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REVIEW: Harlan Coben – Gone for Good

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Whilst no direct plot spoilers are given in this review, please be aware that some minor spoilers may occur.

When Will’s dying mother announces that his brother Ken – who has been on the run for rape and murder for 11 years – is alive, Will’s life is turned upside down looking for the truth on what really happened. He has always believed his brother innocent. When the love of his life Sheila goes missing shortly after, things get complicated.

In fact, they get very complicated. So complex, in fact, that I had to repeatedly flick back in the book every now and then to check whether I had missed a plot point. Events in Gone for Good just seem to pop up and happen exactly at the right time (or wrong time), and for me this let the book down hugely. This isn’t the first Coben novel I’ve read. I’ve read two or three more over the last decade and I’ve distinctly come to realize that he only has one theme, one voice, one pattern. If you read enough of his work, it sadly all starts to feel the same.

The characters left a lot to be desired and, again, seemed to change personality, motive and tack depending on what the plot called for.

It also hugely bothered me that the book swung between first and third person for no reason whatsoever. When we were looking through Will’s eyes, the prose read almost like a blog; very blocky, lots of self-interruptions and whatnot. The rest of the prose, in third person, was fine. I think the book would have read better being all in third person or, at least, been entirely in first-person as if Will was literally telling us a story about everything that happened.

The convoluted and borderline ridiculous plot driveled on, pinging back and forth with the characters coming to obscene conclusions and having strokes or good or bad luck whenever the plot called for it, until it came to a head and we were given the twist. There are two main twists in this novel, but the first one is a red herring, and serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Once I had finished the book, I had to flick back yet again to see if I could find a reason, but there was none.

When the true twist came about, it was all neatly wrapped up in a dramatic monologue from one character to another, reeling out the entire plot of the book in the space of a few paragraphs. What was worse, this particular character (the one who revealed the ‘who dunnit‘ via monologue) was in a good chunk of the book. I would say, in fact, they were one of the main cast. Yet they held onto this information until the last moment of the story because the author was simply too lazy to find a way to make the information come out organically.

Then, it was all over. Just like that, completely finished. The questions were answered with a ‘how’, but rarely with a ‘why’, and it left a feeling of frustration in its wake.

Gone for Good was not a terrible book. It’s readable and dare I say enjoyable to an extent, but there are better crime thriller authors out there.

Painful Cliches to Avoid in Your Novel – Part 1

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Plot-resolving dream sequences

Whilst there is nothing wrong with a good nightmare or dream sequence that is simply present to show how a character is feeling, or to haunt them as dreams or nightmares often do, try to avoid using dream sequences as important plot points.

Having your detective realize who the killer is in a dream, having a huge plot point occur or having some kind of emotional resolution in a way that doesn’t happen in the book’s “real world”, can be a cheap cop-out if not done correctly. A great example of this is the huge non-battle at the end of Twilight: Breaking Dawn. It angered a lot of people and cheapened the emotional impact the battle would have had were it simply part of the plot with a proper resolution.

Deus-Ex Machina

For those unaware, Deus-Ex Machina is a situation where your character gets themselves out of peril by a very well-timed convenience that simply would not happen in real life. Such moments in a book are often used to wrap up a story or situation where the writer is either too unskilled (or simply too lazy) to come up with a realistic idea for themselves.

So if your detective is stumped for ideas, and then an anonymous tip off simply leaves a note with the killer’s name on it shows up, that’s Deus-Ex Machina at work. It’s little, almost ridiculous miracles that move the plot along when the writer is out of ideas.

A great example is in Lord of the Rings. Whilst poor Frodo and Co. are forced to trudge across perilous lands for three over-long books, Gandalf summons a huge eagle to get himself out of a pickle. An eagle which, quite easily, could have simply flown Frodo to Mordor and dropped the ring off within a short amount of time.

The strong man, and weak woman /The strong woman, and weak man

In almost all action-based stories, we used to see the strong man being tailed by a quaking waif of a woman. He would be fearless, competent with firearms and have a repertoire of witty one-liners for use at any given moment. She would be beautiful, doe-eyed and completely useless.

The same goes for the more recent cliche of having a strong female character who can beat up men three times her size, and a bumbling fool of a man who isn’t good for anything.

If your plot and character building legitimately serves these tropes well, you might be able to get away with it. However, it is much smarter and well-rounded to give all of your characters depth, strengths and weaknesses that subtly play off one another and help them both to resolve the problem at hand.

The out-of-place culture shock

Unless your book is set in North Korea and your main character is a black guy somehow forced to live there, the idea that people of two different skin colours are completely shock-and-awed by one another’s proclivities is something that should be left with the black-cop-white-cop movies from the 1980s.

If used well, a culture shock moment can work very well (especially if, for example, your racist character who only surrounds themselves with “their people” realizes other cultures are not so bad after all by mingling with said culture).

If used cheaply, your book is going to be disingenuous from the start.

The time-convenient conquering of a fear, concern or doubt

One of the best examples I can think of right now is the black cop in Die Hard; he accidentally shot someone early in his career and for many years, he has been scared to use his gun whilst on duty, because he doesn’t want to repeat the pain and trauma. Naturally, at the end, he overcomes that fear in the blink of an eye to shoot the bad guy and save the day.

This trope is done to death, and it’s a good idea to avoid it. I’m not saying that your hero shouldn’t confront their fears or problems, but try to make it more subtle.

A good example of this working is a man finally calling his father after avoiding his calls for twenty years. This can be built up to over the book and the decision can be drawn naturally as the character grows.

A bad example is the girl who is horribly, deathly afraid of deep water diving face-first into the ocean without any issues or reservations to rescue someone or something in peril.

Unexplained amnesia

This is a tricky one. The problem with using amnesia sometimes is not that it is being used, but rather how it is used. You must be able to provide good reason as to why they don’t remember anything, and also carefully control what they remember; if your amnesia is too plot-convenient or ill explained it will fall into the Deus Ex-Machina category and leave readers feeling cheated.

In The Raw Shark Texts, Eric Sanderson wakes up with a case of total amnesia. The reason this works is because the very plot revolves around a “thought shark” called a Ludovician that literally eats a person’s self, which eradicates their memories whenever they wake up from an attack. It makes sense, and doesn’t leave you questioning why.

In my own novel, Don’t Eat the Waffles, there is a world-building point of amnesia in that nobody can remember how they died, only that they died; since the memory of one’s death may delay events, people don’t remember anything.

However, having your character wake up with amnesia for no reason and failing to explain just feels cheap. Also, selective amnesia (where the character has forgotten the last six months but remembers things when the plot calls for it) is the worst type of amnesia to use. If your amnesia is something that comes along with a head trauma, from drinking or drug use, be sure to research how it affects people, and how often (or fast) the memories will come back.

In the end, just remember that a cliche exists because it’s a genuinely common occurrence. However, if you use one in your book (and let’s face it, we’re all going to use one at some point), be sure to inject a little originality into it or play it out in a way that presents it in an original manner.

REVIEW: The Haunted – Niki Valentine

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Please be aware that this review contains major spoilers. I usually attempt to avoid revealing any plot twists, but it was impossible to properly review this book without doing so.

When I found this book in the discarded rack for 20p, I snapped it up immediately. The creepy title, the blurb and the very idea thrilled me; I am an avid horror fan, in all forms of media, and the old ‘stranded in the middle of nowhere with a ghost’ trope is among my favourite type of spooky tale to indulge in.

A married couple in their early 40s head to a bothy in the Scottish Highlands for a romantic weekend away, to rekindle their marriage and also try something a little different. What they got, however, was something horrible that would change both of their lives forever.

According to the inside of the back cover, Niki Valentine is a pseudonym for the “award winning” author Nicola Monaghan. I have not read any other works by Niki/Nicola, but after what I endured with The Haunted, I am unsure that I will bother checking out her other works.

The Haunted has a lot of problems, and it’s going to be difficult to go through them all without this review sounding as all over the place as the novel does. However, I will try my best.

First of all, I have never personally reviewed an author badly for having a ‘stupid’ character (one of the largest causes of one-star reviews, I’ve noticed). Sometimes, people behave stupidly and do things that defy logical, sensible reason. It’s rather brave and potentially quite clever to inject a character of such ill awareness into your story. However, I don’t think that Susie (the wife of our main couple) is actually stupid. I just think that she’s poorly written.

The book is written in third person, and follows her point of view, which means that we are inside of Susie’s erratic, undecided mind for the entire book.

All the way through I kept getting an inkling that Valentine had a plan for the story, for how we perceived Susie and her husband Martin. However, Valentine’s weak writing style and inability to be consistent for so much as two paragraphs let this book and its entire premise down horribly.

One moment, Susie would be staring at her husband in fear for her life, and the next moment (literally the next sentence, or paragraph) she would be inwardly gushing about what an amazing man he was. Then, within another paragraph or two, she would be back to hating him, or being scared of him. Even when she found a little red notebook he’d been writing in that detailed how he wanted to murder her and bury her body, she still made excuses for him. I should point out that Susie is a Social Worker – and it appears from the book her main specialty is working with battered wives.

Yet even right after her husband pinned her to the ground violently, she said he would never hurt me, before going on to describe a weekend when he’d tried to choke her. Right after, we were back with he would never hurt me, I know it.

Were the book making hints that perhaps Susie was mentally unsettled, or gave some purpose behind her ever changing mindset, I might have taken the bait. As it were, I found that Valentine’s writing was simply lazy; she repeated herself many times, and all through the book Susie had seemingly first-time revelations to things she had mentally soliloquized about several times before.

The entire book was like this right up until the last few pages and it was borderline nauseating to put up with. I can hands-down say that I only finished this book to see what happened. I found myself saying “why is she saying this again!?” out loud, when she decided maybe he’s not so bad for the fifteen hundredth time.

Now let’s discuss the ghost story element. I can honestly cope with mediocre writing, providing that the story itself is good.

In itself, The Haunting has some great ideas. As the book wears on, Martin begins to behave more and more strangely, his mood biting at her patience and Susie herself finds that, due to a presence that reminds her of someone she once knew, she begins having violent thoughts towards her husband. The spirit in question appears to serve no purpose other than to repeatedly have sex with Susie in her sleep.

About three quarters of the way into the book, things picked up and the story began to twist around from the pair idly bickering and Susie’s back-and-forth brain and I had hoped that perhaps the effort of continuing to read would pay off, but it didn’t. It had that feeling of when you walk into a room and someone yells at you for opening the door too loudly.

All you can do is blink at them and think what the hell just happened?

 

The Waffles Playlist

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Music is important. It can inspire us, make us laugh and reduce us to tears. When I am writing the manuscript itself, or performing complicated edits, I choose to either write in silence or put something quiet and ambient on so that I can effectively ‘ignore’ the music whilst still getting the most out of its ability to help me concentrate.

However, during the ideas stage, when I am brainstorming and throwing ideas around with gay abandon, I prefer to have music that inspires a thought or mood.

I’m unsure if I have mentioned this before, but Don’t Eat the Waffles was originally written in 2013 in the space of about a month. I messed around with some light edits, but nothing that especially changed or improved upon the story. At the time, I was so immensely proud of what I had written that I arrogantly didn’t feel any big edits were required. The only downside to the book was that it was only around 45,000 words long.

So I effectively abandoned the book for five whole years until I realised what the story needed, and how to also bring it up to a respectable 70,000 words to make it fit for publishing.

During that second writing phase of Waffles, I started to compile a playlist of songs that I felt were well suited to the story itself.

I won’t be able to spoil as to why these songs were chosen, and for the sake of not giving anything away by power of suggestion, these songs are presented in no particular order. Also you may literally wonder “what the heck” with one or two of them, but they were more character/mood inspirations than for the story itself.

But nonetheless, enjoy this Waffles playlist. I hope it inspires and entertains you as much as it did me!

REVIEW: Hear What You Want (Chaos & Consent #1) – Kyra Lennon

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Please note that I received a copy of this book free in exchange for an honest review. This review is as spoiler-free as possible.

Hear What you Want is the latest novel from British author Kyra Lennon. Ambra, a college student from Brighton, meets her favourite rock band and is stoked to be invited back to their hotel room, especially since she’s joined at the hip with their hunky lead singer, Noah. It isn’t long before everyone is completely wasted, and Ambra and Noah are getting hot and heavy.

But waking up in the morning, Ambra realizes that she doesn’t remember anything about that night, and that something feels off. Like her body has been violated. Full of questions, she needs to find out the truth and Noah has to defend his name amidst the vicious nature of the social media hive-mind and in-fighting with his band-mates.

I’ve read several books of Kyra’s over the years, and this is a very different approach to her usual light-hearted romance endeavors that she’s known for. Taking a much more mature and darker turn, Hear What you Want looks at the foggy nature of consent and the borderline terrifying mob mentality of the internet.

The Cover

The cover for this book is beautiful. With a bold yet feminine design, I love that Lennon actually had a photo shoot done for this cover, as oppose to just downloading a picture from a stock website. It’s not something you often see from indie authors so it was quite a nice touch!


What I Liked

I loved the tie-in to her Razes Hell series; Hear What you Want features band members from those books, which I thought was a nice little touch. I haven’t read those books, and I don’t think that this novel was a direct spin-off, but I do like the idea that all of her books are set generally in the same ‘universe’. It’s not something you often see in this type of fiction.

Something I have previously taken light issue with in relation to Kyra’s works was how the love interest was an intolerable man with few redeemable qualities (I’m looking at you, Radleigh). However, in Hear What you Want, Noah – our love interest and accused villain alike – feels real, flawed, friendly and unpredictable. He wasn’t merely a stud-muffin with abs you could do your laundry on, he was a three-dimensional human who made mistakes and realized he had to pay for them.

Noah’s band-mates were realistic people, and the ‘voice’ of each POV came through clearly, I never once forgot whose perspective I was reading from. For one thing, Noah and his boys have a potty mouth and Ambra is much more softly spoken.

Since 2012, when she published the first Game On book, allowing Radleigh to swing his pork-sword at anything that moved, Lennon’s writing has matured and improved. I would hands-down say that Hear What you Want is her best book to date.

I won’t spoil details, but there was a nice twist in this book that will lead into the second book quite nicely. It was one of those cliffhangers that almost makes you mad that you can’t read what’s going to happen next. I will admit that I guessed it was going to happen less than half-way through, but I can’t hold that against the book or Lennon. It was well executed and I suspect many people won’t actually see it coming.


Other Thoughts

What felt odd about the ending is that, despite being a truly shocking cliffhanger which leaves many thoughts and questions, ultimately wrapped up the two major questions that had been the entire point of the book. The mystery is solved, the bridges burned and the damage done.

I am honestly unsure if there is enough to fill up a whole new book, but I’ve no doubt that Lennon will completely surprise me. After all, there is still more that could be explored in a story like this, especially if the more character-driven, emotional aspect of things is focused on, such as a rape trial, media fallout and emotional recovery.

Finally, I won’t spoil anything, but there was a particular moment where we discover a good female character did something very bad. The reasoning was given in a very well-written and dramatic scene near the end, but to me it all seemed to come out of nowhere, especially since it was this character who got the Police involved in the first place. It was a great idea, but I did feel as if there could’ve been more foreshadowing, the kind where the reader only notices it after the twist is thrown at us.


Conclusion

All in all, Hear What you Want is a great book that is both an easy and addictive read with characters that feel alive and easy to relate to. Whether you have experienced the trauma played out in the story or not, it is a book that will leave you questioning not only how you conduct yourself on social media, but also how the world at large tends to approach victims of rape and sexual assault.

Why a Writer Must Be a Reader

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When I wrote my first short novella in 2006, I wasn’t much of a reader. I would occasionally pick up a book that I enjoyed enough to complete, and then I might not have read for another six months to a year. But the urge to write stories was something that stuck with me from childhood.

hated reading as a child; it was boring, long-winded, and I made up enough stories in my head to keep me entertained.

These days, I’m a few short edits away from being content enough with Waffles to place it in the hands of eager readers. I’m also getting through up to two full books a week at the moment.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt that reading a lot isn’t only making me a more inspired writer, it’s making me a better writer.

Something writers are often told in advice columns such as this one, is that you absolutely must write, write, write if you want to get better. The problem is that practice doesn’t actually make perfect; all practice does is force you to repeat the same problems over and over again.

If you want to become better at anything, at some point you must engage in what’s known as active learning. This is where you stop doing the thing and start learning about the thing. Then, you practice what you have learned for a while before you move on to learn something new.

When you’re a writer, reading fiction is a huge part of the learning aspect (the other being learning how to construct sentences and use your knowledge of grammar to its fullest potential). For this (and I know saying this as a self-published author could be career suicide), you absolutely must read bestselling and professionally edited novels. By all means, enjoy the free Kindle books Amazon provide, read the novels of your friends and indie authors you enjoy.

But just as no painter ever improved without watching a Master at work, no author can improve without doing the same.

Read books in genres you love, genres you hate or genres you’ve never heard of.

If you refuse to read books outside of your genre, your work will remain forever uninspired and your author “voice” will be boring and too over-familiar to your readers.

Are you a science fiction writer? Great. Put down the Phillip K. Dick and pick something up by Donna Tartt. Are you a light-hearted romance writer? Get yourself some Stephen King, pronto.

Even if you stubbornly choose to only read generally within your genre or theme of book, pick something that is the polar opposite to your usual inspiration.

Let’s say that you were hugely inspired by Twilight to write a young adult romance about vampires. Rather than dissuade you from flogging that dead donkey, I’d urge you to read The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, instead of re-reading the Twilight saga for the fifteenth time.

If you’re a horror writer who believes that Stephen King is the all-time God of the macabre, try reading some classics by Poe, Shelley or Stoker. For more modern horror, Peter Straub or Jonathan Mabery are good choices, too.

Whatever your choice of direction, the broader your reading horizons are, the better writer you are going to become in the long run. Who knows, perhaps one day you will be the master that new writers look up to for their guidance and inspiration.

Your Characters are Probably Terrible – Here’s Why

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Even if you’re not currently an author, you’ve probably heard the term “Mary Sue”. It’s a name given to flat, one-dimensional female characters who are so well-rounded and flawless that they just don’t appear human. Sometimes these characters fall into certain cliches or tropes that make the audience collectively groan. You may also have heard the male iteration of this, “Gary Stu”.

The fact is, whilst we all have a secret dream of being the Mary Sue at some point in our lives, writing one into your novel is hands down going to make your novel terrible.

Here is a great example of what a typical Mary Sue character might be like.

She is eighteen years old.

Long brown (or black) hair that seems to frizz and do whatever it wants, she has an unremarkable body boys never look at. She has, against all genetic reasoning, stormy grey eyes.

She is clumsy, goofy; always tripping over her own feet, walking into door frames. She mumbles when she speaks, bites her lip nervously. She is as awkward as awkward gets.

Yet upon first eye contact, the hunkiest guy in the room is instantly, almost obsessively, in love with her.

She also discovers she is the chosen one. She survives when nobody else did, for no reason whatsoever.

In a room full of diverse, interesting people, only the boring nobody without friends, hopes or the ability to walk in a straight line, can save the world.

In books that contain a Mary Sue, the Gary Stu is often her love interest.

He is a vampire, werewolf, warlock, wizard or something else with the potential to be immortal. For reasons unknown he is still pretending to be 18, going to high school and hanging out with people who are 18 or under.

If he is a mortal, he’s usually impossibly rich, or owns a huge company at an impossibly young age.

He is tall with a body to die for; hair in just the right places (or not at all) and abs you could probably dry your washing on. He, too, has some bizarre eye colour that only he could have.

He is brooding, quiet, always an unreadable expression on his face. He is mean to Mary Sue; he ignores her, bullies her, teases her. But he’s so madly in love with her he can’t sleep at night.

Why is the Mary/Gary a bad character?

Because they are the kind of fantasy that often lives in your head as a child. They are the superhero or flawless being you wish you could be in your wildest dreams. They are caricatures of real people and, as a result, they make absolutely horrendous novel characters – even if you’re writing for a YA audience.

If you’re struggling to make wholesome, realistic characters, use yourself as a study.

You don’t have to share it with anyone, but download a character creation sheet, much like this one, and fill it out with your attributes. Try not to lie about anything (this is private, remember!), and realise all the contradictions, quirks, weird aspects and likable and unlikable things that might exist about yourself.

When it comes to making your characters, it is vital to understand that giving them a limp, a stutter, or making them sad because their mom died is not developing them fully. Nor is deciding on their favourite band, their favourite colour or what kind of take out they like. None of these things make for an interesting character by themselves.

You need to dig deeper than is probably comfortable. This is, for me, what makes being a writer so emotionally exhilarating. Whilst I am by no means without mistake in my work, some of my characters – even the “heroes” – have some rather unlikable traits about them. That being said, they are not inherently unlikable people for the most part.

Whether we admit it or not, we all have such traits, and it’s important to let those traits show in your characters.

Do they get mood swings? If so, what is the story behind that? Have they ever considered violence, perhaps planned it? What makes them cry? If they don’t cry, what has hammered their emotions so deep that they are unable to get back out?

If your answer to any question about your character is “I don’t know”, then you’ll probably find they are not yet developed enough.

How to Get Inspired as an Author

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Inspiration is everywhere. Unfortunately, so are a million other things that either quell or distract us from that inspiration.

I originally wrote the first draft Don’t Eat the Waffles in around late 2013. I had rapidly published a number of short stories and hastily written novellas under a now abandoned pseudonym, and I was on a roll. Ideas were coming thick and fast, and even back then I felt that Waffles was one of the best ideas I had ever come up with.

But, as with all early drafts, something still didn’t feel quite right about it. It was like that moment you realize you’re one piece short of your 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

I suffered a fast and severe case of author burnout and I put Waffles on the back-burner for a whopping five years. I would occasionally pull the file out of its folder, stare at it for a few minutes, and close it again. No matter what I did, how many books I read, how much encouragement from friends and peers I received, I just couldn’t find any inspiration to finish or even continue editing Waffles.

I realized that unless I did something pro-active about this dilemma, I would most likely never publish this book. See, it wasn’t just my delayed response to editing and completing Waffles, I hadn’t written anything at all in the five years that followed it. Every idea I would jot down felt flat and lifeless, every first chapter would feel forced and unloved.

It’s important at this juncture to point out that I don’t believe in the mantra “don’t wait for inspiration”. Personally, I believe this leads to cookie-cutter work that is churned out because you generally feel obligated to, not because you absolutely have to with every fibre of your being.

My best work keeps me awake at night, it runs through my head like a silent movie when I’m grocery shopping, it’s literally all I think about and I absolutely must write it down because otherwise I can’t focus on anything else. The work I create when this happens comes from a place of pure passion, of pure love for writing.

Why would anyone want to write a novel that feels like it’s being forced out?

No, dear reader, what I believe in is not waiting for the inspiration, but looking for it in everything you do, see, hear and read. Ask yourself: would my character wear that? What would happen if the villain came in and did that thing they do, right here in the milk aisle?

And, once you have inspiration firmly in your grasp, hold on to it like that door from the Titanic. Never. Let. Go. Wake up at 2 am to write down the idea. Voice record that dialogue. Take a notebook, camera or sketchbook absolutely everywhere. Eavesdrop, people-watch and imagine what people are doing or talking about.

Inspiration is like a snowball: get it rolling, and it becomes an absolute juggernaut. But you need to have snow before you can make one, or you wind up with that gross slush that’s full of pebbles and dead leaves.

 

You’re Small Fry. Find a Small Pond.

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I am like most writers who create fictional worlds for the love of doing so: I am good at what I do. I can create images, smells and sounds in your mind and convince you to laugh, cry or feel angered in a single sentence. I’ve had wonderfully uplifting messages from a radio Journalist in my mentions, comparing Waffles to the likes of Stephen King. I’ve been told that my work is some of the most ‘deep and thought-provoking’ work a fellow author has ever read.

With all this ego-stroking, surely I am confident that I can swan up to a respectable book reviewer, literary blogger or even local news station and simply ask for an interview, or a review in exchange for a free copy of my book. Right?

Wrong. Absolutely wrong on so many levels.

You see, it doesn’t matter how good your work is. When you’re an unknown author who is self-publishing, you’re a needle in a haystack.

Why would a radio show want to interview you for their Breakfast Book Club when they can have J.K. Rowling on the phone? Why would the BBC want to feature you on their Top 10 Books list when it’s more rightfully populated with household names such as Dan Brown, or James Patterson?

Even on a smaller scale, I personally know a number of established self-published authors. They work tirelessly arranging signings, online promo events, giveaways, guest posts – there are enough established self-published authors to easily knock a total newbie out of the running at the first hurdle. They have worked hard for many years to build their brand and presence. They are at a point where, if they reached out to a local news network, they would have a fair chance of being given a chance at an interview.

One of the pieces of advice I read recently was “begin your PR campaign before you begin writing your book”. It took me five years to write Waffles to a point I considered it complete. Five years. I personally disagree with advertising yourself when you’ve nothing to sell, but with my release date looming I am starting to feel the nerves set in and an entire mudslide of “oh god I should’ve done ______” and “How am I supposed to do ______” oozing towards me like a horror movie blob-monster.

It really doesn’t have to be all that bad. But people like myself are tiny faceless guppies in an ocean full of Megalodons bearing a striking resemblance to Clive Cussler and Terry Pratchett.

What I – and many other small fry like myself – need to do is forget the review bloggers with 35k fans, or the book vloggers with 2 million subscribers. I need to focus on the smaller blogs, tiny YouTubers and other small fry. Not only will you probably make some small-time blogger’s day by reaching out to write a guest post, or offer a free book in exchange for an honest review, but you will also more likely hear a yes to your request.

Perhaps, in exchange, you can offer up a slot on your own blog to a non-author who just really likes to write about books. Perhaps there is a theme or idea in your novel (that you offered them a copy of, naturally) that they want to talk about in more detail. Small-time publishing is a lot of networking and hand-shaking that can drag you into deep water before you know it.

Make sure you can swim first.

 

It’s Been 84 Years…

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Well, okay, it’s actually been about five years, but it certainly feels a lot longer than that.

I’m talking about self-publishing, of course. For five years I sat on Waffles, insistent on obtaining a “proper” agent and publisher for this work, which I wholeheartedly refer to as my baby. I sent my manuscript away, as edited as I felt it could be, to almost two dozen literary agents. Of the eight people who responded, they all said the same thing: thank you, but your manuscript is not what we are looking for at this time.

I will openly admit, Waffles would be a difficult one to traditionally publish. It doesn’t fit into one particular genre, you see. It’s part horror, part humorous, part romantic, part dramatic and part dark fantasy. It’s a publisher’s worst nightmare; how do you advertise something that doesn’t slot into a nice little category? It’s going to be difficult for me to do it via self-publishing, but it’d be a harder sell to go through a publisher.

Anyone who has closely followed business trends will realise a uniformity that they do not enjoy breaking away from. Even when a company is being seemingly random, it’s usually because the act of being random is trending among companies of its ilk. Neil Gaiman’s books are a great example. Every book he writes is wildly different from the rest, but they all fit into an ongoing theme of being outlandish and unusual, and it works very well for him.

It’s not often you will find an esteemed historical fiction writer dropping erotic romance under the same pen name. You won’t often find people like Stephen King, masters of the macarbe, suddenly throwing a Christmas-themed chick-lit novel out there. Much like any art form, what works commercially must be repeated.

Jenny Colgan, for instance, writes light-hearted, female-centric romances that have a distinct “sweet foods” theme. Philippa Gregory is known for her romance novels set in the Tudor dynasty. Dan Brown writes mystery thrillers based on lost and hidden secrets of history. It is rare for these well-established authors to stray from their path.

Why? Because it works, and because buyers don’t often enjoy drastic and needless change.

My favourite type of book to read is historical. From political war thrillers, to a more slice-of-life angle of storytelling, if a story is rich in historical fact as it is well-rounded fictional characters, I’m in love. This also makes me want to write historical fiction (which also indulges my love of research, win-win). I am currently writing a historical romance set in 4th Century BC Greece.

Imagine the look on a publisher’s face; you release a book that defies a single genre, appealing to the “cult fiction” crowd and allegory lovers alike. The book has a small but fiercly loyal audience. It works, and it could even wind up with a Netflix Original series at some point. You enter his office with your new manuscript, and he is practically salivating over the idea of this new, quirky world that goes against all rules but works perfectly.

And then he discovers you’re handing him a rather “normal” historical romance.

It’s not a pretty sight, and I adamantly believe that both stories need telling, so that’s what I intend to do. I’m going to tell them, but I’ll handle the weirder stuff.