Month: October 2015

This is not a sprint

Although, to be honest, I hit the ground running with writing, and I’m still going.

Anyway, a few thoughts to sign off for a week enjoying my small family, and friends, and generally not doing a lot other than shooting the breeze about life, the universe, and everything.

This writing thing is intense. It’s all-consuming. There are so many areas where it’s possible to get hellishly obsessive about. The writing of it, the plotting, the characters. The title. Hot dang (apparently that phrase needs used more) but the title. The editing.

Add publishing the darn thing into the mix, and we can get started on the next ten things to obsess over. Covers, blurbs, fonts, formatting, marketplaces, POD, agent and trad vs self publishing.

When it’s published? Oh, boy, yeah, we can add in KDP tracking graphs, interviews (if you’re lucky), obsessive review checking (hiding behind hands optional), amazon sales ranking. And in between that, you’ve got all the fun of the earlier stuff going on, too. Plus a job, and a life outside The Book(s).

Which is why a week off is sorely needed. Sometimes, in my focus and obsession I forget that writing still is my hobby. Sure, I’ve two books out. Yep, I’ve some submissions to do, and some open calls to get ready for. But, mostly, writing is my pastime. I have a job to keep me more than occupied on the breadline front. And when we get to the point of remembering we need a week off, we take the time to remind ourselves none of this happens overnight. (Well, okay, I know a couple of lucky people who exploded onto the scene and are doing well for themselves from book one. But they worked damn hard for it.)

So, a few thoughts:

1. Your book is only that. It’s the achievement of completing it that should be celebrated, not the rigmarole around it.

2. PIGS and SETS. Say, wha…? Thought processes. Try to remove them from the SETS – focusing on temporary hurdles and specific difficulties. Therein lies misery. Move those thoughts to general statements of positivity. So, let’s not say – My book got a bad review, so it’s not good. Let’s say instead, I’m a good writer. Or I enjoy writing. Give yourself room to breathe.

(PIGS – Permanent, Internal and General – I’m a good writer
SETS – Specific, External and Temporary – my review today was awful)

3. Enjoy it. Whatever stage you’re at. I haven’t been enjoying it enough. I’ve been spending too much time obsessing. That’ll be changing. Starting now with the celebration I’m a published author, with two books getting great reviews, and two more coming out next year. I’m emerging as a writer, and that’s just fine. I’m just going to stretch my toes and enjoy the process.

Hope you all do, too! Have a great late October week. We’ll be pumpkining and enjoying friends and finding out how to build a hedgehog house. You know, the important stuff.

ON THE NOBLE ART OF BLAGGING

One question I’ve been asked a lot this year is how I’ve managed to get coverage of myself as a writer, so I thought I’d do a blog about it. Sadly, the main advice I’m going to give is to seize opportunities – and my main message is going to be a huge, heartfelt thanks to those who have given me a chance, supported me, or even just lifted me when the road seems long.

So, the bad news. You are one writer amongst thousands out there. Each has worked hard on their book, each wants to promote it. Mostly, each is doing it in the same small channels. ‘Word of mouth,’ is king, we get told – but what if no one is reading? How do we get word of mouth? How do we compete against internet-savvy authors who know more about Amazon than we do, or seem more able to promote?

For me, the answer has been through people. I used blagging in the title, but that makes everything seem seedier than it should be, as if we’re asking something for nothing, or crawling over the twisted, broken bodies of our fellow would-be best-sellers to promote ourselves. That’s not how anything works, and it shouldn’t be how writing works (we want readers. Readers are diverse. Therefore we want diverse writing to bring readers. Therefore successful writers are every writer’s friend.)

No, for me, blagging is something else. It’s having the confidence to ask if people would consider supporting you. It’s being prepared to give back what you can (I’ll come to that.)

So, my Top Ten Blagging Tips:

Be polite. Don’t be an entitled arse with a book out. That spoils it for everyone. If you’d like a review, ask nicely. If the reviewer says no, thank them. Reviewing is a thankless task – so many requests, only so much time. At least be nice about it.

Use the appropriate medium. I use twitter and facebook private messenging a lot. The person has to agreed to be followed by me, so it’s not too creeper-stalkerish, and both encourage short, quick interactions. Also, the message stays on your history so you can see if someone has already been approached and declined or ignored you, and you can avoid asking again. In fact:

Don’t be creepy or stalkerish. Be professional. Be polite. Ask, get your answer, say your thanks, and back away.

Don’t be afraid to be a wee bit cheeky. From time to time, I’ve met people on facebook groups, or in the community, and I’ve chanced my arm a little. Mostly, it’s been met with humour, or been ignored. If the first, it might be a connection that goes somewhere, if the last, default to Rule 3 (now known as Golden Rule 3) and back away.

Ask for support. Most writers I know want to support up and coming writers. I’ve found this a generous world. They also know how hard it is, and are, I find, happy to give a helping hand.

Don’t waste people’s time with rubbish. You will, by and large, get one hit at any of this. If your mss is full of errors, hard to read, or shouldn’t be out there, don’t ask. I trad publish and self publish and I apply the same effort and finish to both. They’re both my product with my name on them, I don’t want either to let me down.

Be prepared to give back. Everyone needs support. Retweet what you can, share if you have a profile. If you have any platforms that might be useful, offer them. A few ideas to start with – sites always need material, consider a guest post. Bloggers have to come up with something new all the time – posting there gives them a day off. Authors need exposure – offer an interview. If you read and enjoy something, consider a review (but think long and hard about giving a poor one.)

Take your opportunities. A while ago I decided to set up a blog interviewing female sf writers. It would give a medium, I thought. I asked around and lots said yes. I sent out my first eight interviews and one person responded. One. To a sitter of a promo activity that would have taken an hour to do and that they had asked to be on. I stopped asking after that as I simply don’t have the time to chase it up. If someone asks for an interview, I say yes. If they want me to do a guest post, I thank them and come up with something. If someone new appears with a review or interview site, I say yes because they’re starting up and they need people to say yes to give them a chance (blagging goes both ways.) If a new publisher needs a short and it’s low pay – I say yes, and am glad they thought of me. Give back, as far as you can, time allowing.

If you achieve something, tell people. I found myself on Ellen Datlow’s recommended reads for 2015. I didn’t go on and on about it – a couple of posts and a few shares – I’m aware others are on it multiple times (Pat Cadigan, I’m looking at you…). But I mentioned it when I next asked someone for a review – because it shows I can write. It shows a short story, at least, made sense to someone who absolutely knows what makes a good short. If a good review site features you, shout it out. No one else will promote you. Your publisher, if you have one, will promote your book. But you’re your own brand – go forth and shout about it. (And your publisher wins by people finding out about it.)

Shoot for the moon. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. See rule 1 and the golden rule 3, for sure. But ask. I didn’t expect my polite enquiry to a local convention to end up with me reading in front of Joe Abercrombie and Pat Cadigan. I didn’t expect to be on a panel with them and the fabulously fun and clever Sarah Pinborough. But I asked, and I did. The worst thing anyone will say is no.

Good luck with it! I know some of this suits the extrovert writers, but some can be done by anyone – an online interview is done on your laptop. Blogs require nothing more than words – and you’re a writer, aren’t you?

And yes, this is all work. It takes time. And you’d rather be writing. (Heck, I have a story I’m itching to get back to as I type this.) But you spent hours over the book, didn’t you? And you’ll spend hours over the next. Why release it and let it sink? Put the same work into interacting with people, be open for opportunities and make the most of them, and enjoy the connections to the wider writing community. And then, blag. Politely. Because no one else will do it for you.

Review – the long way to a small, angry, planet and Mother of Eden


A couple of reviews – The Long way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers, and Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett.
My work-work has been busy this last few weeks, which means I’m not writing much. And, when I’m not writing, I read. Which was great because I had a couple of books I really wanted to get to.
I’d been hearing a lot about The Long way to a Small, Angry Planet and was really looking forwards to it.
On a lot of levels, it didn’t disappoint. The alien portrayals were well done, thoughtful and clever. The writing was easy to follow with a light touch that kept the story moving along nicely. The scenario was a clever one, and nicely executed, and the characters were likeable.
All of which meant, when I was struggling to fully engage, I found it hard to put my finger on exactly why. Eventually, it came to me – I think – and the answer lay around tension.
There are plenty of areas where tension should be introduced, but wasn’t fully explored to my mind. The trip is rife with danger, with an unknown outcome, yet at few stages (until the very end) did I get the sense of building risk. The techs were all good at their job, the crew very able, but the book felt a little episodic to me – as if each event was something cool to explore (and each made for great reading), but didn’t contribute to the sense of an overall destination being marched to.
The end of the book more than delivered on the dangers of the mission, however, and therein lay my frustration. There was so much danger and tension that could have been built on, but weren’t there throughout. Having said that, the ending made up for it, with a real sit-on-the-edge of the seat reading session, long after I should have been in bed.
Overall, then, great characters, nice story, lovely writing style but it just needed a bit more tension for me.
On, then, to Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden. Having loved Dark Eden this was one I was very much looking forwards to, but with reservations. I loved the characters in book one and, knowing this was set some years after their deaths, worried that I’d find it hard to get into this one.
I needn’t have worried. I settled straight in and got started. The new characters were fresh and sympathetic, with plenty of rounded flaws – a headman without the leadership skills needed, a heroine too young to see where her actions might take her. We get carried along, seeing what might unfold, knowing more than Starlight does, and yet we can’t stop her. We want her to be rewarded, to be right, to have her gut instinct of what’s right and wrong repaid; we fear it won’t be.
What Beckett does so well is build a society of myths and legends, and show us how they’ve unfolded. He takes our knowledge from book one and twists it, demonstrating how truth gets lost. He also asks questions about roles in society, reversion, and how we allow ourselves to be carried along with the crowd.
If I have a criticism, at the beginning the number of point of views, and the shortness of each, made it a little hard to follow who was who and keep them separate from each other. However, as the story progressed, this became less of an issue.
On balance, it’s a sequel that lived up to book one, which is always a delight in itself, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

Book signings – hints and tips

I’m joined on the blog today by Amy Cook, author of the Rabids series (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Amy-Cook/e/B00MQGKLOG), who recently ran a book signing with awesome book topiary, and a nice buzz to it, so I thought I’d get some tips on running one.

Book signings; the big events that can leave any author weak in the knees with excitement and terror all in one. I held a signing last night for the release of my book, “Instinct Ascending Rabids Book 2”. Here are a few things that I learned along the way. 

Preparation- 

#1. Network, network, network.  Weeks before the signing, you need to start sending out all those different pleas for people to come. Thankfully I had a few friends that were heading that end of matters for me. They printed up snazzy little ‘save the date’ cards featuring my book cover, with info about the event itself. They then placed these at the library and other high traffic areas in town. We pulled in more networking help by having it announced in newsletters of local organizations for the town, and on the local antenna station.  And of course I announced it several times on my social media pages. Blurbs in your local newspaper are a great idea, and some even get their event announced on the radio. I wasn’t quite that adventurous this time around. Maybe next signing…
#2. Make sure you have enough time and items to prepare for the event. I failed miserably in this aspect. I didn’t account for payday gaps and the amount of time it takes for my books to reach me. As it was, I had a very sad meager amount of books for sale at the actual event. I made sure to warn people to purchase their books ahead of time on my social media sites etc, but I still sold out of all the books I had there, and was left with many people wanting. To offset this issue as well as I could, I printed up small papers to let people know where they could find my books, and let them know that amazon offered them for less than list price. It helped people to feel better about the situation, knowing they could get it for cheaper on amazon than they could at my signing. Also, I printed up cards with the full book cover (image and book description) and I signed these with my handy silver marker to give them, so that they didn’t walk away without a signature because of my lack of books. 

The Event

Tip #1. Deodorant is your friend…make sure you remember to wear it.  I did remember, thankfully, but for a terrifying moment as the guests started arriving, I couldn’t remember if I had. 

Tip #2. My food brings all the readers to the yard. Light refreshments are always a good idea when you are trying to bring in a crowd, for any event. We served delicious little tortilla roll ups, fondue style candied apples, fruit tarts, and many other delicious items that were easy and inexpensive to prepare for a large amount of people. Make sure you announce that light refreshments will be served at the event, and you’re sure to have people show up!

Tip #3. Simplicity. When decorating for book signings, going simple is your best bet for retaining sanity and your wallets health. I bought a few disposable table cloths for the tables, made four book topiaries as centerpieces (This wonderful, but time consuming, little gem.  http://www.sweettmakesthree.com/dollar-store-craft-book-topiary/#_a5y_p=3379475) I printed out a poster sized image of both of my book covers and posted those at my signing table near the door. I put some book garland along the table between the two posters as space filler, and laid my books out on the table along with a few items I needed to bring immediately to the attention of the guests upon their arrival such as the sign in book and trivia papers etc. 

Tip #4. Freebies and Games.  In addition to having goodies to eat, make sure you have goodies to give away. As incentive for prompt appearance to the two hour event, I offered bookmarks to the first seventeen arrivals. These bookmarks were fun little marks I had printed up with my name and the name of my book. At the top was a hole punch with a chain and sword at the end. (To match a particular scene in my book.) Everyone loved them!I also made up a paper of trivia questions from my first book. The people who got the most answers correct won a few door prizes.  (Some of the book topiaries centerpieces. A few items of jewelry I made to match characters of my books. Sword keychains, etc.) Along with these, I had a few papers out on the table with instructions stating they should write down any questions they had for me, and a gentle reminder to keep their questions spoiler free, for anyone who might not have read them yet. I ended up just going around and personally answering guest’s questions, rather than speaking them out loud, as the event was pretty free and easy with guests arriving and leaving at their pleasure.

Tip#4. Pens, pens galore! If you will be doing trivia quizzes and questions, please remember to bring LOTS of pens! Another item I forgot. I had to run around scrounging up pens. When at a signing, the last thing you want to do is run around begging for pens, or having people share. Nope. Just don’t go there, bring pens! 

Tip #5. Have your own book for signing. I had one of my own proof copies there, with a sign encouraging all of my guests to sign the book for me. This was a hit activity with my guests, and it left me with a wonderful keepsake memory of the event. 

Tip #6. Remember to enjoy the event. It is so easy to get swept up in nerves. But try to remember that these people are here because they enjoy your work, or are interested in it. They want to get to know you and have fun schmoozing with the author. Relax and enjoy your night. After all that hard work of writing and publishing, you earned it!

Happy Reading, Writing, and Signing
Amy Cook

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