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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Write blog...

  I’ve been quite busy with work and at home lately, and haven’t had much time to write, so I’ve taken to popping in-and-out of some blog-sites during breaks and lull-times.
Now, I’m already fairly familiar with technical blogs, from doing research at work, and with a fair few writing and gaming blogs, from my extracurricular activities. But something I didn’t realise was just how much blogs were out there about... well, ‘Writing Blogs!’
I suppose this type of blog could ether be seen as being akin to someone who has never written nor published a fictional story publishing a how-to book on writing and publishing fiction, not that I’m dismissing the relevance or usefulness of such books. Or in some cases the blog could be more akin to the successful writer publishing a how-to come chronicle type book... something like ‘A Memoir of the Craft’ by Steven King for example. I know most of the blogs I visited seemed to be written to give this impression, although in many no credentials were given...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Contrasting views up the Amazon

I discovered something about Amazon recently. I’m not sure if it’s widely known but it definitely wasn’t known to me. Or a lot of the people I asked.

It all started when I went into my authors account and looked at the download history. At first glance it looked like I had ‘sold’ quite a few stories at 99 cents each. But the revenue columns remained suspiciously at Zero, well apart for one that said 70 cents!

Being a bit perplexed by this I took a look at what Amazon told me my stuff was selling at in both the UK and the US (Ich verkaufe aber nichts in Deutschland) but all looked normal. There it was on screen for all to see. I was selling for both stories for 99 cents. So I went back to scratch my head over that Zero balance.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The benefits and pitfalls of replying to reviews:

I was checking up on my stories in Amazon recently, and felt compelled to write a reply thanking a reader for reviewing one of my Novelettes.
I wanted to reply to this as I appreciated the work and effort they had obviously put into their review, and genuinely wanted to thank them.
It wasn’t a glowing review by any means, but it was fair and their personal likes and dislikes were reasonable. A reply from another reader, who had stopped reading because they had become confused, even said they would now finish the story based on the review.
Now, I did leave a comment and almost immediately had second thoughts. After reading my comments back it could be interpreted as a blatant plug for the other books in this series, and that really wasn’t my intention. Not that thers much unusual about an author blatantly plugging their work. After all, you haven’t much option until you can get someone who is much better at it than yourself to plug for you!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The moon was jumped over by the cow…

…or why passive voice is easy to write but not to read.

I was editing a few beginners’ short-story efforts recently, and kept coming up against the passive-voice monster. This got me wondering why people write like this, and we all did it. In fact I think most of up probably still do. We just get better at recognising and removing it.

The first thing everyone is told when learning to write is usually ether “Show, don’t tell” or “Don’t use passive voice.” Both are very good pieces of advice and both invariably leave the would-be writer reeling under the weight of these short sentences.

Subject and action, that’s how most of us think. ‘The dirty dishes were not washed by our son again’ a common enough occurrence, at least in our house.
We may think that way. But we don’t talk that way. I think that’s where the problem is. We are more likely to say “You’re son didn’t wash the dishes again.” … and yes, the answer would probably be “He’s your son too.”

Monday, 22 August 2011

Getting Interactive on my Web-Site

I’ve had a bit of an idea for an interactive bit on my OtherWhere website, and I’d appreciate any thoughts on how to proceed with this. Or indeed if you think the idea has any merit, and is worth proceeding with at all?

The idea was to make a blurb-text that was a bit more interesting than simply reading from some static web-pages. I was playing an old point-and-click style adventure game when I came upon the idea of implementing this type of thing over web-pages on my site. My initial idea was to use the format of old text-adventure games (now called Interactive-fiction) and the later point-and-click programs to form a relatively simple interactive way for people to brows my site and learn something about the OtherWhere and my characters in hopefully a more ‘fun’ environment.
I eventually intend to include some puzzle elements, probably through java if anyone is interested, to liven up some of the screens, as well as providing simple icon-based actions that are use in an ‘adventure game’ style to interact with objects placed within the game.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Listening to a good book…

A lot has come up at work and I haven’t had much time for reading or writing lately, but this did lead me to a bit of discovery.

Quite by accident I downloaded an audio-book file while looking for something completely different. But don’t go rushing for your eye-patches and hoist the jolly-roger just yet… it was a free-taster demo, and ran out after what would probably amount to a couple of chapters. It did however pique my interest in audio-books, something I hadn’t previously given much thought to.

So, although I’m still busy, and not getting much – or any- writing done, I’m now able to listen to books in the car and at my desk. And I’ve discovered that if people hear words instead of music scratching its way from headphones they tend to assume it’s work related and don’t bother you. Result!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

My old thoughts…

I recently come across this old ‘blog’ I wrote on one of my old web-sites.
I did this pretty much before I’d ever heard of blogs and blog sites, and think it’s interesting to see what I thought way-back when…

I’m thinking of re-doing this old site, making it into a home site come DIY blog!

You may, or may not find this ‘blog’ interesting but here it is anyway...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Critiquing for beginners

Over the years I’ve come to look on critiquing others work as an integral part of my own learning. I think it’s important to critique a range of different writing genres and style, as well as attempting to help people at all skill levels where I can. I believe this has helped my own writing immeasurably, and I’m always grateful for and critiques I get ether from those I’ve commented on or from people with similar goals and motives to my own.

I always seem to find it easiest to critique people at a similar level to myself. I can see the mistakes I make in others work, and hopefully help both of us in the process.
I also attempt to critique the work of people whom I see as better writers than me whenever possible. Reading this critically is akin to reading a ‘good’ novel critically and if I do see something odd or wrong I think this is the proper forum to express it in and not in a review.
I also try to critique beginning authors, many of whom are teens. And this is where I have the most difficulty.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Exploring the difference between technical and mainstream reviews…

… and their affects on the budding writer.

I’ve been reading book reviews and comments left on Amazon and various other sites lately, and have begun to realise that these seem to polarise into two distinct camps. On one hand there are the relatively serious and well informed reviews and comments left by people who seem to have a more than average grasp of literature, in the proper sense of the word. I suppose these are the people who are generally referred to as ‘well read.’
The ‘other half,’ which isn’t really a half as it makes up by far the majority or readers, are the people who generally read the mainstream blockbusters. They tend to read things they know, and their comments also tend to reflect this. In general they write less comments and reviews than the first group, but their bulk almost evens this out.
Believe me when I say I mean no disrespect to ether group. Reading isn’t a race to see who can do it better, especially fiction reading, which is supposed to be a pleasurable pass-time. I personally think some people should do well to remember this.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Re-writing the classics

 I started reading ‘Frankenstein: Lost Souls’ by Dean Koontz recently. I picked this up on impulse, more through curiosity than anything, in the cheep section of the local supermarket and ended up skimming through it. It initially piqued my interest as I’d relatively recently finished re-reading ‘Automated Alice’ by Jeff Noon, perhaps not his best book, but interesting nonetheless. It was more the idea of reworking classic characters that piqued my attention rather than the specific subject matter of the book. I’ve always been interested in new takes on older well-known and well-established characters: although not necessarily in a fan-fiction type of way.
I decided to take a new look at some of these books, and tried to decide whether this is generally a good, bad, or indifferent thing.

 I have liked some of Mr Koontz’s older work so I decided to have a look at this new take on a classic character. At the time I wasn’t aware that this book built on an earlier trilogy of Frankenstein-based books by Mr Koontz. And it did seem like I was thrown in at the deep-end a little. It opened with a (to me) somewhat rushed re-cap of the older series, then the remainder of the book read very much like a long introduction. For me it sounded all too obviously like the first-part of a new series. A personal irk of mine is the series-book that doesn’t have a self-contained story ark, and although what is there is well written and quite entertaining, this book definitely doesn’t stand up as a complete story on its own, and I’m pretty sure it was never intended to.
It all reads like the opening couple of chapters to a much longer story, and to be honest I'm not sure I want to stick through it all because this ended up being too long and drawn-out for me…
But as I said, this isn't a review of ‘Frankenstein: Lost Souls’ it's a look at reworking of older books. But this does go to show one of the main problems I’ve found with authors redoing the classics. Where do you stop?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Free Crazies...

I’ve made my first OtherWhare novelette ‘The Crazies’ free on Smashwords. It should hopefully price-match on Amazon soon. I’d appreciate any quick reviews or rating you could give ether to this or to ‘The Vagrant’s Tail’ short story.
This is all part of my ‘absolutely no plan/clue marketing strategy’ and it’s going as well as I expected so far… err, as in I’ve sold very little and nobody seems interested… maybe I should try and do something about that?

I did get a few sales on The Crazies, but I’m not sure what word-length people feel comfortable paying for. Hopefully if I get some downloads, good star ratings, good comments/reviews or a decent amount of likes etc for the two OtherWhare titles I have up there already it may persuade people to buy something in the future.

I’m going to have to concentrate on getting the visibility of this stuff up above zero!
Wouldn’t it be nice if I had at least one fan before I released the last book in the series?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Do you refer to yourself as a Writer?

…And if not why not?

OK, it’s hardly a new question, and if you do refer to yourself as a writer, what stage were you at before you did, and what were other people’s reactions?I’ve recently decided to think of myself as a trainee-writer instead of a wannabe-writer. Why? Well I suppose it’s just a slight change of mind-set. I have had some limited success in getting paid for short stories. I’ve also had very encouraging feedback (but no deals) from publishers, and pretty much all reviews I’ve ever had seem to think I’m doing more things right than I am wrong, with most people liking the stories. I still know that what I have achieved commercially so far is nothing to write home about and I certainly still wouldn’t dare refer to myself publicly as a ‘writer’ brackets and all!
Now you may think this is all just me contemplating my own navel. But I do have a wider point, and that is about our perceptions of ourselves and of how others view us.
It somehow seems to be thought ‘silly’ or at best a waste of time to want to be a writer by most people. Then there are those who say "who will buy it" and "you will never be as good as…" and then name someone who isn’t necessarily all that brilliant technically, but very successful. People will say this even if they haven’t read a single book by the person they name!

So all this led me to reconsider how I see myself. I’m under no illusions that I am ever going to be a ‘great’ writer. But I have technically improved significantly over the years. And this is the crux of my internal change in status. At this stage I really just want people to read what I’ve written and hopefully like it. I feel much more confident in submitting my work to the world in general, and that is a big hurdle for anyone who wants to write.

My question is, why do people generally assume the ‘big names’ are the standard and are by default ‘very good’ writers, without reading a word. Whilst at the same time practically dismissing anyone starting out as ‘rubbish’ again without reading a single word?
These perceptions do seem to be fairly ingrained with some people when it comes to books, especially fiction novels.

You just don’t get the same prejudice in other fields. I’m a programmer by profession, and you don’t get clients coming up and saying, "I only want the older experienced people who worked on the biggest systems in the past to do my work for me, because all the new ones will be crap." It just doesn’t happen, and would sound ludicrous if someone did. But in the fiction book world it seems to be the ‘normal’ or at least mainstream readers default perception. Of course the marketing machines churning out the same old spin for the same old people and books don’t help it.
Now if I’m sounding bitter, I’m not, and I don’t intend to. I have no illusions about the industry, and if I never make it past this stage, then that’s ok. Maybe I’m just not good enough to go any further. What does get me is the often snobbish attitudes people have to books, combined with a sneering attitude to wannabe writers, even (or sometimes especially) those people who don’t even read!
So where has this attitude come from?

Book 2 of the OtherWhere series is almost ready!

I’ve been a bit bogged down with work and things lately. So it hasn’t left much time for blogging or writing.
I have managed to finish off the draft for my second OtherWhere book though.
This one is called ‘Still Life’ and will be around 16 to 17K. It follows one of the ancillary characters, briefly, introduced in the first Novelette.

I’ll hopefully be gathering some critiques over the next few weeks and then it's on to the second round of re-writes and edits.

If anybody is interested in having a look at the current version, or if you are on CC feel free to let me know what you think. It doesn’t have to be a full critique, I’m always interested in general opinions as well. Still isn’t anyone buying them much though. I’ll have to work on that after this one… or maybe after the next short-story…

Thursday, 23 June 2011

How do you keep track of your stories…

… And would you consider using versioning software or a custom database application?

Why do I ask? Well, two reasons really. The first is to find out what other people do and to see if there is a better approach to the one I’m currently using. The second is to find out what others think would be the best way of organising our work-in-progress, and for maintaining a record of our submitted and accepted work. I would now include self-e-published work in this.

Firstly, I currently hold my ideas, WIPs, critique feedback, editing and submissions history, and not forgetting my acceptance and rejection history for each story all as files in a rather complicated directory structure on both my word and home PCs. This structure has grown, rather organically, over time, and means I'm constantly attempting to keep all the documents in both machines at the same revision level, as well as updating/ensuring all the various documents; whether they are story files, critiques, ideas, or the various history file; in the appropriate folders.

My structure is as follows:

I’m sure this is more complicated, and less secure, than it should or needs to be.
Now, I’m a .net applications designer to trade, that’s fancy speak for computer programmer, so I was thinking about writing my own system for keeping better control of my work. I did a bit of research and there doesn’t seem to really be anything out there that does what I want to do. I know some people seem to use spreadsheets to keep track of things. I assume their story files are just saved on their hard Disk, but didn’t find any accounts that went into much detail. There are plenty of versioning solutions out there, some decent ones are even freeware. The thing is, like the spreadsheet, this only provides part of the solution. And it seems a bit overkill to write and maintain spreadsheets as well as some sore of versioned directory structure just for what amounts to a handful of files or such.
So before I start looking at making something of my own, I’d appreciate it if anyone knows of any programs I may have missed, or at least say how you deal with your work and related record keeping.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Harry Potter, Twilight and the forgotten ‘Dark Matter’

Hello dear reader. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me tell you a tall tale of hysteria and skewed perceptions. A tale where all may not be as it seams, where shady men in suits delight is meddling with people’s thoughts…

Ok, I have question for you. As of now, what are the two biggest selling children’s - YA book series?
Answer: you are probably wrong…

That is, you would be wrong if you answered Harry Potter and Twilight. The combined sales for the 7 main Harry Potter books are in excess of 400 million copies. The twilight series have sold just over 100 million. Both very good figures for any book series. But contrary to what the marketing machines would have us believe they are not the only game in town. There are other, perhaps quieter and les controversial, series that are sitting quietly in the background and perhaps chuckling at all the hysteria generated by the, rather vocal, fans of the ‘big two’.

Would it surprise you to know that there is another YA/children’s book series that easily tripled the Twilight sales and has only marginally less that the HP series? I think some people would be surprised by this; others will possibly already have guessed that I’m referring to the good old Goosebumps books. Ok, before the fans even get started, I know I’m comparing 60-something plus books to two relatively small series. And my intention isn’t to deride ether HP or Twilight here. I’m merely trying to show that the majority of pre-teen and YA readers may not be the HP and Twilight only generation that the media/marketing machine would have us think they are. By the way, the Goosebumps series has sold well over 350 million books, and is still climbing.
In the children’s market, Thomas the Tank Engine and Noddy have both doubled the sales of Twilight. Yes I know it isn’t the same audience, again that isn’t my point. The point is that there are other, invisible, things out there, with much larger sales, that don’t appear to be as ‘big’ as the two most hyped/talked about series. The general pubic perception is that vastly more children and young adults are reading these two book series, where in fact the overall sales figures do not bear this out.

So why the current fervour over HP and Twilight, and how do the others sustain their sales without it? What’s the secret? Is it all purely the marketing machines creation? Do people buy a Goosebumps book with a certain, safe, expectation, when their pre-teen, tween, or mid-teen would rather be reading the ‘edgy’ (or should that be ‘cool,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘wicked,’ banging,’ or whatever is in vogue nowadays…) Twilight book that they actually want – based of course of the hyperbole surrounding the series.
Obviously the TV franchise type books (Thomas the Tank Engine & Noddy, etc.) have a distinct advantage here, but it doesn’t explain why the quiet competitors like Goosebumps are still doing so well without the hype machine. And although the vast number of Goosebumps sales is split up between 60+ books, remember that The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies, for one book, and The Lord of the Rings has sold over 150 million. Now, I’m honestly not trying to make this a competition, and granted, those sales are over a longer time-frame. My interest here is in how much of the children’s and YA audience really only have read the HP and/or Twilight books, and how much have read those as well as many from the other major and minor sellers. If all those books are still being sold then surely someone must be reading them?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Franchising and Merchandising…

C.M.O.T. Dibbler would be proud!

I was looking through my straining bookshelves holding my Diskworld collection the other night, and was struck by the amount of off-shoot franchising type books I actually have. There are, of course, all the diaries (bar two) the almanacs and the various guides. But we can’t forget the Diskworld and Anamorphic maps and cook books, as well as the other book-based miscellany. But that isn’t including my moderate collection of ClareCraft Diskworld figurines, far less the postcards, VHS-videos, DVD’s and other memorabilia I have acquired over the years.
The list does indeed go on…

The thing is, and I suspect this holds true for a lot of people, apart from the Novels most of it is no-longer even out on display. The sad thing is much of it never was. So why do I have all of this stuff hoarded away in boxes? Well it’s probably no different from seeing today’s teenagers walking around with Twilight t-shirts on. Oh I have a ‘Death’ Diskworld t-shirt as well; I had it for a while before I decided to actually weir it. Anyway, what was I on about… ah yes the sometimes impressive, if that is the word, collection of stuff, or collectables if you prefer, that we acquire for various franchises. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all this stuff is junk necessarily. Looking through my rather extensive Diskworld collection just got me thinking about the amount of merchandising that is done nowadays.
I think the main thing that says you have made-it doesn’t come from rave-reviews or critical-acclaim anymore. No, the real test of a writer’s metal is whether or not they ever get the action-figures made from their characters. You get the action-figures made and you are a writing-publishing-story-spinning demigod!
Does that sound cynical? It wasn’t meant to be. I think it’s just the way the world we live in works now. Oh, and I said demigod because you need the cartoon-series and the films to lay a clam to true god-dome… pretty sure that isn’t a word, but you know what I mean.

So what do you think? When does the mid-list author, making decent money but by no stretch of the imagination famous, make that break into the world of the uber-author and join the ranks of the household-names? What percentage is talent and how much is marketing?

Again, no bitterness intended here. Personally I think Sir Terry deserves his success based on the merits of his work, others maybe not so much… But hey, good luck to them. They obviously did something very right that propelled their books out of the norm, and into the merchandising machine overdrive.

As I said, Dibbler would have been proud!
Sausage-onna-stick anyone?

Monday, 13 June 2011

YA: Talking horses, throwbacks, self-harming, and underage sex…

What on earth am I talking about?
Well… obviously the Mode Series by Piers Anthony.

So, why the reactionary title, you may ask? Well it’s a reactionary series, and one of the most… interesting works I’ve ever stumbled across… up to a point.
I read my first ‘Mode’ story not long after I was out of my teens, and it was this book that made me want to further explore the strange universe created by Mr Anthony.
There are officially four books in the series. Although some would argue that there are still really only three. The first three books were released one a year from 1991 to 1993. These being: Virtual Mode, Fractal Mode, and Chaos Mode. Eventually DoOon Mode was released in 2001, a full ten years after the original instalment. Why eventually? Well, read on…

Harry Potter; growing with the reader, but now what…

I was recently reading an interesting account of J. K. Rowling’s idea of the characters in the HP series growing up with the readers. On the face of it a very successful strategy, but a thought occurred to me…

How will this affect the long-term saleability and popularity of the books?

Think about it. Whether you like them or not, we are now left with a series of very high profile and popular books that are written for differing age groups; not to mention a set of films that more-or-less do the same. So what will the future hold for the series?
What is the target readership for a set of books all aimed at differing age groups?
Will people still start reading book one aged around eight to ten, and read every other book at the appropriate age? I think not. Although some parents who grew up with the series may indeed attempt to drip-feed the books in this way. Good luck with that!

Many people have already stated a preference for ether the earlier or latter books, depending on their personal tastes. Will this be overlooked in the future, with the entire series eventually becoming a ‘classic’ set, or will this be a major factor in the series fading into obscurity?

Whilst some of the ‘classics’ of today have remained popular from their outset other popular titles of their time have faded to obscurity. Is the very, following the reader, nature of the HP books set to propel them into the latter category? Or are they set to take on the ‘children’s classics’ status of ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland?’
I’m not pretending to understand what does or doesn’t make a ‘classic’ book. But if past experience tells us anything, it tells us that contemporary popularity isn’t the overriding factor. Quite a lot of todays ‘classics’ were rather obscure, or even derided, at their time of launch.

So what do you think? What will the future hold for HP?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Clearing out the loft…

My wife has recently re-informed me of my decision to clear out the loft (attic). This means redistributing a lot of old books. We are both fairly practiced readers, although the vast majority of the stuff up there is mine. Ok, I’ll admit it I’m a bit of a hoarder… first step is to admit you have a problem, right?
Anyway, we don’t want to redistribute them to the trash. So that means ebay, charity shops, goodreads, and anybody who wants any of the stuff that is being disposed of really.

The volumes that live in the loft have naturally selected themselves into two distinct camps. The dusty-shelve inhabitants, and the shadowy cardboard-box dwellers. And it is the latter of these who are most in need of population control.
Searching through the various layers of these books is like going on my own personal archaeological dig, and excavating my reading history.
Down in the primordial box section we have the ancient ancestors of today’s YA along with the Comics and their close relatives the Graphic-Novels. One of which I have since discovered is a rare fossil indeed… now ebay bound.
Next came all the horror books. I had no idea how much horror I must have gotten through in my late-teens to early twenties. Closely following the, rather sudden, extinction of this era came a; sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid; evolution. Here we have the Sci-Fi, fantasy, mainstream, and yes even the classics and ‘Literrary Fiction,’ even some poetry has managed to hang on in there.

But there is another creature lurking up there. It is a large shelve-bending, floor-board creaking, beast known to those who know as ‘the wife’s Star-Trek collection,’ and it is a sight to behold… For it is large, and it is mighty.
It’s also strictly off-limits to my clearing effort… see how that works?

So, the question is what should I do with it all? I also have an extensive pile of, retro?, computer manuals. I’m quite happy to give stuff away to a good home. I don’t want to put a list up on my blog, but I am going to put up a rather extensive list on the book-swapping thread over on good reads, once I get things sorted out a little more. I’d be quite willing to ‘swap’ a lot of them for not very much or nothing. So if anyone is interested feel free to take a look.
As I said, most books on the shelves (yes there are quite a lot of them) are relatively safe, but there are some well known as well as some relatively obscure books still lurking in the boxes.

Surely this curious tale isn’t all that unusual a story?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Twilight from outside the demographic

A sort-of review…

Never before has a series of books seemed to polarise opinion so vehemently that the Twilight saga. There are the legions of very loyal ‘Twilight Looovers’ and the equally, what’s the word for anti-loyal, ‘Twilight Haters.’

First of all I have to point out that I only looked at book one, and the grammar used in this is not the same as that used by the vast majority of books I would normally read.
Honestly, my immediate reaction would be to say this has some issues, but as stated in the title I am very much outside the target audience demographic.
It was hard going for me to read this book, but I can see why it would read well to some people.

The three big issues I kept on hearing about with this were the writing style, the simplicity of the story and the message. Ok, it will never be considered as what is generally referred to as ‘literary fiction’ (a whole other rant), and the style won’t be to the taste of most, if not all, avid-readers. Then again, it does appear to appeal to the mainstream target audience, at which it was marketed, as well as quite a few others. So surely this must be doing something right.
I have heard quite a few teenage readers referring to this as ‘The best book ever,’ and in their, sometimes limited, reading experience I believe they truly mean this, and why shouldn’t their opinion be as valid as that of the avid-reader?
Some of my favourite books have often been described as ‘flowery’ and ‘pretentious.’ Everybody has an opinion. As I’ve said before, any book that gets people reading, especially those that may not normally do so, is a good book (in as much as it fits its purpose, it does what it was produced to do).

To me the words did get in the way of the story a little, which brings us to the story… see what I did there …
Yes, the story is simple. So what? Some of the best books have simple stories, and most genre books follow some form of the ‘Hero’s Tale’ concept.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ has very little story when you break it down, as do a fair amount of the ‘classics.’ So simple story, yes. Unimaginative story, well you can see where this tries to be different from the standard vampire story. How successful this was is entirely subjective, but it does follow a fairly predictable pattern. Then that pattern may only be discernable hence predictable to someone who reads a lot! I think it’s fair to say that a major part of the Twilight audience is not hugely well-read: that is not a slight!
And we are now left with the message… Interpreted by many as: teenage girl with low self esteem is used and abused by older ‘sometimes boyfriend.’ OK, I can see where this is coming from. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, I didn’t particularly care ether way… and truth be told ended up skimming the best part of the book. In my defence I had already discerned the writing style, and wanted to understand the story, by this point. From what I gathered, it isn’t as bad as some people make out, and it isn’t as good or morally commendable as others seem to think it is. Of course that assumption is only my own personal thoughts, and as such is entirely subjective.

My quick conclusion… Ok, if you insist…
Personally I didn’t care for it very much, then it wasn’t aimed at me.
I think the story is simple, but that isn’t necessarily a sin on its own.
The message is morally ambiguous at best, again not necessarily a sin.
I didn’t like the way this was written and found it hard to read. I think a large percentage of frequent readers with probably feel the same.
I can see why it has gained favour and scorn where it has.
The solution… As always, don’t read it if you don’t like it. What’s the point of hating?

Friday, 3 June 2011

I’ve just posted a short story to FeedBooks

This is a little bit of an experiment for me. I’ve re-wrote parts of the land Ironclads by H. G. Wells to show a more modern version of the war, this time between a more conventional army and robotic assailants.

I’ve tried to do it in the original style, and much of the original text is still intact, although some was edited for clarity.

I’d appreciate any comments on this.
You can see it here:

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

UK digital copyright law changes

I’m not sure how much people are aware of it but the rather antiquated UK copyright laws are set to be updated to take account of digital-media.

The findings of a six month independent review led by Professor Ian Hargreaves, published on 19/05/10, now seem set to become law. The recommendations of this report embraced changes to the existing UK’s intellectual property and copyright laws to include the digital marketplace.

It looks like we will be getting laws passed that makes it legal for us to copy music from one format to another for personal private use. So we may now finally be able to copy those old CD’s to our laptop, iPod, or other mp3 player without breaking the law! Ok, in general these laws were never enforced, and we did have a sort of unofficial ‘fair use’ system, although not in-law. But these changes will have more serious long-term effects.
Professor Hargreaves said the current laws are “obstructing innovation and economic growth in the UK”, a comment that was directed towards digital companies in particular. He also called for the government polices to “be more closely based on economic evidence”. He went on to say that the recommendations “are designed to enhance the economic potential of the UK's creative industries and to ensure that the emergence of high technology businesses, especially smaller businesses, in other sectors is not impeded by our IP laws."

So how will this affect e-book sales and usage?
Well, under the new laws it will be legal to copy copyrighted files legally downloaded to your computer to another compatible device for private purposes. So you can copy music or video from a PC or Laptop to a suitable player and, presumably, do the same thing with e-book files. I take this to mean that you can legally convert that EPUB file to any other format for use on, say a Kindle for example. I’m not a lawyer but I can’t see what the difference would be.
The recommendations go on to say that, digital copying of medical and other journals for computerised analysis in research, is also allowed. So what are the implications for this? What information would be covered and what type of access will be granted?

From first impressions this seems set to go much further than the American ‘fair use’ policy, and hopefully it will close some of the loop-holes present in that system.

Maybe our American friends will be downloading material form over here in future, instead of the other way around ;)

Are you afraid of the internet stalkers?

Should you be?

I recently come across a rather interesting thread on a reading forum about the perception of people through their avatars and screen names. I’ve never been a huge fane of made-up screen-names. I want to talk to Gerry, to Suzan , or Paul, not ‘MegaRoboDeathPanda2500.’ A personal choice maybe, but the thread quickly grew a bit darker with many people sighting instances of on-line stalkers where people used their real names.
Now it’s just as easy to follow ‘MegaRoboDeathPanda2500’ from forum to forum that it is ‘Paul Smith.’ Although I suppose it is more difficult to know that ‘MegaRoboDeathPanda2500’ on one forum is ‘FluffyBunnyLove1900’ on another, where ‘Paul Smith.’ is still ‘Paul Smith.’
This does raise some questions when trying to promote through blogs, posts, and social-networking sites etc though. There are some people who paint the internet as a very dark place, full of shadowy figures just waiting to stumble upon their next victim. I can only say I have been using the internet since its text-only days… see I told you I was old… and have been fortune enough to never come across any of these virtual stalkers. My name has been out-there for a very long time, a lot of it in what is now, rather dramatically, called the dark-net. Sounds scary and a bit cloak-and-dagger, doesn’t it! Until you find out that this just refers to the sites that a normal surface-web crawler, like Google, doesn’t pick up. And contrary to popular belief there are a lot of very innocuous things Google doesn’t pick up!

So why mention this? Well, is it just me or has the internet gone all paranoid lately? After years of more-or-less happy use people seem to be getting frightened by the net. It will steal their identity, corrupt their children, and generally allow the crazies into their life and get stalked. Well… that’s what the voices told me anyway.

Seriously though as budding/beginning, or even mid-list, authors we are putting ourselves out-there, not only that but we are screaming ‘look at me, look at me, and see what I can do.’ So do we really need a crazy-filter? I, like many others, have been busy joining various sites and groups, posting of forums, putting myself out-there on blogs and social-networking sites, with the sole aim of getting my name recognises as easily as possible. Are the Nay-Sayers right in their paranoia? Is there really the danger that they perceive there to be? Personally I don’t think the danger is as prevalent or damaging as some make it out to be. Sure if someone takes it into their head to dislike you they can put up some nasty posts, so what? They can give some bad reviews, but chances are they won’t be recognised reviewers in whatever venue they are posting, and if it is defamatory you can always have it removed. Worse things happen with bogus-reviews and forum posting etc, both pro and anti the author, all the time. People generally trust who and what they trust, and are naturally sceptical of anything too glowing or too derogatory. So is it really a big-deal?

I think we, as writers, are scraping along the edge of the virtual-web-world and the real-world, so yes maybe these hypothetical net-stalkers could find it easier to follow us than the average forum-poster, but again if it stays on the web, so what. If it doesn’t that’s a whole new and very different thing. I don’t think I’ll ever be famous enough to have my own actual stalker!

Monday, 23 May 2011

One from the vaults…

One of my older experimental stories has just been put up for review over on the blog by Alain Gomez. Thanks Alain!

This was a bit of an experiment with me trying to get familiar with using future-tense, hey don’t laugh. I think I’ve almost pulled it of in parts!

It will be interesting to see what reviews it gets… if any.

You can have a look at it here if you like.
Or just check out the ‘Book Brouhaha’ site.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Are Alice and the Hobbit high?

I was having a look around over on Good Reads .com recently, and was surprised to find the top fore volumes in their ‘Highbrow Fantasy Books’ section listed in descending order as: ‘Lord of the rings,’ ‘Wattership down,’ ‘The Hobbit,’ and finally
‘Alice in wonderland and Through the looking-glass.’
So that makes two of my all-time favourite books and two others that I would consider to have mass-market appeal listed as ‘Highbrow.’ ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Alice,’ highbrow, seriously?

I’m not sure what this says for the general readership nowadays if people generally see these books as highbrow. Is it just that they are seen to be older now? Does old equal stuffy, equals highbrow?

I still have my ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ album by the ‘Sex Pistols,’ that’s old. Does that make it highbrow also… is it now the preserve of the intellectual, educated, scholarly, and cultured classes? I think not. Classic maybe, I could live with classic.

So conversely what is considered lowbrow, and who would happily admit to being a ‘lowbrow’ reader?
Seriously though am I the only one that finds this a rather sad state of affairs? Or am I just getting the wording of this wrong somehow? It seems pretty clear in meaning to me, but I’ve been wrong before. Am I missing something? Are these books considered to be of that strange and misunderstood ilk called ‘literature’ and is all literature considered to be highbrow?

The Vagrant’s Tail: now on Smashwords

Just another quick note to say this has just passed the auto-vetting on feedbooks now, so it may take a while to get into the premier catalogue.

I’m planning on doing the whole shebang with this short-story, and giving it an ISBN so it can filter through to all the stores.

It’s the first time I’ve done this with something les than 10K, and I’m still not sure of the reception for shorts out there… It is free though.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

On the ball: A review of Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

I must admit, my heart sank a little when I first saw the cover of Unseen Academicals by Sir Terry Pratchett. The Diskworld series of books is without doubt my favourite fantasy series ever. But this book, the 37th novel in the series, was about football, and I have little interest in football. Of course the book wasn’t really about ‘football’ any more than ‘Pyramids’ was about Pyramids, or ‘Small Gods’ was about umm, well… Small Gods!

The back-story in ‘Unseen Academicals’ revolves around the possible withdrawal of a rather large endowment to Unseen University, a cut in funds that would mean the Wizards could only afford three meals a day. In order to avert this clearly unacceptable stare of play the wizards have to form a football team, and complete a game in order to fulfil the terms of the bequest, but the local game is rather violent for the Wizards, to say the least.

After my initial misgivings I have to say that this turned out to be a worthy addition to the Diskworld family. In Unseen Academicals Sir Pratchett continued his recent trend of introducing new, and interesting, main characters. The newly introduced characters of Mr. Nutt, a candle dribbler to trade, and his co-worker Trev Likely, a lad with a foot for kicking a can, and the son of a famous, but deceased, footballer. Both of whom manage to be enigmatic and funny in equal measures. The other two new main characters are the unflappable Glenda, who runs the University Night Kitchens and bakes the best pies on the disc. And last but by no-means least the beautiful Juliet, who has only a passing familiarity with reality, and dreams about fashion. Together with the budding football team they all conspire to run with the ball as Sir Pratchett takes us on a game of two halves at his trademark whistle-stop pace...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sight seeing.

I’ve been looking at ways to publicise my writings lately, but don’t fret, that isn’t what this post is about…
My research got me thinking about the wider question of who looks at what web-sites, and why. What types of people look at what type of sites, and how much overlap is there? I was primarily looking at social networking sites, which more-or-sell included blogging sites, and various sites associated with writing. Although I suspect my findings could equally well be applied to any group of specialised web sites. I definitely think the same things hold true for the technical and programming sites that I also frequent (I’m a computer programmer to trade).

Anyway, it’s fair to say that a good percentage of people present on one writing-related forum will also appear on other similar forums and many of those people have writing-related blog pages. Obviously this type of behaviour isn’t just limited to writing related sites, but I’ll use writing as the example here. What doesn’t necessarily follow is that those people are involved in any of the more specific social-networking sites, like Facebook or Twitter. A fair percentage is, but the assumption seems to be made that the majority of people are. The results I’d got by trying to follow people through, and in some cases simply by asking don’t necessarily follow this assumption.
I think the Facebook user can be of a very different breed to the forum/blog user.

Hello, another quick note...

... just to say I’ve put up a version of my ‘The Vagrant’s Tail’ short-story over on the feedbooks site:

This is a short spin-off story from 'The Crazies' the first in my OtherWhare series of Novelette/Novellas. I’m hopefully going to use this over on smashwords as an additional free tease

r-story for the first Novelette in the series, which has already been put up over on smashwords.

Anyway, I’d be interested in any thought you may have on this story.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Just a quick update on what I’ve been up to over on facebook.

In addition to setting up an OtherWhere Page I’ve also setup an OtherWhere group for my writings. So why not join the page, and or the group as well?
The group is going to be a bit more informal than the ‘official’ page, and it’s your chance to say what you think about my writing. I’ve set this up as a closed group, but only because it will really just be relevant to people who are interested in discussing my OtherWhare stories; or are interested in my wider writing, or any of the other associated things that go along with it; in general.
I’m always open to constructive criticism, good ideas, and readers’ views on any subject relating to my work.

If you want to be friends or join my OtherWhere writing group you can find me under Garry Grierson

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Wheels within wheels: linking your way through the internet.

 Following on from my adventures in statistical discoveries I have be getting more and more intertwined in the wonderful world of RSS feeds, automatic inter-site posting  and links. I’m sending my blogs to Facebook and Twitter, showing my tweets on Smashwords, and putting up links all over the place. Now I can spend ages running in circles around all my various sites. It’s not very productive, but is strangely compelling, hypnotic even…

 Where was I? Oh yes, links. I was looking at linking my various sites together through standard web-links when I started paying more attention to the automatic-posting type. I discovered that RSS is your friend, and it’s well worth getting acquainted with this if you haven’t already.
I stumbled across a useful site called recently. This lets you setup RSS feeds to, amongst others, Twitter and Facebook, useful for automatically generating traffic that will potentially reach a larger audience than is available by blogging and forum-posting alone.

Blogging my facebook off:
I’d been told about posting blogs to Facebook a while ago, but didn’t want to clog up my personal-space with posts about my writing. I have some non-writing friends, work colleges, and various family members on Facebook. They collectively have little to no interest in my writing, so I’m also in the process of setting up a Facebook group, to put all my writing related stuff in. I intend to post my Blog-stuff to here, as well as any book and short-story releases or anything else writing-related that I can think of. The group seems to be a good way to keep this separate from my personal account, so expect to see links to that soon!

To Tweet, tweet, tweet
I’ve had a Twitter account for some time, but have to confess that I haven’t really had much use, or time, for it. Like Facebook, I found Twitter to be good in principle but in practice… well I didn’t get much practice with ether of them to say much about it. That all changed when I found out that circular-data-distribution (pointing stuff at other stuff, that you point at other stuff…) really does work; at least in the short-term.
I’ve got this very Writing Blog twittering away, via twitfeeder. And the tweets point back here. From here there are a variety of normal links that can take people to various web-places all about me! Er, I mean about my writing.

I’ve also found out that I can allow visitors to setup RSS feeds to my Blog via the ‘Subscription Links’ widget; another easy way for people who are not on Blogger to keep up to date with my ramblings.

I’m not sure if you can overdo all this linkage, but right now I’m finding out more useful ways of utilising things I’d heard of, but had little use for, on a daily basis.
So what do you think, is it all good, or can you overdo it?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Planning my Path to the Punters

I’ll tell you what; this marketing lark isn’t for the faint-hearted is it!
Ok, so my first Novelette (assuming 11K is too short for a novella) has passed its Smashwords checks and has now moved from ‘Pending approval’ to ‘Approved.’
Hooray for notepad!
So I sat staring at my one sale. Well it’s a start, but now what; I thought. I had already done some posting to a couple of readers forum sites (nothing too hard-sell) and I had already set up this blog. But I’m going to have to do a lot more than that to let my potential punters know about my writings.

To this end I’ve come up with a basic plan for getting my name out there. The following graphics shows what I’ve ether done or am in the process of doing just now:

So what do you think? Have I covered the basics or is there some gleaming omission? Are all of these things productive? I’ve heard it said that you have to have a twitter and Face-book presence nowadays, but it doesn’t really generate sales.
I’m hoping to attract people to the web-site through posting and with free teaser stories based on the OtherWhere series, as well as some free unrelated short-fiction work.
The general aim is to get as muck links to my stories out there as possible in suitable places. So, hopefully some potential readers will stumble across something and be intrigued enough to pay a nominal fee to read more. The amount of the fee isn’t important to me just now. My main interest is to see if I can entice people into paying for my work, hopefully for each of the six Novella-length releases that are planned over the next couple of years.

I’m currently thinking up some other, non-internet, ways of promotion as well. But I want to setup some sort of internet presence first. If nothing else it’s something to point people at.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Children’s authors that had an aversion to children.

OK, a (little) bit tongue-in-cheek this one, but…
I’ve recently been reading up on famous traditional children’s authors, and come to some interesting revelations

1) Aesop, of Aesop’s fables fame, was a convicted embezzler and apparently renowned for insulting almost everyone he ever met, including children. The story goes that he was thrown into the sea because of his sarcastic and derogatory attitude and behaviour towards his pears.

2) Hans Christian Andersen, was apparently a notorious rogue and generally disliked and distrusted during his lifetime. I have read him described as ‘the type of person more likely to sell a child rather than read to it.’ One tabloid-newspaper of the day even accused him of ‘dining on human flesh,’ although this may not have been a literal accusation!

3) Lewis Carroll. Ah, yes even Mr Dodgson may have some skeletons in his closet. Although reported to dislike babes and small boys, Mr Dodgson did have affection for little girls; some autobiographies have speculated that this fondness may have had inappropriate routes.

4) Beatrix Potter, was apparently well known as an ardent ‘child hater’ and has even been accused of assaulting, often very young, children. There is one famous incident of her telling a young Roald Dahl to “buzz off” when he approached her.

5) L. Frank Baum, author of the seminal ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was apparently an ardent white-supremist, who advocated the total annihilation of the indigenous American Indian population, and saw no reason to spare or indoctrinate their children into ‘White Civilization.”

6) Dr. Seuss, real name Theodor Geisel, had an ambivalent if uneasy relationship with children at best. It was never proven whether or not the childless Geisel actually disliked children, although his ‘wary behaviour’ towards them was often noted and commented upon. He has been recorded as saying “What might they ask next?” and “What might they do next?”

So, a goodly bunch of warm-hearted child-friendly individuals they were not!
Obviously I’m not judging all child-fiction writers with the same yard-stick here, but it does make you wonder why they chose to write the books they did!

Do you know of any more?

Kidlit for Grownups

I’ve been reading some blogs recently and have come to a bit of an epiphany about my writing.
I feel like I should be standing up in the middle of a group or something and saying:
“Hello, my name is Garry, and I write Kidlit for grownups.”

So how have I come to this startling discovery? Well… Once upon a time, a young man started writing stories. He didn’t particularly know where or by whom these tails would be read, and he didn’t particularly care. He wrote about the fantastical things that interested him. He wrote to escape the mounting pressures that came hand-in-glove with early adulthood. But most of all he wrote because he wanted to.
He wasn’t very technically proficient at it, some say he still isn’t, but that wasn’t the point. He still remembered that wide-eyed imagination of childhood, well enough to capture it with pen and paper… Oh yes, he used pen and paper, computers were in their infancy back then, and he didn’t own a typewriter. There weren’t many typewriters around in the small mining-village where he grew up.

He wrote of adventure and of life as he saw it, and he still does, even in this very blog.
Since those early days that young man had grown up, and relatively old. He had gone through college, got married, and has read a fair amount of ‘Literature,’ in his life, and invariably thought ‘fine, but where’s the story?’

As I said it was only while reading other peoples comments in their blogs that I realised I had always been re-writing those adventure tales of my youth.
On one hand what I write can be seen as closely following the constructs of ‘traditional children’s literature,’ in the sense of the type of books that were intentionally written for children up to around the age of twelve: just before the teen thing kicks in.
But I’m also writing for myself and for other adults, in that I put adult emotions, fears, and desires into my work. I try to make ‘real’ characters that don’t always do the ‘right’ thing. I suppose I do have a morel in there, if you look for it, but it certainly is a shade or two away from the black-and-white morality of those old children’s stories.
This is perhaps why ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has stayed with me throughout my life. On the face of it, it is a simple children’s story, but on re-reading an older person may see beyond the surface to a slightly darker world-view.
I’ve noticed that my more recent work has concentrated in bringing this under-darkness out into the open. A sort of “Outed Alice,” now there’s a title I should think about!

So is there a market for this type of writing?

 Is the recent mainstream shift towards the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ type of YA orientated writing an indication of people’s desire to (re)read those old-style adventure stories of their youth? Or is the recent fantasy/wizards/vampire phenomenon a symptom of something else?

I’d say my stuff is a bit more edgy than the HP, Twilight stories. I’m trying to point people at the grey-areas a bit more, but still have that ripping-yarn quality. Perhaps I’m not there yet, but I will keep trying.
I’m still not entirely sure where to market a lot of my work, but the advent of e-pub looks like a possibility. The major problem there is getting people to notice a needle in a needle-stack! The thing is, now I do care. I want to know if someone likes my work, or hates it, or is utterly ambivalent. Ether way, I care.

“Hello, my name is Garry, and I’d like to know what you think…”

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Writing is Stat-tastic…

 My heart thumped hard against my chest as I moved towards the featureless black oblong. I licked my dry lips and peered closer. My nose hovered but inches away from the smooth mat-surface as it burst into life, filling my vision with a myriad of shifting colures and shapes.
I opened my mouth, but could only squeeze a thin rasp from my dry throat.
“My God, it’s full of stats.”

And so begun my journey into the world of self-promotion and publishing by numbers!

How closely have you looked at all the information you can gain from the internet? I have to admit to, at first, being a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of statistical information available from my blog, e-publishing, and various other web-sites.
‘Do I have to make sense of all this,’ I asked myself. Then I mentally shrugged and made some coffee.
Like most things I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. I think it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the numbers, and you could easily spend almost as much time monitoring all this stuff as you do writing, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them ether. I’ve learned some interesting things about my writing from watching the statistics.
For example, I’m writing in UK-English, but most of my readers are American. Most of my e-published stories are not being downloaded for the Kindle, and the vast majority of my personal web-site hits are not coming from my blog (not that my sites get much traffic anyway!).
Some of this I may have guessed, some not.  Possibly the only thing that most people want to know from their starts in how much money are they making, and that’s as fine and noble a motive as any other, but you may want to take a closer look at some of those other numbers to help you top-up the important ones.

‘Know your audience.’ I’ve been told that on numerous occasions. Well, through my somewhat meandering but nonetheless fruitful use of my blog and e-publishing stats in particular, I am beginning to do this, and I think they are turning out not to be who I initially assumed them to be! That is a very good thing. I can tailor my writing, and my efforts in pushing my (still developing) web-presence, to where the relevant people are.

I’ve discovered that this writing-lark is almost as much about me as it is about my writing, and all those numbers hidden away on the various web-sites I now use can tell me a lot about who that is, or at least who it should be as far as my writing is concerned.

So, for what it’s worth, my advice would be to take some time to look at those numbers and decide which ones are relevant to you. If you haven’t paid them much head before, you may be surprised by what they can tell you!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Writing in tongues

I’ve recently been playing around with writing a piece of flash-fiction in the Scottish vernacular, and it’s made me think about regional accents and speech patterns in general writing.

Surely it can’t just come down to throwing in an off-spelt word, or quant phrase, into the mix here and there, although I have seen this done in various books to invoke a ‘local character.’ Think about it. How many times have you come across this?

One of the main things I’ve been told when writing character’s speech is ‘don’t over complicate it’ and ‘don’t put too much accents and colloquialisms into one sentence.’ I can see where this advice comes from. If you make colloquial speech too difficult for people to understand it will break the story flow, and may even serve to alienate the reader by breaking their suspension of disbelief, something you never want to do. But I think getting the language and speech patterns right can go a long way to making an interesting and well rounded character. You can insinuate a lot of perceived background and behavioural traits based entirely on a characters speech.

But how much is too much? I’ve read some books where local slang and colloquialisms have been used to good effect, and have enhanced the story for me. On the other hand, during the research for my short story I read some Scottish-tongue writing based in the area where I grew up, and some of this was very hard to get through. There were a few words that even I didn’t recognise in there, but for the most part I did understand the prose, but I still found it very difficult to read.
So why was that?

This brought up a lot of questions whilst writing this story. Should it be authentic at the expense of clarity? How far can you change the spelling of words, and still get away with it? How far can you change, or play with, the readers’ expectations of a character; after initially setting up that character based largely on their accent and speech patterns?

Perhaps this does all come down to the audience. The market for the books I was reading is niche at best, and people are buying these books with certain expectations, as are the mainstream audience, when they buy the latest blockbuster.
Obviously the direct speech in the latter shouldn’t be taxing to the average reader, where the whole text may be all but indecipherable to a non-Scots speaker in first case. These types of books are, by and large, by people who ‘want ti stop the auld tongue fi dein oot,’ for people who ‘want to stop the old language from dying out,’ and that’s fine.  

But it still doesn’t answer my question: ‘How must slang dialogue should you put in direct speech, in a standard-language book?’
Is this really just a ‘how long is a piece of string,’ question?
Or is there a really definitive answer?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Smashing words…

 …or not.

Following my recent adventures with self publishing on Smashwords I’ve decided to post as short… ish missive  of my experiences. Now, I’m an IT/Computing professional to trade. So formatting a word file should be a doodle, right? Wrong.
Oh, how very, very wrong, that assumption was.

I started by printing out the formatting guide: all 57 pages of it.

Next I took out all the ‘problem’ formatting that I could see. Then I uploaded the modified text to the site. And what you are not told about is the time you have to wait before your submission is dealt with. So … eventually … it gets its turn and is run through the converter and - rejected!

OK, so I didn’t do that right then… My cover picture looked good though.

Attempt two:

I went for the ‘ballistic approach’ this time, and copied the whole thing into notepad, and then pasted the raw text back into a clean word file.

Yuck! Formatting time…

I Redid the title page (it had disappeared!) then re-did all the line indent formatting, using the new-line method as I was told… and then undid most of it, as it screwed up the formatting again!
So, eventually I got this looking ok, so I also added a bit at the end, with a link to my web-site and a short bio etc (as recommended in the Guide) and re-submitted.

Oh, I’m 1247th in the queue… How nice; time to make some coffee.
This time it did actually complete the formatting without complaining. So it looked the same as before, and I did spend a fair amount of time removing all the formatting Smashwords said it didn’t want. So where were the differences? I have no idea.
But the sledgehammer approach seemed to be the ticket!
Based on my success I decided to add a couple of my previously e-published short-stories, and lo-and-behold, using my newly discovered technique, they both loaded first time.
So I just thought I’d let all you nice people kow what I did to get then up and running relatively quickly…

Before you look at the following  I’d just like to say it is in no way close to an alternative to reading the ‘Smashwords style guide,’ which I heartily recommend you familiarise yourself with.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

My personal list of editing do’s and don’ts

I’ve been reading a fair bit about other peoples editing lately, and looking at all the first-draft mistakes I make. Because of this I’ve recently added a new line (the one about comma splices) to my personal crib-sheet notes that I’ve put together over time. I’ve decided to put this slightly revised version up for public appraisal. I have this pinned to the wall, just to remind me when I’m editing. I’m not saying it’s comprehensive, but it’s what I use to get me thinking along the right lines when something untoward pops up in the re-writes.
I always try to remember the little axiom: Good editing won’t make you a better writer. But it will make your writing better.

And so to the list...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Is popular fiction bad?

I’ve been getting a bit irked by the amount of threads slamming popular fiction as ‘bad’ lately. There are currently a number of mass-market book series that may not be the best ‘literature’ on the planet. I don’t personally care for the way the Twilight or even, dare I say, the Harry Potter books are written, and I won’t be sitting down to read them (although I have tried) but does that give me, or anyone else, the right to universally slam them as bad?

Ok, these popular books may not be ‘literary,’ whatever you think that means, and they may break most, if not all, the ‘proper’ conventions we are constantly taught as authors (or would-be authors.) But, I do honestly think people have to define what they mean by ‘bad’ a bit more.
Remember the two afore-mentioned book-series in particular are responsible for introducing a lot of people to reading that probably would never have picked up a book otherwise.
I know perfectly reasonable, well balanced, and intelligent adult people who do like the Twilight and HP books. So who am I, or anyone else, to tell them and the millions of other readers, that they are reading rubbish?
People have always read ‘rubbish,’ in other peoples opinions. Some of the books lauded as ‘classics’ by the nay-callers of today may very-well have been seen as a bit ‘rubbish’ by some when they were first published. Not that I’m saying the Twilight or HP series will become classics, but who is to say really? Only time will tell.

So where does the current trend for slamming popular books come from?
Why is it that a certain percentage of people seem to hate these books so much as to deem them universally bad? And I’m not just talking about the two series I mentioned earlier here. The general trend amongst non-mainstream readers nowadays seems to be to deride popular fiction and laude over the merits of other lesser-known authors.
Now don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of work from new and unknown authors. I even ‘occasionally’ peek at things that are generally considered to be more ‘literary’, and I do like some of them. I do think people should be more adventurous with their reading, it’s how I’ve discovered some of my personal favourite books. But people have to start somewhere, and if they start and stop at twilight… well at least they started, right? Everyone has their own taste, and if that only lends itself to the big mainstream series, that’s better than nothing at all, right?
After all, popular titles have generally got that way for a reason, and that reason is a very simple one: people are buying the books because they like them, simple as that.
And that brings me back to my original question: why is popular fiction bad?

I think some people have to remember that a ‘good-book’ doesn’t have to be a life-changing event. It can be that, but it can equally just be a bit of simple, fun, light-hearted entertainment to kill a few hours. Just like a ‘no-brains required’ action film, or button-basher mindless-blaster computer game can be.
Can it be that we still have too much book-snobbery in the world?

Surely HP, and even Twilight, can be seen as a good thing, in that they have enticed hoards of previously non-readers to read anything at all? These books could be the starting off point for a whole new generation of readers; surely that’s a good thing?

Can you honestly say a book is badly written if people like it, and would much rather read it over ‘properly done’ and ‘literary’ fiction; which most mainstream-readers generally describe as ‘boring.’ Isn't this just snobbery, plain and simple?

If there really is something that inherently makes a good ‘book’, as opposed to the technicalities of ‘good writing,’ then surely it could be argued that the only valid acid-test is the number of people reading that book, and we all know what the ‘best’ books would be in that case…

Surely any book that gets people reading is a good book?

Friday, 25 March 2011

So what exactly is an E-book reader?

After asking this question both face-to-face and on-line I’ve come to the conclusion that every answer I got is both right and wrong.
So what it that supposed to mean you may ask?

Well, when I first heard of an e-reader it was referring to a dedicated e-ink reading device, which lead to me purchasing my trusty Sony Pocket 300, and eventually my wife’s Kindle. So I, like many others, had the notion that ‘e-reader’ universally meant on of these e-ink type devices to all people. Then I found out that not all of these dedicated devices used e-ink. Not only that, but most people reading e-books weren’t even using what I would have considered an e-reader at all.

Now, I was vaguely aware that some people used things like iPads and Tablet-PCs to read e-books, but statistically it seems that most people read e-books ether on a laptop or net-book PC. I didn’t really consider any of these to be viable e-reader platforms, so I did some research and apparently I was very wrong. But that wasn’t the end of it by a long chalk. I was genuinely surprise to find out a lot of on-line sites saying a large percentage of people use their mobile-phone as their primary e-reader. I realise none if this may exactly be news to a lot of people but it spurred me on to try and find out just what you can read an e-book on and how many people seem to primarily use what.

Of the twenty or so people I talked to face-to-face, five used a dedicated e-reader, 4 of which used a Kindle. On-line that percentage seamed to remain roughly the same, although the non-kindle percentage was slightly higher. Most people from both groups used their laptop or net-book, so the statistics seemed to be bearing out. I did specifically ask about using phones as e-readers and roughly a quarter of people said they had readers on their phones, but mostly used it for downloading news and or short-texts rather than entire e-novels. I didn’t find anyone who said the use a phone as their primary e-reader. It may-be that I just wasn’t hitting the right demographic for this, I don’t know.
I wouldn’t clame my little experiment to be scientific or representational in any way, but it would be interesting to find out other peoples results.

Just as another little bit of an experiment I gathered up all the (non-e-reader-dedicated) hand-held electronic gizmos I could find lying around the house and decided to see how many I could read an e-book on.
I found that I could read an e-book on the following: PC, Laptop, net-book, original iPod, iPod mini, MP4 player, stills camera, video camera, SatNav, Palm Z22 Personal Organiser, Android Phone, Blackberry, and last but not least the good old Nintendo DS… actually the SatNav was quite good to read off, decent sized screen, little glare and quite long battery life!

So what exactly is an E-book reader? Well, honestly I think it’s pretty much anything that people read e-books on. Is that a cop-out answer? I don’t think so. I think it’s currently the only honest answer I can give. What do you think?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

You can’t fool, or please, all of the people all of the time…

Hello again, this post is somewhat about my writing or at least about peoples reactions to my writing and to differing reactions to books in general.
This may be a bit of a navel-gazing exercise, but bear with me for a few minutes on this one, ok...

I recently got a fair few critiques back for part of one of my OtherWhere stories, most of which got the plot and quite liked the characters. The one that stood out though said more or less the opposite of all the others for every question I’d asked, and in a way that’s the one you want to be most interested in. Praise is always good, as long as it’s constructive. “I liked it,’ doesn’t really give much in the way of help, or improvement. So what was the main difference, you may ask? Character definition, the critique that differed in opinion though my protagonist and main secondary character had none, a fairly fundamental drawback to a story I’m sure you will agree.

So why would opinion be divided on such a fundamental thing, what had I done wrong? This got me thinking about some of my favourite books and some of the often shockingly deriding reviews they have received on occasion. Now I’m not saying I don’t trust the opinions expressed in any critique that differs from the norm regarding my own work. I do, and I don’t for a minute think anything anybody who has ever giver such an opinion was ether wrong or ever intended to be derogatory. To the contrary, I believe everything they have said was for my benefit, and there minority opinions have helped me understand how I write, what I am writing, and possibly most importantly who I am writing for. Right now this is possibly the only thing I have in common with my favourite authors, they know who they are writing for, and they know not everyone will like it. It sounds simple, but it’s probably one of the bitterest pills for a new and struggling writer to swallow - You will probably never write a book that everyone likes.

It’s hard to put your heart into something that screams ‘like me, like me, like me,’ only to be told ‘No.’
So what can I do about it? Do I simply ignore this minority? Of course not, I do what those successful authors do, I take their comments at face value and try to write better, for at the end of the day surely it’s about marginalising the minority as much as possible and gaining as much happy readers as possible.
But, is this a cop out, a sell out to you’re ideas. Some people would answer ‘yes’, and others’ no’. As the title paraphrased, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
Just remember you can’t please them all ether, so I try to make my work as good as I can without making it sound like something it isn’t. Trying to fool a reader will always come back as bad reviews, and despite what ‘they’ say, any publicity isn’t good publicity.

So what do you think? If you write, what do you do?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The future of the traditional book-shop

I recently started a forum thread asking what people thought the future held for traditional bookshops, and was somewhat surprised by some of the views.
I’m not sure what I expected. Being a lover of the traditional book, I maybe just wanted to be patted on the back and told ‘there, there, everything will be alright.’ Maybe that’s why I was so surprised by the general direction the majority of the views went. It seems that most people thought e-publishing is already set to take over from the paper-book in some areas, such as the ‘throw-away’ paper-back novel market. Just now paper-books still vastly out-sell e-books, in terms of sheer numbers, but various statistics seem to all show a sustained growth in e-book sales. It seems that a substantial amount of people who were quoting these e-book sales figures are quite keen on seeing the rise of e-books. Is this a trend that will grow? I don’t know, but as the e-world becomes more entwined with our daily lives perhaps more and more people’s opinions may change towards e-publishing. If the core book buyers adopt e-reading as the norm this market-share may well be set to grow well into the future, but will it ever push the ‘throw-away’ paperback-novel out of the market? I personally hope not.

Another thing that became obvious from the thread was that people are already starting to polarise. There are some people, admittedly like myself, which just like paper-books for the sake of them. We may wax-lyrical about having a solid object with history behind it, rather than an ethereal string of data. We may come up with various reasons why paper-books are better, but in the end our argument just boils down to the fact that we love 'real' books, and what’s wrong with that?

We did all more-or-less agree that, at least for the foreseeable future, there were some types of books that are more resistant to change and may possibly always remain in a paper format; such as the more tactile children’s books, how-too manuals, coffee-table type picture books, and those that generally heavily rely on pictures, diagrams and other illustrations; in general those that employ some form of tactile or graphical aspect to demonstrate their function.

A rather surprising bone of contention, to me anyway, seemed to be how the money was divided out from e-book sales. Bear in mind that there were a fair amount of published Novell Authors in the discussion group, so this probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue for readers. Having said that there were some good points made about who should make what from a book sale. I’d be interested to know a readers perception of where the money goes. Who would you like to see getting the lions-share of your hard-earned cash?

So what do you think? Are e-books destined to be a niche product and nothing you will ever personally be interested in? Or are they the next big thing, destined to resign paper-books to history? Are the current trends a flash-in-the-pan, or a portent of future change? Let me know!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Expectations of free ebooks.

I think I’ve got a reasonable number of downloads for my free short-storied at some of the e-book download sites. But I often wonder what the difference in mind-set is between what someone will download for free and what they will pay money for, even if it is just .99p (pence - or cents if you are American).

It’s easy to look at the title or cover of a free e-story and download it on a whim as it costs no more than the negligible download data-size, and if you haven’t got a download limit it doesn’t mater at all. However, that all changes if the story costs money, even if it’s only 99p. I don’t think it’s necessarily the amount that makes the biggest difference, just the fact that you are now purchasing this commodity rather than merely acquiring it. Do people equate a low price to low quality? How different is it with no price? I don’t think this is ever equated to no-quality, or nobody would ever take a free download.

On occasion it seems that, for some people, the fact that a download costs anything is often too much, and this isn’t necessarily because they are too poor to afford it. I think it’s all down to perception of worth.
I’ve done it myself many times, whether it’s an e-book or a game download, I’ve thought ‘even 99p is still money.’ That suddenly makes it a transaction, and I find myself wondering if it is worth it when I wouldn’t think twice about spending vastly larger amounts of money on other, and far more mundane, things.
So why is this? Then I wonder why anyone should spend that money on my download rather than another one of the many available? It’s a decision I’ve personally made as a consumer many times, but when you are on the other side it’s all very different. No sale means nobody wants your baby, even if the decision is solely based on a title, a picture, and possibly some blurb.

I haven’t got an answer, but I am left with plenty questions…
What are people’s expectations of free and low-priced books?
Is ‘free’ seen as a taster of good things, where low-cost is seen as low-quality?
Are people more or less likely to buy an e-book priced at .99p than they are for $4.99, what about £7.99, or £17.99?

I think this mindset of ‘paying-for-something’ can obviously be applied to a much larger market than e-books. It’s determining the tip-over point between paying out any money at-all for something and deciding when the cost outweighs the possible risk. In the case of an unknown e-book the risk would be purchasing a badly writer book, or simply one you do not personally like. For some this tip-over point may well be anything, whether it is £20.99, .99p, or even .1p.

So what do you think that tipping-point is for you?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Why aren’t interactive-Novels big businesses already?

I count myself lucky to be of an age where I got to see the birth of computing. I got my first home computer, a VIC-20, for Christmas when I was 13, and have never really put computers down since. Without that present I may not even have had the career I’ve had, and what was the first thing to get me hooked? Well to look intellectual I could say programming; but not many 13 year olds are too worried about looking intellectual, and to be honest I would have to say games; but for me one software genre stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, and that was Adventure games. Suddenly, by single-finger-poking at the keyboard I had books that talked back… well almost.

For a good few years my new hero was Scott Adams, and I spent many hours wandering through Adventureland, trying to find treasure in the Pirate's Cove, or attempting to kill The Count, but the technology of the time was limited, especially in terms of memory and this meant the story had to be told in the smallest amount of characters possible. Descriptions were sparse and responses short and to the point. Non of this diminished the fantastical worlds that these programs built up in my head, even today’s photo-realistic graphics cant hold a candle to those imaginary worlds summoned up by a handful of text.

So why did text adventure games disappear? Well, they didn’t really. They went to the deed-poll office and changed their name to Interactive Fiction, and to be fair some of this is really well written and rather good. Long gone are the days where text is restricted by memory size, now everybody’s phone has more memory than anyone dreamt possible back then. Location descriptions can flow on as long as they like, character responses can say as much, or little, as they need to, and the atmosphere, characters and plot can be built up just as good as any traditional book can, given an author with the appropriate skill.

And so to my original point: why aren’t digital-based Interactive-Novels big businesses already?
I see this as a logical extension of the text-adventure, the technology is here, the talent is there, and the technical groundwork is already well-and-truly done.
There is a relatively large and thriving underground Interactive-Fiction scene nowadays, a ready-made market waiting to happen, but absolutely no mainstream interest. So why is this?
Is it just that quality writers don’t consider this a proper use of there talent?
Is it just that nobody is willing to take a chance on this market? Games publishers are now polarising around the big-money first-person shooter genre, and book publishers may see this as well outside their market area, but in a world of e-everything how much longer will this be the case? E-readers are now becoming fairly common, and look like they are set to grow their market share. Maybe the next generation of e-readers can go interactive?
Then again, maybe it’s just that most ‘serious’ readers view an interactive book as in some way childish, or solely in the realms of games, and not for them. If this is currently the case, how long will that attitude last? Remember, we are coming up for three generations of adults that have grown up with computer games, the world and peoples attitudes move on.

So what do you think, why isn’t it already big, and what’s stopping it?

As I finish this post, the radio is singing ‘that’s entertainment’ at me, I couldn’t agree more!