Friday, 24 July 2015

What can you say apart from please buy my book? Pt 2

Sometimes you need to branch out.

For a novelist, being published presents a whole new set of challenges. You suddenly have to do other sorts of writing, including writing about writing. There are online blurbs, interviews (I'll mention in passing that I'm still available...), and the subtle - or not so subtle - art of promoting your novel.

The first hurdle is deciding what to say after 'please buy my book'. On your marks...get set...write!

Let's start with a little deconstructing.

What makes your novel distinctive?

1 - Genre.

2 - Characters.

3 - Themes.

4 - Plot.

5 - Setting.

6 - The way you use language and / or the use of slang.

That's six topics right away without breaking a sweat and here are four examples.

The next place to cast your net is in the direction of your own writing practice. 

This may include:

7 - Where your ideas came from.

8 - First drafts.

9 - Editing.

10 - Submissions.

11 - Rejections.

12 - Tips you've picked up along the way.

Here's one of mine:

That's another six topics to stick in your quiver!

Further afield? 

Why certainly!

13 - Your journey as an author.

14 - Things people might not know about you.

15 - Your other novels (because you can never have too many).

16 - Other forms of writing (short fiction, non-fiction, copywriting, etc.).

17 - Feedback - the good, the bad and the ouch.

18 - Writers / artists / musicians / films that inspire you, and why. (Four for the price of one.)

Some of the above:

Those 18 topics ought to keep you busy for a while. Try and find as many different places to host the posts and remember to include a little information about yourself and your book/s. 

Speaking of which...


Line of Sight

Why not leave a comment to let people know how you blog about your book? (And where!)

Monday, 20 July 2015

What can you say apart from please buy my book? Pt 1

Time and tide...get your feet wet.
We're told that everyone has a book inside them* although many would-be writers are unable to commit themselves to the page. Who can blame them? It's hard work and when you finally reach 'the end' another adventure beckons. Then, when you've finally reached the final 'the end', it's the joy of submission. And then, finally, finally, your book is out there. (Please note: the whole process can take years, or lifetimes.)

Then rainbows follow you and royalty receipts are strewn at your feet by welcoming angels.

Well, not exactly. Now you have to switch off the artist side of your brain and think about marketing. Whether you're self-published or traditionally published, you will need to play your part. Most writers I've spoken to on the subject are not natural marketeers. 

When it comes to promotional activity, they go through the author's give stages of promotional grief. If you'd care to follow me...

DENIAL - I don't have to promote my book. That's what agents, publishers, angels and my social media contacts are for. I just write the books. It can still sell if I don't promote it.

ANGER - Why isn't my bloody book selling? It's not fair. I bet JK didn't have to deal with this.

BARGAINING - If I just do a little, surely that will be enough? If I ask all my friends, and everyone in my writing group, and anyone I've ever met online, won't that do? 

DEPRESSION - This book is never going to sell. I can't do it. It's too hard. (And even the classic: I'm not a good enough writer and people will see that.)

ACCEPTANCE - This is the book I've written. I want to reach readers. My literary child may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the most erudite but goddarn it I'm gonna love it all the same. I wrote it and now it's depending on me. Where's my pen?

The solution is writing about your book without simply creating a page with a sales URL. Do make sure you include one of those with every promotional post though. Art for art's sake; money for food.

On Friday I'll give you some suggestions. See you then.

* Not like Manny in Black Books.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Not a poet and I know it

I recently attended a couple of events at this year's Penzance Literary Festival. The first was a writing and mythology workshop, facilitated by poet and prose writer Angela Stoner. I mucked in as a steward for one event the following day and that turned out to be Angela's as well. I hope to interview her soon either on this blog or the sister blog

Like many writers I found expression through poetry in my teens, although no one dug my doggerel at the time. Maybe I was channelling my inner William McGonagall

The session Angela gave on myth took me in an unusual direction when I got home. I started to think about those elements of my storywriting that come from other people, often without their knowledge. Those precious slivers of overheard conversations that I skewered on my notebook pages, the borrowed memories, and the brutal cannibalisation of other people's experiences.

Graham Greene is said to have said: "There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer." Some say it's jagged glass, but I prefer the idea of ice as it suggests the possibiity of a thaw.

Anyway, taking all of the above as inspiration, here's a poem.

I Confess - More or Less

I stole your pet's name
And I took your cousin's too.
I ripped your life into ribboned strips
And sewed them up anew.

I altered crucial details
To hide my heinous crimes.
I changed the date you met your fate
I lied about those times.

I painted myself in the picture
When I wasn't even there.
I made a heroine out of you
And pretended that she cared.

I moved you to a country
Where I know you've never been.
I gave our lines to others
And reordered all the scenes.

I wrote you out of context
With a wild and wicked pen.
I plunged an ice shard in my heart
To serve the story's ends.

I'll never share the secrets
Of a thousand personal worlds.
But I'll scatter fragments liberally
To turn them into pearls.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Bad reviews can be good news!

I'll need to change this by the end of the year.
Bad reviews are like getting an awful mark on your school report even though you really did your best. The main difference is not everyone gets to read your terrible school grades (unless you're a masochistic show-off). 

Stick with me here. I'm not saying they won't hurt from time to time, but they can be useful too. Here's how:

1. Think of them like a vaccination. Once you've had a jab or two you're much more resilient to something unpleasant.

2. Sometimes - though not always - a bad review can contain useful information. If several reviews are telling you something similar, and you're sure they're from your target audience, give it some thought. It might be too late for that book (unless you edit and reissue) but it may help you with other books.

3. You get to see what the same reviewers thought of other books. This helps give you a wider context. If they hate a famous author's book as well, you're in good company! (It happened to me when I received a similar stinker to a Harlan Coben review - it made my day!)

4. Much like the merry-go-round of submitting your precious manuscript to an agent or a publisher, you learn to step back from your work. Even when it's autobiographical, your work isn't you. Of course you've put loving care into every line, but other people's opinions are something beyond your control. Get used to it. 

5. Even a bad review can be a useful talking point for promotional writing. I was recently interviewed on local radio and they kicked off by talking about one of the worst pieces of feedback I'd ever had. Apart from being funny (a sense of humour about these things helps) it also gave me the perfect opportunity to discuss what my book was actually about and how the misunderstanding had occurred. (I don't mind someone disliking my work, as long as it's an accurate dislike!)

6. Bad reviews add contrast. If you ever see a book with nothing but endlessly glowing reviews online, aren't you just the teensiest bit suspicious?

Now, I do have a request. If you have read either Standpoint or Line of Sight (preferably both, but let's not push it), please consider leaving a review on Amazon. Here are the links to the UK, US, Canadian and Australian sites. If you haven't read the books yet, by sheer coincidence, you can also use the same URLs to buy a copy. 

UK - 
US -
Canada -
Australia -

Australia -      

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Romance of Radio

Do you remember Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles? There's wisdom in them there lyrics. Technology's fab and groovy, but sometimes it lacks romance. When I was a lad we would sometimes go to a caravan park in Essex (a trailer park for the weekend, for our transatlantic cousins). 

I used to lie awake in the dark, a transistor radio wedged against my face, listening to faraway lands. Sometimes I'd catch French programmes or lose myself in the magic of big band music. I didn't know Glenn Miller by name but I recognised his music the first time I was formally introduced to it. The signal would ebb and flow like the tide on the nearby River Blackwater. It's also where I first heard the haunting and poetically beautiful Shipping Forecast. (Made more beautiful now that I know Dogger hides a hidden land.)

I've had minor flirtations with radio over the years. I wrote some gags for the late, lamented (by me because the money was okay!) Channel 4 Radio, plus a couple of gags that made it on to BBC Radio.

My most enduring association with a radio station was as a foreign correspondent for KBRW, Alaska. My buddy, Earl Finkler, would ring me from Barrow in Alaska every month or so and we'd chat on air about European news, plus anything topical in the US. The show reached part of the USA, Canada and Russia. 

In the UK I was interviewed on The Source FM about writing fiction and shared a microphone on BBC Radio Cornwall, a few years back, to talk about comedy writing.  

Yesterday I renewed my romance with local radio by joining Tiffany Truscott on BBC Radio Cornwall, talking about the joy ebooks, blogging and my thrillers, Standpoint and Line of Sight. We also touched upon writing groups and the fine art of receiving difficult feedback.

If you fancy listening to the 10 minute segment, you'll need to be quick, as I believe it's only available for 28 days. The show is two hours long and my bit is at around 1hr 30 mins. Let me know what you think!

Maybe, like the great humorist Fred Allen, I do have a face for radio.

Standpoint -

Standpoint -

Line of Sight -

Line of Sight

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Guess who? (Now updated.)

The internet is surely a strange and wondrous thing. There's so much information whizzing around that you can easily miss something interesting.

Not so long ago I added a blogpost to, a 'sister' blog that I have curated for a virtual group of writers. From time to time we get the usual viagra, earn a million quid while sleeping, and buy shares now in the Victorian era links, masquerading as comments to posts.

Here's my blog post:

Here's the comment notification:

Okay, no biggie. Every blog gets these kinds of links. What was different about this one though was Elmina Kenley also had a google+ page:

The link, in the original comment, led to this:

You'd think that would be the end of the story, and that I should really get back to my current novel. However, I was curious, so I went to whois to find out where the site is actually registered (a site needn't actually belong to a UK organisation). It transpires the registrant is in Japan.

You'd think that would be the end of the story - a coffee time jaunt from identity to reality. It's a little stranger than that though. A quick trawl of the Net shows, among other sites, a LinkedIn account as well:

In fact, there are other pages in EK's name. The spelling on the LinkedIn page is not British English and there are some rudimentary errors. Again, live and let live, right?

What concerns me though is the ease with which information and references can be appropriated to give a false impression that could be used to mislead people. I contacted the Welsh School of Architecture to check if Elmina was a genuine graduate from their school, and I'm awaiting a reply as we speak.

Post script 25 June 2015
Although the WSA hasn't responded to my query, I did some more research and tracked down the true owner of the image. She has taken steps to put a stop to the spurious use of her photo. In case you didn't know, you can use internal search engines to find instances of an image, or a similar image - particularly useful to protect your intellectual property. I used Google and dragged and dropped the image to identify the source. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Crit Lit

Mountains and snow - they go together like books and critics.
Writers love feedback. It's like getting free samples on a visit to a sweet factory - first and foremost we're glad to be there at all and then there are extra goodies. What's not to like? Funny you should ask that! 

Does anyone remember acid drops? The sweets, not the psychedelic experience! Sweet and sharp, and surprisingly moreish (and yes, that does look a strange word). Is anyone else thinking: book reviews? We feverishly check Amazon and Goodreads, and are often drawn to the negative reviews more than the positive ones. I'd like to think we're looking for valuable pointers, in order to improve for our next book, but maybe it's simply hard to fathom why readers didn't appreciate the sweeping emotional landscape and the troubled yet finely drawn characters. Or, to quote a book review I received recently, they might just think your protagonist was way too sissified. 

Now, I'm fortunate in having a psychological quirk that means 'bad news' is often amusing to me. My own, I mean. So while I genuinely appreciate the fact that anyone thinks enough about one of my books to take the time and trouble to write a review, I'm also amused when I know I'm reading something that will make my ego bristle a little.

Goodreads has a sage view of the whole business.

As I often say, context is everything. One person loathing your heroine or hero is one thing; 20 people loathing her / him for the same reason is more of a cause for concern. Well, unless your character is called Mr Ripley or Hannibal and that's your intention.

So, by way of entertainment - for both of us - I thought I'd share some of the feedback I received about Standpoint before it was published. These are from agents, publishers and a reader. Enjoy, as I do!

OK: I liked your new spin on the thriller genre, with a hero who is a civil servant, but I found the plot a little too convoluted and far-fetched at times.

We felt that your novel was an old take in a genre that has been stale for a long time.

I've agonised over this. As the various reports that you've taken the trouble to commission say you write very well. My one reservation is that the book doesn't sufficiently stand out in what is a very crowded market. An agent with more experience of the current fiction market is a better bet for you but I'm sure you'll find a publisher and I'd love to know what happens.

We found the concept intriguing!  In a thriller, we're looking for mystery, intense action and vivid descriptions to really show us what's going on and make us unable to stop turning pages right from the opening.

I found Standpoint to be a little too 'laddish' for my tastes.

Just finished your book tonight. Really enjoyed it and thought the story was excellent. I don't do much reading but for what its worth I thought this was really good. I found it easy to read and follow which is a good sign it’s accessible to the masses. Thanks for the read.

The idea of a thriller based around a government special surveillance unit is quite interesting and the writing is competent but the characters do not stand out, excite or intrigue enough I am afraid.

While we enjoyed reading your submission, which stood out from the many we receive, we couldn't find an agent here who felt strongly enough to take it further and therefore we are afraid we are not able to offer you representation for this project.

We like the beginning very much, the writing is good with a humorous tone. But for a thriller it feels too little thriller-ish, and we feel it’s too long, so I’m afraid we’ll give it a pass.

What's the context I talked about? Early indications are that Standpoint has sold over 5000 copies since it launched at the tail end of March.  My point being that one critical swallow needn't ruin your summer. And if the book you write is, according to popular opinion, a bit of a stinker, write a better one.

Monday, 8 June 2015're a writer?'re a writer?

With all due respects to Mr Kipling's exceedingly good prose.

If you can keep your word count when all about you   
Are losing theirs and blaming it on 'responsibilities',   
If you can trust your plot when your inner critic doubts you,
But make allowance for some valid observations too;   
If you can wait for months and not be tired by submissions,
Or being ignored, don’t deal in ignorance,
Or being bad mouthed, don’t give way to badmouthing,
And yet don’t look too pleased with yourself, or use the terms LOL and LMAO;

If you can dream—and not make dreams an excuse for not adding pages;   
If you can think—and not use cliches for the umpteenth time;   
If you can meet with a request for a Full and an outright Rejection
And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to read the words you’ve written
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools in online reviews,
Or watch the stories you gave your heart to, trampled on,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out pens:

If you can make one heap of all your scribblings
And risk another full edit,
And fail, and start again from that chapter everyone liked
And never breathe a word about your pain, except on your blog, and Twitter and Facebook;
If you can force your brain and soul and fingers
To add to a first draft long after you've fallen out of love with the concept,   
And so hold on when there is no evidence it will work
Except the vague notion that there's a good book in there somewhere;

If you can talk with beginners and keep your humility and sense of humour,   
Or, meeting agents and publishers, not come across as desperate or arrogant (or weird),
If neither deadlines nor interruptions can hurt you,
If loved ones and friends count with you, but none too much, at times, when compared with the lives of your fictional friends;
If you can fill the uninspiring minute
With sixty seconds’ writing without fear,   
Yours is the text and everything that’s in it,   
And—which is more—you’ll be a Writer, my dear!