Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Well, it may be a couple of years late, but I’ve finally come up with the perfect sales pitch for Kikimora.

While signing books in Cromford recently, I was asked numerous times, ‘So what’s this book about?’

Despite having done these things a few times now and always getting the same questions, I was no better prepared than usual. I floundered my way through a couple of vague explanations, before tiredly offering,

It’s basically Poldark with magic.

That got a response (although one punter astutely pointed out: that pitch will only work on women).

Demelza Carne

‘Scruffy, neglected waif’

It’s not a facetious or cynical pitch though. In a blog post from five years ago I mention reading the first couple of Poldark books as research into mining in the (approximate) era, and being pleasantly surprised by their pace and humour. But I was very aware it was an obscure reference, meaning little to anyone under 40 who didn’t remember the 1970s TV show.

By the time new Poldark became the Sunday night TV phenomenon, I’d moved on from promoting Kikimora, and forgotten all about it.

But Kikimora actually bears a few similarities with Poldark, notably in the relationship between the charismatic but troubled mine owner, and the scruffy, neglected waif who takes up residence with him; in the families of marriageable young ladies eager to make his acquaintance, and their bafflement at his reluctance. Then there is his very plain (and consequently pitied and scorned) sister (cousin in Poldark)…

I won’t say more, to avoid spoilers.

Of course, Kikimora has many other things going on as well, in the battle of wills between the miners and the spirits of the forest, in Kikimora’s troubled genesis, and her journey to find acceptance.

I’d be interested to know, do any of my readers see the similarity? Or is it just my own over-familiarity with the story that brings it to mind? Let me know in the comments?

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.

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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

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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 😀

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

I have always been attracted to odd or funny or unusual words. I love that the English language has such a wealth of them.* As I child I would sometimes sit and read the dictionary – finding strange words and trying to work them into everyday speech (or the many unfinished stories I always had on the go).

gormenghast notes

My very old copy of Gormenghast, with notes. The same page also contains: raddled (either twisted or reddened) and pranked (adorned, shown off)

Words I remember learning in that way:

Grimalkin: an old witch.
Madder: a natural red dye.
Glabrous: smooth skinned.

I first read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy at 15, and for many years adored it (although I have to say I prefer my prose a lot less fancy these days). But it was full of many words I didn’t understand. I would mark them in the text. Then when I reached a suitable break I would get out the dictionary, look up all the recent words, and write the meanings in to the margins – in case i forgot again by the time I re-read the book (you will recall from previous posts that although I love books, I am not precious about them).

Words I remember learning from Gormenghast:

Gibbous: the moon when it is more than half, but less than full.
Fastidious: fussy.
Osseous: made of bone.

For a time I became particularly intrigued by unusual names, and kept a small notebook in which I jotted down odd names that I came across.

My favourite company names, learnt whilst working as a temp for a variety of local, mostly mining-related businesses:

Norbert Dentressangle; a haulier, but the name always reminds me of Murun Buchstansangur, which I used to enjoy as a child, and – having now looked it up after *cough* years – is even odder than I remember.
Angst Pfister; they’re real, honest. And safe for work!

I also made up reams of names. Sometimes I would think up a character to go with the name. Sometimes they made it as far as (an unfinished) story.

Tragically I can no longer find the notebook full of my best names. But these are a few from a comic-adventure boarding school story I still vaguely intend to finish one day:

Boscoe Roast; a schoolboy and a bully.
Colt Saltarello; a handsome, laconic Texan, and dancing intructor.
Frances Botticelli-Irvingspoon; from a wealthy but dissolute family, she knows all manner of interesting things that a young girl probably shouldn’t, and is excellent at poker.

And finally, three very common words which for some reason when I see written down I often mispronounce/misapprehend to myself:

misled: (myzelled) I went out for a misle; now I’m thoroughly misled.
mishap: (mish-ap) I have no idea what that could mean. Perhaps it’s similar to a mashup?
doing: I want to pronounce it to rhyme with boing.

Anyone got a favourite word they’d like to share?

* German also has a great number of peculiar words, I later learnt. My favourite is ausgeflippt: freaked out.

So the promotion is finished, the stats are in. Let’s see how I did.

As discussed last week, I ran the promotion for three days over the bank holiday weekend: friday to sunday. I submitted details of my free book promotion to 16 sites – almost all of which said in their blurb that they ‘may’ feature your book – or, of course, you could buy guaranteed promotion for a small fee of generally $5-15. I elected not to buy any guaranteed promotion, but to see what I could actually get for free.

I'm a featured author at Freebooksy

Of those 16 sites, as far as I’m aware only FreeBooksy did feature Darklands, and I’m pretty sure I have them to thank for a large percentage of my total downloads.

Friday started fairly slow, but suddenly began to gather pace around 3 o’clock – presumably when FreeBooksy’s email alert came out (I had subscribed to many of the sites I submitted to, but somehow neglected that one. However, I did get an email from them at 4.30 advising me that my book was featured on the site). For the next several hours my download stats jumped by about 100 every hour.

I had intended to keep a close eye on precisely how it all panned out. However, a family emergency saw me instead having to suddenly go spend the weekend with my poorly mum, with only my laptop and intermittant internet access :-/

In any case, there wasn’t much to see after that. At six pm friday my downloads stood at around 300. At 9pm, 600. By 9am the next morning I was very close to 1000. But it all tailed off from there. My tally for the three days is 1135.

The vast majority of that total came from Amazon.com, which I am very pleased about. Although I have several excellent reviews on Amazon.co.uk, I have so far failed to make the slightest impact on the US site. I also had several downloads from other territories which I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to reach at all. Breakdown below:

US UK Germany Italy Canada Japan
1095 115 13 1 6 5

 

I estimate that my own efforts via Twitter, Facebook and generally being chatty and personable to anyone I met online over the weekend resulted in between 100-200 downloads.

My conclusion? If I run free days again I will pay for some promotion. I think I was lucky to get the freeBooksy promotion, and without it this would have been a bit of a wash out. It’s a lot of trouble to go to for possibly only 100 downloads. The promotional ads for these sites are not expensive, typically between $5-15. Extrapolating from my miniscule sample size of one, my best guess is that you could expect perhaps 1000 downloads per promotional site feature.

I wonder how many of those downloads will ever get read? I know from my own behaviour that I will often grab a free book while I can, without even reading any reviews or the sample. I will skim the description, and if it sounds even vaguely intriguing, I’ll have it. Then it sits on my kindle untouched until I happen to find myself with some time to kill and no current book. I generally read through a few samples/free books, scrapping them for not being good enough/not being my thing – until either I find one to settle with and read, or just weary of the whole proceses and go do something else.

So I know there’s a good chance that many of those downloads will never be looked at again. But I have no idea how many. From those that do get read I should hopefully get some new reviews. They may not all be good reviews, of course, but that’s all part of the process. I guess it will take weeks or even months to see what I reap from this promotion. All I can tell you right now is that four more people have added Darklands to their lists on Goodreads.

I’d be interested to hear what experiences others have had with their KDP Select free days. Similar to mine, or vastly different? Did you pay for adverts or just try to go it alone? And did you ultimately reap the increased reviews/eventual sales you were hoping for?