Tuesday, 15 April 2014

It were only a shilling and sixpence in my day


Here's a fun tool which is also a fantastic resource for writers and educators. What would a pint of beer have cost back in 1976? How much does that 1989 salary equate to nowadays? This "Historic Inflation Calculator" tool will answer that for you, back and forth through time.

Writers keep all sorts of information. I have a folder of very old bank statements and receipts - not for tax purposes, but so that when I write any story set in the past I can go through items from the time, and identify how much I paid for things. The inflation calculator tool is a handy add-on for that.

Inflation is a weird thing. I sometimes worry about the day when buying a bar of chocolate will cost me a million pounds. Then I lie awake in bed wondering why humans haven't decided to stamp out inflation so that it exists no more. Then I decide that I'm weird and go back to sleep.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Anglesey book list


Just a quickie - I spotted that Turner was listed on this site covering books about Anglesey. It ends with: "Warning - according to reviewers this book can be somewhat gory."

Monday, 7 April 2014

Night Z


"I'm here to kick ass and chew gum. And I'm all out of ass."
(Mmm, doesn't sound as tough as the original when I put it like that).

This Saturday I took part in a Battlefield Live special zombie event down in Pembrokeshire. I love interactive stories, especially those created by doing, where you are a true participant; I also savour a bit of fictional horror and darkness, so these kind of events are a perfect fit for me.

There was a lot of excitement as my family group made our way there - a fog descended that was incredibly creepy, along with light rain. We were dressed for the apocalypse though, so the damp didn't matter. It was also getting dark, as we chose the session that began as the last of the daylight faded. Put all this together and you have trepidation even before you arrive!

After a briefing the players split into two teams of eight: we were humans versus humans in a battle for supplies (food, water, ammunition) during a zombie apocalypse. So how did the zombies fit in? They were "walkers" who randomly wandered the paths moaning, then they came after you if they detected you. The paths were just wide enough that you could dodge past them but usually it was better to run another way and hope you didn't sprint head-first into another walker! Some of them moved silently so you got a real shock when you rounded a corner and came face to face with one. The make-up and acting was great, totally convincing, giving you a visceral thrill as you abandoned your goal and just retreated full speed. It is obvious that everyone involved put lots of thought, time and effort into the whole event.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Goodreads, giveaways, marketing, getting into trouble


I really like Goodreads. Although I also use Shelfari and LibraryThing, it is Goodreads where I interact most with books and readers.

I have done giveaways in the past. They seem like a good idea and are favoured by Goodreads staff because it means their users get freebies without it costing Goodreads a penny. I've found it has one large benefit for authors: it means people who haven't heard of your book become aware of it. More people mark it as "to read". There is a downside though. Every book has an ideal audience which is smaller than the full reading population (Karl's Law). Whether it's a Western or a young adult vampire romance, some readers will devour it, others will revile it. You want to target your book only at the former. Then everybody is happy. However, in a Goodreads giveaway any reader can tick that they'd like a copy. So you get people applying for every book just to get something for free. Then Goodreads software chooses who gets the books. This is where it goes wrong. My experience is that of all the books I've sent out for free via Goodreads giveaways, only a small percentage (possibly one in ten, but hard to know for sure since Goodreads doesn't share this data with authors) actually reviewed the book. This is a far lower percentage than if I'd chosen my own readers. It gets worse: I've seen reviews along the lines of "This book really isn't my kind of thing..." THEN WHY DID YOU SAY YOU WANTED A COPY? DON'T YOU READ THE SYNOPSIS? So the end result can leave you worse off. Goodreads also makes costly mistakes. Once I selected a giveaway just for the UK. I triple-checked the details as usual. Then Goodreads sent me a list of US readers to send the book to! It was incredibly expensive. The end result is that Goodreads giveaways can be a mixed bag for authors.

What else can you do? A targeted giveaway is much better. It's the logical approach. In August last year I made the mistake of being logical, even though I thought I was adopting best practice.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Touting the hot-cold theorem

I'm interested in how different types of artist communicate with their audiences, and how fans support and "consume" them. With authors the main form is for fans to buy their books and read them. This is certainly the main financial transaction. Some authors do readings and author events, which can enable personal interaction, though there's usually little (if any) income generated for the author. It's just a nice chance to meet readers. So the principle relationship is written words, transmitted after the event "cold" (even though they may have been written in heat).

With musicians there is a similarity when you buy their music on CD, LP, MP3, or whatever format. The finished product, set in stone with fiery lithography then cooled as the heat fades to leave the impression of the sounds and words, unchanging and final. And it is good. But the extra option of seeing an artist perform live, in the heat of flux, is actually a major income source for many singer-songwriters and bands. You get the immediacy, the warm malleability of a live performance, an extra level of closeness as the sound vibrations reach your ears unmediated - a valuable form of contact with an artist.

You'd think when some concept has been around for a long time that all the kinks would have been removed from the process, the loopholes closed. But it's not so.

I really admire Lykke Li. Captivating presence, emotional communication, haunting voice, talented songwriter and wordsmith. It's not often that I go to see live music. I live at the end of the line - literally. But when I saw that she was playing in the UK it was a no brainer. I didn't care that I would have to travel to England, and to a big city (I have no love for London, though the venue itself sounded cool). I assumed the tickets would sell out fairly quickly but there were two London dates, and I got up on the day they went on sale and went straight online: but less than an hour after sales began, they had sold out.


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Free book


See the "Special Offer" link at the top of my blog? You might be surprised to know that it links to a special offer.

(Hopefully not too surprised: the clientele who frequent this blog are a select bunch, 75% more intelligent, 23% more attractive, and 64% more lovely than the statistical human average.)

I always have a pile of books I've read. If you buy one of my novels in print, or two of them in e-book format, I'll post a book to you (pick it from the list) to say thanks!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Read an e-book week


Tomorrow is the start of "Read an e-book week" (an event that has been taking place since 2004). Some places to go for special offers:

Smashwords Read an E-book Week Catalogue - nearly 40,000 multi-format books regularly priced at free, and thousands more that are free or deep-discounted for one week only.

Apple iBooks - for iPhone, iPad and iTunes users, a click on this link brings up a selection of free e-books at the Apple iBooks store, organized by categories such as Featured Titles, Fiction & Literature, Non-Fiction, Children & Teens, Romance, Mysteries & Thrillers, Sci-fi & Fantasy, Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Entertainment and more.

Barnes & Noble - a neat and well-organized collection of thousands of free e-books organized primarily around Fiction, Romance, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and Mystery. Click the "See all" link to drill down into multiple other categories of free books.

Kindle - the usual site, and note the "Top 100 free" link on the right.

"Buy My Work" at the top of this blog leads you to places that sell (or give away!) my e-books, and there are some which aren't yet included on that page, e.g. these freebies.

Have fun!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Writers' Village competition


The Writers' Village site has a short story competition.
  • Prizes totalling £4500.
  • Deadline is 30th June 2014.
  • Entry fee is £15.
  • Stories can be up to 3000 words, any genre.
  • Rules and entry here.
It should be noted that the top 50 contestants get a brief personal critique of their stories. I've had those, and thought they were very useful.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review: Little Brother


Little Brother
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I think this is an important book, like a modern reworking of 1984 but with a more positive outcome. The latter is possibly because it is written in a style accessible to teenagers – great, get them interested in questioning things, empower them to take action rather than bow down to oppressive regimes. People need to be politicised!

It made me laugh out loud in a few places, e.g. “The web browser we used was supplied with the machine. It was a locked-down spyware version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s crashware turd that no one under the age of forty used voluntarily.”

It works as a story; it works as a warning; it works as a believable interpretation of many governments, since we learn more and more about how much they spy on us, how unclear the law is on the matter, and how they silence people who spread the truth with imprisonment and draconian laws. (My favourite recent UK example is http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/31/footage-released-guardian-editors-snowden-hard-drives-gchq ).

The other thing about the story – it works at making you angry. Angry at the assumption by those in power that they are not our servants, but rather, that we are theirs. To be secretly spied on. And most countries have systems whereby your only vote options are between parties that will let this continue. Is it any wonder that people feel disenfranchised by the formal political systems? Politics is about how you live your life. Politics is about the right to express yourself free from interference. We don’t have this. Legitimate concerns and dissatisfaction are interpreted as ‘terrorism’ by Governments, showing how out of touch they are with the people. And this book captures that zeitgeist.

PS Download it for free from Cory's site.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Kindle freebies


Today and tomorrow you can also get some of my stories free on the Kindle (if you don't want to use Smashwords).
Three People: Stories About Life At The Edge (UK; US)
Three Horrors: Stories About Darkness In Unexpected Places (UK; US)