Saturday, 26 July 2014

The PINK SOFA welcomes Rosalind Adam

Rosalind Adam is a Twitter friend, fellow blogger, fellow ex-teacher, writer and researcher. She has cats, a great sense of humour and is always there to support and encourage her friends. I am extremely lucky to have met her, and count her as one of my inner circle. So when she announced that she had a new children's book out on Richard the Third, the PINK SOFA, who is in the throes of updating its ''Sofas & Upholstery Through The Ages'' book, insisted she had to pay a visit to the Writing Attic.

''Thank you, Carol, for inviting me onto your squelchy pink sofa. It’s… erm… very pink, isn’t it! And I see you’ve provided a glass of mead to loosen my tongue. *Slurp* Delicious! *hic*

Thank you for your kind words about my new book. I must admit that I’ve had so many positive responses from people since The Children’s Book of Richard III was published but it wasn’t always that way. It is so frustrating that mainstream publishers don’t have the vision to support this kind of project.

When I first had the idea to write a children’s Richard III, I approached the publisher of my Children’s History of Leicester. They couldn’t commit to it. I wrote submissions to all the usual mainstream publishers. Nothing. Even our local literary agent tried but failed to get it placed.

It took the conviction of a children’s bookshop owner, Lynn Moore from The Reading Shop, Oadby, Leicester, to see that this was a highly marketable idea. She put up the money and, in effect, became my publisher. It was the beginning of an excellent business partnership. I settled down to write the book and, being an ex-primary school teacher, I sprinkled in a little science, two sides of an argument, some detective work and I even included a bit of creative writing; a post-battle interview with Leicester’s very own Witch of Daneshill.

Now all I needed was an illustrator and thanks to Twitter I soon found one. Andrea Povey, known on Twitter as @Richard1483, mentioned, during a casual Twitter chat that her daughter, Alice Povey, had recently graduated from university with a degree in illustration, specializing in children’s book illustrations. I knew then that I’d found our illustrator. Isn’t Twitter amazing!

The exciting part of self-publishing was that Alice and myself were free to develop the book in our own way. Lynn took a back seat at this stage, her contribution coming into its own with the checking and proofreading. There were so many things that we had to learn; registering for ISBN numbers, creating the correct number of spreads, liaising with printers, but by far the biggest task is selling and distributing. We made the decision not to put the book on Amazon. I know that a lot of people find Amazon quick and easy to use but Amazon do not offer a fair deal. After working so hard to produce the book why should we let Amazon take the biggest share of the money and leave us with mere pence per book? If everyone accepts Amazon’s terms then, sooner or later, they will destroy all the bookshops, certainly here in the UK, and that would be a truly sad day for us all.

The book is available from The Reading Shop at but, if you would rather not buy online, a friendly salesperson will take your order and arrange for the book to be delivered by ringing 0116 2717077 during working hours.

Ooh! Carol! I see you’ve already got a copy. Hand it over and I’ll sign it for you. Thank you so much for having me on your very pink sofa. There is just one more thing. I hope you don’t mind me asking but have you got any more of this delicious mead? *hic*''

While mead refilling takes place, you can contact Ros via Twitter @RosalindAdam, check out her blog: or befriend her via Facebook.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

More Twitter for Fledglings: Followers & Following

This is the second in a series of occasional short posts in response to requests from some Crooked Cat writers who are about to launch themselves into Twitter or who are finding it a tad perplexing to get to grips with. You can read the first post, Getting Started  here. This week, having got our Twitter page set up and running, we're going to look at how to acquire Followers, and how and who to Follow.

The first thing the fledgling will notice as they step out into Twitter is that everybody else has FAR more Followers than they have. Some have more than the population of a small Middle Eastern country. This can be disconcerting, but do not be discouraged. Many of these people have been on Twitter for years. And they all started out exactly where you are now. So, let's Tweet ...

A Basic Tweet Guaranteed To Get A Response

Morning/Afternoon/Evening + comment on the weather + comment on what you are doing/eating + question about what they are doing/eating.

Within a few seconds, someone will have Tweeted a reply. You then reply back .... and there you are.
Conventional wisdom would now say: FOLLOW THEM. But I am going to go against conventional wisdom. This is my advice - and it applies to everyone who Follows you:


My publisher
Click on their profile pic.
Click on 'Go to full profile' and scroll down at least 18 tweets. Do not follow if:
1.They only tweet links to their own books.
2. They never seem to chat or engage with anybody.
3. They hold extreme views that you do not share.
3. They retweet links to things you may not want to see reappear on your twitter feed or be seen by your potential readers, such as weird stuff/explicit pornography.

Remember, as a writer, you are a ''brand''. If you have a publisher, you are also part of their ''brand''. It is incumbent upon you to ensure that you do not lose your or their 'rep'. If you check my Amazon page you will see that I write mainly teen and YA books. I have a lot of underage kids following me, plus their parents. I therefore have to be careful whom I follow and what I retweet (a future blog). So I don't engage with people whose site content I deem inappropriate, or whose comments I find offensive.

OK, so you've checked them out, and they seem fine. Click on Follow. You can now, if you wish, click on their Followers or Following icons and find other people. The words ''avid reader'' should get your antennae twitching. Remember the 'check them out' procedure and adhere to it. You can also check out Twitter's  'Who To Follow' list on the left of your screen.

For a more specific search, you can go to the 'Search Twitter' box at the top right of your tool bar and find people in your genre. Use a hashtag #. Type #Crime or #YA etc. Do any of these things for 10 minutes every day and you will soon build up a good list.

If/when someone follows back, spend a few seconds acknowledging. Make it personal.
 Thanks + name + liked XXX in your bio + comment about me + question about weather/life/work/part of world they live in.

Finally, there are loads of links and sites on Twitter promising to get you 1000's of followers free or for a small amount of money. Forget it. Do not buy Followers. Ever. Better to build your own list. Your Twitter account,when used correctly will generate its own Followers. Just give it time and work at making it work.

Next post in a few weeks' time will look at varying content, and other ways of connecting with people. Meanwhile if you have anything to add to this specific topic, please share it.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Twitter for Fledglings: Getting Started

My publisher
Recently I was asked by some Crooked Cat writers who are just launching themselves onto Twitter for the first time, or have not found it as easy as they thought, to share my tips and advice on how to use Twitter. At their prompting, this is the first in a series of short blog posts. Frankly, I am NOT an expert so I will be referencing other people from time to time. Nor do I have the definitive answer.

There are as many ways to use Twitter as there are people using Twitter. Please read on quickly as I'm not sure that analogy worked. Whatever. I hope that those visiting these blogs who are far more expert than I am will chip in with their comments. On Twitter, I've traveled the world, met fascinating people, made good friends and sold an awful lot of books. I love it, and if I can get you, the fledgling to love it too, then it's mission accomplished. For this first post, we are going to look at setting up your Twitter site.

Getting Set Up
There are 3 areas to consider: Your Avi, your Mini-bio and your Header pic.

1.Your Avi
This is the thumbnail picture of you and it is important as it is the first thing people will see. I strongly advise you, unless you are wanted by the police in every known country, continent or galaxy, to use a picture of your face, NOT an egg, a pet,or your kids. Preferably a high res. pic, and with you looking vaguely pleasant and sentient. I do my best, you can do better. As close up as you can get and with an uncluttered background, as it's quicker to spot you. Twitter allows you to zoom, position and crop the picture, which makes it easier.

Some people use their book covers as their Avi. I wouldn't. The reduction is so small it becomes insignificant. Save that for the Header pic. Obviously, there are exceptions to the ''full face''. My friend @JonGardener has a picture of an eye on a red background. It looks scary, but fits in with the fast-paced high-action sci-fi ebooks he writes.

2.Your Mini-bio
This is the second thing people will turn to, so again, it is worth spending time getting it right. Here are three examples to start you thinking.

Getting nowhere slowly. Artist, writer, poet, barn-owl lover and aspiring Spaniard. Novels - Fraud, Simone Simone

Romantic Husband, Heroic Dad, Maker of Mischief and Purveyor of Utter Tripe. Interesting past. Now the author of The Michael Prentiss series of thrillers.

Writer & blogger. Victorian novel: Diamonds&Dust publ Crooked Cat Books. Outspoken local activist. Love 2CVs, cats & cake. Amazon page: 

You will see they all have certain traits in common: First, they define what the person does i.e Writer... artist. This is important as you want, among other things, to draw people to your books. Next, they give you an idea of the person behind the pic: barn-owl lover, Heroic Dad, Outspoken local activist. All these will attract like-minded or curious people. Finally, they reference actual books/sites. The professional bit, but, you notice, stowed away amid the rest of the bio.

I suggest before composing your final bio, you go onto Twitter and read as many as you can. You will soon pick out the duff ones. And remember, nothing is set in stone. My bio underwent several drafts before I settled on the current one. And I will change it again when the new book comes out.

3.Your Header pic
This is the chance to draw attention to your books in a colourful and attractive manner. There are some lovely examples of Twitter header pics that do just this. Check out @TerryTyler4  - I don't know how she assembled it, but I'm sure if you ask, she'll tell you. Lovely and bright and eye-catching.

If you don't want to use your covers, try to relate the picture to your books in some way. I have what a friend kindly describes as a 'dodgy Victorian knocking-shop' as I write Victorian crime fiction (@carolJhedges). Again, Twitter will size up the picture to fit the space, so all you need do is decide what you want. It's your shop-window, so make it the best you can. Experiment. And if you don't like it, you can easily change it for something else.

Once you are set up, you are ready for Following people and acquiring Followers. We'll consider those two topics in the next post.

OK, if you have anything helpful to suggest on setting up a site, or if there is anything obvious that I've forgotten, please add it here ....

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Pink Sofa welcomes Jo Carroll

There are some people who are so amazing that I stand back in awe and wonder! Jo is one of those people. We met on Twitter (where else). Jo has brought up 4 children on her own, and now, free of domestic duties (tho' a devoted grandma) she is a traveller. Jo goes to wonderful places in the world, and then shares her adventures on her blog and in her books. The header pic tells you all you need to know about her! The Pink Sofa is in awe, and is contemplating abandoning its latest oeuvre: More Upholstery for Beginners in favour of a travel book. I have told it that Travels Round The Writing Attic may not have the same appeal as Jo's marvellous books. It remains unconvinced.

In honour of Jo's visit, there is rum and coffee and Cuban Shortbread Cookies on the coffee table.So, lovely lady, the sofa is yours:

Goodness, a seat on the Pink Sofa – I’m honoured. (If I’m very good, do you think she’ll give me cake?) Many thanks to Carol for letting me creep in and tell you about my travels. 

For those of you I’ve not met before, I need to tell you that these aren’t any old travels. After thirty years in Child Protection I threw all thoughts of work in the air, bought a rucksack, sold my car, found a tenant for my house, abandoned my children and went off for a year. What I didn’t know, when I bought my round-the-world ticket, is that not many middle-aged women do that.

So when I came home I wrote a book about it. Well, there were far too many stories to tell and far too few people listening to them.

Then I went off again. I no longer try to understand what this wanderlust is about. I simply recognize days when I dream of hot streets and dust, of the screech if cicadas or the smell of incense, of the roar of tigers or sips of tiger beer – and know it’s time to get the passport out again.

And why would I stop writing? Most winter trips have been followed by a little ebook. So episodes like my drive down the Siddhartha Highway after a cyclone could become a funny story (even though it was truly terrifying at the time). I could share my efforts to understand the horrors of years of bombing in Laos.

Last winter I went to Cuba. I’ve written about this trip with some trepidation. I was given so much advice before I left: it seemed that Cuba provoked strong opinions and anyone who has been there needed to share theirs. But my Cuba is not their Cuba. I don’t pretend to draw conclusions from such a complicated country. But I have found the story of my trip, in all its wonderfulness and contradictions, the teased it into another ebook entitled VULTURES OVERHEAD.

It has a cover: 

And a blurb:

It’s time for JO CARROLL to pack her rucksack again, and this time she’s heading west, to Cuba.Everyone, it seems, has been to Cuba, or wants to go to Cuba, or knows about it. Cuba, they insist, is on the brink of change. A market economy will finally see off the old cars and rationing. They’ve been saying that for decades. But what face does Cuba present to a tourist in 2014?
She finds salsa, of course, and cigars, and wonderful coffee. But what surprises wait for her when the music stops?

There are pictures on my website here.

This time I’ll not stop there. I know many people who have asked me to produce print books. I’ve resisted that so far, as the ebooks are small and readers could rightly be miffed about being asked to pay a book-price for something so small.

But I now have three ebooks from my last trips. Put together, they are print-book length. So give me a week or several, and you can read about my travels in a ‘real book’. 

Jo can also be found on Twitter @jomcarrroll

Thanks Jo. You are and hopefully will continue to be an inspiration. Right....while Jo has a coffee and a Cookie, it's over to you......

Saturday, 28 June 2014


A change is as good as a rest they say and with this in mind, we have now changed the racy 2-door blue Alfa Romeo for a reliable red 4 door Volvo (with child seat in rear). It is as it says on the tin. Solid, dependable, Swedish and starts with one of those funny block things. The Alfa was none of those. It was an Italian car, and so was built for the wide open Italian roads, where the sun shines down, and the breeze gently blows and where it bowls along at speed with Volare by Dean Martin on the sound system. What it got instead was rain, snow, slush and potholes you could go caving in.

The Alfa used to express its dissatisfaction by continually going wrong, and informing us in no uncertain terms of how it felt. Every time we set off, a series of crisis alerts came up on the dashboard: Rear left sidelight not working, we were informed. Motor control system failure, we were told. Front headlight not working. And so on and so on. And that was on top of the Possible ice on the road and other potential weather hazards that it felt it had to warn us about. Why it couldn't just come straight out with it and say: I hate this sodding country, I never knew, but over the years we had it, its discontent cost us enough to keep a small African township in food for a year.

The other way the car let us know it was unhappy was via the parking sensor. Every time BH backed it into a parking space, or up the drive, a small squat evil Italian Mama clad in black waved her gnarled finger and shouted: No.. No..NONONONO! Or at least that's what it sounded like. My friend Elissa has a similar problem. Her car is one of those people carriers (she has 3 kids and a dog) and it has parking sensors on all sides. Parking it is like being attacked by a trio of smurf castrati.

A further problem with Elissa's car is the colour: it is metallic silver, like practically every car on the road nowadays which means whenever we go out, we almost always lose it in some multi-storey car park. The time we have wasted going from floor to floor, suddenly locating it, but then realizing at the last minute that it is not hers. We have even resorted to walking up and down pressing the key fob in the vain hope that it will beep and let us know where it is hiding - because honestly, that is what it feels like at times. The conspiracy of cars. I'm sure it exists.

My car on the other hand, is French and so it couldn't give a damn. You can kerb it, or park it askew, or scrape it along something, it just shrugs and goes tant pis. It also has this habit of taking on other cars, especially the 'baby on board' black land cruisers driven (badly) by the blonde yummy mummies who live in my town. I call them Harpies (a portmanteau word for Harpenden Mummies).

These behemoths are completely unsuitable for the narrowish streets that surround my house and my 2CV hates them. Seriously. Whenever we get into a confrontation on a bridge or up a hill, it simply refuses to go into reverse. Just waits, sneering with Gallic insouciance, until the other car is forced to back down. Or up. Nothing I can do, honest.

We are thinking of putting my car up as a candidate in next May's local Town Council elections, on the basis that it has no political affiliations, no loyalties to anybody, knows no developers, you can't bribe it and it does relatively little deliberate harm. Has to be an improvement on what we've currently got. And after all, if Caligula could make his horse a consul, I don't see why my car couldn't be a councillor, do you?

If you'd 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

Friday, 13 June 2014

HIPS & TATTS: A Meditation

A very frenetic time at Hedges Towers. Those who have been following the co-founding, launching and campaigning of my little local group of indies ... see blog I wrote here, might like to know that we came a respectable fourth in my ward - some confusion occurring as there were 2 Independent candidates standing (one of whom is a crypto-Tory) and a triumphant SECOND in East ward. And this on our very first outing!

Of course such successes could not be allowed to pass unremarked upon, and so Tory ex-Harpenden Town councillor Matthew Peck, who has never met me and wouldn't know me from a bar of soap but loathes me with a deep and abiding passion (yup, I'm baffled too), fired off yet another of his badly worded, grammatically incorrect splenetic rants to the local paper accusing us of being the equivalent of ''3 losers round a coffee table''.

This backfired rather badly, as various people then piled in pointing out that from a standing start one of our candidates got an extraordinary 30% of the vote, so it'd have to be a pretty big coffee table. I emailed the new Harpenden Town mayor, and invited her to distance herself from Mr Peck's drivel. She informed me that she had not met him since he left the council. Tellingly though, she did not openly disagree with his remarks. So much for ''I'm going to give you a voice on the council'', and other conciliatory comments made to us at the count.

Max doing first tattoo 
New tattoo
On the back of all this excitement, I decided to indulge in a second tattoo, so I now have wild and whirling words tattooed round my left wrist which (as if you didn't know) is from Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet. I also have a diamond break which references Diamonds&Dust. I have promised BH that this is my final tattoo so he has been very accommodating about it, given his dislike of tattoos, and we are still together. For now. Mind, he is in no position to kvetch, having accidentally cut through the cable of the electronic hedge cutter the other weekend -  the one I am banned from using in case I accidentally cut through the cable.

See, this is how we roll after 38 years of marriage. Occasionally we have fleetingly wondered what would happen if we weren't together, but we always conclude apart from the fact that, frankly, at our age and given our eccentricities, nobody in their right mind would want us, at the end of the day we do have a lot of fun. Generally at each other's expense, which is as good a basis for a long and happy marriage as any other.

Finally, another milestone has been reached: This blog has just passed its second birthday, an amazing feat given that it means I have written over 100 pieces since its inception in 2012. The thought of another 100 pieces is a tad daunting, I confess. Though as my intermittent Twitter troll remarked the other day: 'I've been reading a bit of your blog. I don't know why you bother.' 
He may have a point ...

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

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Blog Tag: My Writing Process

I am delighted to have been tagged by writer Chris Hill to write this post. Chris is a good friend of mine, and is the author of Song of the Sea God. His blog can be found at: and he is on Twitter @ChilledCH. He and I are both nominated for the e-Festival of Words, fortunately in different categories. Chris has a brilliant chocolate coloured cockapoo puppy called Murphy (see end of post), who sometimes appears on his Facebook page and definitely deserves a whole book to himself --hint,hint. 
So, on with the tagging:
What am I working on?
I'm currently working on the 3rd Victorian crime novel featuring Detective Inspector Leo Stride and his long suffering assistant Detective Sergeant Jack Cully. Readers met them first in Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, which is published by Crooked Cat Books.
From the outset I was pretty sure the book was a one-off, as it had a difficult birth, being rejected by my agent, and its genre, which could loosely be described as historical-pastiche-crime-comedy is not exactly to everybody's taste. Or so I thought.
Of course I was proved wrong. Readers fell in love with the characters and I was deluged with lovely reviews and pleas for another book. Thus a second book got written Honour&Obey, A Victorian crime thriller. This is currently being read by my publisher, and in the absence of anything better to do, I have begun a third book. I blame the readers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As already stated, the books have a slightly comic edge and reference contemporary writers of the period and styles of narrative. What I don't do is 'add' to an already popular strand as some writers have done with Jane Austen or Conan Doyle. The books stand alone, a homage to a period and a literary canon that I admire tremendously - even though I slightly take the p*** out of it at times.
As I'm not attempting to replicate one particular style, I can flit happily between styles, using the intrusive narrator device of Thackeray or Sterne, and the socio-political rantery of Dickens. It helps if you are familiar with Victorian writers and the way they write, but it is not a necessity. I hope.
The other way the books differ is that I write in one almost continuous narrative. There are pauses, but no specific chapters. I do this because the story unfolds from several perspectives, and it is easier to switch viewpoint by this method. Plus, I find it hard to write in 2 thousand word slices. I think it gives the story pace - certainly several reviewers have commented that they couldn't put the book down. Glue secreted on the pages also helps.
Why do I write what I do?
Well, on the surface, I am a nice kind person who helps old ladies across the road (normally they are me). However, behind this benign front lurks a deeply complex individual with a dark interior world that few dare venture into. This is the reason I love reading and writing crime fiction. Maybe it's something resonating from my past, this urge to slaughter people...who knows? All I can say is that the one occasion I tried my hand at chicklit, there was a body on the floor by the second chapter. And not in a good way. It is always said that you should never fall out with a crime writer, as they will inevitably kill you in their next book. In my opinion, this is quite true. Be warned.

How does your writing process work?
I usually start by researching specific areas that I think might be part of the final story. For Diamonds&Dust, it was the vampire scare of the early nineteenth century. For Honour&Obey, it was the ''lonely hearts'' columns that were a feature of many Victorian newspapers. I re-read lots of contemporary fiction writers. I then write little bits and pieces featuring characters. And over time, all these processes, fuelled by vast amounts of coffee, continue until a novel emerges. I have blogged about how I write here. It is very unsystematic, but all I can say is, hey, it works for me.
Thanks for the questions. Next up on the blog hop is Jeff Gardiner, a fellow Crooked Cat writer.Check his post at:
Don't forget, if you want to read a sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE.
Murphy the cockapoo

Friday, 30 May 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Nat Russo

Nat Russo is one of the many American writers/bloggers I've met via Twitter. Nat blogs about the ''How To's '' in a very succinct and practical way, which is why he is followed by so many people. What I like about him, apart from the free useful advice, is his willingness to help new writers to master the intricacies of the internet. He is very generous with his support and encouragement. And amazingly, if I ever send him a tweet, busy as he is, he always picks up and responds. OK, Nat the floor is yours... ooh and there are donuts and Americanos on the coffee table for later.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Those of you who have followed me for some time on my various media outlets will recall how adamant I've been about traditional publishing. Until the end of 2013 I was absolutely convinced I would be querying agents and publishers for an indefinite period of time, collecting rejection slips like they were going out of style.

Not anymore. My thoughts on the subject have completely changed, and I'd like to tell you why.

Defining Success
I've long held that you should never allow another person to define success for you. What it means to be a successful writer, to me, has changed dramatically over the last two years. I've been writing for decades, but I didn't "come out" with my writing until 2012, and I did so with a lot of fear and trembling.

Fear I wouldn't be good enough.
Fear I wouldn't be accepted because I had no publications under my belt.
Fear my stories would never be read.

But at the core of all of this was acceptance. All my life, for one reason or another, I sought activities that placed me in the spotlight (community theater, singing in a barbershop quartet, high school choir, playing guitar in a country band). Many thought this was because I was a showoff or an attention seeker. But they didn't see what was going on inside. 

I was trying to feel accepted, even if only for the moment in time when the music would stop and the applause would reverberate.

I won't bore you with all of the details, but I wasn't the most popular kid growing up. Queue the violins, I know. But it wasn't the "fade into the background" kind of unpopular. It was the "school is a combat zone" kind of unpopular. Until I was thirteen I was terrified of going to school in the morning. That all changed when I got involved in the martial arts, but the damage had been done. My self-image had already been determined. My worth . . . my success . . . was now based on how other people perceived me, and would remain so for quite some time.

Flash forward twenty years.

As I put myself "out there" with my writing, an amazing thing happened: people accepted me with open arms. Not only did an entire community of writers accept me without hesitation, but they openly encouraged me. I could feel them cheering for my success!

Then I realized something: My need for industry approval (i.e. a publishing deal with a major publisher) was no different than the need for peer acceptance that had defined most of my life. So I tried a thought experiment. I asked myself "how would you define success if industry acceptance was taken out of the equation?" This was my answer:

I would gauge success by the degree to which I failed or succeeded on my own terms.

That, in and of itself, was enough to sway me toward self-publishing. But I didn't stop there. I started researching more quantifiable reasons.

Book Stores Have Clocks . . . And They Tick.
The large brick and mortar book sellers can't afford to keep your book on the shelves forever (and that's if they buy it from the publisher at all, which isn't guaranteed just because you have a publishing contract). It takes up space that could be reserved for a best seller.

You have, in most cases, 30 days to prove your book will sell well. At the end of that first month, the book seller packages up all of the books he/she can't sell and sends them back to the publisher for a full refund. That's it. You're done.

The problem is that no one knows how to sell books. You heard me right. The only thing we know for certain is that word-of-mouth sells books far better than a display at a book store. But world-of-mouth takes time. And time is something a major book chain can't afford to give you.

Self-publishing removes the clock from the equation. It costs you nothing to leave your book on the virtual book shelf. Over time people will read and review your book. They'll mention it to friends, who will in turn buy it and recommend it to their friends. You are now in control of your own destiny, because writing a good story . . . a story that will generate word-of-mouth . . . is under your control.

Traditional Publishing ≠ Money
We're artists. We shouldn't be doing this for the money. I've heard the arguments, and I get it. While I place my art and creativity above any price, I'm not allergic to money either. After all, enough of the green stuff would mean I could potentially support myself off my writing. That's a dream of most writers, isn't it? Who among us wouldn't want to spend the lion's share of their time writing?

So let's talk money for a moment. [Note: I'll be taking numbers from David Gaughran's wonderful book on publishing, titled Let's Get Digital: How to Self-Publish And Why You Should. If you're struggling with this decision, I strongly recommend you read this.]

If you do manage to land a publishing contract, and your book is printed in hardback (the highest price of the lot), you're going to see about 12.5% royalties from each sale. Now, take into consideration that your agent is going to get 15% of that and you're now looking at slightly less than 11%. Don't get me wrong, the numbers are justified. I'm not suggesting anyone is being over or under paid here. Publishing is a business, and business has costs and overhead that can't be avoided.

You'll see a little more from a trade published e-book (approximately 17.5% royalties).

But here's the thing many writers don't consider when they're looking at these numbers: Only 20% of all books published ever earn out their advance. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

As a new writer your advance will hover somewhere around $5k, and definitely under $10k. (Sure, there's a chance your manuscript will be SO amazing that it will spark a bidding war. There's also a chance my next lottery ticket will allow me to call in "rich" the next day.) You only have a 1 in 5 chance of publishing a book that earns enough in sales to justify paying you royalties. That means the most you'll ever see off your work is probably going to be whatever advance you got. And don't forget to give your agent his/her 15% of that advance, by the way.

And before I forget, whatever the amount of your advance, you're not going to see all of it at once. That $5k advance may come to you in three payments spread out over 18 months.

Let's contrast this with self-publishing. A $2.99 sale on Amazon will pay you a 70% royalty amounting to $2.09. That $25 hard cover from a traditional publisher, on the other hand, will pay you a net $2.66 royalty (after agent's cut), and that's if you're lucky enough to have had your book earn out its advance.

The numbers for mass market paperback and other editions are even more dismal. Check out David Gaughran's book (linked above) for the details. There's far more covered in his book than I could ever hope to tackle here.

Will you make more from a traditional publisher? The hard cover number seems to indicate that. The answer is "it depends". If you're sitting on an absolute block buster, then chances are, right now, you'll make more from traditional publishing. If, on the other hand, you think your book is more likely destined for mid-list, I believe self-publishing may be more lucrative.

What Will the Publisher Bring to the Table?
If you're a "no name" writer who hasn't sold a bunch of books, the answer to that question is "very little".

Get visions of book signing tours in exotic locations out of your head right now. That doesn't happen unless you're willing to take off work and pay for it yourself. (And don't forget you'll have to do all of the event organizing yourself).

Get visions of dozens of copies of your book sitting in a large display in the center aisle at Barnes & Noble out of your head. Those spots are reserved for names people recognize, and names the book seller can usually guarantee will sell very well.

So, if you have to do all the work anyway, and you have to pay for your own events (including travel and lodging) are you still ok with taking a fraction of the royalty you'd see from self-publishing? Only you can answer that, because as I said above, money is not the only consideration.

Don't Hold Your Breath
As always, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, if you're going down the traditional publishing road, you'd better settle in for the long haul. When you begin the query process, it may take you upwards of a year or more to find an agent that's a good fit. When you find that agent, it could take him/her upwards of a year or more to find a buyer for your manuscript.

At that point, one of two things will happen:
1. Your agent may decide he/she can't sell your book due to "market conditions" or some other business reason. Maybe your manuscript doesn't quite fit into the acceptable pigeon holes and no one knows how to market it. Maybe the print market is saturated with your kind of story. Who knows? The end result is the same. You'll get a phone call saying "thanks for the memories", and you will have wasted 2-3 years where your story could have been finding its audience.

2. You sell your manuscript. Yay! At this point it gets slated for publication, which could be as much as 18 months or more from the date of sale. You'll get a third, or so, of whatever advance was agreed upon. Maybe half. Then, eventually, the book finds its way to book stores (if book shop owners agree to purchase it from the publisher's catalog). From here, in 80% of cases, that's it. You're done. Write something else and start submitting again. If you're in the uncommon 20% that earn out their advance, you'll start seeing some royalties.

Coming Full Circle
No matter what the dollars and cents say, don't let the dollars and cents dictate your course unless that is how you define success. Start asking yourself some difficult questions. Get to the bottom of why you're even doing this.

When I think about being in control of the process, from the writing, to the cover design, to the publication and marketing process, I'm filled with excitement! Not only excitement that comes from the adventure of starting a new business, but excitement for writing even more!

On the other hand, when I think about getting a publishing deal, it doesn't light me on fire like the other idea does. It falls flat. If I was approached by a traditional publisher, they'd have a lot of convincing to do. Could they succeed in swaying me? Of course. But they know what they're up against, and they have their work cut out for them.

Above all other considerations, I implore you to weigh the pros and cons and follow your heart. You already know what you want to do, deep inside. You just need to convince yourself.

Twitter: @NatRusso

If you would like to read an except from Nat's latest book, Necromancer Awakening, you can do so HERE . US readers can do so HERE

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Piecing Together The Jigsaw: Creating Strong Characters

"I like the idea of being strong. I've grown up with the concept. It's in my bones and my blood. Strong people survive. They don't go under."

 So speaks 18 year old Annie, the heroine of my ebook Jigsaw Pieces. The book has just been nominated for the eFestival of Words in the YA Category My genre is Historical Crime Fiction both adult and YA, and for me, there are two ingredients that go to make up a successful book in this genre. The first, clearly, is a crime of some sort. In Jigsaw Pieces, set in 1998, it is the mysterious death of one of Annie's fellow students. The suicide of Grant Penney is based on a real event: I was training to be a teacher at a secondary school when one of the pupils unexpectedly committed suicide over the weekend. The beginning of the book mirrors exactly the events and emotions of that time.
The second ingredient is a strong female protagonist. So what makes a strong character? Well, it's not enough just to tell readers they are strong. Strong characters have to demonstrate their strength in various ways, generally by being pitted against challenging events, or other characters. They have to stand out, or stand back from the rest of the crowd. Annie is taken from her birthplace, Norway, and dumped in an English school. This immediately makes her ''different' from her contemporaries, and she has to develop a carapace to survive the daily bullying. Through her determination we learn how strong characters function and survive in difficult situations.
But strength can be shown in softness: Annie 's compassionate side is made clear when she bonds with the mute World War 1 veteran Billy Donne, whom she meets in a nursing home (another character based on real life). Strong characters must also have faults: Annie is far too quick to rush to judgement and jump to conclusions. The reader warms to characters with an inner fault line. Maybe because they are a little like us?
At the end of Jigsaw Pieces, Annie discovers that there remains a vital piece of the Jigsaw missing from her life - she needs to explore her relationship with her missing father and resolve the unanswered questions his departure has caused. And here we see the final ingredient of a strong character - there must always be a sense that there is more to be grasped, new and different conflicts to be overcome.
 For a strong character, the journey is never complete; there is always another story waiting to be told. I love writing strong female characters like Annie because they are so multifaceted and complex. They challenge me and push me to my limits. I hope they do the same for my readers as well.

If you would like to read a sample of Jigsaw Pieces, you can do so HERE

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Hard Joyce or: Why I have Never Read Ulysses

Last Wednesday was Dylan Thomas Day on BBC Radio 3, which reminded me of the time, not so long ago, when the same BBC in its infinite wisdom, renamed a specific Saturday 'Bloomsday', and we were treated to a whole day of Ulysses readings/performances/commentaries. James Joyce's Ulysses belongs to the: 'books I have never read, never intend to read, but pretend I have' list. Also on the list with Joyce are Proust, Dostoevsky (can't even spell him), Trollope, and A.S.Byatt.

As far as the two former writers are concerned, I think my appreciation was soured at secondary school by having to translate Joyce into French, and Proust into English (why,why?). No doubt if the current Secretary of State for Education gets his way, students will be reading and translating them at primary level. Then sales will really drop off.

The ability to talk fluently about something of which one knows nothing is an integral part of being a writer. Actually, it is what sets writers apart from the rest of humanity (pace politicians). Joyce got it down to a fine art by scribing pages and pages of stream of consciousness stuff that actually nobody understands, but hey, Ulysses is a great big long book so it must be a classic, therefore let's all nod wisely and say how wonderful it is. Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind.

If you disagree, feel free to take me on. I'd love to know why James Joyce is considered such a great author and why the BBC spent the whole of Saturday inflicting this book upon us. Where's the plot, where are the twists and turns? Where's the mystery, the pace and the suspense. Okay, there's an awful lot of language, but even so... given the exacting requirements of today's publishers, it would never get past a first reading today. Hell, it hasn't even got a vampire! Clearly, it's one rule for dead people, another for the rest of us.

On the own book front (plot, suspense, mystery AND a werewolf) things are ticking along very nicely. The Historical Novel Society has finally coughed up its review of Diamonds & Dust which, given their propensity to alight, delightedly and hand-rubbing with glee, upon every tiny error, was quite good. I am grateful. And relieved. The sequel is now with the publisher to read, and I have just started writing a third book. As none of my books are that long, I doubt there will ever be a Hedges Day on BBC. You are probably relieved to hear it.

A final gripe, not entirely unconnected to Bloomsday: why is there also so much football on TV? I don't understand football, nor do I understand why everything interesting has to be bumped off the various channels to make way for it. Is there an equivalence between watching football and reading Ulysses? Discuss. Not too heatedly.

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