Thursday, May 30, 2013

The sound of music

No, I'm not referring to Ms Andrews' sublime petticoat-twirling routine through flowery Austrian meadows in the film of that name (which is why the title’s not in capitals), I'm actually addressing the ways in which rhythm is relevant to the writer. From perusing submissions and also from reading the work of numerous first-time authors, it's become obvious to me just how much this skill is rapidly disappearing.

But what do I mean?

I want you to consider key scenes from a variety of classic films you've seen over the years. Once you've got them in your mind, try to remember the music that was being played (Youtube or Vimeo will probably fill in the blanks). Listen carefully to it - what message is the music sending?

Don't think this is trivial or irrelevant because it isn't. It's on public record how many tens of millions film companies spend on a movie’s production. With all that cash at stake, it’s not surprising that not-so-small fortunes have been invested in learning the psychology of what type of music makes a scene - such as tonal range, harmony and rhythm.

Here are just a few of the adjectives which can be used to describe a soundtrack:
  • Soaring
  • Whimsical
  • Frenetic
  • Low-key
  • Lively
  • Staccato
How and when these tempos and styles are applied makes a huge difference to the audience's perception of the film. Mix them up and you change the very nature of the atmosphere.

Now apply those same adjectives to sentence length and structure. What does a paragraph like this tell you? What message am I sending? It's important. It's urgent. Act now. Do something! Short and snappy sentences indicate urgency, speed, action under pressure etc. They should be used sparingly in tense situations.

Long, sprawling sentences, on the other hand, are great for descriptive pieces, setting the scene or describing some important detail. Take delight in their length and stretch your vocabulary accordingly to create a kaleidoscopic Technicolor image.

Sentences which are all of a similar length and construction e.g. 'subject-verb-object' or 'subject-verb' for intransitive verbs also (through their simplicity) indicate action - often of a sinister nature when there's not even anything sinister going on. "The ball bounces. The child catches it. She smiles." What's coming next? There are no clues but the reader is being prepared for something out-of-the-ordinary and quite possibly terrifying.

Think of the same sentence but now turned into just one, "The mottle-colored ball bounced gracefully into the air where then, descending in a perfect arc, the young girl's arm reached up, and anticipating the ball's motion, effortlessly closed her tiny fist around it. Clutching the ball to her chest, she beamed and giggled with the sheer pleasure of the moment." The first long sentences suggest a single fluid motion rather than the earlier staccato description while the second sentence confirms to the reader that their assumption that this is a happy occasion is correct.

That said, short sentences can be more memorable. The same film companies use them as hooks “An offer he can’t refuse”, “In space no-one can hear you scream”, “Shaken but not stirred, please”. Likewise your powerhouse statements should be short and punchy. Make them hit home. Don’t overegg the pudding, though. See what I mean?

In general, sentences should be of varying length and construction but the general trend needs to reflect the storyline in just the same way as the book's cover needs to be representative of its contents.

Great authors use rhythm to reinforce their stories. If you are to join their ranks, you need to master the art of hearing the music in your writing so that everything pulls in the same direction, maximizing the impact of your story and boosting the reader experience level.

You don't have to be like the Von Trapps but your ear does need to be attuned to your writing.

That just leaves me to say "So long, farewell."

As well as being an author and commercial writer, Clive West runs a company called Any Subject Books, a provider of a wide range of services to self-publishers. If you're a ghost-writer, cover designer, editor, interviewer, video producer or feel you offer any other publishing-related skills, check out their jobs page.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Writing Journey by The Witty Scholar

I love getting emails from young writers who are just starting out or discovering their passion for writing for the first time. This is a fun piece written by a talented seventeen year old who likes to be called The Witty Scholar.--Mary Ann

I started writing when I was in mama’s womb. I always drew and inscribed loads of words I couldn’t even make out on the walls of my room, her uterus. Of course I didn't know how to read or write but I always overheard when people conversed and tried to put words together even though I couldn’t see well. It always seemed like a reflex; something I couldn’t quite control.

As I grew, I came to love writing a lot. Sometimes even when I got nothing, I scribbled some mess on any writing space and slept on it waiting for an idea to hit me. I couldn’t live without writing for a day. I would tell you that English classes were my best. I always made sure all my essays and stories homework were done last, so I could cover up all boring work done. Just like icing on a cake.

Because of that, I gave up my science classes and took up literature and other arts instead and came out with an A*. My parents were on the verge of withdrawing me from school because of my decision. But being the stubborn mind I am, I stood by my word and never slacked. They wanted me to go into real business and not just some ‘some silly piling up of words to form a book’ as they always said. But I stuck to it and here I am. I guess such is life.

The only truth in that assemblage of words you just read is that I’m actually seventeen and I’m stubborn. Not what you expected huh? People love reading things as cliché as this. I find it everywhere. And yet I want to give you my real story. It’s going to be short, but different.

I started writing when I was 17, some months ago. That’s why I said my story would be a short one. Before then, I’d never tried writing. Even though I had friends who were flawless authors and tried to emulate them for some time, I still got nothing. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I got bored of doing absolutely nothing that this crazy idea of writing popped up in my head. I resorted to that because apparently, nothing was left to do. I registered on wattpad and put up some of my little pieces but they weren’t at all appreciated to my taste. I got fed up actually and decided to get a blog for myself. Then at least whether I was appreciated or not, I knew my work was out there, in the open.

You could say I don't know much about writing, or maybe nothing at all but I’m only just starting this phase of my life. I don't know where it heads but I hope it’s going to be something more than a hobby. The essence of this tearless story is so that people would stop believing that if they haven’t been doing something from birth, then it can’t be regarded as a talent or hobby.

I'm 17 and a Nigerian. I actually love writing now, very much. It's a way to reduce stress. 

---The Witty Scholar

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Take Happily Ever After Away from your Characters

I admit that there are a few television shows that I watch religiously. Some of them are good and some of them are just awful. The good ones are easy enough for me to justify watching: good writing, good storyline, good acting. The bad ones...well, sometimes it just feels good to turn your brain off and wallow in mindless entertainment, but usually there is a  reason I continue to watch those shows.

I get emotionally involved with the characters.

Lately, I've been watching Revenge. I have to say that I really appreciate the writing on this show. The twists and turns, the Hitchcockian subterfuge about things that really aren't important, the chemistry between the performers---yep, Revenge is one of those shows that has a great blend of drama and melodrama. Think of the '80s show Dallas and all those characters you loved and hated at the same time--that's Revenge.

Supernatural is another television show I've watched for years. Okay, I admit that I started watching because it has some delicious male eye candy, but the writing hooked me. I liked the urban fantasy idea of these two brothers fighting demons and, later, angels as they sought to rid the world of evil--an impossible task to be sure. However, I noticed that once the original writer, Jeremy Carver, left, the show took a turn. And it wasn't for the best. Things got stale. People got killed off that I didn't care about. Then Mr. Carver returned and things pepped up...a little. At least, neither brother died at the end of this season. It was a nice change from the previous three where one of them kicked the bucket only to be miraculously revived for the next season.

So if I was so unhappy with Supernatural those previous seasons, why did I continue to watch?

For the same reason I started watching Revenge. Emotional attachment.

In television, writers have an ace up their sleeve called actors. Even if the writing is only so-so, an actor who is liked and brings flair to a character can actually help the show along. We get involved with them, feel their pain and suffering. We have to know if So and So is going to get what's coming to them!

In book writing, the author has to work even harder to create that emotional attachment. We have to create characters that are relatable and have qualities that are redeeming--even the bad guy. They can't always be perfect and their flaws should often be revealed.

Only then can we truly love them.

This is tricky work and something  not to be taken lightly. There is power in emotional attachments which can keep the reader coming back for more. Or, depending on how you wield that power, it can really piss them off!

It's fun to play with that emotional attachment. Here's a trick that always gets me: give the characters everything they want and then take it all away as soon as you can. How they deal with the whatever disasters you've saddled them with will determine what their character is made of and how much we care about what happens to them. Give your hero and heroine lots of lingering looks, lots of moments where they express their feelings. Lead them to the pivotal moment when their love is declared and then systematically start taking it away.

This is a great technique if you're working on a series. A series gives you the freedom to not necessarily have everything in a tidy bow at the end of Book One. Perhaps everyone lives happily ever after in that first tale, but by the time Book Two rolls around, you gotta start revealing the thorns in the garden of happily ever after.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I knew you were going to say that (as the fortune teller said to her punter)

The Urban Dictionary defines a trope as an overused plot device.

These tropes describe prefabricated situations that make anyone with at least two functioning brain cells and a love for inventiveness, cringe and fight the temptation to teach the book the true meaning of the word 'defenestration'. With tablets and Kindles still costing as much as they do, this may have saved a few trope-ridden tales from such a violent death but that doesn't excuse their authors for crimes against literature.

Here are some of my least favourite tropes but sadly my list is far from exhaustive. Anyone submitting their manuscript to our book publishing company would do well to bear these in mind!

Here comes the cavalry

Just in time!
Just in the nick of time the good guy(s) rescue: the damsel in distress, the victim facing the evil psychopath, the giddy teenagers from the malevolent ghost that they've conjured up and so on. Sadly, in real life, this is often not the case. Victims don't get saved in time, lost kids don't get found and true-life stories don't necessarily have happy endings.

Spilling the beans

Oh how I so hate this one. Why, oh why, can't some authors write a dénouement that doesn't involve a monologue from the resident bad guy in which he explains everything. Our poor hero/heroine can't get a word in edgeways while our (hitherto) insanely clever criminal can’t blurt out all the finer details of their crime(s) fast enough. Since the crimes they've committed in the stories are usually carried out for reasons of power, and that keeping secrets may be the only way in which they maintain any of this 'glory' after they've been arrested, it doesn't exactly add up, does it?

One, two, three, gotcha!

I first figured this one out as a young lad watching Hammer Horror films long after my guardians had retired, too terrified to continue viewing. Creak! Our victim in the haunted house/mummy's tomb/graveyard hears a sudden and very scary noise. Phew! It turns out to be harmless. Bang! Another noise, perhaps a bit different - but it's harmless too. The victim smiles in relief just before they’re grabbed by the psychopathic killer/mummy/zombie etc from behind. To my mind, it couldn't have been more obvious if the author had put a spoiler up.

Survival of the righteous

Although there are plenty of other examples, a battle scene does this the most justice. Minor characters get shot to pieces by ricocheting bullets whereas the hero can stand up in a rain of ordinance and walk away virtually unscathed (apart from the odd scratch which they can bear in a suitably heroic manner). Sadly, cemeteries are stuffed full of real-life heroes who gave their lives for others.

True love will out

"I knew we'd find one another"
Will it? Well, hold me down. Why is it that the good guy always has to get his girl in the end? In formulaic romances where this is the required ending, who can criticize? But, in other books - especially non-romances - there is no earthly reason why this has to be the case. Anyone looking at divorce statistics will quickly ascertain that, if the maxim of good guys getting the girl (or whatever other combination you choose to come up with) holds true, there can't be very many good guys in the real world.

These are just a few of the tropes that wind me up - unfortunately the full list would be very long. As boss of our book publishing company, I acknowledge that coming up with a truly original idea that no-one has ever used before isn’t possible. However to trot out the same old devices over and over again is just a demonstration of sloppiness in the plot department.

Clive West is director of Any Subject Books - a publishing company. He's also author of a popular anthology of short stories and a multi-five-starred blockbuster, The Road.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Querying and Book Awards

As I have been writing about, I am currently in the process of querying my work in progress. Last week I wrote about one of the things we can all do to become a better querier, and that is to learn more about the publishing business. My approach was to go with an indie press which pretty much leaves all of the marketing up to the author. While we would all like the full weight of Penguin behind us, it is still important to understand the process of selling and a good primer on the topic is to actually go out and try to sell your book. But I warn you, it is a lot like drinking from a firehose so you better be thirsty.

If you've done any marketing at all you already know that saying your own book is good is the sign of a true amateur. Sure you've got to believe in your product, but books are like babies and momma always thinks her kid is cute. Using subjective terms that praise your own work in a query is a shortcut to the trashcan.

What you are looking for then, is for someone else to say your book is good. And I don't mean your mother or your best friend from college. Someone who the people you are querying might consider objective. Reviews are one way to do that but getting reviews from reputable people is pretty tough. There are SO many books out there and few well-known reviewers take the time to read indie novels. What is an author to do?

Okay, so I didn't win this one. Yet.
One route to objective reviews are book contests. Yes you have to pay for most of them, and there are a bajillion of them out there. It seems like every other blogger is running a book contest these days. Send in $75 and a copy of your book and you too can become an award winning author! Sadly, despite what may be some very sincere intentions, a lot of these do come off as scams. So how can you tell the difference?

While I'm no authority on book contests, my criteria for deciding what was legit and what was... we'll say, wannabe, was how long it's been around. One of the contests for independently published books that's been around the longest is the Eric Hoffer Awards. The award is named after an uneducated and self-trained American philosopher who wrote about the "nature of mass movements and the essence of humankind." Since The Silla Project is a novel that very much explores the human condition and borders on literary, I thought it might be worth giving it a shot. Or rather, my brilliant writing partner, Terri-Lynne Smiles, suggested I give it a go.

Well the winners were finally announced this week and I was thrilled to see that not only had The Silla Project been chosen as a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, but it was also a finalist in the Commercial Fiction category, one of the categories that receives the most entries. Naturally I would have preferred to be the winner, but to be chosen as one of the top thrillers out of hundreds submitted is quite an honor considering it was the first book I wrote.

Can't you just feel it about to go?
But beyond the momentary endorphine rush of being formally recognized, and much more importantly, it gives me a credential. Two of them in fact - finalist for the Montaigne Medal and finalist in the Eric Hoffer Award. And as I send out this latest round of queries, the first that I've been able to cite a credential in, it will be interesting to see if it has any effect on the agents and editors I have chosen. I'll keep you posted on how this goes, however, as you know, hearing back from literary professionals is like studying glaciers. Things don't appear to change at all until a piece the size of Delaware suddenly cracks off and raises the global sea level a half-inch!

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance that was a finalist for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Awards and the 2013 Montaigne Medal. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Great Gatsby--a movie review

Well, I might as well make a confession....

I did not read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school. I actually don't recall it being required reading. It's possible that I managed to somehow just review the Cliff Notes on it, but that wouldn't have been my style.

When I saw that one of my favorite directors, Baz Luhrmann, was turning the book into a movie, I was intrigued. Luhrmann has a knack for creating spectacle that takes the material to a whole new place. I'll never forget watching his version of Romeo and Juliet and being completely wowed by it.

Could he do the same with an American classic like The Great Gatsby?

I think the answer to that lies within how much you like the novel.

As I viewed the movie this week, I kept thinking how some people were really going to like the treatment of the Fitzgerald's jazz age tale and others were going to be completely offended by it. I did read the book a few weeks ago and found that I enjoyed it immensely. Personally, I don't think it's the end all, be all in a story (sorry Fitzgerald fans), but its well written with lots of brilliant prose. My favorite line from the book was "Her voice sounded like money."

I get exactly what the author means by that.

I would say the movie version cost  a lot of money to make and it captures the decadence Fitzgerald wrote about. The opulent lifestyle of Gatsby, the Jazz Age (or was it a Rap Age? The sound track kind of mixes that up), the extravagant fashion--it's all there in the film in beautiful, vibrant color. Terrific characterizations by the actors--especially DiCaprio--are displayed. That gorgeous yellow car at the center of so much turmoil is enough to make even the most dedicated Gatsby fan get a little excited as it cruises down the streets of New York. The famous eyes from the original Gatsby book cover pop up over and over again (with glasses), never letting you forget that you are an observer in this tale--and oh yeah, it was a book once.

But for me, that was the problem with the movie version of The Great Gatsby. It's front loaded with eye catching visuals, but once the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby begins to unfold, everything comes to a halt and a very slow paced movie emerges. I thought that while the actress playing Daisy, Carey Mulligan, was beautiful, she didn't really capture all of the character's facets. Sadness is an emotion that can look many different ways and she nailed that, but there is a flippancy to Daisy that I felt was mixing.  Leonardo DiCaprio's Gatsby was well played--exactly how I pictured the character, in fact--but the chemistry between him and his Daisy wasn't there. The moments of their reunion didn't quite feel true and that's a shame when you consider the whole story leads up to those moments where we at last see Gatsby and his love together.

A supporting cast does help deliver some strengths to the movie. Loved the portrayal of Tom Buchanan! Tobey Maguire does well as Nick Carraway when he is in the moment--though I wasn't crazy about his narration skills. He always sounds like he is still going through puberty when he narrates something.

As a Luhrmann fan, I would say this film captures all his usual tricks and is very satisfying in that sense. For a fan of the original novel...well, again, it depends on how much you love Fitzgerald. All in all I would call this version of the book, a good Gatsby. Not great.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Adding some color to your life

The bad guy wears black - it’s a convention, isn’t it?

Black is the color of evil, of wrongdoers and of the night but what do the other colors mean? When used as the principal color on a book cover, what does the color convey about the nature of the book itself?

I’ve gone through the main colors and analyzed them – see what you think and how many others examples come to mind.


Any man knows that this
is the color of danger
Red – it’s the color of blood and fire. Red signifies urgency, a need for action or danger ahead. Used in an adventure book it will tell the reader that they should be prepared for action while in a romance it will indicate that there’s plenty of searing passion ahead.

Famous example: Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci code” makes good use of a dull red to suggest a rip-roaring adventure is coming.


Like red it can also mean a call to action such and can even include impulsiveness. Orange also means that there is change ahead – a challenge, perhaps. As a result, orange is an excellent color for a book about exploration, self-improvement or getting fit!

Famous example: Clockwork Orange


It’s a happy, bright color; the perceived color of the sun – an object which is often depicted by children as sporting a smile. To go alongside this cheerfulness, yellow signifies all things positive and enduring. Use it to instill a ‘feel good’ factor about a book such as to complement a tale about someone overcoming hardship or tragedy.
Famous example: National Geographic use a bright yellow in their iconic rectangular logo.


Green is the color of new growth, of development, and of hope for the future. It also instills a sense of calmness and security. Use it on a book cover to indicate the beginnings of something big such as a family saga or other epic.

Famous example: Ironically (probably) on the cover of ‘Animal Farm’.


“Calm blue ocean”. Blue is the color of trust, of calmness, responsibility, confidence in the establishment, inner peace and strength. Blue is often employed by corporations on their brochures to suggest their solidarity and stability. Use on a book to suggest a ‘solid’ read which will entertain without upsetting the reader.

Famous book: Dr Seuss, “The Cat In The Hat”.


Violet means luxury, opulence and wealth and is the chosen color for regal vestments. Because of this, it means romance, inspiration and a high level of positivity and confidence in the future. Use for a happy-ending, feel-good romance or take its ‘creativity’ aspect for a book about hobbies, DIY or self-help.

Famous example: Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royale’ uses purple to depict the two sides of his famous hero, James Bond.


It says it all.
The conventional color of evil, the night and all things dark. Black can also indicate sophistication – the famous ‘little black dress’ invented by Coco Chanel. Black can mean power and is often employed to demonstrate a high level of control.

Famous example: The Godfather is a wonderful illustration of the simplicity and implied control of black.


White can even make you suspend
belief with its implied innocence
White, the color of innocence, purity, cleansing and virtue. It’s often seen on the covers of romances, to indicate the good guy (the ‘hero on a white horse’ effect) or as a counterpoint to evil in a ‘black and white’ context. White can also mean simplicity and minimalism – the stripping away of unnecessary modern trappings.

Famous book: Bridget Jones’ Diary

Colors are, of course, just what we choose to see them as. For example, red is the color of danger in the West but the color of good fortune in China.

The theme can’t dictate the colors used on your book’s cover but it’s another factor that’s worth bearing in mind. After all, the cover may be the only part of your book that a potential customer gets to see. You need to make the right kind of impact on the right kind of people; that’s the key to success.
Clive West is a director of Any Subject Books which both publishes books and provides book publishing services to independent authors. He's also author of 4 books including his best-selling collection of short stories with twists in their tails, Hobson's Choice.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to Become a Better Querier

Is "querier" even a word? I suppose it is now, and you read it first here, on the internet's penultimate writing blog, Mary Ann Loesch's AllThingsWriting.*

Mary Ann's previous post really resonated with me. I've been pretty busy the last few months coping with a failing economy. Seems I'm working harder and harder for less pay even as the price of things is going up. At the end of the day I just don't have a lot of energy left. At the same time, I have to admit to myself that I waste a good bit of time. Having a set, or at the very least a more strict, regimen will make a difference.

Now, I know we writers just do it because we love it. We don't care if we ever get published, we're all about the art. Yeah, right! That's easy to say once you get published, but if you got published it means you were out working hard to get published, because it doesn't just happen. Yes there are rare instances of spontaneous fame, but replicating that is like trying to replicate winning the lottery. It is NOT a business plan. I do agree that we have to love writing foremost, and that we should not use publication as the only metric of success, but ultimately I think most writers want their work to be read.

Despite the rise of electronic books, self-publishing, and micro or indie presses, I still think the big fish is traditional publication. Getting your books on a shelf gives you legitimacy and exposure that can't be had in other ways. Especially - especially - if you want your work picked up by schools, libraries, and book clubs. And even though querying is probably the single most distasteful thing you'll ever do, you better get better at it or the big fish ain't gonna' bite yer hook. So, the second in my series on queries (unintentional rhyme) is about how to get better at writing queries.

If you're like me you've written a lot of queries. Dozens. Scores. Hundreds? For most of my query-career they all read something like this:

Dear Ms. Agent:

Oh God, please, please-please-please, pleeeeaasssseeee publish my book! I hate my day job! My boss is an asshole! I don't have any money! You're my only hope! I'm an awesome writer because I finished a book! It's the best book in the world! <pant - pant - pant>

To be honest, that's not exactly how it read word-for-word, but going back and reading some of my early queries, that's pretty much how they sounded after I sent them.

Frustrated by my inability to catch the attention of a reputable agent with this strategy, I took a foray into the indie-press world in which I published two books. They have sold fairly well (we're talking indie here) picked up a bunch of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and even got me a finalist slot for an indie award. I didn't get the big breakthrough that I wasn't expecting, but I don't regret going this route. The reason I don't regret it, even though I still work a day job and I do in fact like my boss, is because of the query I wrote last week, that read more along the lines of:

Dear Ms. Agent:


Brief synopsis

Market assessment

Publishing experience including, finalist in a contest


Before you say, "Brewer, you're an idiot, everyone knows that!" let me say, "That's the same format my old queries all followed." It wasn't that my old queries were written all wrong. I studied the 'art'. I knew what they wanted. The difference is that when I wrote my old queries I didn't know what I was talking about. Market? Ain't that where you buy bananas? In fact, I'm not the same person I was. Two years as a published author trying to market and sell my work has given me an education I'd have never gotten anywhere else, and certainly not from attending a one hour session at a conference. As a result, when I wrote the query it was a business letter. A marketing letter that demonstrated some knowledge about why books sell and how they are sold. It matters not one whit how 'good' my book is if I - the author - don't know why books sell, and how to sell them. Two years of marketing and sales has taught me exactly why my books didn't take off, and it has nothing to do with how good they are.

So, back to the subject of this letter. How to become a better querier. Step one: learn about the business of selling books. Writing them is important, but it isn't half as important as selling them. Why do you think Tyra Banks, the supermodel, got a publishing deal? Because the publisher knew they'd sell half the copies they printed to adoring fans and the other half to people who wanted to see just how bad it was. If you sell most of what you print and you make a little money along the way, you stay in business.

Got a manuscript you think is good? Rewrite it again and give some indie presses a shot or even try self-publishing. Chances are you won't make the big time, but if you take it seriously I can guarantee you that you will learn about selling books, and you will learn what it feels like to get a one-star hatchet job. Then, when you write that query you won't sound like a desperate guy trying to get a date with his latest crush. You'll sound like Cary Grant. And we all know how well he did!

*Seriously, some of Mary Ann's and Clive's pieces are better than anything you get from more well-known writers.

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance that was a finalist for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Awards, Montaigne Medal. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Giveaway Days for Books: Good or Bad?

I've long been suspicious of the so-called free or give-away days that are perceived as providing the principal way to the top for aspiring authors. For me, it goes against the grain and, while I like packaging things together to up-sell or to do deals, making an unlimited number of donations to the swelling libraries of others just doesn't sit well with me. Not only that, there's the old maxim of something that has no monetary value to one owner can transfer no monetary value to the receiver.

 No doubt that's a bit simplistic but I don't think it's a million miles from reality.

I've been told that I'm a quick writer but I still put countless hundreds of hours into my scribblings and I expect you're the same so that's why I urge caution regarding these freebie days and where they can lead. It’s like a blank check, a plague let loose or an open invitation to all and sundry to do their worst.

Will help flush your work
down the toilet
The usual concern is about people sharing your book around but, in all honesty, that's trivial. It might even be a good thing because your book will then either go to someone who's actually interested in what you have to say (as in 'great minds think alike' - possibly leading to future sales) or to someone who just happens to be on the wrong end of an unwanted gift (in which case you've given your book to someone who wouldn't have bought it anyway - no loss there).

It's not that which concerns me.

There are a growing number of sites which download books when they're free and then offer them (also for free) to anyone who wants them – even long after your freebie day has gone by. Thus, while your 5 freebie KDP days every 90 days are finite (for the other 85 days your book has to be priced at least 99 cents OR it has to be taken down altogether), this ‘freebie day’ has been turned into a ‘Groundhog Day’. Since we're all after a bargain, why would any of your faithful followers purchase your book at full price when they can get exactly the same for nowt?

While you are an unknown author, your sales will come from 'serendipity' - i.e. people stumbling across your work and liking the look of it. Once you've got a following, that's when the danger will begin as people search for either you or your newest title. That’s when they’ll type your name into a search engine and find the free gift that’s waiting there.

But what's in it for this scumbag site that's ripped off your book? If they're giving the book away, what do they make out of it?

To answer that, one needs to think laterally. Essentially their income (and, remember, they're doing no work at all - this is a 100% automated site) is achieved through 3 different streams.

Firstly, there's the sheer volume of traffic. The more traffic a site has, the more it's worth. Businesses will pay big money for sites with lots of visitors - both to buy and to advertise on.
Secondly, there are Google AdSense adverts (or similar), Amazon adverts and other book-related services which can be promoted. When a visitor to the site clicks on one of those ads, the host site earns money. Let’s say there are 1,000 visitors a day, the average click-through rate is 2% and the average PPC (Payment Per Click) is $0.50. That’s $300 a month for doing absolutely nothing. You’d have to sell 150 books priced at $2.99 to earn that.

Thirdly (and most sinisterly in my humble opinion), in order to get a free copy of your book, the downloader has to jump through a hoop. This can mean: complete a survey, leave an email address, download a cookie, click through an advert etc. Such data has considerable value to internet marketing companies who can then sell it on to 'relevant' businesses.
This is war - make no doubt about it
These parasitic sites address the issue of book distribution very cleverly. You'll find some text on their site saying your book was part of a give-away and that all they're doing is continuing in the same spirit. Since they don't actually sell the book, the legal water is slightly muddied. They also offer you the opportunity to get your books removed from their listings - not that anyone will actually pay attention to your irate 'Take my book down NOW!!!' request typed out vigorously, vehemently and venomously on their ‘Contact Us’ form.

Ah, but I've got DRM (Digital Rights Management) so my book can't be hacked - I'm safe (you cry). Unfortunately, it's no good clinging to that straw as it's stuffed full of Uranium (the densest naturally-occurring element) and most assuredly will not float. The simple plug-in that hacks DRM is freely and anonymously available on the internet and, in a period of about 20 seconds, your DRM'd book could be turned into an un-DRM'd copy along with other versions in HTML, Word, RTF, TXT and just about any other household format.
It's no good threatening these sites with legal action. You won't find actual contact details and, even if you did, they'd not be in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Europe etc. They'll be in a place where no-one will want to know about how you've had your rights infringed – be sure of that.

Talking of maxims - here's another one of mine. Anything that can be built by a human can be destroyed by one. Don't let the despicable bottom-feeders who create these sites steal your work. Instead of giving your book away, maybe offer something free when the purchaser submits proof of purchase, for example. Keep control at all times.
I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that there are going to be even more repercussions to this marketing experiment. Don't be a guinea pig.

Clive has written two works of fiction - The Road and Hobson's Choice (an anthology of twist-in-the-tail short stories) as well as a book about lymphedema (a disease he suffers from) and a guide to taking charge of job interviews.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Research: Tattoos and Nephilim

When sin stains your soul, he tattoos your skin…

Tattoo artist Nathan Ink is more than he seems. An angel living in secret on earth, he forces his clients to face their flaws by tattooing images of their sins on their bodies, but this glimpse into the soul often results in his clients' deaths. Although Nathan avoids the other angels, when they ask him to keep an eye on Faye, a nephilim being stalked by another of her kind, he reluctantly agrees.

The angels have kept Faye in the dark about her stalker, but to keep her close to Nathan, they've tasked her with investigating the high mortality rate of Nathan's clients. Despite her distaste for his methods, she finds herself fighting a growing attraction to Nathan, and discovering he's not a rogue after all forces her to question her own mission. When Faye learns her stalker is another nephilim who intends to use her to breed a new race of hellish beings, teaming up with Nathan may be the only way to prevent a genocide
That's the blurb from my urban fantasy, Nephilim. I really enjoyed writing this lurid little tale, and I especially enjoyed researching information about tattoos and their significance to people. You know, tattoos have been around forever. Early man (and probably women!) were tracing outlines on their body and rubbing dirt to hold the design from the very beginning. They did this for all sorts of reasons--homage to the gods, a sign of tribal unity, and probably because it just seemed like a good idea.

Wow. Those are some of the same reasons drunk frat boys do it, too. I guess not much changes through the ages...

My husband is very tattooed. He wasn't when we were first married so seeing his body slowly become an artist's palette has been an interesting transition in my thought process. I went from thinking that tattoos were just a terrible idea to realizing there is lots of beauty in what they can represent. Of course, that led me straight into the idea of a novel and the research on tattoos and angels. As I look towards the sequel for Nephilim, it's been fun revisiting my inspiration for the first book and reviving my fascination with the reasons why people get inked in the first place.

My protagonist, Nathan Ink, is an angel, but prior to his angelic status, he was a gypsy traveling in Madrid. Gifted with the second sight, Nathan started his humble life scratching symbols into the skin of people who wanted good luck, better crops, or babies. His symbols were gifts that could help those in need meet their goals. Of course, once he became an angel, God charged him with a different mission, a different purpose for his gifts. Now he had to create symbols that represented the seven deadly sins. His job was to figure out which sin his victims fell prey to and then tattoo them with that symbol. The symbol could be something simple like flames or it could be a creature like a monkey. Regardless, every symbol meant something different to whoever received it, and every symbol caused them to either change their sinful ways or suffer the consequences...

Lots of readers have asked me if I have any tattoos. As of this posting, the answer is no. Honestly...I'm a big chicken. I hate pain. But I love what they can represent, and I am considering the possibility of getting inked in the future. I'm always interested to know why someone picked the tattoo that they did. What was the inspiration? Do you regret it? How has it changed you? I've heard some really interesting answers and all have helped me in my writing.

You can get your copy of Nephilim today by clicking on the book picture on the right hand side of this blog!