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I’ve played the ‘Novel Openings’ game three times, and each time I’ve learned more than I could have done reading three books about writing. Let me explain. You get a bunch of authors (at a lunch, at a conference, down the pub) and they each read the first 250 words from one of their works (finished or yet to be) then discuss them, either the specific extracts or story openings in general.

What always amazes me is how different they all turned out to be. Three times, maybe three dozen authors in total and never a duff beginning. All good, but as varied as chalk, cheese and chewed pen lids. Within that small amount of words (a double drabble and a half) the tone of the story was set, the writer’s “voice” was instantly recognisable, you could get a pretty clear idea in at least half the cases about where the story was going to go and you knew the era/setting even where there hadn’t been a Cambridge 1907 type heading at the start.

And – maybe most important of all – I think you had a ninety percent chance of knowing whether you wanted to read more. While all the intros were good, not all of them piqued my interest enough to think, “Read on, read on!” It’s a matter of your individual reader taste – is it your style, your genre, your era, your pace.

The first time I encountered the Novel Opening format (at the Festival of Romance) led me to think about submitting stories and the importance of them making an instant impact. I’ve been on the submissions team for four different anthologies, and I know we could pretty well tell by the end of the first page whether a submitted story was a ‘goer’. The same applies where submission calls ask for a chapter or three. It’s not helping your cause to say, “The first few chapters are a bit slow, so I sent five, six and seven,” or “they don’t represent the story as a whole”. They’re the first bit the editor will see and if he/she isn’t sold, what chance have you got of nabbing a reader? Do we have the patience to plough through three chapters of intro to get to “the good stuff”?

I’ll be facilitating Novel Openings again as one of the panels at UK Meet 2014. Why not come along and play?

Lessons for Suspicious Minds, Charlie‘s latest adventure for Jonty and Orlando, (her Edwardian sleuths) is now available from Amazon, http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FBQZLYS, ARE and all the usual places.

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It is always a pleasure to see my postman struggle up the path with book parcels for me. An honour to be considered a reviewer of note, I read as soon as I can and write reviews that are not just happyclappy quickies but essays and distribute via blogs, forums and readers websites such as Compulsive Reader.

My reading genre is not quite the same as my science fiction writing genre. Consider my current batch of review books to read.

Mitzi Szereto: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed – erotic take on traditional fairy tales.

Sam Stone: Futile Flame – erotic vampire sequel to her Killing Kiss brilliant book

Ben Larken: The Hollows – his Pit-Stop remains my favourite horror of all contempory fiction

David Greske: Blood River – hitchiking vampire beauty – looking forward immensely to reviewing this one

K.L. Nappier: Full Wolf Moon and Bitten – I know her books are extraordinarily well crafted.

Sam Smith: Towards the unMaking of Heaven – intelligently written science fiction.

How do I find time to read, review and write my own stuff? I don’t know! If you live in Chester you’ll see me reading on the bus, in cafes, waiting for my wife in shops, while walking. And scribbling notes. It is a time problem but also a privilege to have authors consider my opinions are worthy of their publishers spending the money to send me their oeuvre.

My wife also looks at that postman and then at me, prompting my speech: No, I haven’t spent our money on these!

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I couldn’t help but respond the other week to a person who left me a comment on my website, a comment assuring me that what they had to say may look like spam but assuring me it wasn’t. All I could do was protest loudly that their site looked like…well, spam. Having disapproved of the comment I sent it off into the protective clutches of my anti-spam programme and then, aggravated beyond reason by what could well be another scam or copyright violation, I posted a response. I copy it for the readers of Britwriters because I believe and hope it clarifies the law with regards to the passing on of books, especially ebooks:

You say you’re not a publisher and yet you’re making money selling free ebooks? This is an oxymoron. If you are selling books they’re not ‘free’. Secondly, you say you’re not a writer so where are you getting these books from? Are you selling other people’s free ebooks? If you’re doing so without their permission you are in violation of copyright law. If you are buying ebooks and selling them on, you are in violation of copyright law. On both counts, I advise you to read the statement that runs in my side bar. If you are doing something else, which I don’t understand, my apologies, but no, I’m not going to download your report file from a site that says very little. For all I know it could be a virus. I’d advise everyone else not to do so either. This isn’t personal. I’m just being sensibly cautious. Sorry.

Look, copyright law on ebooks is simple. You cannot copy, distribute, resell or loan an ebook. Saying that, most of us wouldn’t object if we heard you’ve made yourself a back-up copy purely for your own personal use. We live in a wonderful age of technology but technology fails us from time to time. We hear you’re selling our work and we’ll come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Writers and publishers are getting better at locating piracy sites and law enforcement is finally taking it seriously.

The most common question we hear is “If I can resell or loan a printed book, why can’t I as a reader resell or loan ebooks?” To be honest, even the reselling or lending of some printed books is a grey area. However, it tends to be overlooked because of several reasons.

  1. Most people hate the idea of printed books being destroyed. If you’re finished with them and cannot pass them on in some way they are only good for recycling.
  2. When a printed book is passed on, someone may find an author they like and start buying new books by that author on a regular basis. It’s sort of free-advertising and yes, one could argue this would apply to ebooks but there’s a major difference and reason why this doesn’t work so read on.
  3. Many second-hand books are sold for charity purposes.
  4. You are giving up your physical edition of the book and will no longer own it.

Point 4 is the major one. When you give, sell, or loan a printed book you give away the item you purchased. Even when loaning it, you risk not getting it back. You are not making a ‘physical copy’ of that book to pass it on.

When you pass an ebook on (and some people do this in innocence not piracy but they are still in the wrong) the reader tends to ‘keep’ their version and simply send the file on, thereby making a ‘copy’. I can assure you that this is just as illegal in printed works.

Imagine you took one of Stephen King’s novels, dissected it, scanned it in, printed it up either by POD (good luck — they would spot what you are doing in a flash), or via the printer at home, and tried to give it away, sell it, or hand to a friend. Should SK find out do you think he wouldn’t sue your arse off? Oh yes, he would!

The point is you are not allowed to make a ‘copy’ of any written work be it printed or electronic. You may (usually) print off an electronic book with the purpose of reading it in that form should you not wish to read on screen, but that printed form is subject to the same laws. You may not sell it, or pass it on. If you wish to pass on an ebook the only viable way to do this is buy an extra copy, and what’s so wrong with that? We all have people to buy presents for.

Oh…and to those who think they can file share their ebook library, has nothing I’ve stated sunk in? Besides, you are NOT a library and did you know that even if you were there is such a thing as the ‘public lending right’? This means that an author can, if they wish, claim a small payment every time a library lends one of their books. So next time you choose to file share, don’t be surprised should you receive a letter from the authors asking for an audit of the number of ‘loans’ and demanding payment from you!

You are not a publisher and the author has not signed a contract with you. You do not have the right to sell.

You are not an official state library. You do not have the right to loan (and let’s be honest — loan in electronic format means copy and give away).

You are not friends with thousands of strangers online that you simply ‘must’ lend your books to (and we’ve already established that you are not lending but copying) and authors and publishers will not turn their back on you ‘giving’ their work away.

I’m not speaking to those who are deliberately committing an act of piracy. They know they are breaking the law, damaging authors and the publishing industry, and they just don’t care. The most we can do is assure them that while there will always be crooks there will always be those willing to fight them. I’m speaking mainly to those that do this in innocence, not understanding that they are doing anything wrong. You claim to love us as writers. You claim to love our work. We do work — hard — at this. Most of us have day jobs, families, lives just like you. We have to find time to write on top of all that. We often forsake sleep. Many don’t make as much money as you think and even if we did, haven’t we ‘earned’ it? You love our characters, our worlds, our stories. You claim to love our work and even to love us. Why do something fundamentally harmful to someone or something you love?

Did you know there are pirate copies of the “I Do” anthology out there? A book I took part in for charity. The thought that people can be so low as to steal from charity has made some of us authors want to puke. If you’re doing this in innocence or not, rest assured, we’re very upset with you.

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Please note, this is a slightly edited version of a short article I wrote a few years ago, highlighting the plight of small press magazines. It has appeared as a reprint no less than seven times. Even though it was a reprint, both print and electronic publications kept snapping it up every time I subbed it, which cannot give a clearer indication of how I struck a cord with the difficulties they face. Alas, the problem affects many authors who need these markets in order to succeed.

Potential talent has always had the problem of being recognised, tapped, and finding its place in the world. Writers everywhere have reason to mourn each time they say a fond farewell to yet another of their advocates, and bury the remains in the expanding graveyard of small-press magazines.

Editors of, and writers for, these magazines face the same conundrum. Such magazines have selected availability and are usually obtainable by post or limited outlets. Therefore, the majority of the public do not get the opportunity to view much of the excellent body of work that is out there. Consequently, editors who wish to help talented writers often end up financing such endeavours from their own funds, for at least the first few years if not indefinitely. Struggling writers end up supporting the very publications that may help to launch successful careers that might otherwise have the misfortune of falling by the wayside. This leaves both the editor and writer ‘numb’ and disillusioned.

The subject is often further confused by the mistaken belief that editors and writers have ‘unlimited’ funds. The truth is the majority of writers, even published ones, often need to support their income by working on a part-time, if not full-time basis. Even when a small press publication is doing well, the editor usually tries to show his appreciation by paying contributors, even failing to cover costs, making it definitely a love rather than profit venture. Hence, many publications are transforming into ‘webzines’ as these are considerably cheaper to produce. This has a mixed reaction. On the one hand, I’ve come across a particular kind of snobbery that publishing on the ‘web’ isn’t real publishing. But the truth is, if your work has to meet a certain standard and demands of an editor, it should be no less valid than if produced in print. This form of publishing needs to be encouraged, not sneered at – it is, after all, meant to be a new millennium. In this regard, the advent of email makes submissions and replies cheaper for the editor and writer alike – it’s not only time that concerns the writer but the cost of paper, ink and postage. Writing can be ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences, but it is also costly in time and money.

From a writer’s point of view I try to support at least one such publication on a regular basis and others ‘as and when’, which also keeps me up to date with what they are currently publishing. In addition to this – as pointed out to me by editor, Trevor Denyer, of Roadworks magazine (now currently the editor of Midnight Street), – “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for writers submitting their work, to study the market by buying AT LEAST one copy of the magazine. If everyone who submitted work did that, it would go a long way to helping protect the markets that they rely on.”

I also have to admit that, when I’m going to be in print, I’m not above telling friends and family and asking how many copies they would like. I’ve heard so often how proud they are and I’m only asking that they put their money where their mouth is! I’m asking no more or less than I would do for them. After all, they fork out good money for total strangers and value their books for a lifetime!

Night to Dawn is just one example of a small press magazine and issue 15 features my short story “Effigy in Garnet” (which is also available in Aoife’s Kiss September 2007 issue from Sam’s Dot Publishing). As for my story, is it romantic? Yes, though in a rather dark way. Is it horror? Yes. It’s been described as “a keeper” and one that an editor couldn’t refuse. Seeing as two editors felt that way, I think that’s a good enough recommendation. As you can tell I’m especially proud of this story, though for those of you who know me best for my romance novels this is definitely a different style of story-telling but one I enjoy immensely. You can purchase Night to Dawn at www.bloodredshadows.com
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By Geoff Nelder

I laughed the other day because I received a request from a baby naming site to link with my writing one. Initially, I thought this was a curious variation of a Nigerian bank scam, but once my stomach subsided I realized there was some sense here.

 

When I started writing fiction, characters’ names appeared from a mix of telephone directories, atlases and local newspapers. A snag with the directory method is repetition and so time consuming. As my fiction reached into more exotic parts I found a site with a name engine that gave me lists of real names from different continents.

 

Choosing the right name for a character is as important, if not more so, than choosing one for a newborn. You don’t want a tough gangster being called Cedric, or – I realize I may be upsetting real people here – an academic called Buster. It isn’t so simple. One of our aims is to have our main characters undergo change during the plot. The change is usually one gleaned from experience such as surviving a crisis, or it could be a coming of age. For such a character a name that can also ‘grow up’ is handy. That’s why many novels use Robert. Bobby as the kid, Rob as he matures, Robert as a gentleman then Bob as an ancient with dementia.

 

As my main genres are science fiction and fantasy I have great fun making up names. It was a voyage of discovery when I conjured up a name for a prehistoric man living in the Middle East. Twenty thousand years ago was before any established religion so Mohammed was out. However, I reasoned that since that region would likely have had a proto-language that led to early Arabic. I played around with Omar but although ancient was too new for my character. I felt I needed a Q in there since it is a feature of so many names in that region. Oqmar thus was born. If you google Oqmar 99% of the hits are for my ancient man in my recent book.

 

So what was the link I was asked to make from my website? It is Quick Baby Names. I gladly acceded because apart from having spent months trying to convince daughter that Ewan is a great name for her baby, the site gives the derivation and meanings. My daughter chose  Oliver, and he’s gorgeous.

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The mysterious radgepacket...
The mysterious radgepacket…

I’m in a slightly weird position here. A few weeks ago I had a short story accepted by Byker Books for their latest anthology, which has the utterly unforgettable title of ‘Radgepacket – Tales From the Inner Cities Volume 2’. Of course, I was delighted – but I was also slightly baffled. And that bafflement has stayed, because in spite of emailing the editor regularly, reading the whole of the first anthology, and visiting the Byker Books website every other day, I still have no idea whatsoever what a radgepacket is. And that annoys me. 😉

There are a couple of clues. For starters Byker Books is based in Newcastle, so I’m assuming it’s Geordie, or at least north-eastern, slang. And two, they specialise in dark, gritty, even shocking urban fiction of the sort your Aunt Agatha would faint if she read, so I’m assuming it has something to do with that. But otherwise, I’m stumped – and what’s more, a friend of mine who was born within spitting distance of Byker has also never come across the term.

So, can anyone out there come to the rescue? Is it something horribly rude, or in spite of appearances is it actually quite normal and dull? I would love to know!

By the way, the story I’ve had published is called ‘Rock and a Hard Place’ and involves Jed, an ageing rock star whose pushy manager suggests he pretends to be gay in order to attract the pink pound and sell more records. Needless to say all does not run according to plan and there are twists and double-twists galore as Jed meets his supposed boyfriend Simon, goes clubbing, enters a lookalike contest for himself, and generally tries to stay sane.

Here’s a brief taster to whet your appetites:

It’s all old Hinchcliffe’s fault that Jed Lemmon turned gay. There I was lounging in bed one Sunday afternoon, hand resting on some blonde babe’s left boob, when there was pandemonium downstairs and before I knew it he was banging on the bedroom door. That kind of pissed me off. I mean, I know he’s my manager and I gave him the key myself, but even rock stars deserve some privacy – even washed-up old scrotes like me.

I patted Suzie on the rump and sent her home, then scraped my jeans off the bedroom floor and dragged them on. A quick swig from the flask I’d hidden by the bed and I was more-or-less ready to face the old man.

“Wotcha Jed,” he said, grinning from ear to ear and jabbing me in the chest. “How’s things with you?”

“Oh fine, just fine,” I mumbled, trying not to watch as Suzie’s Jeep sped off bad-temperedly down the drive. “What can I do for you, Mr H?”

It was the usual – of course it was. He dropped the bonhomie, even as he dropped his rump into an over-padded chair. “Business as well as pleasure, Jed. Records, to be precise. We’re not selling enough. Sales are down for the seventh month in a row – nobody’s buying your stuff.”

I took my time lighting a cigarette. “I’m sorry, Mr H. I’ve done everything you said. I can’t think of anything else.” Well, why the hell should I? It’s why I pay him a bloody great wad of my earnings every month.

“I know – and I’m proud of you. But don’t worry, I’ve had a brainwave.”

My heart sank. Great bloke, old Hinchcliffe, and I couldn’t have got where I am without his help. But his brainwaves are notorious. We’d already had the Jed novelty hats and the posters given away with Choco-flakes, and as for Jed Lemmon dressing up as an orange to advertise yoghurt – I’d had nightmares for months.

His jaw developed a horizontal crack that might have been a smile. “It’s simple. We tell the world you’re gay.”

If you’d like to find out whether Jed gets out of it all unscathed you can find more details on my website, or you can order the anthology direct from Byker Books. Be warned, though, their fiction is high-octane stuff. As they themselves say, don’t buy the book if you like happy endings or stories about kittens playing with bits of string. 😉

And someone, please, put me out of my misery and tell me what that darned radgepacket is….

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Public Lending Right

‘PLR’s aim is to provide an excellent service to all our stakeholders making annual payments to writers and other creators whose works are freely available in libraries. We will achieve this by maintaining a highly skilled team and making efficient use of all our resources.’

Basically, if your books (or anything else) are in libraries in the UK then you are eligible to a ‘royalty’ for each time it is loaned out.

Ho ho! I thought – even if Standish is the only book that is in any British libraries, and only in one library that I know of (Chesterfield, because a friend demanded they order it) – this sounds like a good idea!  Even if it’s only a little amont extra, ‘every little helps’ as a famous supermarket slogan says these days (ignoring the fact that the joke it came from was very rude.)

So I logged in and – me being me – did it all completely wrong. See elsewhere for my posts of how NOT to apply for your ITIN for example. The site is ease itself, and very user-friendly. You have to give your personal details before you can register any of your books – the trouble IS is that before the final submit your details page (although it does, very helpfully, give you a percentage of the process so you don’t do exactly what I did) it gets you to print out your application form.  And here’s where I got sidetracked and didn’t progress to the end. D’oh!

So don’t do that.

The reason you have to print out the application form is to get someone you know (not a relative) to simply say that you are you – you post it off and Bob’s your mother’s slightly dubious brother your account will be activated within a few days.

(What I had to do, for those of you who cock up as regularly as I do, was I had to enter all my details again but not print off the form once more. They were incredibly helpful both by email, phone and letter. They obviously have had idiots pass their way before.)

Anyway, my account was authorised yesterday and I logged on and registered all my books. It was a real thrill to just input the ISBNs and find that the computer already knew the names and publishers!  One thing to be aware of, you must be honest about your Lending Right percentage, don’t go putting “100 percent” if you are in a 3-author anthology!

Other countries, Ireland, Canada and many others have a similar system apparently, and I’ll checking them out – and no doubt getting all the forms wrong there too!

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