Friday, 31 August 2012

Guest Post: Phyllis Burton - Damsels in Distress


As a writer, do you love the characters in your book, or don’t you care what happens to them?

You have to care for them a great deal, after all you created them, so you must be a just a little concerned about their welfare. Therefore it follows that you should know everything about them. What makes them tick? What are their needs and hopes for the future? What is their financial status, or what sign of the Zodiac were they born under. What do they look like? Are they fat, thin, or just perfect? I always find that when your main character looks into the mirror, it is quite easy to describe what or who they look like. Or you could ask another character to describe them for you. You must know all of these things, in order to make them seem alive to your readers. They can never be just cardboard cut-outs.

Would you send your principal character into danger? Yes, you would probably say, because you and you alone know that you can rescue them whenever you want to: in fact you hold the key to their life and their future. But why make them suffer in the first place? The answer to that one is easy, because it wouldn’t be a very interesting story without conflict of some kind.

I have been known to lie awake at night worrying about the main character (librarian, Katie Nicholson) in my latest book Paper Dreams. I had placed her in an impossible situation. The poor girl was locked in the attic of a very old and creepy, crumbling mansion and as far as I was concerned, this was the stuff of which nightmares are made. Katie had always been a bit of a dreamer in a “Walter Mittyish” kind of way and I had placed her in an incredibly awkward and positively dangerous situation.

Her protagonist, Harold Hapsworth-Cole, was hoping to inherit the old house, following upon the death of his aunt, elderly owner, and wealthy widow Marjorie Hapsworth-Cole. Katie had found evidence whilst cataloguing books in the house’s old attic, that another possible heir existed! So of course, my evil intentions towards Katie of whom I was supposed to be very fond, had to come out of Harold’s mind. He had entered the old house in secret and hidden in the shadows of the large wooden staircase…and whilst listening to a telephone conversation between Katie and her employer about the letter she’d found in an old book, had plotted to steal the evidence and make sure that she couldn’t escape from her creepy prison.

At this point, I feel like saying…”it’s nothing to do with me Guv!” But of course it had something to do with me and yes, I had found a way of rescuing her. Katie’s involvement in this drama ended up with her being placed in an even more dangerous situation later in the story, but I digress…

Katie had been treated badly by her boyfriend at the beginning of the story. She suffered as we all would at a time like that, so I found her a new love: Stuart Wells. So, I had salved my conscience by giving her a man who adored her…and everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, nearly every one!

Principal female characters in stories seem destined either to be ‘damsels in distress’, or perhaps become the more modern forward looking women, who single-handedly take care of their own lives and futures. I know which ones I prefer to write about, and despite their suffering, my readers can both cry and laugh with them.

A small part of a review I have received on this story ends with the words…"I do love a happy ending." Another recent review in The Self-Publishing Magazine  ended: "The book feels substantial, the cover is attractive and its quality is good. It’s a galloping, very enjoyable read and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and well worth its price. Matador 9781848767898 (£7.99)."
 


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Guest Post: Sam Stone - Fairtrade Books


Author Sam Stone on why books, like bananas, can be worth paying more for …

Over the past few months I’ve seen stories online that tell us about UK farmers who have been forced to sell their milk to supermarket chains below the cost of production. We’re regularly bombarded with information about people overseas who have no choice but to work for a pittance which is so small that they can’t afford to live at all. Concerns over the welfare and the right to a ‘fair wage’ for work done has resulted in a movement which has been labelled ‘Fair Trade’, where the shops stock coffee, bananas, chocolate and other goods that come under this label. We are encouraged to pay more for these items, as the money paid allows more of the cost to go to those lower down the chain. The aim is, of course, to ensure that the people who do all the hard work growing and making these things in the first place are given better pay, improved working conditions, and that they can work and live on the income they receive. There is a perception that these Fair Trade items are often better quality than the mass-produced fare, that because we are paying more for them, not only are we helping the producers, but that we get something better in return as well.

It would be interesting to speculate on what happens if you apply this principle to books. Some years back, Amazon began trading in cheaper books. Using a ‘supermarket’ mentality, Amazon bought in bulk from publishers, and increasingly used their position to negotiate better discounts. Initially this seems to have been on the basis of ‘we’re new, so we need a helping hand’, but latterly has been more along the lines of ‘we’re the only game in town’. So not only did they get the books cheaper than anyone else, but they discounted them as well, selling them at less than anyone else could. This is in part because they can demand large discounts (or they won’t stock your books) and also because the sheer volume meant that they could sell some titles at less than they paid for them, and still make a vast profit overall. This was made possible in the UK because the government had allowed the dissolution of the Net Book Agreement. From 1900 until 1997, all new books had to be sold at their recommended retail price. Unfortunately, some bookstores wanted to discount – reasoning that cheaper books would mean more sales – and they were prepared to take a small hit on their percentage to do that. However what the NBA did was to level the market – books cost the same everywhere, so a small high street bookshop could do as well as Tesco. However with the loss of the NBA, in came predatory pricing, and loss leaders, where a big store could offset the loss made on one item with a profit made on another. The small bookshops could not compete and so slowly started to dwindle.

And now there are eBooks. Notably for the Kindle, which is rapidly becoming the favourite with readers, publishers, and self-published writers who are trying to make a name for themselves. In the meantime the discounts that publishers are asked to give in order to get their books into the few remaining book stores, or onto Amazon, is getting higher and higher, crippling the authors as they have no say in what happens, and have to rely on contracts agreed in advance to protect them as the landscape constantly changes.

Despite the fact that book sales are increasing overall, advances – the up-front money paid to an author by a publisher in ‘advance’ of their sales – are actually getting smaller and smaller, and in some cases have vanished completely in favour of a buy out, or some sort of profit share. Publishing contracts have clauses that allow publishers to sell the books for less than the print cost, or at higher discounts, and in these cases, the author takes the hit on their royalty – receiving nothing whatsoever if the book is ‘sold’ at less than cost, or reducing dramatically if the books are sold at higher discounts. All this means that the author suffers as they don’t get royalties, because there is no money left for them. In addition, publishers aren’t putting as much money behind up and coming authors for promotion and marketing. Corners are being cut in every way possible, and mostly to the detriment of the authors. And why? Because the booksellers are demanding more and more discount. I’ve heard of some booksellers wanting 60% discount, plus full sale or return at the publishers’ cost, and they won’t pay the shipping to get the books to them either … all that has to be covered by the publisher.

I can’t liken the plight of authors to that of people in third world countries who are paid a pittance for their labour: certainly in the UK, we aren’t starving just yet, or living in abject poverty.  But professional writers are more often than not forced to have two jobs with their seemingly successful writing careers taking a back burner to the day job that really pays their bills.

We live in a world where people increasingly think that they are owed everything for free, and that they don’t have to pay into the system which provides that which they consume. Some readers think they should be ‘given’ books for nothing, or that they should pay just a few pence as that’s all they should cost. There is no consideration or respect for the months and years of work that have gone into the making of the product. There is even criticism if you try and charge a reasonable price for a book. Readers make no apparent distinction between the professional (who needs to live off what they are paid) and the hobbyist (who does not).

When we had the Net Book Agreement all UK retailers had by law to sell new books at their recommended retail price. This meant in turn that a clear royalty was being paid to the author. It was simple for the author to understand what they would be paid – x units sold at y RRP meant a z payment at whatever percentage had been agreed. Authors could therefore budget and work out how their income might run, and established authors had a good idea of what they might earn from any given book based on their previous sales. In those days a lot of writers were able to live on their advances and royalties. Today this isn’t the case. With royalties now based on ‘price received’ rather than RRP, authors are at the whim of the discounts, and the more the discount, the less the author gets.

This situation has been caused by greed. Supermarkets wanted to offer discounts, mostly to encourage customers to buy more with them, so they made more money overall. Online sellers wanted to offer discounts, to undercut the competition and to get people buying from them. But they can only do this if the producers are complicit and agree to the discounts being demanded. With the boom of the world wide web, and internet businesses making millions overnight, you can see why sellers everywhere wanted to have room to manoeuvre and to protect their profits. They wanted a bigger mark up. Whether they needed it or not is irrelevant. This is business and making money is all that these large companies care about. There was never any thought at all to the little guy or gal who was sitting back in their study writing the product that these fat cats were then going to make a massive profit on.

It is quite sobering to think that anything from 40 to 60% of the price you pay for a book goes to the company selling it to you – and if they are online, then they don’t even have the same cost overheads (premises and so on) of a bricks and mortar store. No wonder that people are up in arms that Amazon don’t pay taxes in the same way as other stores do.

The principle of being able to earn a fair wage for the work you do is an important one. If writers can’t live on their work then they will either give up writing completely or they will work extra jobs, squeezing in the creation of their worlds of wonder around the edges of their regular lives. This in itself does not allow for the best creative working conditions. Nor does it encourage authors to spend literally months, and often years, writing a book. Nor does it allow the financing of research, of travel, of going to some distant, dusty library to leaf through ancient tomes in search of obscure histories, facts and figures to bolster the fiction or to form the backbone for the non-fiction.

Many people seem to think that eBooks should be free. But the same amount of time and effort has gone into the writing of these works as goes into producing a traditional paperback. There might not be the print and storage costs for a physical copy, but the author still deserves an advance, and they deserve royalties. If the books are professionally produced then an editor will work many months with the author, refining and improving. Someone needs to typeset the book, to create the cover, to market it, to promote it. All of these costs mount up. It can cost a publisher many thousands of pounds before a single copy of a book even appears in a bookshop or online.

If we assume that the royalty on a book is around 10% paid to the author (and it can be less, and sometimes is more), then the common misconception is that on a book selling for £8.99 the author will therefore be getting around 89 pence. Unfortunately, most publishers these days will pay royalties on net sale not on RRP. So if a bookseller insists on a discount of 65%, this means that the publisher receives just £3.14. The cost price per copy (depending on print run size of course) is often between one and two pounds. On top of this there are the costs for designers, artists, typesetters, editor, publicity, premises, marketing, storage, shipping, accounting … the list is endless. And the author ends up with 31 pence from the sale of a book with a RRP of £8.99.

So for months and months and possibly years of work on this book you are earning just 31 pence a copy. As far as I am aware, the average mid-list author will sell between five and ten thousand copies of a paperback (if they are lucky) which means that they will earn £3100 pounds if they sell 10,000 books. The writer could easily have spent six months writing this book full time. That means they have earned an average of £500 per month. Let’s say that the writer has spent eight hours a day, five days a week on this book. That’s 40 hours per week. There are 52 weeks in a year – half a year therefore equals 26 weeks spent on this book. That is 1040 hours. If we divide £3100 by that, then the writer is getting £2.98 per hour for writing the book. Less than half the minimum wage and that is gross, so before tax, and before any of their expenses incurred during the writing are taken into account.

I wonder if the average person would work for this – or whether any other business could get away with paying that as a wage in the UK?

This is in part why authors are so beguiled by Amazon’s self-publishing model. You get 70 or 35% of the price (depending on how much you want to sell it for). If you opt for selling it at 99c (which is 63 pence) then you get 35% or 22 pence of that – not much less than what you might receive from traditional publishing. However (and it’s a big however), if you are unknown, then you are up against the thousands and thousands of other unknown authors in the biggest bookshop in the world which has every title ever published in stock all the time. And so the chances of you selling even a fraction of 10,000 copies is practically unheard of. What you almost certainly won’t do is make enough money to live off.

So what we need are Fair Trade books. Perhaps if everyone started considering and paying a realistic price for books. Buy in bookstores, rather than online – you’ll be helping to keep the high street bookstores and their employees in work. Cast your eyes up from the 99c books to those priced at the far more realistic $2.99 and above – you may get a better quality product from a professional author as a result, and they in turn will receive more of your money. Don’t, under any circumstances, accept free pirated eBooks – pay for them, and research where you are buying them from as many pirate websites seem on the surface to be completely legitimate. If you can’t afford to buy books then go to your local library (assuming you still have one) and borrow them. The author receives a small royalty from the loan, and you will be helping to keep your local library in business. Also consider that almost everyone selling a book, whether online or otherwise, is making a profit on that sale. If the book is cheap, it’s because they have gained a bigger discount from the publisher, and that reduction in income is in turn passed to the author.

These are moral choices. Just the same as choosing to pay more in the supermarket for those Fair Trade bananas and coffee because you know that it is helping someone, somewhere to be paid a decent wage for the work that they have done to bring you those goods. Are we going to have Fair Trade books or are we going to find ourselves without new literature and professional writers because the majority of authors can no longer make ends meet by writing?



Wednesday, 29 August 2012

No, I'm Not A Pirate - by Hywela Lyn



I'm not a Pirate - really I'm not!

This week I found a message from KDP in my 'in-box'.  This is an portion of what it said:


"We contacted you recently regarding Kindle books you have published which contain content that is freely available on the web.  We haven’t received documentation confirming that you have the necessary rights to publish these books. Please be advised that we take copyright violations very seriously and, as stated in our previous email, a lack of a response or failure to prove you have the exclusive rights to these books may result in the termination of your account. 


As a result, we have temporarily suspended your ability to publish or change the books in this account. If you have already responded to our inquiry and we somehow missed your response, or you wrote in to Customer Service about it, please reply directly to this message and let us know.


Please be advised that we won’t accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the exclusive copyright owner of that content. For example, if your content comes from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and that content is freely available on the web, we won’t accept it and make it available for sale in the Kindle store. 


Here are some examples of your books that are freely available on the web and for which we have not received proof that you are the exclusive copyright owner: 


DANCING WITH FATE (ASIN: B005MGU31I)


To reinstate your account, please reply to [ip-inquiries@amazon.com] with the following declaration:  “I confirm that I will remove any content for which I do not have the exclusive publishing rights and that I 
will adhere to all terms in the Content Guidelines when submitting new content.”  

Until you respond to [ip-inquiries@amazon.com] regarding these issues, your account will remain suspended. Once we reinstate your account, you must remove any other content currently available for sale in the Kindle Store that may violate our Content Guidelines. Instructions on how to unpublish your content can be found here: 


https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A36BYK5S7AJ2NQ#3-2_Can_I_remove_content_unpublish"


Huh?  Whats going on here.  It sounds as if I'm being accused of piracy. As you can imagine I was 'spitting feathers', both at the accusation, and the fact that my book, although still available in paperback had

been deleted from Kindle and the Amazon store.  I had, in fact, replied to the original email soon after I received it, several months ago.  It had started 'Hello' without a formal saluation or mention of my name, and at first I thought it was  'spam'.  I forwarded it to Kindle Direct and queried if it was genuine.  I received no reply, but a couple of days later received an identical email.  Since they quoted my ASIN number correctly, I decided to take a risk and sent a reply, confirming that I did, indeed, hold the sole rights to 'Dancing With Fate' having requested them back from the original publisher The Wild Rose Press early last year, after the paperback versions went 'out of print'.

So it was something of a shock to find my book had been 'deleted'. Obviously my email had failed to get through (nothing new, AOL frequently loses my emails), but when I didn't hear further from Amazon, I'd assumed they'd received and accepted my reply, especially, after waitiing for a few weeks, I checked and 'Dancing With Fate' was still available on Amazon and Kindle.)  I suppose, to be fair, they gave me plenty of time to reply, before deleting my book, but I just took it to mean all was well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I found the copy of the email from The Wild Rose Press and forwarded it to Kindle Direct, together with the following message:


"I write as 'Hywela Lyn' and have written several books available on Kindle.  'Dancing With Fate' was originally published by The Wild Rose Press and published as part of their 'Song Of The Muses' series in 2008.  In 2011 I requested and was granted my rights back to both print and Electronic versions. I self published 'Dancing With Fate' with Smashwords, and 'Create Space' as well as Kindle. 


As an author, I am as concerned as anyone about copyright violations. My books are all for sale at what I feel is a realistic and fair price. I occasionally make changes to the price of 'Dancing With Fate' (The price of my other books is controlled by my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, and have also offered it as a free download for a limited time during 'World Book Night' weekend as a special promotion, but I emphasise that this 'free offer' was for a few days only.


Although I am happy to submit the paragraph “I confirm that I will remove any content for which I do not have the exclusive publishing rights and that I will adhere to all terms in the Content Guidelines when submitting new content.”  I repeat that I have not personally published anything to Kindle, that I do NOT have the exclusive publishing rights to, and that 'Dancing With Fate' is the only book I have self published, to date,  that I retain all the rights to this title, and furthermore that I have no intention of ever trying publish anything to which I do not have sole rights, so actually this paragraph has no relevance. "


I received an email confirming that they accepted that I was the legal owner of all rights to 'Dancing' with Fate' and that they were back on my 'bookshelf' but I needed to' re-publish' them.  This I did immediately, it just entailed clicking a few buttons and waiting for them to be approved.  I received confirmation that D.W.F was back on Kindle, but then received another email refusing to accept it on the Amazon site for all the reasons stated in the original email.  Spitting more feathers again, and using  a few choice swearwords which usually never pass my lips, and which luckily only the dog heard, I wrote a short, sharp reply, reiterating what I'd said in my previous email and once more forwarding the email from The Wild Rose Press.  Today I received this:


"Hello,


After reviewing your response, it appears as though we may have blocked your title in error and for this, we apologize. Thank you for your cooperation in providing the requested information. Please resubmit 


the following book(s):..............."


So, hopefully that's the end of that saga.  The main purpose of this post is not just to moan (although boy, it does feel good :) ) but to say, should you ever be in a similar position there are a few things to remember:


1.  Not all emails starting 'Hello' and not from friends, are necessarily spam.  If in doubt forward to the sender, typing in their email address and not using any links (just in case it is a 'phishing scam') and if you don't get an answer in a few days, contact them again.


2..  If you're happy the email from KDP is genuine, reply immediately with as much information as possible to prove you do, in fact, own the rights.


3.  To back up your statement, send a copy of the 'reversion of rights' from your original publisher (If you don't still have it, contact them and they should be able to supply a copy) If you self published from the start, give as many details as you can, including dates of submission to KDP and details of editors and cover artist, if you didn't do these yourself.  I hate book piracy, it's hard enough for most of us to make anything from

writing as it is, and I suppose we should be grateful that Amazon is so quick off the mark to step in when it suspects someone of piracy.  It's just rather unnerving to be accused of it oneself!

To end on a happier note - today I recieved a new revew from a reader on Amazon:



"Dancing With Fate is sooo about love. A fantastic ending to boot! The story took me far from my daily routine, my familiar sights and sounds, and my expectations. Wow! Where do I start - at the beginning - middle - or end; they are all my favorite places. As is stated about the content: it is "out of this world" in a realm inhabited by Mythological characters that seem to sit beside me. The main figure is likable and lovable, as is her beau. Throughout, while being challenged off and on, I was hoping they could stay together. I can't give away too much here, so I'm off to purchase the other books by Hywela Lyn - a very lovely and talented author, indeed! Worlds of thanks to you, Hywela...from Cat Kaulback, Kinsman, OH (visit dreamhorseguesthouse.com)"

Thank you Cat, and bless you.  I'm a happy bunny again.  Have you had a similar experience.  Was I justified in being annoyed, or should I just be glad Amazon appears to be keeping such close watch and protecting our interests?




Lyn
(Hywela Lyn)

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Editors, Relationships and a Space Dog, by Enid Richemont


Imagine this. You are working with a professional colleague you respect, but have never met (blind date). This colleague has already stated that he admires your work (you now have a relationship of sorts). Indeed, he has commissioned one of your books for publication (it has taken him and his company four years to get to this point) and you have received and  signed the contract and the cheque (at this point, the relationship has become more concrete).

He expresses active interest in other works, especially one. You are now both considering a work as yet unborn and in gestation, so cooperation, encouragement and loving care will be needed to bring it to life. At this delicate point, your colleague vanishes. Emails are routinely unanswered. You wait. Perhaps he's ill, had an accident, even died? Maybe the gestating work you've shared is no longer loved or needed. Will he pay you the respect of telling you? You can take it - after all, you've been in the business for over twenty years - maybe this one must be aborted. But no, nothing. This attitude pervades the publishing industry at present. Expertise, track records, count for nothing. Pitch, even with an agent (and I have an excellent one), and you will be ignored. How many of us have reached the point of  semi-nervous breakdown over this we will never know.

It wasn't always like this. When I was first published by Walker, and working with people like Anne Carter and Wendy Boase, the encouragement and nurturing I received acted like fertiliser on the fragile plants which were my ideas and stories. It wasn't always like this for Ann Jungman, who was our guest blogger a little while ago, either. Ann's (over eighty) books for children were hugely read and admired. Then, slowly, established authors began going out of print. Ann's fight-back was to start her own company, Barn Owl Books, re-publishing titles people kept asking for and couldn't any more find stocked in bookshops. Then in turn, Barn Owl itself went down - you can read the full sad story on Ann's recent blog.

There seemed to be no way out of this, until the emergence of ebooks. Self-publishing, so-called 'vanity' publishing as we knew it, would have been out of the question for any professional author, but suddenly the propect of taking control of our own work seemed inviting, if challenging (the question of quality control still vexes us, and there is an awful lot of dross out there).

I've recently re-published six of my out of print books on Kindle, and one never published title, DRAGONCAT, which did astonishingly well in a KDP promotion a few weeks ago. My most recent ebook, THE ENCHANTED VILLAGE, has just come out. Aimed at people of eight plus, it's a fantasy about offended Greek gods taking over the small Cornish village of Constantine, and it was launched in the village primary school, with teachers and kids dressed up as gods and goddesses. I love the cover image by the very talented Mark Preston - it's just perfect for the story (which not all book covers are).

The germ of the idea behind the plot was a very personal fantasy. Cornwall is beautiful, but its weather can leave much to be desired. My daughter and her partner had planned an open-air wedding ceremony in a meadow sloping down to the Helston estuary. But what if it rained? Yes, they'd thought of that one, but there's not a huge amount you can do if it decides to bucket! So I dreamed up gods who might hold the weather in that small area in a state of sunshine, and it happened - in life as well as in the book.
 
This same daughter designs puppets and marionettes for theatre companies, and her latest one is a dog marionette. She brought it with her to work on when she stayed with us recently, and its prototype took on such a life of its own that we couldn't stop ourselves from stroking it each time we walked past it - suddenly the story of Petrouchka began to make total sense. The story will be based on Laika, the Russian dog who was sent into space in the late Fifties.








 





Monday, 27 August 2012

If It Worked for Dickens - Andrew Crofts


Since Wattpad is proving to be such a fruitful source of readers, (hits for The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer are now heading towards a quarter of a million after about four months), I am now in the process of putting up a new book, one chapter at a time, (serialisation worked for Dickens after all ...)

The Secrets of the Italian Gardener is set inside the palace of a dictator about to be overthrown in the Arab Spring. The story is told by a ghostwriter who, while inside the palace writing a book for the dictator, meets a wise, elderly Italian gardener who gradually unravels the story of who really holds the power and wealth in the world. He literally discovers "where the bodies are buried". As the rebels draw closer to breaching the palace walls the ghostwriter is also struggling with his own breaking heart and an overwhelming burden of guilt.

The inspiration for the story comes from the times I have spent during my ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, visiting their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in comfortable tax havens like Monaco and Bermuda.

The cover is once again by Elliot Thomson at http://www.preamptive.com



Sunday, 26 August 2012

Paying Homage to the Creator of the Galaxy's First e-Book - by Rosalie Warren

The photo shows yours truly adding a pen to a fine collection in Highgate Cemetery. I didn't want my partner to take this photo, but he took it anyway and I'm quite pleased that he did. It was my first visit to Highgate and the tub of colourful pens caught my attention as I passed what was otherwise a rather unassuming headstone. Stopping to look, I saw it was the grave of one of my greatest heroes and favourite writers, Douglas Adams.

As for the connection to this blog... well, The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy - not Douglas Adams's book but the original (and fictional) work upon which is it based - is arguably the Milky Way's first electronic book, though of course there may be others as yet unknown to our civilisation. It was certainly the first one to reach Earth. This revolutionary piece of technology predated the web and most of the internet, foreshadowing it while Tim Berners-Lee was probably still wrestling with BBC Basic. The entry in it for Earth described said planet as 'Mostly Harmless' and then went on to engage with some of the rather more interesting features of the galaxy, such as the Total Perspective Vortex and the poetic heritage of the Vogons.

We visited Highgate Cemetery on a grey morning with occasional glimmers of sunshine and a cool rushing wind. My back was playing up so I hobbled from grave to grave with the aid of a walking stick, feeling about 90 and almost ready to take my place among the inhabitants (thankfully, I'm much better now). The atmosphere struck me not primarily as one of sadness (though some of the memorials to children were almost unbearably moving), but of lively minds far from silenced... still interacting in the wild swirl of meme and memory, engaged in meaty confrontation with intellectual rigour, style and wit. George Eliot's was another grave I stopped beside and offered my thanks for her wonderful novels, her intellect and her courage to be herself. Most of these minds never met in life but they meet now, not just as ghosts (if you believe in ghosts), but as living beings enshrined in their words, still read and discussed today and still influencing the world in which we live.

And some of them, of course, were 'ordinary people', if there is any such thing, who made contributions of a different but no less vital kind. Some lost their lives long before making the contributions they should have made, through disease or war or domestic disaster. All rustle together on that windswept London hill, reminding us how short are lives are but how important it is that we discover what we are meant to do, while here, and do it with all the energy we can muster.

I was pleased to discover in my bag a pen marked Coventry Tales, the collection of short pieces brought out by Coventry Writers' Group last year. I proudly placed it among the pens, pencils and notes in Douglas's little tub. Douglas died far too young, long before he had achieved all of his potential. But at least he reached some of it, doing great work for the conservation of Earth's endangered species, as well as creating amazing characters and writing very funny books.

A final note to this rather disjointed piece. Over the last few days, I've been sorting through the belongings of my recently deceased father, George Warren. Dad achieved many things in life, but I did not know he was a writer, or not to any great extent. Among the things he left is a red holdall full of papers - diaries, short stories and perhaps a great deal more. I haven't read them properly yet. I don't know whether I should. Surely, if he'd wanted me to read them, he would have shown them to me while he was alive? But if he hadn't wanted me to see them, wouldn't he have destroyed them? I wish I knew...

All this, though, has made me even more determined to be true to myself as I write. If I lapse, I will think of Dad's red holdall and of that windy day in Highgate Cemetery. I will forget to worry about publication and 'success', and focus on the bit of me that knows what it is meant to be doing, for as many years as I have left to do it.

Best wishes
Ros

My first e-book - Charity's Child
My blog
My webpage
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Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren


Saturday, 25 August 2012

While Reading My Kindle In The Bath... By Susan Price

Or, Kindle Tutorial No. 1


My Kindle in its macintosh
          Calloo callay oh frabjous day! I can now read my kindle in the bath.
          The only fault I found with my Kindle was that I dared not read it in the bath – and, when feeling especially tired, I like to spend a couple of hours in hot water, with a tot of single malt, and a good book.
          But now almost all my reading is done on the Kindle, I have to switch off my current book and exchange it for a paper one that will survive a bath – not ideal when you’re in the middle of something gripping.
          And then I spotted this plastic bag…  To be fair, it is a bit more than a plastic bag.  It has a waterproof seal, rather like those on re-sealable food bags, but tripled.  Those triple seals fold over and are fastened down with press-studs.  The kindle can be read and operated through the plastic.
          There is also this more expensive version from Lakeland, which has a floating cushion, so your kindle can bask on its own lilo.  We are sternly warned that these ‘splash-proof’ covers are not for underwater use – so do not try this while scuba-diving.  However, it’s more than sufficient to save your e-reader from a dunk in the tub.
My Kindle in its usual red leather jacket. And sunnies
          Having solved your Kindle-bathwater interaction problems, I thought I’d use the rest of this post for  a Kindle tutorial.  This may bring the words ‘eggs’ and ‘granny’ to your mind, but I’ve been struck by how little many Kindle owners know about the Kindle. 
         When non-owners accost me in cafes and pubs to ask me how it works, that’s one thing – but I was recently at a gathering of Kindle-owning writers, and found myself conducting an impromptu class, not on formatting work for the Kindle, but on the basics of using the thing, such as how to change the font size.
          “Can you make yours talk?” they said.  “How do you do it?”
         Here, then, are some FAQs and their answers.  I begin with the absolute basics, for absolute beginners.  (The rest of you, get on with your work quietly.)

Kindle keyboard - square touchpad to the right

          How do I download books?  Is it easy? – There are two ways.  If your Kindle has wi-fi, you click on ‘Menu’ (above the square touch-pad) and it will offer you ‘Shop in Kindle Store’ (second choice down, on the left.)
The 'Menu menu'
 Click to this, using the edges of the square touch-pad, and select it by clicking the pad’s centre square. (Clicking on the square's left edge will move the cursor to the left; clicking on the lower edge will move it down, and so on.)
          Your Kindle will connect to the Amazon Kindle Store.  You can either browse, navigating via the Kindle’s small touch-pad and the page-turning buttons, or you can use the keyboard to type in a title or author.
          Click ‘Buy’ and the book downloads to your Kindle in seconds.  (If you buy by accident, which is easily done, you can unbuy immediately, so no worries.)
Varney on the job
          If your Kindle doesn’t have wi-fi, go to Amazon on your computer.  They will send you an email in confirmation of your purchase, with a link from which you can download the book to your computer desktop.  Connect your Kindle to your pc by a cable, and ‘drag and drop’ from one device to the other.  (My brother tells me that he hasn’t yet bought an e-book.  As he’s into obscure 19th Century penny-dreadfuls, he downloads them, free, from Project Gutenberg to his desktop, and drag-drops them to his Kindle.  He then thrills to Varney the Vampyr on his way to and from work.)
          How do I change the size of the print?  If you have a keyboard Kindle, like mine, squint at the keyboard until you find the Aa button (to the right of the little spacebar.)  This brings up a menu.  Along the top line Aa is repeated in various sizes.  Move the cursor (using the sides of the square touch-pad) until it underlines the size you want.  Click the centre of the square, and the print-size will change.
The 'Aa menu'

          The Aa key’s menu also offers you a choice of typeface (regular, condensed or sans serif), line-spacing and words per line.  Select them in the same way.
          How do I get my kindle to talk to me? – Use the same Aa menu.  Almost at the bottom, it offers ‘Text to speech’.  Move down to it using the edges of the square, choose it by clicking on the square, and Kindle will read aloud whatever is on the screen.  In this mode, it also turns its own pages, and can be paused.  I’ve just had mine read me a couple of pages of Walter Scott in a woman’s voice with a faint American accent.  Amazon call this feature ‘experimental’, and doubtless it will improve.

          You can also put Audio Books on the Kindle, and play them through it. 

          How do I change the screen orientation? - Right at the bottom of the Aa menu is ‘Screen Rotation.’  Small illustrations offer 4 ways of using the kindle – with the keyboard at the top, at the bottom, to the left or right.  As before, click down to this choice, click along to choose the one you want, and click the centre of the square.  I have found that I much prefer reading in landscape or letter-box format, with the keyboard to the right. – but choose the way that best suits you. 
          To get rid of the Aa menu, either click the Aa again, or press ‘Back’ (beneath the square touchpad).  ‘Back’ is useful, as it will return you to where you were, no matter what buttons you’ve been playing about with.
          I’m out of space, but I’ve more to tell, so, next month, Part 2! - Which will be a little more advanced.

Artwork: Andrew Price
Susan Price's latest e-books are:











and

Artwork: Andrew Price


      






      The Ghost Wife



     Susan Price also blogs here

     Her website is here

Friday, 24 August 2012

Thursday, 23 August 2012

That was ab-so-lutely fan-tas-tic - Simon Cheshire

Last year, at about this time, I took the exciting Strictly Come Dancing Bowl Of Nibbles Game out from under the bed and blew the dust off its box. So now, in the interests of balance, I've had a rummage in the wardrobe, and now we can all play X-Factor Clock Golf (TM). Hours of fun for the whole family. The rules are very simple:

  1. Play proceeds right to left, except when there's an odd number of players, when the first player to have a go missed is the last player who started. Take a card from the pile and throw the dice twice to determine the order of rounds. Popstar Cards are wild.
  2. Watch X-Factor carefully.
  3. Score 2 points each time Gary Barlow wears a V-neck pullover without a shirt.
  4. Score 5 points each time someone on your sofa says "Nicole who?"
  5. Score 5 points each time someone on your sofa says "That Tulisa's really tall, isn't she!"
  6. Score a bonus 10 points every time you look at Tulisa and can't rid yourself of an image she wishes she hadn't been stupid enough to start everyone thinking about in the first place.
  7. Move up one space for each judge who's no more qualified to be there than you are.
  8. Move one square to the right for each instance of Louis Walsh saying either "Yes, but they're different", "I've got a good feelin' about this" or "I really like these boys."
  9. Score 1 point every time Dermot O'Leary looks really uncomfortable and out of his depth while a contestant sobs on his shoulder.
  10. Score 15 points whenever the backstage stuff deliberately leads you to expect a brilliant performance, but it turns out they're utterly terrrible. Add a further 3 points for each judge who then raises both eyebrows. Add an additional point for each judge who cries.
  11. Score 12 if you spot this week's stroppy/ certifiable contestant within eight seconds of their first appearance. Score -19.5 if you fail to spot them before they start swearing and throwing the furniture around. All players move to a green square if a relative storms on stage and demands justice.
  12. Take a Popstar Card for each carefully posed shot of a judge in the make-up chair. Tear up the card if the judge 'accidentally' notices the camera and waves.
  13. Lose a turn whenever the phrase "guest judge" clearly means "regular judge has previous contractual obligation." Lose another turn when the guest judge is unidentifiable by anyone in the room.
  14. Lose all your points each time you can't help laughing at Louis Walsh's hair. [This rule is optional - games including rule 13 may be low-scoring]
  15. All players move back two spaces each time Louis Walsh appears not to understand the premise of the show, after nine years, by choosing a ridiculous novelty act as one of his final four.
  16. Score 50 points and a Golden Microphone every time you vow never to watch this exploitative, cynical rubbish ever again.
  17. The winner of X-Factor Clock Golf (TM) is the player who correctly predicts the length, in days, of the winning singer's career.
Before putting the game back in it's box, all players must do their Gary Barlow impersonation: one, two, three... Ab-so-lute-ly fan-tas-tic.

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be
your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks.
His website is at www.simoncheshire.co.uk
His blog about literary history is at bookhistorystudies.blogspot.co.uk

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

It's August 22nd - or at least it should be if the blogger.com scheduling has done its thing properly and put this up on time.  I'm on holiday - hence the need for the scheduling - and I suspect I'm not alone. In fact, I definitely won't be alone as this is my honeymoon - assuming, once again, that everything has gone to plan.

So it seems like a lousy time for another blog on the business aspects of electric books, or even another one on the creative side of novel writing - it's the holiday and we're all reading, aren't we? But if you're not and it's because you're stuck for ideas, then I'm your white knight: here's a quick tour of some of the summer reading lists - I defy you not to find something here to your taste.

The Richard and Judy Summer Book Club is a good place to start with ten titles. I'm a thriller writer, so the one that jumps out at me is the new Robert Harris novel, The Fear Index - I'm definitely going to give this a look at some point, as I'm a big fan of Mr Harris. I think Lars Kepler's The Hypnotist looks a great read too, so that had better go in my hypothetical summer TBR pile.

There is a very different look to the Goodreads.com Summer book list - and it may be different again by the time you read this as it's not fixed. When I saw it, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey and Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games were battling for the honours with another bestselling dystopian vision, Veronica Roth's Divergent series; along with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - a weepie on cancer... Some people have a strange taste in beach reading.

The Good Housekeeping list is led by Jennifer Weiner's The Next Best Thing. While the London Evening Standard is struggling to get past 50 Shades of Grey and what it means for feminism (a clue for the click-weary: it probably isn't good). The Indy goes for a top 50 split up by genre - and The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino leapt out of the Crime and Thriller section.

From the Publisher's Weekly compilation, Whiplash River by Lou Berney is the one that will be added to my pile - although there's pretty much something for everyone here. Predictably, the Guardian sticks resolutely to its preference for paper (cue weary sigh) with a dig at the eReader in the introduction - and left me thinking 'do these people actually read this stuff on holiday'? Das Kapital by Karl Marx? Really? I didn't know whether to feel guilty and inadequate, or think 'pretentious git' and move on.

And as for me... I'll be armed with my trusty Kindle Touch, so I reserve the right to change my mind at a moment's notice... But my plan is to finally read Suzanne Collins 'The Hunger Games'. The Slate.com critic Stephen Metcalf said this was amongst the best genre writing he'd ever read and I can't think of a better recommendation for a summer read.  But then everyone's different - so is your summer read a guilty pleasure, a torturous weepie, or a serious philosophic slab?

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