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: