Saturday, 20 December 2014

4 Things To Remember About Writing Over Christmas

1. Time off is important

With the Christmas holiday period fast approaching the demands on the average writer can often be immense. There's presents to buy, meals and festive arrangements to make, children to take care of, family visits, friends - the list goes on and on. In these situations it can often be tempting for the writer to be selfish with their time and to carry on writing as assiduously as before (Stephen King writes for approximately three hours a day Christmas or no Christmas). I think it's always good to remember that in these situations to never feel too guilty about allowing yourself some time off. It's the holidays after all. It could be just a few days, or even the slimmest part of an afternoon or a morning. However long you take is up to you. Besides, there's no use burning yourself out. If you allow yourself to relax a little now then you are storing up some vital mental energy for a January writing splurge.

2. Keep Writing

Of course don't take too much time off. Writers write and those that don't don't. Despite all the various demands that will be placed on you you can still find a few slots in your schedule for writing - it could be as little as an hour here or there or perhaps the entirety of the post-Christmas weekend. This is especially important to remember if you are half way or more through an important project such as a short story or a full-on novel. As I'm currently re-editing the second Jack Strong novel it is important for me to keep chipping away at the chapters so that I can complete it by mid to late January. Ultimately, the more you acquaint yourself with your characters and your plot the more likely you will finish it on time and the better the end product will be.

3. Set Achievable Goals

With Christmas being as busy as it is there's no point setting yourself an unachievable target like writing a novel in two weeks. The further you get from your overly ambitious goals the more likely it will be that you will be hit with a hefty dose of lethargy and hopelessness as the mountain of work ahead of you looms ever larger. Therefore it's doubly important that you set achievable goals that you can meet. It could be writing a few chapters or even just a few pages - it doesn't matter so long as you accomplish what you set out to do. The odds are that the resulting confidence boost will lead to yet more writing and further targets being met along the way.

4. Don't forget to read

What with writing schedules to arrange and all the numerous holiday commitments it can be tempting to toss to one side that book that you are reading. Though you might have less time to read than normal this is not a valid reason to chuck that book away entirely. Books and words are still the whetstones of a writer's mind and it is important that you keep on flicking through the pages. If you are struggling for time just have an honest look at how you are spending your spare time and see if you can squeeze in the odd half hour or hour of reading every day. Ultimately, the more books you read the better and more accomplished your writing will be as a result.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year everyone! With the holidays almost upon us I will take a break from blogging for about a week or so. But if you want to check out my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied 12 year old boy's adventures in space you can do so via the link below:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

9 Things You Need To Know About Review Swaps

1. More Sales

Review swaps matter. Even if it's only by a few, they help boost your sales, which in turn boost your visibility to other would-be readers. Besides, if you go down the traditional route and send your e-book off to all the amateur reviewers online (which takes hours!) there is no guarantee that they will ever read it, let alone give it a favourable review. I sent my first novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant off to hordes of reviewers and I was turned down by all but one of them. The vast majority of authors that I've approached for review swaps have so far turned out to be a lot more agreeable.

2. Great Reviews

Apart from increased sales, the best thing about review swaps are the great reviews that you receive. This gives you a) increased confidence and b) helps further spread the word about your book. It was amazing when a couple of people not only gave my book, Jack Strong and the Red Giant 5 stars, but that they also said they were looking forward to the next instalment. This meant that not only did they love it, but that they had also bought into the central characters and the universe they inhabited. And ultimately, isn't this what every novelist wants?

3. Bad Reviews

There may come a time when - like me - you get some reviews that aren't quite what you were expecting. Try not to be too downhearted about this - it quite literally comes with the territory. If for example, you were to have a look at the page for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone @ you will notice that despite its solid 4.7/5 average it has still managed to receive a staggering forty six 1 star reviews. These readers aren't in any way wrong or deluded it's just their opinion, and they didn't buy into it like you or I did. It's all part of being a successful author. It's great to get a few 5 star reviews but it isn't realistic to expect it to continue. So if you do get a poor review try not to take it too badly - I didn't - it just shows that you've become a proper author.

4. New Authors

Review swaps also help introduce you to new and upcoming authors who maybe connected with your work but whose books you might have overlooked before. As part of the review swap process I have read books on self-help, procrastination, a murder mystery in the Colorado mountains, a series of zombie short stories, as well as a whole host of Children's and Young Adult books. Ultimately, being exposed to such a wide variety of work will enrich you as a writer as well as make you more aware of your craft.

5. What Not To Review

You shouldn't review anything that you're not interested in. First of all, this is because you likely wouldn't enjoy it and second of all it's out of respect for the author whose book you're reviewing. It's not fair on them if you start your review with something along the lines of "I don't like books about space (or whatever their book is about) so I couldn't get into it and the characters so I'm giving it 2 stars." If you don't like books about space then why did you agree to a review swap in the first place? After all, you wouldn't go into a book store and deliberately buy something that you weren't interested in and it's the same with a review swap. If you respect their book they'll respect yours.

6. It Takes Time

After someone has downloaded your book don't expect them to review it straight away. Remember that they have lives too: families, work, writing commitments, and not to mention other review swaps. I can often take up to a month to review a book and sometimes even longer than that.
If you have agreed to take part in a review swap and they haven't gotten back to you with a review send them an e mail or message them on Google + or Facebook. Odds are they might have forgotten, but a friendly nudge is more than polite and they may even welcome the reminder.

7. Honesty is the best policy

I know the feeling - you want to give someone a bad review, not because you're mean or jealous in any way, but because for whatever reason the book just didn't click with you and you've seen a few faults. The only problem is that you're not sure you want to, partly out of fear you will offend them and also because you're worried that they'll slap yours down in return. In this situation I think it's always best to be honest - so long as you're constructive with your criticism - after all how else is the author to find out their book needs a re-edit or a new cover? The odds are that a) the author is already partly aware of some of their novel's shortcomings and b) it won't affect their opinion of yours one bit.

8. Don't take too much on

New sales and good, positive reviews will help push your book up the charts but ultimately you should still only take on what you are capable of reviewing. There's no point in agreeing to do a hundred review swaps if you are only able to read one or two books a week. When I first got into it, I was agreeing to review swaps left right and centre, the result being that I was soon inundated and overwhelmed and I still haven't completely caught up.

9. An Authors Community

For me, one positive outcome of participating in review swaps has been the online relationships that have sprung up as a result. As I write this I'm about to read the latest blog post of one lady's book I was so lucky to review a couple of months ago. At the end of the day, I believe that the more writers I'm in contact with then the better my writing will be as a result as ideas and inspirations and new books are shared and spread around.

Final Word

With the independent book market being so tight and so competitive at the moment, if you're not willing to read someone else's book then you shouldn't necessarily expect them to read yours. Ultimately, if you participate in review swaps it will help boost sales, confidence, and lead to a greater awareness of both your own work and the work of others. Go on give it a try!

If you would like to participate in a review swap you can check out my book, Jack Strong and the Red Giant below:

Friday, 5 December 2014

6 Things To Remember About Writing Dialogue

1. Dialogue Matters

You can't write a novel without dialogue. For one thing it brings the characters to life and transforms them from dreamy inventions inside our heads to living, breathing people that jump out of the page at the reader. For another it allows the reader to get a better, more rounded appreciation for the character's thoughts, feelings, and actions. Ultimately, if the dialogue is good enough it helps the reader to fall in love with our characters and keep on reading.

2. Keep Narration to a Minimum

There should never be too much narration in a novel. Dialogue should always be the driving force that keeps the story humming and buzzing along, with the narrator's feet planted firmly in the background. Take for instance this excerpt from my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant:

Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him.
“Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
What did you say?” barked his dad.

The highlighted sections of the dialogue tell the reader that a) Jack often has to do the washing up in his house b) he likes watching TV c) His Mum has cooked the tea (dinner) d) It's now the summer holidays e) Jack's a little rebellious f) His Dad is angry with him and g) He's not good with confrontations. All this information from barely 8 lines of dialogue! The role of the narrator in all this is to set the scene up at the start but after that it's up to the characters to take over and tell the story to the reader.

3. Keep It Real

Whenever your character speaks in your novel make sure that it is in keeping with their personality, level of intelligence, and socio-economic background etc. It's quite obvious to most readers that an unemployed man from Detroit will sound nothing like an Oxford-educated don and vice versa so it's imperative that you have your characters speak as they would speak in real life. Stephen King's novels for example, are littered with many a foul-mouthed blue-collar worker. The language might be a little obscene and vulgar at times but it's the truth.

4. Just for Laughs

Don't be afraid to make your dialogue funny (especially if like me you are a Young Adult writer). Just as in life characters should crack jokes, make silly mistakes, and say stupid things. In short, have fun with the dialogue. In Jack Strong and the Red Giant I created a whole character (Padget) just for this purpose:

“What's football?” asked Padget. “Do you kick a foot around?
“What? No, of course not,” said Jack.
“You play it with your feet. Well, if you’re the goalie you can use your hands. You kick a ball around and try to put it through the goal posts.”
“What? YOU have to do all the work. There’s no one to do it for you?”
“Well no, of course not. That's the point. It’s a physical game.”
“I'm sorry, I'm not interested,” said Padget, holding up his hands. “It sounds too much like hard work. Games like that are best left for the Skavs. Perhaps if I had one of my servo-bots with me, it could carry me.”

Aside from trying to get a laugh out of how the English language might sound to an alien (Padget), I've also used the comedic language to give the reader the image of a giant robot playing football. It's not Nobel Prize winning stuff for sure but I think my target audience will love it.

5. Interruptions

In your books, just as in real life, make sure to include frequent interruptions between your characters. Rarely, if ever does someone get to speak unimpeded and it should be like this in your books. Not all the time of course - you don't want to make it too confusing - but just enough to be believable and realistic to the reader.

6. Have a Social Life

Since it takes months and even years in some cases to write a novel I should spend all my time writing, right? No. Writing does take time - a lot of time - but having friends and going out is important, not least because it will give you some time off to relax and recuperate, but it's also important when it comes to writing dialogue. If you are not a social person then how can you accurately put words into your characters' mouths when you have little or no direct contact with other human beings? You don't have to be out with your friends all the time, just enough to ensure that you are getting a regular dose of modern day colloquial English.

Final Word

What are your experiences with dialogue? No matter what your thoughts and feelings are regarding this issue I would love to hear from you, whether that's in the comments section below or via Google+ or Facebook.

If you want to read my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

4 Things To Remember About Characters When Writing A Novel

Why are characters important?

Characters are vital to a novel precisely because they give the plot and setting a human touch that the reader can attach themselves to and follow. Without these novels would just be a mash of descriptions, concepts, and words. Characters give stories depth; they make your tale more readable, not less. So just as you put great thought into the plot and the world that you are creating you should also put a lot of work into your central characters, since it is these that the reader will fall in love with and tell other people about.

Read a lot

It goes without saying that before you write a novel you should have read a lot. This way you can see what kind of characters you like, which characters work with the reader and which don't, so that when you sit down to write you have a pretty good idea about what your target audience is looking for. One of the many reasons why J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series was so successful was because Harry Potter was so likeable, with many children (and even adults) readily identifying with him. Of course you can't write a new Harry Potter - he's taken - but you can use him, or any other character for that matter, as inspiration for your own protagonists, so long as your take care to make them sufficiently different and original.

Make them believable

There are no two dimensional people in life so why should there be two dimensional characters in books? If there's one thing that annoys me about contemporary Young Adult (YA) literature it is the predilection of some authors (you can make your own minds up as to who I'm talking about here) to place 'sexy', young, American teenagers within their novels, without bothering to think how their world would shape them. You can't live in a dystopian, Orwellian world, half-starved from Monday to Sunday and grow up into a strapping six foot jock just dripping with sexual appeal. It's not realistic. He or she would be barely even healthy never mind a mini Mr.Universe. Use your empathy. Walk for a minute in their shoes, in their world, and see how they would feel and think. Whenever I sit down and write a Jack Strong adventure, the computer screen is merely a window to Jack's soul. I follow him wherever he goes, and see whatever he sees. I am him.

Use your experience

Your experience as a human being is the greatest tool that you have when it comes to writing a successful character. Use your life experience as a guide for any and every character you write. Stephen King says that to greater or lesser degrees he is every character that he writes (especially Jack Torrance in his novel The Shining). My experience being bullied as a child certainly helped me to write Danny Moo, my main character in Dragon Rider, who is being victimised at school on an almost daily basis. Ultimately, the more believable you as a writer find your character the more believable they will be in turn to your readership. If they don't make you laugh and cry you shouldn't expect the reader too either.

Speak the truth

When writing dialogue (whether or not you are writing in the 3rd person is irrelevant) you are the character, so it is important that the words that come out of their mouths are both realistic and believable. And that means colloquial English. Since in a sense I grew up with most of the characters in my books I know exactly how they would speak and how they wouldn't. If your characters would swear in a certain situation then make them swear, or if they would abbreviate a lot of their words then make them do that. Don't be shy. You're writing literature, not propaganda, and your readership knows the difference. At the end of the day, the more believable your dialogue is the more real your character becomes in the eyes of your readership.

Final Word

Writing novels is not rocket science. As a human being with an above average vocabulary range and an all-too-human experience you have the tools to create likeable, believable, well-rounded characters that will have us turning the page or tapping the screen for many years to come. All you really need to do is put a magnifying glass to your soul, add a dash of imagination, and then write them.

If you want to read my novel about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

How To Write Without Distractions

     Finding a place to write

     One of the keys to a successful writing career is for the writer to find a place that they are comfortable writing in. It doesn't matter where, so long as the writer can feel a) relaxed and b) churn out a decent amount of words. Some writers prefer libraries, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, public transport (I used to write poem after poem on the trains when I used to live in the U.K), a room within their own home (Stephen King has a purpose built study where he writes his novels), or even their desk at the office. It doesn't matter where so long as you are comfortable and it's free of distractions. Myself, I prefer to write in my tiny studio apartment in Beijing, not more than a couple of strides away from both my kettle and the bathroom. This way I can provide myself with endless cups of tea, not to mention the odd toilet break, but more than that I just feel so relaxed and stress-free that sitting down in front of the computer to write a novel seems like the most natural thing in the world. If you're not sure where to write at first try a few different places and see what works best for you.

     Keeping it tidy

     Whether your writing space is all clean and spotless or (rather like mine) a bit of a pig sty is up to you. It all depends on what works best for you as a writer to get those words down onto the page. If you find an untidy room to be too much of a distraction then clean it, but if the opposite is true perhaps you should leave the cleaning until after you've finished writing (or if you're like me never).

     Setting Aside a Time-slot 

     Writing is a whole lot easier with less distractions if you set aside definite periods and time-frames in which to write. These can be every day or on a few set days every week, but again rather like your writing room you must be comfortable with the time-slot that you've chosen. There's no point trying to write in the evening if you are a morning person for example. Being comfortable with when you write is often just as important as where you write. Usually, I write in the early mornings (except for Saturdays when I write all day), though my current schedule being what it is I've had to be more accommodating with my time, and so I now write on one or two evenings a week. It's not ideal but I'm comfortable enough with it to keep churning the words out.


     Don't procrastinate. Ever. You can answer all the phone calls and text messages that you want after you've finished writing (I do) and not before. Don't let temptation get the better of you either. It won't take "just a second" for you to check your phone or to go to this or that website. As well as the actual time it takes to go online etc there's also the lost time spent re-checking and re-reading your work as you try to get back to speed and back into some kind of writing rhythm. Nothing's that urgent that it can't wait an hour or two for you to finish writing. Remember that your friends who are sending the texts etc aren't writers and they don't truly know all the hard work and sacrifice that it takes to hammer a novel into shape. They're texting and calling etc precisely because they're NOT writing.

    Final Word

    Writers don't have to be literary recluses tapping away at the computer. You can and should have social lives too (how else are you going to write dialogue but through social interaction?) and you can make that easier by apportioning your writing time appropriately in the proper environment and by eliminating all unnecessary distractions. Writing is as much about finishing a project as it is about the daily grind and if you're spending time surfing the internet and texting your mates then you're NOT writing which ultimately means that it will take longer (if ever) for that great idea of yours to make onto the page and to finally find its way into print.

     If you want to read further of my work check out my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space:


Thursday, 13 November 2014

4 Things To Do Before You Write

1. Read a lot

Before you start writing your best-seller it goes without saying that you should have done at least some reading around your chosen genre. Before I started to write Jack Strong and the Red Giant (a Young Adults/Sci-fi novel) I had read the entire Harry Potter series about 2 or 3 times, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, George R.R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, a lot of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell novels plus an absolute tonne of modern and classical poetry. Not a great amount of course but certainly enough to give me a decent idea about how to write a novel, what kind of book I was looking to write, and a more than considerable amount of vocabulary. Without these books I would have had an insufficient literary foundation to base my book on - T.V and movies after all can only take you so far and are a poor guide to what works with the modern reader and what's currently getting published etc.

2. Use Your Imagination

Before I started writing my current novel, Dragon Rider I was constantly toying with the universe and the main plot threads in my mind, chipping away at them, and moulding the story and the characters into something that I wanted - no needed - to write. It was then and only then that I decided to sit down and have a go at writing the novel. Of course you can also jot down some notes about your novel - I do occasionally - though I find that my notes are never an adequate representation of my mind so I spend most of my time daydreaming about my future projects until a time comes when I'm satisfied with what my mind has come up with.

3. Make Notes Before You Write

Once I've actually sat down in front of my computer and decided to write a particular novel, I ALWAYS write down a few brief notes about what I'm going to write before I start tapping away at my computer (I never use a pen to write unless it's poetry). This acts as a kind of road map for my imagination to follow, so that I always know where I'm going, what's going to happen and when. This has two immediate benefits: first, I don't get stuck in any literary cul-de-sacs - I always know what comes next and if I get lost I can always go back and look at my notes, and second it allows me to pump out anywhere between 1000 and 3000 words in any one sitting (I typically write one chapter at a time). Of course I almost never stick to my notes absolutely - my imagination is an untamed beast apt to wander - but it is an invaluable guide nonetheless and one that I am loath to do without.

To give you a better idea check out my notes for Chapter 1 of my novel Dragon Rider:

Danny eating cornflakes. Pours milk – sour – throws it away - picks up a handful of cornflakes - Hears his mum calling for him (tired voice) what time is it? - Leaves and goes outside – gets on the bus after the driver decides to let him on. The bus rumbles along. Then the bully gets on. They laugh at his mum. He ‘s silent Jane (Chinese) sticks up for him. Time for school. He looks up at the grey school. It begins to rain …

It's all very basic as I'm sure you'll all agree, but it helps form an important conduit between my imagination and the keyboard, resulting in approximately 1000 words of manuscript.

4. Don't Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

Don't expect to be a great writer overnight. It takes work - a lot of work - and writing is a process of making mistakes, learning from them, and then (after remorselessly reviewing your work) getting gradually better. So don't let the fear of being no good paralyse your creativity - it might not be perfect initially but no one's is (Stephen King puts all of his books through 3 or 4 edits and my first book went through at least seven or eight before I was even remotely satisfied with it (and I've tweaked it a few more times since then). What matters most though is that you DO write and have the courage to go through it again and again, thus making it more readable and more publishable, because ultimately that's how all the great writers are made.

If you want to read my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space check out the link below:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Chapter 1 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Chapter 1: School’s Out

Jack slammed the front door shut and quickly ran up the stairs. He went straight into the bathroom, locked the door, and looked into the small mirror by the sink.
It was worse than he feared.
There were swishes and squiggles of red, black, blue, green, and orange marker pen all over his face.
He panicked.
Not wanting to be seen like this by his mum and dad he turned on the taps and frantically began to scrub his face with a large, yellow sponge. It took almost twenty minutes of feverish scrubbing to remove every last mark.
After he finished dabbing himself with a towel, he walked across the landing, entered his small, sparsely decorated bedroom, and slouched down upon the bed.
He had lost another pen fight.
When it was other children fighting though, they didn’t seem to come away as badly as he did. It was supposed to be one against one, yet as soon as he said he wanted to fight there were five or six boys and girls holding him down, scribbling and scrawling all over his face. He kept shouting at them to stop, but they just laughed and giggled, their pens thrusting and jabbing.
Jack looked into the mirror one last time. Just for a moment he half-hoped that his birthmark had been washed away too, but it was still there: stretching all the way from his forehead to his chin like a big red smudge of tomato ketchup. Wiping his blue eyes dry, he put on his glasses, neatened his short brown hair, checked his face again for pen marks and left his bedroom.

The smell of food was now emanating from the kitchen and wafting up the steep flight of stairs.
Eager to see what was for dinner, he quickly rushed down the stairs, almost tripping over on the way and ran, much to the consternation of his Mum, through the living room into the kitchen.
He was so hungry.
His mind raced with the many possibilities: hamburgers, roast chicken, pepperoni pizza, sausages - anything so long as it was delicious, and what was more - lots of it!
His heart sank.
Upon the kitchen table was a pan of burnt pork chops, along with some equally burnt stringy onions as well as what looked like a big dish of rather lumpy mashed potatoes and a pile of heavily-buttered white bread. His dreams of coming home to a plate of crisp, chunky chips and a moist, oven-cooked pizza, or else a plate of yellow, creamy curry had vanished yet again. Why couldn't he get something better for a change?
But he was hungry, and so he sat down across from his mum and dad and said nothing. He then grabbed a knife and fork from a small pile on the table and began to eat. Though as the gravy lacked salt and the mashed potatoes well everything, his dinner mainly consisted of making some rather messy pork chop sandwiches. This was of course after he had spooned-off the black onions, given the pork chops a good helping of brown sauce, and pulled off some little bits of mold from the bread.
A few minutes later and it was time for dessert.
His mum, cheeks reddening, put on some ragged, grey oven gloves and brought out a hot, steaming dish of …gooseberry crumble!
He couldn’t believe it.
Not gooseberry crumble again!
Jack hated gooseberry crumble. As far as he was concerned, it was quite possibly the most disgusting thing on Earth, being nothing better than sour, green, slimy goo.
“Why can’t we have something else for a change?” he suddenly shouted out loud, anger rising in his chest. “I hate gooseberry crumble. It’s horrible!”
“Nonsense Jack,” replied his mum, in a soft, kind voice. “It’s good for you. It helps you grow into a big, strong lad.”
“No, it’s not!” he spat, getting angrier “I hate it, why can’t we have something different for a change?”
“Now Jack,” interrupted his dad in a stern voice “Be nice to your mum, she’s been cooking your dinner for a long time.”
“I don’t care! I’m sick of it. All we ever eat is gooseberry and rhubarb crumble. Why can’t we have some ice cream for a change?”
“It’s healthy,” his mum continued. “Besides we’ve loads of gooseberry bushes in the back garden. We can’t let them go to waste. You don’t know how lucky you are. People would love to have what we have!”
Jack made a face, grunted again, but thought better about answering back.
Besides, he was still hungry and there was a red hot jug of steaming yellow custard on the table. Still not wanting to eat the gooseberry though, he got hold of a large, wooden serving spoon and attempted to scoop off the top of the crumble from the green goo underneath.
Immediately his dad stopped him.
“Jack, what have we told you about taking all the crumble?” Leave some for us.”
“But daaaaaaad!” he whined.
“But nothing,” he said, his brown eyes almost poking through his glasses “Stop being selfish, and think about other people for a change.”
And that was the end of that. Sulking, Jack dejectedly put a small dollop of gooseberry crumble in a chipped dessert bowl, followed by a couple of large spoon-fulls of hot custard.
He ate it in silence, gulping it down, mouthful after mouthful. The quicker the better he thought. In order to avoid tasting it, he tried to surround as much of the disgusting gooseberry as possible with either the custard or the crumble. This didn’t work very well however and every now and again a big, slimy wedge of gooseberry goo would get stuck at the back of his throat or else at the top of his mouth, causing him to wince and grimace.
Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him. “Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.”
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
“Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
“What did you say?” barked his dad.
Jack made his way to the kitchen sink and gripped the washing-up bottle tightly, squeezing out a green jet of washing-up liquid into the sink. He then turned on the hot water, and watched as a mountain of frothy, white bubbles arose like an island from the foaming sea.
“Jack,” his dad said again, “Don’t use too much washing-up liquid. It all costs money. You only need to use a little.”
“I knooooooooooow!” he bellowed back sarcastically.
Still his dad continued. “Well then, make sure you wash them properly this time. Last time you didn’t do a good job, and your mum had to wash them all again.”
With that they both left for the living room.
Still annoyed, Jack began to wash-up, flinging the cups, plates, pans, and cutlery into the sea of bubbles. Not wanting to think about the pen fight again he did the wiping and scrubbing as quickly as he could. He didn’t care about any correct order or way of doing things; he just wanted to get it all done, and to get out of the kitchen as quickly as possible. He just flung them in the drainer one by one, stacking them haphazardly on top of each other until eventually a Mount Everest of pots, plates and pans arose from out of the drainer at least a foot high.
As soon as he finished, he burst into the small living room, eager to watch some TV, where a man in a grey suit was talking on the news about the latest tourists to blast-off into space.
He was just about to plonk himself on the sofa when a sound like thunder came from the kitchen.
Everybody sat up and turned around.
“JACK, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” his mum and dad bellowed at once.
They all rushed into the kitchen like a herd of stampeding wildebeest. All over the sticky, yellow, lino floor were an assortment of broken cups and plates as well as several pans and a great many knives and forks.
“Oh, Jaaaaaack!” his mum whined, “How are we going to replace all these? We haven’t got the money.”
Even he for once was lost for words.
“B-b-b-but I didn’t mean it!” he finally stammered, embarrassed, feeling sorry both for himself and for them.
“Didn’t mean it?” His mum bellowed back, “I’ve told you before about not rushing the washing-up and stacking them properly. Why can’t you listen, you STUPID boy?”
“I’M NOT STUPID!” He yelled back, the anger now becoming a flood. “I was only trying my best!”
“TRYING YOUR BEST!” she spat. “You never try your best. All you do is please yourself and make excuses.”
“No, I don’t. I’m always helping out with the washing up and making cups of tea. Why can’t we have a dishwasher like everybody else?” He demanded.
“Because we can’t afford it. I’ve told you bef..”.
“RUBBISH!” He shouted. “I’m SICK of being poor! I’m SICK of living in this run down house! I’m SICK of these second-hand clothes! I’m SICK of not going abroad! I'm SICK of SCHOOL! I'm SICK of this FACE! But most of all I’m SICK of YOU!”
He didn’t mean to say this. It just slipped out. He couldn’t help it.
“That’s enough, Jack!” demanded his dad “Stop shouting at your mum. Apologise to her at once. She does a lot for you. Clean this mess up and then get to your room!”
“NOOOOOOOOO!” He roared suddenly, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!”
With that Jack stormed past them, knocking over a potted plant on the way, and left the house, slamming the front door behind him. They tried to follow, shouting and bellowing. But it was no use. Like a fox he ran away into the evening as fast as he could and didn’t look back.

He would never see his parents again.

If you want to read what happens next check out this link:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

How to Price Your E-Book

     Setting an Adequate Price

     When you are writing, editing, and even promoting your e-book setting an adequate price can often be the last thing on your mind. Do you fix it at closer to $10 and thereby get the maximum amount of profit, or do you veer more towards the lower end of the scale and set the price as cheap as Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc will allow or do you aim for somewhere in the middle?
     Firstly, I think that you'd be mad to price your book anywhere over $5/6. That price bracket is the preserve of the mainstream author at best, with the full weight of a tyrannosaurus-like publisher behind them. George R.R Martin's latest book for example, The World of Ice and Fire is priced at £12.99 ($17) on, but of course such is the fame of his Game of Thrones series that this book will pretty much sell itself. Other mainstream authors however aren't so lucky. All of the current best selling e-books on are priced at between $1.23 and $5.02. This is who you - as an unknown writer - are competing with, so setting a price above that of a more widely known writer would be a grave error in my view. After your close family and friends have bought your book sales will dry up because there are very few (if any) people who will spend a considerable sum of money on an unknown literary quantity, particularly if there are few positive reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc and if no one is recommending it to them. Getting members of the general reading public to purchase our books is hard enough without a large price tag dangling in front of their eyes to put them off even further.

     Bargain Basement

     My book Jack Strong and the Red Giant is currently priced on Amazon at $1.23 which is their lowest possible price (and if I could price it even lower I would). When I first launched my book however, I set the price at a far more expensive $4.99. Why? Because I had delusions of grandeur. I honestly believed that if I could sell enough books that I could actually make a decent amount of money from my book. The problem was that after the initial period of promotion petered out sales flat-lined. After having reduced the price to $1.23 sales have picked up a little and I've been able to maintain an average of 1.8 downloads per week - not great but an improvement on zero for sure, and a figure that nonetheless keeps on ticking over. Of course the reason for the pick up in sales lies not just in the price change but also in the fact that I've been promoting my book via this blog and other places which has in turn led to further downloads. However, I think that it is far more likely that a casual browser of my book will make a purchase if he or she sees it as something close to a bargain, hence the $1.23 price tag. I can't take the chance that people will be put off buying my book on account of price. If they like it I want them to buy it.

    The Publishing Ladder

    There aren't any millionaire authors on Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's books - they are all happily and comfortably ensconced in the major publishing houses, so don't expect to make much money following your book launch. You should however, be aware of the publishing ladder and where it can take you. If you can sell enough books and if you can get as many positive reviews as possible then you should either catch a small (or even bigger) publisher's eye or you should be able to put a convincing enough pitch together to pull yourself up to the next rung on the publishing ladder. Luck's got nothing to do with it - it's all about hard work and being dedicated to the craft.

     Final Word

     If you are wondering at what price you should set your book at (you don't have to go as low as mine though I wouldn't go much higher) you may also like to ask yourself if you'd buy it under similar circumstances, especially if there are little or no reviews for you to gauge the quality of the book. You could also take a look at your competitors on Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc and see what the prices are for their books and how yours compares to theirs.

    If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 30 October 2014

How To (Not) Give Away Your e-book For Free


     Just over two months ago I gave away free copies of my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant over a two day period. I'd released Jack's adventures to the world a few weeks previous to that, but following the initial sales burst, download figures had slumped, hence my decision to give my book away for free in order to get things and hopefully readers moving again. In total 90 people downloaded my book, including 59 on the first day alone.
     Great eh? Well, watching that big fat green line shoot up like some kind of arrow surely was. If all of the people who downloaded my book read it and loved it and reviewed it and then recommended it to their friends then my book might just get off the proverbial ground and land somewhere in the stratosphere, which is what I'm sure every author thinks when they run a book give away. The problem though, as I'm sure other Indy authors will testify, is that the vast majority of the people who downloaded my book will in all likelihood never ever read it.
     Why? Because it's free. Think about it - the vast majority of people use and/or consume whatever they pay for. If you buy a snickers bar you eat it fairly soon after popping it in your pocket. The same goes for computers, TV's, cars, cups, plates, and especially books. Sure, if someone gave you a free TV or car you'd use that, but would you if you had a hundred or even a thousand to choose from? That's what it's like for the would-be reader of yours and my book. They have hundreds, maybe even thousands of books swirling around the digital netherworld of their kindles, each one demanding to be read. Your free book would have to be pretty special for them to ignore the latest offering from George R.R Martin or Stephen King for example, not to mention the classics (because that's exactly who the Indy writer is competing with). Of course if you are a close friend or a family member of the author then that may just be different, but for the majority of readers your book will likely slip further and further down their reading list until eventually it's forgotten about altogether.
     Over the last few months I've probably downloaded somewhere in the region of ten freebies and read precisely none of them. Not out of spite, not out of ignorance, but out of the fact that I have other more important books to read  - I'm trying to make my way through all fourteen of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, as well as reading the books by other Indy authors that I've paid money for. It's a shame, because I really would love to have the time to read EVERYTHING that comes my way - and perhaps I will once I finish the WoT, but since I'll likely be neck deep in another fantasy epic by then, I doubt it.

The Long Hard Slog

     Ultimately, the Indy author, aside from giving away review copies for free, has to (like every other author on the planet) embrace the long, hard slog of near-constant promotion in a bid to generate sales, reviews, and buzz, until such a time (if this ever comes about) that it becomes self-sustaining. The only way to do this is to get yourself out there by posting details of your novel on the top social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and by posting sample chapters online so that people can get a feel for the product (because it is a product just like anything else) that you are selling (this is especially the case when you're an Indy writer with only Amazon behind you). You could also consider setting up a writing blog (like I have) or something to that effect (I'm also preparing to set up a fictional blog for my main character, Jack Strong) in a bid to draw more readers towards your novel(s).
     There is a downside of course - you can kiss goodbye to all those lovely, fat, green arrows and those double digit 'sales' figures and get ready to embrace a few small red ones that don't go very high and come back down to Earth fairly quickly. Since my last and only freebie give away I have sold 18 books, which is an average of about 6 or 7 a month, a number that of course is hardly going to worry the NY Times best seller list, but of these (and here's the good thing) quite a few people have actually read it and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, which should if I'm lucky boost sales figures a bit more.

The Publishing Ladder

I don't want to be an Amazon author forever; ideally, I'd like to climb the publishing ladder and jump, if not to a major publisher, then at least to a small publisher with some sort of outreach that I currently don't possess. One way for me to do that of course is to approach agents and publishers with queries about my book. But there's just one problem: I've already done that (at least in the U.K) and I was rejected by a staggering 100% of them! What I now therefore hope to do is sell a few more books, establish more of an online presence (I have Jack Strong's diary particularly in mind here), and then approach some more agents and publishers. If I could get somewhere in the region of 100 to 200 sales (I'm currently hovering around 60) then I'd be fairly confident of piecing together a good, convincing pitch (at the end of the day ALL publishers want to be sure your book will sell) that would land me a half-decent publishing contract. So of course if all you do is give your book away for free it will be hard to convince the publisher/agent that there's an audience out there willing to pay for it.

Final Word

I'm not going to lie to you - publishing on Amazon and trying to generate sales and buzz is a long, lonely, and often quite tiring road. It takes constant resilience and effort. Sometimes I go a week without selling anything, and then there's a week like last week where I sold 4 copies in the space of a couple of days (yay me!). But if I've learnt anything it's that despite the above target, I have grown to appreciate and value ONE SALE. The fact that somebody - usually someone I don't know - is interested enough in my book to pay money for it and read it is nothing short of magical in my eyes, and at the end of the day I'd rather have one sale than ten or even a hundred free downloads.

If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Finishing a Novel

As if finishing a novel isn't a hard and long enough process, there's drafting (editing) to look forward to a few weeks or even a few months afterwards. For the writer, it's like climbing up Mount Everest, only to realise that K2 awaits a little farther off into the distance. But rather like our imaginary mountaineer, we need to give ourselves a little rest before we attempt our next summit, otherwise we are in danger of burning ourselves out. This rest can last weeks or even a few months (though you should be writing something else during this period, be it a novella, a few blog posts, or even a few poems), but it should be long enough to ensure that you are mentally-relaxed enough for a few months of hard, solid, often-frustrating drafting.

But I don't need to draft - I'm a writing genius

The first rule of writing is that everybody needs to draft. We only become perfect by being perfectionists, and by respecting the metaphorical mountain enough to go back and re-read what we've written. And this doesn't just apply to relative newcomers like myself (I put my first novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant through approximately ten drafts), even the likes of Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, and a lot more besides hammer and chisel away at their manuscripts until they are satisfied enough to pass it onto their publisher.

How do I draft?

Ultimately, what method your drafting takes is down to you - you have to do whatever you are comfortable with, so long as you are giving your would-be masterpiece a thorough sifting through. For example, when I put Jack Strong and the Red Giant through its first re-draft I printed the whole thing out and read it all from the first page to the last, making notes as I went along, before (slowly) typing up my alterations on the computer. That wasn't the end of the story of course: after that there were months of reading and re-reading ahead, until finally I was happy enough to declare it finished. As for how many drafts it will take, that's up to you; it just depends on whether or not you are satisfied with the finished article. If you're not then keep on hammering it into shape until you are.

What am I looking for when I draft?

When you put your novel through a series of drafts you should be focused on it much like a reader would. Try to ask yourself some of the following questions: Is the story original, believable, does it make sense? Are the characters likeable? How will they be perceived by the reader? Does the dialogue jump out at you, light up the page, and even direct the narrative? Is it grammatically correct? How long are your paragraphs - are they too long? Can they they be broken up? Is there any 'fluff' that you can cut out (I must have cut close to 40,000 words from Jack Strong and the Red Giant)? The list goes on and on, and a lot of the time it all depends on you as a writer and the kind of novel, character etc that you are trying to produce. For example, partly as a result of my time reading and writing poetry I am very keen to get as much colour as possible into my writing, I find that it helps the reader picture what I'm writing about that much easier.

The Final Draft

Now when you've finished your final draft and all those nasty, little kinks have been ironed out you may think, (quite like I did when I finished the first Jack Strong book), that you've finished, that it's over, and that you can now plough onto the synopsis and the query letter and ping off some e mails to some agents and publishers - but you'd be wrong, dead wrong in fact. What you should do now (as I have just done this week) is give it one more check for punctuation errors, because it may just be that a few - or perhaps more than a few - slipped you by in the drafting process. Then and only then should you consider approaching agents and publishers, or publish on Amazon etc.

Final Word

When it's done, it's done and there's nothing else you can do about it. Try to resist any further alterations or else you will be tinkering with it for years. After that it's up to the reader to judge. But even if you're initially unsuccessful in finding a publisher (Stephen King's first two books The Running Man and The Long Walk, were both rejected) that doesn't mean that you should give up (I haven't). The more you read and write the more you will learn and the better you will get at it, until one day you write something that is EXACTLY what someone in the publishing industry is looking for.

If you want to read my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space check out the link below:

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Finishing a Novel


     When I first started writing my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant three years ago I imagined that upon its completion something akin to fireworks would explode: I would dance, thrust my hands in the hair, fist-pump, and hug and tell all my friends. In the eventuality however, these feelings of joy and triumph never materialised; in the end I felt more melancholy than anything, like a hot air balloon without its helium. At first, I thought that this must be a one-off since I'd been writing a collection of poetry for my MA at the time, which had tired me out a great deal, but lo and behold similar sensations of lethargy and emptiness also accompanied the completion of the second book in the Jack Strong series as well as my most recent effort, Dragon Rider. Where do these feelings come from and why are they here at all?

     Chickens and Eggs

     If the author is the chicken then the novel is most assuredly the egg and in a sense this metaphor helps explain the melancholy that often comes with the finishing of a novel. The writer has spent so long - years or even decades in some cases - knocking out storylines, framing characters, and spitting out words that a sense of sadness at the end of this process is not entirely unreasonable - it is our baby after all and at the end of the day we are sad to see it go.
     But what should we do about it, if anything? First of all, I think that you should accept it for what it is - I do - it's part of the novel writing process after all, but I also think that for a week or two afterwards you should do something different, something non-writing related. If I can I try to time the completion of a novel with a holiday, or if that's not possible I do a few of the things that I've missed out on over the previous three or four months, namely spending some quality time with friends, or else even checking out some of the sales at the local shopping centre. That way I give my body and my brain time to relax and refresh: I have to be full of energy after all to write the next novel. Just make sure you don't spend too long chilling out at the beach or in some nightclub - all you need is two or three weeks of R and R and then you should be ready to sit down in front of the proverbial typewriter again.

     It's a Marathon, not a Sprint

     Unfortunately, writing and publishing a novel is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Finishing the last sentence is really just the start of a long, drawn out process of a race that you may never actually finish. After the last words have been typed out and after a break of anywhere between a few weeks and a few months the writer is faced with the hugely difficult task of editing anywhere between 40,000 words for a small novel and 150,000 for a really big one. This process can often take longer than the actual time it took to write it and can be very stressful for the author, especially as he/she struggles with tiredness and a niggling sense of "Will this ever get done?"
     Then after the author declares the editing finished, there is the veritable jungle of trying to find an agent and/or a publisher (and if they're really lucky readers), and if this first part of the journey is unsuccessful (which it so often can be) then there's the Amazon route, which of course is not without its own considerable challenges. Which ultimately is why a writer, upon finishing the first draft, isn't fist-pumping and dancing with all around him: because they know that deep down it is only the beginning down a long and winding road ...

     If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space then check out the link below:

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Why I Write


The main reason why I write Children's/Young Adult novels (poetry seems to be slipping away from me at the moment) as well as this blog is that it is FUN! For me there is nothing more enjoyable (Okay, hiking a windswept mountain comes close) than sitting in front of my computer, mug of tea by my side, tap-tap tapping away as I bring life to my stories and my characters. Ultimately, it's not habit or ambition (though they are important too) that draw me back to the worlds of Jack Strong and Danny Moo, it's the fact that it's a better, more productive way to spend my time than most other things I do.

My Career

Another no less vital reason for me to write is that one day I would like to get paid for it. It would be great if, one day in the not-too-distant future, I could leave ESL teaching and China behind and just concentrate on my writing - and with two novels and a poetry collection waiting to be edited, plus the 3rd Jack Strong novel on the horizon I have plenty to do. Besides, wouldn't it be great to see my book published and adorning the shelves of bookshops across the world? If I want to be the next Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or J.K Rowling I can't very well get there by NOT writing can I?

Honing My Skills

With each page that I write, nay with each sentence, the better and more accomplished I become as a writer. Writing is sometimes less of an art form and more of a craft or a skill: the more you do it, the more you learn from your mistakes and the better you get. So it is with me. When I first sat down to write Jack Strong and the Red Giant it was hard work at first, and though I'd read a fair amount of novels, all I'd written before were poems so I was very rusty and still very much finding my feet as a writer. The total word count for Jack Strong is just above 80,000 words but I must have binned at least half this amount during the whole process. By the time I was penning my second novel however, all that had changed and everything seemed to flow easier and faster, the result being a far smoother, less chaotic novel completed in a quarter of the time with hardly any rejected text.

My Stories and My Characters

The more I write, the more my stories and my characters and the universes that they inhabit take on a life of their own. I can't let Jack Strong and Vyleria Romen (the main characters in my novel Jack Strong and the Red Giant) die by either by procrastination or through losing hope. To me they are no longer characters in some novel of mine, but close friends that almost have a life of their own; lives that deserve to go on and be written about and read over and over again.

My readers

Now whilst I don't have legions of fans scurrying around and haranguing me for my autograph yet, my book has been read, reviewed, and commented on by numerous people. What I really love are the reviews from those people who want to read more, who demand to know when the next book is out, and what will happen to this character and that character etc. Reviews like these are Red Bulls to writers like me. They give me hope. They make me want to write on and have the belief that maybe someday more people like them will appreciate what I'm doing, buy my book, and hopefully spread the word.

Final Word 

These are the reasons why I write, but what about you? I'd love to hear from readers and writers alike in the comment box below ...

My book Jack Strong and the Red Giant is available @:

Friday, 3 October 2014

Prologue from Jack Strong and the Red Giant


The boy pulled the bundle of furs close as the last of his fire rocks went out.
He couldn’t stop shivering. It was getting colder and colder every day now.
Outside he could hear the Nagwhals calling, their shrill whine bouncing off the ice falls, reaching deep into the cave.
He was so hungry. He hadn't eaten in days.
Beneath the pile of rotten fur he held onto his brother, now stiff with cold.
Down the tunnel he heard a long, piercing shriek and a loud splash. Moments later a big silver head followed by a long silver body squeezed itself out of the darkness and slid towards him, its huge, jagged teeth snapping at his rags.
A yell and a lunge and it was all over.
He let go of his brother as the Nagwhal tugged his stiff body back down the dark tunnel.
He was alone now - the last boy alive on a long dead planet.
The boy shivered, and waited for the Nagwhal to come again.

Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old's adventures in space is out now on Amazon:

Thursday, 2 October 2014



     The last few posts that I've written have centred around the subject of criticism and in particular how to categorise it (Type one = immediately reject, Type 2 = immediately accept, and Type 3 = Accept after a period of reflection), but this then in turn raises another problem: how do I know if the critic is right or wrong? As an author, the best way to answer this question, is by honing and sharpening, not unlike a knife, your capacity for self-criticism. The best and only way to do this is by reading and writing more. The more you write, the better you get at it and the more you instinctively know what makes a good character and an interesting story, as well as what words are appropriate in any given situation. So when somebody - it could be a friend or an online reviewer for example - gives you some criticism (remember if it's not constructive it belongs in the bin!) you can deal with it accordingly.

     Will it make me a better writer?

     Sometimes I think that it's best to ask yourself this one, simple question: If I make the changes that they're suggesting will it make my novel, short story, or poem better? When I showed the first chapter of my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant to Sherry Ashworth, my professor at Manchester Metropolitan University she suggested several changes, not the least of which was deleting a lot of the over-description (there had to have been at least ten pages describing the living room in great detail!). Of course I'd rather she had praised the whole thing and given me an 'A', but that's not how these things work, at least not initially. After a few moments of reflection I could see quite clearly that by deleting the offending paragraphs that my novel would be all the better for it, that the narrative would flow more freely, and that the reader (Rule number 1 of writing: the reader is always right) would enjoy it all the more. Ultimately, by listening to and actioning Sherry's criticism the novel as a whole was improved, not least because I didn't make the same mistake twice.


     The inner critic is also cultivated by the more books you read. Books, not unlike sunshine and water to plants, are what allow our literary and creative minds to grow. The more we read the more words swill and bounce around in our heads, and the more we connect with real, publishable characters, as well as believable worlds and convincing storylines. Ultimately, these are all what the MODERN READER wants and BUYS, so as writers we have listen to them. This is not to be confused with imitation - we always have to strive to be original - it is merely a tool to show us what is acceptable and what is not, and what is publishable and what will likely end up in the agent's slush pile.

    The final draft

    Criticism in inevitable, whether you are Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, or a struggling young (ish) writer like myself, but the trick is to keep it to a minimum. If people are tearing apart your final draft then the odds are that you've made some howlers, but if it's a few niggles here and there that can either be explained away (you are allowed to say you're right occasionally) or actioned appropriately then you are well on the way to getting your first book or poem published. What is important though is that you work extremely hard on your project and draft! draft! draft! until you can get it just a few notches off perfect (I for one believe that perfection is impossible). You can do this by asking yourself a few simple questions: For example, is it an interesting story? Do the characters come to life in your head and captivate you? Is the dialogue believable and modern? (remember most people do not speak like the Queen!) Is it too short? Is it too long? At the end of every chapter do you want to read further? Do you have to use a dictionary to understand some of the words? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry?


     Whatever kind of writer you want to be, just make sure that you are a confident one. You have to believe absolutely in your story, in your characters, and in the language you use, because some people (not all of your readers will be nice) will knock you and rock your boat and attempt to do all that they can to capsize it before its even set sail. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but that doesn't mean that you have to listen to them, especially when they aren't being constructive with their criticism. If you are too shy, and too easily influenced by others then there is a good chance that all you will do is listen to this person's advice and then that person's until eventually you are blown off course.  Sometimes, as writers, we have to be prepared to say: This is my story. I wrote it, I believe in it. Take it or leave it. After that the rest is up to the reader ...

    If you want to read my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Getting Reviews for your E-Book

     Getting Reviews  

     Indy writers very much like myself need (hugely) positive reviews since firstly, with no major publishing house behind us we receive so little exposure and secondly, (according to Amazon) the number we receive is indirectly connected with book sales. So the more 4 and 5 star reviews that our books get the more likely it is that a glance at our book's page on Amazon or an advertisement on Facebook or Twitter will result in either an actual sale or at least the download of a free sample.         
     Sounds easy eh? Well, not quite since reviews are a little bit like whales around Japan - quite hard to come by. Once the writer has begged and hounded his close friends and immediate family into reviewing their book they then have to look elsewhere. At this juncture in the literary desert the writer has two options: 1. Hope/pray that some of the people that have already downloaded the book via Amazon etc a) actually read it and b) review it positively enough (not always a guarantee) and 2) Send out free copies to the hordes of amateur reviewers that frequent the halls of the internet like bats in a cave. Of these two the latter is perhaps the easier and more straight forward, though it depends on your personal situation and the exposure that you have managed to generate for your book.

     The Quest

     When I first started sending off Jack Strong and the Red Giant to this veritable army of reviewers I thought that I'd hit the jackpot and that pretty soon I would have 20+ 4.5/5 star reviews for my book, thus triggering a relative deluge in sales that would make me feel supremely confident both about myself as a writer and my project. How wrong I was. At the time of writing this blog I think that I have sent off in excess of 50 review requests to an array of reviewers, each one carefully chosen for their love of sci-fi/YA books. To date I have received only 2 reviews with a further 2 outstanding (and I'm not convinced that these will ever materialise), with the rest either not replying to my e mails or else stating that, upon reading my summary, that it didn't interest them and that therefore they would not be reading my book (hardly surprising since most amateur reviewers are inundated with requests, so if they don't fancy a book then it makes sense for them to turn it down).


     But it doesn't matter, because the glass is half-full right? Well, sort of. Of the two reviews that I have already alluded to one was interstellar great, whilst the other one was down in the gutter, pig-feed bad. Let's start with the more positive of the two: Gadget Girl Reviews. The best thing about this review was that not only did she rave about my book, but she also bought into the characters and the storyline that I was telling and she quite literally begged to be allowed to review the sequel (I'm still waiting to edit it), so the fact that she gave it 5 stars was immaterial - she loved it and that was all that mattered to me and it gave me CONFIDENCE both as a writer and in the whole Jack Strong universe that I'm trying to create. Ultimately, this is the kind of review that all writers should be chasing: it's free, honest, and independent, and it's dripping with positivity. 
     Okay, now let's get to the bad. When I first sent off my free copy to the I should have been wary. On their website it does state that if you pay them (there are several review and advertisement packages ranging from $15-$100) then it will "ensure" that a reviewer gets to it promptly and that it will be properly displayed upon their website once the review is finished. Since I opted for the free package I should have been alert to the danger, and sure enough within a few days my 1/4 review slid into my inbox, dampening the enthusiasm that - on account of rising sales - had been building all summer. Now I'm not going to sit here and rant and call them all sorts of bad names and trash their reputation etc. If I'd have paid $X would I have gotten a better review? Perhaps. Perhaps not (Though I can't see myself getting a bad review if I'd have paid $100). But at the end of the day it was their opinion (however uninformed: the reviewer didn't believe it possible that my main character, Jack Strong would know what the Earth looked like from space!) and no matter how much I may disagree with it I have to accept that and move on. Luckily for me, however, about a week later the aforementioned Gadget Girl review pinged and raved its way into my inbox, thus giving me a bit more confidence, a tad more momentum.

     Amazon Sales

     It goes without saying that the onlinebookclub review resulted in zero sales, but what about the gadget girl review? Though she tweeted and posted the review on Amazon and on her blog there was I'm sorry to say no immediate bounce in sales. So are we therefore to deduce that reviews are worthless (at least when it comes to actual sales)? Well, first of all I think it depends upon the reach of the reviewer in question and whether their opinion counts for something with the readers who follow them. If there are only twenty or so people following them (I am not aware of how many people follow Gadget Girl) then it is more likely in my opinion, that sales will be negligible at least in the short term. In the long term however, the weather forecast is a little more rosy, at least so long as the review has been posted on Amazon. This is because Amazon (well their all-seeing computers at any rate), recommend a variety of books based upon their buying habits, to people all around the world (My own book has been recommended to me on three occasions). It stands to reason that if someone follows the link to your book, then a few good or even great reviews may have an impact upon whether or not they eventually buy it. Now since I've been averaging about 2 downloads a week for the last couple of months or so I'm more than tempted to believe that reviews such as the one by Gadget Girl are having a lasting, durable impact upon my book's sales. It's not a great amount of course, but it is something to be proud of and draw confidence from, and hopefully, together with the influence of this blog (300+ reads so far and growing) this rate will either remain steady, or if I'm really lucky, start to increase.

     Advice for writers

     Though getting reviews can be an arduous and frustrating business, they are important, not least because a positive review from a stranger (and this is the review that as writers we need to crave and target the most) can have a lasting and considerable impact upon both our writing careers and upon future book sales (just don't expect the dam to burst). Ultimately, as indy writers we have to see ONE SALE as being a success. I will take ten sales over one hundred downloads any day. Why? Because if someone pays for a book then it is almost certain that at some point in the near future they will settle down to read it, but if it's free then it's not so certain. Over the last couple of months I have downloaded approximately five free e-books and I've read none of them, but the one book that I actually paid for (£0.77) I read within a couple of weeks. Whenever I'm unsure about something like this I find that thinking what I'd do as a reader helps guide me as a writer.
     As for any negative reviews that you may happen to get (and whatever you do never respond to them as I've seen other authors unwisely do) you have to process them accordingly and not let them dampen your spirits for your project or even for writing in general. This is especially true, as was the case with my bad review, when the criticism is NOT CONSTRUCTIVE or even hostile. If it's like this then I'd just advise you to wash it from your mind like a bad stain on a pair of pants: you don't need negativity like that weighing you down. Besides, it maybe a cliché but at the end of the day it is all SUBJECTIVE: people have different literary tastes and what someone admires another detests and vice versa.

     The Future

     Whether the reviews are good, bad, or merely indifferent, the most important thing is to keep writing and reading and keep believing in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. Anything less and you are not being true to yourself as a writer. 

    If you would like to read more of my work please check out my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Constructive Criticism

     What is constructive criticism?  

     Put simply, constructive criticism is when somebody offers both positive and negative comments about a person's work (story, poem, play or otherwise), though the ratio of each of these can often differ depending on the people involved. Ideally, the idea behind constructive criticism is to provide both encouragement for the writer, as well as offering commentary on some areas where the reviewer feels that the work can be improved upon. To understand the process better I have sub-divided constructive criticism into two distinct parts: Giving and Receiving.


     If there's one thing that I've learnt over the last 20 years of my writing life it's that it is all-too easy for people to criticise, to debunk, and to give scorn when they come across a piece of literature that they see no value in. Now, I'm not going to slam these people (I have been one of them myself sometimes) or say that their opinions are incorrect, because ultimately they all have their opinions and they are quite rightly entitled to them. However, it is my opinion that ALL writers serve a higher power, a greater being entirely, and it's not God, or the church, or your favourite football team or political party - it's LITERATURE; and whenever someone writes a book, or a poem for example this neo-21st century deity expands and grows brighter, not unlike a light bulb, expanding its lifespan just a little bit more, ensuring that more children and adults learn to read and enjoy books, thus combating dogma and illiteracy, and at the same time promoting imagination, creativity, and humanism.
      However, if someone's work is rejected out of hand then the light bulb dims slightly, especially if the writer concerned loses all confidence and hope, so it is imperative that the reviewer (be they a friend or even a professional critic) finds and focuses on the few gold nuggets of quality within the piece, before passing these onto the writer, thus giving them the encouragement to continue with both their current and future projects. You would never slam a poem or a story written by a child so why change when they are adults? Sure, they are probably not a Dickens or a Shakespeare (who is today?), but with the right dose of constructive criticism they might yet get somewhere close to it if they are given some creative air to breathe.


     Receiving criticism is one of the hardest things to take for a writer, because quite obviously we all want to be perfect, and write great stories that everybody will read, love, and adore. But here's the thing: we're not; nobody is: not Stephen King, J.K Rowling, or Salman Rushdie. They've all made mistakes in their writing and will continue to do so. Why? Because they're human, and like Alexander Pope said  "To be human is too err." What the modern writer has to be willing to do - big whales and little sticklebacks alike - is take constructive advice, because as READERS all their points are valid, and they are giving voice to what other readers may perhaps be thinking. If you dig your heels in and stick rigidly to your own guns then all you'll end up doing is creating and maintaining your own literary island, cut-off from the rest of the world (and by implication your readers), destined to repeat the self-same mistakes over and over again, never progressing, the dream of publishing forever lodged just beyond the horizon. Besides, if someone has taken the time to suggest ways for you to improve, instead of merely trashing your book or worse not offering comment altogether, then you should listen to them because they are interested enough in your work to a) read it and b) think of some ways to make it more readable and/or publishable.
     When I wrote the first few chapters of my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, the few people who I showed it to could have panned it, but they didn't, they focused on what was good and noteworthy and praised it, whilst simultaneously pointing out what they thought could be improved upon. It was was hard to take at first, but ultimately I focused on the positive things they said, took confidence from them, and then paid greater heed to my project's shortcomings. If it wasn't for their constructive criticism I doubt that my novel would've been as successful as it has.

     Final Word

     Of course every now and again someone (especially with so many anonymous online reviewers about) will trash your book and say that it is the literary equivalent of toilet paper and that you have no talent whatsoever, and that by implication you should just give up and leave it to your betters. Ignore these people and what they say completely. I stridently believe that there are positive things to be found in everything that's written, whether they are in the story, the characters, or the language etc. If the person lambasting your work doesn't or won't see that then you should take everything they say and chuck it in the bin. Similarly if it is YOU that's dishing out the literary lashings take a minute to reflect on what you are saying and how the person at the end of it all might feel because it might just be that some part of what you say is valid, but surrounded by all that hostility and negativity it will very likely end up in the bin with the rest of your ill-judged comments. Ultimately, as writers we have to improve whether we are international best sellers or struggling indy authors on Amazon, and constructive criticism allows us to grow and develop, and to see our work somewhat objectively through the eyes of the reader.

My debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space is available now on Amazon. You can buy it/read an excerpt here: