Posts Tagged ‘ Tom Winton ’

Trans-Atlantic Team-Up – Exploring Discoverability

Buzzwords. What did we do before they were invented? Or maybe they’ve always been with us, just under a different name.

One thing’s for sure – the buzzword of the day among indie authors is “discoverability”.  The art of getting noticed. It’s not a new word, created in the epublishing revolutionm though looking about you you might think indie authors created the concept.

Actually it’s been around since forever.

But in the world of digital book selling it’s never been more important.

The e-charts get ever more competitive, and while we still love to read about the success stories of new and unknown authors beating the odds and winning the Amazon lottery, the simple fact is it’s getting harder and harder. By the day. Even for established authors with a brand and a loyal readership base.

As ebooks become more acceptable there are tons more indie authors out there competing for the attention of a limited number of ebook readers. Even by the most optimistic estimates only 25% of buyers are buying ebooks – print still has 75% of the market. And while the e-shelves may be infinite, the number of books that will be bought is not.

Most importantly, the once indie-friendly e-charts are suddenly not so indie-friendly after all.

Getting noticed is hard, and getting noticed beyond your home shores is harder still.

One advantage we still have as indies is the ability to be nimble. To take risks. To experiment. To look at new ways of becoming discoverable, and then trying them out.

Say hello to the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up.

Yes, it’s an experiment. Yes, it may fail abysmally. It may stall this year and take-off next year. Who knows. But one thing’s for sure: Nothing ventured…

So we figured, supposing we took a good seller from the UK doing less well in the US, and a good seller in the US not doing so well in the UK, and put them together in one volume? And then released it both sides of the Atlantic, so fans of author A would see author B’s work, and fans of author B would see author A’s work?

Box-Sets are commonplace ways of getting one author’s books “doubled up” to increase exposure, and exchanging links and recommending one another’s books is also a commonplace method of cross-promotion among indi9e authors. So why not take it to the logical next step?

We approached our in-house cover-designer Athanasios and put the idea to him. Back came a design we loved. A simple, yet elegant frame, whereby any two separate novels could be presented in one volume.

For the launch we chose Tom Winton’s stunning social-justice thriller, The Last American Martyr, and the first of our Rose Red crime thrillers, Snow White.

Yes, both are also still available as individual books, so this is very much a way of increasing exposure for both authors and both titles, while offering readers value for money.

This, the  first of the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up series, has just gone live on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, and will be appearing on other platforms very shortly.

Other titles will follow soon. Anyone interested in having their book(s) paired with an author across the ocean should get in contact and we’ll see what we can do.

 

 

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Midweek MWiDP Review: Have YOU Heard of Tom Winton? – by Gerry McCullough

Gerry McCullough is back with us again with yet another review of one of the MWiDP authors’ books. This time it’s the turn of Tom Winton, who featured here on MWi way back in the spring with his debut novel Beyond Nostalgia, which went on to achieve great success.

I’m going to come back to Beyond Nostalgia in the near future, simply because it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. But today is about his second novel, The Last American Martyr.

Tom is one of the great romantic writers of the twenty-first century, and I’m happy to commit to writing that I believe Beyond Nostalgia will become a classic down the years, and while a slowburner, as romance novels so often are, this book will still be selling long after upstart thriller-writers like ourselves have been forgotten.

But Tom is a writer who wears his heart on his sleeve, and it shows in his work. Tom is someone who cares deeply about social injustice, and that shows in his work too.

His latest novel, The Last American Martyr is about … Well, I’ll leave that to Gerry. Let’s just say Tom has blended two distinct genres – thrillers and romance – to produce what I can’t but describe as a romantic thriller.

If anyone reading this has been supporting, or was in any way sympathetic to, the recent (and continuing) Wall Street protests then this book is perfect for you.

Here’s Gerry:

Have you heard of Tom Winton?

If not, this is where you do, and afterwards are properly grateful to me for the introduction, I’m quite sure.

I first ‘met’ Tom on Authonomy where he, like me, was slogging it out in the long battle which was supposed to lead to a publishing deal with Harper Collins. Of all the thousands (yes, literally) of books of which I read the first part on that site, Tom’s Beyond Nostalgia stood out among a tiny handful of books which were ones any publisher with any sense should have grabbed. (And he was kind enough to say something similar about my own Belfast Girls.)

Tom, unlike me, didn’t feel obliged to stick it out until the end, a disappointing review which, in my case, said nice things but definitely didn’t offer a publishing deal unless I rewrote the book as either a romance or a thriller. Instead, he pulled out, and went on to achieve great success on YouWriteOn. Meanwhile, he found that Tim Roux of Night Publishing was only too happy to publish Beyond Nostalgia; and the sales in the USA have been in the thousands.

Beyond Nostalgia starts by going back to the sixties, when the main character, Dean, was a teenager, in New York, and to the love affair which he remembered even through the happy but poverty-stricken marriage of his adult years with Maddy. I don’t intend to spoil the story for you, but although this book has mainly been pushed as a romance it is much, much more. The slummy background of New York years ago is beautifully presented and springs to life from the beginning. The financial struggle of Dean and Maddy to live is realistically detailed. The characters, especially the narrator, are immediate, real, vivid. The social background, the poverty and its effect on the characters, is of major importance, and the relationship between this man and his wife is delicately and poetically drawn. The twist in the plot is gripping and page-turning.

It’s no surprise that so many have wanted to read this book.

But now Tom Winton has surpassed himself. In his new book, just out, The Last American Martyr, Tom has taken his writing ‘to infinity and beyond.’ This book has all the detail, the gritty reality, the living characters, of the first, but in its theme Tom Winton plunges yet deeper again.

The main character, another Tom, has won a Nobel prize for his first and only book, which exposes the corruption and greed of the world’s economy, and moves millions all over the world to rise up in protest to bring about change. But this has put Tom in fear of his life, so that he has been forced to hide out, after some horrific experiences, from his enemies in Big Business.

The brutal truth, the up close reality, of Tom Winton’s writing on this very important subject, should make his book as equally influential and successful worldwide as that of his character, if there’s any justice.

One thinks of books like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye or Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and it’s instinctive to place The Last American Martyr beside them, as one which will impact a generation.

This may seem an extreme thing to say. But to me, Tom Winton stands out as a writer to be remembered.

Already I’m looking forward eagerly to see what this amazing man will have for us next.

Thanks Gerry.

Now you may be thinking Gerry has got a bit carried away there suggesting Tom Winton is on par with Salinger or Steinbeck. That’s a huge call to make.

So let me repeat it. Tom Winton is on par with Salinger and Steinbeck.

Tom’s debut Beyond Nostalgia is comparable in social sweep, emotional depth and social significance to Gone With The Wind. It will make a great film one day.

The Last American Martyr is a very different product, and the comparison made by Gerry to The Grapes of Wrath perfectly sums up those differences.

Both books are fantastic reads.

Yes, we now handle the UK distribution for Tom, but that’s only in the past month. I’ve been saying these things about Tom’s work since April, when I first came across him.

Tom and I have discussed the possibility of co-writing a future novel with Saffi, and while that has yet to get beyond discussion because of other commitments, if it ever does come to fruition it will be one of the true highlights of my career.

***

Tom’s latest book The Last American Martyr is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, along with his debut novel Beyond Nostalgia (amazon.com here, amazon.co.uk here)

Gerry McCullough will be back next week on MWi with a review of Wendy and the Lost Boys by Barbara Silkstone.

Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books. And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books.

Her debut novel Belfast Girls is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Summer Book Club Part 5: Victorine Lieske

Summer Book Club time again… And the first ever MWi post from sunny England. Minus the sunny, of course. 😦

Just a few hours ago I fleetingly met the infamous Saffi herself,and over the coming weeks we’ll be getting together properly to get the new book back on track and chase up numerous other projects, but here at MWi, just a few days late, it’s the next installment of the Summer Book Club.

Scott Nicholson

In theory this is all about Victorine Lieske, but first a quick rewind to last week’s SBC guest, Scott Nicholson.

J Carson Black

Because Scott this week became the latest of the SBC gang to acquire a publishing contract with Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer, hard on the heels of the contract signed, also with Thomas and Mercer, by SBC member J. Carson Black.

For anyone who missed these stories, check out David Gaughran’s coverage while I was skiving off-line.

David Gaughran on the J. Carson Black deal here.

David Gaughran on the Scott Nicholson deal here.

David Gaughran

And by coincidence of timing David will be here in e-person on MWi tomorrow with a post of his own, actually arranged some weeks before either of the deals mentioned. Serendipity at work again!

HP Mallory

Just time here also to mention SBC member HP Mallory has launched her book How I Sold 200,000 E-Books: A Guide for the Self-Published Author. For reasons as yet unclear it’s only available on amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, so not much use for us this side of the pond, but sure to be a valuable resource for those who can access it.

Okay, back to today’s SBC member, the one and only Victorine Lieske.

Here Victorine talks about her New York Times bestseller Not What She Seems. Yep, Victorine made the NYT bestsellers’ list with her debut indie-published novel!

Needless to say we’re all jealous as hell, especially as this side of the pond that’s the sort of media acceptance we can only dream about. Here in the UK the media are doing their best to pretend e-books don’t exist (although Louise & Mark are doing a great job breaking down that particular barrier). The UK has a long way to go to catch up with the US in that respect.

Having written an unquestionable best-seller Victorine has now gone and written in a very different genre, with total disregard for the gatekeepers’ rules (even progressive agents like Rachelle Gardner sadly are still fighting the one-genre-is-compulsory battle). I’ll be dragging Victorine back here as soon as I can to tel us more about that.

Meanwhile, here’s Victorine on her breakout debut novel Not What She Seems:

You know, it’s funny, I never set out to become an author. I thought it would be cool to be able to tell people that I wrote a novel. That was my whole motivation. It’s really kind of a silly thing, now that I think about it.

And of course, being a silly thought, I wasn’t very serious about it. I started a novel once, then about ten pages in I lost interest in it. Years later I started another one, but got busy and it never went anywhere.

Victorine Lieske

Then, one day I was getting my daughter out of the car and my back seized up. I literally couldn’t move. I was put on bed rest to heal. Since I was stuck in bed with nothing to do, I decided to write that novel I always wanted to write. Easy, right? I set my laptop on my lap and just started typing. I wanted to write about a rich business man going incognito and meeting up with a woman on the run. I thought it would be fun to combine a light romance with a suspenseful mystery. I finished the first draft of Not What She Seems in one week. (I had no idea that was fast for a first draft. I knew nothing about writing.)

After finishing that first draft I thought I was done. I didn’t know writers edited. Funny, right? (Really, it was more scary than funny.) Luckily I decided to figure out if my book was any good. That’s when I found critiquecircle.com. I submitted my book, chapter by chapter, through the critique website. I learned that my first draft needed work. A lot of work! In fact, I threw out the last half of the novel and rewrote it. Then I submitted the book again. It took me four years to get the book into shape.

But I knew I had something interesting when I got comments from other authors telling me they couldn’t wait to read more of my book. They would ask me why my book wasn’t published already, and ask when the next chapter would come out. Honestly, this is why I kept going with it. I loved hearing the feedback from people who enjoyed reading my story.

Even though I’ve sold over 113,000 copies and made it on the NYT’s best seller list and signed with an agent, I can honestly say my favorite part of this whole journey is when I get an email from a fan. It makes it all worth it.

Victorine’s novel, Not What She Seems is 99 cents on Kindle and Nook.

Keep your eyes on the Summer Book Club Facebook page, Victorine will be giving away a free signed paperback copy of Not What She Seems.

Thanks for joining us, Victorine.

One week to write the first draft, four years to get it to the stage where she was happy to publish. And didn’t that wait pay off!

Victorine mentions critiquecircle, but there are many other peer review sites our there, like youwriteon, authonomy, protagonize, etc.

So what’s your experience of peer review sites? I know many regulars here, including  Tom Winton, Marion G Harmon, Dan Holloway, Prue Batten, Miriam Longman, Charley Robson and Gerry McCullough are old hands at the peer review sites. What’s your experience of them? Good or bad? Or have you totally by-passed them?

Come on, guys. Spill!

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…

Becoming a Rhino – Gerry McCullough’s Story

When an attachment about a rhino first arrived in my in-box it had had me flummoxed.

Plenty of hippos in this part of West Africa, but rhinos are in short supply. Was this a safari enquiry? Or maybe a recipe suggestion?

In fact it was from Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls.

Rhinos? That will become clear as we go.

I’d asked Gerry to share with us her path to publication. Had she discovered the magic formula to instant success?

Sadly, no. It’s another forlorn tale of hope and disappointment, of  dreams and reality, and of rejection and redemption. But yeah, mostly rejection.

Rejection underpins the lives of amost all authors, no matter how successful they are now. And in a weird kind of way, we as wannabe writers thrive on other peoples’ rejection stories.

They give us the will to live when we begin to doubt ourselves, as yet another beautifully crafted rejection slip arrives in the post or our email in-box.

We love to remind ourselves how the venerable JK’s first Harry Potter manuscript was dismissed by the gatekeepers time after time, including the biggest names in British publishing, and then given a tiny print run and was almost never heard of again.

We love to hear how John Grisham got up an hour early every day to write his first novel, only to have it rejected by twelve publishers and fifteen agents who thought they knew best.

Which of course they must do, right?

Agents and publishers are the gatekeepers, after all. Or so some seem to think.

Jenny Bent is a New York based literary agent who thankfully doesn’t see things that way, but readily admits she’s pretty much on her own. This from her latest blog:

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader”

I’ll be coming back to the issue of agents and publishers as gate-keepers in a near-future blog. But for now, before we move on to Gerry McCullough properly, sit back and enjoy a few more examples of the gate-keepers showing their “certain kind of literary taste or standard,” as Jenny so elegantly puts it.

Let us be forever thankful for the gatekeeper who spotted the mindless drivel some up-start wannabe writer tried to palm off on a professional publisher. Wisely he passed on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to a rival with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” So said another gatekeeper publisher as he saved us from the banal witterings of this new guy, Stephen King.

William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies managed to upset an impressive twenty publishers. One noted thoughtfully, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” With those words a young Rudyard was sent packing by those who know best.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA,” said a publisher who slightly misunderstood the point of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Another talentless wannabe, Margaret Mitchell, managed to rack up no less than 38 rejections for her ludicrous attempt at a manuscipt before some two-bit publishing outfit got fed up with her pestering them and gave it a small print run. Then some idiot went and made a film about it.

They both flopped, of course. I mean, whoever heard of Gone With The Wind?

But apart from being writers, what do all the above have in common with Gerry McCullough?

Answer: They never gave up.

Here’s Gerry’s story:

I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections.

PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the walls of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.

My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street.

I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.

Ten years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!

Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.

A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story.  This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.

Did I see myself as a short story writer?  No. I’ve written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’ve also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens.

I badly wanted to have a novel published.

Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games.

This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.

After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on authonomy.com, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did.

The rest is history – the history of a hard slog.

I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have gone further.

But in fact by April last year, at the end of five months, I had reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place until the end of April and then waited another six weeks for the review.

I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.

Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment.

Rejections still pierce.

I haven’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need.

HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.

I’m delighted to say that the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. 

Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it.

By the end of November, the book was for sale on Amazon.com as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.

Then came the really hard work.


Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one.

At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. About a month ago, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that.

I’d had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold.

I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I’d had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention.

I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status?

Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.

Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this.

Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.

I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. Last Sunday I came home to see that I had reached No.13. I was also halfway up the Literary Fiction and the Contemporary Romance lists.

Since then it’s been continual movement.  I hope I’ve at last reached the tipping point, where the book will continue to sell without the amount of work on publicity I’ve had to give it until now.

Belfast Girls is on just about every Amazon site worldwide and although it’s early days yet to say how it’s doing, there’s been quite a bit of interest.

One customer from South Africa has been glowingly enthusiastic, and hopefully there’ll be lots more from these other countries. So far all my reviews have been good. With increased sales I expect a few bad ones will arrive. Then I’ll find out how thick a hide I’ve grown. Not very thick yet, I suspect.


But the main market is Kindle. I’d hoped to see piles of my books in bookshops, and that isn’t likely to happen currently.

But the Kindle sales are a delight and more than make up for it. Perhaps I’ll get to the top of the bestseller list sometime soon.  That’ll be the time for running through the streets shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’

But if not – well, I can only say that I’m very happy – over the moon, in fact! – to see Belfast Girls doing as well as it has.

Thanks for that, Gerry. Let’s hope your book soars up the Kindle charts and begins to develop sales elsewhere.

For anyone interested, Belfast Girls can be bought on amazon.com here, and amazon.co.uk here.

BTW, and for the record, should anyone have spotted that Night Publishing is behind both Gerry’s book and Tom Winton’s Beyond Nostalgia, featured here a week or two back, just to stress that that is purely coincidental. Neither Saffi nor I are connected in any way with Night Publishing.

My acquaintance with both authors came through their presence on the peer review sites youwriteon and authonomy.

Which is perhaps a pertinent note to end on.

For all their faults, both sites remain excellent places to “meet” and sample new and up-and-coming writing talent.

Both sites deserve our continued support and encouragement whether, like us, we are just taking our first tentative steps on the self-publishing ladder, or even if one of us hits the jackpot and get a deal that would make even JK envious.

However successful the mega-star writers are now, they all started out as wannabes, just like us.

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