Monday, May 22, 2017

Amazon Shenanigans

This week I'm simply highlighting some more Amazon Shenanigans. I, too, was fooled by cheap books in the beginning, but this steamroller is now out of control, and is no less damaging. Alas, some writers and even publishers have to rely on Amazon these days, but they've done nothing for writers or the book industry overall. I'm not telling anyone what to do, or where to buy, and in some cases there is literally 'no choice' but, please, open your eyes. Search online for more related articles.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Love of the Written Word

This week, I'm re-blogging a post I wrote for one of my publisher's blog (when I was writing for Musa). I think it's timely as the sale of printed books are on the increase.
I’m here to discuss a friend's point of view -- one that hadn't occurred to me before. I’m going to wander a bit because I’m also talking books, but it all comes down to love for the written word.

Some people love e-books, some loathe them. I know some hate the term ‘e-book’ and I take that argument on board. A ‘book’ is a bound set of pages. Maybe it would be more accurate to call the electronic file of a book an e-novel or e-story because I don’t feel the presentation affects the content. The story ‘exists’ the moment the author penned it. When one used typewriters or even quills and ink, that didn’t make the story exist any less, although by no definition could hand written or typed pages be called ‘books’.

I'm not against electronic files of books, but I still love paper books. Always will. I admit there’s nothing like a physical book that can be held in the hand. It’s nostalgic. If a gift, we may recollect when we opened a brightly wrapped package, the moment we first set eyes on it, felt that fission of pleasure, and spare a moment’s thought for the person who gifted it. An electronic file, for the most part, lacks the personal touch. An old book, even when it deteriorates with time… Well, those creases in the spine and cover could have been put there over many years of handling and love. I don’t see a scruffy book as one that has necessarily been discarded or ill-used. Also, for someone like me who spends a great deal of time in front of computer screens, then the printed page is a departure from that, although e-readers are improving all the time and this may not always be an issue.

Saying that, there's room for both formats in my life simply owing to practicality. For one thing, I write e-books and would be a total hypocrite to then say I hate them. I don't hate them. I would love to live in the kind of library the Beast gave to Beauty in the Disney film -- just push my bed and a chair and table into the middle, I'll be fine -- but so far I’ve yet to stumble across any enchanted castles even if I’ve found my Prince Charming. I love all sorts of books from the classics to children’s stories, fantasy and horror, and yes, some romances. I can be fussy about my romances more than any genre, I think, but I do read them along with all the other genres I love -- to call my book collection eclectic is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I simply don’t have room for all the books I would love to read and own. I’m one of those readers, who, if I love a book, I struggle to part with it. I’ve relatives who don’t understand this. They feel a book once read or a film once seen is finished with. The story has been told; the reader/viewer knows what will happen, so why read/watch it again. I understand the point, but I disagree with it. A much-loved experience can be enjoyed again. It can be enjoyed more because often one can miss things on a first pass just as an author can during the writing process.

Among my many ‘wants’, I would love to own an entire library of classics. I’ve an abiding love for them. It amazes me when I hear someone say today that they’ve never read any of the literary greats. Black Beauty, Heidi, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Oliver Twist...all these books and more were among my childhood reads. I cannot even remember them being referred to as ‘classics’ -- they were just books and they were adventures. They took me to different worlds and gave me experiences I would never have had otherwise. I read them alongside stories such as The Water Babies, What Katy Did, Ballet Shoes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I never differentiated. Now they are looked upon as stuffy, and dry, the language outdated. I cannot help feeling that people were better educated, more eloquent and literate when such books were read at a younger age. I was born at a time when almost all parents read to their children, where I was given books for older children than my age, and if I couldn’t read them right away, well I wanted to, and it made me strive to learn. If I didn’t know a word my parents handed me a dictionary and told me to look it up, and yes, I took the time to do so. So these books have remained with me, ingrained.

The electronic format has allowed me to revisit some of these classics I’ve lost through moves, through lack of space. I am grateful. They are adventures and memories revisited, and I can keep them in virtual ‘space’. Although I still often buy my favourite authors in print, I have branched out and discovered others owing to electronic formats. I would prefer a world where there wasn’t an argument for or against, but where all can live in support and cooperation. In an advanced society, life is about individual choice.

My thinking was personified when speaking with a friend of mine. This friend is in his seventies and he recently bought an e-reader...and adores it. His reason is simple -- he has struggled to read a book for some time. His eyes aren’t quite as they used to be and there may be other factors in his health, but whatever the reason, he can ‘see’ the words better on his reader as opposed to looking at a printed page. He can also increase the font size if need be, or zoom in. His reader has made his whole reading experience come alive again, and where he had as good as given up reading, or took a long time to struggle through a single novel, he’s reading again...devouring books, and what I saw in his eyes as he told me all this was joy.

So I’m just putting this thought out there for those very much against. Maybe e-books and e-readers aren’t for everyone, and for some, they may never be, but I think this proves that it’s pointless to criticise the needs of another person and that none of us can know what we may one day need ourselves. Should there be anyone saying they’d rather give up reading than commit sacrilege and read electronic books, then I can only think nose, spite, face. I could never give up reading. I’ve never heard such venomous arguments over audio books, which many people enjoy who aren’t blind and who don’t have seeing difficulties. The argument may stem from fear -- a dread that the production of printed books will one day cease, and I understand that emotion well. Without printed books, this would be a poorer world, but one cannot ignore the increase of electronic formats -- something I knew would take off long before the first e-reader was even conceived. Simply, there may come a time where e-readers exist alongside things like audio books and are considered as commonplace, where they’re a lifeline for some, and -- just as someone brought books into my life to enrich it -- in my ‘book’ that makes their existence tolerable and even worthwhile.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Perfect sentences

The power of a single sentence can make a whole book not only memorable in the short term, but a forever favourite. The perfect sentence (or paragraph) can be humourous, insightful, frightening, heartbreaking, or a combination of these and many more. The right sequence of words can convey a thought process, the whole subtext of a novel, and/or make the reader look at the world a different way. I've kept some novels simply because I felt the book contained a perfect sentence, one that resonated. The writer cannot get too engrossed with creating the correct phrase, however, because he or she would never complete any work. Fortunately, for everyone, sometimes the magic happens anyway, but one sentence that means the world to one reader will be meaningless to another. All our experiences differ. As unique individuals what we appreciate and what has meaning varies as much as our personalities. Life would be boring if the situation were otherwise.

One such perfect sentence for me is toward the end of Poppy Z Brite's, Drawing Blood. "The art was in learning to spend your life with someone, in having the courage to be creative with someone, to melt each other's souls to molten temperatures and let them flow together into an alloy that could withstand the world."

This is perfect to me because it reveals the human condition, of the struggle to withstand and sustain life, and includes a simple but well-presented explanation of why for many of us we find it important to create and to love. We may not need books, music, art etc., or even require companionship to exist, but we need them to 'live'. The above sentence takes something fundamental to most of us and presents it in an untarnished, descriptive, and beautiful way.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Regard Fear as the Enemy

A little over a year ago I did a guest spot on Southern Writers. Several months on this seems a perfect moment to reproduce that blog here, though an introduction explaining why won't hurt.

Writers everywhere get days when they would like nothing more than remain in bed, and to draw the pillow over their heads. Despite the longed-for dream, not everything about writing is fun. I always look at writing and publishing as two different 'beasts'. This is one of those not-so-fun instances.

I've moved. We've work to do in the house, and this being the biggest relocation of our lives (so far), we've much to organise. I'd love to be one of those people who can compartmentalise, push everything to the back of my mind and write. I'm much better at getting everything finished and then concentrating on one thing at a time. No way in publishing can that happen. Right now I've a book to finish I wanted to sub at the end of January. I've another in a trilogy that requires approximately another 20k of words and I should be sending in...oh about now. There's no set deadline, but I'm trying to reach readers, publisher, and my expectations. Then I've another, and in many ways far more important book to finish that needs a whole subplot adding to it. I'm swamped.

At the weekend I walked away from it all. I took a time out I couldn't afford because something was going to snap; bad enough it should be my temper but I didn't want it to be me. All that leads me into the subject because writers live with a good deal of fear. Fear they won't meet deadlines. Fear they won't be able to finish a book. Terror each new work won't be received as well as their last. Fear of taking on new projects, especially those outside of their comfort zone, and the temptation to walk away from it all.

While the books I refer to below are currently unavailable I'm working on other projects that feel as terrifying, maybe more so. Add to that the dread of days that end in what feels like a blink and bed and a pillow seems evermore enticing. The trouble with that temptation like so many types of avoidance, it cures nothing.

***

I wish I could write an encouraging ‘how-to’ narrative revealing all the secrets of mastering the writing craft. Such a missive might make the task easier and eliminate writer anxiety. My own included. My advice? Be afraid but grasp opportunities anyway.

The secret is there is no secret. What may work for one author may not work for another, same for genre or market. There’s no specific wrong or right way to write, wrong or right way to market (though spamming is never a good thing). There’s no yet to be revealed way to kill the worry of finding the next idea, the right publisher, receiving a bad review, or jumping in and trying something new. I’ve learned to view the occasional fluke as providence.

I try anything, and file that which doesn’t work now in case something becomes useful in the future. This goes for stories as much as promoting. I find stories often by ‘accident’. I’ll begin with two seemingly unconnected incidents, a vague idea of characters or places, or a single occurrence. I’ve even created stories from a title idea, a phrase, or a random selection of words, tried numerous genres. Some markets I stumbled into because an idea nagged me to write it, or because I was searching for submission calls. That’s when accident bridges the gap to intent. Where one formula won’t work for one writer, it may do so for another. Where a blueprint doesn’t apply to one genre, another must be rigid. Study the market. It’s amazing how many writers still send the wrong material to the wrong editor or publication. A horror publisher doesn’t want romance or vice versa. Pay attention to guidelines.

I read anything and everything; have too many interests, so when it came to writing it was hardly surprising I wanted to run in all directions. I decided to call myself a multi-genre author little knowing I was making an already difficult task more problematic. Branding is important, possibly imperative. My stories appear from the mysterious ark of my imagination working together with a brain that seems to tuck away the quirkiest detail; I sometimes feel as if I’m fooling myself if I think I’m anyway in control of them. There’s no knowing where I’ll head next, so I keep my options open. That’s why my next publication will take me to Jupiter where there are dragons.

Being willing to make ‘accidental’ connections both in real life and in my storytelling is how I came to be embroiled in the steampunk world of Space 1889. I was invited. I quietly panicked. Then I took a breath, started reading and researching. Now I have three titles (one co-authored) in a series that is a little part of history. Regard fear as the enemy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How to be more Creative

A good while ago I put up a post linking to a speech famously given by John Cleese in 1991. I've lost the link to that post but found this one. On a good note, it's less than five minutes to watch rather than the previously quarter of an hour. It also addresses many of the key points in that speech. It's worth paying attention to. My thoughts returned to this because although we're finally in our new house I'm struggling to get back into writing mode. I've two books that desperately call to be finish, but it feels as though everything else equally requires my urgent notice.

Generally, there's probably not a day that goes by when I don't wish I could follow his advice; sadly, my brain has to work when it gets the opportunity and doesn't know how to switch off activities. I absolutely understood a moment he refers to, though, when he says you sit down and remember a thousand things to do. That could not be truer after a move, after a major upheaval of completely relocating your life and existence to another part of the country (and for those of you who don't know, that's why I've been absent). Living here doesn't feel real because of so many things, not least my trying to recall how to be creative.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Good News

First, this will be the last blog for at least two or three weeks. I'm afraid I missed last week owing to ill health and the days ahead are busier than usual...for an excellent reason. When I return it will be from a new address.

Yes, I'm moving...again! Seems to be all I do in recent years, but after several stressful weeks/months/years even, I'm able to say we're making a significant move, a life-changing relocation. Providing all goes well, I can even look forward to finally having a study. There's much to arrange and so I'll be taking a hoped-for 'only short' break, though I'm still trying to finish the Work in Progress, and edits for another release in the 'Snow Angel' planned trilogy.

In the meantime, I'm happy to announce I've been notified that I have a novel accepted for the Lethbridge-Stewart series. No specifics as yet regarding title or release, though it will be later this year. And meanwhile I've a short story out in a few weeks--the 'sleepless nights' the write-up for Night to Dawn Issue 31 refers to. More news when I have it...and when I'm able to post.

Monday, January 16, 2017

To the person who left me a comment...

(Note: this is a repost).

To the person who left me a comment saying they may look like spam but assuring me otherwise, your site looks like...well, spam. 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 from where are you getting these books? 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 re copyright on this site. If you are doing something else that I don't understand, my apologies, but no, I'm not going to download your report file from a site that says 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. It prohibits the copy, distribute, resale or loan of an ebook. Saying that, most of us wouldn't object if we heard readers have made a backup copy purely for personal use. We live in a wonderful age of technology but technology fails us from time to time. We hear of someone selling our work and we'd like to come down on them like the proverbial tonnage. Writers and publishers are getting better at locating piracy sites and law enforcement are finally taking it seriously.

A common question 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 a major difference and reason exists why this doesn't work so read on.
  3. Many second-hand books are sold for charitable purposes.
  4. The reader gives up the 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 lending it, you risk not getting it back. You are not making a 'physical copy' of that book to pass it on.

When you pass on an ebook (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'. This is as illegal in both electronic and printed works.

Imagine taking one of Stephen King's novels, dissecting it, scanning it in, printing it up either by POD, or via the printer at home, and trying to give it away, sell it, or hand to a friend. Should SK find out, do you think he wouldn't sue? Do you think he'd be flattered?

The point is no one is allowed to make a 'copy' of any written work be it printed or electronic. You may (usually) print off an electronic book for 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 is to 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? An individual's collection is NOT a library and even if it could be there is such a thing as the 'public lending right'. This means an author can if they wish, claim a small payment every time a library lends one of their books.
  • 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 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 criminal activity. I'm speaking mainly to those that do this in innocence, not understanding they do anything wrong. Readers claim to love writers. They claim to love our work. We do work -- hard -- at this. Most of us have day jobs, families, lives just like everyone. We have to find time to write on top of all that. We often forsake sleep. Many don't make as much money as people think and even if we did, haven't we 'earned' it? Readers say they love our characters, our worlds, our stories. They claim to love our work and even to love us. Why do something fundamentally harmful to someone or something you love?