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 www.strictlywriting.blogspot.co.uk, 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:
http://strictlywriting.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/things-i-never-expected-about-becoming.html

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 co.uk 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

Perhaps...you're a writer?


Perhaps...you'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!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A Numbers Game


Safety in numbers?

I love the poetry of numbers, and the certainty. Two minuses added together (or multiplied) result in a positive number. Prime numbers conform to agreed rules - although I have read fierce debates over the inclusion of 1 and 2. And that 'adding up to 9' rule is very handy when it comes to Countdown. If there is a language of the Gods it's probably mathematics.

The only Freddie the Fly in the ointment is that the world of numbers can also be random. Algorithm generation, statistics and data analysis (weather forecasts, anyone?) - to name but three examples - serve to remind us that the dependability of mathematics doesn't always translate to predictability in daily life.

My fascination with numbers found new ground after my debut thriller, Standpoint, was published by Joffe Books. Because it was an ebook (now also available as a paperback on Amazon - just sayin'), with a low price point, business has apparently been swift at times. It's human nature to want to see or impose order on the chaos of the world, especially when there's something important at stake. Consequently, there is a tendency to see situations as static rather than fluid. 

I watched with gratitude as, once a special offer free period had expired, the rankings (and therefore the sales.) improved significantly. Before then, my book climbed the rankings of the Free on Kindle league table, amassing over 20,000 free downloads. Once the book reverted to its original price sales flourished. In a relatively short period of time Standpoint was No 1 in all three of its categories: International Mystery & Crime, Espionage, and Spy Stories. 

It didn't last forever though, partly because it's hard to maintain that level of new readers and partly because the mysterious metrics and measures Kindle uses (believe me, I have tried to find something useful to share with you on that score) also compares your sales against those of other books in the same category/ies. You can still be doing well, only others are doing better.

Then there are the reviews. Ideally, a healthy percentage of those 20,000 downloads will result in Amazon reviews. However, not everyone who downloads a book reads it straight away. Also, not everyone who downloads and reads an ebook feels strongly enough about it to leave a comment. The negative reviews may or may not be useful to you. (I maintain that if they have cogent points then they're still useful, even if you vehemently disagree with them.) Still, relevant and accurate or not, each review contributes to your average score, which is all some people need to decide if they're going to become a reader of your work. Positive reviews are no less tricky. Some people prefer not to give anything five stars, while comments such as 'nice' tell the would-be reader nothing at all and may even infer that the reviewer couldn't find anything more positive to say about the book.

When it comes to social media, numbers are all important. Every FB share or retweet or favourite is potentially a whole new community being made aware of your work. The greater the reach and the greater the diversity, the more opportunities there are to entice new readers. One friend of mine - hello, Sarah Campbell - went beyond the call and put a classified ad in an online staff magazine about my books. That's what I call brand loyalty!

Zen and the art of social media

1. What is the sound of one tweet repeating? 

2. If a Facebook post about a new book is only read by one person, in a forest, does it make a sound? (Certainly not a splash.)


Is it possible to beat the house and play the game when it comes to book promotion?

My experience suggests that certain things can give you a competitive advantage in the short term. One thing you can't predict is context. Write a novel about orangutans and you might get some airplay based on the novelty (no pun intended, this time) of the subject. But if the book is launched at the same time that a tabloid runs a front page story about Oscar the orangutan, and his uncanny ability to play Chopin on the piano, the odds are in your favour.

Perhaps, in the end, the writer's certainty lies not in numbers but in words. The better we write, and the better we edit, the greater the likelihood that an agent or publisher will take an interest. Or, that our feedback will give us the confidence to take the plunge and self-publish.

Yes, there are thousands, possibly millions of writers out there, ready to ply their trade. In the end though, you're only interested in one.


Standpoint



Line of Sight