his.
3) How would you describe the writing that you're doing?
It's vaguely funny travel writing at present, full of informative content, fast paced, lots of variety, topical stuff, with amusing anecdotes and some insights.
4) Who is your target audience? Who influenced you?
Passengers of the Irish low fares airline Ruinair and its CEO, Mick O'Leary! And all those who love travel writing and having a go at large corporations.
I was influenced by Bill Bryson, Pete McCarthy, Tim Moore, Don George, Simon Calder, Alain de Botton and many good guide books and maps over the years.
5) Is your fiction writing autobiographical at all?
My fiction features the work environments, places, cities, people, scams and scandals I had encountered in real life when I lived and worked in the City of London.
6) What are your biggest challenges as a writer?
Converting from writing fiction to non fiction was a big challenge. Also balancing a writing career as well as holding down a day job in a US investment bank.
7) Do you write every day, and how do you begin and end the process?
No, I work every day until I can retire! I write on weekends, holidays, Christmas, Easter, time off, and on my sick days off work!
8) What aspects of your writing do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the creativity, of producing an end product and seeing it on book shelves in shops, such as being the No. 1 non-fiction bestseller in Ireland right now. I enjoy being taken for slap up meals by my agent and editor in Dublin's top restaurants, and I enjoy PR work where I meet some of Ireland top radio personalities!
9) What is your book about and what inspired it?
My book is about travelling around Europe on a cheap Irish low fares airline called Ruinair and seeing the good and bad of a most amazing continent - all for a 1 cent fare!
10) What sets this book apart from what you've written in the past?
I think this current work of fiction is much more populist than my former financial thrillers. also I think non fiction is easier to write than draining your imagination for fiction.
11) How long did the whole process take, beginning to end?
I was abandoned by Ruinair in Malaga, Spain for 10 hours in August 2004, I began the book in 2005, finished it in 2006, sold it in 2007, and it was published in Feb 2008.
12) Did you begin writing for the love of it, or did you always aim to become published?
It was always my aim to have my books published - I really believe that's the main aim of any writing - I want to share my half-decent writing with as many people as possible.
13) What's your most significant achievement so far?
I think seeing the book enter the Irish non fiction bestseller list at no 1 and stay there for the past 7 weeks since publication has been fantastic.
14) Where do you get your ideas? Do you build characters and events slowly or do they come to you in a flash?
My ideas for travel books come to me when I am on the road - I have to travel and fly frequently to get my observational and literary powers humming.
15) What's next for you?
Next up is the sequel to Ruinair - this will be a book about travelling on low fares airlines to the 12 countries of Eastern Europe - the book is called 'Ruinairski', due Feb 09.
16) Do you have any advice for other budding authors out there?
I would say read all the books you can in your chosen genre, write often, read books on 'how to write', attend writing classes and workshops, persevere, be realistic, enjoy...
17) Finally, as we're conducting this interview online, I wondered if you could tell me what are your three favourite websites, and why?
1. www.ryanair.com A great site for low fares travel on a friendly flexible Irish airline run by a shy retiring chief executive named Michael O'Leary. 'I'm probably just an obnoxious little bollocks. Who cares? The purpose is not to be loved. The purpose is to have the passengers on board.'
2. www.airlinequality.com An extensive site about airlines and airports. Before I travel anywhere on any airline, I can check out what other flyers experienced and advise.
3. www.paulkilduff.com I built my own site myself, using FrontPage. It's basic but full of content and often updated, and readers of both my fiction and non-fiction like it.
Many thanks to Paul for visiting my blog on his VBT, and for taking the trouble to answer these questions in forthright and entertaining style! If you have any further questions or comments for Paul, please feel free to post them here.
For more information about Ruinair, clicking through here will take you to the publisher's sales page. I have also included an image link to the book at Amazon.co.uk below. Note that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see this.
As you'll see from his article below, Nigel has some strong views about what the future holds for readers - and, by extension, writers. I'll let you read what he has to say, then give my personal response to his comments.
Readers are Doomed to Extinction!
That's a bald statement to read, isn't it? As it stands I imagine many, if not most writers would call it a ridiculous notion - but is it? Let me explain my thinking.
Ask this question: why is the written word so popular? The answer is that books provide the medium for people to indulge in their fantasies. They bring us escape from the drudgery and indifference of modern living, and have done so for a long, long time. Stories have entertained us for thousands of years, though only comparatively recently has the written word replaced the narrator. Imagine in pre-history a camp-fire was lit, and around it huddled a hunting party, squatting by its glowing warmth to hear their leader recount the time when he single-handedly bested a wild and enraged boar? That was perhaps the beginning of an oral tradition that was long appreciated, and indeed still is in some dwindling corners of the world; but this is the important point: where in modern society are the oral story-tellers now? What happened to that tradition? It's virtually gone. Why?
Once upon a time, someone figured out a way to capture thoughts and ideas in a physical medium and, to cut a long story short, invented writing. At first it was crude and limited, but over time it grew in sophistication until it came to a point where you didn't specifically need a story-teller with a great memory and a good voice; all you needed was to have someone write the words, thereby replacing the memory, and someone to read them - and remember, reading can be done silently. At first, as we know, the art of reading and writing was rare, and only a few had the skill. The old story-teller still had his place, perhaps as the reader of narrative, but by the time we come to the present day his presence is virtually nil, made redundant by education which spread the ability to read and write far and wide. When the general populace finally reached the point where the majority could read, I can imagine that there would still have been many people who remembered the enjoyment of the camp-fire and preferred to be read to, rather than read for themselves; but gradually their number declined, and with the advent of mass book production they all but disappeared.
And it's going to happen again. Sort of.
Who reads for pleasure today? According to many reports that I have come across the number of people actually reading books for pure enjoyment is on the decline. The reason is new technology. As the introduction of writing resulted in the death of oral tradition, so will the presence of new, more exiting methods of communication replace the book. It's a spreading canker. Take the cinema. A really good writer can construct a story that is gripping and thrilling, and can compete well with the cinema, except on one front - the reader has to interact with the story, become involved with it, and this requires the active use of their brain. You actually have to do some mental work to get the best out of a book. Now compare that with the cinema. What does it take to simply sit in a seat and let the mesmeric film envelope you. There's no need to read thousands of words to imagine the final confrontation at the OK Corral - there it is in glorious colour and surround sound, dished up for your gratification for the price of a ticket.
Do you see where this is leading, yet?
Take television. You don't need to go to the cinema to see and hear the movie; today it gets piped directly into your home. Press the button and there it is. You can record it, or buy the DVD, and play it over and over without having to exercise your interpretive powers one little bit. Then there are computers. You don't even need a television any more; just download the feature or film you want onto your laptop or desktop, or even your mobile phone! Entertainment wherever you go, and no more need to cart cumbersome volumes to your deckchair on the beach. Just pick up the phone and enjoy.
What this means is that the reader, the one thing over which no author has any control, no longer needs to read to get their pleasure. And if they don't need to, they won't. It's because they- we - are lazy. We always look for the easiest way to do something, and if we can get our thrills passively, why should we bother with getting them in any other way? The story-teller died out because he was old-fashioned, because people either had to go to him, or wait until he came to them; and people today are taking the next step, which is to discount the written word in favour of the instant gratification of immediate explosions of light and sound pulsed almost directly into their brains. You might say that technology has become the new story-teller. Could it be that we are coming full circle?
The demographics for reading are changing. The days when our children all enjoyed the delight of a bedtime story are disappearing. How many youngsters now will pick up a book when there is the alternative of television, computer games, and the internet? Here's a bold prediction for you: within my lifetime the average age of a regular reader will rise to 60. Within 100 years the number of books being sold will drop to a point where the supermarkets don't even bother to stock them. Within 200 years the only people to read for pleasure will be the few remaining authors themselves, devouring each others' words in sad, cannibalistic indulgence. Let me know if I was wrong! ;)
So, not only the end for readers, but authors too in the general sense. Only those who can successfully adopt the skills needed to produce stories for translation into multi-sensual experiences will be able to make their way to public acclaim, and reap the rewards thereby associated. Why bother writing the intermediate step of a book when you can go straight for the final product? It's a corporate world we live in, and the money that is its blood will demand economies to maximise profit. The old fashioned, traditional writer of words for pleasure will become redundant, and virtually extinct.
Thanks for a thought-provoking piece, Nigel. I largely agree with the points made above, although I think it will be a while yet before books become a thing of the past. Yes, people increasingly want their entertainment in multimedia formats. But equally, you only have to look around any beach or swimming pool on a hot summer's day to see that books still have something going for them. And it's still the case that popular films and TV series are spun-off into book form.
But Nigel is definitely right about one thing - writers today need to become (multi)media savvy. Even 'literary' authors can longer afford to focus exclusively on producing fine prose, when in many cases it is the potential for a book to be adapted into a variety of media that determines whether or not publishing it will be viable.
Anyway, those are Nigel's thoughts, and my responses. What do YOU think? Feel free to post any comments below!
I've just found out a good reason for reviewing products at the Amazon online store - you may receive an invitation to join their new Amazon Vine program and get books, DVDs and so on free of charge. Here's the first paragraph of an email I got from them this morning...
As one of our most valued customer reviewers, we would like to offer you a special invitation to join an exciting new Amazon program called Amazon Vine. As a member of this exclusive community, you will have access to pre-release and new products across various Amazon categories, and the opportunity to be among the very first to review them. There is no cost to you to participate or to receive Vine products. We are simply asking for your time in writing reviews for the products you select from the program.
The email goes on to explain that members of Amazon Vine receive a monthly newsletter listing items that are available for review. You simply choose the items you want, and they are sent to you free.
I was quite surprised to receive this invitation, as I've only ever reviewed about a dozen items on Amazon.co.uk (and no, they're not my own books!). But I've bought quite a lot of stuff from them over the years, and am also an affiliate of theirs, so maybe that had some influence too.
I understand that the Amazon Vine program also operates in the US, though I'm not sure about other areas such as France and Germany.
I tend to review items on Amazon I have strong feelings about, perhaps where I disagree with other reviewers and want to 'set the record straight'. Of course, you don't get paid for reviewing on Amazon, but there is nothing to stop you adapting your reviews and publishing them on your blog or website if you wish (which, again, I have done on occasion).
Anyway, I'm grateful to Amazon for offering me this opportunity, and look forward to receiving my first list of free items available for review soon!