Archive for the ‘ Be Inspired! The stories behind the stories. ’ Category

Out of Africa with Ruth Harris


Yeah, I’m still here, contrary to appearances.

I said in my last post I thought the worst of the internet issues here in West Africa were over and I had high hopes of getting back to some semi-regular blogging. That was in January…

The thing is, life in any “third world” country is a constant triumph of hope over experience. In a desperately poor country like The Gambia hope is often all people have as they go about the daily grind of subsistence living, where soup kitchens and state hand-outs and homeless shelters are unknown.

Which is a constant reminder to me of how lucky I am here. I eat at least once every day, have a tap in the yard, semi-reliable electric and internet, and no heating bills. I have my dream job as a writer, have fulfilled my childhood dream of living in a mud hut in Africa, and am daily reminded, by the company of some of the poorest but happiest children on the planet, what really matters in life.


Okay, so my workstation might not be everyone’s idea of comfort, but a rusting iron door propped up on a plastic oil drum and the remains of a table does the job. The mosquito swatter doubles as a fan and the lamp does a fine job when the frequent pwercuts plunge us into darkness each evening. Seriously, what more does one need to be a writer?

And life here appears to have just got better, with the final upgrades and repairs to the new ACE (African Coast-Europe) subterranean internet cable, which means (hopefully) some internet stability at last.

To celebrate, I’m back with the second MWi post of the year, and with a guest who doesn’t know she’s here yet, but I’m sure won’t mind my blatant act of piracy in stealing her own blog post from yesterday (which I just read an hour ago) and presenting it here in full.

Ruth Harris is an internationally-acclaimed million-selling author who lives in New York — a lifestyle about as far removed from the reality of Africa as you can get. Yet she wrote a book set here on the dark continent (and kindle gifted a copy to e when it was released – thanks, Ruth!). The novel is called Zuri.

zuri larger

I meant to have reviewed it here way back, but the realities of life got in the way, as usual. Then I saw Ruth’s latest post on her blog, about how she came to write Zuri, and just knew I had to repost it here.

Normally I’d email and ask permission first, but we’re in different time zones and chances are by the time Ruth got the message and responded I’d have lost my net connection again, and then something else would crop up to distract me. So I’m going to risk a New York law suit and paste now, ask later

Romance and an accidental collision.

Romance as a category has shown its strength over the decades as it evolved from the early days of the nurse romance—pretty nurse Patricia wins handsome Dr. Phillips—through the “bodice rippers” of the Eighties to the many sub-genres that exist today including, of course, the steamy erotic romances descending from 50 Shades.

No matter the sub-genre, there always seems to be room for further expansion and an eager audience willing to follow writers wherever our imaginations take us. To pirates and pirate ships, to the Middle Ages, Regency England, and the settling of the American West. Wherever there are people, people can—and will—fall in love.  We want to write about them and readers love to read about them.

ZURI—the word means “beautiful” in Swahili—is a romance with an unusual setting: an animal orphanage named Kihali located in Africa. The initial idea for the book was the product of an accidental collision.


Out Of Africa, set in Kenya in the early 1920’s and starring Meryl Streep as the Danish writer Isaak Dinesen, and the young, golden Robert Redford as a white hunter, is a grand romance—and one of my favorite movies. I watch it every now and then and had just seen it again when, while casually flipping thru TV channels one evening, I happened to see a clip of a baby rhino. I was blown away by the little rhino’s appeal and gracefulness.

Baby animals never fail but a rhino? Could a baby rhino actually be adorable? Yes, indeed. Very much so.

I was also aware via newspaper and internet articles that poaching had become an extremely lucrative international crime. The slaughter of rhinos and elephants was decimating the wildlife populations of Africa to the point where they are now endangered species. Between the glamor of Africa, the vulnerability and appeal of helpless animals and the sweeping Streep-Redford romance, the germ for the book was firmly planted.

The need for research was obvious. I had to find out about the people involved in the dangerous work of animal rescue and protection, the newest scientific discoveries in animal communication as more and more is learned about their high intelligence, the gory reality of poaching and the ruthless criminal gangs who profit from its bloody endeavors.

Then there were the details of rhino husbandry and veterinary, the amazing work being done by African animal orphanages, the risks involved in wildlife care, the details of rhino and elephant behavior—Zuri, the orphaned baby rhino who is the story’s heroine, meets elephant and other animal friends at Kihali. I also needed to find out about the local language, Swahili, Kenyan cuisine & wedding rituals—and I needed to use my research in a way that fit in naturally with the narrative flow of the book.

The research was fascinating. Did you know that the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs & weapons? Or that rhino horn—it’s actually keratin, the same material found in feathers and nails—is thought to cure cancer, maintain sexual vigor and is considered a miracle medicine in Asia, although it is, in fact, of zero medical value? The price of rhino horn, driven by demand in booming Asian economies, is now more expensive than gold as is the ivory from elephant tusks, used not for “medicinal” purposes but to make carved trinkets.

Of course, in a romance, a love story is crucial. Therefore: Renny Kudrow, the sexy scientist and expert in animal communication, who is the moody Alpha hero. Renny is the Director of Kihali and Starlite Higgins is his newly-hired vet, a talented doctor who hides a horrifying secret. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Starlite panics and almost causes Zuri’s rescue to fail. The two who must work together to save Zuri and the other animals in their care must also work their way through their initial very rough beginning to a much-deserved Happily Ever After ending.

By the time I finished writing ZURI, I thought of the book as romance in its broadest sense, meaning love of beauty, love of nature, love of animals, and, of course, the romantic and transformative power of human love.


Thanks in advance for letting me post that here, Ruth. It’s a great book and one I’d recommend to all. I especially love that cover!

Ruth’s blog is here. Ruth also posts regularly over at Anne R. Allen’s blog here.

In my part of Africa rhinos and elephants and the like are in short supply (we have some great hippos and crocs, though). There are wildlife parks here, and a “proper” safari park in neighbouring Senegal, but regular readers will know it’s the children of Africa that are why I’m here.


More on my young friends in future posts.

But here to end with something Ruth mentioned above: the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs & weapons. And just like with drugs and weapons, the trade in ivory and other animal parts (sharks’ fins, tigers’ testicle, seal fur, etc) impacts on human lives as well as the animals that are brutally and needlessly slaughtered.





Whether it’s the suffering of innocent doe-eyed animals, or innocent bright-eyed children, that upsets you, remember there’s aways something you can do to help.


Mark Williams Has Risen From The Grave


Okay, play time’s over. I’m back!

Contrary to popular opinion I haven’t been lounging on the beach all day while nothing was happening here at MWi. For those of you unfortunate enough to have had emails from me recently it may not have been obvious, but I have been struggling with Africa’s most common malady. To anyone who’s emailed and not had a reply, sorry! I’ll be making vast efforts to catch up over the weekend.

For now just to add that my recuperation was greatly aided today by news that Sugar & Spice came in not only as the top selling UK indie title last year, but also ranked eleventh highest-seller out of ALL ebooks sold in the UK in 2011.

What more could one ask?




Independent Writers? Nah, Not Really – Cheryl Shireman is back at MWi!

As I write this it’s soon after midday GMT Monday 31st and I’ve just heard from Cheryl Shireman that the above book, Indie Chicks, is doing rather well, even though barely two days old.
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,440 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Now before I get accused of favortism for featuring Cheryl here on MWi yet again, I should explain the above book is a charity compilation, all proceeds in aid of breast cancer research.

It’s less than the price of a cup of coffee, and it’s worth far, far more than that just for the personal stories by the contributors.

Cheryl explains more about it below, and the role-call of names is to die-for.  Which in the circumstances is not the best expression to use, perhaps, but on the other hand we all need to remind ourselves that breast cancer is a killer disease.The only way it will be eradicated is with further research, and research needs funding.
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So as well as buying a copy for yourself, how about gifting a  copy to someone else, or at the very least retweeting and FBing this post to as many people as possible.
Here’s Cheryl:


Independent Writers? Nah, Not Really   –  by Cheryl Shireman


 Merriam-Webster defines independent as:

a. not subject to control by others

b. not requiring or relying on something else

c. not requiring or relying on others

d. showing a desire for freedom


I am an independent writer – an “indie” who forges her own path and is responsible for her own career. I don’t need the approval of the gatekeepers – traditional publishers and agents. All I need is my computer and a book to upload. Right?

Wrong. That couldn’t be much further from the truth. Every successful indie that I know (and that is quite a few) has his or her own supportive network of other indie writers. As indies, we don’t have the marketing budget of traditionally published writers, but we have something that might be even better – each other.

Before I ever published, an indie writer told me how – Karen McQuestion. Graciously, she wrote about her experiences on her website and through guest posts on the blogs of other indie writers. If not for McQuestion, and many other writers like her, I would have gone the traditional route, and would probably be in the midst of submitting my manuscript right now. Instead, I published my first novel, Life Is But a Dream: On The Lake, and created my own website so that I could pay it forward and encourage other writers.

As I write this, that was about nine months ago. Within that relatively short period of time, I appeared on various indie blogs, was interviewed on more indie websites than I can remember, and appeared in two anthologies – Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran and Summer Book Club (featuring Mark Williams, Saffina Desforges, J. Carson Black, Victorine Lieske, Louise Voss, Sibel Hodge, Scott Nicholson, H.P. Mallory, and myself). The success of my novel has been largely due to the collaborative effort of my peers – fellow indie writers.

This type of mutual support is the idea behind Mark Williams International Digital Publishing. It is, quite frankly, a winning combination – talented writers and savvy promotion.

A couple of months ago, shortly before signing with MWiDP, I came up with the idea of organizing an anthology of women writers – Indie Chicks. I contacted several indie writers, including some women who signed with Mark (Prue Batten, Anne R. Allen, Christine DeMaio-Rice, Barbara Silkstone, Melissa Smith, and Danielle Blanchard) and asked them if they would be interested in participating. In total, I contacted about thirty women, and every one of them responded with enthusiasm. Most said yes immediately, and those who could not, due to prior commitments, wished us well and asked me to let them know when the book was published so they could be part of promoting it.

Did you catch that? Even though they could not participate, they were willing to promote the work of their fellow indie writers. So much for independence!

I asked the writer who inspired me to give indie writing a try, Karen McQuestion, to write a foreword for the book. Though no longer technically an indie writer (McQuestion signed with Amazon’s imprint, Encore), Karen responded with an enthusiastic yes. I wasn’t surprised. Thrilled, but not surprised.

In keeping with the spirit of support and encouragement, I asked the women to each submit a true story from their life that might encourage other women. As women, one of our most powerful gifts is our ability to encourage one another. This book became our effort to encourage women across the world. Twenty-five women sharing stories to make you laugh, inspire you, and maybe even make you cry. We began to dream that these stories would inspire other women to live the life they were meant to live.

The stories started coming in. Some were light hearted and fun to read. But others were gut-wrenching and inspiring – stories of how women dealt with physical abuse, overwhelming grief, and a host of bad choices. It was clear; these women were not just sharing a story, but a piece of their heart. I felt as if I were no longer “organizing” this anthology, but just getting out of the way so that it could morph and evolve into a vehicle for support and encouragement.


Stories included in Indie Chicks:

Foreword by Karen McQuestion

Knight in Shining Armor by Shea MacLeod

Latchkey Kid by Heather Marie Adkins

Write or Die by Danielle Blanchard

The Phoenix and The Darkness by Lizzy Ford

Never Too Late by Linda Welch

Stepping Into the Light by Donna Fasano

One Fictionista’s Literary Bliss by Katherine Owen

I Burned My Bra For This? by Cheryl Shireman

Mrs. So Got It Wrong Agent by Prue Battten

Holes by Suzanne Tyrpak

Turning Medieval by Sarah Woodbury

A Kinky Adventure in Anglophilia by Anne R. Allen

Writing From a Flour Sack by Dani Amore

Just Me and James Dean by Cheryl Bradshaw

How a Big Yellow Truck Changed My Life by Christine DeMaio-Rice

From 200 Rejections to Amazon Top 200! by Sibel Hodge

Have You Ever Lost a Hat? by Barbara Silkstone

French Fancies! by Mel Comley

Life’s Little Gifts by Melissa Foster

Never Give Up On Your Dream by Christine Kersey

Self-taught Late Bloomer by Carol Davis Luce

Moving to The Middle East by Julia Crane

Paper, Pen, and Chocolate by Talia Jager

The Magic Within and The Little Book That Could by Michelle Muto

Write Out of Grief by Melissa Smith

Afterword by Beth Elisa Harris


            We also each included excerpts from our novels, but at some point, that become secondary. These personal stories truly became an act of love. It is our hope that the stories in this book, our stories, will encourage other women who are facing their own struggles. This project totally reflects the “indie” spirit, which, actually, has nothing to do with independence at all – but connection, encouragement, and support.

            All proceeds from this anthology will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation which fights breast cancer – a disease all too close to many of us.


Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories is available on Amazon and Nook.



Stop by our Facebook page! 

Follow our Indie Chicks hashtag on Twitter!  #IndieChicksAnthology


Thanks for stopping by.  Normal service will be resumed during the week.


Don’t Sign Your Rights Away. A Movie Deal Could Be Just Around The Corner.

No, we haven’t signed some major deal with some Hollywood mogul. But it’s part of the writing dream, right? Along with the coveted place on the plinth in the bookstore, the red carpet at the movie premiere is one of those little fantasies all writers indulge in.
     As wannabe writers penning those first few lines it’s not so much a dream as a future event waiting to happen. Not if, but when. We plan out future careers around the book tours and the TV chat shows. We idle away our spare moments looking at private jets and yachts.
     Later reality sets in.
* * *
It’s Sunday, so once again I’m over at WG2E, and have been desperately searching for someone foolish enough to stand in for me here at MWi.
     Today Lee Chambers drew the short straw.
     In fact Lee first submitted this post to me some months back, but it got lost in the mire of technical issues that bedevilled my summer, and has only now resurfaced. Lee has now updated the post with the latest developments, and it makes for fascinating reading.
     Lee says,

Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.

Regulars will know Saffi and I have sent rejection letters to several high-flying agents who came knocking on our door. Why? Because when these agents came with their name-dropping contacts list and their swanky New York addresses we looked beyond the glitz, glamour and improbable promises, and asked awkward questions.
     You would not believe the kind of demands they made. As for the small print in the contracts… Sorry. Not for us.
     I’ll be coming back to the issue of rights, contracts and agencts’ deals in a future post. Here just to reiterate Lee’s words: You have no idea what your work may be worth in the future. Be very careful about signing away all your rights now. Especially to desperate agents staring oblivion in the face as their former job-for-life becomes daily more precarious.
     If an agent comes knocking at your door, ask just why they are turning received wisdom on its head and querying you! That’s not how it works, remember? Forget who they may have repped in the past. the past is history.
     Think about the future. If these agents are such hot-shots why the hell are they they trawling the Kindle charts, searching for new clients? You’ve done all the work. Don’t go handing over a future percentage just for the kudos of saying you “have an agent” if all they can do for you is waht you can do yourself.
* * *

David Wisehart

David Wisehart was over at WG2E yesterday, and in a fine example of serendipity at work David began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.

     I knew nothing about David’s post on WG2E until I belatedly saw it yesterday evening.  Well worth checking out.
     Today’s MWi guest, Lee Chambers, wrote this post for me back in the summer, and finally we caught up with it mid-week and scheduled it for today. Lee began his post by talking about his childhood dream of being a writer. He went on to work in film instead.
     As said, I had no idea David was guesting over at WG2E with such a similar opening. Pure and utter coincidence.
     The similarities with David’s post on WG2E are striking. So are the differences. Be sure to read both!
     Here’s Lee:
Years ago I tried doing something that most people dream about but only a few truly succeed. The goal: To write a novel.
     I made an honest effort and put pen to paper to write my book, but in the end I failed. To be honest, it was a long shot. Why? Because I was only ten years old.
     My book was a mystery about a Sheriff investigating a string of murders in Oklahoma. I didn’t have a lot of experience with crime scenes and had never even been to Oklahoma. I just had a story I wanted to tell but the practical issues of research, solid format and the way publishing worked seemed minor at the time.
     Everyone has a story in them. Good or bad, but a story nonetheless. Getting that first rough draft on paper is hurdle number one. Then comes the countless re-writes and re-working of the material to make sure it passes muster. Most aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to go through this process.
    I believe I was about 40 pages in with my first attempt. Then the playground and my friends were calling. I still had stories inside me but I decided to take a different route.  
     For me, I fell in love with making movies as a writer and director. I shifted to telling celluloid stories on film, with actors, props and unique shooting locations.

Lee Chambers In Action!

After more than a dozen short films under my belt, some made with support from Academy Award winners, I decided it was time I tackled the feature length script.

     Oddly enough I hate writing. I like collaboration and have a strong sense of story and character but to write for a solid eight hours doesn’t interest me. So I co-write with people that truly enjoy the process. I learned to respect my weaknesses, embrace them and work towards the positive. For me, I write because I want to direct.
     So three years ago I created another Sheriff tale and enlisted my trusted friend Todd Gordon to help me draft up the screenplay. Based on my premise and characters we drafted it up and cycled through numerous script and story consultants and editors to help us plug plot holes and strengthen up the drama and characters. The result was an engaging thriller that won us a Grand Prize for screenwriting at the 2011 Canada International Film Festival and attracted one of the stars of the Twilight saga for the leading role.
     All very exciting, but it was here that I realized that in the movie world, this was only the first battle. The war now shifted to finding the millions of dollars to make the movie. And this can take years – even with a good script. Finding the right players, supporters and funders can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
     So what do with myself while the script does the rounds?  The light bulb flashed on – I’ll turn the screenplay into novel format. Not the normal pattern for an independent filmmaker but as I planned to also direct the material, it made perfect sense. A screenplay is purely a “show” and “tell” blueprint. There’s no room or place to show emotions or back story.
     What better way to explore the deeper sides of the story than by writing it all out in more detail. It started as a simple document I could hand to my actors as research into their characters and motivations. Then as I moved along, the idea of sharing it with book readers became an obvious evolution.
     The first hurdle was my perception over self-publishing and the whole e-publishing idea. There is still something lovely about paper. To have something tangible in your hands. This expense and the distribution hassles make the traditional method of publishing almost impossible without solid backing. Then came the eBook wave.
     As recent as 3 months ago, I wasn’t sold. Then I did my research and found that this wave of publishing is rocking the big boys and outselling paper. Suddenly anyone, and I mean anyone could have a book for sale around the world with virtually no costs. That’s the good side of the market. The bad side is that, while everyone has a story inside them, most self-published books are not original or are poorly developed.
     So this past July, after an eight-month conversion process, I unleashed The Pineville Heist upon the eBook world.

Lee and Booboo

It is amazing that within only a few weeks I even had fans making their own YouTube videos on their dream cast for the movie version. Facebook and Twitter messages from teenage Booboo Stewart fans started pouring in (Booboo plays Seth Clearwater in the Twilight saga and he’s interested in lead role in the film).

     That’s a powerful display of communication. No longer did I need the approval of a publishing house to find room in their catalog for my story.  One publisher was interested but claimed it would be 2014 before they could even consider publishing it at the earliest. Wow! 2014. Really? Three years from now? Well that didn’t work for me.
     This new revolution of ePublishing is pretty spectacular. But I caution once again that time needs to be spent on ensuring the work writers launch into the eWorld is as top notch as can be. This influx of content also makes it harder for the good stuff to be noticed.  I spent three years developing my screenplay and book and believe it’s a solid book for the young adult market.
     It’s not perfect but it’s my voice. Written in my style, my way without a publisher forcing me to play it safe or conform to ideals that work for a larger demographic.
     As it stands my book has commercial appeal. Proof of this comes from me recently signing an international agreement to make the movie version in 2012.
     Your eBook is a creative property that may have multiple purposes. I believe most indie authors without a traditional publisher or not represented by an agent have no idea of the value of their work over the long term. While the majority of books don’t turn up as movies in your local cinema, be careful about signing away your rights.
     I am not limiting myself to just selling the eBook for The Pineville Heist. My marketing plan includes the paperback (even if only a limited release), a movie, an iPhone game, etc. I believe in my work so much, I even created a 30 second teaser trailer with special effects firm RennerVFX that took two months to create using the same computer programs that James Cameron used to make Avatar. The result is absolutely stunning.
     Of course I designed my story to be commercial from the get-go. I had the book cover and movie poster designed early. Reverse engineering. I was writing for an audience, not just for myself or family and friends. I took advice from many people smarter than me and then stuck to my guns and told my story.
     Along the way people try to force their creative will on your work. You need to decide if their views have merit. Does their view represent the audience for your book?  How valid is their point of view? You need thick skin to take the good reviews with the bad. Understand that you can’t please them all. Not even people in your target market. There are going to be readers that hate your story or the way you have captured it in words. It’s natural and the way of life. Take all reviews with a grain of salt and look for the patterns. Overall do people like it?
     The Pineville Heist is my first novel so I am moving into a new world. My only experience of exposing my creativity to the world comes through writing and directing short films over the years.  My last short film, When Life Gives You Lemons gained Executive Producer support from legendary producer Roger Corman and was selected by 45 film festivals in 9 countries around the world. It has won numerous awards and nominations. That same film was rejected by over 60 festivals, including one in Florida that thought it was dreadful. Oh my.
     At first I was rather annoyed, then I realized that, this little festival in Florida wasn’t really the demographic for my movie anyway.  So I moved on and accepted it.  Lesson learned, thick skin developed. It’s a numbers game.
     If you seriously have something good and you focus on finding your audience then you’ll make it in the long run. Tenacity and re-evaluating your work and marketing plan will get you there.  To date, not one film festival in Oklahoma has accepted my short film. Then again, I don’t think I ever applied to one. Maybe it’s time I did. I think they’d love it!

 Lee, thanks so much for sharing.

You can check out Lee in person at and find out more about The Pineville Heist at

The ebook can be found on and

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Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking at how e-readers are changing the way we read and therefore changing the way we might want to write. As tablets become the norm we no longer have to consider film, TV, books, magazines, etc, as separate media. They can all be available on one device, and increasingly they can all become interactive.

Film changed the way books were written. Television in turn changed the way films were made and books were written. E-readers and tablets will change the way film, television and books are written and created.

For the elite few blessed with technical skills to take full advantage, the opportunies are endless. But for us – Saffi and I included – who prefer to simply write stories, still we cannot afford to ignore the changes happening around us. As indie writers we need to stay ahead of the game: to proact, not react.

As I’ve said before, the trad publishers think that by throwing money into ebooks they can somehow regain their stranglehold on the industry. They think that they can just convert a book to digital and that’s it.

Partly, they’re right. Indie authors cannot begin compete with the bribery and bullying that typifies traditional book marketing. Nor should we want to.

Our future success or failure will be determined by our ability to evolve as the reading experience evolves.

How do you see the reading experience evolving?

Hopefully not like this!








Riding The Freeway To Heaven – Alison Pensy

Yes, it’s another split-shift Sunday. You may think I’m here at MWi writing this, but in reality I’m over at the Writers’ Guide 2 E-publishing writing that.

Today at WG2E the post is called Get A Grip! You’re Not Six Anymore! and is a shout-out to all those of you still on the fence about going solo.

Here at MWi, just to ram home the point that being self-pubbed won’t bring you overnight success, fame and wealth, is Alison Pensy.

Alison hasn’t made the NYT best-seller list yet and doesn’t own a private jet.

But despite giving away books for free she has made more than the average advance being dished out by the gatekeepers, and is loving life as an indie.

Here’s Alison:

Firstly I would like to thank Mark for inviting me here today.  I’m hoping I can spread some inspiration around to those of you who may still have doubts about self-publishing, or those of you who have self-published but are still having doubts.

It has been a dream of mine, and I’m sure of everyone reading this, to be a best-selling author.

My publishing journey started in November 2008.  I completed my 1st novel and was sure The Amulet was going to be the next bestseller.  My beta readers loved it, so how could it not be? J  Oh, the naivety of being a debut novelist!

I started querying with confidence and, although I had numerous requests for partials and full manuscripts, the replies were all the same. “You’re a strong writer, but…”

Around 50 rejections and 6 months later I decided to take matters into my own hands.  If I was to achieve best-sellerdom, before my ashes were spread across the countryside, I better get this ball rolling myself.  It wasn’t an easy decision but it’s one I am now pleased I made.

I self-published.  Still confident that I was to be the next big name in YA Urban Fantasy.  I mean, Christopher Paolini did it, why couldn’t I?  People just had to find the book, how hard could that be?

One and half years later I had received exactly 2 royalty checks. One for $11 (from Smashwords) and one for $10 (from Amazon).  Obscurity was my middle name, despite religiously following all the advice I could find in books and blogs about getting my name out there.

I started my own blog, but after a year I was still writing to myself, so I stopped.  I set up a website, I had a Facebook page, and I even tried Twitter, although I’m still not 100% sure I understand it.  I admit, at this point, I was starting to get a little disheartened.  Oh, all right then, A LOT disheartened.

Then something shifted.  I released the 2nd book in the series, even though virtually no one had bought the 1st one.  The Emerald Staff came out late April 2011 and I decided to try what a lot of other authors do and run the 1st book as a free promo on Kindle.  I had to put it free everywhere else first and hope Amazon would match it.

About two weeks later, in mid May, I received an e-mail from Amazon telling me their internet bots had discovered my book was free everywhere else on the Net and, not to be outdone, they were going to match it, and this would take effect within 24 hours.  Well, that wasn’t their exact verbiage, but you get the gist.

I cheered.  I heaved a sigh of relief.

The next day I thought I would check to see if my book had moved at all.  Maybe it had moved from its position of around #80,000 in the listings, to, say, #79,000.  We can all dream, right?

I nearly fell off my chair.

It had moved all right, to #22 on the free Bestseller list!!!  The day after that, it hit #14 on the free Bestseller list and #1 on the Children’s (free) Bestseller list, where it stayed for 3 days in the US and the UK!!!

To be honest, I am still baffled how so many people found a book that was languishing in total obscurity and pushed it into the top 20 almost overnight, but they did. Because of this, The Emerald Staff debuted a week later at #25 on the Children’s Hot New Releases list and made it into the top 100 Children’s Bestseller list.  Yay, I was now officially a best-selling author!

In 3 weeks over 28,000 people had downloaded The Amulet and that’s just on Amazon.  Obviously, I am not seeing any royalties from those downloads BUT the exposure I’m getting is priceless, and my new readers must be enjoying the story because sales of The Emerald Staff started coming in steadily every day.

That was four months ago.  The Amulet is still in the top 100 (free) Children’s bestseller list and has upwards of 50,000 downloads.  The Emerald Staff has sold over 3,000 copies at $2.99.  Bearing in mind the average advance for a debut author is $5,000 split into 3 payments that you share with your agent, I have already earned out that amount and sales continue daily.

Thanks to Amazon and digital publishing, the playing field has been leveled.  It’s not hidden on the bottom shelf at the back of the store, spine out, where there is no hope of anyone finding it.  The readers, not the publishers, are deciding what they “pick off the virtual shelf” and read.

Even though I had a slow start, and lots of self-doubt, momentum eventually picked up.  I think having two books helped a lot.  I have read several series where the 1st book was free and I bought the rest.  If this is an option, it may be worth considering.

Right now, though. I am glad I got rejected by those agents, I’m glad I have total control over my work, I’m glad I get to connect with readers, and most of all I’m glad that I realized my dream of becoming a best-selling author.  Maybe not on the coveted NYT Bestseller list, but you know, I’m not quite sure how coveted that is anymore.

Alison, thanks so much for sharing your story.

Alison’s website can be found here.

Alison’s blog can be found here.

To buy the books, click on the links in her post above.

* * *

So how about you guys? Have you tried giving away your books to build sales?

It sounds counter-intuitive, I know. How on Earth can you earn a living giving your work away? Yet time and time again we are hearing success stories based on this strategy.

Because life is all about give and take.

Bottom line is, most of the people who download your stuff for free would never have heard of you or bought from you otherwise. But once they have, and they enjoy your work, they then go and buy the rest, and stay with you for the rest of your writing  journey.

Giving your work away is one way of reaching out to, and connecting with, new readers.









Cyber-Space: the Final Frontier – Shea MacLeod Boldly Goes…

Captain’s Log: Star Date September 2011

With two teen grammar-Nazis constantly pointing out my mistakes as we progress the first of the new YA boarding school series St. Mallory’s Forever! it seems there is no room for error.

An ill-advised apostrophe triggers a deluge of complaints from my young co-authors, and abuse of a semi-colon is a hanging offence. And believe me, these girls take no prisoners!

Yet these two crazy teens also love all things sci-fi / fantasy, and have even managed to worm Dr Who, Star Trek and Star Wars into St. Malls!

Which got me thinking about the infamous split-infinitive from the Star Trek intro, and about how revolutionary Star Trek was in its time. My young co-authors might be suprised, and certainly would be appalled, to know Star Trek made headlines because two fictional characters kissed on screen. The kiss was fine. the issue was that one of the actors was, in the language of the time, “colored”.

As I wondered what the broadcasting Nazis of that era might make of my own relationships here in West Africa I thought of Shea MacLeod, an American fantasy writer living in London, who has two books out with the word “kissed” in the title, and who had set me this quirky post on the publishing revolution. Her post seemed especially timely in the cicumstances, so has jumped the queue.

Here’s Shea:

This post has nothing and everything to do with going digital and going indie.  So, stick with me, mmm’kay?

The other day my mom emailed me a story from one of her radio programs. This is one of those radio talk shows where someone with fancy letters after their gives advice to people with various personal problems. On this particular afternoon, two women called in to the show complaining about their truly horrible lot in life.

Mrs. A moved to England 6 years ago with hubby. Originally, they were only supposed to be here 1 year, but 1 turned in to 6, and now Mrs. A is whining and carrying on about how HARD living in England is. I am still trying to figure out how hard it could possibly be (and so was the host of the radio program). It’s not like they live in bamboo huts without refrigeration and running water. Heck, we even have McDonalds and Starbucks!

Not real!

Mrs. B’s husband has always dreamed of an African safari (Sounds good to me!). Mrs. B was freaking out because Africa is such a horrible place and she does NOT want to go. Maybe Mrs. B has been talking to my grandmother because my grandmother is convinced the natives eat people in Africa.  Since Mark hasn’t wound up in anyone’s stewpot, I think it’s safe to say that is not the case.

Anyway, my mom and I agreed that these women had no appreciation for how lucky they were! Personally, I think they should download some ebooks on the real pioneer women and how hard their lives were, read them, and stop complaining! These ladies were faced with the opportunity for some truly Grand Adventures and they were wasting time moping and complaining!

I guess I never thought I came from an “adventurous” sort of family, or that I was a particularly adventurous person, but truly, the women in my family are amazing!

The year was 1644.  Mary and William Robinette stood at the altar of a small church in London near St. Paul’s and exchanged vows.  Within 4 years they’ve left the bustling, modern city of London for the wilds of the New World where there were no cities, no shops, no roads.  Nothing but hardship and the real chance of starvation or death at the hands of the native people.  But they survived and four hundred and some odd years later, their many-times great-granddaughter would stand in wonder on the spot where they’d once exchanged vows.

Back in the 1970s my aunt Ellen ditched the Pacific Northwest to teach English with my uncle in Brazil.  She didn’t quite live in a mud hut, but it was close.  Back then, Brazil wasn’t the first world country it is today.  In fact, she thoroughly enjoys telling the tale of how she was offered pig ears for dinner.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it makes for a good story.

A few years ago my mom and dad spent several weeks in Nigeria helping build a well for a village there.  Mom got well into the spirit of things (as you can see).  The ladies of the village wasted no time getting her kitted out in proper attire.

And then there’s little old me who, quite by accident, fell in love and ended up in London, leaving behind everything and everyone I knew and loved.  The love didn’t last, but I found love of a different kind: the love for a city full of magic and wonder. Yeah, I’m the great-granddaughter and I’m on a whole new adventure.

So what does any of that have to do with going indie or the digital revolution?

Just this: it takes a bit of gumption, a lot of determination, and a never ending thirst for adventure to go indie.  The ladies above would never be able to make it in this brave new world.  They’d have given up at the first hurdle.  This isn’t about wandering well beaten paths and wallowing in comfort, but of blazing new trails and being willing to make sacrifices.  It’s the Wild West, baby.  It’s anyone’s game, if you’ve got the cojones.

Welcome to the New Frontier.

“Blazing new trails and being willing to make sacrifices.”   That sums it up perfectly. Thanks, Shea!

We could all hide behind the comfort and security of the gatekeepers if we were so inclined. Seeking their validation and approval, and then hoping and praying they would decide to give us a chance to shine, undeserving as we surely are. It’s the safe option, after all. Far better to sit about and whine about how hard something is than to actually do something about it.

Needless to say Shea is an indie published author. She got up and did something. Though you won’t have guessed it from her post.

One of the common fallacies of indie publishing is that authors have to spend all their time marketing, and the gatekeepers are always tellings us how everyone hates an author thrusting their book in our face. Leaving aside that that’s exactly how the gatekeepers sell books – by buying plinth and window space and paying for advertising and faux reviews in newspapers and billboards to thrust their books in our faces – it just isn’t true.

I’m betting if Shea had turned up here today raving about her book and begging us to buy it most of us would have switched off and found another blog by now. Instead we’re still here reading this and – go on, admit it – you’re wondering what kind of book she writes and thinking maybe you’d like to check it out.

Well tough, because Shea didn’t even bother sending me an image or links, coz that’s the kind of girl she is.

But coz I’m the kinda guy I am I’m gonna sneak the links in anyway. If you want to buy Shea’s first book. Kissed By Darkness on or on just click on the links. The sequel Kissed By Fire is also available on and

If you’re wondering what the books looks like, here’s a sneaky peep at the covers.

By the way, Shea, believe me Brazil is still not a first world country! Despite its immense natural resources and relative wealth the poor of Brazil are among the poorest anywhere on the planet. The favelas are every bit comparable to the slums of Calcutta or the shanty towns of the richer African nations.

The skyscrapers and glitz & gloss of Rio and Recife may look impressive, but it’s window dressing that hides desperate poverty and little hope for those trapped there. But the people of the favelas are simply wonderful, and like any “slum dwellers” have much to teach us about want and need.

Which brings us full cicrcle to Star Trek. Visiting the poorest parts of the world can be a bit like visiting another planet. I thoroughly recommend it.

Becoming an indie author is also a great adventure. I thoroughly recommend that too.

Both can change your lives and help you see the world in a whole new way. I leave you with this view of Rio.

When Creative Minds Merge – Deanna Chase

Today I’m busy over at WG2E with a post entitled Don’t Be A Dinosaur. The Future Is Digital.

In the unlikely event anyone visiting MWi is still on the fence about why indie is the best route for the new writer, check this out.

Meanwhile, here at MWi we’re having a relaxing West African Sunday, so I’m letting my guest do all the work today.

Okay, so every day is Sunday here in West Africa. It’s the two week holiday in paradise that never ends. The long weekend where Monday through Friday are banned, and blue skies and wall to wall sunshine are compulsory. Yep, the rainy season is all but over. The gates of heaven are open once again, and I’ve got a one-way ticket.

I’ve got the next book to write, so I’m gonna pack up the laptop and head for the beach with the children. Golden sands, palm trees and a cold Sprite. And I might do it again tomorrow, too. Monday? I don’t know the meaning of the word. 🙂

Meanwhile, for those of you still stuck in the real world, here’s a colourful post from Deanna Chase, who has combined her paid profession and her writing ambitions in a most delightful way.

Here’s Deanne:

When Creative Minds Merge

Hello everyone! Thanks, Mark for hosting me today. I’m Deanna Chase, glass bead artist and debut author of Haunted on Bourbon Street. About four years ago, my husband, Greg and I settled in a small town not too far from New Orleans. Prior to that, we’d actually spent almost five years traveling full-time in an RV sight-seeing and building up our glass business.

We’d never set a time limit on how long we would live, work, and travel in the RV, but through it all we knew we would one day settle again. We just didn’t’ know where. There were two places we kept coming back to. One was the northern California coast and the other was New Orleans.

Northern California holds the allure of dramatic coastlines and giant redwood forests that feed both of our free-spirit nature-loving selves. Of course, it also comes along with dreary gray winters and an astronomical price tag.

New Orleans is almost like another country here in the US. It’s rich with history, gorgeous architecture, and an artist community like no other we’ve encountered. It definitely feeds our creative sides. The food, friendly culture, sunny weather, and the artist community won us over. We haven’t looked back since.

Greg and I are self-employed glass artists, and New Orleans has been finding its way into our artwork ever since our first visit here. I make glass beads that I sell mostly to jewelry designers. Greg is a glass marble artist. He sells his work to collectors. In addition he makes what’s called murrine. Murrine is an Italian term for images that are built up in glass cane (rods of glass), that are then sliced to reveal the images. We sell slices of murrine to other glass artists to use in beads, marbles, and fusing projects.

Since our first visit to New Orleans, Greg has been working on New Orleans themed marbles. Most of them are intricate scenes of the French Quarter or the Garden District. He makes murrine of houses, horse drawn carriages, musicians, tombs, skulls, stripers (hey it’s Bourbon Street), etc. Many of his New Orleans marbles have around one-hundred different murrine slices. That’s a lot of work. Murrine is pretty complex and each different house he builds can be a week’s worth of effort all by itself. They are very cool and probably my personal favorites of all the different kinds of marbles he makes.

I’ve tried a number of different things to incorporate New Orleans into my bead work. Some of them had potential. I made some beads with houses sculpted on them. Other beads had jazz musicians. But none of the pieces really captured my muse. It wasn’t until I started writing my novel, Haunted on Bourbon Street, that I finally felt that connection I have to the city come alive.

Haunted is the story of Jade Calhoun, an empath who moves into a haunted apartment above a strip club. She’s a pretty guarded person about her ability due to a rough childhood and broken relationships. But the people she meets sort of adopt her into their makeshift family, and she finds herself forming bonds she thought weren’t open to her. It’s really a love story between her and Kane as well as a story of friendship and acceptance that just happens to involve a ghost mystery.

I got the inspiration to write the book one night while out to dinner with Greg when a ghost tour walked by. We were laughing and joking about living with ghosts since it seems every place has a ghost story attached to it in the Quarter. Then we were wandering Bourbon Street looking for a place to listen to live music. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of people actually lived on a street that is a twenty-four-hour party every day of the year. It was then the story started to unfold. Here Greg thought he was out on a date with his wife, and I was busy mentally writing a story.

It’s all right though. He understands. He even made the coolest marble ever to commemorate the publishing of my book.  He aptly titled it Haunted on Bourbon Street.  It features a woman’s silhouette in a moon just like the image on my novel as well as creepy houses, skulls at the bottom, the word Bourbon on the top, and shadows of ghost people. This particular marble sold to one of our long-time marble collectors within thirty minutes of me listing it for sale. She later told me she bought it because I’d offered a signed copy of my book. You have no idea how insanely happy that made me.

It’s pretty cool when two creative minds can come together. I don’t know if my next book will get a Greg Chase marble to go along with it, but you can bet I’ll be pushing for it. Witches of Bourbon Street is scheduled for release in late December 2011.

If you want to see video of how we make beads and marbles we have some hosted here at Livestream.

A note on Greg’s marbles and murrine:  Greg does take custom orders, but murrine cane is labor intensive to make and custom orders for just the cane is usually around one-hundred-dollar mark (US). Marbles range up to two-hundred-dollars. It all depends on the design but if anyone is interested in a marble of their own they can contact me Deanna @ chase-designs DOT com.

About Haunted on Bourbon Street:

Jade loves her new apartment—until a ghost joins her in the shower.

When empath Jade Calhoun moves into an apartment above a strip bar on Bourbon Street, she expects life to get interesting. What she doesn’t count on is making friends with an exotic dancer, attracting a powerful spirit, and having feelings for Kane, her sexy landlord.

Being an empath has never been easy on Jade’s relationships. It’s no wonder she keeps her gift a secret. But when the ghost moves from spooking Jade to terrorizing Pyper, the dancer, it’s up to Jade to use her unique ability to save her. Except she’ll need Kane’s help—and he’s betrayed her with a secret of his own—to do it. Can she find a way to trust him and herself before Pyper is lost?


Amazon UK

Amazon US

Barnes and Noble Print



All Romance

Artists’ website:

Author Blog:

Fantastic or what?! As soon as I saw the marbles  linked to the book cover I just knew I had to have Deanna here on MWi to tell us more.

As a gift for a loved one a marble of your (or their) book cover would be a unique present that would last forever.

And as a promotional tool, offering a marble of your book design, beautifully boxed with a personal note from the author, would make a wonderful competition prize, and perhaps even an investment for the future. Imagine if JK Rowling had had a marble made for her early Harry Potter books. A unique product, with a personally signed authentication. What would that be worth now?!

As we move to a fully digital world where our actual product has no physical presence, we need to think more and more about what extra value we can offer our readers. Deanna, I think you’re on to a winner here.

How about the rest of you guys? Any thoughts on promotional ideas?

Finally, here’s the cover of Deanna’s next book, due out December.

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