Posts Tagged ‘ Rose Red ’

The New Saffina Desforges Crime Thriller Finally Released!

At last!

It was due out three weeks ago, but a combination of Saffi’s poor health and my geographical problems meant delay after delay. It seemed nothing would go right for us.

Then this weekend we finally had the new script back from format. A final check. A quick prayer to the Kindle Gods in the sky. And click upload.

Snow White, the first of the new Rose Red crime thriller series is now live on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. It will be making its appearance in Waterstone’s e-book store and numerous other outlets during the course of the week.

First time around, with Sugar & Spice, we opted for the traditional route, then considered e-publishing. This time we had no hesitation whatsoever in releasing the new book digitally first. Here it is:

No doubt you’ll have spotted the art style is similar to that on Sugar & Spice, so a big thank you to Jeroen Ten Berge for his creative endeavors. Jeroen has also worked with Joe Konrath, Blake Crouch and Suzanne Tyrpak, among many others great indie names.


And for anyone wondering exactly what the new book is all about, this from the Amazon blurb:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who’s the fairest of them all?

From the acclaimed Kindle-UK best-selling author Saffina Desforges (Sugar & Spice) comes a sensational new crime thriller series.

The Rose Red series takes British crime thrillers in a new direction, with a fast-paced, action-packed detective fiction, each based on the theme of a classic fairy tale.

Forget plodding police procedurals. Think ‘Ashes To Ashes’ meets the ‘Women’s Murder Club’.

Snow White is book one of the Rose Red series. DI Cass ‘Red’ Rose is a feisty female cop fighting the usual battles that go with being a senior detective in London’s Metropolitan Police.

Most coppers go home and forget about it. Not so easy when your partner is a leading criminal defence lawyer. As one fights to put them away, the other tries to get them off.

~

A priceless artefact is stolen en route from the Louvre to the Victoria & Albert Museum and now the mysterious Queenie wants The Huntsman to get it back. For Red the case is a distraction from the more pressing matter of hoodies terrorizing the elderly on London estates.

But when Red’s boss and mentor is targeted by the Huntsman things get personal. Very personal.

Set in modern-day London, Snow White is a fast-paced, gritty urban thriller that will leave you wondering whether fairy tales really do have a happy ending.

Rose Red Book 2: Rapunzel will be available late 2011.

Okay, that’s the lot from me. Shameless self-promotion for a change.

And mid-week it’s our turn for the Summer Book Club too. Pure coincidence, honest! Snow White should have been live weeks ago!

But stay with us. We have some great guests lined up for the rest of the month and into September, some exciting new projects to announce, and of course the usual mix of  news, reviews and juicy gossip from indie-land.

But for now, just tootle along to your favourite ebook site, press that buy button, and sit back and enjoy Snow White. And if you read really carefully you might just spot the seven dwarfs in there too.

 

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Summer Book Club Part 4: Scott Nicholson

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Yep, I’m back!

And yeah, I know. It doesn’t get much later than this! So apologies to Summer Book Club guest Scott Nicholson for the appalling tardiness.

Regulars will know I’ve been in transit escaping the tropical storms and  power / net disruption in gorgeous West Africa and have reluctantly returned to the freezing climes of the UK.

Had I opted for good old England the transition might have been easier, but I ended up in the picturesque mountains of North Wales, where net access seems to be only marginally better than whence I left, and winter appears to still be in force.

Later this week I shall be heading east and normal MWi service should resume, so be sure hang around!

August will be fun,  assure you. There’s a great line-up of prospective guests, some news and reviews, and all the usual inspirational stories, inside information about what authors have for breakfast, and hot celebrity gossip  you come here for.

Watch out also for a big announcement on some short story anthologies we hope you, MWi readers, will want to be involved in.

And of course it’s the official release of the first of our new Rose Red crime thriller series. And Scott, if you think we were late with your guest spot, our book release is now two week overdue and still being chased up. The best laid plans…

But for today, back to playing guest catch up. So say hello to Scott Nicholson.

Scott is one of those transition writers that started out with the legacy publishers and then embraced the opportunities of self-publishing to further expand his horizons, his career and our reading enjoyment.

His choice for the Summer Book Club anthology (available for peanuts on Amazon – royalties to the Joplin library fund – or free via Smashwords) is his dark novel Disintegration.

Given this is another quickie post while I catch up with everything else, I hand you over to Scott without further ado.

Disintegration was written four or five years ago during a dark time in my life. The title just sums up what was going on, and what I had to write to survive. I knew it was going to be dark and bleak, and that good people would do bad things and terrible people would do worse things. The evil twins are just a symbol of where I was at the time. And I knew the ending was not going to be happy, and I put off writing the last five pages for nearly a year because I knew what had to happen and I didn’t want to type it and make it real.

I don’t think I ever showed it to my agent. I thought it was too dark to ever share with people, and I was a little ashamed of what it revealed about me. I think stories help us solve what is going on inside our heads and hearts, but it also leaves us vulnerable because written communication is so personal and intimate. If it wasn’t for self-publishing, and the encouragement of mystery writer Vicki Tyley, I never would have released it. My wife said, “Somebody might need that message.”
With low expectations, I put it out during my 90-day Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour last fall, and it hit #30 on the Kindle list. That was weird, to have the biggest success of my writing career on a book I never wanted to publish, on my own, after six books with a traditional press. That taught me something about “writing to market” or “writing to please people.” First, you have to take chances and put it all there. If you get the back end, and the connection with readers, that’s the bonus and completes the purpose of the story.
Luckily, I’ve put the pieces back together over the years since I first wrote the novel, and it helped launch me onto other books and success. I owe a bit to Jim Thompson and James M. Cain and some of the other noir writers, and William Goldman, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Patricia Highsmith, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ira Levin, James Lee Burke…that list could just keep going.
I am a full-time writer now, but I’m only as good as whatever chance I take today, whatever basic principles of the craft I discover anew, and whatever I get back from a reader. Really, I’m only as good as the last sentence. And the next. There’s no other way to write a novel except by building it out of nothing. It’s easy to stay humble when you are tackling something that is essentially impossible. Once in a while, you get lucky and the words fall in place and share something about what it’s like to be on the crazy ride we call Life.
Enjoy the ride.

Scott Nicholson is author of more than 20 books, including Liquid Fear, The Red Church, and Speed Dating with the Dead. His website is www.hauntedcomputer.com and he wastes too much time being clever on Facebook and glib on Twitter. (His words, not mine!)

There was a face-to-face opportunity to interact with Scott on Facebook, but as I was unable to access my site over the weekend I had no way of alerting you all. Apols for anyone who missed it. I hope to drag Scott back here some time real soon to tell us a more about his other works and more about his life as a writer with a foot in both camps.

Hopefully MWi will be back to normal by this weekend. But don”t quote me on that. Still got  a lot of catching up to do!

I leave you with a reminder of Scott’s words on who we write for.

That taught me something about “writing to market” or “writing to please people.”

How about you? Are you still stuck in the pre-digital rut, writing to suck up to what an agent / publisher thinks will make them money? Or have you taken the plunge and are now writing for your readers (and making yourself money into the bargain)?

Being The Boss – Controlling Our Own Destiny. Gerry McCullough Takes Charge.

Day Thirteen

One of the things I love about writing this blog is the serendipitous manner in which the final posts come together.

Not that serendipitous is a word I usually throw about in polite company, of course. Five syllable locutions are generally best avoided, but we’re all writers here. Words are our tools. And one of my favourite words is the noun serendipity.

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Because that pretty much sums up the way my posts come about.

Gerry McCullough

Take today’s guest in the green room, Gerry McCullough. I invited her to join us to talk about female characters as part of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest. Gerry has  a great review site where she talks with undiluted affection of the books she loves to read. Highly recommended.

But she wrote her MWi post several weeks ago, the subject: Being The Boss, and right up until this morning I had no idea how I would intro’ it. Me? Plan ahead?  Never!

But I have faith in serendipity. I just knew it would all fall into place.

According to Wikipedia serendipity first appeared in the English language on 28 January 1754. Of course that’s the kind of precision that makes you wonder if this is a wiki-wind-up. But in this case it seems genuine. Horace Walpole was apparently commenting on a Persian fairy-tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, where said Princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Saffi and I are currently immersed in fairy tales as our new series of crime thrillers gears up for launch (Rose Red Book 1: Snow White – available from end July!), and we unquestionably write in serendipitous fashion, letting the story take us where it will, and savouring the discovery of plots, storylines and characters we were not in quest of.

Some people call it “pantsing”, or “writing by the seat of their pants.” How lovely on these occasions to be British and look with disdain on what the Americans are doing  to our once beautiful language. 🙂  Serendipitous is a far better description!

However you call it, it’s not for everyone, of course. Some writers like to plot every last detail in advance, before writing the first word. Which are you?

Rachel Hauck

There are no right and wrong ways. Write however you feel most comfortable. For those interested, Rachel Hauck has a guest post over at Rachelle Gardner’s blog, on rules of writing and advance planning. Interesting, but defintely not for us!

What counts, at the end of the day, is if the reader likes it.

Which is not something I could have said a year ago. A year ago what counted was if the gatekeepers liked it. If you didn’t meet with their approval the readers would never get the option.

Gerry’s guest post today is about girls / women being the boss. Taking control of their lives. In her post Gerry says,

Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the other sex, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how women have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

Couldn’t agree more, Gerry. But if I may plunder your paragraph:

Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the gatekeepers, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how writers have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

At the moment we are all so wrapped up in the economics of the e-pub revolution that the wider picture is being overlooked.

E-pub is not just handing writers control over their economic destiny, by allowing them to reach their reader direct. It’s handing them the freedom to be writers. To write what they believe needs to be written, not what the gatekeepers think will make a fast buck.

And as the indie movement grows in confidence and takes control of its destiny I predict a renaissance in literature like we have never known. The new world of publishing won’t just be different from what it is now. It will be far, far better. Writers can once again be artists.

E-pub allows us to take control of our destiny.

Lexi Revellian, who has sold 30,000 ebooks with no help from the gatekeepers, ran a great post recently entitled You Don’t Need Permission. This from Lexi:

Lexi Revellian

What I want to say in big letters is, YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION. Just a good book, because validation can only be given by readers: not agents, editors or marketing departments.

Konrad Lorenz tells a story about the geese he kept. Each morning he would open the gate to the small compound where they spent the night to allow them to roam freely during the day. One morning, he saw from his window he’d forgotten to close the gate the night before, so he didn’t need to open it. A while later, he noticed the geese were still in their compound, making dissatisfied noises. The gate was open, but they would not go through it until he went over, shut it, and opened it again with a flourish. This ceremony over, they went off to forage.

Don’t be like those geese. Agents and publishers are losing some of their power. They are becoming aware of this, and so should we be.

That’s not to say us indies can just dispense with the gatekeepers’ services. No question they have their uses, especially now, when the paper market is still significant.  And it’s certainly not an “us and them” battle.

At this stage in the Transition (note the capital – this is  major historical event taking place. Let’s give it full recognition) both e-pub and p-pub are options. There is still a paper market out there and no question the old-model experts are still best placed to handle that. So yes, agents and publishers still have an important role to play for a while yet.

Saffi and I currently in discussion with a major NY agency. We’re not obsessive about being “indies”. But we have had to make clear that we’d appreciate their partnership to reach the paper market. We fully understand we will never get our book distributed in the major bricks and mortar stores without the gatekeepers’ help. They have the monopoly. They control that domain.

But we neither want nor need them to reach the e-market, and certainly have no intention of letting them take money for doing what we are managing to do fine without them.

Our experience with agents so far is that, with the best will in the world, they know sweet Fanny Adams about why e-publishing is a revolution, not just a technological adjustment, and they are far too blinkered by their old-world view to ever grasp it fully.

Which is why I worry about “indie gurus” like Joe Konrath. As I wrote in the comments over at Scott Nicholson’s,

Joe Konrath

It seems far too many “new” writers are looking to Konrath as some sort of guru with all the answers, but Konrath has a foot in both camps, and is in a position to take the best from both.

Konrath’s choices may well be ideally suited to his circumstances as an established author with a backlist and both paper and ebooks bringing in money.

But much of what he says does not apply to the “new” writer at the bottom of the ladder. They would do well to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Konrath model works for Konrath because of where he is. Check out Scott Nicholson’s post in full for a fine explanation of why Konrath’s keen promotion of estributors may well be a backward step for most of us.

This little snippet to give you a taster:

I just don’t see why agents should be considered ideal candidates for this task. What is an agent’s current job and experience? To assess a manuscript and find a market.

Scott Nicholson

In self-publishing, they do neither. Their assessment skills have zero value in self-publishing. Right now they assess with one measure: can I sell this to one of the few dozen editors in New York? Self-publishing requires no assessment, unless the agent says, “Whoa, this is crap, you can’t publish this!” And who is going to lose their 15 percent to be that blunt? The agent’s second role and experience is also rendered useless. The market is already there, and it’s the millions of readers owning electronic devices or ordering print-on-demand books.

And as Gerry McCullough herself wrote a few days ago in the comments here at MWi,

I’m not sure what an agent can do for anyone who is already self-published. Or does everyone secretly want to be taken on by a ‘real’ publisher? An agent is certainly needed for that.
If eBooks and self-publishing are really the way of the future, surely agents are definitely a thing of the past? You mention some things they can do for us, Mark, but I can’t see that any of these are things writers can’t do themselves.

Absolutely. As above, while paper is still there the old gatekeepers have a role. But in the new world the gatekeepers are definitely expendable.

E-pub isn’t just about writers making money. It’s not even mainly about that. It’s about writers taking control. About being the boss.

Speaking of which, here’s Gerry with her original post by that title. And I have to say, Gerry, you’ve surpassed yourself this time. I thought I was the only person on the planet who had read Evadne Price’s Jane! Can’t wait until these are e-published.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun – and there’s no fun like being the Boss!

Evadne Price

You’ve probably never heard of Jane Turpin, the heroine of Evadne Price’s Jane series – female equivalent of William, in Richmal Crompton’s Just William books. I don’t know why ‘Jane’ was less successful than ‘William’ – to my mind, the books are at least as clever and funny as the William books if not more so. The social setting has similarities to the Mapp and Lucia books of E.F.Benson, and doesn’t lose by the comparison.

Jane is ten in the series, which is set just before the Second World War. There’s something good about being pre-puberty. You don’t care what boys think of you, and you can be yourself. Jane was the perfect tomboy. With her two friends/followers, Pug (Percival) Washington and Chaw (short for Charles) Dalton-Smith, she ran wild, leading her henchmen into mischief repeatedly. Her snobby socialite mother and her elder sister Marjorie (‘Marge’ to Jane) constantly tried to control her, but her father, although usually prepared to exercise discipline, was often secretly on Jane’s side. 

The books have a host of adult characters drawn with wit and irony who suffer from Jane’s activities.  The Turpins’ gardener, for instance, Arnie, in a communistic mood, tips all the new spring bulbs he’s supposed to be planting into the rubbish heap, and is filmed by Jane with someone’s new cine camera, with very funny results.

I read Jane avidly when I was about her own age, and whether I was influenced by her or not, I in turn bossed my young friends, both male and female. It was only after reaching the crucial teens that the dreaded shyness and the desire to be thought attractive overtook me. Now the wheel has come full circle. As an adult, past the courtship/child-rearing stage, I can be myself again, and the bossiness is re-emerging!

About the same time I was enjoying Jane, another Jane caught my attention – Calamity Jane. A film, not a book, but another tomboy, a leader, someone who was fully herself – until love intervened. Calamity Jane was another role model for me. But she cleaned up her act and dressed more attractively, in order to get her man in the end – so what does that say?

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet

Then there’s Elizabeth Bennett. (I first read Pride and Prejudice, borrowing it from my sister’s pile of schoolbooks and reading it eagerly when I was supposed to be asleep, at much the same age.) Elizabeth, living in a society where women were supposed to win a livelihood for themselves by marrying a well-off man, had the guts to spurn Mr Darcy, a millionaire by today’s standards, because in his pride and arrogance he proposed to her on the assumption that she would accept in spite of his extreme rudeness. I cheered when she told Darcy where to get off, and even more when she treated Lady Catherine De Burgh to similar home truths. Elizabeth chose to be herself. And in her case, she got her man in spite of it. But Darcy already admired Elizabeth for her ‘fine eyes.’ Admiration for her character came later.

Jane Turpin was blue-eyed with fair curly hair. In one – only one – of the stories, she makes use of this prettiness to get her own way, winning the approval of a new arrival in the neighbourhood who has stolen her position as leader, by appearing at a party dressed to look her most attractive. (By her mother’s insistence, incidentally, not Jane’s own.) So is it true that a girl needs to do more than just be herself? If she wants to be loved as well as to be the boss, does she need to rely on her looks, as it sometimes seems?

This is, I suppose, the real life experience of women writers.  But what is the male writer’s view? When I met Esme Weatherwax, Granny Weatherwax, in Terry Pratchett’s marvellous books, at a rather later stage in my life, and admired her at least as much as my earlier models, I noticed that Esme made no attempt to use her female charms to win appreciation from men. Even in Equal Rites, her first appearance, it’s her own tough, bossy nature which wins her the admiration of Archchancellor Cutangle.  And in Lords and Ladies, where she is fully herself, there is a great line, which anyone who is at all clever, not just women, can relate to, ‘there’s a certain glint in her eye generally possessed by those people who have found that they are more intelligent than most people around them but who haven’t yet learned that one of the most intelligent things they can do is prevent said people ever finding this out.’  Esme Weatherwax is a strong, unbeatable character. Mustram Ridcully is still in love with her because of her strength, not in spite of it. My admiration for her never ceases. In Witches Abroad, when the usually shrinking Magret is hypnotised into acting with confidence, ‘The tiny inner Magret struggling to keep its balance on the surge of arrogant self-confidence wondered if this was how Granny Weatherwax felt all the time.’ Yes, apparently it is.

I wonder if I like these characters because I want to be like them, or because I am already like them? Is it that I want to be myself, and am encouraged in this by Jane, Elizabeth and Granny, to say nothing of Flora Poste, Nancy from Swallows and Amazons, Jo March from Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and others too numerous to mention?  Or do I enjoy their bossiness because it excuses me, because I’m quite aware that this is already my nature?

(Answers on a plain postcard, please. Or maybe not.)

I think myself that the example of these girls and women is an excellent one. Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the other sex, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how women have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

Maybe ‘yourself’ isn’t perfect. Maybe you need to make a few changes – be more caring, more considerate. But to recognise this, you probably need to stop pretending to be someone you are not – and learn to be real, for a start. You can see where it goes from there!

Wonderful stuff, Gerry.

Gerry’s book review blog can be found on the link earlier in the post. There you’ll also find links to her own book, the highly acclaimed Belfast Girls (top 100 Women’s Literary fiction on Kindle UK!).

So how about you? Which fictional characters or real people inspired you to take control of your destiny? Or are you happy not being the boss and letting others make the decisions?

I leave you with this image from one of my all-time favourite films, Dead Poets Society.

Carpe diem! Make your lives extraordinary!

 

 

June is “Girls Just Wanna have Fun” month. Saffina Desforges opens the show.

Saffina who?

Eight months ago nobody but a handful of people had ever heard of Saffina Desforges.

Mainly because she didn’t exist. It was a pseudonym created to avoid the confusion of having two names on the cover of our books and arguing over who got top billing, and to play the google game and get some sort of foothold in the biggest search engine of all time.

Today Saffina Desforges is the brand name of the biggest success story in British indie e-publishing.

True, Stephen Leather’s self-published The Basement, has sold more.

But Stephen is a multi-million selling trad-published author with twenty years of experience, who brought tens of thousands of loyal followers with him.

Self-published success, yes. Indie, no.

Saffina Desforges was a completely unknown name and a debut novel. What’s more, a debut novel almost every major agent in the UK turned away.

And three months after we launched the book it seemed like maybe they had a point. Sales were almost non-existent.

Kristen Lamb

The book was out there, but who knew? So we tried some savvy social media marketing. In particular Saffi picked up a copy of Kristen Lamb‘s We Are Not Alone and gave it a whirl. What did we have to lose?

Four months on and the book the UK agents called “The last taboo”, “well written but unpublishable”, and “there’s no market for a story like this” is about to breach the 75,000 sales barrier. And that’s just with the tiny Kindle UK market. As yet there’s no paper version in the book stores, not even POD, and we’ve yet to seriously start marketing across the pond.

A week or so back we were cold-called by an agent. Not just any old agent. An agent on a different continent. In fact, one of the most prestigious agencies in New York.

Nothing signed yet, and to be honest we’re not sure we want to go down the paper route, with its snails’ pace processes and the loss of independence that is the unavoidable compromise a writer makes when signing with a mainstream publisher. We’ll keep you informed on that as we go.

But being UK-based, to even approach a US agent six months ago was for us unthinkable. To be head-hunted by one of this prestige is still, a week or so later, pretty unbelievable.

Obviously the book itself  has something going for it. But while no-one knew it was out there no-one was buying it.

So a huge thanks to Kristen Lamb for helping us raise our profile enough to be found.

I had hoped Kristen would be joining us in person on MWi, and with luck she may still yet do so before the month is out, but she’s hugely busy with promo for her latest book, just launched last month.

So Kristen, if you’re reading this, a big thank you from Saffi and I, and from all our readers who would never have found Saffina Desforges without you.

~

So, it’s time to kick off Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month.

Who's First?

But choosing the running order was not to easy. In fact, a complete nightmare!

How to do it? Alphabetical? Highest profile? Biggest sales? Prettiest face? Biggest back-hander?

Of course I went for the latter. Ker-ching!

But despite my best-efforts, no-one was willing to cough up. Gone are the days when publishers bought their writers publicity

Actually, no, that’s still true today. It’s just that my guests aren’t (yet) mega-stars with unlimited promo budgets from the Big 6 behind them. Either that or they didn’t think MWi was worth the half-million dollar price tag I asked for.

But eventually I managed to convince / bribe / blackmail a few people to give up some of their precious time to write something for the MWi Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest.

But that still left the problem of running order. In the end I decided to ignore all other considerations and play it day by day. Or day by every other day, as the posts will (West Africa’s internet and electricity permitting) be running every other day.

So, while I have some huge names in blogging, books and all aspects of the writing industry, the running order is absolutely no reflection of the esteem in which I hold the guests concerned. Honest!

Which is why my second day guest, while admittedly held in extremely high esteem by me, is an author you’ve almost certainly never, ever heard of.

An as yet undiscovered talent so new to the game the e-ink on her debut book is still wet.

That’s Michelle Brooks, unknown and undiscovered, but unquestionably a future super-star.

Michelle will be here on MWi for Day Two of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun June blogfest, going live sometime Friday June 3rd.

Why am I leading with a complete unknown?  Stick around Friday to find out. I promise you it will be worth it!

And for blog-lovers everywhere it’s blogging guru Anne R. Allen on Day  Three. That’s Sunday June 5th, when Anne will be talking about blogs, no less.

As for the rest – wait and see. I don’t even know myself yet!

But of course, there was only one serious contender to open the show today.

Unfortunately she was too busy, so I had to settle for Saffina Desforges instead!

Here’s Saffi:

So, it’s the start of a very big month on MWi and it’s gonna be fun – ‘cos that’s all girls want, right?

Wrong.

I’m not a feminist – far from it. In fact, one of my favourite sayings is, “Why do a job yourself, when you can get a perfectly capable bloke to do it?”

Seriously though… 😉

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I will have a crack at most things; I play and watch football. I know more about football than most men. I put all the furniture together in my house, I do a bit of I.T, I  can find my way around under the bonnet of a car (just) and I work in a completely male dominated environment.

Hell, I even laid a guy out once for exposing himself to me in a pub (last time he’ll flop his privates out on a table where I am eating!), so I am no slouch when it comes to standing up for myself…

…but being a girl has its downside.

People don’t take you seriously – fact.

“You play football? Awww…”

I sit in meetings sometimes with the MD of my company and the other Senior Managers and they ask me to make the coffee. (Well, they used to!)

Doesn’t matter that there is only me there who can answer the questions that the head of purchasing has about our quality systems. It doesn’t count that I keep my MD out of the dock on a daily basis. I am employed as the company’s ‘competent person’, and I studied and grafted hard for the title.

I used to pack fish in a factory.

I used to bike to work in the dark with a flat tyre and start at five in the morning for a pittance of a wage.

I wanted bigger and better things.

I lied about being able to use a computer when a new business advertised in the local newspaper. I blagged my way through an interview and got a job I knew I couldn’t do. Luckily, the first two weeks in the role were a bit hit and miss, because the site was still being built. I sat a computer that I could just about switch on and used the help function to teach myself Word and Excel.

I stayed there eight years in total. I even went back as H&S/Quality Manager two years after I left. I helped write the site warehouse system. I trained all the new starters, I met with the biggest customers and I got them through massive audits every year. I did something with my life.

When my old boss told me that he would pay for a qualification but that I wouldn’t get any more money, I aced the tests, got a distinction and… left. For a better job, with more money.

Enter, stage left, the most obnoxious, woman-hating man/boss that I have ever met. After stopping my co-worker (also a girl) from stabbing him in the carotid with a pair of scissors and making me cover up for her, I left again. Nobody, certainly not a bloke, was gonna ruin my life.

Men are obviously required for certain things: Making babies (not so much now), being fathers and Popes… 😉

BUT, girls rule!

If you have read my other blogs, you will know that the first book I ever read and loved, was written by Phyllis A Whitney. The other most influential people in my life: Enid Blyton (nothing to do with my co-writer, he’s not that important), my nana, and Madonna. Yes, Madge.

Self-made business woman, music guru and all-round Super-woman. Love her or loathe her, she is an inspiration. She moulded pop, got her conical boobs out for all to see and told the world to “F**k it.”

That’s my motto.

I can do whatever I want. I don’t need approval from anyone.

When I ‘met’ Mark (my quieter half) I was going to do it alone. I was going to finish my first novel  Equilibrium and send it off to all the big publishers and it would be an overnight success. I knew everything there was to know about writing and marketing. I was gonna be a star.

Mark told me otherwise.

Despite the fact that his latte went cold when reading Equilibrium, he told me the truth. I had something, but it wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t know that a comma went before someone’s name in dialogue, or that ‘and’ and ‘she said’ could be cut. I also didn’t know that you didn’t always start a story at the beginning.

And so began my journey as a writer. And as a female writer.

Mark is happy for me to be the face of Saffina Desforges. I guess it’s because I am better looking and a whole lot cleverer-er. 😉 (And maybe also that he likes his privacy in West Africa, and wants his children to grow up blissfully unaware of the celebrity-driven culture we live in.

But this month is dedicated to strong, independent women. Girls. And writers.

And the reason Mark chose this theme was because the key characters in our works so far have all been strong female characters.

In Sugar & Spice, a mother coming to terms with not just her daughter’s killer, but the mindset of the murderer.

Some reviewers have said it was unrealistic. That no mother would cope like that in real life. Well let’s hope no mother ever has to, but how do they know any better how a mother would react in such extreme circumstances?

If someone killed a loved one of mine, I wouldn’t rest until they were brought to justice. My kind of justice. Which would probably be a lot harsher than Claire’s…

I’m not into man-hating feminist crap, don’t get me wrong. I was appalled when a Sugar & Spice reviewer said her professors had taught her “all men were programmed to rape.”

It could have been written by the character Dr Ruth Reynolds…  And of course the whole point of the Reynolds character was to show that women can be just as evil as men.

In our forthcoming gritty, dark, urban fantasy thriller Equilibrium there are two MCs who are very, very female. But one is also very, very evil.

And in our summer release Snow White, the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series, the MCs are again female.

My point is, the days of the female lead’s role being to scream or swoon to order is long, long gone.

By coincidence, in the middle of writing this post, my parents came round. I told them I was writing an article about strong women. Then I looked at my ma.

Three kids (all girls I might add), a husband who was, buy his own recent admission, “in the middle of a field” every weekend, and three jobs.

No money.

I remember my mum making our skirts and dresses to go to school in (I’m not a skirts and dresses kind of girl) and leaving to go to work immediately after dropping us off at school, then going again when we went to bed. I also remember her coming in at three in the morning after a night on the cashiers’ desk at a night club. She still found the energy to read my latest story or look at my attempt at a pig fired in a kiln from pottery class (what was that all about?).

Sure, she fell asleep in the living room at four pm once we  had come home from school and were fed and watered and safe. But she was always there.

Being a writer is kinda like being a mother (not that I have any experience in that subject).

You have this idea that you want to look after people. You want to do something nice for them. Keep them warm and fuzzy and safe; make them feel good.

That’s how I feel when I write.

Granted, I may not write stuff that achieves that all of the time, I might make people feel uncomfortable, as with Sugar & Spice; or question reality (we all know there’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, right?) or even wonder why the hell they are reading this stuff… BUT, my stories are my babies and my babies are my readers.

Writing a book is like giving birth. You create new people, new worlds; change people’s lives forever.

Who’d be a mum? In fact, who’d be a girl? 😉

Make way for some awesome ladies on MWi…

Girrrrrrl power! 😉

Move over, Spidey! There’s a new kid in town!

If you’re looking at that image of the young Peter Parker and feeling nostalgic, welcome to the club. You’re going to enjoy this.

Stan Lee

If you’re thinking Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Amazing Fantasy # 15, then you’re going to LOVE this!

If, on the other hand, you only “do” superheroes when they come fully packaged on the big screen, don’t give up just yet. This could be right up your street.

Ice-Cubed Kirsten

And if you think superheroes are “kid’s stuff” then… Shame on you!

And please accept our condolences for your loss. The loss of years of enjoyment, that is, that you’ve denied yourself.

Kids’ stuff? You’ve got to be kidding. Just look at Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four films, or think of Kirsten Dunst in that soaked-through top in Spiderman

But seriously, superheroes have never really been aimed at kids, in the same way as The Simpsons isn’t aimed at kids. What they do is, just like Bart and Homer, is appeal to an audience at all levels, and that’s what makes them so durable.

Durable? Superheroes?

Actually they’ve been around a lot longer than you’d think.

Just take a look at the car on the front cover of the very first Superman comic. Yes, double-take that date too. It really does say June 1938.  But in fact Superman was created even earlier, in 1932!

Batman was created in 1939.

By comparison Spidey, the Fantastic Four, etc, are relative babies, only coming into existence in in the early sixties, thanks to a young upstart writer called Stan Lee, who turned the world of comics on its head when he set his fictional superheroes in real cities, and gave them real problems alongside the supervillains.

Would you want your child reading a storyline like this?

And I don’t just mean dating problems, either, although the death of Gwen Stacy was a landmark in comics history. These “comics” tackled serious themes like drugs and alcohol abuse (Tony Stark’s drink problems in the Iron Man films were being explored in comic-books forty years ago!).

And while the “four-colour” big-names tried to appeal equally to children and to older readers, comics were also diversifying into niche markets which were very adult in every way. If you saw my interview over at indieIQ last week you’ll know I teamed up with co-authorSaffi to write a vampire novel.

When you consider my teen reading was comic-books like Vampirella (below) you will understand why Saffi’s story of up-close-and-personal vampire girls grabbed my attention, and why I can’t wait to get back to finish it. (That’s Equilibrium Book 1: First Blood by Saffina Desforges, coming to a Kindle near you late 2011.) We don’t have  book cover yet, so this wondeful Vampi cover from yesteryear will have to suffice.

Kids' comics?

But you need have no fear of anything too sexualised,  gratuitously violent or otherwise unsavoury about the work of today’s guest, Marion G. Harmon.

I stumbled across Marion quite by accident at the beginning of this year, when I received his opening chapters as an assignment on the peer review website youwriteon. His novel, Wearing The Cape, was a story about superheroes, and this intrigued me right away.

As a kid it was my ambition to write for Marvel Comics, although sadly my careers adviser at school could offer no help there, and while I would later go on to freelance for some British comics and magazines, this was small compensation. Yes, I loved writing for Bunty and Just Seventeen (and yes, they were for girls!) but that I never got the chance to write an episode of Spidey or Dr Strange will always be a sore point.

True, I half-wrote a novel in which Peter Parker came to England and saw some action as the wall-crawler on London’s streets, But this was in pre-word processor days (yes, I’m that old!) and never got ay further. Besides, writing a novel about a graphic art form is not easy. Not easy at all.

So to do it with original characters, and make it work, as Marion G. Harmon has done…

And to do it in style, with a unique voice and a fresh take on an old theme… That was quite beyond my wildest aspirations.

As for a first time novelist doing it, and doing it so well… It just makes you want to throw up! Life is just so unfair!

Yowriteon has a lot to answer for!

But I’ve a great fondness for youwriteon, despite its many faults.

I “met” my co-author Saffi there, of course. And I “met” Tom Winton and Marion there.

Tom’s novel Beyond Nostalgia, is destined to be one of the great books of the twenty-first century. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to do so. Love stories burn slowly and rarely set the charts alight, but Beyond Nostalgia will be selling long after us upstart commercial fiction merchants with our serial killers and gritty crime stories have faded from memory.

As luck would have it I “discovered” Beyond Nostalgia after it had been published on Kindle, so never got to review it on the youwriteon site.

Which means that Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing The Cape is the only book I’ve ever given five stars to across the board on a peer-review site.

I’d love to say it’s a classic in the making, along with Tom’s Beyond Nostalgia, but Wearing The Cape is about superheroes, not love (although there’s a love story in there, of course). It’s not literary fiction, even though the writing is good enough to be.

Wearing The Cape is most certainly not dumbed-down like so much commercial fiction these days. Rather it is both thought-provoking and emotive, with an intellectual underlay that will appease even the most discerning reader, But its fantasy premise and its fantastical characters mean it won’t be winning any haute-culture prizes.

But Wearing The Cape is unquestionably next year’s best-seller, and a blockbuster movie waiting to be made. I would be seriously surprised if this were not snapped up by Marvel Studios once it gets noticed.

Bottom line is, it’s a fine piece of writing that I’m incredibly jealous of, and very proud to introduce here. Over to Marion for the inside story.

Wearing the Cape is my first novel, though you’d think a compulsive reader with degrees in literature and history would have gotten around to it sooner.

Its subject matter, superheroes, is the product of a childhood love of comics which never entirely went away, and the kind of adult mind that looks at those wondrous modern myths and wonders about superhero certification and licensing, insurance issues, publicity and marketing possibilities, etc. And who would run around in a mask and tights, anyway?

It’s no wonder most “serious” treatments of superheroes deconstruct the poor bastards (here Watchmen and V for Vendetta come to mind).

But superheroes are the perfect vehicle for talking about Good and Evil in a world under the shadow of terrorism.

Supervillains, undetectable menaces till they choose to use their powers, are a metaphor for our times. A large theme in the novel is means and ends and the moral choices we make concerning them—choices we’re forced to make simply because we have the power to make them.

It’s not my fault; I’ve discovered the medium shapes the message and, much as you can’t seem to write a vampire story without bringing up sex-death metaphors, the angst of immortality, etc., I couldn’t write about superheroes without going into issues like personalism vs. instrumentalism, the ethics of deception (what is a secret identity but a lie, after all?), and the responsibility of power.

This is NOT Marion's character Astra, but as close as I could find to how she MIGHT look.

All this may sound very heavy, but Wearing the Cape is, for the most part, light and optimistic. Hope Corrigan, the plucky Main Character and a neophyte superhero, is no tortured Rorschach or fanatical V.

True, she isn’t sure she wants to be a superhero, and she’s less sure she has the chops for it, but duty calls. Putting on a cape and mask, she leaves her normal life for the world of celebrity superheroes, and what a world it is, with publicity agents, media licensing, designer costumes, and heroes who are very, very human.

Which brings me to my own adventure in self-publishing.

I really, really thought I was finished.

With a 110,000 word manuscript in hand, last year I sent out close to 100 query letters to literary agencies and publishing houses. A handful responded with requests for the first chapter or first 10 or 25 pages. And I never heard from them again.

The genre-defying nature of the story probably discouraged many agencies from giving it a look (Is it modern fantasy? Science Fiction? YA-Teen Adventure?), but I couldn’t ignore the deafening silence from those who’d asked to see my writing.

Desperate for an online substitute for a local reading group that could tell me what was wrong, I stumbled across youwriteon,  the site that allows you to submit the first 7,000 words of your story to the merciless opinions of strangers. I later discovered the Book Shed, a more selective and less formal site providing much the same service.

I put the first few chapters of Wearing the Cape up on Youwriteon.com in October 2010, and took a beating. By the time Mark reviewed it in January 2011 it had undergone so many changes it was Wearing the Cape (Revised). For one brief shining moment it went as high as Number 2, finishing in the Top Ten for three months, and is now a youwriteon bestseller.

Constructive criticism from the Book Shed has helped it further along, and it is as good as I can make it at my current level of craft. In my humble opinion, it’s Good Enough. Trimmed to 90,000 words, it’s certainly lighter.

But what now? The top-tier literary agencies and the publishing houses most likely to look at this kind of story had already rejected it. Re-querying was not likely to be a fruitful pursuit.

Fortunately for me, my acquaintance with Mark and the success story of Sugar and Spice suggested an alternative; after a great deal of thought and research I decided that, since I had burned my bridges in traditional publishing, self-publication was the only open road.

Am I publishing too soon? Who knows, but there have been two good omens.

The first is Mark himself; when a successful co-author reviews your writing and decides you are secretly a published writer testing new material under a pen-name, you can’t help but be cheered.

Second, a month after I’d made my decision and set a date, I got a very late response to one of my submissions. Having read a recent draft of the first 50 pages, she asked to see the whole manuscript. When I told her about my plans, she asked me to call her when I sold 20,000 copies.

So let’s see how high it flies.

——————

Can you imagine? How many query letters?! It just shows what an amateur Stephen King was. He only managed fifty!

This for me just reinforces everything I’ve said about the tick-box world of traditional publishing, and really stands on its head the argument that traditional publishers are the industry’s quality control.

In the fantasy world of agents and publishers superhero novels aren’t due to trend next year, so thanks but no thanks. Zombies? Yes please. Bring it on! Mindless C-List celebrities who need to have their stories ghost-written for them? Now that’s another matter altogether…

Ker-ching!

And it’s just so f*****g sad. Sad that great writers like Marion have had their hopes and dreams all but dashed not because they’re writing isnt good enough, but simply because it didn’t tick the right boxes at the right time.

As Cheryl Shireman said over at indieiq recently, “Many of our greatest writers were rejected multiple times before finally being published by a traditional publisher. How many other great writers gave up after the first handful of rejections?”

It’s a question that doesn’t bear answering, of course.

By the way, Cheryl’s book will have sold a thousand copies on Kindle by the time you read this. That’s a thousand sales she wouldn’t have had if she’d waited for the gatekeepers. And her sale figures are still rising.

Marion G. Harmon

Marion, of course, has all that to look forward to. And if he thought he was getting off lightly with that snippet of interview above, he had another think coming. I wanted to know more.

MW: What inspired you to write superhero fantasy?

Marion: Frustration. In “traditional” modern fantasy, elements of fairy tales and mythology are updated to our modern-day setting. So we have vampires, werewolves, ghosts, gods, wizards, witches, elves, fairies, etc.


Anyone thinking this is a shameless plug for our next book might just be right. But you've gotta admit it's a great pic!

And these are fun—but they’re not our myths; we use them because, in the modern, rational age we live in, we don’t have our own contemporary myths. Or at least our modern myths are small or “scientific” (the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Grays and Men in Black…).

Superheroes are the exception; they’re big, bold, and have lost nothing compared to their predecessors, the gods, demigods, heroes, saints, and sorcerers of the old stories. And they’re ours, creations of the 20th Century imagination. No translation necessary, no special pleading required.

I think the only reason we haven’t seen a full-blown superhero novel genre is the perception that superheroes belong in the comic books. Hopefully, Wearing the Cape will help to change that.

MW: What it’s like writing in words what is traditionally a graphic novel?

Marion: I actually found it very easy. Superhero comics have come a long way from the simple Hero vs. Villain template where most of the comic was one long fight-scene. Writers of superhero comics today are expected to create well-rounded characters, and are essentially “storyboarding” plots as complex and involved as anything in a novel.

And medium-crossing has been going on for years; novelizations of the big Marvel and DC titles (The X-Men, Superman, etc) are in wide distribution. So are graphic novel treatments of television series (Dr. Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spring to mind) and successful sci-fi/fantasy novels and series (Game of Thrones, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, The Wizard of Oz…).

MW: What it’s like writing with a teen female lead character?

Marion: For those who haven’t talked to Mark or seen my author profile (I’m a 45 year-old bachelor), what he’s really asking is “How did you manage to write a believable teenage girl? And why?”

To start with the why: it was an accident. I created Hope’s world first—that was what interested me the most. Then I needed a Main Character to experience it for the reader. My first attempted MC was Atlas. If there’s any author-insertion in WTC’s characters, he’s it, a professional and dedicated hero who is nonetheless more realistic than idealistic. The problem was he already knew too much and had experienced too much.

An older Hope/Astra was my second try. Making Atlas the world-wise mentor and letting Astra experience the superhero world for the first time, bringing the reader along for the ride, worked much better.

Then one of my closest friends and best readers said “This reads like a YA novel. Why don’t you make her a teenager, go for the YA-teen market?” So I’ll say it again; it was an accident. A happy accident, as it turns out—making Hope younger made her more vulnerable, brought in coming-of-age themes, and in general greatly strengthened the story.

As to “how,” I don’t know why Mark is so impressed. I honestly made no attempt to duplicate current Teen-Speak (Hope uses a few verbs I stole from Buffy and company, that’s it). I tried to write her as an intelligent but inexperienced young adult. I may have been helped by the fact that I have four younger sisters, who were all in or verging on their teens when I graduated from high school; I love them all dearly, but they’re the reason I left home at the earliest opportunity.

Mark: And what inspired Artemis – my fave character of all?

Marion: Not Astra? Really? Well, I suppose a writer of crime-thrillers would find Artemis more his speed.

A more traditonal Artemis than Marion's version.

Artemis filled the needed Dark Vigilante role (I wanted to show that in Hope’s world not all the superheroes worked within the law). In mythology Artemis was the goddess of the Moon and the hunt—the perfect name for a night-hunting female vigilante.

The whole vampire thing came straight from my vampire burnout; they’ve invaded every literary genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, science-fiction, etc), inspired the vampire-goth subculture, and generally been reduced from horrific monsters to stock heroes and villains.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well, but Done To Death is a label that definitely applies. So I decided to include a “vampire” character who is completely unsentimental about it, killed her sire, has no progeny, and despises every wannabe-vampire out there. No offense.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well.” Phew! Lucky Marion slipped in that last second disclaimer, given our autumn (fall) release is a vampire thriller. But needless to say it’s no run-of-the-mill vampire thriller, of course.

Marion, thanks for your time here today.

~

There are loads more questions I just had to ask Marion, of course, but most of my blog readers probably aren’t quite so obsessive as me. That said, for those who are interested, please find further below a couple more questions I threw out, with in-depth answers from Marion.

For the rest of you, thanks for making it so far.

This is a blog about writing and books. Both huge subjects that encompass much more than just novels and how we write them.

But lest we forget, the bottom line is about story-telling.

A book is just one way of presenting a story. Storytelling can range from poetry to epic saga, from oral to visual. A century or so ago Charles Dickens used to tour the States reading his novels out loud to packed (and I do mean packed!) theatres.

And some authors still do that. Well, not their entire novels – that’s what audio-books are for. But some writers still tour packed theatres reading out loud. Seriously!

And I’m delighted to say I have one such author joining me here at MWi this coming week. Given the vagaries of my technical support here let’s just say mid-week some time. But be sure not to miss a treat as Dan Holloway struts his stuff, with some video footage thrown in just to prove he’s not making it all up.

And next weekend be sure to watch out for Prue Batten, another writer who doesn’t let herself get bogged down with the idea that a novel is the only way to tell a great story. If you’re familiar with Prue’s works you’re in for a treat. If not, you’re in for a treat and a big surprise.

That’s Dan some time midweek, and Prue some time next weekend. Pointless me saying exactly when because the powers that be here have little regard for my timetable. Click on the RSS feed or subscribe by email to be sure not to miss out.

 ~

As above, there follows yet more discussion on comics. Indulge or not as the fancy takes you.

MW: Presumably you read any comic-books you could lay your hands on when you were younger. I certainly did (not always easy in the UK where supply was erratic). But there comes a point where we become more selective, narrow the choice, and perhaps “grow out of” some. Which comic-book superheroes have stood the test of time for you?

MH: Actually although they are always around, I wasn’t a huge superhero fan in the beginning. My first serious interest was the Star Wars comic series (I took crappy care of them, or they’d be worth big bucks today). My conversion moment came when I read the “Pheonix Must Die!” episode of The Uncanny X-Men as a teenager. It was practically Shakespearean, and it hooked me on the X-Men. My next comic of interest was the New Teen Titans, and today I will pick up and lose interest in titles depending on the current quality of the writers/artists and my interest in the storylines.

The truth is Your Milage Will Vary depending on who’s writing the series. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, they’ve become enduring legacies new writers will come to and make their own for awhile. Sometimes they’re rebuilt from the ground up (the entire Ultimate Marvel line is a complete reboot). Although I still keep up with the old names, my interest these days is in non-traditional storytelling. Tod Nauck, who took a turn with Spider Man and Young Justice, caught my attention with Wildguard, a mini-series about a reality-show superhero team. I also enjoy Powers, a comic series about “normal” police officers in a superhero world–its take on superheroes is fascinating, although it’s sometimes too dark for my tastes.

MW: Outside of the USA, comics are still regarded as an inferior art-form by many. The blockbuster films do well in the UK and Europe, but your average Briton would struggle to name a superhero that hadn’t been in a Hollywood film. In the UK still, comics are first and foremost fun-reading for pre-teen children. In the US comics are the staple of university students. With so much of our culture homogenised and pasteurised, how has this dichotomy come about?

MH: Oscar Wilde wrote, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language.” Like so many truisms, this isn’t true. To be honest, I have no idea why comics as an adult entertainment medium didn’t jump the pond when comics grew up here, which they did in the 70’s and 80’s. Before then they’d been pre-teen and young teen fair over here as they still are in the UK. Possibly its because they were never as big a part of childhood in the UK as they were in America, which meant a smaller adult market.

MW: Same question: Japan is perhaps the exception, but their direction is very different again, with juvenile super-heroes on the one hand, and on the other scantily-clad schoolgirl imagery aimed at a rather unsavoury readership. That’s probably a stereotype too far, and no question Manga has revived interest in graphic novels in Europe, but for better or worse?

MH: If anything, the Japanese have a stronger comic-book tradition than anybody. Partly this is because of the complexity of their alphabet; full literacy, mastery of several thousand characters, takes years, so illustrated stories are easier to read. They have their own obsessive sub-culture (Otaku), but Manga is as mainstream as regular novels.  Because of this, Manga covers every storytelling genre imaginable; they have action-adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero (sort of), real life, relationship, romance, and yes, an incredible array of highly imaginative (perverted) pornography. Sadly, it’s the last category that is most widely publicized. For better or worse? I’m hardly impartial there, but I think comics can actually be an aid to literacy, a window into printed literature, much in the same was that the Harry Potter books inspired a new generation of readers.

Marion G. Harmon, thank you for your time and insights.

In the immortal words of Stan Lee: Nuff said.

How long is too long? When is the “right time” to self-publish?

Okay, I have to be honest. I’ve been struggling all week to figure out an angle to do a shameless plug for the launch of our US Edition of Sugar & Spice without it looking like a shameless plug.

Then out of the blue came three successive blog posts by a fellow author that made me realise that the plug could wait until tomorrow.

This was far more interesting. So ignore that image above. It has no place here.

Instead, say hello to Anne R. Allen.

Among Anne’s most recent offerings is a post titled “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish”, which follows hard on the heels of “3 questions to ask before you jump on the indie publishing bandwagon.”

As Anne says, “Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises.

Self-publishing is no longer equated with vanity publishing, and we all know the success stories of writers like Amanda Hocking, who have spear-headed the “indie” e-publishing revolution, and rightly earned their place in publishing history.

But as Anne thoughtfully reminds us, it is a bandwagon.

And, tempting as it may be to rush in now with your recipe book, great great grandfather’s memoirs, or the blockbuster manuscript you’ve been secretly working on this past three decades and lay them before an adoring public, maybe it is better to take a step back and take a reality check. Hence the “12 signs your novel…”

Anne had in mind the case of the author on Amazon who recently responded badly to what appeared to be legitimate criticism, and was savaged all the more for her troubles. I certainly won’t embarrass the author further by identifying her or her book. I’m sure we all know the story by now. A sad episode for all parties concerned, as best summed up Nathan Bransford in his blog Virtual Witch-Hunt.

I have to say I was heartened to learn (again through Anne’s blog) that the author’s sales actually picked up as a consequence. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully that writer has learned her lesson and will go on to greater things. As for those who jumped on that particular bandwagon of name calling and finger pointing… The less said the better.

But underlying Anne’s blog piece was the question of how do we, as writers, know when we are ready? Or when our work is ready?

At what point do we stop seeking approval of the almighty gatekeepers and just go for it?

“How long is too long?”

~

Now obviously we’ve been exceptionally lucky with Sugar & Spice.

When we finished the script last year the idea of e-publishing hadn’t been given much thought. The Kindle hadn’t really caught on here in the UK, and anyway we were writers.

We believed a book wasn’t a book until it was on the plinth in the bookstore on the High Street. Or at least gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But it had to involve real ink, and paper. After all, this new “e-publishing” malarkey was just a modern form of vanity-publishing, wasn’t it?

Of course we’d heard of Amanda Hocking and the other up-starts making waves across the pond, but no-one in the UK read e-books, surely?

So we began the long, hard slog of playing find-an-agent.

Now it’s one of the ironies of the agent-hunting business that, the longer they take to respond, the more likely it is they are actually interested.

If your proposal comes back by return post, or even worse, the same day as an email, you’ve either submitted your work to an agent who doesn’t touch your genre, or your work was bad enough to need just a single glance and be allocated a rejection slip.

Agents are running businesses. Time is money. They don’t have time to waste trying to find the one good bit in your mess of a manuscript. And they most certainly don’t want your pointless proposal cluttering up their desk any longer than necessary.

So if you’ve been waiting for an eternity for a response, take heart. They like your work enough to at least seriously consider it.

But as we’ve seen with Tom, Mark and Gerry (previous blogs), even if you get the agency contract, that’s only half the battle. You then go through the whole thing again to get an actual publisher.

Which brings us back to the key question: “How long is too long?”

And perhaps more importantly, are you missing out on the opportunity of a life-time by chasing the paper dream?

~

We elected for the dual approach.

With the Kindle Christmas bonanza approaching we decided to e-publish through Amazon and continue to submit to agents simultaneously. We hoped maybe we’d pick up a few e-sales along the way and get some feedback, and meanwhile keep our fingers crossed for an agent.

In fact we’d left it too late and we totally missed the festive e-sales bonanza. Come Christmas morning when everyone was gleefully buying their first ever e-book downloads, Sugar & Spice was just another obscure e-book in the Amazon jungle and no-one knew it existed. And so it stayed in January. What did it take to get noticed on Amazon’s Kindle?

Fast forward three months…

Agency rejections have come in slowly. Slowly being the sign we weren’t being rejected out of hand, at least. But our novel is not an easy-sell. One leading agent told us it was well written and she had agonized over it, but the subject matter (inside the mind of a paedophile killer) was “the last taboo” in crime writing.

And of course the paper publishing industry anyway works on a different time-scale from the real world.

The manuscript has been with the latest prospective agent now for two months. Yes, they are definitely interested, but that’s as far as we’ve got.

The e-book?

Well, regular readers will know the situation and just have to forgive me mentioning for new visitors that Sugar & Spice is, as I write, the #1 best selling thriller on Kindle UK and #3 in the main Kindle UK chart, selling some 20,000 books a month.

And that’s JUST through Amazon. We haven’t even begun to explore other options properly yet.

But the reason for citing those figures is to make a very real point.

Leaving aside the obvious delight at having got so far on our own, and leaving aside the short-term financial boost this brings, what we have now as writers is something far more important.

Let’s return here to the third of Anne’s blogs, titled “What if somebody steals your plot?”

Anne begins by addressing the amusing habit new writers have of fearing their agent / publisher / best friend’s mother-in-law will steal their plot and make a million.

As Anne says, new writers “can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.”

Wise advice indeed. But it was Anne’s follow-up comment that really struck a chord with me. Anne mentions how she and other authors are often approached by non-writers convinced they have this great idea for a book and just need someone to put it into words for them.

“I don’t want to be mean,” Anne says with majestic diplomacy, “but they (non-writers) need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.”

How true is that?!

Even before I teamed up with Saffi my projects folder was a heaving mass of ideas across all genres, fiction and non-fiction. Now, between us, just the short synopses of what we’d like to write next would make a full length book.

What of it?

Well, had we not gone the self-publishing route, and instead were still patiently hoping for the gatekeepers’ seal of approval, we would at best have been working half-heartedly at book number two, wondering what we were doing wrong.

And of course if an offer had materialised we would have just signed on the dotted line, glad to be “accepted” by the gatekeepers, and agreeing to whatever they suggested.

Which sure as hell wouldn’t be daring to experiment with a US edition of Sugar & Spice, or working on completely different genres. In fact ninety per cent of our projects would have been vetoed from the start just because they didn’t tick the right boxes for the gatekeepers.

Knowing now that we don’t “need” an agent or publisher to reach an audience has given us the confidence to press ahead with our many other projects. We hope to have several more books on Amazon by the end of the year, across several genres (the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series and the first of the Equilibrium dark fantasy trilogy to name but a few), and have plans for a dozen more over the next three years. (Two writers together can easily more than double the output of one!)

We’re far from ready to give up the day jobs, of course. And yes, we could drop out of the charts tomorrow and plummet into oblivion. Our next books may flop completely. We are always realistic.

But having the confidence to seriously get on with the next projects, knowing we can publish when we are ready and not have to rely on the gatekeepers’ approval… Having the freedom to write what we want to write next, not what the gatekeepers think will trend in two years time… And above all being able to control the timing, the marketing and the pricing (of course we would never be selling 20,000 a month at book-shop prices) is worth its weight in gold.

And it does raise the awkward question, what will we do if an agent / publisher does finally come up with an offer?

Watch this space…

The numbers game.

Okay, today’s blog is about… numbers.

Yes, I hear you. We’re writers, not mathematicians, and words are our tools.

I know how you all hate maths, or even math, for our American readers.

But this is about real numbers. Numbers that matter to us as writers.

Royalties, in other words.

Yeah, thought that would get your attention.

As previously blogged, Barry Eisler’s turning down half a million bucks to “go indie” and darling Amanda “selling out” (not my words!) to the dead-tree guys has over-night changed the way the world views publishing.

On top of that, as Borders US finally succumbed to the inevitable and went into liquidation (Borders UK did so a year or two back) the CEO of Barnes & Noble stated on record that digital books would be the primary delivery system for books within two years.

For Amazon, that’s already the case. They sold more e-books than paper books last year, and that was before the Kindle took off big-time (eleven million Kindles sold).

Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco now sells Kindles over the counter and rival groups are selling rival e-readers. Six months e-readers were virtually unheard of in the UK. Now we see them everywhere, and the trend is growing by the day.

In the US, as the B&N CEO concedes, that trend is far more advanced.

A tipping point has been reached.

The next generation of e-readers will be more savvy, more creative, more must-have, and perhaps most importantly less costly.

There can be no question that e-books are the future. The question is just when, and how it will effect us, both as readers and as writers.

Nathan Bransford has just published a most informative blog that spells out the reality of numbers as they relate to us as authors. You can read his full blog here.

Essentially, he asks, is it better to go “indie” and e-publish, or to keep chasing the dream of a real, printed book in your hands and try to get an agent and publisher?

Of course we all want the pleasure of a real book, our book, in our hands.

We approached agents before we decided to e-publish, and had one offered us the chance at the time we would almost certainly have signed on the dotted line, agreed to anything they wanted, and now be sitting waiting for our book to appear in the shops in maybe a year’s time.

Hopefully having been given a huge advance, but as an unknown author with an unknown book the chances of any advance being offered was slim, let alone a life-changing one.

As you all know, the agents were intrigued but not convinced. So we put our book out as en e-book and got on with life.

Had we signed up with an agent and then a publisher, and leaving aside any advance (which is clawed back from future sales – it’s not a gift from the publisher!) what could we have expected?

Nathan has kindly laid out the figures for us and I reproduce them here with due acknowledgement.

Standard royalties via traditional publishers (note: these may vary):
Hardcover: 10% retail, sometimes escalating to 15% after sales thresholds are met
Trade paperback: 7.5% retail
Mass market: 8% retail
E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail)

Kindle revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 35% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 70% retail
Priced below $2.99: 35% retail

B&N revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 40% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 65% retail
Priced below $2.99: 40% retail

E-distribution fee:
Smashwords: about 15%. Usually translates to about 60% of the retail price.

Approximate E-book market share:
Amazon: ~55%
B&N: ~25%
Others (Kobo, Apple, Google, Sony, etc.): ~20% combined

Okay, so what does that mean in real money?

Let us suppose that we had been offered, and signed, a deal for Sugar & Spice and it had not been e-published independently by us.

What would have happened?

First off, you would not be reading this, because you would never have heard of the groundbreaking debut crime thriller Sugar & Spice, or Saffina Desforges or Mark Williams.

Possibly by the end of 2011, but more likely 2012 (according to Publishers’ Lunch most manuscripts now being signed up will not see print until spring 2013!) our book would finally be published.

Now unless that publisher is taking a huge interest in us, is buying us a plinth in Waterstone’s (don’t for one second think bookshops hand over the plinth and poster space out of the kindness of their heart!) and is sending out sample copies and lunch invitations to all their well-connected reviewers, etc, then our book will be just another spine on the shelf.

Again, who ever heard of Saffina Desforges?

In 2012 the name would be as just as obscure as in 2010.

But we’ll be hoping that readers who have never heard of the author or the title will risk ten pounds (or whatever the dollar equivalent may be) on us rather than spend that ten pounds on Stephen King, James Patterson or another big name they know and trust.

Come to that, dollar equivalent? Forget that!

Our book would only be available in selected high-street stores in the UK.

Okay, so sometime in 2012, a year down the line, our book is finally published and if we’re really lucky people buy it.

Nathan states royalties of 10% for hardback and 7% to 8% for paperbacks. E-book royalties if put online via a publisher are 25%, but in  reality only 14% to 17%.

Now this month, March 2011, we have sold approximately 13,000 e-books at our chosen retail price of 71p. That could go up or down next month, though the trend is most definitely up.

We were only a top twenty seller at the beginning of March. As I write this we are a top five seller. On our current daily sales we are on target to sell 20,000 next month if nothing changes. And believe me, those figures pale into insignificance compared to Stephen Leather’s sales!

And our sales are only for Amazon Kindle. We haven’t listed on Waterstone’s yet, and we haven’t started marketing ourselves on Barnes & Noble properly.

But let’s take 13,000 sales in one month as our base-line.

Now the Amazon royalties are public knowledge. No trade secrets here. We make 35% of retail because we choose a low retail price.

What chance our paper-published book selling 13,000 copies in a month? Virtually impossible.

Of course, the mega-names like Cornwell, Patterson, King, Grisham, etc, do it all the time, sure. But this is an unknown author with no history, no loyal readership built up over years, and no publicity machine behind it.

So in a year’s time Sugar & Spice is published by a “real” publisher, and released through them as an e-book on Amazon. And we’re lucky and it does as well as it is now, and we sell 13,000 copies in a month.

Read out those figures again, Nathan!

E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail).

17.5%!!! And Barry Eisler reckons the real figure is nearer 14%.

But let’s stick to 17.5%.

So we sell 13,000 e-books at the same price, with the same amount of marketing effort on our part.

But instead of getting 35% of the royalties we hand over half of that to the publisher!

Suddenly we have to sell over 25,000 e-books a month just to get the same money back we earn by selling just 13,000 as “indie” publishers.

True, only people with a screen can read our book now, and we are missing out on a huge number of prospective readers who only read on paper.

But by the time the book actually sees print the number of e-readers will have multiplied a zillion times while the number of paper readers will have dwindled.

Not fantasy. That’s the very near future as seen by the CEO of America’s biggest bookstore chain, B&N.

Now go a step further. Supposing our book continues to sell in volume over the coming months, or even increases as word spreads. Supposing we get our act together (remember, this is all new to us – we’re learning as we go) and get our book on Waterstone’s e-books list and somehow make it happen on Barnes & Noble too…

Supposing we maintained 13,000 sales a month over the coming year. That’s 156,000 sales that, if we had signed a contract and were waiting for our book to be published, would not exist.

And as previously said, we’d then have to sell 25,000 e-books a month (300,000 a year!) just to make the same money.

We have several more books in the pipeline this year and many more after that. The first of our Rose Red crime thriller series is due on Kindle this summer, and the first of our dark fantasy trilogy Equilibrium will be on Kindle in September. Two follow-ups to Sugar & Spice are planned for the future (Puppy Dogs’ Tails and Cold Blood), and the projects list beyond that is a book in itself!

None of these would be seeing the light of day before 2012/ 2013 if we were with a dead-tree publisher.

Perhaps more importantly still, we would not have had the confidence to be planning this far ahead if we hadn’t already proven we could do it through e-sales.

Of course, a “real” publisher can potentially offer so many things we’d love to take advantage of.

Professional proof-reading (if you’re not a writer you can have no idea how time-consuming that is – time that could be spent writing the next book), foreign language translation, etc, etc.

Don’t think for one second we are trashing “real” publishing.

We are most definitely not.

If the right deal comes along of course we’ll grab it and run!

We still have bills to pay, families to provide for, and we still subscribe to Private Jet Monthly, just in case… (The one in the pic is mine. Saffi wants a pink one!)

But if the offer ever comes, we will have to balance the short-term delight of being able to hand over a real, made of paper, signed copy of our book to our loved ones, against the realities of the new publishing world that is now emerging.

If you’re on the fence with your manuscript, still sitting on the hard-drive while you weigh up the same issues, ponder the following conclusion from Nathan.

If you can sell print copies, all things being equal there’s still the bulk of the money to be made there.

But if you’re not going out in print in a big way, a self-published e-book is absolutely the way to go.

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