Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lessons Learned From TV Land Which Every Writer Should Know!

Hi Guys,

As a writer I am an avid tv watcher - usually when I should be writing! And in point of fact as I sit and struggle with the endless continuity problems involved in writing Mage, I have found myself watching a lot of the idiot box lately. There comes a point at which the thought of going back to a book I closed four years ago and promptly forgot about, just to fact check one tiny piece of information, becomes unbearable. A point at which I would rather hit the remote control and watch anything other than write another line.
There is a lesson here to be learned my fellow writers. Or actually two. The first is obviously don't start writing a sequel four years later - the pain of maintaining continuity between the old book which you've completely forgotten about and the new one, is not worth it. The second lesson for those who like me keep a companion document with all the facts and details about the book I'm writing, is of course, don't lose that damned document. It is so much easier to go through a companion document than to do endless word searches through an entire novel.
However, that's my pain at the moment, and completely a problem of my own making. I accept that, just as I accept that by the time Mage is completed I will in all probability have pulled out all my hair and may well have started on the cat!
But on the positive side, all this tv watching lately, has been useful. It has reminded me that there is wisdom in tv land. Great wisdom - and some of it even affects authors. So here - also in part because I can't stand the thought of doing any more word searches through Maverick tonight - I have pulled together a few of the most important lessons I've learned lately. Lessons that I believe we should all take to heart!

Lessons Learned From TV Land:
1 Never piss off a serial killer! Enough said I think. Not sure if this has any relevance to writers save of course for the obvious - don't write unflattering things about these people!
2 There is a subset of human beings who are literally too stupid to live. We call them reporters. These people will literally go out at night, unarmed and without any allies to meet strangers in dark parking garages when they know the people they are supposedly going to meet could be dangerous. And even within this subset there is another subset who are not only too stupid to live, but think its a virtue. We call them plucky female reporters! So the lesson for writers? Don't take up reporting as it's clear it will have a detrimental effect upon both your IQ and your life expectancy!
3 Writers are cursed. I call this Greg's law of Sodding Synchronicity. But whatever you want to call it it is a fact that in any tv series where there is a writer he will always end up at some point being attacked by whatever he writes about. If he writes about vampires, he will suffer a vampire attack. If he writes about werewolves, werewolves will attack him. Crime writers will always end up at some point embroiled in some sort of true crime – often a murder. And so on. The lesson for writers? Either write about pink fluffy bunnies or brace yourself for the consequences!
4 Never stand near the captain or other important members of a cast or crew. If possible don't even be in the same episode. The chances of suffering a horrible death increase exponentially as your rank decreases. And if you don't have a full name, you're doomed. The chances are crewman number five that you're going to die. The lesson for writers? Yeah I don't think there is one – it's just fascinating!
5 Time travel always happens. In any series once it passes a certain number of seasons, you will encounter a time traveller. It cannot be avoided. And said traveller will of course vanish leaving the main characters without evidence and scratching their heads. At much the same time Father Christmas will also appear and then vanish. So the lesson for writers? Expect strange visitors!

6 There are certain people in the world who thanks to their advanced hacking skills will be able to build a neutron bomb from duct tape and paper clips or carry out brain surgery by reading a few books. The lesson for writers? Get to know them – they may also be clever enough to be able to programme the damned dvd player!
Anyway, those are just a few of the lessons I've gleaned lately from the idiot box. No doubt more will follow in time as my hair thins and the cat heads for the hills!
Cheers, Greg.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Maverick to Mage - The Pain of Sequels

Hi Guys,

New topic this time, and the title says it all. Yes Maverick, three years after I published and put it away, is getting a sequel - Mage.
It's a long way from anywhere at the moment, with maybe 40k written. And as yet I don't know where it will end up. I've only got to the beginning which is set up five years after the events in Maverick ended. But I am excited about it. So excited that as you can see I've done a rough draft of a cover for it.
I'm also pulling my hair out over it! 2015 may be the year I finally go bald!
2014 has been a funny year so far. As those who read my posts or my books will know, I don't write series. I generally write stories with a simple beginning and an end. It's not for ideological reasons or because I have any particular objection to series. (Actually I'd quite like to write a series since they sell better!) It's simply the way my somewhat fossilized brain works. But this year I've started three follow up books. The first is to Doorways, a book which at this stage has only the working title - Doorways II. (Original I know!) Then a month or so ago I completed The Godlost Land, and immediately found myself starting its sequel - Pluto Rising. And now Mage has finally started to be written.
Where it will go I don't know. I never do. Nor do I have any idea how long it will take to write. As you may have gathered by now - I can never write just one book at a time.
Sadly this is the curse of being a pantster - a writer who writes by the seat of his pants rather than planning and plotting. I probably have more unfinished novels on my computer than any other writer in creation. And though it hurts to admit it, some of them are very close to completion. The Arcanist for example - my first venture into steampunk has forty something chapters written and only needs another five or six - essentially the end of the book. But unfortunately each time I return to it - and it is years old - I keep writing, rewriting, refining and revising those first forty some chapters and then can't work out how the book ends.
With Mage however, I have a different problem. I know the direction of the story. But the details elude me. It is one giant continuity puzzle. Last night for example I spent half an hour rereading Maverick, skimming through endless references to one character, just to find out what her hair colour is. Then I had to run through my old notes looking for distances in leagues between destinations. Let this be a warning to others - never simply start writing a sequel three years after finishing the first book! (If only I could listen to my own advice!)
But at least to all those who have sent me emails about when sequels will be written to various of my books, I can honestly say now that some are on the drawing board. And I'm hopeful that some will be finished next year.
Cheers, Greg,

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cyber Bullying and Reviews

Hi Guys,

New topic this time, and one that veers a little from my previous posts about handling reviews. This one concerns cyber bullying, a scourge on the web, and a crime in my view that has been engaged in by one writer / reviewer according to sources.

A couple of days ago Laura J Mixon posted the results of her investigation into the activities of sci fi writer Benjanun Sriduangkaew who has been posting reviews of other authors' works under a variety of pseudonyms including; Requires Hate, Winterfox, pyrofennec, acrackedmoon and others. Reviews that if she is correct, have amounted to a campaign of cyber bullying, including insults, harassment and exortions of violence.

Now I have no knowledge of this author or any of the avatars mentioned. Nor have I personally been aware of any of these attacks. If you want details I would suggest (strongly) that you go to the source: http://laurajmixon.com/2014/11/a-report-on-damage-done-by-one-individual-under-several-names/

However this post is not about these incidents in particular, disgraceful as they are and shameful to the entire science fiction and fantasy community. It is about the more general issue of bullying, and in particular on line bullying.

Now as published authors we all are subject to receiving reviews that are not particularly flattering of our work. And that can be hurtful. I speak from experience. But it is not bullying and it is simply part and parcel of having put our work out there to be judged. It is the right of everyone who reads your work to have an opinion about it and publish that opinion. And it is the responsibility of authors to develop a thick skin as they say, and deal with it.

However there are lines which should not be crossed, and which when they are crossed should be responded to. And here I do not mean by engaging with the reviewer. That is still a no win situation at best, and in the case where cyber bullying has occurred, probably a lose, lose situation. (A basic rule of bullying of all forms is that the bullies get a kick out of seeing your fear. Ignore them and they usually go away.)

So what are those lines?

First, when the reviewer moves on from the review of the work to attacking the author personally, through insults etc. This may be serious or not. It may be taken to heart by those receiving the review or not. Everyone is different in how they will react to these sorts of things.

My general response will be to remember the golden rule. An insult reflects more upon the person giving it than the one receiving it. And my response to it will vary. Mostly it will be nothing - because lets be honest these things are usually minor and wasting a single second of my time worrying about someone who cannot control their fingers is basically wasting my time. I don't care about such people and I have more important things to waste my time on. But at the other end if the insults are particularly egregious, I may refer them to the moderators of whatever forum it's in and ask for the posts to be removed. I will not engage directly with the reviewer because I have no wish to reward him or her in any way.

For those worried about the effect that such posts / reviews will have on their sales, my thought is that I trust most readers to be unswayed by such things. Readers are not stupid.

However, there comes a point where another line is crossed, and that is where threats are made. And here I cannot say this strongly enough, NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO THREATEN YOU!

In this case should it happen, my policy - and I would hope everyone else's policy - will be to report the poster to the police. I am an adult. I assume the poster is an adult. And every adult should know that threats of violence are both unacceptable and a crime. And the number one reason that people get away with crimes is that others don't report them. Bullies on line or in the real world, should not be allowed to get away with their behaviour.

But more than this, bullying is a scourge on society that should be wiped out. If I and everyone else in the on line community, stands behind this simple set of rules, cyber bullying will be if not wiped out then at least cut back.

The one thing I can say with certainty from having read Laura's blog, is that this particular cyber bully would have been stopped long ago if people had acted instead of doing nothing.

Because bullies are capable of learning. And the lesson they should be learning is that their behaviour will not be tolerated. They will get no emotional pay off for their actions. And if they go too far they will find themselves in trouble with the law. No reward, punishment for bad behaviour - this is classical operant conditioning at work. And if pigeons can learn from this sort of conditioning, so can bullies.

One last comment - and I know that some who have received this sort of abuse and threatening behaviour will find it hard to accept. Cyber bullies are toothless for the most part. They can threaten anything. But most of them can do nothing to back up their threats. So though it may be hard to do, stand up for yourselves. Laugh at them - not on line of course - and think of them instead of as being big and scary, as pathetic.

And report them.

In conclusion I'd also like to commend Laura J Mixon for carrying out this investigation and reporting it.

Cheers, Greg.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Authors Behaving Badly

Hi Guys,

OK this one tickled my funny bone a little. The story of an author so incensed by a bad review that she started stalking the reviewer! And the article is well written and suitably funny in places (by said author), which makes it a good read and lends sympathy to the author's point of view even when she agrees she's done wrong. But she has most definitely done wrong.

However my post here is not about this case specifically. It's more about the nature of reviews and how as authors we should deal with them.

Now first I wholeheartedly agree with the phrase that as an author "your book is your baby". It is. Speaking personally you as an author put everything you have into your work. You love it, agonise over it, hate it at times. And what you come out with at the end is absolutely your creation. It is impossible for most of us I would guess, not to feel a little emotional when you finally have that book in your hand. Not to feel a little like a parent who has just suffered through a difficult birth.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's natural and completely understandable. And as any new mother would tell you, you insult her baby you can expect a reaction. But in the case of authors and their books, that reaction is a problem. Here's why.
1 It's Not Your Review:
First, and this cannot be repeated often enough, reviews are not done for you the author. I know. It's your book, you feel possessive, but the reviewer was not writing to you. He was not writing to tell you how good or bad your book was. He's writing to other readers. Offering them his opinion. Whether his opinion is good or bad, it's not for you.
2 Publishing Is Not Writing:
In this sense a book is not at all like a baby. When a mother has a baby she does it for any number of reasons - but they are her own personal reasons. The same as when an author writes a book. He loves the story, he wants to enjoy the creation of it etc. But when you publish a book, you do it for an entirely different reason. You put it out there for others - readers - to read. Mothers do not publish their babies. (Of course I could say something here about those mothers who put their babies into pageants at such a young age - but that would be another story entirely.)

The point is that you - you sad sad fool - published it! You put it out there to be read. You might have wanted everyone who read it to love it, but that's not possible. Every book no matter how good, will be hated by some. And every author assuming they sell their book, must expect some bad reviews. And you put it out there. You said please read this. And then when someone comes back having read it and deciding that they don't like it says as much, you think you can truly get upset?
Bottom line. If you didn't want to face the danger / hurt of bad reviews, you wouldn't have published it. If you published it well you just have to suck it up.
3 It's Opinion:
Yes I know it's hurtful. But the reality is that everyone has their own opinions and some are not flattering. I personally hate peanut butter. I consider it once step removed from sewage. So if someone produces a new peanut butter and asks for my opinion of it, my opinion will be that it's awful. I don't even need to taste it to know that. Does that make my opinion right? Only for me. But the important thing is that it's an honest opinion. You can't get upset with me for honestly hating something can you? The sad fact is that I'm entitled to my opinion and so is everyone else.
4 You Aren't Going To Win:
This is the often overlooked in anger and pain rule of life. Very few authors are ever going to win by responding to their reviewers. A reviewer loves or hates your book. It doesn't matter whether the review was unfair or not. You aren't going to change his mind. What you are going to do if you respond to a negative review, is create hostility. And there are very few cases where hostility will help. What you may well do is give other readers reason to dislike you as an author, and colour their view of your work.
5 It's Not The End Of The World:
A bad review may hurt your sales or not. It may make you feel miserable. But if you believe in your work then you have to believe the good reviews that will come in, will more than make up for the few bad ones. And strangely, sometimes a bad review can help your sales.
Decried as one of the world's worst authors, Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860 - 1939) was lampooned by critics and other authors alike. The Oxford Literary group the Inklings, used to hold contests to see who could read her work the longest without cracking up. One described her work as literary diarrhoea. And her work did not sell in huge volumes.
Yet here we are, over a hundred years after some of her books were published, discussing them and even holding retrospectives of them, while her works are held in the Belfast Public Library and one of her books is still in print. Why? Because of the negative reviews.
So bottom line when someone gives your precious baby a bad review - Do Not Engage!
Cheers, Greg

Monday, 22 September 2014

How to Script an Election

Hi Guys,

Well the big news this week from New Zealand is that we had our general elections on the weekend, and the National Party romped home while almost every other party lost ground. This despite the fact that the National Party has been in power for six years and this would be its third term - and the normal cycle is that parties in their third term lose support. In fact this surprising turn of events we are told by the people who take note of these sorts of things, has happened only once in the last century.
So how did this happen?
Well my take as an author is probably a little bit different to that of the media, who are busy portraying the left as having run a dismal election campaign - and I should at this point declare myself as a Green voter - which places me squarely on the left of the political spectrum. And to be fair I do think the campaign from Labour - the main opposition party - was on the boring side. Maybe they didn't have enough money to produce slick advertising, or maybe originality deserted them, but there is no doubt that their campaign was flat.
But there was far more at work here then just that in my view. This was an election that was completely overshadowed by a popularity contest. The Prime Minister versus a German Millionaire who doesn't want to be extradited to the US for trial. (I won't mention his name since he ran a website where people could pirate and post artistic creations and thus is far from my favourite person as an author.) And reading from the Castle playbook of crime solving (I love that show!) I looked for an answer by asking the question - what would make a good story?
Now so far what I've laid out is I think fairly uncontroversial. But it occurs to me that one way to boost your popularity if you're desperate to gain a third term and the numbers aren't looking so good, is to reframe the debate. Housing prices going through the roof? The gap between rich and poor growing greater? Don't have enough money to offer tax cuts as the right always seems to want to? Then don't run a debate on the issues. Your numbers will be hurt.
But instead when you have a popular Prime Minister - and I can take nothing away from John Key in terms of being a popular political figure - make it a battle for credibility. So bring an enemy (sort of) from out of left field. Let him build a political party and campaign out of a single political agenda - to get rid of John Key. Let him just before the election take a huge personal swing at the Prime Minister through a dubious email which he can't seem to back up. And then let him miss. Miss so horribly that it looks to the entire country as though he never had anything at all. Just hatred.
And there you have an election won and lost in my view.
The voters on the centre and right side of the electorate are incensed. Their hero / everyman has been maligned for all to see. So he and by extension his party gets a massive protest vote. Not because of a massive swing to the right - though that's effectively what it looks like. But because John Key has been made out to be an innocent under unfair attack. So he has to be supported. The left are tarred with the failure and perceived malicious attacks on the person of John Key, while at the same time their campaigns on the issues have been completely overshadowed by personal politics. So many of them stay home instead of voting for what they believe in and the left vote collapses.
Is this what happened? More or less in my view. But the real question is, was it planned? I personally don't know. I'm not privy to the secrets of the various political machines. But it feels right. Horribly right. It feels as though we - by which I mean the New Zealand voting public - have been played.
And as I sit here with the taste of bile in my mouth - yes I freely admit it -  I look to some of the other things that happened that shaped this election and wonder. For example another right leaning political party, the Conservatives, who were trending towards the five percent threshold and had they crossed it would have been in parliament and would have prevented National from being able to govern alone, had a melt down two days before the election. The leader's press secretary resigned declaring that the leader was manipulative. And immediately the Conservatives who National would not have wanted in parliament, lost votes. Instead of five percent and maybe six or seven seats, they got four point one percent of the vote, and no seats. Coincidence? Again I don't know. But from the Castle school of investigation it looks damned convenient.
So how do we find out? I don't know. I'd guess we could look at the futures of the two players who seem to have delivered an election between them to National. Do things coincidentally come up rosy for them? And maybe someone will investigate - it won't be me. I'll just sit in my home and write my books and feel as though I've been played like everyone else.
But maybe Nicky Hager you have your next book waiting for you here. Dirty Politics Two. A book of which even Machiavelli would be proud. At least one author seems to have done well out of this campaign.
Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Self-confidence, Fear and Writers

Hi Guys,
Bit of a delay between my last post and this one - apologies for that, but I simply didn't really have much to write about.
However, yesterday I was responding to a post on a writing forum and realised that I did have something to blog about. The importance of self-confidence to writers, and particularly writers who haven't yet published.
You will recall that I have previously talked how important it is to a writer to actually publish. It is what will turn a writer not just into an author, but also a better writer. And a lack of confidence is what will turn a writer into a never was. Sorry for the harshness of that - but I believe it to be true. As a writer these days, the single biggest barrier to becoming a better writer you face in these days of self publishing, is yourself.
Too many authors - and a lot of you will recall that I have previously harped on about the lies author's tell themselves as they go through the submissions process - allow themselves to be held back by insecurity. All those lies writers tell themselves about why their work was never picked up by an agent, are a form of insecurity. And they are destructive to a writing career - even more so than rejection.
You can get over rejection. You can survive bad reviews. You can improve your writing by receiving harsh criticism. And in fact these things are all in their own way, a part of growth of an author. But if you can't get past the fear of these things, you are doomed. You will never become the writer you could be. And it is fear that I believe holds so many back.
Fear comes in many forms. It lives in doubt - about you, your writing ability, the quality of your work. It lives in the trade publishing world of submissions to agents and publishers. And it absolutely thrives in the self criticism authors constantly subject their own work to. And while yes - it can be a valuable tool in improving your work - if you let it become your master it will destroy any chance you have of becoming an author.
This is why I say the trade publishing route to writing success is so limited. It's not just in the lies writers tell themselves about why they never heard back from an agent. It's in the process itself. It is a trap for so many. An endless trap. A cycle of fear and inadequacy that will cripple many. And the cycle runs like this:
You write your book, you submit it, you hear nothing back, and you assume that you heard nothing back because the work was not up to standard. So then you rewrite, you improve out of sight so you believe, and you submit again, and you hear nothing back. Which means that your work is not up to standard. So you rewrite and submit. Endlessly. And then some day, five years, ten years down the track, you just give up.
This is what's called a vicious cycle, and each repeat of it destroys self-confidence. But worse than that it's also a strangely comforting process. A rut a writer can find a place to call home in. Because in going through this cycle a writer learns that - yes - he can survive not hearing back from agents. Yes, he can survive getting the occasional rejection letter. But he never has to expose himself to the even harsher world of publishing and reviews etc. You can learn to like your rut.
This is why I say to all of you who have yet to publish - you must publish. You can choose to self publish, or you can throw your hat into the ring and hope to be picked up by an agent. But in the latter case you must set yourself a deadline. It may be a period of time - say a year. Or a set number of submissions to agents. But whatever it is, stick to it. And then at the end if you have not been picked up, bite the bullet and publish your work yourself.
Yes it's scary, and it's hard. Yes there is a lot to learn. Yes it can be brutal. Yes you will make mistakes and be picked up on them. And yes those first few one star reviews will make you wish you'd chopped your fingers off instead of letting them touch a keyboard. But if you do it, you will discover that you can get through this. And you can write. And you can become an author. And you can become the best writer you can be.
Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Amazon versus Hachette - I Don't Have a Pony in This Fight!

Hi Guys,
Well the big news today - at least for us indies on KDP, is that Amazon sent us an email asking us to get involved in their dispute with Hachette - if only by sending the CEO a letter.
I have to admit that when I saw the email from Amazon I was shocked. It was something completely out of the blue, and equally unlike anything they've sent before. For a while I did actually wonder if it was a hack. However, after reading fourteen pages of comments about this same letter on Kindle Boards from other KDP authors, and also having waited a day without a retraction from Amazon, I have to assume that it is genuine.
So here it is in all its unvarnished glory:
Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99.. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

Sorry for the lengthy cut and paste but I didn't want to be unfair to anyone by cherry picking sections.
And my response? I will not be sending an email to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch.
It's not that I don't agree with Amazon's stand on the issue. I actually do for the most part. It's that as the title says - I don't have a dog in this race or a pony in this fight.
Look, my view is that I am both an author and a publisher - indie of course. And as such I am deeply grateful for what Amazon has done for me in making it possible for me to publish and sell my work. I owe them for that. But at the same time I recognise that this was not done out of charity. It was a business decision and Amazon expects to make money out of it too.
As an author I naturally feel some sympathy for some of the other trade published authors being given poor returns through their work. However, I remind myself that they signed the contracts, and they accepted upfront lower royalties in return for other services such as marketing and exposure. It may have been a good deal or a poor one for them, I don't know. But it is their choice.
I also have some annoyance at being used in this way. Especially when one of the things Amazon asks for from Hachette is for them to stop using their authors as leverage and to leave them out of the dispute, and then does exactly the same thing.
I'm also a reader, and as a reader maybe I do have a dog in this race - a small terrier perhaps. Certainly not a big dog! As a reader I would like to see lower prices on some of the books I love. And it seems unreasonable to charge such high prices for ebooks. But at the same time as a competing publisher I have another terrier - running the opposite way. It's good for me as a publisher that some companies do appear to be over-charging since it makes the market less competitive for me.
So perhaps I do have two small dogs in this race, running in opposite directions. And as any student of modern math knows, two dogs running, one positive and one negative, adds up to one very confused hamster running around in his wheel going nowhere fast!
Which leads me to my position. I have no vested interest in this battle. I think on balance I prefer Amazon's side from a principled perspective. But at the same time I don't think it's right for Amazon to try and force publisher's prices down through coercive tactics. It is a free market after all, and if Hachette thinks they can sell lots of books at higher prices, that's their business decision.
So I will not be writing a letter to anyone on this matter - just blogging about it ad nauseum! My advice to other authors and indies is to do the same (plus or minus the blogging!).
Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Is This Wrong?

Hi Guys,

Well yes - this absolutely is! But it amused me and I'm told popes are quite forgiving people and maybe a few Hail Mary's could keep my toes out of the lakes of burning fire!
But more to the point I was thinking about questions that keep being asked on some of the writing fora about the do's and don'ts of writing these days. Can I do this? Or not? And it occurred to me once more, how drastically the writing scene has changed these past ten years. And how the rules have changed.
Six or seven days ago I published a new book - The Session - a short story about the devil going into therapy (I sense more Hail Mary's in my future!) and it struck me that what I was doing in publishing that story was a radical departure of what I could have done a decade ago. And it's not just because of the advent of self publishing. It's because of the rise of the e-book as well. I published a short story on its own - not as part of a collection or a magazine. Ten years ago that would have been impossible. It would also have been wrong. Because printers could not have been set up to produce 6k novels. The option of e-books makes this possible.
And as those of you who have read my books - especially the print editions - will know, my paragraph formating is not traditional either. I use either block formating - a clear line between one paragraph and the next, or sometimes block formating with a small indent as well. I also generally use a twelve point font. My reasoning is that it looks damned good (oh no - more Hail Mary's coming) on a page and it's clear. Maybe my eyes aren't quite as sharp as they once were - I don't know - but I value being able to read a book easily over saving a little bit of paper by producing a wall of indented text.
In one of my fora perhaps a month or so ago a poster asked if she could use vertical lettering in places and swapping fonts occasionally and so forth. And my answer to her was that if it adds to the book then yes. I can't imagine many traditional publishers going for this option, but we're no longer in the era of traditional publishing. We're in the era of self publishing and e-books.
So the thrust of my post is this:
If you're self publishing it's time to stop asking the questions - can I do something? Is it right? Because the answers are yes you can and right and wrong don't work the same way any more. There are no hard and fast rules about writing.
So instead of asking these questions the indie author should instead ask another question entirely: Does this work?
Remember as an indie you are the artist in charge. You write the book. You edit and format it. You decide on cover design and what have you. The power is in your hands. And the only people who can judge you are your readers. And that's how things should be in a free market.
Cheers, Greg.
(Off now to find out just what exactly is involved in saying a Hail Mary!)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Soul Crushing Lies Authors Tell Themselves When They Submit

Hi Guys,

New post this time, quite a bit different from what I normally write. This post is not about writing per se. It's about the submissions process. About putting your work out there, sending it off to agents, and then living in hope and fear as you wait for a response. It's about the myths and lies that authors believe about the submissions process. And mostly it's about not giving in to the dark demons that plague so many people and which can destroy an author.

Okay, submitting your work to an agent or a publisher is a difficult and sometimes harrowing process. In a very real way it's as though you are putting yourself out there, naked and in public, to be judged by others. And I would guess though as far as I know there are no statistics on it, it's the place where most authors give up and dreams die.

I can't stop that. I can't tell all you new and hopeful authors out there that you have a future. That your work is brilliant or terrible. But I can at least give you another perspective on the submissions process. A reality check if you like. And I'll do it by looking at the myths and lies that abound in people's thoughts about it. The ones that in one form or another seem to be rehashed on writing fora and elsewhere throughout the net.

So here it is - myth by myth.

Myth 1. If my work is good an agent will pick it up.

No. Absolutely do not ever believe this. This way lies the death of the soul. And it's a straight out lie. A big, fat porky. The truth is that your work might be picked up - but it is very unlikely. Agents are busy people. They are snowed under with manuscripts submitted to them. And they can only take a very few. Almost every author has a string of rejection letters for their work. I do. J.K. Rowling does. You are just one of five hundred others on their desks, and the chances are that at best they will read only a few paragraphs of your book before rejecting it.

Myth 2. If an agent doesn't pick up my book there must be a problem with it.

No! No! No! And a thousand times more, No! Do not ever assume this. We see this myth written in one form or another on every writing forum and in common conversation. And it usually goes something like - "well if I submitted my work to a dozen agents and heard nothing back, that tells me something."

No. It tells you precisely nothing. Your work could have a problem. It could be magnificent. You don't know. You have no way of knowing until someone gives you feedback. I mean if you played the same six numbers in a Lotto game all the time and won nothing would you assume that there was a problem with your numbers? No. You wouldn't I hope. Because if you did that would be a sign that you were a problem gambler.

The simple reality is as above. Agents are busy people. Maybe your work wasn't quite what they were looking for. Maybe they already had fifteen vampire romance novels on their desks. Maybe the writing style in the first two paragraphs simply didn't catch their interest. I don't know why they rejected your book. But the important thing is that you don't know either. You cannot assume that you do.

Myth 3. I know what's wrong with my book and why he rejected it.

No you don't. You might have an idea. But unless an agent actually took the trouble to send you a letter outlining what he thought any problems might be, then you are guessing. You don't know. You probably don't even have a clue. You are just guessing. And agents very rarely send these sorts of letters.

To give you my experience, when I was first doing the rounds in the early naughties with Thief I sent it off to maybe fifty agents. From them I would say I got perhaps twenty five rejections, and twenty five complete non answers. I did not get one single letter with words of advice. Now I don't blame agents for that. They're busy people and their job is not to be a writing coach. But it's important to realise that if they don't send you letters like that, you as the author are still sitting in the dark.

Myth 4. I can make my book better.

Maybe. But the one thing you can never do is make your book better so that it meets the expectations of an agent. Not when he didn't tell you what they were. Look you can join writing groups - I recommend it. You can discuss purple prose, passive voice, and the correct use of the apostrophe until you're blue in the face. And maybe you can improve the technical side of your writing. But you can't actually make you work so much better that the agent who rejected your book will say - that's what I want! Not when you don't know what he wanted.

Lets turn briefly from writing to acting for a second. And think about all those Hollywood actresses desperate for parts and willing to do anything. Willing to mutilate themselves with nose and boob jobs, oral surgery and whatever else, when they were all perfectly pretty to begin with. This is exactly the logic working through their minds when they go under the knife. I can make myself better. But there was never anything wrong with them to begin with. And it never seems to occur to them that the reason they didn't get the part wasn't because of them at all. It was because there were five hundred other actresses trying for the same part.

(Apologies here for perhaps being a little sexist in concentrating on women only. I'm sure men have exactly the same issues and do exactly the same stupid things.)

This of course leads us to the most damaging of all the myths. The one that destroys writers.

Myth 5. If I make my book better an agent will pick it up.

No! This is such bad thinking and on so many levels. First - see myth 4 - it assumes that you know why an agent didn't pick up your book in the first place, which unless he sent you a letter - you don't know. Second it assumes that there is a problem with your book - see myth 2. You don't know that either. And worst of all it contains the underlying assumption that you can make an agent do something. You can't. The power is not in your hands.

This is exactly the same poor logic that allows teenage girls to think "well maybe if I do my hair, smile a lot and stay close he'll love me." But they can't and their feelings get crushed. It's inevitable. Because it is completely out of anyones power to make a person love them. And it's completely out of anyones power to make an agent like your book. (Again apologies for the sexist stereotype. Boys do stupid things too to get girls to like them believing that the power is in their hands.)

Hugh Howey recently wrote that there is a false dichotomy between choosing to self publish and choosing to trade publish. And he's right. You as an author do not have that choice because you only have the power to do one of those things. Your choice is actually between choosing to self publish, and trying to get your work trade published.

Okay - enough ranting. My purpose in writing this post is to hopefully bring a little reality to the writing scene. To perhaps squash some of these myths a little. Because these myths are what destroy writers. They are what convince them to put away their books, lose confidence in their writing abilities and completely give up. And I don't know how many of those that do were brilliant writers who had a unique voice and a vision to share that would have enriched the world. Neither do they.

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Yes! The SFWA Wants Us! - Oh Wait A Minute Should That Be No?

Hi Guys,


Well the big news this week - the SFWA wants us! Well wants may be a strong word. They'd consider letting a few of us indies in the door if we can meet whatever standards they deem appropriate.

Now I don't want to sound bitter, and if they do eventually decide to allow some self publishers in and assuming I have sufficient sales or what have you to meet their standards, I will give the option serious thought. But it occurs to me that this is 2014, and they are a few years too late for many indies. Worse than that of course for them the indies who will I assume make the grade by selling however many tens of thousands of books, will probably be wondering the same thing I am - what's in it for me?

The prestige of belonging to an internationally known writers association? Well much as I hate to say it as of last year the SFWA found itself embroiled in a bitter controversy over sexism - and some of that prestige has gone, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on.

The connection to other well known trade published writers and other industry big wigs? Maybe, but at the same time it must be considered that many of the more successful indies already have those connections. And lets face it, if they can sell well as indies what exactly is the attraction of trade? Less money?

Legal advice? Yes, absolutely. But you still have to pay for it whether you're a member or not. So maybe on reflection that's actually a no. But the Grievance Committee sounds like it might be useful.

The emergency medical fund? It's not really on my radar at present and if one day I have to fly to the middle of nowhere and then become ill while there I'm sure I'll have arranged appropriate travel insurance first.

Their private discussion forums? Hmm? Since they're private I can't really comment as to what's on them. The secrets to the publishing universe perhaps? Their favourite chicken soup recipes? But there's an awful lot of public fora I can join and get I would guess, most of what's on them.

Look, at the end of the day I can't really advise anyone who's an indie sci fi / fantasy author which way to jump. That has to be up to each and every one of us. All I can do is say please do take a look at the site and be informed on the issue. Also leave a comment on their site. Let them at least know your thoughts.


And of course one other thing. Before jumping one way or the other ask yourself this question. What's in it for me? My view, four or five years ago there would have been a lot. Now, not so much. I think the ship has sailed and they've been left standing on the dock.

Cheers, and as always - be good or don't get caught!


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Villains - Sometimes We Don't Want To Understand Them!

Hi Guys,

Been doing a lot of writing lately, and the next book "The Godlost Land" is in the final stages of it's first draft.

I'm pleased with the way the book is going, and particularly with the way the bad guy - Terellion - has shaped up. He is a thorough going baddie which is what I wanted him to be. In fact to quote (or probably mis-quote) one of my favourite authors Harry Harrison, he is the perfect example of a complete freewheeling bastard!

All of which has set me to thinking about villains in general in writing. And of course how Terellion will fit in among them.

To give some background to my thinking on the subject, there has been a trend in recent years in a lot of genres to go for greater realism. Grimdark in fantasy and science fiction is an expression of this trend - the belief being that by making things somehow more horrible they will become more real. In my view this is a reaction to the unrealistic optimism, heroic victory tropes that dominated fantasy until the seventies. But also in my view grimdark is just as unrealistic as that which it replaces, and in some cases it can go too far. In science fiction the best example of this in my view would be the Gap series, by Stephen Donaldson, where the three main characters all go through cycles of being victims. And in fantasy I would argue that GRR Martin's Game of Thrones follows this same trope where all the heroes have feet of clay and the villains have reasons for doing what they do. (Except for Joffrey who is a truly horrible spoilt child king and needs to die a terrible death  in my view!)

As part of the entire movement towards grimdark and realism in the fantasy genres there has been one trend which has become particularly prevalent - the villain being another victim. Misunderstood and suffering from whatever trauma in his past, the reader is asked to "understand" and even empathise with the villain - because villains are real people too!

I understand this desire to humanise the villain, and to a certain extent I agree with it. After all in real life villains do usually have reasons for what they do. But it occurred to me as I was writing Terellion, that this is high fantasy. It isn't real life, it's escapism. And sometimes a villain should just be a villain - and preferably die a horrible death! Besides even in real life there are villains who simply are just villains. The mafia hit man Richard Kuklinski (the iceman) is a perfect example. He was a sociopath pure and simple. In every interview he gave it was clear that he never really understood the suffering of others.

So if in real life there are people like this, and if what I'm writing is pure escapism, why should my villain be more than just a sociopath?

That was the realisation that struck me as I wrote Terellion. Granted I gave him a back story to explain how he became what he did and explain his motivations, but at no stage did I as the writer want to "understand" him. I didn't want to sympathise with him. And while some readers may find my choice challenging in the face of modern grimdark fantasy which seems to be all over the book shelves, I'm happy with it.

I hope you will be too.

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Angels On My Keypad

Hi Guys,

Original photo is 9 of 365 Frustration taken by Tanya Little.

Have just completed the second line edit of The Nephilim and thought I'd take a little time out to talk a little about the book. Or not so much the book, as a couple of aspects about it. Specifically angels and how I've represented them in this work.

Now those of you who've read some of my other works touching on angels, will know that I've used a couple of different conceptions of the Choir.

In Thief my angel Sherial was a creature completely in keeping with the modern interpretation of angels - basically a creature of love. This is of course in line with modern Christian doctrine (well some of it) and essentially New Testament. And in writing Sherial's character I was trying to answer some of the obvious questions that arise from having angels like this. Things like if angels are purely creatures of love how do they battle darkness in whatever form it might exist? Are they accessible to people in the way that people are to one another? Or are they completely beyond human understanding?

When it came to Guinea Pig I decided on using a more human variation of angels. Essentially angels being a lot like us with the ability to choose good and evil. This is in keeping to an extent with the Old Testament, given that in it angels did fall, suggesting that they had some form of free will, and it had the advantage of making them far more accessible to people.

Now in The Nephilim I have taken the conception of angels even further into the territory of the Old Testament. I've taken away the modern concept of creatures of love and replaced it with one of obedience. Note that I'm not saying that they don't have these sorts of emotions, just that their overriding character is that of obedience to God. Now for those of you familiar with your Bible you'll know that angels knocked down the walls of Jericho, locked Adam and Eve out of the Garden and carried the plagues of Egypt. In short they did what they were told regardless of whether it was carrying the word of God or destroying civilisations.

This of course gave me a whole new world of angels for my characters to interact with, which was sort of the point. It is this tension between the characters who have human needs and wants and the Choir who have only rigid obedience to the rules given to them that drives much of the emotion and plot of the story. It's what creates the frustration of my characters in dealing with the Choir. (I think anyone who's ever had to work his or her way painfully through complex tax returns will understand a little of what it's like to deal with rules that seem both somewhat arbitrary and at the same time unduly harsh.)

As for my characters, I chose the nephilim because they have always struck me as being in a strange no mans land between humans and angels. Given some of the power of angels - in the Old Testament they were described as giants and mighty warriors - while at the same time having the free will of humans. In the best of all possible worlds (for them) they would have become kings. But of course I chose the other option - the worst of all possible worlds where their powers are limited and they may have free will but aren't allowed to use it. In this world of course instead of being able to make themselves kings they instead have a basic struggle to survive, worrying always about being discovered by the humans or breaking a divine rule and being punished for it.

I think in the end that's one of the things I love about writing angels. They can come in such diverse forms that it's often hard for them to be pigeon holed. Whereas when I write about elves in my high fantasy works, I often find my creations tied far more to the established tropes. It's easier to be creative with the Choir.

Cheers, Greg.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Best Book You Will Ever Read To Make You A Better Writer

Hi Guys,

I'm deep in the cycle of editing at the moment - and grateful that my hair is so short - it makes it harder to pull out! The Nephilim is going through its first edit at present, and will hopefully be published by the end of the month.

The cover image was taken from a photo in the wiki commons under a creative commons attribution share alike licence. The original photo is titled 9 of 365 - Frustration, by Tanya Little. It's been modified somewhat to reduce the biographic accuracy and concentrate on the angst and moodiness of the image.

Anyway while going through the editing process (a lot of which consists of sitting around waiting for copy to come back and fielding abusive phone calls from my editor) I spent some time going through my various writing fora and came across the above question. What is the best book you will ever read to improve your writing?

Now this is not a new question. Anyone who's been interested in writing will have seen it fielded in probably a hundred different guises by now. Everything from "I've just read book x,y,z by author a,b,c and it was great - what do you think?" to "Where can I find a good writing guide?" And usually I ignore these threads and move on. However this time for reasons probably most closely related to synchronicity - I read on. And as I read I knew the answer.

It's not any book on writing at all. There are a great many good books out there which all promise to give guidance on the topic, and only some of which I've read. But without exception I can say that none of them are the best. Many will talk about rules and guidelines. Many will point out common mistakes authors make when starting out. But in the end there is always one book that will help you as an author far more than any other. The book you're writing.

This may sound trite and flippant. It's probably both. But unfortunately it's also completely true. And it's important that writers understand this. The best way, probably the only true way, to become a better writer is to write. But I'll go further than that. To write and get feedback. (Now you see where the synchronicity comes in!)

There is no one great secret to writing. There is only hard work, a bit of talent, a lot of passion and criticism. And the process is simple - often simply painful, but still simple. It's this.

Write. Read what you write, rewrite it and keep going and going and going until you're finally satisfied that you can't go any further on your own. Then hit the critic groups and beta readers. Put out sample chapters etc and get feedback. As much as you can get. It may hurt and there is a reason that authors do need thick skins, but nothing else will help you as much in becoming a better writer. Then go back to the writing board, decide which of the criticism you think is valid, and rewrite. After that more critics of what you've rewritten, and more rewriting.

Then the truly painful stage, editing as someone good tears your work to pieces. It has to be done. So get it edited, then go through the process of rewriting it again, remembering always that some of what even the most capable editor will tell you will not fit with your voice or your vision. So edit and re-edit until finally you've reached the final stage. Publishing. Here's where the pain goes ballistic.

Publish - if you need help to put your book out as good copy with a good cover and blurb, get it. And then wait for reviews. Now you'd think that having gone through critics, beta readers and editing, your book would be beyond reproach. It isn't. You will get negative feedback. It's simply a fact of life. Your task as an author is to read it all and then ask yourself - is this right? Does it fit with my vision? Have I got something wrong? Remember readers can be just as wrong as you! But they can also be right.

And then write your next book, knowing that it too will be the best book you'll ever read that will make you a better writer.

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Lyn Shepherd / JK Rowling Argument

Hi Guys,

Recently a writer by the name of Lyn Shepherd wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled that if JK Rowling cared about writing she should stop doing it.

Now I don't know why she wrote this. Her thesis was that JK Rowling is so successful as an author that her books crowd the shelves and make it hard for other less well known authors to compete. Personally I find this argument incredibly weak, (I could use other words). And to me as an outsider it really does look like a case of sour grapes, or worse perhaps, a cynical marketing ploy to sell her own books through some negative PR of a successful author. However I don't know the woman and I could be completely mistaken.

Regardless of that my thought on the thrust of the article is that it's completely wrong. We as writers and authors should applaud those who are successful in the industry, and perhaps JK Rowling most of all. Maybe it's fine to feel a little envious, it's only human after all, but in the end I believe these authors do more to help the less successful authors than they could ever do to harm them. JK Rowling is a case in point.

Her Harry Potter books are widely credited as having revived a flagging genre - fantasy, as having brought people back to reading, and even as having helped with encouraging children to read. And this phenomenon has been studied by some accredited researchers: http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue10/Literacy

So my view is that if JK Rowling puts out a new book say once a year and knocks a few other big named authors from their top perches, it doesn't really bother me. It's just part and parcel of working in a competitive industry. If on the other hand her books inspire children to read and bring people away from their tv screens to read fantasy, that is an awesome thing. It can only be good for the children, and for the rest of us authors as well.

So I say good on JK, and write, write, write!

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Anne Rice's Petition To Amazon Against Anonymous Reviews - Why I Won't Sign.

Hi Guys,

Recently as many of you will be aware, Anne Rice, acting as a spokesperson for a number of authors on Amazon, posted about a petition they were putting out. A petition asking Amazon to stop the practice of reviews being posted as anonymous.

The reasons for this were mainly that anonymity allowed for posters to post reviews that were in some cases unfair, occasionally sock puppets designed to drive up (or down) book sales, often misdirected against the author instead of the work, and in too many cases actually threatening violence.

Look, I have respect as an author and a reader for Anne Rice's work. I have most of her Vampire novels on my shelves. And as an author also on Amazon who has taken a few hits from readers - some of which I regard as unfair - I have a fair degree of sympathy for the situation she describes. That being said, I will not sign the petition.

My reasoning is that anonymous reviews are simply part and parcel of the publishing world, and that to restrict the practice would be to restrict readers from having their say. Many readers would not post reviews if they had to use their own names, and I believe that most of them would not be those posting these unfair and sometimes threatening reviews. In the end we are talking about only a few reviewers who post inflammatory reviews under the guise of anonymity, but to take the action of stopping anonymous reviews is to punish everyone for their actions. That's unfair.

In my view the correct action is to directly target those who do post these reviews, and the way to do this is to ask Amazon to more strictly enforce their TOS. As part of that I would suggest the following:

First threats of violence. We live in a civilised world and there is absolutely no place for violence and threats. If someone were to come up to me in the street and threaten me, my response would be to go to the police. And if the medium has changed so that instead of a street it's on the Internet, the response should be the same.

Next reviews that can't seem to separate the work from the writer and end up in personal attacks. Look this again is a violation of Amazon's TOS. They should be reported and taken down as quickly as they go up. And if a particular reviewer seems incapable of avoiding the same mistakes repeatedly, they should be prevented from posting more reviews until they can.

Then the sock puppets. This is a complex problem and it actually occurs on both sides. Some sock puppets are actual attempts to drive up the rating and hence appeal of books. Others are by disgruntled readers who are so upset with a work that they believe just saying it once is not enough so they'll use multiple Amazon accounts and identities. In both cases this is a violation of the TOS and should be stopped. I understand that people on both sides feel passionately about various books, but in the end it's not about that. It's about having your fair say. And that generally means one review per person. Why should I or anyone else have more say than others simply because I have the skills to create multiple Amazon accounts etc? Why is my opinion more valuable than that of anyone else?

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this particular petition. In a nut shell it's using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut and it denies many readers the right to give legitimate reviews of what they read in the comforting embrace of anonymity. It discourages reviews, good and bad. And as a published author one of the things we should all want is feedback.

Cheers, Greg.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Pen Names - Some Thoughts.

Hi Guys,

Thought it's about time to post something new, and this is a topic that's been around on the blogosphere and various fora for a while now. So I thought I'd share my views on pen names.

First up, do you need a pen name? My thought would be that for most of us the answer is no.

As a general principle I think we should all be brave enough to stand up and take credit for what we write, whether good or bad. Pen names are a way of avoiding this and in my view they should be limited to only a few situations. The main one would be when what you write would be likely to cause you undue hardship in your daily life should it be linked back to you. And by this I don't mean embarrassment. Okay, so you're a top flight neuro-surgeon and you like writing romances on the side. So what? Why can't you do both and be proud of them? A little embarrassment isn't going to really affect your life, professional or personal, in any way.

On the other hand if your work entails supporting a particular political or ethical position and your writing goes against it, then yes a pen name might be valuable or even necessary to you. For example a priest might find it awkward writing romance novels. A Republican Party strategist could find it difficult to explain his writing novels about an idealised communist world.

So yes there are reasons why a pen name might be the way to go as a writer. The acid test for when exactly this might be would be to ask yourself the question - if it becomes known that I write this work, will it cause me a red face or genuine hardship in my life?

Another question that often arises with the use of pen names is should writers use more than one? My answer would be no. If you use a pen name you should only use that one pen name and no others. (Not even your own name.)

This is a position based purely on the logic of selling your books. Now a number of people have said that they write in different genre and they think a different pen name for each genre would be a smart idea. My thought would be the exact opposite. If you're trying to make a living as a writer you want to sell as many books as you can. And one way to maximise sales is by writing multiple books and hoping that your readers will like one of your books and so try another. This is a synergistic effect so that the sale of one book hopefully adds to the selling of another. But how will your readers ever know to try another book of yours if you wrote it under a different name? The synergistic effect may be smaller when the books are in different genres, but it would still be foolish in my view to simply discard it.

The other thing to consider when marketing your work is that as an author you aren't just marketing what you write - you're marketing yourself. To give an example, I think everyone would know who Dame Barabara Cartland is. And they would know that she writes romance novels. Now for me as a reader of sci fi and fantasy, I know her name but I've never read any of her books. They simply aren't my cup of tea. However If she suddenly produced an epic fantasy novel or a hard sci fi novel and I came across it, her name alone would catch my attention. It would make me look at the book. If on the other hand she wrote the book as Joe Blogs, it probably wouldn't.

And as a final thought on using multiple pen names I would point out that it's hard enough trying to make a name for yourself as a writer. Trying to make two or three different names for yourself as a writer has to be two or three times as much work.

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Indie Books and The Mark of Quality - The Golden Quill.

Hi Guys,

Ok, this is something that comes up again and again in writing fora. The demarcation line between indie books and trade published books. The question of quality.

Over and over again we hear the same tired cries from those invested in the world of trade publishing - Indie books are substandard. Poorly edited, bad plots, bad formatting, rough covers etc etc. And to be fair there are a great many indie books put out by indie authors that simply aren't up to standard. Books that would not be published by a trade publishing concern.

And naturally the cry goes up from indies - including myself - this doesn't apply to all indie books. It probably doesn't apply to the great majority at all.

So the problem becomes, how to separate the properly edited etc indie books from the rest. And as usual there is a cry for some sort of quality mark. But as I've said previously, while I think the industry does need and want this, there are simply too many hurdles in the way for it to happen. If a private book assessment process was put in place, who would run it? Who would be neutral? Who would have the sufficient prestige for their sign to mean anything? How would it be paid for? And if authors paid would it be trustworthy or accepted? Would authors pay for it if it was too dear? And perhaps the number one problem, there are I think close to two million books on Amazon's Kindle. How the heck could anyone even do more than a few?

However, it occurs to me that there is another way. Another system, which while nowhere near as advanced or comprehensive as the aforementioned system, is achievable now with very minor effort, and at almost no cost. What's more it's a system that's already in use in the music industry. The gold record.

With gold records, artists receive them when they sell a certain number of albums. And maybe it's just a silly decoration to stick on the wall, but it's also a mark of quality. Not necessarily a good one. But as any free marketeer will tell you part of the reason things sell is because of quality. Poor quality products generally don't sell well. There are exceptions. Price points are an issue, and sometimes cheap overrides quality. (One huge argument against the practise of free books.) But at least it's something.

So my thought is that books could have the equivalent of a golden record system - a Golden Quill. Maybe in fact a quill system with bronze, silver, gold and platinum. So a book - trade or indie - might get a bronze quill for a thousand sales. A silver quill for five thousand sales. A gold quill for twenty five thousand sales. And platinum quills for a hundred thousand sales.

Naturally this would only be a system that Amazon could implement since they're the big boys on the block as far as indies and ebooks go. But it wouldn't cost them much to do since they already are counting sales for purposes of royalty payments, and I assume keep those records digitally for years for tax purposes. So one IT guy could spend a few hours adding a new column to the sales spreadsheet. A graphic designer could come up with a logo. And hey presto it's done!

Now each book when it sells one thousand copies after returns are subtracted, gets a bronze quill on its book pages. And each author page would presumably include the appropriate quills beside the appropriate books.

Now this system is good for indie authors. Or those indie authors who do work hard at writing good books and editing them professionally etc. Even if sales are lacklustre perhaps because they're in an unpopular genre, they should be able to hit bronze. And a bronze will hopefully help distinguish them from those who haven't reached this level of sales, perhaps because their work is not up to standard.

It's good for readers because they see the quill and can immediately know that another thousand readers have purchased the same book (note that this could never apply to freebies) and not returned it. That means that the book may not be the read of their dreams but it's probably not going to be a poorly edited mess for the slush pile.

It's good for Amazon too. They get to separate their books and authors into different piles. And when they find the ones they like because they sell, they can push them a bit harder, while those that never sell can be forgotten. And as any salesman will tell you you get better results from pushing things that already sell then you do from trying to push the unsaleable. They already do this from their sales ranks. Books that have higher sales ranks get more pushing than others.

Now Amazon already has sales ranks. But the problem of course with sales ranks is that they go up and down. So for the reader when they see a book with a poor sales rank, they don't know whether that was because this is a newly released book that hasn't yet had any exposure, it's an older book that's had its day, or because it really wasn't very good. The quill remains as a cumulative sales rank reassuring readers.

Amazon also has a review system, and I do support this. However reviews in my case come once every hundred and fifty or so paid sales, and can be remarkably fickle. A quill is just a number in the end.

Anyway that's my idea. The closest I think the industry can come to a quality mark at this stage. And if you like it, I suggest you suggest it to Amazon. I already have.

Cheers, Greg.