Monday 28 September 2009

The View From the Shoe: Paul Squires (Gingatao)

Paul is a poet and a thinker. He has the ability to shed the clearest light on things with the fewest words.

You can find his wonderful poetry-based blog at
and follow him on twitter at:

Over to Paul:

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
I could look Louboutin up but I am notoriously lazy. Con verse definitely.

What do you do?

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
There are plenty who do it better, no one else would want to do it like me.

What do you really, really love about it?
It's fun.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Time is the only commodity. Money can buy time.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
If I'm making it, it will bacon and eggs. Otherwise, leave it up to the chef.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Is Jimmy Choo some kind of a hipster? I'm an old man, I don't havetime for this question, it's cobblers.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
I don't have fans, they blow an ill-wind.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
A completely different world in which we all can be independent and generating just enough surplus to be happy. Why is that so difficult?

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behindpeople and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could chooseanyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
No I don't, I must have been drunk that night. Takeshi Kitano is under contract for the job already.

Frocks or socks?
Clothes are for wimps.

Saturday 26 September 2009

You get ZERO for FREE

All three of the first Year Zero Writers novels - Benny Platonov, Glimpses of a Floating World, and Songs from the Other Side of the Wall - are now available as ebooks for free.

I want to take a moment to explain why. Inevitably this will mean rehashing some arguments I've made on this blog, and on others. So if you've heard it all before, please bear with me. Because I want to give a list of reasons and starting points for conversation, I won't be going into too much detail. Not because there isn't any, but because that would make the post way too long.

So, why decide to make our work free? (In electronic format - you can, of course, still buy the paperbacks) Of cousre, these reasons don't just apply to us - go forth and make your books free.

Here's my Free Manifesto:

1. People want content to be free. They expect content to be free. As hardware tech advances and people fall in love with it, the hunger for free content grows. I'm going to call this phenomenon FREED. And FREED IS GOOD. It's a wave the new writer can ride.

2. For a new writer, the choice isn't between giving your book away and having people pay for it. It's between giving your book away (and maybe getting some readers), and having no one read your book. Why should someone pay money for a book by someone they don't know? The answer is they won't. Let them get to know you.

3. File-sharing is a fact of life. Embrace it as a way to get your book read. Make it easy for people to do. It's NOT true they'll file share YOUR book anyway if you protect it. More's the pity. They won't. They'll ignore it and file-share Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyer instead.

4. Free does not devalue something. The value of culture isn't in what you pay for it. More importantly, it's not even PERCEIVED to be in what you pay for it. What we value most is what we have a personla and emotional connection to. If you're an author, it's THAT you should be trying to reproduce and not a sense fo "having paid for something". That's what I mean when I encourage writers 1. to engage their readers and 2. to try and recreate the festival spirit. Soem people call it "adding value". Yes, increased money is a result, but that's not the aim - the aim is to "add attachment".

5. Freemium goes with 1,000 true fans like hand in a tight, sheer, silky glove. Jargon apologies. Freemium is the term coined, I believe, by Chris "Long Tail" Anderson to describe the business model by which you give something away for free in one format, with the intention of selling it n another (paperbacks etc).1,000 true fans is Kevin Kelly's idea that to make a living from your creativity you only actually need 1,000 true fans who will pay for your work. Clearly these two ideas marry up nicely. If you give your work away for free, not everyone who takes it will aslo pay. But you don't need them to. If you've got a great product, and back it up with direct engagement with your readers through your blog, book tours, other events, you will build a following of true fans who WILL pay - for the paperback - and more.

6. Free helps us sever the link once and for all between culture and money. At a time when increasing internet access starts to outstrip access to banking, this is, on a global social level, essential. As creatives from all over the world acn put their work out there, and consumers seek to remunerate them, if we rely on the old equation of value and money, the only model available will be to go through third party conversion agents. We will see the developing world's creativity raped for profit in the exact same way as happened to its natural resources centuries ago. We need a new way fo turning the desire to reward into benefit for the producer; and whilst money plays part of that role, it can't be the only part.

7. The big one (and the one most likely to change in coming years) is timing. I won't claim ebooks are THE future. I don't think they are. Not in their current form (the future is intelligent paper). BUT they are about to undergo a mini explosion. As are sites where readers find and promote content they love. The effect of that is simple - if your material's out there now, as the medium grows, the effect of your presence early in the game will be multiplied. I've paid serious attention to the Indie ebook market for about 3 weeks. And I can already tell you who the "players" are, and there aren't many. The chances of great content being discovered and creating a buzz is still high. BUT ONLY IF IT'S THERE and ONLY IF IT'S FREE. And out of that soup, a whole new landscape will emerge. As with satellite TV and internet provision, it's at the start of the tipping point that it's most important to focus solely on market share. And that's where we are now. Now is the time to stake your claim.

Friday 25 September 2009

Ash: The book that changed my thinking

I don't often recommend a book on my blog. In fact, Year Zero books aside, I don't think I've ever done so. So it's time I did. Just the once.

And that book is Ash, by Malinda Lo.
Of course, in order to justify a change of policy, there has to be a story behind the story, as it were. So why this book?
Well, I came across Malinda when I was looking for places I could send Songs from the Other Side of the Wall for review. D J Young very kindly recommended I try After Ellen, one of the leading lesbian lifestyle magazines. There I discovered a great article by Malinda on lesbian fiction beyond coming out stories, exactly the kind of thing I'm interested in, as Songs has a lesbian protagonist and is nothing to do with coming out.
Hmm, yes, well what has all this got to do with Ash and how it changed my thinking (and what did I change my thinking about?)
Well, Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and rather well done at that. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in young adult fiction. And that's the reason I'm recommending it today. I read a great interview with Malinda about Ash, and the writing of the book, and one thing stood out for me.
Ash began as a work of literary fiction, but over time Malinda came to look at it differently, and began seeing it as young adult fiction, and it's that market into which the book has just been launched.
Now, Songs has a protagonist who's 17/18. And, as soon as I realised the parallels to Muraklami's Norwegian Wood, I started using the phrase "coming of age". But I used it sparingly, fearful lest my use of it mislead people into thinking it was a young adult book. Which it wasn't! It's literary fiction! Just like Murakami, and Coupland, and Brett Easton Ellis.
Only. Well, I know there are lots of people who like the book who aren't young adults (largely, from the response I've had, these are women in their 40s and 50s). But when we started publicising Year Zero, one of the places we went was Suicide Girls, a site frequented by a lot of teenage girls drawn to an alternative/emo lifestyle. And I got some e-mails about Songs. Which made me wonder a little. Sowed some seeds.
And then I read Malinda's interview and I finally realised that the target audience for Songs may just be young adult after all. And what the devil's wrong with that?
So there we have it. Ash, by Malinda Lo, the book that made me see Songs as a young adult book aimed at the alt/emo market. Thank you, Malinda.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Thank You: some surprisingly complex netiquette

It's the thing I want to say most often in life, especially as a writer. Yes, even more than, "sorry, you must send me the dry cleaning bill". In fact, I lose count of the times i want to say thank you in any one day.

Take yesterday. Someone in the publishing industry agreed to look at my book and help me find places to send it for review; an author I greatly admire had a personal word with a magazine editor who then requested a review copy; a bookstore owner agreed to take my book sale or return; a website host posted a great big plug for my book; a blogger I hugely admire gave me a link; most of all, more than one person who's read my stuff sent me a lovely message. I want to buy them ALL milk and cookies and hire the Red Arrows to write thank you in the sky.

But it's not that simple. Thank you is a minefield for a writer.

Let me start with some very bad practice, and it might help you also to see the problem with seemingly good practice. Book blog tours seem to be all the rage at the moment. Or maybe it just seems it because there's a particularly interesting thread on the subject on the excellent Help Supprt Indpendent Publishers group on Facebook.

Maybe it's just me but one thing I've noticed is just how many writers on blog tours, or giving interviews on websites, attract comments from readers, and questions, which are met with a stony silence.

Now, pardon me for being old fashioned, but that's RUDE. And before authors chime in with "you're unpublished, you don't know how busy it is" (true, and also true [but try working a 37.5 hour week, running a festival, coordinating a collective, launching a book single-handed, AND trying to revolutionise an industry]), I KNOW how busy you are, but that's not an excuse. In practical terms, you actually lose readers as well as gaining them (and remember the old adage about one complaint needing nine bits of praise to balance it out. That's not just true in restaurants). But aside from that, don't take it on if you can't manage the courtesy of engaging with the readers when you do. These people are your RAISON D'ETRE. And it's not just that. It's incredibly rude to the blog host, who has to pick up the pieces of disgruntled readers and explain why their star guest bailed half way.

OK, that's a pet peeve out of the way. Do you see the other thing that would have been really rude of me? In the context of calling people who act like this a SUPERCILIOUS PLANK (as I believe I said in a bilious tweet last night :-))?

That's right. It would have been REALLY rude of me to name names.

Which brings me back to the business of when and how you DO say thank you. Take the first two instances. In both cases, I want to say thank you publicly. Because surely that's the greatest honour for someone, and gives them the best rep, the biggest kudos, right? Well, yes, BUT. If I say "Thank you for agreeing to read my book" to someone who's hugely busy and has done it as a favour (either to me or to a fairy godmother of whom I know nothing), they're not going to thank me back when 200 requests to do likewise arrive in their inbox.

So I send a grateful e-mail, right? Well, it's not that simple. Only the other day I was reading tweets by a Well Known But Nameless Agent who complained that authors are stalkers and, in not too many words "get out of my inbox" and certainly "if we've given something, go away and don't come back and bother us again." So the last thing I want to do if WKBNA does a kindness for me is to hack them off by sending a long e-mail thanking them and clogging their inbox. Nor do I want to seem curt. It's a minefield. (In this case, my advice is be thankful for one thing; never ask a second but say yes if it's offered; DO send a thank you that's friendly and personal, wishing well for a current project; I wouldn't offer to "let them know how it goes" - my guess is this will make them feel pressured to reply, which is bad - if they REALLY want to know they'll ask, but chances are they don't, so not offering spares embarrassment).

Which brings us to the nicest category. Readers, and fellow-writers. These are people who have approached you. So you needn't worry you're bothering them (that's NOT a stalker's charter). It goes without saying you MUST say thank you. It also, and this is important, because if you're not careful you can end up with no time to write, and that's actually what people really want from you, should go without saying that you can't, even though you'd like to, be everyone's lifecoach. You need to have boundaries, and to make those clear (which is NOT to say some, probably many, readers and fellow-writers won't become friends, possibly lifelong. I would hope they will. But that shouldn't be the expectation from your initial contact - that's THEIR stalker's charter). On the other hand, if you can do something to help, I really believe you should. That means much more than the words "thank you". You could offer to host them on your blog; or look at a short story; or put them onto a helpful website.

Yes, again. I KNOW you're busy. And I know it's easy fro me because I don't really have any fans. But remember those times before you were famous, when you were met with silence? Remember the mutterings under your breath. And remember the one person who showed you even a bit of kindness? I bet you DO. And don't EVER forget it.

Which brings me to a general observation. One of the most important articles ever written about culture (or business) can be found here. Kevin Kelly's basic premise is that you only need 1,000 true fans to sustain your business/life as a writer. I happen to think he's right (I'm not getting into that argument here). Now 1,000 is NOT a huge number. Certainly not if, like me, you write 50-100 e-mails a day. One reason I like 1,000 true fans is because it's a way of being that allows you to engage with everyone who's a fan of yours. And if you're a writer, someone who communicates, that's really how it should be, isn't it?

Sunday 20 September 2009

The View from the Shoe: Verre Design

I discovered Verre Design on twitter through @IndieNorth, who were the first people actively to come and support Free-e-day. Verre Design is part of this amazing collective of jewellers and craftspeople, based in Canada.

Here she is in her own words:

:::VerreDesign - Handcrafted Feminine Artisan ArtGlass § Jewelry:::VerreDesign is the perfect place to find Handcrafted, One Of a Kind, Artisan Jewelry Designs.

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Silvia Campbell AND Converse... but mostly barefootJ

What do you do?
I am a glass artist and jewelry artisan

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
First, I am the only human with this particular set of 46 chromosomes and beautiful DNA chain.

Second being mostly self taught, I kind of developed my own techniques at the torch and designing board.

And third, getting easily bored, I only create unique, one of a kind pieces.

What do you really, really love about it?
Inventing, reinventing, creating unique work... I love inspiration, the “feeling” itself within the body of elevated energy and enthusiasm. I LOVE working at the torch for each colour has a different way of responding to heat. I love it when I smile after completing a piece. I love knowing some of my designs are walking down a street in LA, London, St-Charles or MontrealJ

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
A lot of both!

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
No breakfast for me today, slept until eleven eleven. Fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit and orange juice will be perfect for now, thank you. Or maybe... think I have what it takes in the fridge to make a large pineapple-strawberry smoothie. Will grab a tuna salad after melting glass or creating a new ring, let’s say in two hours. Will you join me? My treat! Will take a little shower before and wear my fabulous new Silvia Campbell boots! Maybe we could have waffles with fresh fruits, Belgium chocolate and Chantilly cream instead? We’ll seeJ

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
My Jimmy Choo is my son :-) Cobblers... non kiln annealed glass beads.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
They all make me feel taller! Compliments by peers feel so great, compliments by buyers just feel awesome, compliments by fellow sellers feel super, retweets make me smile, blog features amaze me, positive feedback is so rewarding... Every fan kind of makes your roots strongerJ

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Independent and rich, of course! Lol!!!

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
I would choose Angelina Jolie. I wouldn’t have to say anything, she wouldn’t have to do anything. Classy, beautiful, engaged and wild, dressed in black, she’d simply wear one of my awesome pair of earrings while smiling :-)

Frocks or socks?
Both – but not at the same time!

Thank you SOOO much -- No Thank YOU!

Friday 18 September 2009

Begging a Favour

Not something I'm altogether happy doing, but that never stopped me before.

Let me begin with the favour. In the words of those slightly seedy classifieds:

Do you have a mental health difficulty? Have you experienced problems with debt? Would you be prepared to answer some questions for an article on debt and mental health? (Anonymously is fine). If so, please either comment here or e-mail

OK, let me rewind.

4 years ago, I began a blog called Mad Marrieds' Journey Into Debt, about the year my wife and I, courtesy of a decided "up" phase in the bipolar cycle, ended up in 23 countries and a lot of debt in one year (or my wifer ended in debt - I was already too indebted to be allowed a credit card!!).

A nice young man at the Royal College of Psychiatrists was, at the time, working on debt and mental health, googled debt and depression, and found my blog.

In the four year since, I've worked with Chris on 2 major projects, In The Red, a study on debt and mental health by Mind; Final Demand, which resulted in a leaflet distributed to 140,000 people (the largest readership I'll EVER get) in the social care profession about debta nd mental health; I've spoken in parliament to the All Party Parliamentary Group on mental health; and I've helped Mind produce a guide on debt and mental health.

Last summer, my wife and I were in Camden when we saw ni the local rag an article about a magazine called One in Four, run by a cool looking dude called Mark Brown. It was pitched as a lifestyle magazine for and by people with mental health difficulties. I cut the article out, and "filed" it. A month or so back, I took it out and sent Mark an e-mail, wondering if they'd like to rnu a story on a bipolar writer who'd just launched a collective.

We spent one of the most enjoyable hours I can remember drinking coffee together in a garage in Walthamstow, and I came away with my first ever proper commission, to write a piece about debt and mental health for their magazine. The piece will focus on case studies of people who've experienced debt and mental health difficulties, with a view both to connecting with people, but also to giving practical advice to help people with both aspects of what's often a vicious cycle.

Anyone who is ableto spend a few minutes of their time to sghare their experiences and/or advice, I would love to hear from you. I'm happy to write about my own experiences, such as the time I genuinely believed I couldn't get through a theology degree with just 20 Bibles and HAD to get yet another, or the time I couldn't open a letter, had the phone unplugged, sat on the sofa and cried solidly for 6 months waiting for someone to show up for their money with a baseball bat. But I'd ratehr write about someone other than me for a change.

And a little advance warning. October 10th is World Mental Health Day. As well as being a great time for raising awareness (if you have a blog, why not write something), you may, if you live in the UK and watch the news any time a few days either side, find yourselves in the unenviable position of being confronted with my ugly mug :-)

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Spreading Some Love

I HATE awards and praise-giving, and love-sharing sessions. Most of all I hate #followfriday on twitter. Not because I hate heaping praise on the countless people who do amazing things online. But because I know there'll always be someone I forget; and that someone will feel AWFUL. And possibly take it personally.

So I HATE Book Blogger Appreciation Week, because I want to throw my arms around the whole book blogging community and give it an enormous hug. So I want to apologise in advance for everyone I've missed out. Somewhere there's a loaded gun with a bullet for every one of you to fire right at me. And I want to make a policy statement. my blog roll is full of amazing book blogs on blogger. Anyone who's already there, please consider yourselves bigged up already (as I believe they say). I want to use this week to give a shout out (as I believe they also say) to a couple of non-blogger sites that really deserve everyone's attention


Guy Le Charles Gonzalez is a former slam poet (can one be a former slam poet? Does that make one a gentle slap poet?) who writes with passion, compassion, wit, and intelligence about writing and social media. He not only cares about the future of literature; he knows a thing or two as well. He also asked me to guest blog for him earlier this month :-)

Phillipa Fioretti

Most of you already know Phillipa. That doesn't mean she shouldn't have another big plug because she's the most articulate, intelligent polymath writer you could hope to meet. She also brilliantly bridges the art and literature worlds.

Eudaimonia For All

Lisa Kenney is another artist who writes about books. She's one of the most thoughtful, erudite readers I've had the pleasure of meeting online. She's simply inspirational for anyone who really loves books. (This is a blogger blog, but I can't get it to appear on my blogroll so that's OK!)


Sarah E Melville designs my covers. Which makes her a goddess of some kind, because they're just amazing. She's an artist, poet, and novelist. And The.Next.Big.Thing

Farm Lane Books

I came across Jackie's blog by accident on twitter. It's very rare that you come across a reader whose tastes seem to click with your own. Jackie is a voracious reader and intelligent reviewer; and I can be fairly sure that if she likes something so will I. Whcih is about as big a recommendation as it's possible to give a reviewer!

Charlie Atlantic

Charlie's the lead singer of InLight, one of my favouite bands, and technically this is a culture blog rather than a writing one. But I don't care, because he's the funniest man on the Internet. And insightful and poignant to boot.

Banana the Poet

How could I not include everyone's favourite alternative poet


Paul Squires is a quite brilliant poet and observationalist. Much like Sulci (who IS on my blog roll), he can take words to places you never imagined possible.

Left Under Books
Charles Dickey is someone who not only cares about books and culture, he's someone who's passionate about raising the uncomforatable issues so many blogs gloss over in their back-slapping and "aren't things wonderful" ness. A blog for anyone truly outside the mainstream

Monday 14 September 2009

The View From the Shoe: Susan Green

Susan Green does something dear to the hearts of writers and craftspeople alike. She makes notebooks. Exquisite, handmade notebooks and journals. In her own words:

Hello Dan, hello everyone reading Dan’s View From The Shoe. I’m Susan Green, and I’m writing this from my home in rural Dorset, UK which is also where I work. I’m a bookbinder; I make new notebooks from scratch, by hand. They’re all robust sorts of books because I want them to be good and faithful servants to you. It’s no use having to fight with or appease your notebook – you have to be able to rely upon it not to get in your way when you’re about your business of writing and drawing.

I make Hardback Journals with leather spines and decorative covers; Medieval Sketchbooks which are softer, looser, altogether more laid back affairs; Travel Journals which are similarly-dispositioned but more suggestive, prompting you to detail your adventures; and then there are the Miniatures that have that bijou/cute vibe and that politely fit in the smallest of spaces.
You can find more info on my website
Shop online at Etsy:
And on Folksy:
And I’m on Twitter:
And other places too, using the same username: susangreenbooks

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
You’re most welcome and you’re very kind for having me and my Converse. They’re the ones that masquerade as slippers, having no laces and a comforting warmth. Thankfully they’re more attractive than slippers, and don’t go soggy in the rain.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Well, they say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and I think they’re probably right, and I think that’s what makes my books different from other people’s. I started off with what I had to hand. Fortunately, that was a lovely independent fabric warehouse called Hansons in Sturminster Newton, Dorset. It’s something of a Mecca for those who stitch and sew and there I found a huge selection of cotton fat quarters in an overwhelming selection of patterns. I figured out how to turn them into bookcloth, and began partnering them with co-ordinating leather to make my Hardback Journals.

Then serendipity struck again in a decisive pincer movement: firstly my partner decided to get rid of her sofa. She took a knife to it and gave me many lengths of amazingly soft, patinated chestnut-coloured leather. Secondly, I wanted to make her a full-leather Hardback Journal with the sofa leather as a thank you gift. But I had injured my wrist and was having great difficulty paring the leather down to the thinness required for the French joints I use. So I gave up, had a think, and decided to learn a Medieval style of binding that has a limp leather cover that didn’t require strong wrists. Fortunately she loved the resulting book and although I was sceptical, it turns out many people really love recycled leather, especially the kind whose marks hint (and/or loudly declaim) at its previous existence. And so my Medieval Sketchbooks were born. They’re different from everybody else’s Medieval bindings because I use a modern method of keeping them closed – a magnetic tab than doubles up as a penholder. Historical! Modern! Recycled! Doubly useful! Hurrah!

What do you really, really love about it?
The beginning and end are the really fun bits – the excitement of a new design, and the joy of packaging a book up prettily to send to a place on the globe I’ve never been, into the hands of someone who will put clever, creative things on its pages, or who will give it to someone they really love. The almost obsessive precision and neatness required to make the mechanics function correctly. The rhythmical and meditative folding, tearing, folding, tearing of the paper. That I get to bring into being something that never existed before. It’s awesome.
A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
More time in the day, please. It’s important to have balance and I think with more time, I’d somehow remember to water my plants, meditate, read the stacks of books I have piled up in various places and write proper letters again.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
After being woken by a loving horde of dogs, I take a little walk down to a café on the harbour. There’s my usual outside table underneath bone-softening, mind-slowing sunshine. A selection of newspapers and journals. My notebook to doodle, write, plan and design in. Fresh fruit. Coffee. Croissants. Pain au Chocolat. More coffee. A leisurely affair. Knowing that afterwards the whole world is there, waiting to be enjoyed.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Leather. Glossy, smooth, amazing-smelling, refined, exuberant, supple, sensuous.
Plastic. Hard, brash, unforgiving, brittle, cold and I imagine, if it were a person, rather mean.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
The gleeful, childlike excitement people often express on receiving their books always puts a massive spring in my step and boosts my desire to do more of the same as well as to innovate.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Oh, the former, no contest. You set your own goals and deadlines. You have time to contemplate, to experiment, to spend with people, to watch the world go by and be taken by surprise.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Whaaaaaa... okay. It would have to be Sandra Bullock - I reckon she’d be really expressive with her hands. Or maybe Rolf Harris, because he could do noises as well.

Frocks or socks?
Both, when the weather is inclement.

Thank you SOOO much
Thank you kindly, Dan!

Friday 11 September 2009

10 Commandments for Aspiring Writers

This is an extra post that's really just a reprise. When I first started this blog and had about 3 followers, I began a series called "10 commandments for aspiring writers in 2009". Virtually no one read it because virtually no one knew I was here, but some people who did kind of liked it, so I'm reprising with links here. It's also a nice way of leading in to a new series I'm going to be running in the autumn, a 12-step programme to help writers intending to make a serious attempt at a career of it, starting in 2010, hit the ground running with a proper business plan.

So here, goes, my 10 commandmets are:

1.There is no stigma about self-publishing

2.Marketing is something small groups of like-minded writers can in many ways do better than big publishers

3.By the time the recession’s over the publishing houses will be playing catch-up with the new literary business models that emerge in the meanwhile

4.The internet is SOO much more than just another way of getting the same old type of book published

5.Don’t be afraid to give your work away for free.

6.Modern technology cuts out the barriers between readers and writers and brings prose back to life

7.Writing is not a zero-sum game – far from making my success LESS likely, your success makes it MORE likely, so cooperation between writers is a good thing.

8.Money follows innovation

9.Networking is about looking for ways to do something FOR people, not get something FROM them.

10.Writers need to think like musicians and artists; we need to be showmen and women, to work in the public eye.

When I wrote the series I was new at this, and probably too brash, but I think a lot of the points remain valid, and I certainly hope there's at least a bit of useful advice there. Here are the opening lines of, and links to, the separate posts on each commandment.

1. In many ways this debate is already tired. Some writers will never take self-publishing seriously. For others the “stigma of self-publishing” isn’t an issue that figures on the radar. [Read more]

2. Marketing is something small groups of like-minded writers can in many ways do better than big publishersIf there’s one reason writers give more than any other why they don’t want to self-publish, it’s marketing. [Read more]

3. Please note, there are no value judgements in this post. I’m not saying publishing has to change, or ought to change – nor am I saying the current way is bad, or that we are stepping into Utopia. I’m simply saying what I think WILL happen. [read more]

4. Blogs have turned the internet into some kind of noisy Hobbesian nightmare. Twitter has quietened the noise to a series of feint coughs, but the effect is the same – now everyone has something to say and no one has any time to listen. We are all participants; we are all producers; the consumer is dead. [Read more]

5. I’m not going to mention The Pirate Bay in this article. Not once. Except for that, of course. If you want my opinion on the record, it’s this – my only thought as I read the coverage was how sad it was that everything was about file-sharing games, music, videos. [Read more]

6. A lot’s been made of the democratising effect of the Internet. We live in a world where we can all be producers of culture. Anyone with Internet access can set up a blog and pour out their soul. And it takes little more than a mobile phone and to that you can add sound, picture, and film to the “we’re all at it now” package. [Read more]

7. Writing is not a zero-sum game – far from making my success LESS likely, your success makes it MORE likely, so cooperation between writers is a good thing.This column is probably as low on content and high on rhetoric as I intend to get in this series. I want to address an issue that’s vexed me ever since I started participating in online writers’ groups at the very start of 2008, after reading a little snippet in the Writers and Artists Yearbook about [Read more]

8. One of the questions I’m most often asked when I explain what I’m doing is “How are you going to make any money doing that?” Actually, it’s not usually phrased quite that way – more “it’s all right for you, but we’ve got bills to pay” or less family-friendly rewordings of the same sentiment. [Read more]

9. This is my favourite commandment of all, and I’m delighted to save it till last in this series. We’re always reading about networking. Anyone who’s part of a writers’ site like Authonomy knows that success has so much to do with spreading your social tentacles, and we’re always being urged to use social media to increase our contacts and improve our chances of success [Read more]

10. Writers need to think like musicians and artists; we need to be showmen and women, to work in the public eye, and to make our money from selling an experience rather than a piece of hardware. [Read more]

When I first started the series, I thought number 9 was the most important commandment by far. Nothing's changed, although I think 7 is pretty high up there. What the past few months have enforcd are the supreme value of cooperation between writers.

Do let me know which you think is most important, and where I'm totally off-beam.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

You won't find this in ths shops; or, why authors should stop pretending to be Indie when they stuff their books in Borders

Remember those adverts for 100 greatest b-sides of 1950s records by people you'd never heard of? You always had to send a cheque to Admail 54 (they were in Plymouth, I think) because "this offer's so good you won't find it in the shops".

That's what being Indie in the book world's all about, isn't it? Doing it all online, getting people to order from Amazon, sticking two fingers up to the whole bicks and mortar and paper establishment.

Well no, it's not. It's about valuing quality over consumerism; about cherishing specialist knowledge; about appreciating a great job, beautifully done. As long as I've been arguing about he future of the literary world, I've been pointing out the business reasons as well as the cultural ones why independent bookshops will increasingly thrive as Borders and B&N flail.

By independent bookshops, I don't mean "a shop just like Borders only smaller and owned by a strange man in cords with a ginger cat for his sales assistant". I mean shops that have a passion for books, a deep knowledge of the literary world, who can act as trusted reading companions for their customers, and probably have at least one area of specialism you just won't find in the mainstream sheds.

I mean shops like The Albion Beatnik in Oxford, buried in Jericho, a part of town so cool you need to take mittens just to walk down the street in summer. The Albion Beatnik sells hyper-hip fiction. But it also devotes half its floor space to books about music and the Beat Poets. And its online arm, Jazzscript, just sells books (including a whole library's worth of novels) about jazz.

It's become really trendy to "support your local bookshop". Authors are always plugging the cause. Great! Well, yes and no. First, I'm not a sentimentalist. I don't really see that "local bookshop" is the right thing to support. Not unless it gives readers that extra something. I'd rather see people supporting independent bookstores, in the sense outlined above. That really is a good cause. It's campaigning to give readers quality.

So it's great that authors support independent bookstores. But come on, guys, you can do a bit better than you are!

If Ian McEwan, for example, insisted that his next book was ONLY stocked in indie bookstores, THAT would be a serious statement. Sure, his sales might be a bit lower. But it would drive money to the Indies. Why not? Because his publisher wouldn't countenance it, of course. You see where I'm going with that.

All of which is by way of announcing that Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, unlike those Admail Classics, IS available in the shops. But you'll only find it in the Indie shops. Easy for a nobody like me to say - that's like a bloke down the pub saying "I'm not going to sell out and play for Manchester United". Well I HOPE if (heaven forfend) I ever get as big as Ian McEwan, I will still only sell my books in Indie stores. There may be a time in between when I sell out - I want toe arn a living. But I don't want to be stinking rich. I'd rather throw all my support behind the Indies and earn a little bit less for me and the mainstreams, thank you.

So far the book's in stock at - you guessed it - The Albion Beatnik (where thers's going to be a big party to celebrate at the end of October). It's also at Jaffe and Neale in Chipping Norton later in the week (Independent Bookstore of the Year in 2008). And next week I'll be checking out Indie stores in London - suggestions welcome.

Sunday 6 September 2009

The View From the Shoe: Banana the Poet

I first came across Banana on Authonomy, but only got to know her well on Twitter, where her tweeted verse has lightened up many a day. In her own words:

banana the poet aka Michele Brenton – was born and brought up in Swansea, South Wales and now lives on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Despite a deep seated hankering to be a 'serious' writer, she finds that the words which pour from her end up as either silly or serious poetry or lyrics. Her silly poetry is mainly rhyming observational comedy and her serious stuff worries her a little. She suspects that it might be unintentionally even funnier than the intentionally funny poetry and may be the sort of thing that 'real' poets love to read so that they can feel good about their own work.

The Great Novel she has always hoped to write stays firmly stuck on chapter ten where it is likely to remain for the rest of her life. She also has much difficulty writing about herself in the third person and is going to stop now before she frightens herself into thinking she might be developing a split personality.

I can be found on Twitter at @banana_the_poet
and on my blogs – silly poetry by banana the poet – Banana waffles – 'serious' poetry by Michele Brenton – info & progress reports about my books

Oh and I forgot – I'm just about to publish the first of a seven book series of poetry. It is the Yellow edition of the Alternative Poetry Books series and contains funny poems on the odd pages and 'serious' poems on the even pages in a desperate attempt to bring balance to the unbalanced.

· Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Oh dear :( I think I may have said everything when I admit that I had to Google this question to find out what it meant. The sort of shoes I know about are figurative shoes like the one the Old Lady in the nursery rhyme lived in and who gets a mention in my 'What's in a name?' poem or the slipper in the Cinderella story which got modernised in my 'Get Real' poem.
I am strictly about finding the most comfortable utilitarian footwear at the lowest possible price sort of person. I think my feet might actually reject designer shoes in the same way some patients reject donor organs. Then again it might be the other way round and a designer shoe would refuse to spend one nanosecond on my chubby square tootsies. Just imagine Frodo or Bilbo Baggins in a designer outlet trying on designer shoes and you should get a reasonable idea of what it might do to the fabric of the time space continuum if I were to venture into such an establishment.

· Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Because everyone else has got more sense.

· What do you really, really love about it?
I love to laugh. I love laughing more than anything. I have very little self control and have been told by my teenage son that he suspects I may have some form of comedy Tourrettes syndrome. If a joke occurs to me I have to say it. It is extremely annoying at times (not to me – I'm oblivious) and if I didn't know better I might think that I might be the secret love child of Timmy Mallett.

I can restrain myself in 'company' but not for long periods which is why I tend to be somewhat of a recluse.

Being reclusive and prone to fits of evil scary (mwahahahaha) laughter seems to fit in with writing the sort of poetry I write. It also fits in with being on the internet a lot where I can find people who kindly indulge my sad personality defects and seem to get some entertainment from it.

I have to say that I really, really love meeting new people online and sharing my silly and serious poetry with them. They are so interesting and warm and welcoming and I am incredibly grateful to them for paying attention to me and my offerings.

· A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
How about a LOT more money in the bank? LOL
Time in the day I have plenty of – but time in my life? I would love to be certain of a good long innings. At 47 I'm just about getting to point of knowing what I want to be when I grow up.

· Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
As I'm imagining, I'm imagining I've 'made it' collossally. The first billionaire poet! Oh yes!
Poetry readings in packed stadiums! Ticket sales outselling Madonna! Bill Gates asking me to teach him how to write poetry so he can be truly successful!
Let me tell you about breakfast....

The light shines in through stained crystal glass
and musicians tiptoe in
playing chamber music
to signal my day's begin.

A handsome muscled stripling
bared gleaming to the waist
carries a tray of morsels
chosen carefully for my taste.

I yawn and stretch whilst sitting up
in silken gold-thread sheets,
handed a glass of chilled green tea
to sip before I eat.

My husband, already bathed and dressed
in clothes all ironed and clean
informs me that our teenage son
has gone to Aberdeen

to give a concert to his fans
who think his music rocks
and therefore won't be home for days
and neither will his socks.

I always said that huge success
would never change this bunny.
I've always been this decadent
but now I've got the money!

· What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
My Jimmy Choo is being asked to do this interview for your blog.
Just cobblers is having a cold with a stuffed up nose and a temperature and not being able to find a cool place to put my toes in bed.

· Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
I don't have fans. Anyone who reads my stuff and likes it – they've got me for a fan. But one lady told me that she liked reading my funny poetry because it took her mind off the chronic back pain she'd been suffering for years. That made me feel like there was a real point to what I was doing and helped me feel a little bit less irrelevant to the world.

· Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Independent every time. You might be under contract and have a ton of money, but in my opinion no one is rich unless they are free. I see contracts as intellectual imprisonment. I don't need money to feel rich. I just look out of the window at the view, or go for a snorkel in the afternoon.

· Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Well you did say anyone, can I have God please? Failing that I'd have to say Oprah Winfrey as the next best option. They seem to be the two most influential forces on the planet and as long as it is make believe I might as well go for the best.

· Frocks or socks?
Definitely socks. But not smelly ones.

Friday 4 September 2009

Grow your own little demon

Socrates claimed he had a little demon on his shoulder, whispering in his ear, telling him what to do. No, he hadn't been reading too much Philip Pulman. Nor been watching too many horror films. It was actually the birth of the idea of conscience, that little voice we know we need to listen to that so often gets obscured by all the flatteries and temptations of life.

As human beings we all need a decent conscience. As writers, the Bohemina in us likes to think we can do without. But we all need to cultivate one of those little demons, the quiet voice of the inner editor.

When I first took the plunge and joined writers' critiquing site Youwriteon, about the only thing I knew was that as a writer I needed a thick skin. And the way to show you have a thick skin is to listen to criticism - and you show you are listening by following advice. Besides, what did I know!

Result? What most cynical writers I know call editing by committee/consensus. Only there never is a consensus, so you end up with draft after draft after draft. And eventually you end up with...

You've got it. A headache. And a bit of a mess. And probably writers' block because you're terrified what'll come next.

After a few months, and some success on Youwriteon, I joined what I still think is the best critiquing site in cyberspace, The Bookshed. I was cock-a-hoop because you ahve to apply to get in. And with cock-a-hoopness come cockiness. I went in looking for a fight (as much as a big soft hippy ever goes "looking for a fight"), and my fight of chioce was "the rules". We all know that one, right? From "you need to know the rules to break them" to "rules are there to stifle creativity". So I'd take comments about my plotting and structure. And I'd do the opposite. And I'd rail about the stupidity of rules.

And the result? Well, at the time I thought of it as a postmodern masterpiece. Others saw the 6 narrator, no timeline "thing" that was the first draft of Songs from the Other Side of the Wall as "a bit confused." And guess who was right!

And then, when I got my critique from Harper Collins after successfully getting to "The Editor's Desk" on Authonomy, something happened. I read the crit through, and thought "you know what, that's right." (the editor had very politely pointed out a "certain amount" of introspection on my protag's behalf). And I looked back at other critiques, and started thinking, "that's right" and "that isn't".

I'm a long way from honing "my voice" or, indeed, actually knowing the first thing about this writing business. But I've started hearing that little voice inside every time someone says something about my work. I'm sure it's mostly wrong at the moment, but I hear it and, as with our conscience, we can only go with what we sincerely hear.

The key is to keep listening - and to train it by keeping on submitting ourselves to scrutiny, and to let those external voices and that internal one spark off each other in a dialectic that leaves your little demon a little louder and a little wiser each time.

So my advice. Ask advice from everyone. Consider everything. Listen to everyone. Hard. Until the voice you hear loudest is your own.

All of which is rather like what psychologists these days say about conscience - that we begin in ignorance, grow up dependent on rules, as teenagers rebel against the lot of them, then finally develop oour own take on the world. If there's one thing we need to do as writers, it's take a good look at where we are on that continuum, and keep kicking ourselves in the backsides till we come out as the fully mature end product. Only then will we begin to get to grips with "voice" and "style" all those other questions.

Go on, nurture that little demon, and see where it takes you!

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Hold Me to Account: The Success or Failure of a self-publishing collective Part 1

Today is official launch day for YEAR ZERO WRITERS. Three of our books are now available to download, and to buy in print. I'm not going to promote them here, but I will explain how I intend to monitor the progress of my book through this blog so that other writers can see what works and what doesn't work for self-publishers.

I have always said that I want to be transparent throughout the self-publishing process. I believe it's possible to succeed as a self-publisher with books like Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, especially as part of a group like Year Zero Writers. As part of this, I want to be up front about what I hope to achieve, when, and whether I am making that progress. So every month I will report on what has happened in the preceding month and what I expect to happen in the month ahead.

I will begin with an outline of my expectations for Year One - September 2009-August 2010.

Paperback sales target: 500 achieved through a mix: 100 sold through personal signings; 100 sold through bookshops; 300 sold online

Free download target: 5000

Anticipated pattern of sales: an initial spike in September largely to family and friends, and through signings at local bookshops. Sales will be driven largely by reviews online and in the mainstream media, so the marketing priority is to get the book read and reviewed. A review slot on the site e-Fiction Book Club in January is expected to spike sales, but efforts will focus on getting reviews on sites where readers of the book congregate such as Suicide Girls, NME, and Indie/emo culture mags. The main sales flow will start when the ISBN comes through and the book is available, and able to be reviewed, through Amazon. I expect this to be sometime in October.

September forecast: downloads: 150 paperback sales: 30

activity: I am hopeful of a report in the local press, which I hope to lead to a review, but this will not come until October. Local bookstores will get author-signed copies. I anticipate slow but steady sales, whcih I hope to convert to a number of full-scale presentations and signings in November, to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is the month where sales will be largely friends and family, and the emphasis is on getting people to read the free download and report good word of mouth to their friends.

How I will report

It would be easy to double account my Lulu sales - to show them as online orders when I order copies for direct sale, and then report the direct sales. I will not do this. Instead, I will report on the following headings:

online sales (only those purchased online by other people)

direct sales copies ordered (the number of books I've ordered to distribute myself)

direct sales (sales by me at signings, conferences, festivals & to colleagues/friends/family)

direct distribution sales (copies ordered online from me - I will be offering free posters from October to people ordering in this way)

bookshop sales

Advance figures

The book has been available as a free download for a month. Figures so far are:

downloaded from Smashwords: 68

downloaded from Year Zero Writers: 6

downloaded from my website: 12

direct e-mail requests from strangers: 4

Total downloads: 90