About Writers, book reviews, Research, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

A Question For Mimi

Mimi Speake is an historian of sixteenth century Europe & therabouts. She delves into the private lives of such as Bernard Délicieux, the Friar of Carcassonne and Henry of Navarre. Nothing seems to delight Mimi more than to accurately include in her stories obscure details about the financial information of a walled town from that period, or a seminal work on algebra, or even lore about La Fée Verte, the green fairy.
And uh, Mimi is the only historian I know. So, I have a question for her.

Is Google messing with history? Not on purpose. But is that repository of human knowledge fatally flawed because of what it does not include?

I ask because I recently searched for early reviews of Arthur C. Clarke’s first book, Against the Fall of Night, published by Startling Stories magazine in 1948. Despite the story itself being vintage Clarke, the novella was initially panned for its word dumps of the author’s social theories. They added nothing to the story. I know this because I read it as a kid and I still remember my eyes glassing over the pages of preaching.
A few years ago, I re-read it. The book that I re-read said it had been published only because fans had expressed interest in reading Clarke’s first novel. It’s forward discussed Against the Fall of Night’s initial reception (dismal) and included some of those early reviews (bad.)

But Google has unwittingly rewritten history. I cannot find any of those original reviews. The Fall of Night is today presented as if it hadn’t bombed; as if it is just another good book by Clarke, even though he had to rewrite it in 1956 as The City and the Stars.

I know. I know. Google is not a complete history of anything. It is only a collection of whatever bits people put on the ‘Net. (But I wonder how many people think about things that are not on the Internet.)

So, Mimi, if I may follow-up, how do you find information that is not on Google?

And for everyone, a broader question:
To what extent are search engine results and social media the background against which we frame our questions? Do they guide the answers that we accept?
In short, does the Internet shape our collective consciousness?

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

Now, here’s something new – a reader!

Writer's Block

Well, the launch is done – phew! I’m a bit surprised at how tense I got – I thought I’d be more laid back. Too early, of course, to give a report, but the first impression is… mixed. Yes, it’s better than the last, but given that all I did then was post on my blog, that’s hardly difficult. This time I had a strategy – build up my mailing list and ask my subscribers to post reviews. I’d sent a free copy of Perfume Island to over a hundred, but so far none has appeared. Early days yet, perhaps – we shall see. But the only reviews so far have been from people I was in touch with before (you guys included – many thanks!).

On the other hand, it has been good to get a couple of messages from complete strangers telling me, ‘I enjoy your books so much.’ And it made me realise that I’ve never before experienced that sort of connection with readers. It gives me a glow inside that’s different from other satisfactions I’ve got from writing. For a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, as I said, these aren’t people I’ve built an online relationship with – they’re people who’ve come across my books by chance or because they happen to like the mystery genre. And that’s the second thing – they aren’t writers but readers. Crucial as it is to engage with and learn from other writers, we’re not normal readers because we always have one eye on the craft of writing (‘Ah, what a beautiful / overblown / clunky sentence that is!’). So it’s rather strange to think that someone might be reading my book simply because they want to enjoy a good story. You might say it’s a bit late to be discovering only now what it’s like to have a few readers. Well, yes, I fumbled and faltered a lot along the way. But better late than never, you’re never too old to fulfil your dreams, yada, yada…

Will Perfume Island actually sell many copies? Probably not. But a few more than One Green Bottle (again, not difficult). And the prospect of having readers raises another issue: they’re following a series. What do I do with Magali now? Is she a brand? Do I owe it to my readers to keep her going? Well, here’s what Hugh Howie has to say: ‘A big mistake I see from too many aspiring writers is to follow up their first work with a sequel, and turn that into a trilogy, and write a fourth and fifth book while they plan their sixth and seventh. […] Plan on writing many great books about many awesome characters. Plan on writing three different trilogies in three different genres. Sequels aren’t bad; in fact, they can be critical to your success. What’s bad is only giving readers a handful of avenues into your imagination. Give them as many onramps as possible. Write short stories as well as novels. Write in different genres. Experiment and adapt to your sales and any critical feedback.’ (The full article, which covers many other points, is here.)

I found that reassuring. Because much as I like Magali, I don’t want to be wedded to her for the rest of my writing life. In fact, other ideas are barging to the front of the queue, demanding to be written. For the moment, though, I’m thrusting them back. A trilogy, at least – I can’t not write a trilogy. So this morning, with great relief, I stopped looking on Amazon every other minute and got back in touch with Magali and Charlotte in Mystery Manor (much darker, more thriller than mystery this time). Because if I don’t do that, I might lose my readers just when I’m starting (let’s be optimistic here) to gain them.

As for the marketing, I see no alternative to persisting with the mailing list. The first time people unsubscribed, I was dismayed. Now I’m pleased – it means I won’t be annoying them. And little by little, there’s a chance that of those that remain, a few will swell the number of that very select group I think of now as ‘my readers’.

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book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

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I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

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book promotion, book reviews

Ten Thousand Page-Reads. (Or K.U. For Dummies)

The title of is this post is possibly enigmatic to most, but to anyone who has a book or books signed up on Kindle Unlimited, the reference is clear.

What’s a page-read? What’s Kindle Unlimited?

Okay. For those who don’t know already: when you publish an eBook on Amazon, you have the option of signing it up with Kindle Unlimited. That means Kindle Unlimited subscribers—for a ten dollar monthly fee—can download and read your book for free, (as well as all the other eBooks signed up with Kindle Unlimited) and you, the author, receive a payment for each page read.

Yes, they can keep track. No, you probably don’t want to think too hard about that.

How much per page? Amazon sets a new rate every month, but then it also adds a certain amount from the Kindle Direct Publishing Select Global Fund (which—if I understand it correctly— is based on the total number of pages read of all KU books by all KU subscribers.) Bottom line? It varies slightly from month to month, but as a ballpark figure, I assume about 45% of a penny per page. And, KU is actually fairly generous in the way it counts page reads. My book Spark runs 345 pages in paperback. KU counts it as 408 pages. (For the record, a complete read of Spark on KU earns me about $1.80. Selling the ebook earns me about $2 in royalties.)

One important rule: if your ebook is signed up for Kindle Unlimited, it must be exclusive to Amazon. You cannot sell it on Kobo or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords or anywhere else. For many authors, this is a deal breaker. It’s also the reason why most actual publishers do not use it. They don’t want to cut off any potential sales avenues.

In practice, KU is made for independent publishers. And while exclusivity may be distasteful for some authors, most ebooks sold in the global marketplace are sold through Amazon. (I heard 70% somewhere, but don’t ask me to back that up.) Personally, I didn’t find it a difficult decision. I am happy to have my independent titles on KU.

Being signed up with KU also allows you to run promotions, including making the book free for up to five days out of every ninety. If you promote your giveaway, you can end up with thousands of downloads. Both times I’ve given Spark away, I’ve topped 3,000 downloads. This may not seem like anything to crow about, (and I’ll address that question further on). But let me just focus first on the immediate results of that kind of giveaway. Both times, it has resulted in a small sales spike after the giveaway. (Very small in real numbers. The first time I think I sold 12 copies, the second time only eight. But compared to my normal sales, which can include months of goose eggs, it’s a spike.)

In addition, giveaways get me page-reads on KU. Faced with a temporarily free ebook, some subscribers choose to download it through KU rather than downloading it for free. It makes no difference to them, I suppose. It’s free either way. But it makes a big difference for the author. During the month following my last giveaway, I topped 10,000 page-reads. This is roughly equivalent to 25 people reading my book all the way through. It also means I made about $45 in royalties.

Now just for a bracing dose of reality, I know most of the 3000 people who download my book onto their Kindle or their cell phone are NOT going to read it. A lot of those folks have hundreds of free books stored up on their devices, and they keep adding new ones, which probably only serves to bump the older books lower on the priority list (newer books are shinier books). The only reads that we can be sure of are the ones that come through KU and the ones that leave a review, or at least a rating, on Amazon or Goodreads.

My giveaways have generated a few reviews on Amazon and some ratings on Goodreads, but very few. Reviews are rare enough anyway, but I think they are even rarer for readers who download the books for free. I had a review of Flight of the Wren after my last giveaway of that book—a terrific review—that actually said:

“This is a great book! Usually I don’t write reviews for the free/cheap books I get from the various email groups because they are not usually worth reviewing.”

It’s just human nature, I guess. We tend to value things in direct relation to the price we pay for them, and we sometimes assume that free stuff is free because nobody would pay for it. So the whole giveaway thing is not an unqualified positive. Sure, I would prefer it if people were buying the books and lavishing me with reviews, but that ain’t happening. At least this way, there are people reading the books. Some of those people are going to like them and will maybe read the next one.

Some of them might even pay real money for the privilege. Crazy, I know, but it could happen.

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About Writers, book reviews, reading, writing technique

The Wonderful World of Susanna Clarke

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I had read a portion of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell very quickly, to get a feel for the work, to see if I was ready to devote myself to eight-hundred pages. I am! I am rereading more carefully, and I have watched a few episodes of the Netflix series, to see how it translates to the screen.

I have to say that the thing that I most enjoy about the story is not the plot itself. I am hooked on the execution. It is fleshed out with wonderfully dense historical tidbits, faux references to this storied magician or that one, notations of their books, publishers, and publishers’ addresses, background on various factions of magic, a ballad even, all set forth in scholarly-looking footnotes. All of this delights me no end.

I enjoy the atmosphere of the piece, the intricate description, stately phrasing of a gravitas wholly in keeping with the theme of Magic Restored To Its Proper Place In England. For me, the true magic of the book is the narrative style. There is a great deal of very impressive telling:

“Excellent reasons which had seemed so substantial a moment ago were turning to mist and nothingness in his mouth, his tongue and teeth could not catch hold of even one of them to frame it into a rational English sentence.” Such a stylish encapsulation cannot be conveyed on film, and what a pity.

“… and as our narrative progresses, I will allow the reader to judge the justice of this portrait.” Clarke intrudes fairly often, another lovely period touch. The enormous footnotes may not range as far afield as mine do in Sly, but they are entertaining and I will eventually read them all.

The Netflix movie is absolutely gorgeous, but it does not capture the spirit of the book. It is the artistry of the narrative that has made it a classic. A world has been created on these pages, that drags us to a time and place in a way that the film does not. Who has read Jonathan Strange? Do you agree? Or does the lyrical phrasing and overload of tangential information (that I eat up) put you off?

The Netflix series lacks distance from the here and now, that all the walking through mirrors doesn’t remedy. It lacks the flavor of the print piece. This (gently) mannered prose is a mesmerizing step back from reality, and it plays a large part in the enormous pleasure I get from the story.

The film is beautifully done. The sets are stunning. The casting is wonderful. The story is faithfully told as far as the bones of it go. But the filmed version lacks the magic of the book. The book is a breathtaking example of total-immersion world-building. I am enthralled. I am taking notes right and left on matters small and large.

You may expect a new bit on Sly practicing (working with his tabby markings) to affect a disdainful raised eyebrow, in my updated chapter one. Thanks for the seed idea, Susanna Clarke. Many phrases have sparked spin-off business of my own. For me, this book is a treasure trove of possibilities, particularly in relation to Sly’s bookishness, which is always fun to contemplate.

What rare world-building can you recommend? I’m into it!

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This Way Madness Lies, But So What?

There is probably no more ill-advised pastime for a writer than to engage with his or her negative critics. Reviews are what they are, and any response on your part will only make you seem thin-skinned and defensive. Not everyone is going to love your books, so get over it and let it go.0

Nevertheless, I’m presented here with a rare opportunity. Friend, fellow writer, and notorious gadfly Mimi Speike found fault with my new book, Whisper Blue. Now this, I promise you, is not an attack on Mimi, who I love and admire. In fact, I appreciate and cherish her honesty. Nor will it, I hope, degenerate into a series of mere ripostes and touchy rejoinders. Mimi and I have already exchanged opinions via email and remain the best of pals. Her criticisms are insightful and thought provoking. Do I agree with them? Well, no, because I have my natural arrogance to fall back on, not to mention a fair number of favorable reviews to take comfort in. So why am I focusing on a bad review? Just naturally a contrarian, I guess.  But dissent will nearly always spark a more interesting discussion than agreement. So, what the heck. Let’s rumble!

Mimi: “Your prose style, as usual, is flawless. (I had to include that bit. -AG) I do have some problems with the plot. The uncomplicated style says to me YA, and I do believe Miles’ rather mumbo-jumbo rationale for the odd business would fit nicely into the mouth of a fascinated-with-psychic/not-overly-critical teen.”

A fair point. I wrote back: “If Miles’ explanation for Whisper’s manifestation seems a little addled, well, he’s a little addled, and it seems like exactly the kind of explanation he would come up with. (He needs an explanation, because he’s a rationalist.) It may not make a lick of sense, but it’s at least a self-consistent construction (really, almost more a science fiction explanation than a ghost story one, which fits Miles’ personality.) In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you or I find it believable, just so long as Miles (nearly) does. It’s a bandaid on the gaping wound that has sundered his reality. The fact that it barely works is, well, just as it should be.”

I didn’t add, but will here, that I think Miles’ explanation is actually pretty good, certainly well in line with some of the norms of paranormal fiction. But therein lies one of the bones of incompatibility betwixt Mimi and myself. She really doesn’t care for paranormals, and I obviously do.

Mimi: “I do not find gut-wrenching emotion, that jumps off the page. You tell us that your characters are stunned, upset, all that, but where is the out-and-out frenzy? (On Marieka’s part. We’ve already written Miles off.) Especially with a first-person telling, it would be so easy to show.”

Yes, and I’m afraid there isn’t a lot to say on this point. My natural tendency is to soft-pedal emotion and to minimize introspection, even in first-person. It’s just a personal preference, which Mimi astutely recognized later in her critique, saying: “But that means interior stuff, and I understand that is not your impulse.” And she’s right. It really isn’t. Too often, the examination and explanation of why-my-characters-are-feeling-what-they-feel only clutters up the landscape, making it more difficult for readers to feel what they feel, which is more what I hope will happen. Some people can do the introspection thing very well and to great effect. Me, not so much. I won’t walk away from a poignant moment, but I prefer them to be few and far between.

As far as me telling rather than showing, well, I don’t actually have a problem with telling. It is part of writing. But as far as me telling rather than showing the emotions of my characters, particularly Marieke, I disagree. For the most part, I think I did as little of either as I could reasonably get away with.

Mimi: “Taylor James says, ‘The story is fast paced.’ I would think that fast paced here is not a desirable thing. I say you need to immerse your kooks in a slow-simmer soup, and let them stew in it but good, with plenty of reflection. Instead we get mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage. Everything moves too fast, for my money.”

Again, we are simply at odds here. I love a slow-simmer, and I expect nothing less from Mimi’s own epic cat-o-many-tales, Sly. But…that isn’t Whisper. I wanted something agile enough to slither and scurry up the lattice of plot and emerge with a “what just happened here?” feeling. So fast-paced pleases me. As does “mysteriously matter-of-fact reportage.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Mimi: “I buy that a once alive girl might be called up from the dead, but a totally made-up one? I wish at least that Miles had found a mention of a child who had actually existed, and had created additions to the story that just happened to be very close to the truth. (Wouldn’t that be way stranger? And it would solve the problem of reporters digging into a lie.) A demand, by a side-branch descendant of the clan, to know how he came by a piece of information that had never been disclosed, a connection he is able to verify, may be what sends him over the edge.”

A fascinating angle, and in a conventional ghost story, a wholly valid point. But Whisper isn’t really a ghost story. And…well, I’ll quote from my own email reply: “The book isn’t about voodoo or mental illness or even about the madness of the internet crowd. It isn’t even about Marieke and Miles and Mama Jay. It is about the relationship between fiction and reality. The central metaphor of the book is that a fictional character can become as real as a flesh-and-blood person. This is an emotional truth, of course. Who hasn’t experienced that? In Whisper, the metaphor is made real (that’s what paranormal and fantasy fiction do, they treat the metaphorical as if it were an actual thing.) In Whisper’s case, even the meta-metaphor is made real. It’s a work of fiction about a work of fiction coming to life. That, really, is what I was interested in. Miles’ fiction—particularly Wisteria’s diary—the reports on the web, even Stokes’ stories about James Randi are all stirring this same pot. For that reason, it’s absolutely essential that Whisper be fiction, not a real girl. That would completely undermine the metaphor.”

Of course, that metaphor didn’t work for Mimi, and I have no one but myself to blame for that. Assuming we really need someone to blame, which is arguable.

Okay, one more point. Mimi: “We never get a satisfying resolution, just a hook-up with the professor. Okay, I guess the gris-gris around her neck is the resolution. Marieka has caved. She is a convert to tinfoil-hat beliefs, is now generating her own delusions. It’s either that or a mass-hypnosis situation. A buy-in is the easiest, neatest option.”

And that, I guess, was a swing and a miss on my part. Marieke’s gris-gris never smacked of tin-foil hat conversion to me, partly because I don’t regard voodoo as any more delusional than most of your standard religions, but also because Marieke’s appropriation of one of its trappings doesn’t necessarily make her a believer. In her own private way, she’s trying to deal with what she has seen and experienced. If I were to sort it out (and no, I never did, because it seemed perfectly natural to me) I’d say she wears it out of respect for Whisper, and maybe for Mama Jay as well. But if that didn’t come across to Mimi, then perhaps I could’ve done better. But people who go to my books looking for satisfying resolutions are probably going to be disappointed. Emotionally satisfying? Well, I hope so. But plot-resolution satisfaction? Not always one of my priorities.

And, perhaps, this just wasn’t going to be Mimi’s cup of tea, no matter how well I prepared and presented it. Near the end of her email she apologized for “being anal about making sense” and that, may be the crux of our failure to connect. There are things about Whisper Blue that don’t make perfect sense. That’s not an accident, it’s a choice. Paranormal fiction appeals to those of us who like floating in that shadow realm between the real and the other. We are drawn to those uncanny lands, where the various layers of reality rub up against other, twining about, until they become, maybe, interchangeable.

I can’t say whether I achieved that with Whisper Blue, but if you want to find out for yourself, it is available at Amazon,  Kobo,  Barnes and Noble, other places as well. I think it’s good, but I’m open to discussion.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Literary Agents, Research, Stories, writing technique

A Path

Lots of great ideas here but they are only ideas unless we put the time, effort & sometimes money into them to make them happen. Take the idea of WritersCo-op.com becoming a kind of wiki created by writers who have something to offer other writers. That would take time, effort & eventually, money.

Time, first. Members can keep posting articles until we have enough to seed a wiki. Then effort. I think I can find writers to create a wiki but that must be done. And we’d probably have to pay a server host to maintain our site online. I’ve set up websites since 1998 and I know we could find a home on the ‘Net for our wiki at a cost we’d be happy with.

The beauty of this path is that we do not have to decide right now. We can keep on blogging as we are doing.
When we have enough blogs, or articles, we can consider turning the site into a wiki.
If we end up with a wiki, we’ll figure out a way to fund it.

We can become a site where any writer could log on and find information on just about anything they are looking for regarding writing – from creating stories, to practical working advice, to shopping for agents, working with an editor, the publishing process, marketing tips – all on one website created by other writers:
The WritersCo-op Wiki.

What do you think?

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