Monthly Archives: February 2013

Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller Lists

Marketing

After all the kerfuffle last year about sock puppetry (the art of authors writing their own fake reviews on Amazon and other sites), it shouldn’t really be surprising that there are some authors out there that are actually buying their way onto bestseller lists as a quick fix way to get acclaim – as reported by the Wall Street Journal in their article: The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike. People began to twig where there were repeated patterns of an initial spike, followed by the book falling almost completely off the grid. Essentially, some marketing company figured out how to work the bestseller list system, and used it to their advantage.

It would be really tempting to make use of this. There are very few ways as a new author, especially if self-published, to get exposure for your book, and there are few ways to get great exposure for your book like being a bestseller. If it is actually a good book, perhaps it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy – the faked bestseller becomes a real bestseller. I suspect that that is what the authors buying into this marketing scheme figured. And even if not, you have had the exposure and can tout yourself as a bestselling author.

when does using marketing tools become unethical?

There are many tricks to marketing yourself and your book (and many books and website dedicated to this topic). If you look hard enough, you can find websites dedicated to mutual reviews on Amazon – an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach, where if you participate, you can get hundreds of reviews for your book, rather than just your mum and best friend’s reviews sitting there looking a little sad. I am sure that there are other examples of marketing tools that are in a moral grey area, but at what point do marketing tools become unethical?

For me, although tempting, buying your way onto the bestseller list is not the way I would choose to self-promote. I’m not sure if I could live with myself if I “cheated” like that.

Write for 15 Minutes a Day

StopwatchNo pressure.

15 minutes is entirely do-able. Sit down, set a timer, ready, steady….. WRITE! Don’t stop to think and worry, just go – edit later – this way there will be something to edit.

I think that this is a really good exercise to do when you’re feeling like there is no time for writing in your life. I tried it out this morning. I woke up, made a pot of tea, sat down and just wrote. The short time frame I allowed myself was quite freeing, and it’s amazing how much I got done.

Currently, I am still world building for Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Today, I was plotting the relationships between the many city states in my fairy tale fantasy world. It has made me reconsider the longstanding name of my main city – Farway. I really do like the name Farway, but there has been mention that it sounds a little close to Far Far Away from Shrek. Another name has cropped up on me this morning – Yore, to be referred to as ‘the city of Yore’, etc. Any thoughts?

Starting a Writing Group

groupI’ve been helping to run WLWG for a little over a year and a half, and there are a few lessons I’ve learnt that I thought I’d share. There’s not much to starting your own writing group: get a few of your writing friends together or advertise locally, and arrange to meet and that’s it. But if you want to have a constructive writing group that lasts and provides you with encouragement and well-rounded critique on your writing, or otherwise, an appropriate meeting to sit down and write for a couple of hours, well, that is a whole different ball game.

There are two main types of writing group. The first is a critique based writing group, where members read their work and are critiqued (this article is mainly focused on this type of group). The second is a writing group where everyone sits together and writes for a set duration when the group meets, feeding off the discipline and creative energy. There are also amalgamations of the two.

Why start a writing group at all?

This is a good question and one to fully consider before launching yourself into organising your own writing group. Most likely, there are many local writing groups available. If nothing has turned up in your google search, try a local library (if it still exists) or a literary/ art / performance-art cafe, as these often have listings. It can take time to find a group that suits you, don’t give up after the first try.

If there is no local group or you can’t find one that suits your needs, there are a few things to consider.

Things to Consider before starting a writing group

Time Commitment: Organising any event, no matter how low maintenance, takes time and effort, consider running it with a one or more friends to share the load.

Type of Group: There are lots of different types of writing, and therefore a lot of different types of writing group. Whether or not the group should have a particular focus should be a consideration. For example, someone focused entirely on poetry might not have much to say about how best to write a non-fiction book about nuclear physics, and vice versa. However, the more specialised a group, the more difficult it might be to recruit writers.

Venue: There is often a romantic notion of hosting a writing group at people’s houses on a rotating basis. This is fine if all the members know each other or are friends of friends, but if you are reaching out to a wider circle, there are safety considerations. Also, there can be some pressures involved in hosting writing groups in people’s homes. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea and want to be excluded from the hosting circle or may live in an inconvenient location, some may want to play the host and provide food and drink (with others wanting to better the last person’s wares and some not wanting to provide anything at all). This can all result in resentment and infighting. I would recommend trying to find an external venue. This will forgo the aforementioned problems and also be a consistent venue so that members don’t have to double check the venue every session.

Fee: This ties in with the venue. If the venue requires payment for its use, it may be an idea to have members pay a fee. Consider whether the fee should be yearly, monthly or on a session by session basis. It might be hard to get members to fork out for a year in advance. This issue can be a little delicate, especially as the typical writer is not someone with a lot of spare cash to throw around. Also, if it is a critiquing writing group, there can only be a limited number of readers per session, and you may want to think about readers and non-readers paying different amounts to account for this. Alternatively, find a venue where the proprietors are happy with the group paying for food and drinks in return for consistent custom, and explain this purchase agreement as a policy to all members.

Frequency: How often will the writing group meet? Every week might suit some, monthly might suit others. WLWG meets fortnightly, and this has been a good frequency for us.

Time of Meeting: Although weekends might seem like a good time to meet, it can be hard to get a commitment from people for their weekends or Friday evenings. Unless all the members are students or are otherwise free during the day, I would recommend a weekday evening.

Open or Closed Group: This question is entirely about how you want the group to be run. An open group means that anyone can ask to attend, and it can go on a first come first serve basis or just have an en masse attendance. This sort of group can have a very high turnaround and be very admin heavy as it may require sorting through attendance lists and waiting lists every session and emailing confirmations. WLWG is a closed group, which means we have a set number of members, and occasionally open the group to new members when old members leave. The pros of this is that we all get to know each others’ work, and don’t have continual questions about backstory. A commeraderie develops, as well as a trust in each other’s critiques. There are definite pros to always having a new audience, but without knowing someone’s background, it’s hard to trust in the quality of a critique. The cons of a closed group is that it can be really good to have new blood and a fresh set of eyes on a piece.

Size of Group: Either way, open or closed, some consideration should be given to the number of members. Writing groups operate differently, you might be aiming for an intimate gathering or a large network. WLWG have 5/6 readers of an evening, and we aim for a quorum of about 10 people. Obviously, we have more than 10 members, bearing in mind absences. For WLWG, the quorum of 10 people is a balancing act between the largest number of people we can have and still have a good critique where everyone has the opportunity to speak, and enough people to create good custom for the publican who provides us with the venue to meet.

Guidelines: Essential to any forum is a set of guidelines, members should be given an idea of word count and how much time each reader is allocated, how many readers there will be in an evening, how it will work if there is not enough time for someone who wants to read, as well as the estimated end time. Some groups require the readers to send their work to each other to read beforehand – this requires additional organisation and some people can be a little touchy sending out copies of their work. Also, we all know how difficult it can be to share your work as it can be very personal, so setting a tone of mutual respect for each others’ work and giving a considered outline of how best to give constructive criticism might be beneficial (e.g. always say what is good about the piece before launching into a point that doesn’t work). This is so that everyone will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Hosting an Evening: If it is a critiquing session, organise how many people will be attending beforehand, as well as how many people will be reading (it might be an idea to have reserve readers). Ask the people who are reading to bring enough copies of their work for everyone attending. Be clear about how the evening is going to run and be strict with timings – having a stopwatch is a good idea. And don’t forget to have fun!

Birthdays and Other Distractions from Writing and Blogging

blowing-party-hornI’m someone who definitely does not deal all that well with distractions (favoured distractions that is). If there is anything available that seems mildly easier than writing or blogging, I appear to have magpie syndrome.

Today is my birthday, and I have the day off work with some intention to sit down and get to writing Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I have been for a lovely walk, had great food, had lots of love showered upon me with well wishes and have been sung at more than a couple of times – that coupled with some self-indulgent video game playing (FTL has been today’s distraction of choice) and watching movies – strangely enough my well intentioned time set aside for writing appears to have evapourated. Sitting down and writing this blog is the first constructive thing I’ve done all day, and the day is rapidly turning to night.

This tendency of mine to become over indulgent in pursuits other than writing is what always makes me halt when I think about taking a year out  (or any time out at all) to dedicate myself to full time writing. It’s not that the other things I’ve done today are necessarily bad, few vices are bad when done in moderation, it’s more that I have an immense capacity for distraction – I am bum-glue repellent as it were. That being said, I have managed to churn out this blog post. So all is not lost.

I have wanted to publish a novel for as long as I can remember. And today marks another year of my life that has gone by without achieving that goal. Time to buckle down to it and figure out how to train myself to sit down and take action.

Read Read Read – Read Everything

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.

Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window”

William Faulkner

read%20imageIt seems like any writer worth his salt advocates the golden rule of reading, and reading widely. I do think that one of my greater failings as a writer is that I had such a narrow reading focus for quite a large portion of my life. In fact, to a great extent, until the advent of the BF, I did not really read non-fiction for pleasure at all (newspapers and magazines excluded). It’s remarkably ironic really, as before we started going out, the BF almost exclusively read non-fiction. We’ve both encouraged each other to branch out, and have done. I now have some favoured non-fiction authors, one of which is Jared Diamond, acclaimed author of Guns, Germs and Steel – a title that I recommend to everyone. It is as an amazing analysis of the scientific reasons why Europe colonised the rest of the world and not the other way around. You might not agree with all of his theories, but  it is a truly fascinating read.

The reason I mention this, is (i) to encourage everyone to expand their reading horizons as I have thoroughly enjoyed expanding my own, and (ii) more to the point, I’ve come an article on io9.com entitled 23 Science Books That Are So Exciting They Read Like Genre Fiction, and I’m proud to say that, as a novice non-fiction reader, I’ve actually read two of them (which do read like genre fiction). A few of the others will be going on my rapidly expanding reading list.

io9.com’s list includes: Darwin’s Origin of the Species, aforementioned Jared Diamond’s Collapse, The Poisoner’s Handbook, The Silent Spring, and the one presently going to the top of my reading list, Rachel Maines  The Technology of Orgasm.

Pulp Fictioning the Classics

Tess Pulp Fiction Crusoe Pulp Fiction P&P pulp fiction Gatsby Pulp Fiction

Just thought I’d share:

Indie Publisher Oldcastle Books is reissuing literary classics with awesome Pulp Fiction covers and hilarious taglines. Their first tranch of titles include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s perenial classic The Great Gatsby, Hardy’s lamentful Tess of The D’Urbervilles, Daniel Defoe‘s Robinson Crusoe, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles and Wuthering Heights. Perfect for the literary enthusiast with a wry sense of humour.

The illustrations are the handiwork of artist David Mann, and designed by Elsa Mathern.

Oldcastle Books are also challenging fans to try to come up with good taglines themselves. The submitted taglines might even be used in the Oldcastle versions – but be warned, even if they use your tagline, you won’t get a piece of the action, only the glory.

I’ve recently compromised the space dedicated to literary classics in my ever expanding library (read: several overstuffed shelves). I have *shock horror* sold off all my well-thumbed wordsworth editions in favour of compiling all of the out of copyright classics onto ebook format, downloaded from Project Gutenberg. Not as pretty or satisfying to look at, but available at the click of a button and saves so much on space. There  are so many great editions of classics coming out, that, between the Oldcastle versions and also the beautifully cloth bound Penguin English Library editions, I’m rethinking my electronic edition compromise.

I’ve included a lovely little video on the Penguin English Library (non-cloth bound) editions below… a little trippy but way cute… ahhh how I love books…

Retired Leprechaun and Curious Observer: Jupp Quegley Treatise

I’ve been getting down to a wee bit of writing as of late. Sadly, the actual novel is not moving, but the backstory and framework for Four and Twenty Blackbirds is coming on apace.

character biography: Jupp quegley

Jupp QuegleyOne of the ways I’m putting the backstory together is by writing character biographies. In the case of Jupp Quegley, who is a minor (but important) character and a sometimes scribbler himself, I am writing his treatise. This exercise has been really helpful in getting me to focus on the parameters on my world and how it operates.

The artwork on the right is from The Alchemist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a renaissance grotesque painter. His work is very dark, and I find it both inspiring and applicable to 4and20BB. I see Jupp in this picture.

By way of a very brief taster, the opening few lines of Jupp’s journal is as follows (depending on how much I reveal about the plot points in 4&20BB, there may be more of Jupp’s treatise to come):

From the Early Treatise of Jupp Quegley (age – old enough to know better, young enough not to care), curious observer, and retired Leprechaun. By way of a record for all who would stop long enough to listen.

Magic. It’s everywhere now. It used to be only ever wielded by the Fae, as the humanfolk call us, and the rare pursuit of those few who were wealthy enough or ruthless enough to pay the cost of entry. But where does magic really come from? Any street rat would tell you that it’s from dust. Fairy shite, they call it, HA! Ignorant urchins, who probably have never been more than half a mile from where they were spawned, let alone ventured beyond the borders of the city. And yet, they still know of dust, harvested from the thorn tree orchards that extend beyond the Tanglewood. There, at dusk, the hundred thousand fairies ducking between the trees create dancing constellations across the evening’s landscape. It is a sight that will never cease to stir my soul.

Writing Mood Board

Just a few sparks of inspiration that keep me going. Enjoy.

Keep Calm and Write HemmingwayPlotting

Cummings Writer DefinitionPlan ATwainComfort Zone

The Anti-Climax of Publication

Head in HandsSelf-published novelist Arthur McMahon has given his very frank breakdown of how publishing his book didn’t rock his world. I was directed to discourse by GalleyCat who lead on his piece with their very apt title: “Publishing a Book will not Change Your Life“, 

*click*

It’s a little depressing to see another writer’s take on it. Yet, looking at it logically, it must be true. Especially in the realm of self-publishing – where the only thing standing between being an unpublished novel and a published novel is a click of a button. *click* That’s it. No phone call from your agent, no exultant feeling of your manuscript finally being accepted by an old-school publisher, and the kudos and validation that I imagine one would have from your book being accepted by a gate keeper of the literary world. Not that the latter will ultimately change your life any more, but I imagine that the elation would at least be longer lived. Perhaps.

failed expectations

I suppose it’s much like New Years Eve parties, or an over-hyped movie, or first-time sex. There are so many expectations caught up in it, that it can’t help but disappoint. Perhaps we can only hope to be mentally braced for that scenario when it finally comes. That publishing your book won’t solve your woes, it will just be a very awesome milestone that you can place in your trek through life. Expecting more from it may just be setting yourself up for a fall, for which Arthur McMahon has put himself forward as a case study. I do really respect and admire his candour on his experience, his closing words on the subject as follows:

I wonder if this is why so many authors are depressed drunks. Completing a novel didn’t change my perception of life like I expected it to. It filled no gaps in my soul or heart, and may have in fact widened them.

Still, onward I go.

Not So Fairy Tale Romances

Stupid cupid“Happy Hallmark Day!” My dry humoured BF greeted me this morning. “And next month on 14 March we can celebrate [the much lauded] Steak and BJ Day.” Colour me romanced.

Fairytale Romance?

With the commonly covered folklore-ish topics in this blog, I find myself wondering when the term “Fairytale Romance” first originated. The term really does seem like a misnomer. The first fairytale-esk romances that pop into my head:

  • Little Mermaid becomes human for the man she loves, but he doesn’t return her feelings so she turns into foam [dies] – romance failed 
  • Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both appeared as if dead, and get kissed by necropheliac princes.  In fact,  in one of the earlier Sleeping Beauty stories, the prince sleeps with [rapes] Sleeping Beauty, and through Sleeping Beauty’s resultant children she awakens – romance failed
  • the so-called Frog Princess hated the frog and threw him against a wall breaking the spell, returning him to a prince. The [masochistic] prince then asks the petulant girl to marry him (no kissing the frog in the original story) – romance failed

There are some tales that have some of the ingredients of a great love story, but would you really want to be taken captive by a hideous beast and who asked you to marry him every day from the first day you meet (Stockholm syndrome anyone?), or want a prince charming who only wanted you for your great dress sense, and wouldn’t recognise you without it (Cinderella). None of this really fits the picture of the so-called fairytale romance.

*Late addition 15.Feb.13* Also, on Beauty and the Beast, it’s occurred to me that Belle (aka Beauty) only accepts the Beast’s marriage proposal after he turns into a prince (before that she only loves him as a friend) Now, as the prince, would you really want a woman who could only accept you for your looks?

Anti-Valentine Reads

In any case, on this very fine [alleged] day of love, We Love this Book has come up with 5 anti-Valentines reads. Their list is a little morose, so I’ve compiled my own (adding these to my expansive reading list, re-reading the bunny suicides is never a chore…):

Sophus’ 5 Anti-Valentine Reads:

  1.  American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: an exploration of the incomprehensible depths of madness and the physical and sexual violence in our time or any other.
  2. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and *ahem* Jane Austen): It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Nom Nom Nom.
  3. Wedlock by Wendy Moore: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match – a tale of divorce, violence, madness and scandal (see also How to Create the Perfect Wife)
  4. The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley: This is dark humour at its best – does what it says on the tin.
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy:  a post-apocolyptic tale of a journey across a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth. Cheery.

Any other suggestions?