Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Beware of writing’s “X Factor”

Some good advice comes to us today from KB Walker, author of Once Removed.

Beware of writing’s “X Factor”

If you’ve ever watched X Factor, in the audition stages, you’ll have seen how many people have only shared their talent with loved ones wearing rose-tinted spectacles and seriously modified hearing aids (there are lots of cringe-making videos on YouTube, if you’ve missed out).

You may also have noticed the huge numbers of people who turn up for these auditions. Your manuscript will be up against similar numbers, if you want it published. Even if you decide to self-publish, your work must be polished to perfection or people won’t buy it. It’s vital to get critical feedback. Even bestselling authors have trusted readers who read drafts before they are submitted for publication. Writing a novel takes time and you are too close to it to see it objectively.

Don’t think that publishers will fall in love with your creativity and your brilliant idea and sort out the problems for you. It won’t happen. Just like the judges on X Factor, they don’t have the time or resources to bring your work up to a professional standard, beyond a light, final polish. And they don’t need to. There are plenty of authors out there prepared to ensure their work is properly presented.

Internet forums can be a good place to seek feedback because you have to review other people’s work in order to have your own reviewed. Looking critically at a piece of writing forces you to think about what does or doesn’t work and why. Reviews by people who don’t know you are likely to be more honest than those of friends. But beware; these forums can be addictive and time consuming.

Actual writers’ groups are also great. Having the opportunity to read your work aloud and receive praise and encouragement will boost your confidence. For novelists, particularly, it’s useful to be part of a small group of trusted people who will read your work and give detailed feedback. This provides more than one person’s opinion so you can weigh up whether to accept a point as valid or not ~ as the artist, you have final say. But if more than one person picks up the same point, it may be prudent to take it seriously.

If there isn’t a local group, start one. Libraries are often eager to help with this and will host them, too. Some pubs will let groups use their spare rooms, as long as everyone buys a drink. Many groups meet in people’s homes.

Do receive feedback graciously and try not to take it personally. If you’ve ever painted, you’ll appreciate that the finished product is never exactly as you want it to be. Even the world’s best painters sketch and sketch and often paint and paint the same scene until it’s close to what they want. Writers paint with words. I once read in an acknowledgements page a thank you to the people who’d helped the author write the book he wanted to write.

Remember, as with any art form, opinions of your writing will be subjective. But if you are writing for an audience you have to find out what they like/don’t like or they won’t read it or, crucially, tell their friends about it.

I’ve belonged to four different reading groups. The members were of similar ages, socio-economic groups and mostly the same gender and we seldom liked the same books and never agreed on all the aspects of style, presentation, language or story. You won’t be able to please everyone so let that free you from trying. Somewhere between pleasing your intended audience and writing the book you want to write is the fine line you’re aiming for.

 Find out more about Kimm on her blog:


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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

KDP select: An Assessment

KDP select: An Assessment by David Robinson
A week or two back I put up a post on NickDaws’ blog recounting my experiences of KDP Select.
For those who are not aware of it, Select is a lending program that allow you enrol any of your titles for a 90-day period. Amazon set up a fund, never less than $500,000 to cover payments to the authors. At the end of each month, the fund is divided by the total number of loans to work out how much each title is entitled to, and the authors are paid that rate times the number of loans. Typically this is about $2.00 per title per loan.
There is a price to pay for inclusion in Select. You must make your title exclusive to Amazon. You are not permitted to sell it elsewhere, not even on your own website.
In January, I enrolled my thriller, The Handshaker, in Select. It wasn’t doing anything, so I thought I’d experiment with it. It didn’t do much better while it was in Select, either, so when the 90-day period was up, I withdrew it.
Select, however, does have one advantage over the normal Amazon channels. You are permitted to make your title free for five of the ninety days. During my five days, 1600 users downloaded The Handshaker.
To say I was unimpressed with Select is an understatement. My titles don’t sell mega, but I do as well through Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Diesel, Scrollmotion as I do on the Kindle, and they’re all through the Smashwords Premium Distribution Catalogue. Having cut The Handshaker off from them (it had only ever sold one copy) I expected better than 1600 freeloaders.
The curious thing is, although I didn’t realise it at the time, it got better. I wasn’t even aware of it when I put up the piece on Nick’s blog, but over the three-month period The Handshaker was in Select, not counting freebies and loans, it became my bestseller on Amazon.
Don’t run away with any false impressions. You’d still be hard pressed to find it, but it is selling fairly consistently in double figures per month.
Was that because of increased exposure in Select? Or was it because I began to push it more after it went into select? I’d need some sophisticated research to work that out, but it’s back in the Smashwords Catalogue now. Unfortunately, Smashwords’ distributors are notoriously slow at reporting sales, so it’ll be several months before I can make an informed judgement.
And KDP Select? Not a bad idea, but it’s weighted in favour of American audiences (why not? Amazon is an American company) and British titles traditionally do not do well over there.
One thing that has happened, and Amazon are not saying whether they expected this, is that the 99ȼ brigade are using select. It was a forgone conclusion. Selling your work at 99ȼ on Amazon, your royalty is about 30ȼ after delivery charges. Going out on loan through Select, your royalty is whatever the month’s rate is set at, and that, as I said earlier, is usually round $2.00
The Handshaker is available for the Kindle from Amazon UK, Amazon Worldwide, and in all formats from Smashwords
Find out more about David Robinson and his other works on his website: 

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Monday, 21 May 2012

Paying an agent is never a good idea

Brenda Darling is concerned about her work being used without her permission. She sent the following plea for help, which I answered in the February issue of Words with JAM Question Corner: Hi there, I wonder if you could give me some advice please. Last year Sheila Bugler kindly helped me with my synopsis for my novel HARD KNOCKS. Since completion I have been sending three chapters of my book to agents. Recently an agent got in touch by e-mail saying that they were interested to represent me if I could send them my novel by word document. This I did immediately, without giving any thought to the consequences. After getting no response, I rang and it was explained to me that I had to pay money up front. A published author whom I know, advised me not to go ahead. So I rang the agent and declined his offer.

My question is, the agent now has my complete novel and as I cannot retrieve my word document what do I do now? Is there a way I can stop my work from being used?

First and foremost, your writer friend is absolutely right to warn you off paying a prospective agent. Money should always flow to the writer, not the other way round. The only time an agent should make money from a writer is in commission for selling the book.

The exception to the money flowing to the writer is if you choose to pay for professional editing prior to submitting to an agent, or if you go to an editorial consultancy for advice on improving the storyline and structure.

You don’t have to worry too much about the agent using your work as you own the copyright and any use without your express consent would be illegal. I would, however, suggest sending the agent an email referring to your telephone conversation. Make it plain that you have declined the offer of representation and that you are withdrawing your work. Even if they have kept the file (highly unlikely) you would then have a record of what was said and done.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Writing Life Experiences @TrishaNicholson #writetip

Today we have an excellent guest post from Trish Nicholson, who gives some good advice on using real life experiences in our writing.

We are all familiar with the advice: ‘write about what you know’ but what does it mean?

When Susan, a new member of our writing group, responded to feedback on her story, wailing, “But it’s true. It happened like that!” we all realised how ambiguous that statement is. Yet it is basically good advice for writing both fiction and non-fiction, so I thought about it, and this is what I came up with.

‘Real life’ is not a story:
Our lives are made up of disconnected actions: catching the train to work, texting friends, changing a nappy, pushing a vacuum cleaner around; and of discontinuous shreds of conversation full of ums and errs. The actions don’t make a story, and the ums and errs don’t make dialogue, until writing craft is applied to organise them into plots and scripts. Writing craft is based on reality, but makes sense of it by selecting only those elements that can be woven into a sequence with a specific meaning and purpose. Even fantasy has to be grounded in some idea of reality for readers to comprehend it. A story is an interpretation of life crafted into words, and so is an article or an essay.

And unlike ‘real life’, stories and articles have a finite ending – happy, tragic or enigmatic, they have to end. Have you noticed how little closure there is in our lives – even when we seek it? Work schedules, relationships, other people’s expectations, our own feelings; there are always frayed threads everywhere because, well, ‘life goes on.’ One of the important things to learn about writing ‘what you know’ is how to structure it to a satisfying conclusion.

We know more than we think:
However mundane or boring life seems at times, our experiences and perceptions are all part of the human saga and a rich vein of knowledge for a writer. To tap this source, we need to increase our awareness of what is going on around us, and inside us, and to record it. Whether in a diary, a prized moleskin notebook, or on the back of the gas bill, we should note not only what our five senses show us, but what we think it means and how we feel about it. Recording includes photographs – so easy now with digital devices – because we can mine these later, for visual clues and stimulation. We can then expand our personal knowledge with research where necessary.

When writing travelogue, I start by deciphering the scribbles in my journals – a collection of little black journalists’ tablets because they fit easily into a pocket, so are always at hand. Amongst all the facts – locations, dates, names – are snippets of overheard conversation, brief character sketches, stray words that come to mind to encapsulate what is happening, and cryptic comments about how I feel (often a great source of amusement to me on re-reading).

While studying my notes, I scroll through the photographs. Although we joke about tourists who ‘click it now and see it later’ – better photographs do result from immersion in a scene before pressing the button –  a picture, even long after the event, can recall not only the occasion, but the smell, touch and sound associated with it. This process is equally productive for ‘experiencing’ the setting of your novel as you write.

Writing our experience:
The only difference between writing our experience as fiction, and as non-fiction, is what we write – not how we write: rhythm, imaginative language, character development and storytelling – all these elements of writing craft apply to both. In what they write, fiction writers have greater freedom to use their knowledge to create ‘worlds’ – within the limitations of reader credibility. Non-fiction writers have a duty to adhere to facts, and to honour the truth to the best of their ability. We are all subjective, that is an inescapable fact, but being aware of it, and sharing enough with readers for them to see where our truth comes from, helps achieve balance.

Within these constraints, non-fiction writers are free to express their experience and knowledge in the creative form and style of their choice. I’ll give you an example. My journal entry for a ruined, sixteenth century, fortified monastery included some dry historical facts, and the phrase, “massive structure – mist...eerie silence.”

With the photograph beside me as I wrote Journey in Bhutan, it became this: Standing in this quiet spot, listening to birds singing and leaves crinkling in the breeze, it is hard to imagine these hillsides echoing with the thunderous clatter of war horses and the deadly whisper of arrows, but since at least the seventh century, various Tibetan war-lords and rulers have tried to expand their influence into the favoured valleys of Bhutan.

I was attempting to whisper in the reader’s ear, to place them where I was standing, by using imagery. For Susan, trying to turn ‘what she knew’ into a short story, she already had the imagery, the inner experience; what she needed to do was create more ‘facts’ – incidents and conflicts – as well as a satisfying ending.

Trish Nicholson is the author of the illustrated e-book travelogue, Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. 

Trish writes weekly on her blog at:

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