I’m on Bloglovin’, so come love my blog

Follow my blog with Bloglovin. I had to post that link to prove to the Bloglovin’ robot overlords that this was indeed my blog. Well it is, thank you very much, good sir.

But, since the link says ‘Follow my blog on Bloglovin”, you might as well do that very thing. Here are some reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. It’s totally an easy way of keeping up to date with my posts. I think the people who followed my blog on WordPress were cast adrift when I transferred to a self-hosted site. I miss those people and often spend days staring out of the window waiting for them to return, like an 18th century fisherman’s wife staring at the horizon for signs of her husband returning. Or Keira Knightly at the end of the third Pirates of the Caribbean film.
  2. There is many a blogger on there just waiting to be discovered. If you’re the kind of person who likes quality blogs – and you totally are, because you’re here, obviously – you’ll find a veritable smorgasbord of written wonders. Just don’t abandon me entirely in favour of other people, or I will have to get vengeance on those superior bloggers. There have been television crime dramas with more ludicrous plots.
  3. It’ll do wonders for my self-esteem. I’d like to look at a number on a screen and know that it in some way correlates to my popularity. Having a number (I’ve only just got onto Bloglovin’, so even just 10 would be a good number to start with) on the screen that corresponds with the number of people who regularly want to keep in touch with whatever it is this blog is about will make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Like a camel who has just swallowed a pair of microwaveable slippers.
  4. There are other reasons. But I don’t want to give away all the goodies right now. No, sir. So instead, go to the car park of your nearest supermarket at 3am tomorrow. I shall send further instructions.

Farewell for now. See you on Bloglovin’.

Is Waterstones cheating independent bookshops and readers?

Books in the Dark

When is an independent bookshop not an independent bookshop? When it’s a Waterstones in disguise.

The stores all have their own unique names and branding, with just a small notice in the window pointing out that they are a trading name of Waterstones Ltd. Many local business owners are up in arms, claiming that the chain is deliberately trying to deceive customers looking to do business with an independent store.

Unsurprisingly, the owner of the local bookshop is not happy about it. Also unsurprisingly, Waterstones have rubbished claims there is anything underhand going on.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I don’t think a national chain pretending to be an independent store is a good thing, if that is indeed what Waterstones was attempting. People have their preferences over where to shop, and regardless of whether those preferences are driven by logic or prejudice (I mean only the kind of soft prejudices like a dislike of corporations, obviously) they deserve to know into whose bank account the money they are spending is going to end up.

Villages and towns with a strong sense of community often like to support their local shops, so for someone to think that their money was going to a small business owner, or staying within the local economy, when in fact it would end up in corporate coffers or lining the wallets of shareholders isn’t fair.

But at the same time, I don’t know whether this is really an act of treachery on par with something you would expect from a character Sean Bean plays in a film. While I do understand the ‘big brand versus small business’ argument, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that many global corporations operating today started out a century or so ago as homegrown local businesses.

Look at McDonald’s for instance, the second largest employer in the world (according to data from 2012). The ubiquitous restaurant chain started life around 1940, founded by two brothers. Although it is putting it incredibly prosaically, the reason McDonald’s dominates in the way it does today is because it started out as a small business that did what it did incredibly well. Becoming a global brand, admittedly while not happening by accident, is a side-effect of business acumen, great products or services, and an ability to cater to local demand.

There are obviously lots of ways in which the ‘corporations are evil’ axiom can ring true. But to say that a shop should be avoided or demonised because it has a name and branding that you already recognise seems to me to be an oversimplification.

And of course local businesses are going to complain: Waterstones is a threat to them. It is worth remembering that the same narrative that paints all chains as heartless and profiteering paints all small business owners as people of great integrity struggling to get by.

While it is true that being a small business owner is a great way of realising a passion and pursuing your dreams, there are plenty of people who open small businesses simply because they can see an opportunity to make money.

To return to the issue at hand, is Waterstones doing something that it shouldn’t? I guess it depends on your attitude towards independent bookshops. I love any kind of bookshop; I have to admit that local ones often do have more personality and flexibility to be different.

But it’s unsurprising to think that chains can often offer more: my local Waterstones (I say local, it’s still over half an hour away from where I live) is many times larger than the bookshops in my local town. But at the same time, one of my local bookshops always has windows brimming full of signed copies of the latest books by bigshot authors. It’s a bookshop you should take seriously: these are book-loving professionals running their business well.

So I suppose if you hate chain bookshops then this might seem like a bad precedent. While the idea that people working in a small family-owned bookshop love books, while those working in a chain hate them and just want a job, seems rather childish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no truth in the point.

But looking like an independent bookshop can also be a double-edged sword. Not everybody loves independent shops. Some of them prefer chain bookshops, believing them to offer more variety and better service – I’m not saying it’s true, just that there are prejudices against small business owners and unique shops as well as there are national chains and global corporations. So Waterstones could find itself losing customers because they don’t realise it’s a chain and thus keep walking down the street instead of going in to browse.

Only if you dislike large chains do you see their branding and corporate identity as some kind of dirty secret they need to be rid of. Companies love their branding: that’s why they spend so much money on it. That’s why their carrier bags, pens, staff uniforms and delivery trucks are decorated in corporate livery. It is the brand that attracts the customer.

So while the one point of view casts Waterstones as some creeping and insidious force, attempting to infiltrate the local high street in disguise, the other depicts a well-known chain sacrificing its valued and advantageous branding for the sake of blending in with the aesthetic of its local trading environment. The move could be a concession on behalf of Waterstones; an acknowledgement that they are the outsider, and a sign that they’re making an effort to blend in.

I think that both these for and against arguments are a little too fairytale. Waterstones’ move was based upon a business decision, and, equally, it’s money that motivates the objections.

Ultimately, I’d say the outlook for those particular high streets is pretty rosy from the point of view of booklovers. More choice in books is never a negative, and if we can all agree on just one thing, it’s that readers are not the type of people to come out of one bookshop and say ‘I’d better not browse in that bookshop as well, I’ve bought enough books today.”

What about you? Are you Team Waterstones or Team Independent? Scroll down and leave a comment to let me know if you think Waterstones has done a bad thing, a good thing, or an irrelevant thing.

I Never Thought I’d Be This Happy to Get Rejected

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Aspiring novelists must have issues. Getting published is a process which involves being rejected so much you could probably put it on your CV as a part-time role. In order to be an aspiring novelist, you have to have a very thick skin, or at least the ability to keep your crying on the inside when you’re at a party and someone asks: ‘So, how’s the writing going?’

Like any wannabe famous published author, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. If anything, I haven’t had nearly as many as I should have, because I’ve been busy; because I’ve been afraid; because I didn’t think I was good enough to even bother sending it out; because I spilled jam on the keyboard – the list goes on.

I did, however, rather recently get rejected again. And, surprisingly, I’m now going to tell you why that’s made me very happy. All right, I admit, I’m actually going to brag a little bit. But I need to tell as many people as possible, so it is either blog about it, or stand out in the street with a megaphone and accost people trying to buy shoes, and mobile phones, and cabbages, and bits of string, et cetera.

It all began just under a year ago (cue wistful, memory inducing harp music). The fantasy and science fiction publisher HodderScape held an ‘open submissions’. Basically these days if you want to submit your manuscript to a publisher, you have to go through an agent. Getting an agent involves pretty much the same process as you used to have to go through to get a publisher, which means your book now has to do it all twice, and the odds of success are probably considerably lessened. Open submissions are when a publisher invites people who don’t have an agent to submit their manuscripts.

Considering how hard it is to get an agent, an opportunity like this is golden for aspiring writers. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would jump at the chance to have. In fact, a lot of people did. That’s important to remember.

 

I submitted a couple of things. One of them was a book I’ve been working on pretty much since childhood, which keeps accidentally evolving and getting more complicated (although not a boring, overworked kind of way) and so was never actually finished. I got the first three chapters all nice and polished – for what felt like the 15th or so iteration – wrote a synopsis for the novel, which is painful by the way, and sent it off along with a covering letter.

Incidentally, I also submitted Fallen on Good Times, just because I could. That one didn’t get very far, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s already published, after all.

Shortly after this – five days in fact – my son was born. This somewhat altered the paradigms of my life, and I forgot about such trivial things as hopes and dreams. Over the next 10 or so months my focus became one of eagerly anticipating and celebrating the micro things in life: Logan opening his eyes; my wife allowing me to get Logan a Batman onesie; Logan saying ‘Guuuuu’. I didn’t have time for my future; his was all that mattered. And it was happening a lot faster than mine.

It did occur to me once or twice to wonder what happened to my other book. It hadn’t been explicitly rejected, but publishers and agents are a bit like jobs – you’re very unlikely to hear back if you don’t get one. I assumed that the book had been read and passed over not long after Fallen on Good Times, and that HodderScape were simply too busy to get in touch and let me know.

I was wrong.

 

So fast forward, or rewind depending upon whether you are still living in my narrative past or your actual present, to last Thursday. Walking home from work I checked my emails on my phone and found one from a certain large fantasy/science fiction publisher. It was largely a form rejection, but there were a couple of interesting pieces of information, namely the fact that 1,500 manuscripts were submitted, under this paragraph:

‘We are aware that you submitted your novel to us quite some time ago. Multiple members of the team read and discussed your manuscript before we came to a decision, and we were all very impressed with it, which is why it has been a while since you last heard from us.’

I’ll come back to the number of manuscripts in a minute, because there is something very cool about that which I want to tell you. But I didn’t find out the really cool thing until later that evening. The information in the paragraph above is cool enough, though.

When a book is submitted to a publisher it is usually assessed by the aptly named ‘reader’. This is a person whose job it is to wade through the hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts from aspiring authors and to sift out those of some merit. The huge majority of submissions to a publisher or agent fall at this first hurdle. If the reader finds a manuscript that they think has promise then it gets passed higher.

So the fact that this email from Hodder told me that my opening chapters had been read by several people in the team was incredibly heartening. This meant those chapters hadn’t just impressed one person: they had impressed several. While they were eventually rejected, doing so was a tough decision. This was not a case that one person picked up my opening chapters, read the first few lines and went ‘Well this is terrible’, before shredding the pages, setting fire to the shredded debris, burying the burning embers under three feet of concrete, and then blowing up the concrete. They were ‘very impressed’, and my opening chapters must have shown a lot of promise.

vintage clock

But now let’s get onto the really cool thing. The really heartening thing. You see, about this time I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I saw a status from a previous university lecturer of mine – the insanely prolific creator of National Flash Fiction Day, Calum Kerr – saying how excited he was that the book he had submitted to a publisher who had an open call for submissions had made it into the top 25. It was the fact he said that the publisher had been assessing 1,500 manuscripts that piqued my interest.

Could this have been the same publisher, HodderScape? But as soon as I wondered this I was confused. His status had been posted a couple of days before I received my rejection. So if he knew that his book had made it into the top 25, and he knew that before I was rejected, what did that mean for me? Sure enough, I got in touch and discovered that it was the same publisher. Not only this, but I found out that he only knew his book had made it into the top 25 because Hodder had been commenting on a recent blog post they wrote to keep everybody up to date on how they were progressing through the huge pile of submissions. And at just after midday, on 5th July, they commented to let everybody know that:

‘We’ve got about 25 manuscripts left to make decisions on, which means we have contacted slightly more than 98% of everyone who submitted to us.’

That was two days before I received my rejection. Which means that out of 1,500 (yes, 1,499 once you take Fallen on Good Times into account, but I’m sure they rounded the figure, and so will I) my opening chapters made it into the top 25. My chapters, my synopsis, my idea, survived the process where 1,475 others did not. My work made it into the top 1.67%.

I said at the beginning that getting rejected is a big part of being a writer. Well, so is self-doubt. I have plenty of comments, compliments, and indications that I am a good writer. It should be enough to have an unshakeable faith in my ability, but it’s not. I still fear, in my darkest moments, that I’ll never make it all of the way.

Developments like this remind me why I keep going. They remind me why I’ve always had the determination to keep on working. Being in the top 25 of most things is good (unless you’re in a ‘Best Door In An Advent Calendar’ competition, or ‘Best Episode In A Season Of 24’ countdown). Yes, I got rejected because there were better books. There are always better books.

libro antico aperto

One of the problems with being a writer is the uncertainty. I have plenty of rejections that comprise of nothing more than a couple of polite sentences on a sheet of A4 paper. Agents and publishers are usually too busy to provide personalised feedback. Which means you usually never know how your work really fared.

They might have thought it was the worst thing they had ever read; they might have thought it was great, but just needed one more rewrite. There is a huge spectrum spanning failure and success upon which your work could fall at any point, yet the average rejection letter gives you no indication whatsoever as to your bearing. It can be excruciating.

On the other hand, you could be holding something brilliant, but only failed due to the personality, tastes, or idiosyncrasies of that particular reader for that particular publisher. The next one on your list could be the one who absolutely loves it. We all know the stories of the famous authors who got rejected multiple times. But at the same time, the words on the page could be all wrong, the characters could be weak, the plot could be boring. You could be wasting your time, and opportunities, by sending out dirge.

Which is what makes this rejection so special. It’s why I’m so happy to have been rejected. Because this rejection tells me something that rejections usually don’t. It might seem oxymoronic, but this rejection has told me I’m good. I nearly got all the way to the end (although, in this case the end is actually technically the beginning: having the opportunity to submit the full manuscript to the editor for assessing).

So now I know that those opening chapters are solid. They did get rejected, so maybe they need a few tweaks here and there. Maybe a key essence of the character was missing, perhaps the world wasn’t quite as developed as it needed to be. Maybe the sentence structure exhibited some repeat issues. But overall it’s got a lot of promise. I know that I can send those opening chapters out to other agents and publishers, knowing that they are good enough to get far. They might not have quite worked for Hodder, but they might work perfectly for someone else.

Oh, and there’s also the small issue of the fact that, because Logan was born pretty much as soon as these chapters were submitted, I never actually had time to rework the rest of the book in-line with this new opening. So, to be honest, if they’d accepted them and asked for the full manuscript, the next few weeks of my life would have been frantic, frenzied, and frenetic.

I mean I do have a book to be writing – the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times isn’t going to produce itself. But finishing the second book is going to be somewhat easier now. I’m still level-headed, I’m still objective, I’m still well aware of my flaws, but thanks to the events of last week, I can sit back in my chair and get to work on book 2 knowing that every sentence I dictate is coming out of the mind of an author who, if he works hard, has a tangible – if remote – chance of getting all the way.

What to do with a really long book

Books in the DarkA question for all of the readers out there. I’ve just broken through the 60,000-word barrier on the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times. It’s been a long, incredibly drawn-out process so far, of which I’ll probably talk about soon. I’m heartened by the fact I’ve got so far.

The thing that finally helped me break through the barrier of actually attempting to write the book was to simply focus on the idea of ‘making progress’, rather than eyeing up an end goal. Even if I only managed to write hundred words; that’s still productive, and it’s still useful. It is infinitely better than not bothering to write anything because I know I won’t be able to make a huge dent in the total word count.

I’m not intending to abandon that attitude anytime soon. Considering the restrictions on my time, it’s the only attitude that is going to allow me to make any progress at all. If I only write when I have the time or inclination to make significant progress, or if I set myself a target for when I want the book finished, I’ll go back to being overwhelmed by the scale of the task in front of me and give up again entirely.

However, having made such significant progress on the novel so far, my thoughts have started to drift ahead to what will happen when it is finished. I’m excited to get another book out there. It’s been far too long since Fallen on Good Times was released, and I can’t wait to see it side-by-side with its ancestor.

There is, however, a slight problem, which will lead me onto asking the question I alluded to in the intro.

BOOK TWO IS GOING TO BE KIND OF BIG

I’ve arrived at the 60,000-word mark while halfway through plot point 21. The total number of scenes/developments in my synopsis is 49. If you do a quick average of the number of words per plot point, this means I am looking at a final word count of around 137,000 for book two. If I were writing Fallen on Good Times, I would be only 7,000 words away from finishing the first draft at this point, but as it stands with book two, I’m not even halfway through.

We can of course assume that I can cut down on the word count significantly with a few rounds of decent editing and some reader feedback. However, there are aspects to the novel that I know I’m going to want to expand upon. In several instances I have simply glossed over a development or description because I was more interested in getting the first draft done than making sure everything was in place. So I think it’s probably fair to assume that the additional material I plan to add will counterbalance any edits I make. Also worth noting is the fact that I did the same sums when the hit the 50,000-word mark and calculated the finished novel would be around 125,000 words.

Which leaves me with a bit of a problem. In the grand scheme of things, 137,000 words isn’t massively long in terms of a novel. If you assume a reasonably large font and 250 words per page, you’re looking at 548 pages. That’s still pretty slim compared to the average Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, or Alastair Reynolds book. Decrease the font a bit, or make the margins a bit narrower, so that you can put 300 words on the page and you cut out a hundred pages. 450 pages is approaching something like the average length for a traditionally published novel.

But in terms of my work, it’s very long. It’s twice as long as Fallen on Good Times. I’m not sure if that’s an issue or not. On one hand, it’s a lot more book, which is surely a good thing for people who enjoyed Fallen on Good Times, as they get to spend twice as much time in the company of the characters and inhabiting the world that they enjoyed the first time around. On the other, it is quite a drastic change of pace, and I don’t want people thinking that book two is simply the product of overstuffing description or poor editing. Obviously that’s a judgement from my beta readers, when I finally get around to sending them a copy, but I’m confident this isn’t the case.

Book two is so long because there is more plot, more characters, more nuance to the story than the first book. I believe it is going to be an improvement in every way, building on what (judging by the reviews of book one so far) is a solid foundation.

THE MANY PROBLEMS OF HAVING MANY PAGES

University Library, Basel, SwitzerlandSo that’s the first issue: one of perception. Will people be happy with a longer second book, or will it put them off? And as self-published novels go, I expect 137,000 words is actually quite long.

The second issue was one of practicality. Fallen on Good Times is available in both eBook and paperback formats. This is the way I want all of my future work to be. Not very many people buy the paperback (or the Kindle version, for that matter), but it is an important part of the publishing process for me. I wouldn’t feel the same way about my books if there wasn’t a physical copy of them available. Growing up, before self-publishing or eBooks really became a thing, I’d naturally pictured my books in paperback, piled on the table for book signings and lining the shelves of bookstores. It is therefore an intrinsic part of convincing myself that I have achieved my dreams for me to have a physical copy.

However, the costs would be prohibitive. I make very little from each sale of the paperback version Fallen on Good Times, despite the standard £7.50 retail price. I actually make more money if you buy a Kindle version. The issue here is that Amazon is offering a print-on-demand service. Normal publishers print thousands of copies of their books in one go, reducing the cost per unit to the point where they can pay for materials, production, author royalties, delivery fees, and still make a decent profit (well, the last part is arguable these days). Because Amazon prints each book as it is ordered, they are much more expensive. There is a flat fee per book and another charge based upon the number of pages, then Amazon’s royalties to think about, and finally I get whatever is left.

A quick look on Createspace’s royalty calculator page tells me that if I were to opt for the small font 450-page version of the paperback, I would have to set the retail price at £9 in order to make any sort of profit, of which there would be 20p. If I wanted to make what I think we can all agree is a not-extortionate profit of £1 per paperback copy sold, I would need to set the retail price at £10.33. In the grand scheme of things that’s not exactly expensive, but for a book, in the wider market, it is a bit. I wouldn’t even expect my friends and family to pay the extra three odd pounds over the going rate for a book for my work, let alone readers in general.

It seems there are three options available to me, which I’d like to walk you through:

  1. Publish the book on Kindle only
  2. Publish a ‘collected edition’ on Kindle and split the book into two volumes in paperback
  3. Split the book into two volumes on both Kindle and paperback.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of practicality, value to the reader, and profitability.

OPTION ONE: PUBLISH ON KINDLE ONLY

Reading Kindle OutdoorsAs I’ve already said, having a paperback copy is quite important to me. I suppose I could still publish it on paperback, at the high retail price just to make sure that I broke even with every copy sold – buying copies through Createspace’s trade price option for authors would work out and about the average price per paperback novel anyway, including postage, so I’d still be able to get copies for myself and my family without making a real loss.

The real advantage in publishing solely on Kindle is that it cuts out the impracticalities of a large paperback. People don’t really buy paperback versions of self-published novels anyway, if statistics are to be believed. Therefore, I’m not exactly losing anything, and it’s practical for the reader to have a large book on a Kindle.

There is still a monetary issue. Fallen on Good Times is £1.99 or $2.77 on Kindle. I feel like it’s a fair enough request to ask for a bit more if you’re paying for double the book, but I don’t know if readers would agree. Some might interpret it as me getting greedy, although sales of Fallen on Good Times would really have to take off before that argument becomes in anyway realistic. Although the idea that I might have ‘hooked’ people with the first book, only to be charging them more for the follow-up, might be a little more believable to someone who doesn’t know my actual motivations.

With all the other self-published novels out there, £1.99 is already expensive compared to all the 99p deals (and that’s already a reduced price from the original of £2.50), so while I’m still an unknown, un-reviewed, unproven author, is anybody going to want to spend £3 or £4 on my second book?

OPTION TWO: PUBLISH A ‘COLLECTED EDITION’ ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

I could split book to into two individual volumes, each one as long as Fallen on Good Times. From a consistency point of view at least, that’s a winner. It would also give Laslo Kane a trilogy of stories. Three is the magic number, after all. I was intending to introduce a new character as the protagonist of the fourth novel (I intend to follow the patterns of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, in which over time he established several pockets of different characters, each with their own plots and troubles to deal with, many of whom occasionally interlinked) and for some reason I feel as though Laslo having three books is neater before moving on to focus on someone else, at least for the time being. And most trilogies do seem to follow the pattern of having one stand-alone book to begin with, followed by two novels which work more as two installments of the same story.

On paperback, it allows me to do two things. Firstly, it allows me to make my personal bookshelf look a bit nicer, as I’ll have three volumes in the Pilgrim’s Wane collection. Secondly, it means I can actually sell paperback novels of the books at a reasonable price, for those who want to buy them. I’ll also be able to purchase paperback copies at an affordable rate to give away as competition prizes.

Of course the big picture here is that in actual fact buying these two paperbacks would add up to more than the cost of buying the one larger volume, but from a psychological point of view I think people would actually prefer that. Each volume would be treated as a book in its own right anyway, with separate release dates and marketing, so this would certainly not be a ‘profit-making’ exercise. If anything it would lose me a hell of a lot of money, as I have to pay for two separate cover designs and two lots of formatting, the cost of which I am unlikely to recover in sales for a long time.

On Kindle I could solve the problem of getting people to pay twice by offering the two volumes together as a ‘collected edition’. I’d also be able to instantly create a third product, a trilogy ‘box set’, which will include Fallen on Good Times. I’ve heard that these tend to sell quite well, and it will be a good way to introduce somebody to my work. People aren’t necessarily going to become fans after reading one book, but if they get hold of three, whether as a free giveaway, when they’re on sale, or because they liked the value that the three book edition offered, they are more likely to take an interest in me as a writer.

OPTION THREE: PUBLISH TWO VOLUMES ON KINDLE AND TWO VOLUMES IN PAPERBACK

The paperback situation would remain the same as above. Another benefit of doing this is that it would help me to create some more momentum in my marketing, something I’ve struggled to do in recent times, especially considering I’ve always known that book two would be a long way off. If I scheduled what would become book three to be released a few months after book two, I would have a goal to work towards as I (hopefully) began writing book four. It could help bridge the gap between the next Pilgrim’s Wane novel, giving me a way of keeping people interested in the interim.

Publishing two volumes on Kindle would simply be for continuity’s sake. I could still create the ‘box set’ versions mentioned above, it would just mean that volumes two and three were also available separately. Prosaically, paying £1.99 for two 300-page instalments of the same story is no different to paying £3.98 for the 600-page version. However, again, it would be easy for someone to accuse me of ‘moneymaking‘.

THE THORNY ISSUE OF CLIFF-HANGERS

Lady on Cliff EdgeThe elephant in the room is what would happen to the story itself. Because it is a complex, flowing narrative, there is no point at which I could cut it in half and neatly round it off into two entirely self-contained volumes. The only way to do it would be to leave volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. Now, as long as you build a satisfactory story throughout the novel, and give readers some form of resolution, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing this. I’ve also identified point in the story at which it could potentially happen.

But I know that a lot of people don’t like cliff-hanger endings, especially in novels, where they can often feel cheated without a proper resolution. And again, it can instantly raise accusations of profiteering, as though I’m deliberately withholding the rest of the story until they pay me more money. This can sort of be circumnavigated on Kindle at least by making both volume 2 and volume 3 £0.99, so that buying them together only costs the same as buying the first book. Of course, in paperback, this is a different problem. Although considering no one buys paperbacks, perhaps the issue is moot.

I’m not entirely sure I’d be comfortable, or feel particularly fulfilled, if I left volume 2 with a cliff-hanger ending. However, the prospect of having three Laslo Kane books and a host of different Kindle products does excite me.

It all comes down to reader tastes.

BACK TO THE QUESTION AT HAND

Which, a couple of thousand words later than planned, leads to my questions:

Firstly, which of the options above do you prefer? Which is best for you as a reader, and which would you be most happy with?

Secondly, what you think of books with cliff-hanger endings? Do you avoid them, or love the suspense? Have you come across a lot of books that do this, or is it a rare occurrence?

Do leave your comments below. This post is simply a brain dump, rather than any concrete planning and I still have half the book left to write just to finish draft one, after all – so your thoughts can shape the way in which I finish, market, and release this book.  Or books.


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What the cinema tells us about why printed books are awesome

By Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Fernando de Sousa from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cinemas have changed a lot since they first started appearing over a hundred years ago. There is no longer a dude with a piano sat by the screen, for instance, although the responsibility for honky-tonk racket seems to have fallen to a legion of mobile phones instead. I doubt when the first cinemas opened you could buy a bucket of popcorn big enough to hide a body in, or a cup of Pepsi sufficient to drown a horse. Also the most expensive tickets available in the first UK cinemas were priced around 5p.

But for all that has changed, all the technology, the fancy seating, the gluttony (I’m not judging, it’s one of the best parts), the online booking, and the thunderous Dolby sound, the cinema is still the same thing as it once was: a trip out of your house to watch some moving pictures.

For a long time now people have had access to other ways of watching films. They get shown on the TV a lot, and they’ve been available in take-home format since 1977 (in the US) when The Sound of Music, Patton, and M*A*S*H were the first films to be released on VHS, at a cost of between $50 and $70. The internet has made it much easier to consume films, whether legally or illegally, and thus the cinema has taken a hit in recent times. But they still survived, and continue to survive, and their enduring popularity tells us something about why print books are here to stay too.

What the cinema offers, which the internet, DVDs, or watching Jurassic Park for the billionth time on television cannot, is experience. The size of the screen, the power of the sound, the excitement of the trailers (previews for you American folk), the snacks, the drinks, the trying to find someone to go with you and failing, and then going by yourself and feeling like a complete murderer shopping for a new victim: these are all integral parts of the cinema experience. And they’re all things you can’t get in quite the same way sitting on your sofa in your own house. No matter how big your TV maybe, it’s never going to be the size of the silver screen.

Which proves that format is about far more than just convenience. For the price of a trip to the cinema you could buy yourself a DVD of another latest blockbuster which you would be free to watch dozens, or even hundreds, of times over. Given the price of some cinemas, you could even buy the equivalent volumes of popcorn and coke from the supermarket at the same time and recreate the whole experience*.

*Which, while we’re at it, should include watching the film in a darkened room. It should be made illegal to watch a film with the lights on. What’s that even about? Everyone is sitting in a room looking at the screen – which, by the way, provides all the light you need – then someone comes in and turns the light on before sitting down to carry on watching the film. What’s wrong with them? They might as well just walk in on you having a bath and pull the plug out.

I love the cinema because it gives an experience and quality to watching a film that you just can’t get otherwise. I can watch films on television because screens are getting quite big now, but I’ve never watched anything, cinema or television, on a device smaller than a laptop. Compared to the cinema, watching films at home is a shadow of the true experience. It’s a compromise.

And therein lies the truth about paperbacks which technological aficionados often fail to see. The paperback book may lose out to the eBook in terms of convenience and price, but it still wins in terms of experience. It’s not shallow to find a paperback book more stimulating than its electronic equivalent. It’s not missing the point to savour the weight in your hands, to treasure the interaction of turning the pages, to smell the crisp clean paper.

The accoutrements of going to the cinema serve to heighten our enjoyment of the film. I’ll argue any day that the properties of a physical book do exactly the same for the story they contain.

My bookshelf wants to know why books come in so many different sizes

My Bookshelf

There are few sights more pleasing in your home than that of the neatly arranged bookcase. It is our own personal library, our tiny little bookshop; a place we can peruse and browse for adventures and new friends. Even if you don’t get around to reading all of the books on your bookshelf (a task that would be a lot easier if you stopped buying more) a bookshelf is like a display cabinet, the spines are its ornaments, a feast for the eyes, titillation for the imagination.

There is, however, one slight problem. Even the most untidy of us has our own little way of being organised. Someone whose floor is obscured underneath a hundred takeaway pizza boxes can still get angry at people squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle. The person happy to eat crisps in bed would have an aneurysm at the mere thought of doing so in their car. And myself, not the tidiest of people as my fiancée will happily testify (as soon as I can remember where I put her), loves making sure my books are displayed neatly.

Book manufacturers, however, appear to be the original trolls. Forget the internet, book printers have been winding us up for generations. Because they have decided that, rather than having a few standard sizes of book, absolutely anything goes. Why not get the latest fantasy epic in A4 format? Let’s print one Terry Pratchett book in one size and the next in the series a few millimetres bigger. And all those rectangular books are looking a little too uniform. Let’s re-release The Lord of the Rings with triangular pages.

And even when you do find books that are the same height, there’s no guarantee they’ll be the same depth. Because book manufacturers couldn’t possibly have you arranging a nice shelf of even books who’s spines are all flush against each other. I feel sorry for bookshop owners. Us at home may only have to struggle with 50 or so books. They have thousands to work with.

Even self-published books hold the same problem. It took me a hell of a long time to decide what format to go with for Fallen on Good Times. Amazon gives you a choice of about eight different sizes. Incidentally some of the sizes are unrecognised by other printers. Lulu has its own sizes as well, I believe.

Of course there should be different sizes of book. Personally my favourite format is a hardback, and I like these when they are bigger than their paperback counterpart. But hardbacks still come in many different sizes, as do paperbacks. It’s a wonder anybody tries to organise their books at all. Why, printers, why?

I’m hoping someone out there has a clever workaround to this problem. Share solutions (or tales of organisational woe) in the comments section!

What is it about us readers buying books and not reading them?

Four books were added to my TBR pile over Christmas, although in terms of pages it's more like ten.
Four books were added to my TBR pile over Christmas, although in terms of sheer number of pages it’s more like ten.

Many people say their hobby is reading. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe reading isn’t how we should be describing ourselves. Because most readers have the same weakness – they love buying new books. They buy books even when they have a pile of books already waiting to be read; books they know will likely never get read.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Maybe our hobby isn’t ‘reading’. Maybe our hobby is ‘owning books’. Perhaps we are more collectors of stories than we are consumers.

It is not entirely a nonsensical practice. People collect an awful lot of different things, from shoes to memorabilia to antique toasters (bet you this is a thing). If anything, buying books and reading even a fraction of them makes us a step better than most collectors, who never use the items they have hoarded. (‘I don’t care if you are having a heart attack: that defibrillator is valuable and only for display’.)

Or does the fact we actually use our collections just make us rubbish collectors (as in collectors who are rubbish, not council employees who are highly undervalued by society)? We’re collectors who play with our toys. That’s not how it’s meant to work.

But in our defence, think about how much a book offers us. It’s a wealth of opportunity. It has unlimited potential; potential to take us on an emotional rollercoaster; potential to introduce us to new friends, love, and enemies; potential to take our breath away. And when all that is on special offer? Well, we’d be fools to resist.

Also, unlike, say, historically important tampons or antique spoons, you can never have too many books. Do you know what too many books is? A library. Having too many stories is better than having too few. We fanatical book buyers are simply stocking up for a rainy day. Who knows what might happen? Who knows when we might suddenly require twenty unread books with the price labels still on?

Tell me – how many unread books do you have in your collection? When was the last time you bought new books?

Halloween Prize book one – The Memory Game by Sharon Sant

Sharon Sant – The Memory Game (YA ghost story)

The Memory Game CoverIf there is a hell, I think maybe this is it.

Weeks after fifteen-year-old David is killed by a speeding driver, he’s still hanging around and he doesn’t know why. The only person who can see and hear him is the girl he spent his schooldays bullying.

Bethany is the most hated girl at school. She hides away, alone with her secrets until, one day, the ghost of a boy killed in a hit-and-run starts to haunt her.

Together, they find that the end is only the beginning…

The Memory Game is a ghost story like none you’ve seen before.

An amazon bestselling eBook

Amazon UK

Goodreads

About the Author

Sharon Sant was born in Dorset but now lives in Stoke-on-Trent. Aged eight she wrote a poem about ET, which received the ultimate praise of being pinned onto the classroom wall, and from that moment on she knew she’d never stop writing. She graduated from Staffordshire University in 2009 with a degree in English and creative writing. She currently works part time as a freelance editor and continues to write her own stories. An avid reader with eclectic tastes across many genres, when not busy trying in vain to be a domestic goddess, she can often be found lurking in local coffee shops with her head in a book. Sometimes she pretends to be clever but really loves nothing more than watching geeky TV and eating Pringles. Young adult novels Sky Song, The Young Moon and Not of Our Sky (the Sky Song trilogy) and Runners were all released in 2013 to glowing reviews. The Memory Game is her sixth novel. She is currently working on a series of Runners prequel stories, the first of which is scheduled for release early 2014.

Website: www.sharonsant.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sharonjsant
Twitter: @sharonsant

Sign up to win a signed copy of The Memory Game and four other fantastic novels

I just bought two hardback books for £2 and now I’m sad

photo(1)Turns out discount books aren’t always a book-lovers dream.

Like pretty much every other reader out there, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to buying books. It’s almost like a hobby in itself. There is no real logical reason for buying more – some of my previous purchases have been waiting unread on a shelf for years now. But a book is full of potential. You can lock it in a cupboard and it’ll patiently wait for decades if it must, and be in perfect condition when you do finally open that door and retrieve it, unlike many of the other good things in life, such as ice cream, or your best friend.

So when I saw books by Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton on the shelf of my local Tesco for £1 each, the ol’ book buying demon reared its head once more. It’s just plain stupid to turn down a book at that price. And they were hardbacks, mind you. Hard covers are like lingerie for books. Considering they are about £18.99 usually, I’ve potentially saved myself about £36. That’s the kind of saving it’s worth buying stuff you don’t even want for. I’d buy seven horses and a bucket of locusts if they were £1.

However, I’m not totally excited. I’m also a bit sad. Books shouldn’t be sold for a £1. Not actual books, in a proper shop, by big name authors, covered in saucy cardboard and paper jackets. A book isn’t the kind of thing you should find in a pound discount section, or a pound shop. It’s not like a terrible plastic toy that will break within two minutes of being opened, forty day old ham, or three Polos wrapped in clingfilm with a sticker on them saying ‘valyou pacc’.

Books last forever. They give you untold pleasure, invite you to meet worlds and characters you can fall in love with. They make you laugh, they make you cry, they make you look clever when you’re sat in Costa and everyone else is on their iPad. It’s an experience, and of much more value than £1.

You could argue that it’s a moot point. I bought the books, after all. Can’t really complain about the price being too low, can I?

Except that I can. The reason I am complaining about the stupidly low priced books is the same reason I bought the stupidly low priced books. For a stupidly low price. I’m a book lover. And I don’t think it’s possible to take a side without being a hypocrite.

However, the novel is an art form. It’s not right that someone is prepared to spend millions on a varnished toilet made of bread, while top author’s books are being sold at a massive discount. I doubt anyone made much money out of that. It’s hard not to buy books when they’re cheap, because after all that’s what I want.

The recession has driven the price of most things up. I don’t think it’s right that art is where we decide to try and save a few quid.

Don’t forget you can still sign up for your chance to win 5 signed paperbacks for Halloween!

Win 5 books for Halloween

How would you like to get your hands on five spooky, scary, or fantastical signed paperback books? I have teamed up with fellow authors Mark Wilson, Sharon Sant, Calum Kerr, and Danielle E. Shipley to create a Halloween-themed prize pot for all the book lovers out there.

Halloween Prize Announcement Image

We have an exclusive competition mailing list (which won’t be used for anything else – your details are safe), so all you need to do is enter your email address and on Halloween one lucky winner will be selected at random.

What are you waiting for? Five free books, signed by their authors.

Click the image above to go to the sign up page now!