12 February 2010
Voting is open now for The Bookseller's annual Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Thanks to Twitter, this year saw the number of suggested titles triple, although self-published works were excluded.
Prize coordinator Horace Bent told The Bookseller: "The adage that everyone has a book in them may well be true, but that doesn't mean every Tom, Dick and Harry out there can bash a few words out on a keyboard and then upload it to Scribd with a humorous title like: The Historic Adventures of the Purple Waffle Iron on His Horse Made of Asparagus, and then think they have a chance at winning my prestigious award. I refuse to ackowledge such submissions."
This year's longlist ranged from the intentionally funny (such as children's book "Father Christmas Needs a Wee", of which my nephew is a fan, and bestseller "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), through the highly specialist ("Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845", "Dental Management of Sleep Disorders"), to the totally perplexing ("I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears", "The Great Dog Bottom Swap", "Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree").
You can help Horace to whittle the longlist down to a shortlist by casting your vote now. Even after that survey closes, you should be able to read the full longlist for the awards here.
16 October 2009
Phew! I've finished drafting 'Social Networking for the Older and Wiser' now. It's been a great few months, digging deep into social networks. Some of them are networks that I wouldn't naturally have come across before (such as Saga Zone), and others are networks that I'm a big fan of (including Facebook, Twitter and 43Things).
At times it was confusing dealing with multiple logins, having multiple versions of myself out there in cyberspace, making friends with each other (myself?) and chatting away. But apart from that, it was great fun and wonderful to take on another book-length project and to complete it in a few months. (My previous book was a novel that took two years).
The shape of the book changed during drafting. The original plan was to dedicate a chapter each to 13 social networks, but it became clear during drafting that it would be a more useful book if it focused its attention on leading networks. The book covers 9 different social networking sites in detail now, with an appendix dedicated to introducing the other networks out there.
From now, the book goes through a technical editor, comes back to me to make any final edits, and then goes off for design. I should see the page proofs in December, it should be printed early 2010, and in the shops in February.
I've set up a dedicated page for the book now and will add to this over time, building up a minisite with more information on the book. The plan is to include the table of contents, excerpts, all the links on one page (so you don't have to type them in), reviews, and other goodies. If there's anything you find particularly useful or interesting on book websites, let me know and I'll see if I can add it for you.
The book can be preordered from Amazon now. Amazon guarantees that you will pay the lowest price between when you order and when the book is published.
30 September 2009
Generally speaking, I recommend publishing free chapters of books online. Readers can thumb through the real book in a shop to get a flavour of what it's like, but to stimulate sales online, a free sample is essential.
However, this only applies if the book is good. If, say, you're a former Eastenders actress who has got a book deal purely on your name; and every paragraph you write makes readers wince; and your publisher thought it would be funnier to deny you the services of a decent copyeditor; then the following advice applies: on no account publish the first chapter online.
I cannot describe how awful Martine McCutcheon's first chapter is in a way that will make you appreciate the horror. It's repetitive, has weak characterisation, banal dialogue, awful description, terrible brand placement, lots of irrelevant chit-chat and filler. Nothing happens. It's like a case study in how not to write a story.
This is the first of three novels she is threatening to unleash. I'm certain she's not working with a ghost-writer (she could afford a good one, if she were). I've got nothing against her personally and it's great that she's exploring her creativity and learning to write novels. Everyone has their story to tell, and is entitled to their creativity.
But, Pan MacMillan, really? Shouldn't you have passed this one by? Waited until she had more finely tuned her craft before unleashing it on the nation? Offered her coaching maybe so that she met the basic standards for publication before going ahead with it? Given her an editor, perhaps? Celebrities get signed because they're guaranteed to shift units, but this book is so bad I can't even see it doing that.
09 August 2009
There's a self-publishing fair planned for 27 September in East London, organised by Publish and be Damned. If you're a self-publisher, you can apply for a place at the fair now to promote and sell your publications. If you're a reader, why not put the date in your diary and plan to go along? You'll find a thriving independent press which you might otherwise not come across, and will doubtless find lots of new ideas.
20 July 2009
As you might have heard, I'm burrowing deep into social networks at the moment to write about them for a new book, which will be published by Wiley early next year. The book is entitled "Social Networking for the Older and Wiser" and will provide friendly guidance on using the internet to find old friends, make new friends, and socialise online.
I'll be updating this site with more information over time, including a breakdown of the websites and tools that will be covered, a free sample and helpful resources.
The blog might go a bit quiet while I'm focusing on the book. I don't tend to write much about writing while I'm doing it (firstly, it's a distraction, and secondly I don't flatter myself that people are sufficiently interested in how I work).
If you're ultra-keen, Social Networks for the Older and Wiser is available now for pre-order on Amazon. (Yes, they're using a slightly different title to me, but I'll have to clarify that later). Amazon's pre-order guarantee means that if the price drops at any time between your order and the publication date (even for a day), you'll only be charged the lower price. I've used it before (for the Prince O2 book/CD set) and am happy to recommend it.
If you're connected to me on any social networking sites, please excuse any weirdness that might happen to my profile as a result of testing out different features. You might occasionally see two of me. And if you think that's odd, I'll actually be both of them, having a conversation between myselves.
14 July 2009
I recently attended a talk by Michelle Harrison, author of The Thirteen Treasures, which won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009. Michelle was wearing a red top, because wearing something red is one of the ways you can protect yourself against fairies.
In The Thirteen Treasures, a 13-year-old girl can see fairies, but they're nasty and punish her for talking (or even writing) about them. The girl (Tanya) gets the blame for the mess the fairies make, and is always in trouble with her mum. When Tanya is sent to her grandmother's house to give her mother a break from all the chaos and destruction, she comes across a girl in the woods. That girl, it transpires, was the same one who disappeared 50 years ago. How is that possible? The book unravels the mystery, and the part that the fairies play in it.
It was inspiring to hear about Michelle's journey to publication. We occasionally see stories in the press about authors who get a lucky break, but don't so often hear about those who persevere through countless rejections.
This is what Michelle's journey to publication looked like:
- Spent a year drafting
- Sent draft to publisher
- Three months later, received a rejection
- Sent book to six agents
- Five said no
- One said they liked it, but didn't want to represent it yet
- Michelle edited the book using their feedback, and sent it back
- They sent a longer reply, outlining bits they still didn't like
- Michelle edited it, and sent new versions back to the agent three or four times, incorporating new feedback, over a period of 18 months
- The agent turned it down
- Michelle took another look at the book herself, decided she didn't like one of the characters and rewrote to make the character stronger
- She spent "the longest time" on a cover letter to go with this submission, and then approached the top agent on her list, a name she had been too intimidated to approach before
- They asked to meet up and then quickly signed up to represent the book. It had taken four years to get to that point.
- The agent shopped the book around publishers
- A number of publishers rejected the book, with some requesting that the book be edited for a younger audience
- Simon and Schuster signed the book
During Michelle's journey to publication, there were many points at which she could have given up. Winning the Waterstone's prize is as much a testament to her perseverance as her imagination and talent for writing.
09 July 2009
Chris Anderson's new book is called "Free", and is all about the history and future of giving things away in business. Contrary to some reports, it doesn't argue that everything should be free - it just looks at how giving some things away can enable you to sell some other things.
Some people have argued that authors should give away their work for free. The idea is that the reputation that builds as a result of that opens doors for consulting work, lecturing, media appearances and so on. Personally I'm not convinced by that argument: it means you have to work twice to get paid once, and it also means that your job changes from writer to consultant/lecturer/talking head, which is probably not what you really want to be. The writing just becomes marketing, rather than the focus of your creative and working life.
I can see how making things free can help to attract an audience, though, if you can afford to do so. At a time when it's hard enough to fight for people's attention, fighting for their money too is an uphill struggle.
Anderson's book is available in a couple of free formats. You can download the unabridged audiobook for free at Wired's website. The abridged audiobook will cost $7.50 from outlets including Audible. The thinking is that busy people might be prepared to pay more to save time. It's counterintuitive to charge more for less, but I do listen to a lot of audiobooks but can't ever remember getting through an unabridged one. The audio format just isn't as convenient as a real book for full-length works.
The ebook is available at Scribd, and embedded below, but you can't download or print the PDF. For more comfortable viewing, click the button in the top right of the box to view full screen. So much of the content on Scribd is there without the author's permission, so this promotion will also bring a lot of credibility to the Scribd platform.
The audio formats will remain free forever, but the ebook formats will be available for just one month. If all else fails you could always stump up for the hardback.
UPDATE: The Scribd version of Free has now been withdrawn, after five weeks and 170,000 reads.
01 July 2009
If you've been following me on Twitter, you might have seen that I've just signed a book contract. It's a non-fiction book that will be coming out early next year and I'll have more details to share soon.
In the meantime, I'm starting a free email magazine. Once a month, I'll write a short newsletter about interesting stuff I've found online. I'm looking forward to writing some snippets about online games, music reviews and so on and I'm hoping that the newsletter can work as a publication in its own right.
It will also provide me with an opportunity to tell people about my books when they come out, and hopefully to help start word of mouth around them where appropriate. The email newsletter will also enable me to keep in touch with people who don't visit this website regularly or don't subscribe to the RSS feeds or Twitter feed, but the focus will very much be on adding value. I want this to be a publication that people enjoy receiving and reading.
If you'd like to subscribe (thank you!), there's a form on the right hand side of this page right now. Just enter your name and email address, and (optionally) let me know what content you're most interested in on this site. When you click the button, you'll be sent an email with a link in it. You need to click that link to confirm your subscription, to make sure that people don't sign others up.
If you previously subscribed to one of my mailing lists, I'll drop you a line, but please do sign up using the form if you've got a couple of seconds. It'll save me a lot of time! Thank you!
18 June 2009
Business autobiographies are usually written by household name entrepreneurs, and marketed with the promise that you too can achieve riches beyond your wildest dreams. Most of the investors from Dragon's Den have spent some time on the bestseller lists and Richard Branson has three books to his name.
These books are often inspiring, revealing how far you can go with the right mix of entrepreneurial flair, hard work, creativity and a little luck. But they're also written by people who started their businesses decades ago, and so tend to be light on the early history. The mental gulf between a millionaire and a reader who hasn't yet made the first sale is hard to cross.
With her book Brand New Day, Lara Solomon builds a bridge. The book is her diary from 2004 to 2007, and shows how she set up a new business from scratch. By the end of the book, the company has six staff and has turned over AU$250k (£120k) in three months. The book is inspiring, in part because the steps Lara takes are small steps anybody could take, if they were comfortable with the risk and had equal drive.
The product is a mobile phone sock, available in a wide range of designs, with a different one reproduced in the corner of each page (nice touch). To be honest, it's not a product I could believe in and not one I could see myself buying. But one thing that's made Lara's business a success is that she's persevered even when others didn't share her enthusiasm, and she's created a market in the process.
Key themes throughout the book are the challenges Lara has recruiting and retaining good staff, the emphasis placed on building the Mocks brand, and the extent to which Lara has to work outside her comfort zone to get things done. The book reads like an honest account of those first entrepreneurial steps, and provides a rare insight into what goes on in a smaller business. Laroo, the company behind the Mocks, is based in Australia so there are a few cultural references I didn't get, but most of the lessons are applicable internationally.
Lara's self published the book, so if you'd like to read a sample or order a copy, head over to the Brand New Day website.
For more small business advice, check out my book Small Business Websites That Work.
03 June 2009
Lulu is making my novel about the music industry University of Death available on Amazon.com. This will increase the convenience of the buying experience for many readers because they won't need to register for a new Lulu account to order it.
You can find the book through my new Amazon Author page here. You can still read the reviews, download sample chapters and get your copy signed over the internet at the book's mini-site.
The ebook edition is still exclusively available through Lulu.com. I was delighted to hear from someone who's reading it on their iPhone at the moment - for avid users of iPhones and similar devices, ebooks can be the ideal format.
02 June 2009
As ebooks become a larger part of the book industry, publishers and authors could face the same challenges from piracy that record labels and musicians have over the last ten years.
A piece in the Bookseller last week said that the Publishers' Association had identified 800 illegally uploaded works and removed 90% of them using a new anti-piracy tool.
What caught my eye about the story was the suggestion that publishers might adopt similar spoofing tactics to those used by the music industry, where fake copies of a work are uploaded by the copyright owner to confuse the pirates.
The commitment that people make to a song is minimal compared to the commitment made to a book. If you're playing a song and it turns out to be a lecture about how you should be buying it instead, you could just click 'stop'. How annoying would it be if you were 200 pages in to a pirated copy of some romantic fiction novel, when a bunch of pirates swing in on ropes yelping like Tarzan and just start killing everyone? (er... in the book, obviously). I can see a lot of creative opportunities for authors who work with publishers to create spoofed versions of their works...
30 April 2009
Last week was the London Book Fair, attended by publishers, authors and Flanimals (pictured, right).
It was interesting to see how digital books were received at the fair. There was an area at the back of the hall given over to ebooks and digital publishing, and the seminars there were packed out. But it seemed to be led by the technology, rather than the content. There were plenty of firms who could help you to repurpose and distribute your content for mobile platforms (including the iPhone and Sony Reader), but I didn't notice anybody promoting digital content.
I didn't see any discussion about how ebooks can be different to print books. A certain amount of this is built into the device (eg searchability), but there is lots of potential to create new types of content based on the written word. Mindsportlive is developing iPhone apps based on its card packs, including '52 Ways to Beat Stress', but it was very much the exception.
It's partly the nature of shows like this that means major publishers would sideline their digital offerings. If you're negotiating rights, a printed book looks more impressive. Experienced publishers can get a measure of the content quickly. With ebooks, you can't tell how big they are, how well proofread they are in the middle, whether the book's consistently structured and so on without flicking through a lot of virtual pages. There's not a 'flick through until something catches my eye' button on any of the devices I've seen. Also, since the ebooks are often sold directly, they probably don't belong at a show that's partly about negotiating print book distribution and sales with intermediaries.
One company from Russia has an interesting proposition for interactive physical products - it markets hardback comic books for adults, with an enclosed music CD and CD-Rom. On the CD-Rom is a Flash animation that brings the comic book to life, and the CD contains atmospheric music that goes with the story. The project has been led by the music, with the creator being a musician first and commissioning illustration to expand on his work, which is an interesting way to create value at a time when it's increasingly difficult to sell music. For more information, check out the Ylotana website.
The Espresso Book Machine for printing on demand attracted a lot of attention. The Blackwell bookshop in Charing Cross Road will now be able to print books on demand using the machine, which was demonstrated at the fair. The device is a great way to increase effective footage in an expensive store, and it means many books need never go out of print. But it also transforms the bookseller into a book distributor. Surely the point of a bookshop is that you can browse and discover new titles you wouldn't have otherwise read? Isn't the idea that the bookshop can sell you books you didn't already know about? Print on demand is likely to require the shopper to ask for a specific book to be printed, although it is theoretically possible for displays to be mounted to showcase print-on-demand books, enabling infinite sales based on one shelf copy.
Other news from the show: Simon Pegg's writing a book for publication in October (hurrah!). It's an autobiography/memoir (err... okay). Enid Blyton is coming back from the dead with six new stories being ghostwritten in her (presumably trademarked) name. She wrote over 700 stories when she was alive, so you wouldn't think there would be a need for this. I wonder whether we'll see the day when John LennonTM releases a new album? Perhaps we have more respect for the personal creativity of songwriters than we do of book authors. Or perhaps it just needs another fifty years before The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zepellin and Abba become brand names attached to ghostwritten work.
While at the show, I got some useful feedback on my novel University of Death from successful self-publishers, including Pauline Rowson, who writes and publishes crime fiction and business books. She has given me some great ideas for how I can make the book (or my next book) more marketable. Shows like this are always a good opportunity to pick up new ideas - I came back home with more ideas than I know what to do with.
11 February 2009
I've released an ebook edition of my novel 'University of Death'. It costs £5, half the price of the print edition, and is available now at Lulu. There are no shipping costs (obviously), and it is available for download immediately after payment. You can pay using paypal if you don't want to use a credit card.
This move is partly in response to an email from Sven Augustin who says he likes to read ebooks on his hacked PSP on long train journeys because it means there's less stuff to carry around. He uses the Bookr PDF reader.
Clearly, the way that people choose to consume content is changing. Nintendo recently released 100 Classic Book Collection for the Nintendo DS. It includes a library of many books you know you probably ought to read, but it's a shame there's no option to read PDFs of your own choice. Amazon's Kindle ebook reader (only available in the US) has made it to a second edition and does offer the ability to read your own PDFs, as well as providing downloadable content. Amazon warns that the PDF conversion is experimental, but it nevertheless creates greater opportunities for authors to distribute their content to Kindle readers. I blogged about some of the problems of distributing Kindle content via Amazon previously.
By providing 'University of Death' as an ebook, I hope I'll be able to give people more options for consuming the content as they wish. It also makes it possible for people to access the content more quickly, and to save money on ordering (no postage or print costs). People who wish to can print their own copies to read on paper.
Pricing ebooks is tricky, but at less than the cost of some music magazines, I think £5 represents fair value for the entertainment provided. People tend to think that there are no costs in ebook publishing, but actually the cost of content creation and promotion is the same as it is for printed books. Feel free to leave any comments on the pricing of ebook below.
11 January 2009
My novel University of Death was mentioned briefly on Radio 4's Saturday Live, yesterday (at approximately 44:30mins if you want to listen again). I emailed the programme to ask Joanna Trollope for tips on writing titles for novels, given that the title 'University of Death' has put off as many people as it has intrigued.
Joanna's advice was that she follows the model of the 19th century novel, and keeps the title short, plain and descriptive, but she says that the music industry might need something a bit more hip than her book titles. I already have a one word title in mind for my next novel, which follows Joanna's guidelines closely, so perhaps I'm on the right track with that.
As well as getting some free advice from a leading author, it's nice to get a short mention on Radio 4 for my book, including the author, title and subject matter. Radio 4 has 9.45 million listeners, and it's extremely difficult for independent authors to reach an audience of that size.
14 November 2008
I've hung around in a few writing forums over the last two years, and one of the things that newcomers often say is that they really want to write a book but they can't think of anything to write about. That seems the wrong way around to me. The best writing is driven by a story the author really wants to tell, rather than being a bunch of words looking for an idea.
Still, everyone needs inspiration. My top tip is to read the 'And finally...' stories in newspapers. The stuff that actually happens in real life is far stranger than what you could possibly dream up, and just gathering ideas from these short reports is bound to make something spark. One of my favourite cuttings from the last two years was about a Chinese man who hired a woman to pretend to be his girlfriend so that his wife could beat her up, believing it really was the girlfriend. The cutting was only about 40 words, but there's three different characters hinted at there - such great potential for a piece of short fiction.
Here's another gem from today's news. According to the BBC, a German prisoner who was working in a stationery workshop mailed himself out of the prison. He climbed into a cardboard box, slapped a stamp on the top and then got freighted out. Once he was safely outside the jail, he cut his way out of the box and the lorry and ran away. If somebody had written that in a book, it would have seemed perhaps a little far-fetched. It goes to show that truth really can be stranger than fiction.
23 September 2008
I've just finished reading 'University of Death'. After it was published, I left it alone for a while. To be honest, I'd spent so long editing and writing it, that there were bits I could virtually recite by heart. I didn't want to read it.
But over the last couple of weeks I re-read it, from the start to the end. The point of reading it again was to pick up any errors that need fixing, and I found a few including one obvious counting error. While I will be fixing those errors for subsequent copies, I won't be tampering with editing any copy now, however tempting it is to refine the odd sentence.
Given that so much time has passed since I wrote it, the experience was as close as I can get to that of a real reader. It was always going to be a bit weird, though, because as I read the book, part of me knew that I'd written it. From my limited experience, reading my own novel felt like watching myself on TV - I came up to a bit that made me feel uncomfortable, and I would sort of squint through my fingers at it, even though I knew loads of other people had already seen it.
I was surprised at how much I'd forgotten. Some of my favourite bits this time around were the passages I couldn't remember writing, perhaps because they were the bits that I had read less during development and so had less chance to grow tired of. Maybe also because they were the bits that had been polished less, and so were a bit more energetic.
Having some distance from the book changed my perception on it. The bits I was worried might be weak stood up surprisingly well. The bits that were my favourite at the time of writing were fine, but not consistently among the strongest sections.
I think there are some Easter eggs in there for people who re-read it. Some of the central relationships seem different second time around when you know how the story ends. There are a few continuity gags (Marian misinterpreting band names, how Silent But Violent is described) and there are some jokes that people have told me they missed first time around (why the woman working in Starbucks was so grumpy, who Marian sent to chase Simon and Fred out of the building). They're not always set up as proper jokes, but I'm pleased that I didn't draw too much attention to them and just left them as amusing discoveries.
As a whole, I was pleased with how the story was structured and how it all came together at the end. I enjoyed the journey that the characters took me on. It was like visiting old friends.
05 September 2008
Gosh! It's a good week for book PR. Writers' Forum has published a great story about the tool I've created to enable books to be signed over the internet. It uses a virtually unknown feature of Internet Explorer to send a font of the author's handwriting over the web. The technique enables dedications to be customised with the recipient's name (and potentially, other details too). You can try the tool out by getting your copy of 'University of Death' signed now.
It's great story in the magazine, half a page including my photo and a cover shot. It's nice to be mentioned in the same story as Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, too.
I've offered to help other authors to set up the same facility on their websites. Drop me a line, if you're interested. You'll need to have FTP access to your server, but if you're happy with that, then I can talk you through the steps to get the rest of it working.
Writers' Forum issue 85 is available now from WH Smiths (and probably some other shops too). Nice joke on the front cover about writing for Australian markets, too, with the strapline printed upside down.*
*(It would have been funnier if the article had been laid out upside down, particularly if the unrelated right hand column had been left the right way up. But I guess there has to be a line somewhere.)
30 August 2008
The new issue of Metal Hammer magazine (dated September 2008) includes a review of my novel 'University of Death' on p91. The review says the book is:
"A fun novel about the problems faced by musicians in making their mark on a music industry that's falling apart. A bitter satire that works its way up to a memorable finale."The full review makes reference to my non-fiction book 'Small Business Websites That Work' and says I'm letting my hair down here and having some fun. It's a comical observation in some ways, although there's no reason why someone shouldn't be an expert on website building and a passionate music fan. My press backgrounder for UoD mentions my non-fiction books as a way to establish my credibility as a published author. It's one way to differentiate myself from the many self-publishers out there, some of whom (whisper it now) aren't very readable.
For independent publishers, reviews are a valuable way of demonstrating credibility and publicising books, and I'm delighted to receive such a positive endorsement from Metal Hammer magazine. I'll be updating the book cover with this review quote. Although the book isn't available in the shops, each copy that's lying around in somebody's house or workplace is also an advert and good cover copy can help others to take an interest in the book and start reading.
The editor kindly published my website address with the review, although the exact URL published was unfortunately wrong. I've fixed it on the server so it redirects, but I'm also going to count the number of visits originating from that review, which will be an interesting experiment. It's difficult to attribute any sales or website traffic to particular coverage, but I do have an opportunity here to tie up the review with the resulting website visits (even if I can't follow that through to sales at the moment).
14 August 2008
You might already have heard of Garfield Minus Garfield, a cartoon strip created by Dan Walsh by editing Garfield out of the original cartoon strips. You're left with Jon, a lonely man who appears to be slowly cracking up. The empty frames create a sense of time crawling along.
Creative projects like that are risky - it's not uncommon for the original artists and writers to stamp out unauthorised derivative works. Jim Davis, though, has been supportive. He told The Washington Post (and much kudos to Walsh for getting his site covered there) that the site was "an inspired thing to do" and he wanted to thank Walsh for "enabling him to see another side of Garfield".
Now, there's going to be a book that puts the original Garfield strips alongside Walsh's edited strips. This seems like a great way for Davis to celebrate Garfield's 30th birthday, and it's a nice model for how cartoon strip writers can involve readers and package user generated content commercially.
I'm curious about how Walsh's creative input is being recognised - I doubt he's getting a half share as co-author, but I hope that his creativity is being compensated fairly. Particularly since a lot of people who have never bought a Garfield book might be inspired to do so because of the 'Minus Garfield' juxtaposition.
Scott Adams has mashups on his Dilbert site, which enable readers to replace his final frame with their own punchlines. Visitors can vote on which jokes they like best. This could make for a great book too, although the main value is the way that it involves the readers with the work and inspires them to visit Adams' site every day.
I have heard a conspiracy theory that the Fred Bassett cartoons are all missing a final frame which contains the punchline, which is why they're mostly unfunny. Perhaps that could be the next candidate for a writer-reader mashup?
07 August 2008
Here's a website recommendation I've been meaning to make for a while: Readitswapit. You upload a list of books you're prepared to swap. You can then find people who have books you want and ask them if they want to trade. If so, they get the pick from your list. You both post the books at your own expense, within two days, and then leave feedback on each other.
The system works very well, drawing in book descriptions and artwork automatically from Amazon. The process assumes every book is equally valuable, which you could argue is a flawed assumption. But if you're parting with a book you don't need any more, it doesn't really matter.
I've made a few successful swaps on there, releasing old books that were cluttering up the place and replacing them with new books I really want to read. I should confess I have cheated, though: I have swapped books I never got around to reading, which seems to go against the site's ethic as expressed in its title (assuming it is read that rhymes with red). Still, if you don't tell anyone, I think I'll get away with it.
09 July 2008
Based on my experience publishing my novel University of Death through Lulu.com, I've written twelve tips for self publishers on using Lulu.com. I hope they will be useful to people who are considering working with the site, or to those who are in the early stages of planning their publications. If anyone's got any questions about using Lulu, let me know and I'll update that page with responses to those questions.
20 May 2008
You can now print your own bookmark for University of Death and download Dove's soundcheck MP3 from MySpace or embed it in your MySpace profile.
I previously made bookmarks available for Small Business Websites That Work, and it turned out to be a fairly popular feature. I haven't seen anyone else doing printable bookmarks, which surprises me. For authors where the readers have bought into the merchandising as much as the stories, it could prove to be a popular website feature. And for all authors, it's nice to give readers the opportunity to download a souvenir when they visit their websites.
23 February 2008
I had my first interview about my novel 'University of Death' yesterday. It was a strange experience being on the other end of the interview: usually, I'm the one trying to pose questions that will make the interviewee stop and really think hard about giving an original answer. This time, I was the one thinking 'gosh - didn't expect to be asked that'.
Although there were surprises, it wasn't too difficult. The journalist was well prepared and extremely professional. She gave me time to answer without interrupting and left a nice long pause after I'd replied to check I really had finished speaking (just like I do when I'm doing interviews).
I gabbled away no problem, but at the end had a suspicion that I hadn't answered the question some of the time. It's easy to do: you get so carried away with all the stuff you could say, that you fail to bring it back to why you started talking about that stuff in the first place. I was caught in the middle of a writing deadline frenzy when the phone rang, which didn't help, but for the next one (he says, presumptiously), I'll try to slow down and speak much more in 'bullet points'. And I'll use a notepad so I can write down the question at the start to make sure I'm actually answering it.
One of the questions I was asked was whether I'd been in a band before and whether that's where the whole 'struggling band' storyline came from. I hadn't expected that.
I was in a band at university for about a term, but none of us took it very seriously. There were four or five of us, and we had nothing in common except that we all wanted to play at least one gig. We used to rehearse in my tiny campus bedroom (without the drummer).
There was a singer called Zoe, a guitarist called Richard, a drummer we borrowed from another band, and me on keyboards. There might have been someone else - I can't remember. We played in the students' union bar on a 'band club' night, and there were probably about 30 people there. We only played covers: 'Thinking about you' by Radiohead, 'Weather with you' by Crowded House, 'More than Words' by Extreme, 'Twist in my sobriety' by Tanita Tikaram and 'Wish you were here' by Pink Floyd. You could have called us lots of things, but 'punk' wasn't one of them. The setlist was a distillation of what four people with nothing in common could agree on, and what we could reasonably attempt with our limited talent. We put as much imagination into our name as we did the setlist: we went out as a covers band called 'Blanket'.
I remember it being too dark to see the keys properly, and remember my fingers being sweaty and sliding on the keyboard. But once we'd got through the first song (can't remember which it was) and got some applause, it all got a lot easier.
At the end, this guy came up to me and told me that 'Wish you were here' was his favourite song ever. That made me nervous. I knew I'd fumbled one of the notes at the start and I knew how I felt about my favourite songs: pretty defensive. "Thanks for playing it," he said. "I love that song and I've never heard it live before. That was brilliant." He'd had a few, but he meant it. We'd made his night. And he'd made mine.
My experience was completely different to the performers in the novel. I wasn't good enough to wing it, so I had to concentrate on what I'd practised and repeat that. The characters in my novel (even those jamming in obscurity) are all talented musicians, who can play intuitively and really relax into a performance and turn it into something creative, feeding off the energy of the crowd. In many ways, Simon's band Goblin is an ambassador for all those fantastic bands on MySpace who have about 50 fans and who deserve a bigger audience that just isn't there for them.
I didn't tell the journalist all this. I just told her I was in a band at uni, but we didn't take it very seriously and we weren't very good. But maybe, for that one night, we were good enough. If that guy heard his favourite song played live, and it made him feel something, then perhaps the odd bum note and complete lack of chemistry on the stage don't matter. If you're in the audience, half the gig's in your head anyway: it's about how you respond to the music, and the thoughts and feelings it evokes in you.
University of Death:
Download the first two chapters | Author interview | Buy now
01 December 2007
I'm delighted to say that my satire of the music industry 'University of Death' is available now, exclusively from Lulu. You can preview the first two chapters now.
When you order it, your copy is printed and bound and sent to you in a sturdy cardboard box. The book is 380 pages, and 6x9 inches (which is a bit like a hardback without the hard cover). The book costs £9.99 plus shipping, which varies depending on where in the world you are.
In my last quality check, I still found things I would have liked to have done slightly differently, but the book is definitely ready for the world now and any more editing would be tinkering and procrastination (which as we know is fear in slow motion).
After working on this for about two years, it does feel odd to be sharing it with the world now. Karen was the first person to read it when I'd finished it, and when we discussed it, it felt strange to hear her talking about people like Dove and Bigg, who for such a long time had lived in my imagination alone. I'd never heard their names spoken out loud before. I am excited that new readers will be meeting them for the first time soon and discovering their story.
This is kind of a soft launch to blog readers. I am planning to put together a corner of this website about the book, which will include an author interview. If you've got any questions you'd like to pose about the book or how it came together, feel free to email them over or put them in the comments here. In exchange, I'll try not to be too much of a luvvie in the answers. I'll also be putting together a few special features and a book preview in PDF that's easier to print.
Phew. Now I'm off to relax with a Chinese take-away and a silly film with lots of explosions in. Perhaps later I'll have a celebratory game of Beach Head.
PS: The book makes an ideal Christmas gift (hint, hint - but not for me, I've got plenty). Lulu took nine days to deliver my latest copies this week, which is slower than its usual target of printing in 4 days, but you should still be able to get copies in time for Chrimbo. According to Lulu's Xmas shipping dates you have a week to order in the UK (longer if you pay for express shipping or are in the US). Consult the list for shipping dates for other countries.