Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Stories aren’t just about words

I’m someone who really likes to get her teeth into a big, fat, juicy book. I’ve been known to pass over a book if the spine isn’t wide enough. I don’t like thin books, books with not enough pages in them, books with too few words. I don’t like short reads – no short stories, no novellas, and I eye shorter full length novels with suspicion. Why? Because I’ll blast through them in less time that it takes to eat a meal. To me, a short novel is like a starter – it has whetted my appetite, but where’s the main course? I don’t want to settle down for a darned good read, only to find it’s over before I know it.

I like lots of pages, books with lots of words. But is this the best thing for the story being told?

For example, I recently reviewed a novel of around 315 pages. The story itself was sound enough, but the way it was told wasn’t. And that was because there were too many words in it. Words that add nothing. Words that in reality detract from the story. Useless, filler words. Words like ‘just’, ‘that’, ‘felt’, ‘seemed’. Words that slow the writing down. Waffle words.

In this particular novel individual sentences aren’t streamlined enough. Ten words are used when five would have done a better job. Here’s a typical example: “Whiskey seemed to be the only remedy to dilute the memories that haunted his mind.” How many ways can you come up with to convey the same idea but in a more succinct way. I came up with six.

Another example, and one of my personal dislikes, is using ‘feel’ or ‘feeling’. For instance, “she felt her knees give way.” Take out ‘felt’. It’s not needed. It’s her knees, so of course she’s going to feel them give way. Instead, “her knees gave way”. Sharper, more concise, and less annoying for the reader.

That novel is actually much shorter than the 315 pages suggest. A good copy editor would have spotted this sentence (and all the others), and this author’s writing would have been much tighter by losing the excess word fat.

So the moral of the story for me is, don’t judge a book by its page length, and don’t fixate on word count in my own writing. My stories should be as long or as short as they need to be. The important thing is to tell a good yarn and tell it well.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Is there a best way to promote a novel?

As a newbie indie author I published my book, and sat back and waited for someone, anyone, to notice it. It got some downloads. Then when I made it free, it got more. Lots more. Which was only to be expected, ’cause we all love something for nothing, right?

I published another, and another, and gradually got to know the ins and outs of the publishing and marketing side of things. Common advice is that authors need a social platform. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, author pages on Goodreads, Amazon, and so on, until all an author ends up doing is posting tweets and blogs and trying to think of something witty and funny and constructive to say, something that doesn’t just say ‘buy my book’.

So how many tweets are enough? How many followers? How many blog posts need to be written before an author can concentrate on the real reason for the social media presence - writing. You might as well add the old cliché, ‘how long is a piece of string’… I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this, though most people agree there is a correlation between media presence and book sales. The problem is that all this takes time; time away from what an author should be doing - writing. It all comes back to writing, doesn’t it?

I fluctuate from spending an inordinate amount of time on social media, to hardly ever, and I can see when I am doing which by the word count on my current work in progress. It seems like I have to sacrifice one for the other. But I’m not sure social media works. Do I think I’ve sold more books as a result of a few tweets? I don’t know. Analysis of downloads doesn’t give me a definitive answer.

So I looked at it from the point of view of a reader. Am I influenced by tweets or posts where authors are promoting their novel? Not really. I tend to discover the books I read by accident – browsing the book store at the airport, going to the library, clicking on one book then finding my way to another. Maybe even clicking on an advertising link on Amazon…

Perhaps that’s the answer. Maybe I should convert the woman-hours I spend on social media and raising my rather low author profile into advertising. The downside is that it costs. The upside is that I’ll have far more time to write, I’ll publish two books a year, instead of the one and a half I’m currently running at. More books mean more sales, therefore the advertising may pay for itself.

And I can stop beating myself over the head trying to think of something to say on Twitter!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A reviewing dilemma

I read. A lot.

I also review. I don't get paid for this (although someone once accused me of just such a thing, merely because I enjoyed the book I left a review for - go figure). I do, however, get free books specifically for the purpose of leaving a review, but only from NetGalley.

I don't do review swaps. Not now, though I did once. I felt cornered, obliged to give a decent review of something that wasn't actually very good, because if I didn't, then the other author might give my book a bad review, regardless of what they actually thought of it. Tit for tat. I've since taken that review down. My conscience wouldn't let me keep it posted.

I don't respond to review requests, either. For one, I don't want to feel obligated, even if only a tiny bit, and for another, I might not fancy the genre, the style, the blurb, etc. So I choose which books I am going to read, and I leave a completely honest review.

I'm not influenced by what other readers think, either. I don't read other people's reviews before I read a novel, or before I leave a review. My response is mine, and it's honest.

But I have a dilemma, and so do some other authors: the fear of repercussion.

I don't write reviews under an assumed name (I know authors who do). I don't only leave four and five star reviews (I know authors who do). I am a click of a mouse away from being seen to be an author as well as a reviewer. And that it where the problem lies. Some authors have trouble accepting less than glowing reviews. I am one of them. They hurt. But I don't react, and I don't engage with the reviewer. Readers are as entitled to their opinions as I am - and some of their comments may well be valid. However, some authors do react. I was recently challenged over a three star review by an author, which prompted the 'Etiquette for Authors' blog post.

And there is always the fear that a disgruntled author will leave a so-so or negative review of one of my novels because I left a similar review for one of theirs. Again, I know an author that has had that very thing happen to them.

So the dilemma is - do I review under an assumed name? Or do I keep on using my own, and damn any consequences. And is the name Abook Reviewer anonymous enough?

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Scribophile - a brilliant tool for authors

A couple of months ago I wrote that, for me, the jury was out when it came to Scribophile.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online writing critique platform, and it’s darned good! There is a paid version and a free version, and I’m not going to try to sell you the paid version because the free version is fine.

The jury has most definitely returned a verdict of brilliant!  Without the constructive comments and fabulous suggestions from the wonderful bunch of people on this site, I would continue to make the same old mistakes in my writing.  

I have the many in-depth critiques I received to thank for many fun hours of editing and the cutting of all those erroneous words from my WIP – 2000 of them so far, and counting. I have yet to tackle those dreaded adverbs…

There is only one small problem - if I keep on cutting words at this rate I won't have any left in my manuscript!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Etiquette for authors?

You’ve published the work that has taken you decades to write, you’ve let you book-baby loose on the world, and now you sit back and watch the reviews flood in.

Only, they don’t.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be signed by a really big publisher, the odds are you will be doing the promotional stuff yourself. And if you’ve taken the indie publishing route then you most certainly will be marketing your pride and joy on your own.

Just a few observations you may like to consider: 
  •  Don’t leave a review for your own book. Seriously. Don’t.
  •  When requesting a review, check out a reviewer’s preferences if you can. If they only read sci-fi,  don’t waste your time and theirs by sending them a contemporary romance.
  •  And don’t send an e-copy of your book without being invited to. It’s rude. Wait for the reviewer to agree to read it first.
  •  Make sure you tailor your request to the reviewer. I hate receiving generic emails from authors – and it’s even worse when it’s addressed to ‘Hi Fred’ because the author has done a copy and paste job – at least get my name right!
  • When you are lucky enough to have a reader agree to review your novel, don’t hassle them if it’s not read quickly enough for your liking. Readers have lives, too. And sometimes they might like the blurb, but for some reason end up not reading your work. Leave them alone, if they want to read it, they will.
  • If you’ve asked someone to read your book, the least you can do is thank them when they do exactly that– WHATEVER the review. If a reader has taken the time and effort to read and review, then they should be thanked, even if they hated your work-of-a-lifetime and said so. After all, you asked them. If you’re not prepared to receive an honest review, then you shouldn’t have contacted them in the first place.
  •  NEVER, EVER respond to a negative review. The reader is entitled to an opinion and the only thing you’ll achieve by tackling a reviewer head on is a reputation you don’t want. You’ll come across as psychotic, and word that you are a ‘difficult’ author can quickly spread. Maintain a gracious silence, however unjustified you feel the review to be.
  • If the only good reviews are from friends and family, and the rest of them are consistently poor, take it as a kick up the bum. Not everyone can be wrong, and of course your bezzie mate and your mum like your work. They feel obliged to! Take a good look at those bad reviews and see if you can amend the issues highlighted, even if you have to withdraw your book for a while.
  •  Don’t pay for good reviews. It’s just not right.
  •  If you agree to a review swap don’t automatically assume your partner in crime will give you a good review. And don’t ask for one. This is why I don’t agree to review swaps.
Good luck with the marketing! 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Whispering in Toilets

This is not as weird as it sounds. Honest!
I, like many other people, get ideas at the oddest and most inconvenient of times. Very often I don’t have paper and pen to hand, and though I have my mobile phone, writing anything other than a brief text is excruciating and a lesson in not losing my patience when I consistently hit the wrong key with my obviously overly large fingers.
So, I came up with the idea of using the voice record facility on my mobile. After all, I tend to have this addictive little gadget with me most of the time, so doing a prattle into  it seemed like a great idea.
Then I thought about taking it one step further. I spend my working day typing, and am fairly quick and proficient, however my thoughts, when I am writing, come much quicker than I can type. So, in my infinite wisdom I wondered if I could use the speech to text facility in Windows. And, maybe, just maybe, I could go even further again, and as well as speaking directly into my newly acquired microphone, I could also press the play button on my phone, and let it ‘talk’ to my computer. Therefore, if I was in the car, for instance, where I often talk to myself, as I work through the next scene, I could dictate a whole chapter into my phone, play it back, and my computer could type it up for me. Genius!
Only it wasn’t. For one thing, I still haven’t persuaded my speech to text programme that I actually speak English, so that continues to be a work in progress several weeks later.
Secondly, I get frowned at if I use my mobile in work (and rightly so, too), so I’m having to resort to disappearing off to the loo and whispering furtively into my phone. I could cope with this, if it weren’t for the fact that my phone objects to me whispering, and will only play back a sort of hissy mumble. I didn’t realise this, though, until I had merrily filled up the voice recording bit with lots of brilliant thoughts and ideas,which I can't understand when I play them back, and I've now forgotten what it was I actually said...

Next time I get a great idea, somebody please stop me!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Author interview with Fiona Collins

With the launch of her debut novel 'The Anti-Ageing of Harmony Richards', Fiona Collins is an author to watch, and I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m a new writer. I’m married with three children and live in a draughty old farmhouse in the Essex countryside, although I confess I’m more of a high heels and handbags kind of girl than a wellies and wet dog one. I have been a stay-at-home mum for the past twelve years, but in my distant past I have been a television and radio presenter, a scriptwriter and an ‘extra’, as well as an easily-distracted temporary member of staff in various jobs including hospital laundry worker, vacuum cleaner demonstrator and waitress in a Japanese restaurant. Oh, and I once went to university, about two hundred and fifty years ago. 

What are you reading at the present?
Love and Devotion by Erica James. I thought the story might be a little sad for me, but I’m enjoying it. She is an excellent writer. I’m also currently re-reading all the Roald Dahl books with my seven year old son. 

What is the title of your book?
My debut novel is The Anti-Ageing of Harmony Richards. 

What is it about?
My novel is about Harmony Richards, a forty-five year old wife and mother who discovers that the unromantic husband she adores only proposed to her thirteen years ago because he was dumped by his One That Got Away. This ex-fiancee turns out to be not only much younger and prettier than her, but back in town to throw Harmony’s life into a tailspin. The novel explores what it feels like to be insecure in a marriage and have your looks, which you’ve relied on for so long, start to fade, particularly in the face of a stunning, younger rival. It’s about ageing. It’s about finding value in yourself again. It’s also about how delicious flirting with a younger man can be, when Harmony meets personal trainer, Blake. 

Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?
Harmony is quite a complex character. She can be feisty and an outrageous flirt, at the same time she’s lacking in confidence, generally, and completely dampened down by her role as wife and mother. Once Melissa arrives on the scene, Harmony’s life takes off on an unexpected and slightly unhinged tangent: in stalking her rival she undertakes a series of eyebrow-raising beauty treatments, she starts the wrong-on-so-many-levels flirtation with Blake, but she also, fairly accidentally, gets a job – something she is surprised to find she really enjoys.   

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I suppose it’s that age is only a number. There is still fun to be had and new challenges to embrace, whatever your age.  It’s also that there’s more to life than marriage and motherhood: YOU are still in there somewhere! And for younger women, make the most of your youth but don’t dread your forties – they can actually be very empowering.

What was the biggest challenge during writing this novel?
I found this novel just rattled out of me like a runaway train. I really enjoyed steering that train in the direction I wanted it to go and I loved writing it. So to be honest, my biggest challenge was keeping the writing of it secret to friends and family. I wasn’t sure if I would ever publish it so I didn’t tell anyone. This meant lots of writing on the toilet in a locked bathroom (lid down!) and frantically scribbling things on bits of paper and shoving them in my knicker drawer!

Who designed your book cover?
Pixel Studio via Fiverr.com. An absolute bargain and I love my cover! 

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new novel about a single mum who, the first to admit she’s never really done much with her life, finds it transformed when she strikes up an unlikely friendship on the school run with an older, female rock star who was huge in the 80s. I’m cooking up lots of adventure and romance for my reluctant heroine who may find herself stepping into the spotlight of her own life for the very first time… 

Do you see writing as a career?
I would love writing to be my career!

Why do you write?
I love it. For me, it’s just enormous fun. I write when my children are at school and although I may turn up for the afternoon school run looking rather dazed and confused after writing for six hours straight, I have a big, satisfied smile on my face. I also find it tremendously gratifying to put all the mad, random thoughts that whizz round my brain down on paper.

What are your writing habits?
Drop the kids off at school, throw some washing into the machine, flick a duster around then write, write, write! I write on my laptop at the kitchen table in complete silence, interrupted by the occasional meow from my cat or the rumble of my tummy.

Which writers inspire you?
I am a massive chick lit fan. I love Adele Parks, Jane Fallon and Sophie Kinsella. The more you read, the better you write, so I try to mainline as much chick lit and contemporary women’s fiction as I can. When I fancy something different, my more literary hero is Graham Greene.  

Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’m new. I don’t feel qualified to give any! But I’m always happy to receive it :-)

I'd like to thank Fiona for her time, and if she's piqued your interest check out her book below:

Link to The Anti-Ageing of Harmony Richards on Amazon:

@FionaJaneBooks on Twitter