Getting a book out there

Last week, I announced the availability of my latest novel, Shadows of Tomorrow. As a writer, it’s still incredibly exciting to get a book through from the publisher and see my name on the cover. When my first book, Child of the Hive, came out, I thought that the hard part was over at this stage. After writing, finding a publisher, editing, proof-reading and so on, I thought this meant I could relax and see the world start to see my book.

This time, I’m not so naïve. Despite having a couple of other books under my belt, I’m still pretty much an unknown author. Bookshops can’t afford to fill their shelves with unknowns of unproven saleability; they need books they know will sell. Which means you’re not going to see your novel on the shelves of all the bookshops across the country (unless you’re really lucky and your publisher has the right contacts and, more importantly, is willing to pay). It’s a catch 22 situation. Shops won’t stock  you because you’re unknown and you’re unknown because shops won’t stock you. So how do you fix this? Legwork.

I’ve found though that Waterstones are generally very good about supporting local authors. If I go into my local branches and ask them, they’re usually willing to order in a copy or two and sometimes organise a signings. Signings are really great for getting noticed because the shop will order in a dozen or so books and you can be there to make sure people notice it. I also find libraries tend to be supportive of local authors and offer talks and coffee mornings that you can use for book promotion. So with Shadows, I’m playing the game of seeing how many places I can claim local author status.

Then there’s also the web. Trying to get noticed on the internet is even harder than trying to get noticed in a book shop. There are tools that can help and websites specifically built around the idea of sharing book information. I recommend Goodreads. Goodreads are a book review site but they also allow you to do giveaways. You can list your book and people will enter for a chance to win a copy, on the understanding that they will write a review for you when they’ve finished. Because people like free books, you’ll usually get a lot of people entering. Those that don’t win the book will hopefully look into buying it.

Then you’ve got social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. You can tell all your friends about your exciting new book. I find the usual reaction is along the lines of, “Wow! It’s amazing that you’ve written a book. I’m really impressed.” And then they go away without buying it. Still, you’ll find a few who’ll buy a book because they know the author and if they like it, they’re likely to tell other people because they know the author and that’s cool. You also have to be careful on places like Twitter because if you spend all your time just spamming people with links to your new book, you’ll lose followers fast.

I haven’t yet found the magic bullet that will shoot me up to bestseller status, but the way I see it is that if I keep pushing in lots of different angles, at some point I’ll get a lucky break or the word of mouth will snowball. It was Samuel Goldwyn who said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” The same definitely applies here. You have to work very hard to get a book noticed, but the more you do, the more likely you’ll be that you’ll get some luck that will get you seen.

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Author to the Rescue

I’ve recently finished a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I made a point of thinking carefully about the book and working out why I didn’t like it, so that I can avoid any similar issues in my own writing. There were several little things that annoyed me but one big, glaring issue stood out about the plotting.

Major problems are instantly solved.

During the course of the book, the main character would come to face various issues but they would all disappear within a chapter or two, usually with little or no effort on the part of the protagonist. She needs to escape her alcoholic father: she immediately finds a live-in job. She loses her job: a kind stranger offers her a home. She’s told she can’t live there anymore: a friend has a spare room. Someone tries to take her son away: two pages later a solicitor tells her that there’s no legal case.

Problems would vanish as soon as they would appear, usually through someone else being nice to the protagonist or her just getting the thing she wants with no apparent effort. This had two major consequences.

The first was that it robbed the story of drama. There was never any real sense of threat or issue. There was always some safety net magically appearing. I was never worried or curious how things would resolve, so I didn’t feel a pressing need to keep reading.

The second was that it made the protagonist seem like she had little agency in her own life. Problems were solved for her by external forces. She was clearly intended to seem like a strong, independent, self-reliant woman, but she was robbed of that by the author handing her solutions on a silver platter.

My lessons from this is that it’s OK to let challenges linger for more than a couple of chapters and that it’s absolutely vital for characters to solve their own problems – at least some of the time.

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Gender and book categorisation

It seems like every couple of days I see a link to a new blog post or article about gender and books. A topic that comes up quite frequently around young adult books is whether they are “for boys” or “for girls.” There seems to be a notion that boys won’t read books with a female protagonist or by a female author. There was an interesting piece recently about gender-targeted covers. When the marketing people design a book cover, they seem to be deciding whether the book will be read by men or women.

I seriously dislike this notion that it has to be one or the other.

I don’t consider that my books are for a particular gender. In my first novel, Child of the Hive, there are two major protagonists – Will and Sophie. You then have four other main characters – Alex and Rachel (female), and Drew and Ben (male). Yes, quite a lot of the background characters, being largely military or computer programmers, were male, but the leading characters were an even split.

The book features such things as chase scenes, battles, gunfights, maths, computers and other such things that are apparently more masculine (though as a female with a degree in maths who works for a software company and with training in martial arts, I disagree with the notion that these are “for boys”). It also deals with a couple falling in love, wanting to start a family and being unable to conceive, which are apparently female issues (though I’m sure there are men out there who are struggling to start a family who would disagree with that). There shouldn’t be a reason why you’d decide that it’s a book for one gender or the other.

The same applies to my latest book, Omega Rising. Yes, it is told entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist, but she works in a male-dominated job so a lot of the minor characters are male. As with Child, it’s an action story with fighting and explosions. I had a conversation with someone the other day who’d read the description and decided it looked like exactly the sort of thing his fourteen-year-old son would enjoy. The son apparently also looked at the description and was really interested and asked his dad to buy it. There was no notion of, “but it’s about a girl,” or “but it’s written by a woman,” putting him off. The boy read the description and thought that it was the sort of book he wanted to read.

Which is what it should be all about. The only question should be: is this the sort of book I enjoy reading? The gender of the author or the protagonist should be irrelevant.

Unfortunately it’s not. There is still some social stigma attached to boys reading “girly” books (and why things for girls should be of less value than things for boys is a rant for another time). I think marketing needs to be more gender-neutral in positioning a book. If you label it as being “for boys” or “for girls” then you’re cutting out half of your potential readers. Surely you want to appeal to anyone who’ll enjoy the book?

I read an article a few months ago (and unfortunately can’t find it now – if anyone knows the link, please leave a comment) that showed massive increase in sales of romance novels because of e-book readers. Men wanted to read romance novels and enjoyed reading romance novels but felt embarrassed about doing so in public, but they were able to do so on a Kindle or Nook or some other reader. This just goes to show that because a book was targeted for a particular gender, members of the other gender were refusing to buy it, even if they would have enjoyed reading it.

So this is my call to all who market or promote books: stop trying to bucket them into gender categories.

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Omega Rising kindle edition

Last week I announced the availability of Omega Rising, my new novella. Today I am adding to that announcement the fact that the Kindle edition is now available on Amazon (but for some reason not showing up in the search results yet).

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Endings

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about endings. This can be a very difficult part of a book but also the most crucial, because it’s what the reader is thinking about when they put the book down. You don’t want someone to say, “I was really enjoying it but the ending was a bit of a let-down,” or, “It was a really interesting story but some of the key questions weren’t answered.”

The problem is you can try too hard. You can try to wrap up every loose end and that can end up being as bad as not wrapping things up properly.

I read a book recently. I won’t name the book because it was otherwise brilliant and I don’t want to put anyone off by complaining about it here. It was a great story, with interesting characters based on a fun concept. There were questions and mysteries which were gradually revealed through the plot, with some exciting moments and some emotional ones. I reached the end of the book, when the plot elements were resolved and the main characters had achieved the thing they’d been wanting for most of the book.

Great. Happy ending. But the book kept going…

In writing, there is a concept called the denouement. This is usually the last few pages of a book. The main climax has finished and this is the time to wrap up a few loose ends and clarify any confusing points.

The book I’m thinking off had a resolution to the plot then they had a chapter when the main character goes back to school afterwards and it’s nice and positive and gives the reader a good feeling that things are going to be alright now. I thought this was the denouement. If the book had stopped there, I would have come away raving about how great it was. The problem was, there was another chapter set a few months later. Then a letter from another chapter. Then another chapter set a little while after that.

It feels like the book has about five endings. The later ones didn’t really add anything to the plot. They didn’t really give me anything I needed to know. The letter had some interesting clarifications of that character’s actions, but nothing that I’d have felt I was missing if the book had stopped a few pages earlier. It just felt a bit drawn out and unnecessary.

Writing an ending can be a tricky business but it’s something you need to get right. When you write a book, you should look closely at the last few chapters and work out where the story actually ends. That way, you can give the ending the same power as the beginning.

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Omega Rising available

My new sci-fi novella, Omega Rising, is now available on Amazon in both paperback and hardback formats (e-book will follow shortly). This is the story of Jenny Harding, an eighteen-year-old girl starting out on her own. Her first job lands her in the middle of a conflict involving alien technology and mysterious vigilantes.

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The Big Book Giveaway!

In the spirit of Book Crossing, I am giving away brand new copies of several books I have read recently and particularly enjoyed, as well as a couple of my own. All you have to do is pick a book from the list below and leave me a comment saying which one you want (and a way to contact you so I can get the address to post it to).

A couple of quick rules:

1) You have to be in the UK. I’m not posting books abroad. Sorry.

2) One book per person.

3) If you like the book, say so. Write a review, mention it on Twitter or otherwise shout out your enjoyment to the world.

Now, on to the books.

Codename Omega: Omega Rising by Jessica Meats (i.e. me)

This is my new novella, about to be released. I have two proof copies to give away, one paperback, one hardback. They have a couple of extra typos, but are otherwise identical to the book that will be sold. This is your chance to get ahead of the crowd.

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

I have three copies of this book to give away because I think it’s amazing. It’s a deeply emotional story, beautifully written in a vivid and unique fantasy landscape. Read my full review here.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

A book that is hillariously funny at times and heart-wrenching at others. It’s a really interesting concept brilliantly executed. Full review here.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Not one for younger readers. This book is filled with swearing, violence, swearing, sexual imagery, swearing and more swearing. It’s also got a plot that grips you and a heroine you wouldn’t mess with. Full review here.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Part of his Dresden Files series. In this one, the wizard Harry Dresden is asked to solve a murder by a faerie queen. If he doesn’t stop a war between faerie factions, he’s going to end up dead. If he does stop the war, he might end up dead anyway.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Funny and interesting, this book tells of Sophie, who is turned into an old woman by a witch and ends up living with the myterious Howl, his apprentice and a strange fire spirit.

Designing Forms for SharePoint and InfoPath by Scott Roberts, Hagen Green and Jessica Meats (i.e. Me)

I know it doesn’t fit with the rest of the books on this list, but it’s surprisingly my best seller. Useful as an insomnia cure or blunt instrument. Or if you want to design forms for SharePoint, of course.

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Cover art reveal: Omega Rising

I’ve been getting very excited lately seeing drafts of the cover art for the upcoming Omega Rising. I’m now delighted to be able to reveal the final cover art.

I’m really pleased with this design. One of my key requirements was that Jenny should look like she was really capable of handling herself in a fight. I looked at far too many pictures of girls holding guns in contorted, supposedly sexy poses. I like this image because while Jenny is definitely feminine and attractive, she also looks very serious.

Another thing I wanted included is the Omega symbol, which is a key feature in the plot. I like how the symbol frames Jenny in the cover.

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A Step Closer

Quite a while ago, I made a post about signs I’ll use to recognise when I’m famous. One of those signs was being recognised as an author by someone I’ve never met before. This happened a few days ago.

At a conference, I was at the breakfast buffet chatting with a fellow Brit about the difficulties of getting decent bacon in the States. The guy in question looked at my name badge and his comment was: “I know you! You write books.”

I’m cheating slightly on my requirement since the guy in question works for the same company as me and is a member of a mailing list on which I’ve made announcements about my books. He recognised my name based on the emails I’ve sent to that list. Still, a guy I’d never met before saw my name and recognised me as an author. This is definitely a step closer to fame.

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International Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day

In a recent blog post, author Chuck Wendig declared that 6th February will be Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day.

I wasn’t sure what I could write on the subject of piracy because, to the best of my knowledge, my novel hasn’t been pirated (I’m not sure if I should be offended by that). But I remembered an incident when Child of the Hive first launched. It was at the launch party and one of my friends tried to convince me to give him a copy of the novel for free.

He was asking for a physical copy of the book, which cost me money to order from the publishers. He also wasn’t taking into account the fact that he’d been going for the free wine, which again cost me money. I probably paid more for the wine he drank (the catering at the venue was very expensive) than I made in royalties from the book he bought.

In some ways it’s insulting. This is a book that took years to write, edit, polish and get published. Countless evenings and weekends of effort were poured into its creation. And yet here was a friend of mine implying that it wasn’t worth spending money on.

If it was easy for him to feel he deserved the book for free, how much easier is it when the book is an electronic file?

But I’m not going to jump to the conclusion that piracy is necessarily bad. There are situations where someone will pirate content, decide they like it and then go out and spend money on it. Or they might pirate something and tell their friends, who go out and buy it. Or they might pirate something and then buy other books by the same author. Or just pirate something that they were never going to spend money on – so while there’s no net gain for the author, there’s no loss either. Piracy is not as simple as, “Every book pirated equal money lost by author,” but it’s still something to think about.

Time and effort goes into creating books and for some authors it’s their only income. If you take away the income, they’ll have to get another job, which means less time for writing, which means less books. If you like an author’s books, please make sure they get something from that and pay for what you read.

At the very least, make sure you give something back. If you’ve pirated something and want to ease a guilty conscience, write a review or post on Facebook about the book so that at least the author gets some attention. Give something back in exchange for the content you’ve received.

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