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Picking A Good Book Title

We all know how important a cover is for a book or ebook. Well, so is the title, but this doesn’t always get as much time and effort put into it as it should. And especially, authors don’t seem to be doing much if any research to see if the title they want has been used. It’s not a great idea to give your book the same name as one that’s already out there.

Recently I’ve read across the following books with titles that turn out to be very popular:

Scorpio Rising: I read the book of this name that Monique Domovitch had authored. But amongst many others, Alan Annand, R. G. Vilet, Daisy Denman, Rosie Orr, Alex MacDonough, Richard Katrovas, Ms Scorpio N and Mark Sheldon have also written books with this title.

The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson (excellent, by the way): Oral Roberts, Richard Copeland, John Mulinde, Penny Dawne, Edythe Draper, Kristen Bretweiser and Jeff Gunhus have their versions too. Again, that’s only some of the authors who had the same idea. There are a lot of Wake-Up Calls (plural) out there too that could get confused.

Passion in Paris: Rusty Blackwood, Adam Carpenter, Helen Hardt, Robyn Grady all have versions.

Losing It by Simon Lipson (do read this guy) has rivals by Zaria Garrison, Melanie Douglass, Lindsay Rech, Laura Fraser, William Miller, Valerie Bertillini – and those are just from the first page of results on Amazon.

The danger with using a title that’s already been employed is that it makes it harder for readers to find and buy your book. They might be looking up your Gardening with Nail Scissors but come across someone else’s tome of this name and buy that instead, not realising their mistake. Or, when they call up the title on Smashwords, they find six other books with the same name, all of which have snappier covers than yours and so one of them gets the sale instead. Heart-breaking isn’t it?

But other people have the same idea as you do, and sometimes at the same time. And there’s nothing you can do about that. My ‘The Witch’s Dog’ came out pretty much alongside Frank Rodgers’. And I’d checked to see if there were other ones out there before I settled on my choice. The stories are completely different, but they’ve got the same name. There’s an ‘Escape from the Volcano’ out there now, very similar to my ‘Escape the Volcano’. My ‘Oh Dad’ of 1999, has been followed by one in 2000 and another in 2008. ‘Oh Santa’, again the only one at the time, is the name of a Christmas collection of songs by Mariah Carey’s. OK, not a book, but the same title which gets in the way when folk are looking for my masterpiece. And ‘Beat the Hackers’ as a search term pulls up CDs by Beat Hackers, a rap group!

So, you can’t avoid the problem happening completely, but I would strongly advise you to come up with as original a title as you can to keep your book totally unique. Maybe others of the same name will come along later, but at least you got in first!

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Book Bags for Christmas

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

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Author Interview with Lauren Clark

This week has seen the holiday whirlwind book blog tour by Lauren Clark for her smashing book Stay Tuned. (I reviewed it here.) Here’s a fascinating and inspiring interview with this energetic writer.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. For as long as I can remember. Of course, my parents always remind that I also wanted to be an Indian princess named Tiger Lily, but that dream was more short-lived. On a serious note, I do have fond memories of spending my summer days toting stacks of books back and forth from my house to our town’s library. It always seemed like a magical place, with endless stories to get lost in.

You worked as both an anchor and producer after graduate school. How did that influence the writing of Stay Tuned?
So much! It was an accident, really, getting into broadcast journalism. I always thought of myself as a behind the scenes kind of girl, but after my first day on the job, I loved it and stuck with it for the next 6 years. Working in television is never boring. There’s always a story, always the next show. The camaraderie in the newsroom is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like living in a big, loud, mostly happy, very dysfunctional family every day.

What gave you the idea for Stay Tuned?
True story:  A few months before I took my first television job as a part-time health reporter, the two main anchors at one of the local television stations (who were romantically involved) got into a fistfight. They were outside the building, in the station parking lot. Shortly thereafter, they were both fired. In the months that followed, the two of them bantered back and forth in newspaper editorials, threatened lawsuits, and fueled all sorts of crazy retaliation stories. I never forgot about that incident and always thought about what might happen if such a fistfight happened on air, during a newscast. What would happen? How would it be handled? Who would fix this kind of mess?

What did you learn from being on air?
It’s very humbling, really. As a producer, especially, you are in charge of what’s being put out there—the news stories people watch and talk about each day. It’s a big responsibility to get it right. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. There were many sobering days—car accidents, house fires, school shootings—and those stories should be told with sensitivity and care. It’s someone’s son or daughter or parent. Everyone matters.

What was your most memorable experience as an anchor or reporter?  
I was on set during 9-11. I remember sitting there with our weatherman and waiting to be cued to go back on air after the commercial. CBS cut in and showed footage from a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. It was surreal and awful. We were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.

Was it a difficult decision to leave television?
Yes and no. I loved so many parts of broadcasting. I was able to meet fascinating people – Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then-New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer among many others. I adored the people I worked with, especially the folks behind the scenes. I was also fortunate enough to win several AP awards for anchoring and reporting.

On the flip side, I worked crazy hours (2 am – 10 am) and, as is typical in the industry, I received very little vacation time. I anchored every holiday (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, you name it) and wasn’t able to spend much time with my young son. After more than six years, I “retired” from TV news. It was then that I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

How long did it take to write Stay Tuned?
About five years, all said and done. I wrote several other novels before that—and those manuscripts will never see the light of day! When I began Stay Tuned, I had just given birth to my second son, so my writing time was very limited. After putting it away for several years, I picked it back up about 12 months ago, brushed it off, and had an editor-friend look it over. We made some changes, tweaked the story, and fine-tuned the plot. A few months back, I was offered a contract with a small publishing company. Another friend introduced me to the talented and fabulous Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity, who helped guide me through the entire publishing process. It’s been a wonderful journey!

What’s next? A sequel or a stand-alone novel?
Dancing Naked in Dixie is next (stand alone title) and I’m so excited to share that it’s been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Chick Lit Writers “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” Contest (Winner will be announced December 20, 2011).

Dancing Naked follows the story of a talented but scattered travel magazine writer who returns from overseas only to find out she’s on the verge of getting fired. To save her job, she reluctantly accepts an assignment in the Deep South. She’ll be writing an article about Eufaula, Alabama’s annual Pilgrimage event, which is a long-standing spring tour of antebellum mansions (the location is featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Sweet Home Alabama). Upon arriving in Eufaula, Julia falls in love with the area, its cast of charming characters, and her handsome tour guide. When she discovers that a developer has big plans to buy up many of the historic homes and turn the area into a tourist site, it’s up to Julia to save the day.

What is your writing schedule like?
With two growing, active boys and a busy husband, finding time to write is like looking for a missing Lego piece in a houseful of toys (Moms should appreciate that!) I often get up very early and write while everyone else is asleep or go to the lovely campus of our local university and shut myself in a study room. I love it there because I have to shut off my phone and I don’t have the password for an internet connection! No distractions! Of course, I do frequent two or three local coffee shops and draw inspiration from my daily dose of caffeine and good friends!

Who are your favorite writers? Favorite books?
Gosh, there are so many! My all-time favorites include Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Lisa See. I also love Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. Favorite books include: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (this is a children’s book that I’ve read over and over to my two boys).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Revise. A lot. I’m not joking.

Anyone can write. Writing well is different. It takes focus and tenacity and determination. I’ve heard Stephen King quoted as saying, “The first million words are practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says, “It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything.” Just to be clear, at 4 hours a day (28 hours a week), that’s 7 years. I’m not quoting the experts to scare anyone or be a harbinger of doom. It’s the truth.

Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant and so true and funny in so many sections. If you’re serious about becoming an author, learn as much as you can. Read blogs and books about the craft, network with other writers, or go to a writer’s conference. Above all, write!

 

Don’t Miss Out!

Extension to the photo competition: Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions. You now have until Sunday 4 December to upload your photo.

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How To Turn Your Backlist Title Into An Ebook

I noticed a Tweet the other day that said: “Someone should write a properly informative article about turning backlisted titles whose rights have reverted to authors into ebooks”.

Well, I’ve done that with quite a few of my books now so I decided to take up the challenge and put together an article about it.

My kids’ books were published by Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland between 1998 and 2006. My O’Brien titles are still going strong but Mentor pulled out of children’s publishing in 2007 and remaindered all their stock. The rights reverted to me. I bought a truckload of my books – actually, just a palletload – at a bargain price and have been giving these away to visitors to our gîte and fishery.

Coming soon!

Then in January of this year I got a Kindle and very quickly become a total convert to ebooks and indie publishing. I began writing a non-fiction travel memoir, Heads Above Water, about moving to France from Ireland and our experiences in the first few years here. I also got cracking on a racy fishing mystery story. But those were going to take time and I wanted to get something out there in the ebookiverse quickly. So I turned to my backlist. I figured it would be good practice to learn about formatting and epublishing using those, and it would also get my name out there before the new books came out.

I have nearly thirty children’s books to my name and the majority of these are Mentor books so I had plenty to choose from. But having changed computers several times since writing the books, tracking down the files containing them was proving tricky. So, nothing daunted, I retyped the first one. I chose Beat The Hackers. These needed a lot of updating since I’d written it in 1998. (It began its life as Beat The Millennium you see but I was overruled by my editor and had to change it.) Anyway, there were references to floppy disks that needed to be changed to USB keys and I had to move the action into the future. It had been set in 2004/5, but since that hand now passed I rescheduled it for 2013/14. This took some time since it was a 30,000 word book, but it was good typing practice and I enjoyed it.

However, if you face the same problem of missing files, I would suggest you scan the text of your books in. I got my eldest son onto doing this over the summer for me. He was cheap, and it saved me a lot of time. Luckily I’ve since come across some back-up CDs with my stories on them, so that’s speeded things up even more. There are plenty of OCR programs out there, many free to download, and they’re easy to use.

Caiti's cover design

So, the text was taken care of. What about the cover? The artwork for the book belonged to Mentor. I could have contacted them to ask if I could use it, and hopefully for free. It’s always an option to talk to the publisher and negotiate to use the original artwork. They may or may not co-operate. However, I wanted a new look for my updated book, and I’m lucky in having a daughter who can do very cool things with computer graphics. She created a super new cover for me. I’ve also had some lovely new covers drawn for me by a family friend, the talented illustrator Roger Fereday. I admit I’ve been very lucky in having such artistic family and friends.

But if you’re not a designer and don’t have access to one, and can’t afford an artist to draw you a new cover, don’t despair. You can create a perfectly acceptable cover using a photo and some nice typeface. I have done several using Paint, which isn’t very high spec as graphics programs go. Aim for 600 x 800 pixels wide and you can’t go far wrong.

Next I got to grips with converting my files into a format suitable for uploading to Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t as tricky as I feared, but first time round it took a while. I went for Kindle first. Files need to be in web page filtered format. This isn’t hard and if you follow the instructions on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, it’s very straightforward. I make use of MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer to check that the finished product is going to look good on Kindle. I convert the file I have ready for Kindle using MobiPocket which leaves you with a .prc file. The Kindle Previewer opens this and simulates how your book will appear on a Kindle so you can go through and spot any layout or other errors and correct these before submitting to KDP. Both MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer are free downloads. The ebook takes around 24 to 48 hours to appear on the Amazon websites.

Formatting for Smashwords looks a bit scarier since there are more instructions, but basically, get your file into .doc format – not .docx – and you’ll be OK. The Meatgrinder, the conversion tool, tells you if there are any ‘Autovetter’ errors that you need to put right. I only ever got those the first time I formatted a book for Smashwords. Since then, I’ve been spot on every time. A tip – go for what Mark Coker calls the ‘nuclear approach’, i.e. you paste your original Word file into Wordpad to strip out all the underlying formatting that Word loves to shove in, and then you repaste into Word and start from scratch. Once you get the hang of what to do, it’s a piece of cake. I’m no techno-junkie, but I cope fine. Your ebook appears on Smashwords’ site very quickly.

You can create a great cover with a good photo

Smashwords will distribute to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony providing there are no Autovetter errors in your book. It also distributes to Kindle, but this is an extremely slow process so I always publish directly myself to KDP.

Pricing is an issue to consider. I have made most of my ebooks free. I’ve made money out of them already and I want to get my name known. Plus it’s sad but true that many readers are reluctant to shell out even 99 cents for an ebook! There is a lot of free content out there at the moment. I think this trend will die down eventually, since it’s unsustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon in the meantime to get out there.

So, in a nutshell, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to turn your backlist book to which you retain rights into an ebook:

  1. If you don’t have an electronic version of your book, retype or scan it.
  2. Update the text if necessary.
  3. Proofread it carefully yourself and get at least a couple of other people to read through. Since it’s already been published there should be a minimal amount of typos etc – in theory!
  4. Commission / create a new cover if you can’t get permission to use the old one.
  5. Ditto for any illustrations if you intend to include these.
  6. For steps 3 and 4, consider using photos instead of illustrations to save money.
  7. Create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP if you don’t already have them.
  8. Convert for Smashwords and Kindle. This is very straightforward and quite achievable with a bit of time and effoet, but there are folks out there who will do it for a small fee for you (such as me!)
  9. Upload your files and then get busy with publicising your book!
  10. Tell EVERYONE how clever you are.

So go for it, and good luck!

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Christmas Books Selling Period

How well and for how long can you realistically expect a Christmas book to sell? I have a children’s Christmas ebook out, Oh Santa!, so this is a very pertinent question for me! However, I haven’t been able to find many concrete facts and figures on the Net.

Printed copies of Christmassy books will have been selling for a month or so now. The publishers brought out their books aimed at the Christmas market back in October to allow time for word to spread and sales to pick up. But ebooks aren’t quite the same. You don’t have to wait a week for them to arrive in the post or plan a trip to town to buy them so you don’t tend to purchase as far in advance. You get them within seconds of hitting the ‘buy’ button. Also, ‘word’ is spread via instant social media rather than via slower newspaper articles or magazine reviews and so that happens quicker.

When is the best time to launch a Christmass ebook? November still feels too early, and it would seem a lot of people share that feeling since I’ve only sold a handful of copies of Oh Santa!, which is priced very reasonably at 99 cents! So I’m going with December. You can’t avoid Christmas once kids start opening the windows on their Advent Calendars. Tomorrow I’ll make available a Smashwords  coupon code so that folk can get the book for free, but just for 24 hours. I can Tweet and Facebook that to get some attention. I’ve come across a couple of Christmassy virtual book tours scheduled to take place in December, and that seems a nice idea too. I’ve probably left it too late to organise one for Oh Santa!, but we’ll see.

Ebook sales can in theory continue right up to and including Christmas Day itself since those shops won’t shut and you’ll get the goods immediately. But how can you give an ebook? Well, with Kindle books it’s easy. You gift a book to someone. You buy it and specify where it is to be delivered. And Smashwords? You can choose and buy a book and download it in the suitable format, and send that as an attachment to the recipient via email. Please don’t abuse the system and send it to loads of people though. Think of us poor starving authors! I’m not sure what the Nook system would be. Barnes and Noble refuse to sell me anything, including ebooks, since I don’t live in the USA so I don’t have a lot to do with them!

In the next few days, I’ll be suggesting some ‘book bags’ you can put together to go with some of my ebooks as Christmas pressies to make them more fun. Most of my ebooks are free, by the way, so they’ll make budget-friendly pressies! I’ll also come up with some lists of great ebooks for anyone and everyone you might need to be buying for.

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Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark – Blog Tour

Well, I’m taking part in a book blog tour for the first time. The book in question is Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark. Here’s my review of it:

It’s not often I can’t put a book down, but Stay Tuned came into that category. I read it one go. The turkeys were waiting mournfully for me to put them to bed, the llamas were left thirsty – I got lost in the story and remained glued to my Kindle till I finished.

Why? The story really caught me. It was fascinating to get an insight into life at a TV station, delightful to meet characters like Melissa, Chris and Candace, and there was plenty of excitement in the plot. The relationships between the people in the story were gripping. There were attractions and hatreds, tensions, frustrations, misunderstandings and real affection. Several punches got thrown, there were clumsy passes, lots of tears but just as much laughter. And the ending is bittersweet without being mawkish or implausible.

Reality is very much the key of this book. We could all so easily find ourselves in Melissa’s shoes – juggling career and family life, trying to keep the communication channels open with a workaholic husband, striving to be fully committed in every sphere of your life.

Every single character is rounded and interesting. There aren’t any cameo roles or stereotypes. This story is peopled by a truly human set of people.

It’s a very readable book. The author has a flowing, natural style that sweeps you along and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely worth reading.

 

How to win

Now, as part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Stay Tuned eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 2nd, so you don’t miss out.

To win the prizes you need to:
1. Purchase your copy of Stay Tuned for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (You’ll need it for the big contest on Friday)
2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!

…And I can win too! Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

 

The events

Monday, Radio Interview with Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We interviewed Lauren on our radio show Sunday night and have embedded the full podcast and blogged about its highlights. Give it a listen and then leave a comment on the blog post. This is a great chance to get to know more about this fun and bubbly author. One commenter will win an autographed copy of Stay Tuned. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet:  Take a break from the holiday frenzy, and read Stay Tuned. It’s fast, fun, and reduced to just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/7zA1e #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions.

 

Extract

To whet your appetites further, here’s an extract from Chapter One.

 

Alyssa Andrews was missing.

Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.

“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.

“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.

She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.

This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.

WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.

I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.

Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.

The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward.

Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…

“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”

Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.

Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”

Still, no Alyssa.

Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.

At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”

“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.

Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.

This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.

Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”

On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.

While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.

Not now.

Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.

“What?” </em>Joe finally snapped.

The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.

Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.

9:58:09. Less than two minutes.

Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.

“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.

Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.

Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.

I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.

“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”

Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”

I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.

With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.

Time to get started.

I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.

Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.

I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.

“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.

Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.

“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”

Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.

Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.

My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.

Here we go.

Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.

“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.

“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”

And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.

Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.

Commercial break, check.

Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.

We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.

The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.

The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.

Yikes!

I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.

The phones started to ring five seconds later.

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Prix Goncourt 2011 – Cheap Prize, Expensive Books

The Prix Goncourt is reckoned to be France’s most prestigious literary award. It’s not the most generous. The prize is just €10, which compares very unfavourably with other prizes such as the Man-Booker which is worth over €57,000. And only one winner has ever cashed their cheque for €10. It’s seen as symbolic. The award guarantees fame for the author, although not necessarily international fame. Not all winning novels are translated into other languages. For example, 2005 winning book Trois jours chez ma mère by François Weyergans wasn’t spread overseas.

Edmond de Goncourt got the prize going, although not till after his death. In his will in 1896 he left money to establish the Académie Goncourt to choose the best French book each year. The first award was made in 1903 to John-Antonie Nau for his book Force Ennemie.

There are a few spinoffs, namely the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens (to a book chosen by lycée students and theirs rarely matches the choice of the Académie Goncourt who tend to be much more highbrow) and the Goncourt de la Poésie.

The winner of the Prix Goncourt is chosen over lunch, of course, this being France. The jury meets every month during the year in fact to select the shortlist and the winner is chosen on the first Tuesday in November.

This year’s winner was Alexis Jenni L’Art Français de la Guerre. Now, I’ve read a couple of articles about it in French and I’m still none the wiser as to what it’s actually about. They’re all verbose and vague. One goes on about how writing is like doing a Rubik’s cube – creating harmony with words. Hmm. Somehow I don’t think this book is my cup of tea.  The book is availabe for Kindle price €16.80  paperback €19.95. This Kindle price is ludicrous and highlights that the French don’t get the Kindle yet really, at least the publishers don’t. I’ve blogged about this before. It also gives you an idea of how expensive printed books are in France.

The rest of the shortlisted books are equally pricey, both in ebook and printed format:

Des Vies d’Oiseaux by Veronique Ovalidé is €18.05 paperback only. You can get ‘fiche de lecteur’ for €3.99 on Kindle = reader’s guide, not actual book itself!

Retour à Killybegs by Sorj Chalendon is Kindle €15.99, paperback €18.95.

Tout, Tout de Suite Morgan by Sportès Kindle €15.99,paperback €19.86

Les Souvenirs by David Foenkinos Kindle €15.70 paperback €17.58

La Belle Amour Humaine by Lyonel Trouillot  €13.99 Kindle, €17 paperback.

Du Domaine des Murmures by Carole Martinez €13.50 Kindle, paperback €16.06

Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit by Delphine de Vigan €14.99 Kindle, paperback €18.05.

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Monday Sales Figures Update

Week 3 of montoring my sales.

A bit slower this week, with a total of 244 books downloaded via Smashwords and 2 on Kindle, namely 53 x Oh Gran, 73 x The Witch’s Dog, 65 x Escape the Volcano, 13 x DeWitched, 7 x Witching Again, 2 x Oh Auntie,  2 x Oh Grandad, 2 x Oh Santa! and 3 x Beat the Hackers. (Last week I had 422 sales.) But by no means shameful. I haven’t done any publicity on them during the week, so maybe I should. I’m hoping that Oh Santa! will be distributed to Barnes and Noble by Smashwords very soon  now. That should make a big difference to sales. Also, in a couple more weeks’ time, I can shamelessly promote it as a Christmas book. It’s still too early for that I think. I know I’m not feeling very Christmassy just yet

I hope to have another free ebook out during the week – Best of Blog in France. This is a selection of my best blog posts from my other website and I think it’s going to work very well. Watch this space!

 

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Halloween Special!

Well, I did it – just. I got my three Witch’s Dog stories up there on Smashwords in time for Halloween. By a stroke of luck, while hunting for the missing box of Halloween decorations in the loft, I came across a box of old CDs. Amongst them was one with copies of many of my old stories. De-Witched and Witching Again were there, so saving me several hours of scanning the books in. Huzzah!

The Witch’s Dog I’ve already blogged about. It’s now sold 605 copies through Smashwords and is 27,044 in Barnes and Noble Nook Book sales rank. (My non-Halloweeny ebooks Oh Gran and Escape the Volcano are at 12,332 and 17,034 respectively.)

De-Witched, which got its name when the pop group B*witched was in the charts – just a few years ago now! – follows on from The Witch’s Dog. Cackling Carol the witch gets taken into care by well-meaning social workers. Deposited into a squeaky clean flat and with ten years of old age pension to get through (Carol has lied about her age, she’s in her 400s by now!), our witch discovers shopping and the cinema and turns her back on her witchy life – but more importantly on Big Roddy and Broom. What will they do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then comes Witching Again. This final story in the trilogy sees the three friends reunited, just in time to battle with the evil Blue Wizard Egbert again. It’s a tough fight which sees Broom turned into a floor cloth and Big Roddy into a toy dog. Has Cackling Carol got enough magic left to turn her companions back?

The covers are the best I could do in the time and I think are adequate for a free ebook whose main role, apart from providing some free entertainment, is to start getting my name as an author out there. Nessie was slightly more co-operative than when I did The Witch’s Dog pictures. They demonstrate that the books are in a series and give a nice image of a friendly witch’s dog, which is what Big Roddy is.

Did you check out my Halloween poem here?

Below are two stories that any youngsters in your household might enjoy. Change the character’s name if you like. Webmaster Chris will be putting a selection of my stories to personalise up on this site very soon, so do watch out for those.

 

The Witch’s Broom

“That’s it! I’ve had enough of being a witch’s’ broomstick!” spluttered the angry  broom.

It was the morning of Halloween and he had just come back from a quick warm-up flight with his witch. The broom’s witch was called Witch Ella. Most of the other witches called her Witch Ellaphant, behind her back, of course . She was a very tubby witch and every year she got even tubbier because she ate too much pumpkin pie.

“Huh!” said the cauldron. “You say the same thing every year. I don’t know why you make you such a fuss. You only work one night a year, after all. Now, I work every single day. If it’s not stew she’s cooking in me, then it’s some horrid potion or other. And all day long I sit over the hot fire. I really have got something to moan about.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” muttered the broom. The cauldron was right. The broom did complain every year. Well, this year he would do something about it.

He hopped down from the shelf and shook his bristles.  Several spiders plopped onto the floor and scurried away in alarm.

The broom made his way stiffly to the door of the cavern.

“You really off, then?” asked the cauldron in amazement.

By the door the broom stopped to tickle the cat’s ears with a bristle.

“I’ll miss you, Puss,” he said.

The cat opened one eye and purred a farewell, then went back to sleep.

The broom looked at the stretch of countryside before him. He had never seen it in daylight before. It looked beautiful. There were rolling hills, wooded valleys and even some snow-topped mountains far away. The broom’s gaze fell on a dark forest in the distance.

“That’s where I’ll go,” he decided. And at once he leapt into air the and streaked through the cool morning breeze. How pleasant it was to fly without the Ellaphant!

On the way to the forest, the broom flew over a village of white houses with thick, thatched roofs. Every house had a neat garden filled with late blooming flowers. How much nicer than Ella’s scruffy yard!

“How lovely!” exclaimed the broom. He glided down for a closer look. He had just made himself comfortable against the wall when a woman bustled up and grabbed hold of him.

“Come on, broom! Lots of work to do,” she panted and dragged him indoors. “Got to clean up before the children have their party tonight.”

For the next hour the Broom didn’t stop. He was stuffed into dusty corners and poky cracks. He swept cobwebs down and rustled and hustled all around the house.

At last the woman stopped.

“Well,” she exclaimed. “I need a rest before we start on the paths.”

“What!” gasped the broom. “More sweeping  No thanks!”

He leapt out of the astonished woman’s hands and sailed into the sky. He didn’t stop until he came to the forest. He plopped down into a clearing and was surprised to find a row of brooms there. They were leaning against a wooden stand with a notice that said ‘FIRE BROOMS’ above them.

He settled next to them and closed his eyes for a nap. He was very weary. But suddenly the broom woke in alarm to find the air filled with thick, choking smoke. People were shouting! “Fire! Fire! Get   the brooms! Beat the flames out!”

For the second time that the day the broom was grabbed.

He was crashed down onto the red, licking flames, again and again. The heat singed his bristles and the smoke made him sneeze. He was covered in ash.

“Frogs legs!” he yelped. “I hope this doesn’t go on for too long!”

At long last the fire was out. The people sat down for a rest. The broom decided it was time to leave. He didn’t want to go through that again!

He swooped into the sky and headed quickly for home. Today had shown him that being a witch’s broom wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Ella was out in the yard looking for him. Puss purred happily when she saw her friend again.

“Aha!” Ella croaked. “I thought you would be back. It’s nearly time to go”.

She glanced up at the clock’s skeleton hands. “But there is just time for a couple of spells. First of all, broom, you need to be spruced up. And then I need to be slimmed down. I’m not surprised you flew away. I hadn’t realised what a lump I’d become! You’ve taught me a lesson!”

Side by side, they waddled into the cavern. The broom was looking forward to Halloween after all!

 

Patrick and the Giant Pumpkin

 

It was nearly Halloween. Patrick was very excited. He was jumping around in the hallway, waiting for Mum to come home. She had gone to town to buy a pumpkin. Mum had promised to buy an enormous one.

At last the car drew into the driveway. Dad and Patrick opened the door and watched as Mum opened the boot and lifted a beautiful orange pumpkin out. The only trouble was – it wasn’t very big at all. It was a tiny little pumpkin!

“I’m sorry,” said Mum, seeing Patrick’s sad face. “It was the only one I could find. All the shops have sold out of pumpkins. But look. It’s a lovely, round one. We’ll be able to carve a super scary face onto it. We’ll do that tomorrow.”

Mum put the pumpkin on the kitchen counter. Patrick kept running in to look at it, hoping it might have grown a bit more. But it stayed the same size. Patrick decided it needed some help.

First he decided to water it. He knew that watering plants helped them grow. Mum was busy in another room, and Dad had gone out so the coast was clear. Patrick quietly pulled the stool over to the sink. He got a jug out of the cupboard, then climbed onto the stool, turned on the tap and filled the jug. Next he pushed the stool over to where the pumpkin was and poured the water over it. The water sloshed all over the pumpkin and the counter and the floor and Patrick. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

Next Patrick decided to feed the pumpkin. He’d heard Dad talking about feeding his plants in the garden. But he wasn’t quite sure what they liked to eat. He went to the fridge and looked inside. There was ham and liver and butter and cold sausages and bacon. Patrick didn’t think the pumpkin would like those very much because he didn’t. But there was some lemon jelly and chocolate mousse. The very thing for a pumpkin! Patrick got them out and  helped himself to a few licks! The jelly and mousse went all over the pumpkin and counter and the floor and Ruadhri. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

The only other thing Patrick knew was good for plants was soil. He couldn’t go outside on his own so he went into the lounge. There were three pot plants in there. He carried them into the kitchen very carefully. He pulled the plants out and put them in the sink on top of the washing up to keep them moist. Then he tipped the soil out of the three pots. The soil went all over the pumpkin and the counter and the floor and Patrick. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

Maybe he should just leave it for a while. That might do the trick. So he went to his room to play.

While he was playing, Dad came back. He’d been to the greengrocer’s shop in the village. He’d seen some pumpkins there. He’d gone out and bought a much bigger one than the one Mum had got.

He took his pumpkin to the kitchen. He gasped when he saw the mess. He nearly started shouting because he knew Patrick had done it. But then he realised what Patrick had been trying to do. He chuckled. So he cleared the mess up off the counter and the floor and repotted the plants. Then he put his pumpkin where Patrick’s had been. He hid the little pumpkin in the cupboard. Then he went off to find Mum.

Patrick decided it was time to check his pumpkin. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw how much it had grown. Wait till Mum and Dad saw it! He was about to rush off and tell them, when he stopped. Seeing that just a little bit of water and a little bit of food and a little bit of soil had made it grow this much, well, just imagine how much bigger it would get if he used more water and more food and more soil. And there was plenty of water in the tap and loads of food in the fridge and lots more potted plants round the house.

Patrick rolled his sleeves up. He was going to have a very busy afternoon. He loved Halloween!

 

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Oh Santa! is Coming to Town!

No, it’s not too early to be thinking about Christmas – not when you’ve written a Christmassy book that you want to get into all the ebook shops. There are quite a lot out there already and I’m starting to read some so I can publish reviews on this site in a few weeks’ time.

But more importantly – my Christmas book, which is Oh Santa! I’ve just received the cover artwork from Roger Fereday and it’s every bit as fantastic as I knew it would be.Caitlin is adding the title and my name to the graphic as I write this, and then we’ll be in business since the text is ready and waiting.

I honestly think Oh Santa! is my funniest children’s book and I’m sure you’ll love it. It’ll be coming very, very soon to Kindle and Smashwords. Watch this space …