For the past few months I’ve been hard at work completing a final edit of Kikimora. I’ve now made the last checks for continuity, spelling, grammar, formatting, etc…

Guys, it’s done.

In true difficult-second-album stylee, this one’s been a bit of a slog. I thought it would be easier the second time around! I thought: I know what I’m doing now. I know the pitfalls to avoid. I know how to motivate myself. I know how stories veer off track, and how to steer them back. And I’m doing something much simpler and shorter!*

Yeah well, apparently I don’t know Jack…

There have been setbacks aplenty; some personal, some professional (as in the job that actually pays me…) and some writing related. But finally the Is are all dotted; the Ts are crossed, and Kikimora is ready to go out into the world and seek her fortune. You can read the final, expanded version of the opening chapter here.

sunlight on water

A shady pool, as beloved by Rusalkas

I expect to publish Kikimora at the end of October. As with Darklands I’ll do a soft-launch first of ebook only, followed by a paperback within a month or so (before Christmas!) Currently I’m putting together some review copies, and my design consultant is working on the cover design – check back soon for a sneak peak!

To all those who’ve stuck with me, thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll enjoy the results.

* Kikimora has actually turned out exactly the same length as Darklands :-/

How it begins

Anatoly took a card from the pile, sighed, and laid it back down on the table. “They have trampled a road all the way across the lower slopes and up to their infernal workings,” he said. “Once the river ran cold and clear. Now it is bitter with sulphur. The Rusalkas have been driven from their home. It is bad, my friends, bad indeed.”

“But what’s to be done?” asked Leshy, picking fretfully at the dried leaves caught in his beard.

The North Wind puffed out his ruddy cheeks, and roared, “They need teaching a lesson! They’re getting too big for their boots.”

“Another dozen trees felled today. That makes-” Leshy paused, bringing short, hairy toes up to the table to assist his counting. Finding himself still far short of the necessary digits, he threw his hands up in the air. “Too many. Too many of my trees hacked down and burned. And not a single token or sacrifice left in exchange. My time is done. I may as well lie down and die right now.”

Leshy’s gloom made the North Wind chuckle, his wheezy gusts scattering playing cards onto the floor. Leshy complained that he’d just built a good hand, but it was now lost – as all his endeavours seemed doomed to failure and insignificance.

Anatoly drummed his long fingers on the table top. It was dark with grease, and splashed with tallow drips from countless candles. The squalor of it irked him all of a sudden. He found himself imagining Yevgenia’s pretty nose wrinkling in distaste, and he determined that tomorrow he would take the time to clean the kitchen – perhaps the entire cottage. And then he fell to thinking about all the other parts of Yevgenia, just as pretty as her nose. For a time he forgot all about the problem of the mine, and the men and the road and the town.

“Life is too easy,” said the North Wind. “That’s the problem. They have no real hardships, and so they’re free to poke and meddle and delve and steal. In the olden times-” Anatoly rolled his eyes, and Leshy gave a discreet little sigh. “In the olden times, they had no time for such nonsense. They were too busy fending off lions, finding bison to hunt, discovering which berries were good to eat and which would turn their guts to slop – all the time fearing the sky might fall on their heads. I had only to whip up a little thunderstorm, and they ran whimpering to their caves. Now many of them are idle. That’s the nub of it. They’re bored, and so they breed mischief.”

“You’re saying they need a distraction? If some calamity were to befall them, they might be too busy to come plundering the forest?” Anatoly drained his glass thoughtfully, only grimacing a little at the harsh taste of the vodka. He distilled it himself from turnip peelings and bog myrtle, and the flavour was highly distinctive.

“But I have set traps. I have raised fires. I have confounded and befuddled them. Still they come back – more and more of them, like ants from a woodpile.” He glanced at the North Wind, a little fearfully, a little hopefully. “Perhaps if you were to-?”

The North Wind’s sigh rattled the pans hanging in the pantry. “I would love to help, of course. But my time is barely my own. You know how hard it is for me to even find the leisure for our card game each month. There is not a town in the world I don’t visit. Not an hour of the day I can rest. My duties are endless.”

“Then it is over,” said Leshy. “Before long we’ll be driven from our homes, just like the poor Rusalkas.”

“You are not without talents, though?” The North Wind’s voice was soft now, but still it sent a cold breeze down the back of Anatoly’s neck.

“I have studied the moon, the sun and the stars,” said Anatoly. “I have studied the movements of beasts, and the flights of birds. I have learned the language of flowing water and what the trees whisper to one another through the hard, frozen winters.”

“Tell me, when the men come to fell your trees, what do they use?”

“An axe,” said Leshy unhappily.

“And when you want to turn a field, ready for planting, what do you use?”

“An iron plough,” said Anatoly.

“And when you distil your vodka, what do you use then?”

Anatoly gestured to the large brass kettle hanging from the rafters.

“You use a tool appropriate to the task. So, finding yourselves unequal to the task of driving the men from your mountain, what tool do you suppose might assist you?”

Anatoly thought for a moment. A brightness flared in his eyes, and he met the North Wind’s gaze. “A monster. We need a monster to do what we cannot.”

The North Wind nodded thoughtfully. “I expect someone of your learning could create a monster the like of which had never before been seen or imagined.” His voice dropped lower, but it whistled around the eaves of the house, quick and cold as a knife. “Cold, unforgiving, incorruptible. Such a monster could drive these men far from your mountain, and from Leshy’s forest. The Rusalkas could return to their pools, and you could resume your studies, undisturbed by their endless hammering, blasting and grinding.”

Anatoly glanced at Leshy, who nodded encouragingly.

When his guests had departed, he shut himself in his study with a samovar of tea, and didn’t come out until morning. He studied the treatise of a Persian necromancer. He read an incomplete fragment of ancient Arabic concerning the nature of evil. He cross referenced works by monks and astronomers, alchemists and scholars. He scribbled notes, drew diagrams, and performed complex calculations. He consulted nine different almanacs, and identified an auspicious day to set his plans in motion.

In the dead of night he climbed through a blizzard to the lair of an ice wyvern. Silently, so as not to wake the slumbering creature, he captured its breath in a bell jar. Hoar frost formed on his fingers, cracking and falling to the cave floor in tinkling, diamond drops. The wyvern stirred and groaned; it might have woken, but Anatoly conjured a lullaby of howling winds and scouring hail, and it sighed and rolled over, returning to its decades-long sleep.

As the sun rose he flew from town to town until he heard a certain distinctive sound. To an untrained ear the inconsolable cries might seem those of any other grieving parent. But Anatoly heard the edge of drama, of extravagance, and knew the cries to be insincere. It was no trouble at all for him to collect the child-killer’s discarded handkerchief and harvest her crocodile tears.

As evening fell, he tracked an ill-omened comet across the sky. Debris from its wake fell screaming to earth, crashing into a vast, uninhabited desert. From its steaming surface he gathered fragments of rocks and metals unknown to man.

With these ingredients Anatoly returned to his forest home. There he collected the final piece he needed, and he worked through the night, spinning his baleful creation. When at last it was done, and the creature lay on his table, kicking its thin legs and gazing at him from large, solemn eyes, he invited Leshy and the North Wind to witness it.

“I thought it would be… bigger,” said the North Wind after a moment.

Anatoly explained that it would grow. He’d created an infant, so that he could teach it everything it needed to know to perform its duty.

“How long will that take?”

Anatoly wasn’t sure. “It will grow faster than a human, but it may take a year or two.”

The North Wind nodded. A year was nothing to him, who had been roaring around the earth since the first mountains rose from the sea.

Anatoly glanced at Leshy. He was less patient than the North Wind, and likely to object to such a long term plan. But Leshy gazed at the creature with an odd, foolish look on his face. “It’s a girl,” he said, and gently tickled the creature’s tummy. The infant kicked its legs more fiercely, and gave a little gurgle.

“Look at her fingers,” Leshy said. “Thin as a piece of straw, but each one perfect.” As he spoke, the creature closed its fist over his huge, hairy thumb, holding on with surprising force.

“How will you raise it?”

Anatoly said he would teach it terror and cruelty; he would teach it to show no mercy, to be single-minded, incorruptible…

The infant whooped as Leshy swung it up in the air and onto his chest. It burrowed into his warm fur, falling instantly asleep, a thumb stuck in its tiny mouth. “What will you call her?” he asked, gently rocking from side to side.

Anatoly hadn’t yet considered a name for the creature. He searched his memory for something suitably baleful. “Medusa? Lilith? Agrippina?”

“What about Kikimora?” The infant mumbled in her sleep, and gave a little sigh. “There, she likes that. You’re going to frighten the men, and drive them far away,” Leshy whispered to her. “Then the forest will grow again, and the streams will run clear. The Rusalkas will come home, and everything will be as it was before. You’re going to save us all, Kikimora.”

After Leshy had returned to the forest, and the still sleeping monster was tucked into a makeshift cot in a kitchen drawer, the North Wind took Anatoly to one side. “Are you sure you have the stomach for this?”

“Of course. The difficulty with any kind of monster is always controlling it. This method, though a little more long term, ensures it will truly be our monster – biddable, obedient…”

“As well as cruel, heartless, incorruptible, etc?”

Full of excitement for his creation, Anatoly didn’t hear the irony in the North Wind’s tone. “It will be whatever we raise it to be. That is the beauty of it.”

“Indeed it will. You have experience with infants, I suppose?” He supposed nothing of the sort.

“Every creature on earth manages to raise young,” said Anatoly lightly. “I would like to think I too am equal to the challenge. How hard can it be?”

The North Wind only smiled. His travels took him to many homes in many lands. He had some idea of how hard it could be. “And when do you propose to begin its instruction in cruelty?”

“It is only hours old! I think we must first master the basics of walking, speaking, reading and writing-”

“Your monster will write?”

Anatoly was astonished by the question. “What kind of education would neglect writing?”

“Your monster requires an education?”

“Of course! It will be no crude, simple beast. She will be subtle, intelligent, able to wield her cruelty as a sharpened blade.”

“I see. So this cruelty will begin to manifest some time after she perfects a fair copyist’s hand and once she has completed rudimentary deportment? Or will she need courtly dancing first?”

Anatoly frowned, realising his achievement was not garnering the praise it deserved, and wondering why not.

Seeing his friend’s hurt and confusion, the North Wind spoke more gently, “Just how do you suppose cruelty is taught?”

“Well,” said Anatoly, picking a book from the shelf. “There are conflicting treatises-”

“I have circled the world almost as many times as the moon,” interrupted the North Wind. “I have watched men live and fight and bleed and die. I have seen civilisations grow, break apart and fall back into dust. Do you allow that I might have a certain amount of experience in this matter?”

Anatoly nodded cautiously.

“Cruelty is taught by example.” The North Wind allowed a moment for that to sink in. “I ask again, do you have the stomach for this? Does Leshy? You saw how taken he already is with your creature.”

“It is in his nature to comfort and cherish-”

“Quite so.”

Anatoly’s frown deepened. “But it could be an advantage? We build up the creature’s love and obedience to us-”

“While instilling its hatred of everything else?”

“Not everything-”

“Well, I see you have it all worked out. I shall watch with interest as these events unfold over the coming year or two.” With a last smile, the North Wind took to the air, roaring his way through the night sky.

The draught from the open door caused the infant to stir and utter a thin cry. Anatoly crossed to the kitchen drawer, gazing down at her. His pride stung; he had anticipated awe and praise for his creation. Instead, the North Wind’s doubts troubled him, stirring up his own.

“Hush now,” he told her. But the creature began to thrash, beating her tiny fists. Her mouth drew open in an ominous dark square.

“Hush, I say.”

Kikimora began to howl.

Kikimora will be published at the end of October 2015

Emma Woodcock with SFX

Holding the wining entry

We still haven’t recieved our subscription copy of SFX (containing my winning short story entry, The Big Guy), but found a copy in the shop this afternoon. I did my customary startled-bunny-in-car-headlights pose while trying not to look too smug. Really, given my usual form, we’re just lucky my eyes are open.

Whatever my face says, I really am chuffed to bits. In the side column on the right are some very kind words from judge Darren Shan:

“All of the stories were well written, but this one tugged at my heartstrings. It masterfully pulled me in, intriguing me with its mysterious opening, before gradually revealing what is truly happening, and leaving me with a sense of great pity for the main character by the end. It’s very difficult to do all that in such a short story, to pack in true surprise and emotion, so as strong as the other entries were, this was the clear stand-out for me. I’ll never think of the Big Guy in quite the same way again…”

Coming from such a successful and well respected author, that really means a lot. Did I mention I was chuffed? I’m really quite chuffed.

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition, The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition, The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition

I’ve never been able to write short stories. No doubt part of the problem is that I don’t often read short stories. With a few notable exceptions (Saki, Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link), I don’t particularly like short stories. I’m generally of the opinion that if something is worth telling, it’s worth settling down, getting comfy and spending a good few hours with.

But people are forever telling aspiring writers they should enter competitions – and most writing competitions are for short stories. So occasionally I find myself knuckling down and giving it a try. Most of the time what I end up producing is a story fragment: the beginning of what obviously ought to be a much longer work, or a snapshot of a moment, that er doesn’t actually tell a story at all.

Back in January I learnt of a zombie short story competition being run by SFX magazine, to be judged by Zom-B and Cirque du Freak author, Darren Shan. The criteria were that it had to feature a santa outfit and christmas lights, and be no more than 1500 words.

1500 words! That’s nothing. What on earth can you say that’s worth saying in 1500 words??

Nevertheless I determined to try. One night, instead of sleeping, I had an idea for the story, and I crept out of bed in the small hours to jot down some notes. I expected that, as is often the way with insomnia inspired notes, they would turn out to be nonsensical gibberings. But in the morning the notes still seemed to show promise, and I set about writing the story.

I finished the draft that afternoon, and set it aside to mature. The next problem I have with short story competitions is that my writing process moves at a glacial pace. Those who have been waiting 2+ years for Kikimora to be released know this to be true.

I generally rewrite every scene several times before I’m done, and I don’t trust anything I’ve written to be any good until it has sat untouched for a good few months and I can come back and read it with fresh eyes.

Obviously you do not get that luxury when entering a competition. I began my story, The Big Guy, just a week before the closing date. The next day I decided it was utter nonsense, and I had better write something else.

I came up with a completely different idea, a more conventional survivors-of-the-zombie-apocalypse scenario – though still, I hoped, with some entertaining quirks to the trope.

I wrote a couple of opening scenes I was pleased with (I’m particularly proud of the scene where the hungover protagonist has to fight her zombie co-workers in the toilets (after passing out during the office christmas party), with only a bottle of bleach and bog brush as weapons) – and then I ran out of word count. I pared down those two opening scenes until nothing I liked remained, wrote in the next couple of scenes, again ran out of word count.

I stripped it back still further, I reached an end point, of sorts. I read it back. It was useless. The set up had promise, but a 1500 word short story was not the platform for this particular story. It read like the opening of a TV series, a British Walking Dead with added goofiness and ill-advised drunken sex.

I still wasn’t sure about The Big Guy (I’d only had chance to rewrite it three times). Was the tone right? Was it too silly? Too depressing? An awkward mixture of both those things? I very much suspected it was.

But on the plus side it was the first short story I’ve ever written which had a beginning, middle and end; that told an actual story, and did it all in less than 1500 words. That in itself seemed an achievement. And so I submitted it.

Almost two months later the editor of SFX emailed to say I’d won the competition, that Darren Shan and the other judges loved The Big Guy. To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement.

I went back to reread my story, and of course wanted to take a red pen to it. How did I let that line stay in it? What’s with that woeful description? Was I drunk when I wrote it? But apparently it was good enough. And perhaps the lesson to be learnt here (as well as to keep on trying) is that structure might be more important than fine prose? Get the shape of the story right (and I do feel confident that The Big Guy’s story structure is sound and solid), and the fine detail of precisely which words you use – although clearly still important – might not be quite as vital as the story itself (readers of Dan Brown surely realised this a long time ago. I am late to the party).

So will I give up my many months gestation on new writing? Allow it to pass the gate rough and ready? Not a chance. What I will do though is try to concentrate more on the shape, the load-bearing pillars of my stories. I’m pretty sure that will stand me in good stead.

You can read my winning entry in this month’s SFX (out today allegedly, though not yet in my local Tescos). Pics to follow!

A huge thanks to the SFX team and to Darren Shan for providing me with a much needed boost when I needed it most. Cheers guys.

Because you seriously can’t have too much of this sort of thing, I am shamelessly stealing Alyssa Rosenberg’s idea of telling Hollywood how to fix itself and produce films about women, for women, starring women.

In her original piece, Rosenberg says that “the number of leading roles for women has actually fallen since 2002, from 16 percent of protagonists in top-grossing films to 12 percent.” TWELVE PERCENT. Yeesh.

Though I totally applaud her concept, I have to admit I am not familiar with a single one of the books she referenced. I read something else by Tamora Pierce one time, but that’s as far as it goes.

So, without further ado, here are my suggestions for stories Hollywood should be telling, and the actresses to help them tell those stories:

Jennifer Lawrence as Murcatto, ‘the Snake of Talins’, Best Served Cold

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books inhabit a very distinct world which is explored over many volumes. However, Best Served Cold is a standalone novel with a female protagonist I hesitate to describe as tough as nails. She makes nails look like they’re made of blancmange.

As you may gather from the title, it’s a grand revenge drama. Women never get to star in revenge dramas (with the notable exception of Kill Bill). It always bugged me in the Crow that after Eric Draven is murdered, and his girlfriend is raped and murdered – he’s the one who gets to come back for vengeance. Surely she was more wronged? More deserving of revenge and closure? Sigh.

So it’s a revenge drama, it’s also a heist – two things that Hollywood loves – and it’s insanely violent. In the wake of Game of Thrones, grim dark fantasy is big business. Hollywood, you are crazy not to be making this film already!

Sophie Turner and Stephanie Cole as Sophie Hatter in Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Now, I know Hiyao Miyazaki already did a pretty good job at a film adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ much loved Howl’s Moving Castle. But two things: 1) we haven’t seen a live action version, and 2) it was a very loose adaptation. I would love to see a much more faithful version of the story: very English, very traditional.

Turner could do a good job of showing us Sophie Hatter as a mousey, put upon young shop assistant – nurturing a spark that will come to fruition by the end of the story. Cole would be marvellous as the cranky, forthright Sophie after she falls under a spell that ages her 90 years – and allows her to blossom into her true, assertive, magical self.

Saorise Ronan as Tally in Uglies, Pretties, etc

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy (later quartet) is perfect for Hollywood right now: dystopian societies on the verge of collapse! Underdog revolutionaries! And at the heart of it all a questioning of all our trivial, shallow, self obsessed values, of our desire to inhabit some perpetual arrested development. All that, plus some kick-ass action and extreme wish fulfilment makeovers (if you like that sort of thing). Ten years since it’s release, it’s only becoming more relevant to our celebrity trivia obsessed culture.

Ronan is a fine actress, and has action credentials (see Hanna). She has the kind of face that can be plain or stunning, depending how she’s presented. And although significantly older than Westerfeld’s protagonist, is able to play young. Make this happen!

Maisie Williams as Cat Royal in The Diamond of Drury Lane, etc

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia GoldingAfter her attention grabbing performance as the child refugee-turned-killer in Game of Thrones, I’m sure Maisie Williams has offers queuing round the block – probably for action-oriented roles. But I’d like to see her do something a bit different.

Julia Golding’s Cat Royal books are joyful, exuberant, perfect entertainment for children and adults alike. Cat is smart, passionate, impetuous, and kind-hearted. She’s more of an evader than a fighter, but she’s undeniably tough. I bet Maisie isn’t getting offered any roles like that, and I think she’d be great at it.

Raffey Cassidy as Melanie in The Girl with all the Gifts

The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey
I’ve struggled to come up with a young lead for M R Carey’s terrifying tale of the sympathetic but deadly zombie girl on the run in post-apocalyptic London, but Raffey Cassidy fits the bill. She has a surprising amount of experience for such a young actress – she played the young Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman, and is set to co-star as a robot with George Clooney in Tomorrowland. She also has a definite look – you could believe there’s something a bit uncanny about her.

Hayley Atwell as Chava in the Golem and the Djinni

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
Helene Wecker’s magical, wonder-filled tale of hard won love and understanding between a plain, Jewish golem and passionate Syrian Djinni is surely one that’s worth telling on the big screen.

Is it too obvious to cast Gwendoline Christie as the large, awkward golem, Chava? I think so. So how about the far less obvious Hayley Atwell? Yes, she’s gorgeous, but Hollywood can plainify her, and I think she exemplifies that warm, down-to-earth endurance that is central to Chava’s character.

Chloe Grace Moretz as Emily in Lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry
Moretz has proved her acting and action chops in such diverse films as Let Me In and Kick Ass. She would be perfect as the vulnerable, manipulative, hyper-intelligent and ass-kicking Emily in last year’s barn-storming techno/psychological thriller, Lexicon by Max Barry.

So those are my picks for female-oriented films I’d love to see. What are yours? The joy of this exercise is that anyone could and should be doing it – the more the merrier. Perhaps eventually Hollywood will sit up and take notice?

Every day approximately seven zillion squillion books are self published. And the world takes absolutely no notice, assuming they are all rubbish. No doubt some of them are. Others, while not rubbish, are likely flawed. But there are also perfectly decent books which are self published.

Why are they self published if they’re so good? There can be a variety of reasons. A publisher invests a deal of time and money into every title they publish. They have their own agendas and criteria to meet, and simply being ‘good’ isn’t necessarily enough. Maybe it’s good, but they can’t see a large market. Maybe it’s good, but similar to titles they already produce. Maybe it’s good, but currently unfashionable. Maybe it’s good – really good – but just not quite as good as those other ten titles that they have decided to publish.

Some authors claim they self publish by choice; they retain control over every stage of the process, and reap far greater profits. Personally I find this doubtful. Sure, you make a greater profit on each sale – but only if people are buying your book. 70% of nothing is still nothing.

The self published author’s greatest challenges are visibility and credibility. No one knows or cares about their book. The only people they can persuade to read it are likely to be friends and family (certainly early on in the process). They would love for a real, objective reviewer to read and blog about it, but without some initial credibility there is little reason for such a person to take a chance on it.

This is where you can help. Those handful of reviews the book manages to garner in its early months are vital. The bottom line is that the more reviews a book receives the greater its credibility. Unquestionably.

But not all reviews are equal. While any review is better than none (yes, even a one star review), there are things you can do which make your review really valuable to the author, and things which make it … less so.

You have the best intentions. You want to help out the author; you certainly don’t want to upset or offend them. So you go write them that review. Here are the top three pitfalls to avoid.

1) Five Stars

range of reviews

Range of reviews on Amazon for The Golem and Djinni by Helene Wecker

You may think the greatest favour you can do the author is to award the book five stars (assuming five is the maximum on whatever platform you are reviewing). Unfortunately nothing screams ‘Self published author with only friends for reviewers’ like a very small number of reviews all awarding five stars.

That is not the natural pattern of reviewing. Go check out any mainstream, popular book. It will have 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 star reviews. It will have a range, maybe a bell curve, with most of the reviews clustering around four or five stars. Even a work of renowned genius does not garner uniformly five star reviews. It doesn’t garner uniform reviews at all. People have different opinions about it, and they don’t all think they’d better give it the same number of stars as the last person, so that they don’t look stingy.

Keep it realistic. Honestly.

2) I don’t usually read this genre…

‘I don’t normally read sci-fi/children’s books/romances, but this had me captivated from the beginning.’ You might think you’re saying, ‘Read this! It’s brilliant! Even if you think you don’t like the genre. Honest. It’s fantastic.’ But what you’re actually saying is, ‘The only reason I read this book is because the author is a friend, and asked me to.’

3) Boris has done a fantastic job

So the author is your brother, your old school pal, your work colleague. Maybe you don’t know anyone else who’s written a book. It’s pretty cool, right? Referring to the author by their first name subtley lets the world know that you personally know them. You, by association, are pretty cool too.

Or not. Again, what you are really saying is, ‘I only read this book because I know the author.’ It might be true, but it damages their credibility.

Similarly, if you happen to have the same surname as the author, maybe this is the one circumstance where ‘any review at all’ is NOT better than none :-S

If you can avoid those three pitfalls then your review could really help your author pal. So that’s what not to do. But what should you do?

Be honest

I know you don’t want to offend Boris, and really he has done awfully well, and you’re proud of him, but that bit in the middle with the elephant and the volcano didn’t entirely make sense, did it? The plot got a bit confusing around the time the mermen turned up through the oceanic rift, and come to think of it, the comedy sidekick otter was actually a bit irritating.

It’s okay to say that. I know you don’t believe me, so I’m going to say it again:

It’s okay to criticise your friend’s book!

Say that it’s interesting, say that it’s funny, say that you enjoyed it* – just don’t be afraid to also say, “But…” And don’t be afraid to deduct stars accordingly. Your author pal will thank you in the long run. Hopefully, if they have a bit of realism about their situation, they will thank you immediately.

Your friend has most likely spent years writing their book. They’ve put off social events, missed playing with the kids, maybe they’ve taken time off work, with the accompanying loss in earnings. They are serious about writing books and making a success of it. Patting them on the head and saying, ‘well done, that’s brilliant’ doesn’t help them. If there are areas they need to improve on then tell them. They want to get it right. They want to improve. But if no one tells them where they’re going wrong, how will they ever get better? Meanwhile, they are sitting scratching their heads, thinking, ‘if my book is so damn fantastic, how come I’ve only sold 20 copies..?’

In conclusion, you can help your author pal with their two main problems of visibility and credibility. You help with their visibility simply by writing any review at all. You can help with their credibility by reviewing their book as though it was written by someone you don’t know; by being honest, by pointing out flaws.

With a small range of honest reviews their book stands a far greater chance of being taken seriously by other readers and reviewers than if it only has a handful of glowing, five star reviews.

On behalf of all self publishing authors, thank you for taking the time to read this – and for every review you write for self published authors. It really does help.

Other authors, do you agree with this article? What would you add to the list of review pitfalls?

* assuming those things are true.

Today I am very pleased to recieve a couple of signed books from the delightful Krista D Ball.

Alongside her novels, Krista also researches and compiles authors guides. What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank is an entertaining and informative look at how food works (or should work!) in fantasy novels. Drawing on historical sources, as well as some enthusiastic home experimentation, Krista presents a lively guide to all things mead, ale and roast boar related.

signed books from Krista D Ball

signed books from Krista D Ball

A month or so ago I won a competition to supply Krista with an interesting food related fact. Having watched many series of QI, I had no difficulty in recalling that an allergy to Brazil nuts can be triggered by sexual contact with someone who has eaten them; it is the only food allergy which can be triggered in quite this way.

I was not the only entrant to explore the strangeness of Brazil nuts, but was fortunate to be chosen the winner. For this I received not only a signed copy of What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, but also Krista’s new writers’ guide: Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes, a Regency and Steampunk field guide.

Huzzah! I look forward very much to reading it. Thank you, Krista :-D

You can visit Krista’s blog here.
You can buy What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank here, and Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes here.