Three things that caught my eye this weekend. The first two are good morale boosters for all authors like me thinking of self-publishing on Kindle.

A recent Pollack book

1. Neil Pollack in a New York Times interview says: “My self-published product may not be the easiest proposition for mainstream publishers. It will be short, it’s about Jews and basketball and bumbling fascists, doesn’t involve teenage vampire sex or the Knights Templars, and wouldn’t be likely to sustain a $9.99 download price, which is the low end of what publishers are charging now for new e-books. Here are the economics: I’m going to charge five bucks, or $4.99 a download. For every book sold, my online vendor will send me 70 percent of the revenue. In raw dollar amounts, that’s more than three times what I’d get from a mainstream publisher for each paperback sale. If I manage to score a thousand downloads, which I almost certainly will at that price point (I have a large family), I’ll make 3,500 bucks, and if I get 5,000 downloads, I’m looking at $17,500. Quickly, I’ll have earned the equivalent of a pleasant advance for this book.”

2. From: Kindle Self-Publishing. John Locke, author of Saving Rachel says: “The first time I saw the business model for selling eBooks on Kindle, my eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas,” says John, “because Kindle doesn’t just level the playing field for self-published authors, it actually slants it in our favour. For the first time in history there’s an advantage to being an independent author!”

His advice: Write the types of books you like to read and are good at writing. In John’s case that’s light entertainment. “I offer my readers a fun, breezy read,” says John. “If I can give them some chuckles and hold their interest for a few hours, I feel I’ve earned my 99 cents.”

3. And here’s a cool free e-book of poetry by Christopher L Jones. I can honestly say this is the best poetry I’ve read in a long time.

 

Book reviewing seems to be cropping up on various blogs at the moment (e.g. the Blood Red Pencil, Self-Publishing Advisor, Carolyn Howard Johnson’s Sharing with Writers – and that’s just in the last day or so. Authors are prepared to pay a lot of money for book reviews. The sort of sums mentioned seem scary and might swallow up a lot of royalties. But it shows the importance people place on an objective, or better still, a good review.

The reviewer misquoted me - I was mad!

I enjoy reviewing books. I did English at University and I don’t seem to have got out of the habit of critically appraising everything I read, from cereal packets upwards! You get more out of a book if you think about it as you read it, I find.

Here are my 5 tips for book reviewers.

  1. Read the book – every word. You owe it to the author. It’s not enough to read the blurb, the first chapter or so and then the last one. You can spot reviews that cheat. They’re vague and clichéd. I repeat, read every word. I once got a rotten review for my book Scooter Gang: Mobile Madness, but I wouldn’t have minded it half so much if the guy hadn’t misquoted me!
  2. Check out the publisher’s and author’s websites to get some background info about the person.
  3. Be interesting. Don’t kill a good book with a dull review.
  4. Be fair. Not many books are all bad. Even if you find you can’t stand it, there will be something good about it somewhere. OK the plot’s awful, but the author used good imagery. The characters suck but the dialogue is lively.
  5. Be professional. Write well, structure your review, do your research. The author put a lot of work into the book. Put a lot of work into your review.

 

 

Ruadhri really loves the Smurfs – or rather the Schtroumpfs, as they’re called in French. He is addicted to the comic books (bandes desinées) about them. I decided it was time to find out more.

In case you didn’t know, Smurfs are fictional characters with blue skin, white trousers and white hats. They live somewhere deep in the forest, and travel long distances by stork. They began back in 1958 as a comic strip in Spirou magazine, drawn by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford). Soon they got their own comic, and then books and films, and then the merchandising machine swung into action. You can now get Smurf toys, figurines and games.

I’ve had a browse through the books. The stories are straightforward with lots of action. And they use the word ‘Smurf’ a lot – as a noun or a verb. You get sentences such as: ‘This time I’m going to smurf. I know it!’ and ‘It’s going to smurf us like a mouse’. Sounds confusing? Probably, but the pictures give an idea of what’s going on. The French version has an advantage over the English as we get the distinction between ‘schtroumpfer’ (verb) and ‘schtroumpf’ (noun). That probably helps the kids work out what’s going on a bit easier. And there was I in my books, trying to use as varied a vocabulary as I could!

Anyway, Ruadhri loves the books and I haven’t noticed him saying Smurf all the time. So I’ll let him work his way through the series. They’re the first books he makes a beeline for at the library. Closely followed by Scrameustache, another comic books series (but I’ll save that one for another day).

The Smurf books have been translated into 25 languages, and more than 25 million copies have been sold. Now I could do with sales like that!

However, see this article for another viewpoint on the Smurfs as racist and anti-Semtic. Who’s right – Ruadhri or this professor?

I’ve just heard that some First Class children (that’s first year primary school in Ireland) are reading my book Anna’s Secret Granny as a class project and are hoping to ask me lots of questions about it. I’m delighted! I loved doing workshops with children when I was in Ireland, and I did a lot of them. I do miss that side of my previous life. So it will be wonderful to get involved with this class in Kildare.

I’ll keep you posted about what we get up to!

Five things you have to know before you start writing are:

  • your plot
  • your characters
  • your genre
  • your voice
  • your limits!
Maybe this is going to happen in your story?

1. Know your plot – I’m as guilty as anyone here for having only a vague idea of how things are going to turn out when I sit down at my computer and start to type. I make use of mindmapping these days to help me devise an interesting plot and keep me on track. It’s likely that your story may start to take its own direction once you’ve begun. Think about this. If that’s OK, and you can replot successfully, then go with it, but if the change of direction is only going to derail you in the long term, then be firm and get back to your blueprint.

2. Know your characters – not necessarily all of them, as who knows what minor ones are going to appear along the way. But you must have a concrete idea of what your main characters are like – their names, ages, shoe sizes, favourite colours and foods, senses of humour. I’m not kidding. And you have to know how they’re going to react to what you’re about to throw at them as the plot unwinds. The more you know about each character, the easier it will be to write about them.

3. Know your genre – what sort of book is it going to be? Steamy sex romp? Genteel historical drama? Fast-moving spy thriller? Children’s non-fiction? The type of book is central to all the other facets here. It will determine the sort of characters that will appear, what the plot is going to be, the vocabulary, the voice you will use. You can mix and match genres to some extent – for example, a romantic interlude in a hard-hitting cops and robbers story won’t come amiss – but there has to be one overriding one that will become the soul of your writing.

4. Know your voice – first person or third person? First person is more fun to write and it’s easy to construct a personality for the book to work through. But its limitations are that this person can only know so much of what’s going on around him or her. And if you use first person, is it you with your personality, or are you going to be stepping in someone else’s shoes? The third person gives you an all-seeing eye, allows you to swap between characters easily, but the disadvantages are, in my opinion, that it can easily become passive, and definitely convoluted when describing action involving two characters of the same sex. ‘His’, ‘her’, ‘him’ and ‘she’ become confusing, and the only way around that is to use clumsy over-explanatory sentences.

5. Know your limits! You know your energy levels, your time available, your likes and dislikes, your strong points and weaknesses. Work within those and you’re much more likely to be successful. Don’t set your sights on writing a ten-book historical saga when your preferred medium is the short story. You can’t organise your way out of a paper bag? Maybe best not sketch out that complicated, internationally-ranging, high-tech thriller.

You know what you can do. Now do it!

A quick bike ride will perk you up!

Five tips to help you keep writing when self-doubt or fatigue starts to creep up on you and it’s all becoming a bit of a chore:

 

 

  • Read a book similar to the one you’re working on. That should encourage you to keep going. This author did it – so can you!
  • If you’re at your best early on in a project, than start another one. Leave the original to one side for a while, but come back to it once you’re re-energised from getting a new book going.
  • Put some music on and maybe even have a little dance. Go for a quick walk. Tidy your desk. Do a short, physical activity like those that you enjoy. It’ll brighten you up and get you into a positive mood again.
  • Write something. Anything. Keeping a blog is brilliant. Sitting down to write a short post for it is a good springboard for moving on to writing your book.
  • Read other people’s blogs, and see if they can give you any advice. But not for too long! Make some comments, make some notes, then go back to your own writing.

Everyone works differently. It’s a matter of trial and error to find what’s best for you. At the moment, I’m flitting between four different books and my two blogs. I’d been trying to focus on just the one story to get it finished, but that wasn’t working for me. I’m much more productive now I’ve got several things going at once.

But make sure you do something. Your book won’t write itself!

Something Fishy has become enormous. I’m at 180,000 words and not finished. It’s too big. So I started thinking hard about what to do today while lugging hay and water around for the llamas and goats. It’s amazing what a spot of not-so-gentle exercise can do for the old grey matter. I found the solution. I’m going to break the whole thing up into two (or more) books. I’d already been planning the sequel. And the sequel’s sequel! So … it will mean a fair bit of replotting and rewriting, and of course new writing, but I’m confident the project will work a lot better that way. Just need to jiggle the plot here and there. Watch this space!

I’m starting to think about a cover. This website was brilliantly helpful. I need to start taking lots o fishing photos to choose from. Here’s one that will be on the ‘to be considered’ list:

It’s maybe a bit too ‘quiet’ for my story but it’s a beautiful picture and an inspiring starting point. The only books out there that are even remotely like my book are in The Syndicate series by Mark Cunnington. Here’s the cover of one of them for comparison:

You know what – I can do better!

How to fit a few more precious moments of writing into a busy day around your day job:

Five extremely practical ways:

  1. Only wash up/load the dishwasher once a day.
  2. Stop checking Facebook, Twitter, your blog stats etc quite so often.
  3. Shower faster – or less often. You choose!
  4. Cut housework down to the absolute minimum to stay hygienic.
  5. Do bigger grocery shops to cut down on trips to the supermarket.

Five extremely effective ways:

  1. Sell your children.
  2. Shut yourself away from the world for a month.
  3. Hire maids, gardeners, cooks etc so you don’t have to do anything other than write.
  4. Go without sleep.
  5. Type faster.

OK, I never said they were practical!

STOP PRESS: There’s still time to read the brilliant A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson before Eurovision on Saturday on your Kindle. I’ve just had a lovely email from him, in response to my review of the book. What a nice guy.

 

 

Writers who only use 'said' make me mad!

I’ve got the bit between my teeth over this. (See my post 25 Ways To Say ‘Said‘.)

Here are another 25 much more interesting alternatives to ‘said’:

Answered, anticipated, bantered, bawled, begged, coaxed, enquired, encouraged, explained, exclaimed, frowned, hassled, pondered, prompted, promised, remembered, roared, sobbed, shrieked, soothed, tempted, sympathised, wept, wheedled, yelled.

And another 25:

Apologised, contradicted, cooed, deliberated, denied, dictated, droned, echoed, empathised, enticed, enthused, exhaled, expostulated, gulped, grinned, grimaced, ordered, sighed, sang, yelped, swallowed, realised, repeated, reported, winced.

More soon …

My children's names are Ruadhri, Caitlin and Benjamin - not on the top ten lists

How many boys’ and girls’ names are there? Hundreds of thousands I imagine. So why is it I have managed to use the same name twice for different characters in Something Fishy? Because I wasn’t keeping a list. This is something else I’ve learned the hard way writing my first adult book. The problem never arose with my children’s books. They were short enough to keep a tally of the names in my head, and I tended to write them quickly. But here with my 150,000 word project which I’ve been writing over about five months now, and a largish cast of characters, it’s a different kettle of fish. So over the weekend, I shall be rereading and drawing up its dramatis personae. From now on, every book will have one from the first word.

Live and learn!

In case you were wondering, the most popular names in the UK in 2009 were: 1 Oliver; 2 Jack; 3 Harry; 4 Alfie; 5 Joshua; 6 Thomas; 7 Charlie; 8 William; 9 James; and 10 Daniel. For girls: 1 Olivia; 2 Ruby; 3 Chloe; 4 Emily; 5 Sophie; 6 Jessica; 7 Grace; 8 Lily; 9 Amelia; 10 Evie. Mohammed would in fact topple Oliver if all the different spelling variants were aggregated. There are plenty of lists of most popular names on the Net which can be a very useful resourse. I’ve only used 7 out of the above 20 ones. I should probably include more to be as modern as I can.