Should I Have A Website?

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Having an online presence seems to be increasingly important for writers. Although I can’t imagine Beatrix Potter or Joseph Conrad would have had much truck with all this social media and self-promotion.

The anatomy of a Blog

Unlike many bloggers, I am not efficient nor consistent in my posts, it has been what, five weeks since I last updated? Shocking. But they are are a fantastic way of sharing information and opinions, and they can be a great tool for starting debates and conversations; if that is the way your blog is written. Blogs tend to be written in a chatty or informal style, or at least mine do, and often reveal something about the personality of the blogger.

Lately, I have been considering the idea of setting up a website – as somewhere to promote my books. The website also needs attention once it is set up, but not as much. One could liken the blog to an allotment – it needs regular tending and maintenance, whereas the website is akin to a meadow – it might need a little mowing or sowing now and again.

If I did decide to use a website, I imagine this blog would sink slowly into the sunset as I’d not be able to divide my time between work, writing, blogging and the website – so what to do?

The anatomy of a Website

Websites tend to follow a standard format, not dissimilar to blog pages as far as I can tell, in that they have a Homepage/About page, a Contact section, and Products and Services; though these may be incorporated within the body of a post on Blogs.

And which sort of website set-up would I use?

Content management system (CMS) – Is a system designed to support the management of the content of web pages. You can easily manage text and embedded graphics, photos, video, audio, maps, and program code (e.g. for applications) that displays content or interacts with the user.

Self set-up involves lots of skills, such as being able design and code. Although it might be the cheapest option in the long term, it might be time consuming; and in my case as someone with little IT competence, almost impossible.

Website/blog builder service – a program, or tool, that helps you build a website. The programs are very user friendly and use a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface with drag and drop elements.

For authors to best showcase their products and give full details of WIP (Work In Progress) they are better off setting up a website. But what are the different Pros and Cons of Websites and Blogs?

Using a free Content Management System (CMS)

Pros
Flexible
Advanced features
Easy to publish
User friendly
Usually includes hosting and free for basic websites
Content can be updated rapidly
Cons
Regular updates are required to make the site safe from hackers
The CMS stores everything separately, then assembles it on the fly when the web client requests a page, which means they can be slow

Doing all the setting up yourself

Pros
Cost-effective
Total Flexibility
Easy to publish
Cons
Time consuming
Requires design skills
Requires coding skills

Using a website/blog builder service

Pros
You don’t need any coding skills
You don’t need any design skills
Quick turn around
Easy to publish
Usually includes hosting and domain names for a premium cost
User friendly: WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)
Cons
Usually comes with strings attached
Less flexibility
Expensive

After ploughing through the possibilities; which reduce drastically the less computer literate a certain person might be (!), there is then the problem of choosing a…

DOMAIN NAME

When I first started using computers and the website came of age, this word suddenly entered my world. What on earth is a Domain Name? I wondered. It sounds, still, like something from a Dungeons & Dragons quest: The Domain of Uglith The Mighty!!

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Image from Forgotten Realms.

Simply, a Domain Name is a web address, like: mywebsite.com. If you’re not using a web builder service, you need to register a domain with a company that sells domain names, apparently! Not only that, you have to pay for it! If the name isn’t available, you have to try for another one – so I have read. Does this mean that I can’t make my own up? I couldn’t locate that information…in all honesty, I got bored reading yards and yards of text. What I did pick up was to make your domain, Catchy, Unique and Easy to Remember.

Then there is the issue of Hosting.

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Note: I’m sure you can see a pattern beginning to develop here. Information and explanation becoming less cohesive and explanatory as I progress. If you’re familiar with my blogs, then you’ll understand – I am simply not built for the Information Technology Age. Anyway, back to Hosting. It’s not about wearing red velvet smoking jackets and regaling your guests with tales of derring do. Rather it’s something to do with computers called ‘Servers’, which run operating systems, store files and connect to the internet. They are designed to be open to the public so browsers can access web content. ‘Hosting’ refers to the company that rents space on one of their servers so they can ‘host’ your site there.

Some things I have to consider – so I am told.

  1. What type of website do I want to create?
  2. What will be the technical requirements of the website?
  3. What level of security do I require?
  4. Do I need email hosting?
  5. How large is the data I will be storing?
  6. What volume of traffic do I initially expect? And in the future?
  7. What’s my monthly hosting budget?

To all of the above, my answer is a consistent, I don’t know!

But I have collected some Top Tips to keep people engaged in your website:

  1. Have clear navigation – if it’s not clear, people will get frustrated and leave.
  2. Use call to action buttons – helps lead people to desired actions.
  3. Make sure your site is loading quickly – humans are impatient creatures.
  4. Keep it minimal – too much design is distracting.
  5. Keep the same look and feel throughout – a ‘brand’ identity is visually more appealing.

It all seems like a lot of hard work. I’m lazy by nature and will try to get away doing as little as possible. But, I feel on the cusp of progressing with my writing. It needs a home of its own, something that can ‘look after itself’ so to speak.

So…

Should I Have A Website? I haven’t got a Scooby Doo!

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#IndieAuthors: It’s Trending on Twitter

Good morning all.

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There’s something rather wonderful happening on Twitter this morning. In fact, it will be a month long happening.

#indieauthors is surely on it’s way to ‘Trending’ right now, with writers and readers from across the globe sharing their book titles and buying like there’s no tomorrow.

I believe the tag was started by @agletterman, a writer who joined the #WritingCommunity on Twitter a few months ago and has posted daily, almost, about writing, authors, the craft of writing and has been encouraging other writers to interact and share their questions and solutions to issues ranging from – what do I do when I have writer’s block? To should I kill off my darlings?

I don’t know who began the #WritingCommunity hashtag – I like to think I had a hand in it, but can’t be sure – it would be interesting to find out where, and with whom, it all began, but one things for sure, it has taken off big style. The Writing Community on Twitter has been an extremely supportive online arena, especially in the light of the political shenanigans and depressing news stories that abound, and the Tweets that are reportedly ‘vile’. Many people have said they hate Twitter because it’s a cesspool of hate and vitriol, back-biting and denigration. Not in the #WritingCommunity.

So what’s an Indie Author?

Being an indie author is primarily an approach to writing and publishing, a matter of self-definition. If you see yourself as the creative director of your books, from concept to completion and beyond, then you’re indie. You don’t approach publishers with a longing for validation: “publish me please”.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/what-is-an-indie-author/

Being an #indieauthor does not mean you are working and publishing alone, without an agent or publishing house. You might do this and self-publish and go with a small press and, or, start your own independent publishing company. There’s a lot of flexibility in being an indie author.

So why is #indieauthor and #indieapril a good thing?

Well, when someone sets out on the creative path there is no-one to tell you what to do. You create whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever style suits you. Sounds great doesn’t it? But it can feel isolated for some, lack constructive feedback, lack praise for successes. (*Writers, you can see my ‘How To Embrace Twitter As An Aid’ blog here.) Writers work alone (mostly). We spend days, months; sometimes years, crafting a single manuscript; MS. Emotions are poured onto the page, imaginations fired up, a world envisioned and told for others to read. But for those who are not brimming with self- confidence, or who do not have contacts, or have never had the good fortune – and luck does play a huge part in whether or not you get taken on by an agent and published by a known press – to be taken on by a publishing house, where does one go?

You might decide to use something like Amazon CreateSpace, or set up a website with an author page to sell your books. But there are over 200,000 books published annually in the UK alone. How do you get your little self-published or indie title noticed in the avalanche of words? It’s an extremely difficult task – besides, who wants to spend fifty percent of their time doing the business side of things when they could be writing another book?!

The Twitter community of writers is doing it’s damnedest to support each other in many marvellous ways. And #indieapril is the latest, and hopefully will be an annual ‘event’. It allows all the shy and retiring types to put their work out there. It allows the socially awkward to promote themselves, it allows people who have been rejected by agents another chance to be heard, it allows any age, race, gender/genderless, class, creed; whatever, to say – I am a writer and I have this book that I am proud to share..

So whether you’re a writer or not, pay a visit to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, say ‘Hi’; they’re a friendly bunch. Find the #indieauthor or #indieapril, and discover new up and coming authors, buy a book – hell, buy half a dozen if it’s for you e-reader – and help support creatives who normally don’t do much shouting or arm waving – I might be gobby, but an awful lot of writers are timid creatures, please be aware.

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer or, How to embrace Twitter as an aid.

Years ago, I watched the film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner starring Tom Courtenay. It’s a great film, very British, very much of it’s time; made in 1962. But it has a quality that resonates and made a lasting impression on me.

Courtenay plays Colin Smith; a rebellious teenager in a poverty-stricken town in northern England, who enjoys running as an escape from his harsh reality. He gets caught stealing and is sent to a reform school. The governor wants to impress officials and so forth by promoting sports as rehabilitation. Colin gets inducted to race against a prestigious rival school.

I won’t tell you the ending – that’s not the point of this post – what I am interested in is how this compares to writing. I’ve been growing my connections on Twitter recently, via the #WritingCommunity. There are people who write who are very much engaged with a wider community, not just their immediate friends, and who make an effort to help others to connect through list-making, shout-outs, #FollowFridays and so forth.

Now I’m a lot like Colin. I like my own company, I positively revel in the times that I spend alone, so that I can immerse myself into my world building, characters and narrative. I love to run alone, not only that – I want to run alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sociable; when I am required to be. I don’t have anxiety about meeting people – I just don’t want to – I am not anti-social; I don’t behave inappropriately (well, not often!), but I am unsociable by nature; when I want to be.

Writing is a bit like being a long-distance runner. You might rise early and limber up with some brief exercises, or set about your working day in a casual manner. Regardless of when you write, where you write, or how you put the words down, you will do this alone. And alone you will be until you have finished the process. Then you will edit; alone. The whole process of creating, editing, re-writing etc. might take you months, even years. Only you can do this, no-one else. It’s your ideas, your work, your creation. Then you will send your work off – and receive rejections – alone.

This does not mean you have to be lonely. For those writers who struggle with this isolation, the community of writers on Twitter might be somewhere to reach out and relieve that feeling. There are professional writers as well as amateurs. Published and unpublished. Dabblers and specialists.

I have experienced authors who reach out and lend a helping hand; such as @garethlpowell. Gareth is an award winning science fiction writer, you’d think he would be too busy, but no, he gives of his time on a daily basis. A new arrival on Twitter, @EliselsWritinYA, stormed onto the writing scene by listing ALL the writers she followed, classified them and sent numerous Tweets out into the community. Elise Carlson just dived straight in there in her very first month.

The point is, you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be. I have encountered new ‘Tweeters’ who are very apologetic, filled with trepidation, are shy about announcing their presence. But I reckon 99% of the time, they find a warm welcome into the #WritingCommunity – sure, you get the odd dick who tries to tell you how things should be (I may even be one of those dicks myself at times), but you can be sure that you will make connections; maybe even friends. You can let off steam, ask questions, get moral support in times of need.

It will not, I hasten to add, make you a better writer! This can only be done by dedication, application, self-criticism and honesty.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring once said – “Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.

So, back to Colin. The title of the film suggests he himself is lonely, not at all. The runner in this instance is a metaphor for choosing to be alone – so he isn’t actually ‘lonely’. Colin has chosen running so that he can, not only escape his mundane, poverty-ridden existence, but to allow time to develop his own thoughts, and through this, he comes to understand the societal differences and class divisions of the time. Colin sees through the authority figures; especially that of the prison governor, and the image conveyed to others of their ilk, and what really lies beneath. Colin questions; if only in his own head, the establishment.

As a writer, you will probably be doing some of the same things, questioning authority; of a character’s parents, the government he or she resides in, that of movements, peers, received opinions, taught mythologies.

You will live inside your own head until you have completed your idea.

You may work alone – but you don’t have to be lonely.

Fantasycon -2018 Notes from a Newbie

This is a loooonnnnnggggg post, so grab a G&T and a settle in…

fantasycon18

So this weekend – happening now, as I write – is the Fantasycon 2018 convention. I, unfortunately, was only able to attend one day, Friday. (Boo)

Fantasycon, so I was reliably informed, is the extension of what started out in the early 1970s as the AGM of the British Fantasy Society.

I have been to conventions before, just not book/writer ones, and lord knows, writers – especially sci-fi and fantasy and horror writers, are a weird bunch – aren’t they?! So, wasn’t sure what to expect. Would there be loads of teen and middle-aged men in sweat-pants and lank hair wandering about like herds of obsessive bison, intent on visually feasting upon their favourite authors, leering at them through semi-steamed spectacles wiped on too-tight tee-shirts with images blazoned across them of dragons and heavy metal bands or D&D dice and doing heavy nasal breathing? Jeez, I hoped not.

And I was not disappointed. Sure, there were loads of guys, but there were plenty of women too, and none-gender specific visitors. People of all types; the hirsute and less so too!

The event was held at The Queen Hotel, Chester, with a plethora of people stuffed into a series of rooms to listen to a bunch of writers and editors and publishers ply their trade – and I did not hear a single disgruntlement all day. No whining, no arguments, no attitude, just a big group of people who all enjoy the same thing – it was very cool. (The bowler hatted Greeter was an excellent addition I may say.)

So, blah, blah, blah, lunch, G & Ts, admiring the ladies washrooms, big gold doors, what did I actually do? Surely Alexandra, you ask, didn’t you go to meet, connect, get some lowdown on the industry? Didn’t you attend writers panels/talks? After my gin(s), here’s what Alex did next:-

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  1. Blogging in Genre Fiction – on the panel – Kate Coe, Alasdair Stuart and Micah Yongo. Moderated by Kit Power. Kit is a staff writer for Ginger Nuts of Horror, Alasdair has been a journalist and now does RPG writing, co-owner of Escape Artists podcast runs his own blog ‘The Man of Words‘. Kate is a writer of fantasy fiction as well as being an editor and blogger. Micah is the author of Lost Gods and blogs on The Mancophile.

The panel were asked, how did they decide on the content for what to write on their blogs – Kate said hers could be anything from snippets of writing, new ideas, what has inspired her and so forth. She also discussed about permission to write, post information, or photo’s that others might have shared with her; it came across as very important to her that she be appropriate with the material she blogs. Alasdair talked about being naturally enthusiastic, a natural critic and his love of comics. He seemed to have boundless mental energy and just a love of writing in many forms. Kit was keen to give indie fiction a spotlight, a voice. When asked about building an audience, the responses ranged from writing regularly, putting out a newsletter, cross-referencing to networking, linking to Twitter and Facebook and giving time and space on your own feeds to other workers in the industry. How did they find blogging different from their fiction writing? Micah enjoyed the freedom of writing without being edited by someone else, that is used different ‘muscles’ from writing a novel. there is, he added, no obligation to anyone, he came up with a lovely term – ‘palette cleanser’ – in that, one could allow oneself to free flow when blogging, before returning to the oft restrictions of writing in a specific genre.

All in all, an interesting panel with some sound advice for writers who blog. I have visited their sites and signed myself up to them.

2. The Elderly Guard – on the panel – Mark A. Latham, Dion Winton-Polak, David Stokes, R.B. Watkinson. Moderated by Charlotte Bond. Mark is a writer and editor and has around fourteen books to his name. Dion is a freelance editor, with This Twisted Earth anthology and Sunny With A Chance of Zombies under his belt. David runs a small press called Guardbridge Books. Rosa (R.B) is a writer of fantasy fiction. Charlotte writes horror, fantasy and sci-fi. (*I arrived a couple of minutes late so did not account for everyone’s status’ or genres).

The panel were discussing why – if there weren’t – any or more older heroes/heroines in the fantasy genre. Where are the older characters in leading roles? Dion cited Cohen the Barbarian, from Terry Pratchett’s books, as well as the witches; Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. David cited a number of books that do contain older characters – The Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan, the Chalion series by Lois Bujold as well as Kings of the Wild by Nicholas Eames.  Asked about why is fantasy so fixated on teenagers? Dion said  it’s what we read and connect with as children, there is a kind of wish fulfilment which we then slowly lose as we age. The world becomes less ‘pliable’ as we age.

The genre – fantasy –  seems to automatically attract younger people, who then stay with it; the reader, like the young hero, learns of the world (presented by the author), as the story progresses. The elderly hero already knows his or her world, and so presents a different angle for both writer and reader. Young hero’s, all agreed, have to learn something towards the end of the story – the older one already has – otherwise he/she wouldn’t have reached old age! Although Rosa did point out that older does not necessarily mean wiser! Also posed was the question, a hero having a mid-life crisis, why is that any different from the teen? (Interesting point, speaking as someone in mid-life, am I having a crisis? I don’t know, I’ll tell you when I stop shouting at everything and everyone). There is, it was pointed out, the trope of the ‘old soldier’ on one last mission, who represents resistance to change maybe, this hero knows he needs to change or die – though we didn’t resolve the mid-life crisis question! Annoying stereotypes included, the ‘caring’ mum, the older ones who don’t believe it’s happening, or having dementia. Books cited by the panel also included, The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, The Gunslinger by Stephen King, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and Snakewood by Adrian Selby.

A very interesting and engaging panel.

3. Shared Worlds – on the panel – Dion Winton-Polak, Pauline Kirk, Gavin Smith and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Moderated by Cheryl Morgan. Dion is a freelance editor, Pauline writes sci-fi and, in collaboration with her daughter, thrillers under the pseudonym P.J.Quinn, Gavin is a writer of sci-fi, Adrian writes sci-fi and science fantasy.

The panel were asked what attracted them to the idea of shared worlds. Pauline, coming more from the collaboration angle described how she enjoyed working with her daughter. Adrian and Dion hi-lighted the difference between joining a shared world as a writer, or being the person (editor?) who created the world. It was enjoyable to see what others would make of it, “What people will do with the toys you create.” A.T, and how the hive mind sees things that either might not have occurred to you, or that you don’t have the necessary tools to do so, DWP. Pitching an idea to a publisher might be for a number of reasons – for the cache, for money, or pleasure, but being aware of the canon of the existing world. The ‘bad bits’ seemed to be mostly having to mould yourself to the other world, sticking to the familiar (to the audience/reader), having constraints if you decide to write for, for example – Doctor Who (Oh how I dream of writing for Doctor Who…). Gavin admitted that authors can be quite insistent on doing their own thing and that writing a novel can be rather self-indulgent and although one might have an editor to contend with, writing for an existing franchise means contending with the publisher, the producer, the franchise, editing by committee. As an editor Dion noted that it can become difficult keeping track of what all the writers have produced and ensuring everything fits in the shared world.

What makes a good Shared World? Cheryl asked. “Consistency is vital.”G.S. “In itself it should be credible.” P.K. Adrian suggested the idea that creators should make a ‘bible’ of their world, and include items, backstory and leave ‘hooks’ that other writers can work with. When asked if there was a particular Shared World they would like to write for, both Gavin and Adrian said they would like to write for Wild Cards (George R.R. Martin series), though Gavin said without the least trace of rancour (!) that he would be happy to do anything for financial gain – you heard it here – Gavin Smith IS a gun for hire! Cheryl would like the chance to write for Marvel, preferably X-Men and/or Avengers.

Something I did not know – Amazon is playing with the idea of making a Lord of The Rings TV series (Gag). Asked, if offered the chance, would they write for it. All said yes – apart from Dion who isn’t a writer – with varying degrees of enthusiasm. And what would they NOT want to write in/for? Worlds that aggrandise evil said Pauline, she said these were ideas that she doesn’t share. Star Wars, Gavin said (Liking him more and more). For Adrian it was stuff that’s become ubiquitous – zombie survival and similar tropes.

This was a great panel, with lively banter between the writers; especially Adrian Tchaikovsky and Gavin Smith. A bunch I could definitely enjoy a pint with (if they’d have me)

4. Adventures in Self-Publishing – on the panel – Richie Valentine Smith, Steve McHugh, Iain Grant and Rachel McLean. Moderated by Heide Goody.  Richie writes the Words of Power fantasy series, Steve writes urban fantasy, Iain co-writes with Heide, comedy fantasy and Rachel writes dystopian, political thrillers.

Straight in with – the benchmark for average earnings of a professional writer is…       £10, 500. The panel were all very honest about where they were in relation to this, some hovering below, others above, a couple way above. Iain maintained that a main skill in self-publishing was to understand that you had to become a salesperson in most instances – 30% writer, 70% salesperson. You need to be persistent about self-promotion, “…just because it is good, doesn’t mean it will sell.” He and Rachel also talked about how important book covers are; readers will forgive poor grammar (apparently) as long as there is a good story and engaging cover – the cover draws people in, and once they have bought it, then that’s it, sold.  Heide claimed to enjoy the variety of moving between the writing and marketing. Richie spoke of persistence and making contacts. Rachel told us to be entrepreneurial, learn new skills – and this- publishers do NOT always do the marketing for you! So how to divide your time – Iain is lucky in that he does 90% of the writing most of the time, whilst Heide seems left to write AND market their books! Although Steve does have a publisher, he still does his own publicity, via social media. Richie does not have any social media accounts and sees this as his downfall, plus he offered a little piece of info for budding self-publishers of sci-fi – the BFS does NOT revue self-published books. Rachel was insistent that engaging with other writers on social media does not help with sales, you need to find readers, you need to join Facebook groups, you need to be prepared to read other peoples work, keep communicating and learn the skill of marketing – not sales. When asked what they would spend £300 on in regards to self-publishing, the cover came top for most of the panel – get it properly edited, proof-read, copy edited, line edited and so forht – but the cover will sell the book! Some examples given, for the writer who pays for everything are – cover: up to £1000 if Fantasy, £160 for comedy. Editor £200, Marketing £500 and up. Rachel revealed that she had spent £400 for all her editing (of one book), £200 for a proof-reader  (70 – 80,000 words) and £300 on the cover.

This sort of practical information is what I found really helpful, often there is a kind of moving mass of information of ‘around this much’, ‘depends on…’ and so forth. This panel’s openness was refreshing. they also gave some hints and tips:-  visit Deviant Art for potential cover artists. Join reader Facebook groups. Do not e-mail another author. Do not add people to your author page. Do not bombard people with your latest title. Be nice.

5. The End of The World – on the panel – Tiffani Angus, Helen Marshall, Jane O’Reilly, Duncan P.Bradshaw. Moderator was Leila Abu el Hawa. Tiffani is a university lecturer and writer of Fantasy, Erotica and more, Helen writes about weird realities and the apocalypse, Jane writes sci-fi space opera, Duncan writes horror and post-apocalyptic zombie tales.

This was, despite the theme –  the End of the World guys! A really light-hearted get together. Leila asked the panel members, as it was the end of the world, who would be your sidekick, what song would play and what special skills did they bring along? Jane chose Captain America as her sidekick, because, duh, looks good as well as kicking ass. She chose REM ‘End of the World’ and as she is a self-proclaimed bossy person, her special skill was supervising Steve Rogers. Duncan very diplomatically chose to have his wife (who was in the audience!) as his sidekick, he chose ‘Well Done’ by The Idles as his track and his special skill is that he is annoying! Helen chose co-panellist Tiffani as her sidekick (because apparently she’s scary to cyclists! I dunno, wasn’t me who said it!) ‘The Final Countdown’ as her track and her special skill? Summon soup – this turned out to be some kind of in-joke that kept getting referred to throughout. Tiffani kept with the apocalyptic them by choosing Imperator Furiosa as her sidekick, ‘Mo Fo’ was her song and her skill is that she is bossy too!

Asked what they enjoyed about apocalyptic fiction, Tiffani said she liked playing with the idea of how things fall apart and are put back together again. Duncan said we would discover people’s skills, our innate abilities and that quality humans have for muddling through. Jane said in regards to writing, one can kill off everyone you hate, but that she found apocalyptic stories fundamentally optimistic; people survive, we can go on after disaster. How has Apocalyptic Fiction changed? Jane said the social situation has changed, the rise of different diseases and technology. Helen remarked at the way people in 14th century literature were much better at thinking about and dealing with death – ‘Dying well’ – which we seem unable or unwilling to do nowadays. After lots of discussion about the role females do or don’t play in dystopian/apocalyptic stories; including TV shows, the panel were asked, What tropes are you tired of? Jane said why is everyone always filthy?! There are tonnes of baby-wipes out there to use. Tiffani hated the way women still had shaved armpits. Helen lamented how quickly people became cannibals. And Duncan was tired of the same old gangs – every story has the heavy-handed, thick-headed leader, etc. And what would these guys save for our future dear reader? Turns out flushing toilets, soap, libraries, music and chocolate!

I think it was a wobbly discussion that seemed more about the writers sharing with each other, than offering budding writers much to go on.

 

Embarrassing moments –

When asked if I was an author too “…I do write, er…I suppose so… am I a writer? yes, yes I am a writer.” Honest mate! I suddenly felt like a complete fraud. I was talking to a guy who had published 5 fantasy fiction novels – what the hell have I done?!

To meet or not to meet. I have an appalling habit (I call it a strength) in that my Default position is –  Tactless, I once vaguely insulted Richard Hammond from Top Gear, but that’s another tale. So I had just listed to Dion Winton-Polak talk, he had once rejected a story I submitted – to introduce oneself or not?! Hm, how to not be offensive – Christ! I might need to go back to him at some point in the future! “Hi…I just…I wasn’t sure if I should…I just wanted to say hello…” He shook my hand, peered at my name badge and… it was fine. Phew. He was in fact, extremely pleasant and I didn’t insult him.

Waving. And waving some more, at some guy who didn’t even know me!!!!! I don’t know why. I just did. Okay!?

Getting caught mooching around the hotel corridors – I wasn’t a staying guest – I’m just a nosy person.

That concludes my ‘report’ about my first ever Fantasycon. Would I do it again?

Hell yeah!

 

 

Caveat Emptor

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Writers Beware!

This week I received an unsolicited e-mail from this company, FlipLoud. So what? We all get this kind of stuff. I hate it with a disproportionate vengeance. Except, I had one of these a few months ago and didn’t even read it that time, it went straight in the rubbish bin (possibly with other stuff I should have read!) You might recognise it…

Hi Honorable Author Alexandra Peel,

I hope your book “Sticks & Stones” is doing well.

I am an associate of Fliploud.com -one of the biggest book promotion companies.

At Fliploud we reward book readers with Gift Cards when they read books listed in the Fliploud library hence it gives a lot of exposure to new books and authors.

Here are few key features of our Fliploud Book Promotion services-

1. We will list your book on our site for 30 days. The benefit is that you can get more sales from our site visitors. We get more than 75,000 visits per month.

2. Featuring your book in our weekly email newsletter to more than 65000 subscribers.

3. Promoting the book on social media to more than 1 Million combined followers.

4. Recommending your book to our 1000 social media contacts with a personal message.

If you are interested in listing your book on Fliploud, please visit Fliploud Book Listing for more details.

You can also promote your other book too, which book you want.

For any further questions, please feel free to write to us.

Thank You

Team Fliploud

Okay. That’s the letter. Yep, it’s promotional. Initially it appears to be promising great things – What! You’re gonna promote the shit out of my book and I’ll make a tonne of dosh?! Woo!

You know when you go on a first date and he/she does something you might find odd, not cutesy, what a funny character odd, but ODD – alarm bells may ring – you should always take note. So let’s look a little closer at the e-mail I received…

*At this point I want to say, I have NO PROOF THAT THIS COMPANY IS REAL, FAKE, LEGIT OR OTHERWISE – I am not on a defamation mission, all I’m attempting to do is raise awareness in the writing community about those that are willing to make money off your efforts.* Other ‘companies’ are available*

So –

1) ‘Hi Honorable Author Alexandra Peel‘. And yes it is bold type in the original. No-one in the western world calls one another ‘Honorable’. This is specifically an eastern trait in the spoken and written word. As a Brit, I also recognise the spelling as not being UK English – honourable, is how we spell it. So this is either someone working in Asia, or an Asian working in America. This introduction immediately puts me on alert – it’s over the top, it comes across as creepy, sucky, and you don’t know me, so don’t say ‘Hi’! Where did they get my details? Who’s been trolling for business? What else of my stuff have you accessed!!

2) ‘I am an associate…’ we will return to this…

3) ‘One of the biggest book promotion companies‘. Well, I’ve never heard of them, but that doesn’t mean shit, I don’t know heaps of things… I asked around and no writer I spoke to had heard of them. Online, people have, but in a puzzled ‘who’? Kind of way. On their Support For Indie Authors discussion thread – Goodreads members have shared some feelings about the ‘company’. – https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/19147288-fliploud

It’s a pretty bold claim to make. But hang fire a moment – it doesn’t say where in the world it is the biggest book promo company! It could be Outer Mongolia, the Faroe Islands, anywhere! So they may be the biggest wherever they are. We just don’t know because it doesn’t tell us much on their web-page!

4) ‘we reward book readers with Gift Cards when they read books listed in the Fliploud library‘. Whoop-de-doo. This is pure, self-promotion on the part of the company. Remember, you don’t get anything for nothing, this is a way to drive traffic to their own site and thus increase revenue.

5) ‘We will list your book on our site for 30 days‘. So what? They claim to have 75,000 visitors a month, but we have no way to substantiate that claim. Maybe they do, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t be sending e-mails to writer’s like me if it were true. Besides, twenty minutes work to stick a picture of your book up, then just leave it there on the site page is no big deal. And 30 days is not a long time.

6) ‘1000 social media contacts with a personal message.’ Go and check out the links. They aren’t personal at all. In fact, when I looked at them, I discovered – 1 Facebook profile did not open/exist anymore, 2 had the same Profile picture (which always smacks of fake to me), and there are no personal posts or photos that would suggest that real people exist behind these accounts. No personal stuff on Twitter and Facebook is often an indication of dodgy goings on.

7) ‘Thank You Team Fliploud‘ – see #2. The letter began with a single person and ended with a team! Who wrote to me? What’s your name? This is not how you structure a letter, especially a business one.

Fliploud does not come up on a UK company search. I did a number of searches on business company check sites, including international. There is no contact address on the site – it does not, as far as I can see, even say where in the world they are based. Two of the #handles have the same initials as those of whomever set of the website. It all begins to smell a little suspicious to me.

Fliploud says it promotes your content online. I’m not disputing that. It does (maybe), to a greater or lesser degree than you imagine. But you need to be aware that there are charges, of course there are, it’s how they make their money, you get nothing for free remember! So how much will it cost you?Their page tells us they they will promote your book on Facebook, Twitter, and their own website. It costs: $19 (£14) Basic/ $29 (£22) Standard/ $49 (£37) Premium. But it doesn’t explain which of these rates, Basic, Standard or Premium relates to the number of posts they will generate on your behalf.

And another thing – Fliploud also promotes Apps, Online Stores, Online Courses, Competitions and Crowd Funding events – it isn’t just about books – it isn’t a publishing company – it is about them making money off you. We are all aware that models are told never to pay for a portfolio of pics, well this is similar – you shouldn’t need to pay to promote your work. Ultimately it’s your choice though.

My Spidey senses tingle the more I read about this company. I may be totally wrong, but I strongly suspect that this is an individual, or small group of individuals, who are extremely tech savvy. They have time to have multiple accounts and time to keep promoting these on a weekly basis – bear in mind, that there are jobs that will pay you to sit at home and type stuff for them, on an hourly basis.

All I’m saying is ‘Buyer Beware’

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P.S: If anyone can prove me wrong in my suspicions, then let me know.

Book Review – Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell

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Hot Lead, Cold Iron Book Cover

Genre: Crime Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dark fantasy, Urban fantasy
Pub First Date: 2014
Publisher: Titan Books
Length: 305 pages
Paperback : Bookdonors on Amazon (£3.72)

” Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.”

Hot Lead, Cold Iron (Back-book cover blurb)

First off, I have a confession to make – I’m one of those people who rolls their eyes when others mention certain themes of TV/Film/Book whatever, that I deem ‘stupid’ or ‘unbelievable’, you know what I mean? Conspiracy theorists, fantastical creatures roaming modern cities, and so on – except, I do read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, so where do I draw the line? Hard to say.

So, when I read that Ari Marmell‘s book was about a Private Investigator who is a Fae, I almost turned tail.

I discovered this book through entering the world of Dieselpunk/Decopunk writing, researching some titles. I read the opening 5 pages and… ordered it!

I think I have mentioned before that I enjoy crime writing, all kinds and in all forms (I have a huge collection of magazines about serial killers – yeah, publishers, you might want to bear that in mind next time you refuse my submissions!!) And this, I would say, is first and foremost a detective story. The protagonist, Mick Oberon is, as I mentioned, a Fae, living and working in 1930s Chicago. But the thing that hooked me is Marmell’s use of language, particularly the language of America, in that time period. The lingo is not only relevant to the time period, but has the humorous yet threatening quality of such well-known characters as Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade –

One, I don’t chisel my clients, Archie. Ain’t good for business…And two, get your hand off me before I make you eat it.”. M.O.

This isn’t just a detective story, it’s Noir, one of my favourite film genres.

Mick Oberon explains that he is obliged to speak in this manner in order to function in his present day. I love this style of speech. Watching the old Humphrey Bogart films I didn’t always understand what was being said, but I sure as hell got the inference. Gangster speak is used throughout ‘Hot Lead, Cold Iron’, but not so as you don’t know what characters are talking about.

The story is written in first person – Mick Oberon’s – and so we get a pretty thorough explanation of Fae. Marmell has actually given some thought to magic and how it is used; Oberon’s magic is not the same as another type of Fae’s magic for instance. The world of the Fae – the Seelie Court (and it’s darker counter-side, the Unseelie Court) are almost copies of the real world, brilliantly explained by Marmell, as a result of Fae lacking creativity but being excellent mimics.

No matter how unusual some of the plot-line or characters or environs may seem, Marmell has written with psychological realism, thereby ensuring the story does not fall apart due to some random shit he wants in there. Though I did struggle somewhat to visualise some of the setting of the Seelie Court in Elphame, my impression of size kept shifting, so I was unable to get a clear understanding of the size of structures or beings. And I did enjoy the time spent in our world more than in Oberon’s home world.

Oberon is a likeable, milk-drinking, wand-toting good guy with a hard-boiled attitude that he wears like his coat. We don’t, in all honesty, know too much about his background – he’d tell you to mind your own business. And this is another aspect of the writing I enjoyed, Oberon often directly speaks to the reader, he gives you enough to understand the world you are entering, but also enough to pique the interest for further reading – “My name is Mick Oberon, or at least it is now.” He says things like – “You Joe’s.” Referring to humans and the reader alike, he doesn’t always reveal the whys and wherefores of his actions, you are being introduced a bit at a time to his way of living – “And if you think it all went easy for me, you ain’t been paying attention.”

This kind of story, with these kinds of fantasy elements, could easily have fallen flat – or worse. It’s success rests on the main character’s voice; as much as the plot and setting need a certain amount of historical accuracy, it is how Marmell has written Oberon’s voice that makes it work well. And it’s not just (if you like this kind of language) the gangster speak, Oberon is an intriguing character and charismatic too.

If you get gangster speak and understand a little about the world of faeries, you get the title – Lead as in bullets – Iron as in faeries hate it.

Hot Lead, Cold Iron is action-packed fun, well-written with wisecracks enough to satisfy Raymond Chandler fans, it is the first in a new series by Ari Marmell – ‘A Mick Oberon Job’ or Mick Oberon #1.

And I will be purchasing the second book – Hallow Point.

I’m giving Hot Lead, Cold Iron

4 Stars

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Overwhelmed? Think Things Through…

 

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The patented Cat organiser!

Division of Labour

If you’re a writer, whether that be fiction, non-fiction, blogging, or similar, then you probably have a ‘real’ job too. By ‘real’ job, I mean one that you do on a day to day basis (or nightly if it’s shift work), the one that pays your bills, that (just about) keeps the wolf from the door, the boring one, the one you don’t want to do but are forced to.

So how do you find time to write (other creative/art forms are available)? When you have laboured at your regular employment, you need a break, you WANT a break, you have to shift gears mentally and often emotionally before you begin to scribble.

There is really only one answer –

Get Organised.

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Captain Eddie Rickenbacker

Edward Rickenbacker was an American Fighter Pilot in WWI. After surviving the war, he started an auto company, became involved in the aviation industry and wrote a comic strip (Ace Drummond), amongst other things. He is also known for this quote – “I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through – then follow through.”

Often, these sound-bites are nothing more than that, snippets of chat to gain attention, look at how newspapers, and blogs, title pages, it’s intentional, to draw the reader in. But Rickenbacker’s is more than that, it is practical: Think things through – then follow through.

It’s another way of saying – Get organised.

But if you’re anything like me, getting organised is harder than we all think. I understand we all have other things to do, the problem, I have found, is other people. Colleagues probably think that, like them, when the weekend comes, or when you finish work for the day, or have a day off, that it is just that – a day off. Hah! Creative types rarely, if ever, get a day off. Once the paying job ends, that’s when the real work begins for us.

So how do we get organised?

By thinking things through -then following through.

Does your week go something like this?

Regular job – housework – research – family – shopping – writing – regular job – social media – laundry – planning – fix printer – regular job – family – writingmaintaining writers profileregular job – stressing – editingpaid writing job search – regular job – correspondence – job search – regular work – visitors – exercise – elderly parents…

Can you see that there are only 2 slots when actual writing is being done? There is so much more that you could add to this, depending on your personal life, family size, days you work in paid job, other hobbies you try to maintain.

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“I bet Mister Rickenbacker didn’t have all this ironing to fit in.”

So when do you write? And don’t forget, writing is not just the act of setting down words – just like painting is not just the act of laying down colours. For me, a huge amount of the work is done in my head; thinking of ideas, plots, characters, events, moral issues, inventions, possibilities, to misquote Jarvis Cocker, It may look to the untrained eye like I’m sitting on my arse all day.”

Get organised.

  • Get a piece of paper and pen – coloured pens if that’s your thang.

I recommend handwriting this for two reasons – 1.It’s easier to think without feeling rushed when you hand-write, and 2.You probably spend enough time on a computer as it is.

  • Sketch a table of your week; Monday to Sunday. And write in the hours you ‘go to work’ – that’s your paid work in the ‘grown-ups’ world, not your writing.
  • Now look for the empty spaces. You may only have Saturday and Sunday free, and even then you have to spend some of that with the kids. Into these empty spaces jot down what you want and or need to be doing in regards to your creativity.
  • Arrange your empty spaces so you have a balance of work and play, as much as possible given the time you have remaining. Remember, you need time to sleep and play and do nothing – unless you’re really a robot, in which case, meh.
  • After days/hours/minutes have been allocated as you want, break these down into smaller sections. For example, if you’re a blogger it might say, Monday 4pm to 6pm – writing/Friday 1pm to 4pm writing.
  • Break this down to, Monday 4pm to 6pm – research/planning/generating ideas. Friday 1pm to 4pm – write blog post.
  • Try it for a while and stick with it if it works, otherwise, re-jiggle your week. If you have trouble organising yourself, then don’t just read this – do it! Otherwise, you’re wasting time.

 

Think things through – then follow through.

Before you even do the organising activity, Think things through – do you want to carry on the way you have been? If you like your way of working, then who am I to tell you otherwise?! Are you lucky enough to be financially independent so as to not have to go to work? Or, like me, are you stuck in low-paid work with no option of advancement? Does it suit you, does it give you time to write/paint/sculpt/blog?

Then follow through – If you don’t like your working week try a change. If you hate your job, can you move, or find a different one? No-one is going to make the changes for you.

Bloggers

Whip it up in a couple of hours (or so some clients believe!) and hey presto, there’s a witty post. We wish. Bloggers must allocate time for generating ideas – researching – learning about new stuff (that may be technical or other) – deciding what you are going to write in advance. There is tons of advice on the internet to help Bloggers, you might want to spend a little on one of the numerous pre-made Blog Planners out there to help you get organised. Bloggers work to deadlines – whether their own or someone else’s.

Fiction Writers

Just float through life collecting ideas by some sort of osmosis which then transfers itself to the page by another kind of osmosis – Right? – Wrong! Writing the story, whether short, novella, trilogy, is the easy and fun bit. Don’t forget, you need to edit, and this can take as long as writing the bloody thing in the first place! If you are submitting work for an open competition, then you’re working to a deadline. If you’re submitting a MS to a publishing company, you’re working to their guidelines. Do read all the rules. Do make time for your Author Bio and Plot Summary.

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Dear Diary, today I fired my teacher as she gave us too much homework. Time for tea and cake.

Non-Fiction Writers

Probably the most organised of the creative bunch. This lot typically arrive here from an academic background and so are used to working to deadlines and briefs. But if you’re a free-lancer who also hold down a day job, you will need to arrange times that suit you as well as enough time to complete the brief. A diary, actual or E will be your friend.

Think things through – then follow through.

On each of my days off, I go through a similar process.

Write a To-Do list, this will include writing, research, mail, laundry, check for potential submissions, blog, editing.

Work through this list – in any order – do laundry first as it’s like eating your greens before your meat.

Take a break in-between each activity – especially between writing and everything else: this allows my brain to shift gears into the realms of fantasy.

It looks on the To-Do list like I do the same thing over and over, but because I write, then it doesn’t feel like that at all. I write my blog, I write stories; variety of genres, and I am NEVER, ever bored.

Now my monkeys, “Fly, fly!”

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I’m cogitating