Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London series

A while back, I somehow became aware of a novel called Rivers of London, by one Ben Aaronovitch. Genre-wise, it's a curious cross between crime and fantasy, and I couldn't help smiling. It's not so many years ago that I pitched a top editor with an idea for a novel which was a cross between two genres, only to be told that it would never work. So much for wisdom and experience, eh? Nowadays I wouldn't have to give a shit what a top man thought, I would just do it myself, but then...

Anyway, I read Rivers of London with great enjoyment. It stretches the old credulity somewhat, in places, but never mind, I thought, give the man a chance, first book in a proposed series, and so on.

That was in early 2011, it seems, and since then Mr A has produced two more: Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground. This man really knows his London, and if you don't, you may find it a little confusing. But all three novels are excellent if you are looking for a crime fiction/fantasy hybrid, with lots of magic, ancient geographical features personified into gods and goddesses, and so forth. Some humour too, which never hurts.

Just in case you get confused: the first book seems to be called Midnight Riot in the US.

No doubt there will be more.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How to write a short story (that works)

Dean Wesley Smith is as experienced a writer as you are ever likely to come across. In his post of 23 August, he describes how he went about writing and publishing a short story; publishing, that is, both electronically and in a paper edition. Total time involved: 10 hours, spread over a few days.

So it can be done. And his work does sell, regardless of whether you and I like it or whatever.

Note, however, that a number of skills are needed to pull this kind of thing off successfully. First, lots and lots of practice -- in his case, many years and millions of words. This develops facility, speed, and judgement as to what will work and what won't. Second, he did have a little help (a proofer and a good critic for a wife). Third, he has also developed enough graphic skills to do his own covers.

Personally I would be inclined to take a little more time. The total time would be about the same -- 3 hours per 1000 words is my usual average -- but I would put the story aside for a week or two before giving it a final polish. And perhaps allow another gap before the final check for typos. Then publish.

But, most importantly perhaps, I agree with Dean that once the story is finished you should leave it alone and get on with something else. Otherwise you will tinker for ever, to the advantage of neither the reader nor yourself.

At this point I will immodestly inform you that everything I know about the art and science of short-story writing is incorporated into my book How to Write a Short Story that Works. Search for the title in your local kindlestore and ye shall find.

Well, up to a point. I just did that myself, and found that there are in fact two editions of this book, at least on

What happened, you see, was this. Some years ago, maybe ten, I wrote How to with the intention of publishing it as a trade paperback, via my own company. But I never got around to getting it into print, a procedure which would, in any case, have resulted in just a few copies selling to UK libraries, and very few readers.

It so happens that I am old-fashioned enough to think that, if I go to the trouble of writing something, I want it to be read. By as many people as possible. So instead of going through all the hoops of issuing it as a trade paperback (it is, believe me, a time-consuming process) I stuck it up on Scribd, as a free download. I issued it under a Creative Commons licence (attribution licence 3.0 to be precise), so that it could be freely copied, sent to friends, and so forth. It seems that I may have posted it on other free sites as well, such as

And now, some years later, some enterprising soul has posted my first (oboko) edition of How to as a paid-for edition on Kindle. And any royalties received from sales of that edition will go to him or her.

This is, to say the least, a surprise. I did not think that the Creative Commons licence allowed anyone to do that. But it may be an arguable point. In any case, my discovery is not an unpleasant surprise. It is slightly flattering that anyone should take the trouble. And he or she is not going to get rich.

Anyway, to go back to the Scribd et cetera version. After a few years I noticed that the Scribd freebie had had 27,000 downloads, so I thought, Gee, if 27,000 people think it's worth a look at the free version, maybe a few thousand will pay for it. So I revised the book (and a lot can change in ten years, particularly on the marketing side). And in 2011 I took down the Scribd version put the second edition on sale on Kindle and Smashwords.

Should you be interested, my latest version of How to Write a Short Story that Works looks like this:

Buy anything else and you will get an earlier (out of date in some respects) edition, and the royalty will go to someone other than the author. Also, in coverting it from an freebie, our friendly neighbourhood entrepreneur has failed to format the thing properly. It's a bit of a mess.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

That DBW list... Heinlein's Rules... Dr Joanne Benford... and stuff

Further to Monday's post, in which I mentioned that DBW had published a new ebook bestseller list; and I also mentioned, in passing, that the methodology of the list was 'not entirely transparent'.

Well, it turns out that the list was constructed using methods which were even less transparent than I thought. The list is reportedly the work of Dan Lubart, who, among other things, is a senior Vice President at Harper Collins. This revelation has made some people suspicious, and I can't blame them. Nate Hoffelder gives an overview.

Not that I care very much about this, or am remotely surprised. Never a day goes by without me finding out something new about how the political, business, financial, and other worldly empires, all lie to us, cheat, steal, manipulate, and otherwise benefit themselves at the expense of ordinary folks who just get on with their lives. We are getting used to it.

Dean Wesley Smith is not going to be terribly surprised either, one feels. In his latest, and very sensible, remarks about agents, he makes reference to Heinlein's Rules. I think I've read these before, but any writers who haven't might usefully read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. Versions appear in lots of places, such as here.

Oh yes. And before I forget... I have, in my time, been rather rude about creative-writing courses at universities. In intemperate moments, while not entirely sober, I may, inadvertently, have described those who teach such courses as often talentless and otherwise unemployable. So it's a bit of a relief, really, to come across a story which I can use in my defence. Most UK newspapers have a version of it: here's the Telegraph's.

PS I wonder where Dr Benford got her PhD.

PPS It was from the University of Sunderland. And apparently, according to one academic who has looked at it, it's a crude cut and paste job. So, next question, who were the internal and external examiners?  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Disgruntled writers, happy readers, and value for money

One trend I've noticed, over the last year or more, is for writers with long track records in traditional publishing (often known as legacy publishing, or print publishing) to sound off about the firms they once did business with. Sometimes they speak in the bluntest terms about how they were treated, cheated, let down, and otherwise buggered about.

I offer a couple of recent examples. Joe Konrath, in an afterword to Melinda DuChamp's guest blog, lays down the law in no uncertain terms. Here's a man with goodness knows how many print books to his name who is never, under any circumstances, going to be tempted to go back into slavery.

'I don't need legacy publishing,' he writes, 'and I will never be taken advantage of again. I declare myself independent of the entire archaic, broken, corrupt system.' Which is plain enough for anyone.

One more example. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is another experienced writer who regularly has less than complimentary things to say about contract terms, often quoting examples from her own period of servitude (although she also gives credit where credit is due). Her general conclusion is that traditional publishers have gone crazy.

It seems that, the longer the writers' track record, the more likely they are to favour going indie.

Readers, meanwhile, are busy buying books (or picking up free ones via the Kindle Select system -- see, currently, Topp Family Secrets). Digital Book World has taken to publishing ebook bestseller lists which analyse the data (according to a not entirely transparent methodology) into various price bands. This is interesting, not least because it suggests that the big publishers are still able to sell at least some ebooks at high prices.

Whether they are maximising their income through an intelligent use of pricing is, however, another matter entirely. As far as I am concerned, their pricing policy seems to be more or less crazy (same conclusion as Ms Rusch). For example, a few weeks ago the Sunday Times carried a review of a new book by a favourite of mine, Alan Furst. The ebook price quoted was, I thought, £19.99, but that may have been a misprint or I may have misread it. Either way, when I came to check it on Amazon, it was £9.99, which is quite stupid enough.

£9.99 translates as $15.68 (as of today), which is way above any book on DBW's latest $10 and up bestseller list (apart from bundles of books). At £2 or maybe even £4 this would have been an instant buy for me. But £9.99? You have to be fucking joking. This is a novel -- an entertainment, albeit an unusually intelligent one. It's not a cure for cancer. And pricing an ebook at that level is not a strategy for staying in business.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Topp Family Secrets FREE

If you're interested in a free Kindle ebook, this is just let you know that for the next four days my novel Topp Family Secrets is available as a free download. You can find it on or, or, for that matter, on the French and other versions of Amazon. If the book doesn't appeal to you, you might be able to pass on the news to someone who would enjoy it.

The history of this book might interest the handful of you who are writing your own novels.  From about 1982 until the early nineties, I was too busy with the main job to consider writing novels, but I did write a few plays. Then, when I could finally see some time clear to do a novel, I had a think about what to do. I wanted to do (a) a novel that I would enjoy writing, and (b) something commercial. So, working on the general principle that there are more women readers of fiction than men, I decided that I would write a longish family saga, with lots of complications about who gets the money and who marries who.

So far so good. I worked out a long and suitably complicated plot, did a fairly detailed outline, wrote 10,000 words or so, and my then agent shopped it around. Some firms liked it, but the one who liked it most (Macmillan) decided that the proposed book would be too long for the economics to work. Or so they said.

At some point I decided to write the damn thing anyway, since I at least thought it would be fun to do.

What I had forgotten was that I was ten years out of practice at the job. In particular, I had misjudged the length. What I had anticipated would be 120,000 to 150,000 words turned out to be, as it went along, somewhere between two and three times that length.

So I decided, very sensibly, to split it into three volumes. And I finished the first, published it myself in trade paperback (the way to go when it was done), and then moved on.

As is the way of things, parts two and three of the proposed saga never did get started, let alone finished. Given my age and energy levels, they probably never will see the light of day.

Never mind. Topp Family Secrets stands alone. Some of the characters and settings overlap with Daphne before She Died, and I am fond of the whole thing. I feel as if these people are my old friends, and that's why I've Kindled it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FREE till 17 August

Daphne+COVER+2nd+attempt+FLAT+AS+JPEG.jpgIt was not until I got the email from Sophie Schiller (see post below) that I realised that a blogger/writer who was any good at marketing would already have remembered to tell people that his latest novel (Kindle version) is available free until 17 August.

Well, better late than never.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, get your copy while stocks last. Or whatever you're supposed to say in these circumstances. Daphne before She Died can now be downloaded free, on amazon, until the end of the week.

David Frauenfelder has written an interesting review on the US Amazon site, and Gladys Hobson ditto on Amazon. Both of these reviewers told me things about myself and the book that I didn't know. Extraordinary.

I see that in the first 24 hours of this offer, 293 people have already downloaded the freebie. Which is encouraging. But how they have got to hear of it is a mystery. The web sites which specialise in telling people about free ebooks mostly concentrate on books with about ten 5-star reviews, which I haven't got (yet). And if I try to find Daphne on any list of free books on Amazon itself I can't trace it.

So, not for the first time, I am left reflecting that Amazon works in mysterious ways.

PS David Frauenfelder has his own take on the world over at Breakfast with Pandora. And Gladys Hobson is an excellent writer in her own right. Take a look, for example, at her novel about a granny in search of an orgasm. Obviously one of her favourites (as Daphne is with me), she has recently reworked it.

PPS Half an hour later. OK, done a bit more prowling around Amazon, and I find that, on, there is a page with a list of 'Bestsellers in Family Saga Fiction.' Alongside the list of the top 100 paid books there is a list of the top 100 free books. And Daphne is currently at number 2. Which is even more encouraging.

The theory behind all this, in case you're wondering, is that giving the book away free for a week will get it read by a few people. Not everyone who downloads the freebie will read it, and, of those who do, not all will like it; but of the remainder, the enthusiastic readers, some may tell their friends, some will post a review, twitter, blog, like it on Facebook, and all that stuff that life is too short for me to do for myself. And thus, it is reasoned, both in the minds of Amazon executives and in the fevered brains of rabidly ambitious and hopelessly unrealistic authors, thus are bestsellers made.


Transfer Day by Sophie Schiller

Well, here's another trusting soul who thinks that a mention on this blog will boost her sales and reputation. Ah, if only. I'm not even good at marketing my own stuff (see next post).

Sophie Schiller has written to me about her new novel, Transfer Day. Set in World War I, its locale is an unusual part of the world which in those days was known as the Danish West Indies. In 1917 it was transferred to the US.

Sophie has done loads and loads of research on this period and location and has embedded all that in a good old-fashioned spy thriller with some larger-than-life characters. And why not. Done the same thing myself in the past, about slightly different times and places (and the Kindle edition will be out soon, folks, watch this space.)

Go take a look on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


I can't quite work it out. Either people send out thousands of emails, to every conceivable book-related web site and blog, or else they have touching faith that, somehow, a mention on this particular blog will bring them thousands of hits on their site. Misplaced faith, if you ask me, but if someone writes to me and asks for a mention I usually oblige.

So, I am here to tell you, at their request, that 'has relaunched and is currently accepting new writing submissions.' The organisers of Pubslush think that it could be 'a great tool for authors.'

Well, if you're an author, take a look. Apart from anything else, there's a link to good causes and 'fighting illiteracy'.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Boldness be My Friend

It's funny how some books survive while some disappear after six months. This afternoon, for instance, I was walking past a charity shop when I saw in the window a copy of a book that I read nearly sixty years ago. And yet there it was, in a modern paperback edition.

When I got home I looked it up on Amazon. The title is Boldness be My Friend, and it's by Richard Pape. First published by Elek Books in 1953, apparently, and now available in a 2008 edition from Headline Review. The printer is Antony Rowe, which means that they've done it as a POD edition, and very wise too. I notice that the original copyright notice was in the name of Helen Pape, so perhaps his wife wrote the book on behalf of the nominal author.

Boldness be My Friend was one of the many wartime memoirs of ex-servicemen which were published within about ten years after the end of hostilities in 1945. The most famous of these memoirs was, perhaps, The Wooden Horse, by Eric Williams. First published in February 1948, it was reprinted nine times in the next four months. A huge seller; and it was soon filmed (1950), the film too being a big success. Collins were the original publisher, and Leo Cooper (Jilly's husband) revived it in 2005.

Both these books were about prisoners of war, held by the Germans, who somehow or other managed to escape from their prison camps and made their way back to England. Or tried to. That was their appeal. Captured these men might have been, but they never gave up fighting. That sort of thing. And the appeal, it seems, still lingers. Courage in the face of adversity. Don't underestimate it.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Mark Coker on The Future of Publishing

Mark Coker, as many of you will know, is the founder of Smashwords, the ebook distributor. Turns out that he was recently invited to give a couple of presentations to the 2012 conference of the Romance Writers of America.

On his blog, Mark has some profoundly interesting and useful things to say about romantic fiction. More to the point, he has made available all the slides that he used in his talk entitled 'The Future of Publishing'.

Even if you have been avidly following all the changes in technology and publishing practice over the last few years, I strongly advise you to take a look at this. It doesn't take long to go through it and you will learn a great deal. Much of it is based not on speculation and opinion but on actual sales data from the Smashwords experience. Marvellous stuff.

Mr Coker is not above criticism (in particular his choice of Word as the source file for his operation has been questioned), but generally speaking he is light years ahead of those in mainstream publishing.