Saturday, 19 April 2014

Are Reviews Important?



If you are following me on Twitter, you will be familiar with this:

Read it? Loved it? REVIEW it!
I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. There has been quite a furore recently about writers commissioning ''sock puppet'' reviews to boost their popularity, and conversely, people taking 'revenge' on a writer by posting one star reviews.
So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 3 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5') help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.
As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book.Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writers' lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.
Reviews are also very important in boosting sales.That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas,because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, are pretty remote.
It seems there is a Catch 22 situation here: you cannot get taken seriously by a ''big'' journal or paper unless you have unbelievably good sales...yes, you are ahead of me. I recently contacted a book reviewer on The Observer with what I thought was a great angle for a story: Book deemed unpublishable by top London Agency ends up on 3 prestigious award lists. Her response: how many copies had I sold and did I get a socking great advance from my publisher?
The other problem is that only a minority of journals will accept a digital review copy. It's a shame, because it offers the most efficient way of accessing the book, not to mention the least problematic way of disposing of it once reviewed. We live in a digital world, but publications prefer print, it appears.
Let's end by going from the ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime: For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has also come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers) to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2014 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.
Reviews. They come in all shapes and sizes. Welcome or unwelcome. What's your experience?


If you would like to read a sample of Diamonds&Dust: A Victorian Murder Mystery you can do so here. US readers can do so here.





Friday, 11 April 2014

Independents' Day: May 22nd




Six weeks to go. 10 signatures on each of our 2 application forms and now Harpenden Independent Partnership are Standing For The District Council. It needed caps. The alarming discovery we've made as we've been going round collecting said signatures, is the number of people who'd like to sign our forms but are scared to do so in case they get into trouble with certain members of the local Tory Party.

Seriously. First time we laughed it off. After that, we really started sucking in our breath. Das blauen Reitstiefel is alive and well. Apparently. It appalls me that in this age of so-called democracy and freedom of choice, there are people running ''scared'' of some small group of petty-minded bullies with their own agenda who want to keep Harpenden 100% Tory so they can get their own way.

Previously, this has not been a problem for them: the other 2 main political groups regard Tory domination of my town as a fait accompli and don't bother to contest it with any vigour. Harpenden is wittily referred to as ''our friends in the North''. I have tried over the years I've campaigned to get the LibDems and Labour interested. They aren't. Cannot believe their mutual short-sightedness. Nor their claim of 'no money to campaign in Harpenden'. We are self-funding and are managing. There are 8 seats on the District Council occupied by Harpenden councillors and the other parties shrug and look away? Thus the genesis of an Independent group.

Our lovely candidates are standing in two wards: East and North. North is my ward and the local incumbent, Affable Tory Bloke, is standing again. He is as his name suggests. Pleasant enough, but does little. And blends into the background so well that another councillor we know has admitted that he's sat on the same committee as ATB for ages and he still isn't sure who he is.

We now have badges and lanyards (see pic), very useful on the doorstep as Jehovah's Witnesses don't tend to wear them. Also useful when shopping in Sainsbury's for starting conversations and making ourselves known. And we are certainly getting known. I was walking to the station the other morning to catch the London train when a car drew alongside, a woman leaned out and shouted: 'I'm voting for you!' Most gratifying.

Another high point was reached when the local secretary of a mainstream political party, not standing this time round, asked for official permission to vote for us. And got it. Even more fun was had when I and my colleagues turned up to the Annual General Toryfest of our local town council fully badged and lanyarded. The list of councillors who completely blanked me was ... interesting.

So what are our chances? In one ward, East, they are pretty high. In my ward, so-so. It depends upon the weather, and if those who said they'd vote for us turn out on the day. However IF the status quo is maintained by all the other political groups, and we get just one Independent elected, we could end up holding the balance on the District Council. Which might just make those councillors who blanked me, and have spent the past six years opposing us and defying the wishes of the local community take a step back, although I'm not holding my breath.
See you at the count.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Pink Sofa meets Bodicia


The PINK SOFA is delighted to welcome Bodicia. She describes herself as a mother, and grandmother whose interests include geoscience, planetary science, ancient history and civilizations and chocolate. A woman very definitely after the PINK SOFA'S heart in every respect. Bodicia also reviews books on her site A Woman's Wisdom: http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com/  and is an all round supporter of writers. The Pink Sofa has lost count of the number of times she has kindly retweeted links to its new book: All You Need To Know About Upholstery.

In honour of Bodicia's visit to Hedges Towers, there is fresh coffee and a humongous box of Belgian handmade chocs on the coffee table. So lovely lady ...over to you:

BFinding The Perfect Moment by Bodicia

I was a lucky child; I had the most wonderful grandmother. She would read Enid Blytons books to me as I sat on her lap, snuggled and surrounded by her love and transported to faraway lands of adventure and mystery as the Famous Five went on adventures I could only dream of. And dream of them I did.

I found adventures of my own in my grandparents garden. I hunted for broken pieces of decorative pottery left over from another era in the sandy soil. I followed butterflies as they danced over purple buddleias and I tried to capture their essence on to mere paper with my ever present colouring pencils. I wrote of elves in the garden and fairies on toadstools. I lay on my back in the grass and watched the birds flying overhead and I wondered what it would be like to glide so freely, held by the invisible power of the wind.

One day I went outside to collect the hens eggs and as I rounded the bushes I saw something which, to my childish eye, resembled a pirates chest. It was made of slated wood and metal and was big enough for me to fit inside. It was surrounded by bushes and roots and looked as if it had burst from the very soil itself but I reached out to touch it and with mounting excitement I slipped the catch and opened the lid wide, letting loose a musky wooden smell.  As I peeked inside it appeared to be devastatingly empty but a closer inspection revealed a tiny piece of exquisitely embroidered cloth, about three inches square, in the bottom corner.

 I lent right inside and took it back out into the sunlight, running my finger over the faded silks and imagined it a map of places untold of for centuries. I took it to my grandmother who told me her mother had embroidered it and that the chest had belonged to her great uncle who had gone to sea. She gave me the cloth and the chest was taken to my bedroom at home where in times of trouble I would lift the lid, breathe in the perceived memories it held and feel my grandmothers comforting presence. And I would paint those emotions with words in my stories and colour them in until I was gliding free again.


What I enjoy about the written word is the emotions and memories it invokes. I like to touch a story with all my senses, to taste the emotions and feel them in my core. Life goes by at such a fast pace we sometimes forget to make the time to just be and exist in that perfect moment where imagination has no limits and the only thing which exists is the slow beating of a butterflys wings.



Thank you, Bodicia for sharing your story.  And while the PINK SOFA absorbs these words of truth and prepares to copy them into its next book, a quick reminder of Bodicia's review site: http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com/ where you can read lovely reviews like this
Meanwhile, Bodicia will be here for a while to chat and hand out chocolates - if she hasn't scoffed them all.....

ccc

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Borrowers: Plot Pinching for Beginners




As a writer of historical fiction, it is terribly incumbent upon me to be historically accurate at all times and in all details. Failure to do so means that my book will get picked on by some critic who is, say, an expert on the colour of paving stones in Camden High Street in 1860 - yes, I'm sure such a person is alive and well and badly needs to get out more.

Said person will then go and post a one star review on Amazon or Goodreads saying how my failure to get this right has spoiled their entire enjoyment of the book, and they are now in therapy and having to receive counselling to get over it. You think I jest?

There are various sources of information available to the historical writer.. and I have blogged about them before, so am not going to repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that any writer who relies on Wikipedia as their main research tool needs to be placed in a dark padded room and have cold week-old custard poured over them until they learn the error of their ways.

What interests me, as I carry on the task of researching amputations, pawn shops and workhouses for the sequel to Diamonds & Dust, is the way I start seeing how contemporary writers of the time have ''borrowed'' other writers' material for their own novels.

For instance, in the second paragraph of Diamonds&Dust, I wrote: ''The devil slips a diamond ring on his taloned finger..and steps out to take the air''. The phrase was 'borrowed' and slightly adapted from an essay on London at night by Charles Dickens .... but Dickens himself ''borrowed'' it from fellow writer George Sala, and it was used again by Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of both men. See how it works?

And boy, did it work for Dickens! I have just bought an amazing book, now labelled Victorian CSI - presumably to attract potential readers, though anyone apart from strange, OCD writers like me would not really be interested. It is a facsimile of an 1844 manual called Principles of Forensic Medicine, by William Guy, David Ferrier and William R.Smith.

It is a fascinating read, aimed at the medical officers who attended crime scenes or were called as witnesses in law courts. It was updated as new procedures, cases and drugs came to public attention, and I am sure Conan Doyle, with his medical background, read and used it copiously. Sherlock Holmes is the ultimate detective/forensic expert.

I promise to regale you with some of the enlightening information on poisons, putrefaction and post-mortem appearances on a need-to-know basis. However, what first struck me were the chapters on recognizing unusual deaths, especially the section on Death by Spontaneous Combustion. Reading it, I thought how familiar it sounded. It was as if I'd read it somewhere before. I had. A quick check of Dickens' novel Bleak House (publ.1853)  turned up Mr Krook, who dies by spontaneous combustion. Apart from excluding some of the more specialist medical terminology, the description is identical to that in the manual.

So next time you, as reader, think: I'm sure I read that somewhere else, the chances are you probably did. 'Borrowing' appears to be a conscious or unconscious part of the creative process. And will one of the characters in the sequel to Diamonds&Dust die by spontaneous combustion? Gentle blog reader, you'll just have to wait and see ....


If you would like to read a sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.




Saturday, 22 March 2014

Things I Have Learned Recently



By 'eck our Cyril, this grandmothering lark is hard work, nah then sithee lad. You think you know what you are doing because you were discovered in possession of a baby many years ago, but guess what? That was in the Bygone Era. Things have changed. It is a wonder that any baby survived in those far off days, what with being put down on their sides, unswaddled and not monitored for constant breathing activity.

The first thing you learn as a new grandmother is how little you know. Actually you know nothing - well no, you know an awful lot but that was then and this is now. The word on the street is: shut up. Those of you who are on more than just blog-reading acquaintance with me will appreciate how difficult it is not to chip in with My Opinion every few minutes. I am learning. (If you would like to read the ''Letter' I wrote to my lovely granddaughter on her birth, you can do so here )

The baby is nearly four weeks old and there have been some very funny incidents. As part of the ''baby box'' I made, I bought a lovely grey bodysuit with bones on it. Skeleton Baby - hahaha. What neither I nor DD realised was that the bones glowed in the dark. Slight shock then to awake at 2am and spot a small luminous-boned figure lying next to her. Help, my baby's gone radioactive. That was the same night New Dad had the dream that the baby was stuck on the ceiling, sat bolt upright in bed and tried to get her down.

Away from the babyfest, my Harpenden Independent Partnership - possibly fielding two candidates in the upcoming District Council Elections in May, have started campaigning. We have brilliant leaflets, thanks to Designer Dave who did my book cover. Sadly, as we are self-funding, we do not have enough brilliant leaflets, so are only able to cover one ward completely and one partially.

It is the first time ever there have been two truly Independent candidates possibly standing here and not before time either. There is one councillor who calls himself independent, but it is more a case of: kicked-out-of-the-Tories-for-being-a-pain-in-the-arse rather than truly Independent as we are.

The scale of countrywide ''corruption'' in local government is jaw-dropping. Our two people recently attended a training day, where they met others hoping to get elected in May. One lady disclosed that she was fighting a greenbelt development on her doorstep where the head of the council was also on the board of the development company. Same political party as the one that holds sway here, funnily enough.

I haven't leafletted since before my Town Green Application went to Public Inquiry and had forgotten how interesting it was. A re-learning experience in so many ways. I now have painful scrapes on my fingers from letterbox bite-back. Also slight knee pain from bending down to stuff leaflets through low-lying letter boxes. And at least 2 leaflets were Consumed by Dogs.

But the response has been heartening. So many people have said they will vote for us. Including Harpenden's only known Communist. I know a verbal promise isn't worth the paper it's written on, but we have taken note of their addresses and like Arnie, We Will Be Back on polling day. Yes indeed.


If you would like to read a sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian murder mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

An Attack of the Freebie-Jeebies

Picture c/o Herts Advertiser


So once again your friendly local writer has been asked by somebody to ''donate'' a book to a blog giveaway. This is happening more and more and I am getting a tad fed up of it. There is too much wanting summat for nowt out there, as my late Yorkshire father-in-law might have said.

As some of you know, I have my own views on the ''Free book/Ebook'' promotion thing. My views being that it creates the expectation in readers that something you sweated blood over for years is worth less than a small cappuccino. Happy to retweet your promo if you insist on doing it because you are a friend, but Hell will freeze over before I voluntarily choose to join you. And from what I gather, some of the nastiest reviews on Amazon come from people who acquired your book for nothing. Go figure.

Interestingly, in one of those plot lulls that occur at about 42 thousand words, I sat down last week and actually worked out my hourly rate if I were to regard writing as a business, and pay myself a wage from what I bring in via book sales. Let us just say that there is no way I shall be awarding myself a £3 million bonus at the end of this financial year.

What I think some of the freebie people fail to realise (if they are not writers themselves) is that the cover price for a book falls far short of what the writer of the book actually receives. (For breakdown on earnings, see post on Agents here). Currently the selling price of the paperback edition of Diamonds&Dust (£6.99), after all necessary bookshop discounts, supplier discounts, printer discounts and contractual obligations have been taken off barely gives me 44p a copy. Shocked? Thought you might be.

Entirely self-published writers are slightly different, but are unlikely to charge as much as ''publisher'' published books. Unless they are very well established. By which time they have probably been snapped up by a publisher anyway. Mind, all our books are discounted on Amazon, so you are unlikely to ever pay the full price should you go down that purchasing route.

There seems to be this myth abroad that writers write for the sheer love of writing (we do) and that somehow, that should be sufficient reward in itself. Sadly gentle blog reader, it is not so. Food, heating, petrol and life generally impinges upon the creative impulse, bringing with it terrible thoughts of maybe throwing in the literary towel and getting a job in Asda to make ends meet.

So at the risk of someone pasting a label saying Mrs Curmudgeon on my forehead, let me reiterate: I will not hand out books to all and sundry like sweeties because right now, I can't even afford sweeties. If you want to read my work (and I'd be honoured if you did) BUY it!

I don't ask or expect my plumber/electrician nor the lovely consultant who performed my 2 cancer operations to work for free. Nor should you, dear readers, expect writers to do so either.

If you'd like to sample Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.


Friday, 7 March 2014

The PINK SOFA welcomes Val Poore





Right then. Carol's off doing very important granny things, so she's asked me to hold the fort - or rather hold the turret up here in the ivory magnificence of Hedges Towers.
It's just you, me and the Pink Sofa. That's right. So...now we've snuggled up together, I'm going to tell you all a story. Yes, a proper story.

Now...many of you know I spend an inordinate amount of time sploshing about in boats and talking to the ducks. Indeed, I've spent so much time doing this, I've even managed to write two books about it, so it'll come as quite a surprise to you all to know that I loathe being wet, detest being cold and the worst thing of all is a combination of the two. So yes, you've got it. I...do...not...like...swimming. At all! But you live on a barge, I hear you say. Very true, I reply, but I live on it and in it, not under or around it. That's for the ducks. Not me.

So...my story is about the time I got arrested by the Water Politie for supposedly trying to hurl myself off a bridge in Rotterdam. Now keep what I have just told you about my predilection for keeping dry and this will make you laugh. It still has me chuckling and it's twelve years down the line.
The way it went was this: When I first came to Rotterdam, my erstwhile husband and I (sounds like the queen doesn't it? Only hers isn't erstwhile - not yet anyway. Neither is mine, actually. He's just not mine anymore) decided to buy a barge to fix up. Which we did. A very beautiful and graceful one it was too. 

Now he and a few others went off to collect said barge from a harbour in Amsterdam, but because I had to go to work, I couldn't go too. The arrangement was that they would let me know when and at what time they were approaching Rotterdam and I would go down to the river to see them in. The other part of the plan was that they would pull in close to the river wall before sailing into the harbour, and I would jump on board and do the last half a kilometre with them - just for the fun of it.

Well that was all well and good as a plan. In practice, it didn't happen that way.
The thing is it was late November, so the evenings were dark. Added to that, my husband and his crew were late. By the time I got the call to go down to the river, it was already about eight o'clock. And very cold.

So, I wrapped up warm, but just in case I emptied all my pockets of anything of value. I was going to jump on board the barge, see, so I thought I'd better not have anything that I didn't want to lose just in case I dropped it or things fell out of my pockets.
Please note that at no time whatsoever did I think of anything like going swimming either accidentally or on purpose.
So, off I trekked down to the riverside. I found my way to the appointed place, a quayside next to the harbour entrance (see pic - Imagine me on opposite bank), and there I waited - in the dark.

It was pretty darn cold, I have to say, so I started pacing up and down on the quay, every now and then peering over the edge to see if I could see any barge lights approaching. Nix, nada, nothing. Not for ages. I waited and waited and paced and paced.

But then I did see some lights. A boat was coming hurtling towards me at great speed. As it approached, I saw it was a police launch. Then I saw another one and they both seemed to be inordinately interested in me. I was a bit worried. Maybe they thought I was - you know - a lady of ill repute. I tried moving along the quay, but they followed me. And then back again. Then after walking away from the side a bit, I noticed they just stayed put, which unnerved me even more. Why oh why were they watching me?
After playing 'follow me' up and down the quay for a few more minutes, I decided enough was enough. 

Our new barge was nowhere in sight, so I thought I'd better just go back to the harbour and wait there. Anything was better than this rather disturbing standoff. I waving jauntily at the water cops (hoping they'd be happy to see me go), backed up the steps quickly, ran across the road and headed back along one of the harbours.

No sooner had I gone fifty yards or so, than a couple of police vans came screaming up the road towards me. Then another one came from behind and blow me down, a whole regiment of policeman leapt out and grabbed my arms.

The ensuing conversation was too bizarre for words:
"Good evening, mevrouw," said one. "Can I see your ID?"
"Why?" said I.
"Well, mevrouw, we had a report from a bus driver that a woman was trying to jump off the Erasmusbrug."
"Really? Well that wasn't me."
"But you were there, yes?"
"Yes, but I was waiting for someone...coming by boat."
"By boat." Note cop's first cynical grin.
"Yes." Note my earnest affirmation.
"So why were you waiting there for a boat, mevrouw, there's no, how you say, jetty there."
"No," said I, "I was going to ju...." 
Oops. Better shut up now.
"You were going to what?"
"Erm, I was going to...er...join them on board."
"Where is your ID, mevrouw?
"I'm sorry, I don't have it with me because I was going to ju..... join them, that's it...join them...and I didn't want to risk ...."
Note cop's second cynical grin.
"And you weren't going to jump in the river?"
"No. It's true," I said. "Look," I went on frustrated now, "Anyone who knows me will tell you I'd never do that. Never!"
"But we don't know you, mevrouw, and the bus driver said..."
 "Look, I don't care what he said. Why don't I phone my husband and you can speak to him. He'll tell you. I would NEVER do that!"
"Do you have a phone, mevrouw?"
"Erm...no...I left it at home...with my ID..."
"Because you were NOT going to jump in the river. Is that right mevrouw?" I blushed.

By this time I was surrounded by about ten policeman, all vying with each other to hold on to me and make sure I didn't make a break for it and hurl myself into the adjacent canal. If only they'd known. I would never, ever, top myself that way. Far too cold, wet and uncomfortable.

But in the end, though, one of them had a phone and so I was able to give him my husband's number to call. I wasn't allowed to speak to him myself. Oh no. They had to do it. Hubby, of course, thought it was an absolute hoot, and nearly got me locked up for a lark, but in the end, he confirmed my story. 

Apparently he'd come into the harbour from the other end, but he'd forgotten to tell me. Brilliant eh? The upside was that the police gave me a lift to the harbour, still not really trusting that I wasn't going to go late night skinny dipping.

So this, friends, was my baptism into the world of the Oude Haven. Fortunately for the cops and for me, it wasn't a wet one, but I'll never forget that's how it all began.

Okay, Carol's fans, story time is over. The Pink Sofa and I are now going to partake of some tea and cheesecake - pink cheesecake - but if any of you would like to read some more of my stories about life in the Oude Haven, click on the link below. My two books, Watery Ways and my new release, Harbour Ways are full of anecdotes from my barging life.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harbour-Ways-Valerie-Poore-ebook/dp/B00II55G26/ref=la_B008LSV6CE_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393187945&sr=1-5

Here's my blog too:
http://waterways.blogspot.com
And my twitter handle is https://twitter.com/vallypee




Friday, 28 February 2014

F, 63, GSOH.



So I'm idling through the Guardian's 'Soulmates' column, as you do because it has good adjectives, and I am struck by the number of ladies and gentlemen who are looking for love - or possibly romance, friendship, affection, a good time, adventure, passion or felicity (yup, copied that last from someone's ad.)

Which makes me think that nothing really changes, does it? In preparation for the sequel to Diamonds & Dust, which is all about the Victorian search for the perfect man, I have just finished reading a brilliant book called Shapely Ankle Preferr'd  by Francesca Beauman. It is the history of the Lonely Hearts Ad from 1695-2010. Yes, that is not a typo.

Admittedly I know I am lucky in that Beloved Husband and I have been married for 39 years come this September, and although those of you who know us well would say that in our case it is definitely Mr Chalk wed Ms Cheese, we go along amicably and are looking forward to growing even older together. We still make each other laugh. A lot. In his case, every time I open my mouth and say something about football.

Others do not have such good fortune. 'Good fortune' being the critical attribute. To snare Mr Right in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not so much GSOH as ''Comeliness, Prudence, and 5 or 600l. in Money, Land or Joynture'' that would guarantee you an admirer quicker than you could say knife. Or wife.

By the 1800's, there were fifty-three newspapers all containing lonely heart ads of one sort or another. I was fairly gobsmacked at the audacity of one advertiser who wrote: ''A young man wants a wife with two or three hundred pounds; or the money will do without the wife - whoever will advance it shall have 5%'' (Daily Advertiser) Not for nothing did Jane Austen pen those famous words at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice that: 'a young man in possession of a good fortune ... must be in want of a wife.'

In a way, I guess we are more fortunate (sic) in that money does not feature quite so prominently in today's search for love, though I'm sure it lurks behind the scene, gurning happily. Even so, it is sad that in our digital, well connected age, when we are all supposed to be only 6 steps away from each other (or possibly 6 feet away from the nearest rat, can't remember, but maybe not inapposite, given the topic) that there are still so many lonely folk around.

And oh my, so many over 60's! Maybe I'll hang on to Beloved Husband for a bit longer. I can't see anyone going for: Totally batty writer (63) likes cake, cats, 2CVs and prosecco. Knows absolutely zip about football ...  can you?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Do Writers Need Agents?


It's a question I get asked. It's a question I see asked frequently on social media sites. So here is my 'take' on the agent dilemma. Please read this with the mindset that I am one writer, with my own views and experience. You may disagree. Feel absolutely free to do so.

I began writing without an agent. My first 7 books (counting from the bottom of the book pile up) were just submitted on a wing and a prayer. Then three books in, OUP decided I was not selling in sufficient amounts to warrant another contract, and closed the door. At which point a writer friend kindly suggested I try their agent, and even more kindly effected an introduction. As I had a track record, the agent (a big London based one) agreed to represent me. I was thrilled. More thrilled when my agent managed to place a book with Usborne.

But four Spy Girl books later, it started sliding downhill. The agent failed to place the next 4 books. They seemed to be taking an age to read them initially. I got sent no feedback from publishers on why they'd rejected my work (essential for redrafting and improving). I began to wonder whether my books were, in fact, being sent out ... trust started eroding. The final ''straw'' was the complete rejection of Diamonds&Dust - the agent saying it was in essence a load of rubbish, not worth even sending out on spec. We parted. I placed the book with Crooked Cat Books. It came out in December last year and is already up for two major literary awards. You can read its reviews on Amazon for yourself

That's my story. I would never trust my work to an agent again. However, we are talking you ... so:

Good reasons to have an Agent:

* You will never be able to submit to the BIG publishers, who won't take unsolicited manuscripts

*  You will have someone to negotiate contracts, advise on your future trajectory and manage any monies.

Reasons why you do not need one

* Agents take between 10% to 15% of  your earnings (and you are unlikely to earn more than 40% of the published price of your book anyway).

* ALL writing that you want to be published has to be submitted via them and is subject to contractual obligations (see above).

* You have to trust that they are submitting your stuff to the ''right'' publisher, chasing responses and keeping on top of things.

* There is no guarantee of publication. You may find the best agent on the block, who fulfills all your requirements, but big publishers are courted by many many agents.

*Agents are not there for you. They are there primarily to make money for their agency. As your sales drop, or they can't place your books, their interest wanes (that, in essence, was my story).

Indie publishers (now, along with self-publishing, the future for a large % of writers) will take unsolicited submissions and are happy to deal directly with a writer - and in this day and age are unlikely to hand you a bad contract: if you are unsure, the Society of Authors can be contacted for help.

Lest you are thinking: Ah, but once I have my agent, and they have secured my fabulous five book deal with a top publisher, everything will be roses, prosecco and candyfloss, let me introduce a final cautionary note. I was recently speaking to a very well known and popular writer on Facebook. The sort of writer you and I envy for her success. She candidly confessed that she is not sure she will secure another contract with her current publisher. And her agent is not replying to her emails.

Do you need an agent? I'd say that if you are good enough to be taken on by one, you probably don't.

If you'd like to read a free sample of my book Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Water, Water Everywhere!

River Lea at Batford, Harpenden, flooding into the leat (courtesy of Natalie Edwards)

It seems never ending. This time last year we were all up to our knees in snow, and I got frostbite trying to back a borrowed transit out of a tight space (you can read all about it here) Now we are all being flooded by endless rain, and although we are not seeing devastation anything like other parts of the country, we are seeing areas of land covered with water that have not been before.

The area above (River Lea flooding into the leat at Batford) is just a hop and a jump from a run down industrial estate that a local developer wants to build on (the same developer that will build on Westfield allotments if planning permission is ever granted, remember this?) Local people, in a laughable ''consultation process'', suggested some of the things they'd like to see if planning permission were granted. A surgery, a chemist, a community meeting point, a post office and a cafe being high on their bucket-list. Bless. Of course the developer has rejected this, because, let's face it, it won't generate enough profit, and instead has put in for offices, flats and a paltry amount of ''affordable housing''.

The Environmental Agency has now designated the whole locality an area of high flooding risk (see pic, they're not wrong). The developer has insisted they will put in mitigation strategies. Which, translated into reality means that at some point, they will go back to the council and say that the cost of the strategies is so high that they won't be able to build the ''affordable'' houses after all. That's how it works. And the Town Council, which seems to be in thrall to its own arrogance as well as to any large developer ... will roll over and let them renege on the agreement. That is also how it works.

And the whole area will continue to flood. But who cares? Money will have been made. No face will have been lost. That's what's important to the Tory mindset, seemingly. I have been sickened by the pictures of terrified farm animals being herded into lorries and driven away on the Somerset levels. More sickening still is the ''blame game'' now being played by the same government ministers who cut the flood defence budget, took money away from the Environment Agency, reduced staffing levels, denied climate change was a real prospect, sold off the dredging equipment, and now are finger pointing like the heartless uncaring offspring of unwed mothers that they are.

It should never be forgotten that this government also relaxed the planning laws in the face of severe pressure from the building lobby, making it easier for ruthless greedy developers to build upon flood plains. And urban green spaces. The one I'm trying to defend has been happily soaking up the rain like nobody's business, so we only suffered some flooding behind my house, but it will contribute considerably to local flooding if/when it is entirely tarmacked over. We look forward with dread to Winters of sandbags and misery.

The climate may change, the Tory mindset at all levels does not.