A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books?

Becasue a self-published book taken through the right publishing process can be as good, or even better than, traditionally published books…

Nail Your Novel

So I find a lovely-looking review blog. The posts are thoughtful, fair and seriously considered. I look up the review policy and … it says ‘no self-published books’.

Today I want to open a dialogue with reviewers. If you have that policy, might you be persuaded to change it? Or to approach the problem in a different way?

I used the word ‘problem’. Because I appreciate – very well – that in making this policy you are trying to tackle a major problem. Your time as a reviewer is precious – and let me say your efforts are enormously appreciated by readers and authors alike. You get pitches for many more books than you can read and you need a way to fillet out the ones that are seriously worth your reading hours. A blanket ban is a way to fend off a lot of substandard material and save you…

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Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie – Results

I don’t often re-blog other posts, but concrete evidence that Indie publishing is working out better than traditional for at least one author is well worth sharing…

Myths of the Mirror

enwikimedia.org enwikimedia.org

Eight months ago, I started the process of canceling my traditional publishing contracts and re-releasing all my books as an indie author. My reasons for the switch were detailed in two posts Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie(Part I) and (Part II).

The process went more smoothly than I could have imagined, and I wanted to share the results:

1. I left myself 8 months to convert 6 books. Two months per book would have been easier as I was reproofing as part of the process. The advice: Create a schedule and then give yourself extra time.

2. New covers had an instantaneous sales response. Covers do matter whether traditional or indie publishing.

3. My old reviews ALL carried over to the new books. All I had to do was ask Amazon to combine the old (publisher) and new (indie) editions leaving only the new editions visible. The same phone…

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One way artificial intelligence can help authors with their research – for free

Image credit: Julien Tromeur

You are an author in the planning stage of your latest magnus opus – what are you looking for?



You might need a setting for key events in your story that is out of the ordinary.

Perhaps it is ideas for the appearance of major or minor characters in your story.

You think you might have some idea of what the setting or character might look like, but wouldn’t it be great if you could find some pictures to help solidify your thoughts?

Your character is a woman who plays the electric guitar – how will you find pictures of her?

Your setting is a coastline with rock stacks or maybe a disused petrochemicals plant?

Maybe you need some reference pictures to send to your cover designer – say a detective wearing a deerstalker hat.

How can artificial intelligence help you here and for free?

There is a good chance you have already benefited from artificial intelligence but might not have been aware of it.  If you haven’t, you’re missing a trick.

Google image search.

Let’s try it for something of those examples above, google.co.uk for me and note that I had “safe search” enabled for this test. The setting is in the top right area of the Google image search page:

The disused petrochemicals plant: Click to open

Detective wearing a deerstalker hat: Click to open

Here is one I am using for my next book – coastline with rock stacks: Click to open

Let’s go for a really challenging and specific example – purple haired woman who plays the electric guitar: Click to open

A mixture of purple haired women and women playing electric guitars in there.  The colour purple often features even though it is not the hair colour. Now try “red head woman playing electric guitar” for yourself.

How in the world does Google image search do this since there is no way so many people are tagging their pictures with titles that allow a keyword search to produce this result?

There is an artificial intelligence query processing “engine” between your search keywords and the world of pictures online that is actually able to analyse the picture itself to understand the subject – fast.  If the image is on a web page with more text around it that can help too.

Have a play with some very specific searches and see what you get.

I’m going to get back to my own research now.  I wonder if I will find an ancient ruined city in a red desert?

Where The Heck Do Writers Find Their Characters?

Even though I never talk to the characters in my stories and they never talk to me, I do have to oddest feeling that they are living out a life while I’m not watching. Within the story I am writing at the time, they certain do decide how they are going to act and what they will say for the situation I put them in.
Here is a reposting of another blog post about the relationship between writers and their characters…

Notes from An Alien

Does that title seem naive—overly simplistic—maybe, misdirected?

Well, anyway, some characters are found in history—some are borrowed from history—some are family or friends—some, somewhat disguised family or friends

Then there are the characters composed from bits of all those sources.

And, while there’s nothing wrong with “borrowing” characters or parts of them (as long as due consideration is given to “making them ‘come to life’ in the plot”), there are many characters out there that are new creations.

Perhaps I should quote a bit of my previous post, What’s The Relationship Between A Writer & Their Characters?:

“…writers have characters. Where do writers get those characters? Why do so many writers talk about their characters as if they were real? And, even more amazing, how in the world could an otherwise rational writer say, with heart-felt conviction, that one of their characters made them change what they intended to…

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How To Use Wattpad As An Author And My Experience

Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com interviews Ashleigh Gardner from wattpad at the end of todays post.

In August 19th, 2015 I signed up to wattpad. For those who do not know, it is a social networking website where you can share your stories (retaining the rights) and with some effort, patience and luck begin to attract an audience. Stories on wattpad are extremely accessible as there is an app for all the major smartphone and tablet vendors that allow people to manage their account, read, comment and vote on stories.

Following wattpad’s advice, I started splitting my long chapters into parts of around 2000 words. I needed to know if anyone in the world, other my one of my closest friends, would like the story. The advice you get is to post story parts a couple of times a week spread over as along a period as you can. Apparently Fridays are a good day as the visitor count goes up, and your work is just a bit more visible than usual. I cannot say I noticed much difference.

In the beginning, there was little or no response except from one or two other writers who would vote on my chapter parts as I voted on theirs. Tit for tat voting proves nothing to me about how readers are receiving my story. There is much advice about how to attract readers, some of it quite time-consuming and not effective in my experience. I found the best option was to follow followers of other fantasy writers, and then the odd one or two people started to read The General’s Legacy. At this time, I had around one-third of the story published, and these readers began voting on story parts within one to two days of me posting them. As I got into the final quarter of the story, I had a few more people on board avidly reading, voting and sometimes commenting on what was happening in the story. It became apparent that people were bonding with the characters. I suspect wattpad gives stories that start to receive attention a bit of a visibility boost to give a story a chance to make an impression. Within days of me completing the story on wattpad, I had six voting readers who had made it all the way to the end and left me some very complimentary comments. I’m excited – six people who used to be complete strangers loved the story and wanted more! A couple of them have agreed to post reviews for me on Amazon etc. once published.
Another author and reader has invited me to interview on his blog – I’m truly honored and will use that opportunity to reveal the professionally designed cover for The General’s Legacy Part One: Inheritance when I have it. Work is in progress on this right now.
I also have an invitation from wattpad to apply for The General’s Legacy to become a featured story in fantasy to help me grow my audience. So sometime soon The General’s Legacy will be listed with other independent and traditionally published authors including Brandon Sanderson.

I have also struck up relationships with a few authors on wattpad and we can provide mutual support for each other during the production of future works.

Anyone searching the internet for help in self-publishing books will inevitably encounter Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com sooner or later. Joanna also posts interviews with various people in the industry. Here is Joanna talking Ashleigh Gardner from wattpad.

6 reasons why we love fantasy fiction

An updated version of this blog post based on a 2017 survey can be found here.

Those of us who love reading fantasy fiction get lost in what our imaginations conjure from the words we read. The train journey passes in but a moment. Our eyes droop as we set aside the book, too exhausted to read on into the night. Our families become widows and orphans to our reading.

“Can you name six things you love about fantasy fiction?”

I asked myself this question and shared the answer to see what other readers, and in some cases authors, loved about the genre.

The responses were a mix of the expected with a couple of surprises. One surprise was the the runaway success the number one reason most people give for their love of fantasy.
Here are the reasons in descending order with a star rating and a few honourable mentions at the end.

6. Heroics

2 stars
We love heroic deeds done by hero or heroine. It’s about triumph over adversity during an adventure. It’s do or die against insurmountable odds. In what other genre do mortals to take on the gods themselves?

5. Monsters, alien races, and magical creatures

3 stars
“As soon as you put a dragon in a story, it’s a fantasy.”
You would think that with so many stories out there featuring dragons the market would be saturated. But dragons appear to be as popular as ever and Anne McCaffrey can hardly be disputed as the queen of dragons with her Dragonriders of Pern series. It’s not just about dragons. We want different versions of mythical creatures, alien races – not just elves but something else with strange behaviours, appearance, and customs different from our own to explore and understand.

4. Magic

3 stars
Tastes vary among fantasy readers on this one. Some people want magic to be in the background, the way George R R Martin does it in his A Song Of Fire and Ice series. Others want magic to be something mysterious and unknown, the way J R R Tolkien does it with Gandalf. Some people want to know how magic works. What the rules are. This is how Brandon Sanderson portrays magic in the Mistborne series with “Allomancy” as as an example. The term “Magic” could extend to superheroes and their powers and we can hardly ignore “The Force”. Almost no one needs telling where that comes from. When it comes to it, the powers or magic of the superhero is the defining dramatic concept of the superhero story itself.
However you like your magic, exploring characters with supernatural abilities making the impossible seem possible, and even fantasizing about having the same abilities yourself is all part of the charm of fantasy stories.

3. Characters

4 stars
Perhaps it is because, in the realms of the unbelievable that exists in fantasy fiction, there is a need for characters to be portrayed “realistically” and deeply. This applies even if they are a centaur, elf or dragon, to help readers suspend disbelief. Fantasy readers demand exotic worlds populated by equally exotic and diverse characters. They can flourish in this genre like no other. When characters are relatable, their faults can be forgiven. Readers want to root for the character. Personally, I don’t think that last point is specific to fantasy, more genre fiction in general, and we must be talking about the protagonist(s) here.
I like this next quote: “Anyone can write a fight between wizards, but how many make the reader care about who wins?”
It illustrates the desire to root for the hero very well.
The villains of fantasy are not forgotten here. Rendering the villain in words in all their glory as intricately as the hero is every bit as essential. What is the first character that comes to mind for Star Wars? I’m betting it’s not Luke Skywalker.

2. Imagination and creativity

8 stars
Two words feature high here. “No limits.”
The only thing limiting what goes into a fantasy story is the imagination and creativity of the author and their ability to make the fantastic feel real and believable.
“Anything is possible.”
“Every restriction is lifted.”
“Make the impossible seem possible.”
“Only bound by rules the author invents.”
In fantasy, everything is bigger and grander. Authors are not limited by real world rules.
The message to fantasy authors is, go crazy, be inventive and don’t play safe.

1. Escapism into a strange new world

10 stars
It could be a castle at the top of a beanstalk, a world made of water, a world similar to our own but full of surprises, heaven, some other plane of existence or a city suspended by chains over the pit of hell (that one has been done).
Whatever it is, it is the setting, the world building or
“worlds unlike our own”.
The number one attraction of fantasy fiction is escapism into previously unexplored and unknown worlds. In all honesty, I thought it would be ahead of the pack by a bigger margin than it is.
The setting is the large part of the vicarious experience the fantasy reader is looking for. Readers want to leave behind the mundane world they already know and enter fully realized imaginary worlds brought to life in writing. Humans have a desire to explore places they have never been before and a fantasy fiction world is a place that desire can be satisfied. It’s about rediscovering that childhood sense of wonder at the world about us that we lose (or feel we lose) as adults.
Readers say they want a land that is exotic, magical and fascinating. Done well, the depth and richness of made up history and traditions can be breathtaking.

Honourable mentions

1 star
A few other terms that came up that don’t fit within those in the top six were:

  • Learning about humanity through a different world
  • Characters doing the impossible
  • Some form of conflict a must
  • Sense of wonder
  • Adventure

Then there is the biggest surprise to me. The plot – the actual story, barely gets a mention in the responses to “Why do we love fantasy?”
Perhaps because it’s like the air we breathe. We don’t think about it, or notice it and we take it for granted until it is not there or bad.

Did we miss anything you love about fantasy?

Disagree with the rankings above?

Please share a comment below.


Inner weakness – why the best heroes and heroines should have one.

So you have figured out:

  • the dramatic concept of your story
  • the stories premise that leverages the concept
  • you understand the antagonistic force in your story (cue the bad guy wearing a black cloak in an action adventure story or maybe the traditional parents forbidding the heroine’s marriage to a man of another religion in a romance story)
  • you have your hero or heroine well defined and hopefully you remembered the inner weakness sometimes known as the inner lie they tell themselves or simply the character flaw.

Dramatic stories have a conflict between a protagonistic force – usually a main hero or heroine – and an external antagonistic force – perhaps villain(s) of some kind. For the audience to be really impressed by, and empathise with, a hero or heroine, it is not enough for them to learn something new in the course of the plot that they then use to defeat the antagonistic force.  To put a sharper turn in the character arc they need an inner weakness – an inner antagonistic force – to overcome on the way. It needs to be something unacceptable about the role or the environment in which the character resides.

Some examples, all be it relatively simple and unsophisticated ones:

Dumbo the Elephant encounters the antagonistic force that is societies reaction to his overly large ears.  He learns to fly on route to overcoming this by impressing people with his unusual skill for an elephant, but he lacks confidence in his ability to fly without the magic feather.  Ultimately Dumbo summons the courage to believe he can fly without the feather.

Indiana Jones hates snakes which is not good news for an adventuring archaeologist that needs to travel to all climates in the world to complete his quests.

Luke Skywalker had to learn to have faith in the force and use it to destroy the death star.

In Groundhog Day Phil, the weatherman had to overcome his cynical bad mannered nature before he could win the girls affections and break the antagonistic force that was the time loop trapping him in the same day over and over again.

What is your protagonist’s inner weakness?